• rickyk95
    53
    I have a personal struggle with order, and delight from watching how pieces of a puzzle perfectly fit in and bring solutions to the real world, like in the hard sciences and math. I am however, also baffled by the complexity of softer sciences, and the difficulty that discerning the multiplicity of factors involved brings.I cant seem to accept however, that political science, economics, psychology, and so, are really sciences. I mean, clearly they can be studied in more systematic ways than art or literature, but something tells me they fall short of the label of science. I mean, how many truly unassailable discoveries have been done on these fields in the past century or so? Have advancements in psychology been more a result of advancements on neuroscience (physical and more of a "hard science") and not of psychology itself? What about economics? If Keynessian economics and Classical models are truly able to be tested, why do we still have socialists and conservatives? Shouldnt this question be settled?
  • Wayfarer
    13.8k
    I think one clue is the famous saying by Galileo, 'the book of nature is written in mathematics'. Galileo's innovations and discoveries in astronomy are surely seminal in modern science, and his understanding of the importance of quantitative measurement was a key part of that. But it was also connected with the idea that the 'primary qualities' of any given subject - mass, velocity, size, shape, motion etc - were just those qualities which were amenable to measurement. Measurement of those attributes produced a very high degree of mathematical predictability with respect to how they would behave.

    The other key ingredient was Cartesian algebraic geometry. It was Descartes who made the crucial breakthrough allowing the conversion of geometry into algebra (and vice versa). Thus, a pair of simultaneous equations could now be solved either algebraically or graphically (at the intersection of two lines). The combination of the new scientific discoveries of Galileo and Newton, with the algebraic geometry of Descartes, were central to what would become modern scientific method.

    I think this is key to understanding the reason that physics went on to become the paradigmatic 'hard science' of the modern age. The point was that the objects of physics, in particular, were just those kinds of objects which were maximally quantifiable, so to speak. By concentrating on just the attributes of any entity or system which were describable in physical terms, one could bring the rigour of mathematical physics to many kinds of phenomena, apart from those of physics. Hence the conviction that the ultimate facts about the universe are indeed those of physics, which is the central plank of scientific materialism.

    The problem is, as you have sensed, that subjects such as economics, politics, and many others, are not so amenable to quantification. Economics is sometimes called 'the dismal science', but whether it is a science is, I think, questionable. Same with psychology, which would love to be a science, but has fundamental difficulties defining its basic subject matter. And so on. Underlying all of that, however, is the Enlightenment conviction in 'scientific progress', the march of science, which would like to bring it's light to bear on any and every conceivable subject.
  • T Clark
    6.6k
    Have advancements in psychology been more a result of advancements on neuroscience (physical and more of a "hard science") and not of psychology itself? What about economics?rickyk95

    That's really ironic. Psychology has changed part of its nature to make it more of a "hard" science as you've asked through the development of cognitive science and you deny that by defining cognitive science as something other than psychology. This is called begging the question. Psychology can't be a science because you define anything relating to behavior, perception, learning, etc., that's "hard" science as not psychology.

    More generally, how about geology, paleontology, evolutionary biology? They are observational sciences rather than experimental, and not what I would call "hard."
  • _db
    3.4k
    Mostly the name "science" is an honorific term. Whatever discipline has high social favor is a science. Consensus and practical consequences are what really end up mattering, because they give you confidence that you're right without actually seeing yourself.
  • T Clark
    6.6k
    Mostly the name "science" is an honorific term. Whatever discipline has high social favor is a science. Consensus and practical consequences are what really end up mattering, because they give you confidence that you're right without actually seeing yourself.darthbarracuda

    It's a metaphysical question. Anything is a science which follows the scientific method. Now we can argue what that is. Still, I think it's a reasonable and, if not answerable, at least explorable question.

    Scientifiic method - here's what Wikipedia says as a starting point:

    The scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry is commonly based on empirical or measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. The Oxford Dictionaries Online defines the scientific method as "a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, ajnd experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses". Experiments need to be designed to test hypotheses. Experiments are an important tool of the scientific method.

    I don't necessarily agree with all of that.
  • _db
    3.4k
    But there is no singular scientific method, nor is it used all the time in science, and nor is it unique to science. Science progresses by using whatever works, not by leaning on a methodological crutch.
  • T Clark
    6.6k
    But there is no singular scientific method, nor is it used all the time in science, and nor is it unique to science. Science progresses by using whatever works, not by leaning on a methodological crutchdarthbarracuda

    I think we can lay out what it means to say "the scientific method," in a way that you and I can agree on. Maybe not, but we can probably at least agree on a lot of what's included. I just put the Wikipedia description up there as a first shot. You say it is not used all the time - well, when it's not used, it's not science. You say it is not unique to science. Well - if it is used, its fair to call it science. History, for example, seems to me to be as much a science as geology, paleontology, or evolutionary biology. If something progresses by using "whatever works" then one of too things is true. 1) Whatever works is part of the scientific method, or 2) it's not science.

    Maybe my argument seems like a circular argument or begging the question, but it's not. My whole point rests on the judgment that you and I, or at least a consensus of interested and reasonably qualified parties, can agree on what the scientific method is.
  • t0m
    319


    Perhaps we can cay that, sure, the meaning science is fuzzy. But it's no too fuzzy to work with. But Darth has a point. The word has a certain magic. Those with no interest in the details of science still trust the expert culture that they don't understand. Just about any charlatan will want to claim what he is hawking is "science." Even religion is often debated as if God were an object to be proved or known through the "science" of meta-physics. What I'd call "crude" religion is a renegade pseudo-science, accepting the prestige of science while disdaining its method and limitations.

    What I like about science is that it makes definite "prophecies." There is a risk in making a definite prophecy. One thinks for contrast of the end-of-the-world predictions that didn't come true. On the other hand, the "prophesied" recent eclipse occurred. I saw it with my own eyes. Of course I've also flown through the air in a winged tube.
  • T Clark
    6.6k
    The word has a certain magic.t0m

    I love science. It had a big part in the development of my intellect. Maybe I could even say my personality too. Then again, I come from a family of engineers. But - there is no magic in it for me. There's no more magic than a hammer has. I don't disagree that people misuse the word, but that's really irrelevant for this discussion.

    Even religion is often debated as if God were an object to be proved or known through the "science" of meta-physics.t0m

    To me, discussions about capital "G" God are not metaphysics. There either is an intelligent being who created the universe and rules our lives or there's not. It's appropriate to deal with that as a scientific question, although I'm not really interested in that aspect of god. Most such discussions - from both sides of the question - lack rigor or sense. I gave my daughter a copy of "The God Delusion" because I thought it was such a good example of bad thinking. It makes me laugh and it makes me angry.

    My vision of god is metaphysics. Thinking of the universe as living or conscious makes sense to me. The value of metaphysics is whether or not it's useful, not if it's true. To me, the idea of god is as useful as science. I think science without an acknowledgement that the universe is as much human as it is physical reflects a fatal flaw in much scientific thought. Smug scientists sneering at religion are missing half the story.

    I really enjoy discussions with you. I'm glad you joined the forum.
  • Wayfarer
    13.8k
    Even religion is often debated as if God were an objectt0m

    A sure indication that the participants don't understand the subject.


    Whereas, science is all about objects.
  • t0m
    319
    To me, discussions about capital "G" God are not metaphysics. There either is an intelligent being who created the universe and rules our lives or there's not. It's appropriate to deal with that as a scientific question, although I'm not really interested in that aspect of god. Most such discussions - from both sides of the question - lack rigor or sense. I gave my daughter a copy of "The God Delusion" because I thought it was such a good example of bad thinking. It makes me laugh and it makes me angry.

    My vision of god is metaphysics. Thinking of the universe as living or conscious makes sense to me. The value of metaphysics is whether or not it's useful, not if it's true. To me, the idea of god is as useful as science. I think science without an acknowledgement that the universe is as much human as it is physical is a fatal flaw in much scientific thought. Smug scientists sneering at religion are missing half the story.

    I really enjoy discussions with you. I'm glad you joined the forum.
    T Clark

    Thanks for the kind words. I also enjoy discussions with you.

    My vision of god is also metaphysics. Roughly speaking, the universe is brute fact that is conscious of itself as such, through us. The "scientific image" is a small part of reality as a whole. Personality or life as we know it is a "primordial" fact. To call our usual experience an illusion is to privilege a mere tool (the scientific image [Sellars]) over the context from which the tool emerged and in which it is useful and justified in the first place. In short, I respect science and even work in science but don't like scientism. So I also thinking sneering scientists are missing (at least) half the story. When they play a being meta-physicians, they often look naive. Feyerabend saw the threat of this ideology.

    I'm not a religious person, but I still maintain what I implied earlier, that asserting God as an empirical cheapens God. So if I were a traditional theist, I'd probably approach it as Kierkegaard did. When theists try to prove God empirically, they've already surrendered to the scientific worldview. If God is simply an object of knowledge, a matter for debate, then He's only technology. In short, I can respect a traditional theist, but I personally think they "contaminate" religion when they understand it as a sort of science or objective knowledge.
  • t0m
    319


    I'm inclined to agree, though that is of course just my opinion. There is both stupid and profound religion out there, as I see it.
  • T Clark
    6.6k
    My vision of god is also metaphysics. Roughly speaking, the universe is brute fact that is conscious of itself as such, through us. The "scientific image" is a small part of reality as a whole. Personality or life as we know it is a "primordial" fact. To call our usual experience an illusion is to privilege a mere tool (the scientific image [Sellars]) over the context from which the tool emerged and in which it is useful and justified in the first place. In short, I respect science and even work in science but don't like scientism. So I also thinking sneering scientists are missing (at least) half the story. When they play a being meta-physicians, they often look naive. Feyerabend saw the threat of this ideology.t0m

    I agree with everything you say in this paragraph, especially "the universe is brute fact that is conscious of itself as such, through us." That's exactly what I was trying to say. Or expressed differently:

    The Tao is like a well:
    used but never used up.
    It is like the eternal void:
    filled with infinite possibilities.

    It is hidden but always present.
    I don't know who gave birth to it.
    It is older than God.
  • T Clark
    6.6k
    A sure indication that the participants don't understand the subject.Wayfarer

    I'm ok with that, as long as you include those supposedly speaking for science as people who don't understand.
  • T Clark
    6.6k
    When theists try to prove God empirically, they've already surrendered to the scientific worldview. If God is simply an object of knowledge, a matter for debate, then He's only technology.t0m

    I agree. Also - they'll always lose the fight.
  • t0m
    319

    I think so to. But let's say we somehow find an alien or species of aliens who created humanity. Will we worship them? The only God worth worshiping, as far as I can see, must possess human virtues. A demi-urge, etc., would just be a fact like the sun without human virtues. We might fear him or it and obey him or it in our fear. But would this be religion?

    On the other hand, human virtue exists already. We all have an image of it, even if this image varies from person to person. We already worship "God" when we revere the virtuous. That's how I see it. And that's a God who needs our help and even a God we participate in. Of course this is just the incarnation myth taken more literally than usual.
  • T Clark
    6.6k
    On the other hand, human virtue exists already. We all have an image of it, even if this image varies from person to person. We already worship "God" when we revere the virtuous. That's how I see it. And that's a God who needs our help and even a God we participate in. Of course this is just the incarnation myth taken more literally than usual.t0m

    I see it in a way that seems more practical, concrete than that to me. I see what we call "virtue" as a reflection of the fact that we were created, by god or evolution, as animals that like each other.
  • t0m
    319

    We probably mean about the same thing. Maybe the word "revere" doesn't get the tone right. For example, there's a certain kind of man that I especially respect. That's also the kind of man I want to be. As I have lived, loved, and suffered, my idea of what a good man is has evolved. Sometimes trying to live up to a notion of virtue reveals its deficiencies as a notion of virtue. This is a crisis that summons our creativity. Or maybe we just search the books for a new story of virtue that fits our new situation better.

    We don't usually throw out a notion altogether. That might literally be insanity. But we modify the notion. So the notion steers our experience which steers the notion. That is my demystification of Hegelian dialectic. As far as "absolute knowledge" goes, the version of it in this demystification would just be a stable or tranquil compatibility between the notion of virtue and the lifestyle. After a while of staying up on the horse without falling off, a person might feel that they've mostly figured things out, at least where their own lives are concerned. But for me this does not necessitate projecting one's personal solution or equilibrium as a truth for all. (No need to hide it, either.)

    Anyway, that's my general vision of spirituality. On the level of detail, some people's image of virtue will involve a relationship with the traditional God, maybe not eating pork, social activism, reading certain books, getting rich, staying poor and honest, etc. Contemplating this "general structure" from a certain distance is a big part of philosophy for me. I like to zoom out.
  • T Clark
    6.6k
    We don't usually throw out a notion altogether. That might literally be insanity. But we modify the notion. So the notion steers our experience which steers the notion.t0m

    This came to mind when I read that. It may or may not be relevant, but I like to get a chance to show my erudition:

    Most of the change we think we see in life
    Is due to truths being in and out of favour. 110
    As I sit here, and oftentimes, I wish
    I could be monarch of a desert land
    I could devote and dedicate forever
    To the truths we keep coming back and back to.
    So desert it would have to be, so walled 115
    By mountain ranges half in summer snow,
    No one would covet it or think it worth
    The pains of conquering to force change on.
    Scattered oases where men dwelt, but mostly
    Sand dunes held loosely in tamarisk 120
    Blown over and over themselves in idleness.
    Sand grains should sugar in the natal dew
    The babe born to the desert, the sand storm
    Retard mid-waste my cowering caravans—

    That poem makes me cry every time I read it. Robert Frost. "The Black Cottage" I really love that poem. I've quoted that on the forum before and I'll do it again.
  • t0m
    319
    As I sit here, and oftentimes, I wish
    I could be monarch of a desert land
    I could devote and dedicate forever
    To the truths we keep coming back and back to.
    T Clark

    It's all great, but I especially like that part.

    Yes, back and back to those beautiful old truths in their newness.
  • Wayfarer
    13.8k
    Modern science emerged in the seventeenth century with two fundamental ideas: planned experiments (Francis Bacon) and the mathematical representation of relations among phenomena (Galileo). This basic experimental-mathematical epistemology evolved until, in the first half of the twentieth century, it took a stringent form involving (1) a mathematical theory constituting scientific knowledge, (2) a formal operational correspondence between the theory and quantitative empirical measurements, and (3) predictions of future measurements based on the theory. The “truth” (validity) of the theory is judged based on the concordance between the predictions and the observations. While the epistemological details are subtle and require expertise relating to experimental protocol, mathematical modeling, and statistical analysis, the general notion of scientific knowledge is expressed in these three requirements.

    Science is neither rationalism nor empiricism. It includes both in a particular way. In demanding quantitative predictions of future experience, science requires formulation of mathematical models whose relations can be tested against future observations. Prediction is a product of reason, but reason grounded in the empirical. Hans Reichenbach summarizes the connection: “Observation informs us about the past and the present, reason foretells the future.”

    E. R. Doherty.
  • TheMadFool
    12.7k
    It depends on the questions asked? If the inquiry is quantified then the answer too can be mathematically rigorous, akin to the hard sciences.

    I think quantitative psychology has yielded results that give us insights into our own mentality. For instance, most religious people are against abortion or education level is associated with atheism, etc. These ''discoveries'' are, assuredly, mathematical - statistical, to be specific. So, I think some level (satisfactory or not, depends on your view I guess) mathematical precision, rather approximation, is possible in psychology.

    The most important thing to me, given the dim view of psychology as suggested in the OP, is that psychology may be a soft science but it is NOT pseudoscience. Or is it?
  • _db
    3.4k
    If something progresses by using "whatever works" then on of too things are true. 1) Whatever works is part of the scientific method, or 2) it's not science.T Clark

    This is most definitely question begging. Just because I make a really good burrito doesn't mean I use the "scientific method" to make it. Just because a fisherman catches many fish doesn't mean she uses the "scientific method" to catch them.

    Furthermore, by ascribing whatever works to a scientific method that is exclusively scientific then we're left with no way to actually criticize science. Science becomes this infallible source of knowledge, where whatever doesn't work apparently isn't science. Yet clearly this is false. There can be bad, poor, shitty science just as much as good science. Actually most science is bad science, with faulty assumptions, poor methodology or whatever.

    A lot of the ways "Science" goes about "sciencing" is not very different from other activities. It's just that these scientific fields have special equipment and have the public image of being a dispassionate search for truth.
  • T Clark
    6.6k
    This is most definitely question begging. Just because I make a really good burrito doesn't mean I use the "scientific method" to make it. Just because a fisherman catches many fish doesn't mean she uses the "scientific method" to catch them.darthbarracuda

    Most definitely, absolutely, positively, completely is not begging the question. I am claiming that the definition of science is activity that follows the scientific method. I have also claimed that reasonable people can reach a pretty clear consensus on what the scientific method is. Obviously, there's room for disagreement, but I bet you and I can come up with something that's agreeable to both of us. If you can't give me a competing definition that's as clear and direct as the one I've given, the result is that "science" doesn't mean anything.

    Furthermore, by ascribing whatever works to a scientific method that is exclusively scientific then we're left with no way to actually criticize science. Science becomes this infallible source of knowledge, where whatever doesn't work apparently isn't science. Yet clearly this is false.darthbarracuda

    There are many effective ways to figure out how the world works that aren't science. The great majority of our learning and problem solving activities are not science. I'm not saying "if it works, its science." I'm saying "if it follows the scientific method it's science."

    A lot of the ways "Science" goes about "sciencing" is not very different from other activities.darthbarracuda

    Of course that's true. The scientific method was not created out of thin air. It's not magic. It is a systemization of the ways that people have always solved problems and looked for knowledge.
  • _db
    3.4k
    If you can't give me a competing definition that's as clear and direct as the one I've given, the result is that "science" doesn't mean anything.T Clark

    Right. I don't think science really means anything, aside of a vague and mysterious group of smart people using instruments to get data about something, usually accompanied with a romantic image of spiritual purpose or whatever. Words unify people and make it easier to communicate.

    If I had to decide on a criterion of science, it would be that it has some agreed upon set of measurements and field-specific methodology. Not that there is some specific methodology that science has that not-science doesn't.

    Of course that's true. The scientific method was not created out of thin air. It's not magic. It is a systemization of the ways that people have always solved problems and looked for knowledge.T Clark

    But if it's not exclusive to, not originating with science, then why call it the scientific method?
  • T Clark
    6.6k
    It's all great, but I especially like that part.t0m

    My quote is just a small part of the whole poem. It's all wonderful.
  • T Clark
    6.6k
    But if it's not exclusive to, not originating with science, then why call it the scientific method?darthbarracuda

    The systemization is the heart of the matter. Science is a systematic search for knowledge that follows a specific, defined set of rules and algorithms. I haven't thought this through - but I guess there are probably other systematic methods for searching for knowledge.

    Right. I don't think science really means anything,darthbarracuda

    I don't agree. I think it's an important and meaningful idea.
  • T Clark
    6.6k
    Modern science emerged in the seventeenth century with two fundamental ideas: planned experiments (Francis Bacon) and the mathematical representation of relations among phenomena (Galileo). This basic experimental-mathematical epistemology evolved until, in the first half of the twentieth century, it took a stringent form involving (1) a mathematical theory constituting scientific knowledge, (2) a formal operational correspondence between the theory and quantitative empirical measurements, and (3) predictions of future measurements based on the theory. The “truth” (validity) of the theory is judged based on the concordance between the predictions and the observations. While the epistemological details are subtle and require expertise relating to experimental protocol, mathematical modeling, and statistical analysis, the general notion of scientific knowledge is expressed in these three requirements.

    Science is neither rationalism nor empiricism. It includes both in a particular way. In demanding quantitative predictions of future experience, science requires formulation of mathematical models whose relations can be tested against future observations. Prediction is a product of reason, but reason grounded in the empirical. Hans Reichenbach summarizes the connection: “Observation informs us about the past and the present, reason foretells the future.”
    Wayfarer

    I don't really disagree with any of that, at least for physics, chemistry, and some biology. I think it might leave out observational sciences like geology. Stephen Jay Gould has some good essays about what the scientific method means in an observational context.

    As for the original post and rickyk95's question about psychology, economics, etc. - They aspire to be what you have described. I think sometimes that's a good idea - e.g. cognitive science. Sometimes it's probably wrong headed.
  • javra
    1.3k
    Science is a systematic search for knowledge that follows a specific, defined set of rules and algorithms.T Clark

    Agreed, but to me this sentence is omitting making explicit what the vital essence of all empirical sciences is : empirical data. In theoretical maths one can concoct infinite mathematical universes if the will and intelligence is there for so doing (invent new axioms and, using these as rules, make all the novel algorithm you want). Especially as regards the empirical sciences, this is all however meaningless unless it happens to be accordant to our body of experience derived, empirical data.

    Picking on this omission because it’s a hefty pet peeve of mine: that many in the general community place maths before experience in their understanding of the empirical sciences.
  • T Clark
    6.6k
    Agreed, but to me this sentence is omitting making explicit what the vital essence of all empirical sciences is : empirical data. In theoretical maths one can concoct infinite mathematical universes if the will and intelligence is there for so doing (invent new axioms and, using these as rules, make all the novel algorithm you want). Especially as regards the empirical sciences, this is all however meaningless unless it happens to be accordant to our body of experience derived, empirical data.javra

    My statement does not really put any meat on the bones of my definition of the scientific method. My "specific, defined set of rules and algorithms," is not described. I agree, one of, or maybe the primary, requirement for science is a dependence on the collection and interpretation of empirical data.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    3.1k
    But if it's not exclusive to, not originating with science, then why call it the scientific method?darthbarracuda

    Science is systematic common sense. I'm with @T Clark.
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