May 6, 2010
We want to describe how Nature operates and for this there is nothing better than the scientific method.
However, it’s perfectly legitimate to ask whether this barrier between the how and the why is insurmountable. Could science one day explain the why of things? Sticking with physics, since things get murkier in other fields (can we one day understand why two specific people fall in love using cognitive neuroscience?), I’d venture to say no. Physics, by construction, cannot explain the why of phenomena, only the how.
In fact, you may even argue that why-like questions are not scientific. If “why” means purpose, then physics has very little to say about that. We can experimentally validate the laws of Nature, such as “energy is conserved,” but we don’t know why energy is conserved. If you say because we wouldn’t be here otherwise, you’d be saying nothing very useful from a scientific perspective. Science is complex enough just focusing with the how of things. For the why we have everything else.