The Natural Sciences The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible. Albert Einstein All science is either physics or stamp collecting. Ernest rutherford All our science, measured against reality, is primitive and child-like and yet it is the most precious thing we have. Albert Einstein
Questions to ponder about the Natural Sciences Brainstorm a list of words that you would use to describe Science. What disciplines do you think come under the umbrella ‘The Natural Sciences’. What do you think they all share in common? Physics is regarded as a challenging school subject, called 'hard’ by many students. Why? What is it about Physics that has earned it this reputation? What is an experiment in Science? Students often claim after they have done an experiment that it either ‘worked’ or it ‘did not work’. What does it mean when they say this?
An Introduction to the Natural Sciences – Nicholas Alchin Read this article. Answer the questions at the end.
The ‘Card’ Game You will be put into small groups You will be given 8 cards Each group in turn will be asked to offer me a card I will either accept or reject your card according to a rule that only I know. You need to figure out the rule and try to get rid of all your cards.
The ‘Card’ Game Round 1 Red, Black, Red, Black ….. Round 2 Spade, Heart, Club, Diamond, Spade, Heart, Club, Diamond….. Round 3 Even, odd, even, odd…..
The ‘Card’ Game • What have you been doing in order to guess the rule? • Pattern spotting (empirical observation) • Guessing the rule based on past experience (inductive hypothesis formation) • Testing the rule (trying to falsify the rule) • 1,2 and 3 are easy to get . Most scientific rules are not and are often about spotting complex patterns.
The ‘Card’ Game • Round 4 • Prime, Not Prime, Prime, Not Prime…. • This pattern is mathematically based and often reflected in science, ‘the laws of nature are written in that great book whose language is mathematics’ Galileo • Round 5 • Girl, boy, girl, boy ….. • Round 6 • Left hand, right hand, left hand, right hand……
The ‘Card’ Game 5 and 6 were more difficult to get because you made assumptions about what the game was about (patterns, numbers, colours etc) your own beliefs distorted the way you approached the problem!! Scientists do research and they bring to their research through years of study their own paridigms (commonly held beliefs within the scientific community).
Problems of empirical obseervations If Science is steeped in empiricism what problems does this pose?
The Scientific Method • Step 1 – Experimental data / observations • Supposed to be unbiased and objective. • Is this the case? What do you think affects the observer or what is observed? • What we see is affected by our paradigms – knowledge, expectations and cultural upbringing • Scientists are only human and may choose to observe things based on financial, political, social or personal reasons • Observations are described in language, even the simplest observation statement involves language – is there such thing as a neutral observational statement? • Often scientists observe a certain category and see that as important without thinking about other possible categories. They don’t just observe, they choose which aspects of a situation to concentrate on.
The Scientific Method • Step 2 – Inductive hypothesis • All based on past experience. Science looks for certainty, induction does not give certainty. We rely on inductive reasoning in arriving at beliefs about what we have not observed namely the future! • Step 3 to 4 – Creativity • More often than not most theories are rejected. • Step 3 and 5 • The acid test of any theory is to experiment and have the ability to falsify the theory. Falsification allows theories to be weeded out that do not meet with how nature works. A mechanism to eliminate failures – central to the natural sciences.
What is an experiment? Read about the Scientific Method (Nic Alchin) and answer the questions at the end. What justifies a scientific claim? What counts as an experiment? Can experiments be carried out in other subjects? Science in school – how likely is it that the science you do at school is wrong or incomplete? What about the science in journals such as the New Scientist?
Scientific Claims – An African Perspective • Read Scientific Claims ‘An African Perspective’ • Discuss your answers.
The Truth is Out There • Make notes in the following: • Popper • A paradigm shift • A Scientific revolution • Kuhn • What shapes scientific research?
The Growth of Scientific Knowledge Has Scientific knowledge always grown? In this respect how does scientific knowledge compare to the other AoK? Could there ever be an end to Science? In other words could there be a point where everything in a scientific sense is known? If so, what might be the consequences of this? Test tubes and Tantrums
Creativity in Science Define creativity What is the role of creativity in the sciences? Read ‘Creativity in Science’ and answer the questions Are scientists creative?