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Scientific Currency

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Posted by Benjamin Nelson on January 29, 2001 19:33:26 UTC

"Scientific Currency"

Perhaps we should submit scientific discourse to a more bracing scrutiny, viewing it more as an artful construction than as an excavation of preexisting truth. One of the goals of this alternate way of viewing science is to better understand how the certainty of our material world arises from the randomness of quantum theory, and how an unfeeling universe gave rise to creatures like us.

It is assumed that there is a gold standard backing up the value of our scientific currency: the way the universe really is. Venture far from this straight and narrow and you will be snapped back by reality. And for most scientists this vision of an objective world -- governed by platonic laws of nature existing somehow in a realm beyond everyday space and time -- is a deep though seldom stated hypothesis. In this way, it is the basis of religion.

For example, the seemingly ethereal concept of Information is admitted by some scientists to be a fundamental quantity as palpable and real as matter and energy. In another corner of the laboratory, scientist are struggling with a far more respectable metal edifice called String Theory, in which the confusion of particles that scientists momentarily bring to life in their accelerators can be thought of as different notes played by infinitesimal stings, vibrating in ten dimensions. Is this physics, pure mathematics, or, as some detractors insist, theology.

Perhaps these theorists, like modern-day prophets, attempt to spin webs of ritual and reason, to try to convince themselves that if we don't actually live at the center of creation, at lest we can comprehend it -- that there is reason to believe that the human mind can pierce the universal panoply. To that end, James Clerk Maxwell said, "The only laws of matter are those which our minds must fabricate." I argue that in both science and religion, we seek creation myths, stories that give our lives meaning in a universe into which we never asked to be born.

B. L. Nelson

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