Saturday, 12 November 2011

1. Understanding Natural Phenomena: Prologue

In the beginning, science did not have a large and strong edifice of knowledge and techniques. But modern science is a force to reckon with. There is a recent book, The Grand Design: New Answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life, by Hawking and Mlodinow (H&M) (2010), which demolishes the God hypothesis quite convincingly. This book even overcomes the vexing first-cause problem. Read it. It takes on, and answers, some of the deepest questions we all think about.

Science does not have all the answers, but the power of the scientific method is such that our answers keep improving with time. In any case, there is no other method for answering any question about Nature.
I summarized this book in an online article. But that is no substitute for the original book.

In a series of posts (one every week) I shall try to explain some salient points made in this book in a simple language. But the question I want to address first is: If scientific explanations are so good, why is it that so many people do not know about them?

This is very tragic. Most people have not learnt even elementary science, leave alone the kind of advanced science needed to answer certain fundamental but difficult questions about our universe. I did not have any difficulty in understanding and enjoying this book because I am a trained physicist and therefore have the basic familiarity with most of the concepts used in H&M's book. But what should be done about people who do not have a background in science?

Writing popular-science books is an obvious solution, but that is easier said than done. Advanced science tends to be very mathematical. On top of that, laws of Nature, for example the laws of quantum mechanics, are highly counter-intuitive. For me this is not difficult to accept. After all, laws of Nature have been there long before we humans came on the scene.  There is no reason to expect that the laws must always be easy for us humans to understand. And yet it is crucial that this important feature of reality be understood and accepted by the public at large. This highlights the importance of bringing up children in an atmosphere in which they appreciate, at a very early age, the essence of the scientific way of interpreting any information or data. I shall dwell on that in the next post.