Re: The End of Science

David Campbell (
Fri, 11 Jul 1997 16:56:20 -0400

>Horgan writes with insight into the end of progress, philosophy, physics,
>cosmology, evolutionary biology, social science, neuroscience, and so on.
>In an epilogue, titled "The Terror of God," Horgan speculates what this
>means. He writes (page 266), "The ostensible goal of science, philosophy,
>religion and all forms of knowledge is to transform the great 'Hunh' of
>mystical wonder into an even greater 'Aha' of understanding. But after one
>arrives at THE ANSWER, what then? There is a kind of horror in thinking
>that our sense of wonder might be extinguished, once and for all time, by
>our knowledge. What, then, would be the purpose of existence? There would
>be none." The book ends with this plaintive wail, "And now that science --
>true, pure, empirical science -- has ended, what else is there to believe
An article from some journal of the Journal of Irreproducible Results ilk
has pointed out that, in systematics (more or less my field), disagreement
between researchers will be sufficient to keep things going indefinitely.
For science to answer everything requires a mechanistic world, human
omniscience, and a willingness to admit one's own mistakes and another's
success. The world is not entirely mechanistic, so science cannot answer
certain big questions. (Even if it were, science could not determine
whether it was!) Our lack of omniscience prevents us from knowing whether
we've asked all the questions, much less answered them-physics seemed about
done in the late 1800's, before a few odd things like radioactivity started
popping up. Finally, as sinful (or even merely ignorant) humans, we do not
necessarily recognize correct answers as such.
Additionally, much of the "science has nearly finished" exictement
I've encountered focuses on the possibility of a "Theory of Everything" in
physics. The scientific impact of such a theory on biology is likely to be
minimal. Can we exhaustively apply current theories to large atoms? Even
with all the equations in hand, if any are chaotic, we may not be able to
measure the relevant parameters with enough precision to get useful results

David Campbell

"Old Seashells"
Department of Geology
CB 3315 Mitchell Hall
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill NC 27599-3315
FAX 919-966-4519

"He had discovered an unknown bivalve, forming a new genus"-E. A. Poe, The
Gold Bug