About Modern Science and Old Humanities

Erwin Schrödinger. Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons
Erwin Schrödinger. Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

Modern science is many times seen as something powerful in the hands of evil people that use it to take advantage of its power in order to improve their own lives; however, this is very far from the truth. Bertrand Russell thought that modern science is, in fact, the opposite: “The new philosophy of physics is humble and stammering, where the old philosophy was proud and dictatorial”.

This thinking can be explained as following: Science is based on induction. Induction is a logical process that, from particular facts, establishes a general law. An inductive argument never provides absolute certainty. It only establishes that a hypothesis can be considered true with high probability if we have observed some facts.

True modern scientists are aware of the limitations of the scientific method. This is what makes the scientists humble. However, when we are thinking about science, we are thinking about a huge power to change the world.

There is a reason for this fact. It is the difference between science and technology. Physical laws have an application field, and we can say nothing about what happens out of that application field, however, technology assumes, in practical terms, a scientific result as an absolute truth. Engineers are educated under the assumption of the undeniable utility of the physical truths. Where the scientist is humble, the engineer tends to be arrogant.

The higher the number of years of education of an engineer is, the lower his arrogance is, due to a higher fundamental scientific education where the limits of the scientific method are better understood.

In practice, only those engineers that have been working in the border between science and technology are totally aware of the true nature of the scientific truth, because they have been submitted to a cure of humility where the confirmation of the hypotheses of all their knowledge is a must before making any assumption about the utility of their scientific knowledge to be used for some practical issue.

Common engineering has a strong basement; however, engineering related to innovation can be near the limit of the application field of the scientific knowledge used. An engineer proceeding from applied science would have a different approach in front of innovation to an engineer proceeding from common engineering projects, although, in fact, every time that an engineer is building a bridge, he cannot assure with total certainty that it will stand. He only can assure it with a high probability, because its techniques to design the bridge proceed from scientific knowledge obtained by an inductive process that never provides absolute certainty.

Humanities lacked of the scientific method. Metaphysics does not provide useful knowledge as physics does. The search for answers to a lot of themes are the natural way as the human brain works however, from Kant, we know that our mind processes cannot provide an absolute truth by themselves to certain questions. The human mind can provide very different answers to the same questions as the existence of God. These questions are known as antinomies.

The humble viewpoint of modern physics shows us that science is not almighty, but it is more powerful than old humanities to provide useful answers to practical questions that can help us to improve our world.

However, as our minds hate uncertainty mankind always has required a faith in something superior that provides certainty to our lives, where science cannot provide a certain answer. When the Catholic faith decayed at the Renaissance, people were substituting it by pre-scientific superstitions as astrology or necromancy.

This situation is being repeated in our time. Scientific method has been moving from physical related sciences to human ones. The use of statistics and induction to provide general laws is common in psychology, sociology, economics, and so on. However, the degree of uncertainty under the human sciences is larger than the degree of uncertainty under the sciences related to physics. And then the field of application of that any general law can be much reduced. Again we are trying to substitute a faith with another new one, but it this case we are trying to hide the superstition under the veil of a model with scientific appearance.

When the complexity of the human activities grows, the analysis of uncertainties occupies a preponderant position in the technical work. Modern science and technology are every day more a matter of evaluation of uncertainties and a way to analyze them in a proper way than a matter of knowing and trusting in old models.

If every day, trusting in the arrogance of old engineers is more difficult and they have required a cure of humility to be useful for innovation, we should not entrust the management of our societies to old philosophies even if they are made-up with the appearance of a scientific model because this can be a fast road towards the command of a proud and dictatorial way of governance.


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