Tuesday, 31 December 2013

(Fun post) How's this for a science fiction plot?

Thomas Kuhn believed scientific revolutions (e.g. events when large-scale assumptions about science are replaced by new ones, examples being the shift from geo- to heliocentrism, classical physics to quantum mechanics, common design to common ancestry, caloric theory of heat to vibrational energy of the molecules...and so on) are not triggered so much by new evidence coming to light, but rather by psychological motivations of the scientists and people of that time.

I know his view smacks of postmodernism, and I myself don't agree with it fully- but let's say its true. In fact, let's take it one step further and say there are no scientific "facts" per se, but only different versions of science. Geocentricism is by no means less true than heliocentricism, and Aristotelian science is just as much of a "science" as inductive science...and so on. If such a world were to exist, the purpose of science would be something other than knowing truths about reality, perhaps entertainment, perhaps something else- I leave that open to speculation.

NOW. In our world, we travel to different areas in the world to pursue higher studies in science. However, let's say that in a world with no scientific truths and only different versions of science- people have the privilege of actually traveling to different *times* for pursuit of scientific "knowledge" and training. If someone doesn't like 21st century science, s/he would have the opportunity to travel to the 18th or 19th century to learn Victorian science, or even medieval science, or even Greek science under the tutelage of Aristotle. Unlike people nowadays who get PhD's from universities of different countries, people in that alternate world would get PhD's from different *times*. Next to your name, there would be mentions of degrees like "PhD under Charles Darwin, 1863" or "PhD under Aristotle's Lyceum". In such a world, there would need to be an universally recognized degree (I used the example of PhD).

With this backdrop, here's how the plot might work. A young budding scientist realizes the futility or idleness of doing science in such a world. He doesn't know where the problem lies, however. His discomfort may be fueled further by the effects of downright bad science, such as Eugenics theory or blaming demons for diseases. One day, he chances upon writings of the likes of, say, Bacon, Hume or Reichenbach- and becomes aware about the existence of the discipline of philosophy of science. He realizes the Kuhnian assumption is not inherent to science, but it was a metaphysical add-on. He also becomes aware of the heated debate across the centuries among philosophers of science who tried to articulate the structure of the scientific enterprise. Armed with this knowledge, he realizes that the beauty of scientific knowledge lies not in mere entertainment, but rather learning about true facts. Scientific progress is a reality.

He starts leading an intellectual scientific revolution of his own against postmodernism. He is joined in this revolution by some of the greatest minds of history, such as Al-Ghazzali, Thomas Reid, Francis Bacon, Richard Owen, Isaac Newton, Ibn Rushd- and so on. He also gains support from famous science popularizers such as T. H. Huxley, Richard Dawkins, John Lennox, Carl Sagan- and all these people from so many different stripes come together in one common goal to overthrow the Kuhnian paradigm, and establish science for what it is.

After this mission succeeds, however, it would be necessary to bring time-travel to an end, at least for this purpose, to avoid messing with the fabric of history.