Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Andrew Sullivan replies to Sam Harris

Sullivan agrees with me that science has a narrow scope and that there are truths that should not be categorized as scientific. Writing to Harris, he says,
Take, for example, the question of historical truth. You rely in your books on a lot of historical facts to buttress your empirical case. But these facts are not true - and could never be proven true - by the scientific method that is your benchmark. There are no control groups in history. There are no experiments. But there is a form of truth. Discovering that historical truth is the vocation of a historian - and it is a different truth than science, and reached by a different methodology and logic.

Similarly, mathematics can achieve a proof that has no interaction with the physical world. It may even be the closest to divine truth that human beings can achieve. But it is still logically separate from empirically verified truth, from historical truth, and even from the realm of human consciousness that includes aesthetic truth, the truths we find in contemplation of art or of nature.
Fine so far. But he goes on to say the following.
My point here is to say that once you have conceded the possibility of a truth that is not reducible to empirical proof, you have allowed for the validity of religious faith as a form of legitimate truth-seeking in a different mode.
That seems to me to be a non-sequitur. What do mathematics and history have to do with "the validity of religious faith?"

Sullivan then quotes himself as follows.
If God really is God, then God must, by definition, surpass our human understanding. Not entirely. We have Scripture; we have reason; we have religious authority; we have our own spiritual experiences of the divine. But there is still something we will never grasp, something we can never know - because God is beyond our human categories. And if God is beyond our categories, then God cannot be captured for certain. We cannot know with the kind of surety that allows us to proclaim truth with a capital T. There will always be something that eludes us. If there weren't, it would not be God.
I find Sullivan's discussion quite frustrating. If there will always be something that eludes him, then I wish he would stop claiming to know it as true.

I keep coming back to subjective experience as the essence of what Sullivan is talking about. If only he would acknowledge it. I wouldn't use the term true in describing my experience of, for example red or pain. But this sort of direct experience is pretty much as real as it gets for us. That may be what Sullivan is talking about when he uses the terms true and higher truth for some of his experiences.

Furthermore, there is no way that the experience of red or pain can be communicated in words other than to appeal to someone else's experience of red or pain. My (and your) experience of red or pain is beyond categories. It sounds to me like that's what Sullivan is talking about. But instead of the "humility and doubt" that he claims for himself (elsewhere in his article), he claims knowledge of a "higher truth." In my view it is intellectually dishonest of him to misuse words like true in this way.

On his humble side Sullivan says,
I may believe these things, but I am aware that others may not; and I respect their own existential decision to believe something else.
Is that so? Does he really respect a decision to believe something he knows to be wrong? Does he, for example, respect the decision of someone to believe in Creationism or slavery or that the earth is flat or that the Holocaust didn't occur or that earth, air, fire and water are the ultimate constituents of matter? What does he mean by respecting such a decision? Perhaps he won't make it his business to change someone's mind. But what sort of respect does he grant such beliefs? If I knew people who believed such things, I would not have much respect for their intellectual depth, openness, honesty, or vigor.

Or is he saying that religious truth is so personal, so subjective, that it is up to each of us to find our own truth? If that's his point, I agree. But if that's his point, I wish (again) that he would stop talking about a higher truth that he knows. From that perspective we all have our higher truths — or don't have our higher truths. I don't claim to have any higher truths of this sort. Would he find my lack of a higher truth to be as valid as his higher truth?

Basically I'm finding it difficult to understand what Sullivan is really saying. He seems to me to be both confused and unwilling to confront his confusion. Instead of confronting his confusion he retreats to talking about an oxymoron like a truth beyond understanding. Doing so seems to me to be a way of closing down and refusing look for a way to talk about what he really wants to say.

The big picture answer

The only way to "win the war on terror" is to live a life that others want. We have been (had been?) the leader and envy of the world because of the lives we built for ourselves. We can't force others to adopt the American lifestyle. But most people suspect that if given the chance the majority of people in the world will want something like that lifestyle. It's one of the oldest forms of leadership: leading by example.

The aspects of the American lifestyle that are generally appealing are: the freedom to live more or less as we want with minimal interference in our personal and social lives by governmental, religious, or other governing institutions; a reasonable voice in how the institutions that govern our lives are run; relative social equity and equality with most people in a broad middle class and very few people at the extremes; relative transparency and lack of corruption in our governing institutions; relative economic security and reasonable future economic prospects; physical security (no suicide bombers); personal (health) security and reasonable social safety nets in case of individual or collective misfortunes; etc. (This is a top-of-the-head list. It would be interesting to flesh it out in more detail.)

We don't have to convert the world to want this kind of life. All we have to do is live it (and not, for example, turn our own lives into a police state) for the rest of the world to want to emulate us. (This is almost what George Bush says. Too bad he doesn't really believe it.) We don't have to defeat radical Islamism. It will defeat itself. (He doesn't appear to believe this.)

What we do have to do is to ensure the continuation our own lives. That means reasonable security so that we are not subjected to repeated 9/11 attacks. So some form of self-defense is necessary. But we must defend ourselves without destroying the society we are trying to protect.

More importantly we have to find a way to continue our life-style without being dependent on the rest of the world for energy. That's our greatest vulnerability and should be our highest priority.

Perhaps most importantly we should focus on re-establishing a civil society that we all care about, a society in which people feel comfortable and open. Our most important strength is the strength of our society.

If we could establish a strong, healthy society, with reasonable levels of self-sufficiency and internal safety and security, that's all we would need. We would again be the envy of the world.

Why don't we believe this about ourselves? If I were a politician, this would be my message.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The California State University (CSU) and the California Faculty Association (CFA)

CFA represents the faculty who teach at the various CSU campuses. Every three years CFA and the CSU negotiate a contract. It is normally a contentious negotiation. This time around seems worse than usual. The two parties are at the final stages of the mandated negotiating process. CFA is about to ask its member for strike authority. As a faculty member I just received a letter from Charles B. Reed, Chancellor of the CSU. The letter says that
The CSU administration has put an unprecedented salary proposal on the bargaining table. …

If the CSU receives the funding … there will be a 24.87 percent increase in the unit employee pool over a 36 month period. … With … compounding the actual value of the CSU offer … will be 27 percent.
The implication, of course, is that the CSU is being immensely generous (9% a year for 3 years) and that for some reason beyond understanding CFA has rejected that offer.

You can probably guess from the weasel wording of Reed's letter why the CFA has not been overjoyed about the Chancellor's generosity. Most obviously, this is not an offer to commit to anything other than to hope that money will be available. Not only that, the so-called offer doesn't even say that faculty will get the money—just that if it is available it will be "in the unit employee pool," whatever that means. Nowhere does Reed say anything like "the CSU is offering its faculty a 9% across-the-board salary increase." He doesn't say that because that's not what the offer actually means. Yet that's what Reed apparently wants his readers to believe. In truth, Reed's letter is an intellectual fraud.

More significantly, not only does Reed make misleading assertions, he fails to talk to the real issues. Does he really think that CFA rejected the offer out of stubbornness or stupidity? If the CFA leadership turned down a 3 year 9%/year across-the-board salary increase, they would be out on their ears. CFA turned down Reed's offer because it was as dishonest as his letter. If Reed thinks that CFA's reasons for rejecting the offer don't make sense, there is a simple solution: explain why CFA is wrong about its interpretation of his offer.

Reed goes on to say
This proposal represents a commitment by the administration … to strive to bring the CSU faculty salaries up to the level of comparison institutions as soon as possible …
What kind of nonsense is that? Why does the CSU administration need the agreement of CFA to strive to achieve salary parity with comparable institutions? If CFA doesn't sign the contract does that mean that the CSU administration will continue to allow its faculty to be underpaid? Why does it want to do that? Why isn't it already striving to pay its faculty what they deserve?

Chancellor Reed, please do strive to bring faculty salaries up to the level of comparable institutions. You don't need a CFA contract or the permission of CFA to do that. All you need is a concern for the quality of the University for which you are responsible.

It's this kind of intellectual dishonesty that makes me most unhappy with CSU management. The essence of a University, its highest value, is intellectual honesty. If only the people who ran the University would live by that value.

There is a simple solution to this contract dispute, one that both CFA and the CSU administration say they favor. Bring CSU faculty salaries and working conditions in line with those of comparable institutions. It the CSU proposed a contract that achieved that result and that committed to keep salaries and working conditions at the levels of comparable institutions, I suspect that CFA would agree in a minute. It's really that simple.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Word of the day: surge

From Staff Study Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence House of Representatives One Hundred Fourth Congress (June 5, 1996).

Intelligence Community "Surge" Capability

The Intelligence Community (IC) in the 21st Century will face a world that presents different, more diverse national security challenges than those presented during the Cold War. At the same time, many of the issues and intelligence problems that were spawned from the Cold War remain, and the IC is expected to address the new and the old challenges with resources that have decreased significantly since the end of the Cold War. Ambassador Robert Kimmitt, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, in testimony to the Committee, suggested that whether the IC remains relevant and effective may well depend on its ability to be an 'inch deep' in everything, with the ability to have a 'miles worth of depth' on a specific subject at a moments notice. Creating such a responsive IC will require increased internal operating efficiencies; a more collective, corporate approach toward utilization of resources; and structured programs that provide continuous resource augmentation and 'surge' capability.

This 'surge' capability needs to be flexible, dynamic and well-planned -- one that can be relied upon both day-to-day and during crises. 'Surge' can be defined very broadly, including the ability to: move resources quickly to address immediate, usually ad hoc, needs; augment existing resources from outside the IC; and, improve responsiveness of resources by building in more flexible options for collection and analysis.
This use of the word surge is common in the military and among military contractors. Bush's use of the word most likely derives from that source. As you can see by the date of this document, this usage is more than a decade old. Judging by the quotation marks around the term in the preceding, this may have been the start of this usage. These days this usage is commonplace among within the military and military contractors. Contractors must demonstrate their ability to provide surge personal when needed but without having to charge for them when not needed.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sullivan and Harris on magic, miracles, love, and compassion

In their continuing debate, Andrew Sullivan writes
For me, the deconstruction of a crude notion of Biblical inerrantism is not a path to a weaker faith but to a stronger one, unafraid of history, of truth, of the past, or the inevitable confusion that the very human followers of a divine intervention created after his death and resurrection. I find in this unsatisfying scriptural mess very human proof of a remarkable event - the most remarkable event, in my view - in the history of humankind.
Sam Harris responds that this sort of position—the claim that negative evidence is positive evidence—illustrates how the religious faithful fool themselves about what they know.

Sullivan wants to focus on issues of love and compassion. Most of his reply—the extract above was not a representative sample—is in that vein. But with statements like the above, he keeps opening the door to Harris' complaints about claims about truth. Sullivan and Harris are clearly talking about different things.

What I don't understand is why Sullivan keeps playing Harris' game — and necessarily losing. Why doesn't he stick to love and compassion and stop claiming to have proof of an impossible physical event? He is willing to give up other literal interpretations of Biblical texts. As he says, the Bible is not without factual error. Why can't he leave it at that and stop insulting the intelligence of those who don't believe in magic or miracles? It seems to me that this is at the heart of what's not really a debate.

It didn't occur to me to ask this question until writing the preceding paragraph, but I now wonder how those who believe some but not all of the supernatural events described in the Bible decide which to believe and which not to believe. After all, most modern religious adherents don't take the Bible literally. How do they decide which parts to take literally and which parts to read metaphorically?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Word of the day: actionable

  • Sufficient to support a decision to take action.
From An Interview with TCI President and CEO, Debra Goldfarb.
Our plan is to leverage our extensive resources and use our reach into the heart of the HPC end-user community to deliver a range of offerings, including quantitative and qualitative survey-based research and advisory services, along with timely multi-client studies. In addition, Tabor Research will have a discrete organization to support our customers' needs for custom research and strategic consulting services. The key differentiator for Tabor Research will be its intense focus on what we refer to as "actionable insight." This is something I can't emphasize enough. Our products will be both insightful and actionable, providing novel thinking about markets and market discontinuities, customers, business models and futures.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Francis Collins on stem cells and faith

Discover interviews Francis Collins in this month's print edition. Collins is the Director of the Human Genome Research Institute (part of the NIH). According to the article,
A devoted Christian, Collins defends evolution and embryonic stem cell research in his new book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.
Collins' opening answer seems to sum up his position.
We live in an unfortunate time when the Richard Dawkins crowd says religion is silly, and other people say evolution is silly. Most people don't agree with either extreme. The dominant position in the past for most working scientists was a middle ground: You use the tools of science to understand how nature works, but you also recognize that there are things outside of nature, namely God, for which the tools of science are not well designed to derive truth. The middle-ground position is that there is more than one way to find truth, and a fully formed effort to try to answer the most important questions would not limit you to the kinds of questions that science can answer, especially the eternal one: Why are we here, anyway?
I wish I had a chance to talk to Collins. My first question would be what he means by "there are things outside of nature." Normally we use the term nature to refer to the natural world. To say that there are things outside of that world is perplexing on its face. Are these things with which we can have contact? If so, what sort of contact? Does that contact involve natural phenomena? If not, is the implication that part of ourselves is outside nature as well? Otherwise, how does our contact with something outside nature enter our experience? In other words, is he saying that there is a transition from things outside nature to things within nature? If so, how and where does that transition occur? If not, i.e., if our experience of what is outside nature is also outside nature, what does that really mean? Isn't that selling nature short?

The second issue I would discuss with him is the meaning of truth. I've gone on about that in the past, so I won't repeat it other than to say that from my perspective truth refers to a relationship between an idea in our heads and nature. He seems to mean something different by the term.

I would agree with him about his final point, namely, that there are questions that science is not designed to answer. I don't think there is an answer to the question, "Why are we here?" So I wouldn't expect science to be able to answer it. I also don't think science is designed to answer ethical questions or questions about what is a good life.

In my view science has a very narrow scope. As Collins says, science is designed to answer questions about how nature works. Besides ethical and value questions, it is also not designed to answer mathematical questions (such as whether Goldbach's conjecture holds — in my view pure mathematics isn't science since science is the investigation of how the natural world works) or constructive questions (such as what would a computer program that can beat any human Go player look like—in my view the constructive arts like computer science and engineering aren't science either). Nor is science designed to answer predictive questions such as whether we will destroy civilization by our carelessness with the environment or whether a terrorist will explode a dirty nuclear bomb in the next 10 years.

Even though science is not designed to answer these questions, I wouldn't say that any of them are outside of nature. (I include mathematics as part of nature in that we do it, and we are part of nature. I don't know what Collin's position is on whether these question are part of nature.) So I don't see the fact that there are questions that science is not designed to answer an argument for a faith-based religion, which is the position he holds. These sorts of questions should be discussed and considered by those of us who are interested in them. (Some questions, such as the one about a dirty bomb, are unanswerable except by letting time pass.) That's a lot different from saying that faith provides answers for them.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Andrew Sullivan on faith and truth

Sam Harris, famous athiest, and Andrew Sullivan, famous author of the Conservative Soul, are debating religion. Here's how Sullivan sums up the issue so far.
Here's the nub, I think. You write:
I think that faith is, in principle, in conflict with reason (and, therefore, that religion is necessarily in conflict with science), while you do not.
Agreed. As the Pope said last year, I believe that God is truth and truth is, by definition, reasonable. Science cannot disprove true faith; because true faith rests on the truth; and science cannot be in ultimate conflict with the truth. So I am perfectly happy to believe in evolution, for example, as the most powerful theory yet devised explaining human history and pre-history. I have no fear of what science will tell us about the universe - since God is definitionally the Creator of such a universe; and the meaning of the universe cannot be in conflict with its Creator. I do not, in other words, see reason as somehow in conflict with faith - since both are reconciled by a Truth that may yet be beyond our understanding.
It seems to me that Sullivan falls victim to what I had earlier called the anthropomorphism of thought. There is no such thing as truth except when it refers to a thought in one's mind. A thought may be true, but that's the only thing that can be true. The word true applies only to thoughts. To say that "Truth may be beyond our human understanding" may be poetic, but it doesn't have any real meaning as far as I'm concerned. Truth is exactly a matter of human understanding. There may certainly be experience which is beyond our current (or perhaps even future) ability to explain or conceptualize. The experience of red, for example, is not a matter of true; it's a matter of experiencing red. I wouldn't call that sort of thing "truth."

Similarly, to say that "God is truth" doesn't seem to me to be saying very much if truth has no concrete meaning. If God is truth in the traditional sense of truth, then Sullivan is saying that God is science or whatever science reveals. (He does seem to be saying something like that.) That may, of course, be a useful way to think about God since it certainly is not a good idea for religion to set God against science. So if one wants to say that the universe is wonderful and that whatever science finds out about it is all due to God then perhaps everyone can be happy. The scientists can say that such a statement is fine if it makes you feel good, but it doesn't mean a whole lot. The religionists can say that their faith is justified. I suspect that Sullivan means more than that, but I don't know what it is. I'm surprised to see Sullivan speak in such foggy terms. He is generally a clear thinker. I thought he would do a better job of representing the religious position.

P.S. Normally I include a picture of the person I'm writing about in blog entries. In this case, I couldn't resist. When I looked for a picture of Sullivan this is the first thing that came up. It was a picture that he had published on his blog. It's difficult to concentrate on the weighty subject matter of this blog piece with that picture there, isn't it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Not Only the Worst President, but the Worst Possible President

Mean but too true. From Jane Smiley in The Huffington Post
So, here he is, Little George, caught between the devil (Cheney) and the deep blue sea (fifty-some years of being infantilized by Bush/Scowcroft/Baker). Cheney and Rumsfeld, aided by Rice and Miers and Hughes, convince him that his masculinity will only be enhanced by doing all the masculine things he missed out on over the years, especially making war. And Gerson gives his war a virtuous, godly gloss. And Gerson's words come out of his mouth so often that he believes them and thinks they are his. In the meantime, Karl Rove continues to think that he is the maestro, playing Little George (and his base and the rest of the nation) like his own personal piano. …

The propaganda that Bush's sponsors and handlers have poured forth has ceased to persuade the voters but succeeded beyond all measure in convincing the man himself. He will tell himself that God is talking to him, or that he is possessed of an extra measure of courage, or he that he is simply compelled to do whatever it is. The soldiers will pay the price in blood. We will pay the price in money. The Iraqis will pay the price in horror. The Iranians will pay the price, possibly, in the almost unimaginable terror of nuclear attack. Probably, the Israelis will pay the price, too.

Little George isn't the same guy he was in 2000, the guy described by Gail Sheehy in her Vanity Fair profile--hyper-competitive and dyslexic, prone to cheat at games, always swinging between screwing up and making up, hating criticism and disagreement, careless of others but often charming. He is no longer the guy who the Republicans thought they could control (unlike, say, McCain). The small pathologies of Bush the candidate have, thanks to the purposes of the neocons and the religious right, been enhanced and upgraded. We have a bona fide madman now, who thinks of himself in a grandiose way as single-handedly turning the tide of history.
Let's hope that if a tide is turned that history doesn't record his Presidency as the start of a new dark age. We shouldn't give him that much power. The world is more resilient than that. The nightmare will end in a couple of years — one hopes. Read the whole thing.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

China: an ecnomony built on power, corruption and lies?

The Guardian has an extract from Will Hutton's new book on China. THe claim is that China's miracle economy is not a model of a rebirth of capitalism but that China
is frozen in a structure that I describe as Leninist corporatism - and which is unstable, monumentally inefficient, dependent upon the expropriation of peasant savings on a grand scale, colossally unequal and ultimately unsustainable. It is Leninist in that the party still follows Lenin's dictum of being the vanguard, monopoly political driver and controller of the economy and society. And it is corporatist because the framework for all economic activity in China is one of central management and coordination from which no economic actor, however humble, can opt out.

In this environment genuine wholesale privatisation is impossible and liberalisation has well-defined limits, as President Hu Jintao himself brutally reminds us. The party, he says, 'takes a dominant role and coordinates all sectors. Party members and party organisations in government departments should be brought into full play so as to realise the party's leadership over state affairs'. It may be true that party organisations in the provinces (some with populations bigger than Britain's) and in the chief cities are jealous of their autonomous local political control, but all retain the discretionary power to do what they choose and override any challenge or complaint from any non-state actor - or, indeed, from state actors if they cross the will of the party. …

The cumulative result of all this is economic weakness, despite the eye-catching growth figures. Innovation is poor; half of China's patents come from foreign companies. Its growth depends on huge investment, representing an unsustainable 40% or more of GDP financed by peasant savings. But China now needs $5.4 of extra investment to produce an extra $1 of output, a proportion vastly higher than that in economies such as Britain or the US. But 20 years ago, China needed just $4 to deliver the same result. In other words, an already gravely inefficient economy has become even more inefficient. China's national accounts tell the same story. Hu Angang calculates that China is now back to the Mao years in term of the inefficiency with which it uses capital to generate growth.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

What should the Democrats do?

According to the NY Times, Bush apparently wants a "surge" in US troops.
The call for an increase in troops would … put Mr. Bush in direct confrontation with the leaders of the new Democratic Congress, who said in a letter to the president on Friday that the United States should move instead toward a phased withdrawal of American troops, to begin in the next four months. …

Congress has the power to halt the increases by cutting off money for Mr. Bush’s proposals. But some Democrats are torn about whether to press ahead with such a move for fear that it will appear that they are not supporting the troops.
I urge the Democrats to take the following position.
  • Argue against the troop increase.
  • But tell Bush that he can have his troop increase if he proposes a budget to pay for it.
Bush is, after all, the Commander in Chief. He gets to make the decisions — unless we think he is so incompetent that he should be removed from office. (I don't see it as likely that the Democrats will attempt to do that.) So while he is in office, he has to be allowed to make the final decisions. (Besides, there are no good decisions to be made in any case. Bush might as well be forced to make them rather than being rescued by the Democrats, who will then be blamed for the consequences.)

However, it is a responsible position for the Democrats to say that we must guard our fiscal health. It makes all the sense in the world for the Democrats to insist that if Bush wants more troops (or even the troops he currently has) he must come up with a way to pay for them. He might propose cutting the budget in various ways (some of which might not be acceptable), or he might propose a tax increase or a temporary tax surcharge. (An increase in the federal gas tax comes to mind as a way to do something useful by raising taxes. Another possibility is a tax that applies to the aggregate compensation, including stock options and separation agreements, of any corporate officer who earns more than, say, $10 million/year.) But no matter what the mechanism, Bush should be required to operate in terms of reality. We can't spend money we don't have. If he wants to continue his adventure in Iraq, the least he should have to do is to find a way to pay for it.

So the war in Iraq must be put "on-budget." And while we're at it social security taxes must be taken off budget. We can't count money collected to pay for future social security benefits as current income. It doesn't make sense. We must go back to the so-called "lock-box" concept in which social security taxes are but into the "social security trust fund" to be preserved for use in the future. Perhaps some of it might even be invested (by the trust fund, not by individuals) in equity markets. If I were in charge of that investment decision, I'd invest at least half of it in foreign equity markets. The U.S. dollar does not have a promising future. Let's invest in the rest of the world while our dollar still buys something.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

What does the Australian Defence Organziation think it's doing?

I got an email message from someone who works for the Australian Defence Organization. It has this at the bottom.
IMPORTANT: This email remains the property of the Australian Defence Organisation and is subject to the jurisdiction of section 70 of the CRIMES ACT 1914.
What does it mean for an email message which was sent unsolicited to me and deposited into my email account and which I then downloaded to my computer to remain the property of the Australian Defence Organisation? In what sense is it their property? This isn't a copyright notice. Are they claiming they now own some bits in my computer? What really is this supposed to mean? Might I be violating section 70 of the CRIMES ACT 1914 by copying this extract from the email message and publishing it on my blog? What do they think they are doing?

Wikimedia commons

has an animated picture of a zipper — and lots of other good stuff.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Will the end of the oil age solve global warming?

If we are running out of oil, isn't that good news on the CO2 front? Perhaps we shouldn't worry about global warming. The end of oil will take care of it.

We Will Soon Devise a Scientific Theory for the Perennial Mind-Body Problem

Tat's what Donald Hoffman (Cognitive Scientist, UC, Irvine) is optimistic, bout. He concludes his relatively long explanation of the reasons for his optimism as follows.
Here are some obvious truths that guide current attempts to solve the mind-body problem: Physical objects have causal powers. Neural activity can cause conscious experiences. The brain exists whether or not it is observed. So too does the moon, and all other physical objects. Consciousness is a relative latecomer in the evolution of the universe. Conscious sensory experiences resemble, or approximate, true properties of an independently existing physical world.

Will we soon be forced to relinquish some of these truths? Probably. If so, the current ontological predilections of science will require dramatic revision. Could science survive? Of course. The fundamental commitments of science are methodological, not ontological. What is essential is the process of constructing rigorous explanatory theories, testing them with careful experiments, and revising them in light of new data. Ontologies can come and go. One might endure sufficiently long that it is taken for a sine qua non of science. But it is not. An ontology breathed into life by the method of science can later be slain by that same method. Therein lies the novel power of science. And therein lies my optimism that science will soon succeed in fashioning its first theory of the mind-body problem. But at the feet of that theory will probably lie the slain carcass of an effete ontology.
I like this quotation because it illustrates how science is at least a partial antidote to idea anthropocentrism as discussed earlier. As humans we can't create a theory of how nature works that isn't our theory. But at least we can switch ontologies. That's one of the strengths of science — and one of the weaknesses of non-scientific ways of viewing the world. Buddhism warns against clinging. Science takes that warning seriously and by its very methodology enables and in some cases forces us to give up ideas we once cherished as obviously true. As Feynman has said, "Science is what we have learned about how not to fool ourselves about the way the world is."

Piet Hut (Professor of Astrophysics, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton) says that it's also misleading to hold up "the scientific method" as the one true path.
Purified from goals, the scientific method is held up as the beacon to follow. But I think this story is still misleading. The greatest breakthroughs have come from a doubly pure science, purified from goals and methods alike. In small and large ways, each major breakthrough was exactly a breakthrough because it literally broke the rules, the rules of the scientific method as it had been understood so far. The most spectacular example has been quantum mechanics, which changed dramatically even the notion of experimental verification.

I am optimistic that all areas of human activities can be inspired by the example of science, which has continued to thrive for more than four centuries, without relying on goals, and without even relying on methods. The key ingredients are hyper-critical but non-dogmatic conservatism, combined with wildly unconventional but well-motivated progressiveness. Insofar as there is any meta-method, it is to allow those ingredients to be played off against each other in the enactments of scientific controversies, until consensus is reached.