On Utopia

As long as there has been civilization, it has been imperfect. As long as there have been philosophers, they have imagined perfect worlds. But the word utopia, coined by Thomas More in his eponymous book, is derived from the Ancient Greek οὐτοπία, which means “no such place.”

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ vision of a communist society has been the most widespread of all such ideas. Just as notable are the American states founded on utopian ideals — namely, Massachusetts and Utah. Such experiments on a smaller scale can be found throughout the United States. But these all have one thing in common — they have never succeeded.

Why is this? Why have Communist movements, despite their high ideals, always failed or been corrupted into totalitarianism? Why did New Harmony and Equality Colony falter while Packingtown had to be exterminated by the progressive movement? The answer, I believe, lies in an inherent flaw in the idea of a utopian society: every one of the members of the society must make conscious, continual efforts to adhere to its ‘central goal’, be it collectivism or theocracy or respect for nature. There is no room in such an idealized imagining for the realities of dissent and individualism; no place for the diversity of human beings, one of our most important characteristics, to shine. Instead, all people in the society are assumed to have the same slavish devotion to its principles as its creator. This is why utopias always collapse into debt or squabbling — because they cannot handle even small differences in opinion and action.

In contrast, philosophies of government that have ascended in power and proven their worth in matters of stability portray the opposite belief: capitalism, regardless of its lack of economic support for those who need it most, glorifies the individual’s ability to make choices, while functional democracy is based on the disparate opinions of its individual members.

Socialism cannot last because of its utopian attitude towards collectivism and economic welfare, whereas free market capitalism does nothing to alleviate the suffering of the poor. So is there a coherent economical philosophy that is both sustainable and receptive to the people’s problems? I believe there are several, which will be discussed in another post. #

kjk

Solidarity

The authors of Il Piano do not blog in a vacuum, and while our ability to make a global impact is small, we stand in support and solidarity with many greater organizations. Because of this, we are launching a Solidarity page, which will show our support for organization, movements, and individuals around the world. #

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Recognizing Pseudoscience

I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true.

Carl Sagan

Four and a half centuries ago, a boy was born in Pisa, Italy. He soon became a prominent inventor, professor, merchant, philosopher, and (in the modern usage of the term) the very first scientist on Earth. Almost having become a priest, this man instead laid the groundwork for an objective study of the universe. His name was Galileo Galilei.

Using the telescopes he constructed for himself, Galileo The Galilean Moonsdiscovered Jupiter’s four largest moons, Saturn’s rings, and topological variance on the Moon’s surface. But more importantly for science as a whole, he used the observational evidence he gathered to champion the theory of heliocentrism, that the Earth and other celestial bodies revolved around the Sun, to a point where the reactionary Catholic Church could no longer ignore it.

Heliocentrism contradicts Scripture, the church authorities maintained, so Galileo was denounced, vilified, insulted, and eventually put under indefinite house arrest for his heresy. But ideas are not so easy to imprison. Eventually, of course, his ideas withstood objective tests and were accepted by the scientific and religious alike.

However, Galileo’s work is not yet over. For as long as pseudoscience crouches in the shadows of society’s discourse, it can do harm to actual science as well as the practical realms of technology and medicine.

So how can we recognize pseudoscience in the wild?

There are several useful approaches of deciding whether a theory, hypothesis, or medical treatment is pseudoscientific. (Note: some items may appear in more than one category.)

  • Lack of definitive evidence. Examples of this category are regarded as truth by some without any rigorous experimental evidence, so they should be disregarded by a scientific mind.
    • The paranormal, defined by some as lying “beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation.” Ghosts and psychic powers fall into this category.
    • Beliefs in an afterlife or reincarnation. Any scientific proof of either of these would grab world headlines.
    • Alternative medicine, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, unproven herbal remedies, and faith healing. “Do you know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine.” – Tim Minchin
    • Modern mysticism. Astrology, feng shui, tarot, numerology, and general superstition make definite predictions that have never seen success in the laboratory.
  • Conflicting evidence. Items here predict outcomes specifically at odds with reality.
  • Unfalsifiability. When there is literally no evidence that can even hypothetically shed doubt on a claim, it is unfalsifiable and thus its veracity cannot be determined from evidence alone. Like the claim that the world is filled with invisible and inaudible ghosts that cannot be detected by anything whatsoever, the following are unscientific and meaningless in a rational world.
    • Religion. Almost all hypotheses and tenets of major religions, such as the existence of an omnipotent being, an afterlife or reincarnation, creationism, and a “soul” or dual component of the human body, proudly depend on faith rather than reason, and so cannot be proven or disproven.
    • Conspiracy theories. There is no fact or evidence that could make proponents of the “moon landing hoax” hypothesis or the New World Order stop doubting the Establishment.
  • The anthropocentric fallacy.This is the conviction that in some manner, the laws of the universe treat humans differently than anything else. Somewhat of a litmus test for pseudoscience, the presence of this fallacy has never been found empirically in the real world. From the Catholic Church in Galileo’s time to the telepaths and zealots of today, some have never been able to accept that fact.
    • The paranormal. If humans had souls or could read minds, that would necessitate new laws of the universe dealing with just people, for which evidence has never been found.
    • Religion. Always the domain solely of humans, or humans and the animals on the same planet as humans, all major religions postulate specific beliefs pertaining to humans alone, the most characteristic and hubristic of which is “Man was made in God’s image.”
    • Mysticism. The best example of the anthropocentric fallacy is astrology, which posits that the stars, in all their universal glory, are mere vessels for predicting human events.

While unscientific claims may be topical in churches or at parties, they have no place in our schools, laboratories, and hospitals. #

kjk