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Monday, January 25, 2021

"Knowledge is good."

LOL. But, seriously, my latest hardcopy issue of Science Magazine arrived. Book review therein.

"What is the scientific method, and what makes it the most efficient approach for generating insight? In The Knowledge Machine, Michael Strevens argues that to answer this question, we must acknowledge the role played by the undisciplined and emotional nature of the humans who carry it out. The book takes readers on a whirlwind tour through the history of science, rendering Arthur Eddington, Louis Pasteur, G. G. Simpson, Lord Kelvin, and many others as “warm-blooded organisms, whose enthusiasms, hopes, and fears mold their thinking far below the threshold of awareness.”

When asked what science is and how it functions, researchers offer a range of conflicting responses, notes Strevens. “Some scientists say that the essence of science is controlled or repeatable experiment, forgetting that experiments are of relatively little importance in cosmology or evolutionary biology. Some say advanced mathematical techniques are crucial, forgetting that the discoverers of genetics, for example, had no use for sophisticated math.”

Strevens argues that an objective scientific method cannot exist, as all predictions from hypotheses rely on auxiliary assumptions such as the functioning of instruments, whose reliability must be evaluated subjectively. He proposes that the distinguishing feature of science is a procedural agreement, which he refers to as the “iron rule of explanation.” This rule holds that differences in scientific opinion must be settled by empirical testing alone. Thus, a scientist cannot argue for one hypothesis over another because it is more beautiful or more appealing philosophically or because it is better aligned with “God's plan.” The iron rule applies only to official communications. Outside of such venues, scientists may think and believe as they wish…"
Indeed. Of course, I bought the book forthwith and have begun my study. Wonderfully written. Goes to my numerous riffs in support of "Science." (See also my posts "Why trust science?" and "Deliberation Science?")
Stay tuned. Be interesting to see if/how and to what extent it might cohere with this book (below) I've studied and cited.

I finished the Michael Strevens book. Beautifully written, a motherload of quotable, eloquent passages. I'll just cite his close.
THE KNOWLEDGE MACHINE opened in the darkness of prehistory. Civilization’s sun rose, bringing literature and law, temple domes and proscenium arches, and the more abstract pleasures of mathematics and philosophy. Science’s sun, meanwhile, remained deep below the horizon. To one surveying the cultures of the ancient world, there was no glimmer to suggest that anything like modern science would arise. So it continued for centuries, millennia. Empires came and went; each left its enduring aesthetic and intellectual gifts to humankind, but there was no science.

At a stroke, the Scientific Revolution changed everything. Science’s sun seemed to have appeared, not on the horizon, but at its zenith, as the fierce genius of Newton and his lieutenants glistered in the heavens. It burned far hotter than had even the sun of civilization. Our sultry, teeming, denatured planet is its consequence—as are our increasingly long, comfortable, amusing lives.

Galileo yearned to know the nature of light. “I had always felt so unable to understand what light is,” he wrote to a friend, “that I would gladly have spent all my life in jail, fed with bread and water, if only I was assured that I would eventually attain that longed-for understanding.” Less than four hundred years later, thanks to Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, and Albert Einstein—along with many others—we have that knowledge. The light of science calls out for the same understanding. In The Knowledge Machine, I have given you the truth as I see it.

Science is not light; it is not promulgated by a star. Nor is it a golem, a glass slipper, a neurasthenic bird, or a coral reef. It is not, indeed, a machine. It is a social institution. It could not be brought into existence by a celestial body or by a magical incantation. Inquirers had to give the rule that constitutes the scientific institution to themselves. But the iron rule is a peculiar mix of power and perversity. Logically, it is beyond the pale. It would take an exceedingly long time for social, political, and moral conditions to twine themselves into a perspective from which the rule would seem to be an acceptable idea, fit to enter the halls of inquiry. Now we know. And because of the iron rule, we can go on knowing, more and more. Let us hope that knowledge saves us.

Strevens, Michael. The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science (pp. 289-290). Liveright. Kindle Edition.
More to come...

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