Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Wisdom of Arthur Koestler

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The esteemed polymath Arthur Koestler wrote this [in the late 60s]….

The citadel of science…rests on a number of impressive pillars, but some of them are beginning to show cracks and turn out to be hollow, or reveal themselves as monumental superstitions. The most important among them I have called “the four pillars of unwisdom.” They represent the doctrines:

(a) that biological evolution is the result of nothing but random mutations preserved by natural selection;

(b) that mental evolution is the result of nothing but random tries preserved by reinforcements;

(c) that all organisms, including man, are nothing but passive automata, controlled by the environment, whose sole purpose in life is the reduction of tensions by adaptive responses;

(d) that the only scientific method worth that name is quantitative measurement; and, consequently, that complex phenomenon must be reduced to simple elements accessible to such treatment, without undue worry whether the specific characteristics of a complex phenomenon, for instance man, may be lost in the process.

The common element in these four fallacies is the philosophy of Reductionism…which holds that all human activities can be reduced to (explained by) the elementary responses” displayed by lower animals (such as the psychologist’s laboratory rat) and that these responses in turn can be reduced to elementary physico-chemical laws.*

* Pages 200-201 in The Encyclopedia of Delusions (Nothing but….?), Edited by Ronald Duncan and Miranda Weston-Smith [A Wallaby Book, Simon and Schuster, NY, 1979]