On the 16th of January, we gathered at Impulse to discuss the role of science in shaping our reality and how we perceive reality. Speakers were Esha Shah, assistant professor at the Water Resources Management group of the WUR and Jan Warndorff, author of the book ‘Geen idee' - which translates as both ‘No idea/Not an idea’.
During the event, we talked about how the creating of knowledge (through science) can be seen as an existential need. Science is a way of acquiring knowledge and can therefore be considered as existential to being human. Also the definition of ‘homo sapiens’ means that being human is defined by knowing. But is science the only way in which we can know things? The speakers argued that there are also other forms of knowing, for example by using intuition or know-how.
Esha argued that the need to know is born out of our awareness of our own mortality. To create knowledge or science is an act to create something more permanent or lasting in our world. To create culture or knowledge is to strive for a form of immortality; something that will stay after we have passed away.
Esha also talked about how all science is emotional. Scientists are driven by an existential need to know and their science will reflect their personal interest and being. She argues that divisions made between the irrational and the rational are artificial. Rationality is a means to control the world by creating certainty. The meaning of the irrational to Esha is ‘what is uncertain’. She argues that most things in our world are uncertain.
Jan discussed how science is often considered as reality, but he argues that science can only add more information to reality and can never replace it. What is reality is what we experience right here, right now. This is a wisdom that is also found in Buddhism: truth or wisdom only exists in this moment and through meditation one can experience that.
During the event, there was also a dialogue about the objectivity of science, and how facts never exist without values. All facts or science are based on a belief system on how the world is made up. Often in science, a reductionist view is used that tells us that when we understand all parts that make up the world, we can understand the world. However, understanding all parts will never amount to us understanding, for example, consciousness or love. The reductionist view is often favoured, because it gives us a sense of control. When you understand something, you can control it.
During the evening the question was raised: why do science at all? It is good to remember that it is a choice. It can of course be a joy to do science, to obtain knowledge about our world. It is good to remember that it is a personal choice and think about what purpose science serves.
Furthermore there was a reflection on what knowledge is more life-sustaining than the current scientific paradigm. Jan talked about the importance of moving past indifference and towards love and compassion to the world. It is a shame that love is often considered as a romantic feeling, while love-in-action could mean addressing suffering in our world and acting with love to create more justice. Love is relating to the world, creating bonds and cultivating meaning through relationships. Love also means perseverance, to stand for something you care for. Esha also argued that knowledge is created by building a relationship with something ‘getting to know something or someone’.
Towards the end of the evening, Jan quoted from the novel 'The little prince': “Only with your heart you can see rightly, what is important is invisible to the eye”. And that perhaps, is where science stops being relevant, in matters of the heart.
- Review by Samira van der Loo