Science 122 Program 2 Physical Science

©1998 RCBrill. All rights reserved

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Physical Science

Program 2
Lesson 1.2

Text References



5. Introduction

6. The Friendly Dictionary

7. Science is Many Things

8. Science and Human Nature

9. Ideals of Science

10. Limitations of Science

11. Why Study Science

12. Summary

13. Challenge Du Jour

Coming Up

Before we're done with the lesson we will know what we mean when we speak of physical science. We will see that there is more to science than is generally thought, as we search for answers to the question, "What is science?" We will discover that science is many things and that it is not unlike other human activities in many ways because it involves the same distinctly human qualities as does art, music, literature, dance, philosophy, and religion.

We will define a few basic ideals of science, then look at what science is not good for. Finally we will seek a rationale for studying science for those of us who are not scientists and will not be scientists. 

Text References

Speilberg & Anderson 4-10

Booth & Bloom 163-171


1. What is science?

2. What does science have in common with other types of human activities? How does it differ?

3. Discuss the three ideals of science.

4. What is the Principle of Parsimony (Ockham's Razor?)

5. What is the "scientific method?"

6. Distinguish between quantitative and qualitative analysis.

7. Is it unreasonable for us to expect that physical laws be universal in space and time?

8. What kinds of things is science not good for?

9. Describe some of the limitations of science?

10. Comment on Einstein's statement, "It may be possible to describe everything in scientific terms, but it would be useless."

11. Why should nonscientists study science?

12. Discuss the concept of thought revolutions.

13. Comment on the relationships among the following words in the context of science: simplicity, elegance, truth, beauty

14. Relate parsimony and the use of models to the concept of reductionism.

15. Comment on the role of skepticism in science.

"It might be possible to describe everything in scientific terms, but it would be useless."


Before you begin to study the lesson, take a few minutes to read the objectives and the study questions for this lesson.

Look for key words and ideas as you read. Use the study guide and follow it as you watch the program.

Some students find it helpful to make a note in the margin which pertains to a particular objective or a study question.

Be sure to read these objectives in the study guide and refer to them as you study the lesson.

Focusing on the learning objectives will help you to study and understand the important concepts.

Compare the objectives with the study questions for the lesson to be sure that you have the concepts under control.

1. Write a one page exposition which demonstrates comprehension and assimilation of the following topics

2. Discuss the meaning and context of parsimony and reductionism.

3. Discuss the concept of a scientific method and explain how it does or does not work.

4. Name and discuss in writing three underlying ideals of science.

5. Distinguish between the qualitative and the quantitative and cite examples of each.

5. Introduction

Physical science is the study of the behavior of and interactions between matter and energy. The word physical refers to the material world, those things which we detect with our five senses. This is really not a satisfying definition for at least three reasons.

First, we have not defined what we mean by matter and energy. This we will do briefly later in this program, then continue to elaborate throughout the course as we study their behavior and interactions.

Second, there is a great deal of ambiguity in the meanings of the words physical and science. The definition fits the modern disciplines of astronomy, physics and chemistry, geology and meteorology. All of these fields study the interactions between matter and energy, but they do so from different yet complimentary, perspectives. And, they are obviously not the same, although there is a certain amount of overlap. Geology and meteorology are further classified as earth sciences because of the specific application of physical laws and principles to understanding the earth and its physical, chemical, and biological properties. These are the physical sciences.

The method of study and the natural laws which are common to all of these area is what we mean by physical science.

Are we getting closer to understanding what we mean by physical?

Science is one of those words that we use freely, with a concept of its meaning clear in our minds, which means different things to different people.

Before we get too deeply into the course, we want to be sure that all of us are speaking the same language about science in general, and specifically about physical science.

Third, the definition does not take into account the interactions of consciousness and the nonmaterial world with the physical world. This we will attempt to clarify in the next program.

Although it is not a good definition, it is not a bad one either.

We will now take our mediocre working definition of physical science and try to expand upon it. We hope you will gain a better sense of what science is as you view this program and study the lesson.


5.1.1. The Study Of The Behavior of Matter & Energy And Their Interactions Matter and Energy behavior interactions what are they? Physical Sciences astronomy physics chemistry geology meteorology others? Other Interactions consciousness nonmaterial world

6. The Friendly Dictionary

Here are some words which will be used in this program which may be unfamiliar to you. Take a few minutes to look them up in a dictionary and consider their meanings. A few minutes investment now will pay off big dividends in comprehension of future programs.

6.1. axiom

6.2. empirical

6.3. paradigm

6.4. parsimony

6.5. physical

6.6. qualitative

6.7. quantitative

6.8. science

6.9. skepticism

6.10. universal

7. Science is Many Things

So what is physical science? Awaiting further definition of matter and energy, suppose we just say that physical science is the study of the dynamics of the physical universe , as opposed to the spiritual, psychological, religious, or biological universe. We will see in the next program that these universes overlap to cause uncertainties about reality and its nature. Since different individuals have different realities, we might define physical science as the study of shared reality, or common reality. Those things which we can verify and which others following the same steps can independently verify define the common reality. That common reality is is only thing which can be said to be truly subjective. An object is either here or it isn't, illusions and tricks aside. If something is there, all of us can see it, hear it, feel it, taste it, or smell it. We can detect it with our senses and we will generally agree on its size and shape and its state of motion. That is what we mean by physical.

At this point let's just think of matter as stuff. We have an intuitive concept of matter as substance. We can feel it, It has mass and it occupies space. That's all we need for right now.
Let's think of energy as the ability to cause motion. This is not a particularly good definition, but it will have to do for now. We will study the concepts of matter and energy in detail latter, but for now let's just leave it at this level.

When we use the word science, we are specifically referring to physical science (that is the topic of this course) which may share certain characteristics with other areas of endeavor. The word is used in many different contexts today, as in political science, or social science. The way of thinking which characterizes science is used in many different areas. It is so integrated with our lives, in fact there can be little questins that we live in the age of science.

The methods of science are largely the methods of physical science. The first scientific studies were of the physical universe. For this reason it is the methods of physical science which other sciences try to emulate and duplicate. Physical scientists were able to do this because they study relatively simple systems. Obviously the more complicated the system under consideration, the more difficult it is to simplify it and reduce it to its essence.

The process of making something less complicated is called reductionism. In science we use reductionism to simplify our models by eliminating everything which is not necessary. We try to find the simplest model which explains our observations and which is also consistent with our experiments. Later in this program we will return to the concept of a scientific model,.

Now let's at some of the things that science is.

7.1. human activity

First and foremost. science is a human activity. By this we mean that it involves all of the aspects of humanity in the same way that other human endeavors do. When we watch children at play unencumbered by the responsibilities and restrictions of the adult world, we see all of the aspects of learning which are formalized in science at work. We see the presence of an active, curious, and imaginative mind. We see each child gaining experience through the senses and using logic to aid in solving problems, building a data base of information about the universe. As the child grows, that universe expands to include more and more types of stimuli. By the time we are adults we often lose that curiosity. We spend less of our time learning new things about the universe and more time simply dealing with life in it. We have not really lost our abilities as adults, we just have learned to apply them to different types of problems, having solved the basic problems of classification and categorization of experiences. We still have new experiences, but the older we get the more we tend to classify those experiences and compare them to the past.
What science does is to take those same qualities and formalize them into a way of studying the physical universe beyond what our senses normally would tell us. We extend our senses by the use of instruments, or we apply statistical techniques to find patterns which might escape us otherwise.

7.1.1. mind

So science, like any other human activity, requires a mind; not just a brain, but a mind to organize and store information.

7.1.2. imagination

Science also requires an imagination. Like art or literature, most of science is in the mind of the beholder. Visualizing relationships, imagining how things would change if something were different (like gravity for instance), and seeing beyond superficial characteristics are all examples of the use of imagination in science. There are many others which you can think of if you try.

7.1.3. curiosity

Curiosity is extremely important in science. Most higher life forms (mammals, birds, some reptiles) exhibit curiosity. It is certainly present in the early years of humans, as anyone who has witnessed a child at play can attest.

7.1.4. insight

Insight is the ability to see to the heart of a problem. It is an understanding which comes without explanation and without planning. Each of us possesses insight of different types at different times and in different situations. No one is insightful all of the time in every situation, but some of us just seem to have more than others. These people grow up to become artists, writers, musicians, mathematicians, philosophers, or scientists. In fact, in every field of human endeavor you will find insightful people, and science is no exception.

7.1.5. experience

Part of learning is the acquisition of experience. We are born without experience, but begin acquiring it immediately. As we learn our minds organize experiences, each person slightly differently, but with much common ground. The way experiences are organized depend upon culture, language, and genetics. The more experience we accumulate, the less we pay attention to small details. For example, I bet none of you have to think much about tying a shoelace. But think about how hard it was to learn.

7.1.6. logic

Like it or not we all use logic. I don't mean to imply that everything we do all the time is logical. Quite to the contrary, much of human behavior is illogical. That is what makes it interesting to be human. Much of the thematic material of "Star Trek" dealt with that interplay between logic and emotion which make us human. Behavior based entirely on emotion would leave the world in a state resembling feeding time in the carnivore cage. On the other hand behavior based entirely on logic would leave us as cold as a silicon chip. In fact, behavior based entirely on logic may not seem quite so logical at times. But everyone uses logic. If someone tries to "pull the wool over your eyes" he or she will use what sounds like logical statements to do so. Most people will be skeptical of statements that do not seem logical. Can you think of examples?

Logic can help us to navigate through that which may seem to be contradictory. It can also help us to organize our thinking. But beware of false logic. Statements which sound logical may not be in reality. For example: All cats have four legs. Garfield has four legs, therefore Garfield is a cat. Is this logical. Of course not.

Logic does not necessarily mean truth either. A logical statement can be no truer than the statement from which it is derived. Can you think of examples?

7.1.7. creativity

7.1.8. talent

7.1.9. others?

7.2. method

7.2.1. there is no distinct recipe or prescription

So what is this formalized learning that we spoke of in the previous segment?

In the late seventeenth century, Sir Isaac Newton, a mathematics professor at Cambridge, stated certain definitions, guidelines, and axioms of science which became the basis for our modern viewpoint. Since Newton's time there have been new discoveries which have forced us to expand the definitions and stretch the paradigm a little.

Scientists like Newton often write about the rules but seldom specify exactly how the game should be played. The recipe for a particular experiment must be quite specific, but there are no specifications which dictate how an experiment in general should be performed. A particular experiment or results of an experiment may be scrutinized by other scientists, like a referee making a call during a game. Further discussions may criticize and offer suggestions, and a rules committee might occasionally modify a rule.

The rules also help to find solutions because they affect the way in which we design our experiments and the kinds of questions we ask. We'll see many examples throughout this course which demonstrate that asking the right question is often more difficult than answering it.

In science we are not so concerned with rules as with procedure and guiding principles. The development of these guiding principles has a long and complex history, which we will trace in future programs throughout the course.

For example, one of the most important criteria of good science is that of repeatability. A guiding principle based on this criteria might be stated something like this. "For a conclusion from an experiment to be accepted as factual, the experiment must yield the same results when performed by anyone, ant any time, and at any place, or else there must be a logical and accepted principle which shows the relationship between the two situations."

For example, consider an experiment in which we measure how an object falls under the influence of gravity. We would find generally the same results with only a small variation anywhere on Earth. The same experiment on the moon would give different results. If we only consider the speed of the falling object we would have to conclude that there is a difference between those two places.

If we consider the way in which the speed changes we would find that the two situations have something in common. The way their speed changes is the same, but they change at a different rate. Using our understanding of the law of gravity, we can predict an expected difference is between the two places. Using the law of gravity to calculate the expected effect of gravity at the moon's surface, we then compare it with the measured value. If the two are in close agreement we have taken a step to show that the physical laws are the same on the earth and on the moon. But, we have also recognized that there are physical variables of some kind which make one environment different from another.

So the laws are the same in both places, but there are factors, we call them physical quantities, which define the circumstances of the way in which matter behaves. The laws are universal, the relationships are the same, but the physical quantities define the circumstances. By that I mean that the results of an experiment do not depend upon the time or place that it is performed. That does not mean that we expect gravity to be the same on the moon as it is on earth, but we do expect that the law of gravity is the same. So if a particular chemical reaction produces a certain product in Honolulu today, anyone under the same conditions will attain the same results within certain limits of accuracy and precision tomorrow or next week in London, Paris, or on the moon.

An event which happens only once and is not reproducible cannot be studied scientifically now matter how interesting or important, or how many people observe it.

So, there are criteria for defining acceptable science but there is no official rulebook. There is also no official rulebook for gardening but you know if you are doing it right or doing it wrong. Scientific ideas are much like the plants in a garden; those which grow under the proper conditions will flourish and flower and those which do not will die and wither away.

There are certain aspects that most scientists agree upon. The requirement for repeatability or reproducibility in many cases might be seen as a limitation of science, but it is an important one because it promotes skepticism.

Skepticism is really one of the strong points, and one of the important difference between science and other human activities.

Einstein said that the process of "doing" science is nothing more than an organized version of the natural learning process. In psychology the study of group dynamics shows us that groups of people (or animals for that matter) may behave in ways which are more predictable than any individual within the group. Similarly, groups of scientists learn about the world much in the same way that individuals do, even though there are no specific rules for doing so.

In many ways the progression of the human species from stargazing hunter/gatherer to sophisticated manipulator of materials and technological consumer of energy and resources is like the growth and increasing sophistication of a child in the growth process.

Science relies on sharing or communicating of results with others. Since science represents cumulative knowledge, it is important that the knowledge be available for anyone to use. It is the sharing of activities and results (among other things) which distinguishes the science of chemistry from alchemy. Investigations or observations which are conducted in secrecy are not science. The best scientific ideas are those which are made available to everyone who is curious. We shall see that major advances in our understanding of our physical universe were made by individuals (or groups of individuals) who took shared knowledge from different areas and put it together to see things in a new way. Isaac Newton, who we will study in some detail later, said, "If I have seen further than others it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants." What do you suppose he meant by that?

Science also shares a common language of units, terminology and classifications, although not everyone will agree at all times on the "correct" usage of these. Part of the evolution of science has been the changes in units, terminology and classifications as more facts are discovered and shared among the community of scientists.

Science also involves classifying and describing the behavior or characteristics of things, both living and nonliving. In fact, this is usually necessary before any general theories can be put forth. In the absence of a system of classification, people often attribute supernatural qualities to their observations. Classification involves both recognizing similarities and differences among related groups of objects. In botany, for example, trees may be classified according to the shapes of their leaves and the way leaves are arranged. In astronomy objects in the sky can be generally classified as stars or planets. As we shall see, the ability to classify is important in the development of scientific understanding in any field.

We often hear of something called "the Scientific Method." One aspect of science is that it is a formalized method for learning about the physical universe.

But there is no recipe or prescription for doing science. There are generally accepted ways by which an idea or a theory can be tested to determine if it conforms to reality. This is not strange, nor is it unique to science. It is similar to the rules of a game. For example, there is no one method for playing basketball, but there are rules which serve as guidelines. They are laws that tell us what it permitted and what is not. The rules are subject to interpretation by a skilled observer (the referee) . There is enough complexity to allow infinite possibilities, yet there can never be a rule to cover every possible situation.

Science is different in that the rules are not as specific. Don't fail to distinguish at this time between the rules of science and the laws of nature. They are two different and distinct concepts. Take some time now, or at the end of the program to resolve this difference in your mind.

Make a note now to do it. Write it down right now.

7.2.2. guiding principles

In science we are not so concerned with rules as with procedure and guiding principles. The development of these guiding principles has a long and complex history, which we will trace in future programs throughout the course.

For example, one of the most important criteria of good science is that of repeatability. A guiding principle based on this criteria might be stated something like this. "For a conclusion from an experiment to be accepted as factual, the experiment must yield the same results when performed by anyone, ant any time, and at any place, or else there must be a logical and accepted principle which shows the relationship between the two situations."

For example, consider an experiment in which we measure how an object falls under the influence of gravity. We would find generally the same results with only a small variation anywhere on Earth. The same experiment on the moon would give different results. If we only consider the speed of the falling object we would have to conclude that there is a difference between those two places.

If we consider the way in which the speed changes we would find that the two situations have something in common. The way their speed changes is the same, but they change at a different rate. Using our understanding of the law of gravity, we can predict an expected difference is between the two places. Using the law of gravity to calculate the expected effect of gravity at the moon's surface, we then compare it with the measured value. If the two are in close agreement we have taken a step to show that the physical laws are the same on the earth and on the moon. But, we have also recognized that there are physical variables of some kind which make one environment different from another.

So the laws are the same in both places, but there are factors, we call them physical quantities, which define the circumstances of the way in which matter behaves. The laws are universal, the relationships are the same, but the physical quantities define the circumstances. By that I mean that the results of an experiment do not depend upon the time or place that it is performed. That does not mean that we expect gravity to be the same on the moon as it is on earth, but we do expect that the law of gravity is the same. So if a particular chemical reaction produces a certain product in Honolulu today, anyone under the same conditions will attain the same results within certain limits of accuracy and precision tomorrow or next week in London, Paris, or on the moon.

An event which happens only once and is not reproducible cannot be studied scientifically now matter how interesting or important, or how many people observe it.

So, there are criteria for defining acceptable science but there is no official rulebook. There is also no official rulebook for gardening but you know if you are doing it right or doing it wrong. Scientific ideas are much like the plants in a garden; those which grow under the proper conditions will flourish and flower and those which do not will die and wither away.

There are certain aspects that most scientists agree upon. The requirement for repeatability or reproducibility in many cases might be seen as a limitation of science, but it is an important one because it promotes skepticism.

Skepticism is really one of the strong points, and one of the important difference between science and other human activities.

7.2.3. formalized learning about the physical universe

"Science is nothing more than a formalized version of the natural learning process." Einstein. HOT! for example

7.2.4. a way of communicating results

Another aspect of science which is often overlooked is the community of scientists. In fact we could say that physical science is the goal of defining common physical reality.

The result of of an experiment if of no use as science if it is known only to its creator. Secret science is not science, it is more like alchemy, and difficult to interpret results in an objective way. Literature abounds of the demented scientist whose secret experiments threaten the world in one way or another. This is the reason for the concept of shared physical reality. The more people there are to be convinced, the more objective the conclusion. relies on sharing and critique of information

  • theories, experimental methods, interpretation common language, conventions of units, terminology, classifications

7.2.5. a way of identifying, classifying and describing

Part of the process of science is noting similarities and differences between objects and events. We need to know what kinds of similarities and differences are significant. For example does the composition of a rock affect the way it falls through air under the influence of gravity? What about it's color?

In order to understand something it is necessary to recognize it as being something.

We classify things in order to understand their properties and their relationships. We describe things so that other people will be able to recognize them later

7.2.6. a way of problem solving

Science also involves problem solving. In many cases solving problems involves both the right and left side of the brain as we have seen. The problems are not just those like you would find in a mathematics or physics course, although the methods are similar. By problem solving we mean a more general sense. A problem in the larger sense is anything which is not understood, or any obstacle which needs to be overcome. The more knowledge we have of the properties and behavior of the things in our physical world, the more ways we can se them to solve problems. Here I mean the entire range of problems, from everyday problems, like how to remove a stain from your favorite shirt, to global problems like how to monitor and control global warming.

The more tools at your disposal, the wider variety of things you can fix.

It's not just that we can fix things with tools. We can also build things and design new things as we learn about the strengths and weaknesses of different building materials.

In science we find a polarity between what is usually called pure science, and applied science. "Pure" science is that which proceeds purely for the sake of new knowledge, whereas applied science is research designed to solve a particular problem. Pure science often comes under criticism because it is open ended, not directed towards solving a particular problem. Because funding for science comes primarily from people who do not understand it, applied science has been favored in the United States in the past half century, much of it related to military equipment and national security.

Also we find a healthy interplay between theoretical and experimental science. Theoretical physicists develop mathematical models (in the form of equations) which attempt to derive new relationships from known ones. Often those who are skilled in one area are not so adept in the other.

Einstein spent many years in the laboratory learning the laws of physics firsthand, but as a physicist he later worked in theory. Having gained a basic understanding of physical laws, he concentrated on deriving new relationships and new perspectives based on those physical laws.

On the other side of the coin are experimentalists who design experiments and equipment to put theories to the test. Occasionally something new is discovered which requires a modification of an existing theory, or a completely new one. This has happened especially in modern physics which involves electromagnetic phenomena and subatomic particles where the results of experiments are not directly observable. So two important aspects of experimental physical science are figuring out how to design equipment which can detect and measure the specified behavior, and then figuring out how to interpret the electric signals, computer images, vapor trails, and other physical evidence. pure vs. applied science

  • pure science is driven by curiosity
  • applied science is driven by necessity theoretical vs. experimental

  • provides inductive/deductive confirmation
  • theories can be tested with experiments
  • experimental results can be analyzed and understood theoretically

FOCUS: Method

Intuition and logic interact with each other to combine facts, and evidence into theories, making conclusions from experimental results and observations.

The processes of discovery and invention work hand in hand to formulate models or to forge paradigms. The following diagram attempts to show these relationships. It is in the study guide. Study it for a few minutes, following the arrows as you try to picture how these different components act with one another.

Yes, it is complex. But so is the human brain. It is non linear, because we have the ability to examine several different things at once or to examine the same thing from many different perspectives. Do not memorize this illustration, but use it instead as a roadmap.

System of Science

7.3. cumulative

Science is cumulative. It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel every time you want to roll something, or to rediscover fire every time you wish to cook something. In the same way it is not necessary for every scientist to rediscover the laws of gravity in order to predict when the next full moon will occur.

The cumulative nature of science depends upon sharing of knowledge. Sharing requires communication which requires language and symbols. This is part of what we called the scientific community earlier.

Science is often said to be a "many-brained" activity, as opposed to a "single-brained" activity. Scientific discovery happens within a framework of understanding. Newton said "If I have seen further than others it is because I have stood upon the shoulders of giants." We would have a theory of gravity without Newton, and a theory of relativity without Einstein. They might have developed in a different way or at a later time. On the other hand, there would be no Fifth Symphony without Beethoven and no "Starry Nights" without van Gogh, regardless of the social context in which the artists lived and which influenced their art. This is an important concept which relates to what we spoke of earlier when we defined physical science as an attempt to define a common physical reality.

The work created by artists is, like scientific theories, a product of the mind and the culture which created it, but, unlike science, is not bound by the restrictions of "provability". An individuals perceptions and feelings are not subject to the common reality test. Feelings are not proven, they are experienced. So, there will be probably be no general agreement on the meaning or the quality of art, but for an idea to be accepted as a scientific theory there must repeatable proof of a particular behavior of matter under a particular set of circumstances.

Scientific theories such as gravity and relativity are descriptions of the physical laws which govern the universe and which are independent of the mind which discovers them. Artistic works such as painting and music are a description of the world which expresses the vision of the creator, but which solicit different responses from different observers.

Let's say that another way. Scientific theories are a description of the physical laws which govern the universe and which are independent of the mind which discovers them and the mind of the beholder. Artistic works are a description of the universe which expresses the vision of the creator and which solicit different responses from different beholders.

example: there would still be relativity without Einstein, but no Fifth Symphony without Beethoven

7.3.1. science differs from other human activities quantitative

  • numerical relationships allow for reliable predictions testable

  • predictions can be tested against fact
  • hypotheses and theories can be verified or supported but not proven

7.3.2. theories must be consistent with facts confirmed

  • if observations fit model to suitable degree of accuracy
  • "suitable" is a subjective term
  • Newton found his predictions to "agree pretty nearly" modified

  • if observations are slightly different than expected
  • to remove inconsistencies
  • to account for differences between observed and expected results changed

  • if there is a significant discrepancy between expectations and observations
  • "significant" is a subjective term
  • change is slow because of skepticism
  • more encompassing paradigms require stronger contradictions

7.4. knowledge

Science is knowledge about the natural world, but it is knowledge of a special type. A very important advancement in science was the realization that it is not necessary to explain why something works in order to understand how it works.

We can calculate and predict the movement of objects under the influence of gravity without knowing anything about what gravity is or why it exists. We do not need to know the nature of gravity, or why it causes objects to be attracted through millions of miles of empty space.

We know how to send objects to other planets, send satellites into space, land objects on the moon, predict eclipses and tides, and calculate trajectories of intercontinental rockets. All this (and more) without knowing what gravity is or why it works the way it does.

What we do know is how it affects objects. In other words, we know what it does. We do not know how or why it does it.

Newton recognized that he would never get anywhere in describing gravity if he first had to understand it.

The need to assign a cause to every phenomenon presented a formidable barrier to understanding the universe before the birth of the modern scientific method in the seventeenth century. Many ideas were not adequately explored because of the inability to get around a blockage of "why" something did what it did or behaved the way it did.

We have all seen examples of this blocking in our everyday lives.

Jot down a few examples from your own experience as you think of them during the rest of the program.

Our modern body of scientific knowledge consists of information about the nature and properties of millions of substances, a few simple natural laws, an understanding many processes. But do not confuse this knowledge with science itself. That would be like confusing a dictionary with the language. Science is much more than a collection of facts and data.

7.4.1. collection of facts

7.4.2. understanding relationships, not reasons or causes

  • what and how vs. why

7.4.3. organizing principles and laws

7.4.4. complex interrelationships

7.4.5. categories and classifications

Science is also a body of knowledge. The original meaning of the word is derived from the Latin scientia which translates roughly as "knowledge". Science is a collection of facts as well as the knowledge of relationships between objects and substances. But the word in its modern sense means more than that.

As science develops it goes through a series of more or less regular stages which begins with accumulation of facts. In reality all of these elements are present during any given stage. However a stage may be thought of as a period during which one aspect dominates or is most effective. We will trace the development of physics and chemistry from their infancy, so watch for these stages as you proceed through the course. During the fact gathering stage there is much confusion. It is not clear how to classify observations. There are usually competing theories, none of which are very good at predicting. Much of the classification is incorrect because not enough is known to properly compare one observation with another. Recall that classification requires that similarities and differences are discernible. As more information is collected classification schemes and categories can be revised and refined.

So after observations and fact gathering, the next stages in the development of a science involve improving classification. Classifying helps to organize facts about the topic being studied. Better organization of knowledge allows generalizations about the category. This leads to laws which characterize the category or system being studied.

Laws in turn lead to theories which provide explanations about how the system works. Those theories then guide experiments and further observations, which then allows refinements of categories, laws, and theories. These processes are rather abstract, so do not worry if it is not immediately clear how it all works. That is part of the goals of this course and we will see examples of how it works all through it.

Chemistry and physics have both gone through these stages, and our understanding of the physical world, while far from complete, is adequate. We find few inconsistencies in the day-to-day application of physical laws. Biology, on the other hand, in the past fifty years has entered the stage of generalizations and laws. The social sciences, because of the number of variables and the complexity of the relationships are still in their infancy, in the observational stage. There are classifications in the social sciences to be sure, but there is not general agreement on the classification schemes. Because of this there are many competing theories of behavior in psychology, anthropology, political science, economics, etc.

It is worthy of mention here that there are complex relationships involved in all aspects of the universe. The more variables there are the more complex the interrelationships. That is one reason why the physical sciences are better understood than the social sciences.

7.5. empirical

Science is empirical! What does that mean? Empiricism is the reliance on experiment or observation as the ultimate basis for the judgment of truth.

It is the empirical nature of science as a way of gaining knowledge which really marked the transition between the medieval and modern periods. Until the twelfth century or so knowledge gained through the senses was suspect. Since it is so easy to fool the senses, (as we will demonstrate in the next program), all sensory information was regarded as flawed. Much of this was due to the philosophy of Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher whose ideas have had far-reaching influence on our thinking.

Before the concept of modern observational science, laws were determined by authority, not by experience. It is hard for us to imagine the mind-set of people in a culture that had vastly different ideas from our modern ones, yet were so much like us in other ways. The concept of natural laws, such as the law of gravity is a relatively modern one. Prior to the seventeenth century motion was thought to take place because of some innate desire of objects to attain a certain state of purity.

In our modern world we agree that our scientific theories must agree with what we observe. No scientific theory can be held as valid which does not agree with observed behavior. This is one of the few rules of science on which all scientists would agree. No matter how good, logical, beautiful, parsimonious (these will be discussed later) or intellectually satisfying a theory is, is is no good if it goes against what actually happens. Quantifiable and repeatable experience, not authority, is the final arbiter. No matter how eminent the individual who states the theory, it is wrong if it does not match observations.

Einstein once said of his theory of general relativity that no amount of observation can prove the theory to be correct, but it takes only one observation to prove it wrong. What did he mean by that?

7.5.1. based on observation of the behavior of matter and energy

7.5.2. experience, not authority is final arbiter

  • theories and models must not contradict reality
  • "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong." Einstein

7.6. quantitative and qualitative

Science is both quantitative and quantitative.

It is important to distinguish between these two. It is the quantitative aspect of science in which we have put the greatest faith. Since Newton's triumphpant description of gravity we have believe in the power of numbers. We stand ready to accept as reality that which can be proven numerically, even if it turns out to be something incredible and contrary to popular opinion.

We know that not everything is quantifiable, but sometimes we tend to forget and we try ayway. ("How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.")

In some types of situations we can collect data about our surroundings and discover specific numerical relationships that allow us to make predictions about the behavior of things.

There is nothing mysterious about this. Or is there?

We can, after all, predict beforehand how much a fill-up at the gas station will cost and how many gallons it will take to fill it if we have bought gas before. We could relate it to a fuel level gauge, or number of miles on the odometer.

To illustrate the difference between these two terms, let's consider a few examples.

How many grains of sand are there on the beach?

(1) A lot! This is a qualitative answer.

(2) How much money do you have? Not much! This is a qualitative answer.

One quantitative answer is, "I have two dollars." Another is "I have three quarters and a dime".

It is apparent that the more money you have, the more of a given product you can buy. This is a qualitative relationship. Exactly how much you can buy with a certain amount of money depends upon the unit price of item. This is a quantitative relationship.

Good, and beautiful are qualitative concepts. We try to rate them, but they are subjective and they depend upon the individual. From the time of the ancient Greek and Chinese philosophers, people have argued about the nature of truth, the qualities of good and evil, and whether things like truth and beauty exist at all in a pure form, in an objective sense. (Plato argued conclusively about the nature of Quality as having independent objective existence, although we may disagree about its nature, like the three wise men and the elephant.)

On the other hand quantitative truths are objective. They are true regardless of the state of mind of the observer. The product of 4 times 2 is either 8 or its isn't. There is no question. Two rows of four contains the same number as four rows of two, and we can count either to verify that there is a total of eightr. Two times four equals eight as does four times two.

Qualitative relationships are interesting, but in complex systems may be nothing more thatn coincidence.

7.6.1. "How many and how much?" has both qualitative and quantitative answers

7.6.2. qualitative relative subjective

  • involves personal decision
  • involves values which are a product of cultural paradigms Example: good, true, beautiful

These involve personal decisions and values that are culturally influenced. Philosophers have condisered for centuries whether there are universal qualities that transcend cultures. Personally I think that there are, but know of no way to define them. Certainly they are basic human concepts and everyone has there own personal preferences.

We will open this issue again in program 6 when we consider the Pythagorean model of perfection.

"True" is especially difficult, and we will deal with the concept of "Truth" in program 6 when we study the philosophies of Socrates and Plato.. Example: "a lot"

Is three times a week "a lot"?

It depends on what it is. It's a lot of visits to the dentist, but not enough nights of good sleep. Example: intuition

Intuition is the result of subconscious decisions and information processing. It sometimes manifests as imagery and sometimes as dreams. Sometimes the answer to a problem that has been bothering us suddenly "comes" to us, as if it originated out of nothing. Sometimes we just know certain things to be true, without knowing how we know.

A lot of times we are wrong, and we will see why in the next program when we study paradigms and perception.
It is not in our venue to decide from where it comes, whether divine or subconscious, or elsewhere. If it leads us to truth, then it can be nothing less than divine, however you define it.

7.6.3. quantitative

In physical science we define reality based on measurable , quantifiable, and numerical relationships which allow us to make predictions which we can measure repeatedly and get the same results.

This may not be the only way to gauge reality, but it's the best we've got!

We will see many examples of the quantitative nature of physical science in the upcoming weeks. absolute objective

  • either 2 x 4 = 8 or it doesn't
  • there is no room for questioning arithmetic expressed as a number Example: 'two hundred seventeen"

7.6.4. "Figures can't lie, but liars can figure."

Just as there are things which cannot be quantified subjective, it is also possible to use numbers to "prove" things which are not true. Statistics are often misused in arriving at unjustifiable conclusions.

A quantitative relationship does not always mean a causal relationship. For example there is a very high quantitative correlation between adults who drank milk as children and the incidence of drug abuse. This does not mean that drinking milk leads to drug abuse.

7.6.5. Einstein said

"As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality. "


7.7. successful but limited

Science is successful and it has served us well. We have a better standard of living, more powerful tools, more destructive weapons, better transportation. The list is endless, but there are some things that science can not and should not be used for these are moral and ethical issues. More below.

7.7.1. control of environment

7.7.2. used to validate

  • "scientific tests have shown . . ."
  • the doctor in the white coat pushing remedies in TV ads

7.7.3. responsible for rapid growth of knowledge and technology

7.7.4. some things cannot be described

7.7.5. cannot substitute for emotional needs

7.7.6. "good for what it's good for"

7.8 Parsimony & Reduction

7.8.1. parsimony: choose the alternative that is the simplest that explains the facts.

7.8.2. Reductionism: removing the ‘unnecessary’ informationto make things simpler.

7.9 Synthesis & Analysis

7.9.1. Synthesis: putting parts together to form something, usually greater than the sum of its parts.

Thought synthesis involves taking ideas from various places, putting them all together with some original ideas and coming up with a new way of seeing. It may be a sudden "Aha . . .!", or it may be the result of long slow deliberation. The results may be earth-shaking, or merely a new way of organizing.

A physical example, perhaps the best, is what we call the "Newtonian Synthesis", which we will study in detail in programn 15. We will see many examples of synthesis by Plato, Ptolemy, Aquinas, Galileo and others. Look for these throughout the programs as synthesis is a central concept in science and in the course.

By studying how these great thinkers synthesized their own revelations you should be able to improve your own ability to synthesize, or at least to understand how it comes about.

7.9.2. Analysis: Taking something apart to see what it is made of.

This is probably more commonly understood as something that scientists 'do'. We all do it, and we do it all the time at various levels either consciously or subconsciously. We analyze our budget, we analyze our account balances, we analyze the behavior of others. It is a method of understanding.

But there are dangers in analysis because we can never be sure that we are seeing all of the parts and how they work together. Simply tearing apart a TV set will not tell us much about how it works unless we understand something about it in the first place.

This is part of the problem faced by scientists, especially in the early days when science was developing as a way of understanding and learning.

8. Science and Human Nature

Science is a part of human nature. In this section we will examine some of the qualities of human nature to see in what ways science is like or unlike them. We will see that science is not really so different from other human activities.


"Genius is ninety percent perspiration, ten percent inspiration." Thomas Edison.

8.2. Two Cultures and Two Brains

One of the recurring themes in the original "Star Trek" TV series was the continual conflict between the rational and the emotional sides of humans. The message was that both were necessary to achieve a well balanced intelligence.

This conflict manifests itself in the study of science, as it does in the living of life.

8.2.1. Two Cultures

  • artistic
  • scientific

In 1959 C. P. Snow published a book (Two Cultures ) in which he commented on the existence of two kinds of intelligence. He noted that the intellectual life of western society was increasingly becoming split into two polar groups.

Snow had spent many years at Cambridge University where he worked alongside some of the greatest scientists and mathematicians of the twentieth century. As a writer, he also spent a good deal of time with other writers as well. Having close friends in both groups, and seeing how the two grouped differed in their behavior and interests caused him to become occupied with the 'two cultures' concept.

He said he felt that he was "moving among two groups--comparable in intelligence, identical in race, not grossly different in social origin, earning about the same incomes, who had almost ceased to communicate at all, who in intellectual, moral and psychological climate had so little in common that in moving between the two groups one might have crossed an ocean."

He was referring to the qualitative/quantitative nature of the human mind. Snow went on the relate the development of science to the quantitative thinkers. This same idea appeared later in the notion of right/left brain, which has become popular in psychology.

8.2.2. Two Brains

  • intuitive right brain
  • rational left brain

It appears that human intelligence is organized in two ways. The right brain is intuitive/artistic/abstract/ qualitative, while the left brain is logical/concrete/mathematical/quantitative. The two halves of the brain are normally connected but in rare cases where the connection is broken, the effect on perception is a strange one.

Current theory suggests that in most of us one or the other side of the brain dominates the way in which we view the world. This is similar to handedness. Most of us are right handed, but we use our other hand to various degrees, from barely functional to fully ambidextrous. The same is true for left handers.

Like handedness, some people appear to be more ambidextrous with the brain than others.

Interestingly, it is often the case that scientific genius is accompanied by cognitive ambidexterity.

Einstein, for example, was well known for his mathematical left brain physics, but he was also well known for his right brained humanitarian and political wisdom.

It has recently been suggested that people not only differ in IQ, but also in EQ or emotional quotient.

We will not explore this psychological theory further at this point. We will note a couple of relevant points regarding science. First, most scientists tend to be predominantly left brained, and many would say that science is a left-brained activity. This is mostly true, although one can argue that most of the major advances in scientific thinking have come about as the result of an individual who was able to function in both hemispheres. Einstein, for example, was well know for his intuitive approach to science. Many of his theories originated with an intuition which he was able to translate into mathematical form.

Second, students who study physical science in this course are more likely to be right-brained. This course is designed along those lines. We will need to see how the quantitative aspects of science work, but you will not be required to do the calculations one would find in more traditional science courses.

8.3. fundamental human concepts

We must not forget that science is above all human, and that we are trying to characterize science as a human activity. Thus there are certain fundamental human concepts which are characteristic in science as well as in other human activities. We will not attempt to give an exhaustive coverage of these concepts, nor will we examine them in depth. This section is designed to give the reader a platform from which to view science in humanistic terms. There are certainly other aspects of science which can be compared to "non" scientific activities. To examine them in detail would require a book in itself.

The concepts of relative and absolute arise in many areas. We know for example that time is both relative and absolute. Consider how long is an hour when engaged in various activities. An hour-long lecture on keeping your room clean seems much longer that an hour spent playing a favorite game. On the other hand we believe that the clock ticks at the same rate in both situations. The relative/absolute concept can also be related to the qualitative/quantitative idea. For example, we all would agree that an elephant is bigger than a dog. But to say an elephant weighs 4000 pounds and a dog weighs 50 pounds expresses the same idea in absolute (in this case quantitative) terms.

Order and disorder are also fundamental concepts of which we have intuitive understanding. Most people feel more comfortable in an orderly environment than in a disorderly one. One might say that civilization is the imposition and maintenance of order. In another sense, most of us would be able to identify without question which room was orderly and which disorderly. In yet another sense we expect the world to be orderly. We expect some events to happen in a particular sequence and in a particular way. Sunrise and sunset are good example, but I'm sure you can think of others. A famous juggler once said, "the trouble with juggling is that things go where you throw them." How much easier it would be to juggle if thing always landed where you wanted them to instead of where you threw them.

Related to order and disorder is the idea of certainty and uncertainty. There are some things which are certain. That daylight will follow darkness and vice versa is certain. Uncertainty leads to uneasiness. And so much of mankind's curiosity about the universe is a result of trying to know what will happen next. After all, if we only knew what would happen next we could be prepared for it and therefore avoid harm, or even profit from it. It should not be too controversial to say that the origins of science had to do with predictability. Knowing when to plant crops, or expect floods and storms, or knowing which way to travel to arrive at a particular place are all survival traits. In the early days, in antiquity, it was thought that human affairs were intricately linked to the environment. Movements of stars and planets, weather, migrations of animals, etc. were all thought to influence the future through supernatural means.

Along with the concepts or order and certainty we have causality. Causality simply means that there is a relationship between events such that when one event happens it causes a second event to happen. In most cases causality is easy to establish. If you do not eat then you will be hungry. Hunger is caused by not eating. If you drop the rock on your foot it will cause pain. These are obvious examples, but others are not so obvious. For example, what causes rain? Suppose you live in a dry region that is subject to drought. After several months without rain you decide it is time to take action. You organize a group who will sit and visualize rain. Night after night for several weeks you get together and concentrate on rain. Eventually it rains. Did the group visualization cause it to rain? Or was it inevitable that rain would fall eventually. Would it have rained even if the group did not act? How would you decide?

In northern Africa the yearly flooding of the Nile is quite regular and reasonable predictable. In fact, it happens very soon after the star Sirius (the Dog Star, the brightest star in the sky) becomes visible at sunset. The ancient Egyptians believed that Sirius caused the floods, and so worshiped the dog star as a god. Is this really a causal relationship, or is there something else involved?

Today we understand that the flooding is caused my melting snow in the mountains in central Africa as the seasons change. The appearance of the dog star has nothing to do with the flooding, except that it happens to become visible because of its location in the sky and the annual motion of Earth around the sun. The fact the Sirius is bright and therefore noticeable draws attention to it. But does it cause the floods?

There are other of these fundamental human concepts which are so obvious as to be overlooked. We have an intuitive concept of space and time. We all can identify with back/forth, right/left, up/down, now/then. In many ways, this intuitive familiarity with these concepts made it that much more difficult to step back from them and view them objectively. Matter and motion are another set of concepts which we take for granted. No one would deny the existence of matter given the opportunity to test it (by hefting it in the hand, for example.) Similarly, we can all determine when something is moving and when it is standing still, assuming we can see it and assuming we watch it long enough. Even animals, especially predatory animals tend to have the ability to sense motion and to pick out something moving from the stationary background

We as humans also have an intuitive sense of such aesthetic concepts of truth. beauty, symmetry, curves and shapes. Although not all would agree on what is beautiful, everyone has the ability to determine what is beautiful and what is not. Truth is a little more abstract, but the same applies. Symmetry and shapes are related to beauty in the sense that there are some shapes which are more appealing than others. In most cases a shape that is symmetrical is perceived as more pleasant or appealing than one that is not.

The factors which determine what is considered beautiful and what is not are not well understood. Those factors need not concern us here except to note that they are culturally determined to some extent. Philosophers have argued since the beginning that there are some shapes and some ideas which have intrinsic truth/beauty which are not subject to cultural interpretation. Unfortunately there is no general agreement as to what those are. For our purposes it is enough to know that it is decidedly human to prefer some shapes or ideas to others on the basis what we believe to be true or beautiful

8.4. order and comprehensibility

"The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible."


8.4.1. order, regularity, predictability

We have already touched lightly on the idea of order above, so we will not repeat that here. Let us just say that we expect that there is some order and regularity to the universe, even if we do not know why. This order allows us to understand and to characterize the universe. It allows us to classify, categorize and predict. It allows us to observe and m ake measurements from which we can determine relationships. We can make calculations and predictions based upon our understanding.

Why there should be order is not entirely clear. It seems that we could not exist without physical laws which represent that order. Certain things (chemical reactions for example) must happen in the same way time after time in order for such complicated beings as ourselves to exist. So although we do not know why the universe is orderly we can see that the fact that we exist at all means that it is. So we believe that we can make sense out of it, and to some degree we have.

8.4.2. relationships

We see relationships between things. Most of the time we do not know why these releationships exist, but we can still use them to learn about nature and the laws that govern it.

8.4.3. observation, measurement, calculation, prediction

Using these things in combination to reinforce and counter one another allows us to slowly unravel the mysterious ways of nature and simplify it to the point that we can understand it.

8.5. expectation

Since there is order in the universe, of whatever kind, we develop expectations based on our past experiences. The simplest example is the sunrise/sunset sequence. However human intelligence goes beyond such simple expectations. Our expectations are focused through learning. As we accumulate experiences throughout life we make causal connections between events. One action on our part is followed by a predictable result. Of course not all actions produce predictable results, we learn which ones do and don not.

The problem is that we perceive through our sense and our senses are limited and easily fooled. Philosophers have noted that what we actually perceive is filtered through our senses and conditioned by our experiences. There are two basic reasons for this. First, our brains cannot possibly process all of the information that reaches our senses. There is simply too much to process. Therefore a significant part of our brain must be involved with deciding which information will not be processed. This is one reason why two different accounts of the same event are seldom identical. Each of us gets a slightly different view.

Second, we do not really see an object. What we see is an image of that object projected onto a screen at the back of our eyes. Much of what we see is really by comparison with our experiences. We make connections between our sight of an object and its feel. Babies are constantly reaching and grasping, coordinating the senses of touch and sight, along with taste, smell, and hearing to form a coherent and consistent mental image of the world. By adulthood, much of the processing has been done. The older we are the less often we encounter something which is unfamiliar to us.

And so we are able to see pictures in clouds, and recognize caricatures, among other things. The fact that our senses are easily fooled has several important ramifications for our study of physical science. On one level it allows us to be entertained by optical illusions. We can watch "moving" pictures, hear "stereo" surround-a-sound and view 3-D images. On another level, it means that we cannot always trust our senses. Seeing is not believing. It is no wonder that the ancients did not trust their observations and relied instead on logic and inner knowledge to discover truth.

Although we cannot trust our senses in all circumstances we can train ourselves to recognize what is real and what is not. There are things that people see which cannot be explained by science. But in most cases a trained observer can distinguish between what is real and what is illusion. We can also build instruments which extend our senses. We can make clocks and rulers which increase the precision of our observations. We can build telescopes, microscopes, x-rays, photocells, magnetometers, etc. which are more sensitive than our senses or which are capable of detecting beyond our senses. We can detect ultraviolet radiation, radio waves, ultrasound and other vibrations to which are senses are not tuned.

Even with instruments extending our range of information gathering, reality is still elusive. We must not forget that all the information we receive still comes through our senses even if it is collected by instruments. We must sill interpret the photograph or the oscilloscope trace. Our expectations are governed by our experiences in ways that we are not even aware as individuals. We are all products of the culture in which we were raised. Culture affects us a levels ranging from individual (parents and siblings) to linguistic, social and political. Each of us brings baggage which we do not know that we carry to every situation. Our world view, or cultural paradigm, determines the organization of information received and the types of questions asked. We will spend a bit of time of the concept of paradigm in the next section, where we will see examples of the way in which expectations govern perceptions. For now let us just say that the world view is our overall model of how things should and do work. It is a complex mix of spiritual, linguistic, political, social, psychological, scientific, and aesthetic values. Each of us has our own unique world view which is linked to a nested series of shared world views. So we can speak of a family world view, or a national world view, or a global world view with the understanding that each individual is unique, but shares a cultural system. In anthropology we might speak of the personal versus the social identity.

We cannot hope to explore all of these ideas in great depth. It is our hope that each student who reads this material will incorporate his or her own personal insight and knowledge to understand that science does not take place in a social and cultural vacuum. There are certain aspects of science which are different from other human activities, but it is above all, human. Were the discovery of truth simply a matter of following a particular scientific method then it would be a very different world, and probably not a very interesting one.

8.5.1. experience governs expectation as it governs behavior

8.5.2. learning is a process of gaining experience in a particular context

8.5.3. learning takes place through the interaction of expectation, classification, and experience.

8.6. spirituality

Another aspect of science that we must not overlook is the relationship between the internal and external worlds. In modern times we see a conflict between the two. Some writers have likened this conflict to Snow's two cultures, others to left/right brain.

Others see it a conflict between logic and perception. However one chooses to describe it, we are faced with the fact that science is not equipped to deal with the world of spirituality. The boundaries between internal and external reality are indistinct and vary among individuals and within the same individual at different times. Although science cannot prove that God exists, it also cannot prove that He/She does not. In fact science has little relevance to the question.

As our knowledge of the physical world grows, we may be able to explain things that were formerly attributed to the Divine because they could not be explained otherwise. However the more we learn about the universe the more complex it becomes, and the more amazing it seems that such complexity could arise out of a only a few simple laws.

In fact, we see nothing in science which diminishes or limits the power or glory of God in any way. If anything, our knowledge reinforces the wonder of it and confirms that there are many things yet to be learned.

The existence of God and one's personal belief in Him/Her remains outside the realm of science. The conflict between the internal and external worlds cannot be resolved scientifically. Earlier we mentioned that sometimes we tend to look to science as a way of solving our problems and making our lives easier. Unfortunately, there is nothing about science which in any way suggests that it should make our spiritual lives easier. Each of us must still struggle with issues of faith and the meaning of existence without the help of science. There are some thing science cannot do, and this is one of them.

Before the inception of the scientific method, a single method served both the physical and spiritual. It was the French philosopher Rene Descartes who is often blamed for the separation of mind and body, of physical and spiritual, of internal and external. But Descartes lived in the same time period as Galileo and Hooke and other scientists who crystallized the scientific revolution. Descartes is not to blame. The time was ripe and the social climate was such that change was inevitable.

The boundaries between internal and external are not distinct. In every individual they overlap, and in every individual they are different. There is still confusion about which can do what, and we must be aware of that when we study science just as we must be aware of it
when we study religion. Science is many things, but it is not a religion, although it sometimes is treated as such both by it's devotees and its critics.. Many scientists are atheists, but so are many nonscientists. Many scientists are devoutly religious as are many non scientists. Science and religion are not mutually exclusive. What causes the confusion in when we try to mix the two and try to pretend that science can be studied religiously or that religion can be studied scientifically.

We must consider the relationship between internal and external realities if we are to understand what science can do and what it cannot.

8.6.1. conflict between internal and external worlds

8.6.2. formerly one method served both causes

8.6.3. boundaries are often indistinct overlap in every individual confusion about which can do what

8.6.4. important in social and moral issues abortion birth control euthanasia genetic engineering animal testing eating meat

8.7. curiosity and intuition

8.7.1. Associated with intelligence

One of the traits of intelligent creatures is curiosity. Although we can not actually define what intelligence is, we generally believe that man is among the most intelligent species, although on an individual basis we do not behave intelligently. We also are sure that the least intelligent human is still more intelligent that the most intelligent cat, dog, horse, etc..

It is human nature to be curious. Children are curious. Why is the sky blue? Why does the wind blow? Why does this happen, why does that happen? Why are you doing that? Children constantly bombard us with questions, most of which we don't or can't answer.

Because of our curiosity we grow up to be writers, philosophers, artists, or scientists, mechanics and carpenters, ministers, doctors, and lawyers. we are supposedly an intelligent species it is human nature to be curious

8.7.2. we care because we can

We are curious about our world because we have a brain which is capable of learning. Man's greatest adaptive trait is the brain. We are not strong, cannot run fast, do not have sharp teeth or claws. In the animal world the only tool which allows us to survive is the brain which can make tools, invent languages, and learn to manipulate the environment. Our understanding of the universe promotes security and well-being and allows us to flourish.

We are curious about the behavior of people, animals and nonliving matter. We want to understand why people and other objects behave the way they do. We want to understand the chemical and physical behavior of matter. We want to understand processes and interactions of all types. We want to be able to learn to make predictions based on regularity. We want to learn to understand causes, effects and relationships in chemical and physical as well as emotional and social matters. brain is our most important adaptive tool

We are curious about our world because we have a brain which is capable of learning. Man's greatest adaptive tool is the brain. We are not strong, cannot run fast, do not have sharp teeth or claws. It is because of our brains that we survived and grew to dominate the planet. It is our brain which can make tools, invent languages, and learn to manipulate its physical, emotional and spiritual surroundings. not only for practical things

We are not just curious about practical things. For some reason our brains want to know answers to more general questions such as the origin and composition of the universe and our place in it. Every culture has a creation myth. Every culture has shown some curiosity about how the world began and where we came from. It has been said that humans are the only creatures which are aware of death. That awareness not only makes us try to avoid it, but also makes us wonder what happens when we die, and where "we" we before we were born. We question not only the origin of the universe, but our place in it and the meaning of our existence. about behavior of people and matter

We are curious about the behavior of people, animals and nonliving matter. We want to understand why people and other objects behave the way they do. We want to understand the chemical and physical behavior of matter. We want to understand processes and interactions of all types. We want to be able to learn to make predictions based on regularity. We want to learn to understand causes, effects and relationships in chemical and physical as well as emotional and social matters.

8.7.3. understanding promotes security and well-being

Our understanding of the universe promotes security and well-being and allows us to flourish.

When things happen in a predictable way it relieves stress.

When we understand what causes natural events such as thunderstorms, we know how afraid of them we should be.

Knowing the possible effects of a storm or a volcanic eruption lessens our fear and relieves stress.

Knowing relationships helps us to recognize what we can and cannot predict or control. regularity, prediction, learning causes, effects, and relationships

8.7.4. not only in science art, music, literature, drama, philosophy, politics, economics change in different areas occurs in same time frame as part of a deeper social process

8.7.5. cosmology has deep spiritual roots origin, composition and nature of universe and our place in it

8.7.6. practical fruits are often driving force behind inquiry applied science and technology create new ways of solving problems complex web of interaction driven by necessity fueled by curiosity repaired by inventiveness guided by economy polished by creativity fire, agriculture, ores and metals, glass, porcelain, cooking, games, tools, toys, wars, electronics, computers

8.8. Creativity

Just so we don't forget, science also requires creativity, imagination, insight, and intuition, and these are human qualities, shared in all human activities.

In this respect science is no different that art, music, dance, literature, or drama. Seeing science as is it sometimes mistakenly perceived and portrayed, as nothing more than a collections of facts and explanations,makes it difficult to see the creativity in science, but it is there.

There are many examples in the history of physical science.

I like to think of science as an art form. That it is perceived as a stale collection of facts, categories and formulas simply shows that it is misunderstood.

Like anything else that we may have prejudices or biases about, we can understand and come to appreciate by knowing more.

8.8.1. science is a uniquely human activity
8.8.2. as creative and imaginative as any art form

Einstein wondered as a teenager what a light wave would look like if you were traveling along with it at the speed of light. From this came the theory of relativity, which revolutionized the study of physics early in the twentieth century.
Kekule, a chemist, wrestled with the structure of the ringlike benzene molecule for months. One night he had a dream of a snake swallowing its own tail. He awoke the next morning with the concept of the ring structure, thereby revolutionizing the science of organic chemistry.
We will encounter other examples of insight, intuition, perseverance, and creativity in the course of our course.

8.8.3. art, music, dance, literature, drama

9.Ideals of Science

In this section we will examine three important ideals of science: simplicity, appeal, and universality. Although these rules are not written, there are certain characteristics of scientific theories which stand out. Looking back on the development of scientific ideas we see that good scientific theories, those which have withstood the tests of time, fit these criteria.

9.1. parsimony

Parsimony means stingy or frugal. We would like our scientific theories and ideas to be the simplest ones which are consistent with facts. One of the earliest statements of the principle of parsimony was in Ptolemy's book, The Almagest , published in the second century A.D ("One should adapt the simplest hypothesis that will coordinate all known observations".). It promoted a geocentric world view and stood as the accepted authority on astronomy for fifteen hundred years. Despite being incorrect and not very accurate mostly because it was the best and the easiest method to calculate the motions of the stars and planets.

9.1.1. simplest explanation which is consistent with facts

Throughout the history of thought we have shown a preference for simplicity. There is something elegant about simplicity, whether it is in art, music, poetry, or science. Parsimony asserts a preference for the simple over the complex whenever possible. A parsimonious explanation is the simplest explanation which is consistent with the facts.

9.1.2. choose simplest of otherwise equivalent explanations

If faced with more than one explanation which adequately explains or describes something, choose the simplest. All other things being equal, in the absence of any other criteria, the simplest explanation is the truest.

9.1.3. truest means simplest and fewest contradictions

If there are contradictions in all of the explanations, the explanation with the fewest or least significant contradictions is the truest.

9.1.4. William of Ockham (1285-1349)

The concept of parsimony was notably stated by William of Ockham (1285-1349). For that reason it is sometimes called Ockham's razor. Ockham said, "What can be done with fewer assumptions is done in vain with more." "Ockham's Razor" why "Razor"?Why do you suppose it is called "razor"?

Does the image of scholarly hair splitting mean anything? 

9.1.5. Other great scientists have expressed similar thoughts. Sir Isaac Newton said it similarly .

Sir Isaac Newton (1642 - 1727)

"Nature does nothing in vain, and more is in vain when less will serve.'


9.1.6.and so did Einstein.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible but no simpler."

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

9.1.7. parsimony vs. simplicity

We see in these quotations the essence of parsimony and simplicity. Simplicity can be misleading. Most nonscientists would not agree that science is a process of simplification. In fact it often seems that science does just the opposite, but that is because scientists use a vocabulary which is precise and often very specialized. We do this because we want to be sure that we are talking about the same thing when we communicate. It's not that the concepts we study are difficult. It is that we use a particular way of thinking, a combination of fact and logic to make and test our models against reality.
And, it is not that our models are necessarily simple. We only insist that any model we use provides the simplest possible explanation of the facts as we know them and offers the fewest or least significant contradictions

9.1.8. reductionism

Now we have a clearer picture of what we mean by reductionism. Reductionism is a sort of modeling process. The details are reduced in order to discover the essence. We must be careful not reduce things too much, just as we must be careful how and what we attempt to reduce. We will continue with this idea in the section on Limitations of Science, later in this program.

Much of success in studying science comes from being able to let go of old notions about the way things work and step into new ideas. If you have difficulty with a scientific mode then you understand how difficult it must have been for that idea to be formulated in the first place, and the role of genius in scientific advancement. It should help us to develop respect for those who were able to see beyond the preconceived notions of their peers to give us a new way of seeing in the first place.

  • reduce details to discover essence
  • visualize a model which limits complexity
  • appreciate the role of genius in scientific advancements

9.2. appeal

Good science does more than just explain the observed facts. It also has an aesthetic appeal.
Esthetics, a field of philosophy for the ancient Greeks, considers the concepts of beauty, truth, quality, elegance, symmetry. One view asserts that there is a non objective Quality (with a capital Q)that affects us regardless or whether or not we cannot define it, and toward which we are drawn as if by some mysterious force. For an excellent dialogue on this subject we recommend the book called Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance , by Robert Pirsig. Despite its strange title, this book is a treasure trove of understanding about the role of esthetics in our world views.
For us it will have to stand as an axiom that in general, given the choice, all else being equal, we would prefer to believe that beauty is more appealing that ugliness. Admittedly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it is arguable that people prefer what they consider to be beautiful, all else being equal.
Beauty is allied with truth, even in science.
This is not to say that one should prefer an elegant and beautiful theory on the basis of elegance alone. But all other things being equal, if two models of equal simplicity both explain the facts equally well, we prefer the more elegant. In the early part of the twentieth century, when physical science was in turmoil over what is now known as quantum theory, the physicist Neils Bohr rejected a theory put forth by a colleague as being inadequately elegant.

Why this should be so we cannot say, except it seems to be something deeply rooted in our humanness.

It is a nice ideal, to prefer beauty, but it leads us sometimes into trouble in science as in life.

9.2.1. beauty/truth/symmetry
9.2.2. preference that the universe is beautiful and laws are elegant
9.2.3. choose pretty theory over ugly one if all else is equal

Here's a quote from Henri Poincare, a french mathematician who 'almost' discovered relativity just before Einstein:

"The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it
because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful.  If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing , and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living.

9.3. universal

Good science is valid everywhere in the universe. In fact, we define the universe as anywhere where physical or natural laws are valid, whether or not we know of them. If different laws apply then that place (such as at the singularity of a black hole) is by definition, not in our universe.

The idea of universal physical laws is a recent one, and was stated axiomatically by Isaac Newton as part of his gravitational theory .
We insist that a physical law be independent of a particular state of motion. A physicist doing an experiment in a moving train would discover the same laws as a colleague in a stationary lab. Furthermore, these formulation of the laws could be easily translated between the moving system and the stationary one.

Physical laws are independent of a particular culture or language. The laws of gravity apply equally whether one is in the jungles of Malaysia or in the middle of Central Park. If this seems somewhat trivial, we must remember that there are many qualitative descriptions of the physical world which do depend on culture or language. In many parts of the world beliefs abound which depend upon local conditions and which simply could not account for the same phenomenon in terms of another culture in a different environment.

9.3.1. choose universal rule over limited rule, all else being equal
9.3.2. rules of nature are valid everywhere in the universe
9.3.3. rules of nature are independent of a particular state of motion
9.3.4. rules of nature are independent of a particular culture or language

10.Limitations of Science

Although science has been very successful in describing our universe and in helping us to design new technology, it it not applicable to everything. Part of the general confusion in today's world originates from people's inability to decide for themselves what makes sense and what doesn't.

10.1. Possible But Useless

"It may be possible to describe everything in scientific terms, but it would be useless." Einstein

10.2. Science is not applicable to all areas

One mistake we often make is to assume that science should be able to answer all of our questions about the universe and our place in it. This comes from the reliance which we place on science as a culture, without really understanding what it is good for and what it is not.
There are many things which science is not capable of studying. Questions like the existence of God, the beginning of life, ethical, moral, and legal issues such as abortion, drug use. Spiritual issues such as reincarnation and life after death are not suitable for scientific study because of the inability to collect data. This is not to say we do not believe in such things, nor is it to say that they cannot occur and affect us in some way or another.
We need to make it clear at this point that just because something cannot be studied scientifically does not mean that it has no value or that it is charlatan.
Some things are simply not of the type that can be studied by science. We must work hard to keep from getting confused.

10.2.1. existence of God

There is certainly an inner spiritual reality which exists within but separate from the outer physical reality which science can study. No matter how much we want it to, science cannot define God or the nature of the human spirit because they are not physical. This does not mean they do not exist, it only means that these things are not physical and cannot be studied with physical science. Belief in certain things must be based on faith rather than on science. The existence of God is debatable using rules of logic, but no amount of discourse will prove or disprove His existence, since any logic is no better than the least valid of its suppositions. Scientific proof requires that suppositions are also proven rather than accepted on faith, although it is clear that not every scientist has examined personally each and every postulate of physical science. must be taken on faith is debatable using rules of logic logic is no better than the least valid of its suppositions cannot be proven or disproven beyond all doubt

10.2.2. moral / ethical questions

Science cannot decide moral or ethical questions, like the existence of good or evil, and science by itself is neither, good nor evil. Science is a tool, and like any tool it can be put to bad or good use. Likewise, science cannot be used to decide whether a particular activity or action is good or evil, right or wrong, pure or tainted. right/wrong, good /evil are subjective subject to cultural paradigms and societal norms universal principles are not agreed upon spanning all cultures spanning all time under all circumstances and conditions

10.2.3. esthetics

A scientific theory may be beautiful or elegant, and many are. In fact, most scientists would prefer a beautiful theory over an ugly one. But science alone cannot decide what is beautiful and what is not, and science cannot be used to judge Quality. a scientific theory may be beautiful science cannot decide what is beautiful and what is not science cannot judge Quality

10.3. Science is not the only way nor the best way

Even if science could be used to describe feelings or emotions it is doubtful that such a study would add anything, and would, as Einstein said, be useless.
A piece of music might be described as a series of vibrations or as a particular set of nerve impulses. It is unlikely that looking at the magnetic patterns stored on a casette tape will bring forth the same response as listening to the music. Such a description will not in any way move the listener in the same way that listening to the music will.

Love, fear, hunger, etc.. might eventually be described as purely chemical interactions, or as nerve impulses, but wouldn't we rather think of them as more than that? Doesn't our humanity demand that we still have emotional reactions which cannot be described, predicted, and manipulated. That is the purpose that art and poetry serve, it is not the realm of science.

10.3.1. Is music just vibrations or is it good vibrations?
10.3.2. Is love just hormones or is it an indescribable emotional thing?

11.Why Study Science

There are many reasons to study science, the most basic of which is simply to satisfy natural curiosity. Humans are curious, it is part of our heritage. Although not everyone is curious about the way the universe works, the more one knows the more curious one becomes.

11.1. Knowledge may enhance appreciation of the universe

The more one learns about the physical universe the more awe inspiring it becomes. The simpler our models become, the more intricate becomes the web of interconnectedness. The complexity of the universe and the matter in it is staggering, especially where life is concerned, and the more we understand it the more we appreciate it. The better our understanding the more we recognize and appreciate the diversity and wonder of life and its processes, and the planet on which it evolved, perhaps the only one in the universe, for all we know. That the natural laws are such that an organism like ourselves could exist to comprehend and analyze the m is truly astounding.

The appreciation gained from understanding the nature of science spans many different areas and helps us to reason more clearly and to make decisions on important issues which will face us throughout our lives.

11.1.1. the complexity and interconnectedness of the universe is staggering
11.1.2. does knowing the rules make it more or less amazing?
11.1.3. through understanding fundamentals we gain appreciation for complexity and diversity
11.1.4. appreciation spans different areas music, art, love, religion, etc..

11.2. Science and technology dominate our lives

We cannot escape from technology, and it is safe to say none of us would really want to. Technology is just a way of using tools to solve problems. It affects every aspect of our live, not just things like computers and electronics.
Clothing, food, sleep, shelter, transportation, medicine, entertainment, finance, work and play are influenced. Try to think of something you have done today which did not involve the use of something made for you by someone else with materials enhanced by technology, then you will see what we mean.
Additionally, the scientific method affects us everyday because the scientific paradigm has dominated Western thought for more than three hundred years and we rely upon it to gain information about everything, subconsciously or otherwise, whether or not it is appropriate.

How many of us can program the VCR, or use the features of a cellular telephone?

11.2.1. every aspect of our lives is affected Can you think of something in your life which is not ? Try Imagine how you would cope without the help of manufactured items.

11.2.2. clothing, food, sleep, shelter, transportation, entertainment, finance, work, play
11.2.3. scientific products, methods, logic and paradigms affect everyone everyday
11.2.4. who can program the VCR?

11.3. New products are created and manufactured daily

Every new product that becomes available helps to polarize the haves and the have-nots, giving advantages to those who have the knowledge and skills to interact with the new technologies. Understanding the nature of science will help us all to function in a world which changes ever more rapidly.

11.3.1. tends to polarize the haves and the have nots.

11.4. Important social decisions will require understanding of scientific concepts

In the future, more so than the past, those who understand the science and technology will be making the decisions. A democratic society, which ours is supposed to be ideally, cannot function with an ignorant populace. In fact one of the most successful methods of control by autocratic leaders is the suppression of information to the masses. The more we understand the basic ideas of physical science, the better we are equipped as citizens to question and choose our leaders.
It is easy to think of some examples of areas where science and technology is used and which have direct impacts on each of our lives: weapons design and construction, space exploration, abortion, global warming, genetic engineering, environmental pollution, for example.

Can you think of and discuss others? 

11.4.1. weapons design and construction
11.4.2. space exploration
11.4.3. abortion
11.4.4. global warming
11.4.5. genetic engineering
11.4.6. environmental damage
11.4.7. others?

11.5. Lead more satisfying lives

Throughout this course we will attempt to show you that there is much more to science than the facts. We will emphasize that it is not the facts themselves which are important. What is important It is the way the facts are discovered and the way in which our understanding builds on the laws of nature which the methods of science have helped us to discover.

The facts will certainly change as we develop more understanding and more technology to dig deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the physical world. That is why we do not want to concentrate on the facts, but rather on the principles. It is important to know which facts and theories are likely to change or be overthrown and which are not. Not all scientific laws have the same level of certainty as Newton's law of motion or the laws of thermodynamics.

The logical and clear thinking that the study of science requires will carry over into other areas as well. This is not to suggest that we would want all of our activities to be entirely logical and sometimes we do not want to think about about them. But the ability to do so will come handy when it is necessary, and those who can will generally fare better than those who cannot. The hard part is knowing when to be logical and rational and when to be emotional and intuitive, and appropriately using each to the degree which is most beneficial to our lives.

The ability to choose from a wider variety of tools for coping with life can help to maximize each individuals potential while minimizing waste of human resources,by helping each of us learn what is appropriate for our own unique way of visualizing and dealing with the world around us.
Learning in general, not only in science, helps to promote tolerance for the ideas of others which in turn helps to reduce stress and conflict, to quell fear, certainty, and reliance on mysticism.

Finally, properly applied the use of logic can help us control our behavior and keep it within appropriate limits by rationalizing our feeling and our reactions to other.

11.5.1. logical and clear thinking helps us to cope
11.5.2. maximizes individual potential and minimizes waste of human resources
11.5.3. helps each of learn what is appropriate for our unique brain
11.5.4. helps promote tolerance for the ideas of others to reduce stress and conflict
11.5.5. allows individual to control behavior by rationalizing feelings
11.5.6. helps to quell fear, uncertainty, and mysticism

11.6. Informed and thinking public is necessary for democracy to work

To return to a topic touched upon earlier, the concept of democracy was conceived to prevent tyranny, which thrives on ignorance. We have seen fictional examples of a tyranny of science, such as in Huxley's Brave New World. We must be careful that we do not allow such a tyranny to come into place. Regardless of the threat, it is difficult to fight what we don't understand. The better we understand the nature of science, the better we are equipped to oppose those who would use it to oppress us. Considering our history, we can be sure that they will.

11.6.1. democracy was conceived to prevent tyranny
11.6.2. tyranny thrives on ignorance
11.6.3. no one wants a tyranny of science
11.6.4. can't fight what you don't understand


In this program we have tried to set the stage for our journey into the nature of physical science throughout the next twenty eight programs. We have tried to dispell the myth that science is merely a dull and lifeless collection of facts and replace it with the idea that science is an exciting and lively process by which we learn the nature of the physical universe. We have tried to show you that science is a human activity which uses the same talents and skills as other human endeavors, involving creativity, insight, intuition, and imagination. In science we see formalized learning which is not very different from learning in general.
Ideally we try to reduce the physical universe to the simplest, most elegant model with contains the fewest contradictions and which encompasses the widest possible variety of circumstances and situtations over all of time and space.
We disovered that science is quantitative and based on verifiable facts, and that science is not, and cannot be good at everything.
Finally we saw that science is important to use because of the impact of technology on our daily lives, but also because the scientific method is a model for problem solving and critical thinking.

12.1. There is more to science than just a collection of facts and principles

12.2. Science is a human activity.

12.3. Science is formalized learning

12.4. Ideally science is parsimonious, reductionistic, appealing, and universal

12.5. Science is quantitative and empirical

12.6. Science is good at what it is good at, but there are many things science is not good at.

12.7. Science is important to our daily lives because of the effects of technology, but also because it is a model for critical thinking.

13.Challenge Du Jour

Using this study guide outline and the texts, synthesize an account of your thoughts on one of the following. If you need help with the concept of synthesis, start with the dictionary; look up synthesis, then find physical science, creativity, and spiritualism. Look up those words in an encyclopedia Then look in the texts.

13.1. why study physical science

13.2. limitations of science

13.3. creativity and science

13.4. spiritualism and science

When it comes to science, GET PHYSICAL!