I began to doubt science not too long ago. Can’t put my finger on just when.
That may seem paradoxical for a sometime practitioner of the social scientific method.
As an adjunct faculty member in a reasonably prominent business school, I have used the social scientific method of inquiry (although not as rigorously as some of my old professors might have liked). And probably too often, I have succumbed to the siren call of punditry versus solid research. But the social sciences do adhere to the scientific method as much as the subject matter allows.
But something continues to niggle at me. Even as I appreciate that method and continue to use it and respect it in my work teaching graduates and undergraduates alike, I have also learned not to revere it.
In fact, I have grown downright suspicious of it as limiting rather than liberating.
Let me explain. Well . . . let me explain as best I can.
And please bear with me on this. Although it might be a kind of literary death to seemingly apologize for what one is about to write (why, then, write it at all?), at the same time, I fear that it might smack of pop psychology or of the adolescent’s first-time discovery of a great literary turn of phrase. “Sensible shoes” and the like. One’s own adventures in self-discovery can seem so fascinating to oneself and so wearying to others, you know.
But what about that science thing? It all comes down to reason, I think. Well, maybe not all . . . but quite a lot of it.
I was ruminating in my car during a commute recently about an acquaintance and this person’s descent into a grotesque lifestyle. It set me to thinking.
It set me to thinking about many things – what motivates people and what de-motivates people.
What affects people’s choices.
Why do they choose one path rather than another?
Why do they make certain choices of the moment, only to regret them later?
This is a phenomenon I have witnessed in many young people, but it can also afflict adults as well. Supposedly mature adults. I was appalled by the comment of one young person, the quintessential “good kid” supposedly on the cusp of a great life, going off to college. The remark was something akin to: “I’m not planning on doing anything tonight; I just want to get drunk.”
What a senses-deadening, depressing, despair-laden statement if there ever was one. It reeks of despair, hopelessness, lack of direction, and a dead heart. Someone who has taken on the salient worries and affectations of adulthood while completely unequipped to handle them.
A child who should be carefree and enjoying magical things is, instead, stuck in a dead-end existence and mentality that dominates and controls the despairing life.
What leads to this kind of attitude?
What leads to this convergence of attitude that sees the young and despairing supposed-elite of society and the debased dregs of society meeting on the corner for a drink?
Now, lest one think that I offer a treatise or lecture on the proper path to adulthood —certainly a topic not appropriate to this forum or for me to lecture— I simply proffer that introduction as a lead-in to explain how I began to lose my belief in science and reason and even logic as holding a kind of exalted place in extending our frontiers of knowledge. And I offer this as only a personal opinion rather than a thoroughly researched document.
My thoughts bore in on the intellectualism endemic to the college campus. My thoughts began to tease at the notion that reason might actually limit human understanding rather than expand it. I have witnessed a kind of non-judgmentalist ethos on the campus and I cannot help but notice how it wears away at moral fiber and leads to a lack of critical thinking even as it pretends to encourage analysis.
The intellectualism to which I refer to actually deadens the spirit, I think, because it is wholly rational and based wholly on reason. It does not admit that there might be anything beyond the grasp of reason, anything spiritual or magical. And this, I think, is the flaw of human reason; it does not recognize that reason itself may have limitations, and those very limitations are the ability to comprehend the spiritual or the imaginative or the fantastical.
The kinds of worlds that writers in this forum imagine, create, elaborate upon, and give to others as an escape from the cramped world of reason.
I think it is fair to say that reason denies the magical and concepts based on faith. This is quite reasonable, of course. Which is why, I suppose, they call it reason. But it seems to me that reason’s denial of the magical, rather than being a condemnation of the magical, appears as the Achilles Heel of reason itself.
It occurs to me that reason’s vernacular may simply be incapable of articulating, embracing, or understanding anything outside that vernacular. And many folks who embrace reason seem unaware of this; they appear as if they have found the Holy Grail.
They appear themselves as dogmatic as any religious zealot they criticize . . . at least the ones I have seen. They simply do not recognize their philosophy of reason, derived from the zealotry of the French Revolution, among others, as simply a language that may be incapable of expressing certain realities. They do not realize that they have embraced the zealotry of reason.
Now I am certain that somewhere at some time, philosophers great of mind and spirit have grappled with these issues. Probably many times through the centuries. Grappled with them more deeply than I likely ever will, given my armchair propensity on these issues. My own philosophy may never extend past the crackerbarrel stage. But for purely my own use, I think I am on to something.
A friend of mine mentioned that she had seen a number of kids’ television shows that seem to embrace this casual and relativistic and reason-based attitude. It is a world-weary and dead attitude toward everything. It has seeped down from our college campuses, where “reason” is exalted and anything spiritual or magical or imaginative is snickered at or merely dispensed with. For the most part.
This attitude, I think, fosters a lifestyle of despair without recognizing that this despair is its ultimate and inevitable end-product. There is no sense of wonder, there is no sense of innocence. In fact, reason roots out wonder and innocence and ridicules them. It is as if wonder and magic and romance threaten the tightly circumscribed world built by reason. It is as if every bit of magic must be leeched away in service to this totem of “reason” and its cool agnostic attitude.
In this world, sex becomes simply a casual and senses-gratifying exercise akin to drinking a glass of water to quench a mild thirst. Drug use is a casual “personal decision” and “experimental” and exalted as a stage of growth and expansion when it actually dulls the mind and body, crippling its abilities.
Tactile and sensory gratification become the end-product in such a world; they become an end in themselves, because we are taught that there is nothing beyond reason, no other things that might be comprehended by other senses. Reason attempts to discredit all competitors. And so, I believe that libertine and hedonistic behavior is the end-result of such an approach to life. Because in the end, it is an approach that leads to despair. Quite logically so.
Reason has its limits, and if one subscribes to this god, then the self-knowledge that this imparts is depressing. If one eliminates everything but reason in the effort to find liberation, what one actually finds is that only a tight little world remains.
A cramped world.
A world without wonder and with only dead-hearted, “reasonable” people. And the man or woman relying upon reason then finds satisfaction only in
ridiculing what they do not understand, in ridiculing liberated others who seem so much freer, happier, fulfilled, but who do not subscribe to the god of reason. These others are merely lumped into the catch-all category of . . . unreasonable.
Is there a world beyond reason? I suspect that there is. Well, I doggone know there is, and I’ve been trying to find the key to unlock it.
I am probably the last in a long line of folks to have come to this question and to have answered it in the affirmative. Are there modes of thought and apprehension of reality other than reason? Modes of comprehension that violate everything reason tells us?
Say, the experience of reading and subsequent savoring of a great book and all that it inspires in us?
The emotions evoked by a poem? Or a song?
A belief in fairy tales and their just endings?
The beauty and majesty of a great love story? Concepts such as “beauty” and “majesty” themselves.
Concepts such as “glory” and “honor?”
The power of “faith?”
I surely hope so.
I know there must be, because I read the works of fictioneers, who plumb the depths of human emotions and dredge up nuggets and dross in equal portions. There are women and men who have unshackled themselves from reason’s seductive logic and who recognize that the very language and argument of reason eliminates certain possibilities before they can even be debated. Because it is reason that sets the terms of such debate.
There is magic and love and romance and horror and wonder out there that cannot be comprehended or explained by reason. And so reason dismisses them. But I don’t. Not any more.
Reason will doubtless shoot a dozen holes in my little monologue.