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What Is Horganism?

To the Nobel laureate Phil Anderson, who coined the term in an essay in Physics Today in 1999, "Horganism" connotes corrosive pessimism about science's future. For the purposes of this blog—and because, hell, it’s my name—I’d like to define Horganism differently, as healthy skepticism toward faith of any kind, scientific, political, philosophical or spiritual. I understand faith’s appeal. Faith in scientific progress helps sustain researchers struggling to wrest truths from nature. Moreover, science has shown that faith in almost anything—from Zeus and Jesus to Freud and Prozac—can help us heal through the placebo effect, the tendency of our expectations to become self-fulfilling. But great harm has also been done in the name of faith, whether in a religion or in pseudo-scientific ideologies such as Marxism, Social Darwinism, eugenics or psychopharmacology. As my cover story for the October Discover should make clear, I still see lots of room for progress in science and other human endeavors. I even think we can end war! In other words, I’m a skeptic, but a hopeful one. And that’s the best definition I can think of for Horganism.

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