06 June 2010

Science of Science

Just throw a stone; what if it goes up faster and faster, or comes down slower and slower, or makes some sharp zigzag path? you would be surprised; even a small kid would be surprised. The thrown-stone is supposed to go up with decreasing speed and come down with increasing speed; and depending on the throw-angle, it would make certain curvature path. Every kid learns this from the experience, without any need of deeper understanding about speed, acceleration, force, gravity, etc. Yet, if the stone followed any different characteristics, intuitively we know that something is odd. But, if we live in an environment where the thrown-stone never comes back, that is what our brain would have learned. Whatever the environment we live in, our brain learns its characteristics and causal effects. As we grow up, our brain learns and collects lots and lots of such inferences which we call commonsense, intuition, hunch or gut feeling. Though commonsense provides very important value, it does not offer deeper understanding; and often it misleads us into many common-non-sense! That is how we think the earth is flat when it is round; that is how we think the sun goes around us when the earth rotates itself and goes around the sun. That is how we think life is designed when it is evolved over billions of years. That is how we think we can freely make decisions and choices beyond our genetic and environmental makeup.

In any case, beyond simple commonsense, people critically thought and discussed about many things. This school of thought is known as philosophy. It invoked and created many ideas such as prime mover (the first root cause of all the chain of cause and effects) and Zeno’s paradox (how motion is impossible). The concept of God is one such idea. Many philosophers critically analyzed it. Some developed great faith in the concept of God beyond human reasoning, yet tried to explain it at philosophical level. This specialized school thought is known as theology. After a while, philosophy as a knowledge gathering process reached its limitation, and stagnated at certain level with just mere back and forth arguments without yielding any new insights about us and the world we live in.

Our commonsense may suggest, heavier objects reach the ground sooner than lighter ones. Galileo first showed experimentally that all objects reach the ground at the same time. Instead of making philosophical and fantasy stories about the moon, planets, the sun and stars, he observed through his telescope. He showed the importance of experimentation, verification and objectiveness. Ultimately he and many others created a systematic process which involves observation, theory making, verification, etc. This school of thought is known as science. It allowed us to understand life and 3.5 billion years of life evolution. It showed our universe that consists of billions of galaxies, each galaxy consists of billions of stars, and 14 billion years of cosmic evolution.

Science is a systematic knowledge gathering process. Based on our brain's architecture (the way it evolved to be) with its capabilities and limitations, science is the best technique we invented so far to understand the complex world we live in and gain deeper insights.

Achilles: But there is science and there is art!

Tortoise: Science = A systematic understanding process. If you want to understand anything, you can have a scientific study for it. There is science of life (biology), and there is science of cosmos (cosmology). There is science of love and there is science of art. There is science of religion and even there is science of science!

Achilles: But science cannot tell us how to live our life...

Tortoise: Our life is infinitely complex and unpredictable. Even ultra powerful super computers cannot fully solve our life choices and decisions. Scientific facts and understandings or philosophical ideas or spiritual and religious teachings can only offer some guidance. It is up to us, how we use those guidelines and live our life artfully.

Achilles: Yet, there are so many things we do not understand...

Tortoise: Our known universe is 14 billion years old, our earth is 4 billion years old, life evolved 3.5 billion years ago, humans evolved few millions years ago, modern humans evolved 100 thousand years ago, recorded human history is few thousand years, science has been around few hundred years, and you have been around few decades! Now you want an easy answer for everything. It takes time and effort.

Achilles: But science cannot answer everything...

Tortoise: Science is not a magic! Science cannot answer anything! We have to find answers ourselves. Science is just a method, a process, a tool for us to find answers.

**************

We use many methods to understand and gain knowledge about anything. These methods could be categorized as below.
  • Intuition: Our brain comes with many inborn intuitive mechanisms that are shaped over the course of our evolution.
  • Commonsense: Our brain automatically learns from the environment and experience, and collects many inferences about the causal effects with no or limited insights.
  • Philosophy: It is based on established belief system that is fundamentally derived and extended from Intuition and Commonsense; and hence, it is constrained by our subjectivity.
  • Theology: This subset category of Philosophy is biased towards one particular belief system. It is highly liberal belief system, and hence heavily constrained by our subjectivity.
  • Science: It is based on highly conservative belief system that "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". It requires observation, theory/sense making, verification, validation, etc. It offers some window to go beyond our intuitive and commonsense constrains and reach for objectiveness.

16 comments:

Sathiya said...

I liked this theme and the way you formatted.

- A.Sathiyanarayanan.

RajK said...

Thanks Sathiya!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for thoughtful discourse! AY

RajK said...

Thanks AY!

Anonymous said...

Great construction! Please try this link...
http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/atheismintro.html

It answers the dilemma between Science and Religion...
Let me know what you think.

Guna.

RajK said...

Thanks Guna your comments and link. The link offers a good example of the common trend in theology which uses the latest scientific understanding and use/twist it for its purpose. You can see this through out the history. Other than copying and twisting, they offer no progress, no understanding, no help.

Instead of having faith in this side or other side, I prefer to start from: "I don't know".
http://ecortext.blogspot.com/2009/07/knowledge-speaking.html

But in any case, I also discussed why people have faith certain way:
http://ecortext.blogspot.com/2009/11/colorful-spiritual-world.html
http://ecortext.blogspot.com/2009/11/roots-of-beliefs.html

RajK said...

Based on the comments that I received, I have added some further clarification in the post below the line: **************

Anonymous said...

Wow all I can say is that you are a great writer! Where can I contact you if I want to hire you?

CorTexT said...

//Anonymous said...
Wow all I can say is that you are a great writer! Where can I contact you if I want to hire you?
//

Thanks for such a nice comment. You can reach me at ecortext@gmail.com

swamiram said...

The greatest science of the sciences is the fact that all we have discovered has already been dscovered already by the Vedic sciences of the ancient hindus. Take for examp,e the Sun and its 7 visible colors...the hindus have a pictorial of the Sun and its seven horses in the form of the God Surya and this picture is 1000s of years old. The Hindu God of Mass is Vishnu and the Hindu Good of Light is Laxmi..They are married ...put them together and you get E=MC squared. All this is before einstein, galileo and so on. The Hindu Nav-graha or 9 planet symbolism knew about the solar system 1000s of years ago. The Vedic mathematical system can multiply, add and divide faster than a calculator can do it in your hand. See if you can multiply 97 x 98 in 5 seconds? or add 12345 to 54321 in 3 seconds?

CorTexT said...

//swamiram said...//
Thanks for your comments.

//The greatest science of the sciences//
This clearly shows you really do not understand this post (If possible, please read it again). Perhaps, I did not explain it clearly. Science is NOT what you think it is - it is a process, a method, a tool - for us to understand the complex world we live in.

//all we have discovered has already been dscovered already by the Vedic sciences of the ancient hindus.//
It is just an utter ignorance. If I give you a list of what we know now, your head will spin. But I'll add few deatils below based on your examples as my examples. In any case, what really matters is the process; not just what we know, but how we know. So that, we can predict new things, make it useful, manipulate it, correct it, and extend it.

// Take for examp,e the Sun and its 7 visible colors...the hindus have a pictorial of the Sun and its seven horses in the form of the God Surya and this picture is 1000s of years old.//
I am not trying to underestimate it, but it is not super difficult to know about 7 colors from seeing, rainbow, refractions on crystals, etc. In any case, a tiny fraction of what we know now about light and sun:
-> Visible light is only a small spectrum of electromagnetic wave. Speed of light is 299,792,458 meter per second. In fact, magnetism, electricity and light are result from a same fundamental elementary particle called photon. We can predict accurately how it will interact with other particles. We can use it for different forms of communication (radio, cell phone, TV, etc.). Light has many properties and color is not one of them (color is our perception).
-> Now we know about how sun is formed, its contents, its nuclear fusion reaction, how it radiates light, how it produces heavier atoms, its age, its lifetime, etc. We also know that sun is a typical star in one arm of our spiral milky way galaxy that consists of billions of stars. They are billions of such galaxies in our known universe. We can work on nuclear fusion and fission at engineering level.

//The Hindu God of Mass is Vishnu and the Hindu Good of Light is Laxmi..They are married ...put them together and you get E=MC squared.//
Laxmi = light, but C = speed of light. Where does square come from? Why does square only on C? Where is E? Where are multiplication and equation relation? Do you know, the difference between weight and mass? Do you know, the meaning and condition of that equation. Ultimately, that equation means nothing without how you got it, what is the meaning, what is the condition, how to apply and how to use it.

//The Hindu Nav-graha or 9 planet symbolism knew about the solar system//
Does Nav-graha include sun and moon as planets? Did they really call it a solar system? (Meaning the sun at the center and the earth is the third planet). In any case, the sun has only 8 planets.

//The Vedic mathematical system can multiply, add and divide faster than a calculator can do it in your hand. See if you can multiply 97 x 98 in 5 seconds? or add 12345 to 54321 in 3 seconds?//
How about:
-> 1*2*3*4*.........*4234234234?
-> 656453645 * 436456354 * 4353435?
-> Square-root (5453644356)?
-> Pi / Square-root (pi)?
-> 1 / 516851263512635612?
-> (43665664624532)^2?

When I was a kid, I formulated a mathematical system which I called it Thanis. It deals with each individual digit in a number as a separate variable. This way, as algebra I derived many formulas for fast calculation. Later I realized, the power of mathematics lies in the concepts such as positional notation, different operations, series, pi, e, algebra, matrix, logarithm, logic, differentiation, integration, probability, theorems, etc. Do you know the Godel incompleteness theorem? In any case, we invented Calculator (or any machine) to help us. Just use it; why are you fighting with it? Instead, use your brain for better intelligent purposes.

{{Continue... in my next comment}}

CorTexT said...

In general, there are many missing links, and ups and down in history. But a careful study of history would show how different culture was dominated in science/mathematics related matters at different period. Of course, our ancestors were not idiots. After all, we are standing on their shoulders. But claiming that our ancestors knew more than us (based on some books and others), or knew some deeper understanding about life or universe that we know now is just absurd; as if we have been degrading. Anyone who claims so, does not understand what science or mathematics really is, and does not understand what we know now, and more importantly does not really know the history. Look at their claims: Usually not straight forward; it is their deceiving interpretation based on what we know already. Basically, they are motivated to defend their blind faiths and desperately attempting to deceive themselves and others. If they are really serious, they should enlighten us with totally new understandings and discoveries. We have so many serious problems such as deadly diseases, poverty, unfathomable sufferings, and so many social, economic and global problems. We need serious people to solve them. If you are really serious, instead of stuck in the past, look forward and make your ancestors and children proud. If you are really serious, come out boldly and straightforwardly.

Anand said...

//Of course, our ancestors were not idiots. After all, we are standing on their shoulders. But claiming that our ancestors knew more than us (based on some books and others), or knew some deeper understanding about life or universe that we know now is just absurd; as if we have been degrading.//

Very well said. While we would expect people to accept the discoveries of science in the last few centuries and reject old ideas, oddly enough, many people still claim glory from the Vedas, Upanishads, Bible etc.., and make all kinds of silly connections to scientific facts.

This trend seems to be in fact going in the reverse direction with religious fervor increasing day by day.

On the other hand, the real value of religion and mythology is completely different. It is not to compete with new discoveries in science but to fill our lives with stories. In fact so many hollywood movies (Lord the rings, star wars, etc.,) came from ancient mythology. Imagine the lives of millions of people without such entertainment ! They coould be bored and plotting to attack someone ! So stories are necessary for most people.

Another value in religion is to help guide people through their social lives. Knowing about Newton's laws or quarks or genes does not help a person be friendly or good to his/her neighbhor or get over their depression. But that should be the goal of religion...to help us with our emotional problems, and not to compete with science.

In fact even science can help with some emotional problems (Prozac!) but a vast majority of psychological issues (like mild depression) could still be handled using meditation etc.,. This might change with more discoveries in neuroscience which might lead to chemical solutions.

-Anand (yes its me! Just thought I'll check back to read some old posts of yours...not to pick a fight though :))

CorTexT said...

//Anand (yes its me! Just thought I'll check back to read some old posts of yours...not to pick a fight though :))
//
Welcome! Fights are ok as long as we are not repeating the same mistakes :)

//This trend seems to be in fact going in the reverse direction with religious fervor increasing day by day.
//
To certain extent, it is failures of scientists/researchers attitude towards educating the public. They do not actively help; moreover often they confuse the public by casually throwing many subjective words (Like, one guy saying, we know a lot about gravity; other guy saying, gravity still a total mystery. Like Einstein said 'God does not play dice'. Think about these kinds of statements from a common man point of view). I understand, they are also humans; but often the problem is...with reasonably obvious things. They should remember that the better educated society means better funding for their projects; and better life for them. (Few years back, I tried to create some formulation on this; just some rough idea; https://sites.google.com/site/artificialcortext/others/miscellaneous/un-known-objective-relative-scale).

// the real value of religion and mythology is completely different.
//
Million people have millions of opinions. You have yours and I have mine. Like many 'mind' related words, the word 'religion' is a suitcase word – many different things put together in a single suitcase. Unless otherwise, we dissect them and treat them separately, we tend to get into same confusion holes. In any case, in this post, I only focused on "theology" as a knowledge gathering process – not religions as a whole. By the way, I love fantasy stories and movies :)

// Another value in religion is to help guide people through their social lives.
...the goal of religion...to help us with our emotional problems
... psychological issues (like mild depression) could still be handled using meditation etc
//
In other words, it is some sort of exercise (physical/mental) to our life – at least some elements of religions. In this view, science can only help us to understand which exercises are good, which are bad and discovering/inventing new ones, etc. – as you pointed out.

Anand said...

//To certain extent, it is failures of scientists/researchers attitude towards educating the public. They do not actively help; moreover often they confuse the public by casually throwing many subjective words //

That's partly true, but I think the main problem is that religion is a powerful psychological force (I don't mean that as a good thing). You should remember that even if scientists present their work to the layman and explain the beauty of science, the only people who will listen are those who are curious.

Religious people are generally not curious about the universe, and will not easily question their beliefs. Their belief is very deep rooted and hard to change.

I was very religious as a kid but as I saw events unfold around me (earthquakes and plane crashes...), I slowly transformed into an atheist years ago. But when I was religious it would have been tough to make me understand what I do now. It took many years of reflection and "luck" to change, although now it seems like an obvious fact that pretty much every religion is dead wrong when it comes to explaining the physical universe!

CorTexT said...

//even if scientists present their work to the layman and explain the beauty of science, the only people who will listen are those who are curious.//
In my view, it is about scientists coming out directly for reasonably obvious things instead of muddling the entire water pool further. I understand the complexity...but they should consciously aware of the society they live in.

//Religious people are generally not curious about the universe//
I am not sure about that. I think, they do (at least many of them). I think, they just look at wrong source. Because that's the one easily (in their level) available to them. While people who are 90% wrong making huge noise, people (such as scientists) who are 90% right worried about being 10% wrong and make no sound at all (% value is just arbitrary).

//I was very religious as a kid but as I saw events unfold around me...//
Thanks for sharing it. I grow up in a religious family. Though I never believed in those stories/views, I had so many confusions (I think, because of so many muddling/mixing that exists in our society). It took a while to be comfortable with what we know and what we do not know. I think that comfort comes from not just knowing it, but understanding how and why we know.