Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Multiple Sciences. From ¨Ethics. What We Still Know After a Skeptical Age¨

Urban morphology analysis based on fractal geometry. By Myriam B. Mahiques
Whatever I´ve written about urban morphology, is strictly based on interdiscipline. I´m copying here almost all chapter of ¨Multiple Sciences¨ -p. 50- from the book ¨Ethics. What We Still Know After a Skeptical Age¨, by Charles Siegel (Berkeley, California, 2009) as I consider it very important for any researcher in the field of urban morphology.
¨As physical determinism became more influential, however, the nineteenth century developed the new sciences of economics and evolutionary biology, which began to rival the claims of physics to be the totalizing science that could explain everything. Marxists claimed that the laws of economics were the key: we could
understand a society’s ideas about politics, about ethics, and even about the physical sciences as an intellectual superstructure that was based on that society’s economic substructure. Marx himself was unclear about the status of the physical sciences, but by the beginning of the twentieth century, there were Marxist pragmatists who argued that there were no objective sciences, that even sciences such as physics could all be explained as the result of economic interest and could be true only in the sense that they were historically successful. Evolutionists claimed that theories of Darwin were the key to understanding everything. Herbert Spencer said that the development of the stars from diffused gas, the development of animal species, and the
development of human societies, could all be explained by using the same basic law – the natural tendency to evolve from simpler, less differentiated forms to more complex and differentiated forms. Undifferentiated clouds of gas evolved into systems of stars and planets. One-celled organisms evolved into animals with specialized organs. Primitive societies where people all performed the same economic roles evolved into modern societies where people perform specialized economic roles. During the twentieth century, Darwinian pragmatists argued that human intellect is another trait that people evolved in order to survive, so it does not give us any objective knowledge: even sciences such as physics can only be true in the sense that
they are useful for the success of the species. There have been at least three sciences which philosophers claimed were the one key to understanding the universe: physics, economics, and evolutionary biology. But these three sciences have different laws, and the laws of one cannot be reduced to the laws of another. It should be clear that each of these sciences is based on a different body of observations – which means that each theory explains only some of our observations, and none explains everything. (....)
Today, individual sciences are discovering their own limits. Chaos theory has shown that we cannot predict precisely the behavior of complex systems, and quantum mechanics has shown that there is a random element
to physics. These developments in physics have exploded Laplace’s idea that the laws of physics could let us predict the future, even the future of systems made up purely of matter in motion.(...)When we look at all the different sciences that exist today, it should be clear that each science chooses a body of observations that it can make sense of. Physics, evolutionary biology, and economics have become sciences because each has a theory that explains the observations it deals with, but they can do this only because each focuses on its own subject, on the one piece of the universe that it can explain, and ignores many other things that we observe. For example, physicists look at the behavior of inanimate matter, not at animal behavior or human behavior.
Today, physicists are working on what they sometimes call a “theory of everything” that would unify relativity and quantum theory, but despite the name, no one believes that this theory could let us predict future human
behavior or predict future political developments. It is hard for us to imagine that, in Laplace’s day, many philosophers and scientists thought that Newtonian physics could, in principle, let us do just that: they thought that predicting future human history is the same sort of problem in physics as predicting future eclipses of the moon, except that it requires more data and more complex equations.
Today, we should be able to see that none of the sciences can explain everything. Each has picked out a mind-sized chunk of our experience to explain. Each has picked out its chunk precisely because it is a chunk that we are capable of understanding.¨
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