Clouds, Not Clocks, Ctd

A reader writes:

I have to disagree with Jonah Lehrer's recommendation that "scientists should learn to expect this cycle -- to anticipate that the universe is always more networked and complicated than reductionist approaches can reveal." That is the basic definition of the scientific profession - to expect that cycle. Newton knew that he had only reached his own incomplete understanding by "standing on the shoulders" of giants and the scientific community has not forgotten the lesson. They know and, yes, anticipate that each new discovery about the universe will raise more questions than it will answer.

It is the popular press, not scientists, that have fallen into a cycle of anticipation and disappointment. A physicist will never talk about a "God Particle" because they know that the discovery of one will not disprove or prove God's existence but simply cause us to reconsider the framework with which we approach the question. The term "Theory of Everything" is at best only used semi-ironically. Proving one would unite the two fields of physics but would it cause scientists to shut down their laboratories and declare the enterprise finished? Of course not, it would only provide new questions.

As is often the case, Carl Sagan said it best: "We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key."