Character of Science

Science should not be likened to a bound hard-cover volume, a collection of unchallengeable, incontrovertible truths. It is more like a loose-leaf folder in which our latest insights into nature, into aspects of ourselves and the accumulated wisdom of past learning are stored.

This creates a highly correctable collection of items, not a book of ultimate truths. Our folder has inestimable value in a world which too often is haunted and harassed by self-righteous humans touting their own brands of Truths and Virtues.

I should add that although the collection itself consists of items we may regard as self-evident, it also contains much that is highly speculative. To sort this out is a daunting, unfinished business.

9 thoughts on “Character of Science

  1. Of course, some of the “self-righteous humans” are those touting science as if it indeed represented an “collection of incontrovertible truths”! Wrapping some idea in the mantle of “science” does not make it bedrock truth — it merely makes it “the best we can do for now.”

    Steve V

  2. Outcome, process, method, a state of mind, a yearning…or all of the above (?) which amounts to an endless, passionate, imaginative curiousity applied to progress our collective folder of, as Steve puts it, “the best we can do for now.”

  3. The beauty of science is that it is democratic. That is, it is fluid and open to change by anybody willing to advance it. That beats dogma and belief hands down. Science is progressive, but only when active. When it stops being active, it pretends to be fact.

  4. Jim – Let me think further about your comment which is in tune with Popper’s views. When does belief turn into dogma? Beliefs can be revised, whereas dogma has additional dimensions and is presented as an authorized set of opinions.

    • Given the strength of the stubborn beliefs I am familiar with and have tried to change, perhaps I am not making the proper distinction between dogma and beliefs. My understanding of dogma is that it is the same as belief other than dogma is usually used when the belief or principal is laid down with authority as part of an entire belief system or ideology. My naive example would be the current denial of the science of anthropogenic global warming by the current GOP candidates for President. I have a friend on the right who has no authority whatsoever, but has a strong “belief” about anthropogenic global warming, thus supports the GOP position. Her logic(?) is that God would not let us do that, and if she is wrong it is because it is the end times and she will go to heaven and I will not.” The candidates are not science authorities, they are pushing a right wing ideology or dogma known as a party platform, so to speak, where my “friend” is a right wing evangelical who happens to have a strong belief that fits well with the party dogma. I am not convinced, however, that the party position is actually a dogma in terms of a primary belief as part of a system of beliefs as much as it is simply a position taken because it is known to match that of the evangelical right, thus leaving them no other vote other than for those candidates. All that seems pretty removed from Popper, though it might address the idea that the issue of when a belief turns into a dogma can be complex enough that it might run both ways. That is, a belief can turn into a dogma in ways that have nothing to do with issues of ease of revision unless they are part of an entire system so that revision impacts more than a single belief because dogma is a reference to a system or set of beliefs (opinions). In my humble opinion, some beliefs work independently of a system on an individual basis, and in that sense may work independently even when part of a system laid out as an authorized set. That is, when believers of dogma follow, they may not necessarily believe the whole set laid out by the authority, they can focus on select beliefs that match closely their own. If dogma is taken only to be a set, it does not necessarily follow that a belief can turn into a dogma, nor a dogma in its entirety turn into a belief. The same would not be true, I think, if an authorized belief is not primary to the entire set of beliefs that make up the system. Just a naive thought from an old friend…and secret student.

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