Its disconcerting reading/watching the news from Ukraine. Not just because of the fear of decades of war to come, but the temptation to slide into relativism. Statements and stories from various quarters vary from the vaguely inconsistent to the baldly contradictory. Its tempting to think “well, they are all lying”, or “hmm.. it all depends on your point of view”. You slide down that slope and pretty soon there is no truth. We can’t let that happen. The truth is out there somewhere. Its just hard to extract from the filtered messages. As scientists, our philosophical stance is that we must be personally sceptical; you should not trust authority blindly. That’s all very well but I ain’t going to Kharkiv to make my own observations. I have to trust somebody don’t I? But who? In descending order of reliability, I guess its (1) The Guardian and the BBC (2) Our own governments (3) The Ukrainian government (4) The Russian government (5) My mate Kevin who is usually down the Dog and Ferret on a Friday, and (6) The Daily Mail.
Mind you, some days science is just as hard. I mean research, the process of uncovering new truths. The truth is out there, but its hard work to find. There are no tablets of stone. You’ve been working on something for months, but every so often you wake up in a sweat thinking oh crap it could all be wrong. Suppose X is going on instead of Y? (Radio loops versus inflationary polarisation anyone?) The philosophy of science doesn’t help. Most scientists claim to be Popperians. You can never prove, you can only falsify. All models are provisional. But its such a small step from there to “all truth is provisional”. Somehow we have to cling on to the belief that there IS a definite truth; its just that we can never have it.
A further problem is the same one we get in trying to understand Ukraine: the human filter. We can’t make all our own measurements. We have to read other people’s papers, go to conferences, and so forth. But we are all human; chasing our careers; making our pitch; following fashions; squabbling with rivals. This doesn’t mean we are not sceptical and rational; we are. But the messages are filtered through biology.
Our biology filtering a truth that is out there is essentially the message of much of Eastern mysticism and Buddhism. I have long been fascinated by where mysticism chimes with science, and where it jars. Definitely some of each. I am sitting through a MOOC on Buddhism and Modern Psychology which is quite fun. (Partly of course in mentally preparing myself for my upcoming AstroTech MOOC. Scarily soon. Gulp.) Anyway… Zen holds that at least in principle once the biases and illusions have been stripped, you can actually personally and directly perceive the truth. Satori. Unexcelled Complete Awakening.
Boy. I’d just love a kind of mini-Satori on the structure of quasars.
The truth may be out there but very often it is not on the BBC and the Guardian because those outlets often ignore important developments in Ukraine either because they have limited people on the ground or because they don’t fit the rather simple Russia vs. the West narrative they are pushing. Much better to look at Twitter: https://twitter.com/search?src=typd&q=Ukraine
Sure – Twitter is full of lies as well, but at least more of the story is there.
Dear Mr War – you are right of course – the Beeb and Guardian are less than usually reliable in this case. In cases like this, ideally one would want to survey lost of different information sources, and try to work out what the distorting filter is for each. But most of us don’t have time to do this – including following hundreds of tweets. So this is exactly the problem…
it is an interesting article. what i feel is it is more important to work on the research. the result may later be different. but it is the step that we take. like there is a theory made on dark matter and dimensions. the theory may be wrong but it is small thought that makes a difference.
Hello from Russia, gentlemen. Just bump into this text and I’ve been wondering what do you think now about what’s happenning in Ukraine and how do you feel about Russia (and may be russians) today? Thank you in advance for any meaningful response.