No doubt those who regard quantum physics or Einstein’s relativity or even just trigonometry as an impenetrable thicket of unknowable terms and ideas have a hard time believing science could be easy. The lingo alone seems to create an exclusive “members only” club.
The trick is: easy (or difficult) compared to what? Many scientists now disdain philosophy (apparently forgetting what we now call science was once called natural philosophy). They point to the advances of science in the last 500 (or whatever) years and then say that philosophy hasn’t been nearly as successful in 2000 years.
But that’s because science is easy. It’s philosophy that’s hard!
Indeed, science has proven its effectiveness time and time again. John Kennedy’s famous “not because they are easy” speech — the one that sent us grasping for the moon — was in September of 1962.
In July of 1969 — less than seven years later — Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made that small step onto the lunar surface. How hard could it have been?
It took at least 10 years (possibly up to 20) to build the Great Pyramid of Giza, and that was just playing with rocks.
The Chinese were shooting off fireworks rockets in the seventh century. We just built a really big one, strapped three guys to it, and sent it to the moon, Alice. Straight to the moon!
Yes, I jest; getting to the moon wasn’t easy. It took a lot of science and a lot of dedicated people to accomplish. It was a shining achievement!
Science is a process. Fundamentally, it’s the process of looking around, wondering about what you see, and trying to come up with an idea about why you see what you see (and then testing your idea). It’s been called many things by many people. I call it: Observation, Analysis, Synthesis (and Testing).
Some 400 years ago (give or take), Galileo Galilei rolled different sized steel balls down a wooden ramp and timed them using dripping water as a stopwatch. We’ve revered Galileo’s balls ever since.
Today, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN do something that isn’t extraordinarily different. They send little “balls” of matter zipping around and around at very high speed to see what happens when they bang into each other. (So far, no Earth-consuming black holes.)
While the “wooden ramp” at CERN is a a highly sophisticated circular double-tube of ultra-high vacuum 27 km around, and the clocks are astonishingly more precise than Galileo’s dripping water, the difference really is a matter of degree.
Math starts with 1+1=2 and builds on that. The roots of science are as simple as wondering why apples fall out of trees, but the moon just sits up there in the sky. Or why some stars wander around the sky in interesting patterns, but most of them never, ever change.
Science is easy. It starts with, “Huh!” proceeds to “Why?” and then to the idea of, “Maybe because this! (Let’s test it!)” Science involves the world we inhabit every day. It involves what we can measure and test and — ultimately — prove (or at least demonstrate).
Philosophy, on the other hand, is hard. It’s a different kind of science (and it is a science despite its differences).
It does begin with our observation and analysis. And it proceeds to synthesis of theories intended to explain. The kicker comes from two sources:
Firstly, philosophy deals with the abstraction of reality. It asks questions like: “What does it mean to be real? What is knowledge? Can we get from is to ought?” These turn out to be extremely tough questions.
Secondly, there is the matter of testing, of proof. As with mathematics, often the only proof available in philosophy is logic. Worse than math, sometimes the best one can do philosophically is make a coherent — but not necessarily conclusive — argument.
We can make a compelling argument that reality really is real, but there’s no test we can make that demonstrates it beyond all doubt. And we can make compelling arguments for justice or morality, but ultimately they end up being things we made up.
This drives some scientist types to disdain philosophy as unworthy or unnecessary (which I think is a huge mistake). They often point to the unresolved questions of philosophy (which, admittedly, is most of them) compared to all that science “knows.”
Let’s ignore that said knowledge is actually philosophically based in terms of epistemology and per philosopher Karl Popper‘s definition of the process of science (that theories must be falsifiable).
Instead consider that philosophy is a much narrower, but far deeper, examination of reality. In the realm of science, I like to point out that, despite the concept of atoms (indivisible particles) going back to the ancient Greeks (doesn’t everything?), we still don’t know what an electron actually is.
Nor can we reconcile the two most explored, most accurately tested theories in science: Quantum Field Theory and General Relativity. We also don’t understand two things every human experiences every waking moment: time and consciousness.
So maybe scientists shouldn’t be thinking science is all that over philosophy. Both fields have been struggling with fundamental areas of our experience for over two millennia.
Albert Einstein famously wrote: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” I think replacing the word “religion” with “philosophy” keeps faith with the sentiment.
In fact, The Great Al also wrote: “Science without epistemology is — insofar as it is thinkable at all — primitive and muddled.” (Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge.)
In an effort to create shorter posts, I’m going to stop writing now. Besides, there is this bright shiny thing in the sky today. I haven’t seen it in over a week — I think it’s called the “sum” or “son” or something? It’s been so long, I can’t quite remember.
Plus the sky itself is this… color! It reminds me of robin’s eggs or certain cheeses. I don’t care if it’s 19 (point 7) degrees out; I’m going for a walk!