Wednesday, January 04, 2012

What is science?

As long as there has been science people have asked themselves how to identify it. Centuries of philosophers have made attempts and I don't intend to offer an answer in the confines of a blogpost. Instead, always the pragmatist, I want to summarize some points of view that I have encountered, more or less explicitly so, and encourage you to share your own in the comments. With this post, I want to pick up a conversation that started in this earlier post.

There is the question of content and that of procedure. The question of content is mainly a matter of definition and custom. When a native English speaker says "science" they almost always mean "natural science." On occasion they include the social sciences too. Even rarer so mathematics. The German word for science is "Wissenschaft" and in its usage is much closer to the Latin root "scientia."

According to the Online Ethymology Dictionary
    Science from Latin scientia "knowledge," from sciens (gen. scientis), present participle of scire "to know," probably originally "to separate one thing from another, to distinguish"

The German "Wissenschaften" include besides the natural sciences not only the social sciences and mathematics, but also "Kunstwissenschaft," "Musikwissenschaft," "Literaturwissenschaft," etc, literally the science of art, the science of music, the science of literature. It speaks for itself that if you Google "Kunstwissenschaft" the first two suggestions are the completions "in English" and "translation." In the following I want to leave the content of "science" as open as the German and Latin expressions leave it, and let it be constrained by procedure, which for me is the more interesting aspect.

As for the procedure, I have come across these three points of view:
  • A: Science is what proceeds by the scientific method

    When pushed, the usually well-educated defender of this opinion will without hesitation produce a definition for scientific method along the lines hypothesis, experimental test, falsification or gradual acceptance as established fact.

    The problem, as Feyerabend pointed out, is that a lot of progress in science did simply not come about this way. Worse, requiring a universal method may in the long run stifle progress for the reason that the scientific method itself can't adapt to changing circumstances. (I'm not sure if Feyerabend said that, but I just did.) Requiring people in a field in which creativity is of vital importance to obey certain rules, however sane they seem, begs for somebody to break the rules - and succeed nevertheless.

    There are many examples of studies that have been pursued for the sake of scientia without the possibility or even intention of experimental test, and they have later become tremendously useful. A lot of mathematics falls into this category and, until not so far ago, a big part of cosmology. Do you know what will be possible in 100 years? Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future, as Niels Bohr said.

    The demand of falsifiability inevitably brings with it the question for patience. How long should we wait for an hypothesis to be tested before we have to discard it as unscientific? And who says so? If you open Pandora's box, out falls string theory and the technological singularity.

    Finally, let me mention that if you sign up to this definition of science, then classifications, that make up big parts of biology and zoology, are not science. Science however are literature studies, for you can well formulate a hypothesis about, say, Goethe's use of the pluralis majestatis and then go and falsify it.

  • B: Science is what scientists do

    This definition begs the question who is a scientist. The answer is that science is a collective enterprise of a community that defines its own membership. Scientists form, if you want to use a fashionable word, a self-organizing system. They define their own rules, and the viability of these rules depends on the rules' success. The rules cannot only change over time, allowing for improvement, there can also exist different ones next to each other that compete in the course of history.

    I personally prefer this explanation of science. I like the way it fits into the evolution of the natural world, and I like how it fits with history. I also like that it's output oriented instead of process oriented: it doesn't matter how you do it as long as it works.

    In this reading, the scientific method, as summarized in A, is so powerful for the same reason that animals have the most amazing camouflage: Selection and adaption. It does not necessitate infallibility. Maybe the criteria of membership we use today are too strict. Maybe in the future they will be different. Maybe there will be several ones.

    The shortcoming of this definition is that there is no clear-cast criterion by which you can tell what of today's efforts are scientific, in much the same way that you can't tell whether some species is well adapted to a changing environment till they go extinct, possibly because they fall prey to a "fitter" species. That means that this definition of science will inevitably be unpopular in circumstances that require short and simple answers, circumstances in which the audience isn't expected to think for themselves.

    Given the time to think, note that the lack of simple criteria doesn't mean one can't say anything. You can clearly say the scientific method, as defined in A, has proven to be enormously successful and, unless you are very certain you have a better idea, discarding it is the intellectual equivalent of an insect dropping its camouflage and hoping birds don't notice. Your act of rebellion might be very short.

    That having been said, in practice there is little difference between A and B. The difference is that B leaves the future open for improvement.

  • C: Science is the creation, collection, and organization of knowledge

    "All science is either physics or stamp collecting," said Ernest Rutherford. This begs the question whether stamp collection is a science. The definition C is the extreme opposite to A; it does not demand any particular method or procedure, just that it results in knowledge. What that knowledge is about or good for, if anything, is left up to the scientist operating under this definition.

    The appeal of this explanation is that scientists are left to do, and collect what they like, with the hope that future generations find something useful in it; it's the "You never know" of the man who never throws anything away, and has carefully sorted and stored his stamps (and empty boxes, and old calendars, and broken pens, and...).

    The problem with this definition is that it just doesn't overlap with most people's understanding of science, not even with the German "Wissenschaft." There is arguably a lot of knowledge that doesn't have any particular use for most people. I know for example that the VW parked in front of the house is our upstairs neighbor's, but who cares. Where exactly does knowledge stop being scientific? Is knowledge scientific if it's not about the real world? These are the question you'll have to answer to make sense of C.


(img sources: click on image)

47 comments:

Giotis said...

I agree with Plato on this one:

"έστιν ουν επιστήμη δόξα αληθής μετά λόγου"

i.e. Science is the knowledge acquired and verified via logic.

Or I would say Science is the process of acquiring knowledge via logic.

Experimental verification is only part of the logical process which is a much broader concept.

The orginal Greek word for science is "επιστήμη" which means 'I know very well' and the word science is an attempt of westerners to translate the Greek word.

Phillip Helbig said...

"Science from Latin scientia "knowledge," from sciens (gen. scientis), present participle of scire "to know," probably originally "to separate one thing from another, to distinguish""

Perhaps the Latin "scire", in the meaning of separating one thing from another, has a common Indo-European root with the German "scheiden", which can refer to a divorce (separating one person from another), "ausscheiden"(precipitation in chemistry or producing excrement in biology), "unterscheiden" (distinguish, differentiate), "Unterscheidung" (distinction---one thing from another, not in the sense of "honour"), "Unterschied" (difference).

nige said...

Glasstone in Chemistry in Daily Life explains that chemistry is a development of alchemy, as indeed is physics. Biology and medicine come from the witchdoctor/spiritual healer, etc. The concept of a physical "law" is Newton's alchemy:

“The forces of attraction and repulsion between particles of matter, including gravitational attraction ... were primarily the offspring of alchemical active principles.”

- R. S. Westfall (the author of the major scientific biography of Newton), “The role of alchemy in Newton’s career,” in B. Righini and W. R. Shea (eds.), Reason, Experiment and Mysticism in the Scientific Revolution, Science History (publications), New York, 1975, pp. 189-232.

“Scepticism is ... directed against the view of the opposition and against minor ramifications of one’s own basic ideas, never against the basic ideas themselves. Attacking the basic ideas evokes taboo reactions ... scientists only rarely solve their problems, they make lots of mistakes ... one collects ‘facts’ and prejudices, one discusses the matter, and one finally votes. But while a democracy makes some effort to explain the process so that everyone can understand it, scientists either conceal it, or bend it ... No scientist will admit that voting plays a role in his subject. Facts, logic, and methodology alone decide – this is what the fairy-tale tells us. ... This is how scientists have deceived themselves and everyone else ... It is the vote of everyone concerned that decides fundamental issues ... and not the authority of big-shots hiding behind a non-existing methodology. ... Science itself uses the method of ballot, discussion, vote, though without a clear grasp of its mechanism, and in a heavily biased way.”

- Professor Paul Feyerabend, “Against Method”, 1975, final chapter.

“The notion that a scientific idea cannot be considered intellectually respectable until it has first appeared in a ‘peer’ reviewed journal did not become widespread until after World War II. Copernicus’s heliocentric system, Galileo’s mechanics, Newton’s grand synthesis – these ideas never appeared first in journal articles. They appeared first in books, reviewed prior to publication only by their authors, or by their authors’ friends. ... Darwinism indeed first appeared in a journal, but one under the control of Darwin’s friends. ... the refereeing process works primarily to enforce orthodoxy. ... ‘peer’ review is NOT peer review.”

– Professor Frank J. Tipler, Refereed Journals: Do They Insure Quality or Enforce Orthodoxy?

Science is best defined as "political correctness" so far as the media is concerned.

"Centralization of information and decision-making at the top has been destructive to most organizations. The Greeks had a word for the notion that the best decisions can only be made on the basis of the fullest information at the highest level. They called it hubris. In a living scientific organization, decisions must be pushed down to the lowest level at which they can be sensibly made. ... Leadership would be decentralized throughout, not concentrated at the top."

- Gregory H. Canavan, The Leadership of Philosopher Kings, Los Alamos National Laboratory, report LA-12198-MS, December 1992.

Bee said...

Hi Giotis,

I like Plato's definition in that it contains mathematics. I do not see however how it contains anything but mathematics. How can you ever verify knowledge about the real world? My understanding was, in the best case it's not falsified. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Nige,

Yes, peer review is a fairly recent addition to science. One can wonder now if not we might be going back to ideas being published in books rather than in journals, given that this has become so much easier. Penrose is probably the best known example. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phillip,

Yes, that makes sense. Best,

B.

mgf said...

I like to think of science as "a collection of techniques that minimize self-deception"

Bee said...

I like that :o) Very brief and to the point.

Giotis said...

Bee, logic is not just mathematics. Think of it as the ability of humans to think and deduce logical conclusions based on reason. As I told you it's a broader concept which contains experiments and experimental verification.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I think what serves as the greatest confusion for many is to be able to differentiate what represents being the process of science from the products of science. That is what constitutes as being science almost always begins as Feynman would have said with making a guess about how something works, after which the consequences of that guess are analyzed to be compared to how it will then actually work. In what are known as the hard sciences the thing that is working which our guess is being compared to is nature, while with what are called the soft sciences how it is we would like them to work as to be. This definition leaves the process for the most part open as what counts is the guess can actually be demonstrated to work.


So in short, that is at least for me, what constitutes being science is the process of making guesses which can be demonstrated to work. With the hard sciences what that has us know is how nature works, while with the soft it us know as to how things can work if we want them to be. This has the hard sciences limited to what nature is capable, while the soft by how we wish things to be; and yet it is the consequences of that wish which has the second the most difficult of the sciences as in first needing to understand what the consequences are for what it is that we might wish for.


“The difference between a good mechanic and a bad one, like the difference between a good mathematician and a bad one, is precisely this ability to select the good facts from the bad ones on the basis of quality. He has to care! This is an ability about which normal traditional scientific method has nothing to say. It's long pasttime to take a closer look at this qualitative preselection of facts which has seemed so scrupulously ignored by those who make so much of these facts after they are "observed." I think that it will be found that a formal acknowledgment of the role of Quality in the scientific process doesn't destroy the empirical vision at all. It expands it, strengthens it and brings it far closer to actual scientific practice.”


-Robert M. Pirsig- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - page 253

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Giotis,

Pretty much by definition, all that can be logically deduced is mathematics. You can't make logical deductions about the real world because you don't know if the axioms hold without testing them. The axioms can never be verified. In the best case they aren't (yet) falsified. Best,

B.

Steven Colyer said...

"Science" is one of those words IMO that if you have to define it you don't really know what it is. Since I don't, let me give it a shot:

Born of "natural philosophy," Science is the human description of those fields that attempt to describe and investigate and interpret experimental data regarding reality.

That would exclude I reckon both Mathematics and Computer Science (Logic), two fields forever more inexorably intertwined in "Science."

It would also exclude Political "Science", which is practically Science's exact opposite, at least in certain parts of these here United States.

Michael Gogins said...

I understand "science" as the organized gathering of knowledge (a) about those phenomena which are inter-subjective, and (b) that is formalized. The combination of inter-subjectivity and formalization enables empirical tests, but such tests are not required in order to have science, although they are of course extremely desirable.

Although mathematics is not physical, it is a science because proof is inter-subjective and formalizable.

Similarly music theory has an inter-subjective and formal component, e.g. there are patterns of chord progression that diverse observers agree upon identifying.

Formalized means essentially "Turing computable," i.e. it is not necessary to understand the meaning of the terms in the system in order to apply it, it is enough to mechanically apply the rules. This is our current final take on Plato's "verified via logic."

That mathematics is a science suggests that other non-physical phenomena, including some topics of philosophy, may also be or become fields of science. This is the exact opposite of Quine's view that natural science is sufficient philosophy.

Plato said...

Επιστήμη είναι η πίστη στην άγνοια των ειδικών.
Ρίτσαρντ Φάινμαν

While I do not want to appear to pretentious as to think I am of the class of scientist I could not help wonder what Feynman meant above? My thoughts here are philosophical then.

Bee, you leave no room for mathematics to be anything but cold and austere?

Bertrand Russell expressed his sense of mathematical beauty in these words:

Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry.


And yet, you are highly creative in observation, artistic skill in poetry\art.


Again, who I am to say. But simplified it says everything it can, as simply as possible. In a sense I know you are saying this, yet it is the "jump off point" you have to arrive at in order to open the door to "the possibility" that nature will supply you with the answer, because, the answer already exists.

You just do not know it yet. You have to arrive at that point.

That to me is what is so beautiful about the conclusion I have drawn about the mathematics\logic.

The black board then becomes a useful tool for your compatriots, as you are putting your explanation out in the open. As much as, your written material?

You can layer your language of social construct to the schematics of mathematics however you like as long as it fits the description of what the mathematics is telling us|you.

Why I try to listen very careful to what is under your language and others, yet I know very little about all the different areas of math? That's my learning about the descriptions in the way we can see?

You have to be accurate here in terms of let's say present definition of the cosmos "Guth's extension" to see that it can be extended to mean much more. You had to go through the basis of simplification first to know that such an extension could ever exist?

I hope this helps with what Goitis is saying, and extends the perception of where you are leaving off with the mathematics you are describing.

Question: So without math, one is an artist?

Best,

Giotis said...

Ok although I don't think it's necessary I will modify it a bit to please Bee:-)

Science is the process of acquiring knowledge by applying systematic methods based on observation and logical reasoning.

Bee said...

Hi Giotis,

Thanks, I am very pleased :o) I was just trying to say logic itself can't tell you anything about the axioms you are using and their relation to reality. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Plato,

Your question "So without math, one is an artist?" raises another question, that is what is art. I have no good answer to that question either, but I believe that mathematics is as much an art as it is a science. You see, many artists first learn the rules of the medium, what works what doesn't, what creates harmony, what breaks it, what creates depth, warmth, dissonance, etc. What is beautiful? They ask themselves, if you change one of the rules, what do you get? Read: What follows? Mathematicians do the same in extreme. They have rules that they obey very tightly. Yet the rules alone are not sufficient, as Russell had to learn from Goedel. In the end, both mathematics and art are driven by passion and want to communicate beauty. The difference is one of accessibility. Most people have an intuitive understanding of harmony and beauty in color, shape, rhythm, rhyme, or melody. I believe you can only really appreciate it if you have learned the rules, which most people (including me) haven't, but you still get something from it. Mathematics necessitates the education to appreciate its beauty.

My problem with Giotis' definition is not that I don't think mathematics is a science but that, for all we know today, it isn't sufficient to describe reality. We still need to tie the maths to observations. And that tie is prone to error, even if the maths is flawless. To understand the world, you need both, and maybe more that we don't know of today. Best,

B.

Uncle Al said...

Science: discovery/observation, global self-consistency, modeling/falsification, mathematization, a human, and challenge of assumed knowledge. Math has proof by computer, organic synthesis comes from a flask, and Noble Laureates have shoveled pigeon excrement (CMB) or been high while driving up a winding mountain road (PCR).

Science is what proceeds by the scientific method Applied research is defined process obtaining desired product. Basic research embraces serendipity, luck, happenstance, insubordination, obsession, pareidolia... Detroit's 10,000 different lock washers became a tube of Loctite, then robotic welding. Science is empirical, mathematics is not. Kunst- Musik- and Literaturwissenschaft cannot be science. Image, tune, and text cannot be assigned quality. They are "art" (concept) plus "craft" (reduction to practice). Art has forgery. If a work’s authorship is unknown, is it art?

Science is what scientists do Lysenko, DSM III, IV, V; N-rays, polywater, cold fusion, "sustainable resources," climatology, string theory, SUSY. The Shroud of Turin as such is mathematically impossible. A kitchen oven makes them at will. www.shroudstory.com/ Ha Ha Ha.

Science is the creation, collection, and organization of knowledge Descriptive biology was inert until genomics, epigenomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, glycomics, lipidomics, metabolomics, cytomics...

Plato said...

Hi Bee, Goitis,

I guess who likes what is "ugly and clumsy" when they can get to the finish by having all others already understanding what is beautiful? Everybody recognizes instantly what you have done?:)

What patience of teachers is required then when having to explain so? Become aggravated. Not you.:) So I read.

What is deep and trivial then but to describe processes that require the skill of the professional, only to find the descendants of a method with historical reproach by which all work to finish, becomes solving the unsolved problem.

Once tamed then, to allow the construct of society and its language be changed by the heart of, and schematics of what amounts to that "deeper part" of our being. It could have never rang louder and deeper if we could not of having seen it too? Not just trivial. You see.

Methodological and observation of science then. Okay:) Nature and discovery.

You have to go there then? You have to be a mathematician? You have to be great in art, music and poetry? How as a scientist, can you see better then? I am not discounting here methodology.

Again I might refer to Dirac, and what use anti-matter when a very small amount can be "the exorcist of a criminal plot becoming" wiping out by destruction the very heart of the Vatican and religion?:) Sort of like those microscopic black holes that ate the earth and strangelets. Heaven forbid?

Yes, not that kind of language....but there is always a safety crew on standby "physically and conceptually," yes?

But you must know what I mean to be free of Euclidean in a very deep and conceptual way. Yes? That was just the historical lesson.

Best,

Len Ornstein said...

What are the combination of essential elements that make science possible – and distinct from other disciplines?

DEDUCTIVE REASONING, the foundation of formal logic, mathematics, and of natural languages, builds on AXIOMATIC CONVENTIONS – AGREEMENTS to play by the same rules (otherwise chaos and conflict).

Agreements, that decide belief in truth or falsity, are indistinguishable from acts of faith – as are the axiomatic foundations of religions, non-theological 'ideologies' and dogmas.

A FACT describes an observation made often enough so that there is SOME CONFIDENCE that it should be recognizable in the external or internal 'reality' of other observers. This is the essence of INDUCTIVE REASONING. By convention, most 'believe' (have faith) that 'facts' are useful for cooperative communication for reducing risks and increasing survival.

David Hume established that no fact can be ABSOLUTELY TRUE because observation of all past and future instances of the sample observations is LOGICALLY unsupportable (impossible). So all statements of the 'truth' of any fact must be conditioned by UNCERTAINTIES about the soundness of interpolation and extrapolation to as yet unobserved instances.

From observations, scientists use deductive reasoning to build mathematical and/or 'language' models of reality. Then, using inductive reasoning, they try to establish a measure of the degree of confidence with which these models may communicate something useful about that reality.

Since 'belief in' both deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning depend upon axiomatic 'faiths', the polemics about the metaphysical gulf between science and faith-based beliefs is specious – and beside the point!

It is THE dependence of science on the continuing challenge of new observations – AND the analyses of those observations – to reevaluate the level of confidence that tentative, prevcious scientific consensus deserves – that distinguishes science from pure mathematics, religion and most ideologies.

For a further view of Science In The Spectrum of Belief, see:

http://www.pipeline.com/~lenornst/ScienceInTheSpectrumOfBelief.pdf

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

I think Bee has identified two key properties of physical science.

(1) There is a standard scientific method for physical science, but often scientists arrive at knowledge by unorthodox routes, and so physical science is not a cookbook affair or stamp collecting. There is an important creative element.

(2) The sine qua non of physical science, and that which clearly differentiates it from all that is not physical science, is the predictions/empirical testing criteria.

Mathematics is not physical science. It is not supposed to be. When it can be applied to physical science, that is a big bonus for an essentially abstract discipline.

Logic and deductive reasoning are dandy if you only want to live within one set of axioms. There is no provision in this strategy to break out of the box.

That's my take on the question.

Happy New Year,
RLO

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

You offered words by Feynman stating, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts”. Essentially it is one of his many witticisms which would have him to be understood to be philosophically an instrumentalist when it comes to what science is. That is he related as to what science is in terms of its central virtue or utility if you wish, in it being something that allows us to construct models which extends our abilities to predict outcome relative to how things work; that is as opposed to how things actually works. As to how things actually worked he was essentially uninterested as to leave such musings to the philosophers to worry about and the higher powers to know if they so exist. Regarding such a view I find I both agree and disagree with Feynman, for I would agree science hasn’t the ability to have us to actually know how things work, yet it does help us to understand enough to imagine how it might if that forms to be a concern.

Best,

Phil

Arun said...

Hi Bee,

The word "Wissenshaft" seems to be used like the Sanskrit/Hindi word "shastra" which covers just about anything that can be given a systematic exposition.

E.g., "Natya Shastra" covers the theater, dance, music. "Artha Shastra" - traditionally statecraft; in modern usage it means "economics"; "Rasayana Shastra" - chemistry.

Is it possible that the attitude of "science versus the rest" of Richard Dawkins, et. al., is influenced by language?

Arun said...

Dear Bee,

Philosophers can't identify a cat, let alone a complex human activity like science.

The identification of science is like science itself, and like that of any other knowledge. So you might see a strange looking creature and say - "that is a cat?" - and it turns out to be so, and there is fresh knowledge associated with the pedestrian "cat". But philosophers seek the eternal essence of "cat" and fail.

-Arun

Bee said...

Dear Arun,

That is an interesting observation. Yes, maybe Dawkin's crusade is to some extend a linguistic one. Though probably not caused by language, the divide seems at least to be supported by it. In German there exists indeed the word "Religionswissenschaft," literally the science of religion. The online dictionary offers the translation "comparative religion" which I find not to be very descriptive. In any case, it is plausible that the reason I do not find the tension between science and religion to be so strong as I have, from being around blogs, the impression many others perceive it, lies in me assigning a less restrictive meaning to the word 'science' as an English native speaker would. That's an interesting point. Best,

B.

Zephir said...

/*...science is what proceeds by the scientific method, science is what scientists do..*/

tautological definitions are tautological

Plato said...

Phil:That is he related as to what science is in terms of its central virtue or utility if you wish, in it being something that allows us to construct models which extends our abilities to predict outcome relative to how things work; that is as opposed to how things actually works.

Yes I get what your saying here and this falls in line with what Bee and Goitis are saying.

I might add here that Bohm on creativity might of called this, structure as it relates to the scientist and the artist. In relation then maybe too, the construct of Feynman Toy model, models it is in my belief that he needed to map the way Dirac was seeing and this was convenient.

I might add and ask for clarification from you that this is indeed what you are saying?

David Bohm writes,

"For the scientist must think in terms of abstract axiomatic concepts and instrumental data which are extremely different from the basic perceptual structure of space, light color, and form within the artist works." Pg 36, para 3 line 10-15, On Creativity, David Bohm

I think in a sense this is the breaking up the rigidity that the history of science has forced upon itself? Where the cross pollination in my view requires consistency from both trades to be allowed to speak on the same subject, yet, it allows the mind to be expanded in ways from what it has been trained in rote.

Perception is then changed in a way. This what in a sense I may refer too, in the aspect of the relationship of science and the art. You rewire the way in which your results are looked at by comparison in uniting sound and let say "particle research."

You see?:)Some of the scientists may get a big "aha" here?:) Some may look at string theory very differently?:)LOL

Best,

Arun said...

Dear Bee,

Perhaps unless you were precocious you do not remember the cold-fusion claims of Pons and Fleischmann (1989). You can read the first four paras of the Wiki article as a reminder, and to see if I have a point :)

I think this is an example of something that started out as what most people would call (mostly) science, and has ended up as (mostly) not-science. This New York Times story marks a point on the continuum where cold fusion science was turning into not-science.
http://partners.nytimes.com/library/national/science/050399sci-cold-fusion.html (If you are not able to retrieve it, I will do so for you.)

The science here is that there was an experiment. Conducting the experiment needed the use of existing physical laws and knowledge. The experiment drew the attention of scientists, who attempted to replicate the result, etc.

The not-science came about when some people refused to accept the failure to replicate the results and the errors in the original experiment. There were papers at that time trying to find a theoretical basis for a phenomenon like Pons & Fleischmann reported; since none was found **and** there were no experimental results to speak of, the continuing "research" into Pons-Fleischmann type of cold fusion smacks of not-science. We have credentialed scientists using scientific apparatus to look for a physical phenomenon and yet we would feel this is not science. At least some novel experimental ingredient is needed to raise it back to science (perhaps temporarily).

Do you like this experimental approach - of finding examples - to finding out what science is, to be useful?

:)

-Arun

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

I will now attempt a general definition of the scientific method for PHYSICAL science.

1. Study nature - as directly as possible, but any means to knowledge is allowed at this point.

2. Form a hypothesis - at the deepest level this is usually some form of pattern recognition.

3. The hypothesis must make a definitive prediction which is then tested.

4. If the prediction suffers a "hard" failure, go back to step 1. If the prediction suffers a "soft" failure go back to step 3 with increased doubt. If the prediction is vindicated, repeat step 3.

You will note that there is an infinite loop in the latter steps. That is definitely not a mistake. That is how science evolves to ever-better theories. Even successful theories run their course and are subsumed by newer and more conceptually encompassing ideas.

RLO

Plato said...

Arun,

At 2 million Euro for one Megawatt generation plant I have not done the calculations as to how long it would take to pay that off. But to me providing the data for licensing previously viewed here I needed to understand how something that large could have made it's way into society the way it did?

If the science is wrong, somebody is going to pay a lot of money to be scammed? Greece perhaps?

Best,

Plato said...

This is still about science yes?

You see what I mean? Reminds me of the days of Marconi and Fessenden.

In May 2011[52] Rossi reached an agreement with AmpEnergo,[53] an Ohio company,[54] to receive royalties on sales of licenses and products built on the Energy Catalyzer in the Americas.[55][23]Energy Catalyzer

You have an invention that is circumventing the perspective of scientists to gain advantage on marketing and really who knows the truth here? Is Josephson a scientist?

Best,

Bee said...

Zephir,

It would dramatically help your understanding if you'd read more than the boldface. Best,

B.

Andrew said...

Why is biological classification not falsifiable?

There is an objective classification according to evolutionary history. So classification is a part of evolution, which is a science of history like cosmology.

Or did you just mean that some parts of history are inevitably lost to us forever, and those parts are not falsifiable?

Bee said...

Hi Andrew,

What I meant is that if you go our and discover a new beetle, name it and classify it, it is in most cases not like you've tested a hypothesis. There are cases where this is the case (the missing evolutionary links), maybe that's what you have in mind, but most of it is essentially collecting and classifying, not testing of hypothesis. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Sorry, typo. I meant: go out, not go our.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

On the surface it would appear that Feynman and Bohm to be polar opposites in respect to what science is and what it can ultimately have us come to know. Never the less Feynman still needed his diagrams and although I don’t think he took his figures, squiggly lines and arrows seriously as representing the true forms of nature, they would have be taken so in terms of its action. I think similarly Bohm held no firm belief than one could imagine nature as being simple waves and the same for particles as to how nature would present itself if able to be seen and yet the actions the two so considered to exhibit what could be so described as to be better understood.

I then think if there is any difference to be found between the two it remains with what each expected of science, with Feynman content if it allowed us to open natures safe, while Bohm having us better acquainted with more than just its valuables, as to have that extend to its character. As for its relation to art I find artist who have similar differences in terms of expectation as to what its utility be and thus whether it’s a scientist or an artist it’s more a matter of expectations as it relates to an individual’s interests and related curiosity. So I find like Bohm it’s the respect we hold for each other’s vision being the more important, rather than having them needed to be homogenized as to have a consensus formed.

“Suppose we were able to share meanings freely without a compulsive urge to impose our view or conform to those of others and without distortion and self-deception. Would this not constitute a real revolution in culture.”

-David Bohm “Changing Consciousness” page 185

Best,

Phil

Neil Bates said...
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Neil Bates said...
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Neil Bates said...
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Neil Bates said...

Whatever else is true, science can't escape "philosophy" in the broad sense, as a framework to interpret results, as either a shadow or explicit guiding hand in model-making, and so on. For example I often debate fans of de-Broglie/Bohm mechanics (guiding pilot wave in addition to localized particle, all deterministic) who IMHO are motivated primarily by "metaphysical disgust" at the vague and mystical picture presented by the Copenhagen Interpretation (such as it is, although proponents say, the point is to *not have* a definite picture.)

One of my key rebuttals: the PW has to do pretty much all the same as the WF did, including go "poof" when the particle is "detected" (which I teasingly refer to as "collapse of the pilot function.) Hence, it's about as weird as CI anyway, it just *adds* a real particle into that same bizarre kind of wave!

Furthermore, since dBBM is in principle deterministic (hence, different results not "pure" chance but derive from some subtle distinction of starting conditions), we should be able to test the difference (if we can't, then what does it mean anyway?) It staggers credulity to think that, despite "same results" being predicted for quantum experiments, we couldn't set up initial conditions cleverly and carefully enough that instead of say the pure 50/50 chance predicted by std. QM, some difference in initial conditions would produce 0.51 hits in one case, 0.49 in the other. I predict no such differences can be found. (Therefore, "pure chance" applied to a literally identical wave function that nevertheless produces statistical rather than determined results - that is a genuine difference in principle, not just an "interpretation.")

Non-members of the Facebook group "Jenny's Think Tank and Holistic Comedy Bar" can probably see the comments at this thread:
Thread at JTTAHCB
I also think m.facebook is a good alternative for some purposes, I have to use it most times due to SW problems etc. Cheers.

Neil Bates said...

(Update: apparently non-members cannot see the group content at the link I provided just above, sorry to have thought and implied they could. It is a "closed group" on Facebook. Also, joining is by invitation only.)

qsa said...

Science is the knowledge that we gain from the knowledge that we had.

Plato said...

Hi Phil,

I am still thinking about your comment.

The vision is further reiterated by Bohm with regard to Einstein and Newton. I would add Susskind here for a reason in relation.

For Arun,

Have a look at the video link supplied on the page about Quasicrystal: Prof. Dan Shechtman

Did Prof. Dan Schectman do all the right things in science? So why was his observation not accepted?

Best,

Carlos said...

I like the sanskrit statement:
" The purpose of all scientific endeavors is to know your own self".
Cited by S. Chandrasekhar.

Don Foster said...

Hi Bee,
More ordinary thoughts on the nature of science:

Science is a cleverly accessorized bodily function: eating.

Science is under the tree, a shiny box, a fantastic plastic modeling machine. It can make almost anything.

Science is a bounded region with a portcullis that opens to inhale.

Science is made of two metals, one common, and one rare. It is hot work to hammer them hard together till one is like the other.

Science it knotting ordinary yarn into a sweater that fits.

Science is hiking cross-country and finding a new path that fits your form.

Regards all round.

Andrew said...

Hi Bee,

I think of biological classification as the formation of a hypothesis to be tested. Not all will agree, but in this point of view there is an objectively correct classification. The initial classification is tentative, and should be corrected if eventually found to be different from its evolutionary lineage. A famous example is Carl Woese's proposed reclassification of prokaryotes and eukaryotes into three domains of archea, bacteria and eukarya based on the evolutionary history indicated by ribosomal RNA.