Is there certainty in science?

Question: Is there certainty in science?

Sam Harris:  Certainty is, I think, a false goal.  I mean we’re not achieving . . .  We’re achieving functional certainties in science and in just . . . in our day-to-day lives.  I mean it’s a functional certainty that I’m sitting here talking to you, though it’s possible I could be dreaming or, you know, deceived by an evil demon.  Those kinds of philosophical, ______ worries don’t really relate too much to the ordinary practice of science, the very useful practice of science, and our ordinary task of just negotiating our lives and finding happiness in this world.  We recognize that there’s a range . . . that there’s a continuum of, “I’m not sure, there’s a coin toss, fifty-fifty” understanding of a circumstance to being functionally certain about what is so.  And many people are pretending to be functionally certain, or believe themselves to be functionally certain about things like Jesus is gonna come back and judge the world in their lifetime.  Twenty percent of the American population claims to be functionally certain that that is gonna come to pass, and 78% think that Jesus is gonna come back sometime – not necessarily in their lifetime.  And these certainties do real work for us.  I mean the person who is certain that the soul enters the zygote at the moment of conception is the person who wants to veto stem cell research, despite the fact that tens of millions of people are suffering from conditions for which stem cell research is the best line of research to generate therapies.  So these are ideas that are not just of academic interest, or person, private, or spiritual relevance.  I mean these are shaping policy.  They’re shaping a national conversation.  And then when you look to the Muslim world, they are causing people to blow themselves up on street corners.

Recorded on: July 4 2007 

Harris believes that certainty is a false goal.

7 fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Here are 7 often-overlooked World Heritage Sites, each with its own history.

Photo by Raunaq Patel on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
  • UNESCO World Heritage Sites are locations of high value to humanity, either for their cultural, historical, or natural significance.
  • Some are even designated as World Heritage Sites because humans don't go there at all, while others have felt the effects of too much human influence.
  • These 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites each represent an overlooked or at-risk facet of humanity's collective cultural heritage.
Keep reading Show less

Why the number 137 is one of the greatest mysteries in physics

Famous physicists like Richard Feynman think 137 holds the answers to the Universe.

Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • The fine structure constant has mystified scientists since the 1800s.
  • The number 1/137 might hold the clues to the Grand Unified Theory.
  • Relativity, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics are unified by the number.
Keep reading Show less
Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Keep reading Show less