May 7, 2020
Without Philosophy, Science becomes Scientismby Ballard Quass
When Stephen Hawking observed that philosophy is dead (which itself is a philosophical statement, of course, being insusceptible of inductive proof), he was saying so triumphantly, as if this were a good thing. The reality however is that when science ignores philosophy it becomes mere scientism.
Take the search for modern anti-depressants. The logic behind this venture is roughly as follows: find a chemical trait that is held in common by the maximum number of depressed individuals and then seek to change that trait by targeted chemical intervention.
To a materialist scientist, this statement sounds like pure science, but the fact is that it makes sense only if the scientist who affirms it is holding at least one major philosophical assumption about psychopharmacological intervention, namely that we can chemically intervene at some precise point in the causal process of a psychological condition without regard for the larger picture, i.e. without any proof that this similarity that we are thereby treating is a real cause of pathology as opposed to a mere symptom of it.
Many people suffering from headache are known to wrinkle their eyebrows. We do not know why, exactly, but we have noticed that almost all headache sufferers do this. We could come up with an intervention that keeps the patients' eyebrows straight, will they or nill they, but that intervention is based on an assumption: namely, that we are actually intervening at a meaningful and relevant location in a causal chain. Likewise, we can notice that many depression sufferers have a similar type of brain chemistry. We can intervene at this level too and attempt to correct the patient's brain chemistry, but as with the headache, we can only do this by assuming that we are intervening in response to a germane causative factor viz the patient's depression. If we intervene chemically to change a non-causative factor, we are doing no more than straightening eyebrows. In the case of the depressed patient, we are actually causing harm however because we are playing around with brain chemistry that had no need of adjustment in the first place, the anomalous chemistry being a mere symptom of a far more relevant upstream causal factor (or factors) of which we are ignorant.
Of course, in the case of depression, Robert Whitaker has already documented how the anti-depressants of Big Pharma actually cause the chemical imbalances that they purport to treat. But even if we accept that depressed people share a specific brain chemistry, it does not follow that we should intervene by brute force, as it were, to change that specific chemistry. And if we do so, we are not proceeding by the mere dictates of science, but rather we are proceeding under the philosophical assumptions of materialist reductionism.
This is why psychedelic therapy for depression is generally scorned by the scientific community, not because such treatment is non-scientific but because its success would pose an implicit challenge to modern materialism, according to which psychopharmacological interventions are "scientific" (and therefore valid and potentially useful) only to the extent that they are chemically pinpointed and quantifiable.
When modern scientists say that "philosophy is dead," they're essentially saying: "We believe so strongly in the materialist approach that we will no longer even acknowledge that it is based on premises that are susceptible of debate." In other words, to say that "philosophy is dead" is to declare victory in the war of approaches to healing. It's an intolerant statement, to put it mildly, because it says to its opponents (those, for instance, who wish to use psychedelics for psychological healing): "There's no more debate allowed. Materialism is ontologically true and therefore we will proceed according to that understanding, straightening as many eyebrows as we need to in order to make our point!"
This would be funny but for the fact that materialist reductionism already has a body count: It is responsible for the fact that 1 in 8 American males and 1 in 4 American females are addicted to Big Pharma meds -- substances that were created and justified under the materialist assumption that depression sufferers are basically identical clones who are amenable to a one-size-fits-all therapy that involves intervening at the most microscopic level possible.
Such an approach has been a colossal failure, of course, since during its ascendancy over the last 50 years, America has become the most depressed and addicted country in the world. But scientists will never learn from these mistakes if they believe, like Hawking, that materialist reductionism is above criticism, that it is no longer just a way of seeing the world but THE way of seeing it.
There is a word for this kind of arrogant materialist belief that willfully ignores its own debatable premises: that word is "scientism."