John Mcreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Wed, 30 Aug 1995 08:27:14 +0900

Nick Corduan asks,

"If there are no absolutes, what is the point of science?"

James replies,

"I sympathize with you. I too believe in an objective reality, but the problem
is that there is no such thing as an objective interpretation of that reality.
Have you ever heard of "standpoint epistemology"? Interpretation, or simple
reconstruction, is a matter of PERSPECTIVE. Check out "A People's History of
the United States" by Howard Zinn for a different perspective on U.S. history."

My own two cents:

There is still a point to science if we recognize that (1) we shall never know
everything with absolute confidence, (2) there are a variety of approximations to what we want to know (call them "theories"), and (3) it is possible to make
sound judgments of which approximation is closer to what we want to know.

In practice, good science is like good history an evolving consensus among people who are recognized (by each other and others, too) as being good, i.e.,
combining a respect for careful data-gathering with fresh insight that
produces better approximations than what has heretofore been on the table.

Occasionally, someone notices a whole new angle that illuminates a situation in
an unexpected way. Defenders of previous approximations may (and, in fact,
frequently do) resist the new idea. They are human and, thus, competitive primates attached to their own ideas. If, however, the new angle is productive,
generating a steady stream of new insights and even better approximations, it
will in time replace its predecessors or, the more common result of serious
science, supersede them, incorporating their conclusions as a subset of its
own. (There will, of course, be some rejected as errors; confusion and a
sense of inadequacy are the motivators for continued progress.)

History poses a special problem. In historical interpretations political issues
of concern to audiences larger than the scholarly community are at stake.
Historians' interpretations of the past become the basis for political/legal
claims and actions and rare is the party to one of these actions who does not
prefer the view that suits his own interests. It is one thing to say that
all those with an interest should have a say in what is going on; another
entirely to say that one party, however previously disadvantaged, should
hereafter determine everything that is said about them.

For descriptions of science in practice, allow me to recommend "Genius," the
biography of Richard Feynman.

Like animals, science is good to think with?
Ne? :-)

John McCreery