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Scientific Knowledge

The world, including the world of science, is a complex and scattered entity that cannot be captured by theories and simple rules. Consider the validity of this statement and the implications for the construction of scientific knowledge.
by

Looi Qin En

on 19 April 2010

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Transcript of Scientific Knowledge

Can the World of Science be captured by theories and simple rules? No Yes The World of Science CANNOT be captured by theories and simple rules. The World of Science CAN be captured by theories and simple rules. Scientific theories and simple rules provide the rudimentary foundation towards all scientific knowledge. Based on certain foundational theories which have been proven through experimentation, we are able to capitalise on the knowledge to develop advanced knowledge and apply it effectively to our everyday lives. For example, the simple rule that “Light travels in a straight line” has formed the foundation for fibre optics for rapid data transmission, something we cannot live without. Thus, although the world of science is not fully portrayed through theories and simple rules, they form the fundamental pre-requisite in the construction of scientific knowledge. Implications: True scientific knowledge can only be effectively constructed on theories and simple rules, or else the knowledge gained will be unsupported and false. Scientific theories and rules always qualify their assertions with regard to scientific knowledge. Theories and rules derived from observations and deductions are often qualified by the explicit statement of the specific conditions required for the theory/rule to work in. An example is the theory of free falling bodies: Free falling bodies accelerate constantly provided there is no air resistance. However, one main problem lies in the inability for every theory/rule to indicate all the specific conditions, which are infinite, in order for the theory/rule to work. In the example above, will temperature, pressure, etc. affect the acceleration of the falling body? Therefore, the world of science can still be captured by theories and rules because assertions are qualified, providing a way for the assertions to explain the world of science; though limited, but still possible.
Possible Rebuttal:
Wouldn’t less certain knowledge mean that knowledge gained through science has flaws and could be inaccurate (e.g. just because the sun rises today does not mean it will do so tomorrow)
Our Counter-Point:
The value of science is in its application to our real life. If we were to sacrific certainty for the sake of application, not only will we enter infinte regression (and depression), but also face the loss of science in our society, as we can no longer apply it to our daily lives.
Implications: Scientific knowledge then is more useful, though less certain, because many factors and qualifying assumptions in the theories and rules and not stated, but we still can assume that the knowledge gained is useful and relevant. The method through which scientific theories and rules are founded upon has key epistemological flaws. Theories fall back on experiments, which serve as the only evidence to the theory in question. However, these experiments only provide data for a finite number of circumstances. The experimentation process involves adjusting a fixed number of independent variables to obtain a fixed number of data, and theories are formed by extrapolating these data points to predict the occurrences for an infinite number of circumstances. However, this has posed problems of induction. It is fallacious to automatically predict with conviction what will happen beyond a known set of data because there may be exceptional circumstances. Take ohm’s law for instance: Some conductors only obey ohm’s law at low temperatures, while at higher temperatures the resistance of the conductor will start to deviate. Thus, the statement that “theories and rules can capture the complex and scattered world” is questionable in validity. Implications: We may never be certain of the validity of a theory as an infinite amount of experimentation is needed, which is impossible. Scientific theories and rules are constructs of human beings, whose knowledge of reality is limited in itself. Observation by the 5 senses is the only available method in which we gather data to verify a scientific theory. However, there are clear limitations to our observation that distorts our perception of the real world. One example is the observer’s effect. The very action of sticking our nose into things has an effect on the data produced. This can be seen in the measurement of an electric current within a circuit: Sadly, an accurate measurement of the electric current is near-impossible as the resistance of the ammeter used will reduce the amount of electric current. As such, our lack of understanding of reality will definitely cast doubt on the validity of the statement in question, since theories and rules are made by us humans. Implications: This will cast doubt over the reliability and certainty of knowledge gained through the scientific method. Scientific knowledge of the real world may never be accurate as the construction of scientific knowledge is flawed in itself. Teddy and Ting Yit
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