Science’s First Mistake: Delusions in Pursuit of Theory

Co-author(s): Dionysios S. Demetis Bloomsbury Academic - 13 November, 2012 Buy here

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Science’s First Mistake sets out to deconstruct the process of how theories come to be, specifically scientific theories, on the basis of the four concepts: observation, paradox, delusion, and most importantly self-reference. The implications for theory and method are discussed against these four primary and intrinsically interrelated concepts.

Grounded in the tradition of second-order cybernetics, self-reference is used in the context of systems theory to examine the mode in which observation, paradox and delusion become ‘structurally coupled’ with cognition. The book has wide-ranging implications for not only the discovery of knowledge in itself, but also various expressions of knowledge, be they framed by reductionism or causality, and even those grandiosely claiming to approach a form of Grand Unification (as in Physics).

Angell and Demetis build on Niklas Luhmann’s seemingly bizarre words: “The world is observable because it is unobservable.” “The condition of its possibility is its impossibility.” Actually he makes perfect sense. What Luhmann is saying is that categorization, the basis of observation, and hence of the scientific method, is a necessary delusion. Human observation does not allow access to the ‘real world:’ observation is deceived by the linearity inferred in causality. We don’t observe causality in the world; a belief in causality is a necessary prerequisite of observation and cognition. Indeed, without the delusion of causality there would be no observation; observation and cognition are only possible because linearity is erroneously imposed on what is an always complex, non-linear world.

The authors expand on these ideas to step outside the self-referential certainties of science and mathematics to illustrate the absurdities at their core. Science’s First Mistake concludes that so-called academic ‘rigour’ is merely reinforced self-reference, imposed by the power that comes with the utility delivered by the self-reference itself. “This fresh and audacious examination of knowledge discovery and theory construction makes an important contribution to the understanding of how we employ scientific method.”

Comments of two reviewers:

‘Overall, I think this is potentially a very interesting and important book, and the authors are probably two of the very few who would attempt this and that might just succeed. It is clearly somewhat of a risky book for a publisher but as in all such risks the rewards are potentially high.’

Professor Guy Fitzgerald, Department of Information Systems and Computing, Brunel University

‘Excellent and ground-breaking. Very well written. Engaging in reading. It is a much needed and original contribution, which will become a key reference in contemporary academic social sciences thinking.’

Professor Fernando Ilharco, Universidade Catolica Portuguesa, Lisbon