On The Pomposity of Science, Religion, and Philosophy
I have called science a ‘performance enhancing philosophy’, and like philosophy, it is biased against subjectivity from the start in that all formal writing is publicly directed. When we are doing science or philosophy, we are automatically put into the perspective of being a generic ‘one’ who says this or demonstrates that. The vocabulary and cadence implicitly evoke a style which would be equally well suited for a Classical Greek oration as a 17th century treatise. In all cases, the author is conscious of themselves as a person according to society’s most official protocols. They write as a potentially esteemed public person appealing to other esteemed public persons, and invite them to consider propositions and conclusions which can be esteemed publicly.
This may not be doing us any favors when it comes to considering consciousness itself. With our intimate personal contents neatly tucked away behind dramatic flourishes of prose and persuasion, our impressionable minds soon forget that we could be anything else but fine upstanding members of the human zoo. We speak as if we were one-of-many rather than a unique and unrepeatable image of eternity.
The interior view, which was so much more prominent when we were just waking up this morning, and which we can barely remember surrounded us as young children, now becomes completely transparent to the protocols and politics of the public view. To do philosophy or science, we need not even objectify subjectivity any further than it already has been, because we are already standing three yards behind the toy model of ourselves which has been dressed up for the occasion in a robe, toga, or lab-coat. Suddenly the product of insight and reason alone is not enough to survive the marketplace of ideas. It must be groomed and packaged and toilet trained out of its native poetry in order to fit in with the customers expectations. In a way, philosophy seems to compensate for its inability to get out of its own way in considering subjectivity fairly by taking itself too seriously. We wear the disguise of formalism that keeps us pointing to a picture of a mirror rather than taking a look at our own reflection.
While religion differs from both philosophy and science in that it projects a subjective significance onto the public world, both philosophy and science owe their serious demeanor to religion. Ritual and ceremony are public interactions in which the event is made to signify itself – to represent self-consciousness socially as a performance of particulars.
The aesthetics of temples and cathedrals are monumentally pompous, as are those of elite universities, and for good reason:
pomp (n.) c.1300, from Old French pompe “pomp, magnificence” (13c.) and directly from Latin pompa “procession, pomp,” from Greek pompe “solemn procession, display,” literally “a sending,” from pempein “to send.” In Church Latin, used in deprecatory sense for “worldly display, vain show.”
The paradox of religion is that in order to send the message of spiritual other-worldliness into the world, it succeeds in direct proportion to its hypocrisy. The more magnificent its public image, the more popular the religion tends to be, and the more quiet contemplation of private depths becomes a choreographed sporting event tied to military conquest and political control.
Can this state of affairs be improved, even on this internet where time and worldliness are switched on or off at will, or is the public perspective perpetually predisposed to pomposity?