2.c.13 – What are the limits of science?

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February 28, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti


What are the limits of science?

What are the weaknesses of experimental science? Looking at the first step of this method, namely observation and measurement, we can see how it can only work if we know the right dimension to be measured; how could we explore lightning without knowing quantities as electricity, electric charge and electric field? The physics of electromagnetism has begun to develop only with the introduction of these concepts. If it is not clear what to measure, it is necessary to wait for someone to clarify it and until then we will remain in a stalemate, as it happens with very complex phenomena as biological, in which it is difficult to identify the main causes of the many existing ones. More than real limits, those cited above are some factors of delay as they are generally solved over time.
The product of scientific research is only a mathematical model, idealized and in the best of possibilities simplified, of reality but even this is not a real limit because although it is true that scientific theories are not the perfect truth, we know that the error is small enough so that everything goes as if it were, indeed any simplifications make it easier to make mathematical calculations and models easier to use.
A real limit of the scientific method is that this method is too slow and challenging for the needs of everyday life: the common man cannot use it to interpret the personal experiences, it is a tool for specialists of the study of nature.
Human being therefore continues to produce beliefs in a little rigorous manner, both because it’s in his nature and because it is a still essential activity; science made obsolete many old beliefs by replacing them with its models, but these have been accepted as new superstitions, not according to a new scientific mentality; for example, the astrological model, according to which the stars revolve around the Earth influencing people’s lives on the basis of the date of birth, was disregarded by many in favor of the model of universal gravitation, which states that the stars are moving by inertia or by the force of gravity and have no influence on lives of individuals, but those who have accepted the new model almost always completely ignore the scientific basis which form the foundation of it and therefore do not know why it is better than the previous one.
Also science cannot replace the system of beliefs in human beings since Its purpose is to describe reality, but reality does not interest us much, we know that our mind has other needs than the search for truth, our imaginary world doesn’t have to be true, but functional for meeting the needs dictated by the unconscious like the mental economy, the desire for prestige, for security, conformism, love, etc..; the truth is not always able to meet these needs rooted in our genes and therefore the scientific truths sometimes are refused or modified: remember the attempts to scientifically prove the superiority of white on black race, on the basis of the theory of evolution or on the slight differences of cranial shape. The superstitions are therefore a natural phenomenon deeply rooted in the human being and, like sexual desire, this is a phenomenon that can be managed but not eliminated; nature provides that our personal belief is updated, but to replace a belief with a truth often is not sufficient, the truth is not enough, the replacement must be done with a new model consistent with the scientific model, but also with human psychology, otherwise it will never be an appropriate model.
The foregoing considerations lead us to another limit of science that is the humanity of scientists; as human beings they tend to reject what is uncomfortable, suffer the influence of political or religious ideologies and consequently can make non objective interpretations and judgments about the experimental data; in recent time began to spread rumors on concealment or manipulation of experimental data to favor the economic interests of large pharmaceutical or oil companies: perhaps this is just rumors, but the risk for the future is certainly real as scholars cannot all be immune to corruption.
Speaking of corruption of scientists as a limit is not entirely correct; indeed it is a real danger, a disease that can paralyze one of our most precious resources, the only method available to us that pushes us toward a real progress.
Science is finally a study restricted to natural phenomena and this is a limit intrinsic to its nature; the attempt to apply the experimental method to the laws of economy has produced a large number of failures; this is because the laws of nature do not vary over time while those of the human community do with remarkable speed, being linked to cultural evolution. The experimental method cannot be used profitably to represent some laws that vary in a few years, because even the best models become unusable with the same speed.
It is not excluded that new methods may appear with features similar to the experimental method; we know that the strengths of science are: precise observations, accurate models and continuous improvement; we can find these three characteristics in the qualities management systems that had so much success in Japan since the eighties of the last century; it may be the first step to bring progress beyond the limits of the study of nature.


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