Certainty, Isn't

As investigative techniques, science and the humanities obviously differ. But how? On LinkedIn, Kristina Šekrst, who happens to teach cosmology and ancient Egyptian at the University of Zagreb, touches on how we know. As for her specialties, one, she says, describes "uncertainties, speculation, philosophy and a bit of unsolved mysteries with crazy theories, and [the other deals] with the exact structure of the Ancient Egyptian language."


The criterion of what is exactly science is a long debate in history and philosophy of science. Sometimes they ask for the criterion of observation, and yet, how can we do that exactly with, say, most of mathematics (and that fails on the logical consistency as well!)? Sometimes they ask for explanation, but religion also explains, and we don't consider it to be science. Sometimes we say that science consists of doing experiments, but that is often impossible in various fields of astrophysics or particle physics, such as string theory. Sometimes we say that science predicts, but astrology predicts as well, and that's certainly not a science (I'm a Cancer with Libra rising, I ought to know).

One of the most important criteria is the criterion of falsifiability: scientific theories can be proven wrong.

From there it only gets better, and she seems to suggest if I'm reading her correctly that any perfectly true science would also be complete. It's an impossibly high standard - thank goodness.

Newton's laws are a reliable guide to our solar system - as the exquisitely timed journeys of Cassini and New Horizons can attest - but the dominate and still-correct physical description of the cosmos was not complete without quantum theory. The problem of course is that we don't yet know what a complete theory might entail since relativity and quantum physics cannot as of yet be merged. Theorists like Leonard Mlodinow, who, incidentally, has spoken at the IdeaFestival, are working on a theory of quantum gravity now.

Perhaps, she says, the best we can do is to say that our useful theories are true as of now. Utility is a pretty good measure of success.

If you're interested in philosophy of science, check out Šekrst's piece. Useful information and certainty are certainly two different things.

Stay curious.™

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