FALL, 2003

More on Science: Who's In Charge?

Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon@hc
Subject:  Confrontation
Date:  2003-11-24 10:42:15
Message Id:  7384

Prof. Grobstein, in response to your thoughts on the New York Times article:

"The distinctive role that science has played in our culture... is to be the embodiment of permanent skepticism, of a persistant doubt about the validity of any given set of understandings reached by whatever means (including those of science itself). It is the insistence on doubting existing understandings, not the wish to eliminate humans ills nor to find 'answers'..." -- Prof. Grobstein

This is a stirring appraisal of science and one that I would very much like to believe. But I'm beginning to have my doubts. In my conversations with others about the natural sciences and the social sciences, I have represented the views that you express in class - about the noble skepticism of science - as those of the scientific community at large. Now I sense my own naivety in having done so.

The tale that Broad and Glanz weave is a misguided one, so you say, but my question is this: you and what army? Are all scientists as given to reflection about what it is they are trying to achieve? Would every scientist agree that it is Broad and Glanz who are misguided?

I feel there is a strong dichotomy between the doers and the thinkers, and it the thinking minority that allows science to remain, in large part, unaccountable for what it has brought about. This pretense of "we realize what we're doing" is veiling the general inattention to such matters. John Marburger (W's science advisor) in an interview with SEED this summer said: "Cloning is not a science issue... It is completely an ethics issue, one hundred percent." It is for the philosophers of science and bioethicists to play that role, he seems to say, *not us real scientists*.

Finally, if science is truly about this greatly exulted skepticism, how can science make claims (as Reagan's science advisor, George Keyworth II, does in the article) to knowing that no God exists? Spontaneous generation was once dismissed as religious rubbish, and yet science eventually returned to it to explain the origins of life. Darwinists have dismissed Lamarck's ideas by postulating evolution as a result of purely random changes, yet now evidence is beginning to show that mutations do occur in non-random ways. So how does science preclude any existence of God?

Name:  Katie
Subject:  off-topic
Date:  2003-11-24 20:48:17
Message Id:  7387
This is completely off topic, friend found this while she was poking around online, and I thought it was sort of interesting (I also immediately thought about the earlier debate we had on evolution and religion). I don't really agree with anything presented or the basic ideas behind the projects, but it was sort of neat to see what other people's concept of "science" is.

Name:  Nomi
Username:  nkaim@bmc
Subject:  The Concept of Everything
Date:  2003-11-25 12:33:42
Message Id:  7394
"Spontaneous generation was once dismissed as religious rubbish, and yet science eventually returned to it to explain the origins of life. Darwinists have dismissed Lamarck's ideas by postulating evolution as a result of purely random changes, yet now evidence is beginning to show that mutations do occur in non-random ways. So how does science preclude any existence of God?" -- Su-Lyn

I agree. In fact, this makes me think of a private suspicion I have always held that EVERYTHING exists somewhere. A somewhat overwhelming thought, I know. But endless space is certainly, if you think about it, big enough to harbor everything. With all the different environments out there, things that can't possibly exist in an earth environment will surely fit right in someplace else. The laws of probability dictate, it seems to me, that if you could search an endless space forever you would encounter everything. Spontaneous generation ... Lamarkian evolution ... and God. At its most basic, it is purely mathematical ... and that's not counting a tendency scientists have noticed for things to occur in greater abundance and more rapidly once similar things have occurred already (like that story about the monkeys who learned to separate rice from sand by floating it -- another monkey across the ocean picked right up on it!).

I want to laugh at myself as I write "law" and "tendency" because, of course, according to my theory, there will be plenty of places where such "laws" and "tendencies" do not hold. In fact, there will be places where even my theory of everything does not hold! But this is an uncertainty I will have to live with. I believe the astronomers and physicists who try to find the "universal laws" of space and matter are fooling themselves: nothing is universal; there will always be exceptions, derivations from known rules. The concept of everything, the thought that nothing is always, is very difficult to accept. Certainly, it is way beyond our puny human grasp to imagine EVERYTHING! But I believe in this.

If everything exists somewhere in some state, it follows that there should be no absolute truths but also no absolute untruths. No absolute lies! When Prof. Grobstein talks about our "getting it less wrong," I think he needs to realize that, just as one is never absolutely right in science or in life, nor is one ever absolutely wrong. *

*I'm speaking in the universal sense, of course, which is fun but not very practical. Practically -- as it applies to use human beings -- there ARE rights and wrongs, things that can exist and things that cannot. But all of these things are relative in the greater scheme.

Also wanted to say that I agree science has put too much weight on genetics recently, but since traits are probably a combination of so many influencing factors, what you find really all depends on what you can -- or want to -- see. Little personal anecdote: My mother used to believe strongly in the effects of nurture in raising children (deluded herself, as she now puts it). Then she adopted two foreign infants -- who grew up so absurdly different from her biological children in the same household that she threw her faith into genetics! Whatever makes sense ... !

Name:  Ramatu Kallon
Subject:  Is exercise good for the body?
Date:  2003-11-30 23:28:29
Message Id:  7411
Often people say what may be seem good to you at one time can be bad for you in the end. This reminded me of a conversation I was having with my friend about the need for exercise in our daily lives. My friend disagreed saying "exercise can not be good for the body, becuase it puts stress on the joints, which causes them to weaken." Now, I am not sure if this is true or not, but what my friend said made me think about science and whether it tells the truth or not. Lately there has been so muvch news about Americans being overweightand therefore exercised is now being reinforced, but my queastion id if (in the case of my friends) exercise is not really "good" for the body, then why is everyone making such a big deal about it.
Name:  Julia
Date:  2003-12-01 11:01:03
Message Id:  7413
Su-lyn, I think you're right that most scientists don't really reflect the ideals we're learning here. Staying objective has got to be one of the hardest things for people to do over long periods of time, since it means changing the way you think about things constantly. I don't think I know anyone who manages to do it all the time.

Grobstein ...

I don't "believe" in stories, wherever they come from. I listen to them learn from them, and make use of them when I find them useful. To "believe" in a story is, for me, to end the ongoing process of discovery, of "getting it less wrong", and that's not something I'm inclined to do. I'd rather go on changing/emerging/evolving.

If science is actually going to become a common property of humanity, scientists themselves are going to need to learn to transcend their own tribal inclinations, to not only entertain the possibility that the observations and stories of people outside the community are relevant but to begin actively valuing them, to genuinely open the "scientific community" to all comers ... Science ... Everybody Getting It Less Wrong Together

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