The Devious Ways of Science

By a strange coincidence, after the facebook exchanges yesterday, on the anti-Copernican indications of the Cosmic Microwave Background being mysteriously air-brushed from the record (*1), I find myself reading Arthur Koestler’s “The Sleepwalkers“. Coincidence because I just happened to pick it up randomly off the ex-library second-hand book cart at Conway Hall last night. I’d heard of Koestler obviously, but didn’t know the book or much about his work.

[Great read so far, by the way, but more later.]

Imagine my surprise:

“That the progress of science as a clean rational advance, [has in fact been] … more bewildering than the evolution of political thought. The history of cosmic theories may, without exaggeration, be called a history of collective obsessions and schizophrenias … a sleepwalker’s performance.”

“I shall not be sorry if [this] inquiry helps counteract the legend that the scientist is a more level-headed and dispassionate type, and should therefore be given a leading part in world affairs (*2), or that he is able to provide a rational substitute for ethical insights derived from other sources.”

“[Aristarchus’ (3rd C BCE)] correct [heliocentric] hypothesis was rejected in favour of a monstrous system … an affront to human intelligence, which reigned for 1500 years … one of the most astonishing examples of the devious, nay crooked, ways of the progress of science.

Way to go!


[(*1) The post was about anti-science campaigns in Wikipedia editing, against which “pro-science” campaigns were also cited. To be clear these counter indications should not suggest that the solar system is earth-centred (Doh!), what they should suggest, from our earthbound viewpoint, is that our cosmic model must therefore be flawed. The problem is the political attachment to mythology of Copernicus & Gallileo and a dogmatic aversion to all things anthropic, is seriously clouding the judgement and interpretation of those who would claim to be scientific. (As Brandon Carter predicted, and Rick Ryals has championed). The point being science is as dogmatic a political campaign as any other.]

[(*2) This was written in 1959 – in the post Hiroshima & Nagasaki cold-war climate.]

[Post Note : Ha, and as Sabine tweets – to avoid having to erase counter-indications, you know what, just don’t even mention them in the first place?]

[Post Note : Oh, and also today “Krauss, smarter than Einstein” apparently. You couldn’t make it up.]

[Post Note : Also need to join up that “scientist as the level-headed & dispassionate type” above with the piece by Karen O’Donnell on “emotional” women in science.]

[Post Note : Physics of perspective, or is that perception.]

[Post Note : Is science rotten or just hard?]

[Post Note : And of course it was the Koestler bequest that funded the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at Edinburgh Uni. Two associated speakers at the 2015 BHA Conference this year. Interestingly Koestler was controversial for many reasons, but his biography of Kepler that became The Sleepwalkers doesn’t appear to have been controversial at the time. Controversy in scientific connections arose from views on evolution and the paranormal (from Wikipedia):

In his 1971 book The Case of the Midwife Toad he defended the biologist Paul Kammerer, who claimed to find experimental support for Lamarckian inheritance. According to Koestler, Kammerer’s experiments on the midwife toad may have been tampered with by a Nazi sympathizer at the University of Vienna. In the book he came to the conclusion that a kind of modified ‘Mini-Lamarckism’ may occur as an explanation for some limited and rare evolutionary phenomena.

Koestler had criticised neo-Darwinism in a number of his books but he was not anti-evolution. Biology professor Harry Gershenowitz described Koestler as a “popularizer” of science despite his views not being accepted by the “orthodox academic community.” According to an article in the Skeptical Inquirer Koestler was an “advocate of Lamarckian evolution – and a critic of Darwinian natural selection as well as a believer in psychic phenomena.”

Mysticism and a fascination with the paranormal imbued much of his later work. Koestler was known for endorsing a number of paranormal subjects such as extrasensory perception, psychokinesis and telepathy. His book The Roots of Coincidence (1974) claims the answer to such paranormal phenomena may be found in theoretical physics. The book mentions yet another line of unconventional research by Paul Kammerer, the theory of coincidence or synchronicity. He also presents critically the related writings of Carl Jung. More controversial were Koestler’s levitation and telepathy studies and experiments.

Interesting. He shows interest in alternative explanations, but becomes branded as anti. His idea that some psychological traits are inherited by Lamarckian mechanisms is no longer contentious. His debunking of Copernicus (the topic of the Kepler book here) seems to be widely shared.]

3 thoughts on “The Devious Ways of Science”

  1. Caught up? You commented within an hour of my posting. BTW you may be interested that one of the rave reviews in the 1959 cover blurb of the Koestler book was by Stephen Toulmin.

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