Science has been wrong before.

Science in its infancy was just blatantly wrong. Existence is not forged from four elements bound together by spirit, which became readily apparent when we started actually taking things apart.

Five Elements

We can forgive the philosophers of old because they did not really have science – the method – and didn’t understand that mysterious answers aren’t answers.

As science grew up, it transformed the error. Phlogiston Theory in the 1700s held that fire was a substance called phlogiston. Before the nature of air was understood, it was thought that burnable objects contained phlogiston, which was released when you burned them.

Fire

This didn’t feel like a bad explanation. You could see fire and feel heat, point to it, and say “that’s what phlogiston is”. The sin of phlogiston theorists was thinking their new label explained something. It didn’t: they knew exactly as much about fire before they called it phlogiston. They thought they were doing science, but their new labels didn’t help them actually understand the mechanism. Their name sounded sciency, but it didn’t teach them anything. They were just as ignorant about the nature of air before and after their theory. They hadn’t solved any whys. They couldn’t build anything new.

Science isn’t about putting latin-sounding labels on everything. Science is about figuring out how things work. Science is about uncovering the rules of reality. Labeling your confusion makes it easy to feel like you have an answer (Why does wood in an enclosed space stop burning? The air must be saturated with phlogiston!), but science isn’t about feeling like you have answers.

Science is about figuring out how things actually work.

When you’re trying to understand a complex process, you can’t just stick a label on the confusing parts and pretend it’s explained. You’ve got to break it down and figure out what is actually going on.

These were not the only mistakes of science. History is littered with them. Humans are biased. We’re notoriously bad at letting go of our ego and actually listening to reality. We love to clutch our comfortable preferred world views and look for reasons that they must be true, instead of opening up our ears. It’s easy to look back and scoff, because we’re only taugth the rigth answers. The path looks clear in retrospect, but it was not so easy to forge.

Science is not easy. Humans find it hard to relinquish the way they want the world to be and discover the way that the world actually is.