Thursday, January 29, 2015

Why Scientists Cannot Replace Philosophers

(Perspectives of a philosopher-poet)
Scientists are noted for their persistent attempt to arrive at correct conclusions about ‘nature’. For every drive towards being correct there is an equal and opposite anxiety about going wrong. The scientist would like to understand the universe thoroughly and state precisely in a manner that would be consistent with the implications and consequences which affect species at large. If you try to question the theoretical assumptions of the scientist you tend to find a trail of thought embarking on the speculative. You suddenly see that the basis of the scientific versions of ‘truth’ is determined unusually by what works. If you see it, it is not enough. If you understand what you see it is not enough either. If you predict the behaviour of what you see and if the prediction is met successfully you are half way done, but you are a scientist all the same! If you manage to change what you see to suit yourself and those of your kind, you are an inventor or a technologist. 

Invention does not always resonate with a scientist. The scientist may stay content with the understanding that he/she is able to reach about the laws of nature. You may not want to manipulate them to make human ends meet. A scientist depends on instruments to understand the laws of nature. The instruments are in themselves the result of manipulations. In order to understand fundamental laws you look around your environment and arrive at generic conclusions through the frame of reference that binds you. This could be a labyrinth! In order to step out of the frame of reference you would have to defy it. To do so, you would have to understand it in the first place. You try and use the scientific approach to find your way out of the labyrinth. If you follow the trails paved in the labyrinth you could well be on a royal road to a dead end.
The scientist deep down is aware of this. You would have to start ‘somewhere’. Where is this place that you are referring to as ‘somewhere’? Is it anywhere? To what extent can you stake your efforts on man made rigors? Wouldn’t a speculative dimension stop you from working your way to a corner? You find this to be one of the major difficulties with the scientific approach.

In Science, there can be no rules for asking questions. Can doubts have limits? Doubts not only expose the limits of the nature of the subject but also bring to the surface new perspectives opening doors to newer possibilities. While exhibitions on Science are conducted, it would be imperative to highlight the need to raise doubts and point out the absurdity of taboos with regard to questioning. Those who popularize science ought to understand the fact that the examination system in schools deprives students of scientific learning when they fail exams altogether. It is utterly useless for all intellectual and practical purposes to attempt to popularize science when the education system is its real enemy. Empirical science is impossible to pursue without any access to instruments and the necessary infrastructure. 

Speculation exposes the limits of science. The focus cannot be narrowed down arbitrarily towards accomplishing a task for convenience. Speculation is the devil’s drug as far as pragmatism goes. Philosophy is unhindered by speculation which functions as the agent of intellectual intoxication. In philosophy, all you need are thought, books and experience. Denial is an obstacle in science which philosophy is insulated from. Philosophy can be pursued as a study outside the university settings as well. Philosophic investigation can be used to generate interest in science through witty narrations and presentations. In Alice and the Wonderland (Lewis Carroll) the reader comes across a remark, “I see nothing there.” How is it possible to see nothing? Although this appears as nonsensical to the prosaic nature of common sense, it raises a pertinent question. Can nothingness be defined? 

Philosophic approach extends beyond the rigorous barriers that limit the scope of science. It is said that you discover truth, you do not invent it. It is correct as far as language is concerned because when you invent truth, it is not discovery. The word ‘discovery’ implies that the truth in question was always there but it was discovered by someone or something later in time. In fact in an argument between two people, one participant questions the other. The reply was rejected because the former accused the latter for ‘inventing reasons’. There is indefinite scope for being original. Originality and innovation go hand in hand. Scientific rigors when adhered to dogmatically impede original thinking. Scientific discoveries and breakthroughs are lost as they appear as loose associations confined to the space of fiction when in fact they have the potential to transform banal existence that has hitherto curbed progress and refinement in thought with equal measure. This is where philosophy comes to the rescue. The limits of artificial rigors can be exposed by the philosopher as it strikes a man over the superstructure more than anybody else. The vocabulary of stale rigors is inadequate to communicate novel insights. Please reconstruct the glass!

You need both the thinker and the executor. It is rare to find a thinker. A thinker struggles to execute because the space of thought implies significant investment of time which implementation cannot afford. The executor cannot afford this and his/her dexterity comes in handy while implementing. It is practically impossible to find an executor with some potential for original thinking as a result of the time consuming nature of implementation. The philosopher, as a result of not being stifled by instruments, naturally can make a better thinker. Implementation often is not the philosopher’s cup of tea but to get the sword out of the stone, you need the mind of the thinker and the hands of the doer.
Every scientist has a philosopher in him/her. Without the dimension of thought what can the scientists hope to find? No questions can be raised. Without asking questions you cannot get answers. The philosopher and the scientist share the same curiosity. This curiosity inspires scientific advancement.
Science as history has it is the extension of philosophy. At the time when Sir Isaac Newton pursued studies, Physics was referred to as ‘Natural Philosophy’. Instruments that are available to us are enablers. They are hopeless substitutes for human thought and imagination. Retaining the essence of what Sir Isaac Newton once said: If a scientist has discovered significant truths, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants. 
Science begins in philosophy and ends in philosophy.

Published in IIT Newsletter(Journeys)
-        Ajay Seshadri


No comments: