Noumena Are Within Our Reach

Mark - Trabuco Canyon, California
Entered on September 17, 2008

I believe in science, and the inherent power therein. This is not to say that science requires belief to function, nor that science entails a belief system; the process of iterative experimentation and hypothesis testing will ever be a legitimate method of advancing our understanding of the world. This should go without stating, but unfortunately Enlightenment ideas have gone out of style, giving rise to the quasi-scientific New Age Spiritualism and the ‘fashionable nonsense’ which is Postmodernism. These two movements quite readily stand in opposition to scientific understanding among the public and to scientific progress in general by fostering distrust in science and its ability to discover objective truth. In many ways, the movements supply a more insidious challenge to the advance of science and our collective understanding of our world than the religious dogmatism of the previous few centuries; once believers got beyond textual literalism, they were able to see science as a legitimate exploration of the beauty of divine creation (a superfluous assumption, in my opinion, but one for a different discussion). In my opinion, the New Age movement is sensationalistic and founded largely on pseudoscience, and will fall out of style in the same way that the rationalist Enlightenment seems to have at the present, and so I will focus the ensuing discussion on the more serious philosophy and world view, Postmodernism. To be concerned with the conflict between science and postmodernism at the age of seventeen perhaps seems like manufactured outrage, but it really matters to me. We have but precious few years to live, and I, like Edison, Einstein, and countless others, simply cannot believe in any immortal soul which survives physical death. Perhaps I should better explain how science and the two opposing movements are actually in opposition. Postmodernists often assert that a specific scientific field is just a ‘narrative,’ among innumerable others. In their view, science cannot achieve an objective understanding of the universe, cannot ever describe the noumenal Ding and sich, and therefore astrology and astronomy are seen as equals, phlogiston and quantum physics, alchemy and chemistry, intelligent design and evolution, the accepted and the defunct. This is an insidious assumption, and one deadly to the advance of our knowledge, technology, and ultimately, our society. The postmodernists contend that the evidence-based science which dominates our understanding of the world is simply the tool of the power structure to impose their thinking on top of reality. If it is generally accepted that alchemy is just as valid a ‘narrative’ as chemistry, our society necessarily will cease to progress. And if it is true that alchemy and chemistry are equal narratives concerning reality, why has our ability to treat medical conditions become more potent with further understanding of chemistry and related pharmacology? Postmodernism is inherently antithetical to science; science evolves through continuous testing and retesting of our assumptions and theories about the nature of the world, with the goal (and in many cases, the result) being a better understanding of how the world works. But if indeed we cannot even approach an understanding of any noumenon, then the point of the scientific method evaporates. This is a frightening prospect; it is on account of the scientific method that we as a species have refined our understanding of the world. All the time we move closer to the reality of the laws of the universe. This is not to say that our present theories are thoroughly true and proven beyond all doubt, but it is undeniable that as we refine our models of how the universe functions, as we incorporate more observations and more testing, we will even further perfect our understanding, and approach the Ding an sich, even if our approach turns out to be asymptotic. The point is that this approach is not only possible, but extremely beneficial, and much better than a system which values all claims about the nature of the universe equally simply because they exist. Society has been good to me, and I would not happily volunteer to live in a prescientific era in which the burning of witches and stoning of adulterers seems justifiable to satisfy whatever force is in control of the natural phenomena which were not understood. It is our responsibility, as beneficiaries of all the countless benefits of our scientific societies, to work to preserve those same benefits (and an infinite and unknown set of new ones) for future generations. Perhaps I can provide no objective proof for this last statement, but it is, after all, what I believe.