Science is distinguished for its changeable nature of conclusions. It addresses the method used to reach conclusions; the ideas of verification, falsification, and the thought that science presents its theories with a degree of probability. The conclusions in science are conditional because currently they are considered to be true, but according to the nature of the science, they are subject to change. Science is defined as knowledge gained by “systematic experimentation and analysis” (Munday). What distinguishes the sciences from other areas is a very different method of finding truth. The definition of truth in this case is what works in practice or is useful to us because science is heavily based on the pragmatic theory (Munday). The question is perhaps misleading since it doesn’t mention which type of science is implied; natural science, human science, or ethical science… Science is a provisional human activity; this can be observed when comparing areas of knowledge in terms of provisional conclusions.
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Science is a practice where truth is supported through experimentation and observations. It is a posteriori knowledge, meaning that it is knowledge that is derived from experience or empirical evidence. People state that science is based on too many assumptions, and the rules always change, therefore, we should employ other ways of knowing such as our perception. In my view, the main reason we should appreciate this way of knowing; the conclusions of science are changeable. These regular changes show that even though we might never find out the truth, we are progressing in subjects such as biology, physics, chemistry, etc. However, by expressing it as a pragmatic way of knowing, we can see that science is about discovering the truth. This truth may not be the perfect truth such as outlined by Plato with his idea of ideal forms. This truth is more concerned with value or usefulness. Within the history of science, scientific laws and theories have been changed or have been disproved. For example, there was a cubical atom theory that stated that all atoms had a shape of a cube (Munday). This theory was disproved by many scientists such as Bohr and Rutherford (Munday). We now have a different prediction of what the atom is due to quantum mechanics (Munday). However, if you take account of Quantum Theory, then even the conclusions about the physical world become highly provisional – reality is no longer deterministic and mechanistic, and some of our conclusions about this reality end up being provisional. Scientific knowledge is derived from the use of a precise, rigorous method that involves inductive logic. For example, if I observe that water always boils at 100°C when I am cooking (Arnhart), I assume that this will always be the case (induction). However, if I were to boil water in Denver, Colorado, a location 1.6 km above sea level, I would discover that the water now boils at 94°C, as the pressure on the liquid is reduced (Arnhart). As we can see, the inductive component of the scientific method can sometimes lead to an incorrect hypothesis. Even if a scientific theory has been rigorously tested one million times there is always the possibility that an exception will be found, and hence the theory falsified. Karl Popper acknowledged this problem and suggested that a hypothetical deductive method should be used, whereby false hypotheses are discarded through trials and disproof (Arnhart). This means we cannot prove a theory is correct; we can only prove that a hypothesis is false. Thus we can never know that a scientific theory is true; the reason why scientific conclusions are provisional. For instance, a scientist is trying to find a cure for cancer, but instead finds out how a person’s brain works, he still expands our knowledge of all the things around us, even though that scientist was trying to find a different answer. This usefulness always reshapes our knowledge since it brings in new ideas and models that attempt to explain the patterns that are all around us and where conclusions are made according to the current knowledge. Our knowledge is available to adapt by being provisional. With science, we accept our limitations of today’s instruments, and we analyze the situation and what we can potentially do for further knowledge or experimentation. Science doesn’t stop improving our customs of experimenting even though we know we can’t reach the perfect truth (Plato) making it provisional even if it may seem to be currently “true”. Science is so relied upon for this reason that it advances our society.
One of the main differences between the Natural and Human Sciences (ethics, history) is the object of study: while the Natural Sciences observe and experiment on the world of nature, the Human Sciences focus more on human behaviour. Humans are, arguably, less predictable and stable than the natural world, so the conclusions about our behaviour should be more provisional than the conclusions reached. Although science is the answer to many of our disputes, it is based mostly on theoretical predictions, and that creates a fallacy. For example, scientists in a university have made a device to clean and purify water for the people in South Africa and they have sent it to Africa (Arnhart). Once the device was in use, it killed 45% of the people in 3 weeks. A study relived that the filter used did stop Cysts (bacteria) from going through initially but these bacteria started to grow inside the filter clogging the filter. Nothing was noticed because the bacteria were so small, and the pressure of the water squeezed the 4.5 micron bacteria into the 1 micron holes of the filter. In theory, filter was a valid device to use to clean the water but when in application is failed. These predictions are based on theoretical assumptions. Even though our limitations can be accurate even, this accuracy is not perfect; we try to achieve the best at finding a conclusion. Yet, the uncertainty of the conclusion can still prove it false, and so the science turns provisional.
Math is a very different area of knowledge. The only difference today is that math is much more complex in applications of basic principles. The definition of math is the system of quantities, forms, space and their relationships in use of numbers and symbols. The Egyptians came up with simple functions such as addition. These functions are still useful since we substitute symbols to represent difference concepts in reality. The symbols and applications might differ, but the expressions stay the same. The ancient Greeks used symbols rather than numbers; equations, they came up with were the same. One may deduce that math is not a provisional subject. In many ways, math is the foundation of other areas of knowledge such as analysis and measurement in sciences. In some cases, we’d never find out more about certain topics. For instance, the string theory can only be proven with math because physically we can’t comprehend eleven dimensions. Multiplication will not change over time compared to a scholar learning how his brain works- he will soon have to update his knowledge because what we know in the field of science always changes. Today, scientists try to link the missing puzzle pieces; however, once a scientist connects a puzzle to the whole picture, and it is perceived to be the correct placement, then more and more questions arise. Furthermore, in math, once something is proved, it is no longer contested. For example, today nobody should argue that two multiplied by five is not ten. Math, arguably, is a human construct; it is up to us to make up symbols that would represent the patterns that we encounter. The knowledge and conclusions of math aren’t that provisional but its application is.
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Like science, art has many changing conclusions. When a person looks at a picture, he invariably interprets it and evaluates it. However, when a different individual looks at the same picture, he might interpret it in a very different way. These interpretations can vary because of many aspects. Ones age, for example; there is a painting of a cow (Arnhart). An elder might think of it as a source of meat, while a boy might see a joy ride (Arnhart). Thus each person has concluded on a different interpretation and this uncertainly on which is the “true” conclusion makes the art as a area of knowledge provisional. Generally, conclusions in art are based on the frames of reference of the person that is evaluating the art piece with a personal experience or posteriori knowledge. Thus, art is provisional in nature because even one painting might have different conclusions based on it.
By comparing math, sciences, and art one can see that the knowledge gained from the sciences change; however, it is not the only subject that is provisional, that is shown through subjects such as art and history. Even one art piece can have many conclusions associated with it. The statement “what separates science from all other human activities is its belief in the provisional nature of all conclusions” (Michael Shermer, www.edge.com) is only partly true since science is provisional; however, that doesn’t separate it from all other human activities. Math is an example of a static subject whereas, science is a subject open to debates and updates. We might think that sciences are not important to us since what we know now as the truth always changes; however, we must understand that a person who is confident that he knows everything will never learn. Through science we accept that our knowledge is limited, and we strive to improve what we already have. Even though some scientific knowledge is considered be truth, it is still provisional since science is focused on disproving predictions and not on gathering enough evidence to make the conclusion valid or sound. Without science, one may argue, we would never achieve the advancements that we are fortunate to have today.