Monday, November 13, 2006

The most basic premise.

Underlying all of science is one basic axiom that has been implicitly invoked time and time again throughout the ages. So basic is this premise, and so drastic the consequences of its falsehood that it routinely evades comment. It is the reason that we can even write down the laws of physics, why we can establish principles, and why we are able to make predictions about the natural world. Those who attack science often do so without full cognizance of this foundation, and thus are apt to issue only the most topically applicable of arguments.
What is this assertion, then? What one statement could all of science be built upon, and yet be seen as too trivial to deserve mention?

The Scientific Axiom: The world is logically consistent, and is describable by a set of logical constructions.

If this is not at all true, then all of science is meaningless, as all events are merely coincidences, with no correlation or structure. It is even worse when we consider that the statement that all things happen randomly is a perfectly logical description, and thus would not violate the Axiom in any concrete way. Rather, a world which violates the Axiom is even more perverse and more impenetrable to understanding than even a completely chaotic world. We could not distinguish an unscientific world from a scientific world based only on historical observations, thus rendering all reflection and introspection useless and meaningless.
Why do we assume this strong of an axiom, then? Simply stated, we would very much like that it is actually true, as there is no humanity, no experience to an unscientific world. Art, philosophy, culture and even thought itself depend on the Axiom for their existence. We assume the Axiom because, if we did not, there would be no point to science itself. Perhaps the Axiom is false. If so, then whatever we do is utterly devoid of meaning anyway, so why not spend life on such a useless pursuit as describing that which is by definition undefinable?
From this, we see that despite the protestations otherwise, science is the foundation for a great many other things, and that a world in which science carries no weight cannot also support any other human pursuit. So many aspects of human experience are intertwined thusly; we cannot practice science in an artless world (a basic result of complexity theory), and we cannot practice art in an unscientific world. Any attempt to completely isolate and detangle these aspects of human existence is futile, and endangers humanity itself. At the same time, we must separate the spheres of our lives to at least some degree, as they are in fact different, and must be treated in different manners.
It is patently absurd to approach art with the same axiomatic rigor as is applied to science, just as it is to apply the subjectivity and flexibility of art to scientific pursuits.
Rather, the Scientific Axiom tells us that no matter in what open field we find ourselves, we can make some ground beneath our feet for us to stand upon. We needn't fall into an abyss of despair, for we may always trust logic to at least some degree. At least, in the cases in which we can't, we aren't really "wrong," as correctness is a logical construct anyways.

A small footnote.

The astute among you will note that my statement of the Scientific Axiom is, in fact, not accurate, as it does not take into account Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, nor any other aspect of complexity theory. I must obviously hold some faith in the validity of complexity theory, though, as I so flippantly invoke it elsewhere in my diatribe. No, I realize my omission, and made it intentionally to simplify the statement of the Axiom and to render it accessible to a wider audience. Technically, I should have defined that the world can be described as the asymptotic tendency of increasingly accurate logical constructions. There will, of course, always be lapses and differences, but these are minimized by refining our constructions.

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