Science and Technology

When people find problems with the scientific method, mostly because it doesn’t support their beliefs, I often find their arguments hypocritical.  For example, someone might say, “The Big Bang couldn’t have happened because it violates certain laws of Thermodynamics.”  These people don’t question how the Laws of Thermodynamics came to be, yet they believe them without question.  They only have a problem with the scientific method when it doesn’t support what they already believe.

In response, one common argument I’ve heard from the skeptic’s side is something along the lines, “How can you have a problem with science?  Do you use a microwave?  Well science created that.”  This argument is too ambiguous or at least poorly defined.  Simon Singh, in his book Big Bang: The Origins of the Universe, discusses the differences between science and technology:

The Egyptians were certainly far in advance of the Greeks in terms of their development of weighing scales, cosmetics, ink, wooden locks, candles and many other inventions.  These, however, are examples of technology, not science.  Technology is a practical activity, as demonstrated by the Egyptian examples already given, which helped to facilitate death rituals, trading, beautification, writing, protection and illumination.  In short, technology is all about making life (and death) more comfortable, while science is simply an effort to understand the world.  Scientists are driven by curiosity, rather than comfort or utility.

I can understand why many people think that science and technology are one in the same.  Often, greater technologies are created using scientific discovery.  But it is possible to have technology without science, much like the Egyptians.  And that is why I felt that the previous argument was too ambiguous, but not necessarily wrong.  An argument that might be more accurate, or less ambiguous, might be, “You know, a lot of the technological inventions you use in your everyday life were created primarily because of scientific curiosity and discovery.”  Or perhaps, “Why do you think you are stuck to the Earth?  Gravity?  Well that idea was founded on scientific principles.”

Perhaps a more beautiful summary of my post can be found in the words of Henri Poincaré:

The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful.  If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living.  Of course I do not here speak of that beauty that strikes the senses, the beauty of qualities and appearances; not that I undervalue such beauty, far from it, but it has nothing to do with science; I mean that profounder beauty which comes from the harmonious order of the parts, and which a pure intelligence can grasp.

Reference:

Singh, Simon. Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 2004.

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2 Responses to Science and Technology

  1. Kevin says:

    I don’t know where to begin on how misguided the “Scientific Method obsolete thanks to data deluge,” article is. It would have made more sense if the comment with the article was left in the previous post, “The Scientific Method.” But in my post, I make a point of saying several times that science is driven by curiousity, an attempt to understand our world. It is not driven by how useful it can be, that is just a great side effect. However, the article only points out how science is obsolete because we don’t need to understand WHY anything happens, just observe that it does in fact happen.

    Furthermore, the article focuses on statistics that were gathered over years of research in particular fields. It claims we don’t need science, because we already have the data, which was found using science. I guess if we want to stop dead in our tracts and assume new trends never develop, then the article makes some sense.

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