More and more of our patients complain of a sense of meaninglessness in life. More and more often, the reason is the outlook of science. Or what has come through to them as the outlook of science.
Sometimes it is called reductionism. I'd prefer to apply a phrase of Jung's and say nothing-butness.
Thinking people tend to feel that science has cut Man down. It's explained away everything that matters in terms of smaller, meaner things that don't matter.
Religion is nothing but wish-fulfilling fairy-tales. Love is nothing but body chemistry. Art is nothing but a surge of conditioned reflexes. The highest flights of the poet of philosopher are traced back to childhood trivia and rationalised compensations.
Science leaves man shut-in, futile, doomed. In Desmond Morris's words, a naked ape...
From The Finger and the Moon by Geoffrey Ashe - a novel published in 1973.
The above passage confirms what those who lived through it remember - that the diagnosis of the modern condition of nihilism was well understood 45 years ago - but its cause was wrongly attributed; and, of course, the main and culturally-dominant ideas for how to solve the problems (free-love, rock music, supposedly-egalitarian communes, psychedelic drugs, eclectic Easter-type religiosity...) were almost-completely ineffective, or counter-productive.
Hardly anybody nowadays feels the above sense of oppression by 'science' - science has waned in the public consciousness, even as the number of people employed as 'scientists' has increased more than tenfold... partly because the number of people employed as 'scientists' has increased more than tenfold.
With the death of Stephen Hawking, famous more for being crippled and anti-religion than for the scope of his scientific achievements, and the non-personing of Jim Watson in 2007; most people could not name a single living scientist - nor could a single living scientist's name be recognised by most people.
The reason is obvious enough - real science has disappeared from the official and professional institutions and been replaced by, absorbed by, The Bureaucracy. The biggest and most heavily-funded 'scientific' projects are actually engineering (the human genome project, hadron collider, renewed interest in space travel...) and/ or a pack of lies propagated for political reasons (anthropogenic global warming, the best-selling 'new' medical drugs...).
The 'scientists' are just careerist bureaucrats, doing what they are told by their 'line managers', who are themselves keyed-into the rest of The Bureaucracy - just like everyone else.
The sixties counter-culture has been completely absorbed by the mass media amplified by personal computers and ubiquitous 'smart'-phones - and political 'dissent' and 'radicalism' is mainstream, taught in schools and by state propaganda; subsidised and promoted by The Bureaucracy.
Now science is bureaucracy; consequently The Bureaucracy is science. We believe and obey because Truth is now consensus, and consensus is manufactured by managed-committees, by procedures and by votes - and the bureaucratic consensus is validated by internal bureaucratic mechanisms that allocate funding, publication, promotions, publicity, awards and prizes.
Meanwhile, people have gone beyond 'complaining' about a sense of meaninglessness in life - why complain about something immovable and unavoidable and all-pervading? They just live-it; and distract themselves from awareness of it (which has never been easier). Science, for all its nothing-butness, was also exciting and hopeful.
Now excitement and hope is restricted to the manipulative totalitarianism of the mass media; and the ever-expanding bureaucracy closes-off all genuine autonomy in a ever-smaller-meshed network of total surveillance and micro-control.
Sixties-seventies radicalism was always mostly a set-up and a dead-end; and things have moved-on. We can seem much more clearly now, than they did then - so clearly that we don't need to be told. Everyman can see for himself - if he wants-to. Everyman can know what needs to be done - if he wants to...
It is the wanting that is lacking - and also the courage to want.