October 2010 Archives

Mysterious Answers

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During this semester, I've realized that I follow the description of a feminist: I strive for equality and objectivity in life and science. I'm not familiar with many of the proponents of modern feminism, aside from what this class has connected me with. However, every day I show up to class, I become more adamant about objectivity.

Objectivity is the goal of science. It strives to devise the best guess it can come up with, even if it is originally wrong. Many theories throughout the history of science have been wrong; lightning used to be caused by gods, and now we know better. The world used to be flat, the sun used to revolve around the Earth, and time used to be non-relativistic.

I currently read another blog, lesswrong , which is written by a rationalist Eliezer Yudkowsky, a founder of the Singularity Institute in California ( "Singularity Institute" ). This blog is all about rationality; taking your current knowledge inputs and making the most logical decision based on those inputs. There is actually a formula known as Bayes' Theorem from which much of this is derived from, which takes place primarily in the format of probabilities. But mathematics need not be present in this discussion.

I'd like to direct the reader towards a particular blog entry of Eliezer's titled "Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions", regarding the continuation of developing scientific insight:
MysteriousAnswers

This post reminds the reader about phlogiston and elan vital. These are concepts which used to describe fire and muscle movement within a living organism.

When these theories were popularly accepted, the scientific community was under the impression that when a log was burned, the reasoning behind its loss of mass was that a substance known as phlogiston was present in everything, and it was what was lost when something combusted. A similar explanation was devised for why life could move the way it did: elan vital.

But these answers really didn't answer much; saying fire burned "because of phlogiston" is equivalent to saying that fire burned "because of something". There was no reasoning behind phlogiston, other than that is served as an explanation. Elan vital was devised in a similar way; these both "answered" the questions, but created new questions in their place: what is phlogiston?

What I'm getting at, is that there seems to always be a more complicated explanation, and that theories should always be open to revision, because they could always be wrong. If these questions had not been objectively questioned, then we'd still be where we are today in terms of understanding fire.

Theories must always be under continuous revision, because it's frequently the case that somebody will see something that others don't. Nothing can be Truth, the closest we can get is truth.

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