Archive for April 13th, 2016

Science: Discovery Or Construction? Discovery Of Construction!

April 13, 2016

In his book “To Explain The World: The Discovery Of Modern Science”, Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg asserts that modern science was DISCOVERED. Modern science was out there, under a bush, and a couple of physicists Weinberg esteem (Galileo, Newton), lifted the bush, and uncovered “modern science”.

This may not look like it, but that subtitle itself, that science was discovered, is a speculation on what reality is. In other words, it is a piece of bold philosophy… which, thanks to modern scientific advances in biology, can be philosophically shown to be, most probably, erroneous.

Indeed: is not the mind constructed? Modern experiments in neurobiology have shown this.

The Eye Is Only All-Seeing Because It Is Full Of Ideas And Theories About What It Sees

The Eye Is Only All-Seeing Because It Is Full Of Ideas And Theories About What It Sees

A kitten shown only a very distorted version of the world does not learn to see correctly.

(In an interesting case of cecity, Weinberg disparages the inventor of analytic geometry, Descartes, who made modern mathematics possible, including infinitesimal calculus, and Newton’s little activities: no Descartes, no Newton. However, once Descartes had invented analytic geometry, and another Frenchman deduced the correct universal attraction law, the work made by Newton was a matter of at most a couple of decades, since Kepler’s laws were already known. Kepler erroneously thought the attraction was 1/distance, when it’s actually 1/square of distance…)

Weinberg tried to clarify the subtitle of his book (‘the discovery of modern science’): science was not just ‘constructed’ but actually ‘discovered’. In truth, one should be careful. Take agriculture. Was it discovered, or invented? Both. Most agricultural products were not just discovered, but also literally engineered, through domestication. (A process which is still poorly understood: how can one get from a wild tree which could poison a human to death by eating twenty nuts, to a nutritious modern almond tree? Is not that an achievement more awesome than Newton’s? And the fact is, millions, nowadays, know how Newton did it, but none how Neolithic farmers made what was deadly, edible.)

Our apparent discoveries modify our brains, so, in a sense, they are constructions. Neurological constructions.

Now let’s ponder this: when something which has been constructed “discovers” something else, has that something else been uncovered, or constructed?

Are then what we think of the things of our world and the architecture our minds are made of, discovered or constructed?

No doubt, some will say, a bridge is constructed. Clearly so, when it is made by hand (as even Heidegger will understand). But, animating these hands are minds. Not just the ones of the builders, but the minds of those who made the minds of the builders. Because cultures, transmitted by languages, make minds.

Furthermore, what is the difference between a bridge made of stones, and a bridge between two neurons, or two systems of neurons? Philosophically speaking, not much.

The point is that we feel, or think we observed,  that things of the world are some way, and from that, we build bridges between neurons, or systems thereof.

Appearances are not just deceiving. Appearances we perceive lead to constructions of, and in, our minds. Shallow makes deep.

The process cannot be any different with “science”. From appearances, that we call “experiences”, we build explanations, connections between neurons, or systems thereof. So what did we truly discover, when we made a scientific discovery?

What we discovered is that we can build a mind in ways not suspected before. And that, somehow, it fits the real world better, meaning we can increase our powers on matter. This is all what modern science is. The same old same old which has made us evolve ever closer to the gods we are becoming at an accelerating pace. For better or worse.

Patrice Ayme