Monday, July 19, 2010

The End of Science?

I have been reading again "The End of Science" by John Horgan which I find interesting on several levels.

Firstly, whether one agrees or not with its conclusion it puts forward a most provocative hypothesis i.e. that the great era of theoretical scientific discovery is at an end with diminishing returns with respect to further development now to be expected.

Secondly it attempts to cover a wide range of different scientific fields conveying in the process some flavour of the rich developments that have already taken place.

Finally - and most notably - Horgan managed to do an impressive amount of research in interviewing a significant number of the biggest names associated with these fields (at least at the time of writing in the mid 90's). What I like most about his approach is a certain innate scepticism which prevents him from ever appearing unduly awestruck with their strongly held beliefs.

My own approach would be somewhat different to Horgan's and more optimistic that even within the confines of - what is presently accepted as - science, further impressive developments in many fields (theoretical and empirical) can be expected for some time to come.

However in the quest to obtain final definitive answers to life's greatest mysteries e.g. the origin of life, science is in fact straying way beyond present boundaries without seemingly recognising the significant limitations of its present methods.

So in the opinions of many of those interviewed there is much reductionist thinking masquerading as scientific wisdom.

What is more likely is that we are now witnessing the peaking of the golden age with respect to a particular form of science i.e. analytic science geared to quantitative interpretation of reality. However by its very nature such science is not suited to deal with qualitative issues (except in a grossly reduced manner). Likewise it is leading to significant fragmentation with respect to knowledge already accumulated.

It has become increasingly obvious to me over the past 40 years or so that what we now need is a truly massive revolution in the accepted nature of science itself which will allow for the proper inclusion of an equally important - though utterly distinctive - holistic qualitative aspect. And then with gradual development of a more specialised appreciation of the nature of such qualitative science, we will be in a position to unleash its true potential in a comprehensive approach that combines both quantitative and qualitative aspects as equal partners.

So I would say with considerable confidence that we are not witnessing the end of science. Rather we are perhaps witnessing the end of the total domination of just one aspect of science i.e. its analytic quantitative aspect.
However in terms of a truly comprehensive worldview, science is still very much in its early infancy.

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