Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Most scientists don't do experiments - but all inventors do

What scientists do experiments ?

I am not being facetious - what sort of scientists do and what sort do not do experiments ?

Because it is usually argued - inaccurately - that being a scientist requires experiments - 'vexing nature to uncover her secrets'.

But heaven help the TV weather lady who solely conducts lab experiments to divine tomorrow's weather.

Astronomy, cosmology, geology ,mathematics on and on - acute observation and trial and error thinking often serves in place of formal physical experiments of the sort we are all tortured with in high school science.

But inventors - those humble chaps and ladies never ever considered to be even amateur scientists - now they do formal experiments - night and day.

Supposedly, doing reductionist experiments separated the real scientist from the older 'outdated' Natural History* tradition of simple acute and prolonged observations of complex chaotic Nature in all her mass and over greatly varying circumstances.

That was now to be left to simple country clergymen occupying their days between sermons, christenings and funerals.

However, no matter how expensive, expeditions to extract ice core samples a mile down in the Greenland ice cap are not conducting experiments anymore than the billions we have spent on space research that simply consists of observing Venus close up.

Massively expensive radio telescopes and massively expensive electron microscopes are still just observing Nature at its biggest and at its smallest - are not experiments.

But pushing sub atomic particles together at high speeds to see what happens is an experiment - and a highly expensive and highly visible one at that.

In reality, doing formal physical experiments is just the tip of a philosophical iceberg.

Believing a few quick simple reductionist experiments will give us a more accurate view of Nature that a prolonged acute observation of her in mass and in varying circumstances assumes - without having the courage to come out and say so - that reality isn't really that complex and chaotic as it seems , on the surface.

Instead, it is all - all - just based on a few simple mechanical motions of a few small objects - amplified unbrokenly ever upward in larger and larger collectivities of these small objects.

Successes for this kind of thinking have been much fewer than usually imagined - most of the real world objects we use everyday were invented or discovered far in advance of the reductionist theories that explain why they work.

One thinks of virtually all of the wonders of our electronic world proceeding their accurate scientific explanation.

So let us not blind ourselves to the enormous amount of useful close examination of Nature that still goes on under the guise of science or engineering or inventing - even in the 21st century ....

* Needlessly I do no subscribe to the extremely limited notion of Nature/Natural History as consisting only of living plants and animals and so does not include the physical world or humanity.

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