Thursday, October 24, 2013

Radical Formulation

Arun has another good Feynman quote from his talk "What is Science" that I linked to recently.

Feynman:

As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.

Taken literally, this statement is nonsense. It's not a definition, for one thing. For another, belief in the ignorance of experts is more commonly just ignorant nonsense (like that of the evolution deniers, global warming denialists, and the physics crackpots who thrive on the fringes of the web). Even so, I think Feynman is expressing an important truth, (A great truth in Bohr's sense), by capturing the essentially radical nature of science. Science doesn't respect conventional wisdom, even though now much of our received wisdom is the product of scientific research. It might be more literally true to say that scientific research starts with a confession of ignorance.