I remember reading an introduction to physics a number of years ago in which the author opposed the everyday experience we have of the world around us to the view of the world which science provides by comparing everyday knowledge to a “keyhole view of reality” and scientific knowledge to what we see when we open the door.

My reaction at the time was to think: Good grief! Doesn’t he realize that it is the exact opposite?

It is physical science that looks at reality through a keyhole, restricting its focus purely to material entities and investigating these exclusively from the point of view of their quantifiable properties.

Everyday knowledge is much broader and much more complete, including within its purview things that are not material (as shown by the existence of words for things like mind, ideas, love, God and understanding), and grasping more than just the quantitative dimension of things (as shown by the existence of words for qualities such as sweetness, goodness and beauty).

Indeed, no less a thinker than physicist Werner Heisenberg has argued that ordinary language has a more direct and stable relation to the world than the theoretical concepts of physics do:

One of the most important features of the development and the analysis of modern physics is the experience that the concepts of natural language, vaguely defined as they are, seem to be more stable in the expansion of knowledge than the precise terms of scientific language, derived as an idealization from only limited groups of phenomena. This is in fact not surprising since the concepts of natural language are formed by the immediate connection with reality; they represent reality. (…) they never lose the immediate connection with reality. (…) We know that any understanding must be based finally upon natural language because it is only there that we can be certain to touch reality (…).

To forget this is to adopt a blinkered view of the world, which could be compared to trying to walk down the street looking at everything through a microscope. I leave it to the reader to imagine the ability of such person to navigate even such a banal and ordinary landscape as a city street.

This keyhole view is also in large part responsible for the exclusion of God from the modern Weltanschauung, for He is definitely not visible through the eyepiece of a microscope.

In a recent online dialogue, Jordan Peterson puts his finger on a particularly pernicious consequence of this exclusion. Commenting on the wisdom of Jesus’ instruction to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s,” Peterson observes that when God does not occupy the highest place in the hierarchy of goods, we easily end up rendering unto Caesar that which is God’s.

Herein lies, in his opinion, the root of all modern totalitarian systems.

Where am I going with all this?

It seems to me that we are currently living in a sanitary dictatorship. The roots of this dictatorship lie in an unholy alliance between the idolization of scientific knowledge and the usurpation by governments of a quasi-divine power over the lives of their citizens.

In the name of “following the science,” we have accepted the curtailing of practically all of our most fundamental freedoms: freedom of association (being prevented from gathering even with members of our family at Christmas time), freedom of worship (allowing the government to close down churches and other places of worship with hardly a peep from the faithful or from religious leaders), freedom of movement (with curfews being imposed despite despite the lack of any evidence of their effectiveness), freedom of speech (with information about medical treatments for COVID with drugs such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin being suppressed from the Internet) and even freedom to dispose of our bodies according to what we feel to be in our own best interests (with governments like that of Canada broaching the possibility of vaccination being made mandatory.

And all of this is being done in the name of combating a microscopic virus which does not seem easily containable by any of the measures that have been used against it thus far.

The current situation thus gives us a foretaste of what a society governed exclusively according to scientific knowledge would look like. Isn’t it time that we took off the blinkers and looked up at the bright blue sky above us?  

Patrick Duffley

Patrick Duffley is Professor of English Linguistics at Université Laval, in Canada.