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Is science comforting?

  1. Aug 14, 2006 #1
    Is science "comforting?"

    I was watching a PBS special called "Walking the Bible," about a writer who journeys across the Middle East, visiting the locations where each of the Bible stories are said to have happened in the order they are told. At one point he says he is frustrated with the reasons why he chose to do this in the first place, exasperated that he wasn't getting a lot of scientific answers. He resolves that he must leave behind the "comforts of science" and instead explore the people and cultures who keep the stories of the Bible alive in these locations.

    I don't know about the rest of you, but I don't find science very comforting. On the contrary, I find it cold and impersonal. Specimens and laboratories don't exactly have the same feeling as a warm blanket with some pillows. Everywhere in science there are problems we can't seem to figure out, at least not yet, and we can't guarantee ourselves that we will ever be able to solve them. Everything in science is provisional. What we think is true today may not be tomorrow, or it may be partly true tomorrow. Pillows and blankets don't have to be provisional, though.

    I mean, just having them around makes me... kind of sl... :zzz:
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 14, 2006 #2


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    I don't know... don't you ever find comfort in the idea that no matter how many times you drop a hammer, physics tells us that the hammer won't fly back at your face and knock you out? That no matter how many times you start your car engine, it won't start a nuclear explosion that will whipe out the town?

    I guess what i'm trying to say is that there is a certain comfort in knowing that at the practical levels, we know how the world around us works and theres no real surprises lurking around the corners. We don't have to be worried that catostrophic disasters are going to occur out of thin air.
  4. Aug 14, 2006 #3
    Everytime I go to the doctor I'm amazed at how many small things the human body consists of.
    Everytime the doc tells me what the problem is, it just doesn't feel like me at all, in fact it feels almost like another world.
    I ask myself, do I really consist of all these small parts? Is this what the world is?
    And it just feels very weird.

    And in that regard, science doesn't seem very comforting, but at the same time it does.
    I think about how amazing everything is, how everything works together, how perfect it is.
    What I think the writer on the show meant in your example, was that science is looked upon as more definite.
    It's looked upon as a bunch of facts.

    There is comfort in that because then we know how something works, it's not mysterious anymore.. We fear what we do not know right?

    On a personal note I do feel that we should incorporate more science into our daily lives, I feel everyone should learn how stuff works, so there's less ignorance.
    When that happens we may grow into it to not be as impersonal, ya know?
  5. Aug 14, 2006 #4


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    One of the great lessons young people can take from good science fiction is that "The Universe doesn't care". There is no Personality out there who is either well or badly disposed to you or who requires you to jump through hoops to earn its approval. This is refreshing; to pass from the "Sun is a god who gets up in the morning, runs across the sky, and goes to bed each night" to "the beautiful little blue marble, Earth my home, moves through the bg black universe according to fixed laws" is enlarging to the heart. Lucretius had all of this in his poem, back in Roman imes, and Democratus the Greek was befire him. No gods, just atoms and the void.
  6. Aug 14, 2006 #5
    Since our school days we are taught science as a 'religion'/pseudosciece in terms we are just given facts and/or required to quickly learn equations in to which plug-and solve can be applied with little scientific reasoning only with intermediate math skills. Religion is also though this way as authoritative, however, there is the philosophy part to it, which is subjective to individual interpretation that gives it that personal 'feel'.

    Another downplaying and should-be-fought-against abuse and rape of science is commercials (tooth brush, etc) and authority-of-scientific-confirmation seeking presentations on TV.

    Many other factors which are not inherent to SCIENCE but rather product of how science is presented and taught to ppl create 1) misconceptions about facts, and about science itself and 2) put science as mere body of facts which are ever-changing and to be memorized, hence, the feel that its impersonal/boring!

    On the contrary SCIENCE is not the facts, the results that are put together. SCIENCE is way of THINKING!!!!!! Science is very potent source of spirituality, sense of wonder, and philosophy. Just look how much threads in physics forums are about the most basic mechanics. How little we know even if we are physics student. Correct thinking has to be taught. And i dont mean to teach what to think (thats what we already do), i mean to teach how to think with corrective feedback incorporated into the thinking process itself. How to accept and not be scared of errors in thinking in science since from what else can we learn other than from our own errors. If we are required to be errorless in science classes, no wonder there is no learning of thinking.

    So the statement everything in science is provisional i do not agree with. Thinking is not provisional. Certain facts found are not provisional. Ppl should be thought science proper way to get appreciation for it and to see that how much of a service it can do for us (and i dont mean just the DVD player in the living room). If ppl knew what is regression, what is representative/vs un-representative data, what is random sequence and what is not, what are most common logic fallacies and what is context and other tools it would be a more understanding world.

    "There is no wealth as knowledge and not poverty as ignorance" (imam Ali, ibn Talib"). I cannot see how acquiring of wealth can be not-comforting and boring. Nay, what more, to do great science one has to have great imagination and vision.
  7. Aug 14, 2006 #6
    Not if it's dropped on a trampoline. It's happened before!

    Sure it will, if the ignition is linked to a nuclear device. I thought you knew physics. o:)

    I understand mechanics, but last night I accidentally knocked over a glass of lemonade and spilled it all over the carpet in terrific fashion. Thank you, laws of mechanics! You're there when I need you and when I don't. And thank you chemistry for making things sticky. :smile:
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2006
  8. Aug 14, 2006 #7
    But is that way of thinking always comfortable? Do you apply it to your human relationships? Do you apply it when you're relaxing in a hot tub? Or when you're being comforted some other way?
  9. Aug 14, 2006 #8
    To Mickey:
    The comfort (for the individual scientist) in science comes from the "process" of seeking new knowledge, and sometimes (rarely) the realization that this new knowledge predicts a fundamental aspect of reality. The comfort that you gain from science is your blanket and pillow, thanks to a long line of scientists and engineers that derived comfort from their inventions. There can be great philosophic comfort from doing science--as we read here:"...There is grandeur in this view of life...that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed laws of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved". C. Darwin, 1859.
  10. Aug 15, 2006 #9
    There is time for being vigilant during the day and there is time for entertainment to relax and 're-charge' the brain. They are two states that rarely overlap and there is no need to make it so.

    I do not see why would anyone use the part of brain when relaxed in hot tub during the time when 'scientific' thinking is needed and vice versa.

    So to answer to you: Yes that way of thinking is always comfortable when its needed.

    Humans have emotional and analytic capabilities. There is no need to rigidly get rid of the other by imposing superiority of any of them over the other. The problem arises when trying to use the analytical one and not knowing HOW TO! and/or replacing it with the emotional one all together.
  11. Aug 23, 2006 #10


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    Well, I didn't see the special, but what I'm getting from the above description is that science provides a clear set of guidelines on how to conduct research. When you fail to generate any good findings using those guidelines, you have to leave what is for you the researcher a 'comfort zone' in which you know exactly what to do and how to do it. Cultural anthropology, which sounds like what this writer eventually became intent on doing, has moved away from a strict scientific paradigm in recent decades to become heavily oriented toward perspectival narratives, describing the experience of immersion within a given culture in lieu of any attempt at quantifying that culture.

    I'm not saying that all cultural studies are conducted in this way, but it can be incredibly difficult to provide the type of reproducible observations, if for no other reason than the limitation of human resources, that are normally expected of the hard sciences and even most social sciences, so a method that is becoming increasingly common is simply to write down the stories of the people the researcher lives with, making no judgement on the veridicality of any claims made in or by the narrative. Empirical fact becomes a secondary consideration to simply telling the story, whatever it may be.
  12. Aug 23, 2006 #11


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    I have wrestled with this very question for most of my life, and it's a fascinating one from both humanistic and intellectual perspectives.

    I grew up in the Bible Belt of the United States -- the kind of place where what church do you attend? is as natural a question as what is your name?

    I chose atheism somewhat involtunarity at the age of six, when my Sunday school teacher asked my mother not to bring me back next Sunday. I don't remember the incident, because I was not physically thrown out, but my mother explained to me, years later, what had happened. The teacher was trying to teach the stories of Noah's ark, and, apparently, I asked so many penetrating questions and was so skeptical of her answers that I disrupted her class.

    Later in life, I did ocassionally find myself envious of the people around me who loudly proclaimed how Jesus was always there for them, even during the hardest, loneliest parts of their lives. I didn't believe in Jesus, nor could I really bring myself to pretend such a thing -- it just wasn't in my bones, so to speak. To me, the decision to believe in God was as inscrutable as a conscious decision to prefer Coke over Pepsi. I was simply an unbeliever, and that could not be changed.

    As I grew up, and my studies deepened, I somehow began to find a sense of belonging among the equations and laws and other "cold and impersonal" facets of science. The fact that the number pi simply exists in the universe, and was stumbled upon by mankind, gave me awe. The incredible beauty of calculus, to me, was at least on par with that of the Sistine Chapel. General relativity, with all its clean lines and sleek formulas, was awe-inspring. Looking through a home-made telescope at a galaxy billions of light-years away made my palms sweat.

    I honestly feel that the scientific universe -- the very same cold, hard, and impersonal universe presented in science textbooks -- is at the same time filled with beauty, with poignancy, with splendor and charm.

    It reminds me of one of my favorite poems, The Old Astronomer to His Pupil by Sarah Williams. Specifically, its last line, one of my favorite lines ever written:

    I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

    - Warren
  13. Sep 1, 2006 #12
    I find great comfort in science in that it shows, at least to me. that there is great organization in the universe which supports the design srgument.
    The fact that there are areas of the universe where time and space cease to exist(singularities) shows that the intuitions of the great mystics are on the right track. I find more spirituality in science than I do in religion
  14. Nov 18, 2006 #13
    If you hold science above all others things, then yes, science is a very discomforting source. Science however, is a mere tool, no better or worse than philosophy, (both attempt to explain the universe, the difference being they have a different set of rules). Deifying science will lead to disaster as far as the discomfort factor is concerned. Keeping science in its place is a battle, but its a battle worth fighting.
  15. Nov 23, 2006 #14
    I see no difference between science and the Owner's Manual that came with my DVD player: long, complicated, boring, and something I'd rather ignore unless I can't figure things out by myself.

    Real science is not what you see in the media or even in forums like this. When people talk about physics, for instance, they talk about exciting ideas and amazing possibilities, but that is not physics, that is more like science fiction. Real physics is solving complicated differential equations and performing difficult, expensive experiments that yield very little knowledge about the world or, most of the time, nothing at all.
  16. Nov 23, 2006 #15
    I don't find science comforting at all. It's rather daunting especially in light of all the stuff we don't know.
  17. Nov 23, 2006 #16


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    I think it's comforting that not only have we been able to come so far so fast from mere supine superstition, but we seem to have hit on a cultural method that works for continuing to find out more about ourselves and the world we live in.
  18. Nov 23, 2006 #17


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    Which shows how little you understand of the field.
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