Sunday, April 10, 2011

Thoughts on Science

I like it. It appears to give good explanations of the world. But of course they seem reasonable and True to us, living in contemporary times. People always think they have the truth in current times. Once, it was known that women were irrational, emotional creatures subject to hysteria, incapable of understanding politics or business.

Some say science destroys wonder. I say it increaces it by many orders of magnitude. It magnifies everything, exploding our perspectives to previously unknown scales-- while at the same time massively increacing the detail and fineness of everything. We can now not only wonder at the beauty of the human form, but also know the trillions of cells living therein, with their own amazing architecture; also the ecological supports to our lives on the larger scale. We can now look at threads running everywhere, even to the stars, and temporally through natural history. An excellent book that reflects this is Annie Dillards Pilgrim At Tinker Creek, a favorite book of mine. It's deeply poetic, full of awe at the world around us, but based in science, in fact. It's close to what Richard Dawkins wanted when he wrote Unweaving the Rainbow, his answer to Keat's accusation that science destroys wonder.  

The microscope and the telescope have done more for the cause of wonder than any theology in history, for those who are paying any attention and sensitive to their implications. 

What I like most about science is that it is empirical. It looks first, then thinks. It doesn't read the dogma, then go looking for evidence to support it-- not in it's pure form. Instead it is simply open to the real. In this way science is very, dare I say it, spiritual. In a Zen way, at least. It encounters the world with attention and concentration, to see what is really there, what is actually happening. This is the prefect starting point for accurate knowledge.

Temples of the new age
The problem is that, in the end, science tears the world to pieces, so they can reassemble them; like a kid trying to fix the lamp he broke playing football in the house, to try and pass it off to us as truth, the glue running down the side, tape hanging off, and half the pieces missing.

What I mean is, science leaves us with only a model, a framework of ideas. I'm not saying there's no place for analysis, study, investigation; truly I'm all for it. But paying too much attention to mental models, be they religious or scientific, keeps us seperated from the real. They are sketches, rough estimates. They are useful, especially science which I admire in principle, but it's best not to be too attached to it.

Example: take a hundred data points and throw them on a graph; science will draw a line through them to show their average, and that average is what he holds on to. But that's not real. The reality is the hundred seperate points. The Law, the theory, the description, comes after, and is only a rough approximation of those points. There's no Law of Gravity, there's just things moving in space. We later came along and described the happenings, which, while seemingly consistent, do not actually obey our law. That is a Judeo-Christian notion with the Judeo-Christian removed; that is, the idea of laws of nature is a historical holdover from when it was thought science was discovering the laws of God. We're not discovering anything; we're just describing.

Science is provisional. Science admits this, many scientists do not; there is a reason that a scientist is far more likely to be an atheist or agnostic. Science has become their faith, though they'll call if hard truth, ignoring the many assumptions and fudge factors (such "constants" in their equations). Certainly most media reports treat science as holy dogma, absolute truth handed down by the men in white robes lab coats.

Finally, a quote: "The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of mystery" --Mary B. Yates. Kinda sums it up, eh?

1 comment:

  1. May I recommend an interesting book by the great Huston Smith called "Why Religion Matters." He discusses some of the points you are bringing up here. Don't be put off by the Norman Rockwell illustration on the cover.