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Some scientists have a habit of misunderstanding the map-territory relation.  In doing so, they overstate their knowledge base, understate future possibilities, and make themselves susceptible to paradigm shifts.  In short, scientists need to realize that what they’re doing mostly involves expanding and refining existing maps of the universe.  What they’re not doing is defining the universe, and their existing theories, models and ideas are not the universe itself, but rather representations of it.  As such, scientific models are subject to being replaced at any time by superior models.

I once heard a particle physicist, whose livelihood depends on government-sponsored pure research, declare that it would be impossible for ongoing particle research to solve the world-energy problem.  As I can tell, this belief is actually fairly well-accepted amongst particle physicists.  Of course, any public statement to this effect is terrible, terrible marketing by particle physicists.  The pitch made by pure scientists is that their work will lead to future gains that are presently unknowable: “give us funding, and all sorts of good stuff could happen”.  To then turn around and say that a certain type of result is impossible contradicts the claim that we can’t predict which gains will occur.  Let the lay community believe that the research might solve the world-energy problem if that’s what they want to believe; know who’s buttering your bread.

But more importantly, scientists who believe that new research cannot solve the world-energy problem are entirely wrong.  For it to be true requires that existing particle physics theories are the territory, when in fact they’re a map.  Furthermore, scientists know that their best maps are unable to explain certain phenomena within particle physics and cosmology, and that their maps conflicting with each other.  The priority for particle physicists right now is to run experiments that provide new observations of phenomena, which will lead to new theory.  This theory will be built on existing work, but it will also deviate from past theories in order to explain the world better than we currently can.  This deviation opens the door for considerable re-think of existing knowledge, which includes the possibility of discovering new ideas that help address the world-energy problem.

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5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. By The Limits of Science « Contrarian Moderate on 01 Mar 2011 at 12:08 pm

    […] off my earlier post about science and the territory map-relation, consider the […]

  2. […] debates is they seem to implicitly define science as a body of absolutely true knowledge.  This is not my view.  I see scientific models as maps with which to view the world, rather than definitions of the […]

  3. By When Models Collide « Contrarian Moderate on 23 Mar 2011 at 12:15 pm

    […] analogy here is to maps.  If maps could be perfectly accurate, you’d only need one.  But when they’re not […]

  4. […] with my earlier discussion of science, the key missing idea here is that of the map/territory relation.  If scientists and philosophers […]

  5. […] in cases where it is difficult to predict behaviors, but asserting that a behavior is random is to create a map, not to define the territory.  An alternative theory for unpredictable behaviors is that they […]

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