terça-feira, 20 de janeiro de 2015

A case in point: the popular Facebook page “I f*cking love science” posts quick-take variations on the “science of x” theme, mostly images and short descriptions of unfamiliar creatures like the pink fairy armadillo, or illustrated birthday wishes to famous scientists like Stephen Hawking. But as the science fiction writer John Skylar rightly insisted in a fiery takedown of the practice last year, most people don’t f*cking love science, they f*cking love photography—pretty images of fairy armadillos and renowned physicists. The pleasure derived from these pictures obviates the public’s need to understand how science actually gets done—slowly and methodically, with little acknowledgement and modest pay in unseen laboratories and research facilities.
 The rhetoric of science has consequences. Things that have no particular relation to scientific practice must increasingly frame their work in scientific terms to earn any attention or support. The sociology of Internet use suddenly transformed into “web science.” Long accepted practices of statistical analysis have become “data science.” Thanks to shifting educational and research funding priorities, anything that can’t claim that it is a member of a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field will be left out in the cold. Unfortunately, the rhetoric of science offers the most tactical response to such new challenges. Unless humanists reframe their work as “literary science,” they risk getting marginalized, defunded and forgotten.
When you’re selling ideas, you have to sell the ideas that will sell. But in a secular age in which the abstraction of “science” risks replacing all other abstractions, a watered-down, bland, homogeneous version of science is all that will remain if the rhetoric of science is allowed to prosper. 
We need not choose between God and man, science and philosophy, interpretation and evidence. But ironically, in its quest to prove itself as the supreme form of secular knowledge, science has inadvertently elevated itself into a theology. Science is not a practice so much as it is an ideology. We don’t need to destroy science in order to bring it down to earth. But we do need to bring it down to earth again, and the first step in doing so is to abandon the rhetoric of science that has become its most popular devotional practice.

terça-feira, 13 de janeiro de 2015

There are many strange coincidences in our world. The mass of the electron is 2000 times smaller than the mass of the proton. Why? The only known reason is that if it would change few times, life as we know it would be impossible. The masses of the proton and neutron almost coincide. Why? If one of their masses would change just a little, life as we know it would be impossible. The energy of empty space in our part of the universe is not zero, but a tiny number, more than a hundred orders of magnitude below the naive theoretical expectations. Why? The only known explanation is that we would be unable to live in the world with a much larger energy of vacuum.
The relation between our properties and the properties of the world is called the anthropic principle. But if the universe were given to us in one copy, this relation would not help. We would need to speculate about the divine cause making the universe custom built for humans. Meanwhile, in the multiverse consisting of many different parts with different properties, the correlation between our properties and the properties of the part of the world where we can live makes perfect sense.
Can we return back to the old picture of a single universe? Possibly, but in order to do it, three conditions should be met: One should invent a better cosmological theory, one should invent a better theory of fundamental interactions, and one should propose an alternative explanation for the miraculous coincidences which we just discussed.