Over at the Nun’s Oath Ale pub, there’s a debate over dinosaurs. Last night a resurgent troll came into a thread about the bailout and started informing everyone that Sarah Palin believes dinosaurs walked with men, and did we want our country in the hands of such a nut? Or did we all believe the same thing?
Repeatedly. When no one bothered to engage him, he proclaimed that we ALL believed dinosaurs walked with men.
Of course, this is just typical ‘net trolling, and weak tea compared to the fire giants that walked Usenet lo those many eons ago.
But I got to thinking about science, as I often do.
Science, as practiced by people today, or rather as believed in by people today, fulfills most of the functions of religion. It isn’t really that you and I believe in science and thus society progresses, it’s that a few very rigorous thinkers apply science brutally in their specific areas and the resultant data can be used for engineering purposes.
I mean, the Greeks had a lot prettier science than we do. The music of the spheres, the four elements (and the fifth) and whatnot. It’s just tough to build an iPod with that.
Science and art actually have a lot in common in this way: Neither matters until someone does something as a result. (Sorry, “pure” scientists and “pure” artists.) Well, neither matters much: An artist can be considered a success for transferring a sort of experience to the viewer–and you could even look at pure science the same way, but with a much, much smaller audience.
But ultimately, the big changes come because science show us that we can create a moving vehicle by applying a force in the direction opposite to the one we want to go, or that communism is A-OK, because art shows us worked out so well for Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton.
However, science requires integrity and, as I mentioned earlier, a sort of brutal application. The aforementioned troll has turned a common belief into dogmatic law, and dogmatic law is the foe of science.
In other words, if tomorrow we discovered human bones alongside of velociraptor bones, with a saddle, and book called “How To Ride Your Velociprator For Dummies”, containing photographs of people riding velociraptors and dated 200 AD, well, science would demand we account for that in some fashion.
Now, you tell me, what archaeologist wants to be the one who says, “Oh, well, huh. It turns out dinosaurs and man may have lived together”? Who wants to be the who says, “Oh, yeah, there’s a city on the floor of the Mediterranean its inhabitants referred to as Atlantis.” The latter would just be a big deal, apparently, because Atlantis has been the subject of much wild speculation and so is now classed with Bigfoot.
You know, who wants to be the guy who says, “Yeah, Troy was a real place”? Or “washing your hands before surgery reduces the chance of post-op infection”?
There is such a thing as having a mind so open your brains fall out. But it’s no less a sin, from the standpoint of science, than having a mind so closed, you reject any conflicting data.
They destroyed Semmelweiss, who from here looks to have been right. They also destroyed Reich, who from here looks to have been wrong. Nowhere in the scientific method will you find a part that says, “Destroy those who disagree with us.”
It doesn’t always turn out this way, particularly as you move toward the harder sciences. A few prominent geologists, for example, rejected the plate theory well into the ’80s and ’90s. As far as I can tell, they weren’t completely ostracized.
But as you move away from the hard sciences and more into pop culture, “science” becomes “not religion” and “statism”, i.e., a way for a new collective to enforce its will on others.
This, of course, has nothing to do with science.