Science - Phillosophy, abstract or cold hard facts?

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China Doll | 14:30 Fri 20th Oct 2006 | Science
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Afternoon All,

I was having a discussion with a friend last night about this and it's something I've wondered about for a while.

A lot of things I've read lately appear to be suggesting that science is a phillosophy in the sense that you start with an idea and then you either prove or disprove your theory.

If you think back to the ancient Greeks I can certainly see how this idea makes sense. What do you think?

And if science had a starting point in phillosophy or the abstract, do you still think that this is relevant to the modern world? Or is science now all about cold, hard facts? Have we perhaps learnt too much? Is there any mystery left in the world or have we explained everything?

Sorry... that's a lot of questions for one thread I know... just the more I thought about it, the more questions I realised I had... Sorry again!

China xx


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Science is a philosophy - but a very special one.

It's very special because of it's massive success in predicting the future.

Scientific models allow prediction of future events - The classic examples are Halley's prediction of the return of the comet which bears his name or the prediction of the background radiation (the echo if you like) from the big bang.

Science is very very relevant to the modern world especially when they stakes are high - would you get on a new type of plane that was designed by someone with no scientic knowledge but had an "instinct" ?

However science does have it's limits. Victorian science was very "cause and effect" Einstein was possibly the last of this old guard and was outraged at new quantum science that could only deal in probabilities and uncertainties - he was convinced that it was simply our ignorance. Of course now 100 years on we know that Einstein was wrong and nature at a very deep level does not behave that way.

No matter how big a computer you have you will never be able to precisely predict chaotic systems like the weather.

What concerns me most though is what seems to be a growing scientific illiteracy in the general public - what's more it's often seen almost as a badge of pride.

There are many people who would rain scorn over a somebody's grammer and yet feel no shame of not knowing the difference between an atom and a molecule.

Some science displays great beauty - it may seem strange but something like Newtons law of Gravitation is very beautiful and sadly that is lost to so many people
The philosophy of science is positivism which argues that the only true knowledge is scientific. Because scientific knowledge is based on empirical evidence the results of scientific enquiry should be independent of any bias from the investigator. So distinctly not abstract.

Have we learnt too much? We probably have just about scratched the surface but I think that science has become remote from peoples everyday experiences. I think scientists are often guilty of complicating their message with jargon and this alienates many people. This jargon also opens the door to charlatans and grifters who can use pseudoscience to exploit people.
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I would say pseudoscience was the use of scientific soundining terminology to falsely pretend a scientifically rigorous methodology backed a claim or discipline.

There are other interesting categories where scientists can decieve themselves ( hence double blind drugs trials where not even the researchers know who is getting what. )

Science has areas of blindness. A good example of this is the many-worlds solution to the Goldilocks problem.

In this we wonder why our Universe is just right for life - Gravity is just the right strength, the mass of the electron just so etc. etc. (hence Goldilocks)

The biggest problem in resolving this is that we just don't know how these quanities came to be set this way and may never know - you can't put the Big Bang in a test tube and run it over and over again to see if these change each time.

One possible explanation is that there are many universes and we inhabit one that is "just right".

But there is no way to see outside our Universe, the theory provides no test that we can do. So it is interesting but just speculation. Without a prediction we can test it's not science.
Science is the method for gaining knowledge (as well as the sum of knowledge gained through this process) about the physical world, how things behave and why they behave as they do, through observation and measurement. This method by virtue of the necessity of the means by which we acquire and assimilate knowledge demands a selective focus on specific details. The method may at first appear cold but the products of science, the knowledge we gain, and the application of this knowledge, (technology), open entirely new vistas of wonder and curiosity about the world we live in.

Science and philosophy share an essential partnership for the successful outcome of both. Science must above all serve the interests of the people required to do it and in so doing both benefit. This is the role that philosophy must fill by determining the direction and purpose of science.

Philosophy, the love of wisdom, has as its first, most primary function to discover what knowledge is and how we acquire and validate it. Without the ability to obtain certainty philosophy, science and humanity are all in mutual jeopardy. In this regard philosophy may seem as hard and cold as science but the product it yields, human understanding is a value that can not be overestimated for the success and happiness of the human species.

Isn't this "A Question of Balance"?
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Mibn... True, this could well be about balance.

Jake - Interestiing you should bring up the 'just right' thing, had a bit of a discussion on that last night. Well sort of anyway... Basically why we're so special/lucky as to have life on this planet, (which of course descended in to the 'are we alone in the universe' type discussion.) I just didn't know last night that what we were discussing had a name!

Tonyted - Yeah, I do like it in here. I'm out of my depth but I like it!)
There's a slight difference between that and the Goldilocks problem.

With the billions of stars and planets, it's almost inconceivable that a life form should not arise somewhere. That lifeform would almost certainly gaze at the stars and marvel at the improbability of its existance.

There are billions of stars and planets but we can observe only one universe - one constant defining the strength of gravity, magnetism, the speed of light etc. wherever you are in the universe these are the same.

We have no idea how these came to be set at the values that they are - perhaps there are billions of Universes too but basically to be Science a theory must be testable and this one is not.

You might be interested in a philosopher called Karl Popper.

and here greatest_philosopher_karl_popper.shtml

He worked on what is and is not science and the relationship between truth and science and is very irritating to people like TonyTed as he pointed out that absolute truth is alien to science.

Most important is his falsification principal which states that for something to be considerred science it must be possible for it to be proven wrong.

Obviously then if it is possible for anything in science to be proven wrong it cannot be absolute truth.

Hence when TonTed says "physics is fact" he contradicts one on the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century

As Jake said: there is no absolute truth in science. You can only disprove a theory. Just because a theory worked once, doesn't mean it will stand up to more rigorous testing, etc. So you can never prove something to be true, only false.
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So no 'exception that proves the rule' stuff in science then? I never really got that anyway.

(Thanks very much Jake for all the links.... As soon as I'm done on worm holes and the like I'll be straight on to those puppies!)

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