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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Science (from Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. An older and closely related meaning still in use today is that found for example in Aristotle, whereby "science" refers to the body of reliable knowledge itself, of the type that can be logically and rationally explained (see "History and philosophy" section below). Since classical antiquity science as a type of knowledge was closely linked to philosophy. In the early modern era the two words, "science" and "philosophy", were sometimes used interchangeably in the English language. By the 17th century, natural philosophy (which is today called "natural science") had begun to be considered separately from philosophy in general. However, "science" continued to be used in a broad sense denoting reliable knowledge about a topic, in the same way it is still used in modern terms such as library science or political science.
In modern use, "science" is a term which more often refers to a way of pursuing knowledge, and not the knowledge itself. It is "often treated as synonymous with ‘natural and physical science’, and thus restricted to those branches of study that relate to the phenomena of the material universe and their laws, sometimes with implied exclusion of pure mathematics. This is now the dominant sense in ordinary use." This narrower sense of "science" developed as a part of science became a distinct enterprise of defining "laws of nature", based on early examples such as Kepler's laws, Galileo's laws, and Newton's laws of motion. In this period it became more common to refer to natural philosophy as "natural science". Over the course of the 19th century, the word "science" became increasingly associated with scientific method, a disciplined way to study the natural world including physics, chemistry, geology and biology. This sometimes left the study of human thought and society in a linguistic limbo, which was resolved by classifying these areas of academic study as social science. Similarly, several other major areas of disciplined study and knowledge exist today under the general rubric of "science", such as formal science and applied science.
History and philosophy
Science in a broad sense existed before the modern era, and in many historical civilizations, but modern science is so distinct in its approach and successful in its results that it now defines what science is in the strictest sense of the term. Much earlier than the modern era, another important turning point was the development of the classical natural philosophy in the ancient Greek-speaking world.
Science in its original sense is a word for a type of knowledge (Latin scientia, Ancient Greek epistemē), rather than a specialized word for the pursuit of such knowledge. In particular it is one of the types of knowledge which people can communicate to each other and share. For example, knowledge about the working of natural things was gathered long before recorded history and led to the development of complex abstract thinking, as shown by the construction of complex calendars, techniques for making poisonous plants edible, and buildings such as the pyramids. However no consistent distinction was made between knowledge of such things which are true in every community, and other types of communal knowledge such as mythologies and legal systems.
Philosophical study of nature
Before the invention or discovery of the concept of "nature" (Ancient Greek phusis), by the Pre-Socratic philosophers, the same words tend to be used to describe the natural "way" in which a plant grows, and the "way" in which, for example, one tribe worships a particular god. For this reason it is claimed these men were the first philosophers in the strict sense, and also the first people to clearly distinguish "nature" and "convention". Science was therefore distinguished as the knowledge of nature, and the things which are true for every community, and the name of the specialized pursuit of such knowledge was philosophy - the realm of the first philosopher-physicists. They were mainly speculators or theorists, particularly interested in astronomy. In contrast, trying to use knowledge of nature to imitate nature (artifice or technology, Greek technē) was seen by classical scientists as a more appropriate interest for lower class artisans.
Philosophical turn to human things
A major turning point in the history of early philosophical science was the controversial but successful attempt by Socrates to apply philosophy to the study of human things, including human nature, the nature of political communities, and human knowledge itself. He criticized the older type of study of physics as too purely speculative, and lacking in self-criticism. He was particularly concerned that some of the early physicists treated nature as if it could be assumed that it had no intelligent order, explaining things merely in terms of motion and matter.
The study of human things had been the realm of mythology and tradition, and Socrates was executed. Aristotle later created a less controversial systematic programme of Socratic philosophy, which was teleological, and human-centred. He rejected many of the conclusions of earlier scientists. For example in his physics the sun goes around the earth, and many things have it as part of their nature that they are for humans. Each thing has a formal cause and final cause and a role in the rational cosmic order. Motion and change is described as the actualization of potentials already in things, according to what types of things they are. While the Socratics insisted that philosophy should be used to consider the practical question of the best way to live for a human being, they did not argue for any other types of applied science.
Aristotle maintained the sharp distinction between science and the practical knowledge of artisans, treating theoretical speculation as the highest type of human activity, practical thinking about good living as something less lofty, and the knowledge of artisans as something only suitable for the lower classes. In contrast to modern science, Aristotle's influential emphasis was upon the "theoretical" steps of deducing universal rules from raw data, and did not treat the gathering of experience and raw data as part of science itself.
During late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, the Aristotelian approach to inquiries on natural phenomenon was used. Some ancient knowledge was lost or in some cases kept in obscurity during the fall of the Roman Empire and political struggles. However, the general fields of science, or Natural Philosophy as it was called, were preserved though the works of the early encyclopedists like Isidore of Seville. Islamic science provided much of the activity for the early medieval period. In the later medieval period, Europeans recovered some ancient knowledge by translations of texts and they built their work upon the knowledge of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Euclid, and others works. In Europe, men like Roger Bacon learned Arabic and Hebrew and argued for more experimental science. By the late Middle Ages, a synthesis of Catholicism and Aristotelianism known as Scholasticism was flourishing in Western Europe, which had become a new geographic centre of science.
Renaissance, and early modern science
By the late Middle Ages, especially in Italy there was an influx of texts and scholars from the collapsing Byzantine empire. Copernicus proved that the Earth was not the centre of the solar system as Aristotle had argued. All aspects of scholasticism were criticised in the 15th and 16th centuries, and the Catholic Church executed people who publicly argued the truth of Copernicus' earlier findings. One author who was notoriously persecuted, but not executed, was Galileo, who made innovative use of experiment and mathematics.
In Northern Europe, the new technology of the printing press was widely used to publish arguments that disagreed with church dogma and Descartes and Bacon published philosophical arguments in favor of a new type of non-Aristotelian science. Descartes argued that mathematics could be used in order to study nature, as Galileo had done, and Bacon emphasized the importance of experiment over contemplation. Bacon also argued that science should aim for the first time at practical inventions for the improvement of all human life.
Bacon questioned the Aristotelian concepts of formal cause and final cause, and promoted the idea that science should study the laws of "simple" natures, such as heat, rather than assuming that there is any specific nature, or "formal cause", of each complex type of thing. This new modern science began to see itself as describing "laws of nature". This new modern science was heavily criticized as atheistic, and mechanistic, just as the physics of Democritus had been in classical times.
Age of Enlightenment
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the project of modernity, as had been promoted by Bacon and Descartes, led to rapid scientific advance and the successful development of a new type of natural science, mathematical, methodically experimental, and deliberately innovative. Newton and Leibniz succeeded in developing a new physics, now referred to as Newtonian physics, which could be confirmed by experiment and explained in mathematics. Leibniz also incorporated terms from Aristotelian physics, but now being used in a new non-teleological way, for example "energy" and "potential". But in the style of Bacon, he assumed that different types of things all work according to the same general laws of nature, with no special formal or final causes for each type of thing.
It is, during this period that the word science gradually became more commonly used to refer to the pursuit of a type of knowledge, and especially knowledge of nature - coming close in meaning to the old term "natural philosophy".
Both John Herschel and William Whewell systematised methodology: the latter coined the term scientist. When Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species he established descent with modification as the prevailing evolutionary explanation of biological complexity. His theory of natural selection provided a natural explanation of how species originated, but this only gained wide acceptance a century later. John Dalton developed the idea of atoms. The laws of Thermodynamics and the electromagnetic theory were also established in the 19th century, which raised new questions which could not easily be answered using Newton's framework.
Einstein's Theory of Relativity and the development of quantum mechanics led to the replacement of Newtonian physics with a new physics which contains two parts, that describe different types of events in nature. The extensive use of scientific innovation during the wars of this century, led to the space race and widespread public appreciation of the importance of modern science.
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