Biology never bothers to prove anything

From today’s New Scientist, on the safety (or lack thereof) of the Large Hadron Collider:

“It’s easy for any of us to be seduced by the nature of logical thinking and its illusion of certainty. We generally strive to become aware of what former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously called the “known knowns” and the “known unknowns”, but are perilously ignorant of the “unknown unknowns”, and, worse, blithely unaware of our own ignorance. This becomes particularly dangerous when it hides flaws in an argument we are relying on for reassurance…

Maybe there’s another lesson here: that mathematical certainty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We are, after all, biological organisms, and biology never bothers to prove anything. Cell design, for instance, reflects a crazy historical legacy of structures cobbled together to produce workable solutions to thousands of temporary problems. Perhaps we shouldn’t insist that good reasoning conforms to some “pure” proof-making ideal, and accept it is more like those ad hoc biological processes that leave us fallible and vulnerable, but resilient enough to get by in an uncertain world.”


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