Archives for posts with tag: Science

What we currently call ‘science’ is both an activity and an attitude. Something some of us do and the way in which some of us see the world.

In current lingo, those who ‘do science’ are involved in ‘technology’ while those who see the world ‘scientifically’ partake in a certain philosophical tradition.
If we look at things in this way, it becomes obvious that doing science and thinking scientifically might not be the same thing.

Science, as an attitude, had sprung up in Ancient Greece, been kept alive by the early Islamic scholars, rekindled by the Medieval Catholic theologians, come of age during the Renaissance and ‘exploded’ after the Enlightenment.
Technology, on the other hand, is way older. And had been developed mainly elsewhere than the scientific attitude. China and India had been technological powerhouses and thriving civilizations in times when Europe was still learning to wash its hands before dinner.

‘Modern’ science – what we have now, appeared only after technological prowess had been married to the right attitude. 

OK.
It is easy to accept that technology, the more widely distributed part of ‘science’, had appeared as a consequence of mere necessity. People needed things in order to survive, then wanted things in order to increase their comfort… things which had to be produced… as efficiently as possible… hence people had put their minds to it and … voila!
But what had driven some of those around the Mediterranean Sea to develop the scientific attitude?

The same thing which drives us?
The attempt to find out the future, one second earlier than it really happens?
Because they thought, like we do, that reality is unique and that man is meant to master it?

Man, the guy who was made by God in His own image and who was told to rule the world?

Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus, Occam,  Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Georges Lemaitre… some of them might have been persecuted by the church – personally or had their their ideas ‘challenged’, but they all had been raised in the Christian tradition and had been active members of their religious communities. Even Galileo, the only one among these who had been ‘physically’ affected by the way in which his ideas had been received by his contemporaries, had a more or less ‘functional’ relationship with the heads of the Church… he had died in his own bed, arrested in his own villa, not at the stake …



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And no, this is no joke! Alas…

Populism is scientific because its ‘adepts’ have a very rational behavior and use scientific tools to increase the appeal of their public messages.
And, on the other hand, populism is scientific because its advent is perfectly explainable given what we currently know. About our society, about our brains, about our psychology….

Let me start from the beginning.
In Thomas Kuhn’s terms, the last 60 or so years have witnessed a tremendous paradigm shift.
Science has replaced religion as the main paradigm and ‘religion’ has been demoted to  ‘religions’.

Science becoming the main paradigm means that we have grown confident about our knowledge. We might be aware that we don’t know everything yet but we continue to believe that we’re able to learn everything. That if we are diligent enough we’ll sometimes be able to look under every rock that is.
This attitude has led us to search for ‘perfection’. ‘Efficiency’ has displaced ‘redemption’. We have ceased our quest for salvation and are now obsessed with ‘buy low, sell high’. In other words, ‘make the most of it but strain yourself as little as possible’.

Which makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

A lot of sense… mainly when you no longer perceive the guy next to you as being a full-fledged member of your community. Your religious community, that is. Of your church.

You see, ever since Emil Durkheim, the sociologists have been aware that religion was not so much a story about the making of the world as a ‘common ground’. The ‘common core’ shared by the members of a given community. Which ‘common core’ makes it possible for those who share it to have respect. For themselves and for the other faithful members of the community. By sharing that common core, the individuals find their bearings in the ‘wide, wide world’ and, thus, know how to behave relative to their ‘neighbors’. With enough mutual respect among the individual members that the community is able to function. To survive, that is.

We no longer have that kind of community.
Our primary allegiance is no longer towards ‘church’. Most of us consider themselves primarily as members of a nation – something governed more by formal laws than by public sentiment, and only secondarily – if at all, as members of a ‘religious’ community.

Now, putting two and two together, it’s very simple to understand that in the given circumstances ‘populism’ was inevitable, right?

Too many of the would be leaders have no qualms about how they get what they want.
Power.
‘Buy low, sell high’ is the current mantra, remember? Accepted by all of us. Buyers, sellers, by-standards…
Too many members of the general public are willing to accept promises which are in line with their own expectations, even if those promises being put in practice means a lot of misery for OTHERS. Who cares about those others, anyway? They are not members of OUR ‘church’!

I’ll let you decide how sustainable is such a situation. I was going to use ‘community’ instead of ‘situation’ but it would have been horribly wrong. We no longer live in communities. We only happen to live in the same place.

For how long?

We pride ourselves for our ability to choose. Rationally!
We call that ‘liberty’ and we consider it an ‘undeniable human right’.

Yet everything, including our understanding of things, exists because of ‘chance’.
While neither chance nor choice can manifest itself/be exerted outside what we’ve learned to call ‘hard reality’.

“First you guess. Don’t laugh, this is the most important step. Then you compute the consequences. Compare the consequences to experience. If it disagrees with experience, the guess is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is or how smart you are or what your name is. If it disagrees with experience, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”

Attributed to Richard Feynman by
Florentin Smarandache, V. Christianto,
in Multi-Valued Logic, Neutrosophy, and Schrodinger Equation? (2006), 73

What we call reality exists.
Regardless of us being able to faithfully express whatever we know about it.
Regardless of how much of what we know we are willing to share with others.
Regardless of some of us using their knowledge to impose themselves upon the less knowledgeable.

The irrefutable proof about reality being a fact is not that we have chosen to call it so. Or even to call it at all.

The irrefutable proof that reality is factual is, duh, another fact.
That nobody, no matter how knowledgeable, powerful or both at the same time, has ever been able to impose their will upon the said reality for any significant length of time.

No dictator has ever been able to consistently subdue a people. To kill it, yes. To consistently subdue it, NO. Lately, most of them have also lost an erstwhile relatively common ability… that of bequeathing their power to their intended successor.
No scientist has ever been able to pretend they really knew what they were talking about. No genuine scientist, that is… That they have a clue… yes. Of course!
A fair understanding of what’s going on… that is increasingly plausible.

That at least one of the above possesses the ultimate knowledge/power about even the minutest portion of reality…

“Science might be based on a foundation of rational thought and trial-and-error, but the roots of religion lie in something much more incalculable, and thus much harder to counter.”

I haven’t read the book so I’m not going to comment on it, yet.

What bothers me is the idea of countering ‘religion’.

Why would anyone do something like that?

If any of us sees an error in the ‘scientific’ realm that error is brought forward and fixed but nobody questions the entire realm.
Meanwhile if a religious individual does a stupid thing, like all of us have done in our lives, quite a lot of people blame it on ‘religion’ and ‘faith’.

Rather irrational – hence unscientific – don’t you think?

After all science and religion are about something different.
Science is about how the nature works while religion (‘reliegare’ in Latin means ‘connecting’) is about the ties that transform a mob into a community. Some religions use Gods to achieve this, some don’t – Buddha was a ‘mere’ teacher and Buddhism has no need for any God.

So, again, why counter ‘religion’?

The real problem produced by ‘organized religion’ is that it encourages some people to act in blind faith instead of thinking with their own heads while it offers come callous manipulators the opportunity to use religious teachings as a way to further their petty interests.
‘Faith’ can induce blindness very easily, you know.  No matter if that faith is placed in a religious hierarchy/teaching or in the power of rational thinking.
Just as reputable scientists, Herbert Simon and Daniel Kahneman  among others, have amply demonstrated the human thinking process is not at all infallible.That’s why our pride about our ability to think scientifically should not be allowed to grow into self-sufficiency. After all that was how Marx, on the footsteps of Plato, reached the conclusion that it was possible for a small number of people (the ‘enlightened’ communists) to know better than the rest of the population how things must be organized… The Soviet Union, the biggest social experiment ever, was ample proof that he was plain wrong.

On the other hand the one thing that all religions have in common is that they teach their members to respect each other – something that the ‘scientific communists’ never did. Some religions even teach that all human beings, irrespective of their creed, are to be respected. Just think about how most nomad people welcome visitors – those that come in peace, of course.

So how come there are so many ‘scientists’ are ready to counter, entirely, something as wide as ‘religion’?

Faith versus Fact, Jerry Coyne

Can Religion and Science coexist? Jeffery Tayler

People glimpse fragments from the surrounding reality and then use their newly found understanding to gradually change it.
They do this in three, successive, steps.
The first has a lot to do with happenstance – the right man at the right place, the second involves a lot of ‘due diligence’ and the third depends very much on how those who end up in command of the new understating relate to the rest of the people.
Sometimes some of the people who ‘happen’ to ‘stumble’ on new information/experience something really new feel the urge to communicate to others what has happened to them.
Usually the information gleaned/sentiments experienced during this first step are so new that there are no socially sanctioned symbols that can represent them faithfully so the individual trying to communicate the entire experience has to find a novel way to make it understandable for those around him. This is art.
The second step has less to do with actual discovery and is more about systematization of information already at our disposal. Something like charting a newly discovered territory. Even if we have to adapt our existing tools to the new task – some of them had been discovered during the first step but that means they are already here when we start the second one, here the job to be done is more about reason than inspiration. This is science.
And now, that new information is available – even before it was widely disseminated – people start to use it. Some of it is used straight away/as it is/honestly while some other is used to keep ‘the others’ in the dark or to alter their perceptions in order to fit the goals of the ‘user’/’entrepreneur’/spin doctor.
Usually this last way of using newly found understanding has perverse consequences. The ‘user’ becomes arrogant and starts to believe he has somehow become a (demi)God while the people kept in the dark/unwittingly exploited sooner or later become aware of what is going on – and sometimes express that in artistic ways.
At some point the equilibrium is regained, either through  a  a series of oscillations that ’embrace’ it – a revolution – or through small steps in the right direction – evolution.
(Usually, as the distance between a given state of facts and the perceived point of equilibrium becomes wider then people gradually loose hope in evolution and start to consider more revolutionary methods.)

This quote is so wrong that it makes me wonder if Neil deGrasse Tyson is even aware of it’s existence…

Karl Popper has long ago produced ample proof that science is true only till proven wrong so it ever being true depends solely on us temporarily believing in it…
Maybe the guy who wrote this should have put it a little differently.
“The good thing about the scientific mind-set is that whenever we find proof to the contrary it makes it easier for us to stop believing an erstwhile scientifically held truth and to go further.”

Karl Popper: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/
Falsifiability: https://explorable.com/falsifiability

“Seeing is believing.”

Yeah, right.

So, do we really know anything?

For instance I know that the Earth exists – I am able to walk on it and I eat things that grow out of it.

I also believe – without ever having seen it from far enough – that the Earth is round. Just as my ancestors used to believe that the Earth was flat. Both I and my ancestors were told what to believe and we did that. Because we believed in those who were offering us that particular piece of information and because the issue wasn’t of any real importance for us, personally.

I do trust that Neil Armstrong did land on the Moon. I’m not going to share with you my reasons for that here, this post is about something else. My point is that belief is casual while trust is active. I did research the matter, as I could, and I considered it carefully before reaching the conclusion that ‘Yes, I am convinced that Neil Armstrong did land on the Moon’.

As we all know ‘know’ is a verb. The corresponding noun is ‘knowledge’, information that we are aware of. And so familiar with that we don’t even remember how we have arrived to accept it as true.

Believe is also a verb. It’s corresponding noun is ‘belief’, information we are aware of and believe it to be true just because we were told so by a seemingly credible source.

Trust is both a verb and a noun. And here comes the really interesting part. While trust as a verb means more or less the same thing as believe, trust as a noun has nothing, but absolutely nothing in common with belief. Trust is a state of mind while belief is a piece of information with a ‘value’ attached to it.
In fact ‘trust’ is something you consciously choose to invest while ‘believing’ is something you are led to, sometimes even without you being aware of what is going on, by a person or even by the circumstances you happen to find yourself in.

Now it is time to introduce another notion. Faith. It exists only as a noun and that’s why I didn’t brought it up from the beginning.
It has something in common with both belief and trust. Similar to belief no proof is usually attached to faith and similar to trust faith is something that the individual has to willingly accept/profess/invest.

Coming back to knowledge we discover there are many kinds of it.
We have factual knowledge, the kind we have either witnessed or otherwise seems so evident that we’d never even dreamed of questioning. So evident that if somebody asks us to be specific and put it squarely in one of the ‘belief’, ‘trust’ or ‘faith’ drawers we’d be at a loss and protest vehemently ‘it’s plain knowledge, what’s wrong with you guys?’
Then we have our beliefs. For instance we know that we love our partners and our kids and we believe that they love us back. We also have faith in a lot of things. Some of us have faith in God, some others put their faith in politicians, market analysts or even the weather-man. For a longer or shorter period of time. When gravely ill we put our faith in doctors and in medicines. And so on.
And finally there is the trust problem. For a real trust to develop we need an actual understanding of what is going on. That’s where science and technology comes is. If we’d done something for a long enough period of time we gradually become confident in our ability to do that thing over and over again with consistent results. If the results are reproducible, if other people can obtain results similar to ours by following our methods then our endeavor is deemed scientific and, hence, trustworthy. Same goes for information gathered following scientific methods.

And here lies the pitfall. Science has to be constantly challenged in order to remain valid. If we reach that point where we start to put faith in science and scientists instead of continuously demanding proof and doing our best to understand with our own heads what is going on then we are doomed. Science morphs not in ‘religion’ – that is something else – but in hoax.

The ‘thing’ with science is that the only trustworthy aspect of it is the method, not at all the results. We’ll never be able to find the absolute truth – no result will ever be 100% accurate – but if we keep using the ‘scientific method’ – consistency and unhidden-ness – then we’ll remain on the safe side.

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