I am a Scientist

I am a scientist.  Now that’s hard to explain since I don’t have a Ph.D. in a scientific discipline and work doing science experiments.

When most people say they are something, they are referring to a religion.  I’m not religious.  I’m an atheist, but I don’t like of thinking of myself in terms of what I’m not.  I am a person that believes science is the best cognitive system for explaining reality.  Period.  I’m not sure if there are any other contenders.  I’ve written off religion, so what is there?  Philosophy and art?  Scientists used to be called natural philosophers because they studied nature.  It wasn’t until the 1800s that they began to be called scientists.

For years now I’ve been wondering if philosophy had much to contribute towards our knowledge of reality.  I argue about this with my friend Bill who says no, and I defend philosophy with a maybe.  Now The Atlantic has a wonderful article on this very subject, “Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?

People claim they want to know the truth.  As far as I can tell, science is the only system that has any justification for providing the truth, all other intellectual systems fail in comparison to science.  That’s why I say I’m a scientist.  I believe in science.  I put my faith in science.  However, science isn’t a philosophy or religion.  It’s a system for testing reality and developing a consensus about the results.

Currently, I don’t think science can answer all our questions.  Aesthetics and ethics are two such areas outside of the domain of science, at least for now.  Mathematics is the tool of science, and its own discipline.  Mathematics is the only abstract cognitive system that works well with reality, and thus provides a tool to science.

Religion has no relationship with reality.  It’s purely based on abstract ideas, all theoretical.  Many religious people attack science, or refuse to believe or accept what science has learned about reality.  Philosophers try to embrace science and keep their favorite abstractions.  They hope to connect ideal forms with reality, but that is very hard to do.  Justice is a philosophical concept, as well as a religious concept.  People naturally want justice.  It’s a deep seated desire.  But there is no justice in reality.  If a gamma ray burst hits the Earth and life on this planet is sterilized, does that reflect some kind of justice?  The best we can do is create ethics and laws based on what the consensus of the population wants.

Right now philosophy can claim some value in logic, rhetoric, aesthetics and ethics.

There are two kinds of people on this Earth.  Those who recognize reality, and those who live in fantasy.  But even the fantasy believers accept science to a degree.  How can you get on an airplane or go in for brain surgery without accepting science?  Our houses, cars and gadgets are all products of science.  The food we eat exists because of science, as does the medicine we take, the clothes we wear, and most everything else we come into contact with in our daily lives.

Science won a long time ago when it came to explaining reality, it’s just most people haven’t realized it yet.

When it comes to explaining how things work, science is the only legitimate tool we have.

JWH – 4/24/12

3 Responses

  1. Good post Jim. I think philosophy has its’ place if for no other reason than to open up the minds of scientists that would otherwise miss important things in the world/universe. It’s easy for scientists to get lost in physics – at least physicists that I know – and box themselves into close-mindedness, in a manner of speaking. I think we need philosophy to imagine the unimaginable then we turn to physics/math to prove/disprove these ideas/thoughts. I would argue that cosmology is very much philosophical in nature at this point as are other areas of science. Problem solving, cognitive thinking, and abstract thinking…all of these play a role in societal advancement I think. Philosophy is very much part of the process and an important one I think. Hopefully in a couple of years when I finish grad school my thoughts on this will be more concise/coherent. Right now however, based on my limited knowledge, I’m for philosophy all the way. :)

  2. [...] I am a Scientist (jameswharris.wordpress.com) [...]

  3. Found some more info in relation to the Atlantic story above: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2012/04/28/a-universe-from-nothing/#more-8248 Interesting discussions going on around this very subject in many circles. Thanks for such a thought-provoking post Jim.

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