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Scientism

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  • FMasingill@aol.com
    Periodically, the sinking of the Titanic is revisited. Because nothing essentially novel is ever extracted from these re-telling of the story, I was moved a
    Message 1 of 3 , Apr 14, 2002
      Periodically, the sinking of the Titanic is revisited. Because nothing
      essentially novel is ever extracted from these re-telling of the story, I was
      moved a few years back to examine as much as might be discoverable without
      doing exhaustive research about the (to me) strange practice of permitting
      ships carrying human cargo to provide deliberately for far fewer lifeboats
      than would be needed to rescue the entire load of passengers. Actually, I
      often ponder the question of why these giant airliners are not equipped with
      some kind of parachute capacity but that may well be an insurmountable
      technical problem that I should not attempt to fathom.

      But a cursory examination of the Titanic disaster led to the quite
      simple conclusion that for ships of this class at the time it was law and
      public policy to run with fewer than adequate lifeboats. Although it appears
      to have been a public myth that such ships were "unsinkable," in fact, I
      could not discover that ANY builder or designer of the Titanic used that
      description in any serious manner.

      I cannot claim to have read or remembered every line that Eric Voegelin
      wrote on the subject of scientism and it was not, of course, necessary that
      he provide examples of scientistic traps but it has seemed to me that the
      Titanic episode was a clear example of civilizational hubris. Perhaps he
      mention this tragedy in that connection but if so I don't recall seeing it.
      I cannot, however, think of any better or clearer example.

      I do believe that Voegelin, a keener than average observer of life
      around him must have drawn a good deal of his critique of "enlightenment
      progressivism" from the failure of common sense and application of normal
      human reason to political and social problems on the fin de siecle horizon
      since that was the society in which he grew up.

      Frank


      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Frederick Wagner
      I seem to recall that the Titanic architects believed that no incident could cause loss of watertight integrity in enough compartments to cause the ship to
      Message 2 of 3 , Apr 18, 2002
        I seem to recall that the Titanic architects believed that no incident could
        cause loss of watertight integrity in enough compartments to cause the ship
        to sink.
        A 400 foot gash was more than they could imagine. The number of life boats was
        set as the number required to transfer passengers to another vessel or to
        shore in the
        event of engine failure. The chief architect went down with the ship. The
        disaster
        has kept many rice bowls filled since then. I happen to have a model of
        the Titanic in
        a display case in my living room.Was the captain racing through iceberg waters
        because he had orders to win the Blue Riband or because he had an
        uncontrollable
        coal fire in the hold? Her sister ship, Olympic, commissioned a little
        earlier, was " returned
        to Harland & Wolff for six months safety rebuilding. The double
        bottom was extended
        up the sides to the waterline, full height bulkheads were fitted, as
        were additional lifeboats."
        See: http://www.ocean-liners.com/ships/olympic.asp

        I don't know whether there was deliberate "scientism" at work here. No more
        so than
        the omission of fire retardant from the top floors of the World Trade
        Center towers. If
        a person becomes an engineer he is carried along by the habits and logic of
        his occupation
        and the tendency is to design according to mathematical formulae and
        probability and then redesign
        when that is found not to be sufficient. It is up to the politicians, with
        whatever moral vision
        they bring to the table, to influence policy respecting public
        transportation and works, food and trade,
        and the military. They haven't done too well at times, have they? Or, too
        badly?

        Fritz Wagner








        At 11:32 PM 4/14/2002, you wrote:
        > Periodically, the sinking of the Titanic is revisited. Because nothing
        >essentially novel is ever extracted from these re-telling of the story, I was
        >moved a few years back to examine as much as might be discoverable without
        >doing exhaustive research about the (to me) strange practice of permitting
        >ships carrying human cargo to provide deliberately for far fewer lifeboats
        >than would be needed to rescue the entire load of passengers. Actually, I
        >often ponder the question of why these giant airliners are not equipped with
        >some kind of parachute capacity but that may well be an insurmountable
        >technical problem that I should not attempt to fathom.
        >
        > But a cursory examination of the Titanic disaster led to the quite
        >simple conclusion that for ships of this class at the time it was law and
        >public policy to run with fewer than adequate lifeboats. Although it appears
        >to have been a public myth that such ships were "unsinkable," in fact, I
        >could not discover that ANY builder or designer of the Titanic used that
        >description in any serious manner.
        >
        > I cannot claim to have read or remembered every line that Eric Voegelin
        >wrote on the subject of scientism and it was not, of course, necessary that
        >he provide examples of scientistic traps but it has seemed to me that the
        >Titanic episode was a clear example of civilizational hubris. Perhaps he
        >mention this tragedy in that connection but if so I don't recall seeing it.
        >I cannot, however, think of any better or clearer example.
        >
        > I do believe that Voegelin, a keener than average observer of life
        >around him must have drawn a good deal of his critique of "enlightenment
        >progressivism" from the failure of common sense and application of normal
        >human reason to political and social problems on the fin de siecle horizon
        >since that was the society in which he grew up.
        >
        >Frank
        >
        >
        >[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        >
        >
        >
        >In consideratione creaturarum non est vana
        >et peritura curiositas exercenda; sed gradus
        >ad immortalia et semper manentia faciendus.
        > —St Augustine De vera religione
        >
        >Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
      • FMasingill@aol.com
        In a message dated 4/18/2002 7:46:57 AM Central Standard Time, fjw@qn.net ... Quite so, Fritz and if you will forgive me, I am not quite able to place the
        Message 3 of 3 , Apr 18, 2002
          In a message dated 4/18/2002 7:46:57 AM Central Standard Time, fjw@...
          writes:


          > I don't know whether there was deliberate "scientism" at work here. No more
          > so than
          > the omission of fire retardant from the top floors of the World Trade
          > Center towers. If
          > a person becomes an engineer he is carried along by the habits and logic of
          >
          > his occupation
          > and the tendency is to design according to mathematical formulae and
          > probability and then redesign
          > when that is found not to be sufficient. It is up to the politicians, with
          >
          > whatever moral vision
          > they bring to the table, to influence policy respecting public
          > transportation and works, food and trade,
          > and the military. They haven't done too well at times, have they? Or, too
          > badly?
          >

          Quite so, Fritz and if you will forgive me, I am not quite able to place
          the absence of a positive decision to endeavor to protect high-rise buildings
          against suicide airborne attacks that are clearly man-made and man-planned
          with the more-or-less deliberate planned reliance by the Admiralty upon
          advanced technology to the extent of permitting ships of the Titanic class
          deliberately to ply the seas with less than adequate protection when measured
          against the thousands of years of ocean vessels sailing the oceans.

          I think that after my encounter with Voegelin I was frequently on the
          lookout for scholarly departures from common sense or subscriptions to rather
          uncritical assumptions about the movement of man early in this century toward
          a signficantly higher state of perfection quite significantly akin to the
          evangelistic preachers who while warning that the Bible would not condone a
          definite time of the end, at the same time warned that there WERE signs and
          they personally (grin) believed we were "living in the end time."

          At one time, I made it a point to examine the final paragraphs of as
          many textbooks on United States history as I could find with a publication
          date close to the end of the nineteenth or beginning of the twentieth century
          and while I never made this a "scientific" project, I confirmed for myself,
          at least, that the optimism had in every case a decidedly positivistic tinge,
          heavy with the "optimism" that Voegelin disliked in scientific literature.
          On the other hand, I believe that I found in his writings a growing
          expression of the joy he believed to be justified at the restoration of
          science. I wonder what one would find if one examined American history
          textbooks published at this most recent "turn of the century?" If I were
          younger and with less (smile) on my plate I might undertake such an
          investigation. I'll share with you in a private message what I'm REALLY
          doing!!

          Meanwhile, I hope that if EITHER of us boards a modern Titanic we will
          check the number of lifeboats first, not relying on sleepy telegraph
          operators, other ships in the vicinity who ordinarily could get there in time
          or other expectations of modern technology that were present even in THAT
          day.

          At one time in the dim past I read both Fay and Schmitt on the
          diplomatic efforts to avert World War I and even today I still find it
          difficult to believe the degree of amazement that with NO nation WANTING a
          world war, it came in spite of them. "When you get the order for full
          mobilization, General, smash your telephone so I will not be able to reach
          you in case the Czar changes his mind!!!" (Sazonov to the Russian Commanding
          General - as I recall it.).

          Frank


          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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