The Great Divide and Pseudosciences
We live in an age which is rich in its knowledge of the world around us. We have come to know a good deal more about mute matter, throbbing life, measuring mind, and the expansive universe than ever before in human history. But even as we probe deeper into the mysteries of the universe, our sciences are becoming so specialized and complicated that only a handful of experts in any field know what their fellow-workers are talking about. Large sections of society may hear about a few spectacular discoveries or breakthroughs such as the spotting of a new comet or the finding of a new drug for a disease. But by and large, there is widespread illiteracy as to the nature and goals of science, its framework and methodology.
Science has no doubt imparted its benign impacts through medicine and technology to enhance public health and prolong life-spans, and it has added much to our creature comforts and entertainment modes. Science also caused some drastic jolts through environmental disasters and a capacity for over-kill of the human race.
We have charted distant stars and galaxies, penetrated into the remote recesses of space, uncovered fantastic entities in the cold expanses above, measured the very limits of the universe, and surmised how this world of ours came to be. We are tempted to feel sorry for generations past who had no inkling of how vast our universe is, and how old, and how it all began. Little did they know of quasars and pulsars, or of an expanding universe. They were constrained by mythological lore and insufficient data in their appraisal of the cosmos. But what excuse do moderns have for living in the conceptual framework of ages past?
Yet, science’s contributions towards elevating the human spirit, for endowing us with intellectual joys, and ridding the mind of stifling superstitions have not fully permeated the masses in any society. Instead, there is a vast and influential body of pseudo-scientific literature that is appealing, understandable, and cheap; that entertains and deludes.
There are, broadly speaking, two classes of people in the world: the educated and the uneducated. In some sense, the latter are the more fortunate, for they mind their modest business, make a living, try to be happy, and care little about how the world functions or why. But the educated lot need some intellectual excitement through books and discussions. A vast corpus of distorted science is out there to satisfy their curiosity. For one thing, it is more intelligible than technical science, even more so than some of best popularizations of modern science, because no matter how watered down, understanding current science requires serious study, conceptual thinking, and more than a passing interest in the matter. On the other hand, pseudosciences, not only titillate, but make everything easy and understandable. And they can do more: they can satisfy our innermost craving to believe in the fantastic and the soothing.
Perhaps because for eons our ancestors groped in the dark and dreamed up imaginative pictures rather than rigorous mathematical explanations, tales rather than theories, our brains resonate more easily with the weird and the way-out, and our hearts experience greater thrill with the obscure and the arcane.
It would seem that practicing scientists on the one hand and the rest of the decent people in society on the other are attuned to very different frameworks of careful thinking, analysis, and criteria for truth. Even among scientists, our cultural sensibilities and spiritual penchants are variously developed.