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The Short Sprint of Science in Human History

We live in a scientific and rational world. Or so we believe. From a historic perspective, Science is quite a recent achievement. In many ways, the idea of Science took the human enterprise to a whole new level, particularly on a technology level. To have a given fact commonly and generally accepted as true by all (or almost all), it usually has to be scientifically true. The universities and the academia are all about Science. They are so much more "Science" than "Logic" or "Philosophy" or simple "Reasoning" that Science became quite similar to a type of religion. As a scientist, there are certain things you should say and certain other things you should definitely refrain from saying. Science has dogma and the dogma you should follow, if you are to get your next grant. That has led us to a society where mostly all development for the past few centuries has happened on technologies developed on scientific grounds. To be scientific is to be true, right and righteous. So much so that even non-scientific disciplines adopted the idea. Human or Political Science, for example, sounds like an oxymoron. But that's OK, because they added the term "science" to whatever those things are.


Science is definitely not politics and almost certainly not human. Science was just a human invention whose goal was to create consensus about the realities we all experience. By having several independent scientists apply the scientific method to answer the same question, we could pretty much guarantee that the answer would be equally acceptable for all of us. And, with that, we became a rational society. We devised a judging structure to help us discern what is true in the natural world and what isn't (just as we did with tribunals, which we use to attempt, in a much less scientific and successful way, to establish who's right and who's wrong at a given human quarrel). But that's all Science is. Science is just a method, a way to create consensus about reality and what to expect from future realities, when you assume (at that's a very big assumption) that reality is objectively the same for every one of us.


Looking in retrospect, we should start realizing that Science was extremely successful as a way to promote our technological advancement and, to some extent, bring some rationalization to our world. But, we must admit, Science has failed to reveal a strictly predictable and deterministic world. Particularly, it failed miserably proving that reality is objective at all. (Actually, it would be kind of unfair from us to expect Science to show us that objective reality does not exist, since it was designed to only operate in a world with objective reality). The only one of all the "sciences" that achieved the goal of showing us that life made sense and reality was objective was Classical Physics. Provided you had all the information about all possible particles, you surely would be able, at least in theory, to calculate all future states of a system, even if it were the entire universe. How comforting. Classical Physics was the one, true scientific discipline. All other "sciences" are just human politics with varying degrees of rationalization.


But Physics is no longer objective. After a few decades believing the world was deterministic, Quantum Mechanics came to show us that reality was actually probabilistic, to say the least. Instead of a single universe, we now have a multiverse. Instead of four dimensions (space+time), String Theory says we may have much more. Instead of sharing a real world with other people, we might, each of us, be creating our own worlds, where other people are just our version of them in our own universe while they themselves (objectively?) only exist in their own universes, which they themselves create at every moment with a version of us in them. And all those new ideas are just not something Science is (or ever will be) equipped to deal with. Unless we change our understanding of what Science and the scientific method are. Because reality might indeed depend on who observes it.


A recent new theorem mapped out the limits of Quantum Physics. The testable theorem claims that, for Quantum Mechanics to be true at all sizes and scales, one of three dear assumptions of our dear scientific community is wrong:

  1. Experimenters are free to chose which experiments and measurements to perform: this is actually an assumption on free-will, which was probably the most weird assumption of Classical Physics. In the classical world, people assumed that the world was deterministic while the people had free will. Well, there is clearly a paradox here, but this would be a subject for another post.

  2. Reality is local: if falsified, information would be able to travel at speeds faster than light and past would not necessarily happen before the future;

  3. Outcomes measurements are absolute, objective facts for all observers: in other worlds, reality is one and the same for everyone.

I believe most quantum physicists would think that #3 is the assumption to be wrong, if the theorem is shown to be true. After all, quantum physicists already accept that reality is not deterministic, because reality would be intrinsically random. But, by losing assumption #3, we would gain more than randomness. We would, in fact, gain lack of objectiveness. Reality could be objective despite being random. One can have a random reality that everyone agrees about. But here we're talking about realities that are not experienced as being the same to everyone even if they are randomly generated. One cannot have that. As a matter of fact, to experience those realities "one" would have to be many.


I personally think that #3 will go, but I also think that #2 will go too. (The theorem doesn't require that only one assumption must go, but at least one. And I don't see any fun in getting rid of just one :) If we lose #2, ultimate reality would not be local. In other words, time would not be fundamental (as other research has already suggested). It would be then possible to think of an ultimate reality where everything has already happened, everything would be continuously happening and everything is still going to happen, because that reality would happen outside of spacetime. As paradoxically as it sounds, that could well be the realm of consciousness. It could be that case that consciousness could present itself at any point and any time of space-time, modifying reality just by experiencing it.


As for assumption #1, I think that'd stay. In the end of the day, free-will is the only thing that is going to survive, for free-will is consciousness-will. It is that thing that allowed us to create such a thing called Science in the first place. And that would be particularly special to me and to the neuroscientist in me. As a neuroscientist, my dogmatic and scientific religion says that consciousness must be generated by a deterministic and classical brain, or consciousness is just an epiphenomenon; i.e., it doesn't exist. (New evidence has shown quantum effects in biological systems, but the doctrine still is very far from even considering that the brain could be a quantum machine.) But, if assumption #1 is to be held true, then free-will really exists. If free-will does exist, then, logically, either the brain is not a deterministic machine (it could still be producing random choices, although that does not fit our conscious experience of our lives, since our decisions hardly seem random), or decisions are not made by the brain at all, but by something else.


A whole new reality may be unveiled to the our civilization by just getting rid of a basic assumption. Which one is gonna go? I'd love to see your comments below.


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 © 2020 por Daniel Branco

danielmbranco @ gmail.com

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