Wednesday, 21 March 2012 17:16

Western Science Is a View Of Reality, Not Reality Itself

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This essay says that we do not know what reality is; that in the meantime folks posit their ideas of what reality is and behave accordingly and obtain attendant results. It sees Western science as the most successful construct of reality so far made by human beings but says that we still have to seek better views of reality, those that do better than Western science does.*

Western Science Is a View Of Reality, Not Reality Itself

Ozodi Thomas Osuji

Western science is predicated on certain assumptions about the nature of reality; the assumptions are that separation of one thing from another is real; that energy is real; that matter is real; that space is real and that time is real.  The empirical world, the world we see with our naked eyes is seen as real. Having accepted the validity of the perceptual world the West then studies it, discovers its laws (as in scientific principles and the mathematics of them) and devises technology to manipulate those laws to make living pleasant for Westerners.

Clearly, Western science has been very successful; look around and see the improvements to the human condition that science has wrought. Because it has made such tremendous improvements in our lives it is difficult for folks to accept that science is a presupposition of what reality is and not reality itself.

Western science is a belief system; it is a belief about reality; if you believe in it and work it you get results attendant to your beliefs.

On the other hand, if you do not believe the preconceptions of science and do not find them meaningful understanding of reality hence do not work them you would not obtain positive results.

Africans and black folks in general do not do well in Western science not because science is very difficult (actually, science is very easy to understand; the average person can understand physics, chemistry and biology if he really puts his mind to studying them) because they have different presuppositions of what life is all about.

In my perception of Africans and black Americans I see folks who seem to think that the reason for their living is to seem important in their eyes and each other’s eyes. The black man seems motivated by desire for prestige rather than by desire to understand the workings of nature and manipulate it. A Nigerian could care less about the universe, galaxies, stars, planets, moons and how they originate and work; his primary interest is to seem like he is a very important person in his eyes and in his fellow Nigerians eyes. Make him feel important and that is all he asks from life.

If Africans valued understanding nature and studied it they would do as well as other people but generally their minds are not in science hence they do not do well in it, but give them opportunity to seem important and their genius comes out.

Why do Africans want to seem important, anyway? Western psychology would say that it is probably because they feel inadequate and inferior and want to seem superior and powerful.  Existential philosophy would say that they confront a meaningless world and feel meaningless and want to mask that sense of meaninglessness and nothingness with pseudo sense of meaning, the silly meaning given by sense of importance; by pretending to be important they hide the fact that their bodies are mere meat to be eaten by other animals when they die and rot and smell worse than feces.

However, what psychology and existentialism say apply to other races of humanity so why do Africans seem particularly invested in trying to seem important to the point of not trying to understand the makeup of their world?  I do not know the answer to that question.

What I do know is that the typical African I talk to does not seem even slightly interested in trying to understand the world he lives in at the scientific level; Africans seem preoccupied with efforts to seem prestigious persons.

If in doubt perform this experiment. Randomly select three Africans and three white kids (say, in their teenage years). Separately talk to each group about the makeup of the stars, how stars fuse hydrogen into helium and the nature of stars in general. The chances are that the three white kids would pay rapt attention to what you are saying; the three black kids would yawn and seek other things to do; it is as if you are wasting black folks time talking to them about scientific matters and they would rather go do something else that they deem better use of their time, such as something that would make them seem very important in their eyes and in the eyes of their fellow black folks (to the rest of the world they are seen as unimportant).

Simply put, Africans are invested in seeming existentially and socially important whereas Europeans (and to some extent, Asians) are invested in understanding their world in a scientific manner. The result of these two different approaches to phenomena is the differences in the two groups living condition; those interested in science become rich whereas those interested in mere appearance of importance stay poor (unless Africans figure out ways to sell their people to Arabs and Europeans or steal from their people, as contemporary African leaders do so as to obtain the means of pretending existential and social importance, they generally remain poor).

My goal here is not to worry why Africans are invested in childish attempts to seem important when clearly they are not but to make the point that science is a paradigm of reality, a view of reality that is not necessarily reality itself.  What reality is we do not know?

Without knowing what reality is we posit presuppositions as to what it is and how to go about understanding it and behave accordingly. We have belief systems about reality and behave accordingly and as we behave we obtain results.

The West makes the presupposition that reality is composed of the empirical universe we see with our eyes, the apparent objective world of space, time, energy and matter we see; having decided what reality is Westerners resolve to study that world through the scientific method and do not entertain any other methodological approach to studying it. What they believe as real is real for them and they obtain appropriate results.

On the other hand, one could believe that the universe is a unified place, that there is no space, time, energy and matter in it, that to the extent we see those we are dreaming and seeing what is not there, that the world of multiplicity we see is an illusion. If one negates the world of separation and acts accordingly one experiences a different reality, so says Hinduism. Hinduism tells us that there is a formless world of union, a world we can only attain if we negate the world of separation we see with our naked eyes.

Africans, unlike the West or East, simply want to seem important in their eyes and do not worry about the nature of the world, transcendent and temporal.

Is the Hindu world of formless union true?  I do not know. Is the Western world of forms and separation true? I see it but I suspect that it is not the real world.  Is the African preoccupation with existential and social prestige…African politicians kill Africans like flies, all in an effort to seem the latest African big man, while seeking respect they have no respect for their people’s lives…real? I do not know what the real world is, do you?

Do you have any problem with my thesis that science is a belief system and a methodological approach to verifying that belief? If you do I would like to talk to you; I would like to show you that everything we do in the Western world are predicated on our view (perception) of reality, which is not necessarily what reality is.

Americans, for example, postulate that man is self-interested (as explicated by Adam Smith’s philosophy in the Wealth of Nations) and that Republican democracy where some rule the many while pretending to rule on their behalf (as explicated in John Locke’s Second Treaty on Government) is reality.  I will like to show you that the American society is based on manmade presuppositions, on social constructs of what reality is but not reality itself.

You could make different assumptions of human nature, appropriate government and construct a different type of society than we have in America.

Simply stated, our existence is predicated on what sociologists of knowledge, such as Karl Manheim, call social construction of reality, and behaviors based on those constructs and not reality itself.

So, I repeat my question: what is reality itself? I do not know what reality itself is; do you know or are you making assumptions about what reality are, unexamined assumptions?

Africans generally do not examine their assumptions but assume that they are true! For example, they talk about their African cultures and religions as if they are self-evidently true representation of reality. Who said that they are true? Africans?  Since when is African opinion of reality what reality is?  If you examined African cultures and religions in objective terms what you see are superstitions that do not even rise to the level of adult discourse on reality!

Let us forget silly ego defensive vituperations about the validity of African cultures and religions and move on to adult discourse. The topic for our present discourse is that Western science is a belief system; if it is a belief system can we then replace it with a different belief system about reality, a new belief system that helps people make the most of their lives on planet earth?

One is not interested in doing what Hinduism did: negating this world and running to a so-called spiritual world; one wants to be in this world and make the most of it and when one leaves this world if there is a spiritual world one would then make the most of it, too. I am here and want to understand the here and now world and make the most of it.

Western science enables me to make some good use of this world but since I suspect that there is another approach to phenomena that would give us even better results I want to understand that different belief system. Those different belief system’s assumptions about reality must give better material rewards than current Western science does for it to appeal to me.

If your belief system does not put material abundance at our disposal and food on our tables please keep it to yourself and don’t even try to tell me about it. I am not interested in superstition but in what works in the extant world.

I am not in the least interested in African religions and cultures for they have shown themselves to be bankrupt: they do not feed Africans and do not prevent African leaders from becoming the criminals in politics they are. The proof of the pudding is in the tasting; if what African culture and religion can produce is the despicable Africans in Africa I say throw them away and let us search for better alternatives to reality and not waste our time talking about going backwards to what did not work in the past (when African cultures and religions did not prevent Africans from enslaving each other or selling Africans to Arabs and Europeans), does not work now (where African leaders are thieves) and will not work in the future (for one’s antecedent behavior tells us about one’s future behaviors and their attendant outcomes).

I am in search for a new paradigm of reality; if you are doing the same thing then you are welcome to my world. Scoundrels take refuge in the past; men of goodwill seek solutions in what works regardless of the time frame: past, present and future (are those even real or are they mere constructs of reality?).  Quantum Mechanics would say that the past, present and future are all taking place in the now, perhaps in different worlds…it will take us far afield to explain how quantum physics reached this conclusion, so let us stop right here.

*Further Reading

Hobbes, Thomas (1651). Leviathan, or the Matter, Forme, and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiasticall and Civil.

Keynes, John Maynard (1936). The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.

Kuhn, Thomas (2000). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Locke, John (1689) Two Treatises of Government.

Mannheim, Karl ([1922-24] 1980) Structures of Thinking. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Mill, John Stuart (2006). On Liberty. New York: Penguin Classics.

Montesquieu, Charles (1748). On The Spirit of the Laws.

Popper, Karl (1959). The Logic of Scientific Discovery. New York: Routledge.

Rousseau, Jean Jacques (1997). 'The Social Contract' and Other Later Political Writings, trans. Victor Gourevitch. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, Adam (1977) [1776]. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.  Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: (907) 310-8176