Part I: Before reading the book.
Part II: After reading the book.
Part I was an impulsive reaction to just one page in the book.
Then I found the book and read it.
I believe that the last part of the book
is as important today as it was important twelve years ago (now - maybe even more), and not only for the string theory, or physics, but for science in general, especially for such fields like education and artificial intelligence.
For the last couple of years, I have been writing on Cognisity.How and expressing very similar views on the matter of science, but reading Lee Smolin’s book gave me a much broader perspective on the state of the scientific research. So many statements in the book resonated with my own views that I just could not resist to adding them to this post.
Being at risk of accused of copyrights violation, I want to share some excerpts from Chapter IV with my comments to them (but I would strongly recommend everyone to find the book and to read the whole chapter).
This is what many scientist ignore – science is a human practice and follows the general laws governing any human practice.
Science is not defined by any specific method or methodology (e.g. “science is based on experiments”, “science is based on logic and reason”).
Science is the result of activities of people who decided to follow certain social/ethical rules.
BTW: this is the criterion which allows to separate science from religion.
A true scientist always assumes that he or she may be wrong; a religious person follows dogmatic thinking, assuming he or she is always correct.
Scientists are professionals acting in a scientific field. But it does not mean yet that the field is a science. Science is a human practice which mission, goals, purpose, sole existence is providing reliable predictions. That represents the top stage of the development of a scientific field. For example, there is a field of scientific research on education, but there is not yet science of education.
There are periods of a straightforward scientific development, which requires people good at technical work. Drastic changes (needed to overcome long periods of stagnation) require people of a different type – seers.
“Groupthink”, or “Group thinking”, a.k.a. “tribal thinking” is a very common human phenomenon (sport fans, political affiliation, a school, a fraternity, etc.). Lee Smolin points at a very significant fact that scientists – like all humans - also form “tribes” and fall into groupthink. Even in science, very often everyone who thinks differently from the group thinks wrong.
Members of a group may commonly accept assumptions as facts: this is an example
Positive feedback makes a loop “we want to believe in it – we believe in it!”
The roots of such behavior are in human psychology.
For science, to overcome the regime of routine functioning, outsiders need to be welcome to the table. According to Lee Smolin, it is not a case in particle physics. It is also not a case in research on education.
The organization of science is the result of the activities of the people organizing science – managers, administrators, officials. Since science has become a large industry, the quality of the management defines the scientific progress.
In my terms, what Lee Smolin calls a “manager” I would call, a bureaucrat”. A bureaucrat will never support a seer.
The progress of science is solely based on the views of scientist about how the progress of science should be managed.
This is a very good point. In academia, people automatically assume that they good at managing and teaching, even if they have never had any specific training in the field. When they need to fix a broken car or tooth they go to a professional. But if they need to do something within the walls of their university they just don’t think they may not have enough expertise in the matter. Despite the facts proving that very often they are not.