Challenges to Comprehension Implied by the Logo
of Laetus in Praesens
University of Earth Alternative view of segmented documents via Kairos

3 February 2014 | Draft

Challenges More Difficult for Science than Going to Mars

or exploring the origins of the Universe or of Life on Earth

- / -

Engaging with the disadvantaged proactively
Scientific resource management
Management of distinctions and boundaries
Wicked problems and the renunciation of science
Management of disagreement and self-reflexivity
Learning from history to reframe the challenges of science?
Metascience enabling upgrades to the scientific process?


Society worldwide is faced with a multiplicity of challenges. It is therefore extraordinary to observe the resources deployed to reaching the Moon, Mars and other planets. And why not other solar systems? A particular focus is given to locating "habitable" Earth-like planets elsewhere -- and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. More extraordinary is the focus on the origins of the Universe, billions of years ago.

The manned mision to Mars is variously framed as being complex and challenging (Richard Cook, Mars Science Lab: the challenge of complexity, NASA Ask Magazine, August 2012; NASA design challenge to simulate human exploration of Mars, Phys.Org, 2 December 2013; Tommaso Rivellini, The Challenges of Landing on Mars, National Academy of Engineering, 2004; Donald Rapp, The Challenges of Manned Mars Exploration, The Space Reiew, 17 April 2006) .

Science is however skilled in avoiding deployment of its creativity -- or justifying allocation of resources -- to challenges that are framed as "too complex" or simply "uninteresting". One relevant review is offered by Jason Pontin (Why We Can't Solve Big Problems, MIT Technology Review, 24 October 2012):

Let's stipulate that venture-backed entrepreneurialism is essential to the development and commercialization of technological innovations. But it is not sufficient by itself to solve big problems, nor could its relative sickliness by itself undo our capacity for collective action through technology. The answer is that these things are complex, and that there is no one simple explanation....Sometimes we fail to solve big problems because our institutions have failed....Sometimes big problems that had seemed technological turn out not to be so, or could more plausibly be solved through other means.... Yet the hope that an entrenched problem with social costs should have a technological solution is very seductive -- so much so that disappointment with technology is inevitable.... Finally, sometimes big problems elude any solution because we don't really understand the problem.

Various industries, including the aerospace industry, have developed particular forms of complexity index (for example, Complex Systems and the Darnall-Preston Complexity Index). In discussing Why is Mars so Hard? (The Space Review), Jeff Foust notes that produced by The Aerospace Corporation (Bob Bitten, Perspectives on NASA Mission Cost and Schedule Performance Trends, 12 August 2009). This identifies when a mission is too fast and when a mission is too cheap -- and concludes that missions that have the greatest complexity, are highest cost and longest development. The Index is framed according to hypotheses including:

Some use is made of such an approach with respect to non-technological initiatives, as with the Economic Complexity Index, a holistic measure of the production characteristics of large economic systems. The concerrn here is the assessment of complexity by science in engaging with a down-to-Earth problem -- by comparison with projects like going to Mars, or promoting high-budget physics projects.

There is a sense in which the specificity of the extraterrestrial -- viewed through cognitive telescopes offering a form of tunnel vision -- is a form of conceptual displacement, readily to be interpreted as social irresponsibility. Efforts are made to correct this impression by suggesting that such exploration contributes to the "advancement of human knowledge". Little is said of how complicit such activity is with placement of satellites and military resources in space -- perhaps to be dubiously recognized as "dual-use methodology".

Perhaps most extraordinary is the recognition of some involved that humanity will need to leave Planet Earth -- shortly? -- in order to occupy the environments in which it can continue to replicate the complex patterns of problems that science has been unable to address on Earth (cf. Clara Moskowitz, Stephen Hawking Says Humanity Won't Survive Without Leaving Earth,, 10 August 2010; John M. Smart, The Transcension Hypothesis: sufficiently advanced civilizations invariably leave our universe, and implications for METI and SETI. Acta Astronautica, 78, September-October 2012). The imagination of the young is harnessed to such escapism. The widely-commented film Avatar (2009) offers many lessons in this regard.

The purpose here is explore a checklist of priorities and related considerations which science chooses to neglect in favour of associating its image with what is far away and long ago as being vital to the human enterprise. This could be caricatured as "cherry-picking", or a quest for "low hanging fruit", as being the most appropriate use of the intellectual resources of science. It could also be questioned as an indication of the subservience of science to vested interests able to influence through funding the direction of research (if not the results required). This neglect is also explored in terms of the renunciation by science of engagement with the so-called "wicked problems" variously explored with respect to planning and governance.

Part of the difficulty lies in an unhealthy interpretation of science by its advocates -- an approach increasingly defined as "scientism". This refers to belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview, or the most valuable part of human learning -- to the exclusion of other viewpoints and approaches. Apologists for "science" have the greatest difficulty in distinguishing it from scientism -- and communicating that distinction. Hence the even greater ambiguity in the case of "scientist". This exploration follows from an earlier argument (Knowledge Processes Neglected by Science: insights from the crisis of science and belief, 2012).

Engaging with the disadvantaged proactively

The institutional environments in which science tends to operate avoid direct confrontation with the disadvantaged -- except on occasion for public relations purposes. Disadvantage is framed as a problem for society and more specifically as a political issue -- considered essentially meaningless from a "scientific" perspective.

Widely recognized examples of disadvantage are illustrated by:

Scientific resource management

The "information silos" within which science operates tend to preclude adequate focus on the challenges of distribution as highlighted by the following:

Management of distinctions and boundaries

As noted above, science offers the extraordinary spectacle of enthusiastically seeking renown through exploring the origins of the Universe and of Life on Earth -- or travelling to the Moon, Mars, or further. These projects are promoted as exciting to the imagination of the young from whom recruits are sought -- even though real jobs may be few and far between.

Using the metaphor of the "sphere of knowledge" which science seeks to develop, it is appropriate to note that in geometry a sphere is an example of a surface which is "finite but unbounded". Understood as "finite", this clarifies and defines the nature of the specific methodology of science. Understood as "unbounded", this suggests that the methodology is in a special sense unconstrained by any boundary to which that methodology may lead. Unfortunately this metaphor obscures the manner in which the situation is quite otherwise. This might be better framed by considering a transformation of the geometrical metaphor within which science operates, namely to: "infinite but bounded".

This transformation clarifies the manner in which science sees itself as free to pursue everything under the Sun, and to the ends of the Universe -- to infinity. However it also highlights the sense in which the methodology is especially bounded in ways which science is unable to recognize -- other than in stressing the primacy of the boundedness of that domain. Understood in this way, science is essentially derivative of that methodology, with consequences which may be argued more generally (Vigorous Application of Derivative Thinking to Derivative Problems, 2013).

Science is unable to envisage the geometrical or topological framework within which other modalities of knowing might coexist, as separately argued (Knowledge Processes Neglected by Science: insights from the crisis of science and belief, 2012). This failure admirably replicates the methodology of religion which science so vigorously claims to replace. Like the mystics of religion, science has its geniuses who confirm the reality of its bounded framework.

This boundary-challenged nature of science can be understood from the examples above of arenas into which science has little inclination to venture -- in contrast with going to Mars. Other examples of boundary challenge include:

Otherness: The argument might be considered more generally in terms of the problematic nature of the engagement with otherness of any kind. This could be characterized by the inhabitual and any failure to conform to explanations accepted by authority. The purported willingness to encounter extraterrestrial intelligence is ironic given the much challenged capacity to engage with terrestrial alternatives. The case is remarkably made by the well-documented reaction of Linus Pauling (Nobel Laureate) to evidence for quasicrystals as presented by Dan Shechtman -- for which he received the Nobel Prize. This is a pattern exemplified by US foreign policy and succinctly framed by Margaret Thatcher as TINA (There Is No Alternative). This pattern, reinforced by science, plays out in such domains as creationism, alternative medicine, or alchemy -- all with otherwise respectable advocates. Science can only trumpet its deprecation, reframing all disagreement as evidence of ignorance of the truth -- remarkably reminiscent of the earlier religious pattern. This is notably evident in the case of indigenous knowledge systems (Darrell A. Posey, Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity: a complementary contribution to Global Biodiversity Assessment, I999).

Planetary boundaries: The challenge to science of such boundary issues is usefully exemplified by the fact that it is only very recently that the environmental challenges to human civilization and the planet have been framed in terms of "boundaries", currently of concern with respect to measureable "planetary boundaries" (Anders Wijkman and Johan Rockström, Bankrupting Nature: denying our planetary boundaries, 2012). This could be understood as a reframing of the "limits" first highlighted by the report The Limits to Growth (1972). The limited capacity of science to respond to the implications of that report are apparent from the study by Graham Turner (A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality, CSIRO, 2007).

Curiously however there is little concern with regard to the more intangible boundaries inhibiting remedial action (Recognizing the Psychosocial Boundaries of Remedial Action: constraints on ensuring a safe operating space for humanity, 2009; Pointlessness, Unboundedness and Boundaries, 2012). This criticism was previously framed with respect to "limits", especially with respect to psycho-social limits (Societal Learning and the Erosion of Collective Memory: a critique of the Club of Rome Report: No Limits to Learning, 1980; Limits to Human Potential, 1976).

No Man's Wasteland: Consistent with the asystemic approach to boundaries, there is an evident tendency of science to export responsibility for problematic outcomes (within any bounded disciplinary domain) across boundaries into a form of "no man's land" -- beyond the responsibility of science. The reinforcement by this pattern of waste dumping engendering environmental pollution has been made especially evident in the case of Antarctic research stations (Human impacts: prevention, mitigation and remediation, Australian Antarctic Division, 27 September 2013; Trash Threatens Fragile Antarctic Environment, Smithsonian, 12 February 2013). It is also evident in the case of the accumulation of space debris as a result of initiatives in which science has been highly complicit. Science is also complicit in the advocacy of questionable dumping of radioactive nuclear waste. The Antarctic case offers unfortunate literal support for the metaphorical need for science to "get its shit together".

Competitive dynamics between explainers: For those otherwise called upon to live in anticipation of the ultimate explanation, or to "buy into" one of the belief systems on offer, it is a question of whether it is wise to sit around waiting for a comprehensible resolution of the competitive dynamics between those authorities claiming competence. As argued by Nicholas Rescher (The Strife of Systems: an essay on the grounds and implications of philosophical diversity, 1985):

For centuries, most philosophers who have reflected on the matter have been intimidated by the strife of systems. But the time has come to put this behind us -- not the strife, that is, which is ineliminable, but the felt need to somehow end it rather than simply accept it and take it in stride.

Framing such competition in a manner little different to that between the marketing of consumer products, or to that between football teams, seems unworthy of the existential challenge with which many are faced -- and of the global civilization within which they dwell (cf. Nicholas Rescher, Ignorance: on the wider implications of deficient knowledge, 2009).

Science upgraded? Especially intriguing is the sense in which science is unable to envisage how its own methodology may eventually prove to be dated, or become increasingly seen to be so. In contrast with the vigour and frequency with which technology, and especially software, is defined as obsolete and needing to be updated, science has no understanding of "Scientific Methodology 2.0" -- perhaps usefully contrasted with the Science 2.0 initiative regarding open research publishing. Despite its engagement with paradox, Scientific Methodology 1.0 is unable to sustain reflection on the emergence of 2.0 -- a new form of conceptware -- or the metalogic through which this might call for consideration. This is despite the long-standing debate on "scientific revolutions". A notable exception is perhaps the focus of a recent special issue (Beyond the Limits of Science, Scientific American, September 2012, special issue). How might mathematics best contribute to engagement with with what is "beyond limits"?

The contrast with the pattern of software upgrading may be provocatively developed (Internyet Nescience? Self-referential upgrading of obsolete Internet conference processes inhibiting emergence of integrative knowledge, 2013). As a caricature, science would tend to imagine its methodology -- in the form of keynote speeches, peer review publication, copyright, roundtables, and the like -- as projected unchanged, millions of years into the future. The scenario of a "conference at the end of the universe" could be adapted from the imagination of Douglas Adams (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, 1980). In such terms, scientific intercourse might be caricatured in terms of a so-called "missionary position" of concept delivery. This icould be considered as accompanied by a degree of concern for "contraception" and sensitivity to the risk of "infection" -- in memetic terms.

Wicked problems and the renunciation of science

As clarified by Wikipedia:

Many problems of society can be fruitfully explored as "wicked problems". The argument here is that science has effectively renounced its engagement with them -- seemingly in the pursuit of higher truth and the purity of the associated knowledge. The disciplines active in the exploration of wicked problems tend to be those which science would not recognize as sciences. The point is well made by the fact that the key papers framing such problems for the explorations that followed (see multiple references) are those of C. West Churchman (Wicked Problems, Management Science, 1967) and of Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber, Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, Policy Sciences, 1973). The term is recognized in the Financial Times Lexicon. The journals subsequently carrying such studies are not those of "science" (for example, Working with wicked problems in socio-ecological systems: awareness, acceptance, and adaptation, Landscape and Urban Planning, 110, 2013).

From the perspective of science, neither "management" nor "policy" is a science, irrespective of any claims made by such authors to be "scientists". Any "wicked problem science" is effectively not to be understood as a science. Confusion is however evident from the response of Jay Rosen, highlighting Wicked Problems, to the 2011 Annual Question formulated by the Edge Foundation: What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody's Cognitive Toolkit?

Rittel and Webber's formulation of wicked problems in social policy planning in 1973 specified the following characteristics:

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good or bad.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a "one-shot operation"; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error, every attempt counts significantly.
  6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
  7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
  9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem's resolution.
  10. The social planner has no right to be wrong (i.e., planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).

The concept of problem wickedness was much later generalized to areas other than planning and policy by Jeffrey Conklin (Dialogue Mapping: building shared understanding of wicked problems, 2006) who defined the characteristics as:

  1. The problem is not understood until after the formulation of a solution.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong.
  4. Every wicked problem is essentially novel and unique.
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a "one shot operation"
  6. Wicked problems have no given alternative solutions.

For John C. Camillus (Strategy as a Wicked Problem, Harvard Business Review, May 2008):

Wickedness isn't a degree of difficulty. Wicked issues are different because traditional processes can't resolve them... A wicked problem has innumerable causes, is tough to describe, and doesn't have a right answer, as we will see in the next section. Environmental degradation, terrorism, and poverty -- these are classic examples of wicked problems. They're the opposite of hard but ordinary problems, which people can solve in a finite time period by applying standard techniques. Not only do conventional processes fail to tackle wicked problems, but they may exacerbate situations by generating undesirable consequences.

For Jon Kolko (Wicked Problems: problems worth solving -- a handbook and a call to action, 2012):

A wicked problem is a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for as many as four reasons: incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems.

Science, especially in the case of mathematics, has long highlighted the existence of unsolved problems, for which Wikipedia offers the following checklists:

The problems in the above checklists are not understood as "wicked". The status of their source disciplines as "sciences" might be challenged in the case of those on the right. By contrast, intractable problems are problems in computational complexity theory that can be solved in theory (e.g., given large but finite time), but which in practice take too long for their solutions to be useful. That theory is also known for its recognition of a so-called hard problem: A problem X is hard for a class of problems C if every problem in C can be reduced to X. Thus no problem in C is harder than X, since an algorithm for X allows us to solve any problem in C.

With respect to the degree of complexity, Alexander N. Christakis (Structured Dialogic Design: a process science for social system design) notes that in situations characterized by "wicked complexity" the normal rules for the practice of dialogue break down. He argues that wicked complexity leads to underconceptualization, specifically that:

In asking "how complex is complex", Christakis defines a Situational Complexity Index as: DK (N-7) / R (R-1) where

  • N = Number of total observations by all observers
  • R = Number of observations included in the problematique
  • V = Number of observations with 1 or more votes
  • K = Number of distinct links among observations

In work related to that of Christakis, but without using the Situational Complexity Index, the Institute for 21st Century Agoras reviews a set of continuous critical problems (Thomas R. Flanagan and Kenneth C. Bausch, A Democratic Approach to Sustainable Futures: a workshop for addressing the global problematique, 2011). Presumably all to be considered by science as "more challenging than going to Mars", these include (emphasizing keywords in highly abridged titles):

  1. Explosive population growth
  2. Widespread poverty
  3. Increase in weapons of war
  4. Uncontrolled urban spread
  5. Malnutrition
  6. Illiteracy
  7. Mechanization and bureaucratization of human activity
  8. Inequalities in distribution of wealth
  9. Insufficient medical care
  10. Discrimination against minorities
  11. Prejudices against cultures
  12. Affluence and its consequences
  13. Irrelevant education
  14. Environmental deterioration
  15. Lack of consensus on alternatives
  16. Failure to stimulate creativity
  17. Deterioration of inner cities
  1. Irrelevance of traditional values
  2. Inadequate shelter and transpiration
  3. Discriminatory income distribution
  4. Wastage of natural resources
  5. Growing environmental problems
  6. Alienation of youth
  7. Disruption of physical ecology
  8. Inadequate institutional arrangements
  9. Limited understanding of feasible remedies
  10. Unbalanced population distribution
  11. Ideological fragmentation
  12. Increasing anti-social behaviour
  13. Inadequate law enforcement
  14. Widespread unemployment
  15. Spreading social "discontent"
  16. Impacts of military power
  17. Obsolescence of political processes
  1. Irrational agricultural practices
  2. Irresponsible use of chemicals
  3. Manipulative use of information
  4. Fragmented monetary system
  5. Development gaps
  6. New forms of warfare
  7. Lack of participation in decision-making
  8. Unimaginative world order
  9. Irrational distribution of industry
  10. Reliance on remedial technology
  11. Obsolete world trading systems
  12. Misuse of international agencies
  13. Inadequate international authorities
  14. Irrrational resource investment
  15. Insufficient understanding of continuous critical problems

Further details on application of the Situational Complexity Index (SCI) are presented elsewhere by the above authors (Alexander N. Christakis and Kenneth C. Bausch, How People Harvest their Collective Wisdom and Power to Construct the Future, 2006) where it is noted that the largest SCI observed in forty years of its application is equal to 55, the minimum is 9, and the average is 34.

Science does not engage in analyses to assess problems with which to engage. Science, as it currently defines itself, is only capable of engaging with well-defined problems. People are however currently obliged to live in a problematic context whose problems do not lend themselves to ready definition (Living as an Imaginal Bridge between Worlds: global implications of "betwixt and between" and liminality, 2011). Worse still, as noted by H. L. Mencken, for every complex problem, answers are readily proffered that are clear, simple, and wrong. Many such are enthusiastically promoted.

In the case of fundamental mathematical problems, much is made of the so-called Millennium Prize Problems for the solution of each of which a reward of one million dollars is offered. It is noteworthy that there is no suggestion that any such reward should be envisaged for the problems of society cited above as examples, nor for the (re)solution of "wicked problems".

Within this context, it is appropriate to note that complex "wicked" problems can be reframed into relative simplicity by focusing on the management crisis they constitute. This is a one widely accepted means of avoiding the intractable challenges of interdisciplinarity (noted above). The inadequacy of this approach is recognized in strategic terms as "fire-fighting" -- rather than responding to the problematic situation by which the "fire" is engendered (see From Reactive to Proactive Management: getting out of "firefighting" mode, Mind Tools; Vigorous Application of Derivative Thinking to Derivative Problems, 2013)

The issue is relevant to the science-inspired approach to risk, as in the case of two recently announced projects, that of the?Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies and that of the formation of the Centre for Study of Existential Risk by Martin Rees (We Are In Denial About Catastrophic Risks, Edge, 16 January 2013). The question with regard to such initiatives is not what they so admirably choose to focus on as being well-defined, but rather what they exclude from consideration and how that is to be recognized -- together with its systemic implications.

This question can be used to distinguish between:

As with the framing of certain countries by the international community, wicked problems are best understood as framed by science as "basket cases" -- effectively as "failed states", understood in systemic terms. In that respect, Wikipedia reproduces a List of countries by Failed States Index -- an index produced by the US Fund for Peace. Such framings raise the question as to whether science, or any of its disciplines, merit evalutation in similar terms -- given the exhibited cognitive capacity to respond to the conditions of the world in preference to indulging in escapist dreaming of Mars and the origins of the Universe. Perhaps a Failed Disciplines Index? Failure might however be framed otherwise, as indicated by the extreme examples of the USA and the Catholic Church (Noam Chomsky, No Wonder the World Is Terrified of America -- We're the Biggest Threat,, 5 February 2014; The Pope's Sex Problem: Catholic Survey Reveals Frustrated Flock, Spiegel Online International, 27 January 2014). In such terms, is science as practiced the problem -- rather than the solution?

Whether seen as "wicked" or not, in order to encompass the variety of problems, the World Problems Project of the online Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (commentary) took the approach of profiling and interrelating some 56,000 "problems" as perceived by international constituencies, irrespective of how seriously they were variously taken. These were matched with profiles of some 32,000 "strategies" envisaged as remedial responses through the related Global Strategies Project. Particular attention was devoted to the detection of feedback loops amongst the problems -- presumably an indicative characteristic of their "wickedness". This suggests that that initiative might be more appropriately renamed as the Encyclopedia of Wicked Problems and Human Potential.

Management of disagreement and self-reflexivity

The above examples are all indicative of the inability of science, as "science" to reframe creatively and usefully any understanding of conflict between bounded domains. This is left to other disciplines -- whether pesudosciences, or those which are "beyond the pale" from a scientific perspective

Disagreement: In the light of the above, a distinction could be made between:

Deniable factors: Of particular relevance is the manner in which recognition of the above dynamics is carefully designed out of public discourse, or carefully confined to certain arenas. This is a direct reinforcement of such behaviour by other "non-scientific disciplines". Science has no more elegant pattern to offer and sees no obligation to do so.

Such pretence regarding conflictual disagreement is further exacerbated by:

Rather than such phenomena being considered within a scientific methodological framework, their existence is carefully framed as being outside the preoccupation of such a framework -- in a grey area (a no man's land or terra nullius) whose very existence is questionable from a scientific perspective.

Destabilizing factors of deniable scientific relevance: Especially questionable are:

Controversial issues: Especially significant, and in principle an interesting scientific challenge for that reason, are the disagreements which are highly controversial and sensitive. These might include, given the variety of positions in that debate:

The solidity of the evidence for these phenomena, which is far from lacking, is of less significance than the perception of the reality of these phenomena. Whatever the probability of their reality, what is significantly lacking is any capacity to hold such information within any database such as to enable exploration of its significance, taking into consideration the probability of its validity.

Learning from history to reframe the challenges of science?

Much is made of the manner in which science emerged to replace the deficiencies and inadequacies of religion. However, in systemic terms, many of the features of religion are only too evident in science as it is practiced. It is possible to recognize equivalents of: revelations, doctrines, (primarily male) priesthoods, acolytes, sanctuaries, condemnation of heresy, exclusivism, efforts to subsume the insights of others, and the sense of being specially chosen and uniquely mandated.

Could it be said that science is progressively entrapping itself -- especially in its failure to engage with "wicked problems".

There is some irony to the fact that religion, especially Christianity has been specifically concerned with "wickedness" and "evil". Presumably with the full support of his science advisors, it was to evil that Barack Obama specifically referred in the course of his acceptance of the Nobel Peace prize: For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. (Remarks by the President at the Acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, 10 December 2009). This is consistent with the current controversies regarding evil, variously considered to be embodied by the US, its critics, and its opponents. Science has proved to be unable to reframe such perceptions -- other than might adopting an assertive mode reminiscent of that of religious authorities.

In engaging with the world in this way, science trap itself in the process identified by George Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Where are the comparative analyses of religion and science from the perspective of collective learning -- in order to highlight the vulnerability to such pattern replication?

Science is articulate in claiming the "end of religion", over which it claims to have triumphed -- vainly in the eyes of many. In noting the demise of religion, science tends however to be blind to the manner in which it may be ensuring its own demise, as separately discussed (End of Science: the death knell as sounded by the Royal Society, 2008).

Especially noteworthy is the manner in which science has proven to be incapable of managing initiatives conducted in its name -- esteemed by many to be abusive, as noted above. The complicity in the design of weapons of mass destruction is indicative. At the time of writing the process of "scientific whaling" continues unsanctioned. The case of the American Psychological Association is worthy of particular note, given its resemblance to the historical implication of religion in torture (Roy Eidelson, If Not Now, When? -- APA Fails to Sanction Psychologist in Guantanamo Torture Case, Transcend Media Service, 10 February 2014). Related examples are to be found with respect to scientific fraud and its denial. As the scandal of sexual abuse by clergy has demonstrated, scientists are as likely to be excommunicated (or defrocked) as are those implicated in such processes.

The argument above with respect to "science" is complicated and partially undermined by the fact that "science" does not follow the pattern of the Catholic Church in being hierarchical and well organized. Those who speak for it may choose to imply some such organization and various patterns of academic organization reinforce this. However these academies have their own problems in acting coherently together in the name of science -- or in defining its limits. They are usefully to be compared with the variety of religious denominations, or the extensive range of Catholic orders and institutes claiming a complex degree of dependence on papal authority, whilst defending their independence.

Science does not have a Pope, although some scientists have created the impression of taking on that role in defence of science against religion (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 2006). However the very nature of that debate, as sustained by science, suggests that it is itself adopting systemic behaviour resembling the continuing conflict between religions. Science has converted itself into a belief system without addressing -- and transcending -- the tragic dynamics of interfaith discourse. Its methodology has not demonstrated that science constitutes an exemplar of a more fruitful modality.

In lacking a Pope, institutional science bears a greater resemblance to Islam. This impression is reinforced by comparison with the acknowledged capacity of individual mullahs to make pronouncements in the name of Allah -- even to issue fatwas. Dawkins could then be understood to be acting as a mullah. How is the vision of Islam -- and its heaven -- to be compared with that of science in its quest for an epiphany of human knowing? How do the "icons" of religion and science then merit comparison?

The lack of self-reflexivity of science as practiced is only too evident in engagement with its critics -- and the oversimplistic example this offers for integration of feedback into consideration of the variety of modes of knowing and organizing. In adopting the religious pattern, this reinforces inadequacies in other arenas which are currently the focus of bloody conflict, as separately discussed (Guidelines for Critical Dialogue between Worldviews: as exemplified by the need for non-antisemitic dialogue with Israelis? 2006). There is a considerable degree of irony to the fact that science has little to offer to reframing the current conflicts in Syria, the Eastern Congo, and elsewhere -- and yet science is completely complicit in the design of the weaponry used by the participants to kill and wound each other (And When the Bombing Stops? Territorial conflict as a challenge to mathematicians, 2000).

The fact that "science" would deny its failures in this respect is part of the problem. As with the well-known motto of the US National Rifle Association, the motto of science might be: Science does not kill people, people do -- justifying corresponding critical analysis (Evan DeFilippis, Debunking the "Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People" Myth, ArmedWithReason, 8 October 2013; David Kyle Johnson, A Logical Take, Psychology Today, 12 February 2013).

Metascience enabling upgrades to the scientific process?

Presented separately as an annex: Metascience Enabling Upgrades to the Scientific Process: Beyond Science 2.0 in the light of polyhedral metaphors? (2014), with the following sections:


Australian Public Service Commission. Tackling Wicked Problems: a public policy perspective [text]

Valerie A. Brown, John A. Harris and Jacqueline Russell. Tackling Wicked Problems: through the transdisciplinary imagination. Routledge, 2010)

Richard Buchanan. Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. Design Issues, 8, 1992, 2, pp. 5-21 [abstract]

John C. Camillus. Strategy as a Wicked Problem. Harvard Business Review, May 2008 [text]

Martín Carcasson. Tackling Wicked Problems through Deliberative Engagement. Colorado Municipalities, October 2013, pp. 9-13 [text]

Michael Carter. Problem Solving Reconsidered: a pluralistic theory of problems. College English, 50, 1988, 5, pp. 551-565 [text]

Karen A. Cerulo. Never Saw It Coming: cultural challenges to envisioning the worst. University of Chicago Press, 2006

Alexander N. Christakis. Structured Dialogic Design: a process science for social system design. [text]

Alexander N. Christakis and Kenneth C. Bausch. How People Harvest their Collective Wisdom and Power to Construct the Future. Information Age Publishing, 2006

C. West Churchman. Wicked Problems. Management Science, 4, 1967, 14 pp. 141-142

Jeffrey Conklin:

P. De Grace and L. H. Stahl. Wicked Problems, Righteous Solutions: a catalogue of software engineering paradigms, Prentice- Hall, 1990.

Joël de Rosnay. The Macroscope. Harper and Row, 1979

Domenico Dentoni. Why Large System Change? A "Wicked Problems" Perspective. Change, 10 October 2013 [text]

Jared Diamond. Collapse: how societies choose to fail or survive. Viking Press, 2005 [summary]

Elie During. "A History of Problems": Bergson and the French Epistemological Tradition. Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 35, 2004, 1, [text]

Ewan Ferlie, Louise Fitzgerald, Gerry McGivern, Sue Dopson, and Chris Bennett. Making Wicked Problems Governable? The Case of Managed Networks in Health Care. Oxford University Press, 2013

Paul Feyerabend:

Dietrich Fischer and Johan Galtung. Peace Mathematics. Transcend University Press, 2012

Thomas R. Flanagan and Kenneth C. Bausch. A Democratic Approach to Sustainable Futures: a workshop for addressing the global problematique. Ongoing Emergence Press, 2011 [summary]

Maro Giunti. Hattiangadi's Theory of Scientific Problems and the Structure of Standard Epistemologies. British Journal of Philosphy of Science, 39, 1988, 4, pp. 421-439 [abstract]

Thomas Homer-Dixon. The Ingenuity Gap: facing the economic, environmental, and other challenges of an increasingly complex and unpredictable future. Knopf, 2000 [summary]

Robert E. Horn and Robert P. Weber. New Tools for Resolving Wicked Problems: mess mapping and resolution mapping processes. Strategy Kinetics, [text]

Thomas Jordan. Skillful Engagement with Wicked Issues: a framework for analysing the meaning-making structures of societal change agents. Integral Review, 7, 2011, 2, pp. 47-91 [text]

Jon Kolko. Wicked Problems: problems worth solving -- a handbook and a call to action. AC4D, 2012 [review]

James Lovelock. The Vanishing Face of Gaia: a Final Warning: enjoy it while you can. Penguin, 2009

Ray McCall and Janet Burge. Untangling Wicked Problems. Center for LifeLong Learning, 2013 [text]

Timon McPhearson. Wicked Problems, Social-ecological Systems, and the Utility of Systems Thinking. The Nature of Cities, 20 January 2013 [text]

Jackson Nickerson and Ronald Sanders. Tackling Wicked Government Problems: a practical guide for developing enterprise leaders. Brookings Institution press, 2013 [summary]

Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. M. Conway. Merchants of Doubt: how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming. Bloomsbury Press, 2010 [summary]

Darrell A. Posey (Ed.). Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity: a complementary contribution to Global Biodiversity Assessment, Intermediate Technology, 1999 (for the United Nations Environment Programme)

Kent H. Redford, William Adams, Georgina M. Mace. Synthetic Biology and Conservation of Nature: wicked problems and wicked solutions. PLOS Biology, 2013 [text]

Nicholas Rescher:

Tom Ritchey:

Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber:

Nancy Roberts. Wicked Problems and Network Approaches to Resolution. International Public Management Review, 1, 2000, 1 [text]

R. D. Stacey. Managing the Unknowable: strategic boundaries between order and chaos in organizations. Jossey-Bass, 1992

Ronald E. Stewart, Anand Desai and Lawrence C. Walters. Wicked Environmental Problems: managing uncertainty and conflict. Springer, 2011

Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable. Random House, 2010

Graham Turner. A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality. CSIRO, 2007 [text]

E. M. van Bueren. Dealing with Wicked Problems in Networks: analyzing an environmental debate from a network perspective. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 13, 2003, 2, pp. 193-212

Philippe Vandenbroeck. Working with Wicked Problems: guide with three approaches, five methodologies and seven rules of thumb. King Baudoin Foundation, 2012 [summary]

Sandra Waddock:

Anders Wijkman and Johan Rockstrom. Bankrupting Nature: denying our planetary boundaries. Routledge 2012

creative commons license
this work is licenced under a creative commons licence.