Science is a method. It is a method of discovery. Nothing more, and nothing less.
Yet, if you look at how it’s practiced and worshipped, you’d think it was a religion of some kind.
When we talk of science in the modern day, we don’t just talk about practicing the “method” of science.
Instead, we have all this baggage of assumptions and beliefs that come along with it.
Here’s an example. During Darwin’s time, there was a potent meme in English society that life is
“nasty, brutish, and short”
(the quote is from Hobbs – and he was wrong, BTW).
Darwin brought that belief into all of his work. Although he most certainly witnessed both cooperation and competition, what he mostly focused on was the competition aspect. It was at the core of his belief system.
So, when he published The Origin of Species, there was a focus on “Survival of the strongest” – which survives today as
“survival of the fittest.”
That meme has permeated not only throughout science, but also into business and society-at-large.
Want to see how all pervasive that view has become? Then look at the summer movie roster. The summer block busters are almost always about some powerful villain who is going to take over the world (or destroy it) by being the nastiest, strongest, most brutish, and most evil person around. Our hero is then the lone bright light in the wilderness.
Yet-if you watched, for example, Batman Rises, there was even a hint of our cooperation there. (Warning, spoiler!): Cat Woman comes back in the end, and without her cooperative help, The Bat Man and Gotham City would have been toast.
In fact, biology is rife with published examples of cooperation over competition.
Did you know that you have more bacterial cells in your body than your own body’s cells? Yes… it’s true. And without all those cooperative bacteria, our bodies wouldn’t work nearly as well.
So, back to my point.
Science itself is great. Discovery is important.
It’s when science is practiced with blinders of strong, often unquestioned beliefs and assumptions that gets me all in a tizzy.
Unfortunately, that seems to be how a great deal of it is practiced today.
The specific case that gets my goat is about our own consciousness and awareness.
I studied for a few years towards a PhD in computer science, thinking I was going to learn all about “artificial intelligence.” I thought that was cool.
What I discovered was that when it comes to consciousness, there’s this big (unsupported) assumption that
consciousness is a mere byproduct of the computer-like functions of our brain.
Umn uh. Bzzt. Wrong.
Consciousness is something more, something bigger. Yes, it is focused and concentrated within our brains, but it is not just some mere little byproduct.
Want to know how I know that?
If you study quantum physics, it tells us something interesting:
In order for anything to exist in a form we can recognize, touch, feel, or hold, you have to have an observer of that thing.
So, smarty pants, if that’s true (and it is – I’ve done the experiment myself in Senior Physics lab), then riddle me this:
What happens to, say, a chair when no human or animal is around to observe it?
Danger! This can make your head explode if you think about it too much.
The simple answer is this. Either the objects of our universe disappear into a sort of quantum ether (of so-called coherent wave states) every time we leave the room, then they suddenly reappear into solid form as soon as we come back, or
There’s conscious awareness in the “stuff” of matter, i.e. particles observe other particles and that sort of thing.
Logically, there aren’t really any other options (well, except that there are little green men and fairies that are constantly moving stuff in and out of our reality just to play games with us!).
Now, that’s where unquestioned assumptions lead you – to a world where stuff magically pops in and out of existence just because a human happens to come into the room.
Yet, somehow, most of mainstream physics just ignores this problem – 100 years after the bizarre world of quantum mechanics was revealed to us.
There are a few lone voices in the wilderness – people like the recently deceased Prof John Wheeler of Princeton, who towards the end of his career said that we must admit consciousness into our model of the world, else we will never achieve the “theory of everything.”
There are others like Wheeler, but
They are still ignored by the mainstream
because the mainstream is so busy supporting its existing belief systems through “science”.
Is it really “science” if you are not open minded as you undertake it?
If we consider the definition of science that I offered above, that of the “tool for discovery,” then the answer is no. It’s not science. It’s something that labels itself as science, but it is too steeped in its own belief systems to apply the tool in an unbiased way.
It’s not their fault, my fault, or your fault.
Lest I’m seen as unreasonably harsh on my scientific colleagues, I, too have fallen prey to my belief systems on many occasions. I, too, have been blinded by beliefs, often spending lots of unproductive time and resources on a problem that could have been solved much more simply – if only I’d had a more open mind.
I think we’re all so indoctrinated that modern science “knows it all,” and that combined with the natural human tendency to think that our beliefs are correct (to our dying breath) leads to the conundrum that we find ourselves in, thinking that science == our current beliefs.
Why I’m disillusioned
It’s not the people or the conflicting beliefs about what constitutes our reality that bugs me.
It’s the way that science is practiced that bugs me. Science – especially in biology – is all about having the grant funding.
Grant funding always flows where the mass of beliefs about things lie, and never flows to the fringes. (I teach grant writing to people, and believe me, if you’re too “far out” you’ll never get your grant funded).
Yet, belief system change always begins at the fringes. Only later, much later, does a useful belief shift become mainstream.
So, what that means is that, if you’re caught up in the grant game, you must force yourself to be mainstream, and to drop any hint of “fringe” beliefs (even if they could be right).
That’s why I quit
There was some controversy over on my other blog about me quitting my faculty job… I chose to quit because I had two competing interests for my time and attention: my science job and my business of helping people. I decided to focus on just one of them for now.
And I can tell you this: if science were being practiced in a different, more open-minded way, I’d far more likely have chosen to stick with it rather than going for the business.
But, with a choice between continuing to be stifled in my ideas about how things are to appease grant reviewers, versus being able to speak my mind openly, I chose business. In business, the only people I have to answer to are my customers.
And, as long as I get them the results they’re after (which I do), then they’re happy.
It’s a funny, ironic, and sad statement that I have more intellectual freedom running a business than I did as a tenured science professor.
But it’s true. And that’s why I’m disillusioned with science. Not with the process of science, but with the mainstream establishment that stifles “different” beliefs about how things work.
Here’s my “different” belief to share: realize that you are part of a much greater consciousness. You are not a lone person in a vast empty wilderness of dead particles… you are part of an alive, creative universe. Once you embrace that, you’ll find way more happiness and satisfaction. (This is what my next book or two will be about).