Monday 14 June 2010

Solitary science?

For anyone wanting to do science when the social structure of science is so corrupt, the obvious question is to ask whether they can 'go it alone'? - whether it makes any kind of sense to do science solo.

At the extreme this would simply mean that a person studied a problem but did not communicate their findings - either study for its own intrinsic value, or perhaps implementing the findings in their own life - for example a doctor doing research and using the findings in their own clinical practice.

Implementing findings in personal practice is, at some level, universal - it is simply termed learning from experience.

But what about doing science for its intrinsic value? This is termed philosophy - or perhaps natural philosophy.

I don't believe there is any line dividing philosophy from real science - although the activities differ considerably at their extremes. Nowadays both philosophy and science are essentially corrupt - or perhaps one could say that the names philosophy and science have been stolen and applied to generic, large scale bureaucratic activities.

However, if philosophy is seen in its essential role - aside from being a career - then that is exactly what a solo scientist would be doing; as indeed was the case for someone like Aristotle who has been rated as both the greatest (i.e. most influential) philosopher and scientist.

But of course Aristotle was a professional, not an amateur, and also he applied the fruits of his scholarship in practice. Indeed, it is hard for humans not to want to communicate their work - not least there is the motivation to get status for one's scholarship.

So, while it is not impossible, I do find it hard to imagine a satisfying life as a solo scientist; and I think that being part of a similarly-motivated group of people is probably a pre-requisite. However, such a group might be relatively small and local - as was the case in the 18th century in England, when science was carried forward by the Lunar Society in Birmingham and similar Literary and Philosophical Societies in other cities.