The most radical and disillusioning insight

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Joined: Thu Dec 03, 2009 12:56 am

PostTue Mar 01, 2011 8:59 am » by Tertiusgaudens

If you had - as a human - a full answer

of how the universe works,

of what God is,

of what the reasons of whatever fucked up society are,

if you were able to be a lucky Doctor Faust for today:

it would not affect the world. It would mean nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. The only thing: you would be lucky, you alone. And the world would turn around as usual...

But denying knowledge is a disillusioning way too, right?...
Hope is the thing with feathers...
Emily Dickinson

Posts: 2768
Joined: Thu Dec 03, 2009 12:56 am

PostTue Mar 01, 2011 9:12 am » by Tertiusgaudens

The joy of uncertainty and senselesness in science (and art)

K.C. Cole has a good article in the Columbia Journalism Review, Why editors must dare to be dumb, about how science editors tend to be uncomfortable with advanced science topics they do not understand. What it boils down to, in Cole’s opinion, is a fundamental discomfort with uncertainty and senselessness:

In science, feeling confused is essential to progress. An unwillingness to feel lost, in fact, can stop creativity dead in its tracks. A mathematician once told me he thought this was the reason young mathematicians make the big discoveries. Math can be hard, he said, even for the biggest brains around. Mathematicians may spend hours just trying to figure out a line of equations. All the while, they feel dumb and inadequate. Then one day, these young mathematicians become established, become professors, acquire secretaries and offices. They don’t want to feel stupid anymore. And they stop doing great work.

In a way, you can’t really blame either scientists or editors for backing off. Stumbling around in the dark can be dangerous. “By its very nature, the edge of knowledge is at the same time the edge of ignorance,” is how one cosmologist put it. “Many who have visited it have been cut and bloodied by the experience.”

So what is it about science that makes them [editors] uneasy? Surely it is more than the obvious fact that it’s hard to understand things that aren’t (yet) understood. In science it can be just as hard to understand what is understood. Relativity and quantum mechanics have been around for nearly a century, yet they remain confusing in some sense even to those who understand these theories well. We know they’re correct because they’ve been tested so thoroughly in so many ways. But they still don’t make sense.

On the other hand, why should they? Humans evolved to procreate, eat, and avoid getting eaten. The fact that we have learned to understand what atoms are all about or what the universe was doing back to a nanosecond after its birth is literally unbelievable. But the universe doesn’t care what we can or cannot believe. It doesn’t speak our language, so there’s no reason it should “make sense.”

That’s why science depends on evidence.

Science is also innately uncertain. What makes science strong is that these uncertainties are out there in the open, spelled out and quantified.

Embrace uncertainty, in science, in art and in life. As the Talking Heads sang, stop making sense. ... e-and-art/

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Hope is the thing with feathers...
Emily Dickinson

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