Re: What science is

Moorad Alexanian (
Tue, 03 Aug 1999 09:55:39 -0400

Dear John,

I am back after a long vacation up in New England visiting family and
friends. I do not think my statement disagrees in any form with the views of
Casti. Explanations without predications is not science! I think Casti errs
when he gives a D to quantum mechanics for explanation. I believe what he
means with that grade is that in quantum mechanics one cannot have classical
pictures of what the mathematics describes. That is fine and does not merit
such a low grade. In fact, such grades do not really make sense. As man
inquires into regions of reality, not directly accessible to our senses, the
phenomena encountered become less commonsensical and we must relay on the
mathematical model that will serve both as the predicative as well as the
source of our explanation. The mathematics allows us to make some pictures
of the physics but these are mere pictures to aid visualize and not to
represent what actually is happening.

Take care,


-----Original Message-----
From: John W. Burgeson <>
To: <>
Date: Monday, August 02, 1999 11:57 AM
Subject: What science is

>Moorad (my fellow physicist) wrote, about 2 weeks ago:
>"Explanations are not of any value if they do not make predictions.
>Predictions are the essence of what it is to be scientific."
>I'll have to take issue with that one, Moorad.
>Read John Casti's "Search for Certainty." He argues (well, IMHO)
>that explanations and predictions BOTH define what science is
>all about. Some science fields do well at one -- badly at the other.
>Few (classical physics being one of these) do well at both.
>Here is a review I published in PERSPECTIVES a few years ago on this
>great book.
>John L. Casti. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1990. 496
>pages, index. Hardcover; $22.95.
>John W. Burgeson,
>John Casti, a faculty member at the Technical University of Vienna,
>Austria, has followed his splendid book, PARADIGMS LOST, with one equally
>deserving of serious study and enjoyment. My chief concern in writing
>this review is that I will not be sufficiently persuasive to induce my
>readers to pick it up and share with me in the enjoyment of science
>presented at its best.
>Dr. Casti begins by discussing the differences between explanation and
>prediction in science, and in non-science, as he deals with the three
>C's, Correlations, Causes and Chance. He devotes most of the book,
>however, to analyses of weather changes, climate predictions, physical
>changes in living organisms, the stock market, the outbreak of war and,
>in a brilliant conclusion, the true statements of arithmetic.
>For people in a hurry, read just the summary, five short pages. There
>may be some who will read no more. There may also be some people who can
>nibble just one peanut at a baseball game!
>Dr. Casti writes with both clarity and humor. Even the chapter headings
>("Proof or Consequences" introduces his chapter on "True" Arithmetic) and
>section headings ("Looking for a Beta Way" is a topic in the chapter on
>stock prices) are carefully chosen both to illuminate the topic and
>remind the reader that science can be fun!
>In discussing the problems, Dr. Casti rates "science" on each of them in
>two ways, first, how well the problem can be explained; second, how well
>future conditions within it can be predicted. Celestial mechanics is the
>measure of the others, rating a grade of "A" on both counts. Mathematics,
>interestingly enough, rates only a "B+" and "B." Quantum mechanics rates
>"D" in explanation, but "A" in prediction. Evolutionary Biology, as one
>might expect, moves in the reverse direction, rating B+ in explanation
>and "D" in prediction. At the low end of the scale is Economics, rating
>a flat "D" in both categories. It is part of the uniqueness of this book
>that the author is able to analyze these matters and show, very
>convincingly, why these grades are to be expected, what they mean, and
>what improvements are likely in the future.
>Dr. Casti observes "... that it's in those areas of the natural sciences
>least susceptible to human influence that we have the best 'programs' for
>prediction and explanation. As we move away from hard physics and
>astronomy and into the Jell-O-like realm of biology, our capabilities for
>prediction and explanation begin to deteriorate. And by the time we reach
>the almost totally gaseous state of economics and the other social
>sciences, there's far more 'social' than 'science' in our capacity to say
>what's next and why."
>As in PARADIGMS LOST, Dr. Casti includes a "To Dig Deeper" section to
>conclude the work. There are 55 pages of notes here, indicating that the
>author has done his homework well!
>This book review was published in PERSPECTIVES, the journal
>of the American Scientific Affiliation, in March, 1992, Vol 44, #1.
>The American Scientific Affiliation, ASA, founded in 1941, is an
>association of people who have made a commitment of themselves to both a
>scientific description of the world and to Christianity. The present
>membership is about 2,500.
>Information on the ASA, including a sample issue of PERSPECTIVES, is
>available by writing to:
>ASA, P.O. Box 668
>Ipswitch, MA 01938-0668
> Burgy
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