Thoughts II

The Scientific Method

The scientific method is a razor-sharp blade against ignorance and self-deceit. Though there is more to life than science, and we must take into account subjective things such as our feelings, making decisions based on this method is generally better. The scientific method also uses past experiences to construct a view of the world, but fundamentally, it does not rely on memory. It relies on experiments and written notes that are examined, analyzed, discussed, buried, resurfaced and finally either discarded or [possessing genuine worth] incorporated into the body of knowledge.

As I've learned in recent years, a curious thing happens when you transfer the knowledge in your brain into a piece of paper. It is suddenly there, asking to be questioned. It talks to the other written sentences in a way that is not permitted in our thoughts. It detaches from us. You are much more able to detect errors and false premises. You can then refine it through successive iterations, in a sieve that leaves only what is precious. 

I firmly believe that political decisions should follow technical conclusions that are solely based on the scientific method. This is truth as best known by us. If you go against a scientific determination, and this determination was indeed produced by a rigorous application of the Method, you will harm society. The scientific community is made of people, fallible, so it must have means to avoid abuses and misconducts. It is my opinion that today such means are not sufficient. Common people then mistakenly perceive scientific truths as opinions. Nevertheless, sometimes even our greatest minds are trying to fathom intellectual challenges that are too broad for our limited imagination, and we come to the wrong conclusions. Still, they were truth as best it could have been known.

Science is the quest to find what really, really, does not change.

A very curious thing is that it is not really conceivable that someone would develop a cellphone before inventing the wired telephone. Ordinarily, we cannot imagine much beyond that what already exists, though there have been remarkable exceptions. We emphasize in such exceptions the almost prophetic nature of the imaginings. For me, that is why historical figures such as Leonardo da Vinci are so noteworthy. It is not dissimilar to the task of guessing that on December, 25th, 2143, it will be raining at 04:37AM on University of Cambridge Square's garden, and be absolutely right about it. 

With each invention, new possibilities are unlocked. Every generation dreams about the future in slightly different ways, and these views shift with time, bounded by the current constrains of scientific knowledge. There is a progressive quality to invention, although it might be more like an octopus stretching itself aggressively in every direction.

People have been baffled many times with the question of whether we have reached a level of technological sophistication to be considered "high" when compared to previous generations, only to be considered stone-chipping Neanderthals by man that came after them. When I find myself confronted with such questions, I often ponder that the alternative is to hang down the lab coats, find ourselves a marvelous sunset at a beach and stare it to infinity. But that would make a real dull life, in the end. It is my view that we don't do Science because it rewards us with prestige, we don't even do it because we absolutely need it. We do it because we love doing it.

Now, don't just dismiss that beach idea. Will there be a time when we will have answered all our questions to our satisfaction, or rather to our presumption? What comes after you've peaked though every crack of the cosmos? Is this beyond the bounds that define the word "human"?

The truth is that all we can say is that this journey is long. If we time it right, and use wits and wisdom in our steps, it can be stretched for a long time. Many generations can come to know the joy of perfecting the methods and tools used in previous generations, unlocking the next piece of the puzzle. We seem to exist in a game meant to be played with great, great patience

Occam's Razor

[reserved for future use - I ought to Research things a little better before writing here]

The Forest

The Forest of Knowledge streches itself into the wide horizon, all around you. 

You ventured yourself into there, walking among these ancient trees, without really asking to be there. No one asked you if wanted to learn about Bhaskara, or the Ottoman Wars. But you did sit in all those classes, nonetheless. Perhaps you were looking at the blue sky across the window a day, and you just wondered how nice it would be to be spending it outside playing instead. Few people reserve themselves the right to ask why we really do things in life.

Some people take this imposition lightly. It seems natural to learn things, even pleasurable. To others, it takes some convincing that they can find uses to whatever is being painfully pushed inside their skulls. I shudder to imagine such people trying to convince themselves that learning about Carnot cycles will ever come in handy in their future sales job*. I tell you here that the only real reason why you study such things is because teachers are clueless about what to teach you, just as you are clueless about why you are learning them. 

The most fundamental truth is that there is timing to learn something. Sometimes, now is just not the right time. A few years along the road, and you may find yourself loving the very thing that you test nightmares years back. I found from experience that when we engage ourselves in a personal Project that requires us to learn a specific piece of knowledge or a set of skills, we are a thousand-fold more willing to learn it than when we didn't really see what it was all about. Teachers are often trying to do the exact opposite of this, and trying to teach us things we have no use for. Would you buy a bike wrench set if you didn't own a bike?

But there is a good reason to skim at things, a real good reason to be as greedy as you possibly can in learning. If you could have an overview of the tools available for you, you would be more able to select them when the time comes. That is why we must never neglect to have a broad understanding of things, to try to fit each tool to a specific problem, to understand their reasons for existing. And yes, all statistics tell you that you are likely to earn more money for each year spent in classrooms. Only real humble people accept that they will be ignorants to some aspect for their entire life, and hence that they must never cease to learn.

But there is more to explore into this Forest analogy.

The trails there lead to all places, crossing themselves, and people of all origins have walked their path throughout the human History. Some trails are very well marked, the soil is compact with a thousand steps. These trails are comfortable to the feet, but offer little reward. Other lead to dark and eerie parts of the forest that only a handful of people have ever been. Who knows what lies in those parts, perhaps only the hardship of thorns, maybe a sight from a mountain top where we really feel the deep connection with nature. 

In this Forest, one must find courage within itself, every time, to venture into the unfamiliar woods. Traversing is an absolute strain in a hot summer's day. But no one really gets lost there, not forever anyway. You may need some time to get your bearings, but you can always count on an stranger to point you to the right direction. Wood dwellers have been known to make a living guiding people into the paths, keeping them from harm and unnecessary trouble. These souls find comfort in the company of the trees and creatures of the Forest. 

All along the time you are strolling the Forest of Knowledge, you see the sunlight as it is filtered by the leaves of the tall trees, and you know deep down that you are in the right track, that that is the place you were meant to be. For we all venture there, it connect us to each other, and to the other man and women that came before us. If someone really once said "Standing on the shoulder of Giants", it was to acknowledge this fact. 

So, as it happens to any pristine patch of the woods, the Forest of Knowledge is sacred. What would those man and women who came before speak to you, today, should you use its arcane Knowledge for evil and mischief? When we salami yet another paper, a deer is slayed for sport on the Forest. Made up a number on a result's table, here goes down another chopped down tree. Used the knowledge obtained in good-faith to develop nuclear warfare? The woods are now burning in ashes.

*Please don't get me wrong on this one. The world needs salespeople just as at it needs post doctorates. If we each contribute with what we do best, we built a society that is grand.

Science knows no Borders

So, who invented Calculus anyway, Newton or Leibniz? 

You see, there is something deeply troubled about asking this question in the first place. Because you see, in my opinion, Science belongs to a single man as much as the air you breathe belongs to your lungs. Must you be the first to reach the peak, to see the sunset from above the clouds, I ask? We make us these questions because it flatters our ego, but in doing so cheapen the effort of every man that added a small little brick to this grand monument that is the Human Knowledge. How much, in your brand new discovery, do you owe to them? 

It is funny to see how often these so called priority issues are related to nationalism. In the power play of the nations, we forget that Science is the very means of our survival. It is Science that will determine in the end if we can prolongue our stay in this Blue Marble. Yet we insist on building our fences, our paywalls and privileged information networks, and in doing so we push nearly 6.64 billion people out of the fundamental quest to understand a little better the Universe and to turn this knowledge to our advantage. Such a wasted opportunity, in my opinion. There are times when I imagine how many people are tidal locked in the basic struggle to survive, and can't even raise their heads for a second to get their bearings straight. There is so much beauty in realizing how perfectly the Universe equations are laid out, and to be deprived of such experience is to deny someone a fundamental aspect of what it means to be human.

The time has come to tear down the final walls. I mean to really come together as a species, to see past our superficial differences. To look beyond our greed, to remember that money is the means to an end, not an end on itself. To build ourselves, willingly, a brighter future. This is what is meant by Unity. Science must find an elevated place in our societies that knows no restrictions, aside from the boundaries of Ethics. It must be allowed to flourish, and it is up to us to find a way to make this a reality. If you realize how the internet has reshaped the way we trade information today, just imagine what could be done if only a bigger fraction of it was actually made border less. 

It is not easy. It is an open problem in organizing society how to reward someone for their work, and still make their work unrestricted. In fact, solving this problem seems to go against the very nature of capitalist societies. We try to solve this problem in many ways, for example by boosting the ego of scientists with prestige, and by creating a patents system that can't keep up with how the World evolves. Neither one of them seems to work to our advantage. 

But Science cannot be held back because we are unwilling to share. It is much too precious for that. In every private knowledge held beneath a corporate domain, lies a missed opportunity to advance the game further, quickly, perhaps just in the nick of time. We need collective means to purchase what is developed privately, and make it public, reward the companies even. Naturally this can only be achieved after much deliberation and under the utmost strict public scrutiny.    

Science cannot know borders. Every man that lives must be entitled to the fruits of the works of the of researchers that came before him. This is the true legacy of a Scientist. Not the number of citations on a paper, but how he positively changed the lives of people around the World, how his work has reached them. 

BANNER IMAGE CREDITS: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team 

Want to know more about this image? Follow this external link.