The Myth of Science


Edward De Bono said "A myth is a fixed way of looking at the world which cannot be destroyed because, looked at through the myth, all evidence supports the myth."

It's a double entendre. First, the common view of Science as a dependable repository of facts, an authority on How Things Are, simply doesn’t exist. I believe our faith in this myth, this notion of “Science” has proven dangerous to our society generally and a disaster for winemaking.

Properly, science is better viewed as a realm of organized inquiry, not certainty. Thus secondly, “science” at its best really is – a great Myth. Faith binds together scientific endeavor at least as fundamentally as any religion.

Many scientists will struggle against this seemingly diminished view of their life’s work. In their faithful defense of Science’s objective dependability lies the best proof of my two points. The personal gropings which led me at last to confront my own habits of conversation, publication and presentation were for a time hugely embarrassing. I empathize with the decades of earnest labor which comprise a typical scientific career.

But earnest is not necessarily honest. Academics proudly and regularly offer that a scientific education teaches how to think, not what to think. Yet the structure of any philosophy builds in inevitable blind spots. Edward R. Murrow said that “Great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

Almost all scientists have a right to be proud of the effort they have expended in their lives in order to learn, to understand and to know. At the same time, science is a realm of inquiry rather than certainty. No matter how much one advances, one never actually arrives. Scientists don’t actually know anything. This is understandably heartbreaking for them to consider.

De Bono's warning is that we don't know what we don't know. We need to be made to recognize our shackles. Scientific inquiry can transform its methods to address knottier problems. Simple-minded linear modeling, solution chemistry, and conventional inferential statistics methods need retooling. I think the situation in enology can serve science in general by illustrating the needed transition.

The proper study of mankind is man, and humility is its primary prerequisite. Humility is not a bad thing, but it is painful for the unaccustomed. Guess who -- the guys who skipped the humanities courses. The irony is, our failure to grasp the basics becomes more apparent the closer the discipline involves man himself.

The more one explores wine, the more fundamentally mysterious it reveals itself to be, because its true function, its value as a commodity, is its ability to evoke and to resonate with the human soul. As the softest of sciences, enology provides a most obvious example of the limitations of conventionally organized inquiry.