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Science, facts, truth #2

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Submitted by Morry (United States), Aug 26, 2010 at 19:24

continuing with the post that I accidentally posted before completing:

THEN the laws of gravity would permit this only if the moon was at a specific distance from earth DIFFERENT from the actual current distance. Scientific knowledge, in other words, enables us to PREDICT events, and to CONQUER NATURE; our understading of the "nature" of nature, enables us to manipulate events so as to make the functioning of natural laws accomplish things we desire. Before we put man made objects into orbit, it was a FACT that there were none in orbit. But scientists had fortunately discovered laws which enabled us to arrange for the existence of NEW FACTS .

scientists enable us to BRING INTO EXISTENCE NEW FACTS WE WISH TO EXIST, which is what's meant by commanding nature -- "nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed." IE, we have to use the laws of nature to make certain aspects of nature conform to our desires, and to use those laws, we obviously must know what they are. Facts are the input to science, the raw material, and it goes without saying that you want to be careful, to be sure of your facts, before you rely on them to build something that depends on them, such as a theory of magnetism or of the atom or of heat or whatever. Facts are the eyes of scientists, but then once they see those facts clearly, they have to use their brains still further to understand the implications of those facts, and deduce how they relate to each other, ie to hypothesize and ultimately theorize about what causal logic relates them, if there's any causal relationship at all.

When we say that someone is "concerned" with X as a blanket statement intended (in the context) to describe the essesntial preoccupation of that someone, then the X is usually the ULTIMATE concern or object of that someone or that endeavor. Scientists are concerned with putting bread on their table, having good alarm clocks and comfortable shoes, and taking vacations now and then too. These are not generally cited as the things science or scientists are concerned with, though it's a FACT that they are concerned with them. "Facts" come a little closer to the concerns of scientists, qua scientists, than comfy shoes, but they still fall short of being the ESSENTIAL ...they still fall short of being the ULTIMATE concern of science. They are AN essential concern in the process of doing science, somewhere along the way. Yeah, you could say "eating right" is a concern of scientists to, cuz if they all starved to death there would be no more of them to do science for us. But of course facts, per se, facts about the external universe, are indeed a necessary part of any aspect of any COMPLETED scientific accomplishment, though someone who has a bunch of data (facts) collected by others who is trying to find a causal relationship amongst them MAY in some instance have little to no direct concern with the specific facts themselves while he is doing the final step of hypothesizing about their relationship.

Ultimately, facts are the test of any new scientific knowledge: experiments or observations which yield results (facts) that are inconsistent with a hypothesis or theory, will invalidate it. So we need raw input from reality (facts) before we can begin to form any ideas about what principles might govern there connections/relationships to each other, and we need the results of experiments or observations (facts) to confirm or refute the answers we come up with to offer as the principles which may be governing those relationships. So even though facts are the ultimate test of any scientific theory, so what? Everything is a fact, everything real is.

Shoemakers, prostitutes, and poets depend on facts in their work. For scientists, facts function both as input and as confirmation of the output of their work. But the WORK ITSELF ...but the WORK ITSELF that is specifically and essentially the work of science, is to ACQUIRE KNOWLEDGE ABOUT OUR UNIVERSE, which is another way of saying "seeking truth" about our unverse. The universe is the sum total of everything that exists, ie of ALL FACTS. Science is not restricted from a concern with any aspect of the universe's contents. It is concerned generally with learning about reality, what it is and how it behaves, ie with facts and with how various types of facts may relate to each other in a causal way. The most broad, all-encompassing, and essential description of this activity is to say that it is the pursuit of truth about the universe we live in, and this subsumes all the other concerns, the other necessary, optional, and incidental concerns it may have.

A small clarification: "necessary" and "essential" are not the same thing either. To live, it is necessary a man have a functioning heart. But that is not the essential defining characteristic of a man. It's impossible to coceive of an actual living human being who has no heart and no circulation of blood, but who yet is a man who lives. These are things essential to his survival, of course, which is one NARROW context in which "essential" and "necessary" can be synonyms. It is necessary OR essential for a man to have eyes if he wishes to see, to have food if he wishes not to starve, to have muscles if he wishes to move. But when we are defining the concept "man," it is NOT correct to say "man is a being with a heart, who eats and moves and....(etc, other things "essential" to various of his many potential activities)." When we are looking for the ESSENTIAL DEFINING characteristic of anything, we are looking for the characteristic which enables us to distinguish that thing from all other things, that concept or class of entities from all other classes. To "define" means to put borders or a box around it and say "it is this, and this is it, and nothing else can enter this definition space, and nothing in this space may leave it."

The DISTINGUISHING or DEFINING characteristic is the one that identifies the concept by conclusively distinguishing it from all other entities. Man's is that he is an animal with a conceptual consciousness, a mental capacity for reasoning. (All definitions must state a broader category, then a characteristic which distinguishes the concept from its broader class -- another topic). So when you are attempting to characterize the essence of scientific activities or scientists, you must provide their DISTINGUISHING characteristic for the definition to be correct. You cannot simply state another trait or characteristic -- even if it's an essential one -- if it is not a DISTINGUISHING essential one. The CONCEPT of a scientist includes ALL his attributes and activities, but the DEFINITION includes only his essential DISTINGUISHING characteristic. THAT'S THE WHOLE POINT OF CONCEPTS AND DEFINITIONS, to keep thinking clear and logical and to enable correct thinking. If you are dealing with some class of entities in your logical thinking, you must think of them as they are in their entirety, completely, becaause if you omit part of their nature from the concept, then your concept of that class of entities will not be complete, and you may overlook something when you try to think about how such things will behave in relating to other phenomena of the universe. But when you want to be clear in your communication to others AND IN THE LOGIC OF YOUR OWN THINKING about this class of existing things, then you would get hopelessly bogged down if you had to run down the entire list of their characteristics, many of which might be essential characteristics.

What you need is a definition which clearly distinguishes that group of entitites from all others, an essential characteristic which is a DISTINGUISHING one, and that is what you use to DEFINE the concept. You need the concept, and the definition of it. And then for further ease of thinking, you assign a single word to refer to that concept, a word which has a definition too, ie the distinguishing characteristic of that category of existants. A scientist is "a man (the genus, or broader category separating him from the myriad types of things which exist and from which we will then proceed to isolate him as a subcategory) who is engaged in seeking knowledge (truth, if you will) about the universe." He is also a man who has a heart and lungs and so forth, but these are not what distinguishes him from other men (from the genus, or broader category used in the definition). But when we think of a scientist, we know that he does have a heart and lungs as part of his identity, because his identity includes ALL his characteristics as an entity in the universe.
We also know that he is a "rational animal.." but we don't need to spell that out -- we already did that for "man" so we can just look up "man" in the dictionary if we don't already know the definition of the genus we've used in the definitiion of this type of man. And when we do look it up and see "rational animal...." we may then have to look up "animal" as the genus from which "man" was isolated. And so on...working BACKWARDS from the way in which these definitions were originally created. All knowledge is hierarchical -- built on what went before. We keep adding new concepts aand definitions as we learn about them or as they come to our attention or as we create them. We can then use the differentia as the genus for the next level. ONCE WE HAve defined "scientist" by differentiating him from the genus "man" to uniquely identify the concept as a particular subgroup of men, we can then use "scientist" as the genus for defining still more specific subgroups within this defiintioin. EG, we define a meteorologist as "a scientist who studies weather" or an astrophysicist as "a scientist who studies the cosmos" and then we can go on to define a solar scientist as "an astrophysicist who studies the sun" etc etc.

It's very analogous to algebra, where we let X stand for the number of nuts on the scale, so that we can think and draw conclusions proven by logic regardless of how many nuts are involved, and in some problems, solve for their value and know it will be true regardless of whether X refers to pounds of nuts or the pressure of a gas. The point of concepts is to enable reliable and trustworthy logical thinking about enormous numbers of things all at once, with one series of logical steps. The purpose of definitions is to make this process more tractible, to give us a shorthand that will be effective assuring that we never mix apples with oranges in our thinking, to keep the number of mental "variables" we're required to manipulate down to a minimum and still assure us that whatever logical conclusions we draw will automatically apply correctly to ALL instances of the entities under scrutiny.

OK, end of my digression.


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