‘In the tide of time there have only been four absolutely fundamental physical theories: Newtonian mechanics; Clerk Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism; Einstein’s theory of relativity, and quantum mechanics’ – David Berlinski, The Deniable Darwin
IN DANTE’S Inferno, Hell is, counter-intuitively perhaps, freezing cold. In the 9th Circle the Devil is entrapped in a lake of ice. An imaginative inversion of what we normally take Hell to be.
Clearly the 14th century Italian poet didn’t get the memo from UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, for whom the Hell we currently suffer is boiling hot. Or if he did get it, perhaps he binned it. I wouldn’t blame him.
There is, of course, another difference between the two Hells: in Dante’s conception you know you’re in it; in Guterres’s diagnosis you need to be told you are. Some ‘Hell’ that is.
I jest of course. Guterres claim is not that we are currently in Hell, more that we are on the road to it. And that the diesel-fuelled vehicle we are travelling in is called ‘complacency’: a stubborn and bewildering refusal on the part of you and me to recalibrate, or rather abandon, our lives in accordance with the instructions of ‘settled science’. An inexplicable refusal to genuflect at the altar of the Climate Change Sanhedrin.
You’ll notice that we have been here before. Restrictions imposed during the ‘Covid pandemic’ were also justified on the grounds of an alleged scientific consensus. It’s tempting, perhaps even irresistible, to think that lockdown was the rehearsal and that incoming climate-related restrictions (and they are incoming)the main event. An amplification of the tyranny. A bit like when a thug tries his hand at assault before graduating to murder.
It’s easy to establish a consensus when the grown-ups are excluded from the discussion. And such a consensus is not really worth the candle. In fact, it is normally injurious to a genuine search for truth.
I refer you to the quotation at the top of the piece. For context: David Berlinski is a polymath who has taught philosophy, mathematics and English at universities including Columbia and Princeton. He’s the real deal and a genuine maverick whose genius is confirmed by the fact that he’s been sacked from every academic position he’s ever held.
The four foundational theories he references were in the main constructed by geniuses whose creativity was enabled precisely by their cultivated indifference to the ‘settled science’ of the day.
The point of the quotation is this: that there are hard sciences and there are those which occupy (how can I put it?) somewhat less exalted positions within the academic hierarchy. At the top of that hierarchy sit mathematics and mathematical physics. Somewhat lower down you’ll find evolutionary biology. In the bottom tier you will encounter the model-based ‘sciences’, predominant amongst which sits climate science, which prioritises the acquisition of research grants over the spirit of genuine inquiry.
It is the bottom-tier sciences which are presuming to reach into your life and snatch away those small things which make it worth living. And it is those scientists who, like the bully who targets the smart kid, are keen to dismiss the real scientists from the discussion. The most recent example of which being the cancellation of John Clauser, a Nobel Prize-winning quantum physicist who, unlike Greta Thunberg, clearly lacks the academic credentials necessary to participate in the debate.
So, here’s a suggestion. Instead of trotting out the ‘science isn’t settled’ commonplace, those of us who are lockdown/climate change sceptics should concede that there is a scientific consensus but one which has been manipulated by the second-rate grifters who have bastardised genuine science in service of a pre-conceived, disastrous political and social agenda.
As Berlinski argues elsewhere, the making of predictions is always a mug’s game. If somebody had been asked in 1912 what the next 50 years would bring, they would not have predicted the world’s infection by the evils of two wars, genocide, the development of weapons of mass destruction and the rise of fascist and communist tyrannies.
It’s similar with science: it is always rational to incline towards scepticism in the face of model-based predictions predicated on second-rate (and that’s generous) contemporary scientific orthodoxy.
The government-selected virologists and behavioural charlatans who locked us in our homes and the climate change grifters who grow increasingly wealthy through the promulgation of fear are blind to the natural rhythms of human life. For them the only worldview is the reductionist one.
But the human condition cannot be reduced to a graph. For most of us there is more to a human life than mere survival. The moral imagination of a Dante will always trump the drably monochromatic worldview of a Guterres or a Gates.
It is always a mistake to conflate scientific and technological advancement with moral progress. If I were offered a place in 14th century Florence, I’d be sorely tempted, given the current state of things, to accept it.