All faces of science

Observation and experimentation, pillars of scientific research. Photo: Pexels / Artem Podrez

As in previous years, European Researchers’ Night is celebrated, which is a good excuse to bring science closer to society. I don’t think that at this point in the 21st century, there are a lot of people who ignore that science is an activity in constant motion, which flows the acquisition of new knowledge about the behavior and content of nature.

Surprised at the number of new findings that are continually being produced, there may be those who do not realize that their relationship – that of almost everyone, except for those, unfortunately not a few, mired in poverty and powerlessness – with science and its sister, technology, is more acute than it has ever been In the past. Perhaps those who attended throughout the nineteenth century At the birth of the transoceanic telegraph, from the electricity that lit the streets and homes or from the telephone, they were more aware of the impact of new scientific technology on their lives, but they were in no way on the devices to which they were attached, or the medical treatments they made use of, they were as present as they are now.

The research is an effort by legions of scholars, many of whom make small contributions without much recognition. I hope to remember them and celebrate them tonight

However, despite the familiarity that most of society may have with the science, it may not be familiar with what the verb “investigate” which gives a name, “researchers”, really means to those who practice This required art. To correct this potential deficiency, I will give some examples.
Research is a multifaceted activity.

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In principle, a distinction must be made between two sections: the observation and experimentation section, and the theoretical explanation section. But they are both related to each other, something that can be easily understood by the contributions of two particularly well-known scientists: Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. From Darwin (and Alfred Wallace) I would choose him The theory of evolution of species, “one of the greatest ideas, or the greatest that ever happened to the human mind,” according to Richard Dawkins (Knowledge in the soul, Espa 2019). The starting point, for both Darwin and Wallace, for arriving at this theory was the observation of many current and past species (revealed through fossils).

But to continue to build an argument structured with an explanatory capacity, both needed a theoretical component, which coincidentally, since both work in different environments and cultural environments, provided them to read a book, the book of the economist. Thomas Robert Malthus: Essay on the principle of population (1826), in which he noted that the imbalance in the (exponential) increase in the population of a species and the (linear) increase in food resources arose a struggle for survival. Armed with this theoretical support, Darwin continued to observe, investigating what happens in some species as well as experiments with others (such as pigeons and domestic animals) until he produced his remarkable synthesis of 1859: Origin of Species.

The case of Einstein and his theory of relativity is of another kind. In the special theory of relativity (1905) clearly distinguishes an amazing theoretical principle, that the speed of light is the same regardless of the speed of the focus it emits. Was this an idea that just came out of Einstein’s head? No, it was a reflection derived from the knowledge I had from some previous experience.

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Even in general relativity, the remarkable work of scientific art completed by Einstein in 1915, the pillar upon which the theoretical edifice rests was an observation made by Galileo (presumably from the Tower of Pisa) and incorporated by Newton into his mechanics. : that, in the absence of air resistance, objects fall with it same acceleration regardless of its mass.

Another unusual example is the so-called Standard Form, which lists all so far known data from the atomic and subatomic world. From this theoretical construction it is said that it constitutes one of the great achievements of the human mind and that it will be remembered. Combined with general relativity, quantum mechanics and genetic code decoding. As one of the most important intellectual developments of the twentieth century. What I want to point out is that this theoretical model was the product of the efforts of many physicists to understand the experimental results obtained, above all, in large particle accelerators.

Example Standard Form It includes an aspect to highlight: Regardless of whether great personalities exist or actually exist, we remember their contributions as if they were milestones on the road, scholarly research is Collective effort of legions of scientists – Theoretically and empirically – they strive daily in their work, and for the most part make small contributions that pass without much recognition. These seekers are the ones I want to remember and celebrate on this Detective Night.

What lies behind my characterization of what the investigation means is that nature, its contents, and the laws that govern it are extremely complex and “strange” Can the human mind Get to know it without looking at what’s out there and what’s going on there. There is only one exception, a very special discipline, essential to all sciences: mathematics. Its peculiarity is due to the fact that although natural laws – especially the laws of physics – are codified using their own entities and structures, they can persist no matter what the natural sciences pursue. She has, so to speak, a life of her own. It’s solid, objective, and secure, but no one knows how to explain well where that safety comes from or what things objectivity alludes to.

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For this reason, research in mathematics has its own characteristics. in a modern book, How was the theory born? (Cataract 2021) mathematician Cedric Villani, Fields Medal Winner 2010 (the mathematical equivalent of a Nobel Prize), try to give an idea of ​​how to proceed in this area of ​​research. It is a commendable attempt, although perhaps not to everyone’s taste.

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