Wednesday, March 22, 2006

but is it science?

Interestingly, I was having a conversation today about what science consists of, and whether it can encompass anything beyond the material realm that it claims as its purview. It started as a discussion about the distinction between fantasy and science fiction; the usually accepted idea is that SF is based on science, and fantasy upon magic; but when you consider Arthur C Clarke's dictum that "Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic", the boundaries start to seem a little blurred.

Meanwhile, Ted Lumley has put together a list of axioms upon which western science is predicated, which are actually assumptions, not facts.

If we are to construct a new science which can encompass all possibilities, not merely one which is based upon materialistic assumptions about how the world works, this sort of thing is essential groundwork.

The original meaning of "science" was "knowledge," so that "a scientific explanation" was as Arnold Lunn says in The Revolt Against Reason, "an explanation which is in accord with all the known facts". However, "science" has been redefined to mean "knowledge of the material world as explained by reference to the material world" thus, by definition, eliminating knowledge of non-material entities and truths and prohibiting supernatural explanations." Robert Harris


Joe said...

Of course that definition isn't terribly accurate - can you consider energies such as radiation to be 'material'? What about gravity or time? Interestingly all areas which have caused traditional scientific 'facts' to be re-written several times.

The difference between SF and Fantasy becomes less and less clear all the time. Take Hal Duncan's Vellum for example - it certainly plays on mythic archetypes common to fantasy with supernatural beings but also uses multi-dimensional theories (you would like this I think - one of the best books of last year) and has angels using nano-tech.

Pip said...

What Joe said.

Remember also that until Newton, there was no differentiation (in the West at least) between scientists and philosophers. Even Newton did more theological and alchemical work than the science he's actually famous for.

This borders on the discussion about whether any science other than mathematics is really a fact (repeatable tests aren't proof yadda yadda).

Yvonne said...

Yeah I knew that about Newton. But the word "science" (in its modern meaning) wasn't coined until the 18th century; Newton was a natural philosopher. The separation of science and magic is a relatively recent phenomenon, but most modern scientists are rather embarrassed about their subject's origins in alchemy and mysticism.