Editor’s Letter - March 2007

Column / by Adam Bly /

Seed editor-in-chief Adam Bly on truth in science.

The pursuit of truth is variously infuriating, exhilarating, amusing, foolish, humbling, noble, emboldening, silly, heroic, even superhuman. Its very existence is debated, and we can safely assume always will be.

We are living in a moment where our traditional sources of truth—legacy news outlets, heads of state, community leaders, etc.—have diminished in standing. Our collective cynicism, mirrored in our media through satire and irony, has helped expose an assault on reason and the often corrupt machinations of politics. And we’re left having shifted the power equation but desperately lacking new ideas to fill the void that we have revealed. So now what? We are urgently in need of rational thought. We crave truth.

Where does science fit in this pursuit? On one hand, its generally perceived distance from culture affords it an uncompromised sterility that engenders trust. Bring a scientist to testify with DNA in hand, and the case is sealed. On the other hand, this conception causes us (well, not us) to see science as a tool of reduction, practiced by an elite few in a foreign language, incapable of reaching the elusive, romantic notions of truth we crave. This is an area where science can learn much from the arts. Science is our way to move forward as a society, but only by addressing this relationship with truth will we actually do so.

It seemed to us that a good place to start was by considering the very idea of truth itself. What is truth? What does science have to do with it? Why does truth matter (p. 60)? What happens when our pursuit of the truth outpaces our capacity to gather the facts? The movement towards scientific simulations is gaining pace, and we examine the power and consequence of this emerging science (p. 48). In our endeavor to identify truth we look for elegance. But why, in science, does beauty matter so much? Janna Levin and Jonathan Lethem tackle this one in the Seed Salon (p. 41). Considering that truth requires a mind capable of knowing itself, we invited Douglas Hofstadter (author of Gödel, Escher, Bach) to lay out his new ideas about consciousness and what it means to be human (p. 68). And as science recaptures the attention and imagination of world leaders, even in the U.S., Chris Mooney presents a five-point plan for how the new Democratic-led Congress can promote rational inquiry and informed decision making (p. 22). We also profile six truth-seekers as part of our ongoing Revolutionary Minds series (p. 73).

Despite the countless uncertainties surrounding our cover subject this issue, we can say one thing for certain: The truth is a wonderfully complicated thing.

Originally published April 30, 2007

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