Learning Science: Life Through a Lens – the Galileo story

As i draw to the end of the writing on the Learning Science Guidebook, i’m working on the summary and conclusions, starting with this story: it’s about how we may need to create our own tools, and share them generously. This piece is shared as part of #WorkingOutLoud: it is not complete work, but i hope of interest.

Galileo Galilei was a curious man. He was born in Pisa in 1594, to parents more interested in music than science, but ending up training as a doctor, because he could earn more.

Whilst studying for his medical degree, his curiosity got the better of him as he watched a chandelier swinging gently in the air currents of the room: he idly noticed that, no matter how far it swung, each individual swing seemed to take an identical amount of time, an observation that, a hundred years later, would be codified by Christiaan Huygens into a theory that ultimately ended up enabling clocks, of whatever size, to keep accurate time.

As time progressed, he gained widespread academic recognition, his interests, like the pendulum, swinging widely between astronomy, engineering, and physics. He also developed a reputation for building things: thermometers, compasses, and ultimately, a telescope.

Indeed, not just any telescope: he built the device that was first christened a telescope.

He built it not from curiosity alone, but through need: his desire to better understand the trajectories of the planets, the courses of comets, and the movements of moons. The tool that he needed did not exist, so he built it himself.

This is your challenge as a learning scientist: sometimes you can pick up a tool that is ready made, sometimes you have to make it yourself.

Sometimes you can look at the world through a lens that somebody gives you, and sometimes you have to grind your own new lens.

Through this module on Learning Science, we have charted a wide ranging course: i have given you one frame through which to examine the subject, and one lens through which to view it. I have shared my mental devices with you. But they will not be enough: from here on in, you will need to make your own.

And if you are to truly drive change, if you are to help build a more Socially Dynamic Organisation, you will need to share them too. A community, one which can support and drive us forwards, is not a thing we strive for: it’s a reward that we earn, and the currency we buy it with is generosity.

What Science Can Help With

As i said at the start of this module: science is not the answer, but rather the way that we will find answers. Or more accurately, the methodology through which we will push back our boundaries of ignorance.

Science does not just look at evidence: it builds it. Replication of results gives confidence. So science can help us to take steps forward.

Science can validate a theory, may even inform creation of new theories, but science is not, in itself, the overarching ‘meaning’. It’s the tool that we use to find that meaning.

A scientific approach will build rigour in our work: a scientific mindset will help us discerningly find value in the work of others.

Science can help to structure our doubt, providing us with the mental models to challenge fairly and effectively.

Science is not a barrier to hide behind, or a defence against dogma: a scientist is willing to be proved wrong, because being wrong is part of the scientific process.

What Science Cannot Help With

Science is not a weapon to be deployed to promote a truth: it’s a way for finding truths.

Science will not provide one view that lasts forever: it provides our best view, but inherent to the scientific approach is the mechanism and willingness to capsize our own dogma.

Science cannot displace belief, because belief is held separately from logic. But the two are not mutually exclusive: scientists can be believers, but they must recognise the difference between the two states.

Science cannot make an appealing idea true. And science cannot make a displeasing idea false.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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6 Responses to Learning Science: Life Through a Lens – the Galileo story

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