The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out (repost)

in #deepdives10 months ago

In science a theory is not a claim of knowing the truth, or the true nature of reality. But... A theory on the other hand is the highest attainable status a hypothesis is able to reach in science.


theory-of-relativity_small.jpg
source: Pixabay

And since science is the best method we have to describe reality, delivers the best approximation of reality, the "theory" is, so to speak, the best understanding of "truth" we human beings are able to attain. Or at least the physical truth about the "stuff" of our surroundings on all scales.

In this short post I'd like to address this oldest of misunderstandings about science or the scientific method. As such, it's also the most used argument against science, usually used in conversations between religious people and atheists. "You don't know what you're saying is true, you only have a theory!". Or: "You can't prove there isn't a God!" Proving a negative is a fool's errand. Claiming Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and then putting the burden of proof on him to prove nu such weapons exist, was a deviously clever trick by those who wished for war in Iraq. Science never claims to know the absolute truth. Scientists only speak in terms of probabilities; based on observations and tests it is more probable that this conforms with reality than that.

Based on repeated observations scientists propose that this description or this model best explains what we observe. We don't know if it's true. The next step, in the scientific method, is the testing of this description or model. Through repeated experimentation, independent researchers try to replicate the observed results. Every effort is made to prove the hypothesis wrong, so it can be thrown in the dustbin of unfruitful ideas about reality. This is the process of "peer review".

And only if and when all the attempts to disprove the hypothesis have failed, a process of many, many years, only then this initial idea about a very small aspect of reality is "promoted" to the much coveted status of an actual Theory. So the Theory of Evolution is the best model we have been able to develop to describe the evolution of the immense diversification and development of life on Earth from a common ancestor. It is the agreed upon best guess about reality in the community of scientists. And I even give an incomplete description of this method, and should emphasize also that it's an ongoing process, as hypotheses and even previously agreed upon theories get re-evaluated, refined, altered or rejected altogether. This illustration should make it clearer:


The_Scientific_Method_as_an_Ongoing_Process.svg.png
source: Wikimedia Commons

The scientific method implies and demands a willingness to change your view about anything at all, as soon there's evidence that disproves previous best guesses. It's how Newton's theory on gravity was allowed to evolve into Einsteins model of curved spacetime. And it's a good thing to, because Newton's model just isn't accurate enough to make our lives better with things like GPS.

This also means that atheists, like myself, don't rule out the possibility of there being one or more Gods, or some other higher power. There's just no reason for me to assume one exists. Laplace said it best:

Laplace presented his definitive work on the properties of the solar system to Napoleon. Napoleon, liking to embarrass people, asked Laplace if it was true that there was no mention of the solar system’s Creator (ie God) in his opus magus. Laplace, on this occasion at least, was not obsequious and replied, "I had no need of that hypothesis."
source: Quantum Diaries

We don't know there's no God, and we can't prove there's no God. We don't know anything for certain. Maybe our universe is a 3D hologram projected from a 2D plane of pure information. Maybe everything is consciousness and consciousness is everything. Science has given us some reason for these hypotheses and we're looking for methods to test them. But there's no reason to assume the existence of a God where we just don't know things (yet). There's every reason, on the other hand, to keep searching for better ways to describe the observable reality we can all agree exists.

One of the best descriptions I've ever seen and heard, of the beauty of science and learning and finding things out, is from Richard Feynman. If you can spare the time, and if you're interested in science and scientists, watch this 50 minute Horizon interview from 1981:


Richard Feynman: "Fun To Imagine" (1983)

Life's a miracle, with or without God. That's all I'm gonna leave you with today. Hope that sparked some thoughts, and I'll see you back here tomorrow!


Thanks so much for visiting my blog and reading my posts dear reader, I appreciate that a lot :-) If you like my content, please consider leaving a comment, upvote or resteem. I'll be back here tomorrow and sincerely hope you'll join me. Until then, stay safe, stay healthy!


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