Day 340 – The Foundation of Reason

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From a hard-wired instinct to see patterns in reality, humanity formalised scientific principles. Science, despite all the ill-informed nay-sayers out there, is barely more than making explicit the mechanism that is built into all our brains at the fundamental level.

It isn’t something we invented.
It is something that already existed.
And we gave it a name, and wrote down its rules.

I think mathematics is where we lose people. Mathematics is too rigid and unyielding to be relate-able. Sadly it is also the toolbox used by the rest of science, but it is essentially nothing more than a language with syntax and grammar that allows us to write science down very precisely.

It is also about the only branch of science where we deal in absolute truths. And this is only possible precisely because mathematics does not directly have anything to do with the real world. The cry of every school-child “why is this useful” and “how do I use this in the real world” are un-answerable, because mathematics isn’t for “the real world”.

The rest of science gets tarred by the same formula-brush though.
Formulas are seen as the defining characteristic of science.
When in reality they are merely incidental.

You could do perfectly legitimate science without ever using a formula.
It’d take quite a bit more long-hand writing, but it is possible.

What defines science, is the way it approaches the world. It doesn’t have a mind set-in-stone, even though some of its practitioners sadly do.

Science starts from the proposition that only facts matter. If the facts support what we already know, then they form new evidence. If the facts disagree with what we already know, then we need to form a broader theory.

Science first asks questions.
Science then proposes a possible answer.
Science then runs experiments to challenge the proposed answer, and if enough challenges are withstood, the answer might become a new theory.

And this is exactly how science builds itself up. Not by looking to confirm what it already knows, but by trying to challenge it and break it. Scientists primarily serve the role of devils advocate against their own theories. But when evidence is found breaking a theory, we don’t all throw up our hands and say that clearly we know nothing… before a theory breaks we know that it has held for years, decades, centuries. It has not suddenly become useless. It merely has been shown that there must be a bigger theory that can explain everything we already knew, plus the new thing we cannot explain.

And that is exactly what our brains were built to do.

Find and accumulate evidence into guesses of how the world works. And ideally, to adjust those guesses as we learn more. However, human brains have built-in confirmation bias. Which is why we need scientific principles to tell us to challenge our assumptions whenever we can.

Without science, we might still make progress.
But personally, I’d rather bet on our best understanding of biology and neurology, and bet that societal progress will collapse without science. It’s not certain, but it is the best guess based on our current knowledge.

You can sneer at science all you like, but it still works.

Eppur Si Muove.

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