SCIENCE AND THE UNKNOWN
Posted by robertpriddy on December 6, 2015
The old adage ‘believe only half you hear’ is, of course, not even half adequate as a guideline for making up one’s mind about factual matters, perhaps even more so today when so many sources of all doubtful kinds are so readily available on the Internet. Having trained as a critical thinker in philosophy and several sciences and practicing the checking and rechecking of facts, the thorough analysis of reports, observational perception, reasoning and language, I became quite skeptical about the security of much scientific knowledge. Back in the 1960s and 70s, even the natural sciences had not yet achieved the exponential increases in knowledge that have resulted since digital technology developed on such a wide scale in so many areas of human endeavour. Rapid changes in cutting-edge scientific theories like astronomy, astrophysics, microphysics, had and still often have an effect of creating further uncertainty, because new theories – often conflicting – about the universe, matter and life have come and gone in procession – even though the most general theories (relativity, quantum theory) remained securely unshaken by experiment or continued observation. However, I now judge many of the ‘theoretical antics’ of astronomers and physicists, medical and social scientists to be a natural result when operating at the outer rim of accumulated knowledge.
The well-tried trial and error methods of scientific empirical researches are removing more and more uncertainties about the security of our knowledge following the computer-driven “quantum leap” in most of the sciences. In the human sciences, theories and paradigm shifts are more common, often mainly due to the particular problems of objectivity involved when human subjects study human subjects. The human and social sciences are and will always remain less experimental and quantitative by the very nature of what they research, the human being. All manner of question about the mind and ‘spirit’ are being penetrated in that technologies are penentrating ino the brain and human mind in ways which have been closed prior to unimaginable before the advances in experimental nevro-psychology such as magnetic resonance imaging.
>Of course there remain a range of what must yet be termed ‘paranormal’ or extra-scientific phenomena for which no known scientific methodologies can satisfactorily resolve and which can only be studied through reasoning, comparative analyses, historical explanations and investigations of anecdotal evidence. In human affairs, the ever-present possibility of fraud of most complicated and psychologially deep-rooted kinds is a major hindrance to assessing evidence. Another century of progress in understanding what now seem arcane matters will surely push back the dark frontier of unknowing considerably.
Surely the major hindrance to enlightenment in the globalised society today – as ever – is the inaccessibility of genuine knowledge in all its convincing detailand evidence. Very few people in the world indeed – a mere handful – have witnessed the most costly experiments in particle physics, nor checked the validity of theories like relativity, yet everyone with a higher education seems to believe in them and that most of what we read about them are valid accounts, not mere deception. That the fact of the evolutionary origin of all life is still not accepted by a huge majority of the people of the world is partly also due to the relative difficult of access of the vast quantity of artefacts and the means to understand them. This also applies to the major part of all the things we have been educated to understand and take on trust, and – though we can surely be confident that most of it is reliable and well-researched – the very limits of any person’s ability to see for themselves means that room is left for doubts. It is primarily upon this ‘vacuum’, the certainty that there remain things unknown, that all religions have always thriven – and also the modern-day ‘spirituality’ of the so-called New Age and guru-oriented kind thrive. Without this, they would have very little left other than subjetive experiences to stand on… and their theological basis everywhere has always been essentially the uncertainty, the doubts, the confusion of unknowing of masses of people. This they replace with ‘faith’ of one or another kind…and historically it is seen that practically any kind of person, object or idea can become the centre of worship and personal mental-emotional sustenance.
That there is progress towards scientific objectivity in most areas of science is undoubted, for elimination of bias and cultural subjectivities from human knowledge is the very aim of science and the activity towards this end world-wide is enormous and becomes less partisan in approach and global interchange and understanding increases.
Much is made by religionists of the claim that the sciences cannot provide anyone with genuine answers to any of the most important human questions; why do we exist, what real meaning does anything have, what should I do? It is a fact that science does not pretend or set out to answer emotional and existential questions on how best to relate to others, how to develop human understanding – including how to obtain mental equilibrium, peace of mind and lasting fulfillment – are all so-called ‘extra-scientific’ issues. So the different (and very often conflicting) religions presume to step into the vacuum this represents and fill it with doctrines, moral imperatives and a vast range of beliefs about matters which cannot be tested.
Comment Eileenweed said December 7, 2015
As you pointed out, it is all relative and that is where religion comes in to declare the absolute ‘truth’ as they see it, fulfilling the need of human beings to feel they have a special blessed existence, a purpose, a value, a state of being forevermore. So sad that many individuals completely give up the LIFE that they have now (whether mentally, emotionally or even physically), in search of an unknown and unproven future eternity. What a waste!