what makes modern science so unique, so different from all previous traditions of knowledge.
After all, at least since cognitive revolutions, humans have always tried to figure out how the universe works.
This is not something new. Of the last 500 years. Our ancestors, thousands and even tens of thousands of years ago, they put great deal of time and effort in trying to discover the rules that govern the natural world around them.
what is so special and different about modern science?
Well, modern science differs from all previous traditions of knowledge in three critical ways.
First , and the foremost, it differs its willingness to admit ignorance.
Modern science is based on the admission that “we do not know.”
Modern science assumes that we don’t know everything. Even more importantly, modern science accepts that the things that we think we know, could still be proven wrong as we gain more knowledge.
In modern science no concept, no idea, no theory is considered sacred, and beyond challenge.
So this is the first unique characteristic of modern science.
The second unique characteristic is the centrality of observation and mathematics. After admitting ignorance what modern scientists tried to do is to obtain new knowledge.
They do it by gathering observations on the world, and using mathematical tools to connect these observations into comprehensive theories.
The third unique feature of modern science is that it aims to acquire new powers. Modern science is never content, just with creating theories, and understanding how things work.
Modern science uses these theories in order to acquire new powers, and in particular in order to develop new technologies.
The real aim of modern science is not truth, it is power.
Let us now take a closer look at each of these three main characteristics of modern science.
Is the first characteristic as we said is the willingness to admit ignorance. In this sense, the scientific revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge as it is usually the depicted, the scientific revolution has been a revolution of ignorance. The greatest discovery that launched the scientific revolution forward was the discovery of ignorance.
The discovery that humans do not know the answers to the most important questions.
Pre-modern traditions of knowledge like Islam, or Christianity, or Buddhism. They asserted that everything that is important to know about the world was already known.
The great gods, or the one almighty God, or the wise people of the past. They knew everything there is to know. And they revealed whatever we need to know in their scriptures and oral traditions. If you want to know the answer to a important questions, all you need to do is read these ancient texts and understand them properly.
It was inconceivable that the Bible, or the Quran, or the Vedas were missing out on some crucial secret of the universe. A secret that must, must still be discovered by us modern people.
Ancient traditions of knowledge admitted only two kinds of ignorance.
First, a particular individual might well be ignorant about something very important, but, in that case, to obtain the necessary knowledge, all that he or she needed to do, was ask somebody wiser.
There was no need to discover, something, that nobody knew.
For example, if a peasant in some medieval European village wanted to know how the human race originated, he assumed, and everybody assumed that the Christian tradition held the definitive answer. Maybe the peasant himself didn’t know that all he needed to do in order to receive an answer was to ask the priest. And if the priest didn’t know, then he asked the bishop or the pope, and they knew by looking at the sacred texts, and understanding them.
Secondly, the other, option for there being ignorance in the world is that, not only one person, but all people might be ignorant of unimportant things. By definition, according to the traditional religions and so forth. Whatever the great gods, or the wise people of the past, did not bother to tell us in the sacred texts and traditions, was unimportant.
For example, if a medieval peasant wanted to know, say, how spiders weave their webs. It was pointless to ask the priest or the bishop or the Pope because they didn’t know and there was no answer to this question in any of the Christian scriptures. It doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible how spiders weave their webs. However, this did not mean that Christianity was deficient. It meant that understanding how spiders weave their webs was unimportant.
After all, God, knew perfectly well everything, including how spiders do it. If this was a vital piece of information necessary for human prosperity and salvation, God would have taken care to include a comprehensive explanation of spiders in the Bible, but there was no such explanation so this showed that this was unimportant. Now, Christianity did not forbid people to study spiders if they so liked. People engaged in the study of spiders had to accept their peripheral role in society. And they had to accept the irrelevance of their findings to the eternal truths of the Christian religion and society. No matter what a scholar might discover about spiders, that knowledge was just trivia. With no potential bearing on the fundamental truths of society and politics and economics.
In fact, things were never quite so simple. In every age, even in the most pious and conservative age, there were always people who argued that there were important things of which their entire tradition was ignorant.
Yet such people, before the modern age, they were usually marginalized or persecuted or else they founded a new tradition and began to argue that they now knew everything that there is to know. For example, the prophet Muhammad began his religious career by condemning his fellow Arabs for living in ignorance of the divine truth. Yet, Muhammad, himself, very quickly, begin to argue that, he knew the whole truth because it was revealed to him by God. And the followers of Muhammad, therefore, began calling him the seal of the prophets. The last prophet. Because after Mohamed, there is no need of further revelations. His revelations contain all the truth humanity needs to know.
Modern day science is very unique, because it openly admits our collective ignorance regarding not trivial matters, but regarding the most important questions of all. And scientists when they say that previously we didn’t know, scientists usually do not start arguing that now they know everything. Darwin, for example, never argued that he was the seal of the biologists. The last biologist and that now he has solved, once and for all, all of the big questions of life. Even after centuries of extensive scientific research, biologists, and physicists, and chemists, and so forth. They admit, that they still don’t have any good explanation, for example, for the way the brain produces consciousness. So, we don’t know how the brain does it. Physicists admit that they don’t know what caused the Big Bang and they don’t know how to reconcile quantum mechanics with the theory of general relativity.
So this is the first to characteristic of modern science, its willingness to come and say, we don’t know, to admit ignorance. This willingness to admit ignorance has made modern science far more dynamic and inquisitive than any previous tradition of knowledge. But modern science does not stop there. Once it admits ignorance, it begins to seek new knowledge.