Advances in Science

chap7The Enriching of Memory, a collection of quotations on the site, should be a bit easier to navigate and search now.  Here is something from Michael Roukes on how Science progresses.

“While we keep our futuristic dreams alive, we also need to keep our expectations realistic. It seems that every time we gain access to a regime that is a factor of 10 different—and presumably “better”— two things happen. First, some wonderful, unanticipated scientific phenomenon emerges. But then a thorny host of underlying, equally unanticipated new problems appear. This pattern has held true as we have pushed to decreased size, enhanced sensitivity, greater spatial resolution, higher magnetic and electric fields, lower pressure and temperature, and so on. It is at the heart of why projecting forward too many orders of magnitude is usually perilous. And it is what should imbue us with a sense of humility and proportion at this, the beginning of our journey. Nature has already set the rules for us. We are out to understand and employ her secrets.

“Once we head out on the quest, nature will frequently hand us what initially seems to be nonsensical, disappointing, random gibberish. But the science in the glitches often turns out to be even more significant than the grail motivating the quest. And being proved the fool in this way can truly be the joy of doing science. If we had the power to extrapolate everything correctly from the outset, the pursuit of science would be utterly dry and mechanistic. The delightful truth is that, for complex systems, we do not, and ultimately probably cannot, know everything that is important.

“Complex systems are often exquisitely sensitive to a myriad of parameters beyond our ability to sense and record— much less control—with sufficient regularity and precision. Scientists have studied, and in large part already understand, matter down to the fundamental particles that make up the neutrons, protons and electrons that are of crucial importance to chemists, physicists and engineers. But we still cannot deterministically predict how arbitrarily complex assemblages of these three elemental components will finally behave en masse. For this reason, I firmly believe that it is on the foundation of the experimental science under way [sic], in intimate collaboration with theory, that we will build the road to true nanotechnology. Let’s keep our eyes open for surprises along the way!”

Roukes, Michael, in Scientific American, Vol 13 No1, 100.