virus: Re: Virus: Tools of the trade

Martin Traynor (
Mon, 23 Sep 1996 09:54:49 +0000


Wade T. Smith kindly allowed me to rephrase one of his questions as;

'in what way do I think the scientific investigation of the natural
universe lacks the tools necessary to answer certain questions?'.

Sorry for the delay in replying but I remembered that Rich Artym
answered it quite effectively in a recent thread on the transhuman
mailing list <>. He's more
eloquent than I on this subject so I've dug around the archives and
taken those passages that seemed appropriate.

Over to Rich
- ------------------ the theories it conjures up merely to model the
perceivable behaviour of reality without in fact knowing anything
about what reality actually is.
- ------------------
the strict definition of Science as a discipline that applies the very
formal procedures of the Scientific Method. (That's not circular: the
Scientific Method denotes a single, atomic concept with a precise and
unambiguous meaning.) The social sciences employ many of the
procedures of the scientific method, but the single, most important of
those procedures is almost impossible to perform correctly in these
disciplines --- that's the experimental testing of hypotheses under
the required conditions of error-bound handling and state invariance.
The world of people and their processes is so complex and totally
beyond our ability to control experimentally with any precision that
it makes a mockery of our best efforts to apply experimental
procedures in a way that makes them mathematically valid. Even
integrating results over huge populations doesn't yield good
statistical precision, because test populations and their controls are
never identical to any significant degree, varying with location and
over time and with the latest political debacle and the weather and
the stock market and whether Juventus is playing on the telly and,
and, and .... It doesn't work: you can't hold the variables
constant, nor even know all the variables that affect the outcome.
- ------------------
Science is totally incapable of studying itself, as
should be obvious from examining the procedures of the experimental
phase of the scientific method. It has nothing to do with "maturity"
of Science ... but simply with the impossibility of applying the
methods of Science to Science itself, ie. rejecting hypotheses by
examining the behaviour of reality and making the appropriate
error-bounded correlations with the models and theories created by
Man. You can model Science itself and you can create precise
mathematical theories about how it works, but it all falls down at the
final stage because Science is a construct created by ourselves, not a
testable feature of the universe. The study of Science is a study, not
a science, just like social studies and various other well-intentioned
but inherently non-scientific disciplines. It's not enough for a
study to use maths and to gather observations from the field to become
a science; Science has a very limited scope within which it works
with extraordinary power, and cramming inappropriate disciplines into
its purvue in a quest for respectibility is a mistake, and doesn't
deliver that power.
- ------------------
This is elementary stuff for scientists and
engineers. If more people were aware of it then there would be far
less scope for misunderstanding both the power and the limitations of
science. Both are huge. It's not a matter of advocacy, but simply a
description of the toolsets that each discipline employs; if a
discipline does not employ the precise procedures of the scientific
method like those I briefly outlined above then it cannot hope to be
able to claim the same power as disciplines that do. That doesn't
mean to say it's unworthy of study...
- ----------------------

Thanks Rich.

To summarise;

Science cannot answer questions about reality, only its behaviour.

Science cannot be applied to social studies.

Science cannot study itself.

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