On the Scientific Method

Greg Schofield g_schofield at dingoblue.net.au
Sun Dec 2 06:58:34 MST 2001


Joan, you are right that there are no-two ways of knowing, however, it is the object of knowledge which determines the appropriate  form (reason is the overarching heritage of all).

Religious understanding, at its best, is subjective knowledge. To create this form of knowledge it makes premises from which its logic revolves. The premises as such are not the important bit, they are just a spring board for exploration. The subjective knowledge sought is understanding how to act as a human being - this is why I place this form of knowing within the artistic and poetic side of life. It is by nature more about feeling than reason, but this is not saying it is without or opposed to reason.

Decent theology/spiritual studies are not lacking in reason but by necessity they cling to their premises and are quite straightforward that these are not to be reasoned but are an act of faith. To people like myself who are rather pedestrian, I cannot make such a leap of faith against reason, but I have met a reasonable number of truly religious people and read enough decent theology to be impressed with this approach - it also arms me better for the mystics and cultists who are far more common (non-religious religiousity).

Religion is not our enemy, cultism is:

"What do you think of my conclusion that mysticism fetishizes a state of
consciousness?"

Mysticism/cultism is in my view festihism as a state of consciousness (perhaps not too far from your phrasing). By ritualising thought it simply becomes a cover for other ideologies to drive forward under this disguise. Combating this necessarily means engaging in theological dispute - they cannot be allowed any ground. Fundementalism is best attacked by denying its basis in religion, rather than denying religion as such.

"Religion is a form of societally imposed self-expression - it's not group
think, it's group feel. If we didn't have religion messing us up, we would
need no voyage of internal self-discovery. No one's dispising the journey:
it's a job that's got to be done."

New Age stuff can only be understood within the vacuum of religion dissapated. The problem with these junk beliefs is the whole prior developmet of thought found in a real religion is missing and the mystical nonsense side becomes dominant - it is far harder dealing with a New Ager than a conservative religious type that actually believes something that has substantial development behind it.

Insofar as a religious undertsanding is such and not just cultist - I can't see it messes things up very much, a place has to be found for it - often those that proclaim themselves atheists are just angnostics - don't knowers who have not fully come to terms with what religion has to offer and thus cannot pass fully beyond it - for some parts of the left anticlericalism and anti-religion is a cult and this has to be squashed within our ranks (we need to divide the religous community - Jesus-like, rather than let it be dominated by the Pharasees).

I am not arguing tolerance for its own sake but selective tolerance for a specific purpose (a bit like criticising bad poetry or art - not because it says things we don't like but because it says them badly). With the rise of fundementalist/cultism as a response to empty bourgeois materialism, our allies are in fact the religious.

"If religion is once again becoming the mode of expression of the masses,
we need to be able to think clearly about it. Not every sigh of the
oppressed has revolutionary implications."

In this I agree absolutely.

"The general distinctions we were making were serving a rough purpose. The
roots of science which are found in religion are not science. In order to
be able to make that distinction, we need some agreement as to what
science is. This does not have to be precise; and no one should be looking
for pure science."

We will not have pure science until we have a "pure"society on which it can rest. Alienation gave impetus to scientific understanding as a new form of consciousness. alienation also explains why science is also bound to be partial and the spiritual unscienctific.

Alienated social existence, where social relations present themselves as external and foriegn is the socio-historical point where consciousness views nature as a thing-in-itself (the quasi-objectivism of science). Previous religious thought could not, indeed had no desire for such knowledge, social relations were personal relations, the relationship with nature intimate and seemless.

Religoius thought still preserves this unalienated desire and countless people not only gain comfort but strength from it. Alienated society may work against such things but the price is further alienatiion and the worst excess bourgeois materialism (empty and mean spirited and often garbed in scientific robes).

Science may have grown from this alienation but I cannot see how it can complete itself (not by knowing everything but representing itself in a single concept in which all the subject matters can be related). In this way science must make room for religion, the dominance of one over the other is equally souless and irrational given the state of present society (the communist movement as it now is fell too far into bourgeois materialism - the accusation of godlessness was not so much about its professed atheism as its actual mode of struggle which was all too often souless, fragile and cultish).

I cannot give a good definition of science, except it is the logic of reality as a thing-in-itself, distinct from ideology but never absolutely free of it (the mathematical sciences get closest to this ideal). It is necessarily divided and limited by its subject matter which become known via their singular conceptions into which all the parts of that particular science can be resolved.

As for changing the world consciously we are faced with first having to know it as a thing-in-itself in order to know what and how to change it (we are not free from constraint but by knowing it are able to manipulate these constraints consciously - to paraphrase Marx - the constraints are those aspects which properly belong to the thing-in-itself to which we apply ourselves to).

Historical Materialism has its limits like any science, but it also stands in an important position not just to all the sciences but to social life as a whole. What I am trying to say is although it is the all critical key, it is not and should not pretend to be the solution to everything.

Historical Materialism needs to understand the religious spirit for what it is, rather than just dismiss it, the price of this is that it cannot actually experience it except as self-criticism. I don't want a souless socialism, but the recognition of this is that I cannot provide it, here tolerance has its place for others need to provide the art, poetry and spiritual experience that makes life worth living, we communist may guide it a little but not direct it.

To throw one more irony into the mix, perhaps the role of communists in this growing mileu of sour bourgeois materialism is to rescue real religious experience and knowledge, to foster it amongst its adherants and proletarianise it in order to save it. But first we must take it seriously as Historical Materialists (without becoming enmeshed in it, or rejecting its fruits).

For those of us that have politically matured in the communist movement, all of this sails on darkly dangerous waters - but who else will sail there except ourselves?

Forgive yet another lengthy posting.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia



--- Message Received ---
From: ermadog at freenet.edmonton.ab.ca
To: marxism at lists.panix.com
Date: Sat, 1 Dec 2001 16:34:03 -0700 (MST)
Subject: Re: On the Scientific Method

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