Tuesday, 23 September 2014

What is Science?

Our next meeting is on Thursday 9th Oct at the normal time of 7.00pm at the White Rock Hotel

The subject this month will be “What is Science?”
This follows on neatly in the series What is Art? and the fun of Maths.

A definition
The simplest answer might be that offered by Tim Minchin “Humankind’s incremental acquisition of understanding through observation (and experiment).”

Moulding our world
But Science is also the force that has transformed our world several times in the last few thousand years and at an exponentially increasing rate.  Most recently and significantly in the 250 – 300 years since the beginning of the industrial revolutions…. But, in all probability, it will be equally transformative in the next 30 to 50 years which is still in the lifetime of many of us.

The Legacy we will leave
It is also our human legacy.  The Egyptians may have left the pyramids as the legacy of their 3,000 years of dominance, but our legacy may be the scientific understanding of such fundamental questions as the Higgs Boson (God particle), the map of the Milky Way and a more detailed and consistent answer to the creation story that is at the heart of most faiths through the ages. Our ability to delve into the mysteries of the Universe is truly awe inspiring and is actually transforming our understanding of what we mean by philosophy.

Practical Benefits
On top of all that Science is also a source of great optimism for the future. Modern scientists may be pygmies standing on the shoulders of giants, but this cumulative effort is so deep and specialised that it is becoming indistinguishable from magic for most people. The opportunities that are opening before us are amazing.

Serious risks
And, of course there are significant risks. The whole process of peer review is in serious jeopardy and is a key issue for us to master if we are to maintain social control of forces that are ever more powerful and can be used to tip the world between good and bad outcomes. This apparent magic must not become the tool of Shaman and con artists.

I hope that I will be able to justify some of these grandiose claims and I would be really surprised if they do not generate a wonderful debate as we explore what they might  mean for all of us.

 Stephen Milton

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