Many people seem to associate science with achievements and limitless frontiers while associating religion with mysteries and limitations. Indeed, in the media we rarely hear of scientific failures. However, what is even more interesting is that science, or more precisely mathematics, not just fails for some experiments, but is able to prove it’s own limitations: some things simply cannot be achieved!
Let’s get more specific. One of the big questions in computer science is whether there are problems which a computer simply cannot solve. It turns out that not only do we know of problems for which we have no solutions, but it has been proven in 1936 by Alan Turing that in fact there is at least one problem for which no solution can ever exist! You might imagine that this is some complex task such as stock market prediction, when in fact it is the following simple problem: “Given a computer program, can another computer program tell whether the former will ever stop functioning?”
Another startling and humbling mathematical result was proven in 1931 by Kurt Godel. While state of the art mathematicians at the time were trying to come up with a logical system which enables one to express any logical statement but excludes any contradictions, Godel proved that such a system does not exist: either you have an incomplete system or you end up with contradictions.
So a science which knows no limits of its own is a myth. Another common misconception about science is that it can only reason about material objects but not about the meaning of the objects. While this might have been true in the early days of science, this is no longer true with the advancements in computer science and other sciences dealing with symbols, meaning, reference, interpretation, and truth such as linguistics and cognitive science. The way computers are able to relate conceptual objects, process data, extract information, take decisions, etc, assume an underlying ability of making sense of the elements under consideration. An astounding fact, for example, is that a significant percentage (more than 50% in certain stock markets) of all stock volumes traded around the world are traded by computers!
It is true that what has been achieved so far is severely limited in many ways and only computer programmers are able to fully interact with contemporary computers. Clearly, the scientific language of today lacks the full ability to speak about the significance of things, of life, etc. However, as history has shown us, the advancements of science seem to encroach ever more into territory which was previously strictly religious territory: four hundred years ago in the understanding of the material world around us, more recently in the understanding of understanding itself.
Put differently, it is as if science was till a century ago just a child playing around with objects, now it is becoming self aware and able to reason about itself. This fast evolving scientific area might in the future lead us to come up with a new form of science, a science which encompasses meaning. Maybe what has been achieved so far in the realm of non-material science is comparable to the alchemy which preceded Isaac Newton’s scientific method…