Sensibly Speaking Podcast #69: A Little Science Never Hurt Anyone
Science is a broad, global topic. It has to do with figuring out how and why things work or why they do what they do. Objective facts are not nationalistic, politically partisan, gender-based or in any other way biased one way or the other. You can use facts in a partisan fashion or spin them to support your views when they really don’t, but that’s on you, not the people who actually do the observation or discovery work.
One great definition of science I found is this: the concerted human effort to understand, or understand better, the history of the natural world and how the natural world works, with observable physical evidence as the basis of that understanding. It is done through observation of natural phenomena and/or experimentation that tries to stimulate natural processes under controlled conditions.
Now because science, like every other thing we do, is carried out by us fallible human beings, it is fraught with errors and mistakes. But that doens’t mean the process itself is bad or corrupt or evil. It means we are. And that means that when we talk about the problems with someone’s faulty science, we should be talking about that specific person or fault, not generalize it all into “science is bad.”
When we get a sweater with a loose thread, we don’t blame the entire subject of knitting or sewing and say it’s stupid and wrong and inherently corrupt and no one who does stiching knows what they are doing. We just know that someone screwed up and we fix the sweater. It’s no different with science.
Now we’re gonna dive in to some science and knowledge stuff that I think you guys are going to find interesting. I got some help from a friend and supporter of the show on this week’s episode. He pointed out some things and gave me some great direction on talking about science knowledge and I wanted to share this with you.
When Alexander, king of Macedon, was young and wasn’t yet called The Great, he had a tutor named Aristotle. For those of you who saw Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, you’ll remember Socrates, aka Socrates, who lived back in the fifth century BC and who famously died drinking the hemlock because he annoyed one-too-many Athenians for corrupting the youth with his crazy religious and polticial ideas. In those days, you didn’t just get a bad review on Yelp if people didn’t like you.
Socrates is remembered for a lot of things, one of them being that he felt that we were born with all of knowledge actually already within us and we only needed to be reminded of it to remember it, mainly by asking us questions that would lead us by their answers down a trail of logic to an inevitable conclusion of truth. This is why asking people questions to get them to see something rather than telling them directly is called the Socratic method.
Plato was Socrates’ most famous student. He split up reality into ultimate reality and phenomena, or the manifestions of the ideal which we can see and hear and sense. So while there might be an ultimate ideal of a triangle which is perfect and unchanging and never flawed, there are manifestations of this ideal in our day-to-day world which could be a little crooked or the angles not quite right or that somehow are not quite as perfect as that ideal. Plato was the first I know of who spoke about this philosophy of knowledge, of how to describe the world around us and to say that there were standards or rules for things which exist outside of our day-to-day experience of them.
Plato also put forward the interesting idea that the physical world strives to be ideal, including all of us. Our souls, according to Plato, are drawn to do good and what is reasonable, which of course is limited only by our knowledge and understanding of things. If we do a bad thing, it is only out of ignorance and requires education, not punishment.