RE: definition of science

From: Terry M. Gray <>
Date: Mon Apr 25 2005 - 11:53:13 EDT

Moorad, Keith, et al.

Is biology "physical" in your use of the word? How about psychology?

I'm not trying to invoke a sense of vital force here, but
philosophers of science, especially philosophers of biology, have
long advocated an autonomy of biology that makes it irreducible to
physics and chemistry (even though it may be fully built upon a
physics and chemistry substratum). In other words, there are
scientific concepts, laws, theories, etc. that can't be reduced to
some physical-chemical expression--they are expressed only in terms
of the biological world.

This is why I want to distinguish between physical and natural.


>Reality consists of both physical and nonphysical aspects. The physical
>aspect is the subject matter of science and the data can be collected,
>in principle, by purely physical devices. Of course, there are "things"
>with both physical and nonphysical aspects, e.g., humans. There is no
>problem with objectivity here since "physical devices" do not "lie."
>Psychologists have to sort out which aspect of humans are they studying.
>The human intellect sets up the equipment that automatically takes the
>data, the subject matter of science. Subsequently, the human intellect
>analyzes the data summarizes it in order to allow theories to be
>-----Original Message-----
>From: D. F. Siemens, Jr. []
>Sent: Sunday, April 24, 2005 3:27 PM
>To: Alexanian, Moorad
>Subject: Re: definition of science
>On Sun, 24 Apr 2005 13:14:55 -0400 "Alexanian, Moorad"
><> writes:
>> It is the goal of scientists to "mathematisize" as much as possible
>> their disciple following the successful examples in the physical
>> sciences. Of course, complex systems may not be amenable to such
>> treatments. However, even weather prediction, a complex system is
>> based on computer simulations.
>> If science is defined as "simply systematized knowledge and
>> systematic increase of that knowledge," then everything is science.
>> I believe is best to define science via its subject matter.
>Let me demonstrate my ignorance on the matter of meteorology. Is weather
>prediction a matter of computation or of pattern matching? I recall
>reading some years ago of an experiment to compute the weather for a day
>using all the measurements available--including some special to the
>It took 48 hours on the fastest available computer to do the
>However, I don't believe that teraflop supercomputers were then in use.
>Additionally, the broadcast reports will occasionally mention different
>models consulted, and I doubt that local weathermen are running
>computations. Is there a meteorologist in the crowd who can clarify the
>As to defining "science," is it /scientia/ and /Wissenschaft/, or the
>narrower natural science commonly assumed in English? Moorad clearly
>assumes the latter. But further questions arise. We recognize
>if mathematics is involved, though what kind are allowed gets us into
>disagreement--like the "rat psychologists" and "real psychologists" a
>colleague described. A major difference is that experimental
>psychologists demand instrumental measurements and applied/clinical
>psychologists allow rating scales and similar approaches that have a
>subjective element. There is a clear difference in the definition of
>"science" between the two groups of psychologists, as among many other
>groups. The different views seem to be matters of methodology rather
>subject matter.
>Does objectivity make something scientific? I can think of nothing much
>more objective than recording the outdoor temperature at 10 a.m. every
>morning, a common exercise in many elementary classrooms. But, according
>to knowledgeable commentators, it's not science because it has no
>theoretical connections. But consider someone counting the occurrence of
>words, the length of sentences, etc., in various works or parts of
>running comparisons and declaring the same or different authorship,
>period, or whatever. Is this science, or voodoo? Why? Is it better than
>taking the first letter of every nth word, or some related scheme, in
>order to find a message? Both involve objective numerical data and at
>least an implicit theory.

Terry M. Gray, Ph.D., Computer Support Scientist
Chemistry Department, Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado  80523
phone: 970-491-7003 fax: 970-491-1801
Received on Mon Apr 25 11:55:08 2005

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