Once more, this is a post about the Physics and Reality course I’m doing at the moment, although this is slightly off-topic. What I intend to state, along with a couple of examples, is that science has a history of investigation not because of the big questions, but despite them.
What do I mean by this? Let’s take a fairly old example – Zeno’s paradoxes. These basically state the problem of change – “In a race, the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started, so that the slower must always hold a lead.” (Aristotle Physics VI:9, 239b15). What was science’s answer to this? Newtonian mechanics and calculus. I don’t think it’s really gotten much further than that. Since then, we generally just take the position of not worrying about it and getting on with things.
A more recent example would be the Big Bang. Basically put, the age-old question is: where did the universe come from? Well, scientists have poured huge amounts of effort into this, and have come up with the Big Bang model – and this is as close as we can get to answering the question. Science will most likely never come up with a definitive answer to the question; that stays firmly in the grip of religion.
Another example, and the final one I’ll give, would be Quantum Mechanics. This basically puts a fundamental limit on what we can know beyond a certain point – via the uncertainty principle – and I’m slowly getting the feeling that it’s basically saying “don’t worry about it; it’s all just magic”. Which to me seems to be the complete opposite of what science is.