Science Doesn't Find Truth, It Understands Change
There is a modern backlash against the pursuit of knowledge, and here is why that is absurd.
People love the benefits of science. They generally like the advances made in technology, biology, psychology, chemistry, and physics. And yet, there seems to be confusion about what science is and how we perceive it, which has led to a strange backlash against pursuing knowledge. In a recent and riveting piece for Aeon, David P. Barash, a professor of psychology and biology at the University of Washington, dissects our modern suspicion of science with razor-sharp insight.
The public distrusts science because it appears to change, Barash says. One day nerve cells don’t regenerate; the next day they do. Sugar is good; wait no bad; wait no evil — "wake me up when you make a decision," the weary public mumbles. But Barash points out that it’s only our paradigm that is shifting; not the actual truth, just our understanding of it.
That is something that seems difficult for people to understand. For example, if there is “breaking news” on TV, information starts rolling in to help us understand what happened. The event itself doesn’t change based on what we know or don’t know about it. So it is with science — the truths are always going to be true, regardless of the information we have. To continue with the news analogy, the reporters do research to find the facts. The facts give context. With science, the research being done by its practitioners gives us context to understand the story of the universe.
As our tools and abilities to investigate on micro and macro levels become rapidly more sophisticated, it should be expected that old information will be invalidated and new information will be discovered.
We are capable of forgiving public figures for mistakes (especially if they go on a late show and act cute), yet forgiving scientists for misjudging or misunderstanding something makes us assume that the entire endeavor is faulty. This type of black-and-white thinking is evident throughout modern society, particularly in politics, where nuance and gray areas have basically been eradicated. We ask from science that it be completely accurate all the time, a set of rules that go unchanging. Yet, our understanding of the world is constantly changing and evolving.
Neil deGrasse Tyson explains where future scientific breakthroughs will come from:
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.