THE VIRUS OF SCIENTISM
“Cogito ergo sum” (Descartes, 1637). It is the thought that humanizes the life of man; The peculiar capacity of man to think or rather, to think thoughts to put it in metapsychological terms, is one of the many characteristics that distinguishes the human from the animal. Thought understood as a function of what we call consciousness, whose nature still remains a mystery today, makes the human being unique and unrepeatable in front of other species on Earth. It is ultimately being itself, the fifth essence of man. But still the philosopher and mathematician wrote: “dubito ergo sum vel quod item est cogito ergo sum” (I doubt therefore I am, or what is the same, I think therefore I am). Descartes undermines the being of Aristotelian memory by arguing that thought is not exclusively the discriminating factor between man and animal but one of its specific functions: the ability to doubt. “I doubt ergo sum”. We could say: “if I doubt, then I am, I exist”. It is the doubt that underlies the certainty of being human. It is what allowed first Philosophy and later Science to be the greatest invention of the human intellect. Everything comes to life from the ability to doubt.
Brightest Hour: we are live with Francesco Boz, author for Le Iene, founder of the Oltreuomo and Psiche.org page.Published by TEDxTreviso on Wednesday 29 April 2020 René Descartes (Descartes)
For months now, medical science has been the protagonist of the Italian media scene. Contradictory messages and hypotheses passed off as empirically validated laws by those who think they possess veritas medica and advice based on scientific void are just some of the communication errors of the mass media that do nothing but fuel a schizophrenic communication on which the citizen will then model his own behavioral style. Science today more than ever is experiencing a period of extreme fallibility in the face of a new and mysterious object of investigation which, as such, confronts us with the fact that our scientific knowledge cannot be based a priori on universally valid assertions.The a priori of thought is not attributable to any type of immutable law but resides exclusively in the capacity of the human being to doubt. Science like it or not proceeds through doubt; it is from doubt intended as a driving function that one or more cognitive assertions are constructed which will then give life to a hypothesis to be subjected to the scrutiny of empirical validation. We note how the media approach on which much of the disclosure on the COVID-19 issue is based, is anything but scientific. The doctor on television gives us a gift of knowledge and we are grateful to him for this, but we should always remember that in moments when Science approaches in small steps towards the understanding of a new phenomenon, the truth of the scientist is an extremely fallacious and approximate truth. . Without setting the doubting thought machine in motion, we remain anchored to a one-sided thought, which will be passed off and misunderstood as universally valid. Let us remember that we quickly passed from communications such as: “The risk of contagion in the country is zero” and “shocking numbers of deaths”. Just as we went from: “masks are useless” to “Monday masks are mandatory.” Each of these statements, unfortunately, has been received as absolute veritas due to a lack of intellectual honesty (on the part of the doctors themselves) in admitting that science now has very few certainties on this phenomenon.
Is the Science of Veritas the Science we want to believe in? Being blind to the epistemological principle according to which any type of doctrine that proclaims itself as scientific is based on doubt and on the principle of falsifiability (Antiseri, 1999) (Popper has wonderfully taught us this), means to lean towards an authoritarian, anti- liberal and anti-democratic. Science deprived of its ability to doubt is not science but scientism.
Let’s go into the method for a second. We are bombarded with numbers every day without anyone reminding us that these are the result of statistical studies and as such subject to measurement errors, sampling errors, standard errors, procedural errors and so on. When the statistical tool is used to validate a medical theory (even more a psychological theory) it is nothing more than a methodological aberration, as well as an expression of contemporary scientism. Are we really sure that the measurement tool (in this case statistics) is enough to fully grasp reality? Today the hypothesis for which we are returning to an emergency situation like that of March is placed under empirical validation through the statistical survey, helping to create an agglomeration of numbers, statistical indices, incidence curves, which have an extremely weak scientific weight. Medical reality, as well as psychological reality, is so multi-variable that it cannot be grasped by statistics alone and then passed off as scientific truth through the mass media.
What happens to the clinical evidence? Does the purely qualitative observation of a clinical eye necessarily have to give way to the quantification tool?Freud’s enlightening genius, as well as all exponents of Psychoanalytic thought and beyond, have revolutionized psychological thinking not thanks to numbers but thanks to clinical observation, a tool that is now going into oblivion due to its alleged empirical non-reliability in alas, favor of the most modern neuro-scientific and statistical tools. But are we really sure that a number is more reliable than a clinical intuition? “Imagination is more important than knowledge” wrote Einstein (1929); and perhaps imagination is even more important than technique. Eradicate the object of investigation from the reality in which it is immersed and eliminate from the analysis every variable connected to it only because it “dirties” the data, on the one hand it allows to obtain a higher statistical reliability but on the other it reduces the possibility of understanding the phenomenon in its complexity. Contrary to what science proposes to us today, studying a given phenomenon with quantitative and mechanistic methodologies cannot be the basis for the validation of a theory that aims to be defined as scientific.
If so, our science would have come to an end. If an alphanumeric code were enough to explain natural, medical or psychological phenomena, our reference models would not collapse in the face of the exception represented by a phenomenon that we define inexplicable. Clinical practice teaches us this day by day: every model faced with the unrepeatable singularity of an individual is fallacious in at least one point of its theoretical structure. This is the presumption of the scientific science of our time: to raise to scientific truth what has been merely quantified, thus losing sight of the real multivariable nature intrinsic to the phenomenon itself.Ernst Von Glasersfeld
Claiming that the number of infected has increased is not enough to validate the theory that the virus is still highly dangerous. In the midst of the increase in infections and the assertion “the virus is dangerous” there are a multitude of variables that for methodological reasons are not taken into consideration for the purposes of the analysis and this inevitably affects the ability to grasp the reality of the phenomenon. To fully understand the reality, we should have to deal with every single patient included in the survey sample but this, we understand well, is impossible. Consequently, we can limit ourselves not only to reading the numbers as they appear but to interpreting them according to a reference model that allows us (at least in part) to grasp the complexity of the object we are analyzing.The number itself is a pure methodological artifice that we can play with as we please. We are so attracted by the presumption of being able to know the phenomena of nature through quantification that we are losing the ability to tolerate the doubt originating from non-knowledge, which is the very foundation of any scientific theory. Von Glasersfeld (1999), exponent of radical constructivism and avid opponent of scientific objectification, wrote that “Appealing to objectivity means suppressing responsibility. This is why it is so successful! ”.
To return to the initial steps, all this trust in statistical quantification and objectification puts the gag on doubt, on the ability to propose alternative models of reading and understanding of the phenomenon, on the possibility of criticizing political choices and, ultimately, on our freedom. of thought. History has taught us that when people have stopped doubting by bowing their faces and relying on a savior, forms of totalitarianism have found fertile ground. Obviously we are not faced with a danger of authoritarian drift but perhaps the paths that have been taken by those who hold the reins of the country are very thorny. We can ask ourselves: what should be the role of politics in all this? It is in this exquisitely epistemological diatribe that politics must join the Science of Doubt while maintaining its decision-making capacity intact. Science must indicate the possible routes to follow but the ultimate decision rests with the members of the executive who should assume responsibility for the choices made without being attracted by a justificationism that is very harmful for the citizen but saving for those who govern (all the fault of the virus!). Politics must not delegate every choice to Science and its corresponding technical scientific committee. Science, after verifying its hypotheses within reality and not within an aseptic laboratory setting as we have seen,
Science will save us and scientific committees are essential but they must not assume the fundamental function that belongs to government action: to take responsibility for deciding without using the virus as an all-encompassing justification. Reaching around the State in dramatic situations is physiological to maintain an internal homeostasis but to stop doubting even those who define our individual freedoms, albeit in the name of protecting public health, still remains a legitimate doubt to reflect on. We must ask ourselves: are we still able to doubt?
Antiseri, D. (1999). Karl Popper: protagonist of the twentieth century. Rubbettino.
Descartes. (1637). Discourse on the method. Milan: Feltrinelli, 2014.
Einstein, A. (1929, October 26). Interview. The Saturday Evening Post. (GS Viereck, Interviewer)
Von Glasersfeld, E. (1999). Radical constructivism. A way to know and learn. Odradek, 2016.