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Yaron Tokayer

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Will humankind ever achieve an end to science history?

My bioelectricity class is half science and half history. When we bring up a new topic, we often first pause to set its historical backdrop from a political and experimental perspective. This is particularly interesting, given that in bioelectricity, experiments date back several hundred years, but are also unfolding every day (quite literally, if we consider that ion channels are proteins whose foling structures are a topic of this field -- see http://fold.it/portal/ for a link to the fold it protein folding game taking the world by storm). But when I try to consider new research, I find myself feeling viscerally skeptical of our own time's limited perspective on our own accomplishments to date.

Phillip von Jolly, Planck's professor at Munich, is pretty much solely known for falsely predicting of physics that, "in this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few unimportant holes." Similarly, Lord Kelvin is said to have proclaimed that "there is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." Both of these quotes were said at the dawn of the quantum era. I think we humans tend to assume that we are at the end of history, that all scientific and social progress has culminated to the present.

The question I would like to pose is whether or not science is at least honing in on an absolute reality--what philosophers call "scientific realism." Are we getting closer--converging--to the end of scientific discovery with each paradigm shift, or do we just recast how we understand the world in a different vocabulary? From one perspective, the miasma theory of disease, which preceded today's germ theory, was thought to be approximately accurate experimentally, just like today's germ theory is "approximately accurate" as far as it's clinical effectiveness. Is there a truth of nature behind a curtain for us to discover? If there is, are humans capable of acieving it?


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    Feb 17 2013: I think it is important for us to cast doubt on scientific discovery and theories that have been widely accepted. Even though there are results that may be an accurate description of nature, scientists should keep looking for different ways to explain it or adjust them to account for the effects of external stimuli on scientific phenomena. It seems impossible to fully understand nature, so I think we should at least try to model/approximate it better by continuing to look at the existing scientific claims rather than settling for what sounds most promising and giving full credence.
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      Feb 19 2013: I agree Kyung.

      It is very important that we continue to question the accepted theories and discoveries of past scientists. This is even more important as new discoveries are found and theories get older.

      Furthermore, I believe that as more technology is available, science will be able to be explained more thoroughly filling in any gaps that are currently present. I personally do not believe there is a limit to science, however we will never really know the answer to this.

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