Re: Polanyi on science (was Re: [asa] C.S. Lewis on ID)

From: Gregory Arago <gregoryarago@yahoo.ca>
Date: Mon Dec 01 2008 - 04:12:33 EST

Hi Don,
 
This most recent message of yours goes a step forward to softening some of my criticism written in the previous response, with the caveat that not you nor anyone else can or should pretend to 'speak for all scientists.' You'll have noticed, of course, that my attention is to the language that is used in communicating your message, and not to its content. I do believe that, after the linguistic turn, this approach is justified.
 
By recognizing the some social science is experimental, e.g. psychology, you've taken a step toward recognizing the diversity of 'scientific and scholarly practice' which exceeds the containers that 'Science' could hold in the 18th century Enlightenment view. We need today in the 21st century to adopt a post-Enlightenment view of 'science' where the triad of 'Science, Reason, and Progress' is dethroned from its mighty seat of desirability, invincibility and inevitability for all peoples' pathways toward civilisation to embrace.
 
I guess what I'm really asking for Don, is your admission that a significant paradigm shift in human-social thought, if it were to occur, that would enhance its 'maturity' in the eyes of scientists and scholars, would cause you as a natural-physical scientist to re-assess certain aspects or approaches to your discipline. Could this potentially happen? If this is left open as a legitimate possibility, it would then overcome the notion of physical scientists dictating to all others in the academy on the basis of their methodologies.
 
"Early in the last century physics was the model science, and the softer sciences wanted to remake themselves in the image of physics.  Most never came close.  This doesn't mean they aren't still sciences (by my definition)." - Don
 
I'm willing to admit that even before the 20th century, physics was the model science. For example, my home field of sociology first took the name 'social physics' by August Comte, before he discovered another person using it an a way he disagreed with and thus he coined the Greek-Latin blend, 'sociology.' Today it would be accepted as folly to try to make sociology in the image of physics, though there are some would would like to make it in the image of biology, with 'evolution' as the grand unifying theory between them as 'life sciences' or as 'behavioural sciences.' As you can imagine, I am against the latter theoretical and worldview orientations.
 
Now, getting back to the reason I entered this thread in challenging Don's view of 'science' as 'only quantitative,' let me ask a kind of contrarian question:
 
Don, what is the extreme case of quantitativism - i.e. when one takes the idea that 'quantity' is THE defining characteristic (or 'nature of') 'science? In other words, doesn't the idea that "science IS only quantitative" turn into something rather 'unscientific' when taken to the extreme?
 
"What distinguishes a science from other ways of organizing knowledge is that it draws its conclusions from quantitative data and only quantitative data..." - Don
 
Please note, Don, that I'm not suggesting that your position is an extreme one, but rather simply asking you to imagine such a position and what it would mean.
 
Kind regards,
Gregory

--- On Mon, 12/1/08, Don Winterstein <dfwinterstein@msn.com> wrote:

From: Don Winterstein <dfwinterstein@msn.com>
Subject: Re: Polanyi on science (was Re: [asa] C.S. Lewis on ID)
To: "asa" <asa@calvin.edu>, "Moorad Alexanian" <alexanian@uncw.edu>
Received: Monday, December 1, 2008, 9:49 AM

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explain why social science, and, for that matter, political science, is science in the same sense as the experimental sciences like physics, chemistry, biology, etc.
 
Let's leave out political science, as I'm not sure what it is even though one of my brothers majored in it; I suspect it's about as much of a science as history, which is close to but not exactly a science. 
 
Every science differs in important ways from every other science, so one should not expect social sciences to be closely comparable to physics.  But psychology, a social science, is experimental, and branches of it are very close to certain branches of physiology; so if you're going to include all experimental sciences, you must include psychology. 
 
What distinguishes a science from other ways of organizing knowledge is that it draws its conclusions from quantitative data and only quantitative data, data that are reproducible at least in principle. 
 
The way sociologists and anthropologists get their data (at least, back when I studied such stuff) is largely through interviews supplemented by other kinds of observations.  Data from interviews per se are subjective, but you can make quantitative statements on the basis of subjective responses by saying such things as, "85% of the people said they saw the ghost."  The quantitative part has nothing to do with whether anybody actually saw a ghost but that 85% said they did.  (Anthropology literature I've read usually doesn't quote hard percentages but makes its points with words.  Results are still quantitative in that the words encapsulate lots of study, results of which can be reproducible.  The use of hard percentages would often suggest a precision that's not meaningful.) 
 
Psychologists can study hallucinations by recording responses of people who have hallucinations.  The hallucinations don't correspond to any outside reality, and the responses are subjective; but when the psychologist interviews hundreds of people suffering from hallucinations, he can nevertheless say something quantitative about hallucinations and how people experience them.  Similar experiments can be and have been done on color perception and and just about any other kind of perception imaginable. 
 
The use of NMR in brain mapping often requires subjective responses of persons being monitored.  A single such response would be of little scientific value, but when you do the experiment on dozens and get a similar subjective response under the same conditions, then you have quantitative data based on subjective responses. 
 
Early in the last century physics was the model science, and the softer sciences wanted to remake themselves in the image of physics.  Most never came close.  This doesn't mean they aren't still sciences (by my definition). 
 
Don __________________________________________________________________ Get the name you've always wanted @ymail.com or @rocketmail.com! Go to http://ca.promos.yahoo.com/jacko/

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Received on Mon Dec 1 04:13:17 2008

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