Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Why actual science is not a world of simple solutions

arroba Email

Philosopher Jonny Thomson, author of Mini Philosophy, reminds us that science is not a world of One Big Answer:

Scientific pluralism — the idea that several models can exist for a single phenomenon — is common. Physicists must accept the reality that general relativity explains the very big while quantum mechanics explains the very small. Multiple models are accepted across climate science, behavioral biology, psychology, and many other fields.

What this means in practice is that science is not some paradigm of straight answers and happy endings. Across most scientific disciplines, the answers you get will depend upon the model or the lens that you are using. A chemist sees the world differently than a biologist.

The problem lies within our own minds. The issue is not necessarily a metaphysical one (that is, about the “actual” way things are) but an epistemological one (that is, about our own knowledge). We each approach the world armed with our own “maps” and expectations. As a result, it is highly unlikely that any scientific field will easily, if ever, coalesce around one simple answer to any complex question.

Jonny Thomson, “Scientific pluralism: why science does not give straight answers and simple solutions” at Big Think (November 19, 2021)

You may also wish to read: Professional skeptic Michael Shermer gets it about what’s going wrong at the new Woke Scientific American. It turns out, Michael Shermer has his own sad story about how he got dumped by Scientific American after a long career as a columnist there (since April 2001) — as he tells us in “A case study in how identity politics poisons science.”

Part of the misunderstanding is a conflation of problem-solving science vs observational science. A problem-solver CAN reach a definite answer. A chemist developing a new paint pigment will know whether the new pigment is brighter and cheaper than the old. If it's not, keep trying. Observation isn't meant to reach answers. A new observation looks in a new place, or looks through a better instrument, to see the situation in a new way. Experiments may help to grasp the situation. In any black-box situation it's helpful to wiggle the input and watch the output. This is not an automatic part of the observation process, and may be physically impossible. The result of good observation is a clearer picture of the system itself, or a better transfer function graph showing how the output changes for each input wiggle. These results are not solutions or theories, and may never contribute to a solved problem. polistra

Leave a Reply