Difference between revisions of "Science"

From Issuepedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
(Key Attributes: done?)
(Overview References: 2,3)
Line 27: Line 27:
 
====1====
 
====1====
 
[http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/pseudoscience_rev.pdf Pseudoscience and Postmodernism: Antagonists or Fellow-Travelers? (PDF)] by Alan Sokal ([http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/#papers]): includes an excellent lay-level overview of the key attributes of science, a similar overview of pseudoscience, and guidelines for distinguishing between them
 
[http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/pseudoscience_rev.pdf Pseudoscience and Postmodernism: Antagonists or Fellow-Travelers? (PDF)] by Alan Sokal ([http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/#papers]): includes an excellent lay-level overview of the key attributes of science, a similar overview of pseudoscience, and guidelines for distinguishing between them
 +
====2====
 +
...as opposed to [[postmodernism]], which asserts that "truth" only exists within the context of a given social group's reference frame.
 +
====3====
 +
...as opposed to most (all?) [[religion]], which generally asserts the possession of absolute truth (usually incomplete) via divinely-guided writing, ancient scrolls, or other mystical means.
  
 
==Reference==
 
==Reference==

Revision as of 01:29, 22 July 2006

Overview

Definition & Terminology

The word "science" generally refers to any of the following1:

  1. An intellectual endeavor aimed at a rational understanding of reality (also described as "the natural and social world")
  2. A corpus of currently accepted substantive knowledge
  3. The community of scientists, with its mores and its social and economic structure
  4. Applied science and technology (as in "science has achieved many wonderful things")

For the purposes of discussion on this site, "science" should be used to refer to definition #1. Definition #2 is more precisely termed "scientific knowledge"; definition #3 is more precisely termed "the scientific community", "the scientific establishment", or other similar phrases; and definition #4 should be referred to as "technology" or in some other way which makes clear that one is talking about the application (definition #4) of scientific knowledge rather than the process by which that knowledge is acquired (definition #1).

Key Attributes

Science (definition #1) is a methodology aimed at acquiring accurate knowledge about reality, with reason and observation being given primacy over any other methods of discovery.

Science's methodology is characterized, above all else, by the critical spirit: the commitment to the incessant testing of theoretical assertions through observations and/or experimentation, and to revising or discarding those theories where experiment shows them to be inaccurate.

In other words: In order to be "scientific", an observation must be testable. If subsequent testing does not confirm the original observation, then that observation is rejected.

One corollary of this is fallibilism: the understanding that all of our empirical knowledge is tentative, incomplete, and open to revision in the light of new evidence or cogent new arguments. (It should be understood, though, that the more an existing piece of scientific knowledge has withstood scrutiny, the more devastating must the evidence or argument be in order to succeed in unseating it in any capacity.)

Agreement on what constitutes scientific knowledge is not unanimous in all cases. The most widely-accepted pieces of scientific knowledge are part of an interlocking framework, where each piece reinforces the others, and information from one area of science (e.g. biology) must not contradict information from other areas (e.g. physics, chemistry); if an inaccurate piece of information somehow "got in", it would quickly become apparent that it was inconsistent with countless others. Likewise, when one piece of such widely-accepted scientific knowledge is proven to be false (e.g. that the sun does not revolve around the earth), the implications generally affect other, related pieces, and sometimes go far beyond that one piece; when a key piece of knowledge is overturned, it often leads – like one first stone in a tightly-packed layer finally coming loose – to countless new truths being discovered, which then become part of a new, more accurate and more complete framework.

Science generally proceeds from the assumption that there is an objective reality or truth2. Science does not presume that a full understanding of that objective reality can ever be achieved, but works instead from a process of successive approximation, i.e. iteratively improving on our understanding of reality without necessarily ever knowing all of it3.

To oversimplify all this just a bit, science has one rule: Everything must be questioned, even this rule.

Overview References

1

Pseudoscience and Postmodernism: Antagonists or Fellow-Travelers? (PDF) by Alan Sokal ([1]): includes an excellent lay-level overview of the key attributes of science, a similar overview of pseudoscience, and guidelines for distinguishing between them

2

...as opposed to postmodernism, which asserts that "truth" only exists within the context of a given social group's reference frame.

3

...as opposed to most (all?) religion, which generally asserts the possession of absolute truth (usually incomplete) via divinely-guided writing, ancient scrolls, or other mystical means.

Reference

Related Articles

Links