Post Truth Era and Science

Contributed by Muhammad Bashir Baloch

Disclaimer: The Eqbal Ahmad Centre for Public Education (EACPE) encourages critical and independent thinking and believes in a free expression of one’s opinion. However, the views expressed in contributed articles are solely those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the EACPE.

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One of important questions that we need to ask ourselves is whether we are rational beings or not. According to Mark Twain we are rational but it’s not something to celebrate, but to mourn upon. He said this because he was probably grief stricken by human atrocities.

To explore how much we are logical, let’s see how we do mathematics. Mathematics implies the most precise form of logic. In mathematics there is not a single gap and we move from one step to other through a chain of calculations. Mathematics is considered as generalization of sciences. For instance, physicists talk about one dimension or two or three but a mathematician can talk about “n” dimensions. Physicists look at physical things around while mathematicians invent tools to teach how to look and where to look. Mathematicians were probably the first people who invented the culture of defining things. People used to consider universe as a puzzle which we have to solve, but mathematicians showed and later on physicists too that it’s not the case. In science, we define things and then look for their relationships. We can go back and redefine our multiplication of matrices and it will give us a complete set of new symmetries and results. It may not appear as handy as usual multiplication, but it has new insights. Same is the case with other things. If we redefine current’s direction, it will alter some of our ways of talking about nature. For example, we might then have to redefine right hand rule. But somehow we can make it compatible with the world we live in. There are phenomena out there but their interpretation depends upon our tools and things we are looking for. For example: light has a dual behavior. We try to figure out which approach is needed in a particular situation. But still we have to work by looking at nature because reality is independent of man. Whether we look at it or not current has a field but when we look at it we give it meaning and so on.

If humans are logical and rational, then everybody should be good at mathematics. However, with few exceptions,, we see most of the people celebrating their ignorance of mathematics. We know a vast majority laughing while saying they were never good at mathematics. This tells us that we are not rational, and hence, are prone to illusions and superstitions. We lack imagination that mathematicians have. By birth we seem illogical, and all that we get in the name of thinking is acquired from our environment. Society compels us to be a reasonable man. The other argument is that by looking at past we see how people used to believe in stupid things. For instance, they thought some numbers were good and some were bad omens. They thought cats have something to do with their fate. Many people were forced to death based on these superstitious premises.

So by nature we are not rational beings and science is something we have to learn to step on rationality. In our schools we mostly fill children minds with set of fact. Institutions are not here only to transfer past data in a well disciplined way to next generation. Instead, they are meant to teach how to think. Einstein pointed out the same that education is not just about learning facts, rather it is the training of mind how to think. Nations only prosper if every citizen thinks well. Education is a key to success. It is not only science but education as a whole that helps an individual to know how to make informed decision. We need to make our students enjoy things, grow and glow.

“Dream or nightmare, we have to live our experience as it is, and we have to live it awake. We live in a world which is penetrated through and through by science and which is both whole and real. We cannot turn it into game by simply taking sides.”

The system of competitive exams which we may call a necessary evil has sadly contributed its share in destroying the beauty of science. High school and intermediate are best places to learn but here students keep memorising things from start till end to get good grades. This culture of lack of curiosity is ruining the real potential of young minds. In addition, teachers also don’t want their students to go beyond the course and think for themselves. Also, being a professor or scientist is not much valued here.

Realizing that we are not logical and rational unless educated properly, we have to know how to learn these things. Today, world is fashioned by science and science affects our morals as well as other ideas about the world. As Jacob Bronowski said:

“Dream or nightmare, we have to live our experience as it is, and we have to live it awake. We live in a world which is penetrated through and through by science and which is both whole and real. We cannot turn it into game by simply taking sides.”

Jacob had said this all out of his understanding of science. Some weeks ago, a new term has been introduced that is post truth. Clearly, this term just tells normal human behaviour. It is meant to value propaganda over precise data; it is to oppose certain things based on beliefs irrespective of evidence. Those whom we can call the victims of post truth are ones who are holding opinion opposite to scientific evidence. In every period of history such people existed. Most people on the planet are not that good at understanding things. If we look back at people who changed our conception of world and who worked well in science and literature, they are just few as compared to total population of world.

Another reason for the rise of post truth is social media. On social media one can always find data compatible with one’s opinion no matter how stupid it is. Moreover, one can always find people supporting it. There, the one who is rational and knowledgeable faces opposition and suffer ridicule. More than scholarly discussions or learning from others, people engage themselves in belittling others. This is not a healthy trend.

We have been living in post truth era. Pseudoscience is on the rise in society. Science apologists have given rise to pseudoscience and for ordinary man it is not possible to differentiate between the two. Not so long ago, many so called bright scientists of our country were fooled by a mechanic who claimed that he could make car run on water. He claimed that he had proven laws of thermodynamics wrong, yet many educated people made him a hero.

The way forward to keep ourselves safe from such scams, we need to develop rationality and logic. We need to know the difference between opinion and fact. We have to learn the best way to reach at the truth is following the scientific method. While learning about facts we need to know how these facts were discovered. We need to ask questions from ourselves as well as others:

Why is it true? How do you know it? Why it cannot be the other way around? Why is this theory right and not the other one? Is it your opinion or an established fact? —— If we look at answers to such questions, then we can make a better and informed opinion.

About the Author:

The writer is doing F.Sc (Pre-Engineering). He has a deep enthusiasm for physics and mathematics. He is also a member of Science Talent Farming Scheme (STFS) of Pakistan science foundation (PSF).

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