Opinion | Three articles about scientism

Edward Gibbon (1737–1794) by the portrait painter Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792)

Last night I was reading an introduction to an abridged The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Edward Gibbon, the man, apparently dabbled in Catholicism before his irate father arranged for him to be guided by a Protestant minister.

For a while, Gibbon was totally sold on Catholicism which for him was rational and true. But again, the Powers That Be eventually lead him in another direction. Gibbon never abandoned his concern for natural and spiritual beauty. He was a top scholar (mostly self-educated) who also nurtured his spiritual sentiments.

Funny thing he said about Oxford – Gibbon had assumed as a young man that he would be among a mature, sober community of scholars but instead found himself among “wastrels and gossips.”†

Jane Fleming (Jane Stanhope, Countess of Harrington) displaying an “air of icy self-confidence”, as depicted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in c. 1778–1779.

Gosh, the parallels between Gibbon and my own life are pretty amazing, although I wouldn’t call myself a scholar in the sense that Gibbon was because he apparently remembered everything he read. Myself, I remember ideas that I feel are important. As for the names and dates of every king, queen, prince and princess along with a host of nobles?  Well, thank God for Wikipedia, that’s all I can say!

What interests me most, however, is that like my own view and Plato’s before him, Gibbon feels it is largely a waste of time to try to convince people of things they are not already sympathetic or prepared to understand. People can be hard-headed and for the most part, not too willing to leave their comfort zone, so why waste your time trying to make them see something they are too blinkered or just not ready to see?

Anyone with intelligence, I said, would remember that the eyes may be confused in two ways and from two causes, coming from light into darkness as well as from darkness into light

~ Plato’s Republic

Well, I try. And like Gibbon, when I feel that some folks are at the cusp of learning something new, that’s when I make my move—or, as the case may be, I hint at things to try to help nudge others along.

I realize some folks also try to nudge me along. And I do appreciate it.

Healthy learning is always a two-way street.

And this is why I feel that among these three articles about scientism, the one posted by psychiatrictimes.com is by far the weakest.

For me, the term wetware helps emphasize how the brain-mind (a term I think we should use more often) is biological through and through, with cognitive-affective phenomena embodied in brain processes and embedded in social activity.


This reductive perspective suggests that consciousness is nothing more than a bag of wet chemicals and social connections. And frankly, if I ever found myself in the office of a psychiatrist who spoke like that, I would run in the opposite direction PDQ (“Pretty Damn Quick” or, for my international readers, “as fast as possible”).

True, there are whispers of humility and a brief mention of pluralism in the above article but psychiatry as a discipline – with a unique legal power that other perspectives do not enjoy – arguably suffers from a kind of one-way arrogance. The patient talks to the doctor who often behaves like a telephone answering machine. Leave your message while the therapist nods, utters the odd stock phrase, and masks all emotion under the guise of objectivity. The patient hears very little about the doctor him- or herself and how their personal life might influence their outlook and overall worldview.

While there are some good psychiatrists out there, on the whole, this artificial dynamic represents a sort of unhealthy, unrealistic situation that sadly many folks uncritically accept.

The other two highlighted articles seem fair but do not exactly grab me. I admittedly skimmed over them because I can usually tell pretty fast where a person is coming from, how deep they have gone, how profound – or not – their thinking is. And while looking over the two a slightly ‘fuzzy,’ unclear numinous feeling came over me. This is one way I can discern if a piece is worthy of my time or not. A kind of early detection system. I get the same feeling with certain websites, emails, and upon entering certain shops.

Yes, I am spiritually sensitive. That has pros and cons. But on the whole, I wouldn’t want to be any other way else because, as the song goes, that is the way God made me.

Read on and enjoy. Perhaps you will get more out of these articles than I did. I am posting them here to show that scientism is indeed a topic of debate. It is not some crackpot idea. In fact, those who think the idea of critiquing science is “weird” are not so different from religious fundamentalists.

It seems that individuals upholding a monolithic fantasy about “The Science” or “Science” are far too unreflective to consider that their cherished perspective might be relative and not absolute.

† Frank C. Bourne, Introduction to The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1978, p. 13.

Michael W. Clark Ph.D. wrote his doctoral thesis (U Ottawa) on the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, suggesting that Jung’s approach to legitimizing the concept of synchronicity prefigured aspects of postmodernism. 

One thought on “Opinion | Three articles about scientism

  1. Edit – Just expanded this sentence:

    “While there are some good psychiatrists out there, on the whole, this artificial dynamic represents a sort of unhealthy, unrealistic situation that sadly many folks uncritically accept.”

    – found a typo and cleaned up the final sentence.

    – changed sentence to

    “Gibbon was totally sold on Catholicism”

    – changed sentence to

    “Edward Gibbon, the man, apparently dabbled in Catholicism before his irate father arranged for him to be guided by a Protestant minister.”

    – added endnote to reference the quote

    – made a correction and a few small style tweaks

    – added mention to Plato, a Plato quote, and cleaned up the layout a bit

    – couple more style tweaks… no change in content


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