The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."
Showing posts with label scientism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label scientism. Show all posts

Monday, December 27, 2021

The Rise and Fall of Scientism. Do we Need a new Religion?


What is religion, exactly? Hieratic monks singing their hymns? Fanatics performing human sacrifices? Old ladies praying the rosary? Pentecostals speaking in tongues? It is all that and more. Religions are not old superstitions, but part of the way the human mind works. They are communication tools designed to build empathy in society. 

You surely noted how a new religion is being born right in front of our eyes. It includes a complete set of sacrifices, rituals, canons, saints, prayers, and competition of good and evil. It does not officially include the belief in an all-powerful God, but it worships an abstract entity called "Science." We may define it as "Scientism."  

I am not a religious person, not normally, at least. But I recognize that religion can be a good thing. It is a life hack that gives you a moral compass, a code of behavior, a social purpose, a dignity, and support as you go along the various passages of life. For some, it also provides a path to something higher than the mere human experience in this world. So, I am not surprised that many people have embraced Scientism with enthusiasm. 

The problem is that there are evil aspects of religion. Witch hunts, human sacrifices, fanatic cultists, the Spanish inquisition, suicide bombers, and more. Even moderate religions, such as Christianity, can be perfectly evil when they try to scare you into submission, or use force or deception for the same purpose.

So, what kind of religion is Scientism, good or evil? It may be both as it keeps changing and adapting to an evolving situation in which humankind is facing enormous challenges, from resource depletion to ecosystem collapse. Scientism may be understood as a desperate, last-ditch reaction to these threats, but it may well worsen the situation. It is normal when humans try to control complex systems. 

In the following, I propose to you my thoughts on this point. Sorry that it is a long story (some 5000 words). I am also sorry that it is focused mostly on Christianity in Western Europe -- it is a subject I have studied in some detail and I will use ancient Roman history as a mirror in which to see our own future. But I do believe that what I propose is valid also for other regions and other religions. 

1. Christianity: the first universal religion

In 250 AD, Emperor Decius issued a law that obliged all Roman citizens to make public sacrifices to the traditional Roman deities, including the Emperor himself as a living God. Refusal to do so enticed stiff penalties, even death. The government spared no effort to make sure that nobody could escape. The sacrifice had to take place in the presence of witnesses and a public officer would issue a "libellus," a certificate attesting that the sacrifice had been performed. 

We have a detailed description of these events from Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, who tells us in his "De Lapsis" how the Roman authorities played on the responsibility of the Romans toward the state and their fellow citizens. This tactic of persuasion had a certain success: many Christians lapsed into idolatry rather than face death or ruin. But but some resisted and offered their lives as martyrs (witnesses) of the Christian faith. Cyprian himself was martyred in a later persecution ordered by Emperor Valerian (*).

At that time, the Roman state was still able to impose its will by brute force, but that did not last for long. Decius' reign lasted just two years. Later on, Valerian was captured in battle against the Persians  and it is said that he was used as a human footstool when the Persian Emperor Shapur 1st mounted his horse. A few decades later, the Roman Empire was ruled by a Christian Emperor.

If Christianity was so successful despite the effort of the state to stamp it out, there must have been good reasons. It was, mainly, because it was the first truly universal religion, at least in the western side of Eurasia (on the other side, Buddhism came centuries earlier). Before Christianity, there had been nothing like that: the term "religion" was applied mainly to cults of local deities. 

During their expansion phase, the Romans were playing the syncretism game, a term that implies combining different beliefs and mythologies. That is, by the way, the probable origin of the term "religion" that comes from the Latin verb ligare, meaning "tie together." The Romans dealt with the cults of conquered regions by asserting that the divinities worshiped there were the same as in Rome, except for having different names. So, the Greek "Zeus" was supposed to be the same entity as the Latin Iovis (Jupiter), and they went on matching every foreign divinity with its Roman counterpart.   
For the Romans, religion was no marginal element of their culture. They attributed their successes to their proper behavior and reverence toward the traditional Gods: it was the concept of "pietas." So, it was important for everyone to perform the sacrificial rites and refusing to do that was a serious crime. Cults that were seen as incompatible with this view were considered evil and suppressed, and their followers could be exterminated. That was the destiny of the Druids, for instance, accused of performing human sacrifices by Roman propaganda. The early Christians were also seen in this way, including the usual accusations of human sacrifices and cannibalism.
The Roman approach to religion worked reasonably well up to the 1st-2nd century AD, when the Empire started to show signs of decline.  As it is typical in all declining societies, the result was to attempt to solve the problems by using more of whatever had caused them. Religious rites became more and more focused on supporting the state. The Empire was gradually turned into a military dictatorship dominated by an elite concerned only with keeping their wealth and their power at the expense of everyone else. 

Christianity arose as a response to these totalitarian trends. It was an attempt to protect the poor and the dispossessed by giving them the dignity that comes from being members of the ecclesia, the community of the faithful. That surely was a highly subversive idea. Christians claimed that the Emperor was not a god and that even the Emperor had to submit to an all-powerful supernatural entity: the Pantocrator, the creator and the ruler of the universe, the one and the only God. 

In a certain sense, Christians were trying to use the holy books, the Bible and the Gospels, to impose what we call today a "constitution" on the Roman state. While God was theoretically even more powerful than Emperors, at least he was not mad, cruel, or a pervert, as many emperors turned out to be. God was good by definition and, later on, would be characterized in Islam as benevolent and merciful.
Countering the excessive power of the Roman elites was a badly needed idea, but not easy to put into practice. Against the repression of the Imperial police, a powerful God was needed, a pantheon of many deities just wouldn't have worked. The Stoic philosophers of that age had been already playing with monotheism, but never tried to transform it into a mass phenomenon. Christianity, instead, did exactly that. It was a triumph of social engineering performed by a single man: Paulus (Saul) of Tarsus. 

Paulus was a Jew and he created Christianity as a sort of "Hebraism light." As many religions of the time, Hebraism was not universal: it was the religion of the people of Israel who had entered a covenant with their God. But it was a special religion in its claim that there was only one God and that all the others were illusions or evil spirits. Paulus' genius was to pivot on the Jewish religious tenets to promote monotheism as a form of universal religion. Christianity could be embraced by anyone, independently of their ethnic origin. Paulus also eliminated several of the requirements of Hebraism: Christians did not need to go through the painful and risky ceremony of circumcision, nor they needed to respect special dietary rules. 

Once created, Christianity became a powerful social tool. Not only it could oppose the excessive power of emperors, but Christians could create low-cost governance services exploiting their capability of creating communities on the basis of shared beliefs rather than on law enforcement. Even after the collapse of the Empire, Christianity maintained an organization that mirrored the disappeared state: the Pope was the equivalent of the Emperor, Bishops played the role of the bureaucrats, the clergy were the army, and so on. 

Christianity continued to dominate Europe throughout the Middle Ages. It started waning with the Renaissance, when the European governments found that it was an obstacle to their plans of worldwide expansion. The "controversy of Valladolid" saw European states and the Christian Church fighting over the status of Native Americans. States wanted them as slaves, the Church as devout Christians. The Church won the debate, but it was a hollow victory. It started an irreversible decline of Christianity that continues to this day, when states seem to have decided to replace it with scientism -- a new secular religion that dispenses with many details, including "God." It is a long story that needs to be told in some detail, starting from understanding what exactly "religion" is.   

2. Religion as a Technology for Large Scale Empathy Creation

The interactions among humans are based on "empathy." It is a wide-ranging concept that includes many facets of human behavior but, in any case, without empathy, humans cannot work together and cannot accomplish anything. Chuck Pezeshky gives us a basic definition of empathy:
[Empathy] is a stacked, nested complex phenomenon. It’s not simply ‘feeling’ for someone, or even worse, ‘feeling sorry’ for someone. That’s sympathy. And it stacks through our automatic, emotional and cognitive centers. Empathy, and how it manifests itself, is THE information coherence function for humans, and consequently, social networks. It, dependent on the level of development of the individuals, is the nuts-and-bolts of how the collective over-mind functions. 
Pezeshky lists five levels of empathy, from the lowest ("automatic") to the highest ("immersive"). The lowest level has military overtones of obeisance to orders, you do what you are told to do, or what you see others doing (marching in goose steps, for instance). The highest has some aspects of communion with others at the same global level -- you do what you think is good for everyone to do. 

These are interesting elements describing how humans interact with each other. But there is a basic requirement implicit in all these levels: empathy is possible only as long as people can understand each other. For that, they need a common language. 

The problem is that language is a local tool or at best a regional one. In ancient times, if you walked just a few hundreds of miles from where you were born, you would find yourself surrounded by people who couldn't understand a word of what you were saying -- and the reverse was also true. It was a problem known from the time of the tower of Babel. 
Now, how do you build an empathic feeling with people whom you cannot understand? Not easy, and it is no wonder that the ancient termed all foreigners as "Barbarians," meaning those people who speak "bar-bar," nonsense. 

Barbarians can be fought, kept away, or killed. But it is also true that a living follower is worth much more than a dead enemy. So, the problem for kings and emperors was how to rule over people who didn't understand their language. It is the problem of governance that we might consider as a state-wide form of empathy. 

One possibility for large-scale governance is to use international "trade languages," such as the koinè of the ancient Mediterranean region. These languages are powerful networking tools, but it is expensive to train people in a language that is not theirs and that most of them won't ever be able to master completely. And it is not easy to build a high-level, empathic relationship using a language that you don't master as well as a native speaker.

A solution to bypass the problem is to use non-vocal communication methods. It is a very ancient idea: if you find yourself surrounded by strange people who don't speak your language: what do you do? Before modern times, there were only two ways: 1) use gestures, 2) offer gifts. 

About the first possibility, gestures, it is remarkable how some forms of body language are universally known: a head nod, for instance, means "yes" practically everywhere in the world. From that, you can build entire languages based on gestures, as the Native Americans used to do. Of course, there are limits to the complexity of the message you can pass using gestures, but in some cases, a gesture may become a ritual

Think of making the sign of the cross: it is a simple gesture, but also a statement of what you are, what you believe, and to which group you belong. You can do that also dressing in a certain way, another form of symbolic communication. There is no specific reason why wearing a black shirt should define you as a "Fascist," but it is normally understood as exactly that. The same is true for a whole universe of flags, hats, lapel pins, and other dress accessories.  

A set of religious rituals is called "liturgy" from the Greek word leitourgia, which can be translated as "public service." Indeed, the key feature of liturgy is that it is public. It is an event where all the participants publicly declare that they belong to a certain social group and their adhesion to a set of beliefs. 

In a liturgy. it is not necessary for the faithful to know the language of the clergy and not even that of the other members of the congregation. It is enough to join with gestures and dances, and, in some cases, by chanting or reciting sacred formulas -- without the need of understanding them. Think of how, until relatively recent times, Catholic Christians would recite formulas in Latin during the mass, even though most of them didn't understand Latin. Liturgy may also involve complex manifestations of collective behavior, public prayers, abstaining from some specific foods in specific periods, performing sacrifices (meaning, "making sacred"), and more.   

Sometimes, liturgy also involves penance, a typical way to show that one is serious in proclaiming his or her beliefs. It may mean fasting, discomfort, or self-inflicted pain. It is typical of young religions when they face stiff opposition from competitors and from the state. The early Christians were sometimes asked to renounce their life to promote their beliefs. The early martyrs were a powerful factor in the diffusion of Christianity in the Roman Empire. 

In addition to liturgy, a religious group may develop a governance superstructure formed of the people who can understand the cult's sacred language: they may be called "priests," "imams," or "initiates". The result may be a structure called "church" (from the Greek term ecclesia, meaning the assembly of the believers). A Church is a more complex entity than religion and not all religions have it. Islam does not, but in some secular religions, such as Fascism and Communism, the Church took the name of the "Party."

These structures have been common empathy creation mechanisms over a few thousand years of human empire. The most diffuse religions in the world, Christianity, Islam, and others clearly state that all humans are the same in front of God and so they tend to generate a "horizontal" or egalitarian form of empathy. Not that the assembly of the faithful (the ecclesia) is truly egalitarian, but at least it tends to avoid excessive inequality: everyone is supposed to be equal in front of God.  

As you see, religions are complex and multi-faceted entities, far from being just old-styled superstitions. They respond to deep needs of humans to create empathy in complex societies. They are an innovation that appeared in history only in very recent times: just a few thousand years ago after hundreds of thousands of years in which humans lived in small groups of no more than a few hundred individuals. We are still trying to adapt to this new way of living, and religion may be a help or a hindrance. It is evolving with us all the time, and with the other complex entity that evolves in parallel: the state.  

3. State, money, and empathy

States and religions have similar aims, but different ways to put them into practice. Both aim at creating empathy-based governance systems. But whereas religion is based on liturgy, the state is based on money. 

Monetary economies and the associated states arose from the ancient tradition of gift-giving. With trade becoming widespread, metals started being used as a compact and portable form of commodity. We have evidence of metal trading as early as in the 3rd millennium before our era. From the 6th century BCE, coinage became a diffuse technology in Eurasia. "Money" soon acquired the form of standardized metal disks, gold or silver coins, with an impressed image that guaranteed their title and their value. These coins were a practical form of communication even among people who did not share a language. 

Already in ancient times, money and the state were strictly linked to each other. The state produced precious metals from mines and minted coins. The state also levied taxes, so it got back from the citizens the money it spent. It is the same nowadays, even though money is not anymore based on metals but it became "currency," an entity created by obscure virtual processes carried out by the "financial system" on behalf of the state. The triad of money, markets, and the state has been the powerhouse of human social systems during the past 5,000 years, and it still is. 

Spending money is the way to communicate to others your status and your power (nowadays,  it is called "conspicuous consumption"). The beauty of the idea is its universality. In ancient times, gold or silver-based money was recognized in all urban societies in the world. It made it possible for wealthy Romans to purchase precious silk from China (a habit that eventually ruined them, but that's another story). 

If we see human society as a complex network of nodes (single human beings) linked to each other, we can say that money is a "vertical" kind of empathy, that is a one-directional kind of communication where someone gives orders and someone else executes them. Money tends to generate a hierarchy simply because people have different amounts of it and those who have more money tend to rule over those who have less. Inequality tends to increase as states go through their cycles of decline (and, as Seneca the Stoic said: growth is sluggish, but ruin is rapid).  

Over history, young states tend to be strong and growing, and their rulers often think that they do not need a religion, except as an ornament to their glory. When these strong states enter into a conflict with a religion, the latter is nearly always the loser. The reason is simple: if you want to fight wars, you need soldiers. And soldiers need to be paid. So, you need money, and in order to have money, you need a state. It is the control of the money that gives the state its military strength. 

Religions are not so good at waging wars. From the time of the warrior monks called parabolonoi of the 5th century AD (those said to have killed the Pagan philosopher Hypatia in 415 AD) to the modern Japanese kamikaze pilots and Islamic suicide bombers, at best religions have been able to line up bands of aggressive fanatics, but nothing like a professional army. Even the Templar Knights, supposed to be elite warriors were easily defeated and exterminated by the king of France when he decided to get rid of them, in 1307. But there is no need for states to recur to brute force to subdue religions. Religious leaders are easily corrupted and turned into government employees. 

The interaction between state and religion goes through cycles of dominance and interdependency. When the state is strong, it tends to dismiss or suppress religion. When the state goes through a phase of decline, money is expensive to produce and, more than all, in order to work there needs to exist a market where those who have money can buy something. If the economy collapses, money disappears. And, with it, the state. Then, religion appears as a cheaper form of social networking and the state discovers that it needs to enlist it as support in order to survive. Over time, the state may become so weak that religion takes over as the structure that manages society. It happened when the Western Roman Empire collapsed. 

These cycles tend to repeat themselves and we may now be in a situation in which the declining power of the state generates the necessity of new forms of religions. The one that seems to be emerging out of the battle of memes is called "Scientism."

4. The rise and fall of Scientism

Scientism arose as a set of ideas related to the rapid economic and technological developments of the Renaissance. The founder is often said to have been Galileo Galilei, who found himself in conflict with the Catholic Church and underwent a minor form of martyrdom -- as it is fit to the founders of new religions. 

At the time of Galileo, during the 17th century, the Church still had the upper hand in the conflict, but things changed with Charles Darwin and his idea of evolution by natural selection, in the mid 19th century. Soon, European leaders found that a distorted version of Darwinism could be used to justify their worldwide dominance. The idea that Europeans were a superior race, destined to rule all the others grew into an official position of several governments during the 20th century, with some of them actively engaging in the extermination of "inferior races" and unfit individuals as an act of racial hygiene. Of course, Darwin never ever remotely intended his ideas to be understood in that way, actually, they are perfectly compatible with the Christian religious views. But that's the way the human mind works.

Scientism gained enormous prestige during the 20th century. Nuclear weapons became Scientism's paradigmatic divinities. The associated spectacular liturgy of powerful explosions menaced (and in two cases obtained) human sacrifices on a scale never seen before. In time, Scientism moved into an even more powerful set of rituals, those involving the modification of the very nature of human beings, also called "genetic engineering." 

Yet, up to relatively recent times, Western states maintained a dalliance with Christianity as their state religion. But things are rapidly changing as the Western states reach the limits of the natural resources they exploit. It is a condition that normally goes unrecognized, but its effects are clear to everybody. The increasing costs of exploitation of natural resources appear in the form of deep financial troubles. 

So far, the cure to the problem has been "fiat money," that, unlike precious metal coins, can be created out of thin air. We may be running out of minerals, but for sure we won't ever run out of virtual currency. The problem is that without a market, money of any kind is useless. And a market needs resources to be created. That's the unsolvable problem faced today by the Global Empire.

At present, money is being progressively siphoned away from the commoners to the elites, who still have access to a market and can continue playing the game of conspicuous consumption (very conspicuous, nowadays). At the same time, the number of those who have zero money, presently known as the "deplorables," increases. Lockdowns are used to give the surviving members of the Middle Class the illusion that they still have money and that it is just a temporary situation that of not being able to spend it. But a larger and larger fraction of the population is being pushed out of the economic system into a limbo in which they survive only as long as the elites are able and willing to provide doles for them. And nobody can say for how long.  

The ultimate inflation occurs when there is nothing you can buy, money simply ceases to exist (or, if you like, its value becomes zero). With it, there goes the "vertical" empathy network that keeps the state together. And the state disappears. We are not there, yet, but this is the moment in which the state desperately needs the support of religion. And it seems that Western states are dumping Christianity for Scientism, by now officially the state religion almost everywhere in the world. (**) 

Scientism has been so successful in this new role because the state has been using its brute force in the form of mass propaganda to exploit the basic characteristic of all religions: creating empathic bonds among people who don't understand each other's language. The complexification of society has created specialized fields of knowledge that use different, mutually incomprehensible jargons. Scientism links together all the resulting Babel under a single banner, "trust science." Reliance on the "experts" replaces the need for understanding different sets of ideas. 

The result is that the faithful are not required to know anything of the complex rituals performed by the adepts. In fact, scientists abhor the idea of "citizen science" and they tend to believe that Science must be left to scientists only. Lay people are asked to express their acceptance of the new religion by participating in a liturgy that involves jabs, face masks, social distancing, hand sanitizing, and more.

The new liturgy seems to have been remarkably successful: the faithful are genuinely convinced that they are doing what they do as a service to others. It is the magic of "horizontal" empathy. People like to help others, it is a built-in behavior of the human psyche that has been hijacked by the creators of the new religion. Scientism, as it is now, is a remarkable success of social engineering. 

Unfortunately for the promoters of Scientism, there are enormous problems with their idea. One is that it can be defined as a "granfalloon," to use Kurt Vonnegut's term for "a proud and meaningless collection of human beings." Even though many people see the new liturgy as a service for others, Scientism's rituals need to be imposed by the government by means of stiff penalties.  It is the same as when the Roman Government imposed sacrifices to the Emperor on pain of death. We haven't arrived at that for the disbelievers of Scientism, so far, but we are clearly sliding in that direction. 

A religion that needs to be imposed by force is doomed from the beginning. It means that it cannot create a stable kind of horizontal empathy" natural for human beings. You cannot create it on the basis of the idea that humans are filthy, germ-carrying bags, that need to be kept at a distance from each other or locked in cages. And masked people cannot really speak to each other, they are only expected to receive orders from above. It is a brutish form of "vertical" empathy, based on the powerful giving orders to the powerless.  As it happened at the time of the Roman persecutions of Christians, people may lapse into formally surrendering in order to survive, but they remain ready to toss away the veneer of political correctness on the first occasion. Scientism may be already starting an irreversible decline, pushed down by its own supporters who bombard people from TV screens with sentences such as "trust science." 

Another enormous problem with Scientism is that it requires years of training for the adepts ("researchers") to make them able to perform the complex liturgy required ("scientific experiments"), also because they need expensive liturgic equipment ("instrumentation"). The whole contraption is simply impossible to keep together in a society that's rapidly sliding down to economic collapse. 

The Catholic Church lasted for nearly two thousand years, Communism (that the Italian Catholic writer Lorenzo Milani termed "a page torn out of the Christian books") lasted less than a century. Will scientism last more than a decade? And if not, what will come afterward?


5. The future of religion

You see in the image a group of Italian workers in the city of  Trieste protesting against the restrictions imposed by the government, this October, before they were dispersed by the police using hydrants, tear gas, and sticks. Note how some of them were holding a rosary in their hands. Not usual for protesting workers, normally supposed to be godless leftists. But you see how things change: some old ideologies have completely lost their grip on the people they were supposed to represent and now we see old values and ideas re-emerging. This image shows how Christianity may return to its original form of a way to protect ordinary people from the excesses of a totalitarian government. 

Of course, at present, Western Christianity has taken a completely submissive stance in front of the onrush of the triumphing Scientism, but that may change in the future and there is evidence of the growth of a new strong opposition. It is the same for the other major world religions, Islam, Buddhism, and others. 

Then, there is the possibility of new forms of religion. Gaianism is a movement on the rise that includes some elements of ancient Paganism, and the same is true for the Wiccan movement. Right now, these are mostly intellectual fads. Especially Gaianism seems to be making the same mistakes that traditional churches are doing, that is subservience to Scientism. Unless we develop a strong and compelling Gaian liturgy, Gaianism risks becoming little more than a public relations agency for companies involved in greenwashing. Right now, Gaia works as influencer for an Italian chain of supermarkets. 

What we need is a higher form of empathy that involves relations not just among human beings, but among all living creatures as well. Maybe it could take completely and unexpected new forms: religion is, after all, is just a tool to attain empathy and enlightenment. So, could we perhaps revitalize Scientism returning it to its original meaning "natural philosophy"? Not impossible but not easy, either. Centuries ago, St. Francis tried to revitalize a corrupt Christian church by eliminate the very source of corruption: money. It didn't work, but today there are proposal to replace money with forms of "social credit" which are not controlled by the state, at least not directly. So, how about using Google to create empathy via social credit? Could the new religion be called "Googlism?" Who knows? At the very least, a religion should defend us, poor human beings, from the tiranny of governments. 

Or might it be that we could go along without any form of religion and be what we are and we have been over our history? Simply human. Imagine! 

h/t "Il Pedante," Chuck Pezeshky, Michael Dowd

(*) On September 13, 258, Cyprian was imprisoned on the orders of the new proconsul, Galerius Maximus. The public examination of Cyprian by Galerius Maximus, on 14 September 258 has been preserved.
Galerius Maximus: "Are you Thascius Cyprianus?" Cyprian: "I am." Galerius: "The most sacred Emperors have commanded you to conform to the Roman rites." Cyprian: "I refuse." Galerius: "Take heed for yourself." Cyprian: "Do as you are bid; in so clear a case I may not take heed." Galerius, after briefly conferring with his judicial council, with much reluctance pronounced the following sentence: "You have long lived an irreligious life, and have drawn together a number of men bound by an unlawful association, and professed yourself an open enemy to the gods and the religion of Rome; and the pious, most sacred and august Emperors ... have endeavoured in vain to bring you back to conformity with their religious observances; whereas therefore you have been apprehended as principal and ringleader in these infamous crimes, you shall be made an example to those whom you have wickedly associated with you; the authority of law shall be ratified in your blood." He then read the sentence of the court from a written tablet: "It is the sentence of this court that Thascius Cyprianus be executed with the sword." Cyprian: "Thanks be to God.”

(**) Note that scientism as state religion is the political opposite of "Technocracy." In a technocracy, science dominates the government but in this case the government dominates science 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

The Collapse of Scientism and the Rebirth of Science


The oldest image (1228-1229) we have of Francis of Assisi (1182 – 1226). Not a portrait, but probably not far from the real aspect of Francis. He engaged in a bold attempt to reform the corrupt Catholic Church in Europe. He failed, but he left a trace in history from which we can still learn much. In our times, the corrupt organization that we need to reform is Science, turned now into a state ideology to oppress people and destroy nature. Maybe we need a new St. Francis to reform it, or maybe it needs to be dismantled and rebuilt from scratch in a new structure. Here, I discuss this story and I also reproduce a post by Luisella Chiavenuto (a little long, but worth reading) who has perfectly understood the situation and proposes that what we call "science of complexity" is a completely new kind of science, different from the old Galilean version.

By Ugo Bardi


With the turn of the 2nd millennium in Europe, the Catholic Church had gone through the involution that's typical of all large organizations. It had become huge, bureaucratic, corrupt, and inefficient. A once idealistic and pure organization had been defeated by the arch-corrupter of everything human: money. 

Earlier on, Europe had emerged out of the collapse of the Roman Empire as a lean, non-monetized society that had no impulse to grow and conquer outside lands. But the re-monetization of Europe started when rich silver mines were found in Eastern Europe with the turn of the millennium.

At that time, Europe was bubbling with a new wealth, a new assertiveness, a new way of seeing the world. Once you have money, you can have an army. Once you have an army, you can search for enemies. And once you have enemies, you can attack them and make more money. With the first crusade, started in 1096, Europe started its transformation from a sleepy peninsula of Eurasia to a military and financial machine that would engage in the conquest of the world. It succeeded at that over half a millennium of conquests. 

Against all this, a man surged. His name was Francis of Assisi (1182 – 1226) and he perfectly understood the root cause of the corruption: money. In Francis's view, money was the "Devil's Dung" and neither himself nor his followers would touch it.

It was a bold plan to reform the Church from the inside. The impact of Francis was enormous on his contemporaries, so much that we still remember him and love him. But, ultimately, he and his followers failed. Money is a truly powerful demon. 

In 1517, nearly three centuries after Francis, things came to a head when Pope Leo X authorized the sale of indulgences in Germany. Selling salvation for money was too much, and it was then that Martin Luther nailed the text of his 95 theses on the door of a church in Wittemberg. 

It was the start of the decline of the "Catholic" ("universal") Church that ceased to be universal at that time. It survived for a few centuries as a regional Church, until it was replaced with scientism as the founding myth of the Western world. The decline seems to be complete nowadays with empty churches and bewildered flocks, terrorized by TV scientists predicting doom for them. It is the triumph of scientism.

But things never stand still, cycles are always ongoing, and the triumph of scientism already shows signs of decline. Science is corrupted from inside by the same demon that corrupted the Church in the late Middle Ages: money. 

It is a tall order that of reforming such a huge and entrenched organization as science is nowadays, but for everything there comes the day of reckoning; redde rationem villicationis tuae: iam enim non poteris villicare. (Luke, 16:2)

So, we need to reform science to turn it from a support for the oppression of humankind to what it was at the beginning: "natural philosophy," which means "love for the knowledge of the natural world," not "knowledge for destroying the natural world" as it is understood in the "scientism" paradigm. In short, we need a human science, otherwise it is not science.

In the following, a post by Luisella Chiavenuto who perfectly understands these points and describes them in detail. It is not impossible to reform science and see its rebirth in a new form. The key point is that the science of complexity is a new science, very different from the old Galilean science. We need to recognize this difference and move onward to tackle a new world using new instruments.


The Paradigm of Scientism and Complexity

By Luisella Chiavenuto -- Translated and condensed from "Umanesimo e Scienza"


We live in a period of rapid change and redefinition of any kind of identity, including scientific identity. It is no longer just a matter of a normal scientific debate (which has become more and more impossible) but of a real internal split in Science.

The scientism paradigm was based on the research of domination over nature - and more and more on its reprogramming, according to the interests of humanity - for a certain period has improved the conditions of life.

Then the trend reversal started. And now the main planetary problems are caused and aggravated by the current techno-scientific model that reached the height of its power and at the same time the peak of its unsustainability, in every sector.

A model in which almost all of what we call "Science" is merged with technology and economy - so as to be inseparable in every aspect. And the large transnational corporations are dominated by the transversal power of the IT corporation.

It is a model in which the war against "the human" - and within the human psyche - tends to replace the physical war. The planetary battlefield is now our feelings and our cognitive - and epistemological - patterns.

However, there is also a new, emerging model based on a radically different scientific and cultural paradigm that proposes a science capable of self-criticism, and a technology that is more humble and friendly to the Nature that sustains us - and to our own human nature from which we are constituted.

The clash between different scientific models

The two models, the dominant and the emerging one, thus give rise to two different scientific methods - based in turn on two different worldviews and visions of the knowledge process.

In the case of the dominant paradigm, scientism, knowledge derives from an exclusive use of scientific rationality, which considers truth preeminently, if not exclusively, only that which is "measurable," and to be pursued only what is conveyed by increasingly powerful technologies, with immediate and sectorial effectiveness and whose negative effects at a distance of time and space are not - in principle - taken into account,

The philosophy on which this type of science is based is declaredly neo-Scientism, therefore for certain important aspects, it is in relation of continuity with the Cartesian paradigm. The interpretative metaphor adopted is that of the world seen as a network of computers interconnected and guided by the computational cognitive model - within a technocratic and reductionist conception of the concept of "system".

This model of science is proposed as an exclusive model, based on the principle of established authority, i.e. the major international and local scientific institutions - within which, however, there are also different positions, although marginal ones.

In the case of the emerging paradigm, on the other hand, scientific rationality becomes one of the possible cognitive dimensions - assumed, therefore, not to impose themselves, but to integrate harmoniously with the other cognitive faculties from which we are constituted: the historical and social dimension (historical experience, philosophies, social disciplines ...) and the symbolic dimension (art, music, literature, spirituality ...)

The philosophy at the base of this emerging paradigm can be defined as a vision of reality based on the concept of complexity of unlimitedly stratified interconnected systems. The interpretative metaphor is that of the world seen as a living organism, in which each element is constitutively connected and interdependent on the others.

It is a vision that leads to the concept of symbiont, which means forms of life not only physically associated, but that evolve together in a co-evolution. The concept of phylogenetic symbiont in turn leads to the concept of holistic symbiont - with infinite levels of stratification, in turn, included in a universal Totality.

This model of science is proposed as an inclusive model, based on the principle of freedom of thought - It also includes the Dominant Paradigm, but in a relativized form, that is subjected to radical critical revision and placed within a wider conceptual framework.

The dynamics of the paradigms

In synthesis, we can say that we are seeing a clash between the scientism paradigm and the paradigm of complexity.  Of course, these are abstract concepts, useful for orientation. Moreover, they must be considered as "paradigms" by their very nature composed of different elements: only the combination of these elements - and of their historical roots - can provide a valid criterion of judgment.
In particular, the concept of "System" is very important for both paradigms, but it is conceived and developed in a very different way. This is due mainly because the two paradigms have origin from cognitive models so different that they can be defined as substantially opposite to each other. But the boundaries between these paradigms are never traced in a clear-cut stable way.

Rather, they are osmotic, contradictory, and fragmented processes that unfold over time, giving rise to a "dynamic of paradigms "  taking place simultaneously on a historical scale and on an individual scale, that is, in the realm of the personal psyche. Finally, and increasingly frequently, the keywords of the scientific and political debate undergo a process of mimicry, through which their meaning is turned upside down.

Sometimes this reversal occurs through the deliberate use of advertising techniques - sometimes it is the result of a confusion of thought. The line between the two is blurred, and often very blurred.

The Current Crisis

In this period, we have witnessed an epochal nemesis of the enlightenment reason. With a unilateral and unrestrained development, technoscience has definitively reversed itself into its opposite: an obfuscation and a radical repudiation of rationality itself. Having severed any link with the complexity of life, this approach becomes structurally obtuse.

A good fraction of the political and economical sectors make use of this obfuscation of reason by using the crisis and the implosion of scientific thought for power purposes - or sometimes of declared impotence. In turn, they feed a market of technological products in which the military and civilian sectors are structurally intertwined, as it was from the beginning. Every macro-economic sector is by now structurally interwoven - and dominated - by the companies that manage the backbone of IT tools.  (The new era of epistemic dominance).

The information corporation, being a network of power transversal to all the great corporations (energy, financial, material, cognitive, and media) - unifies them and allows similar cultural and political lines shared on a planetary scale. These convergent choices occur both through deliberate and centralized public decisions - and through processes of involuntary "systemic" automatism, parceled out and not made explicit.

State Science, therefore, proposes solutions that are dead ends. That is, it imposes a framing in hyper-sectorial complications, deadly for the social, economic, and ecological fabric - and for the human psyche. This framing is deadly for the very concept of humankind and civilization, because
- through the practice of misdirection/distancing/masking - is eroded at the root of the bond of mutual trust between people, which is the foundation of the human interaction.

Moreover, the pact of trust between citizens and institutions is also eroded, because with the health passport, and the like, it is established that basic human rights are granted only to those who accept the decisions of the State, which can suspend human rights on the basis of health conditions (all sick until proven otherwise) and behavior in the most personal choices (denying the freedom of care - and so the way is paved for any subsequent abuse).

For over a year now, the State has been heavily entering the private and emotional life, the choices of the most intimate sphere and the very body of all people, without limits and without counter-balances. Hence, also, the need to resort to a surrogate of religious faith - in science and in vaccine miracles - to be able to support what is not sustainable with a reasonable use of reason.

Moreover, all the premises (scientific, legal, and customary) remain in place for the same model of management of the epidemic to be proposed again at the seasonal resumption of variants, or other threats. Finally, this approach seems destined to become the basic political-scientific model, usable in its basic lines to face all emergencies.

So not only the upcoming health threats but also the climate emergency, much more impressive and complex, - as well as the crises of energy and food resources, also related to overpopulation - and caused by an economic model centered on the destruction of essential resources: land, air, water, and natural and social ecosystems. A model that imposes the massive increase of every technology in every field. 

The suspension of human and constitutional rights, increasing computer control for political purposes (Chinese style social control), and the dehumanization of life, in every field. That is the New Normal, presented, and believed by many, as an inevitable choice. But, in addition to confusion, in this madness, there is also a method, whose paradigmatic constants can be recognized.

Recognizing this method can help us understand (in part) why the vast majority of the scientific, academic, and intellectual world has adhered to an irrational and failed description and management of the pandemic.

The Knowledge Process

In this context, the "Humanism and Science" website - and the related Association - propose to use the strong and difficult energy released by the crises, directing it towards a new culture of complexity,
through a dialogue - self-critical and integrative - between science and humanism.

In a similar way, an integration between the different dimensions and cognitive languages from which we are constituted as individuals has also sought: the rational dimension, the historical-social dimension, and the symbolic dimension.  
This progressive integration can lead to qualitative leaps, to changes of great intensity in personal and collective life. (Of course, the interaction described here is only a "method", and as such can have different outcomes, depending on the purposes and the general vision of those who practice it).

In this site, we deal with ideas, art, and music: not to create entertainment but on the contrary to look for creative interaction, a mutual influence that brings depth, beauty, and harmony in the process of research and knowledge - both personal and collective.

The basic orientation can be condensed into Dostoyevsky's phrase: "Beauty will save the world". Remembering also the meaning of the word "beauty" in ancient Greek: kalòs, which means at the same time "Beautiful, True, Good".

It is an orientation that, however, does not forget the ambivalence of Nature, with its dual aspect of "mother and stepmother". Awareness of the seriousness of systemic breakdowns - both ongoing and future - can, however, join with a vision of life that is not exhausted within what we commonly define as "physical reality."

In turn, this shift may imply a Metanoia, or even a "repentance," not in the superficially moralistic sense, but in the etymological meaning of the terms: a profound change of thought, of concrete life, of vision of the world and of oneself - a change provoked by restlessness, by pain, and by a crisis with no apparent way out - but also provoked and sustained by an intuition of happiness and intensity of life,  presented as real and endowed with intrinsic truth.

In order to identify this kind of truth, one can resort to a concept that is often misrepresented in its original meaning, and which can be summarized by the word "Transcendence" - in a meaning that does not devalue immanence, but rather includes it in a more infinite and indefinable horizon.

The Evaluation of Time

With this horizon open to the dynamics of different cultural paradigms, one can understand the fascinating complexity and the (critical and self-critical) encounter between humanistic culture and scientific culture. And the necessity of such an encounter to illuminate with a new light, and at the same time an ancient one, the ethical choices to which we are called. Dramatic choices that seem to lack, literally, a ground on which to base themselves.

In fact, the scientism ideology is based on the devaluation of the past - in the name of the magnificent fates and progressions of Technoscience, capable of solving all problems by increasing its power. In this way, it implements a split from the past, closing itself to the possibility of learning from historical experience. That is, it precludes the possibility of seriously understanding our cultural roots - through a revision that is critical, but - even before being critical - capable of studying and grasping their deepest meaning.

The result of this split (which is also a split from our deepest psyche) is the present poverty in cultural and human depth, radically alien to any form of charm, beauty and depth. The foreshadowing of the future is thus delegated, mainly, to the literary genre of science fiction - in which the technical power of reshaping nature usually appears as a nightmare, or at least an obligatory solution, and in turn the generator of new and greater nightmares.

However, in the immediate future, technoscience offers ephemeral solutions of "safety," and its social consensus on that.
The Ideological side

Scientism as an ideology is proposed as a faith that often borders on the religious exaltation of man's power over life, a substitute that fills the void left by traditional religions - a form of "fundamentalist" exaltation - blind to any warning of the Nemesis in action.

But the collapse of intellectual and ethical credibility of the Scientism ideology causes a consequent strengthening of its authoritarianism, even if it coexists with a strand of theories and practices, including neuro-technologies, self-declared as having a "democratic" purpose).   

In the Emerging Paradigm, instead, the past-future opposition is overcome, and the intimate link between the past and the future is grasped, both on the level of ideas, and on the wider, life-giving human level. This link can also be defined as a sense of "nostalgia".  Nostalgia for the past combined with nostalgia for the future, that is, desire and hope.

These are much more than just feelings: they are powerful archetypes. endowed with great creative energy - indispensable for a life that is not mere survival of the body, and for this reason constantly on the verge of suicide for lack of horizons and meaning.

"... I was a fireplace, inhabited by flame.
Invaded by a subdued and burning joy.
I was not just a stone fireplace,
but a messenger
Of lost Confidence.

A messenger of the indefinite Hope
That abandoned in the smoke, rises ...
Wounded and powerful in its pain,
rises to cover the roofs
and the distant rocks... "

Luisella Chiavenuto June 2021


- Plato "Dialogues"
- F. Capra "The Turning Point" - T. Kuhn "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions".
- U. Bardi "Seneca Effect"  "Who is the Emperor of the World?
The new era of the epistemic dominion"

Friday, April 23, 2021

Everything is Illuminated: The New Middle Ages

 The Enlightened Middle Ages: Prepare for a New Way of Running Society

The concept of "back to the Middle Ages" is becoming more and more widespread. Indeed, we must begin to think seriously not so much about a "return" to the Middle Ages but a "New Middle Ages" that takes its best features from the old, in particular the management of society based on justice and not on violence, the decentralization of governance structures, the economy based on local resources, and economic stability (although not of the population). That's why I have renamed my Italian blog "Electric Middle Ages." Here is a translation of a post that Luisella Chiavenuto published first in "Humanism and Science", where she goes to the core of the problems we face nowadays. (boldface highlights are mine).


By Luisella Chiavenuto

Despite its success and power, the credibility and dignity of science are at an all-time low. It is no longer a question of opposing only the management of the covid crisis, but also - and at the same time - opposing a scientistic and dehumanizing technocracy that in the absence of opposition will not step back - regardless of the covid and its variants. In a context of evaporation of jobs, the social order will most likely be based on an extended citizenship income - and subordinated to certain social behaviors. This is to maintain minimum levels of consumption and consensus - and combined with further development and updating of the current economic model - which is destroying the web of life everywhere.


The perspective is therefore long-term: resistance and elaboration of new models of thought and social organization, aimed at rediscovering the cultural roots of the past, and at the same time oriented towards a future with a human face - in which theoretical and practical knowledge intertwine and they evolve freely, without space-time preconceptions.

It is also important to support the political transversality of intent, which to a small or large extent already exists in people, within every organization. This is to slow down systemic collapses, thus giving time to the emergence of organizations that are radically different from the current ones. And remembering that this transversality exists above all outside parties and institutions - in the majority of the "politically desperate".

To allow maximum flexibility - and "ontological" confidence - in responding to the systemic collapses in progress, one can perhaps think of a sort of "enlightened Middle Ages" in which - to quote A. Langer (note: Langer was an Italian ecologist and intellectual) and others before him - all this is sought which is "slow, sweet and profound" - in a context of material poverty that will be for many an obligatory and painful condition, but at the same time an opportunity for a different rebirth.


In summary, one could speak of resistance against a Technoscience devoted to the bioinformatics and bioengineering reprogramming of nature, and of life, in all its forms - a techno-knowledge in the grip of a delirium of omnipotence and exaltation, in its dark and desperate background,

A new Humanism of Complexity can be opposed to this Reductivist Technoscience, which also includes the best of scientific thought - but on a level of equal cultural and political dignity. And with the awareness both of the greatness, and of the dark side, and of the crimes, which are woven into all cultures and all cultural currents - obviously including all contemporary ones. A Humanism of Complexity, therefore, based on a Wisdom that can be defined as non-dual, as it is oriented to the recomposition of the fractures that cross and fragment our life, our psyche, reality in all its interconnected levels.


Therefore, the clash between opposing cultural paradigms must be, at the same time, also a human and intellectual encounter between people where possible - and beyond the impossible - to overcome and recompose the lacerations. This also means supporting both the freedom of movement for everyone in every place, and the freedom to remain in their land and culture of origin. Ultimately, it means striving to radically overcome the friend/enemy dichotomy, and having the courage to speak of empathy and universal fraternity, as an ethical and political ideal - within a horizon of collaborating bio-diversity.

Ethical ideal, but also intellectual acquisition, unifying and not naive - capable of attempting global and local responses to problems that can only be faced on both interconnected sides. Are we up to these tasks? Obviously not, nobody is, it is useless to insist .... and then we can be - and do - what we can and can, accepting our limits.  But also considering that we are a mystery to ourselves and that therefore our individual and collective resources are ultimately unfathomable, like life itself.

Luisella Chiavenuto April 2021