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The progress of science: How far have we really come?

  1. Mar 27, 2004 #1

    Kerrie

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    I am posing this question to find out what others think in our "progress of science". I see science as a journey of discovery of the reality of how our universe functions, to better understand physical truth. Is there a scale of the perspective of reality that science is slowly moving forward and expanding on? If so, how far to the end of this scale are we? More importantly, does my question make sense? :confused:
     
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  3. Mar 28, 2004 #2

    marcus

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    I thought some more about it and decided I wasnt clear enough on the issues of what is science and what constitutes progress. so I erased my initial answer. I still think it is a constructive question and hope other people will take a shot at it.
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2004
  4. Mar 29, 2004 #3
    Accumulation of knowledge could be a scale to gauge our progress in understanding the universe.
    If by how far to the end of this scale we are, you are referring to something like the theory of everything, then perhaps we still have some significant challenges ahead of us.
     
  5. Mar 29, 2004 #4
    I feel the question is too narrow. Clearly science has made enormous progress over the last couple of centuries at explaining the world scientifically. The bigger question - which I suspect is what you meant to ask - is whether scientific progress constitutes 'progress' and if so progress towards what.
     
  6. Mar 29, 2004 #5

    Nereid

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    A few comments - questions really - about 'progress':

    As Canute has said, in terms of explaining the world scientifically, great progress. How to measure this kind of progress?

    Progress may also be made in terms of efficiency - for each unit of input, how much output do we get today vs 100/1000 years ago?

    Then there's the internal measure; if science is essentially a series of programs, how many new programs are started every decade? how many are essentially completed? how long does it take to complete one? This is related to, but not quite the same as, efficiency.

    Many people judge scientific progress by its utility, for example the extent to which applications of science have alleviated suffering, enriched wellbeing, etc. Scientists may not like this measure, but in a very real sense it's this 'return on investment' by which the 'shareholders' judge progress (and continue to provide further capital to keep the limited liability company afloat).

    One last one for now: how well has science been applied to science? How well do we understand the theory and practice of doing science, its strengths and weaknesses, its limits? How extensively have hypotheses about the nature of science been rigourously subject to testing?
     
  7. Apr 1, 2004 #6

    selfAdjoint

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    You can also measure progress by the things everybody used to believe that have been shown to be false. The earth isn't flat, the sky isn't solid, the sun doesn't go across the sky. the solar system isn't the center of the universe, and so on.

    Currently the public is slowly learning:

    There isn't s definite state of rest and another definite state of motion.
    The world isn't classical.
    The world wasn't created a few thousand years ago.
    Living creatures weren't explicitly designed to be the way they are.
     
  8. Apr 2, 2004 #7
    Are you sure that what 'the public' (non-scientists I presume) are 'slowly learning' constitutes progress? Or are we just constructing another false paradigm? Not being argumentative but I don't see it as being quite so simple.
     
  9. Apr 2, 2004 #8

    selfAdjoint

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    In spite of the popularity of the paradigm, uh, paradigm, I don't think it really describes what goes on in science. And the experimental evidence for the points I was making is enormous. If you wnat to deny them, it's not just a matter of bull session; you have to confront the evidence and say why your alternative theory either accounts for it or differs from it. Note that the incompleteness of, say, the standard model (~ 19 undetermined numbers) is not an excuse for rejecting the uncertainty principle.

    The public is slowly learning these things. Stories appear in newspapers and online. Basic quantum mechanics is taught in High School. The very existence of PF and its success show that outreach is possible and desired.
     
  10. Apr 2, 2004 #9

    Kerrie

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    SA, this is sort of where I am getting at, although we are pretty educated about the world around us, how much do we yet to learn about things unseen/unknown because our technology isn't advanced enough yet? Yes, we are much more advanced comparitively speaking then from 150 years ago, but how much more is there to discover? Are we just beginning?
     
  11. Apr 2, 2004 #10

    Janitor

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    Pardon my tangential comment-

    I go through phases of listening to Christian radio and television. One of the most fascinating preachers to listen to is John Hagee. I wonder if anybody here has heard of him? He can really work up his audience, get them to "Amen!"-ing and even clapping their hands in enthusiastic applause.

    I would bet that Rev. Hagee and most of his congregation disavow at least the last two items on SelfAdjoint's list of things the public as a whole is slowly learning! I wouldn't be surprised if their attitude toward the first two items on his list is, "I don't know about that, and I don't care."
     
  12. Apr 3, 2004 #11
    I'm not questioning the experimental evidence. I'm just wondering if scientific progress constitutes 'Progress' in any wider sense. It isn't obvious that it does so you'd have to make the case.

    Also there is no reason that 'the public' should learn all these things. They are mostly too esoteric to have any bearing on anything much unless you're a scientist or particularly interested in new technology. I don't mean to sound anti-science, we couldn't get out of bed in the morning without the scientififc method, but it seems undeniable that all the important questions that human beings ask lie well outside science.
     
  13. Apr 3, 2004 #12

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    Does anybody know if the former Taliban government of Afghanistan freely allowed the teaching of modern science in the schools of that nation? It seems to me that unrestricted scientific inquiry would be very threatening to a fundamentalist theocracy.

    It is said that folk singer Woody Guthrie painted "This machine kills fascists" on his guitar. Maybe a good motto for science would be "This methodology kills religious fanaticism."
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2004
  14. Apr 3, 2004 #13
    Yes I think that's the problem. But thinking rationally does not entail accepting science's metaphysics, and the fact that there are violent religious fanatics does not make believing in God wrong. It all depends on the circumstances. The scientific view brings with it, (for no good reason but it does), materialism, relative morality, and the breakdown of socal order and traditional lifestyles in favour of homogenous markets, global economies of scale, mass market consumerism, and all the other disbenefits of believing in nothing. There are two points of view.

    BTW I don't Woodie Guthrie was praising the scientific method. For him the bankers and industrialists of unregulated capitalism were the fascists, not over-enthusiastic believers in God.

    Off topic but I suspect it is a serious mistake to associate anti-American terrorism with irrational religious beliefs. The issues are about nationalism, cultural domination, oil, the right to self-determination, and in particular the right to control one's own economy, resources and trading arrangements. It just so happens that lots of the oil is in Muslim countries, and having natural reserves of oil is becoming a real liability these days for almost any nation.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2004
  15. Apr 3, 2004 #14

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    There was a great deal of anger toward banks by farmers in states such as Oklahoma in the Dust Bowl days. The bankers, naturally, wanted to go strictly by the book in foreclosing on farmland after enough payments were missed. The farmers, having weather-related problems, expected compassion and some flexibility.

    Incidentally, folk singer Pete Seeger practically made a career out of writing and performing pro-union songs in the middle part of the 20th century.
     
  16. Apr 3, 2004 #15

    selfAdjoint

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    That's changing the subject. I don't believe in "progress". Did when I was a kid, but not for decades; the human species is what it is and the only mode of change offered (singularity and gene manipulation) don't look attractive.

    But science really does find more and more about how the real universe really works. And the public understanding lags a century or so behind.
     
  17. Apr 4, 2004 #16
    It's true that public understanding of science lags behind that of professional scientists, (if it didn't there's be no point in employing scientists) but I'm not sure that's relevant to question here.
     
  18. Apr 4, 2004 #17

    selfAdjoint

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    Kerries original question was
    I am posing this question to find out what others think in our "progress of science". I see science as a journey of discovery of the reality of how our universe functions, to better understand physical truth. Is there a scale of the perspective of reality that science is slowly moving forward and expanding on? If so, how far to the end of this scale are we? More importantly, does my question make sense?

    I did expand a bit in order to avoid having science just an elitist arcanum. Scientists are trying to educate the public as best they know how, and they do think their growth in understanding is the property of humanity rather than just some enlightened few.
     
  19. Apr 4, 2004 #18
    The question is whether the progress in explaining the universe scientifically represents progress in some absolute sense. It would only do so if it is true, or more nearly true that other explanations. Unfortunately for all science's progress, as measured in its own terms, we don't know this.

    Also I don't see how the fact that scientists think the public need educating in science implies anything about whether scientific progress is progress in any absolute sense. It just means that scientists think it is, and they'd hardly be likely to think otherwise.
     
  20. Apr 5, 2004 #19

    selfAdjoint

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    Science has going for it that it produces ideas that, when converted to technology, work. I have lived through a lot of history and sociology and politics and commerce in my time, and science is the ONLY human endeavor that can make that statement. Mysticism and philosophy just keep chewing the same old fat and going nowhere. ESP periodically comes up with a new champion, who pretty soon goes away again without accomplishing anything. Meanwhile new avenues of science open up, like molecular biology, and start making predictions that work and pretty soon they generate new technology that relieves another set of human problems. And the mystics and philosophers shift the gob of old fat into their other cheek and keep on chewing.
     
  21. Apr 5, 2004 #20

    Kerrie

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    lol SA, you bring a good point up...my question was in reference to the progress of our science to the absolute reality of our physical world. are we 80% there? 25% there? this question constantly nags me...it's not like a child who is 10 and knows that when they are 18 they are adults, we don't know how far we have to go, but we can say we have progressed extensively within the last the 200 years scientifically...are we still progressing at this rate, or have we "slowed" down?

    i also wonder what would happen to science if we someday had all the answers...
     
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