Saturday, March 19, 2011

It's Not Magic!

Now and then I run into this sort of claim.

"I don't think consciousness is magical. I think it's an emergent property of neurons."

Honestly, it sounds to me like...

"I don't think consciousness is magical. It's just the standard effects of Neptune's mighty trident."

Similarly, I'm not a big fan of...

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Really? Is that because both magic and technology have similar effects? What if someone said...

"Any sufficiently reliable magic is indistinguishable from technology."?

Talk of 'magic' seems like a bluff to me. Magic really seems to reduce to "a theory about nature that turned out to be incorrect". Phlogistons? Magic. Miasma? Also magic. Steady state theory? Magic.

Which means that science journals are overflowing with magic. We just can't always be sure which theory is magical and which one is scientific.


Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Who funds what is a useful divining rod.

I'm finding myself more and more a scientific anti-realist. It doesn't help that the latest in scientific realism (structural realism) plainly goes the way of Platonism. Then again, maybe I'm just in a sour mood and will come to see again that a bridled structural realism is another vindication of Thomistotelianism in the wings.

Crude said...

I'm usually wary of scientific realism and anti-realism talk - I have trouble unwrapping it all from the greater questions of what is and is not science.

One thing I've found kind of odd is how some of the most popular arguments for "trusting in science!" seem to me like arguments for some kind of pragmatic scientific anti-realism. The single most popular one seems to be 'Look at all the technology science has given us!' Put aside the question of how much "science" is responsible for how much technology, and I still notice that the argument is almost entirely a pragmatic one.

(I also suspect the sort of people who advance the 'Trust science because technology' argument would falter if it were applied consistently. "Evolutionary psychology? What tech has that made? Nothing? It's garbage. Now, about theoretical cosmology...")

IlĂ­on said...

The "trust science" crowd seem always to actually mean, "Trust Darwin" or "Trust Nietzsche" because of all the cool “scientific” gadgets, which is, of course, a total non sequitur.