What is science?

earth-and-mineral-sciences1What are the organizing principles for the sciences? There are two major criteria for the differentiation  of sciences:

  • The scientific method employed
  • The field of study, or the scope of the inquiry.

The scientific method is a method of inquiry which regards itself as fallible; it  purposely tests and criticizes itself in order to correct and improve itself.  The goal is to let reality speak for itself, and to build a model of a certain aspect of reality. It starts with a hypothesis as an explanation of phenomena.  The hypothesis has to be refutable, which means it has to be provable and testable. A hypothesis should allow the creation of predictions.  This allows the design of tests or experiments that lead to the verification or rejection of the underlying hypothesis. Furthermore, the whole procedure must be repeatable in order to exclude errors.

There is an ongoing philosophical discussion about the nature of scientific theories and their relationship to reality, or to truth.  Even the falsification of a hypothesis that is derived from a particular theory may not lead to the rejection of the theory, but only to its modification. Scientific theories bind different hypotheses  into larger coherent structures.  They also allow us to organize, document, and archive scientific knowledge, thereby making it possible to transmit and teach scientific insights to the next generation of researchers.

The scientific field itself can be subdivided in various ways. The boundaries between sciences are fluid, therefore there is much emphasis today on multidisciplinary approaches to certain phenomena. Generally, we distinguish between the following dimensions of science:

  • Formal sciences (math, logic, information theory, linguistics)
  • Physical sciences (physics, chemistry – they study non-living systems)
  • Life sciences (mainly biology –  the study of everything that is alive: plants, animals, humans)
  • Social and behavioral sciences (everything that is concerned with human behavior and society: anthropology, archaeology, economics, education, linguistics, political science, sociology, geography, history, law, and psychology.)

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