The limits of science

It becomes a bit more obvious how limited the scope of science is if we summarize what it is about in a way that emphasizes its inherent restriction rather than its expansiveness:

Science is about what we can all know about the world.

I’d like to emphasize the “we all” part. A search for universals is necessarily quite limited compared to the vast space of anything that doesn’t fit the strict requirements of universalizability.

And then there is the aspect of knowledge. While some degree of knowledge can enhance our ability to appreciate certain experiences, it is not generally a precondition. Being emotionally manipulated by a skilled speaker is one example. A baby crying for mysterious reasons is another. In both cases, it is precisely a specific lack of knowledge that is required to experience them.

Our separate streams of individual experiences, the taste of an orange, the complexities of our daily interactions with people, our ever-changing and evolving personal attempts at making sense of it all, our intentions and what motivates them, our sense of what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad: those are not in the realm of “what we can all know about the world.”

Sure, we can sciencify all of that by asking many people questions, grouping their responses and applying fancy variants of counting, but what can be gained by doing that will always be at least one level removed from the real deal.

There are things we can know individually that will never be in the (admittedly surprisingly voluminous) bucket of what everyone (in principle, if given access) can know. And there are things we can experience individually that knowledge itself doesn’t give us access to.


Imagine science on a date.


Science: “Tell me something about yourself that anyone should be able to confirm.”
Date: *leaves the scene*


Science [preparing for a date]: “How might I disprove the hypothesis that we are a good match?”


Science [preparing for a date]: “Taking into account confirmation bias, it would be wise for me to prioritize excluding false positives.”

Science [after the date]: “Welp. Maybe, under certain circumstances, this could have been good, but it wasn’t.”

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