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Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge
Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge
by Paul Feyerabend
Edition: Paperback
32 used & new from $0.01

52 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why science and why not astrology or voodoo?, December 14, 2004
A friend of mine who worked in a restaurant once told me that if I knew what was going on in the kitchen, I would never go to eat there. After having read Feyerabend I wondered: if the general public knew the inside world of science, would anything with "scientific" basis still be trusted, would we admire their celebrities like Einstein, Feynman, etc.?

Against Method calls into question the position that science enjoys in modern society (politics, education, etc.). The separation of state and science the same way it was done in the case of state and religion during the Enlightenment is suggested. The main reason is that science is hardly distinguishable from the myths often encountered in religion, it can be equally as dogmatic (if not more), aspects of religion often criticized by scientists (such as giving more weight to ideas coming from prestigious sources) are very much present in science as well, and the concept of scientific method that is supposed to distinguish science from myth, according to Feyerabend, does not exist. Scientists on their way to useful discovery use a variety of tools, which includes rational argument and experimental checks, but it can also include rhetoric, propaganda, opportunism, etc. Furthermore it is not only that the scientific method does not exist, but it would hinder progress (in particular of science itself) if it existed, since proposing new ideas would be prevented from coming to light by the strict and binding criteria of any method, and in fact spontaneity would be sacrificed. It is also mentioned that the situation in science is steadily worsening since science has become a business in which producing bulk, (not mentioned are politicking at conferences, kissing up to powerful maffiosos of the field), etc. are more essential in building a scientific career than in depth investigations or great ideas.

Essentially the above is the analysis of science according to Feyerabend. His criticism of modern science (or perhaps more its institutes which intertwine with politics and business) is rather apposite. His solution is a sort of democracy or anarchy of ideas where science, religion, voodoo are more or less given "equal opportunity" to contribute, and everyone takes from them what s/he needs at any given time.

It seems to me that one of the conclusions of the book is not to give automatic trust to what is called science. Scientific achievements are not to be under-appreciated, but there is no reason to follow the advice of scientists (or so-called experts), necessarily, on issues such as their critique of religion (or other competing ideas of the world at large), what should be taught in schools, where tax money should be spent, or even scientific issues such as whether genetically modified organisms necessarily benefit everyone. The invention of the transistor certainly has made life easier, but science can do as much harm as good: some of the most talented and intellectually persistent individuals are drawn into an institution where they are likely to spend their energy on publishing papers in obscure journals (of which millions of pages are published weekly), and their talent geared at solving questions important only to a tiny part of the community (mainly other academics). (To some extent they become like medieval monks, only that medieval monks did not hold their annual conferences at the most expensive vacation resorts of the Mediterranean.) Thus science, even in ideal circumstances (that is neglecting the possibility of corruption, nepotism, etc.), can be a major obstacle to the spontaneous flow of human creativity.

All in all the issues raised in the book are likely to become more important in the future, since the position of science as the key to humanity's salvation or progress is less and less taken for granted unlike for much of the twentieth century (at least in the West).

A shortened sequel to this book is "Science in a free society", where much of the details are not elaborated but the ideas are stressed.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 1, 2011 2:00 AM PST


The Elementary Particles
The Elementary Particles
by Michel Houellebecq
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.84
103 used & new from $0.01

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twilight of modernity: how to sociologize with a hammer!, November 18, 2004
Houellebecq's novel, The Elementary Particles is a thorough critique of the foundations of modernity. These foundations are the elevation of science to religion status, consumerism in every-day life, and the rise of liberalism in the political sphere. Its story takes place in post-World War II France during the social developments usually referred to as "liberations" often associated with the hippie movement in the US of the 1960s, or the 1968 student rebellion in France (when bored French students and Sartre-reading intellectuals had nothing better to do with their time than to set cars on fire on the streets of Paris). It is the time when many "liberal" policies are implemented, such as divorce and right to an abortion.

The book starts by defining global meta-physical change, giving several examples one being the fall of the Roman Empire, and the rise of Christianity, another the decline of Christianity and its replacement by modern science. By science what is meant here is not only absent minded professors in white aprons looking for the cure for cancer, but more an institution and ideology around which society is founded, pervading all aspects of life; sociologists telling people that they should be happy because that is what surveys show, psychologists advising on all personal issues from childhood to adulthood. Natural intuition is relinquished into the hands of the experts. It is the world after this latter change that is described, a world in which for the masses there is consumerism, for those seeking something less shallow there is only (or at least mainly) science. In this brave new world people are alienated and lonely (they become Elementary Particles), even if opinion polls indicate that they should be satisfied, since everything is available at the supermarket. Houllebecq's description of the evolution of institutions such as family, marriage and community is worth noting: in the old times almost everyone got married or was part of some community, thus almost everyone had close to equal access to being loved. In Elementary Particles this essential condition is for most people lacking.

The story itself is the life of two such people; half-brothers Bruno and Michel. Their story really starts two generations ahead, describing how their grandparents, from peasant backgrounds in Corsica, noted by their schoolteacher for their intelligence, were encouraged to attend a better school. In modern terms, they made something of themselves (they managed to climb the social ladder). What is rarely noticed is that to a large extent they unknowingly sacrificed being part of their natural community (however faulty). The mother of Bruno and Michel is an even more severe example, here Houellebecq states that she was chosen to become part of the "liberal elite" (insinuating that climbing the social ladder is tied to criteria set down by political elites). As an adult she becomes a hippie for whom (and for her husbands) raising children turns out to be too much of a nuisance.

Thus Bruno and Michel are abandoned by their mother. Bruno grows up in an orphanage, Michel grows up secluded, with his grandmother. Through their eyes the reader also gets a description of what the influential popular media was feeding kids and adults at the time: psychologists giving advice on sex in teen magazines, the opening of sex cinemas, but also nature films on TV, etc. Michel watches animals eating and attacking other animals on TV (something like the Discovery channel), thus he is confronted with the natural brutality of the world. At the same time Bruno experiences some of this brutality for real, in the form of physical abuse by bullies at his orphanage (authority, even if justified, is in the process of disappearing). Thus, natural brutality and base human tendencies are not kept in check and balance by some community-building system of consensus, such as was done by Christianity for many centuries in the case of the Western World.

As an adult Bruno turns out to be an extreme example of a consumer (always seeking immediate self-satisfaction, of course mainly in sex), whereas Michel becomes a top-notch biologist incapable of expressing genuine emotion and uninterested in sex. Of course they are both seeking compensation for not being loved as they should have been when they were children. Both brothers suffer disastrous private lives, not to mention the people associated with them. The end conclusion of the book is a rather extreme (utopistic) scientific development by Michel, perhaps indicating that for now Houellebecq himself does not see a clear way out of the situation.

Houellebecq gives an interesting description of the evolution of modern science itself. While the development of quantum mechanics in the early twentieth century is described as the work of many creative minds with brilliant ideas, he goes on to give the impression that science subsequently has become methodical and bureaucratic (business-like). A new employee in Michel's lab is described as one who knows everything about the gene F433 (and probably nothing about F434). It is also stated that after forty most scientists gradually become administrators and their genuine interest in science greatly diminishes.

To be precise the book is not anti-science in the sense in which creationists are, nor is it a call for superstition. It is critical of the institutions of science in that they have overstepped a boundary in their useful role, and have become counterproductive (perhaps a similar mistake to what the medieval clergy has done with Christianity in the time of Galileo).

All in all I found this book to be extremely thought-provoking. I don't think I have ever read such a thorough critique of the social trends and realities of every-day life of our times as Houllebecq's Elementary Particles.


Scientia sacra (Hamvas Bela muvei) (Hungarian Edition)
Scientia sacra (Hamvas Bela muvei) (Hungarian Edition)
by Béla Hamvas
Edition: Unknown Binding

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome spiritual journey, November 2, 2004
I have read several books by Hamvas, and I find them extremely intriguing to say the least. Unfortunately they do not seem to have been translated into English, but of this book an Italian translation does exist. However there is hope, since recently there has been a growth in interest in Hungarian literature.

Hamvas is by no means an ordinary writer. He started out as a classical scholar, but was prevented from publishing anything during Communist era mainly due to George Lukacs, a Marxist philosopher (quite respected in Western intellectual circles), who was an advisor to the Hungarian government shortly after World War II. Lukacs was a true spiritual dictator, reponsible for ordering the removal of many known Western and Russian authors as well, including Celine, Chesterton, Berdjaev, Guenon, etc. from public libraries, or bookstores. Unfortunately, today, the works of these people are relatively unknown in the West as well. Thus Hamvas wrote much of his works for his drawer, only to be published after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In fact, during the communist era Hamvas was prevented from taking a job in the intellectual sphere, he supported himself by being a night guard at a factory. Ironically, I think that Hamvas' exile from the Academic world gave a kind of freedom to his writing that may not be there, had he remained a professional scholar.

Other than the language barrier, obstacles to Hamvas becoming known in the West include the fact that his books (including, and in particular Scientia Sacra) attempt to draw parallels between many great Traditions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Egyptian thought, philosophy from Greek to Modern), and the reader may be scared off by the vastness of such a background. In my case I was not scared off, I kept reading, and I was motivated to go and read further... The other, and perhaps more important factor, is the current cultural state of the West. For the masses there is consumption and self-indulgence, for those with some curiosity beyond there is scientifism (I mean the institutions that claim to monopolize science and rationality), which traps the mind in chains of simple rational, along with the swallowing of time and energy for much else. Scientifism and its political wings usually insist on the erasure of Tradition (as a matter of their own tradition) and all possible references to it.

Scientia Sacra is a spiritual journey. Hamvas encourages the reader to experience the world of the Archaic man. It is a thorough attempt at the spiritual reconstruction of a world that was before religion, philosophy, and science, through what possibly remained of it in the form of scattered fragments incorporated into existing Traditions (Hinduism, Christianity, Greeks), mythology, and interpretations. Perhaps it is merely an imaginative attempt, but that seems to be all that one can do. In the issues at stake here the methods of modern science (carbon-dating, categorizing, etc.) are not much help. What is important is not the space-time coordinates of events and statistical facts, but the common human experience or collective memory that is preserved in what is held sacred.


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