What is Science?

Storing nuclear waste:
This deadly stuff, which doesn't exist in nature,
emits tiny particles (smaller than atoms), which travel at almost-light speed.
Since any living thing exposed to long periods or large amounts will die,
robots are being used to transport it.


Preliminary definition:

Science: the attempt to discover
Universal Unchanging



NATURE is what you see, touch, hear, taste, and smell.
(Am I saying there is no such thing as a sixth sense, telepathy, or God? Are religion and science enemies?)

Nature is also called
"Experiment", or

Since they are
UNIVERSAL (it doesn't matter WHERE you are), and
UNCHANGING (it doesn't matter WHEN you are),
Natural Laws not only help to explain experience, but also help to...



From the point of view of politicians and business people, this is the most important thing about of science.

It is why all over the world, nations teach their kids science in school.
Because the ability to predict allows us to create ever more advanced technology.

Can you think of technologies which require that we know the future?


How do scientists come up with Natural Laws?
Let's hear Dr. Richard Feynman explain what scientists do.



This process of using our experience to come up with universal laws is called


Can you already see some problems with using induction?



1. How can we trust our senses (or even our brains!). Maybe we're dreaming or crazy or just irrational.(Philosophers love to point this out)
The first thing is you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest one to fool. -Feynman

2. How how do we know such universal rules exist? Or are simple enough to write down and understand?

For example, maybe we have natural laws which perfectly explain all the data.
Everything in our experience up to now is perfectly consistent with them,
and nothing has ever happened to make us doubt that they are perfect
universal laws that will hold for all time.

Then the very next day, something happens which has NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE
(or at least we've never seen it happen before), which violates the laws!

This is actually what happened to

Newton's Laws of Motion


Until the last century, nobody had seen anything which contradicted Newton's Laws.
But then we constructed an experiment which proved Newton wrong.

So, a problem with our experience is that it is always incomplete,
because there is always more of nature we have yet to see.


Science, as I defined it, is about 300 years old.
Before that, the people that studied nature were called natural philosophers.

Socrates, in an Arab manuscript

They tried to explain the world, but in a different way than we do now.
For example, they debated whether angels accounted for the motion of the planets around the
sun (or Earth, as they used to believe).


Rene DeCartes (who invented "graphing") tried to DEDUCE the laws of nature just by thinking!
(he said "I think, therefore I am", but didn't get much further than that).

DEDUCTION is what is used in mathematics, which is not about nature, but something else.
(more about this another time)


Scientists at the Manhattan Project

Some natural philosophers, like Francis Bacon, argued for the method of INDUCTION.
Bacon's method is basically the one we use today:
Just what Dr. Feynman explained.

It's a highly social activity, since it takes a lot of work to compute the consequences of a theory and even more work
to design and perform experiments to see if these consequences are true in nature. Often, older scientists play the role of managers, guiding the process while younger and more energetic minds do the hard work.

So modern science is inductive reasoning and mathematics, but how did it get this way?


Sir Isaac Newton: Unparalled Genius

Major Accomplishments:

1. Created 3 laws which govern all motion.

(They are now known to be false when applied to very large objects, very small objects, or very large velocities.)


2. Created a single law (universal gravitation), which, together with the 3 laws of motion, explained both the
motions of the sun, moon and planets AND motion here on Earth (falling):

To really grasp the incredible nature of this achievement, you must realize that, in that time, people thought that the objects in the sky ("the heavens") were divine: either they were gods or part of God's domain.
To see them up close, one would surely have to die first.

This makes some sense:
Aristotle (the great hero of the natural philosophers) argued this way because he saw that everything on Earth was flawed; no sphere could be made perfect, and even mountains passed away with time. Yet the sun and stars, etc. seemed perfect: exact spheres whose light and motions remain constant for all time.

But after Newton showed that objects here on earth and in the heavens obey the same laws, people realized that they were made of the same "stuff" (matter): the only thing that separates the ball in my hand from the big one in the sky is size and distance.
(maybe I can get up there!)

And the hits kept coming...

3. Almost single-handedly invented Calculus.
Together with his 4 laws, this was so powerful physicists thought Newton had basically solved the entire universe.

4. Wrote over a million pages on alchemy and the Christian occult

5. Master of the British Mint, created an unclippable coin.


For the next several months, we will study these 4 laws, which literally changed the world.

They were a catalyst for the current trends (300 years and counting) of:

1. rapid technological advance

2.people thinking science is a powerful tool, even that it will solve all problems,

3. mathematization of science.

These trends are a direct result of Newton's Laws, which are mathematical and predictive.

For example, the law of gravitation:
You see, the natural philosophers who thought that angels might push the planets around, said to Newton, "Your theory does
not explain the motion of the planets, it only describes it. What actually does the pushing?" Newton confessed he did not
know, but his point was that his theory made predictions.

I am like a boy playing by the seashore,
now and then diverting myself by finding a prettier shell or smoother pebble,
while the whole ocean of truth lay undiscovered before me. - Sir Isaac Newton