Why does addiction recovery have a mysterious air about it? Science can perform freaking heart transplants and more or less control behavior by manipulating chemical impulses in the brain – yet millions die each year from addiction.
We can use an ultrasound machine and leverage sound to create a visual image (that’s sheer madness) yet we can’t seem to curb this addictive chaos.
What the hell is happening??
Below will be 3 Reasons as to why science hasn’t been able to win the battle against addiction, and of consequence, these reasons will prove AA and like models still extremely relevant. Moreover, I will demonstrate how the irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous is damn near impossible to argue.
1. Cultural constructs (the self).
What comes to mind when you reflect upon the self?
What is this phantom entity?
It’s you, but it’s not a permanent thing. Is it?
The body remains fairly steady and stabilized throughout a lifetime – but the self cannot claim such attributes being itself noncorporeal (without physical form).
David Hume, the savage philosopher who proclaimed to have ‘killed philosophy’ in the 17th century, brought the significance of the self to light.
“Hume in his theory has put forward the premise of understanding the ‘impression’ and ‘identity’ we have of ourselves before we dwell into the questions of ‘the self’. According to Hume, as human beings we tend to think of ourselves as selves—who are stable entities that exist over time but no matter how closely we examine our own experiences, we never observe anything beyond a series of transient feelings, sensations, and impressions.
Hume mentions that we cannot observe ourselves, or what we are, in a unified manner. There is no holistic impression of the “self” that ties our individual impressions together which goes on to explain that we are never directly aware of ourselves but only of what we are experiencing at a particular moment. He explains that even though the relations between our ideas, feelings and so on and so forth can be traced through time by memory, there is no real evidence of any core that connects them in pure totality.
In this light, David Hume suggests that the self is just a bundle of perceptions, like links in a chain. To look for a unifying self beyond those perceptions is like looking for a chain apart from the links that constitute it. Hume argues that our concept of the self is a result of our natural habit of attributing unified existence to any collection of associated parts. This belief is natural, but there is no logical support for it.”
Clearly something as elusive and mysterious as the self can no more be studied than can paranormal activity. Sure, we can our pile on our theories and shift the paradigm, but at the end of the day, we merely sit and wait until the current opinion is undermined. Until the point of the self can be demonstrated as irrefutably rational, the irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous cannot be adequately shown.
Which takes us to the next point.
2. Worldviews with gaps (presuppositions)
No worldview is without a quasi leap of faith (see my article on faith).
We all begin with some basic belief, some eternal verity of sorts, which cannot be proven in the conventional sense of the word but holds our entire interpretation of the world together.
Remove it and we are left doubting everything.
Yet, to doubt is just to suspend one verity for another…this process never ends. It’s the nature of worldviews.
For example, If I hold to a naturalistic/materialistic worldview i.e. the belief that everything there is can be found in nature (matter, energy, and motion), then no supernatural mumbo jumbo is permitted, let alone even considered in my interpretation of data.
This means that if I’m looking for an explanation, anything which slightly hints at something spiritual is immediately discredited.
Why? Because it doesn’t align with my basic commitment to the verity of naturalism.
This, of course, does not mean materialism as a worldview is any more correct than a religious one, it just implies that naturalisms framework won’t allow for a religious component.
Both worldviews ultimately appeal to unproven first principles (this is my opinion anyway, I welcome a good challenge for I’m in no way an expert in philosophical reasoning).
If religion is a bunch of malarkey, then the naturalistic framework is our best bet.
However, if there is more to this world than simply what meets the eye, than a naturalistic framework is in trouble.
And, contrary to vehement arguments of some, no such conclusive evidence exists – of course, the religious and/or naturalist will argue their system is the best per the evidence, neither of them can separate themselves from their skins and adequately access the views of the other.
Also, since this is outside the domain of proof, it would appear to be unknowable and more fundamental a basic structure to individual preference and experience.
Naturalism cannot explain concepts such as justice, morality, beauty, etc., but we would not deny such concepts exist.
One could argue that they are relative to cultures but this couldn’t be proven unless one already held to a naturalistic worldview.
Bearing this in mind coupled with the immense limitations, restrictions, and the static nature of naturalism, religious systems, such as the 12-Steps, will always be on high demand.
Additionally, naturalism cannot really argue against religious interpretations because their system is simply incompatible with anything that’s beyond mere natural phenomenon (if such things exist). Am I repeating myself? Good.
The materialist would launch an attack using alien concepts and ideas to the religious school of thought being argued against.
It’s not as if naturalism presents brute facts. It’s not as if the data parallels exactly the theories they evangelize.
Instead, it’s the other way around. The theories are naturalistic and the evidence gathered will be interpreted via this lens. To put it another way, the theories create the data, not vice versa (which we are often led to believe).
These chasms in worldviews will always leave enough wiggle room for the human imagination to explore and dance in the mystery – this dance ensures the religious system will continue to sustain, if not increase. The increase, however, would be attached to the concept of meaning. Unless presuppositions can be proven, which is impossible by definition, then the program of Alcoholics Anonymous cannot be declared irrational unless one already assumed this prior to the investigation.
2. Science cannot provide meaning
Science cannot do anything other than give a precise play by play of what has happened.
It can create predictions based upon this knowledge, but it cannot inject meaning, purpose, or value onto anything.
It can only dispassionately observe.
(warning: this is overly simplistic!)
This does not mean it can’t increase the quality of life tenfold (would anyone deny this?) Rather, the meaning we experience falls upon the shoulders of philosophies and religions – it’s outside of the parameters of the scientific method
Not to beat a dead horse but,
“According to materialism, the world consists of matter and energy and motion. The world is physical in its most basic and deepest structure. Everything else is built up from complex combinations and interactions of matter and energy and motion. Elementary particles form into atoms; atoms form into molecules; molecules form into larger structures like crystals and living cells; cells form organs and organisms, and each one of us is such an organism. The structure of our brains leads to complex human actions and thoughts, and these lead to human meaning. According to this view, the world has physical meaning that derives from matter and energy and motion. Everything else is added human meanings that we ourselves create in the process of interpreting what we experience.”
Human beings naturally crave meaning. Just as naturally as we crave security, relationships, thirst, hunger, etc. However, since science fails to adequately provide existential, historical, moral, logical, or experiential truths, it cannot provide purpose or meaning.
For instance, science cannot tell us the purpose of our existence. If anything, it will simply report we have none. This seems counterintuitive and at odds with what most people desire. Certainly, desire does not in any way make something true, but it undoubtedly adds to the wiggle room.
Additionally, science erases the vapors of meaning. “It can describe and categorize life and our experience with the world, but it cannot explain what it all means.” If anything, it purports everything as simply accidental and by chance.
From the pen of Bertrand Russell, a steward and champion of scientism, we can succinctly capture this point of view.
“That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.” ==>cited a Free Man’s Worship.
Don’t get me wrong. I practically venerate Russell. However, I don’t believe this is going to appeal to the imaginations of many folks.
People want meaning.
People want purpose.
People want value.
And unfortunately, a scientific worldview all by it’s lonesome is incapable of providing it. At least providing it in a satisfactory manner to most people. This, I believe, is why 12-step programs and the like will continue to survive and thrive, even in the face of the many ‘evidence-based’ claims to the contrary.