Excerpts from Introduction to Third Phase Transition: Solving The Anthropocene Crisis
On problems of integrating science
“The crucial methodological weakness in natural sciences’ way of approaching the problem of scientific integration is twofold. On the one hand, they tend to apply to complexity levels where they are not applicable, their own reductionist methods. Methods that had served themselves so well, in advancing theoretical science of physics, chemistry, and biology, as well as in revolutionising technologically applied science, prove to be too primitive, if applied to overly complex contexts. Transfer of their own methodology of reductionism, to the study of complex systems, unsuitable for that degree of reduction, has not proven fruitful.
Typically, such reductionism claims that everything can be described and completely conceptually determined by mathematics. Alternately, it might be argued that only objects that can be studied experimentally and in laboratory isolation, or at least be observed and measured externally, may lead to scientific conclusions. Such a view implies leaving the independent variable of the Anthropocene crisis to complete randomness, as a non-explorable topic. That is, the central research issue of our time is abandoned.
On the other hand, this uncertain situation has sometimes led natural scientists to admittedly transferring their own solid concepts – like for example ‘ecology’ or its ‘resilience’ – to the social domain without fundamentally re-determining them. This has resulted in conceptual corruption and confusion.
Alternatively, and for lack of better, they have tended to adopt uncompleted, corrupted, failed, or outmoded concepts and theories of disciplines treating human society, when cross-disciplinary requisites have presented themselves out of the very research questions. Most typically some variety of neoclassical economics or political science has gotten inserted into the quasi-synthetic models, attempting integration. The global market of abstract capital has often been invited wholesale, masquerading in nineteenth century worn-out conceptual outfits, to rule the house of scientific integration. Thereby, the loss of scientific integrity has made scientific integration impossible. Only a mishmash has resulted. The perfectly destructive impact of the global financial markets might be euphemistically presented as a wonder of ‘self-organisation,’ as a culmination of natural historic evolution at this planet… or even in the universe (like with some simpletons of ‘complexity theory,’ impressed by the mathematical sophistication utilised, for optimising abstraction of opportunity rent).”
“Social sciences, the arts and humanities, have met their proper methodological impediments, which also could be described as twofold. Most basically, its degree of difficulty derives from the subject matters being so complex that reduction after the fashion of natural science’s success cannot be useful. Nevertheless, the risk that concepts might be corrupted, due to the bare complexity of its object, has often led social researchers to try applying natural science’s mathematical reduction standard to its own basis.
Since civilisation had proven mathematics to be humanity’s most powerful, precise, simple and abstract method of reproducing reality by reduction, this had produced a compelling force. In natural science, the fascinating elegance of mathematics had produced wonders of knowledge, predictability and technological advance. In social sciences, mimicking natural science, when applied abundantly for explanatory purposes, rather than as supportive sets of statistics for illustrating probability, mathematical formulas have not proven successful even in forecasting.
Of course, economics is the foremost case in point. And it has hardly been likely to cause astonishment, that exactly this false expectation of scientific precision by mathematical reduction, should become so irresistible within precisely economy, the practical application of which had demonstrated precision in exchanging of scarce resources for thousands of years. Nevertheless, mathematical reduction would prove of limited value, even in forecasting how human cooperation would come to develop within this narrow field.
The complexity of human society, however, is finally becoming apprehensible, by its tangible collision with the natural world it is part of. This is critical. Social science can no longer run away from the fundamental postulate, where its actual point of contact with natural science is situated – human nature, as it can and should be understood through the natural historic origin of the species, its social development, and eventually its natural historic impact.
Secondly, social sciences in class society had constantly run the risk of getting proposed concepts corrupted, not only in the internal meaning of conceptualisation failing because of false determinations, irrelevant arguments, invalid interpretations, corrupted data, causal misunderstanding, shaky reference to correlation, unfounded conclusions, et cetera. Even greater has been the risk of corruption in the externally social sense of spontaneously adapting to dominant social interests, thus one-sidedly dis-approximating social reality. This had been unavoidable. Nothing else could be expected, for as long as class society constituted the formal level of association, corresponding to the rate of cooperative development historically achieved. This had remained the normal state of things during human civilisation. Consequently, the study of our own species is not properly adapted to the new situation, where class society cannot continue to exist.
The habitually sloppy comparisons of human cooperation to animals and their instinctual interaction amongst them do no longer hold. Nor does continuous reduction of humans and human consciousness to individual substrates. Research routinely influenced by state powers’ and exploiting classes’ habitual way of perceiving humans can no longer deliver. Specific cults or stigmatisations around some divisive social identity, typical of class society’s social fragmentation, have become reduced to waste of time in an urgent situation.”
“Approximation to the Anthropocene crisis narrows down to a tiny spot in universe. The domain of crisis solution’s independent variable is a given. Determination of its natural historic character is acute, but that should be a problem already solved. The basic scientific principle describing humanity, including its origin and its present state, evolving into the magnitude of a rapidly changing planetary socio-natural law, should no longer be contestable. It cannot be anything else than the first-, second- and third-order approximations to human nature. Humanity is a cooperative species. Its basic scientific principle is its self-organising right of association. This principle it now confronting its global life crisis.”