Five science fragments to change brains

There are text fragments that, either because of their lyrics, because of their clarification, because of their evidence or any other associated feature, nest in our brain, make us experience in the sense of wonder, and, suddenly, they provide us with a small but sudden understanding of the universe and of who we are. Then we rescue five fragments of science books I think they get, to a greater or lesser extent, that effect.

The idea reminds me of a story I wrote years ago about a German strategist who invents a more effective and original way to invade a population during World War II. The plan is as follows: a small German contingent appears massacred in the Urals, near the town it is intended to invade. The soldiers transported large number of personal items, books, newspapers, newspapers, etc. The inhabitants of the nearby town devalue the soldiers and bury the bodies.

In a short time, a part of each of these extinct lives is distributed among the entire population. Family members exchanged objects, merchants sold or speculated with them, friends spoke about them, emphasizing personal books and diaries, which discovered a new dimension of those anonymous soldiers. And, surreptitiously, lThe locals are contaminated by the culture of German soldiers. They are invaded peacefully, since the inhabitants of that town related to the enemy without any precaution or reluctance. Soon, that small town ends up ascribing to the new ideology.

Be the following fragments, then, those that the scientist arrived at the village leaves in pledge to disseminate his ideas.

1. About the scientific method

According Robert L. Park in his book Science or Voodoo, the only way to acquire reliable models on how the world works is through the scientific method:

The new findings are usually shared initially with some close colleagues, and are sometimes tested in a small group. It is also possible that the work will be officially presented at a scientific congress, although surely it would not be welcomed that the meeting place was the Superdome. If no problems arise, the work is submitted to an appropriate scientific journal for publication. The editor of the journal will choose a series of anonymous experts to review the work for obvious errors in their methods or reasoning, and to ensure that all previous work in that area is duly considered. Reviewing the manuscripts of other scientists carefully and objectively is considered a sacred obligation. Anyway, that is just the theory. In practice, the procedure is sometimes scandalous and unpleasant. There can be heated debates at scientific conferences. Reviewers are sometimes accused of obstructing the publication of results that contradict their own work, and the editors, of lack of objectivity. Rivalries arise that become as strong as those that occur in the sports field. Stupid works manage to reach the printing press, while a sensational idea can be engulfed in a petty debate. And yet, as a whole, the system works surprisingly well: good jobs end up surfacing, while the jumble of scotch science is still manageable. The scientific method transcends the human failures of individual scientists.

2. Reductionism?

The main criticism of scientific arguments is that they are reductionist. Daniel Dennett burden on that criticism in Darwin's dangerous idea:

In this type of conflict, the term "reductionism" is the one most often found on everyone's lips, as a typically injurious expression. Those who dream of the existence of celestial hooks call "reductionists" those who strongly prefer cranes and make reductionism appear frequently as a philistine and inveterate, or simply said, as the devil himself. But like most injurious terms, the word "reductionism" has no precise meaning. The central image is that of someone who argues that one science is "reduced" to another: that chemistry is reduced to physics, that biology is reduced to chemistry, that social sciences are reduced to biology, for example. The problem is that there are, at the same time, prudent readings and crazy readings of reductionism. According to prudent readings, it is possible (and desirable) to unify chemistry and physics, biology and chemistry and even social sciences and biology. After all, societies are made up of human beings, who, as mammals they are, enter the principles of biology that extend to all mammals. Mammals, in turn, are made up of molecules that obey the laws of chemistry and this, in turn, the rules of underlying physics.

3. Thanks to science

Final words of Cosmos: a space odyssey:

How is it possible that being such small creatures, and living in a speck of dust, we have managed to figure out how to send ships that travel the stars of the Milky Way?

Only a couple of centuries ago (or a few seconds in our cosmic time), we didn't know anything about where and at what time we were. Ignorant about the rest of the Cosmos, we lived in a kind of prison, in a tiny universe limited by a nutshell.

How do we get away from that jail? It was thanks to the work of generations of researchers who followed 5 simple rules:

1.- Question the authority. No idea is true just because someone says so, including me. Think for yourself. Question yourself.

2- Do not believe something just because we want to do it. Believing in something does not make it happen.

3.-Demonstrate ideas with evidence obtained through observation and experimentation. If an idea does not pass a well designed experiment, it is wrong, let's accept it.

4.- Follow the tests, wherever they take us. In case of not having proof, reserve the trials.

And perhaps, the most important rule of all.

5.- Remember that one may be wrong. Even the best scientists have made some mistakes. Newton, Einstein, and other great scientists in history have all made mistakes. Of course they were human.

Science is a way to avoid deceiving ourselves, and others.

But has any scientist acted badly? Of course, we have used science incorrectly. Like any other tool at our disposal, and therefore, we cannot afford to leave it in the hands of a powerful minority. The more science belongs to all of us, the less likely it is to be misused.

These values ​​weaken the appeal of fanaticism and ignorance, and in short, the universe is, above all, dark dotted with small islands of light.

Find out the age of the Earth, the distance to the stars or how life evolves, what difference does it make? Well, part of it depends on how big the universe we are willing to live is. Some like small, and nothing happens, it is understandable, but I like it big. And when I assume all this in my heart and in my head, I feel comforted. And when I feel this way, I want to know that it is real, that it is not just something that is happening in my mind. Because whatever matters is true, and our imagination is nothing compared to the incredible reality of nature.

I want to know what's in those dark places and what happened before the Big Bang. I want to know what is beyond the cosmic horizon and how life arose. Are there other places in the Cosmos where matter and energy have come alive and are aware? I want to meet my ancestors, all of them. I want to be a good and strong link in the chain of generations, I want to protect my children and the children of the future.

We who represent the sight, the ear, the thoughts and the local feelings of the Cosmos, have begun to know the history of our origins, stardust contemplating the evolution of matter, tracing that long road, thanks to which we have become aware. We and the rest of living beings on this planet, carry a legacy of cosmic evolution that covers billions of years. If we take that knowledge seriously, if we know and love nature as it really is, we will be remembered as good and strong links in the chain of life, and our children will continue this sacred search seeing for us, just as we have seen by those who arrived before us, and discovering wonders that we have not even dreamed of in the Cosmos.

4. Science without a budget

In the fun book of popular science Natalie Angier, The Canon, this problem is expressed with great irony:

However, the future of our scientific prestige depends not so much on ingenuity in the subjects of applied science but rather on the willingness to fund grassroots research, studies on the sex of angels that will take decades to provide results. Publishers, goods of commercial interest, university students to place in the market. The scientists and their court propose that if the general public good were more versed in the intricacies of science, they would gladly accept supporting a generous increase in the federal budget for this discipline, as well as the existence of indefinite long-term research grants , and sufficient investment in infrastructure (in particular to achieve better coffee machines in laboratories). The general public would admit the fact that today's grassroots researchers contribute to tomorrow's prosperity, not to mention the explanation of the mysteries of life and the Universe, and that you cannot put a price tag on genius and serendipity, except to say that it is much higher than the allocation for science granted by Congress in the current fiscal year.

5. The meteorite that exterminated the dinosaurs

Richard Dawkins in The ancestor's tale It tells in a masterful way how the moment should have happened when the impact happened:

Due to their high speed in relation to that of the Earth, these huge objects release, at the moment of impact, an immense amount of energy. A gunshot wound is hot due to the speed of the bullet; when a meteor or comet collides, it is most likely that they go even faster than the bullet that comes out of a high-speed rifle, with the peculiarity that, while the bullet weighs just a few grams, the mass of the celestial projectile end to the Cretaceous and annihilated the dinosaurs could be measured in gigatons. The noise of the impact, an explosion that had to go around the planet at a thousand kilometers per hour and leave deaf all the creatures that had not died beheaded after the explosion, suffocated by the wind blow or the 150-meter tsunami that it boiled like an exhalation of the boiling seas, or pulverized by an earthquake a thousand times more violent than the most virulent of the earthquakes caused by the San Andrés fault. And those were only the immediate consequences, afterwards the collateral effects arrived: the fires that devoured all the forests and jungles of the planet, and the smoke, dust and ash that veiled the sun during a two-year nuclear winter that ended with almost all of the plants and cut the world's food chains.

Bonus track: quantum humor

Many people who had never read a single line about CERN or quantum mechanics began having conversations about black holes or parallel universes that surely looked a bit like the funny dialogue of two characters from Terry Pratchett in the novel of the Mundodisco saga Lords and Ladies:

- Parallel universes, I said. Universes in which things that did not happen, such as… ”He hesitated. Well, like that girl.

-What a Girl?

-The girl you wanted to marry.

-How did you hear about that?

-He was telling us about her after lunch.

-Really? I would not have had to. Well, what about her?

"Well ... In a way he did marry her," said Ponder.

Ridcully shook his head.

-Nanay. I'm sure I didn't do it. You remember that kind of thing.

-Ah, but not in this universe ...

The Librarian opened one eye.

- Are you suggesting that I fled to another universe to get married? asked Ridcully.

-Do not! What I mean is that in that universe you got married and you didn't get married in this universe, ”said Ponder.

-I got married? Really? With a proper ceremony and everything else?

Ponder was one hundred percent wrong about this.

-Yes!

-Hmmm. Ridcully stroked his beard. Are you sure?

- Surely, archchancellor.

-Caramba! Well, I hadn't heard.

Ponder had the feeling that he was finally getting somewhere.

-So…

-Yes?

-Why don't I remember?

Ponder was already prepared.

"Because you of the other universe are different from you here," he said. The one who got married was a different you, and probably now it has already taken root somewhere. At this point he is probably a great grandfather.

"Never write, I know that," said Ridcully. And the bastard never invited me to the wedding.

-Who?

-He.

-But if he is you!

-Really? Ha! Well, being I would have to remember me, don't you think? What a bastard is done!

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