Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Edge and Core of Science

Science requires confirmation. Where there is no confirmation, or where confirmation is not theoretically valuable or accurate, one often sees volume substituted. For example, global environmental studies of the earth's temperature are necessarily limited; there have been only a few regular and continued measurements sites for the last four or five generations and those sites have been limited. Consequently, in the place of meaningful data, numbers are substituted. For this reason one hears "consensus" rather than "confirmation." There is simply no way to torture meaningful data out of the few data points available.

It is at this time one hears scientists start whispering "soft science." There are some areas of investigation that just do not provide us with enough meaningful data to justify meaningful conclusions. But they try. The social sciences are good examples. How can one analyze the musings of Freud or Jung? What studies would confirm their theories? And the anthropologist, how does he come to a thesis and a conclusion? Looking for repetitive and predictable behavior patterns begs the question in the true meaning of the phrase. The conclusion is the observation is the conclusion.
And there is another element, the element of the individual. How does the group change him and does that change skewer the information. Emergent behavior like the flocking of birds is entirely unrelated to individual bird behavior yet it is quite distinctive. Is the beating heart of man in the city? On the farm? On the porch?

One huge difference is that science discards the outlier, yet the outlier might be the story. A mob killed Lavoisier; where would the social scientist look? He would look at the mob; Lavoisier would be an insignificant outlier. Edison? Napoleon? Lincoln? All would be rejected as not being representative of us.

It diminishes us. It misses our point.

Which is why we have Art.

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