“It is the job of science to defy common sense”
I recently stumbled upon an excellent essay by Steven Poole in Aeon Magazine on teleology (the widely abandoned philosophical idea used to support arguments for intelligent design, that in nature, things seem to have purposes, ends, aims, or goals - or telos, to use the philosophical lingo). The topic of teleology is precisely the kind of circular philosophical debate surrounding an untestable hypothesis that tends to make me either rapidly switch off, or get the urge to repeatedly bang my head into the wall.
Poole explains that a book titled Mind and Cosmos by Thomas Nagel, which kicked up a storm a couple of years ago by reigniting the argument over teleology, argued that the current orthodox scientific view of the world ‘flies in the face of common sense’. To counter this argument, Poole writes:
"Well, one reasonable answer is that it is and has always been the job and the glory of science to fly in the face of common sense. If a theory that is robustly supported by evidence conflicts with your common sense, you had better adjust the latter. And so we now accept, for example, that apparently solid objects are composed of atoms themselves largely made up of empty space, and that the Earth goes round the Sun and not vice-versa. More specifically, personal feelings about probability do not get you very far when considering evolutionary theory. Nagel doubts whether there could have been enough viable mutations ‘in the available geological time’ for beings like us to evolve through sheer ‘accident’. But, as the philosopher of biology Peter Godfrey-Smith wrote in a respectfully critical review for the London Review of Books, ‘This is one area in which intuitions are worth nothing.’ The experts have done the math."
I'm pretty fond of this definition of the role of science because it crystallizes precisely the type of scientific work that I particularly love to tackle on this blog. When science debunks "common sense" ideas that we hold, it becomes useful not in the abstract sense that it might one day lead engineers to create something new, but by allowing us to make decisions about how we live our lives, that are grounded in reality rather than through sheer c̶o̶m̶m̶o̶n̶ ̶s̶e̶n̶s̶e̶ guess work.
Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."
- Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
- Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
- Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.
- The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
- Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
- Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.
- Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
- Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
- It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.
- Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
- The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
- The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
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