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Can We Trust Science?

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Can We Trust Science?

Our future depends on truth.
Gregg  Braden
Gregg Braden More by this author
Oct 17, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Three hundred years ago, the scientific thinking around Isaac Newton’s laws of physics led us to view the universe, our world, and our bodies as if they were parts of a grand cosmic machine—that is, as huge and small systems that were separate from one another, independent from one another, and replaceable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Charles Darwin proposed that we’re the end product of a 200,000-year journey: survivors of an evolutionary competition who have had to fight for our place on Earth in the past, and must continue to do so today.

Also, the science of the last 100 years or so has led us to believe that technology is the answer to our problems, and that through science we will conquer nature and the threats to our survival.

Each of these ideas is based upon a false belief derived from scientific information that, at the very least, is incomplete. In some cases, it’s just wrong.

Before we can answer the question of who are we, we must honestly consider the truths that we’ve asked science to reveal. In doing so, we quickly discover how the false assumptions of the past have led us into a proverbial rut on the road of discovery, where we are spinning our wheels in our search for the answers to life’s mysteries. Our ability to defuse the crises threatening our lives and our world hinges upon our willingness to accept what science is revealing about our origins and history.

It’s generally accepted that modern science, and the scientific era, began in July 1687. It was then that Isaac Newton published his influential work Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (in English, “The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”) showing the mathematics that describes our everyday world. For more than 200 years, Newton’s observations of nature were the foundation of the scientific field now called classical physics.

Along with the theories of electricity and magnetism from the late 1800s and Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity from the early 1900s, classical physics has been tremendously successful in explaining what we see as the “big things” in the world: the movement of planets and galaxies, apples falling from trees (according to a popular story, Newton discovered the law of gravitation after an apple fell on his head), and so forth. It has served us so well that using classical physics, we have been able to calculate the orbits for our satellites and even put men on the moon.

During the early 1900s, however, new discoveries showed us that there are places in nature where Newton’s laws just don’t seem to work. From the tiny world of particles within an atom, to the way atoms behave during the birth of stars in distant galaxies, some phenomena encountered by scientists simply could not be explained by this traditional brand of physics. The scientific way of answering questions says that if the existing way of thinking cannot explain what we see, then the way we think of the world must be updated to take into account the new observations and discoveries. The result of doing so in the world of physics produced what today is known as quantum physics: the study of the things that happen on a very small scale, dictated by forces underlying our physical world.

From the time that quantum physics appeared on the scientific stage, the great challenge has been to marry the two very different kinds of thinking represented by classical and quantum physics into a single view of the universe and life: a unified theory. So far, it hasn’t happened. While some theorists have managed to solve individual pieces of the puzzle, none has yet solved the whole mystery. Just in the way new cracks seem to show up in a weak dam once existing ones are filled, the emerging theories have answered some questions while opening the doors to new ones—at times in places where no “doors” were even known to exist.

The stark reality is this: It’s been over a century since Max Planck formulated the core principles of quantum theory. After 100 years of the world’s best scientific minds working with the best theories of mathematics and physics, testing the best theories at the most advanced research facilities in the history of the world, it makes perfect sense to expect that by now we would have solved the big problems that plague our scientific worldview. That is, if we are on the right track.

It’s because we haven’t that we must now face the possibility that we may be on the wrong track. 

Is Science on the Wrong Track?

If the basic ideas of how reality works are incomplete, then applying all of the brainpower and technology in the universe to those wrong ideas is not going to yield true answers. Regardless of a century’s worth of teaching, millions of textbooks printed, and entire lifetimes and careers devoted to the theories—and the serious economic investment made to build and operate some of the most sophisticated machines ever devised to test them—if the ideas are wrong to begin with, they’re never going to “get” right by following the same mistaken path that has led to them.

This is the big elephant of a concern that stands in the center of the room at each scientific symposium and conference being held anywhere in the world at present: Are we on the right track? When it comes to our relationship to our world, are we thinking the right way and asking the right questions?

About Author
Gregg  Braden
A New York Times best-selling author and 2015 Templeton Award nominee, Gregg Braden is internationally renowned as a pioneer in bridging scie Continue reading