Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Metropolis Organism - film - 1974

The Metropolis Organism, B&W film made in 1974. It looks at earth and cities from the perspective of a distant interstellar scientist. The narrator is a conceptual professor lecturing his class on the discovery of a new organism: The Metropolis Organism.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Limits of Science

Some people think that science tells them that there is no God. In thinking so, they make a fundamental mistake.

In order to understand what is meant by claiming that a city is an organism, in order to make sense of the conflict between evolution and religion or humanism or whatever, in order to alleviate the anxiety between truths of science and their apparent impingement into humanistic values (if not alleviate it, at least to understand it) one must understand something about the essential nature of science and its relevance to what I will call, for lack of a more defining term, the humanistic.


We expect a lot from science and we get a lot from it. However, there is something we expect from science that it cannot give us. Because science is such a powerful diviner of truth we, and I am talking about almost all of us including great scientists, make a fundamental mistake and think that science can make contributions to the humanistic - to philosophy, religion, spirituality - in short to human values.


For example, some people think that science tells them that there is no God. In thinking so, they make a fundamental mistake. (I am not making an argument about whether or not there is a God, but whether science has anything to offer in the debate.) The logic is: if science does such a powerful job explaining phenomenon and existence, and if science cannot see God, then God does not exist. The problem with this reasoning is that science by its very nature cannot see God. As I will show later, science, by its very nature, has nothing to say about human values, spirituality, in short, the humanistic. Just as a blind person has nothing to say about the color red and is insensible to its existence, science is insensible to the humanistic.


Ernest Nagel, a leading American philosopher of science and University Professor Emeritus at Columbia, wrote that theoretical science, “…requires that inquiry be directed at the relations of dependence between things irrespective of their bearing upon human values.” (The Structure of Science)


Peter Medawar, a British physician, Nobel Laureate in medicine and writer in the philosophy of science, eloquently and lucidly demonstrates the limitations of science in his book, “The Limits of Science.” Medawar defines a category of questions. He calls them the ultimate questions, questions about first and last things, questions like how did the world begin? How did we get here? What is the purpose of life? He says that, “The ultimate questions are beyond the explanatory competence of science.” (Medawar, pg. xiii) And then he goes on to show that even though “… there is no limit upon the ability of science to answer the kind of questions that science can answer” … “it is logically outside the competence of science to answer questions to do with first and last things.” (Medawar, pg 86)


Karl Popper, one of the most revered philosophers of science, wrote on the same topic. “It is important to realize that science does not make assertions about ultimate questions – about the riddles of existence, or about man’s task in this world. This has often been well understood. But some great scientists, and many lesser ones, have misunderstood the situation.” Karl Popper, Dialectica 32:342


So it is pointless to look to science for answers to ultimate questions.  Arguments about ultimate questions that invoke science are misguided. To use science in an argument about God is like using a thermometer to detect sound.


It is from the perspective of science that I say a city is an organism. This scientific, objective, deterministic perspective has zero implications about what it is to be human. The humanistic is an entirely different realm.