Science Does Not Think

Science Has Yet to Become Scientific

Gravure uit de Flammarion (1888) door een onbekende artiest

Image: Gravure uit de Flammarion (1888) door een onbekende artiest

“The ‘apparent’ world is the only one: the ‘real world’ has only been lyingly added…”—Friedrich Nietzsche1

Philosophy questions itself, wrote German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) at a young age, “In contrast to researchers in other fields of science, it appears to be a particular quality of the philosopher that he always first and foremost questions his science. What is philosophy?”2 The natural sciences, on the other hand, capitulate by virtue of famous physicist Stephen Hawking, who says, “There is no picture- or theory-independent concept of reality.”3 Science does not know what reality is and must invent its own models for it. Hawking has based his theories of the origin of our universe on what he calls “model-independent realism”, but if by definition the natural sciences cannot know what the reality she claims to be researching is, then what is science?

Science appears to be practicing religion. She believes in an unproven or perhaps even improvable reality that she assumes to be true and that she, ceteris paribus, might as well call God: There is no picture- or theory-independent concept of God. Now, what is the difference between God and reality? If science wants to be scientific, she must first subject herself to questioning. And that is something only philosophy can do. A philosopher can ask why science does not know a model-independent reality. All of science stands or falls on a single unscientific assumption about what reality is. What does it actually say about the nature of reality that it does not expose itself to scientific methods?

Supposedly, our reality would be physical and tangible, ruled by time and space. This prevailing yet unproven model of reality determines and influences the science that moves within its contours. Would we choose a different model of reality based on mathematical self-similarity, then reality would lure science into an infinite, self-repeating trap from which science cannot escape without annulling itself. In mathematics, an object’s self-similarity means “that this object is precisely or approximately similar to a part of itself”4 and infinitely so. Take time, for example. A second resembles a minute; a microsecond resembles a second; and so on. As scientific instruments are able to measure time with ever greater granularity, those instruments will infinitely be able to measure ever shorter periods of time, but they will never discover an elementary particle “time”.

The same would hold true for spacial reality. We start with bodily organs and enzymes and arrive at quantum particles via molecules and atoms, and beyond. Just as in the example about time, it applies in this model that we, as we refine scientific equipment, will continue to discover ever smaller particles. Yet, we will never arrive at an elementary particle ‘matter’. In this model, reality keeps repeating itself indefinitely. The deeper we dig, the more we find, but by no means do we find anything that has something to do with a real reality. This infinitely repeating reality possesses an elastic attribute that science can infinitely stretch out without ever discovering anything about the nature of that reality, because it is grounded in an eternal return of the same.

Thus, one cannot say that science is not influenced by the model we choose for reality. A science that does not know the nature of reality remains subject to cosmic ignorance. For example, were science to reach a definitive consensus following a certain model of reality, then the eternal doubt remains whether the chosen model was the right one and if we, in case humanity would be able to redo the past 2,500 years of history, would really have arrived at the same consensus. Is science the outcome of real reality or of some arbitrary set of historical choices? In an alternative model, in which science never arrives at a definitive consensus, the questions remains whether man influences the nature of his own reality. Does the scientist excite his own results?5 And in another model, in which we assume the nature of reality to be variable, science makes a fool of itself, because in that case she doesn’t have any predictive value left.

But science, using her methods, cannot determine which model of reality is the right one. Nor can she say anything meaningful about her own nature; science does not think. During his only television interview, Martin Heidegger responded to the question on science:

“Science does not move in the dimension of philosophy. She is, however, without her knowing, dependent on this dimension. For example, physics moves in the field of space and time and movement. What movement, what space, what time is, science as science cannot decide. Therefore, science does not think. That means, she cannot even think, in this sense, with her methods. I cannot, for example, say physically or with physical methods what physics is, but what physics is I can only say when thinking, philosophizing. The sentence science does not think is not a reproach, but only an observation of science’s inner structure, which belongs to her nature that she, on the one hand, depends on that which philosophy thinks, but forgets and ignores this herself.”6

With the statement that science does not think, Heidegger does not say that scientists do not think about their formulas, but that they do not first question the unproven assumptions upon which they base those formulas. What would later happen to libraries full of physics research if it were to come to light that movement does not exist? Can the human senses, including measurement instruments developed by and for human senses, ever observe a real reality? People with akinetopsia disorder, for example, do not register movement. Instead of seeing smooth transitions, these patients perceive the world as consecutive photographic images that suddenly skip ahead. But there is nothing wrong with their eyes. Experts are looking for the cause in a brain disorder that makes the brain forget to process movement, but the reverse is also possible: what if movement does not really exist and our brains simulate movement as an evolutionary response to an reality otherwise incomprehensible to us?7

In case movement would not be an attribute of reality’s hardware, but only a simulation of our own brain’s software, then the science that measures said movement would not be scientific, but psychological. In that case, science does not measure a real distance that an object traverses between points A and B, but only the psychological illusion of a distance that the human brain projects. Scientific instruments we use to measure such illusory movement would not be the product of independent technology, but of psychological projection in the world. The science that wanted to remove human observers from her equations in order to measure reality directly, without human interference, would not really exist.

The crisis of science is that she can neither prove nor disprove the above observations using her methods. She cannot determine whether movement would be a property of a real reality or an attribute of man’s psychological projection. Science only knows a model-dependent reality. That’s why we must conclude the following about science: Not only does science not think, science is not what she claims to be. Science is not scientific.

Philosopher and physicist professor Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker (1912-2007) argued as follows against Heideggers reproach regarding thoughtlessness:

“I think a direct influence of the Heideggerian thinking on present-day natural sciences hardly exists. I think that people shouldn’t be so surprised about that either, because to me the relation between natural sciences and philosophy appears to be somewhat as follows: Heidegger has sometimes said—and he has annoyed scientists with it, but he has said something very important with it—that science does not think. That means: science, in contrast to philosophy, does not doubt her own assumptions, does not question them. That is what he meant here. Now, a science that does not question her own assumptions of course will not be influenced by a philosophy that does precisely this. In reality, however, I think that the process is so that modern natural sciences, and all sciences at that, precisely do think there, were they make really big steps, and do so in the Heideggerian sense, namely: her big jumps mean exactly that they questions their assumptions. And that has happened in our century in the theories of relativity, in the quantum theories. But that happened without Heidegger’s influence, however not without influence of philosophy.”8

Weizsäcker claims science does question her own assumptions and is able to make big jumps because of that, as happened with Einstein’s theory of relativity. But Einstein did not answer the questions what time, what space and what movement is. Unsurprisingly, in the above quote, Weizsäcker sheepishly introduced a refined sophism by applying to the phrase “own assumptions” his own meaning. It is correct in the Weizsäckerian sense that Newtons geometry replaced that of Euclid by questioning Euclid’s assumptions. It is true that Einstein’s theory of relativity questioned Newton’s assumptions, but that questioning was limited to the assumptions posed within science.

Neither Euclid, nor Newton, nor Einstein questioned science herself by asking: what is science? They did not doubt space, but Euclidian space. They did not doubt movement, but Newton’s concept of movement. Modern science does not question time, but Einstein’s concept of time. By only limiting oneself to such “own assumptions”, science remains forever trapped within itself. Real science does not begin by questioning merely a single assumption, but by questioning all assumptions. And that’s exactly what science cannot do without concluding that she is not scientific yet.

Which purpose does a science serve that cannot and does not want to investigate real reality? Just like primitive technology in the hands of chimpanzees, rocks and sticks, ‘thinking’ man’s fundamental science primarily serves his survival in an endless reproductive struggle for resources with both other people and other life forms. Human science might as well be a reproductive strategy of mostly collaborating males who commit their subjective science in order to increase the reproductive chances of their own group members—this, then, is called progress. When they apply science to reduce competing groups’ chances by means of intimidation, sabotage, slavery, oppression or destruction, then we call that war.

So what is science? Science is a weapon in service of human progress and war, intended to benefit one group or specific groups at the expense of others. The fact that there exists an international scientific community does not invalidate this statement. The exchange of scientific insights between two groups may offer a mutual advantage in comparison to yet another, third group. The existence of an international community in which all groups attain a mutual benefit does not mean that they all do so equally. There are still relative winners and losers.

Modern science has a Western, even American, bias. That not only means new scientific insights coincidentally mostly come from American institutes, but also that Americans can defend their own insights with money and violence to their own benefit.

One cannot say that the West stands on the shoulders of classical scientists, as if science has followed along a road of cumulative progress. Progress is a subjective Western idea. It was a modern Western decision to pick up science where classical antiquity had left off. Moreover, by modern standards, the ancient Greeks and Romans have hardly been right about anything. Almost all of their scientific ideas have been invalided since. Why couldn’t same happen to modern science? Two thousand years from now, new civilizations would likely be able to disprove Einstein’s truths, just as we have disproved those of Euclid, but this also won’t indicate objective progress, but rather subjective change.

We also don’t know, and will never be able to know, if it is possible that Euclid’s laws were entirely or partially true in his day and that the reality we live in has since changed so that Einstein’s laws became true? Is it possible that the laws of nature are not constant, but arbitrary? If so, a Theory of Everything could never remain true for long, since even the slightest change of the nature of reality would invalidate it. Science can neither confirm nor deny the existence of such a changing universe, because science remains subjected to her own assumptions at all times.

Claims that science would be scientific and that reality would be real are subject to subjective human interests. America and the West currently have an interest to sell their science to the world as being absolutely true. As long as they have the power to do so, Western nations will be able to suppress unwanted insights from others that might damage the West’s position of power. According to the law of diminishing returns, new scientific insights will come to cost the West ever greater investments, but with ever smaller returns. In the long term, science always risks becoming too expensive to afford. The best scientists will then leave science to focus on other, more profitable fields.

Seen in this light, it is not even an established fact that the Earth is round. A new world civilization that amasses the means to shoot down all satellites, to destroy all Western knowledge and to rewrite all schoolbooks, can make the Earth ‘flat’ again. That’s because all science is, and will always remain, subjective science, namely science in service to something else: human reproductive struggle.


1 Friedrich Nietzsche, Götzen-Dämmerung Oder Wie Man Mit Dem Hammer Philosophirt (Project Gutenberg, 2005), chap. 5: Die »Vernunft« in der Philosophie, §2.
2 Martin Heidegger, Frühe Schriften, vol. 1, Gesamtausgabe (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1978), 69.
3 Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010), chap. 3: What is reality?
4 “Zelfgelijkvormigheid,” Wikipedia, March 10, 2016, https://nl.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title­Zelfgelijkvormigheid&oldid=4....
5 Richard Conn Henry, “The Mental Universe,” Nature 436 (July 7, 2005): 29.
6 Martin Heidegger, Von der Sache des Denkens: Vorträge, Reden und Gespräche aus den Jahren 1952 - 1969 (München: der Hörverlag, 2009).
7 Justin T. Mark, Brian B. Marion, and Donald D. Hoffman, “Natural Selection and Veridical Perception,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 266, no. 4 (October 21, 2010): 504–15, doi:10.1016/j.jtbi.2010.07.020.
8 Ulrich Boehm and Rüdiger Safranski, Philosophie Heute: Martin Heidegger - Der Zauberer von Meßkirch (Junius Verlag GmbH, 1989).

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Science Does Not Think by Mathijs Koenraadt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.