Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Future of Science: Decline or Rebirth?

According to Charles Murray, David Brooks, Tom Wolfe, E.O. Wilson, and other experts, we are on the cusp of major scientific breakthroughs – especially in neuroscience, genetics, and artificial intelligence - that will revolutionize society forever…Scientists will learn so much about the brain, the genetic code, life on other planets, etc. that it will destroy any remaining doubts about materialism, and radically reorder the moral basis of society.

Well, there's one problem with that… We’ve been hearing those predictions for a long time and yet they STILL haven't come true...E.O. Wilson published Consilience in 1975...Tom Wolfe published his essay, Sorry but Your Soul Just Died in 1996…Next year, David Brooks will release the latest pop culture book that breathlessly declares: "Repent, For Materialism is at Hand!...And yet I (like the rest of the public) is left to wonder, “Where's all the NEW evidence? Where's the smoking gun?”

In the spirit of non-conformity, in 1996, John Horgan published a controversial book, The End of Science, which declared that “scientists have solved most of the universe's major mysteries” and that we are approaching thelimits of knowledge.”

Ten years later, Horgan stood by his thesis in Discover magazine, declaring that the “limits of scientific inquiry are more visible than ever.”

In case you think I'm quoting Horgan because he's a fellow traveler, I'm pretty sure he isn't sympathetic to Intelligent Design - at least if you go by his casual statement: "Evolutionary biology reminds us that we are animals, shaped by natural selection not for discovering deep truths of nature but for breeding."

The point is….Even from the perspective of a materialist such as John Horgan, there is reason to be skeptical about the claims of science's boosters.

Contrary to Brooks, Murray, et. al, everything we’ve learned over the past decade suggests that the brain, DNA, and artificial intelligence are A LOT more complicated than we think…and therefore, any attempt to reduce human beings to “meat puppets on a stick,” or “computers with flesh,” etc. are going to run into a brick wall.

In my recent article, What is the Function of Science?, I observed that the scientific establishment gives nearly all of its funding and attention to studies that de-emphasize the mind, while ignoring projects that demonstrate the power of the mind (for example, see this study on sexual arousal). This misallocation of resources begs the question: Is the philosophy of reductionism preventing science from achieving new breakthroughs? Sadly, I fear the answer is, “yes.”

Now don't get me wrong...I do think we will see scientific progress in the future - especially in the fields of energy, nanotechnology, and health care...but even those scientific gains will be incremental, not revolutionary…advances in neuroscience, genetics, and artificial intelligence will be nowhere near the hype…future breakthroughs (if any) will come from new, non-materialist paradigms that are built on respect for the mind and design...Since it might take decades for scientists to allow themselves to entertain a non-materialist paradigm, I share Mr. Horgan's pessimism about the future of theoretical science in the near-term...but I would be glad to be proved wrong!

Thankfully, there is reason for at least a crumb of optimism. The Intelligent Design movement is starting to move beyond theory by diving head-first into scientific research. In that mission, 2 organizations are worth a close look.

The first is The Biologic Institute.

According to its website...

Biologic Institute brings together scientists with diverse expertise, unified by the realization that a revolution in biology—with far reaching implications—is well under way. Like many revolutionary ideas, this one is powerful in its simplicity:

The more we learn about the organization of life, the more clearly it reveals design.

When you realize that living cells store, transmit, and process information, the similarities with human technology are unavoidable. But when you get a glimpse of the remarkable sophistication of the cellular processes—and the almost unbelievably small scale of the molecular systems performing them—you begin to realize that humans are novices when it comes to complex design.

If you’re like us, you also begin to think about the exciting possibility of bringing these two worlds together: the world of human designs and the world of living designs. Biology is already informing technology, and we think the reverse will prove true as well.

Our team of researchers is exploring this from every angle—the experimental, computational, and theoretical—and at every scale, from the molecular to the galactic.

We are not the only ones expecting big things to come from the connection of engineering to biology. Biomimetics, the growing field that emulates engineering principles found in biology, has similar expectations. What distinguishes us from most scientists, though, is our interest in turning this around—allowing what we know as engineers and designers to inform our understanding of biology.

Next is The Evolutionary Informatics Lab.

Evolutionary informatics merges theories of evolution and information, thereby wedding the natural, engineering, and mathematical sciences. Evolutionary informatics studies how evolving systems incorporate, transform, and export information. The Evolutionary Informatics Laboratory explores the conceptual foundations, mathematical development, and empirical application of evolutionary informatics. The principal theme of the lab’s research is teasing apart the respective roles of internally generated and externally applied information in the performance of evolutionary systems.

This is cool stuff.

The future of science belongs to The Biologic Institute, The Evolutionary Informatics Lab, and other organizations that aren’t afraid to think outside the materialist box. They will unleash the next wave of scientific breakthroughs. While it's true that we may have reached to the limits of materialist science (sorry reductionists!), we are far from reaching the limits of science itself. Nonetheless, to go forward, we must break the self-imposed limits of materialist philosophy. And breaking those chains - needless to say - could pose quite a challenge.


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