Review-Science for Heretics
If you don’t have time, or are too lazy, or are just not smart enough to master multiple fields of knowledge, and therefore like to depend on the perspectives of those who have, then Science for Heretics is for you. This book is a cautionary tale that should be read by anyone in the sciences or contemplating a career in the sciences. Physicist Barrie Condon has that rarest of combinations, intelligence, industry and the time to evaluate many of the bedrock assumptions hidden beneath the dogmatism of our culture in order to ask, “What and who should I believe, and why?” These are indeed important questions, because beneath all of our actions are beliefs, and this is as true for those who are fervently convinced that their belief in reason somehow is not a belief as it is for those who know what their beliefs are and know that they are true.
Most of us use diversion to forget, not to wake up. It is not everyday that you run into an author that gives you a good ass-kicking and gets you to enjoy it at the same time, or that you read something that is both entertaining and intellectually provocative. Society tends to protect us from stumbling across talented professionals who thoroughly demolish the foundations of their own professional guild, the source of status and income upon which they have built their lives. After all, the function of professionalism is to establish an identity, first as an individual and then as a proud member of the Big Dogs in one’s chosen world of career, credibility and status. The attainment of guild membership represents a tremendous investment of time and effort for most of us. So it has been since apprentices learned to throw pots on wheels in ancient Babylonia; are we really so naive as to believe the underlying psychological dynamic today is any different?
To then turn around and challenge the assumptions that support our personal and professional identities is, as Barrie Condon, the author of Science for Heretics says, to write a very long suicide note. This is because professional guilds exist first and foremost to insure their own survival, and what Dr. Condon has done is strike a death blow at the heart not only of physics, his professional specialty, but of scientific guilds of all varieties. Therefore, by writing Science for Heretics, he is essentially inviting not only fellow physicists but scientists in general to blackball, scapegoat and otherwise discredit him, because he has become the turd in the punchbowl.
Dr Condon’s fundamental strategy is to compare scientists to what Eric Hoffer has famously described as the “True Believer” in his famous book by that name. True Believers are people who cannot and will not see beyond their own event horizon or question the deeply embedded assumptions of their socio-cultural scripting that create their identity, whether it be personal or collective, in the sense of professional, religious, national, racial or even gender affiliations. Dr Condon says, “Indeed some view science as increasingly like a religion in the sense that it too has many followers who believe implicitly in its world view. These adherents see it as both the sole truth and the only way forward for mankind.” We hide behind our beliefs, that is, our delusions, simply because it is too threatening to our self-esteem or, more often, our livelihood, to call them into serious question. I am reminded that all of us are currently laying low as financial and environmental bubbles of epic proportions form, hunkering down in our comfortable lifestyles, not daring to rock the boat, partners in massive suicidal collusion. Yet when the bubble finally breaks and chaos ensues, we triumphantly announce how we knew it was a bubble all along, thereby pronouncing to the world we are cowards. Dr. Condon was definitely not a coward for waiting until retirement to write this clever yet scathing tract; however, no longer having one’s financial security dependent upon the opinions of others can, if we are willing, do amazing things to free us to speak honestly and forthrightly to fellow prisoners in Plato’s Cave.
If you aren’t offending your peers and those you respect, you don’t know how to think. I can imagine Socrates saying that, and I hold Dr. Condon in high esteem for following in the tradition of the Socratic dialectic by courageously refusing to allow fears of loss of status, credibility and even professional identity keeping him from speaking truth to power. But how does he manage to pull off such a feat without sounding either like an obnoxious adolescent disobeying the wise council of his elders or a self-righteous prat that thinks he knows more than you and me?
In is pretty clear that Dr. Condon had a lot of fun writing this book. One arrow in Dr. Condon’s quiver is his droll Scottish humor, which humanizes him while letting you know that he is not above subjecting himself to the same ridicule he heaps upon his fellow scientists. For one thing, he calls himself a heretic. “The truth is that all we know of the universe is the imperfect reality we experience every day. All else is falsehood. Mathematicians have produced a fantasy. Sort of like Lord of the Rings, but with more utility.” Dr. Condon strolls along in his chatting, informative style, every now and then tossing out a grenade as casually as if it were a daisy: “…no matter how well something appears to work, if at its heart it is nonsense, then it should never be mistaken for the truth.” His informal, casual style belies his impressive grasp of his very-wide ranging subject matter, and makes it difficult for me to call him “Dr. Condon” instead of just “Barrie,” although I do not know him personally. Here are some examples. He notes that physics is about as unified as the Middle East. For example, “if you’ve already conjured another ten (or eleven) (universes) into existence then what harm is there in adding yet another?” “As with all theories, there are different versions of String Theory and one of the most prevalent involves M-space. Nobody is clear what the M stands for, but suggested candidates include membrane, mystery, magic, murky, mother of all, and even masturbation, the latter coined by someone who I’m guessing wasn’t much of a supporter.” “Counting has been around for at least 30,000 years, as the 55 marks in groups of five found on a wolf bone in the Czech Republic would seem to attest. The grouping in fives is presumably because of the number of fingers on a human hand. Bearing in mind the material on which the marks were made, it’s surprising the person had any fingers or even a hand left at all. That was one tough arithmetician!” “Physicists in the 1940s ignored (absurdities like fluctuating infinite masses and virtual particles) when they were applying the equations and acted as though zero point energies didn’t exist. That’s sort of like pretending an elderly aunt hasn’t just farted at the family Christmas Party.” “What room is there for individual identity in a factory farmed chicken amongst a multitude of others?…From being used to count chickens to becoming sacred is quite a jump for arithmetic.” “(Financial value)…is not some hard, absolute, real world thing, though I can’t help but accept that not having financial worth, notional or otherwise, can make life very real indeed.” “…we’d better define exactly what a species is. Bankers and Estate Agents and Loan Sharks are not, as some members of society might hold, separate species to the rest of mankind. That is because the rest of us could breed with them if it was absolutely necessary.” “Thus a scourge of mankind (smallpox) that has killed many billions, and could kill billions more, is still being kept alive in the safe hands of scientists. What could possibly go wrong?” “Something that is not appreciated about psychiatry is just how much it owes to leprosy.”
What turned Dr. Condon into such a curmudgeon? The straw that broke the camel’s back came from the specialty of physics called cosmology, the study, and what his Heretic might call invention, of the laws of the universe. Scientific orthodoxy had for years declared that we are all headed for either the Big Crunch, in which we would all collapse in on one another and disappear into nothingness, or we would all continue our centripetal march outward until we would vanish in a whimper. But one day astronomers found that stars, rather than slowing down under the effect of their mutual gravitational attraction, were instead accelerating away from each other. Rather than abandon their precious theories of the universe, and specifically, what they thought they knew about gravity, upon which they had built their professional reputations and status, scientists changed reality. All of a sudden, bibbity-bobbity-boo, the universe became nineteen times larger than it was yesterday, bubbling over with mysterious and non-detectable non-substances called Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Instead of questioning this total, magical transformation of reality by divine fiat, fellow scientists and the public in general became infatuated with the new mystical possibilities of the science fiction-like ideas of invisible matter and anti-gravity forces. As Buzz Lightyear has said, “To infinity and beyond!”
Condon, however, had the clarity to see this for what it was: In the absence of any proof whatsoever for undetectable Dark Matter and Dark Energy, cosmologists had, like a vaudevillian who plays music by farting, pulled a completely outrageous and unsubstantiated new and preposterous definition of reality out of their ass. We, the sheep in the massive herd of true believers, earnestly nodded our heads in consenting wonder at the brilliance of these scientists who know so much more than we do. Although Dr. Condon doesn’t say so, this opened the door for generations of pseudo-gurus to posture as scientists; innumerable books, such as The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu-Wei Masters could now be written to breathlessly retell physics as spirituality with the help of quantum everything and Deepak Chopra. Grandiose leaps with irrational mathematical concepts led Dr. Condon to wonder what, if anything, made physics, beneath its imponderable equations, different from religion, magic or voodoo. The more he looked, the more he realized that scientific theory in all fields was largely unsubstantiated and that even the most respected theories, like evolution, were merely approximations, doomed to eventually be turned into chaff on the threshing floor of the fall harvest.
There is so much provocative and challenging material in Science for Heretics that it is difficult to summarize. Dr. Condon’s book is filled with fascinating and educational descriptions of past and present theoretical flaws, presented clearly yet with the credibility that only a member of the guild who has mastered the secret handshake of the order can give. Dr. Condon gives innumerable examples of how science rewrites itself and how it skims over its massive and continuous history of not just delusional but straight-out toxic and destructive theories and practices, like killing people by bleeding and purging, right up to the time of our grandfathers, or of justifying the explosion of hydrogen bombs in the face of serious scientific uncertainty as to whether they might set the atmosphere on fire, destroying all life on Earth, or proceeding with accelerating sub-atomic particles to the speed of light just to see what happens, in obscenely expensive particle colliders. “Single particles would supposedly be given the energies of cruising battleships. Temperatures 100,000 times hotter than at the centre of the sun would be produced. Concerns were raised that in the process black holes might be created, sucking the Earth into them and destroying all life.” But careers, funding, and enough professional papers to fill a garbage dump depended on these experiments going forward, and so they did.
Condon asks innumerable embarrassing questions regarding physics and science in general. “…with perhaps a ten thousand-fold increase in the number of scientists, a million-fold increase in resolving power of many of our measuring devices and a trillion fold increase in calculating capacity, why are major discoveries and developments appearing so slowly?” He makes extremely uncomfortable pronouncements, such as, “Science is the comfort blanket of the age.” Or binky. Or teddy bear. Or, to get technical, our “transitional object.” With the mommy/daddy of a Heavenly Father gone, and humanity not yet mature, are we humans clinging to irrational scientific beliefs and theories for security?
Winston Churchill has said: “Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge.” It is equally true that out of intense simplicities, i.e. theories, intense complexities emerge. It is also equally true that out of intense complexities, more intense complexities emerge. Dr Condon makes a strong case that the complexity of nature is bottomless, and that the attempts to replace it with the shorthand of theory only makes it worse. He makes a very important point about the socio-cultural necessity of complexity. Oversimplification strips away individuality leading to personal and social disaster: “…the problem is that by stripping out the complexity of individuality it starts to characterize all the people within each tribe as the same, especially tribes which aren’t friendly.” This is the procedure followed by militaries everywhere and throughout history: strip away the complexity of the individuality of the enemy and you can dehumanize him, making yourself capable of killing even women and children without remorse. This goes a long way to explain how Barak Obama, an intelligent constitutional lawyer and passionate advocate of progressive causes and human rights, can order drone strikes every Tuesday, knowing he is acting in violation of US and international law while relentlessly prosecuting whistle blowers acting in defense of liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. He can then go upstairs by seven to joke happily with his family over dinner. When Obama joined the professional guild called the Deep State, the complexity of individuals became replaced for him by the theoretical aberrations of national and foreign policy, themselves driven by motivations of profit and status.
Dr. Condon’s problem with theory is that it is partial and used as a Procrustean tool. Like the bed of the robber-torturer Procrustes, scientists use theory to cut off the parts of reality they don’t like while stretching other parts to fit their fabricated stories. He describes scientific theory as “like a blanket that is pulled over a bed of rocks.” The alternatives to the Believers, who use scientific theory in a pompous destructive overriding of nature, are the world views of the Skeptic and the Heretic. I wish Dr. Condon had used other terms. His Skeptic is gullible and suspends disbelief but still has faith in the fairy dust of prevailing theory. This is quite different from genuine skeptics, who question assumptions of all kinds, as Dr. Condon does. True believers, such as John Horgan, in his book, The End of Science, echoing Francis Fukuyama in his influential essay, The End of History, proclaims these are the End Times, that is, we now know the Truth, thanks, of course, to science. Believers and skeptics are those who sell everything, put on burial garments and climb down in the graves they dig for themselves at the appointed time, awaiting the Rapture of the Nerds, led by pastor Ray Kurzweil, the Second Coming that always arrives tomorrow morning. For Dr. Condon the skeptic is the fool who never loses hope. He doesn’t fall for these scientific promises of unity and paradise on earth once; he does so again and again, knowing that the final Dispensation of Truth and Reality is here, it is only that the date was wrongly calculated; it’s really tomorrow, so I’ll sell everything again, put on grave clothes, climb down in my grave and wait. For the skeptic the Unified Theory is always just a short night away. “Heretic,” on the other hand, is a derisive epithet hurled by petty guild members to deflect attention from their own failings. Dr. Condon isn’t a heretic. He is a skeptic, in the true sense of the word, and an iconoclast, a breaker of sacred idols. For example, he says, “…the core problem with the notion of physics being a unified science is that it simply isn’t.” That guild members and their sheep might view him as a heretic, is simply a vicious, intentional misperception, a cognitive distortion thrown up in their own self-defense.
Dr. Condon’s challenging of fundamental assumptions underlying scientific theory is perhaps best exemplified by his treatment of gravity, since it was the minimization of its effects throughout the universe that led him to the journey that produced Science for Heretics. “Gravitational force between two objects is, according to Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation, the product of their masses divided by the square of the distance between them. In other words, if you double the distance between a planet and a moon, say, then the gravitational attraction is reduced to a quarter of the previous value. …That’s all well and good but how does one mass ‘know’ how fast to fall towards the other? Can it be that by some spooky ‘action at a distance’, one object is somehow aware of how massive the other object is and also how far away it is? Does one body somehow send out this information in a kind of signal to the other? And if so, how does this signal propagate through space? How quickly does it travel? If one object was at the opposite side of the universe to the other, how quickly would it be aware of its gravitational attraction towards the other?” These are the types of questions never addressed by the equations of cosmologists and Dr. Condon believes he knows why. Such concerns are inconvenient distractions from the organized, orderly harmonious world of their equations, which have nothing to do with reality itself.
Science for Heretics is peppered with examples of brilliant, innocent people who were persecuted or killed by dogmatic proponents of some pet “scientific” theory. For example, Pythagoras killed one of his students, Hippasus, for daring to point out that some numbers could not be expressed as the ratio of two whole numbers. LEJ Brouwer, a mathematician and philosopher in the early part of the twentieth century, “maintained that mathematics was a purely mental construct of man; that math is a theory not a fact. Being simply a mental construct, it was therefore hobbled by the subjectivity and inherent limitations of the human mind. …After (overwhelming levels of criticism) and years of bitter dispute, Brouwer developed a sense of persecution and became deeply paranoid.” Condon also cites the famous example of Galileo being forced to recant his findings of heliocentrism in order to save his life.
Condon provides many examples of physicists and scientists who either misinterpreted data or were dismissive of the implications of what they found because they were wearing theoretical blinders. “Theories in science are subject to selection based on a sort of Darwinian survival of the fittest. In fact for every ‘successful’ (in other words currently acceptable) theory there are a multitude of others which seemed reasonable at the time but now, when remembered at all, are often thought of as silly or naive. They have become forgotten because they produced predictions which could not be replicated or because, even though they did explain phenomena well, they just didn’t fit any more with the general scientific orthodoxy of the day.” For example, James Maxwell, who used mathematics to unite light, electricity and magnetism, believed that electromagnetic waves were vibrations of the aether. “This sea of invisible energy, and the existence of the aether, led many at the time to believe that this ghost world was where the souls of the dead fled to upon death. Mediums, people who could supposedly span the worlds of matter and the hidden worlds of energy and aether, were thought to be sensitive to the perturbations in this world and were sought out to enable communications with the dead. Many figures of the scientific establishment became converts to this ‘spiritualism’ including Alfred Russell Wallace the evolutionary biologist, Charles Richet the Nobel prize winning physiologist, and William Crookes the chemist and physicist. Even Nobel prize winning Pierre Curie, one of the fathers of radioactivity experimentation, showed great interest in these ideas.”
Because no one wanted to be accused of regressing into alchemy, scientists refused to believe that radiation was caused by one element changing into another. As a result they came up with one wrong theory after another, such as the belief that radiation was due to energy that was supplied externally by the sun, weather or other rays. This is an example of conceptual bias, often unrecognized, blinding one to the workings of nature and instead imposing their own prejudices upon it. “This messiness is generally expunged from the physics textbooks to leave an apparently simpler and more coherent advance along the path to knowledge where everything seems so obvious in hindsight.” “Whatever the currently accepted theory of anything is, it doesn’t mean it is right. Rather it simply means it has been cobbled together to best fit the known facts at this point in time and also to fit in with the current general orthodoxy.” Today we have physicists that believe cats can be alive and dead at the same time and in infinite numbers of universes. “So let’s be careful before we start sanctifying theories that have ‘passed the test of time’. Generally they haven’t done that at all.”
As an example of currently incorrect theory Condon cites the contradictions regarding uniqueness. “… physicists seem to regard all atoms of the same element as being entirely identical and, similarly, all sub-atomic particles such as protons to be identical to all other protons. Why it should be the case for objects on the atomic scale and yet nowhere else in the universe is difficult to imagine.” Another example Dr. Condon cites is the reliance of physics on probability: “Few scientists consider the recourse to probability as representing a huge gap in our theory. After laying down so many supposedly immutable, unchangeable scientific laws, it’s quite a failure to have to resort to admitting that a physical process is random. Resorting to probability is like putting your hands over your eyes and pretending there isn’t a problem at all.” “So the present orthodoxy is that all the measurements we make at the quantum mechanical scale are supposedly smeared out by the uncouth intervention of ‘chance’.”
Condor patiently, thoroughly and clearly explains many assumptions behind many “facts” as a way of demonstrating that they are in fact theories. The point is that theories are not to be given the benefit of the doubt. In fact, they are not to be trusted, because the nature of all theory is that it will eventually be overturned based on more accurate and broader-based data.
Dr. Condon’s first chapter is the most important because it challenges the assumption most fundamental to science, that mathematics is the language of the laws that govern both daily life and the universe. “The language of mathematics is the language of nature; mathematics lies at the heart of physical phenomena. For example, (the belief) that planets move in elliptical orbits because the relationship between the planet and the star it orbits is underpinned by laws which are governed entirely by mathematics.” These are principles that Pythagoras could have subscribed to, implying that the conceptual foundations of mathematical thought have scarcely advanced since his time.
“…all our mathematics is built on a fundamental untruth because it supposes that two things can be considered identical.” One and one not only does not equal two; it NEVER equals two, because everything is unique. “… as Nietzsche pointed out,…there are no two things that are identical in the whole universe. From grains of sand all the way up to galaxies: all have differences.” Math is a system of theoretical abstraction from reality, a form of shorthand that only exists because it ignores the uniqueness of those things it counts. By creating the illusion that its conceptual truths are Truth and Reality, it dehumanizes the universe. “Perhaps this is why some people struggle with arithmetic and mathematics generally. These are often intelligent people who are perhaps labelled as ‘artistic’ because they are ‘bad with numbers’. Maybe the reason for this is that arithmetic doesn’t make sense to them at a fundamental level. Perhaps they are innately aware of the complexity of life where nothing is identical to anything else.”
Dr. Condon points out that “scientists and mathematicians…often elevate the tools of their trade to the point of worship… The tools (become) the Laws.” He asks, “If laws were really fundamental then why is there the need for this cascading compartmentalization into a multitude of sub-specialities?” “Nature hates simple equations.” “…when I came to apply these equations professionally, I found that not a single one of them worked. Ever. …I’m too embarrassed to tell you how long it took me to realise that it wasn’t me being stupid, it was that the equations in the textbooks never accurately reflected reality.” What Dr. Condon is too kind to say is that most of his fellow scientists are far more stupid than he is because they have never woken up out of the delusion that equations reflect reality. Many scientists refuse to see how “theory” is a word for just another system of belief. While rationally-based theory is a definite improvement on systems of pre-rational belief, such as the vast majority of religion, the rational veneer of science creates scientism, a dogmatic sectarian faith that denies that it is dogmatic, sectarian or a faith.
The concepts of zero, infinity and negative numbers are prime examples because they do not refer to anything that really exists, but they still remain real and necessary in science. Zero is a conceptual metaphor which, like Humpty-Dumpty’s use of words in Alice in Wonderland, means exactly what scientists and mathematicians want it to mean, no more, no less. “If we are counting, say, clothes pegs in a bag the metaphor we are using is the idea of collecting objects. In this instance then zero comes to mean emptiness. If we start moving, then zero becomes the point from which we start (the origin). If we are measuring something, for example with a tape measure, then zero means ultimate smallness. If we are grouping objects together then zero means a lack of. Thus, depending on the metaphor we are using, zero can mean emptiness, nothingness, lack, absence, ultimate smallness or origin. How we think of it affects what we mean by zero.” “In reality there is no such thing as ‘nothing’.” “…in the real world nothing is infinite.”
“Infinities and zeros, appearing like vermin in equations, send scientists through all sorts of contortions to make their equations ‘work’.” “In terms of flesh and blood reality, how can you have a negative ox, for example? You can perhaps have one less ox than you used to, but that’s not the same as having a living, breathing negative ox.” This should be so obvious as to be an oxymoron. “Perhaps in order to disguise what nonsense this all is, mathematicians have the temerity to define positive and negative numbers as ‘real’ numbers, perhaps in the same way that Orwell in his book 1984 called the bureaucracy for waging war ‘The Ministry of Peace’. ‘Doublespeak’, Orwell called it.”
Dr. Condon is not denying the obvious multiple and important uses of mathematics. Instead, he is pointing out some of the reasons why it has become so central to science. “A universe where everything is different from everything else is a scary place.” “In a complicated universe one has to simplify to survive.” Order creates certainty and certainty creates security. Security is a hedge against our three fundamental fears: failure, rejection and death.
Mathematics can be viewed as a anthropomorphization of nature, not as your typical deity or God, but as a projection of a series of abstract rational constructs. A belief in the transcendent existence of numbers is a form of idealism, like Plato’s Forms, a rather startling conclusion for a bunch of reductionists, many of whom deny the existence of mind apart from synaptic activity. Mathematics is a cognitive structure we project onto nature. By doing so we create a conceptual reality that prevents us from advancing our understanding of the world. Certainly those who practice and teach direct apprehension, chief among them meditators and mystics but also those practicing phenomenalism and various forms of immediate sensory immersion, from Dionyesians to sensitivity trainers, would agree. Dr. Condon sums up his position on mathematics very succinctly: “Nature, in short, does not like to be constrained by simple equations. The intrusion of the innate complexity of the universe makes any attempt to predict it very limited and often completely wrong. Inherently flawed and limited mathematics can only ever take us so far.”
In Chapter 2 of Science for Heretics Dr. Condon addresses the flawed assumptions underlying cosmology, the field of physics that deals with the nature, creation and destruction of the universe. It was the predictive success of Newton’s equations regarding the nature and effects of gravity that first led to the idea of fundamental laws governing the universe. “It became the goal of physics to unearth these. After all, if man could work out the motions of the mighty celestial bodies then surely he would one day understand everything by characterising physical reality in mathematical terms.” While scientists hold that you cannot break the laws of physics, they “are broken all the time whenever unexpected new data appear. They are then unceremoniously discarded to be replaced by other ‘unbreakable’ laws.” Dr. Condon spends some time explaining the evolution of cosmology, from early forms of geocentrism to the heliocentrism of Copernicus to today’s prevailing assumption that the universe has no center. I would note that in this regard science and physics appear to be ahead of the consciousness of most humans because it presents a world view that human psychology has yet to grow into. The overwhelmingly prevalent world view of humanity remains one of psychological geocentrism, an essentially narcissistic and grandiose assumption that, as Protagoras said, “man is the measure of all things” and that my town, my people, my nation are “exceptional,” in that we are the center of value, meaning, freedom and power. This is sometimes replaced by another form of ego-inflation called psychological heliocentrism, in which man is one with God, Atman is Brahman, or life revolves around an eternal soul. The psychological equivalent of a non-centralized universe is multi-perspectivalism, a psychological world view in which multiple perspectives are equally valid and none is privileged. Neither scientists nor the mass of humanity have awakened to the evolutionary implications of such a view; it largely remains a theoretical construct. My work, Integral Deep Listening, is in part an exploration of what occurs when we evolve into a multi-perspectival world view. With the “Anthropic Principle,” that states that the universe has to be the way it is or else conditions would not allow man to exist, geocentrism has more recently sneaked back into cosmology.
While early science focused on man’s place in the universe and was largely governed by religious considerations, and the scientific revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries focused on the establishment of universal laws, the 20th century focused on models of the birth and death of the universe along with Einstein’s answer to the question Newton raised as to how gravity affected objects at a distance. He proposed that mass warped space, similar to how an iron ball placed on a flexible rubber mat will form a depression, called a “gravity well.” Objects are attracted to each other because of the curvature of space their masses produce.
Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity dealt with the effects on objects moving at high speeds relative to one other. Dr. Condon doesn’t say so, but his previous treatment of the notion of infinity strongly implies that he suspects that Einstein went off the rails here. “As the velocity of an object, whether it is a sub-atomic particle or a spaceship, approaches the speed of light, Einstein’s equations indicate that the mass of the object becomes infinite. Getting it to accelerate faster would require, again according to the equations, an infinite amount of energy. It is because of this that the Special Theory of Relativity precludes faster-than-light travel.” Not only do we have Einstein to blame for Dali’s surreal melting clocks, Condon doesn’t like that Einstein was the first to resort to really strange ideas to explain data from experiment. This is because “his work freed physicists from feeling they needed to comply with ‘common sense’. This…opened a Pandora’s Box and in time new theories would be proposed that would make Einstein’s bizarre and revolutionary ideas appear tame. …this resorting to outlandish ideas, with no grounding in our human experience of reality, is actually a sign of desperation; that scientists are trying to explain a universe which is actually inexplicable.” “Even Einstein wasn’t averse to putting fudge factors in when it came to the evolution and fate of the universe. Not happy with either grim fate, and inculcated in the thousand year old view that the universe was everlasting, Einstein put a fudge factor into his equations, called the Cosmological Constant. This implied an unknown force acting against gravity and balancing it out so that the universe could go on forever. Einstein himself said that ‘… this exposes me to the danger of being confined to a madhouse.’” Dr. Condon doubts that Einstein was correct, “but rather that his theories survived because they were apparently the fittest, just as Newton’s theory of gravitation had been the fittest for several hundred years before this.” This is because “elaborate theories can make apparently correct predictions for centuries but it does not mean they really reflect or explain reality.”
Dr Condon also finds it strange that the velocity of light varies depending on what it is traveling though and wonders why a pane of glass can change the velocity of light when the universe can’t. This is the example of the questioning of underlying assumptions of science that only one trained in physics is likely to pull off, and Condon does so again and again. He views “universal constants,” such as Einstein’s unchanging speed of light as “fudge factors” built into scientific theories to make them work but which have no relationship to nature itself.
Regarding the cosmological debate as to whether the universe evolved from a Big Bang or exists in a Steady State, Condon points out that the Big Bang Theory assumes that everything, including space itself, came from absolutely nothing. “… cosmologists would have us believe 95% of the universe is Dark Energy and Dark Matter, not one iota of which was predicted from the Big Bang Theory.”
Dr Condon is not a fan of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle either. We might conclude that he is uncertain about Uncertainty, viewing it as a huge fudge factor, or “renormalization,” a magically arising conclusion, like spontaneous generation, concocted by physicists to make nature fit current theory. According to theoretical legerdemain, the smaller the volume of vacuum we consider, the greater the energy uncertainty and fluctuations that can occur. If we go to zero volume, the fluctuations can then supposedly be infinite. Empty space is supposedly boiling with infinite energies which come and go like the breeze. At every point in space an infinite number of particles are popping into and out of existence all the time. We can see that this formulation builds upon two red flags that Condon has already identified, infinity and zero. “That infinity may be an artifact arising from mathematics that itself may have no direct coupling with reality, is a thought that troubles few physicists. If it is an artifact this makes the whole idea of zero point energy a nonsense.” “In modern theoretical physics, where common sense was abandoned about a hundred years ago, the idea of infinite energies and universes appearing magically from empty magicians’ hats won the day.”
Dark Matter and Dark Energy exist “not because we actually saw some new stuff but because our theory needed it. … in order not to mess up the theory, this new stuff was required to be invisible. … So this new stuff that has been made up to fit the equations amounts to over nineteen times the amount of normal energy and normal matter that we know about. “…the total energy of the universe is made up of only 4% normal matter and normal energy, 23% dark matter and 73% dark energy…Conjuring all this Dark Energy and Dark Matter, and putting in vast fudge factors to explain the evolution of the universe, is simply a sign of desperation. The more closely we measure the universe, the greater the disparities we find between theory and fact and the weirder the theoretical phantasms we need to construct to explain them away.”
Dr Condon believes that “we are incapable of comprehending the universe, of developing a ‘theory of everything’. There are two reasons for this: the nature of our flesh and blood brains which constrain us to think in specific ways, and/or that there are no fundamental laws underlying the universe to begin with.” The search for a Grand Unification Theory, the holy grail of physics, is a projection of human ideals of unity, simplicity and harmony onto nature. But Condon points out that the differences in orders of magnitude in predicted effects between quantum and cosmological realities is gigantic. “So big is this difference that some modern day physicists, showing remarkable faith in their equations, say that the only explanation is that in fact there must be countless universes. We just happen to be in a very unlikely one where this vacuum energy effect is incredibly small. Rather than abandon their theory they would imagine countless other universes into being without a shred of supporting evidence. … the wide eyed Believer is booking his ticket on Virgin Wormhole to the universe next door.”
The qualitative approach of Integral Deep Listening (IDL) notes that contexts normally and routinely generate duplicate sub-contexts. This is commonly called “reproduction.” If we look at the natural world, the normal progression is growth, stability, rigidification and death. This is the most likely developmental course for the universe. Following this known, observable and natural principle, one is led to suspect, on the basis of parsimony, that larger, largely analogous contexts gave birth to the universe. Because sub-contexts are immersed in larger ones they have no way of recognizing their source. Subsets do not, by definition, grok the nature of the entirety of the set to which they belong. However, as they mature, they take on the characteristics of their source. We see this with plants as well as animals. Even in the material world we have elements born out of the combination of other elements. The more sub-contexts that we access through multi-perspectivalism, the more we can, like the blind men and the elephant, construct an approximate picture of the whole from its various parts. This is induction mediated by phenomenalism; we give up our objectivity as we become first this, then that perspective. In summary, Dr. Condon thinks that cosmology doesn’t explain the universe at all. What it does is generate theories and then attempts to validate them by observing the actions of the universe. The result is that people are led to mistake interpretations of nature, called laws and theories, for nature itself.
In Chapter 3, “Science of the Very Small,” Dr. Condon looks at the assumptions that generate and sustain quantum mechanics, the theory within physics that addresses the “laws” of atoms and sub-atomic particles. Dr Condon cites Wyszkowski’s Second Law as central to understanding the sciences: “Anything can be made to work if you fiddle with it long enough.” The corollary appears to be that theory is Viagra for scientists. He examines the assumptions on the highly touted Standard Model of particle physics, which is claimed to be accurate within half of one percent. The theory of Quantum Electrodynamics is reputed to be accurate to 0.00000001 percent (1 in 10 billion). Dr. Condon finds nothing about these claims of accuracy to be believable.
There are a number of strange contradictions between the physics of the very large and that of the very small. “Whilst cosmologists ditched the principles of the Conservation of Mass and Energy when it didn’t suit them, the Conservation of Charge is something the particle physicists have struggled to keep. In order to make theory conform to observations a number of “forces” were hypothesized by quantum physicists. These include a strong force, electromagnetic force, gravity, and finally the Weak Force, which was introduced to explain how the nucleus is held together. The Standard Model describes the universe in terms of four kinds of particle (electrons, neutrinos, up and down quarks) and the two new types of forces (weak and strong). The problem is that quarks, like Dark Energy and Dark Matter, cannot be detected as separate entities and can therefore only ever be inferred, rather like ghosts, the soul and God. This is important, because quarks are presently assumed to make up protons and neutrons and electrons. The Standard Model also requires the existence of four particles that are themselves a means of transferring these four forces: gluons for the strong forces, weak gauge bosons for the weak force and photons for the electromagnetic force. Mass itself was to come from the Higgs Boson.
If all this sounds impressively complicated, that is because it is. And as Winston Churchill did not say, “Out of intense complexities, more intense complexities emerge.” Condon observes that with greater complexity have come more extreme, outrageous, untestable and therefore unbelievable theories. More scientists are generating more theories all the time in response to increasingly complex experiments and observations. The Standard Model does not really incorporate gravity, although it plays a central role in cosmology. Is it irrelevant on a subatomic level? The masses of Higgs particles should be 10 to the power of sixteen times greater than they actually are. In other words 10 million billion times greater. Condon wonders why this huge discrepancy is ignored in the Standard Model.
He points to one “enormous fudge” to address this gaping theoretical hole, the positing of more dimensions than the three we are familiar with. “There’s no evidence that these exist, or multiple universes either, but physicists seem to resort to these at the drop a hat, so certain are they of the sanctity of their equations. They would rather reach for these entirely undetectable things than consider that their theory is deeply flawed.” This a theme that runs through the entirety of Science for Heretics.
“There’s another big problem with the Standard Model. Dark Matter and Dark Energy also somehow don’t make it into this supposedly highly successful theory. If the theory was anywhere near correct you would have thought it would have given some indications of the 96% of the universe supposed now to be ‘out there’ but invisible. Instead of being accurate to 0.5% as claimed, the Standard Model is therefore inaccurate by at least 96%. The Model has nothing to say of what particles make up Dark Matter. Do they have properties like normal matter such as charge, mass, charm or strangeness, whatever they are?”
Questions like this make Condon’s book mandatory reading for kids taking their first high school physics course. Getting people recognizing and asking fundamental questions about any data set from their first encounters with a field strengthens their engagement with it, because the unanswered questions deepen meaning and relevancy while teaching that there is no disrespect in challenging the foundations of knowledge in any and every field. In fact, it is a sign of a mature mind.
Like the Standard Model, the Large Hadron Collider is a teetering Tower of Babel of compounding complexities. A monument to reductionism, it is designed to rule out the interference of as many real world variables as possible so that only very tightly regulated, and therefore highly unnatural, reactions can be observed.
To understand how gravity works at the sub-atomic level multiple theories have been proposed. The most popular in this quarky beauty contest are varieties of String Theory. Instead of treating fundamental particles as particles, in String Theory they now become undetectably tiny sources of vibration that generate particles. Because the level of interaction this theory deals with is so tiny, none of these theories are testable. Therefore, they have to be accepted on faith, like Jesus and the edibility of Twinkies. If String Theory is untestable, why is it considered a theory instead of a speculation? If something is not falsifiable, how is it not voodoo? “The math is beautiful which leads some physicists to believe it must be true though, of course, equating beauty with truth is simply an act of faith on their part.” Beauty, Truth, Goodness: The Socratic Triune. One out of three, beauty, is a start. In addition, String Theory requires six or seven more dimensions. Strings are supposed to have different properties in different universes. “None of these are remotely observable or their existence otherwise provable and that departs entirely from the scientific method where, in order to establish a theory, one has to experimentally verify it.” But since there is no proof available for any of them, why not? Why not a dimension for every discoloration on a spotted dolphin? “…gravity is so weak it doesn’t have much effect on the quantum world because it leaks away from our limited 3-D world into these higher dimensions. Dr. Condor the Heretic thinks gravity leaks away to Narnia. Or Mordor?
“Theory and gravity produce estimates of the Cosmological Constant (the factor introduced by Einstein to ‘hold back gravity’) which are out by a factor of 10 to the power of 56 (that’s about a hundred trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, give or take). This is one of the greatest discrepancies between theory and experiment that has ever been achieved.” Quite the achievement! One upshot of this development is to wonder if it might not be time to create an olympic sport dedicated to identifying and celebrating the most impressive flight into absurdity based on equations. This potential event already sports international teams playing by accepted rules, so it should not be too difficult to get it admitted into the olympics. The art of creating discrepancy is certainly more significant than say, curling, which is already an olympic sport.
Dr. Condon asks, “If String Theory can’t in any way be proved, then how is this different from any religious belief, no matter how absurd?” String Theory is as provable as the contention that Athena sprang full grown from the head of Zeus, carrying her spear and shield. While this theory is equally as true, one could argue that it is far more beautiful. “Indeed the whole issue of a theory which is experimentally unverifiable has led many physicists to consider String Theory more as a cult or a faith than a science.” This conclusion very closely approaches our contention that professions of all sorts are self-perpetuating socio-cultural guilds. Dr. Condor cites physicist Paul Dirac who says, “it is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment.” This is reminiscent of the rampant narcissism of much popular art and musical composition. Is believing in this pile of intellectual pasta so different from worshipping His Holiness, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whose noodlish strings are also infinite?
Dr. Condor discusses the importance of the concept of symmetry, or the Conservation of Charge and the Conservation of Energy, to the laws of nature in contemporary physics. The importance of symmetry relates to the establishment of a Grand Unified Theory, the lottery jackpot of the physics sweepstakes. The problem is that there is evidence that symmetry is not universal; for instance there is nowhere near as much anti-matter in the universe as there is matter. Why physicists have not invented a dimension or universe that contains the missing anti-matter I lack the expertise to know. However, it appears that infinity is a more useful alternative in this case, so that is what has come to the rescue here; infinity is so effective it actually replaces symmetry, the construct it was supposed to validate. “The laws of the universe continue to act symmetrically except when they get in the way of our presently favoured theories.” But a more recent contestant in our new olympic sport has more recently come to the fore: Supersymmetry. “It says that all particles have a supersymmetric partner called…winos, squarks, charginos, and steptons.” The verdict is still out as to whether the universe requires winos to be symmetrical.
Dr. Condon begins his discussion of quantum mechanics by reviewing the history of the nature of light. Is it a wave or a particle? Light remained coy well into the 20th century in something of a transgender display, first appearing straight as a wave and then dressed in drag as a particle. Condon suspects that light may be neither, but instead something analogous to androgynous: “…perhaps these things act neither as particles nor waves but something entirely beyond our ken.” That would be true in my case, as none of my kin, but particularly myself, are all that bright.
When it was discovered that the act of human observation appeared to shift light from wave to particle the Anthropic Theory, making man the center of everything, once again raised its ugly head. The most accepted explanation is based on a thought experiment called “Schrodinger’s Cat.” It’s a little too long to go into here, but the bottom line is that some abusive physicist named Schrodinger was unable to tell if his imaginary cat, when exposed to poison in a box he had put it in, was dead or alive. This was because this cat is both, simultaneously, until the box is opened. At that point our cat, clearly the Cheshire out of Alice in Wonderland, has made up its mind, perhaps because it does not want to be embarrassed by being observed in some in-between state, and becomes one or the other. The implication is that the avoidance of embarrassment is the Prime Mover of all mathematical equations, clearly a failed strategy. “Everything is in a whole series of undetermined alternative quantum states until, supposedly, someone comes along to observe it.” This is not so different from the immortal question, “If a man says something and his wife is not there to hear, is he still wrong?” Quantum mechanics would perhaps propose that he is both wrong and right simultaneously until she hears him. This is a possibility that I can relate to much better than cat abuse. I can attest to the fact that I have definitely “collapsed the wave function” more than once in my life. How about if the ghost of Schrodinger wanders through the woods? Does his presence knock down the trees or are they simultaneously standing and knocked down until someone sees them? Is such environmental destruction the cat’s fault?
All this implies, along with the metaphors used to explain physics, that subjectivity is inevitable, that consciousness inevitably affects reality, whether we want it to or not, and that absolute objectivity is a myth. The biggest problem with including subjectivity in our theories, as Schrodinger does, is that we are back to Anthropic Theory where we, the human observers, are once again enshrined at the center of the universe, necessary for probabilities to make up their minds and turn into some definite stuff.
The other two theoretical alternatives to Shrodinger’s Cat either create multiple unobservable universes or are determined in some way that undercuts quantum theory. While the third possibility looks tempting, it implies the existence of universal laws, something that imposes theory on nature. The debate is then between probabilistic or deterministic, a binary choice. This in turn is based on Aristotelian logic, specifically his Law of the Excluded Middle. The idea is that you can have A or not A but you cannot have both A and not A. The Mahayana mystic and philosopher Nagarjuna, in about the first century, proposed in his famous tetra lemma that you could indeed have both, or neither. This would have pissed off Aristotle. The tetra lemma is a four-fold negation leading to rational neutrality, that is, the inability to posit the reality of any “thing” or concept. This was Nagarjuna’s logical exposition of Gautama’s concept of the Middle Way, designed to neutralize many of the cognitive filters that separate cognition from noumena.
Do particles know that they are being observed? Do they have consciousness? “…this observation has prompted respectable scientists to suggest that the observations each of us make, however humble a person we may be, constrain a whole universe to a single existence (state). Or, alternatively, that each tiny event spawns a new universe. Or that each little particle knows far more about the universe than we do.” Fortunately, one doesn’t have to go from one extreme to the other. Our choices are not limited to near omniscience, anthropomorphism or animism. We can simply point out that flowers “know” when to bloom and that grass “knows” that the weather is turning colder. Biological clocks, which are omnipresent throughout nature, imply a degree of consciousness that is appropriate for survival and adaptation, no more, no less. If we are to say that this is “instinct” or the result of “genetic programming” then we are also arguing that the Eiffel Tower, Apollo, Picasso and Jazz are all due to the same, which most people would consider no explanation at all. That physicists have to resort to such explanations is used as an argument that human ‘common sense’ is limited and faulty as none of these make common sense at all. However, one would argue that to resort to three such radically different explanations (for Schrondinger’s Cat) is itself pretty absurd and maybe we shouldn’t be abandoning using common sense quite so quickly.” In his discussion of quantum electrodynamics, or QED, Condon points out that it is a theory which doesn’t have any exact solutions for its underpinning equations, which is an excellent way to secure the accuracy of anything.
This is why psychic events, though occurring slightly above random, are for the most part not duplicatable. People make the mistake of thinking that possibilities on a quantum level are going to bleed over into the macro structures of the natural universe. While psychic events do happen, and I view them as aspects of the inherent creativity and unpredictability of life, they are notoriously difficult to predict, and I am extremely skeptical that anyone can be “trained” to be clairvoyant, precognitive or do psychokinesis.
Up to this point it has been possible to toss off Dr. Condor’s arguments as an enjoyable trashing of the pomposity of number crunchers and ivory tower researchers. We can even applaud him for his masochistic self-flagellation, as a scientist tearing down the professional status he has painstakingly built and then enjoyed for some thirty years. But in Chapter 4 things start to get personal. Most of us love the romance of science fiction and are raised on extraordinary human possibilities that scientists tell us are genuine realities, like the coming “singularity,” in which we achieve immortality by merging our consciousness with computers that are smarter than we are, or by traveling through black holes and wormholes to other star systems. If all of this is grandiose fantasy, what does that do to our faith in the cult of positive thinking that says, “If you can think it, you can achieve it?”
After explaining what black holes, wormholes, zero point energy and singularities are, Condon states, “there is absolutely no evidence that such things exist.” What a party pooper! How dare he denigrate our faith in humanity to both solve all problems and supply unlimited riches and possibilities to all of us! But by this point we have learned that, if we listen to Dr. Condon, that any concept that relies on infinity or zero isn’t going to make it out of the starting gate. There is no evidence that infinities exist in the real world and so there are no infinite zero point energies. He wants to know where the evidence is that would make black holes, wormholes and singularities more than high brow cultural fads, shared largely among those who are members of the exclusive fraternity of physicists and their gullible, unquestioning public that wants to believe in magic. Like sacred rituals that only make sense to the initiated, equations containing infinity or zero might as well be incantations. These ideas have not outlived their usefulness because they have never been useful in the first place, except to anesthetize the masses.
The theory of singularity has been embraced as a scientifically-derived justification for what has been called, “the rapture of the nerds,” reminding us that blind faith in the End Times is an irrational belief not limited to religious zealots. Following Moore’s Law, there is now occurring such an explosion of technological and computational growth that machines will soon be smarter than humans and our minds can be “uploaded” to computers, allowing us to become immortal Gods. But if Black Holes, hyperspatial wormholes, Technological Singularity and the Rapture of the Nerds are bunk what will become of science fiction? Will it merge with fiction science?
Condon would not take these fantasies seriously if they were not promoted by talented and intelligent inventors and scientists. The implication is that Dr. Condon thinks that talent, intelligence, invention and science have become as embarrassingly irrational as the religious beliefs they ridicule and have largely replaced. Black Holes, hyperspatial wormholes and singularity provide additional examples of scientists confusing the perfect world of math with the imperfect universe. “But, no matter how ridiculous it all sounded, it fitted the theory and by accepting it as the truth, physicists never had to be troubled again by those infinities and zeros cropping up in the math of Quantum Mechanics. That solved an awful lot of problems. However, the price they had to pay was to believe that every tiny bit of space had infinite particles being continuously conjured out of existence and then almost immediately being whisked away. Deep down this whole idea continued to trouble some physicists.” The problem is that there is no evidence that infinities exist in the real world and so there are no infinite zero point energies.
Condor attempts to demonstrate that the big debates within physics today, such as that between general relativity and quantum mechanics, are wars among competing belief systems. Condon asks, “If there are underlying principles to the universe, why do we need two entirely different types of physics and indeed math to describe them?” “… both the physics of the large and small suffer from embarrassing and inconvenient infinities, but that’s about the only thing they have in common. What’s even more disturbing are the profound differences between the math of the very large and the very small. The difference between smooth and discontinuous is like a huge abyss separating the physics of the two sub-specialities.” “… many physicists…took an even bolder step into the land of myth in trying to unify the math of the big and small. They contrived to get rid of the uncomfortable zeros and infinities by inventing a new dimension (made up of vibrating strings), the existence of which is supported by no evidence at all.”
These findings present us with several unpalatable choices. “Do you prefer a theory (String Theory) which posits at least ten entirely new spatial dimensions for which we can never find proof but which at least goes some way to bringing the very large and the very small under one mathematical roof? Or, alternatively, that entirely different mathematics are required to describe the very large and very small which rather flies in the face of the idea that there is an underlying unified theory to explain everything. Or perhaps you are beginning to wonder if our math and theories don’t represent reality anywhere near as closely as we think.” “So-called fundamental physics laws are not truly fundamental because they do not always apply. Instead they apply only in specific cases restricted by size, temperature, velocity, pressure and so on.”
Condon points out that as with history, the winners write the physics books, revising history to support their preferences. “… the theories that fall by the wayside often do so not because the predictions they make are found to be incorrect, but rather because their assumptions do not match the current scientific orthodoxy.” In addition, theories based on fundamental misapprehensions can still make very good predictions. For example, belief that the sun orbits Earth did not stop previous cultures from making highly accurate astronomical observations.
The usefulness of chemistry lies mainly in its observational base rather than in theoretical physics. However, because chemical reactions are based on the behavior of electrons, chemistry is seriously undermined by the inability of physics to model those reactions. Condon elaborates on this principle when he says, “Theoretical laws purport to explain reality, but phenomenological laws simply describe what we can observe but don’t attempt to describe any mechanism that underpins it.” Condon appears to therefore have more respect for chemistry than for his own field of expertise: “This book is arguing that the phenomenological laws of subjects like chemistry are really the nearest we can get to the truth in that they describe regularities in how the universe usually operates.”
Chapter 6 explains why and how science is so poor at predicting the future. “Experiment had never been producing the results that theory had predicted.” These massive failures of theory were ignored because they were treated as anomalies in the data: glitches or experimental error or equipment malfunctions or poor calibrations. The problem is that both simple and complex systems, such as the orbits of planets, the spread of epidemics, biological, economic and meteorological systems change with time. The problem is one of complexity: there are just too many variables and this problem is not getting better with the advent of super computers. For example, meteorologists have not been able to improve their predictions for tomorrow’s weather. “Indeed it might be argued that the biggest boon that computers have given to meteorologists is an awareness of just how inaccurate their forecasts are.”
In the 1960’s Edward Lorenz Lorenz discovered that even the simplest models were highly sensitive to their initial starting conditions. Even tiny differences could make the simplest predictive models behave very strangely. This field of study was called “Chaos Theory” and the extreme dependence on initial conditions was called “the Butterfly Effect,” meaning that “a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil could supposedly cause a tornado in Texas.” The simplicity of beautiful equations and theories was being replaced by the chaos of unavoidable complexity. “We can never eliminate the multitude of confounding effects in reality…So, in just fifty years, we’ve gone from a belief that the universe was something that would ultimately be amenable to hard, accurate prediction, to a new understanding that reality is actually unpredictable except in very, very carefully controlled circumstances and even then not completely.” Dr. Condon points out that the unpredictability of results has always existed but that science has simply ignored it. “One wonders what else science may be presently ignoring. After all, even today, faith in the absolute truth of theory is still widespread. And if results don’t match the orthodox theory then there will always be a tendency to believe the results must be wrong.” “Meteorologists’ own estimates of when accurate prediction becomes essentially impossible ranges from three days to ten days ahead depending on which one you listen to. Computing power has increased more than a million-fold since 1960. How much has the accuracy of weather forecasting improved in that time? The answer is a few percent, if that.”
This is also true in biology, economic and regarding earthquake prediction. “When we look for simplicity all we find instead is complexity, no matter how convincing and comforting our theories may be.” “The universe is innately complex, indeed this book makes the case that complexity and uniqueness are perhaps its only truth. The awareness of the effects of ‘chaos’ has given the lie to the belief held for hundreds of years that systems and events and even the universe itself followed a deterministic path. Chaos is an example of the intrusion of this complexity to undermine the deterministic universe envisaged by scientists like Newton and Laplace and the many that followed. It gives the lie to the belief held for hundreds of years that very small influences could be neglected; that predictions of future behaviour might not be exact but they would be good to a high level of accuracy. And no amount of increasingly elaborate math or faster computers will help us.”
In Chapter 7 Dr. Condon demonstrates how this same strategy of creating theories that explain complexity fails in the realms of brain and DNA-related science. He begins by once again addressing a recurring theme in Science for Heretics: the myth of objectivity and its failure due to looking at things from the outside, as an observer, “rather than from the inside, as one who lives in reality does.” This in a quote from David Taffel. I find this very interesting because my own work explores “subjective sources of objectivity,” superficially a contradiction, but fundamental to phenomenalistic methodologies of all sorts. IDL accesses objectivity through interviewing the personifications of life issues that concern us as individuals today, such as our fear of failure, rejection or death; health, financial and relationship concerns. It also interviews dream characters and objects. Both sources have been shown to produce unexpected objectivity which, when combined with other, more recognized authorities and common sense, improves decision-making ability.
In this chapter Dr. Condon uses brain science and DNA to illustrate the limitations of scientific reductionism and to demonstrate how the false objectivity undercuts DNA-related science. An example is the attempt to explain how the body works by breaking it down into its constituent structures and functions. “Similar consequences of the reductionist approach can also be found in physics where specialism causes an increase in the chopping up of the subject into smaller sub-units like mechanics, thermodynamics, particle physics, cosmology, optics and so on. All have their own cadre of specialists. As we saw previously, each speciality such as optics or thermodynamics produces new theories and laws which don’t seem to have much common ground with the others.” “Faced with the bewildering complexity of reality, it tries to break down even the most complex processes or things like the human brain, into bite sized chunks each of which can then be experimentally investigated and its workings analysed. Each little bit becomes like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. At the end of this reductionist process, when all the little bits have been individually understood, then they can supposedly be added back together until we can finally understand how the whole complex system works. Except in reality that last bit almost never happens.”
Dr. Condon compares reductionism with holism and emergence. While reductionism holds that complex objects are simply the sum of their constituent parts, holism involves treating an individual, animal, object or phenomenon as an integrated, functioning organism rather than cutting it up and analyzing its constituent parts. “… individual neurons may have been investigated to within an inch of their lives but this has yielded no insights as to how the whole brain, made up of billions of these, can appreciate beauty or find Laurel and Hardy movies funny.” “Emergent expresses the idea that new properties emerge out of the complexity of the interaction of all the little reduced bits which could not have been predicted by just studying these parts individually.” This is in line with both chaos theory and data from the fossil record, as Dr. Condon discusses in a later chapter.
Emergence occurs when a collection of objects self-organizes without central coordination, something biologists refer to as “autopoeisis.” Riots, hurricanes, and stock market behaviors are examples of emergence. So are dreams and the processes of self-organization that are observed in perspectives, called “emerging potentials,” revealed by some my own work, Dream Sociometry. “Prediction is only possible where emergent properties are suppressed.” As such, the reductionistic nature of scientific research, in which forces and objects are artificially excised from those natural variables and conditions that can and do affect them might be called the “normalization of deviance,” a term that was first applied to the failures of NASA that led to the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters and then to American foreign policy. It holds that unchecked power in any field, or as we might put it, professional guild, leads to the condoning of sociopathy.
Dr. Condon notes that “the more we experiment using reductionist methods the more specialties we create and the greater the disconnect between them.” This means more professional guilds are created, each primarily interested in its own survival and growth. However, because this cannot be the priority of science it leads to its corruption through a normalization of deviance. At present, the ascendency of beauty over rationality in the construction of both equations and theory is a potent expression of the professional institutionalization of a culture of the normalization of deviance.
Dr. Condon uses the history of theories about the functioning of the brain to illustrate the limitations of reductionism. He notes examples of hydrocephalic individuals who have very little brain tissue that function normally and insects that can continue to function with no brain at all. “Where these patients manage to store their memories is certainly a big question but it pales into insignificance beside another: why are these patients still even human?” Memory has been shown to be non-spatial, that is, not identified with any one region of the brain, and therefore reductionism cannot explain it.
Explanations involving plasticity imply that we have bigger brains than we need, which makes no sense from an evolutionary perspective, since large heads mean babies are born prematurely, unable to fend for themselves, or not born at all, due to being too big for the birth canal. “If we really needed less brain tissue then smaller brains would have a survival advantage from an evolutionary point of view to both the babies and their mothers.” Other explanations, such as the holographic brain or mind-body dualism are hardly suitable for scientific materialism. With scientific papers investigating the central nervous system appearing at a rate of over 60,000 per year with the total number of neuroscience related papers in reputable peer reviewed journals coming in at over 1.5 million, where memories are actually stored is as much of a mystery now as it has always been. Nor has it “explained how 1.5 kilograms of tissue can produce art and literature, how it can love and grieve, how it can appreciate humour, how it can feel tenderness, how it can remember or even just think.”
“The brain has at least 80 thousand million neurons, with perhaps a hundred million million connections, and at each of these connections electrical activity is modulated by dozens of different neurotransmitters acting through over three hundred different types of ion channels.” Dr. Condon believes that the complexity of the brain means that reductionistic approaches will inevitably fail. Over 130 leaders of scientific groups seem to agree, as they are threatening to boycott “the Human Brain Project” because it is “radically premature” and “doomed to failure.”
The final example that Dr. Condon gives of the failure of scientific reductionism to deal with cascading levels of complexity is DNA and the human genome. After giving a very clear introduction to both, Dr. Condon evaluates several unsolved mysteries regarding DNA. “It was thought that mapping the human genome would revolutionise medicine. It would provide the chemical programming to build proteins which in turn would allow us to build better human beings and cure the sick. Once we had mapped the human genome then we would know everything. However, instead of nailing down our understanding of what makes us, and everything else that has DNA, it has revealed only greater and greater complexity.” For example, only about 1.5% of the total genetic sequence in humans actually code for proteins and much of the rest is apparently non-coding repetitive sequences, that is redundant and unnecessary material. Why is it there? Are these all molecular fossils, unusable testaments to our phylogeny? Another mystery is why the Marbled Lungfish and some salamanders have about forty times as many nucleotides as we do. “The organism with the most DNA is not even an animal at all but rather the lily which has at least ten times as much as we do.” If evolution and intelligence is determined by the amount of DNA then the lily has the White Brotherhood, the entire angelic host and God beat. And at present, we cannot even delineate the boundary between one gene and another.
The dream of “perfecting the species,” through eugenics, or just eliminating birth defects, has been a promise held out by gene researchers. “…what’s to stop us mapping our own genetic profiles and using them to predict the occurrence of diseases like Alzheimer’s, arthritis and so on, and to start preventative treatments many years before the first signs and symptoms appear?” Dr. Condon believes that “we are fitting more and more complex models to something which has no explanation, or no explanation that we as humans with our linear thought processes and analogy based thinking could understand.” Due to the inherent nature of complexity, “the more we know the more we realise we don’t know.” “It’s almost like the universe, when it comes to life at least, has a general predisposition towards even greater and greater complexity which is somehow self-sustaining.”
In Chapter 8 Dr. Condon questions a concept fundamental and essential to science: the objectivity of observation. He points out that “The more advanced the experiment and the smaller or more specific the effect to be observed, the more things we are not observing.” “The more closely we observe something, the more of the object we exclude from the act of observation.” As we have learned from his discussion of chaos theory, the more variables that you ignore the less likely you are to be able to predict anything. He provides interesting examples from cosmology, biology, light microscopy and botany to demonstrate that observation unnaturally controls and “denatures” its subjects by separating them from the flux of nature.
While the act of observation is to some level confounding the very measurement we are trying to make, there is a deeper issue, and that is that “we look for what we expect to see.” As Einstein said, “Whether you see a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is theory which decides what can be observed.” “When the results don’t comply with our expectations we interpret them still in terms of what we think we know.” “Whatever the thing is we are observing, it is more than a particle or a wave, it is something far beyond that. We are simply taking limited viewpoints on something extremely complex and these force us to fill in the blanks of our understanding with wild and ultimately unverifiable theories.” Dr Condon’s examples from physics of Rutherford’s alpha particle scattering experiments and the dual slit particle/wave duality experiment are used to arrive at a conclusion analogous to that of the famous Indian story of the Blind Men and the Elephant. When you grab only one part of a complex phenomenon you are going to inevitably draw a skewed conclusion about its nature: If you only grab the leg, ear, trunk, side or tail of an elephant you will end up arguing about whether an elephant is most like a tree, palm frond, snake, wall or rope. The argument is a testament to your commitment to an absurdly narrow view of reality. “…the act of observation is like donning a pair of blinkers, restricting our view and often only allowing us to see what we are expecting rather than what actually is.”
In Chapter 9 Dr. Condon makes the case that the advances attributed to science, like the power of computers, mobile phones or our ability to build “massively beautiful and breathtaking buildings, tunnels and bridges that span continents, cars that steer themselves and missiles that can hit a mosquito between the eyes at a range of hundreds of kilometers,” are due not to science but mostly to engineering. “In fact, the machines produced by our technology rarely depend on scientific theory.” Engineers created these developments and they operate differently from scientists. Instead of relying on theory, engineers learn from observation and experience, by trial and error. The Egyptian pyramids, the public baths, sewer and aqueduct systems of Rome, the steam and internal combustion engines were not derived from modern theories of mechanics, gravity or thermodynamics. “As was usual throughout most of the history of engineering, theory followed design and construction. Theory was a story retrospectively constructed to try to explain how they had managed to do it.” But now that process and way of thinking has been reversed. As Eugene S. Ferguson has said, “The myth that the knowledge incorporated in any invention must originate in science is now accepted in Western culture as an article of faith, and the science policies of nations rest on that faith.” Engineers lead, with “theoreticians trailing in their wake spinning explanatory fables.” “Instead of engineering driving theory it is theory that is now perceived to be driving engineering.”
However, since the 1950’s and ’60’s, engineering has come to rely increasingly on mathematics, theory and computers. The result has been less direct experience with the nature and limitations of materials used for a job and more reliance on approximations built into the equations and algorithms of design software involving computer simulations. “In top-down Design, the whole system is designed and specified before any testing of components to establish their true limits has even begun. The adverse effects of one component on another have less time to be anticipated and avoided. “Costly revisions are necessary to overcome design errors that were not anticipated by design theory in earlier models. “… drawing board designs often do not survive exposure to reality, just as battle plans do not survive exposure to the enemy. It is the engineer’s job to translate the aspiration of the design to the hardness of reality by making all sorts of accommodations to resolve difficulties unanticipated by theory.”
The consequences of putting theory before engineering can be costly: building collapses, civil nuclear accidents, flaws in the Hubble telescope and of course both Space Shuttle disasters. In addition, it creates unnecessary, gigantic and even deadly cost overruns in military hardware. Sociologist Diane Vaughan has called this the “normalization of deviance” and views it as a pervasive culture of cost and status management at the expense of reality. Insiders downplay potential problems and avoid reassessments of approved projects, no matter how flawed they may be. Once this has occurred, decision-makers face a cognitive and ethical conundrum whenever the same issue arises again: they can no longer admit that an action will violate responsible standards without admitting that they have already violated them in the past. So to protect their own asses, they stonewall, hunker down and hope for the best. No professional guild or bureaucracy is immune to this; however it is in the fields of engineering, economics and foreign policy where the costs of a culture of deviance are highest.
Even the success of portable electronics, such as mobile phones that rely on semiconductors, are the result of observation of unexpected results not predicted by theory and not theory itself. “The main developments in semiconductors have been made without the post-event rationalisation that is theory. …the most seminal developments were made despite the theories prevalent at that time.” Dr. Condon makes the case that this was as true for radio and lasers as it was for computers.
This chapter provides a new-found appreciation for the role of engineering to human progress and a realization that engineers need to re-think their role and their training, both in relation to science. Much of the faith placed in science for the technological advances of humanity actually belongs to engineers and inventors. Certainly these fields overlap with science, but a more appropriate relationship is for science to inform engineering and invention rather than to direct it.
In Chapter 10 Dr. Condon points out that if medicine is viewed as a science, that does not reflect well on science. “Taken over its several thousand years of history we will see how medicine has killed far more than it has ever really saved. These deaths arose from a slavish devotion to prevailing doctrine and theory.” Like science, medicine is driven primarily by prevailing theory which is only updated when it has little or no choice. This represents the mentality of professional guilds and the normalization of deviancy. Examples abound. Blood letting killed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, from Hippocrates until the dawn of the 19th century. Based on the Greek theory of the Four Humors, one needed to be “purged” of “bad blood” and toxic substances by bleeding, forced vomiting and induced diarrhea. “Bloodletting is now believed to be harmful in all but a very few diseases. If you are weak and run down from the effects of disease, the last thing you need is to have some of your blood syphoned off. Bloodletting was used for almost all diseases, and indeed was used to treat people who had already bled heavily from wounds or were about to undergo amputation.”
“(An understanding of the history of medicine is) necessary to gain some perspective on current medical theory because throughout medicine’s history, and despite its often manifest failings, at any given time its practitioners have thought they understood the principles of medicine clearly.” Most of modern medicine’s undoubted successes were based on observation and experience, a sort of “biological engineering,” rather than being driven by theory. When and where theory does take the lead in medicine it often does more harm than good. “It isn’t until the 19th century, about two centuries after the invention of the microscope, that we see the earliest attempt at evidence rather than belief based medicine.” It was now shown that the organs of the body were not made of congealed blood after all, that diseases were not spread by ‘vapours’ and ‘miasmas’. It took almost two hundred years for the evidence of the microscope to be accepted because its findings did not conform to standard, broadly accepted medical theory. Doctors in the 19th century began to sport new diagnostic tools, such as the stethoscope, ophthalmoscope, laryngoscope, thermometer and sphygmomanometer which also served at least partly as shamanic fetishes.
The history of the study of human anatomy really didn’t get started until about the middle of the 1500’s when Vesalius started stealing bodies to dissect in Italy. “It has sustained the fruitful conviction that in ever-more-minute investigation of the flesh lies the key to health and disease, even if it has also encouraged a tendency to myopic reductionism, to miss the whole by concentrating exclusively upon the parts.” Dissection led, however, to proof that there was not a duct connecting the brain and the penis, a belief that could have disproven centuries ago by consulting any woman. It all led to a de-mystification of the body and with it, life. “… there has been a steady shift away from the idea of humans as complex life force enhanced beings to something little better than nuts and bolts.”
There are horrifyingly wonderful accounts of the history of death by blood letting, snake oils, ghastly surgeries without benefit of anesthesia, trepanation and hot oil cautery of the stumps after amputation. After the discovery of effective anesthesias in the 20th Century, “cutting out or destroying bits of the brain as a means of curing mental illness became something of a vogue.” “At its peak in the 1950s over 5000 such ‘lobotomy’ operations were performed in the US per year, despite around a three percent mortality rate as well as there being common but devastating side effects such as ‘surgically induced childhood’.” Condon notes that the surgeries with the highest success rates resemble engineering: “The most effective surgeries are essentially to do with unblocking or repairing pipes and fixing leaks in the blood vessels or in the gastrointestinal tract. Although far more sophisticated, this does have analogies to the work of plumbers who also can do their work very successfully without much recourse to theory. Much of orthopaedic surgery has to do with repairing broken bones or replacing worn out joints, and is in some ways analogous to carpentry and car mechanics where effective techniques have been developed by practice and observation more than by theory.”
Dr. Condon notes the effects on health, both good and bad, brought about by human “civilization,” including agriculture, urbanization, world travel and massive increases in population, including the domestication of animals as a source of infection, the storing of grains in silos, providing sites for rats carrying disease like the Bubonic plague to congregate, close urban contact, making the communication of deadly diseases easier, greater susceptibility to diseases like scurvy and the clearing of forests leaving ponds for breeding mosquitos carrying malaria. Bad habits have created completely avoidable major health crises. For example, sugar intake is implicated in Type 2 diabetes and inflammation, an underlying variable in a vast quantity of diseases. It was only in the early 1950’s that it was determined that smoking “reduced life expectancy by about ten years for smokers, though more recent studies suggest it’s actually nearer fourteen years. It is estimated that had smoking been banned altogether in 1950 it would have added six years to overall mean life expectancy.”
It wasn’t until 1848 that it started to dawn on doctors that dirt might have something to do with disease or that doctors themselves might be the carriers of disease from one patient to another. “The idea that medics were themselves the cause of so much death was considered almost blasphemous to a profession easing its way into god-like status.” “It wasn’t until Joseph Lister’s work in the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow that it was seriously proposed, in 1867, that pus from a wound may actually not be a good sign.”
Dr. Condon asks how good medicine has been at deferring death, arguably one of the most important criteria for measuring medical efficacy. Besides hygiene, the greatest accomplishment of medicine is probably antibiotics, which have saved perhaps hundreds of millions of lives and vaccination, which has eliminated smallpox and greatly reduced the virility of tetanus, measles, mumps and a variety of other infectious diseases. “Between 1900 and 2000 in the developed Western World life expectancy went from 45 to 75 years…In fact the contribution of modern medicine to this increased life expectancy is only a fraction of this. One estimate of the effect of modern medicine on the increase of life expectancy is that it was responsible for at most 20% of the total increase and this was mainly due to a reduction in mortality of babies after birth.” If medicine and the work of scientifically-trained physicians was not the source of this great gain in life expectancy, what was? Better sewage systems, improvements in food handling and restrictions on air pollution, all associated with improved hygiene, are responsible for a greater chunk of increased life expectancy than are doctors and medicines. But at least a whopping 40% of the increase in life expectancy remains unexplained. One theory is that we have become more naturally resistant to diseases of all kinds due to improvements in our diets; another is better personal sanitation. Still another theory is that weak humans died off, leaving those with greater immunity to pass it along to their children. Whatever the case, life expectancy has increased by an astounding 30 years for waterborne and airborne diseases combined. But while infectious diseases have decreased dramatically, “cancer deaths per million quadrupled between 1850 and 1971, whilst those from cardiovascular disease tripled.” “30-35% of cancers are tobacco related; not just of the lung but also of the bladder, kidney, mouth, larynx and pancreas too. 40% of cancers may be food related, for example due to the chemicals in preserved meats like bacon; to high fat, low fibre, fried and grilled foods and to nitrate and nitrite rich diets (BBQ anyone?); to low vitamin C diets and to high alcohol consumption.”
If none of these reductions in disease have anything to do with modern medicine the possibility arises that they may not be permanent and that we are seeing a temporary depression in a cyclic process. If this is the case we cannot take comfort in long-term protection from current antibiotics, as viruses are developing immunity to penicillin while micro-organisms are adapting themselves to antibiotics. Bacteria are developing new ways of infecting people and we are seeing increasing amounts of drug resistance. Condon wonders, “Could it be that diseases are just getting more lethal as part of a long cycle as mentioned before; that we are presently on the ‘up’ part of the cycle and so mankind may be heading back to Dickensian levels of death and disease?”
Dr. Condon next examines the benefits and drawbacks of drugs, including their unintended effects on non-targeted bodily systems due to the unpredictable complexity of physiology and biochemistry. “My own blood pressure pill, a medical favourite for treating hypertension, lists fifty such effects ranging from common ones like a tickly cough, skin rash and cramps, to more serious but less common problems like vertigo, depression, swelling of the gut, sexual inability, nail problems, ringing in the ears and even breast enlargement in men.” He notes that “a study published in 1963 in Medical Care looking at family doctors across Britain showed that only 9% of their prescriptions had had their effectiveness or otherwise experimentally established.” “Perhaps you are trying to take comfort in the thought that even though these drugs or procedures have not been properly tested, that surely doctors wouldn’t prescribe them if they found from their own experience that they didn’t actually work.” Dr. Condon cites the two thousand year history of blood-letting as an example of how theory trumps experience in almost all cases. “As well as causing the medical profession to reject drugs that work but are not supported by theory, theory also leads them to too quickly adopt drugs that actually don’t work because the theory behind them is wrong.” Iatrogenic disease, or illness caused by physicians and their treatments, “may account for as much as one third of the patients in hospitals.” Some of this is caused by the interaction of multiple drugs, introducing new and suspected variables and side effects.
In addition, many drugs get onto the market through a misrepresentation of their effects by various methods, including the suppression of factors that might contribute to negative results, the bias that comes from most trials being run by the drug manufacturers themselves and the non-publishing of negative trials. “The non-appearance of negative results means that we often don’t get to know when many theories fail in science generally.” Many of the positive drug results that do make it into the literature cannot be replicated by other researchers. When negative results are not published, “statistical flukes (make) it through the publication process.” “… in order to get regulatory approval drug companies need only show their drugs are better than placebo. They don’t have to show they are better than other existing, and perhaps more effective, drugs. New drugs can be less efficacious and have more side effects than existing drugs but as long as they’re better than placebo, they can get regulatory approval.” In addition, doctors are at liberty to prescribe drugs for conditions for which they have not been tested. “… at least one source has reckoned that around 85% of drugs approved by European regulators provide little or no benefits.”
There is much, much more in Dr. Condon’s thorough examination of medical and drug history and treatment efficacy, and it is all excellent and very well written, with fascinating examples throughout, with a bomb dropped here and there, like this one: “’There are more natural carcinogens by weight in a cup of coffee than potentially carcinogenic synthetic pesticide residues in the average US diet in a year, and there are still a thousand known chemicals in roasted coffee that have not been tested’.”
Theory continues to be overturned in medicine. It was not many years ago that everyone was convinced that stomach ulcers were caused by stress or spicy food. People were prescribed useless crap like Tagamet and Zantac that only gave symptomatic relief while causing all sorts of nasty side effects. Then an Australian doctor proved that gastric ulcers were caused by bacteria. “He submitted his work to an Australian medical conference and had it rejected. His submission was rated in the bottom three of nearly 70 papers. When he did finally present his work on the international stage he was met with derision. This derision was to last for many years. The prevailing medical theory was that bacteria could not survive in the acid of the stomach so of course that meant his theory must be nonsense. Dr. Marshall demonstrated (the bacterial etiology of gastric ulcers) by drinking a witches’ brew of bacteria and curing it himself.” Still, it took twelve more years for mainstream medical opinion regarding gastric ulcers to change. By this discovery, many honorable physicians, as well as investors in Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturers Tagamet and Zantac, were deprived of vacation homes and a second Mercedes. Dr. Condon wonders what other current treatments are dictated by completely erroneous theories. In what other areas are confident physicians and their trusting patients stuck in a belief system similar to that of medieval blood-letting?
In Chapter 11 Dr. Condon looks at medicine and the mind. He declares his heretic credentials at the beginning, by dividing the treatment of mental disorders into two camps: “One side is trying to shoehorn the wide spectrum of the symptoms of mental illness into possibly quite fictitious diagnostic pigeonholes generated by committee and, at the stroke of a pen, turning tens of millions of us into sufferers overnight. The other side meanwhile isn’t even sure that mental illnesses are entities themselves and instead are the product of external social factors rather than actual diseases that somehow originate internally.” This division might be summarized as those who point to nature as the source of mental illness vs. those who attribute it to failures in nurturing, or environmental factors. Thomas Szaz, a qualified psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and a member of the second camp, “in his book ‘The Myth of Mental Illness’, essentially equated psychiatrists with astrologers and alchemists.” He does not believe that mental illnesses are “subject to verification by scientific methods.” Dr. Condon believes that both viewpoints fall in and out of professional favor, pointing to numerous swings in one direction or the other in the history of psychiatry. One example he gives is of the dropping of the term neurosis, about which a dissenting doctor wrote, “(This) can be compared to the director of a national museum destroying his Rembrandts, Goyas, Utrillos, van Goghs, etc, because he believes his collection of Comic Strip type Warhol’s (or what have you) is of greater relevance’.”
Dr. Condon limits his discussion to psychiatrists, presumably because these are the mental health professionals who have the greatest pretensions of being scientists. However, it is important to note that the majority of mental health treatment is provided by lowly master’s level social workers and councilors. Psychologists, who tend to corner the testing branch of the field, make up the third emanation of the unholy mental health trinity.
“Historically there have been essentially three main trends in psychiatric thought: That madness could be explained in physical terms. In other words, it had an organic cause; that it had a psychological source and so the problem came from the thought processes themselves; and that it was either inexplicable, or was due to interference by God or demons, and the only cures were by magic.”
Following a very informative and funny review of the history of psychiatry Dr. Condon once again proves himself the hopeless curmudgeon by saying this about neuropsychology: “(It) is somewhat like phrenology, in that it attempts to identify areas of the brain associated with specific functions, but uses better techniques than feeling someone’s head.” His review of electroshock therapy is no more congenial: “Nobody knows why passing electricity through the brain seems to work in some instances. Cynics might wonder whether witchcraft and magic still dwell in the heart of psychiatry, though by other names.”
Dr. Condon points to studies demonstrating the unreliability of psychiatric diagnoses. “Often three psychiatrists examining one patient would produce three different diagnoses.” As a health care practitioner of many years standing myself, I can not only attest to this, but to the existence of “boutique diagnoses” that move in and out of fashion in the professional guilds of mental health. I have found the diagnoses “bipolar,” “ADD/ADHD,” (attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and various categories of autism misused in this way. Also in my experience, diagnosis is primarily propelled by an interest in getting paid by insurance companies, who demand it, rather than by any usefulness in actual treatment. There are exceptions to this principle, but many diagnoses simply close down treatment options for clinicians. For example, clinicians have been trained to receive a diagnosis of any sort of personality disorder as saying, “This person is a tough case and will probably not respond to anything you try.” This is the category that Dr. Condon and myself would probably be diagnosed into. A diagnosis of any kind of psychosis is generally interpreted to mean, “Put on meds.” Dr. Condon cites an interesting study in which healthy people were given fictitious diagnoses and admitted to mental hospitals with the staff later being told. The result was that “psychiatrists had diagnosed people as being ill who weren’t (and also) had diagnosed people who were really suffering from mental illness as being normal.” Such findings were not good either for the status or financial fortunes of psychiatrists.
The basic problem for mental health, from Dr. Condon’s perspective, is the same that plagues all the sciences: people and things are unique and complicated. “… psychoanalysis (and we could say all of mental health) has as its foundation the uniqueness of the patient and their problems. This means that the efficacy of any therapy psychiatrists applied could never really be established as there would be no identical, or even equivalent, control patients available to compare non-treatment with.” A cynic might add that this provides a very comfortable hedge against accountability.
Dr. Condon views the juggernaut to categorize all mental health dysfunction into categories as an attempt by psychiatry to salvage its reputation by establishing standards of repeatability. He also wonders if by the classification of conditions as diseases, such as homosexuality, “the profession was trying at the stroke of a pen to make as many people mentally ill as possible…” in order to generate business. Regarding homosexuality as a diagnosis, “That the profession had to vote amongst themselves to decide whether something was a mental illness or not did nothing to improve the status of psychiatry as a science, or as anything else for that matter.” That the treatment of homosexuality changed with the beliefs of the time leads Dr. Condon to speculate, “Who is to say that this isn’t also true to some extent at least with other ‘mental disorders’ and that they are not set-in-stone absolute disease entities that the categorisers would have us believe, but rather that they change with time as societies’ attitudes towards them change?” As evidence, Dr. Condon cites the history of hysteria and the making of tomboys into another “empire of sufferers.”
Dr. Condon suspects the profit motive lurks not far below the surface in the business of manufacturing madness into existence through creating new diagnostic categories. “(These create) lower diagnostic thresholds, producing medicalisation of many people hitherto considered relatively untroubled by psychiatric illness. This, of course, suits the pharmaceutical companies…as they have more new diseases that they can sell people drugs to supposedly cure.”
Throughout some forty years in the mental health field I have seen many cases of wrong diagnosis, prescription of medications that not only had no benefit but had clear and harmful side effects and which were then combined with other psychographics to produce a witches’ brew of psychoactive toxins and unanticipated side effects. My experience is far from unusual. What would be unusual would be to find a practitioner who did not tell you the same. “There is a growing feeling nowadays that the DSM’s simple disease model approach may be fallacious and that no specific disease entities underlie what are simply a range of symptoms; that categorisation of mental disease is itself a phantasm.”
Dr. Condon notes that once decision-tree diagnostic procedures are established it is a simple matter to have patients self-diagnose through “checklist psychiatry.” The attitude might be, “Just fill out the form and I will know what medication to prescribe, saving me the time and therefore making me money. In addition, I don’t have to waste my time listening to you drone on about your miserable little life.”
Regarding the breadth of application of psychotropics to many different categories of mental illness, Dr. Condon states, “One begins to suspect that the mode of action is simply that of tranquillising the patient rather than having any effect on the disease itself, assuming such an entity exists at all. Indeed few suggest these drugs actually cure anyone of anything; they just reduce some of the symptoms.” “Anti-depressants are another example of a drug that is used to treat a wide range of disease categories, again suggesting their effects are on the symptoms rather than on any actual underlying disease. These other illnesses include obsessive compulsive disorder, migraines, ADHD, eating disorders and even snoring as well as much else.”
Americans take huge amounts of antidepressants spending about half a trillion dollars a year on them. So how effective are they? “In very large scale clinical trials of antidepressants the placebo effect was found to be responsible for 75% of the response rate.” But wait! It’s much worse than that. “Remember that that is only for the patients who respond; typically 50% don’t respond to the drug at all. So such drugs are perhaps only helping an eighth of the patients who take them.” This means that 80+ cents of every dollar spent on antidepressants might as well be flushed down the toilet, while drinking the water thereof instead.
This brings Dr. Condon to the very significant topic of placebo in mental health treatment. To be effective, a medication must demonstrate it provides benefit above and beyond taking a sugar pill or drinking toilet water, which will bring a cure some 33% of the time. This is a very high standard, and there is conclusive evidence, much of which Dr. Condon discusses, that shows that the profit motive conspires to produce fake positive results in order to get medications approved. It is also important to note that a 33% improvement rate is enough to create and maintain whatever professional guild you might want to form. Take, for example, homeopathy, which has never been shown to function above and beyond placebo, yet has a vociferous guild of practitioners and subscribers that swear by it. What’s going on?
Think of it like this. You declare your brand of toilet water cures adolescence. Parents rush out to buy it. A third of all adolescents get better. They and their parents provide glowing testimonies. Another third see no difference, meaning that they just didn’t give it enough time or, the most likely reason, the adolescents were “non-compliant.” The other third that got worse is never heard from again. Besides, other factors made them worse, not your filtered, flavored toilet water. In this way a professional guild is formed with customer loyalty. It doesn’t matter what facts you tell these people; those who make a living off toilet water have a strong vested interest in discounting your facts; those who believe in it, for whatever reason, are True Believers. Have you ever attempted to reason with a True Believer? Believers in filtered, flavored toilet water and homeopathy can also point out that they do not have the side effects of most medications. For example, one side effect of Prozac, a medication for the treatment of depression, is depression.
“…one recent study showed that three thirty minute walks a week were actually more efficacious in alleviating symptoms of depression than these drugs.” The problem is that no one makes money by prescribing walks. This is also true for meditation, with the exception of some clever marketers, like the now deceased Indian engineer, Mahesh Prasad Varma, more commonly known as guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, that developed the highly lucrative franchise called Transcendental Meditation.
Dr. Condon seems to look favorably on psychoanalysis. Perhaps he is using it in a generic sense, to refer to all non-categorizing approaches to mental health. Let us hope so, because psychoanalysis itself, in my experience, does not show results above placebo and, in fact, keeps patients dependent upon their practitioners. When you have a psychoanalyst who is also an MD and therefore prescribes medications you tend to get the worst of both worlds. The most effective treatment for depression and anxiety that I have found, studied and used is also discussed by Dr. Condon. This is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), first described by Albert Ellis in his Cognitive Emotive Therapy and then later turned into something of an industry by Drs. Beck and Burns. It is based on the idea that how we think determines how we feel; if we think bad we feel bad; if we think good we feel good. Indeed, Burn’s book Feeling Good, The New Mood Therapy, is the book most often recommended by therapists to their patients and simply the act of reading it has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression in some individuals. For an in-depth understanding not only of emotional, but logical and perceptual cognitive distortions, see Waking Up. While research supports CBT more than other approaches, one has to wonder how much of its benefits are secondary to the contemporary Cult of Positivity that has spread throughout the Western world. However, CBT is not a medication, so it has neither side effects nor polypharmacy. It encourages people to think and, heaven forbid, even reason, which might not be such a bad thing.
Dr. Condon ends this chapter with a very interesting observation: “…science, its methods and laws and principles, rather than being representative of the bedrock of reality, is actually a product of our limited minds. Attempting to apply mind-generated methods of science to the mind itself, something which transcends these methods, may therefore be an exercise in futility.” His point is that science, being a product of the mind, inherently lacks the objectivity to observe itself, its workings and its dysfunctions. “Our lack of success in understanding the mind, for example, may be because we are using our limited minds to study our limited minds.” Unless and until humanity develops tools that allow it to objectify the mind, in which we remain subjectively entrapped, science is unlikely to provide genuine progress in the treatment of mental health disorders.
In Chapter 12 Dr. Condon roots for the underdog, at least when it comes to professional status, in his exploration of the social sciences, meaning sociology, anthropology, education, linguistics, political science and aspects of economics. We already know that he has replaced his growing disdain for the quantitative methods of science with a growing respect for the qualitative methodologies of the social sciences, since they attempt to take the uniqueness and complexity of nature into account. Dr. Condon repeats a central point that he has made before, that the positive results of science mainly come from producing experiments that eliminate real life compounding variables that thereby make the results unnatural and non-representative of the natural world. Dr. Condon thinks that social scientists are “certainly more heroic than the ‘hard’ scientists. Hard scientists are like a politician responsible for a country’s defense during war who produces policies (theories) like the Geneva Convention and strict rules of engagement, all based on idealized conceptions of logical and controllable human behaviour. Social scientists are like the soldiers actually fighting hand-to-hand in the trenches.” He believes that an investigation of the methods of the social sciences may show us a way forward as humanity becomes unenamored with the world view and results of science.
It is at this point that Dr. Condon lists the fundamental shortcomings he finds with science. “This sort of positivist approach actually involves some implicit assumptions which are often taken for granted by hard scientists (and) so are rarely articulated or even recognised. These include: 1) There is only one reality; 2) The scientist has to be entirely objective, in other words completely unbiased, about whatever the outcome is. Inconvenient data won’t be summarily dismissed as ‘outliers’, multiple correlations won’t be used to fish out a significant result (essentially, if you compare twenty different things then you will get what is considered a statistically significant result one time in twenty by chance alone); 3) No matter how complex the phenomena, they can be reduced into simpler more readily measurable and analysable units. This reductionist approach means that, for example, the complexity of the anatomy and function of the body can be broken down into countless individual biological processes each of which can be individually analysed. All the analyses can then be added back together to reach a full understanding of the organism. This approach has, as we have seen, singularly failed as far as the workings of the human mind are concerned; 4) One thing causes another, the so-called ‘deterministic’ point of view. Put a flame to some hydrogen gas and it will explode. Cause and effect;” 5) Deductivism. This is the idea that you can test a theory by obtaining and analysing data to determine whether it does or does not support your hypothesis.
Dr. Condon then lists the assumptions of a qualitative, social science, or “naturalistic” approach to research. 1) There are as many realities as there are people involved in the research. For example, let’s take a hospital. Each person’s perspective, their reality, will depend on whether they are a patient, a doctor, a nurse or a relative. This principle is what my work, IDL, calls “multi-perspectivalism;” 2) Reflexive. The researcher is part of the research process and is required to recognise this because they will inevitably affect the experiment. Another way of talking about this is the inevitability of subjectivity and the mythic nature of objectivity; 3) Ideological. “Any research is always underpinned by specific beliefs or ideologies. This is the position of post-modernism, which says that contexts are not only unavoidable; they determine reality. If you are unaware of your world view you are unaware of how it is coloring your perception and therefore the conclusions you derive from your observations. Regarding contexts, Dr. Condon later states, “Every human group eventually evolves a culture with its own world view and also its own ‘tacit knowledge’, that’s knowledge so embedded in the culture that it is not talked about by the group and indeed they may not even be consciously aware of it at all;” 4) “Holistic, meaning emphasising the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts. “… over the years, I have come to understand that the reductionist approach can only ever take us so far and that, arguably in the biological as well as social sciences, ‘holism’ may be where the truth lies for everything;” 5) Inductivism. This is the opposite of deductivism, where one starts with a theory then tests to see whether it is true or not. Instead one develops the theory from observing the subjects.
To my mind, Dr. Condon goes too far on 4), because it assumes that there is a truth to be found, which contradicts 1) above, multi-perspectivalism, as well as 3), contexts. However, the solution is not either/or. Truth or error, absolutes or relativism, objectivity or subjectivity, deduction or induction, realism or idealism. Broader contexts are available that include yet transcend both of these opposites, and it is to these that we must look. I find the approach used by Jared Diamond, in his books, Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse to be an excellent example of what can be learned by a mixture of both induction and deduction.
Dr. Condon places himself squarely in the inductivist camp when he says, “Indeed our Heretic, convinced there are no underlying principles or laws to the universe, would say this inductivist approach is the only way to study the universe; to look for examples of where there is presently some form of repetition or regularity that may be useful.”
“Quantitative researchers design studies; qualitative researchers talk about research approaches.” This is a distinction between the creation of conceptual abstractions into which data is to fit and, on the other hand, discussing the pros and cons of various contexts or approaches to investigation. Dr. Condon describes quantitative approaches in way I would call “phenomenalistic,” that is, they attempt to neutralize the biases of their subjective world view in order to observe cultures or data objectively, within a context of recognized unavoidable subjectivity. “Perhaps one day we may have to give up the search for ‘objective’ truth, something that may itself be an illusion of our limited minds, and instead develop new ways of thinking about the universe.” I completely agree with Dr. Condon on this, and there are indeed contexts that honor both and integrate them. However, mankind is as of yet dimly aware of them and is only slowly awakening to them.
It is to Dr. Condon’s merit that he is thorough. Just when you think he has covered all relevant topics he addresses two major examples of the limitations of science that mightily impact on our current world view, climate change and evolution. In Chapter 13 Dr. Condon uses these pressing and controversial issues to return to a deeper understanding of the True Believer, showing that this proselytizing disease of zealots exists on both sides of every debate.
Dr. Condon’s skepticism and caution regarding both sides of the global warming and evolution debates is based on doubt about predictions based on vast periods of time as well as data that doesn’t fit into present theories. He questions the reliability of the conclusions regarding both evolution and global warming based on the variability, inaccuracy and problematic nature of measurements of the distant past. Dr. Condon points out that the carbon dating upon which much of our evolutionary and climate change science is based, is “subject to a number of often quite significant errors.” The radiometric dating of vast periods of geologic time appears to be on stronger scientific footing. He also believes that the innate complexity of nature implies that evolution must be much more complex than adaptation and survival of the fittest that is based on chance mutations over millions of years. “How many environmental changes would it take to produce DNA strands containing over 200 million molecular units, or the million different proteins or the more than a billion different species that have at some time existed on the Earth?” Dr. Condon is very skeptical that the genetic roots of evolution that neo-Darwinism promulgates can explain the evolution of evolutionary adaptations, such as giraffe necks: “…profound changes were also required to its cardiovascular system and also to allow blood to be pumped against gravity up to the brain through the long neck. This produced such a high blood pressure that it would drive blood out of the capillaries in the lower legs of the animal. Additional changes to the skin had to happen at the same time to prevent the high pressure fluid in the spaces between the cells from leaking out of the skin. That all these quite profound changes happened fortuitously and simultaneously seems highly unlikely. Even after them, though, these suddenly re-engineered giraffes would still be part of the same species.”
Dr. Condon also asks us to consider the factors involved in the development of flight: “To fly, you need more than just wings. Feathers help, as do much lighter bones. A faster metabolism and keener sight are also necessary. Whilst evolving though all the classically necessary intermediate stages, proto-birds would have been stumbling around more slowly than others in the population, encumbered with as yet useless stubby wing appendages, with half grown feathers and bones still too heavy to allow flight. Why weren’t they all eaten before they managed to take to the air to escape the ground based predators that were presumably one of the ‘evolutionary pressures’ that drove the development of wings in the first place?”
Dr. Condon wonders if a process exists in the genome that spontaneously throws out variations which are selected for usability. “It would also help explain why the similarly complex structure of the eye has developed independently in different lines of species at least six times.” “This possible mechanism may also explain why so few intermediate states can be found in the fossil record as one species supposedly transitions to a new one. Instead, new sections of DNA may be suddenly activated, new proteins being produced which engender immediate changes in structure.”
“But even such profound changes are therefore nothing compared to those required when one species turns into another entirely,” something that had to have occurred millions of times in the history of the planet. “It has been estimated that there are presently 1.4 million known species of animals, plants and micro-organisms on Earth and we’re discovering new ones all the time. It has also been estimated that those we know of represent perhaps only about a tenth of the species presently living on the planet. So there may be something like 14 million different species on the planet today. That’s amazing, but it gets even more stunning when you include the estimate that this only amounts to 1% of the species that have ever existed. This means that perhaps 1.4 billion different species have trodden, flown, put roots down in or squirmed over the Earth at some point. And that’s the lower estimate. Some put the figure as high as 16 billion.” “…mutations have never accumulated in sufficient numbers to actually create a new species.” Indeed, there is no hard evidence of one species ever changing into another. Some theorists therefore take a Darwinian and Lamarkian view, as opposed to a neo-Darwinian one, and believe that traits must be passed on behaviorally as well as genetically. We know that there is no correlation between the amount of genetic material, DNA, that an organism has and its ability to evolve, because the lily wins that sweepstakes.
Major, very sudden evolutionary jumps, called “explosive radiation,” like “the changes from fish to air breathing creatures with four legs or, going even further back, from brainless, boneless jellyfish to fish with spines and brains,” have occurred and current evolutionary theory does not explain them. “Whales and dolphins appear in the fossil record fully formed and diversified. Eggs are similarly found fully developed as indeed are feathers. Rodents appeared suddenly equipped with specialised gnawing teeth. Fish seem to have come out of nowhere as no direct ancestors can be found.” These sudden discontinuous changes are called ‘saltations’, or jumps or “discontinuities.” Darwin himself asked, ‘Where are the infinitely numerous transitional links?’
One possibility is that the rate of mutation speeds up and then slows down, a possibility not embraced or contained within current neo-Darwinian theory, which believes that “rapid evolution is brought about by three things: a large population, a rapid mutation rate and a short generational turnover.” “There is however one species that has changed very rapidly but has none of these features. That creature is us… How come so few of us, with our long generational turnovers due to the many years required for us to come to sexual maturity, managed to change so much over so short a time?”
Next, Dr. Condon turns his attention to the unknowns regarding global warming. Those measurements we do have show that the earth has periodically gone through periods of warming much greater than that currently being experienced, implying that what we may be witnessing is a natural fluctuation rather than an anthropocentric one. He points out that we know that much more severe global warming has happened in the past, sometimes in very short time periods, with the implication that these were normal and not catastrophic: “…during the last 100,000 years, periods of less than a hundred years have been found where temperatures changed by up to 6o C… There is even evidence of a 7o C change in only 50 years about 11,000 years ago.” “There are certainly arguments for reducing our use of fossil fuels, not least because there is only a finite amount of them and because they produce a great deal of pollution. Man’s burning of these fuels may indeed contribute to temperature rise but the truth is that nobody knows by how much because of the complexity of the myriad factors underlying the way our climate naturally changes over time.”
I do not share Dr. Condon’s skepticism regarding global warming, for a variety of reasons. First, research indicates that there is about a forty year lag in global warming. As of the time of this writing, the earth is experiencing the warming of pollutants released in the mid 1970’s. This is before Ding Xioping generated China’s coal-fired industrial revolution of the “four modernizations” that has added massive amounts of greenhouse gasses to the oceans and atmosphere. We are yet to go through that greenhouse gas-trapping knothole, meaning if anthropocentric theories are correct, the worst, which is much worse that we have to date seen, is yet to come. Secondly, I do not think that choices regarding global warming ultimately come down to a “choice between a reduced standard of living for the developed and developing worlds or damnation for the global poor.” As of this writing, Chile has begun a solar installation in the Atacama high desert that is priced at half the current cost of coal. Tesla is partnering with Solar City to turn roofing tiles into solar collectors. Manoj Bargava is bringing electricity to rural India with a very inexpensive bicycle power generator. Such changes imply the realistic possibility that a transition to green energy will occur without a loss of living standards by the third world and at an affordable cost for the third world. Third, there is a moral imperative. Dr. Condon’s skepticism could be well-founded, but if it is not we will be responsible for the extinction of perhaps a third of the world’s species. This is a cost far too high to risk when the means for transitioning to a carbon neutral society exist today. Fourth, past drastic examples of global warming happened in the absence of advanced human habitation. We are already pushing the global environment to its sustainable limits in multiple ways, reducing its adaptability to massive global warming, should it occur.
In any case, Dr. Condon’s underlying point is important and valid. He believes that in both cases “scientists are using a single simple ‘Law’ to explain a complex system. Rather than explaining things, this actually throws up more questions than answers.” As an example of this principle, Dr. Condon provides many examples of unaccounted for variables that affect global climate. The complexity of these factors and the unknown characteristics of their interaction, strongly imply that our understanding of global warming is partial, if not outright mistaken.
In Chapter, 14, Dr. Condon makes clear the fears that led him to write Science for Heretics. “Like Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s book Moby Dick, scientists in their search for the truth may be pursuing something that may be both unattainable and deadly…by deadly we mean potentially at the extinction level for mankind and perhaps for all life on Earth… By tinkering with physics and biology are we like children walking through a minefield? Could we accidentally unleash these huge energies, or produce some new biological organism that might wipe us out?”
Dr. Condon gives multiple examples of excessive and dangerous risk-taking in science in order to make his point. These include the discovery of radiation and the dangers of radioactivity, the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs, the large hadron collider, archiving the smallpox virus, modifying and weaponizing diseases, eugenics, pharmaceuticals with Frankensteinian consequences and the dispersal of environment-destroying chemicals. The development of atomic and hydrogen bombs proceeded in the face of great uncertainties about their possible consequences. Development continued because of governmental, financial and professional pressures. Regarding the taking of unnecessary and lethal risks, Dr. Condon formulates a general principle: “The more pressure put on people, the greater the risks that are inevitably taken.”
“We know so little but it doesn’t stop us tampering with complex systems and situations. Inevitably there are unforeseen consequences. Science gives us theories that purport to explain how the universe works. This breeds confidence in scientists who then go on to do things that carry certain risks.” This is reminiscent of the Peter Principle which states that “everyone rises to their level of incompetence,” where they stay as deadwood, gumming up the machinery of productivity and occasionally making disastrous decisions. Have scientists and science in general risen to its level of incompetency? “These risks are rationalised away on the basis of existing theory. Even if our Heretic is wrong in saying that all theory is actually erroneous, history shows us that most or perhaps all theories ultimately prove incorrect. Our perceptions and calculations of risk are therefore also likely to be erroneous. Science generally also assumes a high degree of control over experimental conditions and again this faith seems misplaced. While we may routinely underestimate risk, we also routinely overestimate our ability to control it.”
Dr. Condon obviously agrees with Alfred Lloyd Whitehead when he says, “People make the mistake of talking about ‘natural laws’. There are no natural laws. There are simply temporary habits of nature.” In his final Chapter 15, he points out that science is facing a crisis, both due to its “rapid fragmentation into smaller and smaller sub-specialities in order to try to explain an ever more complex universe, but also by its rapidly diminishing returns.” “…there are perhaps six million professional scientists in the world today (as compared to only a few hundred 150 years ago) and the tools at their disposal are incomparably more powerful than anything that was available then… The question is, with perhaps a ten thousand-fold increase in the number of scientists, a million-fold increase in resolving power of many of our measuring devices and a trillion fold increase in calculating capacity, why are major discoveries and developments appearing so slowly?”
“Physics, the hardest of hard sciences, is finding itself having to resort to concepts that can never be experimentally verified such as multiple universes and a plethora of new spatial dimensions. For an explanation of the physics of the very large and the very small, many physicists have quite literally taken the step from science to faith.” Dr. Condon lists a number of explicit assumptions made by science that are rarely explicitly acknowledged and for which there exists no actual proof: “Everything is essentially mechanical in the sense that people are just atoms and molecules that interact via underlying laws; all matter is unconscious; the total amount of matter and energy in the universe never changes, there are laws of nature and they do not change with time and place and they are based on mathematics; there is no purpose to the universe.” Condon believes these assumptions are “…as meaningless as our scientific laws. Like them they are simply projections of our brain-limited way of thinking onto a universe which just is what it is.”
Dr. Condon cites the work of two scientists, Teilhard de Chardin and Rupert Sheldrake, as examples of out of the box thinking that stimulate new understandings of man’s place in the universe. De Chardin’s concept of an Omega Point is a form of hidden attractor working on all the supposed laws of physics, chemistry and biology. It is the driver of evolutionary complexity. Sheldrake presents a theory of “morphic fields” evident in the formation of crystals and, he believes, at work in the development of all material and life forms. His idea that even atoms have some rudimentary form of consciousness parallel those of Ken Wilber in his understanding of all entities as holons. My own work, Integral Deep Listening, an outgrowth of investigations of the absurd and apparently irrational world of dreaming, support the concept of negentropy driven by a “hidden attractor,” which IDL calls the “life compass.” While it does not belong to anyone, it is particularized in its effects depending on the individual. Far from being a mystical, spiritual or metaphysical concept, it is based on the idea of holons and the conditioning nature of larger wholes, sets or contexts, of which enormous complexity and uniqueness manifests as parts, subsets or systemic, behavioral, consciousness or contextual quadrants. Having come to similar conclusions by a very different methodology may underline the pervasiveness of collective delusion or it may indicate that hidden attractors are indeed a promising direction for future research. While Sheldrake’s morphic fields may indeed be the mechanism by which hidden attractors structure and direct evolution, IDL attempts to avoid using such conceptualizations, for similar reasons to why scientists of the 18th and 19th centuries avoided theories that might sound like alchemy. In our present environment, many scientific posers use “energy and quantum everything” to explain their pet form of spirituality and to clothe themselves in the language of science to inflate their own status. While their ideas may be good and useful, such an approach undermines their credibility in all but the minds of True Believers.
Dr Condor comes to a close with a particularly curmudgeonly conclusion: “If theory is never right because it is the projection of our limited human ways of thinking onto a universe that does not follow them at all, then theory should be abandoned.” While this principle certainly applies to any and all theories it does not apply to theorizing itself. This is because, when theories are understood to be temporary, false and delusional concepts, like our sense of self and our own world views, they can be used as a ladder, map or a compass, with the understanding that a map is never the territory it depicts, and that to confuse the two is to make maps sacred instead of the territory they describe. Dr. Condon recommends shifting our emphasis from theory to observing the behavior of atoms, cells, organisms and galaxies with the mind of an engineer rather than that of a scientist. He recommends more oversight of scientists by non-scientific individuals whose livelihood is not based on funding for research as well as placing a greater emphasis on the qualitative approaches to research that are used by the social sciences.
It is indeed time to shift funding to both material and social engineers. At this point humanity knows, to a great extent the ingredients of a prosperous society and planet and those which destroy them. We have the talent, resources and ability to wipe out poverty, give everyone a free education, and provide free health care for everyone. The mayors of the cities of the world have a combined bank of knowledge about what works and does not that, when shared and implemented, has already provided rapid global improvements in quality of life. Theory and dangerous excursions into greater complexity are simply not necessary or required except in the minds of those who require funding for their established laboratories, universities and fields of research. For example, we know significant health and environmental causes of cancer; addressing those will do more to improve life expectancy than billions more thrown at cancer research. All around us professional guilds exist to protect the status quo. In government, these are called bureaucracies. But professional guilds run on the same psychology and constipate development by blocking approaches that they perceive as competition.
One promising way forward has been outlined in depth by economist Jeremy Rifkin. His is an engineering approach that describes and advocates for coming revolutions in freedom through localized 3D printing and manufacturing as well as making open source solutions broadly available, freedom from Big Brother through the development of local internet servers and hubs, and energy energy, through the development of locally sourced carbon neutral power that is immune to both monopolistic control and accident or war-created blackouts. Such steps move global society away from central control and funding and toward local ingenuity and independence, creating a more stable world even as it becomes more interdependent.
We have seen that Dr Condon argues that complexity and uniqueness are perhaps the only real truths there are in the universe. While truth is core to a quantitatively-structured existence, caring is central to the qualitative orientation that Dr. Condon has grown to appreciate and respect. He says, “Now, belatedly, I realise that social scientists are the heroes engaged in a titanic struggle with messy reality. Reality…that is something that hard scientists have very little to do with.” The search for truth tends to devolve into a search for quantities; but human kindness isn’t even a search; it’s an ever-present, immediate possibility. We can generally tolerate disagreement and even anger as long as there is respect. What we see now in the world is not a shortage of “truths” but a shortage of kindness and respect.
Perhaps, in part due to his contribution, people will begin to de-emphasize truth and the search for it and instead start emphasizing kindness. There seems to exist a perennial struggle between these two opposing viewpoints. Those who value truth, such as scientists, tend to view those who value caring as soft-hearted, soft-headed idealistic chameleons who change what they say and think depending on who they want to please. Those who value caring, such as socialists, tend to view those who value truth as pretentious, anal-retentive narcissists who cloak their selfishness in pretensions of importance. But the truth is, we need both. There is a continuum between truth and caring and we are forever about the business of finding the balance point between them, which changes from situation to situation.
Isn’t it high time to shift funding away from the vast and obscene wastelands of military and homeland security research, paid for by our tax dollars, to build bigger and better ways to kill, control and spy on each other? Isn’t it time to invest instead in each other and in the basic needs and services we depend on? Isn’t it well past time to shift funding to the mechanical, electrical, civic and social engineers who have a track record of success? Dr. Condon makes a powerful case that most of the advances in quality of life have come not from scientific theory or pure research but from observation and engineering. However, the fight for funding is often won by professional guilds that exist primarily to protect the status quo. Such lobbyists now own the legislative branch of the United States and steer government funding to the interests of armament manufacturers, financial services that provide no concrete improvements to society but essentially churn money to parasitically grow wealthy off the labor of others. Other examples of professional guilds serving as examples of the Peter Principle are CEOs sitting on corporate boards that vote to inflate each other’s salaries, doctors who, as necessary as they are, remain the third largest cause of death, and government bureaucratic deadwood that constantly fights to preserve and enlarge its own piggy, complacent privileges. All run on the same fear-based psychology, constipating development by blocking approaches that they perceive as competition.
Science for Heretics should be required reading for high school students. Anyone who is considering a career that involves joining a professional guild of any sort needs to understand that the unspoken cultural codes that are embedded in all religious, social, political and professional groups will cause them to not question the basic assumptions that validate the existence and generate the income on which the guild depends. Beyond that, young people need to recognize that they will pay a serious price if they join a professional guild and then proceed to question its underlying assumptions. With such knowledge they will not do what most of us have done: Blinded by the promise of financial security and status we happily joined some professional fraternity, if only the culture at our place of employment. We are then likely to choose to spend our lives conforming to the expectations of those who pay us or of our professional peers, so as not to rock the boat. Indeed, if we raise our head up from our daily labors for a minute and look around, we will see that this not only largely describes the human predicament but how we have gotten ourselves into our current mess and how we keep ourselves there. “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Instead of seeking status and security and generating theories, we can invest in each other and in solutions. As Dr. Condon says, “The universe just is the way it is. Any theories we produce are actually myths, analogies which give us comfort and the illusion (that) we understand more than we actually do.”
Condon’s Science for Heretics will cause you to rethink not only how the world works but in whom and in what you trust and why. It will teach you a rare form of rational objectivity that is associated with the achievement of mature mid-personal development, something that everybody thinks they have attained but in fact few do. Such mid-personal development appears to be a pre-requisite for the attainment of any personal or societal higher order integration, in any stable and lasting sense of the word.
I have been thinking about implications of Science for Heretics for politics and personal psychology. I am wondering, “How does one leverage the message to make a difference in the world?
First, there is the dysjunction between science and ethics. If you are a genius like Von Braun you are not only encouraged to disregard ethics, but encouraged to. You make the same point about the birthing of the atomic and hydrogen bombs as well as physicists at CERN. Of course, this holds as true for engineering as it does for the sciences. I have a friend who is a master engineer and inventor, founder of The American Hydrogen Association, Roy McAlister, who has dedicated his professional life to inventing carbon-neutral solutions to global problems. He’s a great guy. But when he was tight for money, what did he do? He went to work for a bomb manufacturer, figuring out how to kill people more effectively. The problem is scientists do not have nearly the amount of accountability proportionate to the power that they wield. But of course this issue of accountability – the lack of it – is hardly limited to scientists or engineers. Are politicians the worst offenders or is the financial sector? Hard to tell.
I wish I had a solution to this. Accountability is not going to come from professional guilds; they are in the business of protecting their own; it’s not going to come from politicians, who will find a way to pay technical minds whatever it takes to get done what the politicians what. I think it will not come until there is a general shift in culture, until there is a public shaming of people who sell their souls to the devil, so to speak. What are your thoughts about this difficult and complex subject?
That’s enough to throw at you right now. More later.
The stance of the Believer is associated with prepersonal levels of development in that it is based on faith, unquestioned assumptions and pre-rationality. Belief is not anchored in thinking, questioning or reason. It represents a desire for security which manifests itself socially in appreciation of authoritative leadership styles, an outpicturing of the “strong father” described by neuropsychologist ____ . As I have said repeatedly in my review, humans normally find themselves or self-select themselves into groups that base their identities on the acceptance of unquestioned assumptions. Within those contexts there is unspoken resistance to the challenging of those assumptions, and doing so can get you scape-goated if not killed.
Most humans like to think that they have outgrown such an orientation, believing that they are aware of their assumptions and have chosen the profession, beliefs, religion, political party and life partners because they have thought it through and have made a conscious, healthy decision. It is only in hindsight, often after many years of delusion, that we look back and say, “What was I thinking?” The problem is that we are all locked into contexts, and as subsets of those contexts, we lack the objectivity to see the whole. Even when others point out that the Emperor has no clothes, that the assumptions that we are making are “bubbles” of one sort or another, we deny, repress or otherwise fight such recognitions. In many cases we have the voice of some collective to validate our system of belief.
This is not simply a matter of preserving the stability of our current identity or that of some group to which we belong. It translates into life or death forms of irrationality. Right now in the US we have two groups fighting to see which can be the most regressively childlike while controlling massive amounts of nuclear firepower. There is no adult supervision, and it certainly is not coming from democracy, the mainstream media or any of the vaunted values on which Western Enlightenment is based. The leverage to provoke either objectivity or rationality simply does not exist.
Another, similar example is the Brexit vote. From my perspective it won because it was basically a protest vote by angry people. This is not to say that they didn’t have multiple good reasons to be angry; they did, and they were obviously not being addressed sufficiently by the elites. But forcing change out of anger is always a risky business; you risk creating an instability that only makes things worse. I am thinking of the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt. What did it accomplish? It brought about a near dictatorial repression of the freedom of speech and assembly in Egypt. The same thing happened in continental Europe in 1848. The masses rose up to demand a voice and basic human rights. When they failed a massive counterweight of repression set in that eventually led to WWI.
This is one of the reasons why I asked you if you thought your life would have changed, and if so how, if you had stumbled across Science for Heretics when you were in high school. People have to be reached before they sell their souls to professional guilds, marriages or other contexts that may deprive them of life and liberty in ways they cannot see or imagine. They will join such groups anyway, for many reasons, many of them sound, but at least they are more aware of the compromises they are making and why.
This is a description of the movement from prepersonal belief to personal questioning, reason, and skepticism. The massive movement of world populations to alternative news sources, for the first time made easily available via the internet, is an indication of a less naive public and of people who are questioning who is selling what and why. The eruption of conspiracy theories is a manifestation of this; people reflexively have learned to ask, “Could this be a false flag operation?” Naomi Klein’s excellent book, The Shock Doctrine is a gripping description of the political axiom, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” When we are in crisis we regress to anxiety and security needs. Our thinking becomes primitive and limited, our options narrowed. In such circumstances any of us are easily manipulated. Another example is Autobiography of an Economic Hit Man, which details how highly trained economists in the service of organizations like the IMF bring autonomous economies to their knees in servitude to the financial exploitation of multinational interests and those of Washington. I view the EU as a CIA-created collection of easily-controlled vassal states. This was not so obvious until the gutting of the Greek economy by austerity economics run out of Washington, Brussels and Berlin or the obsequious non-response of Merkel to learning her cell phone was bugged by Washington, or the equal non-response of the EU to Edward Snowden’s revelations of massive spying not only by Washington, but of various EU countries on one another in ways that violated the constitutions of those countries. After such revelations the outrage dies and life moves on to the next news cycle. Have we learned anything or not?
People will read Science for Heretics and wonder at the folly of past generations of scientists or of scientists in other fields, but they and their own methods and loyalties remain somehow untouched, sancrosanct, above the fray.