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Why Science and Philosophy Are Imperfect (And Why It Could be a Good Thing) -- The Sisyphic Endeavor For Intellect

Updated: Mar 22

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How Science and Philosophy Fuel Our Understanding

Science and philosophy have a common goal in mind -- to better understand the mysteries of existence. Unlike some religions, which might claim to possess definitive answers, science and philosophy are, by default, flawed. They are flawed for they always needed to be doubted in order to have their bodies of knowledge advance forward. As such, doubt is an uncanny virtue.

But this is flaw's not a weakness. It's a strength. It is precisely the flaws, the problems, and the conflicts that drive us to seek solutions to our questions and problems. These default limitations push scientists to constantly test and refine their theories, while philosophers grapple with fundamental questions and challenge existing assumptions. This ongoing process of questioning and refinement is what fuels our ever-expanding understanding of the universe and ourselves.

A Flawed Yet Enduring Journey

Science and philosophy, in their relentless pursuit of understanding, grapple with a fundamental question: Can we ever unlock all the mysteries of existence? Perhaps the vastness of the universe and the intricacies of consciousness will forever remain partially veiled from our grasp. After all, as humans, we are inherently limited in our capacity for knowledge, forever away from omniscience without ever truly reaching it.

The quest for omniscience is a Sisyphic one. However, by embracing the existentialist approach to the monotony of our work as intellects, we can still be motivated to resume our efforts nevertheless, deeming it our calling, and not our burden.

This limitation stands in grand contrast to the pronouncements of some religions. They claim for definitive answer, found as absolute knowledge, often housed in sacred texts or pronouncements from revered figures. Religious folk may claim that it is through fatih, and not through the study of philosophy, where the truth can be found. And as such, faith becomes not a substitute to knowledge, but the key to it, instead.

Faith is thus understood as a kind of basic knowledge attended by a certainty that excludes doubt. ...Faith-knowledge is not only ‘revealed to our minds’ but also ‘sealed upon our hearts’.

But if such a key exists, one that is revealed to us, one wonders why its secrets remain hidden, and deserve of trust (AKA faith) when it has been proven that doubt is useful to research the truth. Why wouldn't these answers be readily shared with the world, rendering the endeavors of scientists, philosophers obsolete, through the need to always be questioning? After all, if a path to ultimate understanding has already been laid out, through credible research methods, wouldn't it be the most rational course of action for all humanity to follow it? After all, trust is to be gained through demonstration of a claim, not just through its mere statement (like through a testimony, which could be proven false).

The very act of claiming absolute knowledge through several trust-related biases, exposes a potential flaw. Perfection, by definition, leaves no room for error, for it is pure of it. However, how can one be certain of absolute perfection without acknowledging the possibility of flaws? Without flaws in paradigms that aim to show us the truth, the need for philosophy and science wouldn't exist, as they are first and foremost methods of discovery.

If these paradigms, or models of truth, leave no necessary room for doubt, which can be proven, then all we're left to do is to study them and not commit to philosophy nor to science.

This problem of unchecked certainty, which deserves to be questioned like everything else, isn't unique to religion. It manifests in individuals, nations, and anything blindly worshipped, and in any society or individuals that would condemn you for questioning. Love itself can fall prey to this tendency, painting its object in idealized hues, oblivious to the cracks beneath the surface, and to the pain that follows.

The pursuit of knowledge, despite its inherent limitations, is a far more rewarding and enduring endeavor than the embrace of supposed infallibility. Science and philosophy, with their openness to revision and questioning, allow humanity to engage in a continuous journey of exploration.

Although this imperfect process may never grant us complete understanding, it is through this very struggle that we continue to learn, grow, and expand our grasp of the universe and ourselves.

Between Certainty and the Embrace of Ignorance

We often associate philosophy with the "love of wisdom," yet the act of philosophizing can often be a far cry from a blissful state. Those who delve into philosophical inquiry often grapple with the uncomfortable reality, hidden by blissful ignorance. However, ignorance isn't always a blessing.

This chronic, seemingly-eternal state of unknowing can be unsettling, when entire theories can collapse in face of new evidence, thus proving you wrong after much time of thinking you're in the right. Compare this to a scientist that's constantly revising their theories in the face of new evidence.

This inherent limitation of human understanding extends beyond philosophy. The promise of absolute knowledge, often promised in concepts like the infallibility of the church, presents an enticing alternative.

The comfort of a definitive answer key, enshrined in sacred texts or pronouncements, seems far less demanding than the never-ending quest for truth. It therefore appeals to the human mind, which often works on shortcuts, and diminishes in comparison the relevancy of philosophy.

Yet, accepting such pronouncements without question raises concerns. Blind acceptance, devoid of critical examination, can lead to idleness and decline of intellectual curiosity. Furthermore, the very claim of absolute certainty can be suspect. How can one be truly certain of perfect knowledge without acknowledging the possibility of error?

This struggle between the allure of certainty and the embrace of ignorance can be present all aspects of human experience. We crave simple solutions and definitive answers, yet true growth often stems from grappling with complexity and acknowledging the limits of our understanding.

While the notion of never achieving omniscience may seem daunting, it is this very sisyphic struggle that fuels our intellectual journey, and elevates our understanding towards greater heights. It is through the ongoing process of questioning, revising, and exploring that we expand our knowledge and understanding of the universe.

Perhaps the true value lies not in the destination of perfect knowledge, but in the very act of exploration itself, that leads to far-shorter-ranged goals for our intellects. The pursuit of specific knowledge, with all its imperfections and frustrations that may follow, is what needs to be sought more practically, than the unrealistic notion of absolute knowledge. Like generations before us, and those that follow, we may never reach a point of absolute understanding. However, this shouldn't hinder our progress in any field of research, where we still have much available to discover.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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