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Download PDF The Wrong Assumption: Revolutionary Scientific Theories That Shape the Elusive Supernatural World

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Do not memorize this illustration, but use it instead as a roadmap. It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel every time you want to roll something, or to rediscover fire every time you wish to cook something. In the same way it is not necessary for every scientist to rediscover the laws of gravity in order to predict when the next full moon will occur. The cumulative nature of science depends upon sharing of knowledge. Sharing requires communication which requires language and symbols. This is part of what we called the scientific community earlier.

Science is often said to be a "many-brained" activity, as opposed to a "single-brained" activity. Scientific discovery happens within a framework of understanding. Newton said "If I have seen further than others it is because I have stood upon the shoulders of giants. They might have developed in a different way or at a later time. On the other hand, there would be no Fifth Symphony without Beethoven and no "Starry Nights" without van Gogh, regardless of the social context in which the artists lived and which influenced their art.

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This is an important concept which relates to what we spoke of earlier when we defined physical science as an attempt to define a common physical reality. The work created by artists is, like scientific theories, a product of the mind and the culture which created it, but, unlike science, is not bound by the restrictions of "provability".

An individuals perceptions and feelings are not subject to the common reality test. Feelings are not proven, they are experienced. So, there will be probably be no general agreement on the meaning or the quality of art, but for an idea to be accepted as a scientific theory there must repeatable proof of a particular behavior of matter under a particular set of circumstances.

Scientific theories such as gravity and relativity are descriptions of the physical laws which govern the universe and which are independent of the mind which discovers them. Artistic works such as painting and music are a description of the world which expresses the vision of the creator, but which solicit different responses from different observers.

Top 10 Most Famous Scientific Theories That Turned out to be Wrong

Let's say that another way. Scientific theories are a description of the physical laws which govern the universe and which are independent of the mind which discovers them and the mind of the beholder. Artistic works are a description of the universe which expresses the vision of the creator and which solicit different responses from different beholders.

Science is knowledge about the natural world, but it is knowledge of a special type. A very important advancement in science was the realization that it is not necessary to explain why something works in order to understand how it works.

We can calculate and predict the movement of objects under the influence of gravity without knowing anything about what gravity is or why it exists. We do not need to know the nature of gravity, or why it causes objects to be attracted through millions of miles of empty space. We know how to send objects to other planets, send satellites into space, land objects on the moon, predict eclipses and tides, and calculate trajectories of intercontinental rockets.

All this and more without knowing what gravity is or why it works the way it does.


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What we do know is how it affects objects. In other words, we know what it does.

We do not know how or why it does it. Newton recognized that he would never get anywhere in describing gravity if he first had to understand it. The need to assign a cause to every phenomenon presented a formidable barrier to understanding the universe before the birth of the modern scientific method in the seventeenth century. Many ideas were not adequately explored because of the inability to get around a blockage of "why" something did what it did or behaved the way it did.

The Market Myth

Jot down a few examples from your own experience as you think of them during the rest of the program. Our modern body of scientific knowledge consists of information about the nature and properties of millions of substances, a few simple natural laws, an understanding many processes.

But do not confuse this knowledge with science itself. That would be like confusing a dictionary with the language. Science is much more than a collection of facts and data. Science is also a body of knowledge. The original meaning of the word is derived from the Latin scientia which translates roughly as "knowledge". Science is a collection of facts as well as the knowledge of relationships between objects and substances. But the word in its modern sense means more than that. As science develops it goes through a series of more or less regular stages which begins with accumulation of facts.

In reality all of these elements are present during any given stage. However a stage may be thought of as a period during which one aspect dominates or is most effective. We will trace the development of physics and chemistry from their infancy, so watch for these stages as you proceed through the course. During the fact gathering stage there is much confusion. It is not clear how to classify observations. There are usually competing theories, none of which are very good at predicting.

Much of the classification is incorrect because not enough is known to properly compare one observation with another. Recall that classification requires that similarities and differences are discernible.

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As more information is collected classification schemes and categories can be revised and refined. So after observations and fact gathering, the next stages in the development of a science involve improving classification. Classifying helps to organize facts about the topic being studied. Better organization of knowledge allows generalizations about the category. This leads to laws which characterize the category or system being studied.

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Laws in turn lead to theories which provide explanations about how the system works. Those theories then guide experiments and further observations, which then allows refinements of categories, laws, and theories. These processes are rather abstract, so do not worry if it is not immediately clear how it all works.

That is part of the goals of this course and we will see examples of how it works all through it.

3.1. What Is Culture?

Chemistry and physics have both gone through these stages, and our understanding of the physical world, while far from complete, is adequate. We find few inconsistencies in the day-to-day application of physical laws. Biology, on the other hand, in the past fifty years has entered the stage of generalizations and laws. The social sciences, because of the number of variables and the complexity of the relationships are still in their infancy, in the observational stage.

There are classifications in the social sciences to be sure, but there is not general agreement on the classification schemes. Because of this there are many competing theories of behavior in psychology, anthropology, political science, economics, etc. It is worthy of mention here that there are complex relationships involved in all aspects of the universe. The more variables there are the more complex the interrelationships. That is one reason why the physical sciences are better understood than the social sciences.

Science is empirical! What does that mean? Empiricism is the reliance on experiment or observation as the ultimate basis for the judgment of truth. It is the empirical nature of science as a way of gaining knowledge which really marked the transition between the medieval and modern periods.

Until the twelfth century or so knowledge gained through the senses was suspect. Since it is so easy to fool the senses, as we will demonstrate in the next program , all sensory information was regarded as flawed. Much of this was due to the philosophy of Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher whose ideas have had far-reaching influence on our thinking. Before the concept of modern observational science, laws were determined by authority, not by experience. It is hard for us to imagine the mind-set of people in a culture that had vastly different ideas from our modern ones, yet were so much like us in other ways.