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lunedì 22 novembre 2010

Science and its methodology

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?"
 This quote from Albert Einstein sums up wonderfully the concrete meaning of the terms "scientific method". And, clearly, this goes in the opposite direction from a religious (or otherwise ideological) conception.
If you really understand what Einstein said, in actual fact, you realise that you can't put a stop to your research -- not only that, but you can't even guide and direct it. Obviously, if you undertake a certain study, you will choose a given path, and you will read certain books and essays, and tend to agree with some of them, and disagree with some others. But if you are really, really intent on learning, on expanding your own knowledge and understanding of the world around you, truly, you can't know in advance where you'll go.
At some level, you don't even know what you are doing -- not in the stupid and narrow meaning of not knowing what is it that you are doing, one step at a time -- but in the broader sense of being unable to figure out the limits of your activities.
What are the borders? What are the limits? Will you find out something that you don't like? Something that contradicts your line of research? Maybe, even your beliefs?
And, if (actually, when) that happens, what will you do?
Try to deny the truths staring at you in the face? Cover them up? Invoke some authority? Find refuge in some sacred texts?
Shouldn't you rather open your mind to the changes? See how much in your previously-held position should be jettisoned as ballast that prevents you from flying higher? Adjust your viewpoints to make them fit reality better?
Is there a danger in this?
Dennett wrote a book called "Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life".
And this is the crucial point: this approach is not dangerous, if you are prepared to have to come to terms with things unpleasant about yourself, your beliefs, the world around you, people around you, and so on. Obviously, that quite a big IF, and not everybody is prepared to handle this.
But you don't run the danger of "your brain falling off your open mind", provided you stick to the basic, crucial components of reality, and maintain an ability to think in a critical/skeptical manner about everything.
For many long years I had been reluctant to put under a severe critical scrutiny my strongest beliefs. Reality compelled me to do this. Facts were clearly stronger than the theories. The theories had to be junked. 
Dangerous? Yes! 
Painful? Oh yes! 
Rewarding? In an intellectual and intellectually ethical sense, priceless!!!

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