Science: What it Is, What It Isn’t

Science, since it was monopolized by institutions and especially over the past two years, has become something quite other than what it was found to be during the early Enlightenment. That is, what is called science by the mouthpieces of the status quo is not what science was originally.

Children need to be familiarized with science proper, especially right now, or they will think the way things are is the way they’ve always been… because they are the only things they’ve ever experienced. Hence, this installment is dedicated to it… and them.

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Let’s begin with this fact: Most of what you’ve heard called science, isn’t science. So, let’s start over:

Science is not a group of schools or laboratories.

Science is not a set of facts.

Science is not a set of laws.

Science is a process – it is a technique for verifying our ideas about the world. Science is nothing more than a way of verifying things. All the other things you’ve heard called “science” were wrong.

Knowledge In The Old World

Our world is always full of smart people figuring things out, but the way it was done in the old days wasn’t very effective. At that time, most people tried to decide based on a big pattern of what the world was like: They thought about the pattern they were taught, then tried to fit facts inside of it.

For example, many of the old Greeks believe that a group of gods made things happen in the world. So, when there was a flood, or a fire, or a plague, they would refer to the pattern of “gods making things happen.” They might say, “What have people done to anger Zeus?” Others might agree that the people did something bad, but blame one of the other gods. Still others might disagree and say that the people did nothing wrong, but there was a dispute between two of the gods.

In all of these cases, everyone simply accepted the idea that gods made things happen, and tried to figure things out within that pattern.

This was the usual pattern of using knowledge in the old world, and it wasn’t just the Greeks and their gods; it was almost everyone. They might have different models and patterns to judge by, but they stuck with their big pattern of how the world worked, and tried to fit every new fact into it.

Because of this, they didn’t do a whole lot of experimenting and verifying things. For example, Aristotle taught that heavy things fall faster than lighter things, and it seems that no one bothered to check until Galileo proved this to be false, almost two thousand years later! And it was a simple experiment. You could do it yourself, at home.

This led to endless trouble and suffering in the old world… unnecessary suffering and trouble.

Francis Bacon Reverses The Process

Francis Bacon (1561-1662) was an English philosopher and author. After much study, he and a few others began to understand that the knowledge process of the old world was backward. Soon enough, they put together a reversed process called the “scientific method.” Bacon wrote a book called Novum Organum, in which he explained the new method.

The new method started with the smallest facts and verified them. Then, once they were very carefully checked, new things could be built on top of them. That let them know things for sure, before they constructed something bigger. Bacon explained it this way:

If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties.

What Bacon means here is that if you begin by assuming nothing (with doubts), you can test and develop solid facts. And if you do this consistently, you can be very sure about a lot of things. But if you begin thinking that you know the way everything really is (with certainties), you’ll end up with lots of doubts, because many facts won’t fit into your pattern.

Science discovers small, specific truths first, arranges them into larger theories, and comes to the most general truths last of all.

The scientific method demands that facts found through observation and experimentation are the only solid ground upon which to build. Then, if you find new evidence that contradicts the existing structure, you have to tear it down and start over. One of the best modern scientists, Richard Feynman, put it this way:

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.

The Problem With Science

The big problem with science is that it’s slow. It provides small answers, one at a time. Everything has to be tested. Experiments have to very carefully designed so that the conclusion is very clear. All of this takes time. And then, even after all of this, you have to show your results to other people and ask them to prove you wrong.

This, honestly, is disappointing. There is so many questions and science is so slow in answering them. Nonetheless, this is the best tool we’ve got. It is better to move ahead slowly and correctly, than to sprint back and forth making mistakes. Science works; other methods just don’t.

Sure, some people who call themselves scientists lie about their findings or distort them, but that’s not a problem with science, that’s just a problem with people lying. Such things happen from time to time in every area of life.

What About Inspiration?

Does all of this mean that inspiration is a bad thing? That we should just toss it out? No, it doesn’t. It only means that you have to use inspiration properly.

Sometimes inspiration can lead you to the right answer. In fact, there have been quite a few scientists who got the answer to their biggest question in a dreams. But there is one crucial element to this: All inspirations have to be tested. There is nothing wrong with inspiration. In fact, it is often useful. But, it has to be tested. Everything must be verified in order to be trusted, including inspiration. Otherwise, it’s not science.

The Short Versions

Here are a few checklist versions of the process we call science:

How To Know Things:

  1. Observe things.
  2. Form an explanation for what you observe.
  3. Test your explanation; try to prove it wrong.

How To Develop New Things:

  1. Observe things.
  2. Arrive at an explanation of what you observe.
  3. Extend your explanation. (Extrapolate.)
  4. Test your extrapolation.

Short Version Of Developing New Things:

  1. Begin with one or more things you know.
  2. Extrapolate.
  3. Test your extrapolations.

Two Rules:

  1. No shortcuts are allowed. Hunches are fine for extrapolations, but may never be substituted for tests.
  2. Tell other people exactly how you did your work and ask them to prove you wrong.


Paul Rosenberg