Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Feynman on science

From here:
As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.

When someone says, "Science teaches such and such," he is using the word incorrectly. Science doesn't teach anything; experience teaches it. If they say to you, "Science has shown such and such," you might ask, "How does science show it? How did the scientists find out? How? What? Where?"

It should not be "science has shown" but "this experiment, this effect, has shown." And you have as much right as anyone else, upon hearing about the experiments--but be patient and listen to all the evidence--to judge whether a sensible conclusion has been arrived at.
From his blackboard:
What I cannot create, I do not understand.
 How I read the above:-   Feynman is trying to explain what it means to know, to understand.  Reading about something does not give you understanding or knowledge, experiencing it does.  How does one experience a mathematical proof or result of a calculation?  By creating the proof for oneself, by doing the calculation for oneself.  By going through the whole process of discovery for oneself - for that is how Feynman read scientific papers.  One comes to know the whole terrain - not just the published work, but lots of things that don't work, and maybe some alternate ways of arriving at the same result.  By having a thorough experience of the terrain, one makes it one's own.

As far as I understand, the Indian traditions also consider knowledge to be truly gained by experience.  A little bit of training, for instance, enables one to learnedly blabber that this Atman is Brahman.  That remains just a formal statement though.  One does not get knowledge from the study of scriptures; one only learns of the possibility of knowledge.  One is informed that there is something to look for, and how one might go about finding it.  In this sense, the Hindu "scriptures" also say that experience is the teacher.   I don't think that is very consonant with the usual idea of religion, where the scripture teaches.