Every experiment has significance, even the inconclusive ones. When a team of smartguys at M.I.T. completes a study with inconclusive results, it reaches the ineluctable conclusion that another study is needed and immediately sets to work on it. This testing can, will, and does continue until significant findings have been produced — er, that is — discovered.
Once significant results appear, the doctors conducting the study become proponents of it and publish these discoveries in remarkably well-respected journals. These paperback journals are written in tedious, turgid English that is too obscure for the public to read, and have an average cover price of thirty American dollars, ensuring that the general populace gets no chance to join the conversation until it is Mickey Moused by Time Magazine and sold as an impulse buy at the grocery counter.
Hey, whatever. At least mom’s getting in some string theory.
As in all things in this universe, the idea proposed in this new study begets its equal and opposite, a second study which exists to provide an alternate scientific belief for anyone and anything negatively implicated in the first.
The satisfying thing about science is that it loves conflict.
Scientific prejudices appear out of this conflict, and because they are prejudices of science itself, the public presumes them factual. From the broadest perspective, however, science walks in the well-trod footpaths of religion and theosophy.
When science decides that a certain quantum particle does not exist based on its failure to appear in tests, science is as faith-based as the creation myth of Genesis. Science and religion have traditionally been rancorous archenemies, but this is a misunderstanding which, if one could get them talking again, could easily fertilize the most affectionate of friendships.
This animosity has been based on little more than a clerical error, anyhow. Note how science and religion interplay in the following.
Once upon a time, in a faraway land called Berkeley, there lived a doctor of physics. This doctor believed in a certain particle he called the God Particle, and hypothesized that it existed everywhere and had an effect on everything else. So the doctor wrote a paper and was granted funding to perform experiments in a very special place with very special equipment, and after three months of rigorous, painstaking trials, the poor doctor was forced to concede that no evidence of his God Particle had surfaced in any tests at all.
To the scientific community, this absence of evidence presents hard, objective proof that Doc’s God Particle does not exist. Even if they add the word “theoretically” to the conclusion (as they do with the theory of gravity, which they still can’t fucking figure out) they still use the test as a quotable citation in papers arguing that the particle is a fantasy of the doctor’s.
To be perfectly clear: in popular science, the absence of evidence can prove that a thing does not exist.
How’s that for self-satisfied conceit? They can’t even plumb the depths of our ocean trenches, but they’ve got E.S.P., telekinesis, astral projection, sixth senses, prescient dreams, and automatic writing all figured out. How? No evidence, that’s how.
Oh. Well, shit.
Now, let’s say that following the most costly failure of his professional career, Doc is forced to return to teaching at a preparatory high school for rich kids, which amazingly enough also happens to inculcate Catholicism. In this private school, Doc is lecturing about the existence of God during a religious studies class, when suddenly a particularly cynical and sarcastic student raises her hand and demands to know how it is that anyone can feel sure that God (big G) exists at all.
Well, this is the question for which the course entire exists, and so the doctor puffs up with dignity and conviction, and with great certainty informs his students that in all the centuries and centuries of assiduous scientific research, and of all the brilliant, most well-respected minds throughout history, not a single person has been able to prove that God does not exist.
To elucidate: in matters of religion, the absence of evidence to the contrary can prove that a thing does exist.
— And though science and religion may fixate on the same piece of evidence (that nothing has appeared in tests, in this case) they both exit these experiments feeling assured that their hypotheses have been logically supported, because objective reason has its roots in language, and language happens to have more than enough elasticity to correctly describe a single concept with two definitions, each the perfect opposite of the other.
As violent and arbitrary as this arrangement may seem, the truth is: the common person likes it fine. In fact, practically everyone hates unchallenged assertions, even the people making the assertions, themselves. Something about our nature causes us to see polar opposites in everything, and something about our minds causes us to invent contrary concepts for every conceivable idea.
It is this facet of the human personality which affords us such colorful figures as the venerable Flat Earth Society, which still maintains that the globe is flat; the irreproachable Tychonian Society, which avers that the sun orbits the earth; and one mad Dutchman at the University of Amsterdam, Erik Verlinde, who asseverates that gravity is, in fact, fictitious.
If the ever-patient and magnanimous reader finds the Flat Earth Society amusing, then the reader is hereby urged to consider that most contemporary physicists believe Dr. Verlinde’s theory to have very convincing implications, and that gravity is merely the effect of a universe maximizing its entropy, or disorder. The concept of gravity as a universal power will probably not exist for our children.
Q: If gravity, of all things, really is a red herring, then how incredible and fantastic are groups like the Flat Earthers and Tychonians, really?
A: Every bit as credible as a science journal, just as veracious as a leading theoretician, and equally as trustworthy as the supposed date and time of the reader’s birth.
Lo, and behold the clerical error of which I spake: if science and religion could leave the protection of their podiums for a second, they might each glean a mutual respect for the irascible plight of the other, which is that they are both sadly, obviously, and pathetically full of shit. Not one or the other. Both.
Yes indeed, we like the results of our experiments best when they are disputed. Should science publish a study which shows conclusive evidence on any topic at all, another science immediately sets out to prove the opposite. The people of the world want every perspective sullied and watered-down, pushed and contested until a ninety-nine percent probability has its back against the fifty-fifty wall, precisely where we want it.
We want it balanced just so, because we like to choose sides as if they were baseball teams.
— And once we arbitrarily pick a team, we commence to argue, and bitch, and dispute for it as though our evidence were, after all, indisputable.
Evidence is stupid, anyhow. It’s usually statistical, which as anyone can tell you is the most insidious form of prevarication. For some reason, intelligent people appeal to the authority of statistics all the time and require the same of others, which is doubly asinine, as these egghead hotshots know full-well that appealing to any authority is a cardinal logical fallacy, and exponentially more so when the authority in question is an invariably inaccurate numeric representation of an actual, physical chain of events, collected from a sample base which even under the most fastidious methods has no chance whatever of accurately representing some other, similar yet different thing at an entirely different point in time.
As the British statesman, Benjamin Disraeli, once said, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Most experiments require a test group and a control group, too, but like gravity and statistics, there’s no such thing as a dependable control group, either. The very act of including it in a study changes its natural state.
An excellent example of this occurs in quantum mechanics, in which certain particles exist only in patterns of probability — that is to say, they are probably there, or probably not-there, never certainly so — and these patterns of probability change according to which researcher happens to be recording the data.
If one supposes that fifty scientists conduct the same study, their findings will generally have an acceptable margin of error, each doctor achieving his or her own individual result. The only difference between this margin and a larger one is that we declare the former admissible and the latter inadmissible. Experiments cannot gauge truth in objective reality any more than a preacher can divulge so-called Ultimate Truth (big U, big T) from a holy text.
Humanity finds evidence-for, and evidence-against, and ultimately judges its (supposedly) objective reality with the subjective whimsy of an adolescent girl deciding between prom dresses.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what the world calls evaluation by evidence.
So all evidence is meaningless, then? All results, experiments, and hypotheses, nothing but evaporated time and energy?
Not at all. Just because there’s no such thing as True (big T) objectivity doesn’t mean one can’t create it for oneself or support it for others. We arrive at many, many decisions on a regular basis which matter to hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, and we put our faith in evidences in order to do so. Truth is easy to arrive at in a box.
One has merely to define the box.
Contrary to an extremely annoying popular belief, though, there is no such thing as thinking outside the box, because from the broadest perspective nothing makes any sense. Logic only happens within defined parameters. One can exit one set of rules and enter another, more comprehensive set, but there’s always another box containing all the smaller sets to prove that they are infinitely short-sighted and presumptuous.
The important thing is to remember that we’re basing it all on faith. Nobody knows what’s really going on. The passionate stupidity of thousands of sheep in innumerable American religious flocks has allowed science license for abject arrogance. The truth is, though, any honest scientist will tell you that science has no positive idea about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.
That’s the slippery thing about Ultimate Truth (big U, big T). It’s only true if it does not conflict with the properties of the universe — and the universe is in constant flux. In fact, the only known absolute constant is the transitory nature of everything. This means that even should an Ultimate Truth surface, it could only be ultimately true for an instant before becoming outmoded to newer, emergent properties of existence.
Mr. Jesus may very well have been the way, truth, and life once (or maybe is due up in a few more centuries) but neither he nor anybody nor anything else can be a static ultimate truth in an anti-static reality. A more likely solution is that universal truth changes for each individual thinker, so that one’s universal truth may indeed be found in Biblical scripture at a certain age — and this is boxed-up objective truth, no less true than death or taxes — but neither before nor afterward.
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (I Cor. 13:11).
Yeah, that’s right. I can quote scripture. It isn’t blasphemy when it’s true.
So perhaps we all have some real thinking to do, eh? Perhaps it’s time to grow up.
Where does one stow an outgrown worldview? Under the bed, next to the Tinker Toys and Legos, obviously. Right where it belongs.
With glasnost and much cheek I remain,
P.S. — Nowhere in this piece will the magnanimous reader find the word, “ontology.”