"Theory that does not someway affect life has no value."
Lewis Terman, Genius and Stupidity, 1906
"The complex system approach cannot explain to us what life is. But it can show us how complex and sensitive life is. Thus it can help us to become aware of the value of our life"
Klaus Mainzer, Thinking in Complexity, 1996, p.325
Two of the traditional defining criteria of science are the claims that it is objective and that it is value free. The first relates to the idea that the subjects of science can be independently viewed by scientists, to allow for a consensus opinion of truth, and the second claims that this truth has no imposed human values. Both these claims invoke a view of life that involves dualism and self-deceit. In the first this is between objective and subjective, and in the second between fact and value ('is' and 'ought' - descriptive and normative).
In modern thinking these dualisms are transcended, we see that all measurements involve certain values and there is no dividing line between objective and subjective, all is a matter of degree. By dissolving that barrier we also enable ourselves to include within science many aspects of the human condition which were previously excluded as subjective. We will look here at this extension to scientific thinking, and how it allows us to apply scientific concepts to the complex processes of mind and behaviour.
If we are to avoid disagreement about what constitutes truth then there must be a criterion that does not depend upon personal opinion. For example the statement that "a Rhino has a horn" can be said to be objective, if anyone doubts it they need only look, feel or otherwise check to verify that it is true. Yet even here we cannot exclude subjective issues. The very words 'Rhino' and 'horn' are ill-defined, and can only be regarded as meaningful on the basis of a consensus social definition. Objectivity is thus no more than consensus subjectivity based upon a human viewpoint. What is regarded as truth for humans may not be valid for other creatures or for alien lifeforms which can receive very different sense data.
Truth thus relates to a viewpoint which is species dependent. It relates to the abilities that we have to classify the world, both sensual and mechanical. No truth can be expected to include all aspects of the subject, since our limitations and desires necessarily must select out those aspects to be measured. What is objective and agreed depends as much on the number of people interested in the subject as it does on the possible attributes available to be measured. Facts therefore relate to our collective interests, human and subjective, and the interests of a single scientist are in this sense just as objective as those of a group of specialists or the entire scientific (or human) population.
But these facts are not isolated, they do not exist as separate points in a vacuum. Associations between them make up our conceptual or cognitive maps. When the word 'horn' is mentioned our brain associates multiple different instances of creatures with horns, uses for horns, shapes of horns and so on. These associations impose values on our thinking, relevances that relate to both our past experience and predispositions. These can form a continuum from total indifference (maximum objectivity) to single-minded personal obsession (maximum subjectivity).
Value here is not yet 'ought' in any moral sense, but exists more in the sense of inherent 'meaning'. A fact without associations has no meaning for us, one with many associations has a rich meaning. Thus we can say that the greater our familiarity with a fact (the stronger its presence in our mental world - i.e. the more often that its attractor is entered) the richer will be our associations towards it, and the more significant will be its meaning to us (this occurs due to the strengthening of associations to other concepts within each new context). Meaning relates to what the fact tells us about our universe, in other words what we can do with it, and this is its value.
At higher levels of language our descriptive words already include judgements. These we can call fusion words (Maslow) - e.g. mature, strong, clumsy. These are fuzzy facts referring to a collection of properties and norms. As we move from facts about single objects to more abstract facts about collections of objects it is quite natural for our cultural values to infiltrate our descriptions. In fact this seems to be impossible to avoid, since facts without value are just noise.
Taking two isolated facts and associating them, for example in looking for scientific meaning, requires that we treat them as a combination. Their meaning comes from how they interrelate, as cause and effect (e.g. a gun and bullet combination we might call 'shooting'). If facts are regularly associated in this way then it is common for us to invent a new term or category with which to describe this situation. This is the way that our language develops, the way we classify our world. Fusion combinations of facts evolve into fusion words by association. As soon as we position or rank them within our world we must include values, and this applies whether we call the process science or just life.
We can regard our accumulations of facts as giving us added fitness, on the basis that knowledge is power (Bacon). This we can view as being a static form of fitness, an unemployed form of knowledge - potential gain. If we try to use these objective facts in any way (e.g. by predictions) then we are making changes to our future fitness landscape, and this converts them into the dynamic form of fitness that we call values. Values therefore relate to the use of facts in order to change our fitness, to move us through the coevolutionary landscape.
Science, despite claims to the contrary, is thus not value free. We use facts to produce the equations relating them, and then use these equations to make predictions about the dynamic changes in those facts with time. These predictions are fitness predictions and relate to our interests. We again have a continuum here, between predictions that are of little interest to us (e.g. the path of a nearby planetoid) and those of vital importance (the obliteration of Earth by a collision with that same object). The same facts therefore fuse with our value systems in such a way as to generate and modify our projected fitnesses. Value is a relative fact that varies in significance from zero to infinity.
Given that we do have values in science, then we need to understand just what they are and how they affect our objectivity. We can redefine objectivity here in fitness terms, in that being objective is being able to evaluate fitness in any context without outside bias. Note that we do not use the term 'personal bias' here, since we are formulating a science that should treat equally both external and internal processes. What is outside as an object may be inside for a personal goal, and thus social biases can be subjective when applied to individual objective decisions.
Value relativity is context relativity and we can objectively enumerate this if we wish by explicitly defining the contextual limits. Scientific facts are contextuals, for any experiment only certain ones have relevance (e.g. facts about bees are useless in cosmology). Relevant here is equivalent to valued. Even labels (names) are used with respect to something else and therefore are contextual.
Many of the problems in reconciling facts and values stem from another scientific misconception, the assumption that the world has no direction, that there is no goal towards which we are aiming. Whilst this may be true for the world as a whole, the idea that it is true for the parts also is logically invalid. In any system, the parts may have direction, yet the whole may not (e.g. in a static container all the molecules are nethertheless moving in particular directions). Only if the directions correlate can we say that the whole has direction, and this need not imply a conscious one.
Thus we can allow teleology quite happily at the part level, and in fact this is exactly what the concept of fitness implies. Any choice between alternatives is a choice between fitnesses, and this only makes sense if we employ some values to aid this choice, to define fitness itself. These can be random for inorganic choices (assuming all equally fit), a chemical gradient for say unicellular creatures (one dimensional fitness), all the way up to the complex multidimensional (philosophy based) fitnesses employed by our human species. The direction we take through state space is largely driven by our value related goals and thus by the facts that create these values.
For any fitness decision we must understand the boundaries of the system enjoying those values. This is a quite different emphasis from that of conventional science, where it was assumed that the laws applied to the whole universe, so that truth or fitness was a global measurement. Here we must differentiate many different fitnesses, depending upon how we define our system.
In the first instance we can use the concept of self, thus my fitness depends only upon my own desires and isn't related to yours. Another level adds you in, so we have a joint fitness (needed for example to communicate). Expanding further we can add humanity as a whole, agreeing global ways to operate and to categorise our world (this is the scientific viewpoint). But we can go much further and add, to our externalized and objectified science, the fitness needs of our environment, of other personalities, of collective institutions and of transpersonal needs. All these values can be objectively assessed and must thus be made part of science, extending our objectivity to cover the whole and not just a selected part of reality.
We have seen that facts need to fit in, and within our scientific theories this concerns context, simplicity, consistency, completeness and symmetry - all of which are value laden structures. Adding facts adds connections, and this is what changes value-free to valued (e.g. the facts that location A connects to C, and D connects to B are meaningless, yet when we say also that C connects to D we make a further connection that adds value to the whole - we can then drive from A to B). Facts are thus vectors, not scalars, combining them generates direction - in other words values. Therefore we can see that quests for values are actually fact quests and vice-versa, the interconnections and associations ensure it. Our scientific development is about adding value (fitnesses) to facts, therefore without values science remains static and useless. Knowledge also forces decisions, indecisiveness (valuelessness) results from factlessness, once we accumulate enough information our choices often seem clear, relative fitnesses become apparent.
We can summarise the progression in this way:
These values are universal and objective to the extent that the contexts are, and our contexts vary widely from the global (treated in current science) to the individual (included in value science) and beyond.
In traditional science we often regard experiments as purely material acts. Thus something is regarded as 'science' only in so far as we can perform physical measurements upon it. Yet this is a very limited viewpoint and neglects much of our world, especially that vital aspect that we call mind and which defines science itself. An experiment is really just a way of searching for data and testing it against a theory. Often, before the possibility of a physical experiment, we perform thought experiments (a favourite of Einstein). In this way we model a scenario in our minds so as to check out our theoretical understanding of the subject, the general validity of our model.
Within our abstract thought world all aspects are theoretical, so this form of experiment comes into its own. Such discussions are of course nothing new, philosophy has been around for thousands of years. What we add however here is a scientific valuation. We ask in what way do the various alternatives suggested increase or otherwise affect fitness ? This question moves the issues from a non-scientific to a scientific form - they become testable against our enhanced value criteria. Thus we are able to bring the wider world of the mind under the scientific umbrella, and this involves a change in emphasis from experiments on objects to experiments on processes (which can be non-material).
Given a fitness based science, where fact values relate to contextual fitness, we need to go back to our original dichotomy and consider the relevance of the moral values often rejected in science - the idea that there are certain things we 'ought' to do, regardless of facts. By bringing fitness into the question however we can now take the view that what we ought to do, in any evolutionary circumstance or mode of existence (physical, mental or spiritual) is to try to increase fitness. This is so natural that we often fail to see just how widespread in nature it really is. It permeates physics (energy minimisation), chemistry (reactivity minimisation), biology (survival/reproduction), body (immune system), mind (understanding), technology (cost), society (quality of life). The spiritual or ethical dimension is only a minor additional viewpoint.
"A hypothetical imperative asserts that, if the agent wants this, then, in order to get it, he must do that... and propositions asserting hypothetical imperatives, that if you want this then in order to get it you must do that, must be, in Humian terms, propositions belonging to the is category rather than the ought; that they describe or purport to describe our world, rather than recommend actions which (it is thought) would make it more ideal."
Antony Flew, Thinking About Social Thinking, 1991, Ch.9, 4
Thus 'ought' is only moral in the sense that certain behaviours are said to increase overall fitness and certain others will decrease it. This is an empirical question and relates to long term fitness, taking into account the wider environment and not just a selfish individual. So 'ought' can be said to be a processed or evaluated 'is' within the full context of our universe and worldview - a global fitness measure. In other words, we consider all the facts on the basis that they have values in our attainment of maximum Universal fitness. This 'ought' is the ultimate objective value.
The application of values to scientific work can be illustrated by the following stages:
We have seen that, despite claims to the contrary, our science is heavily involved in values. Facts on their own are meaningless but the associations we make between them reflect our interests and thus our values. Science is no different here than any other aspect of our lives. What we should do however is both to recognise what these hidden scientific values are and evaluate whether they are the correct ones for our overall human purposes.
Crucial to this exercise is to consider the values that are left out of our science, e.g. the human ones. These are critical to our overall fitness, or quality of life, and a science without them remains highly imbalanced. This imbalance manifests itself in a search for direction based on pathological motives (e.g. profit), single-dimensional sets of values instead of the multi-dimensional ones that are actually appropriate to a multi-dimensional species.