Reason Is Larger Than Science

Reason is larger than science. And much can be logically true without seeking "the numbers." Too many now forget that mathematics is a subset of logic. Here's how logic dictates we need the humanities...

Reason Is Larger Than Science


“Reason is larger than science.” So Leon Wieseltier reminds us (while defending the humanities against Steven Pinker’s science cheerleading).

1. The closer we get to human patterns, the more useful the logic and lexicon of the humanities is. If well practiced, science reduces biases and errors, but it grants no immunity to nonsense.

2. Scientists often seek a mathematical “totalizing” theory, however such “monotheorism” risks “theory-induced blindness.” And mathematics is a subset of logic. Plus its tools aren’t always useful.

3. Wieseltier mixes too much in putting “physics and biology and economics” in the science bucket. That list starts deep in science territory, but ends in the contested border zone. Economics, and social sciences, are categorically different than physics.

4. John Stuart Mill warned that economics “predicts only such ... phenomena ... as take place in consequence of the pursuit of wealth. It makes entire abstraction of every other human passion or motive.” He predicted anyone “who has studied no science but [economics], if he attempts to apply his science to practice, will fail.”

5. Mill was right. All the arts, and your own life, testify: We’re more than money-maximizing machines. Economics’ desire for grand unifying theory has led it, and us, astray. “Utility” as uber-motive, the single thing we always maximize, abstracts away our humanness and variability. We’re imprudent, easily duped, herd-following, muddlers, not maximizers.  

6. Economics may have some physics-like aspects, but economists who bother with observable behavior quickly encounter our unphysicsy features. Economics, or any human field, must handle evidently heterogeneous human motives. Economics could fruitfully be more like fiction, and history, and pretend less to perilous physics-ness.

7. Mill said, “Laws of mind and laws of matter are so dissimilar ... it would be contrary to all principles of rational arrangement to mix them.” Much of nature mindlessly makes physics-like patterns. But our minds make varying choices. Nothing in physics chooses. Or innovates. Or changes its behavior because of new ideas. People do. We’re not biological billiard balls. Economics itself promotes ideas that change behaviors (sometimes disastrously).

8. Not all non-science is nonsense. Far from it, much of non-science is logical; its reasoning is locally reliable. Many reliable skills and arts are unscienced (deploying qualitative facts without underlying unified theory). And all that’s subjective remains unscience-able.

9. Many tend now to defer to “the science” mindset. It would be wiser to use diverse thinking tools, to reason humbly, and artfully fit the tool to the task. Much is logically true without “the numbers.”

The porous border between science and the humanities must be patrolled for nonsense smuggled in either direction. Neither has a monopoly on reason. Wieseltier is logically correct. Logic dictates we need the humanities...

 

Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker Cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions.

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This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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