What are your thoughts on this definition of science?

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King Author
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What are your thoughts on this definition of science?

Postby King Author » Thu Oct 14, 2010 9:39 am UTC

In America, where I live, science is deeply misunderstood. Science is seen as the ruiner of sentiment, destroying the beauty of the world with cold, hard facts the way Newton ruined the beauty of the rainbow by explaining it in terms of optics. Furthermore, since politics is what it is, people politicize science in order to dismiss it because it conflicts with their political ideals.

I consider myself a man of science. As such, when the above misconceptions and hositilities appear in my friends, relatives and colleagues, I try to ease those hostilities and correct those misconceptions. I do that by asking them, "What is science?" Rarely do I get an answer that is even coherent, let alone accurate. I then offer my own definition.

"Science," I say, "is simply the most reasonable explanation for a given specific phenomenon that we have at the moment based on the current evidence." Sometimes, depending on the level of hostility, I'll append that with, "Science isn't a source of absolute truth, nor does anyone claim it is, and no reasonable, responsible scientist would think themselves or their theories infallible. Some do, of course - humans will be humans - but just because they're the loudest doesn't mean they're the most common. Science is all about varying degrees of evidence, not absolute truth."

Do you think I'm doing science justice, or is my explanation totally off-kilter?
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Re: What are your thoughts on this definition of science?

Postby thoughtfully » Thu Oct 14, 2010 10:17 am UTC

King Author wrote:"Science," I say, "is simply the most reasonable explanation for a given specific phenomenon that we have at the moment based on the current evidence."

"Science" is used to mean a lot of things in common usage, but I dislike this one. Science is foremost a process, not a collection of data or conclusions drawn from data.

You might add something about consensus. Nothing is really accepted in science until its been repeated, verified, and the scientific community of interest has reached a consensus on it. Scientific communities are made of people of course, which can make things interesting and/or go awry.. which gets back to what you said earlier.

You could also say something about science being agnostic with respect to issues that it can't address (whether the reasons are practical or by principle).
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Re: What are your thoughts on this definition of science?

Postby JayDee » Thu Oct 14, 2010 10:31 am UTC

King Author wrote:I consider myself a man of science. As such, when the above misconceptions and hositilities appear in my friends, relatives and colleagues, I try to ease those hostilities and correct those misconceptions. I do that by asking them, "What is science?" Rarely do I get an answer that is even coherent, let alone accurate. I then offer my own definition.
Your definition seems perfectly adequate. But I'm not sure it will help at all with the misunderstanding. Science as you define it still fits into that role of 'the ruiner of sentiment'.

You could perhaps take a different tack. Talk about the emotions that drive scientists. Things like curiosity and a love of beauty. The pleasure in finding things out, the joy of discovery, and the awe at the beauties of nature that are only revealed when we look for them.

Find some of the quotes and speeches of people like Feynmann, what they had to say to this question. I'm sure he (or perhaps it was Sagan) had a brilliant response to the accusation about destroying the beauty of the rainbow. Which actually reminds me, I've got a book or two here that I've been meaning to read all about how Newton's work in Optics was a great inspiration to the poets of the day.

The only relevant quotes I have onhand is that Symphony of Science auto-tuned song.
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Re: What are your thoughts on this definition of science?

Postby vikingcyclist » Thu Oct 14, 2010 12:18 pm UTC

JayDee wrote:
King Author wrote:Find some of the quotes and speeches of people like Feynmann, what they had to say to this question. I'm sure he (or perhaps it was Sagan) had a brilliant response to the accusation about destroying the beauty of the rainbow. Which actually reminds me, I've got a book or two here that I've been meaning to read all about how Newton's work in Optics was a great inspiration to the poets of the day.


Oddly enough I've just finished reading Surely You Must Be Joking Mr Feynman. I'd have to say I agree with his basic definition of science, which is that it's essentially a method whereby you are doing absolutely everything you can to prove yourself (or someone else) wrong whether by experimentation or theory. If you don't manage to disprove it, then it's acceptable until someone does. Nothing whatsoever to do with producing reasonable explanations (look at particle physics, reasonable doesn't really come into it), nor consensus (ideas like that are what led to Milikan's value for the elementary charge being wrong for years).

As to science as the ruiner of sentiment, it's an argument I've heard but still can't quite get my head around. Just because something is explained and understandable in no way spoils our appreciation of it - I'd argue that in most cases an investigation and understanding of a phenomenon simply increases it's appeal and beauty.

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Re: What are your thoughts on this definition of science?

Postby Moose Hole » Thu Oct 14, 2010 2:32 pm UTC

As an engineer, the best part of science, for me, is that it drives technology, which by definition attempts to make life better. What better purpose could we have than to make life better?

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Re: What are your thoughts on this definition of science?

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Oct 14, 2010 2:41 pm UTC

thoughtfully summed it up very well, but I'd have added for the humanists and appeasers to morality (!!! THE CHILDREN!!!) out there, that Science is also the most possibly altruistic endeavor of all, as it, like art, and poetry, and literature, is responsible for giving people something that is potentially there to stay permanently, and as long as there are human minds capable and willing to be concerned with their children, there will be the knowledge of germ theory, of ohms law, of the poetry of John Keats, and the accomplishments of Alexander. Science, more then politics, more then religion, more then economics, is interested in adding to the collective experience/understanding of mankind.
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Re: What are your thoughts on this definition of science?

Postby Coffee » Fri Oct 15, 2010 7:50 pm UTC

Since I don't have anything witty or pertenant to say myself I'll use that age-old crutch of using sourced quotes of someone I agree with:

In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.

The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what's true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth — never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key.
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Re: What are your thoughts on this definition of science?

Postby badwiz » Sat Oct 16, 2010 7:57 pm UTC

Whatever science is, it is one thing:

Science is disprovable.

That is the most powerful aspect of science, the core, and the biggest misunderstanding about science.
I use this simple statement to clarify almost every misconception I come across concerning the nature of science. All other aspects of science, from theory, experiment, to a scientific 'method', all follow from the satisfaction of this statement.

*Edited amendment:
I like your rebuff to people who criticize science for being a "pillager of nature". My favorite recorded rebuff of this point of view is given, quite beautifully, by Richard Feynman:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srSbAazoOr8&feature=related

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Re: What are your thoughts on this definition of science?

Postby King Author » Sun Oct 17, 2010 12:36 pm UTC

thoughtfully wrote:
King Author wrote:"Science," I say, "is simply the most reasonable explanation for a given specific phenomenon that we have at the moment based on the current evidence."

"Science" is used to mean a lot of things in common usage, but I dislike this one. Science is foremost a process, not a collection of data or conclusions drawn from data.

You might add something about consensus. Nothing is really accepted in science until its been repeated, verified, and the scientific community of interest has reached a consensus on it. Scientific communities are made of people of course, which can make things interesting and/or go awry.. which gets back to what you said earlier.

You could also say something about science being agnostic with respect to issues that it can't address (whether the reasons are practical or by principle).

Good point on the process thing. I suppose I could refine it to, "Science is simply a process we use to arrive at a falsifiable explanation for a given specific phenomenon, using all the evidence and understanding we have thus far."

The key point that I was trying to drive home with my explanation is that science isn't infallable and doesn't claim to be -- it's not the correct method of determining the truth, it's simply the best explanation we have at the moment. Maybe there's a better explanation, maybe we've already hit the nail on the head; the point is, it's falsifiable. Though I may choose another wording -- I don't know if the average person knows the word "falsifiable" off-hand.

Though I really do like the word falsifiable, because it captures the essence of what I'm trying to say -- that a scientifically-arrived at conclusion is one which we can demonstrate to be false if we gather new evidence that speaks to the contrary. Though I think it's always wise to emphasize that something arrived at scientifically can only be disproven with other things that are also arrived at scientifically, otherwise you have the more unenlightened individual respond, "Well, that just proves what I was saying -- science can be wrong, so it's no truer than religion."

Though in general, I'd leave out saying something about science having no say about certain subjects. Like saying that science can be disproven, that just engenders a "neener-neener" response from someone determined to cling onto their ignorance.

JayDee wrote:
King Author wrote:I consider myself a man of science. As such, when the above misconceptions and hositilities appear in my friends, relatives and colleagues, I try to ease those hostilities and correct those misconceptions. I do that by asking them, "What is science?" Rarely do I get an answer that is even coherent, let alone accurate. I then offer my own definition.
Your definition seems perfectly adequate. But I'm not sure it will help at all with the misunderstanding. Science as you define it still fits into that role of 'the ruiner of sentiment'.

You could perhaps take a different tack. Talk about the emotions that drive scientists. Things like curiosity and a love of beauty. The pleasure in finding things out, the joy of discovery, and the awe at the beauties of nature that are only revealed when we look for them.

Find some of the quotes and speeches of people like Feynmann, what they had to say to this question. I'm sure he (or perhaps it was Sagan) had a brilliant response to the accusation about destroying the beauty of the rainbow. Which actually reminds me, I've got a book or two here that I've been meaning to read all about how Newton's work in Optics was a great inspiration to the poets of the day.

The only relevant quotes I have onhand is that Symphony of Science auto-tuned song.

It's mainly the hositility I'm going after here. For the beauty-ruining thing, I have another speech, explaining the Keats vs Newton thing and how and why I think Keats was wrong.

vikingcyclist wrote:
JayDee wrote:
King Author wrote:Find some of the quotes and speeches of people like Feynmann, what they had to say to this question. I'm sure he (or perhaps it was Sagan) had a brilliant response to the accusation about destroying the beauty of the rainbow. Which actually reminds me, I've got a book or two here that I've been meaning to read all about how Newton's work in Optics was a great inspiration to the poets of the day.


Oddly enough I've just finished reading Surely You Must Be Joking Mr Feynman. I'd have to say I agree with his basic definition of science, which is that it's essentially a method whereby you are doing absolutely everything you can to prove yourself (or someone else) wrong whether by experimentation or theory. If you don't manage to disprove it, then it's acceptable until someone does. Nothing whatsoever to do with producing reasonable explanations (look at particle physics, reasonable doesn't really come into it), nor consensus (ideas like that are what led to Milikan's value for the elementary charge being wrong for years).

You think particle physics are unreasonable? Is that to say you think particle physics is incorrect?

vikingcyclist wrote:As to science as the ruiner of sentiment, it's an argument I've heard but still can't quite get my head around. Just because something is explained and understandable in no way spoils our appreciation of it - I'd argue that in most cases an investigation and understanding of a phenomenon simply increases it's appeal and beauty.

That'd make an interesting topic in Serious Business -- "Why is science seen as cold, heartless and ruinous towards beauty?"

Coffee wrote:Since I don't have anything witty or pertenant to say myself I'll use that age-old crutch of using sourced quotes of someone I agree with:

In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.

The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what's true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth — never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key.

Ah, that first quote is particularly useful to me. I'm a total blue-stater, my best friend is a die-hard red-stater. His opinion on science is that it's all dogma, that science today is like the early church; just trying to codify and doctrinate and convert unbelievers and stamp out all dissent. "It'd be easier to convince Nancy Pelosi that abortion's immoral than to convince the average scientist that he's wrong about something," he once said.

badwiz wrote:Whatever science is, it is one thing:

Science is disprovable.

That is the most powerful aspect of science, the core, and the biggest misunderstanding about science.
I use this simple statement to clarify almost every misconception I come across concerning the nature of science. All other aspects of science, from theory, experiment, to a scientific 'method', all follow from the satisfaction of this statement.

*Edited amendment:
I like your rebuff to people who criticize science for being a "pillager of nature". My favorite recorded rebuff of this point of view is given, quite beautifully, by Richard Feynman:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srSbAazoOr8&feature=related

Yeah, I definitely want to say something about falsifiability. Though as I said to thoughtfully, when talking with someone who's hostile towards science, you have to choose your words carefully -- when mentioning that science is disprovable, you have to add the caveat that it's only new science which can disprove science, that religion or politics or opinion can't be used to contradict science.
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Re: What are your thoughts on this definition of science?

Postby Lime » Mon Oct 18, 2010 12:12 am UTC

Ideas tested by experiment. That's as simple a definition as I can give. Some people need to read more xkcd, geeze.

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Re: What are your thoughts on this definition of science?

Postby Coffee » Mon Oct 18, 2010 5:55 pm UTC

This tvtropes article comes to mind: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/M ... eMarigolds
discovery and understanding doesn't remove any magic from the equation for them; in fact, one still can love the beautiful qualities of a rainbow while knowing why they happen, but you also have the additional awe in knowing what a complex and delicate interplay of factors allows it to exist. Discovery and learning, in short, chasing after the ever elusive "why?", can bring their own magic. Indeed, many mathematicians and scientists themselves dabble in the creative arts. The scientifically-minded will often find the train of thought leading to the idea of knowledge dismissing appreciation to be literally incomprehensible, so powerfully does it fly in the face of their own experience. Also, it is even possible for two intellectuals to be aroused by such discussions of knowledge.
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Re: What are your thoughts on this definition of science?

Postby hemhhr » Mon Oct 18, 2010 8:17 pm UTC

King Author wrote:Ah, that first quote is particularly useful to me. I'm a total blue-stater, my best friend is a die-hard red-stater. His opinion on science is that it's all dogma, that science today is like the early church; just trying to codify and doctrinate and convert unbelievers and stamp out all dissent. "It'd be easier to convince Nancy Pelosi that abortion's immoral than to convince the average scientist that he's wrong about something," he once said.

How could your friend think he knows how stubborn or not stubborn scientists are?
I think most of the non-scientists among us can't claim to guage the stubbornness of the average scientist either. Defending the ideal scientist is much easier, but it doesn't give any credibility to the claims made by modern science.
I think your best bet to convince your friend that scientists are not dogmatic is to give examples of scientific consensus, or prominent scientists, changing position in the last hundred years, or even better, in the last thirty years or so. Anybody have any good examples?

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Re: What are your thoughts on this definition of science?

Postby King Author » Wed Oct 20, 2010 2:51 am UTC

hemhhr wrote:
King Author wrote:Ah, that first quote is particularly useful to me. I'm a total blue-stater, my best friend is a die-hard red-stater. His opinion on science is that it's all dogma, that science today is like the early church; just trying to codify and doctrinate and convert unbelievers and stamp out all dissent. "It'd be easier to convince Nancy Pelosi that abortion's immoral than to convince the average scientist that he's wrong about something," he once said.

How could your friend think he knows how stubborn or not stubborn scientists are?
I think most of the non-scientists among us can't claim to guage the stubbornness of the average scientist either. Defending the ideal scientist is much easier, but it doesn't give any credibility to the claims made by modern science.
I think your best bet to convince your friend that scientists are not dogmatic is to give examples of scientific consensus, or prominent scientists, changing position in the last hundred years, or even better, in the last thirty years or so. Anybody have any good examples?

When he was a kid, his primary care doctor was a right old bastard who was indeed dogmatic and refused to be questioned, let alone disagreed with. Also, he was raised in a heavily conservative, right-wing family environment, where science is portrayed as an instrument of the blue-stater enemies, something to be hated, a mere political tool with no merit unto itself. Don't get the wrong idea, he's a good man, a great man, much better than me, it's just that his views on things such as science and alternative lifestyles are...less-than enlightened, due to his upbringing. It's amazing we're even friends, when you think about it, heh. Which reminds me of another TVTropes article...
We also fit a number of other tropes, come to think of it. Indeed, you could describe us with the Red Oni Blue Oni page quote, that we're "exactly the same and yet polar opposites."
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Re: What are your thoughts on this definition of science?

Postby lyfin » Wed Oct 20, 2010 3:58 am UTC

Math:

A concept created by humans which includes the use of numbers, strange symbols, and the love of π to determine the "certainty" of everything in existence.

Science:

A concept which includes Laws and Theories that can be disproven at any time; uses math.

Percentage of man-made concepts which do not eventually fall apart:

0%

Religion:

"BURN THEM AT THE STAKE!!!"

Philosophy:

That makes sense! But does it really? Hmmmm...


Conclusion:

LIFE IS A LIE.

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Re: What are your thoughts on this definition of science?

Postby vikingcyclist » Wed Oct 20, 2010 10:36 am UTC

King Author wrote:You think particle physics are unreasonable? Is that to say you think particle physics is incorrect?


Not at all - I simply find it, while fascinating, completely counter-intuitive to how we normally perceive the world. That's part of what makes it interesting.

KingAuthor wrote:That'd make an interesting topic in Serious Business -- "Why is science seen as cold, heartless and ruinous towards beauty?"


Now there's an idea, though I suspect someone else got there first.


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