I am currently a PhD student studying physics. I’m not sure what sub-field I’m going to do my research on, at present I’m leaning toward biophysics. It’s a lot of work, with lots of very difficult homework; it’s exactly what i wanted. I feel as though I am on the track to achieve meaningful goals (contributing to the enterprise of human knowledge, and if I choose biophysics, possibly contributing to medical science and saving lives), while exercising some of my greatest talents and satisfying my desire not simply to wonder about the world but to discover the answers.
More generally, the criteria of predictive accuracy and falsifiability used by science have shaped my understanding of knowledge.
If you’ll indulge a tangent, it’s interesting to note that falsifiability isn’t a necessary condition for scientific research. Theories which lack falsifiability must have special circumstances in order to be scientific. Certain areas of physics, like string theory, are currently unfalsifiable (broadly speaking). However, string theory is still science for a few reasons.
- String theory makes predictions testable only in conditions that are currently impossible to produce in a laboratory. However, these conditions might someday be within our reach, in which case string theorists would all accept the results.
- Even if no test of current theories is ever possible, the efforts put in to understanding string theory are in fact attempts to describe the world based on observation.
- Furthermore, even if the theories turn out to be totally bogus, the research on current, unfalsifiable theories, can be construed as an attempt to devise better, testable theories.
- Incidentally, string theory has born fruit in branches of pure math, which makes string theory research a productive endeavor aside from whether it’s 'science’ or not.
It should be observed that these are characteristics absent from superstitions, for example. Most superstitions are testable, but the superstitious do not generally accept the results of tests. Superstitions are sometimes based in observation, but where this is the case the analysis of the observation fails to account for problems such as selection bias, etc. Also, superstitions really aren’t attempts to get at testable theories. Superstitions could be called precursors to science in a historical sense, but people don’t usually work long hours to come up with superstitions so that their superstitions will one day lead to scientific research.
People do sometimes create superstitious ideas which they believe to be scientific, as in “creation science”. This is called pseudoscience. See also this wonderful speech by Richard Feynman on Cargo Cult Science.
As you can see, science not only directs my understanding of ontology, but leads me toward ontological pontification :)
Another way to answer the question, “What role does science play in my life?”, would be simply that science is what I do all day.
Posted: October 14th 2007
See all questions answered by George Locke