Penumbra
Rhetoric

The questions science cannot answer

There is a trend in the society to believe that science will be able to answer all the questions, whereas when it comes to what science is, things are far different ...
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Preface

The following is a plain and simple article in the discipline of philosophy of science and phenomenology. Better explanations and more detailed discussions for themes and examples touched upon can be found in scholarly works in these disciplines but as an average person in today’s society, it is vital to understand what science is and what science is not. It is important to understand to use science and scientific methods in the right place and use them correctly, otherwise, you can fool yourself by using scientific methods for answering questions which science is not able to think about, which are out of science’s limit.

The why-questions

One of the most popular ways of using science to answer questions which science has no ability in answering them in our times by the general public, as well as acclaimed and admired scientists themselves are the questions, I call them Why-questions – or shortly called why-s.

Let’s me illustrate what I mean with the aid of a science-fiction example: Imagine one day an alien scientist lands on the Earth, in order to do some scientific research and win the Nobel Prize of his home planet. Imagine the very first and also the only object he or she visits is a company in the style of mass production factories of 19th or 20th century. One day in this very strange environment, he discovers that everything is organized by the ring of a magnificent bell in the factory. The start of the work, the ending of it, all break-times, and all the rest of the major changes in the factory's task force is controlled by the ring of this bell. Such is the greatest observation, or put differently, the best conclusion he can make of studying the changes in the objects of his or her study. As with every new discovery, he or she becomes fascinated with his or her great discovery and recognizes that this bell is the reason why everything functions the way they function. In his or her eyes, all people start working as the bell rings, make a pause with another ring of the bell and end their work with the last ring of the bell in the evening. Amazing! He or she also decides to make a scientifically acceptable experiment to prove his or her theory about this newfound planet's inhabitants. So, he or she changes one factor in the environment to observe the effects. He or she manipulates the bell to ring an hour earlier and everything runs out of order. So, amazingly he or she is scientifically sure about his or her theory, that this ring is the reason for everything1.

Why versus how

Like this alien scientist, a great majority of us tend to behave the same way. We become so fascinated with the discovery of a correlational relationship in the unknown environment in which we live, that we slowly use correlational relationships the same as casual relationships. For answering why-questions, you need to have an awareness of the causal relationship between the events but to answer how-questions you rather need to understand the correlational relationship between the happenings.

Does this sound too philosophical? So, let us go back once again to the example of that alien scientist and this time look to what he or she did while we have a better understanding as to why the major changes in work force's activities and the bell's ring correlate with each other.

He or she observed with very keen eyes and a lot of his or her mind's ability how things happened in that factory, and the first relation he or she could discover was the correlation between the bell’s ring and the changes in workers’ behaviors. But this is not a casual relationship; that the factory each day starts to work has another reason than the ring of the bell, why each individual worker in that factory starts his job and ends his job by the ring of the bell could have unique answers for each individual worker. Maybe the reason for one is that he should feed seven children, for the other is that he wishes to earn lots of money one day and marry the girl of his dream and the other one spends all his earning on alcohol and prostitutes, whatever the reason one individual has for his or her work in that factory, it is not because of the existence of a bell in the building. Even though we tend to believe such conclusions are scientifically proven, but it is very vital to understand what scientifically proved facts mean. Scientifically proved facts are the correlational relationships between the events we are very sure about them that they are going to happen this way till the end of the time. As an example: water bowl in 100 degrees Celsius in a normal room. But these correlations between the change in water’s molecular order and the temperature degree is not enough to claim that these events are also maintaining a casual relationship to one another, for that we need more than scientific observations and methods and even more importantly, science is not aimed at answering any why-questions.

However, with understanding these correlational relationships we become empowered to make changes, or as said by common sense: "bend the nature to our will."

Newton and the time he wondered why an apple's falling to the ground

Let us see this in a very popular anecdote in science’s history: Isaac Newton’s theory, the theory of gravitation, provides us with a great way for understanding a certain correlational relationship between physical objects, but it cannot answer the question of why things stand in such correlational relationship to each other, what is the cause of this correlation. Said in plain words, Isaac Newton is in no way able to answer the simple question "Why an apple falls from a tree to the ground?" even though, the majority of us learn in the school or in front of the TV that this is exactly what he tried to find an answer to back in his childhood. What Newton answers is "How an apple falls to the ground?" He can precisely tell you the exact speed of any given apple in at any given second of its fall to the ground. He can precisely tell you how two given objects will move toward each other with his gravitation theory.

But if there is any gravity between the objects or gravity is just a simplified way for us to figure out correlations, you cannot answer it with scientific methods. Unfortunately or fortunately, he can never fulfill our expectations for answering the simple question "why apples fall to the ground." But does it mean if science is not able to answer to questions of why nature such questions have no answers? Before answering this question, let us look a little bit more to our understanding of scientific methods and come back to this question later on …

Practical example: the unscientific use of the theory of evolution by popular psychology

Unbelievably, the general public and even the scientific psychologists [read it, nearly every single psychologist living in our era] believe to answer why-questions through scientifically proved facts and the most frequently used "scientifically proved fact" in our societies right now could be the theory of evolution, or maybe the boldest one of them, because if you read such explanations for the first time in your life, you will be totally amazed by the obsession with the idea that our psyche is designed in the way it is designed and all our psychological and spiritual aspects of life are just meant to ensure the survival of human species on the earth!

I believe in Charles Darwin’s theory, the same way I believe in every other scientifically proved theory, but I am aware of the fact that a scientific theory can’t provide answers to why-questions and if someone tries to do so, their attempts are no more science. Charles Darwin’s theory is a great discovery in our understanding of evolution, of how different species died out while the others survived and some grew more complex, some evolved in one way, others in a different way, but with the help of this theory you cannot answer why these things have happened, you can just recognize how these events took place one after another, without needing to observe all the species living on the Earth from start till the end of time. Charles Darwin has recognized correlations in different species on the earth but figuring out correlations and being fascinated by your discovery should not lead you to fool yourself that these correlations are the same as casual relationships.

Some of the frequently cited examples in the popular psychology in using this scientific theory in an incorrect way are the attempts to answering questions like "why we fall in love, why we chase after men or women, why we nearly do everything for sex" and lots of lots of other similar unanswered whys.

The simple task of the greatest psychologists of our times is to make us believe a proper answer to all these questions is that all our psyche and its amazing design is there just to ensure that human species will survive on this planet. If one hears these kinds of answers for the first time in one's life first in adulthood, one will be shocked by the fact that how meaningless the most meaningful things in our lives are when you use this theory in this way, but once you have heard this theory over and over and over again, our minds will get used to believing that love is something meaningful in some moments of our lives while in other moments, our minds will show us that love is just there to make the evolution happen.

Now, you can see we are in the same trap as that alien scientist. If a man and a woman fall in love and have sex and enjoy the experience and later on a fetus starts its development into a human baby inside the belly of that woman, all these wonderful events one after another doesn't exist because the mankind must survive, the same as the conclusion that everything which happened in that factory is not caused by the ring of the bell. The ring of the bell was not the reason why every single worker works in that factory and it the same way, the evolution of mankind can’t be the reason for our behaviors.

The way we behave causes our species to survive as well, just as in the example of the factory that as long as the factory functions the bell will ring as well. But these are just correlations and not reasons for anything. The reason why two individuals love each other is not because such affection, in one way or the other, in most cases ends up with the birth of one or several babies. It is just like the ring of the bell in the factory.

If a man and a woman have sexual intercourse in a proper manner, in proper time, there is good chance that a baby births successfully after some 9 months but these events which are followed one after the other are by their own selves no mean to be the reason of a sexual intercourse and on greater scale, the theory of evolution can in no way answer any why-questions.

Not even the very smart questions like "why shy men are less attractive to women!" The popular psychology's answer goes something like this: "because shy men are not good fighters and as in the early days of man's life on the Earth the ability to fight was very crucial for the survival as they didn’t have any technological advancement, and given that the greatest motivation in the world is the survival of the species, therefore over time women have survived who chased after extrovert men and, therefore, extrovert men are more attractive for the majority of the females in any animal and, as well, among human beings." You see, so many conclusions after conclusions, while the first assumption is wrong: human beings, and as well none of the animals, are there to ensure their survival on this planet. Survival of a species is not the reason of its existence, there is just a correlational relationship between these two events.

Endnotes

But can why-questions ever get answered?

I am not going to answer this question right now, this text touched upon many themes, so maybe at another time there would be a text about it, if Allah wills.

But never forget that science can’t answer to these questions, no matter how desperate we wished that science will do so and almost all the people would agree about these answers for why-questions because they're "scientifically proved."

If you are interested you can write your opinion about this question and maybe we publish it as a guest author on our gazette.


  1. for sure this example is not the exact way how science functions but a very simplified story of an alien scientist, interested in using science for drawing conclusions beyond sciences' abilities, which said academically, means, using science to recognize the reason behind the events, instead of using it to figure out the correlation between the events and to devise rules based on those correlations, but in no way reasons↩︎

Dates

  • Published:
  • Published: Saturday, August 17, 2019

Credits

  • Author: Scrappy Nobody

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