Science and Society

  • The real test of ‘knowledge’ is not whether it is true, but whether it empowers us.
    • Scientists usually assume that no theory is 100 per cent correct. Consequently, truth is a poor test for knowledge. The real test is utility. A theory that enables us to do new things constitutes knowledge
  • Science needs more than just research to make progress. It depends on the mutual reinforcement of science, politics and economics.
    • Political and economic institutions provide the resources without which scientific research is almost impossible.
    • In return, scientific research provides new powers that are used, among other things, to obtain new resources, some of which are reinvested in research.
  • Three critical ways of modern science
      1. The willingness to admit ignorance.
      • Modern science is based on the Latin injunction ignoramus – ‘we do not know’. It assumes that we don’t know everything. Even more critically, it accepts that the things that we think we know could be proven wrong as we gain more knowledge. No concept, idea or theory is sacred and beyond challenge.
      1. The centrality of observation and mathematics
      • Having admitted ignorance, modern science aims to obtain new knowledge. It does so by gathering observations and then using mathematical tools to connect these observations into comprehensive theories.
      1. The acquisition of new powers.
      • Modern science is not content with creating theories. It uses these theories in order to acquire new powers, and in particular to develop new technologies.
  • Science and Society
    • Until the Scientific Revolution most human cultures did not believe in progress. They thought the golden age was in the past, and that the world was stagnant, if not deteriorating.
    • All modern attempts to stabilise the sociopolitical order have had no choice but to rely on either of two unscientific methods:
        1. Take a scientific theory, and in opposition to common scientific practices, declare that it is a final and absolute truth.
        • This was the method used by Nazis (who claimed that their racial policies were the corollaries of biological facts) and Communists (who claimed that Marx and Lenin had divined absolute economic truths that could never be refuted).
        1. Leave science out of it and live in accordance with a non-scientific absolute truth.
        • This has been the strategy of liberal humanism, which is built on a dogmatic belief in the unique worth and rights of human beings – a doctrine which has embarrassingly little in common with the scientific study of Homo sapiens.
    • But that shouldn’t surprise us. Even science itself has to rely on religious and ideological beliefs to justify and finance it’s research.