From common sense to science

Using common sense is not religion or faith, it is pure application of the scientific method:   you have a theory in your mind about how things will be, you verify that against reality, and if you have overlooked something you regret it and change your mind.   During your life, you learn a lot and become wiser.  Science works in the same way.

Science itself is un-human.   It accumulates knowledge independently of our human nature.  The speed of light, the composition of the atoms, the properties of prime numbers, these are all pieces of knowledge that extraterrestrials would also discover.  We know that physics and chemistry are the same in all parts of the universe that we can observe.

We know a lot about the world around us, and over the last hundred years this knowledge has advanced to a level where it is no longer easy to understand.  I suspect that many people are frightened by the strangeness of advanced scientific knowledge:  it is not "intuitive", and its description needs a lot of hard thinking.

Maybe we humans are not very well equipped to understand this knowledge with our imperfect brains.

Anthropologists and sociologists often belittle science as a human artifact.  They claim it is not absolute but relative and culture dependent. There have been attempts at creating "islamic science", "christian science", and we know what happened when some people became convinced there was a plot by "jewish science".  All these attempts to link science to human cultures produced nothing useful at all.  Science is universal:  wherever you walk into a University you will observe the same approach to science, it does not matter whether you are in Bejing or Cape Town.

The profound reason why science is independent of human nature is that in the scientific process the checking is done by machinery.  Although some rudimentary science can be done without tools, such as "astronomy with the naked eye", science has long ago adopted the procedure of careful measurement.  This can take the form of reading numbers off an instrument such as a thermometer, it can also be simply counting and applying statistics.  But it is never done by opinion, oral tradition, the word of the master or anything mystical.  It is done with an instrument.

The people doing scientific work are however just humans.  They grow up, fall in love, make mistakes, have pride, are prone to cheating, work hard or are lazy.  There are several examples of rather unlikeable persons who have made great contributions to science.  In the spectrum from the technician to the Nobel Prize winner, there are all kinds of characters, some nearly mad.

The body of knowledge they have collected is however free from human nature.  It is un-human, without any ethical side, with no values attached.

And it does not need a god anywhere.

Scientists being human, they do not always communicate the nature of science very well.  See the page on bad use of language in popularisation of science.

Talking about science in anthropological terms makes it look like other human activities where there is a lot of fashion, opinion, emotion and so on.  The body of scientific knowledge keeps getting closer to the real laws of the universe, but it contains no fashion.  We cannot vote about it either.  And everything has to be checked by a human-independent machine, be it as simple as a measuring rod.

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