The Way Science Works

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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Belief, a quality of Bromides in Gelett Burgess’ terms, means accepting things dogmatically without having any concern to evidence, reason or logic. A believer not only accepts things without seeking evidence but he is indifferent to it as well. We should not decide things based on our centuries old beliefs made by people who did not even know earth orbits the sun. We should not even have any belief about any natural phenomena because we know the universe is rationally intelligible and we can understand it through scientific methods.

We should never let our emotions, personal beliefs or sensibilities control our mind because these things may hijack our sense of logical analysis and rationality, as well as these are main hurdles to scientific progress. Science students in particular, and other citizens in general, should let evidence, rigorous reasoning, logic and scientific method decide whether a certain thing is right or wrong. If science hasn’t come up with an explanation yet for a particular case or phenomena, we should suspend our judgement till the evidence comes .We should not presume things. We must know about things that can’t be known using available knowledge today.

We should not try to prove any idea or we should not presume answers before asking questions. Rather we should follow a scientific method and we should go wherever the evidence leads us to go. We should not claim to be searching for absolute truth because there is nothing like an absolute truth. It does not even make sense in itself. The only word we know in science is fact. ‘Absolute Truth’ could be a phrase meaningful to a poet or a literary person but not for scientists. We know in science unknowns are always there. As Richard Feynman stresses that he doesn’t know what people mean by asking questions like why there is a universe or what the purpose of life is? He adds that he doesn’t know what to think when we ask these questions.

There is still a possibility that in near future we may be able to ponder the meaning of these questions, as Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University has addressed the first question in his famous book “A Universe From Nothing,” but he himself adds that we still do not have a full theory. In near future, however, he expects the evidence.

‘There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.’

We should make our thinking refined. We must know there are lots of things we know about the universe and yet a lot more that we don’t know. That’s why we go and do science. We research to find out answers of the unknown questions. We try not even to find answers to present questions, but raising new questions as well that need to be addressed. Science is not only a subject, but a mode of thinking and analyzing as well.

Here is a beautiful line:

‘There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.’

We should be courageous enough to openly admit that we still don’t know much about origins of laws of physics and we don’t fully know why certain constants possess a particular value. But we should not stop raising questions and we should try to find out their answers. We should not consider their answers based on dogma and beliefs. This is not going to working in any case. Science has been proving such presumptions wrong throughout history.

We have to know the relevance of our ideas. We should explain things in a rigorous way. We should not simply say A is the cause of B or A implies B, as is the case in our classrooms, unfortunately. Instead, better we tell the students what makes A the cause of B, and why A is not the cause of C. We should explain the whole mechanism of cause and effect to students.

We must understand that the most trustworthy way in science is based on impartial and logical reasoning and seeking evidence (instead of having a blind belief). Actually, when you believe things you assume reality and you assume answers of questions. But in Feynman terms,

“Nature can’t be fooled. Things are the way they are, and things will be the way they will be whether we believe in them or not. So, our belief has nothing special in its very nature. It can’t change anything.”

So, we need to stop being dogmatic and adopt values of science, i.e., peer review, reliance in evidence, impartial reasoning and honest analysis. These are the values that can make the world a better place – not Iron Age beliefs.

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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