Science is a human endeavor created by humans and this endeavor is based on a critically important methodological foundation called The Scientific Method. The object of this page is to expose the case for the startling argument that Human Nature is fundamentally at odds with the Scientific Method—a procedural concept created by humans! The detrimental influence of human nature on scientific progress is perhaps the greatest dilemma we face in this 21st century. Mankind’s technological progress has created threats to our own continued existence, and a major key to confronting these threats is accelerated scientific progress. Yet, it is argued by some that we’re moving into the 2nd century of a dry spell in scientific breakthroughs.
The following selection of quotations was compiled by this website’s content manager for the Inaugural Symposium of the Institute for Venture Science, 25 September 2015.
All the sciences have a relation, greater or less, to human nature; and …
however wide any of them may seem to run from it, they still return back by one passage or another
David Hume, 1711 – 1776
All great truths begin as blasphemies
George Bernard Shaw, 1856 – 1950
… First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident
Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788 – 1860
What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right
Albert Einstein, 1879 – 1955
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light,
but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it
Max Planck, 1858 – 1947
Almost always the men who achieve these fundamental inventions of a new paradigm have been either
very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they change
Thomas Samuel Kuhn, 1922 – 1996
Science progresses funeral by funeral
George Bernard Shaw, 1856 – 1950
The mind likes a strange idea as little as the body likes a strange protein and resists it with similar energy.
It would not perhaps be too fanciful to say that a new idea is the most quickly acting antigen known to science.
If we watch ourselves honestly, we shall often find that we have begun to argue against a new idea even before it has been completely stated.
Wilfred Batten Lewis Trotter, 1872 – 1939
The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible,
have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false
Paul Bede Johnson, 1928 –
All of physics is either impossible or trivial. It is impossible until you understand it, and then it is trivial.
Ernest Rutherford, 1871 – 1937
A central lesson of science is that to understand complex issues (or even simple ones), we must try to free our minds of dogma
and to guarantee the freedom to publish, to contradict, and to experiment. Arguments from authority are unacceptable
Carl Sagan, 1934 – 1996
Physicists, being in no way different from the rest of the population, have short memories for what is inconvenient
Anthony Standen, 1906 – 1993
As for your doctrines I am prepared to go to the Stake if requisite … I trust you will not allow yourself to be in any way disgusted or annoyed by the considerable abuse & misrepresentation which unless I greatly mistake is in store for you… And as to the curs which will bark and yelp – you must recollect that some of your friends at any rate are endowed with an amount of combativeness which (though you have often & justly rebuked it) may stand you in good stead –
I am sharpening up my claws and beak in readiness.
Thomas Henry Huxley, 1825 – 1895
Letter (23 Nov 1859) to Charles Darwin a few days after the publication of Origin of Species
The inability of researchers to rid themselves of earlier ideas led to centuries of stagnation. An incredible series of deliberate oversights, indefensible verbal evasions, myopia, and plain pig-headedness characterize the pedestrian progress along this elusive road for science. We must be constantly on our guard, critically examining all the hidden assumptions in our work
Simon Mitton, 1946 –
In Review of The Milky Way by Stanley L. Jaki, New Scientist, 5 July 1973
Almost every major revolutionary breakthrough had some thinkers who rejected it as “crackpot” at first –Frank J. Sulloway, historian and sociologist of science. Sulloway provides 20 examples from the past:
Hutton’s theory of the earth (modern geology, deep time, gradual)
Evolution before and after Darwin
Bacon and Descartes—scientific method
Harvey and blood circulation
Newtonian celestial mechanics
Lavoisier’s chemical revolution
Lyell and geological uniformitarianism
Planck’s Quantum hypothesis
Einstein and general relativity
Indeterminacy in physics
Refutation of spontaneous generation
Lister and antisepsis
Semmelweis and puerperal fever
The following was written by Founders
From Galileo to Jesus Christ, heretical thinkers have been met with hostility, even death, and vindicated by posterity. That ideological outcasts have shaped the world is an observation so often made it would be bereft of interest were the actions of our society not so entirely at odds with the wisdom of the point: troublemakers are essential to mankind’s progress, and so we must protect them. But while our culture is fascinated by the righteousness of our historical heretics, it is obsessed with the destruction of the heretics among us today. It is certainly true the great majority of heretical thinkers are wrong. But how does one tell the difference between “dangerous” dissent, and the dissent that brought us flight, the theory of evolution, Non-Euclidean geometry? It could be argued there are no ‘real’ heretics left. Perhaps we’ve arrived at the end of knowledge, and dissent today is nothing more than mischief or malice in need of punishment. But be the nature of our witches unclear, it cannot be denied we’re burning them. The question is only are our heretics the first in history who deserve to be burned?
We don’t think so.
We believe dissent is essential to the progressive march of human civilization. We believe there’s more in science, technology, and business to discover, that it must be discovered, and that in order to make such discovery we must learn to engage with new — if even sometimes frightening — ideas.
Every great thinker, every great scientist, every great founder of every great company in history has been, in some dimension, a heretic. Heretics have discovered new knowledge. Heretics have seen possibility before us, and portentous signs of danger. But our heretics are also themselves in persecution, a sign of danger. The potential of the human race is predicated on our ability to learn new things, and to grow. As such, growth is impossible without dissent. A world without heretics is a world in decline, and in a declining civilization everything we value, from science and technology to prosperity and freedom, is in jeopardy.
People of science were repressed and persecuted by medieval prejudices for over 1500 years—more than 75 generations of mankind, with the exception of a brief reprieve during the Renaissance. In the two centuries since this suppression was largely overcome, science has had an immense positive impact on humanity.
Yet throughout this period, great scientists have consistently decried the penalty science is paying for not being practiced according to the Scientific Method, the essential operating principles of science. The low level of fidelity with which the Scientific Method is said to be followed today by both scientists and systems for administering science is most likely culpable for the quantifiable decline in the number and magnitude of scientific breakthroughs and revolutions in scientific thought over the last century—a decline unanimously confirmed by the National Science Board in 2006. Where are the solutions to today’s unprecedented threats to human existence: dwindling energy resources; diminishing supplies of potable water; increasing incidence of chronic disease—where are today’s counterparts to yesterday’s discovery of bacterial disease which led to antibiotics and of electricity which led to instantaneous worldwide communication and of other major breakthroughs?
The source of this unsolved problem has been recognized by many of science’s greatest achievers throughout history to be human nature: the ingrained often-subconscious behavioral motivations that sociologists tell us are responsible for our species’ very existence. The Scientific Method consists of systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses—all with the utmost objectivity. To implement this method with fidelity, scientists must be honest, impersonal, neutral, unprejudiced, incorruptible, resistant to peer pressure and open to the risks associated with probing the unknown. But to be all this consistently is to be inhuman. Thus, the Scientific Method is an unattainable ideal to strive for, not a recipe to simply follow—that scientists are true to the Scientific Method is argued to be a myth in Henry H. Bauer’s 1992 book The Myth of the Scientific Method.
Max Planck, the originator of the quantum theory of physics, said a hundred years ago, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
Thomas Kuhn, author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, written a half century ago, put forth the idea that to understand what holds paradigm shifts back, we must put more emphasis on the individual humans involved as scientists, rather than abstracting science into a purely logical or philosophical venture.
Considering that this problem source is inherent in people, it should not be surprising that we have not yet solved this problem: its source cannot be removed. Regarding his Theory of the Human condition, the biologist Jeremy Griffith’s said in the 1980s “The human condition is the most important frontier of the natural sciences.” But, in reaction, it has been predicted that no idea will be more fiercely resisted than the explanation of the human condition because the arrival of understanding of the human condition is an extremely exposing and confronting development.
Nevertheless, civilizations have indeed made progress toward correcting for undesirable effects of human nature on society, especially through social standards for upbringing, social mores, legal systems, and judicial processes. So, why have our systems for administering science, where integrity is so important, not been more successful?
So, why have our systems for administering science—especially venture science—not been MORE successful WITH this?
Armed with insights provided by the science of Science, direct experience from careers of conducting and administering science, and humanitarian compassion, the founders of The Institute for Venture Science (IVS) formulated a thesis (www.theinstituteforventurescience.net/). This thesis goes to the heart of the problem—the specific reasons our present inherited systems for administering science are failing to support venture science—and it proposes specific solutions that reflect solutions that are working today in other human endeavors, such as incubators for venture capitalism. It faces head-on those aspects of human nature and also those systems of science administration that are evidently at odds with venture science—the key to major advances in our understanding of Nature.
The IVS Operative Principles, paraphrased from the IVS website, are:
A prime example of what traditional administration and practice of science has not yet been able to deliver is an understanding of the physical origin of inertia, mass, and gravitation: This remains an outstanding puzzle. And the same is true for electric and magnetic fields: We can measure them, predict their behavior, and utilize them; but we still do not understand their origins.
IAI News – Changing how the world thinks. An online magazine of big ideas produced by The Institute of Arts and Ideas. Issue 84, 8 January 2020
Why the foundations of physics have not progressed for 40 years, by Sabine Hossenfelder,
Research fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies and author of blog Backreaction
Physicists face stagnation if they continue to treat the philosophy of science as a joke
In the foundations of physics, we have not seen progress since the mid-1970s when the standard model of particle physics was completed. Ever since then, the theories we use to describe observations have remained unchanged. . . .
The consequence has been that experiments in the foundations of physics past the 1970s have only confirmed the already existing theories. None found evidence of anything beyond what we already know.
But theoretical physicists did not learn the lesson and still ignore the philosophy and sociology of science. I encounter this dismissive behavior personally pretty much every time I try to explain to a cosmologist or particle physicists that we need smarter ways to share information and make decisions in large, like-minded communities. If they react at all, they are insulted if I point out that social reinforcement – aka group-think – befalls us all, unless we actively take measures to prevent it.
Instead of examining the way that they propose hypotheses and revising their methods, theoretical physicists have developed a habit of putting forward entirely baseless speculations. Over and over again I have heard them justifying their mindless production of mathematical fiction as “healthy speculation” – entirely ignoring that this type of speculation has demonstrably not worked for decades and continues to not work. There is nothing healthy about this. It’s sick science. And, embarrassingly enough, that’s plain to see for everyone who does not work in the field.
And so, what we have here in the foundation of physics is a plain failure of the scientific method. All these wrong predictions should have taught physicists that just because they can write down equations for something does not mean this math is a scientifically promising hypothesis. String theory, supersymmetry, multiverses. There’s math for it, alright. Pretty math, even. But that doesn’t mean this math describes reality.
Why don’t physicists have a hard look at their history and learn from their failure? Because the existing scientific system does not encourage learning. Physicists today can happily make career by writing papers about things no one has ever observed, and never will observe. This continues to go on because there is nothing and no one that can stop it.
A contrarian argues that modern physicists’ obsession with beauty has given us wonderful math but bad science
Whether pondering black holes or predicting discoveries at CERN, physicists believe the best theories are beautiful, natural, and elegant, and this standard separates popular theories from disposable ones. This is why, Sabine Hossenfelder argues, we have not seen a major breakthrough in the foundations of physics for more than four decades. The belief in beauty has become so dogmatic that it now conflicts with scientific objectivity: observation has been unable to confirm mindboggling theories, like supersymmetry or grand unification, invented by physicists based on aesthetic criteria. Worse, these “too good to not be true” theories are actually untestable and they have left the field in a cul-de-sac. To escape, physicists must rethink their methods. Only by embracing reality as it is can science discover the truth.