Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 16 September 2023

The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking

Source: By Rishika Singh: The Indian Express

The success of India’s lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3, has seen the appreciation of ISRO scientists. That India has been able to land a spacecraft on the Moon, becoming only the first country to have done so on its south pole, is a milestone.

As a whole, it is hoped that the idea of promoting scientific research and innovation will get a boost. Moreover, the idea of a scientific temper also mentioned in the Directive Principles of State Policy under Article 51A of the Indian Constitution. This broadly means that in their day-to-day lives, people must develop the ability and instinct to question and reform things.

In this context, we take a look at a quote from Albert Einstein: “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.” Quotes from notable personalities are also an important part of the UPSC CSE syllabus, particularly from an Essay Paper perspective.

Where is the quote from?

The quote is from a collection of essays, called Out of My Later Years. In an essay titled ‘Physics and Reality’, Einstein explained how physics constitutes a logical system that helps us create theories for understanding the reality around us.

He wrote at the beginning of this essay that it is said that a “man of science is a poor philosopher.” This assertion is not without basis, he wrote, and it can then be argued for a physicist to stick to what he knows and not begin thinking like a philosopher.

However, this assumes that physics has a set of final laws that cannot be further improved upon and that are totally correct and rigid. Einstein argued against this perception of science. A physicist also “…must try to make clear in his own mind just how far the concepts which he uses are justified, and are necessities,” he wrote.

He added, “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.” This implies that the skill of critical thinking – related to a thorough analysis of an issue – should not be restricted to one’s own field. Just as we observe and form an understanding of the world around us on a daily basis, and that process is not free from errors, similarly, science should also be constantly analysed and questioned.

What does the quote mean?

The quote basically gives the view that science is not the same as finality, and it is merely a process or a framework through which we can understand the world. It has a structure: there is a hypothesis (an argument or idea that may or may not be correct), there are defined processes of experimentation to test it, and finally, a conclusion is drawn.

Such theories are not direct representations of reality, but rather tools for understanding it. Einstein wrote that scientific theories, despite their role as representations of reality, are inherently constrained by the assumptions and simplifications they rely upon – just as our own perceptions are. We might have our own theories on morality, the politics of the day, or how we or others should live their lives. But these are, at the end of the day, only theories.

He underscored that no theory can assert itself as an absolute representation of the entire truth regarding the entire universe, because this understanding is in a constant state of progression and refinement, as science progresses.

The essay invites readers to contemplate the relationship between human thought, scientific models, and the objective world. It ultimately seems to convey that there is no absolute truth because of how humans perceive things and the fact that they can never be sure of their own knowledge.

Einstein discussed how scientific theories are mental constructs that help us make sense of our experiences and observations.

These theories are not perfect but they are still helpful in refining and enhancing the way we naturally think about the world. Just as scientific theories are built upon observations and empirical data, everyday thinking is also based on our interactions with the world. It should also be emphasised that such thinking is questioned and not seen as always being error-free.

He also praised the role of mathematics in expressing physical theories. Mathematics provides a formal language that allows us to represent complex relationships accurately. This aligns with the idea of refinement, as mathematics refines our everyday language and concepts for describing the world.

Therefore, Einstein’s perspective says that science is an evolved form of our common thinking. It is systematically developed to grasp the intricacies of reality and acknowledge its own limitations.