Tonight our little group got into the tangled web of the American public’s seeming dive into scientific illiteracy. I’ll leave names out to protect the innocent and guilty alike. Mostly it’s me that’s guilty because several times I went too far in my going too far. We quickly agreed on the term doomed being limited to a large drop in standard of living and not the extinction of humanity, or why bother with the discussion.
There was lots of discussion of just what scientific literacy consisted in before we could get very far into what it wasn’t. My opinion was and still is (who ever changes an opinion in these discussions?) that science is based on consistently repeatable experiments. I challenged the thought that, “Those who do the same thing over and over and expect the same result, or different ones for that matter, are fools.” Quite the opposite: this is exactly what science is – it is where you do get consistent results even if the results are different from what you hope for. Belief is basing one’s hope on desirable results based on some special relationship with a postulated entity. If I want it to be a certain way and I plead in the proper way then my desires will come to pass. Decent science adapts its theories to the results, by changing the new written description to fit the observed facts. When people believe things to be absolutely true they usually get into trouble because very few things are absolutely true; thus we are better served by having the attitude that things are conditionally true, and then trying to refine the limits to those conditions. That is inherently messy and many, perhaps most, people prefer understandable answers to questions and don’t like to have messy contingent thoughts. We generally believe what our chosen companions believe because it gives a comfortable stability and makes our lives seem more self-controlled and meaningful.
One problem with science is that it doesn’t offer a pleasant way out of our current existence. People don’t like the idea of their personal death being the end of their relationship with the world. This physically testable reality just isn’t enough; there needs to be some meaning beyond what we can perceive with our senses and science doesn’t provide one. 16.8 billion years behind us, and according to astronomers much more time ahead of us, is vastly more time than we can wait for heaven and purpose to be given to us. Vast time and space and no heaven or hell in sight, nothing for the emotions but emptiness. We make our decisions based on emotions and then justify our decisions with rational explanations, but when our science is accurate to 14 decimal points with no warm comfortable home for our consciousness to go to, we can easily feel our existence is meaningless. And so it is easy to reject science and its complicated theories and turn to obvious pat answers and then equally easy to simply deny any alternate explanations. It is easy to just say, “I’m right, you’re wrong, go away and quit bothering me.”
In reference to the inundation of new facts and science, far more than anyone can comprehend, I mentioned the hundred-year-old medical saying, “We know that half of what we learn in medical school is wrong; we just don’t know which half.” Modern science and all the rest of modern knowledge is overwhelming, and scientists tend to seek the tiny flaws in other scientists’ theories and amplify those wrinkles as much as possible, to the point where the public sees nothing in science but doubt and contention. The media, in an effort to gain viewership, emphasizes the controversies, and it is easy to see why most people just tune it out and instead listen to someone who seems to know what they are talking about and offers a positive hope for the future. It is easy to make claims that appeal to people’s desperate hopes because people want their lives to be meaningful and to have a purpose beyond their momentary goals.
Our lives are meaningful to the extent we participate in the social dance we are immersed within, and they are meaningless to the extent we are successful in shutting out our fellow humans.