Barry SCHWARTZ (Barijo ŜVARC) (chemoelectric) wrote,

Mostly what he said

Mostly I agree with Rabbi Lerner:

However, he does make an error that nearly everyone able to comment on the matter would make. His error is to use an early modern definition of science (unfortunately still widely used). In so doing, and even though he says himself that he is avoiding theology, the rabbi seems to have failed to recognize that his own lecture was scientific!

If you read Newton’s Opticks, you will see that Newton phrases his experiments in the manner of a mathematical proof, stating experiment as the method of ‘proof’. This view of ‘science’ is the one implicitly used by Rabbi Lerner, with the result that he ends up in the familiar paradox that belief in ‘science’ is a ‘religion’.

Science means little more than a significant preference for the empirical over the literary, and in particular that one judges the literary by observing the empirical. When it comes to the Holy Scriptures, for instance, it is necessary to study the origins of these writings, so we can understand what they really ought to mean to us. To do that is to do science. Yes, there are some technicians who perform experiments with expensive instruments, but that would be beside the point if people didn’t focus too much on that.

More than the above is needed to avoid paradox, however. We need to recognize that science is always about something; it is not what it is about. And we need to recognize that religion, too, always is about something which it is not. Either can be done in a deeply meaningful way and either can be done robotically. What they differ in is mainly method of knowing about something: scientific method favors checking by experience, while religious method favors checking by referral to canonical texts.

Where does the mystic fit into all of this? The mystic makes, perhaps, but one simple mistake, which is to neglect that About-ness usually is unconscious. Properly, the quest is not to become One with the whatever-that-is – indeed, it is impossible not to be One with the whatever-that-is. The quest, properly, is to be a kind of ‘mirror’ of the whatever-that-is – to become structured like it. For this to happen, science is essential (and that is why science fiction is enormously popular and spiritually fulfilling).

PostScript: Note that scientists throw out their old books, rather than treat them as canonical. No one learns optics by reading Opticks; its use now is like that of an arrowhead dug up by an archaeologist.
Tags: human meanings

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