On scientific enthusiasm | Pakistan Today

On scientific enthusiasm

  • And rather charming lies

You would have encountered science enthusiasts who have let their enthusiasm get the better of themselves. This type of a person believes that science, even if it hasn’t answered all questions, is getting there, and will soon do so. ‘We are working on it’ is the standard answer that such an armchair scientist is apt to give to any unanswered question (the ‘we’ here refers to science). In the case of the fundamental questions, this is usually a charming lie, sometimes uttered with the best of intentions. This response always reminds me of the man who fails to keep an appointment, and when asked his whereabouts replies that he is on his way and has just passed Thokar Niaz Beg bridge, when in fact he is clad in pajamas somewhere between bedroom and toilet at his house in Bahria Town.

Don’t get me wrong. I like science as much as the next man – only I believe science deals with but one part of the human experience. And that there are many fundamental questions that are simply outside its domain. And I am not talking about the purely philosophical and/or moral questions either: Why are we here? What is the best course of action for man? etc. Even if we focus on the working of the universe (the subject of science) there are insurmountable difficulties: every time a larger particle accelerator is built, something new is discovered. And even if we have not yet reached the limit there, we are not very far from it. To borrow the phraseology of science enthusiasts themselves: there is no reason to expect that man who lords over this tiny planet of one of the numerous solar systems in one of the numerous galaxies should completely figure out the universe.

So it is that many of the so-called scientific questions too have stubbornly defied any attempt at resolution. Questions regarding the creation ex nihilo of matter (or the beginning of the universe), the start of life in matter, and then the emergence of consciousness in life are fundamental questions that science, to date, has not even taken one step towards answering. Again, this is not to belittle scientific achievements. Much work has been done by scientists studying the evolution in all these fields. Science could, for example, tell us in minute detail what happened in the first fractions of a second after the Big Bang, but there’s absolutely nothing that explains the singularity that is the Big Bang. Similarly, the evolution of life and consciousness as postulated by science, even if taken to be sound, is distinct from the question of emergence of life and consciousness, although many people tend to throw all these things together. So, when somebody retorts to one of these questions by saying that science is working on it, he is either not being truthful or doesn’t know what he is talking about. Till the writing of these lines no reasonable explanation was available regarding any of these questions; and what’s more, it doesn’t look like there’s going to be a big breakthrough any time soon.

So, when somebody retorts to one of these questions by saying that science is working on it, he is either not being truthful or doesn’t know what he is talking about. Till the writing of these lines no reasonable explanation was available regarding any of these questions; and what’s more, it doesn’t look like there’s going to be a big breakthrough any time soon.

How something comes into being, and how it evolves after coming into being are two distinct things. The tendency to think of the first as some sort of a backward extension of the second is an old one. And it’s not science enthusiasts alone who have been prone to this error. Many religious systems and philosophies (Taoism, for example) maintain that opposite and contradictory aspects are present in all things, and that the motion of nature is the movement of something towards its opposite. Rightly or wrongly, they explain the working of the universe that way; not how the universe came into being. But trust some of the more enthusiastic disciples to stretch it in that direction and believe that the dialectic could explain its genesis as well.

Part of the trouble also lies in the fact that so many people confuse science with technology. They see technological miracles all around, and find themselves inclined to believe that because ‘science’ has addressed all our needs from a combined harvester to the photocopier with document stapling features, it would be reasonable to expect it to sooner or later unravel all our mysteries for us too. It’s true that technology has given us all the gadgets that we have needed (and many more that we didn’t need) – a satisfactory ironing machine apart, technology has no doubt given an excellent account of itself – but could the same be said about science? Why is it even a given that human beings have the capacity to figure everything out? There’s a lot of cockiness where there should be humility.

But what’s the harm in trying, some would ask. In fact, they would point out that striving to find answers to elusive questions that are all but impossible to answer is all the more heroic. There’s merit in this response, but ‘We are getting there’ is hardly the expression for it.

Of course, there are those who are very excited about, say, Lawrence Krauss’s explanation of a universe from ‘nothing’ (which has nothing to do with nothing); or the word salads that explain the origin of life from the fabled primordial soup. To think that these are the same people who accuse others of believing in fairy tales!

Hasan Aftab Saeed

The author is a connoisseur of music, literature, and food (but not drinks). He can be reached at www.facebook.com/hasanaftabsaeed

One Comment;

  1. Tariq said:

    Since time immemorial we are desperately looking for answers to fundamental questions pertaining to creation of universe, life and purpose etc etc. Religions tried to answer, it did without evidence: comes the age of philosophy, we got answers of a different kind- a little better as they at least appealed to reason- but suffering the same insufficiency regarding evidence as religion did. However it laid the foundation of science. Science offers explanations of natural phenomenon on the basis of evidence. Anybody having an idea of how science works may not disagree that it is the best way of doing things the humanity has seen so far, until one is inspired by some dogma to oppose it for the sake of that dogma. There may be and should be debate on comparative progress of science and morality but to say that’ technology has given an excellent account of itself but same cannot be said about science confuses me a hell lot. Science and technology are inextricably linked; the latter being only a product of the former. Both have a symbiotic relation also whereby science produces technology while the technology, in return, aid science to explore further and find more answers and produce more useful technologies. The cycle goes on. Science has not only produced technologies, it has answered many of our questions and solved many of our problems ( and created some as well, a science- morality debate). Yes, the fundamental questions are not fully answered as yet but how can we conclude from that science has not been able to do anything about them? There was a time when we did not have the answer to many of the questions the science has answered now. Let’s position ourself at that point in time and state that science has failed to answer those question which it has answered now. Strange, it may seem. Now science is a dynamic thing, it keeps working until it finds the answer. The question of ‘When will it answer?’ demands a deadline which is against the very spirit of science. It is a process and an inquisition which continues till reaches its logical end. Being a believer in science in know it to the conviction that our fundamental questions will also be answered by science, may be tomorrow or may be after a Millennium . What is the hurry confronting us? Science does not claim perfection. If we take the liberty to call it an ideology for the sake of discussion, it would be interesting to note that science is the humblest of all ideologies the mankind has seen and suffered. It is flexible and open; always ready to correct is mistakes and improve upon its inadequacies. However, despite knowing and accepting all the science has accomplished so far, it is amusing that we keep on picking holes and desperately looking for excuses to prove it a failure one way or the other. It is like judging a cricket team in the midst of the match. It’s difficult to say what inspires such thinking? May be some sort of dogma lurking underneath the layers of conscious and subconscious. If that be the case let the dogma answer. It, indeed tries, but nobody is in hurry in the lullaby of fairytales, nor is anyone worried about evidence.

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