Summary: The Purpose of Science


The name of this website Mysearch’ effectively embodies its purpose, i.e. it represents a personal journey of self-learning and reflection of my own ‘worldview’. As such, there was never an intention to allude to any ‘weight of authority, a point that may be self-evident to those with a deeper understanding of any of the issues discussed. In this process, misunderstanding of accepted science will have undoubtedly occurred, but if learning is not to become the rote acceptance of facts, then you must also accept that you will run up against the limits of your ability to understand certain concepts; especially given limited time and access to information. In this context, the field of cosmology can be particularly problematic in that it is based on so much speculation that even the experts do not always seem to agree. Therefore, it will simply be stated that the previous discussion of cosmology was an honest attempt to address my own ‘duty of inquiry’  by reviewing as much basic science as possible and to highlight those issues that seemed to exceed the ‘ limits of inference’ and, in so doing, had to be classed as unverified speculation.

But why were so many of the discussions based on classical Newtonian concepts rather than general relativity?

Well, even ignoring the additional complexity that general relativity brings to the subject of cosmology, from a learning perspective; it is easy to lose sight of the fundamental physics within the abstraction of its mathematics. There is also the implicit suggestion that the results of general relativity and Newtonian physics should converge in the presence of a weak gravitational field - see Effective Potential for a comparison. So within the context of the homogeneous energy-density of the current universe, it is unclear why the results should be so different; especially if the centre of gravity issue is equally problematic to both models, i.e. curvature versus gravitational force . The following extract is taken from the paper entitled ‘ Cosmology Calculations almost without General Relativity’ and might also be cited in support of the validity of a ‘classical approximation’ when presenting conceptual ideas for the first time:

The Friedmann equation is derived for a Newtonian universe. Changing mass density to energy density gives exactly the Friedmann equation of general relativity. Accounting for work done by pressure then yields the two Einstein equations that govern the expansion of the universe. Descriptions and explanations of radiation pressure and vacuum pressure are added to complete a basic kit of cosmology tools. It provides a basis for teaching cosmology to undergraduates in a way that quickly equips them to do basic calculations.

However, while the results of the ΛCDM model, as described in this website, appear to align to the generally accepted results produced by various ‘Cosmic Calculators, it remains unclear how certain interpretations of expanding space have been justified within the scope of the standard model. At one level, the accepted description of expansion is very clear that, despite its name, the Big Bang cannot be described in terms of the physics of an explosion. Rather the model appears to require the uniform expansion of each unit volume of space, which then rationalizes the apparent superluminal recessional velocities predicted by Hubble’s Law.

So what physics is actually said to describe the expansion of space?

In the very early quantum universe, the inflation model suggests that an energy-density, in the form of a scalar field, accounted for the exponential expansion of space, at least, for a fraction of the 1st second of existence. Then, after some 7 billion years, the ΛCDM model then attributes the accelerated expansion of space to the negative pressure of dark energy. So, in both these cases, there appears to be a specific cause driving expansion even though the causal mechanisms may not be obvious. However, in between these two effects, space is often assumed to have continued to expand due to the ‘inertia of space’ .

Is this a fully rational description of the mechanism of expansion?

This is an open question, although it was suggested that the description appears to be more of a rationalization of the effect rather than a description of the cause. Of course, more advance models, which fully account for general relativity, may be able to rationalize the case for the inertial expansion of space; although they would presumably have to rationalize this description in terms of the spatial curvature of the universe, which the ΛCDM model assumes to be flat. So, with these issues tabled, but unresolved, the remainder of this final summary will again attempt to reflect on some of the wider, and possibly more philosophical, implications of cosmology, e.g.

What is the nature of the universe?

At this point, philosophers and theologians might both argue that they have as much right to speculate as science, which leads to the question implied in the title of this summary:

What is the purpose of science?

One position might be that the purpose of science should not seek to debate the nature of the universe, only to impartially separate fact from fiction within the constraints of what is known and what is verifiable. However, this is a somewhat idealistic position that ignores the fact that scientists are also a part of society in which they try to promote and defend their specific worldview. As the previous discussions of cosmology has highlighted that the premise of much of modern science now appears to be dependent on a ‘belief’ in mathematically abstract models, which at face value might not appear to be so different to those who put a priority on their  philosophical or religious beliefs rather than science. Of course, the implication of this perception also needs to be questioned and not just accepted:


So what do worldviews really have to do with the purpose of science?

As stated on several occasions throughout this website, science does not exist in a vacuum, divorced from all other human activities and peer pressure. In this context, history would suggest that it was the role of a science-led worldview that proved critical to the evolution of human society. However, as the 21st century progresses, the purpose of science may well determine not only the evolution of human society, but of humanity itself. It is realized that to some this may appear as a rather overly melodramatic statement, more reflective of philosophical musing than hard science.

So what has the development of cosmology got to do with our worldview?

Historically, we may cite the impact of the works of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Einstein, where each successive discovery led to a fundamental shift in the perception of humanity’s position in the cosmos. However, these discoveries also caused a fundamental shift in our understanding of the nature of the universe, i.e.

  • From a static universe designed by God to meet the needs of humanity
  • To a dynamic universe driven by quantum probability in which humanity’s existence cannot be guaranteed, let alone explained.

Within this changing perspective, humanity’s initial and tentative exploration of space has only seemed to confirm the fragility of the human condition to survive beyond the confines of ‘Mother Earth’. While, at the same time, the eco-sciences have been sounding the alarm bells by raising doubts about humanity’s long-term prospects here at ‘home’. If we add to this mix, the subliminal message of special relativity that the distance to and between the stars may prove to be an insurmountable hurdle, given the technical problems of reaching anything like light speed, any optimism within the scientific worldview, as understood by society at large, may begin to quickly evaporate as the 21st century ‘progresses’ towards an ever more uncertain future. It is realized that this may seem a somewhat alarmist viewpoint to be making within what purports to be a discussion of cosmology, but the relevance of some of these statements might be set against the following quote by William K. Clifford:

"The danger to society is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous, and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them, for then it must sink back into savagery. It may matter little to me, in my cloud-castle of sweet illusions and darling lies; but it matters much to Man that I have made my neighbours ready to deceive. The credulous man is father to the liar and the cheat."

Although, Clifford wrote these words over 100 years ago, the ‘danger to society’ is possibly even greater if society, as a whole, loses ‘faith’ in science to solve real world problems. The implication of the previous statement might be seen in the words of Edward De Bono:

The purpose of science is not to analyze or describe but to make useful models of the world. A model is useful if it allows us to get use out of it.

However, we always need to remember that while a model may be useful in making progress, it may not necessarily fully reflect the reality of the physical universe. So, within this expanding discussion, we might possibly reflect on two key implications, which might be associated with the developments within cosmology. First, we might recognize the role of cosmology in helping provide humanity with a better perspective of its ‘position’ in the cosmos, both physically and metaphysically. As a result, those who accept this position may have already come to the 'conclusion' that just pinning humanity’s future on the ‘belief’ of divine intervention might not be the best course of action. Second, it highlights a potential danger of science becoming too preoccupied with mathematically abstract models without the necessary or, in some cases, any recourse to empirical verification. As such, there is a danger that science comes to believe its own marketing hype and moves too far towards the ‘belief of’ rather than the ‘substantiation of’ facts.

But what has all this really got to do with the future of humanity?

In some ways, by extrapolating some of the issues within cosmology, we seem to also go to the very heart of the question about the purpose of science. For example, at the beginning of the 20th century most scientists believed the universe was a static system, but now cosmology has come to understand the cosmos in terms of it being a dynamic system, subject to constant change. In a similar timeframe, most scientists would have initially described planet Earth in terms of a stable ‘balance of nature’, while today there is a much clearer recognition of the complexity and potential instability of a multitude of feedback loops within what is now described as an ‘ecology system’. Through this understanding, science has changed the worldview of many, and not necessarily in a positive way, such that many may now ‘believe’ that ‘Mother Earth’ has no predisposition towards humanity’s continued existence and that the ‘nature of the universe’ may be positively hostile towards any further expansive incursion into the cosmos by humanity, at least, in its current form. As such, the initial ‘faith’ of the 20th century in science to solve all the world’s problems may begin to evaporate within 21st century, if science cannot meet the challenges of the ‘brave new world.


So what is the future of science and humanity?

This question is simply tabled at this point, as clearly any answer would have to be predicated on as much speculation as the science that might be required to achieve it. However, it might be suggested that the eventual outcome may actually depend on how future generations come to define the ‘purpose of science’ and the subsequent direction humanity decides it wants to, or is possibly forced to, go.