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What IS Science?

  1. Sep 17, 2003 #1

    FZ+

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    What do you think science is really about?

    1. Is science still just a branch of philosophy?

    2. Is knowledge a goal as of itself?

    3. Can science say anything outside materialism?

    4. Can science reach an end?

    5. And who is right in how science works? Popper, or Kuhn? Or both/neither?
     
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  3. Sep 18, 2003 #2
    Of course, but for the reason that will be clarified in the next response...

    Yes it is, and to pursue knowledge is the goal of philosophy. That's why I say that science is still a branch of philosophy, because it still seeks knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.

    I don't think so, only because there can logically be no intermediary between the physical and the non-physical, and thus no way for material beings to perform experiments on that which is non-physical.

    I hope not.

    I really don't know about either's philosophies. Can you give a basic overview, please?
     
  4. Sep 18, 2003 #3

    selfAdjoint

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    Karl Popper says that a statement is scientific if it is falsifiable, that it if it is such that you can think of some way to at least try to show it was wrong (either logically or experimentally). Most experimental scientists will accept Popper's definition but some observational ones and theorists do not.

    Thomas Kuhn saya that science is entirely a cultural thing and that it has two phases. First is "Normal Science" which is essentially fact gathering and uncreative. It works within a view of the state of science that Kuhn called a paradigm (this is the origin of the use of this word all over the place). This tells the uncreative normal scientist how to think about his area of nature. Normal scientists resist changes to the paradigm.

    The other state of science is revolutionary, characterized by a "paradigm shift" (yeah that's where it comes from). This is traumatic for the normal scientists, but it is necessary for the advance of science. Eventually the new paradigm is established, the old normal scientists die off, and a new generation of normal scientists grows up to believe in and depend on the new paradigm.

    As you see, Popper and Kuhn aren't talking about the same things, both could be right, or wrong. Most scientists, at least in the harder sciences, reject Kuhn's picture of their fields because they don't feel the history of those fields is described by his model. But Kuhn's book, The Structure of Scentific Revolutions, has been immensely influential outside of science, and probably forms the basis of most educated nonscientists' opinons about science.
     
  5. Sep 18, 2003 #4

    Another God

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    Wow. Great summary selfAdjoint. Almost textbook like in its accurate conciseness... :smile:

    I think they both do apply though. Maybe Popper isn't applicable to 'Science', but instead only applicable to the practices of Kuhns 'Normal Science'. That is, under the contemporary paradigm research is done and it is assessed under a popperian model ie: If you produce results which contradict your expected results, then obviously something is wrong. But just because something is wrong does not mean you throw away the whole paradigm, that would be stupid. The first thing you do is inspect your methods, you check out the theory in the particular experiment you are doing, you look at the local conditions etc.

    paradigms are big things (like relativity, evolution etc) and 'Falsifying' them is not something done with a small experiment. Small experiment falsify the small hypothesis that that experiment is based on, or more likely, simply show you an error in your thinking/methods/accuracy.

    Paradigm shifts do not occur until many many of these small falsifiability problems occur and cannot be rationalised away. (and some bright new spark figures out whats going on while everyone else calls them a fool)


    So, to the original questions:
    1. Is science still just a branch of philosophy?
    Absolutely. In fact, I would be willing to say that Science is nothing more than the modern manifestation of Socratic inquiry under the Materialist Metaphysics worldview.

    2. Is knowledge a goal as of itself?
    Ummm... i would love to sound ideal and say yes (because I lvoe knowledge), but I think the answer is no. The quest for knowledge always has some driving force behind it...happiness, safety, health etc.

    3. Can science say anything outside materialism?
    As long as Science is socratic inquiry under materialist metaphysics, No. It assumes materialism to be the answer, so it can't really go outside of it. But Socratic inquiry which isn't under the materialistic metaphysics can.

    4. Can science reach an end?
    hmmm...end of humanity? Yeah.

    5. And who is right in how science works? Popper, or Kuhn? Or both/neither?
    As with all great theories, I think they both pointed out some very valid things and are right on track...but neither of them have 'The Answer'.

    IMO.
     
  6. Sep 19, 2003 #5
    I'd say it's about nothing.

    I don't think so. Science evolves while philosophy hasn't changed much since the days of Plato.

    Well, we all have questions and we want answers, but it seems to me science has become a bit of a monster in that it gained a life of its own. For the most part, the answers scientists are looking for (and get paid for doing it) are completely irrelevant to society in general, so much so that the average person doesn't even understand what most of science is about. In fact, most scientists don't understand what the sciences beyond his or her particular field of expertise are about.

    The real question is, can science say anything at all of any significance? Most of science consists of tautologies, and the bits that are not tautological are bound to be proven wrong someday.

    Science is not materialist, it doesn't even address the issue. Because it's mostly tautological, science says very little. Because science says very little, some people take that to mean there's very little to be said. Which, as a quick perusal through this website alone would prove, is simply fallacious.

    Yes, it can. When a fully self-consistent set of tautologies is found, all observations of the world can be accounted for by scientific concepts that are true by definition.

    I think both are right to the extent that they agree with me, and both are wrong to the extent that they do not. It may sound arrogant but that's what everyone thinks anyway; I'm just being sincere :smile:
     
  7. Sep 19, 2003 #6

    Another God

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    Re: Re: What IS Science?

    The only way I can imagine you justifying this stand would be by saying that our perceptions are an illusion, and that since science is studying an illusion, it is wastin its time, and achieving nothing. Therefore, science is about nothing.

    Is that what you are saying? If not, then u will have to explain your position better. (Unless u are simply talking about science being completely tautological, which I will address later)
    You obviously haven't read any philosophy that has been done since plato's time. Besides, this doesn't actually address the question at all. Youa re assuming the answer and then using that as evidence to back up your assumption.

    You have seperated science from philosophy in the evidence presented, when the question is whether they should be seperated.

    Whether people understand it is irrelevent to whether it is useful. I'll bet u have no idea how chemotherapy works, but it has saved millions of lives. Penicillin...millions more lives. Microwaves are great, but I haven't the faintest clue how they work.

    Unfortunately for the average scientist, we don't know the answers to the questions we seek, without first looking. So as a matter of course, it is necessary that much research is useless. We have to push out in every direction, loking for the glimmers of light which may have meaning/use/interest. And when these glimmers are found, I can guarantee you something relevent to society will result.

    I don't know of one tautological scientific statement. In fact, under the popperian model a tautology is almost precisely the antithesis of Science. A scientific theory must be falsifiable. Tautology is unfalsifiable. Therefore not science. So no, none of science is tautological. (Not even evolution despite the attmepts of many creationist to claim so.)

    As for being proven wrong someday...sure, this is also covered by Popper. Basically, we can't know when we are right, but at least we can figure out when we are wrong. We'll just have to settle for that. And as we move along the path of further enlightenment of our ignorance we might find some really neat stuff on the way.

    That sounded like a series of semi-connected statements that attempted to reaffirm your beliefs without actually saying anything. I can't reply. You will need to explain your meaning better if you actually mean something here.


    See above, science is not tautological. You will need to show me otherwise if you believe it to be.
    True, but until u explain which parts of their beliefs u agree with and which parts u disagree with, no one will ever be able to 1. Argue with you about your beliefs and perhaps show you the error of your ways or 2. learn from your point of view.

    Thats the true purpose of discussion. Mutual education, not simply reaffirming our own beliefs.
     
  8. Sep 19, 2003 #7
    Re: Re: What IS Science?


    Do you mean that Philosophy has not changed, or that philosophy has changed with scientific knowledge? Note that I am going to give you a small path out of a rather ridiculous and completely unfounded statement, unless you have either not read or not understood any philosophy written after Plato.

    Philosophy has changed dramatically since the time of Plato. It may or may not have 'evolved' as such (this is quite another topic for debate) But we have changed from the Socratic concern of trying to find out the ideal truth of concepts and not holding ourselves to have any knowledge unless we truly do (depending if you take the 'ironic' Socrates idea or not) to the skeptics who simply questioned peoples justifications and held to no doctrine, to the half medieval half modern philosophy of Cartesian Dualism given to us by Descartes, past this into modern American/Australian Materialism/identity theorism/relitivism/Functionalism (dealing mainly in ways of explaining the mind through either functional or neuronal terms, and our relation to the world in which we live on metaphysical and epistemological levels) and Continental Philosophy like Phenomenology (concerned with the nature of experience). If a shift from assuming the existence of God to a belief in the functional aspects of a brain is not a change in ideas at the least, then I would seriously re-consider your definition of change.

    For the rest, AG you have kicked it...
     
  9. Sep 19, 2003 #8
    Re: Re: What IS Science?

    This to me is a strange claim. For us to even know of the non-physical, it must have had a reaction on the physical. If this did not happen, then we would not even know about it. Even if this reaction was simply within our brains, it is still having obvious physical effects. It is these effects which science CAN look at, test, examine, and come up with ways to hypothesize on such 'non physical' phenomena.

    If the non-physical is unknowable as your unstated conclusion suggests, then it is irrelevant to us and the state of our world. What is there to gain by studying the unknowable that has no effects on the world that we can perceive?
     
  10. Sep 19, 2003 #9

    drag

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    Best thing there is ! Go K.P. ! :smile:
     
  11. Sep 19, 2003 #10
    Re: Re: Re: What IS Science?

    No, I don't think science is studying illusions. If I did, I would say science is about "illusions", not about "nothing".

    The word "science" means different things to different people. If a construction worker digs a hole in the ground and discovers something unusual, we don't say he made a "scientific discovery". So I don't consider the mere observation of nature a scientific activity. You don't have to be an astronomer to see the moons of Jupiter, you don't have to be a biologist to see a human cell, and so on. All it takes to make observations is a pair of eyes.

    It's only when something is "added" to an observation that it becomes science. So to me the question "what is science" can be rephrased as "what is it that scientists add to observations of the natural world that distinguishes those observations from the observations of the common man". (too long a sentence, I'm sorry, can't say it with less words)

    My answer to the above is "nothing", but it shouldn't outrage anyone. It's actually the common man who tends to add ideas and concepts to observations; a true scientist must stick to the facts and must report nothing other than what has been observed. For anything beyond that constitutes speculation, which I don't consider "science". But of course most of what passes for "science" today amounts to pure speculation. Which makes sense, because you can't be a scientist without also being a common man (not that some don't claim otherwise)

    If you understood the above, then you can understand why I think true science consists of tautologies. And if you don't understant, that's OK too, I'm not here to convince anyone, just to share my ideas.

    Have fun,

    Amadeus
     
  12. Sep 19, 2003 #11
    Well, this may often be the insentive, but knowledge itself is sometimes the only goal for certain people (myself included, as I do not learn for any purpose other than learning).
     
  13. Sep 19, 2003 #12
    Re: Re: Re: What IS Science?

    We don't (according to the materialist) "get to know about it" since there is no "it" (no non-physical). You are taking for granted that such a thing exists, but that is just a personal opinion, and I don't think that science could ever prove it.

    It is true that, if these non-physical phenomena could have physical effects, they could be tested, but that side-steps the very point of that part of my post: The non-physical cannot interact with the physical, since there would have to be an intermediary, and this cannot be the case.

    I don't think there is a point to it. That's one of the things I like about Science: it doesn't deal with that the "unknowable".
     
  14. Sep 19, 2003 #13

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    Re: Re: Re: Re: What IS Science?

    Of course. Science is the marriage of wonder and skepticism. To question is to be scientific. A discovery itself is not science, but it's understanding is.

    I do not believe there is such a distinction. Look at the modern thinking of the public. It is clear then that newtonian thinking has been very successful, and is now part of the "observations of common man". It is now "common sense" that objects don't change velocity until you apply a force. But a few hundred years ago, this was cutting edge science. And it still is. I think you are trying to exclude science as inherently something of the "ivory towers". And I think that goes against the attempts of all scientists to spread scientific discussion. There is nothing uncommon about scientists.
    Further, to say that science is anything added to observation is rather unuseful, as it would put the totality of perception into science.

    I don't think this is true either. Science puts a very important focus on what we can say. An act of speculation without immediate testibility is not science, and most scientists would consider claims of telepathy based on sparse data unscientific. Pure speculation is not science.

    Science = wonder + skepiticism.

    And without speculation, we would be nowhere. Without extrapolation from known data, mankind would find it hard to exist.

    Science is no more a tautology than all our perceptions are. In that it is consistent, and is dependent on evidence.

    And science truly tells us things of great significance. Else, what is the significance of God? Of family? Of society? I would consider life, the universe and everything to be pretty significant. What is significant then, if these aren't?
     
  15. Sep 19, 2003 #14
    Re: Re: Re: Re: What IS Science?

    I am not taking for granted that any such thing exists. I am saying that we cannot know if it exists or not if it has no interaction with the physical world. I personally, do not believe in the non-physical at all. But some claim that it does exist, I claim the only way they know of it (if their claims have any substance) is through the effect it is having on the physical realm: them. So study these effects, and see if it can be explained purely materialistically or if it does indeed suggest another, unknown cause.


    No. It might be a logical impossibility, a thing like the non-physical some how interacting on the closed materialistic system of the world, but it is not impossible. It is just highly unlikely. We don’t know everything about the relations of material things right now, and to rule anything out in this point of our knowledge would be a foolish move. You can only say "if you believe that to be the case then prove it in conditions we all agree upon". It could just be a contingent fact of this world that there is non physical- physical causations going on, it’s just that it is so inconceivable to us that we don’t understand it. So for those who believe it to be the case, let them make their claims, and let science test it.
     
  16. Sep 19, 2003 #15

    Another God

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    Re: Re: Re: Re: What IS Science?


    Perhaps you dont have to be a scientist to observe, but it is part of science that the accumulation of repeatable observations is recorded and scrutinised by many different people. This is part of science, and not necessarily part of everyday life.

    In other words, there is more to the observation part of science, than mere observation. It is a conscientious observational task engaged by many people.

    I agree with your bit, but I believe you have been mislead by idealists on your second point. A lot of people who claim to be scientists and want to perpetuate this rumour that scientists are special and above speculation etc are doing a misjustice to Science. Science is about speculation, although it is an intelligent guided form of speculation (which isn't really speculation is it, its is more 'Assesment?' 'Interpretation?'). Scientists collect the Data, and then they interpret the data.

    Look at the format of any Science paper...what do you see?
    Introduction. "The background of this investigation. What other people have found and what they think of it."
    Methods: "How the experiment was done. Last thing we want is a dodgy methods."
    Results: "What we saw. This is the observation collection part. Nothing but the facts. The thing we are told science is all about."
    Discussion: "The section where the scientist interprets their result, and tries to figure out what it means, what implications follow and what needs to be done next."

    Hopefully you will have noticed something about that format. 2 of the 4 sections are about data collection/recording, and the other two are about 'adding something' to that data. Of course 'anyone' could add something to the data, but most can't simply because they haven't gone through the years of schooling to have any idea what the data means.

    This is science.

    Another point: The introduction and the Discussion usually take up the largest part of the paper.
     
  17. Sep 20, 2003 #16

    Ivan Seeking

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    Re: Re: What IS Science?

    IMO, this part of the argument enjoys the luxury of ambiguity. What do we mean by physical and non-physical? Any undiscovered force of nature would qualify as non-physical, until we can measure it.

    Next, what do we mean by physical? All forces of nature, to the extent that they can be described, are ultimately reduced to angels and goblins. All forces of nature are ultimately non-physical.

    Prove me wrong.

    OK I'm kidding a bit. The point is the we can't really define what we mean.
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2003
  18. Sep 20, 2003 #17

    Ivan Seeking

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    Yikes! Of course. As long as math and physics require that we make assumptions, they are branches of philosophy.

    I would say enlightenment. This in theory translates into a higher quality of existence. Surely it did in the dark ages.

    If we use this as the definition of physical, "Of or relating to matter and energy or the sciences dealing with them", then it depends on whether or not we will discover real things made not of matter or energy. Might dark energy technically qualify as non-physical?

    I would say possibly a permanent stasis. Even if we someday have a complete TOE, we can never know with absolute certainty that it is complete.

    I think that both are true but neither need always be true.
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2003
  19. Sep 21, 2003 #18
    Re: Re: Re: What IS Science?

    You know, Ivan, sometimes you remind me of Wuliheron. He says alot of the same things about science (that it all reduces to the same "angels and goblins" and "pigs with wings"), but I have disagreed with him for longer than I've even known you .

    Besides, fyi, angels and goblins were also physical, they were - after all - supposed to actually affect the world :wink:.

    Anyway, I don't think that a perfect definition of that which is physical is necessary for discussion of the fact that something non-physical cannot affect something physical. After all, it's really just a matter of the concepts in question. Besides that, I can define physical as "That which is a form of energy or spacetime". There, now can we proceed in discussion (he said, positive there was some flaw but unable to find it (I'm getting a little tired tonight [zz)]))?
     
  20. Sep 22, 2003 #19

    Ivan Seeking

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    Re: Re: Re: Re: What IS Science?

    My first QM professor told me this: In the times of old, it was believed that angels moved the planets through the heavens. Of course the angels would push the planets in the direction that they are seen moving. When Newton came along, we had to rotate the angel force vector by 90 degrees.

    Angels are spirits - incorporeal - so we have biblical proof of my claim!

    Yes this is really only a matter of definition. I have a wild solution: Only real things exist. :wink:

    Could you give an example of something [hypothetical of course] that is non-physical?
     
  21. Sep 22, 2003 #20
    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What IS Science?

    LOL!

    You know, s/he's absolutely right, no one new what to make of the "attraction at a distance" that Newton postulated. However, since then, General Relativity has come along, and there is no longer any need to postulate non-physical interactions.

    Actually, the Bible states not only that angels can have interactions with humans, but also that they can take on human form (congealing of energy into matter of different forms, IMO) and procreate with humans (producing hybrid giants, but I digress...).

    So, angels needn't be non-physical in order to be spiritual, and in fact cannot be non-physical if they are to fit the Bible's accounts of their actions.

    Very funny.

    Well, that's just the thing. I could postulate a non-physical purple cow with wings, if I wished, and it can never be proven that such a thing doesn't exist because experiments cannot be conducted on non-physical things. IOW, if there were a non-physical purple cow with wings then it would never interact with the physical realm, and can thus never be shown to exist (nor can it be shown that it does not exist).
     
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