17
stifled Bach and Haydn. There is a recent tendency among social scientists
to go even further and to deny that the scientific method even exists,
claiming that science is no more than an arbitrary social system that
determines what ideas to accept based on an in-groupís criteria. I think
thatís going too far. If science is an arbitrary social ritual, it would seem
difficult to explain its effectiveness in building such useful items as air-
planes, CD players and sewers. If alchemy and astrology were no less
scientific in their methods than chemistry and astronomy, what was it that
kept them from producing anything useful.
Discussion Questions
Consider whether or not the scientific method is being applied in the following
examples. If the scientific method is not being applied, are the people whose
actions are being described performing a useful human activity, albeit an
unscientific one.
A.Acupuncture is a traditional medical technique of Asian origin in which small
needles are inserted in the patientís body to relieve pain. Many doctors trained
in the west consider acupuncture unworthy of experimental study because if it
had therapeutic effects, such effects could not be explained by their theories of
the nervous system. Who is being more scientific, the western or eastern
practitioners.
B.Goethe, a famous German poet, is less well known for his theory of color.
He published a book on the subject, in which he argued that scientific
apparatus for measuring and quantifying color, such as prisms, lenses and
colored filters, could not give us full insight into the ultimate meaning of color,
for instance the cold feeling evoked by blue and green or the heroic sentiments
inspired by red. Was his work scientific.
C.A child asks why things fall down, and an adult answers ďbecause of
gravity.Ē The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle explained that rocks fell
because it was their nature to seek out their natural place, in contact with the
earth. Are these explanations scientific.
D.Buddhism is partly a psychological explanation of human suffering, and
psychology is of course a science. The Buddha could be said to have
engaged in a cycle of theory and experiment, since he worked by trial and
error, and even late in his life he asked his followers to challenge his ideas.
Buddhism could also be considered reproducible, since the Buddha told his
followers they could find enlightenment for themselves if they followed a
certain course of study and discipline. Is Buddhism a scientific pursuit.
0.2What Is Physics.
Given for one instant an intelligence which could comprehend all the forces
by which nature is animated and the respective positions of the things which
compose it...nothing would be uncertain, and the future as the past would
be laid out before its eyes.
Pierre Simon de Laplace
Physics is the use of the scientific method to find out the basic prin-
ciples governing light and matter, and to discover the implications of those
laws. Part of what distinguishes the modern outlook from the ancient mind-
set is the assumption that there are rules by which the universe functions,
and that those laws can be at least partially understood by humans. From
the Age of Reason through the nineteenth century, many scientists began to
be convinced that the laws of nature not only could be known but, as
claimed by Laplace, those laws could in principle be used to predict every-
Section 0.2What Is Physics.
Next Page >>
<< Previous Page
Back to the Table of Contents