SCIENCE THRIVES ON DOUBT

Seeking The Unknown

“If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research.”

~ Aubrey De Grey, English author and biomedical gerontologist

“Science is the study of the nature and behavior of natural things and the knowledge that we obtain about them,” Dictionary. The fact that science is a study, means that science is not the truth, only the possessor of current truth. This is why what we know for sure is what gets us in trouble. “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t so,” Mark Twain. This famous quote explains it. What you don’t know is not as bad as what you know for sure that ain’t so. (This is why I have constantly been promoting positive uncertainty). Be careful of what you know for sure; it may not be so. The problem with current reality is that what was once so may no longer be so. Reality may no longer be what it used to be. A sense of uncertainty is a way to avoid knowing something for sure that ain’t so. 

This is the virtue of doubt. Doubt, uncertainty and open-mindedness lead to questions and being receptive to new ideas and information. Being sure you possess the truth leads to closed-mindedness, which is unreceptive and has nowhere to go. Closed-mindedness, to me, has no place in public or political discourse.  

Maybe we should start a public or political discussion (or even a debate) about the virtues of doubt and open-mindedness and the dangers of closed-mindedness. Which is the best truth detector? Or better yet, I am repeating, from earlier blogs Ernest Hemingway’s famous 1954 quote: “every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside him. It also should have a manual drill and a crank handle in case the machine breaks down.” Someone should invent a built-in automatic “fact detector” for public and political discourse.

Doubt isn’t a four letter word; but it is unpopular. Certainty feels good; uncertainty feels uncomfortable. But remember, certainty is what gets us in trouble. Be careful what you know for sure. Doubting prevents knowing for sure what isn’t so.

This scientific search for truth is what is called research: “the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions,” Dictionary. I doubt if many of our beliefs are based on systematic investigation. Most of our believing/thinking is not scientific. 

Doubt is the condition of being uncertain. I have been promoting positive uncertainty. Being trustful about doubting is a prerequisite of positive uncertainty.  

“Science is the poetry of reality.”

~ Unknown

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