Starts With A Bang

Science’s Greatest Lesson For Humanity Is ‘How To Be Wrong’

Nuclear weapon test Mike (yield 10.4 Mt) on Enewetak Atoll. The test was part of the Operation Ivy. Mike was the first hydrogen bomb ever tested. If not for all the wrong directions we took to unlock the secret of the atom, and the lessons learned from those false starts, humanity would never have been able to reach this scientific goal. or many others. Image credit: National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office.

“Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.” -Augustine of Hippo

Science isn’t the easiest endeavor you can undertake. Sure, the rewards are tremendous: you can wind up understanding any phenomenon in the Universe as well (or better) than any human has ever understood it before. But on your way there, you’re going to have to do some of the most difficult work you’ve ever done. It isn’t just mathematical and scientific work, either, but internal work on your own psyche. You’ll need to learn how to be wrong.

From the distant Universe, light has traveled for some 10.7 billion years from distant galaxy MACSJ2129-1, lensed, distorted and magnified by the foreground clusters imaged here. The most distant galaxies appear redder because their light is redshifted by the expansion of the Universe, which helps explain what we measure as Hubble’s law. Image credit: NASA, ESA, and S. Toft (University of Copenhagen) Acknowledgment: NASA, ESA, M. Postman (STScI), and the CLASH team.

No one comes into a scientific field already knowing all the answers; that’s why we do the science in the first place. When you’re just learning it, you put an incomplete number of puzzle pieces together, and your incomplete picture is usually incorrect. Or at least, less correct than the best picture. This means it’s up to you to challenge your assumptions, revise your internal beliefs, and draw superior conclusions. The reward, if you can make it, is not just a better understanding, but the lesson of how to be wrong, and how to be better in the future.

IBM’s Four Qubit Square Circuit, a pioneering advance in computations, could lead to computers powerful enough to simulate an entire Universe. But the field of quantum computation is still in its infancy. Image credit: IBM research.

It’s a lesson that goes far beyond science, and can be applied to all areas of our lives. Imagine what the world could be like if we all did it.