Monday, September 20, 2004

Good Science vs Fundamentalism

Thanks to Sean Carroll for the heads up to the Guardian article by Umberto Eco on the "scientific method".

Eco uses the recent news item from Dublin concerning Stephen Hawking's change of mind about the supposed destruction of information as a black hole gobbles up its surroundings to talk about common misconceptions of science.

Eco writes:

"...Science is frequently criticised by the mass media, which hold it responsible for the devilish pride that is leading humanity towards possible destruction. But in doing so they are evidently confusing science with technology."

"...Modern science does not hold that what is new is always right. On the contrary, it is based on the principle of "fallibilism" (enunciated by the American philosopher Charles Peirce, elaborated upon by Popper and many other theorists, and put into practice by scientists themselves) according to which science progresses by continually correcting itself, falsifying its hypotheses by trial and error, admitting its own mistakes - and by considering that an experiment that doesn't work out is not a failure but is worth as much as a successful one because it proves that a certain line of research was mistaken and it is necessary either to change direction or even to start over from scratch."

"...This way of thinking is opposed, as I said before, to all forms of fundamentalism, to all literal interpretations of holy writ - which are also open to continuous reinterpretation - and to all dogmatic certainty in one's own ideas. This is that good "philosophy," in the everyday and Socratic sense of the term, which ought to be taught in schools."

Sean Carroll's comments on this article are well worth reading.






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