#9 Applying Galilean “Propaganda” Methods to the Cosmology of Altered Inner Space

Against Method by Paul Feyerabend, pages 65-105

“An argument is proposed that refutes Copernicus by observation. The argument is inverted in order to discover the natural interpretations which are responsible for the contradiction. The offensive interpretations are replaced by others, propaganda and appeal to distant, and highly theoretical, parts of common sense are used to defuse old habits and to enthrone new ones. The new natural interpretations, which are also formulated explicitly, as auxiliary hypotheses, are established partly by the support they give to Copernicus and partly by plausibility considerations and ad hoc hypotheses. An entirely new ‘experience’ arises in this way. There is as yet no independent evidence, but this is no drawback; it takes time to assemble facts that favour a new cosmology. For what is needed is a new dynamics that explains both celestial and terrestrial motions, a theory of solid objects, aerodynamics, and all these sciences are still hidden in the future” (p. 77). 

I start with this long quote from Feyerabend at the beginning of Chapter 8 because it outlines how and what Galileo did to convince his contemporaries that Copernicus’ heliocentric universe was correct, and, that the telescope would become a central component in vindicating Copernicus’ theories. 

Honestly speaking, I will need to read Chapter 7 again at some point to let the material soak in more. What I gather from Feyerabend’s arguments regarding Galileo’s “propagandist” and “trickery” methods is this: Galileo used a panoply of logical arguments to claim that the earth was a moving celestial object. This is important because in order to prove that the sun is the center of the universe, according to Copernicanism, one needed to prove that the earth did in fact move, although a naïve realist would say that the earth did not move (e.g. the case of dropping a stone from a tower). I want to touch on a few ways Galileo made his point and that I think are relevant to psychedelic scientific investigation: 

First, is the idea of “anamnesis,” a Platonian term, basically saying that humans are in a state of waking up or remembering knowledge that lies deep within them. It is a state of recall. Galileo says that we cannot trust our senses all of the time, for example, because the earth is quite likely a celestial moving object, and thus, it would benefit us to occasionally bracket our empiricist tendencies and allow our inner rationalist to think about what might actually be going on regarding any phenomenon in question. 

Second, and related to the first, Feyerabend speaks of “counterinduction” some chapters ago. Inductive reasoning from Aristotle’s to Galileo’s time would have suggested that the earth did not move, thus counterinductive reasoning involves proposing a counter argument inconsistent with consensus-based hypotheses, i.e. that the earth does move. 

Third, we have “ad hoc hypotheses.” Galileo uses this argument as well. The ad hoc hypothesis is like a patch or crutch that fills an unexplainable blank or requires that a part of a formula or hypothesis be neutralized, or rather, set at a constant, so that the rest of the calculations can work. This is highly idealistic, but it’s sometimes needed until more data becomes available. 

I don’t want to get too nitty-gritty about the above arguments and exactly how Galileo used these arguments, merely that these were the arguments used. Read these pages for yourself to find out more about the details. 

Let’s unpack these methods for a moment to discover what is at stake in using them. First, Plato’s anamnesis suggests that there is a life, existence, or being before birth. This then suggests that if there is a “before” then maybe there is an “after.” There are huge metaphysical implications here. Is there something before this human existence? And if so, then what is it we are continually remembering about and why and for what purpose? Is it directed at whatever problem we have at hand that needs solving? What is the end game/result in this remembering process? Where is and what is Plato’s world of forms? The skeptic, and we should all be highly skeptical, would say that there is no remembering of innate knowledge from before birth, but rather an invention or discovery of new knowledge during this life, this incarnation, irrespective of beliefs about reincarnation. For me, this is what Plato suggests. And thus, anamnesis and world of forms are belief constructs. But these in themselves might be logical tools such as counterinduction and ad hoc hypotheses Plato uses to deduce other knowledge and further philosophizing. The idea of counterinduction should be used lightly in my opinion. Just as crazy as it was to say the earth revolves around the sun in Galileo’s time, it is equally as crazy an idea to say the earth is flat today. (Disclaimer: I am not a flat earther.) Counterinductive reasoning then likely needs something to back up its extraordinary claims. We could say an extended visual perception afforded by Galileo’s observations through his telescope did just that. His preliminary observations probably couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the earth moved, moreover, that it moved around the sun, in addition to other academics that struggled to see what Galileo saw, but he was still convinced that he was onto something regarding this telescopic instrument. Considering psychedelic experiences are very subjective, how do psychedelic scientists show to others that which they discovered, or how do experimental participants show to non-using scientists what they experienced? It seems to me that the telescope equivalent in psychedelic research does not yet exist, or, if there is such a candidate already, it is still in such an early phase of its development that we question its veracity and efficacy. What this instrument could be if it exists, I do not know, and will not conjecture at this time. This leads to the ad hoc hypothesis. In order for Einstein’s field equations in general relativity to work, for example, he developed the notion of the “cosmological constant” which supposes a static universe. What must we bracket for our psychedelic observations to make sense? I would say: (1) that regardless of veridicality of visions, one does indeed experience these visions. Whether the visions are true or false, they are experienced, thus the experiencing of these visions is at least true; (2) we might bracket the notion that these visions are hallucinations; (3) we might bracket competing notions of consciousness; (4) we might unbracket other notions such as Henri Bergson’s radio/frequency analogy, that is to say, that the brain is like the physical radio set that picks up the radio frequency or consciousness; etc. There are so many things we could bracket in psychedelic research, so many potential phenomena for which to set a constant. I suppose the test is picking the right one with which to fiddle and a healthy dose of trial-and-error.

In being one of the first humans to see through a telescope, Galileo was by default engaging in counterinductive reasoning because it went against to what even he was accustomed. He worked with and around so many different viewpoints during his journey: empiricists, rationalists, never-telescopers (e.g. Church officials), people that saw through the telescope who saw or did not see what Galileo did, etc. Galileo just knew that he was onto something, that this instrument might be able to prove Copernicus’ astronomy. I want to end with a quote that I really like by a Ludovico Geymonat (Feyerabend, 1993, p. 104): 

“‘Galileo … was not the first to tum the telescope upon the heavens, but … he was the first to grasp the enormous interest of the things thus seen. And he understood at once that these things fitted in perfectly with the Copernican theory whereas they contradicted the old astronomy. Galileo had believed for years in the truth of Copernicanism, but he had never been able to demonstrate it despite his exceedingly optimistic statements to friends and colleagues [he had not even been able to remove the refuting instances, as we have seen, and as he says himself]. Should direct proof [should even mere agreement with the evidence] be at last sought here? The more this conviction took root in his mind, the clearer to him became the importance of the new instrument. In Galileo’s own mind faith in the reliability of the telescope and recognition of its importance were not two separate acts, rather, they were two aspects of the same process.’ Can the absence of independent evidence be expressed more clearly?”

I repeat: (1) faith in the reliability of the telescope, and, (2) recognition of its importance. There are parallels here with psychedelics and psychedelic technologies that I intend to research and discuss at a later time. Until then.

Feyerabend, P. (1993/1975). Against Method (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Verso. 

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