Thursday, October 31, 2013

What Science Is and Monty Python

What is science? First, what is the nature of this question? When we ask "what is a question", for instance, we try to find out the "essence" of the notion of question. When we ask about the nature of science, we strive to find those properties that best characterize science. We usually tend to think in the Aristotelian old way - we desire to define a notion in relation with genus and species (for more on Aristotle's theory of definition, see THIS). However, Wittgenstein proved that this pattern of thought is wrongful. He wasn't the first to display this error, but he proved it in his own special (and crystal-clear) way: when we define a notion we are constrained by the context in which we have used the word associated with it - the process of defining that notion is thus biased. In order to know what that notion points to, we should be able to figure out all language games in which the word (or expressions) associated with that notion have appeared. Whether elegant or not, Wittgenstein's idea seems to be neglected by our contemporary ways of dealing with information: the requirement of "economy(city)" (of language) leaves no place whatsoever for the above subtleties. We are often told that information should be presented briefly and clearly. Therefore the answer to the question "what is science?" should be restrictively short. We are not to allow ambiguities, even if the notion of science is ambiguous (one can easily emphasize and prove this) and has a long history going back to Aristotle himself (Babylonians and Egyptians had scientists too, although not suitable for a comparison with nowadays scientists).
What is science, then? Is my typewriting - science? Is my ability to write in English - science? Is my staring out the window - science? You don't know if my way of typewriting is science. Why? Because you haven't verified me. If you had verified me, you would have known whether it was science or not. So, let's infer that science is something that presupposes verification. Interestingly enough, you have to verify whether something is science or not, but science itself presupposes verification. Thereby you address one of the methods of science in order to check whether something is science or not. Verification does not suffice at all to draw the conclusion that something is science, because you need expertise. You need to make a strong point - if you're not experienced in typewriting and/or don't know what typewriting is about, you don't know whether my way of typewriting is scientific or not (you can of course say that something being scientific is different from something being science).
Let's move on to the second question. Is an ability such as writing in English - science? Can it be? Let's take the ability to swim. Is it a science? You might claim it depends on the purpose of swimming. If it's just to survive, then even a newborn can be a scientist. It seems ridiculous to be so narrow-minded. You might say that something is a science if it presupposes learning. But even a newborn learns how to swim, even if it's an intuitive, instinctive learning. So it must be something else, but what? Is it discovery, is it invention (funny that these too are etimologically linked), is it creation? What does science have to do with creation? Scientists have often opposed creationism (the theory that God created the world), that doesn't mean they are against creation as such. Many scientists think that "inventions" are possible and that creation is just an epitome of invention. In scientific terms, we can think of creation as we think of "discovery" led through by an imaginative process (imagination was highly valued by Einstein, as we all know). Science is discovery, but it is impossible to discover something if you don't possess some basic abilities to think. So science is connected to knowledge and thought.
Is my staring out the window - science? No. Or is it? If I stare out the window and discover something you've never thought my staring out the window science? If I stare out the window and learn to perceive colors in some autistic rare poetical my staring out the window science? You say no again, as I didn't mention those conditions in the first place. Staring out the window as such cannot be science, even if my staring out the window is more complex than yours. This brings about another important aspect: complexity. Science is something "sophisticated", difficult to understand and less intuitive than staring out the window. If it is so difficult, then non-science is easy. And what is non-science? Watching TV, strolling, knocking at the door, switching off the light. However, as you can see in this Monty Python video, constructing complicated arguments does not make one a scientist. Rationality does not make one a scientist and does not give one the right to condemn others for not being rational.

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