One of the reasons I absolutely love science and dislike religion is this: scientists the world over see reality in much the same way, while religious believers agree only on the need to believe without evidence, not on what they believe is true about their God fantasies.
So I wasn't surprised when, several days after writing "Science has a radical distrust of certainty. Me too," which was based on a book by physicist Carlo Rovelli, an Italian, I came across very similar sentiments about certainty in a book by a British physicist, Jim Al-Khalili, The Joy of Science.
Here's passages from the "Don't be afraid to change your mind" chapter.
If a theory survives, it is because it has been through this process of rigorous interrogation and we can be confident that the new scientific knowledge it gives us about the world can be trusted.
And it is here where we find one of the most important features of the scientific method: all of these careful steps are built on acknowledging and quantifying uncertainty, because a good scientist will always retain some degree of doubt and rational skepticism.
This does not necessarily mean that the scientist is sceptical of others' views, but rather that we as scientists should acknowledge that we may ourselves be wrong.
...While doubt and uncertainty are important in science, so too is certainty; otherwise we would likewise never make progress, and of course we do. The scientific method has many imperfections, and it is true that the process of scientific discovery is often messy and unpredictable, and full of blemishes, blunders and biases.
But after the dust has settled on some aspect of our understanding of the world, we usually find that progress has been made not through doubt, but through well-founded conclusions based on carefully justified steps that gradually reduce our levels of uncertainty.
...And yet uncertainty forms part of every theory, every observation, every measurement. A mathematical model will have built-in assumptions and approximations with a well-defined level of accuracy.
...Measuring uncertainty and accepting it as an integral part of scientific investigation is ingrained into every science student.
The problem is that many people not trained in science see uncertainty as a weakness rather than a strength of the scientific method. They will say things like, "If scientists are not sure of their results and admit that there is a chance that they might be wrong, then why should we trust them at all?"
Quite the opposite, in fact: uncertainty in science does not mean we don't know, but that we do know. We know just how likely our results are to be right or wrong because we can quantify our degree of confidence in them.
To a scientist, 'uncertainty' means a 'lack of certainty'. It does not mean ignorance. Uncertainty leaves room for doubt, and this is liberating because it means we can critically and objectively assess what we believe.
Uncertainty in our theories and models means that we know they are not absolute truths. Uncertainty in our data means our knowledge of the world is not complete. The alternative is far worse, for it is the blind conviction of the zealot.
There are many languages to speak about the same.
The same can be attributed different [social-cultural] values and meanings
Scientists are involved with what they do not know [yet]
Mystics expres what they already know, they do so with the linguistic tools they have.
[Religious] Believers, are neither scientists nor mystics, they speak about what they do not know as if they know
And .... than there are many others, that are consumers; neither scientist, mystic or believer. They come with many different garbs, faces and intentions.
Posted by: um | May 30, 2022 at 01:17 AM
If you believe you know the truth about any thing (physical, emotional, psychological, or any combination thereof) your mind is closed to actuality.
Throughout your life you will encounter many things (as defined) that are true, but because of the actuality of impermanence and insubstantiality, none of them will be truths in or of themselves.
Whenever you become attached to the belief that you know some thing is a truth (as defined) you remain trapped in the world of conditioned subjective reality and inhibit the on-going learning opportunity that life presents in now-ness.
The wise adhere to the scientific method of inquiry to arrive at the most plausible current functional understanding of some thing (as defined) based in currently available credible evidence to inform their transitory view of things (as defined) and are unattached to beliefs about any thing (as defined).
Posted by: Roger | May 30, 2022 at 06:40 AM
Both Jim Al-Khalili and Carlo Rovelli (previous blog), express the science method of thinking and action well – with its strengths of testing and uncertainty. Previously Rovelli mentioned the principle of doubt to facilitate further enquiry and study which is what I applaud about science.
I for example, have grave doubts about knowledge gained through other practices. The reason being that the complexity of our brains can give rise (under certain circumstances) to various natural experiences that can be assumed to be spiritual or mystical. Such mental experiences are felt to be something more than a physical brain can produce, but the on-going research that emerges from neuroscience is showing that the brain and nervous system accounts for much that we once believed to be spiritual experiences.
We shouldn't be afraid to embrace such studies – but we are. We humans have a proclivity to look for something more that can somehow make us seem more special than the rest of the natural world, so gravitate toward that which appeals to our human ego. Perhaps we need to accept (or see) that we are just like any other life form we know of – we are born, exist for a while (with all that that entails) and then die. We, like everything else are impermanent. This we can be certain of. Anything else is quite possibly a series of beliefs based on what might be pleasing to imagine, rather than on evidence, rationality, or reality.
Posted by: Ron E. | May 30, 2022 at 07:03 AM
If people actually lived by the philosophy of science, which is observe first hand, explore, investigate, share results with peers, theorize, collaborate,hypothesize, then test those hypotheses, we would all have a lot less conflict in the world.
Second hand science, trusting the literature, is a necessary but lesser path to truth because we must trust other researchers' claims. We can't measure Everything ourselves. However, a hypothesis, built on the work of thousands who came before, not only confirms our added theory, but the basis of the entire theory and all the past results. This is the beauty of the absolute nature of scientific practice. Because in this sequential way, we test first hand a link to all the past of science. And thus we have our direct experience of observation, measurement and testing.
This is supported by rules of disclosure about method, to allow for replication, and a willingness to supply the data for inspection.
All of this works in an atmosphere that values reality above anyone's notions or their reputation.
Science and scholarship, even religous scholarship, have similar values in holding up the reality of the event or substance, dynamic or text, above anyone's pet theory.
Where that gets lost is when people aren't practicing exploration, observation and discovery.
In the absence of active personal observation and testing, peer review with others to correct or confirm our understanding, you just end up with a debate over opinions.
Science and scholarship lose accuracy and their way when opinions take precedent over the veracity of the core data. And that happens, almost inevitably, the further we get from first hand observation / data.
Observation, feedback, correction, all are important parts of getting a more accurate picture of reality.
Absent these even scientists can go astray.
But the philosophy of science is right. We just need to be sure we are submitting our own thinking to its practices. If we don't like the answer we don't say science is wrong. We take a closer look to find the flaws in our methods first.
And what makes that a happy event is when we see that there are no failures in science. Just discovery! There is simply learning more, and getting a more accurate picture. Love of exploration, love of observation, love of discovery, all are part and parcel of the dedicated scientist.
Posted by: Spence Tepper | May 30, 2022 at 08:21 AM
How can anyone love science ?
Just shows how little most of us know about love.
What sad lives we lead if a mere tool or mode of enquiry is proclaimed to be loved.
Posted by: Ranger Rodney | May 31, 2022 at 04:37 PM