What role does science play in your life?

Posted: September 18th 2007


Science is manifest each and every day to me. A day does not go by without my noting the impact of science upon my life. Using the scientific method comes in handy in day-to-day living, including isolating, identifying, and solving problems with cooking meals, running dishwashers, etc.

The technology which so enriches my routine, including writing and researching on the Net, is science-based.

Science fills me with wonder, hope, and pride at what humans have accomplished, increasing life span and making that span more fruitful and enjoyable.

Posted: October 18th 2007

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George Locke

I am currently a PhD student studying physics. I’m not sure what sub-field I’m going to do my research on, at present I’m leaning toward biophysics. It’s a lot of work, with lots of very difficult homework; it’s exactly what i wanted. I feel as though I am on the track to achieve meaningful goals (contributing to the enterprise of human knowledge, and if I choose biophysics, possibly contributing to medical science and saving lives), while exercising some of my greatest talents and satisfying my desire not simply to wonder about the world but to discover the answers.

More generally, the criteria of predictive accuracy and falsifiability used by science have shaped my understanding of knowledge.

If you’ll indulge a tangent, it’s interesting to note that falsifiability isn’t a necessary condition for scientific research. Theories which lack falsifiability must have special circumstances in order to be scientific. Certain areas of physics, like string theory, are currently unfalsifiable (broadly speaking). However, string theory is still science for a few reasons.

  • String theory makes predictions testable only in conditions that are currently impossible to produce in a laboratory. However, these conditions might someday be within our reach, in which case string theorists would all accept the results.
  • Even if no test of current theories is ever possible, the efforts put in to understanding string theory are in fact attempts to describe the world based on observation.
  • Furthermore, even if the theories turn out to be totally bogus, the research on current, unfalsifiable theories, can be construed as an attempt to devise better, testable theories.
  • Incidentally, string theory has born fruit in branches of pure math, which makes string theory research a productive endeavor aside from whether it’s 'science’ or not.

It should be observed that these are characteristics absent from superstitions, for example. Most superstitions are testable, but the superstitious do not generally accept the results of tests. Superstitions are sometimes based in observation, but where this is the case the analysis of the observation fails to account for problems such as selection bias, etc. Also, superstitions really aren’t attempts to get at testable theories. Superstitions could be called precursors to science in a historical sense, but people don’t usually work long hours to come up with superstitions so that their superstitions will one day lead to scientific research.

People do sometimes create superstitious ideas which they believe to be scientific, as in “creation science”. This is called pseudoscience. See also this wonderful speech by Richard Feynman on Cargo Cult Science.

As you can see, science not only directs my understanding of ontology, but leads me toward ontological pontification :)

Another way to answer the question, “What role does science play in my life?”, would be simply that science is what I do all day.

Posted: October 14th 2007

See all questions answered by George Locke

flagellant www

I had a scientific training but I also have an English degree. I never think thoughts such as ‘I am thinking scientifically’ or ‘I am thinking artistically.’ However, I find more to irritate me in non-scientific thinking/writing than in science. For example, a very well-known book about Australia describes the seats in the Canberra Senate as being ‘in a restful shade of ochre’. They are not – they are pastel pink. Again, this is more a matter of a strong desire on my part to get things right than using scientific thinking.

I can only give one example of direct use of science: serendipitously, a friend recently said that, having made a cup of hot tea or coffee, it would cool more quickly if he were to add the milk immediately. I told him he was wrong – it’s better to add the milk right at the last minute. This derives from Newton’s Laws of Cooling: the rate of heat loss is directly proportional to the difference between the drink and the ambient temperatures, in a forced draft. (In still air, it is proportional to the excess temperature to the power of five-fourths). Hot black tea/coffee cools more quickly than the same drink with cold milk in it – obvious really. I offered to show this experimentally, but he believed me.

The two incidents described can be verified, either by experiment or observation. This is why I have a sceptical attitude to psychics, astrology, witchcraft, new-age nonsense, and religion. This stuff has never been proved right in controlled studies, nor is it ever likely to be. On the other hand, scientific measurements have shown, for example, that ‘smoking is bad for you’, ‘exercise is good for you’, and ‘alcohol in moderation does no harm’, so I am happy to heed those conclusions for the sake of my health.

This is a personal answer, valid for me alone. See this link for a more general answer.

Posted: October 13th 2007

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John Sargeant www

Science provides the tools to understand the world, universe and cosmos that we live in. I really do care about what is true, and the scientific ideal is to look at the empirical evidence while not assuming that what is known now will be forever that way. Rather, that by improving observations, basing conclusions on evidence, the use of reason when exploring hypothesises and submitting reviews to peers, human knowledge maybe advanced. The human condition even improving based upon it.

My enjoyment of watching television is enhanced, the magic not gone, when I learn the science behind it. It adds to my awe by understanding, and there is so much to learn and discover that it is great that scientists across the world are working, independently or collectively, to increase our understanding whether for our profit or enlightenment.

Two books that sum up science’s role in my life would be Richard Dawkins’ “Unweaving the Rainbow” and Bill Bryson’s “Short History of Everything”.

Posted: October 13th 2007

See all questions answered by John Sargeant


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