“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

The Decline Effect and the Scientific Method: newyorker.com

The Decline Effect and the Scientific Method: newyorker.com.

This is a big blow to big science. Apparently, the scientific method, with all its supposed statistical objectivity, is not as good at proving facts as you think. Is this just some sort of confirmation bias inherent to the process of publishing research findings, or is there some deeper Sheldrakian effect which results from creating new morphic fields around experimental procedures, such that the decline in statistically relevant data as the experiment is repeated is a result of a natural movement toward informational entropy? In other words, maybe nature responds to the novelty producing perturbations of experimental conditions by seeking equilibrium.


Though it is not a matter of opinion but of fact that “nature” is predictable enough for a man-made device like my phone to send information across the world instantaneously at the tap of my finger on a glass screen with better resolution than my retina, knowing HOW and WHERE is not the same as knowing WHAT or WHY. Technology (which includes not just all instrumental, but all predictive and experimental science) is a kind of knowledge based upon the simplification of living complexity into a formal mechanism/algorithm, so that, at least to some degree, “nature” can be predicted and so controlled. Donna Haraway calls this technoscience, and I think it is the supreme authority of this highly industrialized and monetized form of knowledge production that has been called into question by the decline effect. Technoscience knows nothing of What “nature” is or “Why,” and so after a few hundred years of this form of science “for profit” the earth’s species and ecosystems have been pushed into a mass extinction and a new geological era has been initiated. Anyone who doubts the power of the “objectivity” of science need only consider what has taken place on the surface of this planet, and on other planets, in the past centuy alone.

When it comes to theoretical science, or what I’d call speculative philosophy, which deals with the What and the Why, we are in much more open waters. Metaphysics (in the specific sense, like in Whitehead’s Process and Reality or Bergson’s Creative Evolution, not in Barnes and Noble) is concerned with truth, technoscience is concerned with power.

The Copernican Revolution is a theoretical advancement that has had real technological application, but to say that there is no next step that completely re-orients the relation of the observer to the surrounding universe ignores what the relativistic and quantum revolutions have revealed to us about space-time and matter-energy. Its not that heliocentrism is “wrong,” nor even that geocentrism is “wrong.” Both are true enough when considered within the framework they were meant to describe. But what makes science so exciting for me is that our consciousness still hasn’t caught up with the 20th century revelations about the fundamentally non-mechanical nature of “nature.”

No, not the scientific method but the worship of technoscience (disinterested science co-opted by the profit motives of industry) is largely responsible for the ecological crisis. I was saying that the scientific method is obviously effective since it has allowed human civilization to almost entirely encompass the biosphere within a technosphere. And the other planets I was referring to were those upon which scientists have landed probes. Science is “objective” in some important sense, or these technologies would not be possible. I put “objective” in parantheses because the knowledge which has allowed us to do all this is more practical than theoretical. We are still struggling to adapt our practices to the theoretical knowledge that the universe is essentially a complex living whole and not a collection of mechanical parts.

As regards geocentrism, what say you about the omnicentric universe that observation and theory both suggest we live within? No, the earth is not the center of the solar system, but since space-time appears to be unbounded, it is meaningless to say any planet exists “on the periphery” of the universe. If the circumference is nowhere, the center is everywhere. This idea, in part, is what got Bruno burnt at the stake in 1600 (not his heliocentrism).







4 responses to “The Decline Effect and the Scientific Method: newyorker.com”

  1. mary Avatar

    Hey Matt,
    Fascinating. Perhaps scientists are unadmitted nomads in the sympoietic whose heuristics are due for evolution and the mental deficient modes of inquiry are beginning to show their caricature. Dempster writes that “the closer one gets to a boundary, the less distinct containment becomes”. The presence of the observer, the situatedness of the inquiry relationship itself is no longer opaque. Anxious mice/ anxious empiricism….I like the morphic field thoughts and I wonder of a relationship to archetypes. I heard echoes of Steiner in his affirmation that silence with nature opens to soul in Schooler’s “verbal overshadowing effect” (the retention of visual information)…In any case, I find this fascinating. This seems to me as yet another breeze of the synairetic rise through the sciences with the invitation to consciousness to move into the integral. Experimentation, as approached in the deficient rational will no longer suffice.

    Also, here is the Hazen article I never made into a video before you left for Schumaker:

    Click to access evolution%20of%20minerals.pdf

    much thanks and blessings,

  2. Beatrix Murrell Avatar

    Mary mentions an interest in morphic fields and archetypes, which brought to mind a book authored by Matthew Fox and Rupert Sheldrake, entitled NATURAL GRACE, published in 1996. They employ the symbol of “angels” in their discussion, but eventually admit they are actually discussing “archetypes.”


  3. Beatrix Murrell Avatar

    p.s. There’s more elaboration on Fox and Sheldrake’s discussing the symbol of “angels” as “archetypes” in another 1996 publication entitled THE PHYSICS OF ANGELS: EXPLORING THE REALM WHERE SCIENCE AND SPIRIT MEET–also authored by Matthew Fox and Rupert Sheldrake.


  4. John Bryant Avatar

    Ironically, the “ecological crisis” has at it’s root the disconnect between man and “God” that so many of the sacred texts were on about. As this disconnection becomes more and more scientifically and technologically institutionalized, I suspect the (God of the) natural repercussions will take the offending cultures to their breaking points.

    I don’t see any practical technological advancements that came from the Copernican revolution…? Ironically, if Bruno’s ideas had something in the way of tangible (technological) advancement to offer, his reception may have been very different. 😉

    Happy new year and have a great 2011!


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