Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Science and Meaning

In the Gay Science, Nietzsche wrote:

"A 'scientific' interpretation of the world, as you understand it, might therefore still be one of the most stupid of all possible interpretations of the world, meaning that it would be one of the poorest in meaning. This thought is intended for the ears and consciences of our mechanists who nowadays like to pass as philosophers and insist that mechanics is the doctrine of the first and last laws on which all existence must be based as on a ground floor. But an essentially mechanical world would be an essentially meaningless world. Assuming that one estimated the value of a piece of music according to how much of it could be counted, calculated, and expressed in formulas: how absurd would such a 'scientific' estimation of music be! What would one have comprehended, understood, grasped of it? Nothing, really nothing of what is 'music' in it!"

These are words that ring very true with me. At the same time, I'm a strong proponent of science, reason, progress, and discovering and understanding our world. I see no conflict between meaning and science, just different worlds with which we as human beings must contend. There is the world of existence, which is inside the domain of science, but there is also the world of meaning, which I believe is outside the domain of science. I think both the sciences and the humanities are too slow to acknowledge the boundaries separating them, and I think both are too quick when it comes to discounting the necessity of the other.

I am a fan of E.O. Wilson, but when it comes to the issue of meaning, I think he tries to push science outside of its domain. (Nietzsche wins this point.) Salon interviews Harvard's father of sociobiology on religious belief.

(via Pharyngula)


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