Science Needs Some Modesty

One thing my mind drifts into every time I try to sit down comfortably by my desk is this ocean of thoughts about our universe. It’s intricacy and the complex ways in which it has evolved to sustain a miracle we have all agreed to call life.

What is life? Particles that followed a burst into existence, auto-improvising evolution road-map for billions of years to transform itself into complex and conscious beings that work, play, procreate, have memories and feel emotions?  Could you list out the parameters that govern your emotions? And the parameters that govern those parameters? If you were to trace your emotions back to their physical origins, modern science would take you quarks, leptons and bosons. To think that these silly little whatnots define your heartfelt emotions definitely sucks, doesn’t it?

Familiarity is an amazing thing our minds use to deceive itself. Our familiarity with our environment and our lives has made us take everything for granted. We don’t take that extra little pause that would get us wondering whether everything that we see, observe and perceive is absolute and complete. We don’t wonder whether our existence could have attributes to it that are not at all congruent to established common sense. We’re all stuck inside the bubble that our knowledge is.

Enter science.

The scientific method has taken this step in liberating human minds from the locks of ignorance and has embarked us on a never ending quest for reason. It has pushed our civilization forward by leaps and has made all our lives better. No question there. But with increasing popularity and a globalized media culture, science has escaped the walls of laboratories and has begun to live in the tongues of common people. Results that took years of research and experimentation now propagates in condensed words that sometimes don’t even convey facts superficially. As a result, the image of the scientific method has suffered so much wear and tear. The innocence and childish curiosity that had once embodied science is slowly fading away. It’s now becoming the fashion of the academically privileged and the local know-it-alls. People now perceive everything scientific as the distilled truth. It has become the ultimate yardstick and the final cure for our never ending idiocy.

But isn’t that what it’s supposed to be?

The very notion of science as the ultimate yardstick has a pretext that human reason is a foolproof and full fledged tool; that our senses of intuition and prediction are all boundless; that every mystery in nature can be deciphered by our little brains. For the lot of us who have these assumptions sealed at the back of their minds, it is hard for them to realize the fact that our senses are merely functions defined by the earthly abilities of our body.

We study the universe only through our lenses and manipulate what we see. We get amazing results. If our success gives us the confidence to push our ideas forward and make this world a better place to live in, that is the Science I’m in love with. If it instead causes us to forget the limitations of our lenses, become overconfident and arrogant, then there begins the subtle issue of scientism. It makes us punify and explain away everything. It makes us reduce a rainbow into merely a bow shaped spectrum of light that is caused by reflection, refraction and dispersion. It makes us unable to immerse ourselves in it’s beauty and get enthralled wondering how complexly interconnected our conscience and our lives are with this universe.  We define motion in Newton’s Laws and choose to be complacent with it. But if Newton’s laws were as alive as we all are, it would just beg this question, “Am I really just Newton’s laws, and that’s the full stop?!” The same goes with Faraday’s laws or any other scientific law, for that matter. Just because Newton or Faraday (with all due respect) discovered certain ways in which nature behave, it doesn’t mean that those laws were ordained by them. Of course, none of us take those literally but it definitely is saddening when people choose to become overconfident in scientific jargon. People nod away things that are worth a lot of stupefaction with an arrogant “Oh, it’s science!”.

Well, it’s not science. Science isn’t the full stop. It never is and it never will be. It is nature, and she is begging you to notice her. Little questions like “Just why are the dark skies dotted with beautiful little stars?” can go a long way if you’re humble enough to ponder.

Science should be more about knowing that we don’t know than we do. It should humble us. It is just our little attempt to translate nature into a language we can comprehend. It should be beyond obvious that it only gives us a tiny projection of the reality of  this universe. It just should miss out the larger portion. The reason for the reasons, the whys of the whys and the hows of the hows, will always remain shrouded in the dark shadows of nature’s infinite unknown. And this is exactly how nature teaches us the petty nature of our knowledge. This is why it is never smart of us to walk around big-headed and bash people with science. Our engagement in anything scientific should begin with defeating our own ego. If we fail ourselves in this, we’ll only see little progress. We won’t notice ourselves diminishing into a bunch of repulsive, condescending robots that would render the larger picture invisible to us. Great scientists accomplished so much only because they were humble at their heart and never had an arrogant opinion about everything.

In the example of tracing your feelings back to the fundamental particles laid out by the standard model, questions can be asked. Is it really the ultimate truth? Could there be anything beyond it? Could there be facts about it that are not apparent to us? These are questions that are relevant despite all the appealing facts that science provide in all it’s concreteness.

The mystery never dies. To say it fairly, our understanding of our emotions based on leptons and quarks is nothing but the most reasonable one from what we see and observe. No genuine man of science will snap at you, “Yep, this is absolutely how it all works. Period.”. This is simply because our thoughts and ideas are irrelevant things in this universe. A bird has it’s own views about the world. We know and understand things beyond the bird’s view. Why should the same analogy stop with us? Aren’t we just a speck of dust that appeared and then instantly disappeared in the cosmic timeline. These are little facts you can grind on for hours on end but like I said, they can go long way if you’re humble enough to See, not just see.

Nature is mighty but she is humble. Perhaps that was the first lesson we should have learned from her.


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