Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Definitions of science

Maria Popova has posted some definitions of science, quoting Einstein, Feynman, Sagan, and others. Here are some definitions that I have posted on my blog. Kansas, pre-2005
Science is the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us.
Kansas, 2005
Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation that uses observations, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building, to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena
Kansas, 2007
Science is a human activity of systematically seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us. Throughout history people from many cultures have used the methods of science to contribute to scientific knowledge and technological innovations, making science a worldwide enterprise. Scientists test explanations against the natural world, logically integrating observations and tested hypotheses with accepted explanations to gradually build more reliable and accurate understandings of nature. Scientific explanations must be testable and repeatable, and findings must be confirmed through additional observation and experimentation. As it is practiced in the late 20th and early 21st century, science is restricted to explaining only the natural world, using only natural cause. This is because science currently has no tools to test explanations using non-natural (such as supernatural) causes.
Lee Smolin, 2011
Science is not about what's true, or what might be true. Science is about what people with originally diverse viewpoints can be forced to believe by the weight of public evidence.
Pinker, 2011
(p. 181) Though we cannot logically prove anything about the physical world, we are entitled to have confidence in certain beliefs about it. The application of reason and observation to discover tentative generalizations about the world is what we call science. The progress of science with its dazzling success at explaining and manipulating the world, shows that knowledge of the universe is possible, albeit always probabilistic and subject to revision. Science is thus a paradigm for how we ought to gain knowledge — not the particular methods or institutions of science but its value system, namely to seek to explain the world, to evaluate candidate explanations objectively, and to be cognizant of the tentativeness and uncertainty of our understanding at any time.
Of these, I like the 2005 Kansas definition the best, even tho it was widely attacked by the AAAS (the world's largest science society) and others. I like it because of the emphasis on observing and testing, and not beliefs, prejudices, paradigms, and supernatural distinctions.

1 comment:

  1. Should we add a "non-recursion aspect"? I.e. science has been described as "an inherently conservative enterprise" -- is being "conservative" about an inherently conservative undertaking contradictory? If so, then the scientific method cannot itself be trained upon the question "What is science?" eh? Another way of thinking about it: who has the better handle on waht science is, historians of science (a posteriori Bayesians) or a priori philosophers?