2.c.12 – Is science truly rational?

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February 27, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

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Is science truly rational?

Stating that science is rational is a triviality; however, saying that it is as rational as every belief and superstition leaves the interlocutors at least puzzled, but the validity of this statement is proven by the many philosophical schools that, basing only on reason and starting from not experimentally verified hypotheses, have rationally supported a huge number of absurdities, as the philosophy of Parmenides and Zeno, which denied the existence of the movement or the medieval scholastic that claimed to rationally demonstrate the truth of religious faith.
Normally by rationality we mean the use of deductive logic, but this unfortunately leads to accurate conclusions only if deriving from true and complete assumptions as the theorems in mathematics; making false assumptions, these theorems lead to absurd arguments. By studying the nature, there is no way of knowing, through reasoning, if our assumptions are true and especially if they are complete, since there can always be the intervention of an unknown phenomenon. It is therefore necessary to rely on evidence of facts through observations and experimental tests, and these procedures are what makes the difference, not the reason; we should not make confusion between science and experimental mathematics, which instead is based on deductive logic. While it is true that science makes great use of mathematics and hence of logic, rationality alone is not sufficient to overcome the superstitions, indeed in many cases it was used to confirm them; on this regard we might recall all the philosophical theories based on metaphysics and various economic theories, as the absolute liberalism or communism, in which logic and mathematics were used to demonstrate what people wanted to believe.
The differences between science and superstition are then significant, but it should be reminded that the logic which they are based on, is the same i.e. to create a mental model consistent with certain experiences. When it comes to a conflict between science and superstition based on a conflict between the rationality of the first and the irrationality of the second, we feed a commonplace which is a superstition itself:  superstitions are not irrational, the logic upon which they are based, is the very essence of science and the contrast is due to a simple rivalry between different beliefs and cultures. What may seem irrational is the attachment that human beings demonstrate against their superstitions when they are denied and overtaken by science, but today we know that it is a natural consequence of the mental logic imposing to defend our system of belief as long as the same is useful to our unconscious. Reason is an instrument of our mind that is dominated by thoughts and desires of which we often do not notice the existence; it is therefore at the service of what we want, of wishes that sometimes are unconscious, and not of the truth; without the experimental method, reason is a tool in the service of superstition.
The experimental method of science is enormously more accurate and reliable of the natural process of beliefs, but is also enormously more expensive in terms of time, resources and human resources and therefore does not meet the usual criteria of mental economy; to confirm what we have seen, there is the fact that the experimental method does not plan to ignore uncomfortable observations, but rather uses them as an important opportunity to produce new knowledge. All this shows us that there is a different fundamental purpose: science objective is not to provide a common mental map to navigate in everyday life, it would be too tiring, but to create a detailed description of nature for the whole community, which will receive it more or less unconsciously. The scientific research is an extension of human curiosity, aims to build a wealth of knowledge to exploit later in the various activities of the human community rather than in those of the individual, and hence its importance and joint use of many men and means. In the creation of a normal opinion, our mind searches instead a simple model that costs little time and effort and that is consistent with experience; this belief should not be criticized except in cases of extreme necessity; in science things work differently, scientists are at the service of the community, not studying nature to solve the problems of their daily lives but seeking a knowledge as perfect as possible to be used by successive generations and for this reason scientific theories are to be criticized at every opportunity in order to refine them.           

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