Big Science and Untold Possibilities
The paradox with science is that the more there is that is discovered, the more we realize how little it is of the universe we actually know. I give as my evidence the fact that as the years of scientific breakthroughs have passed, the fields have actually expanded rather than narrowed down, and even in these respective fields the object of study still remains brimming with untold possibility: the nature of chemicals in chemistry, the mysteries of life in biology, and the even more nebulous nature of the human psyche in the social sciences. I could go on and on.
It just goes to show that nature, the primary object of scientific inquisition, is just as limitless as the capacity for the human mind to question it. What is amazing is that science itself is doubly a product of nature – it originates from what we observe, and at the same time it is the reason why human beings observe and inquire. The entire process by which scientific procedure is born is a natural one; people are naturally inclined to ask why ‘the wind is so gentle at this part in town.’
The early phases of sciences tended to have more religious or philosophical foundations, with theories being based off a combination of natural observation and stern discussions in a forum. Those times lacked the empirical basis of today’s modern sciences, and as a result some of their scientific practices seem a little silly. For example, you may be familiar with how a doctor in the middle ages looked like. Their ‘uniform’ resembled a bird with long, coat-like sleeves and a mask with large round eye-pieces and a beak. This was because they believed, at that time, that the plague had been transmitted by smelling the evil spirits in the air. So the beaks with stuffed with spices to counteract that.
Clearly, we have moved away from that sort of thinking. Nowadays, scientific knowledge is based on the results of experimentation and observation done in controlled environments. Science likes to boast about its objectivity and its nature of being empirical, and this is why. Scientists look at consistent results in a lab to be able to predict natural phenomenon, and perhaps more importantly be able to find the numbers behind them. The early scientists would say that the speed of gravity (or whatever they called it at the time) depended on the weight of the object falling in question, whilst modern scientists say that all objects ignoring air resistance free-fall at the speed of 9.8m/s2. This was because in earlier times they would just look at a feather and a book before shouting ‘Eureka!’, whilst the knowledge we have on our end involves dropping two identical balls.
Of course the validity of every experiment is always up to question, and let it be said that no one experiment can ever be entirely free from human error. The hottest fires seem to come from those at the social sciences, who say that the nature of an experiment fails to valuate the nature of the human mind in its entirety. How do we determine, for example, causality if every person believes he or she is doing something for his or her own benefit? Furthermore, what is understood as scientific knowledge often undergoes such OC-driven and seemingly inane tasks.
It may seem that with all these extra terms, science just makes life more complicated. In reality it’s probably because of this lust for precision that we’re using laptops and not candles and paper and quills today. Science puts up with all the complications in life in order to make life simpler for everyone else. It’s done all in the name of being certain. Some scientists would argue that there is no absolute certainty, and to that they should be credited. What people acknowledge as true is merely a repetition, a consistency in observed results and so an established belief that it will happen again. Ironically, despite how empirical science can boast to be, there will always be an element of faith involved in its practice because of this.
It also answers a few very important questions. Up to now more cynical minds may be asking, if science is so infinite, so expansive, then where or what is the point of it all?
Underlying every scientific study done is the belief in the natural order of the universe, the so-called cosmos. More literary minds may recognize this term as what famed science fiction author H.P. Lovecraft constantly debunks in written works - which more-often than not usually involves an eager scientist who discovers the impossible truth about reality which ends up destroying human civilization. While we cannot refute Lovecraft’s claims that eldritch horrors lurk beneath the fabrics of the universe, it is no doubt that these stories do resonate some far off grain of truth: that there are many, many unknowns that have yet to be discovered. Lovecraft’s philosophy was that the unknown is something to be feared; modern science says the unknown is something to be unravelled.
At the core of this nebulous unknown is the idea that everything is tied together under one single theory or idea or even mathematical formula. This single unifying concept is the summation of what we understand of natural order; it’s the fundamental explanation for the beauty and harmony of how nature itself works; in simple terms, it’s the all-encompassing answer to the why that humanity and not just science in general has been asking for millennia.
Hearing that the entire universe may be connected by a single mathematical equation, it’s quite understandable why Lovecraft along with other sci-fi cynics think that way. The concept that the whole universe can be simplified into a single code is ludicrous, maybe even insane, to the point where, yes, it is entirely reasonable to fantasize the existence of inter-dimensional beasts. It may as well be that, when we uncover the root of the universe, that it’s horrible rather than beautiful. Yet if we were to take a look at landmark scientific discoveries, we find that the results have more often than not been the latter.
The more than is discovered about the universe, the more ‘harmony’ and ‘order’ we seem to make out. Earlier explorations into space have revealed organized movement by celestial bodies, and similarly biological experiments have revealed organized movement with our cells. The reason scientists strive for beauty and aesthetics in their theory probably isn’t because they want to disprove the existence of galactic horrors (although it’s good to keep an open mind!) but because they want to reach that pinnacle point of scientific enlightenment.
It’s no surprise that the people who avoid modern developments like Facebook and witter are usually not science people. They say that technology takes away from the simple joys of life, or maybe the most anachronistic would reiterate a form of “eventually all this technology and advancement will one day get us killed, thank you Lovecraft!” But while there is little to do about minds that refuse to open anyway, maybe we should start talking about what simple joys we’re talking about here. People who like running in the fields and staring at the stars at night will find little pleasure in that nowadays, where city smog makes even the shortest trips outside unbearable and city lights ensure the only stars you’ll be seeing are the ones in the internet. But isn’t that, going to the internet to see the stars, a simple pleasure in itself? Isn’t that appreciation of nature and beauty?
Science is funny, because we hope to discover more so that we can discover just one thing, and it’s something that we already seem to know given how we’re presuming it exists anyway. We hope to discover that the universe is beautiful and not horrible, and that it’s intelligible and not infinite.