Hard sciences include things like geology, physics, astronomy, biology, chemistry, bacteriology, paleontology and many others. Soft or social sciences deal with human behavior and include subjects like economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, social studies, and sociology. But what is science?
Though very real and concrete, science itself is not necessarily tangible like an automobile or a skateboard. Rather, it describes the underlying framework that all things tangible abide by and spring from.
Literally meaning “to know,” the modern enterprise we’ve come to call science (Greek scios) is best described as the study of physical phenomena that seem to govern this particular material universe, or as an abstract system of reasoning undertaken to generate possible answers for the occurrences humans observe.
The National Academy of Sciences explains, “Science is a particular way of knowing about the world. In science, explanations are limited to those based on observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists. Explanations that cannot be based on empirical evidence are not a part of science.”
Mysteries concerning an empirically accessible phenomenon are the beginning of science. Before any science can start, we must first have a simple question or burning desire to know how or why something behaves the way it does, and traditionally, the prerequisite of legitimate science has been an empirically accessible phenomenon.
Hyman’s Categorical Imperative advises against trying to explain something until one is sure that there is something to be explained, and fortunately there is no shortage of interesting occurrences in nature.
To this day stars continually fuse hydrogen into helium, volcanoes eject their molten lavas and the entire phenomenon of the material universe continues to unfold right before our very eyes. In order for some phenomenon to be usable in science, it must be empirically accessible. That is, any person should be able to see what the scientist is proposing.
Falling apples, the behavior of germs under a microscope, anomalies in sedimentary rock and the behavior of magnetized objects are all empirically accessible phenomena, i.e. things any normal person can see, and every branch of science begins with similar observations of empirically accessible phenomena.
Contrary to religion where at least some claims must be accepted by faith, science is especially appealing because we can generally prove or disprove its tenets. Religious claims cannot be verified empirically, and if a claim can be verified empirically then we are no longer discussing a religious claim, but some other statement about some other condition that is or is not true, in actuality.
There are other prerequisites of science as well.
There are two types of study in science: Experimental and observational. A common myth is that science cannot proceed without experimental capabilities. Earth sciences and astronomy are two examples of scientific study that rely on observational evidence as opposed to laboratory experiment.
Further, it is important to note that observational study is less successful in eliminating bias than controlled experimentation. Also, to hold any value in science, observations must be reliably representative of the phenomenon in question, in other words they must be systematic.
An anecdote is a story about something that happened to someone and often cannot be falsified. Such stories are inherently subjective, making anecdotal evidence unacceptable as scientific proof, however apparently incontrovertible or believable they might seem.
Say you’re walking down a footpath and you see some truly anomalous phenomenon. It could be anything from an apparition to Bigfoot to the Lochness monster. Even if you have a witness or several, in science, your experience is near useless and remains anecdotal evidence.
In the debate over human origins, much is made of scientific facts and theories, and people typically argue whether the axioms of thermodynamics, paleontology or biology prove the issue this way or that.
While impossible to validate via the scientific method, common descent, creationism, panspermia, intelligent design or any other collection of ideas can be subjected to scrutiny under the known laws of science. Any idea in any model that falls outside the realm of possibility, violates a known scientific principle or hinges on subtle or grandiose forms of presupposition must be recognized as such.
Phenomena which are alleged to occur disparately or on special occasion generally cannot be falsified. For something to be falsifiable, it must manifest, exist or otherwise be present or amenable to observation. How can we know whether a phenomenon is false unless we understand its authentic counterpart?
It is probable that even the wisest and most intelligent of first century observers would classify at least some modern technology as miraculous or supernatural, but before we can reject something as magic or unscientific we must be sure it has truly breached a rule of science. Pronouncements about scientific truth are subject to change and we see this all the time.
We should never become rigid or unyielding because we constantly uncover new data; therefore the line between the understood and the unexplainable is not just difficult to define – in fact, no such line exists. The so-called line between the understood and the unexplainable is nothing more than the outer circumference of human knowledge, which is exponentially increasing.
It is both wise and refreshing to restrict the powers of science in their proper context. There are entire classes of phenomena science stands useless in apprehending or judging.
The editor of Discovery News Journal, and pursuer of relatively interesting information, Simon has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales, and is a photo-journalist and writer whose written and photographic work has been represented by the AFP news agency and appeared in newspapers across Europe and Asia.