Why Science “Sucks” (Is Damned Inconvenient)
Nice piece from Wired on the sad state of the public perception of science. Though I disagree with the idea that science can’t handle the meaning of life. And heck, spirituality can be as basic as remembering to breathe. Morality and ethics can be derived from reciprocity, ev-psych and the study of human universals, or as Alonzo Fyfe would say, good desires. I think we got it covered, thanks. Now if we could just squirt a few more facts out to those myth-drenched brains…
Morality, spirituality, the meaning of life—science doesn’t handle those issues well at all. But that’s cool. We have art and religion for that stuff. Science also assumes predictable cause and effect in a world that’s a chaotic, bubbling stew of randomness. But that’s OK, too. Our approximations are usually good enough. No, the real reason science sucks is that it makes us look bad. It makes us bit players in the Big Story of the universe, and it exposes some key limitations of the human brain.
Look at it this way: Before science, we humans had dominion over Earth, the center of the universe. Now we’re just a bunch of hairless apes on a wet rock orbiting a minor star in a marginal galaxy.
Even worse, those same cortexes that invented science can’t really embrace it. Science describes the world with numbers (ratio of circumference to diameter: pi) and abstractions (particles! waves! particles!). But our intractable brains evolved on a diet of campfire tales. Fantastical explanations (angry gods hurling lightning bolts) and rare events with dramatic outcomes (saber-toothed tiger attacks) make more of an impact on us than statistical norms. Evolution gave us brains that crave certainty, with irrational fears of crashing in an airplane and a built-in weakness for just-so stories about intelligent design. Meanwhile, the true wonders revealed by the scientific method — species that change into new species over time, continents that float around the planet, a quantum-mechanical world where nothing is for sure — are worse than counterintuitive. To a depressingly large number of us, they’re downright threatening.
In other words, thanks to evolution, half of all Americans don’t believe in evolution. That’s the universe for you: impersonal, uncaring, and ironic.