25 November 2013

Will we understand science in the future?

Tyler Cowen suggests not in his book 'Average Is Over' (2013).  The book is a bit of prognostication about the near future, looking mainly at how the use of computers is and will change our world.  The basic idea is that the people who can add value to computer work in some way will reap most of the rewards.

For the purposes of this blog, I thought the part about computer-driven science was most interesting. Cowen lists three reasons why science may become harder to understand:
1. In some (not all) scientific areas, problems are becoming more complex and unsusceptible to simple, intuitive, big breakthroughs.
2. The individual scientific contribution is becoming more specialized, a trend that has been running for centuries and is unlikely to stop.
3. One day soon, intelligent machines will become formidable researchers in their own right. (206)
And here's one attempt at a summary:
The remaining human knowledge of science will be very practical, very prediction-oriented, and well geared for improving our lives.  Of course those are all positive developments. Still, as a general worldview, science will not always be very inspiring or illuminating. The general educated public will to some extent be shut out from a scientific understanding of the world, and we will run the risk that they might detach from a long-term loyalty to scientific reasoning. (219)
It will be interesting to see how much of this thinking will apply to neuroscience.

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