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Thursday, October 11, 2012

The world as I see it

We see the world not with our eyes. We see the world with our prejudices. Two people can watch the same event and later relate very different events. I had this demonstrated in a psychology class I completed to fulfill liberal arts requirements for my engineering degree. I chose introductory psychology because I thought it would be easy, informative and fun. I was right on all three. One day the class was progressing as all the other classes had for over a month, the professor being professorial while talking about chickens pecking on levers which somehow explains the difference between classical and operant conditioning. Suddenly the door slams open and a very excited man runs into the classroom, yells something at the professor, throws an eraser across the room and runs out. Everyone was stunned, first sitting motionless in our chairs, then we started looking around and talking to each other. The professor called order to the room and started collecting statements from students. We were all eye witnesses, and we could not even agree on what the intruder had worn. There were different memories about what he said, whether he threw the eraser left hand or right hand. The intruder was a graduate student and the event was staged. The professor brought the intruder back into the class room and we all saw that he was a she. We do not see the world with our eyes.
 Seeing the world with your eyes is challenging, almost impossible. This has lead professionals, from engineers to financial analysis, to develop tool kits that will allow them to see without their personal biases unconsciously modifying reality. All of these tool kits are based on the scientific methodology. It must be observable, it must be measurable, and it must be repeatable. Starting in the Middle Ages the renaissance slowly built the foundation of clearly seeing the universe and explaining what is seen. Everyone has prejudices, including scientist, but now the prejudice has to be provable and always subject to testing.
These tools are not always a purely abstract mental undertaking. Albert Einstein is the perfect example of the lone scientist creating new hypothetical worlds purely with a transcendent human mind. Two contemporaries of Dr. Einstein were Orville and Wilbur Wright, they perfected manned flight. They had neither aerodynamic theories for wings or propellers nor any precise mathematical explanation for lift or drag. The very words did not yet exist. From what I have read the Wright brothers’ theory of flight was that man was at least as intelligent as birds. None considers either of the Wright brothers any less a scientist than Einstein. Dr. Einstein was a theoretical scientist while the Wright brothers were empirical scientist.
In the three or four centuries (depending on who you chose as the father of science) since the start of the scientific method we have experienced the greatest gains in human history. Without science there is no industrial revolution, without science there is no modern democracy, without science there is no modern medicine, and without science there are no blogs. Life would be different to the smallest part.
Science allows us to see the world.

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