I have to declare my position up front. I am not for the Body Scientific.

I recently had a discussion with my eldest grand-daughter, Alexandra. I forget what was the exact ‘fact’ she quoted (from the New Scientist) but it was something like that we use only 10 % of our brain power and the rest is not utilised. I said that was not a ‘fact’ for it could neither be measured nor proved. She said it was in the New Scientist so it must be true. I laughed and said, hadn’t she heard of Galileo? I explained how Galileo’s opinion that the earth was round (which we know to be true; we’ve seen the pictures) ran contrary to orthodox opinion at that time and he was persecuted for contesting this dogma. Therefore she had to apply sceptical examination to every assertion in the New Scientist. In due course, some would be proved to have been false; some to have been true; and some would remain unknown for all time.

On a mundane level, I find it irritating when some body or other, having spent several years and a few millions investigating the question, announces (as a fact) that, say, if you eat a diet plentiful in fruit and vegetables you will have better health than if you consume one consisting largely of meat, bread and sugar; or that children who live with their own parents do, in general, attain better educational qualifications than those who do not. What a surprise, I think. That’s perfectly obvious, I could have told them that without taking years and millions to do so. (Obviously I would never make a scientist.)

I was greatly amused to hear on TV (Coast) that there are man made underground caves, extending 16 miles under the sea originally to do with the mining of potash, where a body of scientists some 200 strong has been investigating for 20 years the existence of dark matter. (Something that some body has dreamed up which, if it were true, would answer various puzzling questions.) However, ‘dark matter’ is obviously well named, for it lurks (if it exists) obstinately outside our capacity to identify it and the best efforts of the scientists have failed to identify even a whiff of dark matter for 20 long years.

I shared this joke with my friend Carole, who as well as being a former science teacher is a clever lady and skilled in argument. She agreed that it was funny, but did not share my view that it ought to be disbanded. She explained the difference between a hypothesis (an educated guess which could provide an explanation for something, and which can be disproved by experimentation) and a theory (a hypothesis which has been repeatedly experimented upon, and never been proven to be untrue.) I note that the main difference appears to be in expectation. Scientists appear to assume that a hypothesis will be proved wrong, but that a theory will (eventually) be proved right. You could argue that a theory was just a hypothesis that’s proved difficult to crack. One can say however that neither a hypothesis nor a theory has been proved to be true. It might be. Or it might not. Twenty years is a long time.

Carole argues that we ought to investigate things we don’t understand, and of course I have to agree with her. Scientific advances in technology, transport, medicine etc etc have made life much pleasanter. We should value our scientific progress but perhaps scientists should be more modest and less arrogant, and in their turn acknowledge amd value ancient knowledge.

This made me recall the legendary Mauri hero, Kupe. He is their equivalent to our Arthur – a mythical figure of magic and god-like achievements, but probably an exaggerated version of a real man’s life story. According to the legend, Kupe explored their whole world, way back in the distant mists of time, and he was the greatest navigator who ever sailed the oceans. He discovered Aotearoa (known to us as New Zealand) (empty of people) but returned the great distance to the island he came from, and before he went on his final voyage to the heavenly stars which had guided his earthly journeys, he left a star map to guide his people to the Land of the Long White Cloud. Almost a thousand years later, a party of his descendants set off on a great voyage, guided by his instructions, and in due course they came to these islands and settled them.

So if I might offer a hypothesis? Galileo was not the first man to realise the earth was round. Kupe had known that also.