Monday, September 30, 2013

What of it? (Science is Art)

Science is the art of the probable physical.
-Terrence Mcekenna

The other day, me and one of my cohorts from the psych program were discussing the limits of science and its epistemology. He would remind me of the incompleteness theorem and how it applies to all knowledge. But we are both training to be scientists, so why bother with this way of knowledge if everything has limitations? Well of course its because of how conventional science is- almost everyone agrees with its authority- and how efficient it is- people love their technology. Granted, we live in comfort because of science. But I cant help to think that history would have me in some past situation under the rule of a king asking similar questions about the crowns authority. I can imagine a fellow subject pointing out to me all the positives we’re experience- asking me if I wasn’t grateful for the following years harvest, or the fact we haven’t had a war in such and such time. Yes, I could picture something just like this. So now I ask: what’s the difference? Coming back to the conversation between me and my cohort, I posed this issue to him. He responded that science is most accurate, unlike creationism for example which states the earth is only several thousand years old. True, no one is going to get away from this one. The real answer to the question of how old is the earth, if we all agree on the definition the terms, is around ~4 billion years old. No way around it. So therefore our conversation reached a conclusion on the matter: science is the way to go because it answers questions most accurately. I would also add because of awareness and consideration of its own axioms.

But later it came to me. Its not over yet. Why would the answer to the question matter? The answer to that would be its effect. But its effect on what? This is where pragmatism takes a step in our epistemology. We choose the effect. This choice is made intuitively; it is not deduced from some general principle out there in the world. Rather our choices on what effect we want from the answers to our questions (e.g. accuracy, consistency, more technology, better health, peaceful world, etc) come to us by our hunches about the world. We feel inside, this must be right. But there is no way to test to see if what you feel is the right feeling, if we define right in the same we would a math problem or in a science article. So we start from our own axioms and move outward- building on them.

Thinking back to the creationist argument, the answer given by that belief system could have an effect which feels good to believers. It could give them a sense of security or comfort. There is no reason to say that the intuition of believing empirical data as the only valid or best form of knowledge is any inherently better then believing that the words of some book hold all the knowledge worth knowing. In the end, it’s the effect on the person and their own evaluation of the answer which matters.

This notion is radical because it takes the floor of “truth” out from under us. It makes us take responsibility for our beliefs and attitudes. There is little use in justifying one’s answers to their questions because it’s objective or most accurate. These “measures of truth” are our assumptions about the world, not something that is fundamental to existence.

Science is just a very complicated art with many rules and procedures. Its values are accuracy and consistency. This art has brought much joy into the world. But it is not the only kind of art.