image from @LO
In a cover article in the July Wired, Chris Anderson explores what he calls The End of Theory, the idea that we may be approaching a time at which science may take place without having theories. Anderson terms this The Petabyte Age, a time when
where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. Out with every theory of human behavior, from linguistics to sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology. Who knows why people do what they do? The point is they do it, and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves.
Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired & a great futurist, wades in, shifting some of Anderson's concept to suggest that we are entering a new type of science, Corrolative Analysis. Kelly also points to George Dyson, who suggets that this new method of doing science -- gathering a zillion data points and then having the OneMachine calculate a correlative answer -- can also be thought of as a method of communicating with a new kind of scientist, one who can create models at levels of abstraction (in the zillionics realm) beyond our own powers.
Kelly ends his piece with this observation about the future:
good answers will become a commodity. The real value of the rest of science then becomes asking good questions.
I have been musing a bunch on the quotes that Anderson uses as stakes in the ground:
"All models are wrong, but some are useful." George Box
"All models are wrong, and increasingly you can succeed without them." Peter Norvig
I don't know much about science, but I do realize more & more how following Jesus in modern churchianity is deeply rooted in models. We have faith, we can make a case for Christ, we have exchanged the mystery of the ages for a set of statements we are certain of. As wonderful as any theologian is, they traffic in theories and in models, in ansers that increasingly strike me as commodities. Go to any bookstore, find the faith or religion section - then prepare to be overwhelmed by the number of models, of pre-chewed answers that can be found in those books. Their vast number may be overwhelming, but in terms of making meaning, they underwhelm.
Life, as I have experienced it, is not so big on answers, not so strong in making sense. Life is a tangle of questions, a mess of connections and dead ends that animate in ways marketable answers never can even approach. I sense some of this sense of questioning this this great post from Pete Rollins Toward Religionless Christianity - I was particularly grabbed by this quote from Bonhoeffer:
“And we cannot be honest unless we recognise that we have to live in the world etsi deus non daretur [even if there were no God]. And this is just what we do recognise - before God! God himself compels us to recognise it. So our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt. 8.17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering”.
We can, as Bonhoeffer notes, "manage our lives without him (God)". But the beauty is in faithing our life, absent a working hypothesis, holding the fragile question of meaning found not in omnipotence, but in weakness & suffering. If we are entering an age of cheap & easy answers, of models that are distractions or even destructive - a Petabyte Age - then it will be this type of faithing, this holding of slippery & transforming questions that is at the heart of "a true recognition of our situation before God".