...[S]cience is about constructing visions of the world, about rearranging our conceptual structure, about creating new concepts which were not there before, and even more, about changing, challenging, the a priori that we have. It has nothing to do with the assembling of data and the ways of organizing the assembly of data. It has everything to do with the way we think, and with our mental vision of the world. Science is a process in which we keep exploring ways of thinking and keep changing our image of the world, our vision of the world, to find new visions that work a little bit better.Edge: Science is not about certainty: a philosophy of physics - a conversation with Carlo Rovelli
...Science is not about certainty. Science is about finding the most reliable way of thinking at the present level of knowledge. Science is extremely reliable; it’s not certain. In fact, not only is it not certain, but it’s the lack of certainty that grounds it. Scientific ideas are credible not because they are sure but because they’re the ones that have survived all the possible past critiques, and they’re the most credible because they were put on the table for everybody’s criticism.
The very expression “scientifically proven” is a contradiction in terms. There’s nothing that is scientifically proven. The core of science is the deep awareness that we have wrong ideas, we have prejudices. We have ingrained prejudices. In our conceptual structure for grasping reality, there might be something not appropriate, something we may have to revise to understand better. So at any moment we have a vision of reality that is effective, it’s good, it’s the best we have found so far. It’s the most credible we have found so far; it’s mostly correct. So the focus of scientific thinking, I believe, should be on the content of the theory—the past theory, the previous theories—to try to see what they hold concretely and what they suggest to us for changing in our conceptual frame. [...]
The final consideration regards just one comment about this understanding of science, and the long conflict across the centuries between scientific thinking and religious thinking. It is often misunderstood. The question is, Why can't we live happily together and why can’t people pray to their gods and study the universe without this continual clash? This continual clash is a little unavoidable, for the opposite reason from the one often presented. It’s unavoidable not because science pretends to know the answers. It’s the other way around, because scientific thinking is a constant reminder to us that we don’t know the answers. In religious thinking, this is often unacceptable. What’s unacceptable is not a scientist who says, “I know…” but a scientist who says, “I don’t know, and how could you know?” Many religions, or some religions, or some ways of being religious, are based on the idea that there should be a truth that one can hold onto and not question. This way of thinking is naturally disturbed by a way of thinking based on continual revision, not just of theories but of the core ground of the way in which we think.
Scientifically proven facts are the difference, we’re told, between cowering in caves and living comfortably in climate-controlled homes, between endless religious wars and landing on the moon. Of course we want a world where people only believe the facts, right?*references Rob Brezsny's Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: see Liberate Your Imagination and Crimes That Don't Break Any Laws
Yes, of course, but for one little detail: facts change... Don’t misread me. It wasn’t reality that changed. It was our understanding of reality that did. But facts are never anything but our current, best understanding of reality. When our understanding of the world shifts, we need to be ready to reevaluate what’s true or possible. If we’re too rigid to reconsider our understanding of the facts, we end up with unfortunate phenomena like, say, conservative climate denialism.
Imagination, in other words, is necessary for the progress of knowledge. You have to imagine a new perspective before you can evaluate it or design a crucial experiment. This is why a researcher with a slightly kooky view of reality is a great asset to any scientific team... Openness to the impossible – and I mean the really impossible, the opinions that makes your colleagues look at you funny – is a prerequisite for truly radical advancement. Every great step in the march of genius is taken by some damn fool who either refuses to concede to, or is simply ignorant of, what’s impossible.
The fundamentalist takes everything way too seriously and way too personally and way too literally. He divides the world into two camps, those who agree with him and those who don't. There is only one right way to interpret the world, and a million wrong ways. Correct belief is the only virtue. To the fundamentalist, the liberated imagination is a sinful taboo. He not only enslaves his own imagination to his ideology, but wants to enslave our imaginations, too. And who are the fundamentalists? Let's not remain under the delusion that they are only the usual suspects -- the religious fanatics of Islam and Christianity and Judaism and Hinduism. There are many other kinds of fundamentalists, and some of them have gotten away with practicing their tragic magic in a stealth mode. Among the most successful are those who believe in what Robert Anton Wilson calls fundamentalist materialism. This is the faith-based dogma that swears physical matter is the only reality and that nothing exists unless it can be detected by our five senses or by technologies that humans have made.Jennifer Percy in The Atlantic: 'Life Keeps Changing': Why Stories, Not Science, Explain the World
The language of science was unsatisfying to me. “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it’s comprehensible,” Einstein said. But I don’t think human relationships are ever fully comprehensible. They can clarify for small, beautiful moments, but then they change. Unlike a scientific experiment with rigorous, controlled parameters, our lives are boundless and shifting. And there’s never an end to the story. We need more than science—we need storytelling to capture that kind of complexity, that kind of incomprehensibility... And this is a fundamental problem with writing nonfiction. People say, “How do you write a profile of someone? How do you capture them fully?” Well, you don’t. It’s artifice. There are small moments, little parts, that crystallize—but they are part of something larger that’s always changing and evolving. Even if you’re writing autobiography, you only capture a specimen of a larger self. You’re not ever going to comprehend a life fully on the page, because life keeps changing.
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