Tag Archives: knowledge

Science & Philosophy: The Door to the Chinese Century


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

While it may not be apparent at the level of one-to-one interaction, the Chinese are generally more philosophical in their worldview while Americans and Europeans are more inclined to a scientific interpretation of reality. That is not to say, of course, that the Chinese are in any way compromised in science or technology. They aren’t. Their philosophical bent, in fact, will liberate them to become, I believe, among the best scientists on the planet in the years ahead.

The difference flows from the distinct logic on which each worldview is built. I cover this in depth in Understanding China: There is Reason for the Difference and have referenced the distinction, perhaps to excess, in prior blog posts. I won’t tempt your patience, therefore, again here.

In many ways, philosophy and science are the yin and yang of thought. Science is an empirical methodology for distilling abstract observation down to specific, discreet bits of knowledge, presumed to be nuggets of truth. Philosophy, on the other hand, is the process of amalgamating discreet observations and measurements into broad abstractions of truth that are both all-inclusive and infallible.

Technology, of course, has greatly enhanced the speed and diversity of our ability to measure and record data, and search for patterns therein. This has, in turn, lead to an acceleration in scientific discovery that is rapidly obscuring all other perspectives; most notably the religious and the intuitive.

Philosophy, on the other hand, is constrained by language, on which it is reliant both for the fuel of thought and the ability to debate and share the results. Language, being a human convention created to facilitate the efficiency and effectiveness of communication, is entirely arbitrary and not up to the task of the larger philosophical questions that continue to face humankind. As a result, philosophy seems to be stuck in a time warp. Philosophers are debating the same questions their Greek counterparts did millennia ago, with some apparent progress, but little in the way of resolution.

Philosophy and science, however, much like yin and yang, cannot exist, at least not productively, in isolation. Each is reliant on the other. Because they approach abstraction and reality from the opposite directions, each provides balance to the other. Without one or the other, imbalance results, and thought, or, more specifically, the veracity of thought, suffers.

Many in science believe that philosophy is an antiquated and anachronistic mode of analysis that should be left by the roadside of progress. Just the opposite, however, is true. Science without philosophy is disaster in the making.

We know that many scientific discoveries ultimately prove to be wrong. Einstein was wrong about the static universe. Doctors were wrong for decades about the cause of peptic ulcers. And scientists, who initially thought that matter was made up of atoms, later discovered leptons and quarks, and now believe that 85% of the universe may be made up of dark matter, although it has never actually been seen or measured by anyone.

Marcis Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, has this to say: “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published.” Stanford researcher, John Ioannidis agrees. He has published a paper entitled, “Why Most Published Research is False,” noting that most research is better at cataloguing the prevailing bias than discovering new scientific truths. Pioneering medical clinician and author, Chris Kresser, sums it up like this: “In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the history of science has been the history of most people being wrong about most things most of the time.”

The proof is in the pudding. The scientific method is based on replicability. Cause and effect, science holds, is fixed by the laws of nature. In one recent study, however, researchers attempted to replicate the results of 100 published psychological studies and failed to do so in 65 percent of the cases. Researchers from Bayer, likewise, attempted to replicate the research behind sixty-seven blockbuster drugs currently in use and failed in 75% of their attempts.

Philosophy is the natural counter-balance to empirical discovery. By inductively speculating the precise back to the abstract, philosophy will naturally unearth gaps in deductive conclusion that may result from faulty reasoning, or, more commonly, incomplete understanding of causation.

To jettison philosophy in the interest of science, therefore, is to throw away the best opportunity we have to validate and direct empirical analysis and conclusion. And since empirical reality is the reality we live in, it is to open the door to nothing less than our potential destruction.

That the US is a nation divided is beyond dispute. Everyone can see that we are hurtling down a path of eventual implosion that threatens to unravel all of the progress we have made to date as a society and a nation. Only the truth can save us, but truth, we must accept, is not the exclusive dominion of the empiricist.

Science without philosophy is the path to “knowledgeable ignorance.” It is an ignorance built upon a foundation of false certainty that doesn’t just inform our opinion, but defines it. Thought solidifies and hardens, losing its ability to adapt and, as a result, thought and leadership lose the predictive and probative power of wisdom and understanding. We are literally blinded by hollow empiricism.

It is the philosophical void created by imbalanced empiricism, articulated through public opinion polls and statistical analysis, and spread through the mechanics of biased reporting and self-reinforcing news feeds, that is at the heart of our current political paralysis and acute personal divisions.

Why are women, after decades of abuse at the hands of male predators, now coming forward? Why are ethnic and racial minorities finally, after generations of discrimination and abuse, concluding that now is the time it must end? Why are university students only now demanding safe spaces and trigger warnings and seeking to silence speech that is offensive?

The answer, in part, I believe, comes down to the current imbalance between our emphasis on empirical study and measurement and our lack of insistence that such empiricism be validated through the logic of abstraction. Our empirical knowledge has finally overwhelmed our willingness to make abstract excuses and rationalizations. And in the case of misogyny, racism, and intellectual bullying, that is indeed a good thing. We’ve finally cut through the clutter that has historically insulated unacceptable behavior.


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In marginalizing philosophy and abstraction, however, we risk marginalizing productive debate in other important areas of worldview. We risk becoming so certain in our beliefs that we lose all sense of balance and proportion. We lose the ability to meet others half way. We lose the opportunity to exercise diplomacy and to work with other cultures and people with different life experiences in a collaborative and productive way.

The Chinese are not so constrained because they are not just extending their natural empirical perspective in the way that we in Westerners are. They are introducing science and empiricism on top of philosophy, not as an extension of itself. They have, as a result, a balance between science and philosophy that we have lost to empiricism.

The Chinese, despite a population that dwarfs our own, currently enjoy far greater social cohesion and political stability than either the US or the EU. And they have it not because of the autocratic socialist state that the Western media believes is behind all things Chinese, but for the simple reason that Chinese culture and politics retains a balance between empirical progress (e.g., China now leads the world in renewable energy investment.) and philosophical abstraction (e.g. President Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream).

It is our Western empiricism, at the expense of traditional philosophical thought, by contrast, that is opening the door to the Chinese Century. By returning to their Confucian roots while embracing the empiricism of science, the Chinese will be in the best position to apply the knowledge they unveil through scientific discovery. The West, on the other hand, is likely to fritter away its sizeable early lead in acquisition of empirical knowledge to the certainty of empiricism without abstraction. Or, more precisely, certainty without the guiding hand of doubt.

We will be certain, but will we progress?

You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
Visit my personal blog at www.gmoreau.com

Follow on Twitter @gmoreaubooks


Here’s what legendary Kirkus Reviews has to say about the author’s new book: “More than a guidebook for managers, this is a manifesto for an intellectually deeper – and happier – world of business.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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The latest in the Understanding Series is now available.
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Waking Up at 3:45 in the Morning

 

Starting September 21, 2017, the Kindle version of my popular and highly praised book, Understanding China: There is Reason for the Difference, will be available for FREE. Go the Amazon Kindle Store for details. This promotion will only last for five days, so don’t forget. And it’s not too early to think about the holidays!

Journalists now write to the click count in real time. Like so many dichotomies in life and the world, it is both a result and a cause of the superficiality of much of the news these days. Sensationalism and banality are two sides of the same coin—the yin and yang of a world where the cost of knowledge has been driven to zero, and attention is the world’s scarcest commodity.

This has given rise to the “I did this for a week/month/year, and this is what happened” genre of investigative journalism. Just this morning my very popular and mainstream homepage linked to an article from Inc., entitled, “I Got Up at 3:45 A.M. Like Apple’s Tim Cook for a Year. Here is What Happened.

Really? Why would you do that? The writer explains that she was becoming overwhelmed with tasks and obligations and is not a quitter. She was looking for solutions. Having learned of her motives, I, nonetheless, was still left with the same question: Why would you do that? And why would you do it for a year?

I honestly don’t think a Chinese person would ever consider doing this for the reasons outlined. They would be more inclined to give the idea a collective, “Huh?” Their culture and perception is built on an inductive world view, where “why” carries far less weight than it does in the deductively-minded West.

That’s not to apologize for the Chinese world view or to take anything away from the Western perspective, as I have been accused of doing recently. That, however, doesn’t change my reaction.

The logical explanation, of course, is that the worlds of knowledge and journalism have been turned on their heads by technology. Anyone can now publish a book or contribute to the public dialogue. That doesn’t mean you will be heard, however.

The public consciousness is now controlled by algorithms written in Silicon Valley rather than autocratic gatekeepers sitting in New York, but the outcome is largely the same. Despite the appearance of objectivity, an algorithm is a computational process; it is not a computation, like 2+2=4. It provides an answer, not a solution.

Franklin Foer, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and the former editor of The New Republic, has written a new book, World Without Mind : The Existential Threat of Big Tech. He has had more than a front row seat during the battle between the digital and the print world over knowledge. He has been in the fray and has the scars to prove it.

I didn’t give the book a 5-star review for reasons you will have to read my review to understand, but I do think this is a book that everyone should read. He adroitly explains why people write articles in the “Here is what happened” genre and the reasons why all sources of news increasingly mimic the tabloids. My favorite example is: “9 out of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact,” as the headline to an article about income inequality.

The article about getting up so absurdly early was witty, well written, and fun to read. And, in the end, it was deductive. There was ultimately reference to the connection between sleep and the stress hormone cortisol, which a Chinese reader would probably not have seen coming.

The author concludes with the deduction that, “Working hard and suffering are not the same thing, and I, for one, plan never to confuse the two again.” It’s sound logic that I don’t need to read twice to take to heart.

The sensationalism of journalism, of course, isn’t a curse of deductive thinking per se. Deduction is the rational foundation of the scientific method. And the author’s deductive approach, in this case, did cause me to click and ultimately enjoy the article.

It is ironic, nonetheless, that deductive investigation can lead, in the extreme, to inductive silliness. Inductive thinkers, like the Chinese, can indeed be silly in the extreme. They are, however, blatantly silly. They are silly for the sake of silly; not for the sake of gaining insight.

An inductive world view is a quest for results. A deductive world view is a quest for explanations. Both have their place. As I advocate in all of the books in the Understanding Series, the key to a successful career and life of purpose is balance between the two.

And whichever world view dominates your thinking, a recognition that it ultimately makes sense to get enough sleep.

You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
Visit my personal blog at www.gmoreau.com


Here’s what legendary Kirkus Reviews has to say about the author’s new book: “More than a guidebook for managers, this is a manifesto for an intellectually deeper – and happier – world of business.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
click here

The latest in the Understanding Series is now available.
click here