What we’ve learned, so far

The first two paragraphs of post number 1 of this blog, in June of 2011, laid out a set of goals for this publication.

“The aim of this blog is to be the home of enquiries of a particular type, those that take something we think we know,  some subject on which there may be a lot of information and many findings, studies, conclusions, questions that seem almost fully answered but still not quite complete, not quite satisfying, a little vague; that perhaps, by employing a different point of view, a different perspective, a new look, may yield different results. As Will Rogers is supposed to have said, (or Mark Twain or Groucho Marx, who knows for sure?) “It ain’t what you don’t know that hurts you, it’s what you know that jes’ ain’t so.”

Our history is full of insights, unique new views of previously accepted ‘knowledge’, or ‘facts’, that after being examined in a new light, turn out to be so obvious that people say, “Why didn’t we see that before?” And as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “How many centers have we fondly found, which proved soon to be circumferential points!””

In his book, Investigations, Stuart Kauffman relates a probably apocryphal, possibly plausible assertion that when the Conquistadores first arrived off the shores of the new world, their galleons were not seen, were invisible to the native populations, because those peoples had never seen any such, had no conceptual basis for what had appeared before their eyes. I have had a similar experience while sailing in these northern waters when suddenly, with no sound, a massive mound, the dorsal form of a gray whale arose out of the water on my port side and just as silently disappeared again, leaving no trace of its passing. “Did I see what I just saw?” I asked myself before the associative regions of my cerebrum kicked in and I knew what I had just seen. A similar thing occurs when one puts on a pair of colored glasses, or polarized sunglasses. Different things in the environment appear, or common impressions are suppressed, letting new images, impressions, enter our consciousness.

In the universe of scientific model building or theorizing the same thing can occur. Replacement of a prior paradigm or model is sometimes generated by new data or experiments, or by the failure of some important element by new information or test result. The accepted scientific method is observe , correlate, postulate, test, accept or reject, but continue testing But sometimes a new theory can arise out of looking at previous observations and test results through new filters, different colored glasses, so to speak, and suddenly seeing the possibility of a new model for the same, old data. I’m not sure if there is a current word for this kind of process, but it happens.

In Cosmosapiens, John Hands’ book on the origins of first, the universe, and then, of sentient life on this part of it, he defines science as:

The attempt to understand and explain natural phenomena by using systematic, preferably measurable, observation or experiment, and apply reason to the knowledge thereby obtained in order to infer testable laws and to make predictions or retrodictions.

He then defines retrodiction as:

A result that has occurred in the past and is deduced or predicted from a later scientific law or theory.

 Hands uses these definitions, for the most part throughout his book, to point out the deficiencies and incompletenesses of currently accepted theories, but offers no replacements or additions that might improve their completeness or consistency with current observations or results. Retrodiction comes close but seems too passive a term to allow for the notion that such a new look at old data or results might lead to actual abandonment of an old model and its replacement with one that more completely covers both the old data and the new observations. Suggestions would be welcome.

Anyhow, as I look back, I sense that this is what I have been led to, in the 5+ years of thinking and writing. In some instances, I have asked the question directly, “Is this something we thought we knew and are only now wondering if we were correct? Do we know enough now to change what we thought? or is there more work to be done? On the other hand, these explorations have led to the notion that a new model actually exists and have laid out, first in sketch form and then more completely in two books a more complete description of that replacement model. So far, I have, in my own mind, successfully abandoned some old terminology that either once or still permeates scientific discourse. Forces have already been replaced by the word interactions, a more general but also more ambiguous description of what hold the parts together. A new word or concept seems necessary. The old concept of cause and effect, as in Newton’s F=MA now seems to apply only here in the zone of middle dimensions. At the submicroscopic level of the beginnings of universes and their continuous growth into complete entities with, in one at least, a working biosystem, “cause and effect” should be replaced with the concept within which structure and rules “enable” the development of order out of chaos rather than “cause” it. Old notions (as in quantum field theory and quantum electrodynamics) with their multiplicity of particles and associated fields, need to be replaced with a simpler, single universal field, turbulent but generative, of what the ancients called “ponderable matter”.

Diligent readers, perhaps even casual ones may have noted that I have also abandoned the term “laws of nature.” This use of “laws” has always seemed to me to carry excessive overtones of intention, perhaps brought over before the enlightenment started the trend away from divine, god-like notions about nature itself. What science has done is to uncover, not laws, but patterns, correspondences, that have led to some, but not all, predictabilities. All of this is because I believe, strongly, that for clarity of communication, a writer must consider not just a simple meaning of a term but also its related, sometimes ambiguous associated meanings in the minds of his readers. This is not all, but represents some of my current thinking. I will continue down this path. I am currently rereading at the suggestion of a friend, the work of Stuart Kauffman of the Santa Fe Institute about the origins of complex systems. Kauffman is exploring complexity in the origins of life here on earth and possibly in other parts of the universe as well, in search of a new “general” biology. Parts of his quest parallel my own, and parts diverge, as in his acceptance of the big bang, but as he says repeatedly, he is not a physicist, so I forgive hime for this deviation.

Thanks to all who read these meditations and observations. I hope they sometimes stir up some new lines of thought.

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About Charles Scurlock

Charles is a recently retired architect/planner and generalist problem-solver with a lifelong interest in science, physics, and cosmology, and the workings of the human mind. He has started this blog in the interest of sharing his ideas with others of like-(or not so like) minds.
This entry was posted in 6 General, 7 What do we know?. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to What we’ve learned, so far

  1. Guy Burneko says:

    Goodonya….Of the various versions of courage we acknowledge, I rate near the very top the willingness to let go of what we thought (we knew, we were, etc.) …. or at least just enough to get out of our own way and maybe out of the way of what SK calls potentia.

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