If we were to take a journey through the history of human knowledge, that journey would have ups and downs. We would go from the nadir to the zenith and, again in a way, to the nadir .
Because the history of knowledge is an epistemological spiral about chance, causality and probability. A sample about how far we have come as a civilization and, at the same time, a cure of humility for all that we still do not know and, perhaps, we will never be able to know .
If we could divide into three key points the history of the human being and his desire not only to understand natural phenomena but to make predictions according to them, the following would be such points.
Before the seventeenth century . Oracles and other attempts to predict the future. There is still mystery, there is no system, there is no exhaustive explanation of the facts and chance is more important. Things can happen without an identifiable cause. There is no order, only divine will.
Although the first philosophers appear, they are not based so much on hypotheses that they must test in the natural world as on assumptions or narratives that fit their prejudices.
After the seventeenth century . Chance is replaced by reason and cause: nothing happens if something does not cause it. Beginning with Copernicus and Galileo, and continuing with Kepler, Newton, and Laplace, modern science evolves through the application of logical reasoning to facts and verifiable data. The theories, articulated in the rigorous language of mathematics, were meant to be analytical and precise.
Despite the complexity, science can reveal order and predictability. Facts are facts, laws are laws . The universe is like a machine and geologists, biologists and even the first generation of psychologists can understand it if they previously understand each of the parts.
The observable phenomena lend themselves to a precise description (that is, reducible to numbers), in order to later find mathematical laws that would link those numbers to an inescapable system. It is believed that we can already know everything, especially because we know the initial causes.
20th century . What happens to physics after 1890, when it becomes microphysics and understanding is channeled through the electron and then radioactivity, the atom, elementary particles …? It is the revolution of physics.
For the first time, the idea is put forward that the very infrastructure of science, the foundations of everything, is not secure. Uncertainty refers to epistemic anomalies that involve imperfect or unknown information. It applies to predictions of future events, physical measurements that have already been made, or the unknown.
This new age of probability and uncertainty does not sit well with our brains, which prefer certainty and security . You can learn more about all these effects in the following video, where I also present a book on uncertainty: