Here's Where We Might Reach the Limits of Science

This article may interest those who like epistemology in Science.


There are some things we may never know—about time, consciousness, the universe, and how to predict the roll of the dice.


Here's Where We Might Reach the Limits of Science

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Hi John

I hope I am not drifting off topic.

I wondered if you thought there was any reason not to simply accept the current scientific explanation of the universe and everything in it? i.e. what would be the motivation for being 'religious', etc.

There are philosophical critiques of science and epistemology. I guess I am most familiar with Richard Rorty. I found Gieryn interesting on science and boundary marking.

I am trying to put my thoughts into words. If, say, we have X explanation of the 'universe'. Then a scientist says, but X has a limit. So there is some unexplained aspect of the universe. To what extents does the unexplained portion undermine theory X? Does it license free speculation (e.g. religious explanations of the universe)? Or, are we still compelled to accept X? If so, on what basis?

I'm not sure if that clear.

rgds, Dewald

Hi Dewald!

If one has a new theory, say X', the first thing  to do is to show X' does not violate the existing experiments to date (X). That includes Classical Dynamics (CD), Electricity and Magnetism (EM - Maxwell's equations), Quantum Mechanics (QM), General Relativity (GR) and Quantum Electrodynamics (QED). Why? because the experimental results are solid. When you drop a ball it will/must still fall (e.g. only). 

That is a tall order. It is done by showing the new theory allows/approaches the above areas of Physics in the domain X',  inherent in its formulation.

Historical examples:

GR, when  c => infinity, yields CD and EM

QM, when h => 0, yields CD and EM.

QED, when c => infinity and h => 0, yields CD and EM

so, as in the above, you must show consistency with current Physics when using X'. Hence, theory X remains and X' does not contradict experiments. (Bridges still get built using CD).

I actually think the relationship between Brain and Mind, Brain and Consciousness is where it is headed. Religion is not needed (my opinion). Science is getting very close.

Peace - John

p.s. w.r.t. the EPR (Einstein Podolsky Rosen) paradox, a solid/decisive win for QM (via experiments) has been demonstrated.

hi John

That is a little more technical than my i am prepared for. Which i admit means, i am probably not up for this debate.

"bit of a ramble below" warning.

I think a general pragmatic argument would go along the lines of: you are mistaking what works for what is true.

Coupled with, for example, a Rortyan critique of epistemology, this undercuts any truth claims or final description of the world.

There are many self-referring explanations of how the world is. Science is one of them. But that does not make it true, beyond true meaning - what we as a community say and agree is true.

Richard Rorty, would, I think, make the basic argument that different vocabularies are used for different purposes. So, if you want to go to heaven, you talk christianity. if you want to launch a probe to mars, you talk contemporary science. none of these are ultimately true, as his critique of empistemology has dealt with such truth claims.

To say that other vocabularies  about the world will not be evolved in the future seems wrong to me.

What do you make of Thomas Kuhn?

The charge here would be that you present a teleological explanation of science that is getting closer and closer to the truth. But, epistemic ruptures would undermine that theory - if admitted, of course. Your arguments below, are an example of normative science operating within an agreed upon paradigm, which imposes certain problems and answers.

You would have to explain to me re: brain - consciousness etc. But, if you are proposing some sort of eliminative materialism, this could be countered by Donald Davidson's anomalous monism. (if i've understood him right.)

I think my broad point is not the specifics of any particular argument. It is that I can, I think, refer to contemporary thinkers who seem to open a space for alternate ways of being human and viewing the world. Science, I think, is never uniform throughout. there are negotiated borders, boundary markings, ambiguities, and contradictions. I have a book on scientific theories from the 80's - which presented various theories of the creation of the universe. amidst all the big bang articles, is one by a scientist on the steady state theory. Science contains many options, no matter how dominant a perspective may seem. Can i find contemporary divisions in science?

So my question was, can an argument be mounted against accepting mainstream science based on contemporary thinkers - and not referencing religious claims. I think yes. I understand you to say no.

I tried to come up with a thought experiment. (That at least makes sense to me.)

lets concede science is about controlling and predicting.

then a pill is developed by scientists.

the pill can change your brain state such that you can choose a new mental life.

so, you might take a 3centurybc roman pill. 

you take the pill and your every action and thought is about roman life.

you walk down to the corner cafe, but you think you are on some roman road.

you buy a coke, but it seems to be roman ale etc.

the question is, what is the persons real or true life.

I think my point here would be that 'science' is getting closer to what? is the person's life that of a 3rd century roman,or of a drugged 21st century person who thinks he is a roman? it isnt clear to me that reference to brain states will solve this to any satisfaction. Is the truth that we are in 'a' brain state. I think we can concede that.

I did warn of a ramble.



Hi !

the "So my question was, can an argument be mounted against accepting mainstream science based on contemporary thinkers - and not referencing religious claims. I think yes. I understand you to say no."

I actually say yes and not 'no' in your sentence above. I do not think any religions will help science. HPB theosophy is a religion (among others). Science will not quit until  the brain is explained and also it will run into Mind vs Brain  (a very hot science topic 'TODAY'). Then, I expect consciousness will follow. After that, I think it dead-ends.

Science is already very nearly there. So, there is no debate as I see it. It is out of our hands.

Why are theosophists so scared of Science?  Over the last 120 years, or so, Science has had several paradigm shifts. Science deals with them in glee and always is eager to find more.. That is how we got QM, EM, SR & GR etc. Scientists are willing to take whatever Nature can throw at it.

Avoid the extremists. On the right are quacks like Sam Harris (Bill Nye etc). On the left are really some quacks (Sheldrake etc.).

Peace -


Hi, thanks

When you say 'theosophists' above, do you mean with T or t. Not that it entirely matters. I don't think contemporary science posits anything like a part of a person which survives death. A soul, as normally understood. It also does not posit invisible worlds peopled with intelligences etc. 

T(t)heosophists, religionists, new age people, western esotericists etc should be concerned with a dominant form of thought which excludes them. 

I note, that your websites faq's references a divine/human/nature trinity it its definition of theosophy. I take this to be the little t.  What would divine mean in this instance?

I think a too quick acceptance of current science, seems in opposition some of the founding concepts of the site. (not that i am suggesting everyone, or you, needs to accept any particular set of ideas. But, it does seem to me the site has a broader foundation than current science. Would it be fair to say that?)

I dont think i referenced blavatsky theosophy in my comments above, but have revealed my interests before. hpb theosophy is now probably a religion. It was not so conceived in its origin. This position could be sustained.

At any rate, no point in either of us repeating ourselves. I think there is sufficient ammunition not to be totally over-awed by contemporary science. But, obviously, only those who feel the need to would look to the margins for the shortcomings of mainstream positions.

rgds, dewald


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