IS SCIENCE AN ART? 3/3 SCIENCE IS AN ART!
This publication completes a series of three posts on the art-science relationship as it emerges from Paul Feyerabend’s thought through the careful reading of his book Science as Art (Albin Michel, 2003).
The first post (here) compared Vasari’s vision with Rielg’s and concluded that there is no progress in art.” Not all artists are involved in the same race, which would aim to represent reality as faithfully as possible. It is therefore the vision of a patchwork of styles, that is, schools of thought, that emerges. These schools of thought represent different artistic wills. They are perfectly consistent even if they are incompatible. One can judge a work within the paradigms that underlie its style, but two works belonging to two different styles are immeasurable.”
The second note (here) showed that the same is true in science. “Science does not exist as a continuing will to describe reality ever more finely. We are much more in a Riegelian perspective where the different schools of thought represent distinct scientific wills. All these schools form a patchwork. One can speak of progress within each school of thought, but two works from two different schools are incomparable since they stem from a different will. Maxwell’s work can be said to represent an advance over Newton’s work, for they proceed from the same intellectual requirements. On the other hand, Galileo’s work does not represent an advance in knowledge of the world compared to that of Aristotle.”
The image that should be retained for science is therefore that of a surface where different scientific schools form an assembly of various tissues. Different colours represent different scientific wills and different intellectual demands. Science as we practice it today has been developed by a considerable number of people for centuries. It therefore occupies most of this surface area quite naturally. It is by far the largest spot of colour. But it is not the only one, and this area should not be confused with its largest region.
This third and final post attempts to answer this question: one or two surfaces?
At this stage of reasoning, we concluded two things. First, what is called art is an assemblage of different artistic wills, like pieces of fabric assembled to form a vast patchwork. Secondly, what is called science is also an assemblage of different scientific wills, and a similar metaphor can be spun: pieces of different fabrics assembled to form a vast patchwork.
The last step in Feyerabend’s reasoning is to affirm that these two surfaces are the same surface, in truth. The different artistic and scientific wills are not in different worlds. They are different pieces of fabric on the same work. There are not two surfaces, but only one.
Those who defend the principle of two surfaces put forward three arguments. First, the reality argument. Secondly, the argument of concepts. Third, the audit argument. We will examine them in that order.
1 | From reality to reality
Those who defend the principle of two surfaces first put forward the argument of reality. Science would develop on a separate surface, according to them, because it seeks to express the reality of the world, unlike art or religion. There would therefore be on one side the surface of the search for the reality of the world, and on the other side the surface of all other researches.
We already mentioned the reality argument in the first post of this series. In particular, we have refuted the main argument in favour of the specificity of science that can be formulated as follows: “Scientific representation would be more real than others because it allows a better control of nature. In his book, Feyerabend does not content himself with this refutation. He takes a concrete example. He confronts the religious vision of Master Eckhart’s world with that of scientists.
Master Eckhart’s religious vision is affirmed, he writes. It is justified by reflections and arguments. It is supported by experiments. Of course, Master Eckhart’s reality is not that of the material world. It belongs to a completely different field that is not accessible to scientific experience. But, writes Feyerabend, to refute this reality on the pretext that it is not accessible to science is hardly more convincing than to deny a Gothic church by arguing that it was not built under the principles of Romanesque architecture. If religion describes a reality other than that of the scientist, it is nonetheless a reality.
Of course, those who defend the principle of two surfaces find counterarguments. In his analysis, Feyerabend lists three, which he refutes instantly.
The first counterargument in favour of the singularity of the sciences: the Gothic style church does indeed exist, unlike the supernatural domain described by Master Eckhart. Feyerabend’s answer: it’s a question of perception! For an ancient style fanatic, the Gothic church does not exist as a religious building built according to a given order; “only Romanesque churches count for him, the others being only heaps of shapeless stones.” The same goes for a scientist. The supernatural domain does not exist in his eyes. Only counts for him what is repeatable at will, shareable to infinity, measurable using rules that he prefabricated. But it is a very small fraction of reality that bends to this constraint. Does that mean the rest has no reality? No, of course not.
The second counterargument in favour of the singularity of the sciences is that the Gothic church has its own structure that can be identified and described. Feyerabend’s answer: again, it’s a question of perception. The same is true for the divine realm. He appears clearly to those who have learned to see him!
Third counterargument in favour of the singularity of science: scientific theories allow us to do certain things, like go to the moon or cure diseases. Feyerabend’s answer: this is also true on the religious side! He also allows distant journeys, even if they are spiritual. It also heals certain affections: sin, the pain of being attached to earthly things…
In the end, the perception of the scientist is neither more nor less real than that of the religious. It’s just different. What’s the difference? It is more conceptual and it is supposedly verifiable. In his book, Feyerabend tries to show that this difference is not likely to justify that science and art belong to two different worlds.
2) The conceptual argument.
Those who defend the singularity of science put forward the argument of conceptualization. Science is unique because it uses abstract principles to describe reality. But where does the importance of abstract concepts come from, asks Feyerabend?
If the answer is multiple, there is a more important argument than the others: abstract concepts allow stories of a completely different nature to be fabricated. Stories with a power of autosuggestion. Because this discussion is very interesting well beyond the art-science debate (it touches on the old battle between literature and philosophy), I will take the time to synthesize it.
In ancient epics, divinities, characters, events are characterized by stories that serve as definitions and theories. Myths and epics are “the only modes of explanation and representation likely to render the complexity of phenomena. “The concept of honour, for example, is never defined in absolute terms. It can be deduced from the heroic characters’ behaviour as a whole. It is the product of the story of these characters. It does not exist independently of the account of their exploits.
Thus the world of the Iliad is an aggregate world. Nature is divided into domains obeying different natural laws. “To each domain corresponds a god who bears its traits, just as Ethiopian gods bear the traits of Ethiopians. “The concept of God does not exist. There is an aggregation of gods as diverse as men are, and no one thinks of inducing common ownership.
In the 6th and 5th centuries BC, totally different patterns of explanation and representation appeared. A new idea of God, new ideas of the soul come to take the place of the preceding aggregate conceptions. These patterns are based on a substantial world. It is the conceptualization of the world that is at work.
Mircea Eliade speaks of a long erosion “which strips the homeric myths and gods of their original meaning. Among the events that played a key role in this movement, Feyerabend cites criticism of Xenophane.
Xenophane notes the relativity of the Gods: “Ethiopians make their Black Gods with a pug nose; Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair… If oxen, horses and lions had hands and could carve statues, they would represent the Gods in the form of oxen, horses and lions…”.
The argument assumes, without showing it, Feyerabend points out, that a vision of God that changes from one territory to another (from one people to another) is nowhere true.
God is not the only relative at this time. Many examples show this: beliefs, customs and laws are not generally accepted, they apply to some areas and not to others. But Feyerabend adds, it’s crazy to mock them for that reason alone.
For Xenophane, even if laws, customs and lifestyles are “relative”, that is, they differ from one field to another, they are at the same time valid for each of the fields assigned to them. Can we extend this idea of validity, asks Feyerabend, to a statement of existence, concerning for example divinities?
The God of Xenophane has the following qualities: “There is only one God, who resembles mortals neither in body nor in mind. He always stays in the same place and without moving. It is not appropriate for him to go from one place to another, for it is without effort that he moves everything by the strength of his mind. “As we can see, Xenophane’s argument is based on a substantial world. In doing so, it introduces an entirely new cosmology.
Where do these cosmologies come from and why do they seem so obvious? It is a trend of the 6th and 5th centuries BC that was notably carried by Socrates, as reported to us by Plato.
Customs, virtues and knowledge vary. “It does not seem possible to find a common characterization – and yet that is what Socrates is trying to do. We feel that this common characterization, assuming it is possible, can only be based on very limited concepts of very little interest in view of the diversity of real situations: Socratic questioning, as it is presented to us in Plato’s dialogues, manipulates relatively empty concepts and the “ancient dissidence between philosophy and poetry” of which Plato (Republic 606B6) opposes detailed modes of representations to processes that completely neglect details and are content with rough schematization.”
What is the advantage of these schematizations? Why has this way of proceeding had such an influence on Western thought? How to explain this determining character of Western rationalism which continues today to express hegemonic claims in fields where there are more realistic means of representation and treatment of nature?
Feyerabend advances three elements to understand it:
1. This rationalisation is part of a historical trend towards more abstract and schematic concepts.
2. This rationalization allowed the emergence of a new form of narrative.
“One of the main reasons for these new characteristics, which are all characterized by their poverty, is, in my opinion, that they allowed stories of a new kind to be told, in a way new myths with surprising aspects. The action of these new myths was no longer subject to the external constraint of a tradition, but regulated from within because “resulting” from the nature of things. If we replace, for example, the traditional concept of God, explained in an infinity of episodes, by a concept where it is only a question of power or being, it becomes possible to tell the following story, of an implacable logic, failing to be interesting and validated by tradition: “Either God is unique, or he is multiple. If it is multiple, these multiple gods are either equal or different. If they are equal, they are like citizens of a city – that is, they are not gods. If they are different, some are inferior to others and therefore cannot be gods (because the power of God, which is its only characteristic, has no limits). God is therefore unique.”
These stories, which Feyerabend says were later called “evidence”, imposed a new vision of “the great variety of traditions”.
For the variety of traditions posed a problem in Plato’s time. This problem can be simply said: How to convince people that the extraordinary character of the tradition cited as an example is not a pure affirmation and that it corresponds to a reality? How can we encourage the victims of this new mania not only to suffer it for want of an alternative, but to bully themselves of their own free will?
One possible answer is to indoctrinate people, to prevent them from having access to other traditions. But the discovery of “narratives moving towards an end” has provided proponents of a narrow conception of things with another answer in the form of a much more powerful tool, namely proof (or argument). What is proven is not imposed on the student, it stems from the nature of things. “Thus opened for the intellectuals of ancient Greece a new and extremely fertile possibility to find the truth among the divergences of traditions.”
“Of course, it was a mistake. The fact that concepts can be assembled and form a story tells us nothing about things themselves…”
The uselessness of this new way of thinking was very early understood and criticized. This is particularly true in medicine. Faced with the appearance of concepts rather than practices, doctors were outraged: “the concepts proposed are certainly simple, but they do not correspond to anything. They only make sense by making the link with the practice they are proposing to replace. “Feyerabend quotes a text attributed to the “Kos school doctors”: “Some doctors and philosophers claim that it is impossible to know anything about medicine without knowing what man is; that to treat patients well, it is essential to start by learning this. But this question is a question of philosophy [therefore abstract thought, not medical practice]; it is the domain of those who, like Empedocles, have written about the science of nature and what man is from the beginning, how he was created and from which elements. I think that everything that philosophers and doctors have been able to say or write about natural science has nothing more to do with medicine than with painting.
3. This evidence has led to an accumulation of results.
These results posed new problems which in turn generated analyses. This was the beginning of an abundant development. “Success makes us famous and arouses curiosity, even if it is in fact only a profusion of absurdities that do nothing to solve the problems encountered in the various disciplines…”.
Schools were founded,” explains Feyerabend. “It was no longer a question of “truth” or “reality” – shock troops made up of students with unwavering resolve, gathered around the craziest ideas. »
Aristotle played a leading role in re-establishing (at least in part, Feyerabend tells us) the link with common sense and with existing disciplines.
“For this, he used, among other things, a method that has kept rationalism alive to this day and that is described as regressive: abstract concepts, the great pride of rationalists, are detached from their abstract context and linked to practice; they are given new impetus, which translates into new discoveries. Successes are generally not delayed, not because one has remained faithful to the reason present in the early abstractions, but because one has been reasonable enough to proceed in an irrational manner. »
History is full of “reasonably irrational” approaches, Feyerabend tells us. For example, the hybrid practices of doctors in Alexandria. Or Newton, who takes an intuitive approach to the question of the three bodies. Or Einstein, who does not study previous theories (mechanics, thermodynamics, electrodynamics), but uses approximations. This form of approximation-based argumentation was later established as a method by the pioneers of quantum physics. One thinks here of Niels Bohr’s informal arguments.
In summary, Feyerabend writes: “I would say that the first condition imposed on scientific thinkers for material representation is to use abstract concepts and to present evidence (or arguments) based on the laws that apply to those same concepts. This condition does not give access to “reality” or “truth”, it introduces at most a new conception of reality, that is, a new style, and it is rarely satisfied in the matters dear to these thinkers.”
3 | The use of rigorous audit methods
Finally, those who defend the singularity of science put forward the argument of verification. Science is unique because it uses rigorous verification methods.
Feyerabend’s rebuttal is twofold. First, the audit methodology is not absolute. Second, it is not rigorous.
Why isn’t it absolute? Because she belongs to the scientific style! In the second post, we saw that the rules of the scientific intellectual game vary from one style to another. That is what led to the conclusion that we were in Riegl’s configuration and not Vasari’s. Among the rules of the game, there are of course the principles of verification. If then the method of validation varies from one style to another, his empire is that of the will that gave birth to it. She cannot have any pretensions outside of this will. Feyerabend takes this reasoning a step further by stating that the rules of the scientific game “not only establish a division between science and the arts, but aim to highlight the objective character of science and, in general, rational thought. »
Why isn’t she rigorous? Because there are many examples in the history of science where the method of scientific validation has not been used, or not completely, or not rigorously. This is what Feyerabend calls “reasonably unreasonable” approaches, which we have discussed above.
4 | Conclusion
Science cannot claim any singularity except that which scientists have affirmed on their own will. The arts and sciences are similar. They are like different pieces of fabric on a huge patchwork of styles. The surface is common even if the intellectual rules vary.
Of course, we have said it: the number of people who have helped to weave the piece of science is considerable. Science has been practiced in our societies for so long that this piece largely dominates all others in extent. But not in value. There is no justification for science to be hegemonic in its will to embody the truth of the world.
We are coming to the end of the three-note series. The nail in the coffin of reasoning remains to be hammered. If the arts and sciences live on the same surface, they are similar. If they are similar, then art can be said to be a particular science and vice versa. Why does Feyerabend title his book “Science as Art” and not the other way around? The answer can be found in the conclusion of his book:
“If our time naively believed in the salutary power and “objectivity” of the arts, if it did not establish a separation between art and the state and granted generous grants to the arts based on tax revenues, if it made the arts one of the main subjects taught in schools, if our time, on the other hand, held science as a field of playful activity where players could choose one or the other of the games offered according to their mood, it would of course be just as relevant to stress that the arts are science. But unfortunately we do not live in such an age.”
Back in August! I wish you a great summer.
Crédit photographique : Christian Puta sur Unsplash
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator