In defense of science

Mr. Sibarium’s bitter and uniformed critique of Professor Santos’ popular new course, Psychology and the Good Life, can best be described as an intellectual shambles frosted with a thick layer of undergraduate ignorance.  He pours scorn on scientific research into the workings of the human mind, yet paradoxically and inconsistently his declared major is Ethics, Politics, and Economics, a program that according to its website “sponsors interdisciplinary teaching and research in the Social Sciences and Humanities”. (Did he skip all those nasty classes so that he could write op-eds?)

He praises “ancient wisdom” as though we have learned nothing new or valuable over the centuries of scientific research. He complains that untested hypotheses are then accepted or rejected based on data acquired by testing. Are not data the proper and indeed only basis for accepting or rejecting a hypothesis? Perhaps Mr. Sibarium takes solace in the ancient wisdom that slavery is ordained by the gods, that women are inherently inferior to men, and that the Universe was created in six days?

He describes the scientific studies presented in the course as “an almanac of self-evident propositions”. Yet until tested, no idea is self-evident. Perhaps Mr. Sibarium would have us return to the days of Aristotle where it was “obvious” to the great thinkers of that era that heavier things fall faster than lighter things and that the spark of human intelligence is lodged in the liver.

He criticizes Professor Santos’ “ethos” as being “meliorist”, perhaps not understanding the meaning of that word? On the other hand, based on his other comments, perhaps he really does believe that the world can’t be made better through human effort.

Clearly Mr. Sibarium has not read any of Professor Santos’s research or commentary. Otherwise he would not have confused her course on “how to be happy” with her thoughts about the meaning of life, nor would he assert that her world view is “value neutral”.

Finally, certainly there is nothing inconsistent between a subjective feeling of well-being and a meaningful life. Not all of us enjoy wearing hairshirts in order to achieve enlightenment.

James Luce, ’66