Essay date: May 7, 2020

Without Philosophy, Science becomes Scientism




There is a word for this kind of arrogant materialist belief that willfully ignores its own philosophical premises: that word is scientism

hen Stephen Hawking observed that philosophy is dead (which itself is a philosophical statement, of course, being insusceptible of inductive proof), he was saying so triumphantly, as if this were a good thing. The reality however is that when science ignores philosophy it becomes mere scientism.

Take the search for modern anti-depressants. The logic behind this venture is roughly as follows: find a chemical trait that is held in common by the maximum number of depressed individuals and then seek to change that trait by targeted chemical intervention.

To a materialist scientist, this statement sounds like pure science, but the fact is that it makes sense only if the scientist who affirms it is holding at least one major philosophical assumption about psychopharmacological intervention, namely that we can chemically intervene at some precise point in the causal process of a psychological condition without regard for the larger picture, i.e. without any proof that this similarity that we are thereby treating is a real cause of pathology as opposed to a mere symptom of it.

Many people suffering from headache are known to wrinkle their eyebrows. We do not know why, exactly, but we have noticed that almost all headache sufferers do this. We could come up with an intervention that keeps the patients' eyebrows straight, will they or nill they, but that intervention is based on an assumption: namely, that we are actually intervening at a meaningful and relevant location in a causal chain. Likewise, we can notice that many depression sufferers have a similar type of brain chemistry. We can intervene at this level too and attempt to correct the patient's brain chemistry, but as with the headache, we can only do this by assuming that we are intervening in response to a germane causative factor viz the patient's depression. If we intervene chemically to change a non-causative factor, we are doing no more than straightening eyebrows. In the case of the depressed patient, we are actually causing harm however because we are playing around with brain chemistry that had no need of adjustment in the first place, the anomalous chemistry being a mere symptom of a far more relevant upstream causal factor (or factors) of which we are ignorant.

Of course, in the case of depression, Robert Whitaker has already documented how the anti-depressants of Big Pharma actually cause the chemical imbalances that they purport to treat. But even if we accept that depressed people share a specific brain chemistry, it does not follow that we should intervene by brute force, as it were, to change that specific chemistry. And if we do so, we are not proceeding by the mere dictates of science, but rather we are proceeding under the philosophical assumptions of materialist reductionism.

This is why psychedelic therapy for depression is generally scorned by the scientific community, not because such treatment is non-scientific but because its success would pose an implicit challenge to modern materialism, according to which psychopharmacological interventions are "scientific" (and therefore valid and potentially useful) only to the extent that they are chemically pinpointed and quantifiable.

When modern scientists say that "philosophy is dead," they're essentially saying: "We believe so strongly in the materialist approach that we will no longer even acknowledge that it is based on premises that are susceptible of debate." In other words, to say that "philosophy is dead" is to declare victory in the war of approaches to healing. It's an intolerant statement, to put it mildly, because it says to its opponents (those, for instance, who wish to use psychedelics for psychological healing): "There's no more debate allowed. Materialism is ontologically true and therefore we will proceed according to that understanding, straightening as many eyebrows as we need to in order to make our point!"

This would be funny but for the fact that materialist reductionism already has a body count: It is responsible for the fact that 1 in 8 American males and 1 in 4 American females are addicted to Big Pharma meds -- substances that were created and justified under the materialist assumption that depression sufferers are basically identical clones who are amenable to a one-size-fits-all therapy that involves intervening at the most microscopic level possible.

Such an approach has been a colossal failure, of course, since during its ascendancy over the last 50 years, America has become the most depressed and addicted country in the world. But scientists will never learn from these mistakes if they believe, like Hawking, that materialist reductionism is above criticism, that it is no longer just a way of seeing the world but THE way of seeing it.

There is a word for this kind of arrogant materialist belief that willfully ignores its own debatable premises: that word is "scientism."

Author's Follow-up: September 24, 2022



It's hard to tell the full truth about America's befuddled views on drugs, because, ironically, drug-hating Americans really believe in the psychiatric pill mill. I have female friends who could spend hours chatting with their cronies about the collection of SSRIs that they are currently "on" and how their therapist is thinking of trying a new one, and how the apparent effects of one differ from the apparent effects of another, etc. etc.

This would only make sense, however, if there were no other drugs on the planet than the ones created by Big Pharma. But such discussions sound inane to me when I consider that almost all of the competition for Big Pharma meds is outlawed. Surely, these chat sessions should be about ending the Drug War (or this drug apartheid, as Julian Buchanan calls it), rather than cheerfully making a virtue of the necessity of choosing among a paltry list of highly habituating substances, substances that were created based on the philosophical presumption that human beings are interchangeable robots when it comes to their experience of sadness.

For those who still believe that the meds in question actually "cure" depression (presumably by fixing a chemical imbalance), I would ask them, what do you mean by "cure"? If my depression were "cured," I would be up and about, living large, and heading inexorably toward self-fulfillment. I do not consider myself cured by being tranquilized such that I accept my humble lot in life and my failure to achieve my goals. So the medicalization metaphor fails, simply because those materialist who assert they have found a "cure" for depression must be able to tell us what they mean by "cure." If their definition is not my definition, then it doesn't matter how many arguments they adduce about chemical causes of behavior -- their meds do not "cure" my depression, for the simple reason that I do not accept their definition of "cure," which, in the psychological realm, is not an objective concept but rather a subejctive one.


October 22, 2022

Then too there are plenty of reasons to believe that SSRIs and SNRIs cause the chemical imbalance they purport to fix. That's why they cause such dependence, because once brain chemistry is altered, the body comes to accept that alteration and, as it were, demand it. For more on this topic, see the works of Robert Whitaker, Irving Kirsch and Julie Holland.

Next essay: Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe
Previous essay: America's Invisible Addiction Crisis

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You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at abolishthedea.com. Brian has written for Sociodelic and is the author of The Drug War Comic Book, which contains 150 political cartoons illustrating some of the seemingly endless problems with the war on drugs -- many of which only Brian seems to have noticed, by the way, judging by the recycled pieties that pass for analysis these days when it comes to "drugs." That's not surprising, considering the fact that the category of "drugs" is a political category, not a medical or scientific one.

A "drug," as the world defines the term today, is "a substance that has no good uses for anyone, ever, at any time, under any circumstances" -- and, of course, there are no substances of that kind: even cyanide and the deadly botox toxin have positive uses: a war on drugs is therefore unscientific at heart, to the point that it truly qualifies as a superstition, one in which we turn inanimate substances into boogie-men and scapegoats for all our social problems.

The Drug War is, in fact, the philosophical problem par excellence of our time, premised as it is on a raft of faulty assumptions (notwithstanding the fact that most philosophers today pretend as if the drug war does not exist). It is a war against the poor, against minorities, against religion, against science, against the elderly, against the depressed, against those in pain, against children in hospice care, and against philosophy itself. It outlaws substances that have inspired entire religions, Nazi fies the English language and militarizes police forces nationwide. In short, it causes all of the problems that it purports to solve, and then some, meanwhile violating the Natural Law upon which Thomas Jefferson founded America.

If you believe in freedom and democracy, in America and around the world, please stay tuned for more philosophically oriented broadsides against the outrageous war on godsend medicines, AKA the war on drugs.

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