Scientific Sense Podcast

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Suspended knowledge

A recent paper in the journal of Physical Review Letters, showing a new analysis of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation and hypothesizing how the constructs from the existing model – such as dark energy and Neutrinos – could be sufficient to explain them, is symptomatic of the common experimental problem, in which results almost always tend toward ex. ante expectations. This is now common in most scientific disciplines including Physics, Medicine, Economics and others.

Experiments have been useful for most of the scientific pursuit of humans. However, we are fast approaching a regime that has a critical level of knowledge that cannot be improved by experiments. Empiricism and experimentalism have contributed significantly to the acceleration of knowledge in the past. However, the alarming rise seen in confirmation bias in experimental results, across scientific disciplines also point to a level of knowledge saturation bounded by experiments. This is akin to an environmental change and if the human brain is not able to adapt to this new state of knowledge, it stands high risk of stagnation, or worse extinction.

One way to get around this stagnation is to increase the number of experiments designed specifically to disprove expectations. As the value of confirming experiments decline for knowledge creation, experiments that look for yet to be defined needle in yet to be defined haystack have to dominate. The problem, of course, is even in those cases, ex. ante expectations of the haystack and the properties of the possible needle will be corrupted by the status quo. It is possible that humans are unable to make a transition to the next wave of knowledge creation as the current education and industrial systems are simply unable to adapt to the new realities.

It will be sad if we experiment our way through finer and finer measurements of the non-existent, in a state of suspended and stagnant knowledge.

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