Sunday, July 03, 2016

On Science

"Knowledge for its own sake" - that is the last snare laid by morality: we are thereby completely entangled in morals once more.  - Friedrich Nietzsche 
Today, we say "science for the sake of science," and scoff at science and make fun of the experiments and studies of scientists.   

For  example, every year the Ig Nobel Prizes, a parody of the Nobel Prize, are awarded by the Annals of Improbable Research.  Last year's winners included Elisabeth Oberzaucher and Karl Grammer of the University of Vienna for using mathematical techniques to determine whether and how, during the years 1697 through 1727, Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty, the Sharifian Emperor of Morocco, managed to father 888 children.  A group of researchers from Harvard also received a prize for determining that nearly all mammals, regardless of size, empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds).

People like to laugh at these kinds of things and taken out of context, they can appear funny.  But some like to ridicule science in order to discredit science in general and to promote their own moral, religious, or political views.  

A few years ago, those opposed to abortion, even in the case of rape, came up with the stunningly unscientific concept that rape cannot, or at the least, very, very rarely does, result in pregnancy.  Not only does this opinion ignore all common-sense and scientific understandings of conception, it fails to explain why there are so many light-skinned black people in Alabama, as W. Kamau Bell once asked.  But if that's the view your political or moral position requires you to take, you probably don't want Viennese researchers looking too deeply into the case of Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty, because it seems unlikely that all 888 of those conceptions were consensual.
Curiosity is applied by scientists to all of nature and the universe, and to erect barriers as to what is or isn't deemed appropriate for research is to stifle all of science.  An understanding of one aspect of nature, no matter how obscure or seemingly insignificant, sheds light on every other aspect of nature.

In the book Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World, author Timothy Brook explains  that "When Indra fashioned the world, he made it as a web, and at every knot in the web is tied a pearl. Everything that exists, or has ever existed, every idea that can be thought about, every datum that is true—every dharma, in the language of Indian philosophy—is a pearl in Indra's net. Not only is every pearl tied to every other pearl by virtue of the web on which they hang, but on the surface of every pearl is reflected every other jewel on the net. Everything that exists in Indra's web implies all else that exists."

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