The Pretense of Objectivity

 

     In critiquing the institution of Science as it is actually practiced (versus the image it likes to project), I have failed to address a central issue, and that is the pretense of scientific objectivity. There are two aspects to the problem of objectivity: one theoretical, one practical.  In practice, scientific objectivity is difficult (if not impossible) to come by because scientists, like everyone else, are working out of a whole range of (unquestioned and unproven) assumptions that are part of our cultural paradigm, and many of these assumptions, were they to be questioned, would be proven to be partly or wholly wrong. For instance, in our culture we tend to see the individual as the primary unit of our focus and concern. Scientists, like nearly everyone else in our culture, take this truism for granted both when they design experiments and when they arrive at conclusions. The fact that other scientists can replicate these experiments and come to the same conclusion is not surprising, because they share the same assumptions. But what if the individual, within the larger scheme of Nature, is not the primary unit at all? What if, instead, whole systems, and their optimum functioning, were the primary unit of concern?

     This obsession with the individual, derived from thousands of years of cultural belief and assumption, is precisely where Richard Dawkins goes astray. His notion of the “selfish gene,” for instance, is all cast within this erroneous frame of the individual as primary unit. Looked at in terms of whole systems, this theory has little merit.

     But besides the practical difficulties of implementing culture-free objectivity, there is a deeper philosophical (ontological and epistemological) issue inherent in the very idea of objectivity. The assumption seems to be that there is a god’s-eye view of reality, and this represents the one true Truth—the “objective” truth. And the corollary is that this objective, one true Truth, is available to humans through scientific inquiry. And not just any humans, but our kind of humans: we of the supreme elite, the bastions of civilization.

     I don’t believe that it has yet been proven that there is such a one-true-Truth, or that we humans have access to it, were it to exist. Therefore, scientific objectivity is an empty pretense.    

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