SCIENCE: WHAT IS IT?
I am a scientist, raised in a family of scientists. My father, Boris, was a famous scientist, and I have three cousins who are scientists. Due to my father’s prominence in the field of physics, I got to spend a fair amount of time in the presence of other experienced and accomplished scientists. So I think I have some knowledge about science, as well as its uses and limitations.
In recent years I’ve become increasingly convinced that the American population is being deliberately deceived about the very nature of science and have decried the logical consequences of that deceit. It’s as though the educational system has been persuaded to withhold from the student body the most vital information that people need if they are to make any sense of the world around them. Critical thinking is under attack. Logic and reason are out the window. And some of the most bizarre concepts are gaining popularity – concepts that, when embraced, cause the average mind to become incapable of simple reason. I regard this as very unfortunate for those caught up in it, and it is my hope to restore some scientific sanity in the course of writing this article.
The world of scientists has a distinct culture which gradually changes as new true information comes to light and new technical words are added to science vocabularies. In spite of these changes, some of the basic language of science has become a permanent feature of our culture because thousands of scientists in interrelated fields find that language to be consistently useful. That basic language embodies a number of powerful definitions and conceptual tools without which our analytic process would cease to be science. And it is the logical and mathematical consistency of that set of conceptual tools that is currently under attack.
The fundamentals of science are very simple. Understanding them requires no math whatever. If you can enjoy reading a novel you can understand the foundations of science. Here they are, numbered for future reference.
1. Truth and Falsehood
The methodology we call “science” has but one purpose – to distinguish true information from false information. Many other purposes have been attributed to science, and it does support other purposes; but in and of itself, its sole purpose is just to divide information into two categories – True and False.
In order to understand how science accomplishes this feat, it is necessary to define another concept: Intelligence. There are two logically equivalent ways of doing this.
A. Intelligence is the ability to predict and control events in the discernible universe.
B. Intelligence is the ability to initiate and maintain causal relationships between events in the discernible universe.
With intelligence so defined, we can now define the terms “true information” and “false information.”
True information is that which, when believed to be true, increases the intelligence of the believer – and which, when believed to be false diminishes the intelligence of the believer.
False information has the opposite effect. When believed to be true it diminishes the intelligence of the believer and when believed to be false increases said intelligence.
The usual way of determining the truth of a statement is by means of experiment, though statements that are internally inconsistent are deemed false without resort to experimentation. So, for example, the statement, “2+2=4 AND 2+2=5” would be considered false without experimental testing.
Most people are aware that in the most simplistic descriptions of science, the methodology employed consists of defining a hypothesis (statement) about an observable phenomenon and then testing that hypothesis experimentally. If the results of the experiment are repeatable and replicable by multiple observers and the results are consistent,the hypothesis is promoted to the status of a theory, in which case the hypothesis has been heuristically accepted as True information. While this description of the scientific method suffices for the novice, it is not quite adequate for a sophisticated scientist. To complete the explanation of the scientific method we need to recognize that an experiment is presumed to answer a question about the adequacy of the hypothesis under the conditions to which the hypothesis is presumed to apply. To do this properly, in the context of “science” the question to be answered must meet the criterion known as the Operational Point of View.
3. Operational Point of View
The experiment performed to test a hypothesis has to answer a properly formed scientific question, and not all questions meet this criterion. Think of an experiment as an operation that answers a question. When the question is of the form, “Is statement X true?”, we do not have a properly formed scientific question, because to be “scientific” a question must define, or at least imply, the specific operation that is to be performed in order to determine the answer.
So, for example, the question, “What time is it?” is not a scientific question; whereas the question “What time is it according to my mechanical clock?” is scientific, because it defines the operation or experiment that is to give us the answer. In this case the experiment consists of reading the dial on a particular clock.
This definition of a scientific question is often regarded by scientists as the “Basic Philosophy of Science”.
4. Theoretical Domains
Still another important understanding shared by all knowledgeable scientists is the concept of the Theoretical Domain. A theory is not expected to apply everywhere, at all times, and under all conditions. So to be scientific a theory must include a definition of the physical domain or realm to which it applies.
So, for example, the theory known as Newtonian Mechanics applies to objects that Isaac Newton was able to observe – objects like planets, apples, pulleys, buckets, and bullets. What these objects have in common is that they have “mass”; their speed is very slow compared with the speed of light; and they are very large (massive) compared with electrons and atoms. For objects that don’t fit these criteria, different theories must be applied. The theory of Electrodynamics works really well for things that move at speeds approaching the speed of light; and the theory of Quantum Mechanics works very reliably to describe the behavior of very small things, like photons and electrons.
5. Cause and Effect
Until the appearance of Quantum Mechanics, scientists of every variety recognized the “law” of cause and effect. The basics of this constraint are that every event has a cause, and that the cause must always precede the effect. The usual description of a causal relationship between two events requires that the earlier event transfers energy or momentum to the time and location of the second event. This presumption applies perfectly to both the Newtonian domain and the Electrodynamic domain. The Quantum Mechanical domain, however, doesn’t work quite the same way, for reasons that are not altogether clear to scientists today. In the Quantum domain, highly accurate predictions can be made that do not require the same kind of causality needed in the other theories, and one can make a case to the effect that some events take place without any cause.
6. Logical and Mathematical Inference
There are phenomena in the physical universe that are not discernible to the human senses – things like energy, momentum, fields, and probability. Despite this fact, scientists regard these phenomena as part of reality, and name them accordingly. Scientists understand that their mathematical descriptions of reality are not the realities themselves – that metaphorically the map is not the territory. But as long as the resulting predictions are accurate, precise, and consistent, the mathematical constructs are usefully interchangeable with direct observation.
As an example, consider the motion of a large solid object such as a baseball. As long as the object undergoes no rotation, its motion in response to (causal) external forces can be accurately predicted by calculating the trajectory of a particle of equal mass located at a point within the object called the “center of mass” of the object. The mass of the object is not all located at a point, but the calculation yields an extremely accurate prediction of how the center of the object will move. This is particularly useful when calculating missile ballistics and planetary orbits.
7. Indirect Observation
In science it is always satisfying when observations can be made with the unaided “naked eye”. Unfortunately, there are many phenomena of interest to scientists that do not permit this approach. On the bright side, scientists have created tools and instruments that extend the capabilities of the human senses in a variety of ways. Microscopes, telescopes, light-sensitive films, scintillation counters, X-ray scanners, dosimeters, and radar detectors are just a few of these devices. In science it is assumed that observations and measurements made by such indirect means provide valid information as long as the inherent limitations of the devices used are taken into account and the logical inferences relating the devices to the real world are themselves predictably consistent.
8. Other Considerations
There are a few other ideas implicit in the scientific method. For instance it is assumed that space exists and that it is the same everywhere – so that the physics and chemistry that are applicable here work the same way elsewhere. Until we have reason to think otherwise, we presume that causality works differently at the quantum level and we look forward hopefully to a day when we can resolve the Gödelian paradoxes that have prevented us from creating a theory that combines Newtonian Mechanics, Electrodynamics, Quantum Mechanics, and General Relativity in a single unified structure. Science acknowledges many unanswered questions – some as simple as, “Why do electrons all have the same charge?” – a still unanswered question after 100 years or so of inquiry.
Science Under Attack
It is widely understood that western schools, including private schools to some degree, are “dumbing the kids down” – withholding important information about money, ethics, law, government, and science. Instead of creating innovative pioneering entrepreneurs, the schools are, for the most part, producing obedient employees incapable of creative thinking – most of them convinced that their emotional reactions are far more important than facts, logic, and rational inquiry. Observing this, I used to think it was just due to the bureaucratization of the school system hierarchy – the gradual elimination of corrective feedback that accelerated with the advent of the “common core” curriculum. Now I’ve come to believe something even much more sinister is taking place.
It has been apparent to me for quite some time that the control of the world has been taken over by a gang of psychopathic bandits who plunder more than 99% of the resources that each of us would have had access to were it not for their depredations. Most of us are literally living off the crumbs that fall from their tables. At this point I am very suspicious of the possibility that they are buying the work of some really pernicious propagandists to discourage critical thinking on an enormous scale. The specific activities to which I am referring are popularly referred to as “Flat Earth” and “Rational Science”.
The Flat Earth Proposition
I trust most people are aware that there is a growing number of people who claim that the earth is not a spinning, almost spherical ball exhibiting the characteristics described by astrophysics, solid geometry, and Newtonian Mechanics. No no. We are to believe that that model of the earth is a hoax created by NASA – and the basic “argument” to that effect is that government (especially NASA) lies. This statement is credible to many because government is primarily comprised of politicians who lie all the time. Based on video evidence I’ve seen, I think it likely that NASA never made it to the moon, which of course would mean they lied about it. But the fact that NASA lies doesn’t prove that the earth is flat – and neither do any of the other “proofs” that flat earth proponents set forth. Most of those “proofs” ignore all of the characteristics outlined above that define science.
The really intriguing feature of this phenomenon is the way flat earthers deride, belittle, and make fun of anyone who engages with them in the spirit of collaborative scientific investigation. In my 70+ years as a scientist, that is something I’ve never witnessed before. It seems in some way pathological – but there it is.
I recently encountered another group that seem intent on discrediting science and that engages in ridicule, ad hominem attacks, and actual name-calling when asked politely to answer a few reasonable questions about their “rational scientific method”. My core observation of this group’s idea is that it violates almost all the definitive criteria that I’ve outlined above as fundamental to what I know as science. They claim (falsely) that the purpose of science is to “explain” how the world works; but the only explaining they recognize as valid is a kind of Newtonian intuition that can only be applied to objects of known shape and position.
While there are some interesting features to this fantasy, it does nothing to increase intelligence while systematically misleading the reader as to the nature of science. The most problematic feature is the fact that it uses many words commonly used in science and claims to be science, when in fact it is not – at least not as I’ve defined science above, and not as scientists have defined it for hundreds of years. I suggested to a “rational science” forum that their interesting new discipline should perhaps be called Gaedence instead of science – in honor of Bill Gaede, the method’s chief creator – who called me names when I started asking questions based on my understanding of what science is. I disengaged from that conversation as soon as the ridicule began, knowing that further inquiry would be futile – that I was confronting a propagandist, not a scientist.
Science, as I’ve defined it above, is the best, most accurate, most reliable means humans have created to distinguish true information from false information. So concern about the possible disenfranchisement of science and scientists is something to be taken seriously.
To that end I would pose the question, “Who stands to gain if people distrust science or are confused about what it is or why it is needed”?
I speculate that those individuals who are spending billions of dollars to suppress truth itself are behind this evil trend. We know who some of these people are. They are the politicians, the professional liars who are supporting, condoning, and implementing the current massive attack on truth and those who tell the truth. They are, however, the robotic servants of another group – the ultra-wealthy bankers and industrialists who own the world and who are intent on owning the world’s people. I usually refer to this group, somewhat sarcastically, as the “nobility”, because just a few centuries ago they were the kings and high priests of the world – slaughtering their enemies and plundering the commoners. It’s the same group today. Only the labels have changed.
A world characterized by peace, prosperity, and freedom is possible, but unlikely. For it to be achieved, certain steps are necessary. Establishment of a truly free market, emancipation of the law enforcers (Yes, they too are slaves), and the worldwide proliferation of small ethical societies are the most effective outcomes available to us. There is no guarantee these goals are attainable – but there is also no guarantee that they are not.
Clearly, we dreamers who have not given up have a lot of work to do.