OK. There’s nothing in here about breasts, really. I was just teasing. But keep reading anyway. It’ll help you sleep if nothing else.
I suppose I don’t do very well with conflict. I can’t imagine wanting to be a politician, since the waters in which one must swim are continuously fraught with conflict and strain. What kind of person moves in that sphere? I’d hate to live with that all the time.
I’ve read a fair bit of science, which, I must hasten to add, is not the same thing as saying that I’m capital-E educated in any of the sciences. Indeed, I’m practically inumerate, being unable to even balance my checkbook without Quicken; and without math a fella’s gonna miss a lot, at least of certain sciences. Like physics & astronomy. I love to read about these subjects, but always there is a sense that I’m only getting the USA-Today version, the terrifically-dumbed-down-to-the-point-of-being-simply-wrong version, because I can’t decipher the simple truths which a few wonderfully-wrought equations would illuminate for me.
This all ties in somehow. Alluding to a previous post, I think often about truth as a concept, and about how we bandy this word about in an argument as a kind of trump card. We confuse desire with fact. We claim knowledge we haven’t, celebrate conclusions we have not reached. We all do it. Science and politics and religion are different-colored glasses for looking at our world. But they’re all three trying at times to occupy the same space. I think what is so frustrating about politics to me is that it is purely the realm of opinion. And a person’s opinions, far from being some kind of verified truth, are the products of feelings and impressions and desires. A person’s opinions are no better than their intellect--my blathering idiocy is made clear in these posts, which are, after all, just that: my opinions. But more importantly, an opinion is no better than a person’s information, and than the logic and order employed in the processes used to reach the opinions. To me, all political coverage, and especially the blogospheric coverage, is depressingly noisy and messy and imprecise. It’s hard for the dialog to rise above its weakest contributor (which is often depressingly weak).
Science, by contrast, deals with probability, with test and verification, with frank admission of what is known and unknown. The scientist observes reality as it is, manipulates variables and records results. Implications from these tests are theoretical until more data--supporting or refuting evidence--are amassed. Thus do theories gain or lose support, and hard knowledge of our universe moves forward with small, hard-won steps; certainty is reserved only for ideas graced with iron-clad verification. A black and white, I-know-and-you-don’t, view of the world has no place in science.
It is the supreme democratic right in science--an obligation, really--for scientists to attempt to topple current theories. If a theory can be shown to be wrong, we are at least not moving down the wrong path. And every attempt to topple a theory which fails to hit its mark gives that surviving theory a stronger claim to correctness.
What is particularly interesting, and different from the non-scientific world, is the tenet that theories stand or fall having nothing whatsoever to do with the eminence of the theorist: it’s all about the strength of the supporting evidence. The facts are king. There is no argument from authority. History is reverent about Isaac Newton, in part for the comprehensive mind he brought to the tasks of figuring out fundamental things about our physical world. But along comes Einstein, and Newton--however much loved and respected--is toppled. That’s the way it is. We still teach Newtonian physics, because it’s a great method both for learning the scientific interface with the world and it gives a good fundamental understanding of the forces of nature. But thanks to Einstein we now know that Newton was not correct. The boundary moves out another step.
This method of learning factual things about our world is a fundamentally different sphere from the realms of politics and religion. These are apples to science’s oranges, though political and religious claims often purport to be factual.
I’m again led to ponder these things as I have been innundated this past week with frantic opinions about the hurricane and our government’s response. Our politics and opinions shape our perception of these events and our reactions to them. I’m trying to refrain from reaching conclusions prior to really knowing what the facts are; I’m trying not to let my preconceptions and desires--and I certainly have my share of these--corral me into making claims I cannot verify about things I don’t really understand.
But I think it is time for asking questions--there are so many questions--and for seeking the verified answers which will enable us to know what is true. That's the whole name of the game.