On a Way of Knowing

I have always defined science as the search for the explanation of what we observe in nature. Nature is science’s playing field – a field with boundaries, willing participants, methodologies, and rules. (A past post) Aiming at questions of what and how, science is a human endeavor leading us to new knowledge – thus science is not static, yet it continues to dive into ventures with an incomplete understanding.

Science is impersonal, yet uses a trained mind with passion and imagination to find patterns, structure, connections, and history within nature through senses and data so we can better understand ourselves, the natural world that is around us, and our place in this world.

Therefore, science requires a conscious mind that observes, inquires, organizes, interprets, understands, and a willingness to follow acceptable scientific methodologies while staying within nature’s boundaries – yet that does not mean that nothing exists outside of nature’s boundaries.

Science is a gift as it brings us new knowledge, yet knowledge that is only for a given point in time because it can change based on newer knowledge. Because of potential development of new knowledge, science must be willing to have what is current known to be proven wrong. Yet new claims must are also subject to verification. (Past Post #2)

Science gives us theories. Theories are a structure of ideas that explain and interpret numerous facts about a concept – thus, well beyond a personal opinion or a detective’s hunch. Scientists base theories on a large amount of evidence that has been extensively tested and observed in nature.

Science brings forth new issues causing us to face moral and ethical questions – whose answers to which science does not provide. Science is neither equipped nor competent to answer ethic and moral questions, let alone the metaphysical, philosophical, or theological questions as “what is the meaning of life”, “why am I here”, and “is there a god?”

Science is a way of knowing, but not the only way as it does not corner the way to truth. Philosophical, theological, psychological/emotional, ethical, political, and historical views provide additional perspectives, yet each discipline is selective and limited. Science is not in competition with the other fields as other disciplines apply science’s methodologies. Nonetheless, new scientific findings can be unsettling to other fields and society as a whole because it may cause instability in current foundations, including those of the past.

One can have a misunderstanding about science, but that does not mean science is wrong.

One can ignore science, but that does not mean science is wrong.

One can disagree with science, but that does not mean science is wrong.

On Science at Work

Einstein was wrong!

I saw that headline last week, and others similar since. Of course, not every news agency uses the same headline, but, whether it was the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, the BBC, or whatever/where ever, this story was very newsworthy. Researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced about their discovery of particles moving faster than the established universal speed limit known as the speed of light.

The headline above and some of the reports really burns my butt because they are a prime example of feeding the misconception to the public that science is unreliable. Then again, it also confirms that many in the public do not understand how science works.

1 – Scientific findings are for that moment in time – thus both true and temporary until something better comes along. Yes, it is possible that everything in a school’s science book could be wrong 200 years from now, but I would not bet on it.

2 – The scientific community has a wonderful method of verification. The initial finding is subject to the scrutiny, thus verification, by others in the scientific community. I can recall past headlines about cold fusion and life on Mars that turned out to be not so true because science must verify the claims within the boundaries of science and with scientific methodologies.

3 – When finding something new – or potentially new – good scientists realize the process, thus hedge their explanations with words as could, may, might, appears, or others. These words help confirm both the subject-to-change nature of science and the importance of verification process.

Regardless what one may have read or heard, I provide text from CERN’s easy-to-understand press release to support my points, especially paragraphs 2 through 4.

Perhaps this paragraph from CERN says it best.

Despite the large significance of the measurement reported here and the stability of the analysis, the potential great impact of the results motivates the continuation of our studies in order to investigate possible still unknown systematic effects that could explain the observed anomaly. We deliberately do not attempt any theoretical or phenomenological interpretation of the results.