So what’s real?

Posted on December 14, 2010


Jenny:  Professor, you repeatedly make the point that the future is uncertain, that we travel there on imaginary bridges constructed of emotionally anchored assumptions, constructed of beliefs, biases, hopes, fears and theories. You also seem to be arguing that science also travels into the future on imaginary bridges, also supported not by evidence because science hasn’t been to the future, so their bridges are also supported  by trusted assumptions or biases. So do scientists agree with you that they walk into the future on biased assumptions?

Professor Wiggly: ” Most practicing scientists  don’t even think about the question. When  they do they hold a relatively simple view of science, namely that it maps reality by rationally analysing observational evidence. They would probably bristle at the idea that science travels into the future on trusted imaginary bridges, on theoretical fads supported by incomplete and conflicting evidence.”

Peter: “So maybe your just some kook sitting on the sideline criticizing science?”

Professor Wiggly: ” You know Peter that might be true, except I’ve got some pretty good company. Stephen Hawkings, in his recent book The Grand Design, proposes that ‘reality’ is beyond our reach. In a sense we construct our realities on the basis of trusted assumptions or models. He calls this view  ‘model-dependent realism’. A model is a simplified image or representation of something, for example of a plane,  a building or of the the past ( the ‘big bang’ model of the beginning of the universe ) or of the future (the stock market, global warming, or the end of  our planet or universe.)   Since we have no direct access to out there ‘reality’, but only sensations strained and distorted through our  senses, nervous system, and instruments , we construct images or models  (including imaginary bridges into the future). A Greek philosopher had a similar idea thousands of years ago – check out Plato’s Cave on Google. If you’re interested also Google ‘constructionism’ or ‘constructionism’  models which promote the idea that we construct reality rather than discover it. So Peter, if I am a kook I’m a kook with lots of company.”


Posted in: Sciencing