SCHELLING, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph (1775-1854)
German idealist philosopher, and the third of the most prominent classical German idealists (after Kant and Fichte). Schelling was the principal philosopher of Romanticism. In later life his partially religious form of idealism became more overtly religious and mystical, and it became the official ideology of the Prussian monarchy.
SCHLEIERMACHER, Friedrich Daniel Ernst (1768-1834)
German idealist philosopher and Protestant preacher. He was a professor of theology at Berlin University, and was a Romanticist.
SCHLESINGER, Arthur, Jr. (1917-65) American liberal pro-imperialist historian and advisor to President John F. Kennedy. He was in the OSS (predecessor to the CIA) during World War II and became one of the leading ideologists of Cold War liberalism. He was a prominent figure in the anti-Communist propaganda campaign organized and funded by the CIA during the 1950s. One of his major activities was to root out any Communist or progressive influence in academic circles, the cultural arena and the labor movement. In the Kennedy administration he also functioned as the semi-official “court historian”.
SCHLICK, Moritz (1882-1936)
Austrian philosopher and founder of the ultra-empiricist Vienna Circle and logical positivism.
“Schlick had worked on his Allgemeine Erkenntnislehre (General Theory
of Knowledge) between 1918 and 1925, and, though later developments in his philosophy were
to make various contentions of his epistemology untenable, the General Theory is perhaps
his greatest work in its acute reasoning against synthetic a priori knowledge. This
critique of synthetic a priori knowledge argues that the only truths which are
self-evident to reason are statements which are true as a matter of definition, such as the
statements of formal logic and mathematics. The truth of all other statements must be evaluated
with reference to empirical evidence. If a statement is proposed which is not a matter of
definition, and not capable of being confirmed or falsified by evidence, that statement is
‘metaphysical’, which is synonymous with ‘meaningless’, or ‘nonsense’. This is the principle
upon which members of the Vienna Circle were most clearly in agreement — with each other, as
well as with Wittgenstein.” —Wikipedia article on Schlick (accessed 12/14/17).
[This sounds at first more reasonable than it really is. Many abstract principles in philosophy, the sciences, and other branches of knowledge are by this standard "meaningless”. Even the statement of this “Verification Principle” itself is meaningless according to the extreme doctrine stated by that principle! —Ed.]
The religious philosophy and theology of the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages and beyond. This was the dominent philosophy in Europe from the 11th century until the 16th century. In addition to the Bible and other Church documents, and the opinions of Popes and other Church officials, Plato and Aristotle were major influences. At first Plato was the dominant philosopher on matters not already explicitly set forth by Church doctrine. But Thomas Aquinas almost single-handedly switched the Church over to Aristotle in place of Plato. Aquinas was the most influential Scholastic philosopher by far, and remains the primary philosopher of the Roman Catholic Church to this day. Other prominent Scholastics were Abelard, Buridan, Duns Scotus, and Ockham.
See also: Philosophical doggerel about Scholasticism.
SCHOPENHAUER, Arthur (1788-1860)
German reactionary idealist philosopher and ideologist of the Prussian Junkers (landed nobility). His voluntarist and misanthropic views were one of the sources of later German fascist ideology.
A thought experiment in the philosophy of quantum mechanics proposed by the physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935, and designed to show that the idealist Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics had to be nonsense. Suppose, said Schrödinger, that you have a cat in a sealed box where a quantum event (such as the detection or non-detection of the decay of a radioactive atom) will determine if the cat will live or die (by either releasing a vial of poison or else not doing so). The Copenhagen Interpretation of the situation is that the cat is either both dead and alive until the box is opened to see the result, or else that the cat is neither dead nor alive until the box is opened. Obviously either way is a complete absurdity. (The defenders of the Copenhagen Interpretation have of course tried to wiggle out of this predicament, but have not succeeded in coherently doing so!)
“Scientists have ideological positions just like everyone else, especially in conflicted situations, and sometimes the consequences are bizarre. The Schrödinger cat has grown over time to become a symbol of transcendence, a meaning exactly opposite to the one Schrödinger himself intended. It has acquired quasi-religious overtones, so that twisting one’s mind around to understand this cat is often viewed by students as a step on the path to enlightenment. Unfortunately, it is not. In science one becomes enlightened not by discovering ways to believe things that make no sense but by identifying things that one does not understand and doing experiments to clarify them.” —Robert B. Laughlin, Nobel Prize winning physicist, A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down (2005), p. 50.
SCHUMPETER, Joseph (1883-1946) [Pronounced: SHUM-PAY-ter]
Important Austrian bourgeois economist of the first half of the 20th century. His father owned a textile factory, and not surprisingly Schumpeter found great virtues in the capitalist system. He emphasized the importance of change under capitalism, and is famous in bourgeois circles for his description of capitalism as “creative destruction”. (Of course this is old news to us Marxists! In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels say “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.” [MECW 6:487.])
At a time when most bourgeois economists denied that economic cycles should even exist, Schumpeter said there were actually three different ones:
1) A very short-term inventory cycle (which he called the “Kitchin Cycle”, after another bourgeois economist, Joseph Kitchin), and which lasted 3 to 4 years;
2) An approximately 10-year cycle, which is the industrial cycle that Marx focused on (but which Schumpeter—loathe to give any credit to Marx—called “Juglar Cycles”, after a minor French economist, Clément Juglar, who talked about them long after Marx did). These cycles were erroneously explained by Schumpeter as being due to changes in investment patterns; and
3) Schumpeter’s version of Kondratiev’s 45-year long-term waves, which Schumpeter attributed to waves in invention and innovation.
None of his discussion of economic cycles had much validity, but by bourgeois standards even to have recognized the existence of any cycles or waves makes you seem rather smart these days!
One of Schumpeter’s students was Paul Sweezy, the primary founder of the Monthly Review school of Marxist political economy. While Sweezy broke away from Schumpeter and bourgeois economics in many ways, there is still more than a touch of his ideas that were carried over.
See also entries below, and especially SCIENTIFIC METHOD.
“Science isn’t just about collecting facts; it’s a logical process for working things out. The point of science is that everyone can look at the data and come to a reasoned conclusion. At first, those conclusions may differ, but then you go and collect more data that helps you decide between one description of the world and another, and eventually the conclusions converge. This is what separates science from other disciplines—a scientific hypothesis must make specific testable predictions. That means that if you have an idea about how you think something works, the next thing to do is to work out what the consequences of your idea would be. In particular, you have to look hard for consequences that you can check for, and especially for consequences that you can prove wrong. If your hypothesis passes every test we can think of, we cautiously agree that this is probably a good model for the way the world works. Science is always trying to prove itself wrong, because that’s the quickest route to finding out what’s actually going on.” —Helen Czerski, a British physicist and science educator, explaining the basic idea of science to those not so familiar with it, in her book Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life (2016), pp. 8-9.
SCIENCE — As Having “Come to an End”
It is safe to say that if science ever really does “come to an end”, in which all important discoveries have already been made, this will certainly be far into the distant future. Might we even say that it can never happen, and that there will always be more fundamental scientific laws or principles to be discovered? Marxists, including Lenin and Mao, have often argued that from the perspective of dialectics this must in fact be the case. A somewhat more cautious opinion is that it may well be the case, but this is not absolutely certain. We need to remember Engels’ remark that dialectical laws themselves have only been generalized from nature and society, and they are by no means some sort of absolute Kantian imperatives that must from the very principles of reason always and everywhere be true. Yes, when we look around us with an increasingly careful eye, so far we always do seem to discover more dialectical contradictions (oppositions) within everything. And hence there are more scientific laws to be discovered. But will this go on forever? Dialectics may lead us to expect that it will. But it doesn’t prove this absolutely.
It is also true, however, that the occasional claims, even by quite eminent scientists, that “everything” has already been discovered—at least in physics—have turned out to be laughably wrong. (See first quotation below for one example.)
“The most important fundamental laws and facts of physical science
have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the
possibility of their ever being supplemented in consequence of new discoveries is
—Albert Michelson, 1894 dedication address, Ryerson Physical Laboratory, University of Chicago. [He said this just as physics was on the verge of a major revolution, with the discovery of radioactivity, the beginning investigations into the structure of the atom, and the advent of quantum mechanics and relativity theory. Ironically, it was the famous Michelson-Morley experiment of 1888 which was one of the key pieces of evidence which showed his view here to be totally wrong! —Ed.]
“There may be further laws to discover, to do with the unification
of gravity with quantum theory and with the other forces of nature. But in a certain
sense, we have for the first time in history a set of laws sufficient to explain
the result of every experiment that has ever been done.” —Lee Smolin, “Never Say
Always”, New Scientist, September 23, 2006."
[The identical thing could have well been said in the late 1800s. What Smolin forgets is that there are still many new experiments to be conceived of and done in light of new ideas which arise and with the further investigation of existing and newly discovered anomalies. We might also point out that Smolin is very narrowly focused on the physics of particles and forces here, and there is a whole lot more to science than just that! —S.H.]
“I believe that scientific knowledge has fractal properties; that
no mater how much we learn, whatever is left, however small it may seem, is just
as infinity complex as the whole was to start with. That, I think, is the secret
of the Universe.”
—Isaac Asimov, I. Asimov: A Memoir (1995). [Though phrased in a different terminology, this is quite similar to the view of many Marxist dialecticians. But again, how do we know for sure that this fractal nature of knowledge continues indefinitely? Might not that only be a conjecture? —S.H.]
SCIENCE — As Non-Democratic
[Intro to be added.]
“In the sciences the authority of thousands of opinions is not
worth as much as one tiny spark of reason in an individual man.” —Galileo Galilei,
“Third Letter on Sunspots”, in Stillman Drake, ed., Discoveries and Opinions of
Galileo, (NY: Anchor, 1957), p. 134.
[Amir Alexander, in his book Infiniesimal (2014; p. 176) suggests that Galileo had the Jesuit dogmatists in mind with this comment, and they did indeed absurdly claim the “spiritual” authority to decide all scientific matters. But the larger point is that scientific truth is simply not a matter of who, or how many, believe something. Neither proclaimed authority nor democracy are appropriate means to determine scientific truth. —Ed.]
See also: PRESENTATION—Methods Of
“If a piece of physics cannot be explained to a barmaid, then it is not a good piece of physics.” —Ernest Rutherford, famous New Zealand born British physicist. Quoted in Clifford Pickover, Archimedes to Hawking (2008), p. 23.
“All physical theories, their mathematical expressions notwithstanding, ought to lend themselves to so simple a description that even a child could understand them.” —Albert Einstein, quoted in Pickover, ibid., p. 22.
There are intellectual fads in all spheres of human activity, including science. But at least in science these anti-scientific fads are eventually exposed and overcome. However, in the worst cases, and especially in bourgeois society, this can take a prolonged period of struggle.
“[The scientific community] is a pack of hounds ... where the louder-voiced bring many to follow them nearly as often in a wrong path as in a right one, where the entire pack even has been known to move off bodily on a false scent.” —Samuel Pierpont Langley, astronomer and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1889, quoted in: Eric Lerner, The Big Bang Never Happened (1991), p. 12.
SCIENCE OF REVOLUTIONARY MARXISM (Marxism-Leninism-Maoism)
[Intro material to be added... ]
See also: “Why Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is a Science”, by Scott H., Feb. 1997, online at: http://www.massline.org/Philosophy/ScottH/MLM_sci.htm
“Marxism-Leninism is a science, and science means honest, solid knowledge; there is no room for playing tricks. Let us, then, be honest.” —Mao, “Reform Our Study” (May 1941), SW 3:22.
SCIENCE VERSUS RELIGION
See: RELIGION VERSUS SCIENCE
SCIENCES — Development of the Separate Sciences
“There has been achieved what Engels called ‘the successive development
of the separate branches of natural science’—the evolution of the different sciences
one from another, and their differentiation one from another as distinct ‘disciplines’.
“Apart from mathematics, astronomy, and mechanics, which were already in existence’, writes Engels, ‘physics becomes definitely separated from chemistry (Torricelli, Galileo ...). Boyle put chemistry on a stable basis as a science. Harvey did the same for physiology.... Zoology and botany remain at first collecting sciences, until paleontology appeared on the scene—Cuvier—and shortly afterwards came the discovery of the cell and the development of organic chemistry. Therewith comparative morphology and physiology became possible.... Geology was founded at the end of the eighteenth century.’
“In this process, which, as Engels says, must be ‘studied further in detail’, the successes scored in one field of science create the possibility for the establishment of the scientific investigation of new fields. The whole process exhibits its own internal logic of development, which unfolds on the basis of the development of the productive forces of capitalist society, which at one and the same time present new problems for science to tackle and provide the technical means for tackling them.
“This successive development and differentiation of the sciences, which proceeds right to our own day, and will continue, has, however, its negative side. This is shown in the tendency to the separation of the sciences and to over-specialization, which continues to operate despite the establishment of intermediate sciences, such as physical-chemistry, bio-chemistry, etc., and which today results in ‘the unity of science’ being posed as a major unsolved problem by bourgeois philosophy of science.” —Maurice Cornforth, “Dialectical Materialism and Science”, (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1949), pp.6-7. Cornforth here summarizes the views of Engels in his Dialectics of Nature, on pp. 214-215 of the edition he used.
[Intro to be added...]
See also: FOOLING YOURSELF, SCIENTIFIC METHOD
“You see, the problem of obtaining facts from experience—it sounds
very, very simple. You just try it and see. But man is a weak character and it turns
out to be much more difficult than you think to just try it and see. For instance,
you take education. Some guy comes along and he sees the way people teach
mathematics. And he says, ‘I have a better idea. I’ll make a toy computer and teach
them with it.’ So he tries it with a group of children, he hasn’t got a lot of
children, maybe somebody gives him a class to try it with. He loves what he’s doing.
He’s excited. He understands completely what his thing is. The kids know that it’s
something new, so they’re all excited. They learn very, very well and they learn
the regular arithmetic better than the other kids did. So you make a test—they
learn arithmetic. Then this is registered as a fact—that the teaching of
arithmetic can be improved by this method. But it’s not a fact, because one of the
conditions of the experiment was that the particular man who invented it was doing
the teaching. What you really want to know is, if you just had this method described
in a book to an average teacher (and you have to have average teachers; there are
teachers all over the world and there must be many who are average), who then gets
this book then tries to teach it with the method described, will it be better or not?
In other words, what happens is that you get all kinds of statements of fact about
education, about sociology, even psychology—all kinds of things which are, I’d say,
pseudoscience. They’ve done statistics which they say they’ve done very carefully.
They’ve done experiments which are not really controlled experiments. [The results]
aren’t really repeatable in controlled experiments.”
—Richard Feynman, “Richard Feynman Builds a Universe”, in his book The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (1999), pp. 241-242. [From a truly scientific standpoint a lot of what is considered to be scientific fact—especially in what are termed the “social sciences” in bourgeois society—is in reality just pragmatic guess work. In MLM revolutionary work we must also take great care not to fall into such pseudo-scientific methodology. This is one of the many reasons why we must strongly encourage both internal and external perusal and criticism of our policies and methods. —Ed.]
See also: ROYAL SOCIETY OF LONDON [Alexander quote]
“The [scientific] journals too have financial interests. Most are owned by commercial companies. The leading journal Nature is the property of Macmillan, and the giant Anglo-Dutch publisher Reed-Elsevier owns many hundreds of the most prestigious academic journals. Science [magazine] turns a profit for its owner, the American Association for the Advancement of Science. University libraries, compelled to purchase these journals, sag under the costs, and a series of rivals, including the open access Public Library of Science, has been created—but here the scientists themselves have to pay to be published. As a result, scientists working in poor countries and weak institutions can now read the journals but their chances of publication in them remain weak.” —Hilary & Steven Rose, Genes, Cells and Brains: The Promethean Promises of the New Biology (2014), p. 12.
Human beings have found that nature is not completely random and chaotic, but that there are certain regularities and patterns to it which can be discovered and often quantified. A scientific law, or law of nature or society, is a statement of an order or relationship between phenomena that so far as is known always holds true under the stated or implied conditions. Thus, for example, the law of gravity is a statement about the mutual attraction (and the strength of that attraction at various distances) between the various forms of matter.
“I do not agree with the view that the universe is a mystery.... I feel that this view does not do justice to the scientific revolution that was started almost four hundred years ago by Galileo and carried on by Newton. They showed that at least some areas of the universe ... are governed by precise mathematical laws. Over the years since then, we have extended the work of Galileo and Newton.... We now have mathematical laws that govern everything we normally experience.” —Stephen Hawking, Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays. [Of course there are still many mysteries in all the sciences, but there is nevertheless a lot of validity in Hawking’s comment, especially with regard to everyday scientific phenomena. To maintain that “everything is a big mystery” is a way of ignoring or opposing science. —S.H.]
SCIENTIFIC LAWS — As Mere “Human Inventions”
“It has sometimes been suggested that the laws of nature are not real—that they are entirely inventions of the human mind, attempting to make sense of the universe. This is very strongly argued against by the spectacular efficacy of science: a) its power to solve otherwise intractable problems, and make accurate predictions, and b) by the fact that newly-discovered laws have typically suggested the existence of previously unknown or undiscovered phenomena, which have then been confirmed to exist.” —Wikipedia, “Physical Law” entry, date unknown, quoted in Clifford Pickover, Archimedes to Hawking (2008), p. 201. [Note: This excellent comment has now been deleted from the “Physical Law” entry in the Wikipedia, which illustrates the unsatisfactory transitory nature of that information source. —Ed.]
SCIENTIFIC LAWS — As Mere Tendencies
On rare occasions, mere tendencies or unquantifiable probabilities have sometimes been spoken of as laws, as with Marx’s discussion of what he calls “the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall” (in Part 3 of Volume III of Capital). A few modern Marxists, often under the influence of bourgeois post-modernist ideology, have gone so far as to claim that most or even all laws in social science are “only tendencies”! [For one example of this by the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, and a strong criticism of this stance, see my essay “Notes on Notes on Political Economy” (Feb. 25, 2000), especially the section “Tendencies and Tendential Laws”, online at: http://www.massline.org/PolitEcon/ScottH/NotesNPE.htm —S.H.]
However, the modern convention in science in general is to describe such partial or limited regularities not as “laws” at all, but simply as “tendencies”. In the way the term ‘scientific law’ is almost universally used in science today there are never any exceptions to scientific laws. If exceptions to what was previously thought to be a law are found, then either the scope of the application of that law is narrowed to exclude such situations, or else (if that cannot be done) it is no longer considered to be a law at all.
“Social laws are therefore no more than tendencies, the
development of which is constantly interfered with, changed and modified by the
action of counter-tendencies. In fact, there is no difference between a law and a
tendency: the dominant tendency becomes a law.” —Eugen Varga, Politico-Economic
Problems of Capitalism (Moscow: Progress, 1968), p. 19.
[Varga was the leading representative of the Comintern in the 1930s with regard to political economy. Some of his views on economics were correct, but some were not! The same goes for his views on politics and philosophy. (The book from which the above comment was taken promotes many revisionist ideas.) Personally, I think his views on this specific point are grossly incorrect, even if there is a sentence or two in Marx which can be used in support of his position. See the quote below for some of my reasons. —S.H.]
“The new RCP doctrine that all social laws are only ‘tendencies’ is
the sort of notion that has quite a bit of plausibility if you only think about it
briefly and superficially. But if you check it against the sorts of things that we
have been calling laws, or at least well-established law-like principles, it
immediately loses its persuasiveness.
“Let me give a little example of this. After Engels’ death Lenin wrote a tribute to him which included these words—which I will intersperse with questions about ‘tendencies’:
“Marx and Engels were the first to show that the working class and its demands are a necessary outcome of the present economic system, which together with the bourgeoisie inevitably creates and organizes the proletariat. [Is the creation of the working class only a ‘tendency’ instead of an inevitable result of capitalism?] They showed that it is not the well-meaning efforts of noble-minded individuals, but the class struggle of the organized proletariat that will deliver humanity from the evils which now oppress it. [Is the class struggle of the proletariat the definite method by which humanity will free itself, or is it only a ‘tendency’ in that direction?] In their scientific works, Marx and Engels were the first to explain that socialism is not the invention of dreamers, but the final aim and necessary result of the development of the productive forces in modern society. [Is socialism merely a ‘tendency’ of the productive forces in modern society, instead of a ‘necessary result’ as Lenin says?] All recorded history hitherto has been a history of class struggle, of the succession of the rule and victory of certain social classes over others. And this will continue until the foundations of class struggle and of class domination—private property and anarchic social production—disappear. [Was Lenin wrong here too? Is the continuation of this class struggle only a ‘tendency’ and not an inevitable characteristic of any society based on private property?] The interests of the proletariat demand the destruction of these foundations, and therefore the conscious class struggle of the organized workers must be directed against them. [Or do the interests of the proletariat only have a ‘tendency’ to demand the destruction of these foundations?]
“I could go on and on in this vein, but I think you probably see the pattern here. And of course it is possible to quibble a bit on some of these questions if you are determined to do so. Thus you could say that socialism (communism) is not the necessary result of the development of the productive forces in modern society, since capitalism (or some natural disaster, like an asteroid hitting earth) might wipe out humanity entirely instead. But this sort of response is disingenuous, since an implicit premise of the argument is that humanity continues to exist. (Or if you like, you could say that the more precise law is this: Unless some unlikely natural disaster, or perhaps the hideous workings of capitalism itself, wipes out humanity entirely, communism will be the necessary result of the present capitalist social system. And that law is indeed definitely true, and certainly no mere ‘tendency’.)
“The general point is just that the new RCP principle that demands that all the laws and law-like principles of social science be viewed as mere tendencies looks down-right foolish when it is compared against the vast majority of those laws and law-like principles. How is it that the RCP didn’t notice this? Apparently the authors of this new doctrine never thought to compare it to the actual laws of society that have been discovered by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao and others. Incredible as it seems, they apparently didn’t think to see if their new principle was valid in any cases other than the one which led them to it in the first place.” —S.H., “Notes on Notes on Political Economy” (Feb. 25, 2000), online at: http://www.massline.org/PolitEcon/ScottH/NotesNPE.htm
SCIENTIFIC LAWS — Hierarchical Structure Of
Something that is all too seldom appreciated is that the laws of science (or laws of nature) are pitched at different levels of abstraction appropriate to the specific science and specific phenomena in question, and that therefore there is a hierarchical structure to scientific laws. At the level of quantum chromodynamics there are laws which have been discovered about the interactions of quarks via the strong nuclear force. At the level of atoms and molecules, and their interactions—that is, at the level of quantum electrodynamics—there is another set of natural laws. And although QED forms the theoretical basis for chemistry, in practice there needs to be a whole large additional set of laws of chemistry such as the knowledge of the nature of acids and bases, which solvents are useful in specific cases, and so forth. At a slightly higher level there are specific chemical principles useful in the manufacture of batteries. The laws now start to sometimes be called engineering principles, but that is just an acknowledgement that the laws or principles at these levels are of a more practical nature. And finally we get to the laws or principles used to build complex machines, including such things as sewing machines and automobiles. And, yes, in a sense, even automobiles and sewing machines function according to the laws of quantum mechanics, but these machines (and how to build and maintain them) cannot possibly be understood in practice by Schrödinger equations or Feynman diagrams! There simply must be new laws and principles to describe how autos and sewing machines work at a much higher level than that, couched in terms such as drive shafts and transmissions, or needles and bobbins.
Other sciences have very different sorts of scientific laws and principles appropriate to the phenomena which they study. In linguistics there are laws about the structure of words in terms of morphemes, and at a deeper level, in terms of phonemes. In geophysics there are laws about tectonic plates and “hot spots”, and how mountains are created, and which explain volcanoes and earthquakes. In the political economy of capitalism there are laws which explain why capitalism inherently leads to overproduction crises and the immiseration of millions. In historical materialism there are laws and principles couched in terms of social classes, such as explanations of the essence of the state and of social revolution.
Because each science needs to formulate its own laws to describe the developments and interactions of the phenomena it studies, any program of complete reductionism is totally foolish, even if certain limited types of reductionist explanations can be helpful at times.
From a Marxist philosophical standpoint the hierarchy of scientific laws is a result of the hierachy of dialectical contradictions and of the particularity of contradiction.
“The tendency of nature to form a hierarchical society of physical
laws is … why the world is knowable. It renders the most fundamental laws, whatever
they are, irrelevant and protects us from being tyrannized by them. It is the reason
we can live without understanding the ultimate secrets of the universe.” —Robert B.
Laughlin, Nobel Prize winning physicist, A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics
from the Bottom Down (2005), p. 8.
“SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT” [Of Capitalist Production] SCIENTIFIC METHOD SCIENTIFIC THEORY SCOPES “MONKEY” TRIAL (1925) Dictionary Home Page and Letter Index MASSLINE.ORG Home Page
[To be added...]
See also: TAYLORISM
The idealized general method used to advance scientific knowledge which itself has been developed and refined along with the major sciences themselves, especially the physical sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.). Its most essential points are:
• The careful and systematic investigation of the phenomena being studied, including careful measurements of attributes where possible;
• The formulation of hypotheses which explain or which seem to have led to the existence of the phenomena in question;
• Where possible, drawing out the implications of the hypothesis and making predictions of new results that we would expect to be true if the hypothesis in question is correct;
• Criticism and testing of these hypotheses and predictions, especially through careful experiments where this is possible, or through further observations where formal experiments are not possible;
• Correcting, revising or replacing the previous hypotheses in light of this criticism, testing and experiment, and formulating them into what become generally accepted scientific theories.
• Continuing this procedure in a reiterative fashion, and especially as long as there are puzzling aspects of the existing theories which have not yet been adequately explained.
In short, scientific method is the procedure which the sciences have developed over the centuries to investigate nature, human beings and society, to acquire new knowledge, to correct or replace views which are found to be wrong, and to organize the resulting knowledge according to general principles or what we call theories. These scientific theories are then made use of to guide our scientific, engineering and social practice.
Although scientific method generally refers to this overall methodology which is applicable to all the sciences, there are differences among the sciences which require some modifications or extensions of scientific method in particular sciences. In some sciences, for example, experiments can be difficult to perform, or may even be completely out of the question in some cases for ethical reasons. To take an extreme example to prove the point, there is a quite well established theory that a major nuclear war between imperialist countries might lead to a “nuclear winter”, a period of several years in which nearly all sunshine is blocked from reaching the ground, and in which therefore most life on earth would be killed. While it is technically possible to run a full experiment—to actually purposely start a major nuclear war!—to see if this is actually the case, no one in their right mind would consider doing so. Fortunately, many scientific conclusions such as this can be reasonably demonstrated to be true via lesser experiments and without drastic “full experiments” of that sort.
In some sciences, such as psychology and medical science where human subjects are experimented on, scientific method needs to be extended in ways which eliminate as much bias and wishful thinking on the part of both the subject and the experimenter as possible. In testing a new drug, for instance, it has been found that it is an important part of the scientific method to do this in a double-blind fashion, with neither the patient nor the doctor knowing whether the patient is actually receiving the new drug or just a placebo, until after the experiment is finished. In experiments of this sort careful and appropriate statistical procedures are also required.
See also: FOOLING YOURSELF, RESIDUAL PROBLEM, RETRODICTION, TESTABILITY
Scientific theories are the summation of scientific knowledge; theories form knowledge into a logical and coherent structure and make a whole body of investigations comprehensible. Thus the formulation of scientific theories is at the core of science and is its highest goal. (Of course the goal in the application of science is to change the physical or social world in one way or another.)
On the other hand there have often been idealist tendencies in science, particularly in cosmology, “theoretical physics”, and the social sciences, to divorce the construction of theories from the actual results of careful investigations of nature and society, and to engage in wild flights of fancy with little or no evidential foundation. Obviously what is needed instead is a dialectical combination of practice and theory, and of careful investigation and the formulation and testing of theories based on what has been learned in those actual investigations.
Scientific education should consist primarily of two things:
1. Learning the scientific method for science in general, and the specific scientific methods which are useful within particular sciences; and
2. Coming to understand and appreciate the most important scientific theories. That is, science education should be “theory-structured”.
Focusing on the explication of the most important theories in a science actually makes that science both more comprehensible and easier to learn. Speaking of his own science, Linus Pauling said in the preface to his 1947 book, General Chemistry, “The progress made ... in the development of theoretical concepts has been so great ... that the presentation of general chemistry ... can be made in a more simple, straightforword, and logical way than formerly.”
Revolutionary Marxism, or Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, is also a science, and mastering it requires the same approach. One must focus on its central theories and come to understand and appreciate them. And this requires some considerable study along with participation in the ongoing revolutionary movement.
See also: AD HOC PATCHES TO SCIENTIFIC THEORIES, CENTRAL ORGANIZING THEORY, REVOLUTIONARY THEORY
A famous trial held in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925 in which a public school teacher, John T. Scopes, was tried for illegally teaching the Darwinian theory of evolution in a science class. It was given the name “Monkey Trial” by H. L. Mencken, as part of his ridicule of the entire proceedings. The prosecution was led by the famous populist politician William Jennings Bryan and Scopes was represented by a team led by the great defense lawyer, Clarence Darrow, who was an agnostic. Although Scopes was found guilty and fined $100 (a significant amount at the time), the verdict was set aside on a technicality. However, the broader and quite positive result of the trial was that the ignorance and anti-scientific views of fundamentalist Christians were appropriately denounced and ridiculed both during the trial and ever since.
On day seven of the trial, Darrow called the counsel for the prosecution, William Jennings Bryan, to the stand as a self-proclaimed expert on the Bible. Darrow then asked Bryan a series of embarrassing questions, such as whether he really believed that Eve was created from Adam’s rib; where their son Cain got his wife (since according to Genesis Adam, Eve and their sons were the only humans who yet existed); and so forth. Bryan could only answer the question about where Cain’s wife came from by saying that he would “leave the agnostics to hunt for her.” After Bryan’s absurd (if sometimes humorous) responses, Darrow said to him: “You insult every man of science and learning in the world because he does not believe in your fool religion.” Bryan, recognizing the considerable effect that Darrow was having, said that the purpose of Darrow’s questions was “to cast ridicule on everybody who believes in the Bible”. Darrow responded, “We have the purpose of preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States.”
A famous play and then movie based very loosely on the Scopes Trial is Inherit the Wind. The 1960 movie featured Spencer Tracy in the role based on Clarence Darrow and Fredric March in the role based on William Jennings Bryan. A more accurate account of the trial is available in the book by Ray Ginger, Six Days or Forever?: Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes (1958).
“SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT” [Of Capitalist Production]
SCOPES “MONKEY” TRIAL (1925)
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