Muddling through numerous experiments and observations, and coming up, at first, with many wrong explanations of the observed result by trial and error spread over many years, a scientist finally discovers a secret of nature. We see only the final polished result; and to most scientists, including the discoverer, that is all that matters, because it is a new stepping stone from which we can muddle through new experiments and observations … until another stepping stone is laid.
And this historical continuity is a crucial property, and in fact, the defining characteristic of all sciences.
Furthermore, each of the three branches of science has its own characteristic path, marked by its own peculiar stepping stones. These stepping stones are certified by nature, and they are the only valid markers of the correct path to truth. The path taken by science, and the destination to which the path leads, are always dictated by nature. This natural path has led to a point of view that
in order to understand the objects under the scrutiny of a science, we first of all need to decipher the fundamental building blocks, of which that object is made, and to which nature itself leads us.
In deciphering atoms and the discovery of nucleus, nature forced the physicists to the discovery of quarks, leptons and gauge particles. In deciphering chemical substances, nature forced chemists to the discovery of atoms. And in deciphering cells, nature forced biologists to the discovery of genes and DNA. 1
All scientists without political or philosophical agenda, when studying the fundamental building blocks, do it in isolation. Physicists study quarks and leptons in isolation from the nuclei and atoms of which they are parts. Chemists isolate a water molecule from an ocean, and molecular biologists isolate the large DNA molecule from the nucleus of the cell in which it resides. This isolation is required by the very definition of scientific method championed by Francis Bacon and employed by all scientists ever since Galileo.
No physicist makes the idiotic claim that knowing quarks and leptons in isolation leads to an understanding of nuclei and atoms. No chemist claims that knowing hydrogen and oxygen atoms in isolation leads to an understanding of water molecule. And no biologist claims that knowing the nucleotides in isolation leads to an understanding of DNA.
However, all depoliticized and dephilosophized scientists agree that
a prerequisite to knowing the whole is knowing its parts.
Every human being has a fascination with the mysteries of the universe, and a desire to untangle them. The joy that comes with the discovery of the solution to a puzzle of nature is second to no other joy. Combine this with the fame associated with that discovery, and you get a swarm of crackpots who think that they have discovered the ultimate secret of the universe, and want to tell the world of their discoveries. To separate sense from nonsense and true science from crackpot science, peer-reviewed journals have been created. The team of editors, associate editors, assistant editors, and an army of reviewers go through thousands of articles they receive daily to ensure their validity and accuracy. The prestige of a scientific journal is in direct proportion to the rigor with which the submitted articles are reviewed. This process of publishing scientific articles has worked for centuries now, and is the only way that discoveries are reported. To the crackpot, however, the process is elitism, and scientists are biased enemies conspiring to stop his/her ideas from reaching humanity.
- Some philosophers of science have dubbed this natural process “fundamentalism,” carrying the same resentful connotation as the political and religious doctrine from which it has been borrowed. Some noted scientists including the Nobel Laureates Philip Anderson, Robert Laughlin, and Roald Hoffmann refer to this natural process as “reductionism,” occasionally with the adjective “arrogant” attached to it. ↩