Topic: Science and Culture
The relation between science and culture generally is a matter of concern to both scientists and nonscientists. This forum is open to everyone for discussion of thoughts arising from and extending materials in Serendip's Science and Culture
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- Current Postings - 2000/2001 - 1998/1999 - 1997 - 1996
Fri Aug 30 11:30:28 EDT 1996
Science is often thought of as a powerful but highly specialized activity,
influencing everybody but accessible to only a very few. A clearer and more
encompassing picture of the relation between science and the rest of human
culture is important for everyone, and needs scientists and non-scientists
alike to properly paint. Welcome, and please feel free to join in, whoever
you are. Let's see if we can collectively construct a less wrong picture.
Thu Sep 5 09:42:49 EDT 1996
I believ the main thing in this debate is to counter the extremists at both sides.I agree with Grobstein and Bliss that Weinstein's comments on objectivity and the uncovering of some kind of eternal truths are not realistic scientific goals, and am convinced that science is indeed shaped by culture, which acts as a sort of guide and constraint to what kind of scientific questions can be asked and what answers given, relativity can also be taken too far. Some cultural studies experts seem to totally deny the existence of any external reality, and I do agree with Sokal that a lot of work in cultural studies represents sloppy science disguised in wordplay, analogy and self-invented jargon. It seems to me that both sides in this debate should take a more balanced view. I personally believe that much of the gap between the humanities and science is caused by a lack of understanfding and knowledge of the other's work. A possible solution for this would be guest lectures of practitioners from science disciplines at humanities faculties and vice versa introducing their discipline.
Science as "getting it less wrong"
Thu Sep 19 11:04:37 EDT 1996
I'm not sure this is directly responsive to Paul Grobstein's very
interesting letter to John Bemis, but I think it is relevant to the
desire that people - such as many of our students - have for "right"
Behind the wish for right answers is the notion that some things are
a certain way, independent of what anyone perceives, desires, or
believes, i.e. some things are "facts." The wind feels cold to you
and hot to me, but when it comes to the fact of its temperature, the
temperature just _is_ the average kinetic energy of air molecules,
however cold or hot it feels to any individual person. And if the
temperature is a fact, shouldn't we be able to be certain about it,
to feel sure about the fact in a way that we wouldn't claim to be sure
how the wind feels to someone else? Can't we consult an expert with a
super-accurate thermometer who will give us definite, certain knowledge
of the fact? Thus it's tempting to equate "fact" with "feeling
However, the exact opposite is true, and I think science is the
recognition of this. If something is a fact, independent of anyone's
belief or desire, then one can never legitimately feel absolutely
sure about it. This is because, if facts are those things that are
independent of what goes on in our mind, then no state of our mind -
no strength of belief or feeling of certainty - can guarantee that
we have it "right." It is that slight tincture of uncertainty, that
attitude of "liberating doubt" (Bertrand Russell, The Problems of
Philosophy, Chap. 15) that distinguishes science - and western
philosophy, which I think science just puts into practice - from other
systems of belief. That attitude is ultimately what drives scientific
investigation and makes scientific progress possible.
Of course we scientists don't always act as if we held to the above
idea of science. "Evolution is a fact, and therefore it must be taught
as such - as definite, certain truth - in public schools!" My latest
research hypothesis about ion channel activation has GOT to be right -
I'm just SURE of it! That enthusiasm will probably help motivate me to
work to test the idea. In teaching, we may emphasize impressive
knowledge claims rather than the attitude that arguably gave rise to
the knowledge. But somehow, especially in teaching science, it would
be good to get "back to our roots" and recognize that science is like
what Bertrand Russell wrote about philosophy in the chapter mentioned
"While diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it
greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the
somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never travelled into the
region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by
showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect."
Less wrong/More right
Sun Sep 29 21:52:00 EDT 1996
Science is based on ordering principles called theories. When anomolies
arise theories must be reconsidered, modified, tweaked, or scraped. The
nature of scientific knowledge, perhaps all human knowledge, is somewhat
tentative. However, scientific knowledge has come a long way towards
establishing some pretty safe bets.
Culture is based on ordering principles called laws. The purpose of
culture (sic. society) is to provide some modicum of safety in numbers.
The urge of culture is to find absolute answers to the vagaries of life,
thereby providing safety for its members.
Science is utilized by culture,but every so often science "oversteps" its
function and threatens the culture. This is because science is
continually looking for answers, while culture is looking to sustain
To say there has to be some absolute right answer maybe some sort of imper-
ative for science and culture alike. The source of friction occurs when
culture gets in the way of science. For it is culture which is far
more compelled by the need for absolutes...
life on Mars
Sun Oct 13 16:58:08 EDT 1996
I belive that millions of years ago that life may have florishised
on Mars but due to some unknown circumstances they had to seek a new
habitat - possibly earth. The unknown circumstances, such as a nuclear
war could have affected their brains. This theory would also
prove why there is no water on Mars and yet large river like trenches,
because the water probaly would have been evaporated by a large scale
nuclear war. We can find no trace of nuclear activity because mars has had
plenty of time to "cool down". Also with the introduction of the new human
race to the earth some other earth native species (such as dinosaurs) could
have died out. The Earth bound humans probably would have landed in the
Middle East thus explaining the Pyramids (and fulfilling theories about
how they were built by aleins). Please respond to this Idea.
Re: Life on Mars
Sat Oct 26 19:40:23 EDT 1996
The main problem with your idea is time. The dinosaurs died out roughly 65 million years ago. The earliest humans showed up around 6 million years ago. Obviously, the latter could not have caused the former. Also, if mammals came from Mars it would be very hard to explain why there's evolutionary residue of animals developed on Earth before 65 mya. I would guess if life had come from Mars it would have been to start life here on Earth, about 4.5 bya., by spores on a decent sized rock. Any comments?
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