Passion. Rejection. Awe. It is not a medieval love affair. It is a story about me and science. Holy teen ages.
While studying in Russia, the self-made weekly schedule almost looked like this: 4hours math, 7hours physics, 3hours chemistry. Mates didn’t call me Stephen. Scientific subjects were easier to understand due to latin terminology, and this is the main reason I took these classes so frequently. But I liked them very much. It was fascinating: Abstract thinking had to reason with physical evidence.
Once I came back home, I got in touch with the local hippy, willing-to-be-holistic community. They talked about quantum physics as a way to hack the traditional thinking. That which leaved no space for miracles. Woo woo, you might yell. At that time I was hungry to delve into that hopeful worldview.
Hunger kept me alive. Yes, I proudly wore my pink glasses. People kept asking a ton of grounded objections: Why isn’t alternative medicine healing everybody? How is that scientific community did not accept some supposedly “revolutionary discoveries”? I couldn’t ignore them.
I got stuck for a while. Folks I hung out with were beautiful, yet regrettably undertrained at critical thinking. I could not reject them, for I got acquainted enough with mystery to understand that something had to be solved. I stepped away into the unknown, looking for a light to switch on.
It’s as if scientific issues are simply matters of opinion — and not the product of a very thorough process of consensus-building among technically trained people.
While visiting the dentist during the yearly check-up, it is more likely to talk about the next Armageddon, rather than teething business. Why is that?
That’s what’s happening, a drive toward a subjective take on science — the polar opposite of what science stands for: A way of extracting universal truths about the natural world through a detailed process of observation and data analysis.
Things are pretty messy out there. Scientists tirelessly discuss about inductive and deductive reasoning. Not to say that someone considers science a retirement-ready idea. Nevertheless, scientists fight in their own field. Dope.
The article further quotes George Johnson to complete the picture:
“Viewed from afar, the world seems almost on the brink of conceding that there are no truths, only competing ideologies — narratives fighting narratives. In this epistemological warfare, those with the most power are accused of imposing their version of reality — the “dominant paradigm” — on the rest, leaving the weaker to fight back with formulations of their own. Everything becomes a version.”
It sounds like economics took control over epistemology. And it could be history as well: as Max Planck once said, “New scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”.
What about science?
Evidence. I desperately looked for it while drowning in uncertainty. And if I tried to somehow handle bigger problems, I knew what I had to wait for: overconfidence either panic. I’m particularly fond of the scientific method, because it offers a choice.
Storytelling is very compelling to me, and I wouldn’t mistake its effectiveness with critical reasoning’s. The former is the final output, the latter provides it with a proper structure. To me, the more accurate is critical thinking, the more power a speech could deliver.
True science, as well as true religion, is a great example of humbleness. Certainty has never set anyone free, nor satisfied. Jesuit Father and astronomer George Coyne wisely reminded me that
Discoveries lead to further ignorance.
Nevertheless, Marcelo Gleiser sets the limits of scientific knowledge:
Scientific certainty depends on the range of applicability of a given theory. If it is being applied within its range of validity, we can trust it as the best approximation to the truth.
That “range of applicability” is the creative element that connects the subjective take of the world with a broader one.
Problems need a switch in subjective paradigm to be effectively solved. The idea floats in the air, until someone gets to prove it. A creative approach is built upon novelty and usefulness, which means that a new combination of datas and ideas have to match a validating standard of approval.
A scientist might find something new in the datas, whether in the literature that served him to shift his knowledge. To make the leap, he has to state something that has never been said before. That becomes plausible when it matches an independent set of criteria.
After Karl Popper introduced the notion of falsifiability, science revealed its undeniable kin with philosophy. To him, truth was something to eventually attain, rather than something to own. He spread experimentation as a negative method, rather than a positive one. Experiments remind us that a given theory is temporarily fallacy-free, not a solid truth to rely upon.
To Sam Harris, science is embraced when adhering to the highest standards of logic and evidence. Religion hits
when a person’s commitment to evidence and logic grows dangerously thin or simply snaps under the burden of fear, wishful thinking, tribalism, or ecstasy.
Marcelo Gleiser gets deeper into that dangerous intersection, nurtured by an illogical collection of science and religion:
The scientific impulse to unify is crypto-religious. […] To search for simplicity is essential to what scientists do. It’s what I do. There are essential organizing principles in nature, and the laws we find are excellent ways to describe them. But the laws are many, not one.
That is just the tip of the iceberg, the major misconception ever prevented us from a better understanding of who we are. Sam Harris delightfully explores the boundaries of consciousness and conceptual thinking, blending Krishnamurti’s radical view with the unstoppable force of scientific progress:
Even if one thinks the human mind is entirely the product of physics, the reality of consciousness becomes no less wondrous, and the difference between happiness and suffering no less important. Nor does such a view suggest that we’ll ever find the emergence of mind from matter fully intelligible; consciousness may always seem like a miracle. In philosophical circles, this is known as “the hard problem of consciousness” — some of us agree that this problem exists, some of us don’t. Should consciousness prove conceptually irreducible, remaining the mysterious ground for all we can conceivably experience or value, the rest of the scientific worldview would remain perfectly intact.
See how the intangible concept of soul and the ever-changing identity process are marvellously merged by Maria Popova in the previous post.