The old debate "nature" vs. "nurture" has given space to a new debate between "natural sciences" vs. "postmodernism" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_wars, http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/reality.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair). The role of biology - through phisiology, ethology, evolution and mostly the view of diversity in natural populations - has been despised as useless, or even dangerous, from the point of view of many in the so-called "human sciences".

Some authors point to "scientific racism", Lombroso, Hitler, Lysenko and others who made bad science, but instead of asking for better science - science with philosophy - they accuse science of being "bad", something like blame the hammer for the pain in your finger, not the hand who handled the hammer. This attack on reason started in Europe and USA as a type of anti-Iluminism, and today has spread through the periferic countries within capitalism (to use Celso Furtado's expression). The portuguese Boaventura de Sousa Santos is an example of the "intellectuals" used today to indoctrinate students in "how not to think clearly". Despite his really bad writing, he is almost obligatory reading in Brazil. He visits the country on a regular basis, mostly for the "World Social Forum", but doesn't cite any brazilian. He says that the indigenous groups bring hope to the future, but doesn't cite any person or indigenous organization. With a single example of science applied with arrogance in Oceania, he concluded that "modern science is arrogant", ignoring the progresses obtained by ethnosciences. Without a single argument, he says that Darwin is an english imperialist. With a single example of one word and one african language (in the view of a single translator), he concludes that all languages are untranslatable - thus strenghtening the pro-fragmentation discourse. And while he lowers science to the status of a poisonous viper, he raises theology to the top of the intellectual ladder - side by side with philosophy, yet. But what's of philosophy without science? St. Augustine? St. Thomas Aquinas? He repeats absurd mantras like "truth is in the eye of the beholder", blending truth with opinion.

It looks clear to me that this sort of material is intended to keep some peoples behind, and the fact that it first appeared in Europe and USA doesn't change this - today these regions are also getting behind, losing competition with asians, frightened and cornered by islam, suffering with unemployment in Europe and with a never seen wealth concentration in USA. Looks like whoever created this way of attacking reason, knew how to profit over it, whatever the territory. Looks like this is related with the way in which financial markets are left unregulated on purpose. After all, pretend that "there's no truth" is the best way to let the rich kids play the way they like. If there is a truth, we can try to achieve it, and this automatically creates a kind of popular union that threatens too much the welfare of these rich kids and the safety of their activities, which no law could control yet.

So what I want to ask is: how do you see this new "debate" in your country? Most social scientists are in the side of reason? They see continuity within sciences? They can talk to, learn with and teach biologists, for instance? Or are most of them at the side of postmoderns, and think/pretend they don't have almost anything to share with the natural sciences?

Since this is not a usual perspective on the subject, I'll try to explain it more:

Natural sciences look for common rules, for what remains equal among the diversity. But the diversity is the core of biology - the science that may be called "central science" for its relation with all other sciences. Applied to politics, only ignorance in biology could lead a people to destroy the diversity, instead of defend it. Postmodernity pretends to defend diversity, but denying the equality, the logics and the reason behind the diversity, leads to fragmentation, which weakens those who make up the diversity, and strengthens only the ones who already possess the media channels and other infrastructure to sustain power.

  • Is there any chance you might be able to simplify and focus this a little bit more? It will definitely help optimize the chances of getting a great answer if you could specify really clearly what exactly it is you'd like someone here to explain to you in a few paragraphs. What exactly is the problem you're facing in your reading/study? What hypotheses have you formed and what has your research uncovered so far?
    – Joseph Weissman
    Jan 31, 2015 at 5:46
  • Simple. They don't, science itself is in deep opposition to post-modernism. Have you really just realized this now? Or were you intending to provoke consideration? "which is the cause and/or result"? It's not the cause, the superstructure is never the cause. I prefer thinking that is compatible with science, Dialectical materialism, on which we then compare with observations. Jul 31, 2015 at 4:30
  • Are you trying to ask a question, or to preempt any meaningful answer that is not 100% in line with what you already think? Feb 19, 2018 at 22:33
  • @LuísHenrique I'm seeing nonsense being taught in Brazilian universities and elsewhere, and want to know if they're the exception or the rule. Since most people flee from this subject, I'm thinking it's indeed the rule. This seems to explain our increasing return to the Middle Ages...
    – Rodrigo
    Feb 20, 2018 at 0:07
  • Well, but is it nonsense? And is it being taught in Brazilian universities? Feb 20, 2018 at 12:16

2 Answers 2


[Made edits (*) to attempt to address comments]

You make other assertions which I will not address (not that they aren't worthwhile), but as I understand them, your main theses are...

(1) Today there is a divide between natural science and an influential portion of philosophy.

(2) This is not natural in terms of intellectual development; perceived past problems such as 'social Darwinism' and 'comparative phrenology' are being exploited.

(3) This is being done by a relatively few people who are able to influence philosophical discourse (and seem to be doing it fully intentionally, if I understand you right).

(4) Today there is a comparatively great amount of global inequality of capital and fulfillment.

(5) (1) is the primary cause for (4). (*)I misunderstood this.

First, let me say, it is an interesting argument, I think, as it goes straight to biology and the propagation of one's physical being as well as one's competent interaction within their environment, or at least straight to the study of such things; however, there are many things to be addressed. I've tried to note some I've noticed.

Regarding (1), there are new disciplines that have arisen in the nations mentioned that bridge the fields in some ways. For instance, ecological psychology attempts to understand human behavior as related to natural conditioning in natural environments (that way we can kill peasants on the other side of the world in the most effective way possible).

Regarding (2), I think you made a problematic statement here:

The role of biology - through ph[y]siology, ethology, evolution and mostly the view of diversity in natural populations - has been despised as useless, or even dangerous, from the point of view of many in the so-called "human sciences".

Firstly, these disciplines may have different reasons for their separation from philosophy, and it may simply be their own fault. Ethologists have made claims relating animal behavior to human behavior that did not pan out. It's an interesting discipline, but there is conjecture that sometimes emanates popularly (not that hypothesis is bad, but ethics is a deep study).

(*)Both in ancient and in recent times, 'reasons' for biology are somewhat apt to be offensive or wrong. I don't know that this is necessarily the case due to an alteration of the scientific method, but it seems a tendency in popular reading. I have heard Desmond Morris described as the man who thinks human women are shorter so they can get turned on smelling men's sweaty armpits. I love Desmond Morris, and this is certainly not a balanced representation of his work. Even stated in this contentious way, this very particular notion is not necessarily entirely wrong. Still, one can see how a scientist putting forward a notion like this could be perhaps rightly put to task. You mention ancient observers, which are sometimes almost definably wrong, such as Aristotle's notion of women as similar to castrated men, due to their higher pitched voices and certain other traits. Not that anything is invalid about the experience of a castrated man, but a statement such as this carries with it all kinds of notions. It detracts from the other great organic studies of Aristotle. Whether such popular ideas are prevalent for their shock value, or due to a concerted effort you describe is maybe hard to determine.

(*)Perhaps you are somewhat right concerning 'hyperidealism' making understanding one-dimensional in terms of Economics. I think this argument is problematic, though, because 'value' is determined by all sorts of factors in the non-ideal world, so of course economics is not an ideal. It crystallizes all sorts of bad ideas into a so-thought perfect form. Economics can describe goods shared by a community as well as an individual. It can weight factors against environmental exploitation. A value can be placed on many different types of 'independent' material properties, thus making it more than one-dimensional. In the sense that Economics places maximizing ownership of production for oneself a rational goal, I agree that the 'ideal' is not ideal.

Secondly, confusion exists in many disciplines. Look at the odd state physics is in. Perhaps physics is resting on a fundamental misunderstanding. Perhaps philosophy or natural science has experienced its own fundamental misunderstanding.

(*)Physics has split into multiple disciplines, and experiments often cost an exorbitant amount of money. In the year 1969, a person stood on the moon, string theory was stated, the first message on the ARPANet passed, the first laser printer made, the first back-propagated neural network run, the UNIX operating system developed. Five years before that, quark theory was proposed. Since that time, minaturization, usability, reproducibility, and maintenance have ruled the day, I'd argue. Physics cannot make predictions as well as it used to. (Whether such inventions were good is something else, but I think they index a general trend of physical application in at least the US.)

Thirdly, perhaps the problems have just gotten harder and therefore more difficult to apply. It takes specialized devices to study molecular biology. Much information may be accessed through databanks and papers, but making statements of the sort William James made in earlier days of physiology may be harder to evidence or understand.

(*)William James made statements concerning sensations as related to fundamental understandings and emotions. For an instance, to argue that humans can make sharp modal changes in perception, he described how a pendulum when hit at a certain frequency will swing in one pattern, then lock into another as the frequency is slowly adjusted. He compared this to the human auditory system, to sort of describe how humans can experience rhythm differently than pitch or timbre.

(*)The size of humans as compared to materials of interest has changed. Equipment is therefore necessary for physical observation, and it is costly. Perhaps the material properties that should be of interest should be different, or perhaps the interest should not be in materials, I dunno. Perhaps it should be in animals, or ourselves, or newly created materials, or old forgotten natural materials, or preservation of the Earth, or in metaphysics, or in story-telling, or in silly putty. Your propostition is that what controls interest and spread of ideas is control of capital, historical materialism (although I don't like the term, since it is really about control over certain kinds of material, not just materialism). I didn't realize that (5) was not your argument.

Fourthly, the connections may have been extended past their obvious limits. Regarding evolution, it is more difficult to agree on speciation of ideas than it is speciation of animal life.

Fifthly, it may be a natural occurrence. History has gone through periods of dissociation in understanding before, also great destruction in various areas. What is to be considered natural and unnatural today?

(*)The 'awful aversion of some scientists' has always existed. Partly, it is due to disagreement, partly it is due to ontological commitments and comfort/survival, partly it is due to personal conflicts. Darwin understood that deism, Lamarckism, and saltation were common intellectual understandings of his time. His wife implored him not to give up spiritual concerns. He of course had a famous debate with Owen. I think perhaps the danger is really that 'scientist' has lost its meaning. If you are arguing that 'scientists' are no longer scientists, then what you are really arguing is about the loss of science. You therefore believe science has broken down, and must be revitalized. What is your suggested solution?

Regarding (3), how are these people able to ignore experts while remaining empowered? How are they silencing anyone? How are they making a more effective appeal to the mass?

(*)How churches do this is a long and contentious answer I don't entirely know, and won't attempt to make. I'd guess Max Weber probably still reigns here.

Regarding (5), how is this to be understood as the cause and not the result?

I think my deepest contention, and perhaps this is just a personal thing, is that it has that negative outlook of Marxism. I fear that by investing oneself in such things to one's total ability, one makes their spirit temporary and alienates the ideals they wish to strive for by assuming the power does not already exist within themself, an opportunity.

(*)By 'spirit temporary', I mean, socialism describes a perfect ideal in which there is no conflict, so where does one fit in this conception, if one has committed themselves to the conflict? How does one even envision that future? It is a notion that I think acts in many ways in philosophy, in the tension between anarchism and republic, criticism and idealism, and 'becoming' and 'being'. The danger in that, by describing a 'disease' of the present it becomes 'infectious'. Or by accepting 'the goodness of now', we lose sight of 'full health'.

  • Thanks for your answer, dwn. "there are new disciplines that have arisen" yes, like Ecological Economics too, which tries to put economy back on the trails of a sustainable society. The problem is that they are still a minority. Looks like the "mainstream" social sciences strongly rejects the natural sciences' views and insights.
    – Rodrigo
    Jan 29, 2015 at 15:20
  • "not that hypothesis is bad, but ethics is a deep study" Many ancient people studied animal behavior to better understand humans. Looks like the West, because of it monotheistic thinking, has departed from this point of view. And the ecological problems we face today seem to be widened because of this prejudice.
    – Rodrigo
    Jan 29, 2015 at 15:23
  • Just think how can economists declare the environment an "externality"! That's hyperlative idealism. That's idealism to the point of total blindness, and of course this is causing us many problems. What claims of ethologists "did not pan out"?
    – Rodrigo
    Jan 29, 2015 at 15:25
  • "Look at the odd state physics is in." Which odd state? Their planes work. Their buildings work. Their bombs work. Of course our engineers could learn more with indigenous peoples, so as to build better strucutures, less dependents on thermical correction machines, and so on. But, even not knowing what are the basis of matter, we know well enough how do electrons, atoms, airplanes, satellites and electromagnetic signals work. Are you stating that the gaps are more significative? And of course, biology has already found out a lot about ourselves. Do you mean most of it are probably wrong?
    – Rodrigo
    Jan 29, 2015 at 15:29
  • "statements of the sort William James made in earlier days of physiology" for instance?
    – Rodrigo
    Jan 29, 2015 at 15:33

Your question is difficult to answer because you used the word "truth." Ironically, in a question which referenced the untranslatability of languages, that one word breeds quite a lot of difficulty in 5 short letters. I, personally, use several almost-but-not-quite fungible definitions when talking to different people.

For example, science's most commonly used definition of "truth" is vanishing error bounds as N grows large; science accepts results which suggest that, as N goes to infinity, error goes to 0. Science doesn't get to ask a deity what the "truth" is, so it has to rely on its instruments, which are all imperfect.

One key pattern that shows up from this approach to "truth" is the desire to remove the observer from the system. We are complicated fickle creatures which makes it hard to develop these vanishing error bounds if we're involved. This is very clear in physical sciences, where the experimental setups are designed to be exceedingly free of human interaction. Drawing from high school physics experiments, they like to see the behavior of materials quantified by balls rolling down an inclined plane, not the behavior of a ball rolled around by a human hand. Doing it that way makes it easier to demonstrate repeatability.

As you get to more complicated systems, it becomes harder and harder to set up interesting experiments without involving human effects more and more. One particular human, the observer, becomes particularly hard to remove from the equation. Details like unconscious biases begin to have more of an effect, and it becomes harder to make the argument that the errors vanish for large N.

Accordingly, you get a an ordering of scientific topics. A biologist rapidly accepts anything a physicist discovers. A physicist will accept the results of a biologist in his or her daily life, but will try not to let it pollute the "more pure" physics. However, when running short on interesting things to do, the physicist will look at the unexpected results of the biologist and say "maybe I can prove this," which slowly keeps the sciences in sync.

XKCD did an amazing job of capturing this feel, in my opinion.

  • The author of "An Agricultural Testament", Sir Albert Howard, had no problem in translating the knowledge of chinese and indians. And had no problem in learning with them - no matter if their knowledge was mythological, it was the result of millenia of local experiments, so it was obvious that he had a lot to learn with that people. That is the scientist being non-arrogant. And science doesn't need that the p-value reaches 0, it's ok with p < 0.05. Because N never approaches infinity. Most scientific papers have N between 2-4 digits. So I don't know if you have really answered my question...
    – Rodrigo
    Jan 28, 2015 at 15:44

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