I recently read a great piece by Jonah Lehrer where he ponders about the way we pursue science. It’s worth reading the whole article, but here’s the paragraph which really grabbed my attention -
Karl Popper, the great philosopher of science, once divided the world into two categories: clocks and clouds. Clocks are neat, orderly systems that can be solved through reduction; clouds are an epistemic mess, “highly irregular, disorderly, and more or less unpredictable.” The mistake of modern science is to pretend that everything is a clock, which is why we get seduced again and again by the false promises of brain scanners and gene sequencers. We want to believe we will understand nature if we find the exact right tool to cut its joints. But that approach is doomed to failure. We live in a universe not of clocks but of clouds.
I think clouds are beautiful, don’t you? Their variety, their constantly changing shape and colour and size…..their unpredictability. Astonishing. So, yes, I agree with Jonah, (and with Karl Popper), the mechanistic view of the universe has brought certain understandings and certain powers, but the networked, complex view of the universe will bring us a new understanding of reality, with quite a different concept of power. Jonah sums it up this way -
So how do we see the clouds? I think the answer returns us to the vintage approach of the Victorians. Right now, the life sciences follow a very deductive model, in which researchers begin with a testable hypothesis, and then find precisely the right set of tools to test their conjecture. Needless to say, this has been a fantastically successful approach. But I wonder if our most difficult questions will require a more inductive method, in which we first observe and stare and ponder, and only then theorize.
I think it’s about learning to use the whole brain again. Read Ian McGilchrist’s “The Master and his Emissary”. He explains more clearly than anyone else just what these two ways of seeing the world are about and how we might recapture our ability to use both halves of our brain!