Science: Discovery Or Construction? Discovery Of Construction!

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

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10 Responses to “Science: Discovery Or Construction? Discovery Of Construction!”

  1. Paul Handover Says:

    What a deeply interesting essay. What immediately comes to me is that immortal saying, “I think, therefore I am.”

    Or if I might be granted the liberty of amending that saying to something that better reflects what I read above, “I see what I think, therefore I am.”

    The list of examples of the eyes being deceived by our minds is practically endless. The world’s courtrooms being proof of that.



    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Thanks Paul! Yes, I used to disparage “Cogito, Ergo Sum”… But I have build in the meantime arguments fully immersed in it. I shall not let a good reasoning be stopped by self-contradiction!
      Glad you liked it!


  2. Gmax Says:

    Down with Weinberg. It is a “Whig” version of history, the guy subscribes to the CW version of physics, Galileo Newton Einstein and he hates philosophy younger than 2 thousand years. Except Saint Augustine, of course. His attacks on Descartes are grotesque


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Yes, he used Augustine in support to the Big Bang… The same Augustine who wanted the Jews thrown out of Israel… Another Big bang…


      • Gmax Says:

        Guys like Weiner have the Nobel syndrome. Just because they were at right place at right time, they think they are wells of wisdom, having answers to all. Weiner is on the record saying normal readers are idiots, or something akin to that, and one had to write accordingly, like one was writing for mental retards


        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Yes. Feynman disagreed with that philosophy of writing science. Feynman thought truth had to be told. As simply as possible, but yet, in full. Hard to do. I am trying to do the same though…


  3. ianmillerblog Says:

    How we unravel nature’s “secrets” is an interesting question. Actually Newton did not need calculus to arrive at his mechanics – The Principia is largely geometric. He was also inspired in that the data he had available to him was by no means as definitive as some people think – observational error was significant. On the other hand, a good case can be made that the inverse square relationship was arrives at by Hooke, who hated Newton, possibly because he pinched the inverse square relationship. My guess is there is no “method” – everybody that achieves anything has his/her own approach.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Ian: Newton used his OWN version of calculus, which is highly valuable, although mostly ignored. He proves Kepler’s second law with a basic geometry reasoning, extremely beautiful, fast, and limpid.

      I consider very important to teach Newton’s version of calculus.

      Hooke, himself a great scientist, claimed Newton did not discover the inverse square law. That was right, retorted Newton, because Bullialdus, a French astronomer, member of the Royal Society before Newton’s birth, did it.

      Bullialdus, not being Anglo-Saxon is, of course, not worth remembering…

      My point is that the mind is a physical construction from the culture. There is nothing special about modern science, except greater power. Guesses are the fundamental engine of fundamental scientific discovery.


      • ianmillerblog Says:

        Dear Patrice, Yes, Newton’s proof of Kepler’s second law was both beautiful AND it ensured that subsequent observations were more in accord with the “law”.

        I confess I had never heard of Bullialdus – his settling on the conic sections is both correct and inspired.

        Interesting you say guesses are the fundamental engine of discovery. Actually, Feynman hinted at that too so you are in good company. I am not entirely convinced. I think that recognising a problem and stewing over it for a while leads to an idea, which at worst is an educated guess. However, in my own case, one of the things I am developing I have arrived at what appears to be a correct answer, BUT when I look at it more closely, the “deduction” was not correctly based. So, I got a lucky guess, but now from a basic error I have to puzzle out why it is correct. Ugly stuff!


        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          All creative thinking start with guesses, but they can be educated.
          In his greatest paper, Feynman did seven errors one way and then seven, the other way…
          Thus success was achieved.

          BTW Feynman wrote history of science was mostly mythology, and I will give a theory of evolution example tomorrow…


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