Nonfiction: Empty science textbooks

Science textbooks should have lots of blank pages to represent all that isn’t known yet. Full science books seem to say “everything is known.” Obviously, books don’t have extra pages because it’s an unnecessary cost to publishers, and also, authors may not want to admit what they don’t know.  In practice, leaving lots of blank pages would be a silly thing to do. But as an idea, it makes us more aware of the contingent nature of scientific knowledge.  When something’s been printed and bound, it seems important, valuable, and credible.  This idea about blank pages simply points out a basic truth about knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, that is easy to forget when confronted with these serious-looking physical books: that knowledge isn’t in the books. Knowledge can change faster than books or even, in a sense, the Internet. Anything that’s been written down in symbolic form is old knowledge. It’s not at the cusp of discovery. And nature doesn’t follow knowledge. It exists without it. We humans sometimes believe our knowledge to be more real than the physical world, that generalizations are more useful than particulars.

— Mh, journal, 8 Aug. 2009

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