“Science is the most subversive thing that has ever been devised by man” … “Science runs on ignorance” … “There is no philosophical high-road in science” ….

This might not be what you thought science is like but, when you think about it, it’s exactly what science really is. Dark, blind and messy! Here are three posts I have chosen to discuss the question: What is ‘science’?

After you read them, have a think and then you can add your own post below.

Matt Ridley, 1999 Genome: the autobiography of a species:

The fuel on which science runs is ignorance. Science is like a hungry furnace that must be fed logs from the forests of ignorance that surround us. In the process, the clearing that we call knowledge expands, but the more it expands, the longer its perimeter and the more ignorance comes into view. . . . A true scientist is bored by knowledge; it is the assault on ignorance that motivates him – the mysteries that previous discoveries have revealed. The forest is more interesting than the clearing.

Max Born (1882-1970), Nobel Prize-winning physicist, quoted in Gerald Holton’s Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought:

There is no philosophical high-road in science, with epistemological signposts. No, we are in a jungle and find our way by trial and error, building our roads behind us as we proceed. We do not find sign-posts at cross-roads, but our own scouts erect them, to help the rest.

Philip Morris Hauser (1909-), Demographer and Census Expert, as quoted in Theodore Berland’s The Scientific Life:

Science is the most subversive thing that has ever been devised by man. It is a discipline in which the rules of the game require the undermining of that which already exists, in the sense that new knowledge always necessarily crowds out inferior antecedent knowledge. . . . . This is what the patent system is all about. We reward a man for subverting and undermining that which is already known. . . . . Man has a tendency to resist changing his mind. The history of the physical sciences is replete with episode after episode in which the discoveries of science, subversive as they were because they undermined existing knowledge, had a hard time achieving acceptability and respectability. Galileo was forced to recant; Bruno was burned at the stake; and so forth. An interesting thing about the physical sciences is that they did achieve acceptance. Certainly in the more economically advanced areas of the Western World, it has become commonplace to do everything possible to accelerate the undermining of existent knowledge about the physical world. The underdeveloped areas of the world today still live in a pre-Newtonian universe. They are still resistant to anything subversive, anything requiring change; resistant even to the ideas that would change their basic concepts of the physical world.

4 thoughts on “What is ‘science’?

  1. Humberto Maturana, the chilean biologist, who has made important contributions to the biological base of the language origin, and to other fields in science, has developed the concept of “conversational space”, that in short, means that given our subjective approach to our internal thinking, there is the possibility and necessity of a “practical and consensuated rules”, even for a short term, in order to communicate our ideas and concepts with each other. Science then, is the a unique “Conevsational Space” to learn, know and discover the facts of reality.

  2. As we have seen through various facets of the universe, fear is the biggest impediment to human achievement. Those who are not afraid to lead by trial and error, as Max Born suggests, are those who the rest follow regardless of the validity of the path uncovered.

    Thus, we should encourage our children to try and fail, try and succeed, and try to follow the most reasonable path. Let’s face it, telling a child to be a leader does not make them a leader. Teaching a child how to lead increases their chances of following in the same footsteps. However, I truly believe, that one must be born with a penchant for exploring the unknown and seeking their own way to explain the mysteries of our world.

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