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pantodragon

Reflections on the Evolution of Science

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A well known phenomenon afflicting humans is that they see a reflection of themselves in the world around them, or in other people. So, for example, if one person accuses another of being arrogant, the accuser is seeing a reflection of him/herself in the other i.e. it is the accuser who is being arrogant, not the accused. (An explanation is beyond the scope of this post.)

Science is no less afflicted by this than the rest of the world --- which has unfortunate and far reaching consequences.

Consider palaeontology and the theory of “punctuated equilibria” (i.e. evolutionary change in living organisms is not happening at a slow, constant rate, but in jumps as new species “bud off” from their parents). Far from describing the evolution of living organisms, this theory is actually describing the behaviour of science and scientists themselves: namely the “evolution” of the myriad new sciences in existence today derived from a single “ancestor”.

To quote palaeontologist Niles Eldridge from his book Fossils: “It is a fact of nature that specialists tend to speciate more [than generalists] and, often, to accumulate ever more specialisation.” (“Speciation” is the splitting off of a new “child” species from an ancestor species.)

Scientists today are, of course, highly specialised. On the other hand, in ancient Greece, from which much of our culture derives, all the academic subjects were largely covered by one discipline called Philosophy. Philosophy was, as it were, the ancestral stock of all modern branches of science (and therefore a “generalist” rather than a specialist). Speciation occurred when a new science, Natural Philosophy, budded off from Philosophy. Over the millennia, speciation has occurred at such a rate that today there are thousands of branches of the different sciences. (Take palaeontology as but one example: there’s palaeoanthropology, palaeobotany, vertebrate palaeontology, invertebrate palaeontology……..palaeo-this, palaeo-that and palaeo-the-next-thing, and all off-shoots of one science or another, each accumulating, as Niles said, “ever more specialisation”.)

That generalists i.e. non-specialists or jacks-of-all-trades, appear to evolve more slowly (because they do not generate many new species) is also easily understood in this context.

In short, then, this theory of evolution describes the competitive behaviour driving the evolution of science, not evolution in the natural world.

And as to evolution in the natural world, now that’s a WHOLE different story. And, what’s more, one that science can only fail to grasp.

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A well known phenomenon afflicting humans is that they see a reflection of themselves in the world around them, or in other people. So, for example, if one person accuses another of being arrogant, the accuser is seeing a reflection of him/herself in the other i.e. it is the accuser who is being arrogant, not the accused. (An explanation is beyond the scope of this post.)

Ahhh, so that's why you've been calling everyone stupid and ignorant. You were just seeing you in all your glory.

Thanks for clearing that up panto.

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