Science will never explain everything--that is why it is so useful!

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Author: Robert Ehrlich
Date: Summer 2007
From: Skeptic (Altadena, CA)(Vol. 13, Issue 2)
Publisher: Skeptics Society & Skeptic Magazine
Document Type: Essay
Length: 1,530 words

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MOST SCIENTISTS ARE QUITE WILLING TO acknowledge that science cannot explain everything. Certainly the human experience is full of many deep and unexplained mysteries. The nature of science, however, is to expand its boundaries continuously so as to include subjects heretofore unexplained, such as human emotions and consciousness.

Will we eventually formulate complete scientific explanations for emotions and consciousness? We do not yet know how they emerge from biochemistry, but there certainly is no evidence that they violate known laws of nature. It remains an open question whether it will be possible ever to explain emotions from the bottom up, starting from basic physics or even from the higher level of biochemistry, in which case emotions could be said to be "emergent," where complexity arises from simple laws.

What do we expect from an explanation, and what is accepted as one? Imagine that at some future time it was observed that whenever we professed the emotional experience of appreciating the beauty of a flower certain brain patterns were observed to occur, and further that when these brain patterns were artificially stimulated we experienced those same emotions. Would this contribute to an understanding of what it means to appreciate the beauty of a flower or to love someone?

Such hypothetical observations would not mean that our subjective experience was devoid of meaning or was nothing but brain patterns, but it could serve to give a shared human meaning to the words "love" or "beauty" that currently are extremely nebulous. Science cannot substitute for subjective perceptions of reality (who can say if my colorblind perception of "red" has any similarity to yours?), but it can only give it additional meaning, rather than taking something away from it.

Explanation v. Prediction

While science may not be able to explain everything, it can explain a lot--including many things that once were explicitly considered to be beyond its scope, such as the composition of the stars. Moreover, if science is ever seen as able to explain everything it will not be the enormously powerful tool that it actually is. It is the tentative nature of science and its ability to continually examine additional evidence that might prove current theories wrong that constitutes its great strength.

Imagine a system of belief that could explain everything. Much like the...

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Source Citation
Ehrlich, Robert. "Science will never explain everything--that is why it is so useful!" Skeptic [Altadena, CA], vol. 13, no. 2, summer 2007, pp. 17+. Accessed 3 Dec. 2023.

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