Re: Def'n of Science

Kevin O'Brien (
Sat, 6 Mar 1999 18:57:13 -0700

Jason wrote:

>Just one question regarding what is considered true science. I saw this
>statement in a recent posting:
>"Bottom line - it ain't science without the numbers"
>What exactly is science defined as?

My favorite definition goes like this: Science is the human attempt to
understand the predictable, reproducible aspects of nature.

Now for the details.

Science is the "human" attempt because science is a human invention and
endeavor, not some divine method or an irresistable natural law. As such,
it is vulnerable to all the same human strengths and weaknesses that
influence any other human endeavor.

Science is the "attempt" to understand because there are no guarantees that
any natural phenomenon is understandable.

Science is the attempt to "understand" because science seeks to explain
natural phenomena rather than simply describe it. These explanations are
then called "theories".

"Nature" in this context is defined as that part of the physical universe
with which we can interact (or have to potential to interact with). This
allows for both the possibility of parts of the physical universe with which
we cannot conceivably interact, as well as a non-physical universe. Both,
however, lay outside the definition of science.

Nonetheless not every aspect of nature can be investigated scientifically;
only those that are "predictable" and "reproducible". In this context
"reproducible" does not mean being able to recreate a phenomenon at will in
a laboratory, but knowing that the phenomenon does reoccur at regular or
irregular intervals. Science can only attempt to understand phenomenon that
reoccur often enough to be investigated. Single phenomena or phenomena of
limited duration, that then never reoccur, are beyond the definition of

Similarly "predictable" does not mean knowing exactly when something will
happen, but knowing that there are specific circumstances under which the
phenomenon in question reoccurs. Science can only attempt to understand
phenomena that have specific causes and consequences. Truely random
phenomena, with no specific cause and/or effects, are beyond the definition
of science.

No definition can be perfect, so there are bound to be exceptions to this
one, but I like this definition because it recognizes that there are limits
to science and attempts to define the extent of those limits without
excluding the possible existence of anything beyond those limits.

Kevin L. O'Brien