Archive for February 17th, 2018

Science Is Always Right

February 17, 2018

Science is Right, By Definition, and ever more knowledgeable, from evolution.

What is science? What we know, for sure. Yes, because there is such an emotion as certainty, or quasi-certainty. It’s because we were pretty sure that we came down the trees into the savanna. To discover plenty of new, life saving truth, plenty of science. Like how to drink from, and cook tubers. So yes, there is a notion of truth, and it made us, our species, our genus, Homo, whose genius is to have mastered truth.

Prehistoric men were found with fire starting kits comprising dozens of parts. Humans have used science, what is sure, for millions of years. Fire for 1.3 million years, clothing for two million years (up north), stone tools and weapons for millions of years before that (monkeys and apes, even some birds do). All this was made possible by, and demonstrates sure knowledge: science.

Volcanic lightning is caused by friction (creating electric charges), and then dynamics. Separating small particles from big ones, an application of Newton’s F = ma; F is a given, from supersonic gas, but a, the acceleration, varies, as m, the mass of particles, vary. Hence charges get separated, something lightning solves.

We understand why a violent volcanic explosion generates lightning (one of thousands of triumphs of recent science). That does not mean that the prehistoric science of making fire with sparks from flints or friction from wood are wrong. Just the opposite: both mechanisms come into play to generate lightning from volcanoes. Science goes deeper, darker, ever more. 

Similarly, the twentieth century theories of gravitation did not make Newton wrong (as the naive is won to believe). Actually, the recent theories made Newton twice more right. Indeed. First, Newton pointed out exactly a problem with his theory, which he excoriated as “absurd” (and he used even more vigorous words): Newtonian style gravitation was supposed to be instantaneous, through empty space, Newton hated that. Laplace, a century later, invented the simple mathematical picture of a field propagating at finite speed; that caused waves (1807). A century later, Henri Poincaré, main author of what he called the “theory of relativity”, rolled out relativistic gravitational waves (1905).

After Poincaré’s death (1912), Einstein, working with Hilbert, produced a specialization of Poincaré’s general gravitational theories. That theory was just a MODIFICATION of Newtonian theory (which is its first order, that’s how the Einstein equation is found). Basically, as Poincaré found in 1899, light in Maxwell theory has inertial, thus gravitational, mass. As light was used as the metric in Poincaré’s Relativity, the metric of spacetime was mass dependent. (Those who have the Einstein cult can’t possibly understand the logic underlying the science just alluded to, and that includes many physicists!)

Claiming that science is always wrong is equivalent to saying that we know nothing. It was tried before, and not just by Karl Popper. The confused Socrates perniciously tried to impose that notion, that men were ignorant, and knew nothing (however Socrates knew more than the rest…). Of course, the elites knew everything (or acted as if they did): thus Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander, Antipater and Craterus were all friends, united in their belief that the people knew nothing. And thus 23 centuries of dictatorship was necessary.

Instead, the truth is the opposite: there is such a thing as truth and knowledge. Science is always right, and this is why planes fall off the sky so rarely, and we are going back to the Moon. That doesn’t mean that science can’t be made to become always more refined, powerful, all-knowing. Newtonian mechanics is good enough for rocket science, but, for GPS, one has to be a bit more subtle, and use Relativity (as clocks run slower in a gravitational field, and the greater, the slower…)

Science being right, doesn’t mean that scientists are always right each time they open their mouths. Science is right, scientists are wrong. Example? When physicists come around, and speak as if they were god, this being demonstrated because they apparently witnessed the birth of the universe, they are clearly crazy, and calling them “scientists” is a bit too quick: generously one could say that they are specialists driven to madness by all too many years of hard studies. 

We have gone a long way since Anaximander proposed we all evolved from fishes, and research professor Lamarck, after decades studying mollusk fossils in microscopes, confirmed that, indeed, life had evolved over millions of years (1800; parroted by others later). The Ancient Greeks were perplexed by static electricity. Now we understand it very well, and soon we will understand it better (as Quantum Computer fabrication will force us to understand better atomic and single electron dynamics).

Science is an exploration always renewed, but real knowledge has been accumulated, and when 2,000 Athenians lifted the general amnesty, to target Socrates specifically, and him alone, they showed us that epistemology should be taken seriously. Socrates claimed ignorance, the 2,000 jurors claimed he should have known. No, indeed, science is not fake news! Besmirching science with error painted all over is error unbecoming a deep thinker.

Patrice Aymé

P/S: The approach above is antipodal to that of Karl Popper. Popper basically believed that to be science, science ought to be demonstrably false (OK, I can never resist ridiculizing him, although I like Popper!) This silliness causes real damage: consider the essay linked above:”Why Science Is Wrong” it clamors in its click-bait title (the article is not as bad as its title, but the damage is done). 10,000 people applauded, thus identifying science and fake news, damaging knowledge, thus everything, and validating fake news. So you see, Popper may sound like an ethereal subject, considering the notion of science in the 1930s. But now, nearly a century later, we have popular authors regurgitating the same notion, that, if it’s science, it’s wrong. Popper would say, and did say, that it is not at all what he wanted to say. Yet, he said it, no mistake about that.

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