Terence McKenna and the Limits of Science
January 12, 2021
Terence McKenna was a philosopher and consciousness explorer who often talked about the limits of science in his talks and his books. He was a critic of scientific triumphalism and scientism. In this article I will expand on his ideas a little more and explore the difference between science and metaphysics. Here are 12 perspectives on the limits of science:
1. Professor Nicholas Rescher wrote in The Limits of Science that the knowledge science gives us is descriptive rather than normative and that science is devoid of the element of personalized evaluation, and is value neutral.1
2. Philosophy of science professor Samir Okasha from the University of Bristol wrote in Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction that questions in philosophy like the nature of knowledge, mortality, or happiness appear non-soluble by scientific means. There is no branch of science that tells us what knowledge is or what happiness means to humans. According to Samir, these are philosophical questions.2
3. Understanding Science founded by scientists and teachers at UC California and Berkley wrote that science doesn’t make moral judgements, aesthetic judgements, and doesn’t tell us how to use scientific knowledge.3
4. Author Bryan Appleyard in Understanding the Present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man wrote that science has always worked diligently to avoid being a religion, faith, or morality, and that it does not make moral judgements.4
5. William Harris from How Stuff Works wrote that the limitations of science are based on the fact that a hypothesis must be testable and that experiments be repeatable, which places certain topics beyond the reach of the scientific method. According to Harris, science also doesn’t make moral judgements.5
6. Author and researcher in cognitive science Jamie Hale in explaining the scientific method wrote that science doesn’t make claims of absolutism and doesn’t claim to have all the answers. The tentative nature of scientific knowledge is one of its strong points.6
7. Professor Susan Haack in Defending Science wrote that science is a human enterprise with natural foibles, and that it focuses on basic things like extending reasoning power, expanding our imagination, and valuing evidence.7
8. Biologist and author Rupert Sheldrake in Science Set Free wrote that science is a human activity and that it is important to recognize it as such so that it doesn’t distort the public’s perception of scientists and the perception scientists have of themselves.8
9. Twentieth century philosopher of science Karl Popper said in in a lecture he gave at Darwin College that it’s important to realize science doesn’t make assertions about ultimate questions.9
10. Philosophy of science professor Stephen Carey in A Beginners Guide to Scientific Method wrote that scientific explanation is focused on the natural world and focuses on things like causes, laws, and mechanisms. He wrote the deep metaphysical questions that have vexed philosophers for millennia will likely not be settled by scientific inquiry. Examples of such questions are why is there something rather than nothing at all? What is the meaning of life? Stephen wrote that this is not a downside of science; it’s merely outside of the purview of scientific inquiry. He went on to write that even if science did create a complete theory of the world, there will still be untouched metaphysical questions.10
11. Physicist Marcelo Gleiser in The Island of Knowledge wrote that science alone won’t answer all questions, and said it is a misguided hope to think that science will. He wrote that to accept the provisional nature of our knowledge is not a defeat, but places science within the fallible, human realm.11
12. Scientist and noble laureate Peter Medawar in The Limits of Science wrote that for questions of first and last things we must turn to metaphysics.12
What are your thoughts on the limits of science? Leave a comment below.
- The Limits of Science by Nicholas Rescher, p. 245
- Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction by Samir Okasha, Kindle p. 122.
- Understanding the Present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man by Bryan Appleyard, p. 9.
- Defending Science by Susan Haack, p. 9-10.
- Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery by Rupert Sheldrake, Kindle p. 292
- A Beginners Guide to Scientific Method 3rd Edition by Stephen Carey, p. 124, 125.
- The Island of Knowledge by Marcelo Gleiser, Kindle Location 281.
- The Limits of Science by Peter Medawar, p. 60.
Appleyard, Bryan. Understanding The Present: Science and The Soul of Modern Man. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Carey, Stephen. A Beginners Guide to Scientific Method. Stephen S. Carey. 3rd ed. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2004.
Faye, Jan. Rethinking Science. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2002.
Gleiser, Marcelo. The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning. New York: Basic Books, 2014. Kindle Edition
Haack, Susan. Defending Science Within Reason. New York: Prometheus Books, 2003
Medawar, Peter. The Limits of Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Okasha, Samir. Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Kindle Edition.
Rescher, Nicholas. The Limits of Science. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999.
Sheldrake, Rupert. Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery. New York: Deepak Chopra Books, 2012. Kindle Edition.