EWD 515 translated. Original is here .
September 20, 1975
Second speech, autumn 1975.
A more or less mechanical worldview has been in use at least since classical times, when the planets were each supposed to run in its own sphere around the earth. In the Renaissance, the work of Kepler, Copernicus, and Galileo, and then that of Newton, gave a new and not be underestimated stimulus to the mechanical worldview. Spurred by the success of science, they started to press more and more into this straitjacket, and, e.g., in psychology there arose the school of behaviorism, a school that uses a very mechanical human concept. And now we’re stuck with it! If you look closely, the behaviorist does not really have a human concept: they cross bred a mechanical rat with the slobbering Pavlov dog and then said, “Well, basically a human functions just so.” Only the caveat “basically” seems to have worn away in the last half century; first the individual human being, and then aggregates of them, reduce themselves to controlling, to accounting of response versus stimulus. After psychology, all kinds of activities have arisen in the wake of this simplification, which quite wrongly call themselves sciences, such as economics, sociology, pedagogy, political science, anthropology, and you name it: dubious activities so aptly be described in English as “the soft sciences,” with emphasis on “soft” and the word “sciences” to be pronounced with the necessary sarcasm in one’s voice. Their collective name is “Cheating” because they don’t test their hypotheses —which cannot stand the test of criticism— because of that; and their collective name is “Cheating” because they are not afraid to make recommendations without acknowledgment to have failed when the advice does not have the predicted effect. In fact, they do not distinguish themselves from the rain maker, who explains the continuing drought despite his dancing as the revenge of the gods, nor from the fortuneteller at the fair, who distills from her crystal ball such vague predictions that a clearly contradictory future is hardly conceivable. But in times of trouble, when man wants more security than what he can assert as his right, there is a queue at the fortune teller ...
Our government fortunately has understood this very well. In an effort after World War II to make our ruined country livable again, they stimulated higher education, which in the thirties had gone into a dead-end, with all possible vigor. This injection, which was intended for the sciences, unfortunately failed: It has largely degenerated, and at universities, even the technical ones, the germ of the “soft sciences” developed into a cancerous tumor. And the endless drivel made its entrance. What does one do with a major failure? Quite simply: One does not even bother to deny it, one explains it ex cathedra as a success, as a promising step toward a better society!
Of course it is annoying that in the older scientific disciplines there are still bourgeois scholars, who can separate the wheat from the chaff; no problem: You tighten their financial thumbscrews and they will face up to reality. This technique is known since the Inquisition. If nevertheless the saving message of the “soft sciences” by blatant quackery still sounds a bit unconvincing, again, do not worry! It is explained as the proof that in recent decades insufficient funds were made available for the “soft sciences” and therefore justifies the decision to withhold funds from science to be transferred to the quack. To cover these rogue maneuvers, one invents a Minister of Science Policy. To politically underline the fact that the established sciences actually are not so important, they choose a failed student for the position. For further details, I refer you to the notes of Minister Trip and to the latest Queen’s Speech.
Postponing further consequences of the emerging quackery until next time, we proceed with today’s orders.