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Can we broaden the context of science?

  1. Jul 22, 2004 #1
    I would like to pose a question. First, some background:

    The Indo-European grammar of English guides its speakers to subdivide their awareness of nature. Speakers of English recognize two very different and seemingly completely incompatible models of nature, science and religion. The grammar of English therefore leads to a subdivided model of nature. 2,000 years ago, both religion and science were subdivided into 4 main forces of nature. Religion unified some 2,000 years ago into a unified force of nature, god, but science still recognizes the same 4 fundamental forces of nature that our ancestors recognized 2,000 years ago. Modern science now also recognizes 4 subdivided dimensions. At its most fundamental level, therefore, the grammar of English guides it speakers to a subdivided awareness of nature, such as science from religion and space from time.

    In constrast, the Chinese language supports a single, unified model of nature, known as the Dao. China has of course borrowed numerous western religions as well as western science. However, the grammar of Chinese does not natively support either religion or science, in the western sense, but rather a single model of nature that correlates to both of these. The grammar of Chinese guides its speakers to recognize a unified model of nature, the Dao. The Dao at its most fundamental level recognizes a unity of nature. There is only the unity of the Dao. The Dao goes through a cycle of subdivision. This cycle recognizes 5 forces of nature, and 5 dimensions. The grammar of Chinese reflects a fundamental unity of space and time, as space-time, much like modern physics claims exists but which is so difficult to understand for speakers of English due to the recognized subdivisoin of space from time.

    I wonder if people on this forum consider that all models of nature are basically identical at a fundamental level, such that there is no need to look beyond science; or that the various models of nature differ in quality, such that there is no need to investigate other, inferior models of nature such as the Dao; or if people consider it possible that investigating the various science-like models of nature that have evolved throughout the entirety of our species might create a greater context within which to understand and interpret our observations of nature.

    My question is:

    Do you consider that there might be any significant value to considering science within a greater context, such as that presented by the Chinese model of the Dao?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 22, 2004 #2
    that would demand people to be quite atheistic, like chinese people are... religious people would probably oppose to this idea in great numbers, claiming it to be an attempt at secularizing both language and religion itself, and God would be mad and all that...
    people in general want black and white... human vs. nature, good vs. evil, them vs. us, science vs mind and religion (good riddens, if someone some day found out that mind and conciousness is deep down just chemistry and neurological impulses, they would be stoned by the masses...)
  4. Jul 22, 2004 #3
    You're kidding right? Science isn't even unified within itself, it is comparmentalized into so many different topics that the root forums of Physics Forum don't even have threads, but merely contain sub-forums which then contain threads along with even more sub-forums. Now you are asking us to unify science, religion, and nature as well?

    I don't think this will ever happen. I believe religion is a fog, and science is a break in the fog. As we begin to understand things more clearly, religion recedes and covers less and less territory. Ultimately, I don't think science and religion can be unified. I think science is constantly challenging religion. The thing that is unique about the chinese Dao is that it is not a religion, more of an adapter between other ideas. It relates things together. This is something that science lacks right now, but it is not out of a lack of interest, but more out of a lack of understanding. The Dao makes clear relationships in nature and science which have been reinforced through thousands of years of experience, but science will not accept it until it has been proven correct and we have some understanding of why that relationship exists.

    Well, those are my thoughts anyway. I actually didn't really understand most of what was being said in the original post. As usual, that doesn't stop me from replying!!
  5. Jul 22, 2004 #4
    that is probably true for 70% of the posts in the philosophy forums, so knock yourself out :biggrin:
  6. Jul 23, 2004 #5
    What you have really pointed out is the inherent holistic philosophy or worldview of asian cultures in general. Science is merely a specific process (eg exercizing, cooking, painting, etc.) and should not be confused with the philosophies which support it, whether eastern or western.

    As for whether there is significant value in considering science within a greater context, of course there is. Over the last century every branch of the sciences has adopted holistic theories, and a race has ensued to span all of the sciences within a single coherent holistic philosophy. Why has all this occured? Because by definition holistic theories describe more and are therefore more useful than reductionist ones.
  7. Jul 24, 2004 #6
    true, but divided reductionist sciences allow for more focus, thus quicker physical progress and RESULTS. And perhaps this has to be the foundation of what you call a single coherent holistic philosophy.
  8. Jul 24, 2004 #7
    i'm not sure if we can broaden the context of science though, as scientific method cannot be applied to absolutely everything, not as yet.
  9. Jul 24, 2004 #8
    By definition, Reductionism can be derived from holism. Reductionism is what I call the brute force engineering approach to problem solving. However, it can only take one so far. In surveys of the 100,000 of the world's leading scientists they estimated that the rapid growth of the sciences will slow to a crawl sometime in the next four to six hundred years.

    This has already occured in many branches of engineering and the sciences. For example, steam engines were pretty much perfected before physicists ever invented the laws of thermodynamics. However, the good 'ol days of backyard tinker's making major innovations in engines are over. For that matter, so are the days of a single scientist making major discoveries. Today's average significant physics paper has over a hundred contributors.
  10. Jul 24, 2004 #9


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    Not true. Go look at the arxiv new papers in hep-th, hep-ph, and even all physics papers. Three or four contributers. Maybe you are thinking of experimental results on the big colliders. An "experiment" in one of those is the size of an airplane hangar crammed full of hand built instruments. It takes a large team to construct and run all that, so a lot of contributers get credited. But that is not an "average' situation in modern physics.
  11. Jul 28, 2004 #10
    I basically agree with what you say.

    I think that science is an Indo-European invention, which is modelled on the Indo-European grammar of our language. I also think that an anthropological/linguistic widening of the scope of science to develop a more holistic context to analyzing the models of nature that have been developed by our species has the potential to help us understand why the unity of the Dao evolved into the subdivision of religion from science. When seen within a greater context, perhaps the seeming complete incompatibility of science with religion can be recognized to be subdivisions of the same unity, in much the same way as Yin and Yang are completely symmetrical subdivisions of the Dao.
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2004
  12. Jul 28, 2004 #11


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    Unifying sciences is one thing. The best attempt I've ever seen is Consilience by E.O. Wilson. Unifying science with religion is a whole other matter. The epistemology of each is too different. Science is purely an empirical endeavor, whereas religion is mostly revealed. Perhaps what you want is for the two to eventually reach the same conclusions.
  13. Jul 29, 2004 #12
    The two are of the same conclusion, the fact that we're here.
  14. Jul 29, 2004 #13
    My point precisely. Modern speakers of English have an extremely narrow perspective on religion and science, the perspective that is provided by the grammar of our Indo-European language in isolation. From this perspective, there are two options available, religion and science, which are completely incompatible. Religion and science are not only very different, they are complete polarities in all respects.

    Billions of people throughout history have believed very devoutly in the truth of religion. Billions of people throughout history have believed very devoutly in the truth of science. While it is easy for members of each group to sluff off members of the other group as deluded, misguided fools, it is clear that something in nature is causing such beliefs to be perpetuated in a large number of people in each generation.

    I contend that were we to broaden our context of consideration, wherein religion and science could be considered from a more encompassing perspective, it might then be possible to find an underlying model of nature which subdivided to give rise to the dichotomy of religion and science.

    The completely polarized symmetry between science and religion is perhaps more than coincidence. Only by stepping outside of the grammar of English, which provides us with insights only to these two polarities of nature, to gain a greater context on their relationship can we come to understand better the nature of either and their relationship to each other.

    It turns out that the Dao of Chinese provides an interesting parallel to religion and science, and provides a possible source for understanding the origin of the dichotomy of religion and science.

    My point here is not to convince you that you should accept what I have to say as the truth, but to ask you to consider whether there is any potential for value in considering our models of nature, religion and science, from within the greater perspective provided by our entire species.
  15. Jul 30, 2004 #14
    Religious people worship, scientists observe. These are not incompatable practices. For example, Pantheists worship the totality of the universe. For many of them, scientific observation is one of the best ways to better understand what it is they worship. Hence, science "reveals" their religion, or at least a part of it.
  16. Jul 31, 2004 #15
    Reality is The One.
  17. Aug 10, 2004 #16
    Different languages guide people to different ways to relate to and interact with reality.
  18. Aug 10, 2004 #17
    I hadn't seen this before; it's a very interesting post.

    I think all models of nature are identical at a fundamental level, because to the best of my knowledge all human languages share the same foundation. No matter which language you speak, you can always express your ideas as causal relationships (verbs) between subject and object. For this reason, any true statement can be translated to any language without loss of information.

    I think (and I'm trying hard not to be biased) the European model is superior to the Chinese one, in the sense that it expresses more truths about nature. I say that not as a result of personal judgement, but simply due to the fact that the European model is far more popular in China than the Chinese model is popular in countries of European culture. For instance, while Chinese medicine sometimes succeeds where European medicine fails, the opposite is far more often the case. To me that means the European model of nature, when applied to the human body, reveals more truths than the Chinese one.

    So I don't think the best approach to improve the European model is to develop it further by acknowledging more facts about the world, facts that are known to anyone on any culture. The major flaw with the European model, in my judgement, is its stubborn, prejudiced attitude toward facts. More than explaining the world, our scientific model is used to explain it away - to discard all data it cannot accomodate as being false or irrelevant, and ostracizing anyone who dares challenge the mainstream.

    In my opinion, this all happens because science is perceived to lack a solid foundation. Most people think science is founded upon logic applied to perceptions, and while everyone trusts logic, few people trust human perception. The day everyone understands that science is actually founded upon language, then a door is opened to explore any true statement as being a statement about the world, as being a scientific subject.
  19. Aug 10, 2004 #18
    Aren't these statements contradictory? You believe that they are identical, yet you think that one is superior.

    You are certainly entitled to your opinion, and I will not tell you that you are wrong to have it, but I disagree completely.
    I have read the Old Testament in both English and Hebrew, and I found tremendous examples of the loss of extremely large and significant amounts of information in the translation. In my opinion, this is to be expected, rather than surprising.

    You speak of causal relationships between subject and verb. Subject are in the form of nouns, are they not? Are you aware that in many languages, the concept of a noun is very different than in English. For example, ask a friend or acquaintance how to translate the sentence "This is my brother" into natural Chinese or Japanese. This is not possible to do, except when stilted language is used. Furthermore, ask this person to translate into natural Japanese the sentence that might be asked a a restaurant, "Please put some more water into my cup." This again is not possible. Neither of these translations is possible, because in these examples there are multiple nouns that are possbile, and so more information is required for a translation. If a Chinese speaker or Japanese speaker were to translate the Chinese or Japanese word for brother into English, using the word brother, there would be a loss of information, as the Chinese and Japanese words contain more information.
    Verbs are also extremely different among languages, and convey different causal relationships among their nounds.

    This is a valid observation, but I believe that your conclusion is not completely correct.

    You think that the European model is superior in every way, rather than perhaps that together they provide more insight to truths than separately?

    If you cite this as a flaw of the European model, does this mean that it not be a flaw of other models, such that we might learn to do without this from other models?

    I agree with you that science is founded upon language, but I consider that science is founded upon the language of the Indo-Europeans, and that other language grammars lead to other models of nature.
  20. Aug 10, 2004 #19
    Reality is fundamentally the same though, right? And even if we discover and/or create something which is new, it's merely that which has always existed, potentially. :wink:
  21. Aug 10, 2004 #20


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    Ah, post-modern gobbledegook :yuck:
    Do you really think that the Romans knew a lot about beta-decay (the weak force) or about the strong nuclear force ?
    This is a typical pattern of "reasoning" in postmodernism: I guess you're talking about the 4 elements of Aristoteles, and the 4 forces (gravity, strong interaction, and electroweak interaction ; eh, only 3 ?? :shy: ok, before, it was, weak interaction and electromagnetism) in modern physics. The only thing they have in common is the number 4, so we say that it is the same thing. Like a hand has always communist tendencies.

    Also, in christian religion, the unified god is actually 3. Like the 3 little pigs. Or the 3 forces of nature.

  22. Aug 10, 2004 #21
    It's good to be talking to someone who's familiar with the limitations of language; I hope I can explain what I meant and why I don't see it as a contradiction.

    Think of a Chevrolet and a BMW. On a certain level, both are identical - they have combustion engines, four wheels, seats, and so on. Also, a Chevrolet takes you anywhere a BMW does. So what makes the BMW "superior" to the Chevrolet? Well, "superior" is not a good word. If, for instance, you can't afford the high maintenance cost of a BMW, then the Chevrolet is a much better vehicle for you.

    I think the European model of reality is "superior" in the sense that, like luxury cars, there is more attention to detail, more concern about exact definitions and correct logical relationships between concepts. That makes it easier to communicate, as it relies less on introspection and subjectivity. I don't think that makes it preferrable, but it does make it more popular.

    I completely agree that information is often lost in translations, but that has nothing to do with a language's ability to express a concept. More below:

    OK, I can handle the Japanese thing. If my memory serves me, you have to say something like "kono hito wa onisan desu" or "kono hito wa otosan desu", depending on whether your brother is older or younger than you. Point taken, the word "brother" does not exist in traditional Japanese, but still there is no loss of information when you translate the English sentence into Japanese.

    What you mentioned about the bible losing information, happens because translators have to worry about aesthetics as much as correctness. If someone translates a Japanese book and replaces every instance of "otosan" with "my older brother", it would be ugly and boring. But it is the translator who introduces information loss, not the translation process itself.

    That is because you think the proper translation of a word such as "onisan" is "brother", when it in fact is "a person's older brother". The Japanese word does contain more information, but that information can be just as well expressed in English, or any other language for that matter. Depending on how primitive the language is it may be tedious, but you can always do it.

    Did I say "every way"? I don't recall, but if I did please apologize. I'm not particularly enthusiastic about science, and I'm quite fond of the various alternative philosophies. I'm not too familiar with Chinese culture, but I do like the little I know. However, I'm trying not to allow my somewhat disdainful attitude towards materialistic science get in the way of an objective assessment, and what I do observe is that what you call the Indo-European way of thinking is, regretably I might add, quite popular around the world. I take it that when most Chinese doctors reject traditional Chinese medicine in favor of European approaches, that they know what they are doing. Personally, I'm not enthusiastic about our medicine, in fact I'm quite skeptical of it to the point of cynicism.

    It may be a flaw with other models or not, I'm not entirely familiar with them to say anything of significance. I suspect the Chinese people are open to things they cannot understand, while the modern Western-European mind is quite closed to anything it can't properly understand. But I may be wrong about the Chinese.

    Well, my reasoning comes from the fact that physical reality doesn't change depending on how you describe it. What does change is the metaphysics, the interpretation of what is implied by our observations of the world. I would agree with you that other languages can tremendously help in the development of a more solid, more consistent metaphysics. For instance, it seems to me the Chinese concepts of ying and yang seem far more sophisticated than the primitive Western notions of duality, so there's definitely something to be learned. I'm just not sure what you mean by "models of nature", whether you think they should incorporate metaphysics or not.
  23. Aug 10, 2004 #22
    If in fact reality is Unity, we do we strive for change? When maybe we should try and maintain that which is essential and primeval?
  24. Aug 11, 2004 #23


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    I think that this is completely wrong. Science is based on logic (with as a corrolary mathematics) and experiment. Japanese scientists are just as good at "indo-european" physics as are British scientists, just to take an example.
    BTW, it is almost impossible to write down current "models of nature" using written language alone, you need a lot of mathematics too. You can easily translate technical descriptions of these models from English to Chinese and vice versa. No information gets lost if the translation is done correctly. The value of a (scientific) model of nature is only measured by its ability to predict outcomes of experiments, and you should agree with me that nor the calculation, nor the experiment is dependent on the linguistic origin of the person doing it (only its competence to do so can be a - trivial - issue).

    When you talk about _literary_ works, such as the hebrew bible, then of course a lot gets lost under translation, because the very nature of a literary work is to play with all the ambiguities of a particular language to convey messages at different levels (or just to give a good time to the reader, appreciating the intellectual exercise). Because these relations change when translating (and they change more when the two languages are more remote), you screw up the essential part of the work. Good translations are in fact not translations, but new literary creations in the target language, by the translator, strongly inspired by the work in the source language. It then depends on the artistic abilities of the translator if the new work is on the same level as the old one ; probably that's why it is much harder to translate great works (the bible, the Illiad...) than third rank railway station stories.

  25. Aug 11, 2004 #24
    one way of solving language problems, is to do like the germans... they constantly update their language to make it more "efficient" (typical german :rolleyes: )...
    this is cool in a way, but think about how annoying it must be to constantly have to learn new grammar and spelling?
    furthermore, according to "experts", the german language is actually the most precise language for scientific purposes (it's just not very popular for obvious *coughly!* reasons)...
    howabout we used german as the scientific language and then people could freely choose the everyday chatting language? :wink:
  26. Aug 11, 2004 #25


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    In the beginning of the 20th century, German was well on its way to be the preferred scientific language, at least in physics. Probably this was because also because many of the leading physicists of that period spoke German (Einstein, Schroedinger, Heisenberg, Born, Bethe, Sommerfeld, ...). One of the leading journals was Zeitschrift fuer Physik.
    What has been said before, about the extensibility of German, all Germanic languages share this (such as Dutch, my mothertongue), but of course you're not adding grammar and spelling ! It is just that you are free to compose words with smaller words, like eine Physikerburostuhlschraubenlochbohrmachine, which means: "drill for making holes to fit screws in the chair of the desk of a physicist". That, and the complicated grammar, inherited from Latin (but still a bit simplified), using nominatif, accusatif, datif, and genitif to indicate the grammatical function of a part of the phrase, make the language not only very compact, but also without ambiguity (which means it is hard to tell jokes in German :)

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