• On how scientific development changes our perceptions

    The first "picture" ever taken of a Black hole. It has been already defined as the "photo of the century"... who knows what awaits us in the infinite wonders of the Universe?

    On how scientific development changes our perceptions

    By Flinn

    Hello there fellow TWCenteres and visitors... it's been a long while since my last Helios article (or any article, for what it matters) and my Sofa was abandoned in the basement since then.. luckily Alwyn is a good host, so it didn't get (too much) dirty!

    As usual, I'll be writing about my interpretation of things.. I'm not a scholar but a thinker, and I'm inclined to express opinions because of that, of course.. and I'm happy when I see people thinking for themselves rather than accepting opinions as facts. Most of you know that I'm not an Historian, and personally I'm more interested in any anthropological aspect of facts, more than on the facts themselves; for this reason my interpretations are usually prone to philosophical understanding of the things and events, and thus are subject to re-interpretation and are of course largely influenced by my own perception of facts. One could also say that the same is valid for History in general, since as someone wiser than me once said "History is not a science, but an Art form!".

    Furthermore, differently from my other Helios articles (that you can find here and here), this piece is less verbose and features more external links for you to lurk and source at, and the reason is simple: the purpose of this work is to provoke thoughts and, possibly, stimulate the reader to change their perspective on how to approach scientific news and on how to take and understand them under a more critical and inspective way.. I'm not a "scientific populariser" either, so I don't aim at promoting one particular theory over another, but rather at proposing a different approach to how we receive such news as well as giving a quick peer on how our perception, as a matter of fact, changed through and with the evolution of the scientific approach and methods.

    However, for the moment being just relax and take a sit on my sofa, and don't be concerned about the stains.. err they are just, like, humidity.. and of course I really hope you’ll find the argument interesting and thought-provoking as it was to me when I was writing this piece.

    Ok ... let’s start from a question, then: What is the “reality”? I’ll quote Wikipedia’s entry:

    Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent, as opposed to that which is only imaginary. The term is also used to refer to the ontological status of things, indicating their existence.[1] In physical terms, reality is the totality of the universe, known and unknown.[2] Philosophical questions about the nature of reality or existence or being are considered under the rubric of ontology, which is a major branch of metaphysics in the Western philosophical tradition. Ontological questions also feature in diverse branches of philosophy, including the philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mathematics, and philosophical logic. These include questions about whether only physical objects are real (i.e., Physicalism), whether reality is fundamentally immaterial (e.g., Idealism), whether hypothetical unobservable entities posited by scientific theories exist, whether God exists, whether numbers and other abstract objects exist, and whether possible worlds exist.
    I’ve bolded the part that it’s most interesting for the matter at hand, which I will use as a base for further expanding into the topic, starting with a question: if something hasn’t been proven yet, is it “true”? According to the bolded quote above, technically it is, because the only way to prove that something isn’t true, is to prove that it does not exist. In other words, everything is “real” in possibility, unless one proves the contrary. I think this is an important point to keep in mind, as it will be central in this work and I deem it important to highlight this concept, because in the past the tendency was to exclude what was unknown, while today, due to the very fast pace that science (in particular Physics) is keeping, we have been forced to review this stance and to accept the fact that much of reality is still unknown to us!

    Just a quick example: does "germs" exist before we discovered them? Of course they did! Agostino Bassi was...

    an Italian entomologist. He preceded Louis Pasteur in the discovery that microorganisms can be the cause of disease (the germ theory of disease). He discovered that the muscardine disease of silkworms was caused by a living, very small, parasitic organism, a fungus that would be named eventually Beauveria bassiana in his honor.
    How do we perceive reality, then? Via our senses, that’s quite obvious, and that’s where science goes the extra mile: the more the technique evolves, the more our “senses” extend into areas of the reality which were precluded before. We have even developed indirect means of “expanding our senses”, especially in Physics. Nowadays there are theories and ”realms” which we could have never imagined that existed: dark matter/energy, exotic materials, string theories, just to mention the most known ones; besides, even what we could have considered as codified, like gravity for instance, it's still a pretty unknown matter; once again I'll quote Wikipedia's entry:

    Attempts to develop a theory of gravity consistent with quantum mechanics, a quantum gravity theory, which would allow gravity to be united in a common mathematical framework (a theory of everything) with the other three fundamental interactions of physics, are a current area of research.

    A depiction of how dark matter is supposed to be spread and organized in the Universe.. does it not remind you of how neurons organize in a brain?

    As I'm here I'd like to point you to an interesting article about if gravity was discovered or rather invented. Apart from it being an interesting reading per se, it shows how human perspective impacts heavily the way we perceive facts.

    Besides, as I mentioned above, the evolution of analytics techniques or the birth of new scientific branches clearly changes the perspective, an example: everybody knows the Evolution theory from Darwin and it has been considered as a base for evolutionary theories during many years (though of course it evolved over the decades, see this article from Patrick Bateson), still recently it has been somewhat questioned on its foundations, this because:

    New aspects of evolution have come to light with the introduction of advanced technologies that didn't exist during Darwin's era.
    To further expand into the "incompleteness" of actual comprehension of the reality, we don't have to forget that as much as science is supposed to be "neutral", it is still interpreted and presented by human beings, who are prone to bias and/or mistakes, some examples:

    The case of Lyell is particularly significant. In the long historical introduction to his Principles of Geology (1830) (1), Lyell created the myths which allowed him to set himself in a privileged position in the Pantheon of Geology. He did this both by claiming to be the true creator of the basic principles of that science, and also by pointing out the barriers which had hitherto impeded its development: religion, philosophical speculation, and the anthropomorphic world view - Horacio Capell, The History of Science and the History of the Scientific Disciplines

    ... Lyell hands out praise, blame (and silence) in a way that exaggerates the originality of his own contribution. His introduction presents the history of geology as an oversimplified dichotomy between biblical catastrophism and uniformitarianism with its classical roots. Moreover, and not surprisingly given the epoch, he offers a selective, partial vision of the past, decontextualising it from its social and intellectual climate. His conception of history and geology are different: "while Lyell's history of the earth is uniformitarian, his history of geology is catastrophist: a succession of Gargantuan figures, great for their contributions or baneful influence, paraded before the reader without law or cause" (3) . It is a catastrophist history in which Lyell's final contribution achieves its true significance as an authentic, definitive revolution. - Horacio Capell, The History of Science and the History of the Scientific Disciplines
    or, as Alwyn himself put it while we were discussing about this article's draft:

    Quote Originally Posted by Alwyn
    This suggests that, while scientists advance our perception of reality at times by discoveries - making our perception of reality more accurate, better focused and more detailed, scientists are also humans - with human shortcomings, such as the possibility of making their contributions seem more important than they were, and presenting a selective or incomplete picture of reality.

    Darwin - Descartes - Einstein / can't you just see the Intelligence in their eyes?

    To draw a final line on this regard, even the one who's probably the greatest scientist ever (certainly the most famous one), Einstein, had to admit some of his mistakes, for instance with regards to the Cosmological constant:

    Einstein included the cosmological constant as a term in his field equations for general relativity because he was dissatisfied that otherwise his equations did not allow, apparently, for a static universe: gravity would cause a universe that was initially at dynamic equilibrium to contract. To counteract this possibility, Einstein added the cosmological constant.[3] However, soon after Einstein developed his static theory, observations by Edwin Hubble indicated that the universe appears to be expanding; this was consistent with a cosmological solution to the original general relativity equations that had been found by the mathematician Friedmann, working on the Einstein equations of general relativity. Einstein reportedly referred to his failure to accept the validation of his equations—when they had predicted the expansion of the universe in theory, before it was demonstrated in observation of the cosmological redshift—as his "biggest blunder".[10]
    Now, I need to go one step further and enter the world of Metaphysics. If we accept the fact that "reality" is bend to the partial (in development, I mean) and biased (for the most) understanding we have of the word, where can we actually draw a line between reality and, for instance, superstition?

    That's the original question that made me venture into this realm; basically, in the 18th-19th Century, most of the scientist labeled what was not proven yet, or better to say what cannot be proven yet, as "superstition": ideas like God (or Deities in general), Fate, Immortality, Karma, Afterlife and so on and on, were all rejected, and those who still believed in them were seen as old-fashioned and reactionaries, if not openly addressed as "believing in idiocies"...

    Well time changes everything and various 20th century scientists acknowledge that science cannot really exclude such believes; Antonino Zichici, probably the most important living Italian physicist, repeatedly said that he believes in the one who made the world:

    The achievements of science do not obscure the divine laws, but reinforce, helping to awaken the wonder and admiration for the wonderful spectacle of the cosmos, that goes from the heart of a proton to the edge of the universe.
    No scientific discovery has questioned the existence of God.

    Cogito, ergo sum!

    That's exactly the point, what has changed compared to the past: it's not about what you haven't proven yet, but about what you have proven already. However, I think that many if not most of modern scientists agree on this point, and in any case I believe that the research of knowledge and understanding, and not the uncritical acceptance, is the base for any scientific progress. It's not a case that one of the fathers of modern Philosophy, René Descartes, coined the famous phrase Cogito, ergo sum!

    This proposition became a fundamental element of Western philosophy, as it purported to form a secure foundation for knowledge in the face of radical doubt.
    There's one thing in particular that always intrigued me: is our mind, our will, capable of directly affecting the reality? And, by extension, do our deeds have a repercussion on our fate? I think that by now almost everybody here knows that I'm a Dudeist and that I "believe" in Karma, which pretty much settles the issue for me from the spiritual point of view, but anyways I often ask myself "Do prayers work?" or "Will it be so, if I try hard enough?"... I'm sure you get my point, hence the question: can we really define a limit for the power of our mind? If I look at what my experience and my beliefs are, I can't really say that there's a limit.. too often there have been happenings, events, in my life, that one way or another are bound to my good and bad deeds.. similarly, who can really say that there wasn't, at least once in their life, an event that they see it coming? If there's something that I'm sure is that there's much more about our mind and its powers than what even the most creative novelist could have imagined. Also, since mind is something real, it exists so to say, why shouldn't it be able to directly affect reality? Doesn't it work because of chemical and physical processes like anything else?

    Modern science (or pseudoscience) opened a new route for the study of mind and its mechanism, the Quantum mind. As stated by Penrose:

    A lot of what the brain does you could do on a computer. I'm not saying that all the brain's action is completely different from what you do on a computer. I am claiming that the actions of consciousness are something different. I'm not saying that consciousness is beyond physics, either — although I'm saying that it's beyond the physics we know now.... My claim is that there has to be something in physics that we don't yet understand, which is very important, and which is of a noncomputational character. It's not specific to our brains; it's out there, in the physical world. But it usually plays a totally insignificant role. It would have to be in the bridge between quantum and classical levels of behavior — that is, where quantum measurement comes in
    It's intriguing, to say the least. And since I'm here already, I'd like to put down some more points for you to think about: Does magic exist? Are there individuals whose abilities (innate or trained) are so superior to the average that the majority of us can't even perceive their effect? What's "charisma"? And isn't a "strong will" a form of superior mind? There would be much more to ask, but still .....

    The Quantum mind

    So, I think we have gone far away enough in this trip! I really hope that you enjoyed the reading and that it resulted, as I hoped, to be thought-provoking. There's so much to discover in our lives and in the world that surrounds us that it would be a pity if each of us, at least once per day, wouldn't question ourselves and our believes.. think, imagine, doubt and, most important, dream! Life is a never ending process of learning and acknowledgement, and if you don't grow a bit more every day, you haven't done everything you could for yourself and for our race as a whole!

    PS: I'd like to thank the Content bosses for allowing me back as a Helios writer and for their support and guidance through the thinking and making of this article... my mind is so twisted and my thoughts so winded that sometimes I struggle to understand myself, so image what those poor lads had to deal with every time I return to sit on my Helios' sofa!
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Agema Ippeon's Avatar
      Agema Ippeon -
      Stop relaying on Wikipedia. It's neither accurate nor reliable.
      Moreover, reading your article indeed reveals that, as you testified, you have little understanding of how the scientific method works and a twisted view of the history of science.
    1. Flinn's Avatar
      Flinn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Agema Ippeon View Post
      Stop relaying on Wikipedia. It's neither accurate nor reliable.
      Moreover, reading your article indeed reveals that, as you testified, you have little understanding of how the scientific method works and a twisted view of the history of science.
      Well feel free to tell us how scientific method works, then, you're welcome to educate us, if you wish
    1. Jake Armitage's Avatar
      Jake Armitage -
      I don't really think that Flinn is talking much about scientific method (which involves testing and Flinn isn't testing anything) nor about history of science either.
      He's simply recapitulating what's the most common (in a rational perspective) way of thinking (and philosophizing) about reality, as nowadays is intended from a decently cultured person.
      And I like a lot he's putting relativism as both an answer and as a question.
      I'm gonna read that part about gravity, the difference (or not difference) between "discovery" and "invention" seems quite interesting.
    1. Flinn's Avatar
      Flinn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jake Armitage View Post
      I don't really think that Flinn is talking much about scientific method (which involves testing and Flinn isn't testing anything) nor about history of science either.
      He's simply recapitulating what's the most common (in a rational perspective) way of thinking (and philosophizing) about reality, as nowadays is intended from a decently cultured person.
      And I like a lot he's putting relativism as both an answer and as a question.
      pretty much this, thanks for actually reading the article, mate
    1. Narf's Avatar
      Narf -