Mythology of Science

Science has its own mythology. It has no shortage of what are seen as “culture heroes” and “great men of history”. The history of science is frequented turned into simple stories about individuals (e.g. the apple falling on Newtown’s head, Darwins inspiration at the Galapagos). Like all myths this involves distorting history into memorable stories via poetic license and exaggeration. However these stories work as a mythology, showing moral values and building a tradition to bind scientists together.

 

Like all moral traditions, science acts to present its adherence in the best possible light. Scientists view themselves as separate from the corrupt mundane world, working to discover truth to expand human knowledge which in turn benefits all humanity via technological progress. Scientists are put forwards as simultaneously wiser, more innocent and more moral than outsiders whose ideas are misused by the corrupt outside world (e.g. Albert Einstein, Alfred Nobel).

 

Like other mythologies science has its own moral values. Truth is viewed as something sublime that is both terrible and wonderful that must be searched for and accepted using the scientific method. Curiosity is venerated. Optimism is the norm with progress inevitable and all schisms short lived and temporary. By requiring evidence to confirm beliefs science perceives that lies will inevitably be destroyed ensuring the spread of truth.

 

Science can be shown to be similar to religion despite lacking several of the traits required to be a religion (social organization, creed,  belief in supernatural entities). It can shown to possess cultus and arguable possess scripture via recorded history itself. Like numerous religions it has a mystical tradition as can be shown from numerous author, the most popular of which is Carl Sagan. Like other popular religions science has spawned offshoots from its mythology such as transhumanism , the atheist movement as well as the skeptics movements.

 

 

Wikiquotes:

 

“Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding. You cannot subjugate a nation forcibly unless you wipe out every man, woman, and child. Unless you wish to use such drastic measures, you must find a way of settling your disputes without resort to arms.”

  • Albert Einsten From a speech to the New History Society (14 December 1930), reprinted in “Militant Pacifism” in Cosmic Religion (1931). Also found in The New Quotable Einstein by Alice Calaprice, p. 158.

 

“My dynamite will sooner lead to peace than a thousand world conventions. As soon as men will find that in one instant, whole armies can be utterly destroyed, they surely will abide by golden peace.”

  • Alfred Nobel. The Military Quotation Book (2002) by James Charlton, p. 114

 

“Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.”

  • As quoted by Virgil Henshaw in Albert Einstein : Philosopher Scientist (1949) edited by Paul A. Schilpp

 

“‘People keep saying “science doesn’t know everything!’ Well, science knows’ it doesn’t know everything; otherwise it would stop.”

 

“The symbol and the metaphor are as necessary to science as to poetry.”

 

“Fortunately science, like that nature to which it belongs, is neither limited by time nor by space. It belongs to the world, and is of no country and of no age. The more we know, the more we feel our ignorance; the more we feel how much remains unknown; and in philosophy, the sentiment of the Macedonian hero can never apply, — there are always new worlds to conquer.”

  • Sir Humphry Davy, discourse delivered at the Royal Society (30 November 1825)

 

There’s real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality.

 

Our freedom to doubt was born out of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and strong struggle: permit us to question — to doubt — to not be sure. I think that it is important that we do not forget this struggle and thus perhaps lose what we have gained.

  • Richard Feynman, in “The Value of Science,” address to the National Academy of Sciences (Autumn 1955).

 

Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.

  • Richard Feynman, in “What is and What Should be the Role of Scientific Culture in Modern Society”, lecture at the Galileo Symposium in Italy, (1964).

 

Science … commits suicide when it adopts a creed.

 

Some people think that science is just all this technology around, but NO it’s something much deeper than that. Science, scientific thinking, scientific method is for me the only philosophical construct that the human race has developed to determine what is reliably true.

 

Science, at bottom, is really anti-intellectual. It always distrusts pure reason, and demands the production of objective fact.

  • H.L. MenckenMinority Report : H.L. Mencken’s Notebooks 412 (1956).

 

Science is much more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking. This is central to its success. Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don’t conform to our preconceptions. It counsels us to carry alternative hypotheses in our heads and see which ones best match the facts. It urges on us a fine balance between no-holds-barred openness to new ideas, however heretical, and the most rigorous skeptical scrutiny of everything — new ideas and established wisdom. We need wide appreciation of this kind of thinking. It works. It’s an essential tool for a democracy in an age of change. Our task is not just to train more scientists but also to deepen public understanding of science.

 

To the natural philosopher, to whom the whole extent of nature belongs, all the individual branches of science constitute the links of an endless chain, from which not one can be detached without destroying the harmony of the whole.

  • Friedrich Schoedler (1813 – 1884), Treasury of Science. Astronomy. Quotes reported in Hoyt’s New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 691-92.

 

Why does this magnificent applied science which saves work and makes life easier bring us so little happiness? The simple answer runs: Because we have not yet learned to make sensible use of it. In war it serves that we may poison and mutilate each other. In peace it has made our lives hurried and uncertain. Instead of freeing us in great measure from spiritually exhausting labor, it has made men into slaves of machinery, who for the most part complete their monotonous long day’s work with disgust and must continually tremble for their poor rations. … It is not enough that you should understand about applied science in order that your work may increase man’s blessings. Concern for the man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavours; concern for the great unsolved problems of the organization of labor and the distribution of goods in order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.

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One thought on “Mythology of Science

  1. Campbell: functions of mythology – PhiloSophia

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