Thursday, February 28, 2008
Control Over Experiments - How It Restricts Physics' Vision
So at one level there is no conflict between a physicist's emphasis on repeatable experiments and her interest in being surprised, proved wrong, and forced to learn something new. But this conflict is resolved only at the expense of a restriction of the scientific field of vision, confining one's attention to those things that one can make happen over and over again, at will - i.e. things that are under one's own control. And the fact is that most matters of interest, and those of greatest interest, are not repeatable at all, and would be destroyed by efforts to control them in the way demanded by natural philosophy. Foremost are of course people - each person on this planet is unrepeatable, with his or her own innate dignity, personality, history, will, and feelings. There is no question of repeating a person's intrinsic being, history, or choices, even considering issues of identical twins and cloning. Attempts to control or repeat a person's choices and personality, whether to obtain scientific reproducibility or for any other reason, would be essentially disrespectful and immoral, and if successful would destroy the person in question. Clearly "scientific truth" is very small (not insignificant, just small) compared to the total of what is important and true. For instance, the questions of whether Alison Hinckley down the street is happy, the success of her marriage, her love or neglect of her parents, how she deals with suffering and death of others and in her own life - none of these are the province of scientific truth. Yet these are things of real import.