Thursday, December 30, 2004

More about the limitations of science

Continuing the previous discussion about the limitations of science...

I mentioned that some people insist that the scientific method is the only way through which truth can be discerned. I also mentioned that when they say that, I ask "so what scientific methodology did you use to determine that to be true?"

Unfortunately, that doesn't stop some people from insisting on that claim. Instead of re-examining that belief, some of them say "But it's true! It's obvious!" or words to that effect. The thing is, unless one can demonstrate it to be true [em]using the scientific method[/em], that claim remains unsubstantiated.

Indeed, how would one even begin to test this claim? I ask people that sometimes. Some of the more hard-headed ones say, "Well, you design an experiment to test this belief, and then you conduct the experiment. That's how science works!" However, this answer completely glosses over the question of HOW someone would design such an experiment -- or even if such an experiment is possible.

Some go a bit further, and say "Well, you take all the possible methods of learning knowledge, and then you test every single one of them. That will prove that science is the only means to knowledge." This answer is a bit more complete, but still unsatisfactory. For one thing, it ignores the question of HOW one would identify all the possible paths to knowledge. And second, it dodges the question of how one would test all these methods.

Indeed, how would one know that one has identified all paths to knowledge? For that matter, how would one know that ANYTHING is a means of discerning truth? If the claim is true, then one must first conduct a scientific experiment to establish these things to be true.

What's more, if someone is to claim that science is the ONLY way through which knowledge can be truly obtained, then one must test ALL possible methods under ALL possible circumstances. For if there is even a single situation in which one of these methods can work, then the scientific method is not the sole means to truth.

This is why I'm severely disappointed when people claim that only science holds the keys to truth. It's a statement that sounds neat, but which people often don't examine closely. It has no basis in reality.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The limitations of science

Every now and then, I hear people claim, "The scientific method is the only way that truth can be known!" The problem is that this is a self-refuting claim. It also betrays great naivete about the nature of science.

Self-refuting, you say? Yes indeed. Consider this: If the scientific method is the only way by which truth can be known, then what scientific methodology would one employ to arrive at that truth? The people who make this claim clearly have not performed any such experiment, and so their claim remains unproven. What's more, it CANNOT be demonstrated to be true, since one would have to identify all possible alternatives to science and then demonstrate that none of them are ever valid.

"But it's obvious!" some exclaim. Well, if you claim that it's true by virtue of being obvious, then you're not using the scientific method. Rather, you are claiming that something is self-evident. Ergo, you have implicitly demonstrated that science is not the only means by which truth can be discerned.

I know one guy who says, "The methodology that I use is observation. It's science!" Um, no. Observation is merely the first step in applying the scientific method. It is not an example of scientific methodology. Without the subsequent phases of hypothesis-forming and experimentation, one does not have a scientific method.

Indeed, there are things that science implicitly assumes, and thus, cannot prove. It assumes that the laws of logic and mathematics are valid, for example. As such, attempting to prove these tenets using science would amount to circular reasoning. Now, I'm not about to deny that the laws of math and logic are valid; however, my point is that one cannot use science to prove their validity. That would be begging the question, pure and simple.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Ohm's Law

Ohm's law states that the voltage drop between the ends of a conductor (or resistor) is directly proportional to the current flowing through it, provided the temperature doesn't change. This is commonly stated as V=IR, where V is the voltage drop, I is the current and R is the proportionality constant (or "resistance").

Ohm's Law is not truly a law. There is a popular misconception among many less knowledgeable engineers that Ohm's Law always holds true; however, most substances do not display the proportionality described. In such cases, the voltage and current have a more complex relationship, which is described as a transconductance curve.

Indeed, no real-world device obeys this "law" perfectly. However, Ohm's Law is an adequate approximation for the behavior of many objects, such as strips of metal.