Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Have Faith In Science

Courtesy - www.lifestylekick.com
Courtesy: lifestylekick.com
Now, that title is an oxymoron. Science is understanding the world through observation and emperically evidence and faith is "complete trust or confidence in someone or something disregarding contra-evidence.

The origins of this post is a facebook discussion initiated by an intellectual friend, Tathagata, the enlightened one. The question he raised is as follows:
‎"The earth revolves round the sun and the sun does not revolve round the earth" This I learnt in my school days. heard that science has also proved it. Such proof is valid only for them who can understand such proof. I do not have enough knowledge of Mathematics or Physics to understand the proof. I have never been to the outer space to see such phenomenon with my eyes. Never seen any video sent by satellites. Now, is it fine that I believe in such phenomenon?
To rephrase his question:
"Is it okay to believe science since science itself advocates in evedentialism especially given that it is beyond the capacity of an individual to prove all the so-called scientific facts?" To re-rephrase the question, "is believing in scientific fact same as believing in religious fallacies?"

I tried to answer this question in this post.

Footnote (in the header): I am not a philosopher and do not have the mental capacity to logically connect all the dots of knowledge correctly to reach an answer which would be devoid of any fallacies. Nonetheless, I would try my best to put across all the sense that I can make of all the nonsense collected over decades.

My Answer: To start with, I must tell you that your premise is wrong. The earth doesn't revolve around the sun neither the sun revolves around earth. Basically, sun pops out of my ass when I fart early in the morning. And sunset is when I dip sun in my cup to boil water for my evening coffee.

You would do perfectly fine believing in this theory of sunset/sunrise if sun's schedule doesn't hurt/affect you in any way. For example, you never go out of your sealed house where you download all your food and other needs from internet. However, if it does affect, then knowing the truth about the theory is paramount to your well being. For example, if you are a potato farmer and more sunlight (longer day time) results in a better crop, then it would be in your interest to please me to fart a little earlier and have tea little late. So, you might like to offer me a bribe of puri-aaloo dam. Alternatively, if you are a thief, you might like to have longer night hours and bribe me for the same.

Now, suppose that another person, say Bibhas, claims that it is he from whose ass the sun pops out and in whose tea cup the sun drowns. In support of his claim, he says that he is more handsome than me, taller than me, has longer hands, longer legs, and longer everything else, and consequently has better gastronomical system than mine to house the sun. Also, the sun sets in his tea cup because tea requires higher temperature and long boiling duration than coffee.

Now, you are in trouble as you don't know who is saying the truth and knowing it is important to avoid wastefully bribing a person from whose ass the sun doesn't emerge.

Since you are either a potato farmer or a thief, you have little knowledge about human anatomy and have no instruments to inspect human body. So, now you hire a veterinary doctor to examine both asses and find out whose claim is right. Since the doctor can be bribed by me or Bibhas to give a false finding, you would want the test to be double blind, that is me/Bibhas would not know who is examining us and the doctor would not know whom s/he is examining, etc.

In today's hi-tech world, it still leaves some chance of corruption. So, you hire another vet doc to independently examine both of us to be doubly sure of the results.

Basically, you hired the expertise and services of vet docs to give you an understanding on anatomical truth as you lack understanding in that field. You "BELIEVED" the docs because you lacked knowledge in that field. We need to believe a lot of people because it is not possible to acquire all the knowledge in this universe. However, we still utilized our common sense and make sure the study was double blind and repeatable by different persons at different places. 

Once you are confirmed about who is the person in whose intestine the sun resides, you cut the deal with him. However, from time to time, you hire a vet doc and repeat the examinations in light of the current knowledge/understanding of the time to be sure you are not unnecessarily bribing someone.
This is how exactly human knowledge works.

  1. Science is about seeking knowledge with empirical evidence which can be independently verified.
  2. Believing is a shortcut to knowledge because our mind would do a lot of processing and generate a lot of heat if we have to process entire knowledge tree to come to a conclusion. For example, when someone asks you what is 5 x 5, you jump to say 25 not because your brain gives empirical proof, but because your brain just "believes" it. To give an empirical proof, you would first need to calculate 5, i.e., 1+1+1+1+1, calculate 5 again, add these two 5's, calculate another 5, add this 5 to the previous sum and so on. In nutshell, empirically calculating 5 x 5 would be something like this - (1+1+1+1+1)+(1+1+1+1+1)+(1+1+1+1+1)+(1+1+1+1+1)+(1+1+1+1+1) and this is what dumb computers do. We humans take the shortcut, we just believe.
  3. We depend on knowledge base created by generations and generations of human beings that existed on this earth. Newton could discover his laws only because some unnamed human, living thousands of years in the past, had figured out that apple could be eaten. Otherwise, no one would have planted an apple tree for Newton to sit under.
  4. So, we do "believe scientific knowledge" apparently in contradiction to the very condition science puts in front of us, i.e., to go only by emperical evidence. However, this belief is only a shortcut as mentioned under #2 and because of reasons as mentioned under #3.
  5. Scientific facts are put to test from time to time and we continuously try to falsify them so as to unearth newer avenues of knowledge. This is what differentiates science from non-science, science takes pride in self falsification.
  6. Under no conditions, this belief can be held true if emperical evidence advises otherwise. Also, this belief/shortcut needs to change if evidence to falsify the underlying fact is found. Again, this is not the case of other types of beliefs, i.e., religious beliefs.