Saturday, December 9, 2017

What is science? (2nd attempt)


In an earlier post, I tried to define the word 'science', but I now disagree with my previous definition. Here is my previous definition:
Science is the systematic analysis of reality
I believe this definition is too broad to accurately capture the concept of 'science'. There are many types of systematic analyses that do not qualify as science. For example, a telephone bill statement which has many statistics, allows you to systematically analyze your telephone usage, but intuitively we know this is not science. Another example is systematically analyzing baseball player statistics, but intuitively we also know this not science.

I believe the reason why my previous definition was so open-ended, was due to Paul Feyerabend's influence. Feyerabend believed that the distinction between science and non-science is counterproductive for establishing knowledge because it causes researchers to neglect certain methods of inquiry. I now reject Feyerabend's view of science and have adopted a more narrow definition. Here is my new definition:
Science is knowledge established through a formal process involving a hypothesis, experimentation and verification
When people talk about science, I believe this is what they are talking about. This definition is based on the scientific method (hypothesis, experimentation and verification). Another thing to mention is that this definition does not create a strict boundary between science and non-science because the word 'formal' is subjective.

Is economics a science? It depends on what economic analysis you are referring to. Analysis you hear on the television or read in a magazine is usually not science because there is no formal hypothesis or experimentation going on. But when economic analysis has a formal hypothesis and experimentation, I would consider that science.

The rest of this post is a collection of definitions of science from philosophers and dictionaries.

Definitions of science from philosophers


Karl Popper (1902-1994)
1. "...statements or systems of statements, in order to be ranked as scientific, must be capable of conflicting with possible, or conceivable observations." (Conjectures and refutations. The growth of scientific knowledge, 1962)

Thomas Kuhn (1902-1996)
2. "...the role in scientific research of what I have since called 'paradigms'. These I take to be universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions for a community of practitioners." (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962)

Paul Feyerabend (1924-1994)
3. "...the separation of science and non-science is not only artificial but also detrimental to the advancement of knowledge. If we want to understand nature, if we want to master our physical surroundings, then we must use all ideas, all methods, and not just a small selection of them." (Against method, 1975)


Larry Laudan (1941-now)
4. "...there is no demarcation line between science and non-science, or between science and pseudo-science, which would win assent from a majority of philosophers. Nor is there one which should win acceptance from philosophers or anyone else." (The Demise of the Demarcation Problem, 1983)


Paul Thagard (1950-now):
5. "A theory of disciplines which purports to be scientific is pseudoscientific if and only if it has been less progressive than alternative theories over a long period of time and faces many unsolved problems; but the community of practitioners makes little attempt to develop the theory towards solutions of the problems, shows no concern for attempts to evaluate the theory in the relation to others and is selective in considering confirmation and disconfirmation." (Quoted in Science Education by John Gilbert)

William Cecil Dampier (1867-1952)
6. "[Science is] ordered knowledge of phenomena and of the relations between them." (Wikipedia)

Marshall Clagett (1916-2005)
7. "[Science is] first the orderly and systematic comprehension, description and/or explanation of natural phenomena and secondly, the mathematical and logical tools necessary for the undertaking." (Wikipedia)

David Pingree (1933-2005)
8. "Science is a systematic explanation of perceived or imaginary phenomena or else is based on such an explanation. Mathematics finds a place in science only as one of the symbolical languages in which scientific explanations may be expressed." (Wikipedia)

Definitions of science from dictionaries


Oxford Dictionaries
1. "The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment."

Merriam Webster Dictionary
2. "the state of knowing"

3. "a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study"
4. "a knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths"
5. "a system or method reconciling practical ends with scientific laws"

Dictionary.com
6. "acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles as from study or investigate"

7. "familiarity or conversance, as with a particular subject or branch of learning"
8. "acquaintance or familiarity gained by sight, experience or report"
9. "the fact or state of knowing"
10. "awareness, as of a fact or circumstance"
11. "something that is or may be known"
12. "the body of truths or facts accumulated in the course of time"

TheFreeDictionary.com
13. "the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation and theoretical explanation of phenomena"

14. "a systematic method or body of knowledge in a given area"
15. "knowledge, especially that gained through experience"

Cambridge Dictionary
16. "the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the natural and physical world, or knowledge obtained about the world by watching it carefully and experimenting"

Vocabulary.com
17. "the field of study concerned with discovering and describing the world around us by observing and experimenting"

Oxford Learner's Dictionary

18. "knowledge about the structure and behavior of the natural and physical world, based on facts that you can prove, for example by experiments"
19. "a system for organizing the knowledge about a subject"

Collins Dictionary
20. "the study of the nature and behavior of natural things and the knowledge that we obtain about them"

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Fundamentals of reason


This post is a collection of my favorite quotes about reason. When analyzing whether a proposition is true or false, I try to keep these quotes in mind. There are 25 quotes divided into 6 sections:

A. Sensory experience is the source of all evidence (3)
B. Superior reason conforms to a larger structure of lifetime evidence (5)
C. Reasoning is a story that connects a proposition to the evidence (5)
D. It's impossible to 100% prove or disprove a proposition (4)
E. Controlled experiments are useful because they attempt to isolate a single variable (4)
F. Disagreements are impossible to resolve when people are not being clear about the proposition and the evidence they are using (4)

A. Sensory experience is the source of all evidence


David Hume (1711-1776, philosopher):
1. "I never can catch myself at anytime without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception." (A Treatise on Human Nature, 1739)

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804, philosopher):
2. "All our knowledge falls within the bounds of experience." (Critique of Pure Reason, 1781)

Democritus (460-370 BC, philosopher):
3. We know nothing accurately in reality, but [only] as it changes according to the bodily condition, and the constitution of those things that flow upon [the body] and impinge upon it." (Wikiquote)

B. Superior reason conforms to a larger structure of lifetime evidence


Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951, philosopher):
4. "Bit by bit there forms a system of what is believed, and in that system, some things stand unshakably fast and some are more or less liable to shift. What stands fast does so, not because it is intrinsically obvious or convincing; it is rather held fast by what lies around it." (On Certainty, 1969 posthumous)

Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970, philosopher):
5. "Verification in science is not, however, of single statements but of the entire system or a sub-system of statements." (The Unity of Science, 1934)

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970, philosopher):
6. "Reason is a harmonising, controlling force rather than a creative one." (Our Knowledge of the External World, 1914)

Rene Descartes (1596-1650, philosopher):
7. "Each problem that I solved became a rule, which served afterwards to solve other problems." (Discourse on Method, 1637)

William James: (1842-1910, philosopher)
8. "The most violent revolutions in an individual's beliefs leave most of his old order standing. Time and space, cause and effect, nature and history, and one's own biography remain untouched." (Pragmatism, 1931)

C. Reasoning is a story that connects a proposition to the evidence


Marvin Minsky (1927-2016, cognitive scientist):
9. "What is the difference between merely knowing (or remembering, or memorizing) and understanding? ... A thing or idea seems meaningful only when we have several different ways to represent it, different perspectives and different associations." (Music, Mind and Meaning, 1981)

Ilhan Basgoz (1923-now, philosopher):
10. "Digression bridges the gap, making the unknown known, irrational rational, obscure clear, incredible credible." (Quoted in Metalanguage by Yael Mashler)

David Hume (1711-1776, philosopher):
11. "Look round the world: contemplate the whole and every part of it: you will find it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivisions, to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties can trace and explain." (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 1779)

Nigel Warburton (1962-now, philosopher):
12. "Now, although studying philosophy can illuminate fundamental questions about our lives, it does not provide anything like a complete picture, if indeed there could be such a thing." (Philosophy: The Basics 5th edition, 2013)

Anatol Rapoport (1911-2007, psychologist):
13. "A fundamental value in the scientific outlook is concerned with the best available map of reality." (Science and the Goals of Man, 1950)

D. It's impossible to 100% prove or disprove a proposition


Rene Descartes (1596-1650, philosopher):
14. "In order to seek truth, it is necessary once in the course of our life, to doubt, as far as possible, of all things." (Principles of Philosophy, 1644)

David Hume (1711-1776, philosopher):
15. "I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision and always reject the greater miracle." (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748)

Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794, chemist):
16. "The art of concluding from experience and observation consists in evaluating probabilities, in estimating if they are high or numerous enough to constitute proof." (Rapport des commissaires charges par le roi de l'exemen du magnetism animal, 1784)

William of Ockham (1287-1347, philosopher):
17. "You see that I have set out opposing assertions in response to your question and I have touched on quite strong arguments in support of each position. Therefore consider now which seems the more probable to you." (Dialogus, 1494)

E. Controlled experiments are useful because they attempt to isolate a single variable


Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970, philosopher):
18. "One of the principal tasks of the logical analysis of a given proposition is to find out the method of verification for that proposition." (Philosophy and Logical Syntax, 1935)

Roger Bacon (1219-1292, philosopher):
19. "Experimental science is the queen of sciences, and the goal of all speculation." (Quoted in Science at the Medieval Universities by James Walsch)

Richard Feynman (1918-1988, physicist):
20. "...if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid." (Adapted from a 1974 Caltech commencement address)

Claude Bernard (1813-1878, physiologist):
21. "Indeed, proof that a given condition always precedes or accompanies a phenomenon does not warrant concluding with certainty that a given condition is the immediate cause of that phenomenon. It must still be still be established that when this condition is removed the phenomenon will no longer appear." (Introduction a l'Etude de la Medecine Experimentale, 1865)

F. Disagreements are impossible to resolve when people are not clear about the proposition and the evidence they are using


Ivor Armstrong Richards (1893-1979, literary critic):
22. "Rhetoric, I shall urge, should be a study of misunderstanding and its remedies." (Philosophy of Rhetoric)

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951, philosopher):
23. "To convince someone of the truth, it is not enough to state it, but rather one must find the path from error to truth." (Philosophical Occasions, 1993 posthumous)

Francis Bacon (1561-1626, philosopher):
24. "Truth will sooner come out from error than from confusion." (Novum Organum, 1620)

Jane Goodall (1934-now, ethologist):
25. "Especially now when views are becoming more polarized, we must work to understand each other across political, religious and national boundaries." (Quoted in Verge Magazine, 2010)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What is art?


What is art? This is not an easy question. In our daily lives, sometimes it's difficult to differentiate what is art from non-art. How much of the human experience is art? Here is my definition:
Art is a creation that has aesthetic qualities or surreal qualities or portrays real world objects or phenomena
This is not a precise definition because the words 'aesthetic' and 'surreal' are subjective. Aesthetics has to do with the appreciation of beauty. Surreal has to do with the unreal and bizarre. I believe these three types of art (aesthetic, surreal and portrayal) create an accurate definition for the word 'art'. This definition does not apply to the craft interpretation for the word 'art' (for example, the art of investing).

The rest of this post is a collection of definitions of art from dictionaries.

Definitions of art from dictionaries


Merriam Webster
1. "skill acquired by experience, study, or observation"
2. "an occupation requiring knowledge or skill"
3. "the conscious use of skill and creative imagination"
4. "decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter"

Dictionary.com
5. "the quality, production, expression, or realm according to aesthetic principles"
6. "the class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria"

Oxford Dictionaries
7. "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination"
8. "the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature and dance"
9. "subjective of study primarily concerned with human creativity and social life"
10. "a skill at doing a specified thing, typically one acquired through practice"

Cambridge Dictionary
11. "the making or doing of something whose purpose is to bring pleasure to people through their enjoyment of what is beautiful or interesting"

Collins Dictionary
12. "consists of paintings, sculpture, and other pictures or objects that are created for people to look at and admire or think deeply about"

Oxford Learner's Dictionaries
13. "the use of the imagination to express ideas or feelings particularly in painting, drawing or sculpture"

Vocabulary.com
14. "the expression of ideas and emotions through a physical medium, like painting, sculpture, film, dance, writing, photography, or theater"
15. "the creation of beautiful or significant things"
16. "a superior skill that you can learn by study and practice and observation"

TheFreeDictionary.com
17. "the conscious use of the imagination in the production of objects intended to be contemplated or appreciated as beautiful"
18. "a skill that is attained by study, practice or observation"

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Fundamentals of language


This post is a collection of my favorite quotes about language. There are 21 quotes divided into 6 sections:

A. Every word corresponds to a concept in the mind (3)
B. Subjective descriptions can be valid but not exact to reality (4)
C. Objective descriptions can be exact to reality (3)
D. Grammar enables multiple words to express a more complex concept (3)
E. Ideas come long before the proper words to describe them (4)
F. Language is the frontier of every scientific discipline (4)

A. Every word corresponds to a concept in the mind


Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951, philosopher):
1. "Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of imagination." (Philosophical Investigations)

Albert Einstein (1879-1955, physicist):
2. "Concepts have meaning only if we can point to objects to which they refer and to rules by which they are assigned to these objects." (Ernst Mach Memorial Notice)

Benjamin Whorf (1897-1941, linguist):
3. "We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significance. As we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way." (Language, Thought and Reality, 1956)

B. Subjective descriptions can be valid but not exact to reality


Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951, philosopher):
4. "For remember that in general we don't use language according to strict rules; it hasn't been taught us by means of strict rules either." (The Blue Book)

John Langshaw Austin (1911-1960, philosopher):
5. "Faced with the nonsense question, 'what is the meaning of a word?' and perhaps dimly recognizing it to be nonsense, we are nevertheless not inclined to give it up." (Philosophical Papers, 1979)

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951, philosopher):
6. "The idea that in order to get clear about the meaning of a general term one had to find the common element in all its applications has shackled philosophical investigation; for it has not only led to no result, but also made the philosopher dismiss as irrelevant the concrete cases, which alone could have helped him understand the usage of the general term." (The Blue Book)

Bernard Williams (1923-2003, philosopher):
7. "[Nietzsche's] aim was to see how far the values of truth could be revalued..." (Truth and Truthfulness, 2002)

C. Objective descriptions can be exact to reality


Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907, chemist):
8. "I wish to establish some sort of system not guided by chance but by some sort of definite and exact principle." (Lecture to the Russian Chemical Society)

Michael Faraday (1791-1867, physicist):
9. "I was at first almost frightened when I saw much mathematical force made to bear upon the subject, and then wondered to see that the subject stood it so well." (Letter to James Clerk Maxwell, 1857)

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1964, sociologist):
10. "When you have mastered numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading books. You will be reading meanings." (Brainy Quote)

D. Grammar enables multiple words to express a more complex concept


Stanley Fish (1938-now, literary critic):
11. "Before the words slide into their slots, they are just discrete items pointing everywhere and nowhere." (How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One, 2011)

William Cobbet (1763-1835, journalist):
12. "Grammar, perfectly understood enables us, not only to express our meaning fully and clearly, but so to express it as to enable us to defy the ingenuity of man to give to our words any other meaning than that which we ourselves intend them to express." (A Grammar of the English Language)

Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970, philosopher):
13. "By the logical syntax of language, we mean the formal theory of the linguistic forms of that language - the systematic statement of the formal rules which govern it together with the development of the consequences which follow from these rules." (Logical Syntax of Language, 1934)

E. Ideas come long before the proper words to express them


Marianne Moore (1887-1972, poet):
14. "I've always felt that if a thing had been said the best way, how can you say it better?" (Paris Review Interview, 1960)

Sallie McFague (1933-now, theologian):
15. "A metaphor is a word used in an unfamiliar context to give us a new insight; a good metaphor moves us to see our world in an extraordinary way." (Speaking in Parables, 1975)

Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992, actress):
16. "I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognizably wiser than oneself." (Quoted in Presidential Wit and Wisdom by Brallier and Chabert)

John Searle (1932-now, philosopher):
17. "You cannot think clearly if you cannot speak and write clearly." (The Storm Over the University, 1990)

F. Language is the frontier of every scientific discipline


Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900, philosopher):
18. "We have seen how it is originally language which works on the construction of concepts, a labor taken over in later ages by science." (On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense, 1873)

Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002, biologist):
19. "The nature of true genius must lie in the elusive capacity to construct these new modes from apparent darkness." (The Flamingo's Smile, 1985)

Rachel Carson (1907-1964, biologist):
20. "If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry." (National Book Award for Nonfiction speech, 1952)

Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965, lawyer):
21. "All our work, our whole life is a matter of semantics, because words are the tools with which we work, the material of which laws are made, out of which the constitution was written. Everything depend on our understanding of them." (Quoted in Readers' Digest, 1964)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Ideas for living a good life


This post is a collection of my favorite quotes on how to live a good life. There are 27 quotes divided into 7 sections:

A. Live a life devoted to goodness and virtue (4)
B. Meditate on the things you love (4)
C. Treat others with kindness and forgiveness (4)
D. Don't be ascetic. Embrace good things in the world (3)
E. No matter how hard you try, stupidity and mistakes will happen (4)
F. A change in mindset can help make hardships easier (4)
G. Listen to yourself first (4)

A. Live a life devoted to goodness and virtue


Aristo of Chios (320 BC-, philosopher):
1. "Virtue is the health of the soul." (Stoicorum Veretum Fragmenta)

Epictetus (55-135 AD, philosopher):
2. "The soul that companies with virtue is like an ever flowering source. It is a pure, clear and wholesome draught; sweet, rich and generous of its store; that injures not, neither destroys." (Golden Sayings of Epictetus by Hastings Cossley)

Mas Cooley (1927-2002, literary critic):
3. "To gain a reputation for virtue, grieve over those you injure." (City Aphorisms, 1987)

Isaac Barrow (1630-1677, theologian):
4. "Virtue is not a mushroom that springeth up of itself in one night when we were asleep or regard it not; but a delicate plant that groweth slowly and tenderly, needing much pains to cultivate it, much care to guard it, much time to mature it, in our untoward soil, in this world's unkindly weather." (Quoted in Dictionary of Burning Words from Brilliant Writers by Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert 1895)

B. Meditate on the things you love


Novalis (1772-1801,  philosopher):
5. "Every beloved object is the center of a paradise." (Bluthenstaub-Fragmente, 1798)

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855, philosopher):
6. "When one has once fully entered the realm of love, the world - no matter how imperfect - becomes rich and beautiful, it consists solely of opportunities for love." (Works of Love, 1847)

Viktor Frankl (1905-1997, psychiatrist):
7. "Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and believe have to impart: the salvation of man is through love and in love." (Man's Search for Meaning, 1946)

Khalil Gibran (1883-1931, writer):
8. "Yesterday we obeyed kings and bent our necks before emperors. But we kneel only to truth, follow only beauty and obey only love." (The Vision: Reflections on the Way of the Soul, 1994 posthumous)

C. Treat others with kindness and forgiveness


Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD, Roman Emperor):
9. "Every soul, the philosopher says, is involuntarily deprived of truth; consequently in the same way it is deprived of justice and temperance and benevolence and everything of the kind. It is most necessary to keep this in mind, for thus thou wilt be more gentle towards all." (Meditations)

Simone Weil (1909-1943, philosopher):
10. "Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity." (Letter to Joe Bousquet)

Epictetus (55-135 AD, philosopher):
11. "A guide, on finding a man who has lost his way, brings him back to the right path - he does not mock and jeer at him and take himself off. You must show the unlearned man the truth, and you will see that he will follow. But so long as you do not show it him, you should not mock, but rather feel your own incapacity." (Golden Sayings of Epictetus by Hastings Cossley)

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996, theologian):
12. "When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand." (Out of Solitude, 1996)

D. Don't be ascetic. Embrace good things in the world


Simone Weil (1909-1943, philosopher):
13. "There is a reality outside the world that is to say, outside space and time, outside man's mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human facilities. Corresponding to this reality, at the center of the human heart is the longing for an absolute good..." (Draft for a Statement of Human Obligation)

Epicurus (341-279 BC):
14. "No pleasure is in itself evil, but the things which produce certain pleasures entail annoyances many times greater than the pleasures themselves." (Sovereign maxims)

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519, inventor):
15. "We by our arts may be called the grandsons of God." (Quoted by the The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci by Rudolf Flesch)

E. No matter how hard you try, stupidity and mistakes will happen


Seneca the Young (4 BC-65 AD, philosopher):
16. "And yet life, Lucilius, is really a battle." (Letters to Lucilius)

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986, writer):
17. "A writer, and I believe, generally all persons, must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material as clay, so that we may shape our art." (Quoted in Twenty Interviews with Borges by Robert Alifano)

Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD, Roman Emperor):
18. "...the whole is damaged if you cut away anything (anything at all) from its continuity and its coherence. Not only its parts, but its purpose. And that's what happens when you complain: hacking and destroying." (Meditations)

Seneca the Younger (4 BC-65 AD):
20. "Valor withers without adversity." (Moral Essays)

F. A change in mindset can help make hardships easier


Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD, Roman Emperor):
21. "In the case of most pains let this remark of Epicurus aid thee, that the pain is neither intolerable nor everlasting, if thou bear in mind that it has its limits, and if thou addest nothing to it in imagination..." (Meditations)

Epictetus (55-135 AD):
22. "Remember that it is not he who gives abuse or blows affronts, but the view we take of these things as insulting. When therefore, any one provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you." (The Enchiridion)

Seneca the Younger (4 BC-65 AD, philosopher):
23. "A great step towards independence is a good humored stomach, one that is willing to endure rough treatment." (Letters to Lucilius)

Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD, Roman Emperor):
24. "You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life? If you can manage this, that's all even the gods can ask of you." (Meditations)

G. Listen to yourself first


Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862, philosopher):
25. "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." (Walden: Or Life in the Woods, 1854)

Seneca the Younger (4 BC-65 AD, philosopher):
26. "It cannot attain anything sublime and lofty so long as it is sane: it must depart from the customary..." (On Tranquility of the Mind)

Socrates (470-399 BC, philosopher):
27. "It would be better for me... that multitudes of men should disagree with me rather than that I, being one, should be out of harmony with myself." (Quoted in Gorgias by Plato)

Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD):
28. "To change your mind and to follow him who sets you right is to be nonetheless the free agent that you were before." (Meditations)

Monday, August 7, 2017

What is science?

 

What is science? This is a very hard question. Many philosophers have tried to establish their own criteria to separate science from non-science. The problem with the word 'science' is everyone has their own internal idea of what this word should mean. Here is my definition:
Science is the systematic analysis of reality
This is not a precise definition because the word 'systematic' is subjective. One could even argue that all language and sentence structure is systematic therefore any statement could be considered scientific. Therefore, I believe drawing a strict boundary is impossible between science and knowledge. But I still think it's important to place meaning to the word 'science' because it articulates a particular type of knowledge. The concept of science is a real thing and deserves its own word.

Many people think that science has to do with proven facts. I disagree with this for two reasons. First, the word 'fact' creates too of high of a standard for what science is. I philosophically believe there are no proven facts (except the cogito). For example, you cannot be 100% be sure that the sun will come up tomorrow because there could be a supernova or black swan event. Second, science is more of a process than a finished product. By limiting science to only facts, a person in lab testing unproven theories is not doing science. Instead, we should think of science as trying to paint a detailed picture of reality.

Where does astrology fit into my definition? Astrology does not qualify as science because it is incompatible with much of the existing evidence we already know about reality. As long as an endeavor is oriented toward explaining reality in a systematic manner, I believe it qualifies as a science.

The rest of this post is a collection of definitions of science from philosophers and dictionaries. I agree most with the definitions provided by Paul Feyerabend and Larry Laudan.

Definitions of science from philosophers


Karl Popper (1902-1994)
1. "...statements or systems of statements, in order to be ranked as scientific, must be capable of conflicting with possible, or conceivable observations." (Conjectures and refutations. The growth of scientific knowledge, 1962)

Thomas Kuhn (1902-1996)
2. "...the role in scientific research of what I have since called 'paradigms'. These I take to be universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions for a community of practitioners." (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962)

Paul Feyerabend (1924-1994)
3. "...the separation of science and non-science is not only artificial but also detrimental to the advancement of knowledge. If we want to understand nature, if we want to master our physical surroundings, then we must use all ideas, all methods, and not just a small selection of them." (Against method, 1975)


Larry Laudan (1941-now)
4. "...there is no demarcation line between science and non-science, or between science and pseudo-science, which would win assent from a majority of philosophers. Nor is there one which should win acceptance from philosophers or anyone else." (The Demise of the Demarcation Problem, 1983)


Paul Thagard (1950-now):
5. "A theory of disciplines which purports to be scientific is pseudoscientific if and only if it has been less progressive than alternative theories over a long period of time and faces many unsolved problems; but the community of practitioners makes little attempt to develop the theory towards solutions of the problems, shows no concern for attempts to evaluate the theory in the relation to others and is selective in considering confirmation and disconfirmation." (Quoted in Science Education by John Gilbert)

William Cecil Dampier (1867-1952)
6. "[Science is] ordered knowledge of phenomena and of the relations between them." (Wikipedia)

Marshall Clagett (1916-2005)
7. "[Science is] first the orderly and systematic comprehension, description and/or explanation of natural phenomena and secondly, the mathematical and logical tools necessary for the undertaking." (Wikipedia)

David Pingree (1933-2005)
8. "Science is a systematic explanation of perceived or imaginary phenomena or else is based on such an explanation. Mathematics finds a place in science only as one of the symbolical languages in which scientific explanations may be expressed." (Wikipedia)

Definitions of science from dictionaries


Oxford Dictionaries
1. "The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment."

Merriam Webster Dictionary
2. "the state of knowing"

3. "a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study"
4. "a knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths"
5. "a system or method reconciling practical ends with scientific laws"

Dictionary.com
6. "acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles as from study or investigate"

7. "familiarity or conversance, as with a particular subject or branch of learning"
8. "acquaintance or familiarity gained by sight, experience or report"
9. "the fact or state of knowing"
10. "awareness, as of a fact or circumstance"
11. "something that is or may be known"
12. "the body of truths or facts accumulated in the course of time"

TheFreeDictionary.com
13. "the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation and theoretical explanation of phenomena"

14. "a systematic method or body of knowledge in a given area"
15. "knowledge, especially that gained through experience"

Cambridge Dictionary
16. "the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the natural and physical world, or knowledge obtained about the world by watching it carefully and experimenting"

Vocabulary.com
17. "the field of study concerned with discovering and describing the world around us by observing and experimenting"

Oxford Learner's Dictionary

18. "knowledge about the structure and behavior of the natural and physical world, based on facts that you can prove, for example by experiments"
19. "a system for organizing the knowledge about a subject"

Collins Dictionary
20. "the study of the nature and behavior of natural things and the knowledge that we obtain about them"

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Fundamentals of knowledge


This post is a collection of my favorite quotes about knowledge. I believe epistemology is important because it reveals the pathway to scientific discovery and innovation. There are 66 quotes divided into 10 sections:

A. Meditation leads to higher understanding (7)
B. Systematic analysis organizes our thinking (6)
C. Distraction is the enemy of knowledge (6)
D. Knowledge is a collection of puzzle pieces (7)
E. Language is the foundation of knowledge (9)
F. Nature is the perfect model (7)
G. There is only one fact, everything else is a belief (6)
H. Be skeptical of existing knowledge (5)
I. The mainstream is blind (8)
J. Discovery is a form of happiness (5)

A. Meditation leads to higher understanding


Rembrandt (1606-1669, artist)
1. "Try to put well in practice what you already know; and in so doing, you will in good time discover the hidden things which you now inquire about. Practice what you know, and it will help to make clear what now you do not know." (Quoted in a Dictionary of Thoughts)

Isaac Newton (1642-1726, physicist)
2. "I keep the subject constantly before me, and wait until the first dawnings open slowly, by little and little, into a full and clear light." (Quoted in Biographia Britannica)

Albert Einstein (1879-1955, physicist)
3. "There is no logical path to these laws; only intuition, resting on sympathetic understanding of experience, can reach them." (On the Method of Theoretical Physics, 1933)

George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788, philosopher)
4. "Genius is nothing else than a great aptitude for patience." (La visite a Buffon, ou Voyage a Montbard)

Anthony van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1732, biologist)
5. "A man has always to be busy with his thoughts if anything is to be accomplished." (Brainy Quote)

John Locke (1632-1704, philosopher)
6. "We are the ruminating kind, and it is not enough to cram ourselves with a great load of collections; unless we chew them over again, they will not give us strength and nourishment." (Hand Book: Caution and Counsels)

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804, philosopher)
7. "Reason... requires trial, practice, and instruction in order gradually to progress from one level of insight to another." (Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View, 1784)

B. Systematic analysis organizes our thinking


Hesiod (around 700 BC, poet)
8. "It is best to do things systematically, since we are only human and disorder is our worst enemy." (Brainy Quote)

Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406)
9. "Eventually, Aristotle appeared among the Greeks. He improved the methods of logic and systematized its problems and details. He assigned to logic its proper place as the first philosophical discipline and the introduction to philosophy." (1377, Muqaddimah)

Gregory Bateson (1904-1980, anthropologist)
10. "As I see it, the advances in scientific thought come from a combination of loose and strict thinking, and this combination is the most precious tool of science." (Culture Contact and Schismogensis, 1935)

Thomas Edison (1847-1931, inventor)
11. "I speak without exaggeration when I say that I have constructed 3,000 different theories in connection with the electric light, each one of them reasonable and apparently likely to be true." (Talks with Edison)

Ernst Mayr (1904-2005, biologist)
12. "Biological classifications have two major objectives: to serve as a basis of biological generalizations in all sort of comparative studies and to serve as key information storage system." (Quoted in Ontological foundations in knowledge organization)

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895, biologist)
13. "The method of scientific investigation is nothing but the expression of the necessary mode of working of the human mind." (Our Knowledge of the Causes of the Phenomena of Organic Nature, 1863)

C. Distraction is the enemy of knowledge


Charles Beard (1874-1948, historian)
14. "When it is dark enough, you can see the stars." (Brainy Quote)

Charles Townes (1915-2015)
15. "In many cases, people who win a Nobel prize, their work slows down after that because of the distractions. Yes, fame is rewarding, but it's a pity if it keeps you from doing the work you are good at." (Brainy Quote)

Paul Dirac (1902-1994, physicist)
16. "The interpretation of quantum mechanics has been dealt with by many authors, and I do not want to discuss it here. I want to deal with more fundamental things." (The inadequacies of quantum field theory)

Socrates (470-399 BC, philosopher)
17. "The body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food and is also liable to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after truth: and by filling us so full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies, and idols, and every sort of folly prevents our ever having, as people say, so much as a thought." (Phaedo)

Edward Titchener (1867-1934, psychologist)
18. "Knowledge is the product of leisure. The members of a very primitive society have no time to amass knowledge; their days are fully occupied with the provision of the bare necessities of life." (An Outline of Psychology, 1916)

Henry David Thoreau (181701862, philosopher)
19. "I find it so difficult to dispose of the few facts which to me are significant, that I hesitate to burden my attention with those with are insignificant, which only a divine mind could illustrate. Such is for the most part, the news in newspapers and conversation. It is important to preserve the mind's chastity in this respect." (Life with Principles, 1863)

D. Knowledge is a collection of puzzle pieces


Rene Descartes (1596-1650, philosopher)
20. "Each problem that I solved became a rule, which served afterwards to solve other problems." (Discourse on Method, 1637)

Linus Pauling (1901-1976, chemist)
21. "Facts are the air of scientists. Without them you can never fly." (Brainy Quote)

Monsignor Georges Lemaitre (1849-1934, astronomer)
22. "Scientific progress is the discovery of a more and more comprehensive simplicity... The previous successes give us confidence in the future of science: we become more and more conscious of the fact that the universe is cognizable." (Today in Science History)

Louis de Broglie (1892-1987, physicist)
23. "Two seemingly incompatible conceptions can each represent an aspect of the truth... They may serve in turn to represent the facts without ever entering into direct conflict." (Dialectica Volume 2, 1948)

Edward Teller (1908-2003, physicist)
24. "We must learn to live with contradictions, because they lead to deeper and more effective understanding." (Science and Morality, 1998)

Talcott Parsons (1902-1979, philosopher)
25. "Special emphasis should be laid on this intimate interrelation of general statements about empirical fact with the logical elements and structure of theoretical systems." (Brainy Quote)

Friedrich Wohler (1800-1882, chemist)
26. "Organic chemistry just now is enough to drive one mad. It gives me the impression of a primeval forest full of the most remarkable things, a monstrous and boundless thicket, with no way of escape, into which one may well dread to enter." (Today in Science History)

E. Language the foundation of knowledge


Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1911, linguist)
27. "Without language, thought is a vague, uncharted nebula." (Cours de linguistique generale)

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951, philosopher)
28. "Without philosophy thoughts are, as it were, cloudy and indistinct: its task is to make them clear and to give them sharp boundaries." (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1922)

Ernest Rutherford (1871-1944, physicist)
29. "An alleged scientific discovery has no merit unless it can be explained to a barmaid." (Quoted in Einstein: The Man and His Achievement )

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679, philosopher)
30. "Understanding being nothing else, but conception caused by speech." (The Leviathan, 1651)

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900, philosopher)
31. "We have seen how it is originally language which works on the construction of concepts, a labor taken over in later ages by science." (On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense, 1873)

Pierre Duhem (1861-1916, physicist)
32. "A symbol is not properly speaking, either true or false; it is rather something more or less well selected to stand for the reality it represents, and pictures that reality in a more or less precise, or a more or less detailed manner." (The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, 1906)

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963, sociologist)
33. "When you have mastered numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading books. You will be reading meanings." (Brainy Quote)

Rachel Carson (1907-1964, biologist)
34. "If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry." (National Book Award for Nonfiction speech, 1952)

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903, sociologist)
35. "How often misused words generate misleading thoughts." (Brainy Quote)

F. Nature is the perfect model


Albertus Magnus (1200-1280, philosopher)
36. "Nature must be the foundation and model of science; thus Art works according to Nature in everything it can. Therefore, it is necessary that the Artist follows Nature and operates according to her." (De Vegetabilibus)

Louis Pasteur (1822-1895, chemist)
37. "There does not exist a category of science to which one can give the name applied science. There are sciences and the applications of science, bound together as the fruit of the tree which bears it." (Revue Scientifique, 1871)

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519, inventor)
38. "Human subtlety... will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature, because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous." (Quoted by The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci by Rudolf Flesch)

John von Neumann (1903-1957, mathematician)
39. "Truth.. is much too complicated to allow anything but approximations." (Quoted in The Works of the Mind by R. B. Heywood)

Simon Schama (1945-now, historian)
40. "Historians are left forever chasing shadows, painfully aware of their inability ever to reconstruct an ideal world in its completeness however thorough or revealing their documentation." (Dead Certainties, 1991)

Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677, philosopher)
41. "A definition, if it is to be called perfect, must explain the inmost essence of a thing, and must take care not to substitute for this any of its properties." (On the Improvement of Understanding, 1622)

George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831, philosopher)
42. "The enquiry into the essential destiny of Reason as far as it is considered in reference to the World is identical with the question, what is the ultimate design of the World?" (Lectures on the Philosophy of History, 1832)

G. There is only one fact*, everything else is a belief


David Hume (1711-1776)
43. "In our reasonings concerning matter of fact, there are all imaginable degrees of assurance, from the highest certainty to the lowest species of moral evidence... A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence." (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748)

Antoine Lavoisier (1743- 1794, chemist)
44. "The art of concluding from experience and observation consists in evaluating probabilities, in estimating if they are high or numerous enough to constitute proof." (Rapport des commissaires charges par le roi de l'exemen du magnetism animal, 1784)

Christian Huygens (1629-1695, mathematician)
45. "There are many degrees of Probable, some nearer Truth than others, in the determining of which lies the chief exercise of our Judgement." (Cosmotheoros, 1695)

Voltaire (1694-1778, writer)
46. "Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one." (Letter to Frederick William, 1770)

Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827, mathematician)
47. "Life's most important questions are, for the most part, nothing but probability problems." (Wikiquote)

Rene Descartes (1596-1650, mathematician)
48. "I think, therefore I am." (Le Discours de la M├ęthode, 1637)
* This is the only fact.

H. Be skeptical of existing knowledge


Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
49. "Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion." (Novum Organum)

Ibn al-Haytham (965-1040 CE, philosopher)
50. "...if learning the truth is the goal, one is to make themselves an enemy of all that they read, and applying their mind to the core and margins of its content, attack it from every side." (Quoted in Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys)

Montesquieu (1689-1746)
51. "Nothing is a greater obstacle to our progress in knowledge, than a bad performance of a celebrated author; because, before we instruct we must begin with undeceiving." (The Spirit of the Laws, 1748)

Denis Diderot (1713-1790, writer)
52. "In order to shake a hypothesis, it is sometimes not necessary to do anything more than push it as far as it will go." (On the Interpretation of Nature, 1753)

Karl Popper (1902-1994, philosopher)
53. "Science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths." (Conjectures and Refutations, 1963)

I. The mainstream is blind


Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860, philosopher)
54. "Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see." (1819, The World as Will and Representation)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791, musician)
55. "I pay no attention whatever to anybody's praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings." (Brainy Quote)

Max Planck (1858-1947, physicist)
56. "New scientific ideas never spring from a communal body, however organized, but rather from the head of an individually inspired researcher who struggles with his problems in lonely thought and united all his thought on one single point which is his whole world for the moment." (Address on the 25th anniversary of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gesellschaft, 1936)

Alexander Fleming (1881-1955, biologist)
57. "It is the lone worker who makes the first advance in a subject: the details may be worked out by a team, but the prime idea is due to the enterprise, though and perception of an individual." (Wikiquote)

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519, inventor)
58. "Though I may not, like them, be able to quote other authors, I shall rely on that which is much greater and more worthy - on experience, the mistress of their Masters. They go about puffed up and pompous, dressed and decorated with [the fruits], not of their own labours, but of those of others. And they will not allow me my own. They will scorn me as an inventor." (Quoted by The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci by Rudolf Flesch)

Bruno Latour (1947-now, philosopher)
59. "If one looks at the works of Newton to Einstein, they were never scientists in the way modernity understands the term." (Brainy Quote)

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (18112-1881, writer)
60. "Oh, how hard it is to be the only one who knows the truth! But they won't understand that. No, they won't understand it." (The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, 1877)

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873, philosopher)
61. "Persons of genius, it is true, are, and always like to be, a small minority; but in order to have them, it is necessary to preserve the soil in which they grow. Genius can only breathe freely in an atmosphere of freedom." (On Liberty, 1859)

J. Discovery is a form of happiness


Isaac Newton (1642-1727, physicist)
62. "I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me." (Quoted in Memoirs of the Life, Writings and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton)

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943, physicist)
63. "I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything." (Quoted in Marconi and Tesla: Pioneers of Radio Communication )

Wilbur Wright (1867-1912, inventor)
64. "For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life. I have been trying to arrange my affairs in such a way that I can devote my entire time for a few months to experiment in this field." (Letter to Octave Chanute, 1900)

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939, psychologist)
65. "I am actually not at all a man of science, not an observer, not an experimenter, not a thinker. I am by temperament nothing but a conquistador - an adventurer, if you want it translated with - all the curiosity, daring and tenacity characteristic of a man of this sort." (Letter to Wilhelm Fliess, 1900)

Marie Currie (1867-1934, physicist)
66. "I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in their laboratory is not only a technician: they are also a child placed before natural phenomena which impress them like a fairy tale." (Madame Curie: A Biography)