Just about wherever scientists look—deep within the earth, on grains of sand blown off of the Sahara Desert, under mile-thick layers of Antarctic ice—they find viruses. And when they look in familiar places, they find new ones. In 2009, Dana Willner, a biologist at San Diego State University, led a virus-hunting expedition into the human body. The scientists had ten people cough up sputum and spit it into a cup. Five of the people were sick with cystic fibrosis, and five were healthy. Out of that fluid, Willner and her team fished out fragments of DNA, which they compared to databases of the tens of millions of genes already known to science. Before Willner’s study, the lungs of healthy people were believed to be sterile. But Willner and her colleagues discovered that all their subjects, sick and healthy alike, carried viral menageries in their chests. On average, each person had 174 species of viruses in the lungs. But only 10 percent of those species bore any close kinship to any virus ever found before.
↳ Carl Zimmer - A Planet of Viruses
Theories are nets cast to catch what we call ‘the world’: to rationalize, to explain, and to master it. We endeavour to make the mesh ever finer and finer.
Karl Popper - The logic of scientific discovery.
Those among us who are unwilling to expose their ideas to the hazard of refutation do not take part in the scientific game.
↳ Karl Popper - The Logic of Scientific Discovery, p.280.
I know of no time in human history where ignorance was better than knowledge.
Science is essentially a conversation in which people respond to what others have most recently said, or to the ideas that are currently dominant. Ideas that change the direction of the conversation are new because they are new in the conversation — not because no one has had them before.
↳ Daniel Kahneman
A carpenter is a person who practices a highly skilled trade, carpentry, to create new and useful and lovely things out of wood. It is a non-trivial occupation, there’s both art and technology involved, and it’s a productive talent that contributes to people’s well-being. It makes the world a better place. And it involves wood.
A pyromaniac is a person with a destructive mental illness, in which they obsess over setting things on fire. Most pyromaniacs have no skill with carpentry, but some do; many of them have their own sets of skills outside of the focus of their illness. Pyromania is destructive and dangerous, contributes nothing to people’s well-being, and makes the world a worse place. And yes, it involves wood, which is a wonderful substance for burning.
Calling a creationist a scientist is as offensive as praising a pyromaniac for their skill at carpentry, when all they’ve shown is a talent for destroying things, and typically have a complete absence of any knowledge of wood-working. Producing charcoal and ash is not comparable to building a house or crafting furniture or, for that matter, creating anything.
You can’t call any creationist a scientist, because what they’re actively promoting is a destructive act of tearing down every beautiful scrap of knowledge the real scientists have acquired.
Setting aside questions that science ignores or rejects, like the colour of jealousy or the purpose of the sun, are there any deep and important questions that science cannot answer? Of course there are many that sci- ence cannot yet answer. But are there any that science in principle can never answer? Very possibly. We don’t know. An example might be: “Where did the laws and fundamental constants of physics come from?” But if science cannot answer such questions, that emphatically doesn’t mean that any other discipline—for example, religion—can. […]
There are some profoundly difficult questions about the origin of the universe, about the origin of physical law and fundamental constants, about the curvature of space-time, about the paradoxical behaviour of quanta, and about the nature of consciousness. It may be that humanity will never reach the quietus of complete understanding. But if we do, I venture the confident prediction that it will be science, not religion, that brings us there. And if that sounds like scientism, so much the better for scientism.
I am anxious not to be misunderstood, so let me stress again that I am not expressing confidence that humanity will succeed in answering the deep questions of existence. But in the (possibly unlikely) event that we do succeed, I am very confident that it is more likely to be through sci- entific than religious ways of thinking. However unlikely it may be that science will one day understand everything about the cosmos and the nature of life, it is even less likely that religion will.
This is the dilemma we face: in order to counter nonsense, we are doomed to be ever seen as dismissive critics of people’s beliefs. In this view, to me it is not a coincidence that people have this conception of us. Because there is orders of magnitude more pseudoscience than science out there, we are always too busy shooting down the junk to do much else. It is imperative that we continue to do this, but if we want people to understand the full range of skepticism we have to also stress the affirmatives. We need to live up to the charge of promoting science and critical thinking. In my observations, this is accomplished primarily within the skeptical community, and any outside exposure that we choose to endorse or create is mainly “debunking.” Don’t misunderstand me, debunking is a worthy cause and someone has to do it, but I want this movement to be positive. We need to be actually thought of as positive by the public, no matter what we may tell ourselves. This is my call to the skeptical community: we need to get into the habit of promoting good science, critical thinking skills, and good causes in equal amounts with debunking (or at least more than we do now).
↳ Kyle Hill explains how as a skeptic he’s faced with the “Debunker’s Dilemma
”: seen that there’s a lot more misinformation and pseudoscience than science, it could appear that skeptic positions are always negative. He says that because of this “to the public a skeptic equals a cynic
”. He urges skeptics to do The Opposite of Debunking
. Skeptics need to show their passion about science and rationality and to promote scientific inquiry and critical thinking skills.
Scientists, at least successful ones, are marked more by obsession than disinterested intellectual curiosity. They are people who wake up at one in the morning and worry about factors of two or missed systematic errors in their experiments […]
Let me tell you a story to explain what I mean. The story is an old story about my latest, greatest passion outside theoretical physics: an ancient scientist, or so I would say, even if often he is called a philosopher: Anaximander. I am fascinated by this character, Anaximander. I went into understanding what he did, and to me he’s a scientist. He did something that is very typical of science, and which shows some aspect of what science is. So what is the story with Anaximander? It’s the following, in brief: Until him, all the civilizations of the planet, everybody around the world, thought that the structure of the world was: the sky over our heads and the earth under our feet. There’s an up and a down, heavy things fall from the up to the down, and that’s reality. Reality is oriented up and down, heaven’s up and earth is down. Then comes Anaximander and says: no, is something else. ‘The earth is a finite body that floats in space, without falling, and the sky is not just over our head; it is all around.’ How he gets it? Well obviously he looks at the sky, you see things going around, the stars, the heavens, the moon, the planets, everything moves around and keeps turning around us. It’s sort of reasonable to think that below us is nothing, so it seems simple to get to this conclusion. Except that nobody else got to this conclusion. In centuries and centuries of ancient civilizations, nobody got there. The Chinese didn’t get there until the 17th century, when Matteo Ricci and the Jesuits went to China and told them. In spite of centuries of Imperial Astronomical Institute which was studying the sky. The Indians only learned this when the Greeks arrived to tell them. The Africans, in America, in Australia… nobody else got to this simple realization that the sky is not just over our head, it’s also under our feet. Why? Because obviously it’s easy to suggest that the earth sort of floats in nothing, but then you have to answer the question: why doesn’t it fall? The genius of Anaximander was to answer this question. We know his answer, from Aristotle, from other people. He doesn’t answer this question, in fact. He questions this question. He says why should it fall? Things fall toward the earth. Why the earth itself should fall? In other words, he realizes that the obvious generalization from every small heavy object falling, to the earth itself falling, might be wrong. He proposes an alternative, which is that objects fall towards the earth, which means that the direction of falling changes around the earth. This means that up and down become notions relative to the earth. Which is rather simple to figure out for us now: we’ve learned this idea. But if you think of the difficulty when we were children, to understand how people in Sydney could live upside-down, clearly requires some changing in something structural in our basic language in terms of which we understand the world. In other words, up and down means something different before and after Anaximander’s revolution. He understands something about reality, essentially by changing something in the conceptual structure that we have in grasping reality. In doing so, he is not doing a theory; he understands something which in some precise sense is forever. It’s some uncovered truth, which to a large extent is a negative truth. He frees ourselves from prejudice, a prejudice that was ingrained in the conceptual structure we had for thinking about space.
Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli explains why science Is not about certainty, instead:
Science is about finding the most reliable way of thinking, at the present level of knowledge. Science is extremely reliable; it’s not certain. In fact, not only it’s not certain, but it’s the lack of certainty that grounds it. Scientific ideas are credible not because they are sure, but because they are the ones that have survived all the possible past critiques, and they are the most credible because they were put on the table for everybody’s criticism.
Possibly the best piece about philosophy of science that I’ve read on internet so far.