What is science?

“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 four 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.

Elizabeth Helen Blackburn (1948-), Australian born Nobel-prize winning biological researcher:

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I’m also hoping that if more women stay in science, they will reshape how science happens. I don’t think that the way science has happened for the last 100 or so years is necessarily the most successful model. I’d like to see an infusion of new ways of doing things.

5 thoughts on “What is science?

  1. Having read and experienced certain things in the area that’s becoming known as “the new biology” and “noetic science” in the last few years, I can see how new knowledge indeed changes one’s view of reality. New possibilities have opened up then become acceptable to me which would not have been considered seriously before. Activities such as remote or distant healing are part of my everyday reality now, but I did need the evidence from scientists in the field just to reassure my rational mind. I’m very grateful to people such as Bruce Lipton and Gary Schwartz – and many others – in this regard.

  2. Although taken out of context I’m sure, this is just whining and complaining without providing a viable alternative.

  3. Poor old Science… So much criticism and negative comment. Where would we be without it.
    Almost like, or maybe just similar to, politics. Where the major part of any political comment is about what happened, what the opposition has done, or restating the problem rather than words towards a solution. Science as I see it is not only seeking answers, which can be convenient if not true, but seeking an explanation and a basis for further advancement in that field. Let’s keep it simple. I mean the question of what is Science, (Dad).? It’s first defining the subject, be it a problem or a potential advance in the subject area. Progress based on facts known or discovered along the way rather than moral but baseless beliefs.
    The terms, subverting and undermining and the like, could maybe be better replaced by, revisiting and redefining, the subject or data. Which is so often undertaken by the original scientist involved. Finally I like the quote of Elizabeth H. Blackburn who is talking change, progress and new ways.

  4. It seems programmed into our psyche to seek out and explain the unknown and even the unknowable. There is a sense of peace when we believe, even incorrectly, that we understand something others do not comprehend. This is one of the lures of certain cults of exclusivity whether religious or scientific in nature. Yes, science has its zealots too!! We must be honest that tunnel vision is not only in the religious communities but also in our labs and phylosophies. There are many similarities between science and religion in that it requires faith in the answers to the questions being asked regardless of the answers coming from a divine inspiration or the mind of an Einstein. Often the faith is squandered on misconceptions. The questions are fairly constant throughout the ages but become more complex with more knowledge of what we DON’T know. It takes a lifetime to realize how little we truly comprehend and by the end of our lives we find that if we live long enough, that which was believed irrefutable when we started was incorrect in its entirety. Certainly amusing and even laughable if you refrain from taking it all too seriously. For myself I choose to shine my small flashlight into every dark nook of first my own mind and then my universe from sheer wonder at this messy place we occupy for such a short time. Enjoy the ride, the debates, the angst from finding out we were wrong and the joy of being intelligent enough to admit the wrong and get it a little “righter”. Alas, we have so few words other than right or wrong to describe new concepts. Perhaps “interesting”, “possible”, “most likely”.
    “Most likely” some reading this will agree and applaud my correct thinking, others will say it’s the muttering of a fool. Perhaps both arguments have merit! Never quit seeking, the best is yet to be discovered!!

  5. TimY your comments about science being like religion is right on the mark. Both require blind faith and both try to control peoples lives and actions.

    They both have bosses, one is suppose to be God and the other acts like God and is called Big Business. If we believe in either one, we lose.

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