Science as Mythology

Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by lightgigantic, Nov 6, 2006.

  1. lightgigantic Banned Banned

    Excerpt from "shadow and substance" by suhotra swami (mostly referencing Lewis Wolpert's The Unnatural Nature of Science)

    Does the loss in translation that occurs between science and science to the general public affect the outlook of science?
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  3. D H Some other guy Valued Senior Member

    This is a pile of postmodernist rubbish. Is science a modern myth? Hardly. Are the pseudosciences that postmodernists espouse are anything more than wishful thinking and fancy stories?

    Leibniz and Newton wrote in Latin. I cannot read their original works. Even if I could, reading their original works would be quite painful. Any new science/new math is inherently full of extraneous explanations and inefficiencies. The extraneous explanations exist to convert followers of some old paradigm. The inefficiencies exist because the science has not been developed fully. The explanations and inefficiencies are hindrances after the fact. Scientists need the Classics Illustrated versions of established science so they can get on with the process of inventing new science. On the other hand,

    • I do know that Newton and Leibniz developed calculus independently and that Leibniz' notation won the day.
    • Every engineer and physics major is exposed to Newton's Laws, including direct translations from the Latin.
    • Many people with even a BS in physics have read at least one of Einstein's 1905 papers. People with graduate degrees have read a lot more of Einstein's work. These are still seminal papers.
    • Several of the biology majors I knew back in my college days read "Origin of the Species".

    Science is a myth? Hardly. The apple that falls off the tree and hits my head will deliver the same impact force regardless of my thoughts about the reality of science.

    Now to answer the question posed in the OP. Yes, a lot is lost in translation. The general public is quite dense (and that is putting it nicely) when it comes to understanding science. This is quite unfortunate, and I don't see any real solution to the problem.

    What is even more unfortunate is that a lot of public policy makers are even more dense than the general public when it comes to understanding science. Here a partial solution does exist, and we can exercise that solution in just a couple of days.
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  5. Prince_James Plutarch (Mickey's Dog) Registered Senior Member

    Actually, it was Newton's that won the day. We do not have a Leibnizian' calculus, save for a system devleoped in the 50's that is closer to Leibniz's version than to Newton's. But that system is not universally applied.
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  7. D H Some other guy Valued Senior Member

    Both Leibniz and Newton used the concept of infinitesimals. Both approaches lacked the mathematical rigor of the infinitesimal as developed in the non-standard analysis (which nobody uses).

    It was Weierstrass who developed the epsilon-delta notation a century and a half after Leibniz and Newton. Leibniz used the d/dt notation for differentiation and the integral sign for integration. All that is left of Newton's notation is the overdot/slash notation for time and position derivatives. Newton's notations for fluents (integrals) was completely abandoned. Leibniz notation is superior to Newton's in that the former has a uniform representation and is generalizable to multiple dimensions and to very abstract domains.

    All of this illustrates what I said in my first post. Leibniz and Newton developed new mathematics, but it took a century plus to flesh it out. Students intentionally are not taught the theory as developed by Leibniz and Newton because their techniques lacked rigor and rigor is all in mathematics. Adding rigor to the infinitesimals requires a lot of advanced mathematics.
  8. (Q) Encephaloid Martini Valued Senior Member

    LG - I hear compooters are myths, as well.
  9. lightgigantic Banned Banned

    What about the idea that computers can be designed with sentient intelligence?
  10. lightgigantic Banned Banned

    D H

    While science is credited with the devlopment of an array of axioms, how much of contemporary science is satisfied with the mere observation of falling apples and the like?
    How much of what goes down in fields like cosmology (amongst numerous other disciplines of science) is as simple as a falling apple?
    To requote the passage

    So the question is does this loss in translation bear an effect that alters the directional outlook of science?
  11. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    LG - you are confusing science with the public perception of science.
    The concepts of science and scientific discovery are no more advanced than in Newton's time - i.e. observe, theorise, test etc. Only the level of detail has changed with time - in that where once science was about stars, now it is about the various categories of stars, and the make-up of individual types etc.

    And of course the loss in translation effect the directional outlook - afterall it is the public that on the whole have to fund scientific research. (There are also few places, if any, that do research purely for the purposes of research, with no alterior motive (e.g. finance) anywhere in the chain.)
    If the public doesn't understand it, why would they fund it?
    So the spin-doctors spin the science, often into some dramatic pseudo-drivel for the television, so that the public become aware of it.
  12. D H Some other guy Valued Senior Member

    Since a lot of research is government funded, the perception of the public perception and public policy makers certainly can affect the direction of science. A couple of examples:
    • Senator William Proxmire's Golden Fleece Award for knot theory. Studying knots sounds stupid.
    • The recent fight over stem cell research.
    Even scientists are not immune. The recent imbroglio over Pluto's status is a good example. The group that won the day had a very good rationale for changing Pluto's status, but that rationale was not communicated outside the group of astronomers that study planetary dynamics.
  13. (Q) Encephaloid Martini Valued Senior Member

    Don't be ridiculous, that's just another myth. All technologies are myths. We all live in caves.
  14. Nasor Valued Senior Member

    Could you please explain why one would consider science to be a "myth" simply because students read modern textbooks rather than original papers/books? This whole idea of "Since you read a biology textbook from 2005 rather than Origin of Species, you are studying myths" makes no sense to me. What is your definition of "myth," and what specifically is it about not reading original papers/books that makes science into a mythology? I'm sure you could contrive some sort of non-standard definition of "myth" that would allow this argument, but it does not appear to conform to the "made-up stories about ancient heroes and gods" definition that most of the world uses

    Would you also consider engineering to be a myth since modern engineering student read textbooks about designing things on computers rather than textbooks about designing things on drafting paper with a T-square and slide ruler?
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2006
  15. baumgarten fuck the man Registered Senior Member

    How many scientists do you think were profoundly inspired and otherwise affected by science fiction as children? Most of them, I'll bet. If this is what LG is getting at, then yes, science as imperfectly translated into laymen's terms does affect the direction of the actual practice of science over time.
  16. Roman Banned Banned

    So what you're trying to say... LG's sore he doesn't have a hovercar or rocketskates yet?
  17. Mythologist Registered Member

    what a fascinating topic! I am really enjoying this discourse.

    However, I am afraid that there is a certain term being used here that I do not understand: Myth/Mythology

    I do not understand what many of you are trying to say.

    Many thanks to lightgigantic for posting the quote. In fact, how the word 'Myth' or 'Mythology' is defined greatly impacts this conversation. It's quite likely that many, if not each and every one here, is operating off of separate renderings. In fact, this is indeed what I suspect to be the case.

    Nasor, you used the "made-up stories about ancient heroes and gods" definition. This is perhaps the least informed usage out there, but, granted, one used by many laypersons in the English speaking world. It fact, it's a bit like saying "science is things I see in StarTrek".

    I am not suggesting to go and become experts on this field of study, or go look it up now. That is hardly necessary for this instance. However, it would clear things up a great deal if the time was taken to take into account each author's own perspective on their using it. If we are truly to have an intelligent and humble conversation we can not simply assume that everyone else knows what we are talking about.

    The terms 'Myth' and 'Mythology' have such a diversity in depictions and usage as to render the words nearly useless unless the time is taken to expound upon them with at least a modest explanation.

    many thanks
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2011
  18. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    In the opening premise we are to assume that common folks do not have an education.

    A century ago, to graduate from university you would have read perhaps Ovid and Homer, Principia, and probably kept On the Origin of the Species under your pillow for late night thrills.

    Today you are free to study practically any field of specialization, and to read as extensively as you wish. I reject the hypothesis that common people are ignorant because the information is not readily attainable, or because of scientific elitism.

    I would counter that to eradicate all barriers to common dissemination of science, we must first outlaw the oversight of textbooks and school policies by creationist or anti-science ideologists, and to assure the teaching community that society now backs their full and expansive science curricula. (with a little pay incentive, perhaps some damages to go with that.)

    BTW Latin and Greek were once standard prerequisites to college, as was the reading of middle English, and French and German were recommended. There are obvious barriers to reading anything, but where there's a will, there's a way!
  19. lightgigantic Banned Banned

    What to speak of common folks, I bet your average biologist hasn't practically done anything grass roots in the field of dna replication, what to speak of a geologist or physicist

    I think you miss the point.
    The information is coming via third parties to which one believes (or disbelieves) (if one is seeking a career in the field there is the third option - towing the line)
    As far as teh OP is concerned , it doesn't really matter.
    Dissemination of information occurs through the forum of either "accept it" or "reject it" (seasoned of course by dramatic story telling )

    If papers in one's first language are impenetrable (and hence summarized through the channels of myth) it stands as more of a barrier than foreign language
  20. RichW9090 Evolutionist Registered Senior Member

    I disagree quite strongly with the sentiment adumbrated by the writer quoted in the OP. While it is true that some unimaginative and uncurious people who call themselves scientists may do as suggested and ignore the historical roots of the knowledge that makes up their particular branch of science, the vast majority do not. Every evolutionary biologist I know has read Darwin's Origin of Species. I've read OOS, and all of Darwin's other major works, as well as his letters and correspondence as assembled by his son.

    I'm a vertebrate paleontologist. When I study some particular fossil animal, for example the pronghorns which are the focus of most of my work these days, I read (and re-read) everything which has ever been written about the remains of those animals - each and every paper describing each and every specimen which has ever been published.

    I also read widely in the history and philosophy of science - I want to know how science has developed. I've plodded through Linnaeus' 1758 Systema Naturae page by page. I've read Lamarck, Buffon, Cuvier, Cope, Marsh, Osborn and a host of others stretching hundreds of years back into the dark origins of modern science.

    Most scientists are like that. A few are not; they are like the literary critic I once heard give a lecture about J. R. R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. She made so many mistakes about the details of the story and Tolkien's created world of Middle Earth that I finally asked her how many times she had read the story. Aghast, she said that she had read it once, when she was much younger - that it didn't matter what Tolkein wrote, what mattered was what the literary critics said about what he had written.

    Science is not a mythology; it is a method. It is the best method we have devised to guide our investigation of, and explanations for, the wonderful and wonderous universe we see around us. It is nothing more than that, and nothing less.

  21. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    ... and with threats that if you don't at least pretend to accept and agree, you won't pass the test at school and then you will become a loser and homeless.

    There is considerable societal pressure, both in school as well as outside, to accept what "science says," even though we are hearing about scientific findings only from a third party.

    Additionally, think back of disputes you've had with your loved ones and other people, and the role that your particular presumably scientifically informed convictions had in those disputes.

    E.g. a man saying to a woman when requesting her to have an abortion - "There is no reason to feel hurt about this, it's just tissue that is going to be removed."
  22. lightgigantic Banned Banned

    Does the loss in translation that occurs between science and science to the general public affect the outlook of science?
  23. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Yes. It seems that scientists (and those who are pro-science) consider themselves even more justified to despise the general public and to come up with even more reductionist - and demeaning - ways to talk about humans and life as such.

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