One of the fundamentals of applying the scientific method is the principle that conclusions are based on empirical evidence. Scientific proof, in other words, is supposed to be based on “facts” that we can, in some way, see, touch, feel, and ideally measure.
But it’s not that simple. The basic problem is that what we think we see isn’t always actually what is there. Recently, Bernie Bamford, an Englishman was studying the imaging system produced by Google Ocean and identified what looks like man-made structures at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of the Canary Islands.
This is very near the Strait of Gibraltar, where Plato talked about “Atlantis,” a legendary city which Plato wrote had disappeared with its ancient civilization about three thousand years ago. No one has ever found it, but if it exists, most people think it probably was covered by sea in a series of earthquakes. (Egyptian priests said it was the because the people had stopped believing in god.)
A lot of people were excited by Bamford’s discovery. But alas, Google says it is unlikely to be Atlantis. Google says that what looks like man-made structures on their ocean images are artifacts. The lines reflect the path taken by the boat as it was collecting the data about the floor of the sea below.
Now hardly anybody thinks Bamford’s lines suggest he found Atlantis.
But Bamford’s lines do illustrate why science makes two important demands of evidence that it accepts as truly scientific.
The first is that more than one person has to be able to see it. We humans – even normal humans not suffering from mental illness or drug-induced hallucinations – experience things all the time that nobody else can experience with us. A great idea, physical or psychological pain, or even the taste of hot pepper on our tongue might show our our face, but nobody else feels our experience directly. Our dreams often seem terribly real at night but not in the day. So none of these experiences are considered scientifically verifiable, because they are private. If somebody else can’t gather the same evidence or do the same experiment, it doesn’t count as scientific.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t real. It just means it’s not scientific evidence. That’s why people who claim they lived another life before this one, or that they were captured by aliens might sincerely believe what they are saying. Who knows? they might not even be right. But it’s not science.
The second scientific principle Bamford’s lines illustrates is that we should accept the simplest explanation for any phenomenon. The explanation that the lines are a result of the data collection process is simpler than that there is a city buried there. If someone wants to convince us of the latter, some further evidence will have to be brought forth. The most obviously convincing evidence would be from a deep sea dive.
But I think it unlikely that anyone will mount an under water expedition any time soon to find out if those Bamford lines are matched by walls on the ocean floor.
I don’t think they are. Do you?