We all know that science is a construct of unquestionable truth about the world. This is drummed in to every school child, almost doctrinally, for several years (and, in this author’s experience, for an upsettingly long time at university as well). Admittedly it is portrayed as an ever-changing, evolving truth, not only in the context of how each year the explanation of a particular concept is given increasingly refined detail, but also in how science is studied itself, moving from simpler concepts to more complex ones, leading us to wonder where the buck finally stops. And that is usually conceived of as being someone, somewhere, even if they are Einstein-esque and would struggle to fill a string quartet with contemporaries who understand them, who really knows how something works, or is. And that should be comforting to all budding scientists.
Well, school children look away now, this is not for your young eyes. According to the Guardian report of a recent Edge magazine article, leading scientists are attempting to finally shake off the persistent image in popular culture of a scientist closeted in their laboratory, striving to attain Enlightenment ideals of the complete rationalisation of nature. Instead, they are trying to present a more Popperian view of the role of science, appreciating the need for uncertainty, the openness to the possible falsification of their theories, and opposing dogmatic acceptance of prevailing thought. The quest for an ultimately realist explanation of the world-in-itself may be unchanged, but, perhaps based on a further 400 years of trial and error, scientists are encouraging their claims to be taken with a pinch of salt. Indeed, the deeper you go in the sciences, the more salt is needed. Philosophers of science beware; from this beginning, with the appropriate seasoning, who knows what other doubts about truth, knowledge, and the nature of the world even the most ardent of scientists themselves may claim we swallow? Quite what the effect will be of this awareness of how ungrounded the fundamentals of science are, is unknown. One thing IS certain however. The school curriculum will NOT suddenly be changed to encourage children to believe that nobody actually really knows what’s going on…
J. D. Trout