Knowing takes time: so, enjoy the not knowing while it lasts.
There is a lot of talk the last few years about science being a religion or the answer to everything – scientism. The accumulation of quality data can result in more and more certainty about a given topic. A single research project does not equal a definitive solution. One must also take into account the role of philosophy in guiding humans down a path ethical behavior. While there may be some that take this view of science being the end-all, be-all, I believe it means something different and more important.
Like Carl Sagan said, “science is more than a body of knowledge, it’s a way of thinking; a way of skeptically interrogating the universe.” Using science and the scientific method can provide an avenue to increase or improve one’s experience with the vast world around them. The scientific method has been used since the 17th century to formulate, investigate, test and retest phenomenon of all types.
Form a question.
Develop a hypothesis
Predict the outcome
The fact that the method is old is irrelevant. Most things from the 17th century would not be applicable to today. It is worthwhile to note that the methodology has changed little in that time. Also, the process has been scrutinized and tweaked for improvement throughout its lifeline.
The method simply provides an organized way for us all to communicate about a variety of, often complicated, topics. It allows us to study them from different angles and then test and retest the data. It allows scientists to spot breakthroughs or problems in projects or data. It also provides room for interpretation, biases, and logical fallacies to rear their ugly heads.
The beauty of science is that it gives us insight into how the world works. We can learn to “appreciate wonders of nature even more,” as Richard Feynman says. The amazement of the workings of nature can provide a spiritual experience as we contemplate the awesome power, complexity and vastness of the universe.
To quote another great scientific mind, “We can only gain and grow with each discovery that there is structure underlying the most accessible levels of things that fill us with awe.” Dr. Robert Sapolsky put it eloquently in his book, the Trouble with Testosterone: and Other Essays On the biology Of the Human Predicament.” To put it another way, the more we know about something the more we can and should be in awe of it. Nature will never cease to impress us or confuse us.
As amazing and inspiring as science is it is unlikely to ever hold all of the answers. There is so much interconnectedness and complexity that “not knowing” is something with which we should gain comfort. To put it another way, “ignorance is valuable.” Stuart Firestein has a great book (and TED talk) about Ignorance.
Dr. Firestein tells us that throughout school we are taught that the information is known with 100% certainty. However, he explains, this is rarely the case. Most scientists, when sitting around having a beer, discuss all the things that still need to be done. They are motivated by the unknown and the fact that every answer reveals more questions. More discoveries simply result in a “higher quality of ignorance.”
Our love of science and learning comes naturally. In 2nd grade nearly 100% of kids are scientists. By 10th grade less than 10% are in the scientist category. Something horribly wrong is happening. Instead of teaching children OUT of science we should be encouraging their curiosity. We need their enthusiasm and imagination and they need our support.
We need the scientific method to keep and organized approach to the maelstrom of biology, chemistry, and the cosmos. As we unravel bits and pieces here and there take a minute to appreciate the success and then look further into what is left to learn…and then share it passionately with those around you.
Finally, I will end with another quote from Dr. Sapolsky:
“The purpose of science is not to cure us of our sense of mystery and wonder, but to constantly reinvent and reinvigorate it.”