Science + Mathematics = The Greatest Discovery/Invention

An essay on the power of the Scientific Belief System...  Science and math as the greatest inventions of all Time...

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Site last modified: 2015-Apr-25

In a recent book and group meeting, the question was raised, "What is the greatest invention/discovery?".

Here is my answer...   Science+Mathematics is the greatest discovery of humanity thus far.

Science (def.): roughly, the study of natural, realistic, physical, & usually qualitative relationships, generally applicable to reality.
Science is the rational belief-system/philosophy that uses the methods of observation, objectivity, experimentation, and organization to understand and explain the underlying patterns and structure of the universe. It does this by creating an ever-evolving model of the actual universe, a mathematically-based approximation which provides logical explanation and prediction of natural phenomena.

Mathematics (def.): roughly, the study of logical, symbolic, conceptual, & usually quantitative relationships, often applied to physical systems.
Mathematics is the core logical foundation and structure upon which science rests. Mathematics allows for the calculations necessary to build, and often extend the structure of the model. In a sense, you can say that mathematics is the language of science. Since the concept of proof is built-in to mathematics, we can be sure that the foundation is solid. Mathematics has shown itself to be fundamental many times over in its application to reality. New discoveries in math often lead to new discoveries in science, as well as vice-versa.

Mathematics+Physical Science (def.): the tool/method for the systematic discovery and organization of knowledge of the physical universe.
Since mathematics is integral to the science of the physical world, I will assume it into the definition and simply refer to the combination as Science.

Now then, why is Science+Mathematics the greatest invention/discovery?
Because, when they are used together, they are the fundamental belief-system which allow us to:
understand, adapt to, and manipulate the universe that we live in for our benefit.

The universe and all that it contains is simply too big for the human mind to comprehend in whole. However, by studying the patterns observable in nature, humans can simplify and condense the amount of material necessary to understand certain aspects of the universe. These patterns are then combined and integrated logically/mathematically into a model, called science, or physical science. This model is a human-level representation of the universe which is large enough to be predictive, but small enough to be comprehensible. Often, the Universe is referred to as the big Reality or Big-R, and the model of it as the little reality, or little-r. Little-r is not a fixed object; it progresses in the sense that it becomes a better, more accurate, more precise, wider-ranging model with each increase of scientific knowledge. At each step, we try to make little-r match up to Big-R as much as possible. By using science and building better and better models of the universe, humans can then create the technology which allows them to live comfortably and easily in an otherwise unforgiving world.

Now, let me expand on the idea of a belief-system. All belief-systems (a.k.a. religions) are really just the methods for seeking the truth and avoiding the falsity within the universe. Each of the various belief-systems has different methods of gaining knowledge, different authorities to appeal to, different methods of proof or verification, different explanations for how things work, different reasons for why things are the way they are, etc. But all of them answer these basic questions: What should I believe in? Why should I believe that? How can I be sure this is right? The answers to the first two questions are invariably "This one" and "Because it is the truth". It is the last question that is the most important. Let's study its history. Since antiquity and for eons, humans have tried to explain the things that they observe around them. Some explanations were simple common sense, such as why do you get burned if you play with fire. Answer: because it's really hot. In early times, some explanations, usually of complicated things, gave rise to belief in spirits and deities. For instance, why does it rain? Well, there must be a rain god who is crying. Why does it thunder? There must be a thunder god who is angry. Why do we die? Because god must will it so. Later, as more and more phenomena were observed, the number of different deities grew unwieldy and the move was made to make a single god who was the cause of everything. The ultimate answer to all such questioning was now "because god wills it so". If you think about it, this really tells you nothing. It has zero explanative or predictive power. Many rational people, of course, found these explanations particularly unsatisfying. These belief-systems lacked one major component necessary for really matching Reality, that of error-checking. The answer to "How can I be sure this is right?" with these belief-systems is that whichever appropriate god or spirit makes it so. There was no other way to actually check and see if the answers were correct, everything was simply taken on faith. In the end, that is the final argument for these kind of belief-systems; you must have faith that they are correct. Of course, there are many such religions, all of which claim to be the correct one, and all of which have the final argument based on faith. Back to square 1. What should I believe in? 

Meanwhile, great thinkers in different areas of the world, and at different times discovered the basic methods of mathematics and science. Great strides were made, especially during the Renaissance or Age of Enlightenment. In mathematics the concept of proof was born. In science, the concept of experiment and evidence was born. The union of the two was the discovery of a new belief-system, one with built-in error checking. No longer were appeals to faith necessary. With Science, one could do experiments to get the answers, and use the mathematics to prove them. Why does it rain? The sun provides heat which evaporates water on the surface. The water rises and then cools and condenses into clouds. When a critical saturation point is reached, the drops become too heavy to be suspended in air, and water falls back to the surface as rain. Or snow, or sleet, or hail, or mist, or fog, all depending on particular variables such as local air pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speeds and directions, etc. Science not only gave complete detailed explanations, it gave details for variations as well, giving great predictive power. While this is the explanation, there were many experiments done with different variables over a long time to prove it. Let me list some of the ways that the scientific belief-system prevails over others.

Science is different from, and superior to, other belief-systems in several respects:
It is internally consistent, in that it follows exacting logical/mathematical procedures. It doesn't conflict with itself.
It is externally consistent, in that the approximation accurately and precisely models the actual, observable universe. It doesn't conflict with Reality.
It is verifiable, in that it makes predictions which can be tested empirically and repeatably. The predictions are quite often astoundingly accurate.
It is falsifiable, in that false theories forced onto the model give incorrect empirical results, which leads to their removal from the model.
It is self-correcting, in that any "gaps" in the model can be corrected by addition of new data/knowledge or often by logic alone.
It is democratic, in that is usable by anyone who chooses to study its methods, not just by a select/elite group using an old, unchangeable book.
It is objective, in that represents the actual universe, not one's own prejudices or subjective opinions about the universe.
It is progressive, in that it can grow and evolve in a coherent way to explain as yet unobserved data; it can even predict never-before-seen phenomena.
It is coherent, in that seemingly unrelated realms of knowledge are actually just specializations of more general underlying concepts.
It is rational, in that its realm of application is the natural universe, and it does not require the presence of anything mystical, supernatural, or divine.
It is systematic, in that it builds upon itself in a logical way, from the concrete foundation of mathematics.
It is all-encompassing, in that it can, in theory, answer questions and provide explanation about anything within the universe.
It is extremely powerful, in that systemizes the organization and application of knowledge in a logical, consistent manner.

Basically, if you have a question about the Universe or its contents, use science+mathematics to find the true answer.

Now then, are there questions that science cannot answer? Yes, anything involving unrealistic, supernatural, or divine phenomena. Do such phenomena exist in reality? Only the universe as a whole knows the answer to that. I personally have never experienced anything requiring a non-physical explanation, nor have I heard convincing evidence of such, and therefore believe that such phenomena do not exist in nature. I am not ruling out the possibility of something extra-universal, I have simply never observed any such thing. Is there anything else that science cannot answer? Certainly there are areas of nature in which our models are still in the infant stage, such as the details of awareness, consciousness, sentience, psychology, etc., but there is no physical system yet discovered which is in theory not understandable via the methods of science.

Science is itself divided into several different branching disciplines, depending on the scale what is being studied. At its base is the discipline of physics, which tells about the fundamental particles and their interactions. Above this is chemistry, which tells about elements & molecules and their interactions. Above this is biochemistry, which tells about those chemicals involved in life processes, such as DNA, proteins, & enzymes. Above this is biology, which tells about larger structures such as the organs in living things. Above this would be zoology, which tells about animals and botany, which tells about plants. Going back to chemistry, a different branch would be geochemistry, which tells about the elemental structure of rocks and minerals. Above this would be geology, which tells about large scale interactions of mineral structures, such as plate tectonics and earthquakes & volcanoes.

My 2nd choice for greatest invention would be the technological invention of the Personal Computer and the Global Network, as enabling devices that allow one person in an hour to perform the work that would normally take thousands or perhaps millions of people to accomplish without such aid over years.

JBW 2003

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Quantum Mechanics is derivable from Special Relativity
See QM from SR-Simple RoadMap