The reach of science #8 – two worlds?

Posted on February 3, 2011


“Anyone who sets themselves up as a judge of the truth is shipwrecked  by the laughter of the Gods.” Einstein.

Jenny: ” I think I’m getting it… I think I’m finally getting it! The name of the game of science is to help us manage uncertainty.   Scientists manage uncertainty  in two ways. First they try to do it by discovering stable patterns of experience – like the laws of physics – which deal with more or less  stable physical objects like iron filings, rocks and billiard balls. These patterns of experience are called laws because they seem to apply everyplace in the world.  For instance  heavy things fall, people die, water runs down hill, snow is cold, boiling water makes blisters. These patterns of experience are shared by people everywhere whether they’re black, yellow, or brown, whether they’re male or female, whether their Republican or Democrat. This is World 1, this is the seeing is believing world. On the other hand there are patterns of behavior that only some people in some situations can ‘see’ or experience – different people in the same situation see or hear different things. Two guys – even two scientists looking at the same girl ‘see’ a different girl – one falls in love, the other can’t see why. Two scientists attending the same speech by President Oboma hear different things. The Republican scientist  hears ignorance and dangerous proposals that will wreck the country, the Democrat hears wisdom. The same two scientist attending a scientific conference hear a research report  by a popular scholar supporting a hit parade theory about invisible particles, or cancer, or intelligence. One of the scientists thinks the speech is profound, the other younger scientist thinks the theory is obsolete and the research findings distorted. Scientists develop theories to explain – to manage our uncertainty about these fuzzies. This is World 2, this is the seeing is believing world. In this world Scientists are considered  right as long as they acquire a large following of other scientists. In this largely invisible world – incluing the world of the future – scientific status is a popularity contest, made up of a  constituency of believers. In this world hit parade ‘truths’ or theories come and go.”

Peter: ” So if I stub my toe I’m stubbing it on World 1, and if the nutty President of North Korea stubs his toe he’s also stubbing it on world 1. That’s because we share the same human physiology – the same kind of pain detectors in our toes that yell when they hit rocks – whether they’re American rocks or Korean rocks – rocks are rocks.  But if I ‘see’ the American flag I salute and feel proud, whereas when  Kim Jon Il sees one he pukes – that’s World 2. Rocks are  rocks, and toes are toes – the whole world over no matter what language you speak, no matter what school you attended, no matter what politics or scientific theory, politics or religion you worship. In World 1 seeing is believing. But when you’re stubbing your mind or brain on other people’s trusted beliefs and biases – anchored to symbols like flags, or words or slogans ( ‘big government’, right-wing, left-wing, fagot, rag head, God, heaven, science, etc) – then believing is seeing. Then you’re operating in World 2 and almost anything goes. Then you’re traveling on imaginary bridges supported mainly  by trusted theories, assumptions and biases. We have major debates and fights over World 2 territory when our trusted and hard-won certainties are threatened – we fight over pet scientific theories, over political and religious dogmas, over  percieved assaults on our personal pride or self-esteem. And we sometimes use World 1 objects like rocks and bombs to settle World 2 debates. “

Posted in: Sciencing