Thinking About Science:
Evolving Stories

Paul Grobstein
January 28 2005
Science in Society
Brown Bag Discussion

Traditionally ...

Evolving ...

More on "the evolving"

Science is a recursive, unending process of telling and revising stories to get them "less wrong". Being "wrong" and expecting to be "wrong" are essential elements of the process, to be valued rather than feared.

Science is not, cannot be about "Truth" ("real" or otherwise). It is about summarizing observations ("telling stories") and remaining skeptical about the future legitimacy of those summaries/stories. The quality of stories, in science, is measured by the degree to which they motivate new observations and new stories. The summaries/stories can be, and frequently are, useful for other purposes but should, for these purposes, always be understood as provisional and subject to change in the future.

The significance and effectiveness of scientific stories derives not only from their rootedness in observations and the skeptical posture with which stories about these are elaborated but also from their public and social character, including their ability to motivate new observations and stories (the "crack" is an asset, a feature rather than a bug).

Science is not, cannot be "Objective" in the sense of eliminating all possibility that either observations or stories are "perspective free" (hence achieving a "view from nowhere"). Through the open sharing of both observations and stories, science can, does (and should) move continually in the direction of a "view from everywhere".

Scientific stories are valuable for the observations they summarize that one might not have made oneself, for the ways of thinking about things that might not have occurred to one on one's own, and for the new questions they raise that one might not have thought of alone.

Contrasting Presumptions/Implications

"Traditional updated""less wrong"?
Science does not represent Truth at any given time but there is a reality out there to be described and science is asympototically approaching a description of it by a recursive process of observation, hypothesis generation, and new observation. Science is a part of a larger, older, and continuing exploration of possible forms of matter and energy by the universe as a whole. It proceeds by creating effective summaries of observations to date that in turn motivate new observations that may invalidate the current summaries and require their replacement with new ones. The summaries may in turn alter the thing being explored. For this reason, among others (the past is NOT predictive of the future; there are always multiple adequate summaries with differing likely futures), it remains uncertain whether there is any asymptotic character to science. It is progressive only in the sense that summaries are of increasingly greater bodies of observations.
The "crack" is a bugThe "crack" is a feature
Science is a specialized activity, requiring special training to make sgnificant contributions; at a minimum one has to know what the current understanding is and work from there. Only observations made under special conditions, and only summaries based on those observations, are relevant Science is a common human activity to which everyone can contribute. All observations and summaries (stories) are potentially relevant.
The goal is the perspectiveless ("objective") "view from nowhere". The goal (always receding) is the "view from everywhere", making "subjectivity" not only admissable but importantly generative and probably even necessary.
Skepticism is essential for asymptotic movementSkepticism is essential for continuing exploration.
Audience as observer/consumerAudience as participant

Asymptoting
Contracting

Evolving
Expanding

Some references




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