#057 DFQ – The Scientific Method

If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance.

Orville Wright, pioneer of human flight.

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I formerly thought that when a tendency to produce the two sexes in equal numbers was advantageous to the species, it would follow from natural selection, but I now see the whole problem is so intricate that it is safer to leave its solution to the future.

Charles Darwin, biologist and author, The Origin of Species.

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It is almost unbelievable how much the atmosphere changed as a consequence of the publication, in 1859, of The Origin of Species. Our whole outlook, our picture of the universe, has changed, as never before. The Darwinian revolution is still proceeding. But now we are also in the midst of a counter-revolution, a strong reaction against science and against rationality. I feel that it is necessary to take sides on this issue. My position, very briefly, is this. I am on the side of science and of rationality, but I am against those exaggerated claims for science that have sometimes been, rightly, denounced as ‘scientism’. I am on the side of the search for truth, and of intellectual daring in the search for truth; but I am against intellectual arrogance, and especially against the misconceived claim that we have the truth in our pockets, or that we can approach certainty. It is important to realize that science does not make assertions about ultimate questions about the riddles of existence, or about
Man’s task in this world.

Sir Karl Popper, philosopher of science

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The Truth does not exist in science. There ARE truths in science but there is no such thing as one ABSOLUTE truth. There are only truths that are more likely than other truths.

Science is uncertain.

You cannot prove anything in science (in the absolute sense) because science is based on evidence. And, as time passes, there is always more and more evidence.

In science, at any particular time, the balance of evidence supports one point of view or ‘truth’ as being more likely than any other ‘truth’. But, as history has shown, new generations of scientists soon find new evidence, have new ideas and design new paradigms – new ways of looking at the world.

This phenomenon is so well respected by scientists that, as Darwin said in the quote above, they can rely on it happening. Three generations later, Sir Ronald Fisher, the geneticist and father of modern statistics, solved the problem that Darwin, understanding the unfolding scientific method, had deliberately procrastinated.

So, science then updates itself by displacing the previous truth with the new ‘more likely’ truth. This is the scientific process – the search for more likely truths – that continues and continues on into the future. This uncertainty of science accounts for a lot of its progress.

Replacing Earlier Truths With Better Truths

As mentioned earlier, the prevailing truth before Galileo was Aristotle’s view that the Earth was the centre of the universe. With his telescope that he invented Galileo was able to produce evidence that the earth was not the centre but was in orbit around the sun. So, science updates itself and replaces Aristotle’s truth with Galileo’s new ‘sun truth’.

Another more recent example is that of cosmologist George Smoot. He and his COBE satellite team received worldwide recognition for providing evidence of the ‘wrinkles in time’ that now prove the big bang theory to be a fact. So science is now updating itself.

Competing truths are now giving way to this new ‘more likely truth’ because of the weight of evidence provided by the COBE satellite. We now see scientists like David Spergal, the proponent of a competing theory (the textures version of topological defect theory) declaring after the release of the COBE evidence “We’re dead.” (It’s possible his comment was a little more graphic).

Even noted physicist Stephen Hawking was willing to admit the COBE discovery “was the most important of the century, perhaps of all time”. That today’s entire universe has grown out of a particle, smaller than a proton, as the result of a big bang 15 billion years ago, is no longer a theory. It’s a new scientific truth. Watch this space!

Another Truth Discovered!

It has often been said that Einstein’s accomplishment is the greatest feat of thinking ever performed by a human brain. It’s also said that ‘two heads are better than one’. If that is so, then perhaps the greatest feat of thinking ever performed by any two human brains was in 1953 when two young scientists, Francis Crick from England and James Watson from America, together cracked the code of codes and for which they jointly received the Nobel Prize.

Francis Crick

During the war, after a German bomb blew up his physics laboratory, a young physicist joined the Royal Navy. After the war, Francis Crick, changed to biology. He was around 30.

Crick was an atheist. He wanted to expose the ‘mysteries’ of the illusion of vitalism. He later said, “My own motives I never had any doubt about; I was very clear in my mind. I chose what we now call molecular biology, though the term wasn’t common then, certainly I didn’t know it – but I would have said the borderline between the living and the non living. That was the phrase I had in my mind.”

Horace Freeland Judson’s excellent comprehensive history, The Eighth Day of Creation (Penguin, London. 1979), quotes Crick in his application for his research grant as having written: “The particular field which excites my interest is the division between the living and the nonliving, as typified by, say, proteins, viruses, bacteria, and the structure of chromosomes. The eventual goal, which is somewhat remote, is the description of these activities in terms of their structure ie the spatial distribution of their constituent atoms, in so far as this may prove possible. This might be called the chemical physics of biology.”

He won his grant for research at Cambridge University’s famous Cavendish Laboratory.

James Watson

In 1944, a short book called What is Life? was published by the famous physicist, Erwin Schrodinger. In it, Schrodinger, a founder of quantum mechanics, speculated on the physical basis of the gene, its atomic and molecular structure. As a result of reading this book, James Watson once wrote, “I became polarised towards finding out the secret of the gene”.

James Watson was a young Indiana University biology postgraduate. He was also a member of a group of American research scientists who gathered each summer at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island, an hour out of New York. As his work progressed, Watson became convinced that if he wanted to find the structure of the gene then he had to learn X-ray diffraction techniques so he sailed to England to study there.

Crick and Watson

In October 1951, Crick and Watson met at Cambridge. Crick, 35, was just a research student and Watson, 23, just a visitor. They instantly hit it off and became intellectual mountain-climbers, each helping the other up and up.

They could be seen everywhere in animated conversation, having tea, in hallways, in laboratories, in the local pub – so eventually they were given a room to work in together so as not to disturb the rest of the researchers. Says Crick, “We must have got the reputation by that time of rather talking together a lot.”

Watson and Crick launched two separate attacks, in parallel, on the discovery of the structure of DNA. The first ended in disaster. The second was a success beyond anything they had hoped for. The project required an enormous amount of intellectual effort and research, involving many critical contributions by a number of other researchers including Rosalind Franklin, another participant in the discovery.

Finally, Crick and Watson cracked the genetic code. They published their ideas in the first of three articles in Nature, on 25 April 1953. It was a three-page article entitled Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids. The article included the first published diagram of the molecular structure of their, now famous double helix, (which looks a bit like a ladder you might find in Escher’s closet).

What is life?

The universal system of all life on this planet is based on a fundamental coden and that code was broken by Francis Crick and James Watson in 1953. Since these men unravelled the molecular structure of the gene our world has undergone a continuing and exploding series of revolutionary insights. These scientific developments show no sign of slowing down and nothing can ever be the same.

Prior to 1953 one could still, credibly, hold on to the belief that life itself was ultimately a mysterious thing. Once could still, as a thinker, speculate about the origins and ‘mysteries’ of life. To do so today, it may be argued, is an admission of ignorance, laziness or both.

Digital Genes

We now know that genes are digital. They are long strings of pure digital information. Like CDs and computers, the code of life – all life – is mighty digital in its internal structure. Whereas the binary code of computers has two symbols, in life the genetic code is quaternary with four symbols. Otherwise they’re digitally the same.

What, then, is the essential difference between the machine code of a computer and that of your genes? The answer is: none!

Building on Crick and Watson, the famous Oxford darwinist, Richard Dawkins, best-selling author of The Selfish Gene, has explained that “life results from the non-random survival of randomly varying replicators”.

And these replicators, these genes, are digital. Our genetic code is so digital to the core that you could encode, with word-for-word accuracy, the whole of the Bible in those parts of the human genome that are at present filled with junk DNA.

In his later book, River Out of Eden, Dawkins illustrates the strong digital nature of genes with characteristic clarity and wit: “The following science-fiction plot is feasible, given a technology that differs from today’s only in being a little speeded up. Professor Jim Crickson has been kidnapped by an evil foreign power and forced to work in its biological-warfare labs. To save civilisation it is vitally important that he should communicate some top-secret information to the outside world, but all normal channels of communication are denied him. Except one.

“The DNA code consists of sixty-four triplet “codons,” enough for a complete upper- and lower-case English alphabet plus ten numerals, a space character and a full stop or period. Professor Crickson takes a virulent influenza virus off the laboratory shelf and engineers into its genome the complete text of his message to the outside world, in perfectly formed English sentences. He repeats his message over and over again in the engineered genome, adding an easily recognisable “flag” sequence–say, the first ten prime numbers. He then infects himself with the virus and sneezes in a room full of people.

“A wave of flu sweeps the world, and medical labs in distant lands set to work to sequence its genome in an attempt to design a vaccine. It soon becomes apparent that there is a strange repeated pattern in the genome. Alerted by the prime numbers – which cannot have arisen spontaneously – somebody tumbles to the idea of employing code-breaking techniques. From there it would be short work to read the full English text of Professor Crickson’s message, sneezed around the world.”

The Human Genome Project

In June 2000 at a White House ceremony President Clinton proclaimed, “Today we have learned the language in which God created life” as he declared the multi-billion international race to map our genetic make-up to have been won.

The entire map of the human genome shows a string of 3 billion letters–750 megabytes of digitized information–that would fit on a single CD.

Decoding the human genome–the text of life–is another great consequence of Crick and Watson’s work. It has been compared with the invention of the wheel and landing on the moon.

So, if life is digital and knowable the ‘mystery of mysteries’ has evaporated. What effect does that have on us as sovereign thinkers. In what way has the feat of Watson and Crick helped to free us from authoritarianism? In what way has the work of these two scientists added a quantum leap to our freedom as sovereign thinkers?

Knowledge and Power

One of the themes of this training is the connection between knowledge and power. Knowledge is power and thinking is the source of knowledge. Thinking is also the source of power.

Like Luther’s use of the media, the genetic revelation of Crick and Watson is another huge victory for knowledge over authority. A thinker no longer needs a ‘priest of the knowledge’ with special mystical powers to explain ‘the meaning of life’. It is now readily explicable and easily understandable by the individual without any need for an intermediary who retains special ‘supernatural powers’ for himself. To the sovereign thinker, this is a huge dividend of personal freedom.

No powerbase likes to surrender its power. It would be naive to think so. However the old supernatural powerbases, still operating in today’s world, have lost most of their temporal power and what little remains is rapidly disintegrating at an astonishing rate of acceleration.

It some ways it is ironic how the uncertain truths of science have so overtaken the certainty of The Truth. Even the highest claims of occult certainty seem thin and puerile compared to the demonstrable achievements of science.

A Supernatural Assumption or a Scientific Demonstration

Perhaps the ultimate claim of occult certainty was in 1950. Around the same time that Crick and Watson were heading for Cambridge, a mystical methodology was producing a fresh discovery in Rome.

There has only been one infallible claim ever made by a pope since Pius IX proclaimed the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1870. An Italian priest, Eugenio Pacelli as Pius XII, suddenly, in 1950, asserted his doctrine of The Assumption.

Speaking ex cathedra and claiming powers of infallibility he decided that Mary was physically assumed into heaven. He professed that not only was Mary’s physical body actually taken into heaven but also that this claim was the supreme statement of certainty that only a Supreme Pontiff could make.

Your instant auto-excommunication option

He even added that his recondite discovery was so certain a ‘fact’ that if any Catholics ever wished to automatically excommunicate themselves from the church, they only had to wilfully doubt his declaration and they were out. Finito.

In his anathema, Pacelli said:

“If anyone, which God forbid, should dare wilfully to deny or call in doubt that which We have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic faith”

The School of Thinking also has an instant auto-excommunication option. Its not an anathema its called ‘unsubscribe’: “If anyone should willfully wish to fall away completely from the SOT just unsubscribe.”

Leaving aside the impertinence of his assertion and the total lack of any evidence to support it, Pius XII’s aeronautical invention is relatively tame compared with those of scientists in the field.

By contrast, for example, a fallible, uncertain Swiss mathematician, Daniel Bernoulli, discovered the principle of the aerofoil that today enables a pope to fly around the world in a 747, faster than a bullet, along with the entire College of Cardinals!

Throw in a movie, a reasonable meal and some French Champagne and it beats riding around on a cloud anyday. Also, there are no threats of excommunication

involved in international air travel, just the occasional loss of baggage.

The End of the Mystical Millennium

More and more brainusers are turning to science for answers to questions that were once the exclusive domain of the supernatural powerbases. In Australia, the latest Government census has confirmed this accelerating rejection of religions, sects and cults.

As we leave the Mystical Millennium, the superficial, childish mythologies of the truth-merchants and medieval magicians are being left behind. The information-rich revelations of science are empowering more thinkers than ever before to choose sovereignty over authority.

1953 is important because it was the definitive end of the Mystical Millennium. It was the last of the big ‘mysteries’ to be explained. Though there may always be many interesting questions to be asked and answered, after Crick and Watson, no thinker need ever delegate her or his authority to a supernatural magician, ever again. If she or he CHOOSES to do so for some other reason, that is their right and privilege.

The Greatest Thinkers

Francis Crick and James Watson are two of history’s greatest intellectual superstars. Never have two thinkers explained so much. Their discovery of the digital gene has cleared away many veils of mystery.

Many other scientists have since built on Crick and Watson’s original ideas and more work will be done in the future. But, as a contribution to the freedom of individual thinkers, Crick and Watson’s achievement dwarfs those of the ‘truth hackers’, Aristotle and Aquinas, and provides a major blow to PTV.

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SPECIAL BONUS OPT-IN. OXFORD UNIVERSITY LECTURE

You can skip this if you like or you can opt-in. It’s a discussion from Oxford University featuring Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins called Who Says Science has Nothing to Say About Morality? It’s 77 minutes. I recommend this lecture if you can find the time.

 

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DFQ #057:

As you ponder these things, what is the most liberating idea, discovery or truth that you can think of which has made it possible for you to be more of a sovereign thinker?

Post your thoughts below …

375 thoughts on “#057 DFQ – The Scientific Method

  1. I believe that Bernoulli’s principle is the backbone for the idea which has most made it possible for me to be a sovereign thinker.
    Ultimately the Wright brothers flew the first plane and were told that it is not possible for humans to fly.
    I love how the thinking of different thinkers has allowed us to reach where we are today and without each of them involved the next thinker would not have made their achievements.

  2. Questioning why people believe in the unquantifiable has allowed me to think more clearly on what I believe in and why I believe in it. Historical greatness is not required to point out how to be a progressive thinker, with the global connectivity and access to information we now take for granted, we are not only permitted, but expected to question the status quo.

  3. The Truth does not exist in science. There are truths in science but there is no absolute truth.
    There are only truths that are more likely than other truths.

  4. The most liberating idea I get is that you need to challenge all information in order to properly question the existence of the the truth to find the more likely truth.

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