Science and Technology
There are many problems today with our understanding and expectations
of science and its offspring, technology:
- Many people are fuzzy about the role of science in modern society.
- This is especially complicated because science is often confused with
- The two are directly related but very different in their goals and objectives.
What is science and what is it all about?
The goal of science is to expand knowledge while the goal of technology
is to apply that knowledge:
- Both rely on asking good questions; that is, questions that can give valid
answers which will have real meaning about the problem under consideration.
- The basic difference in the their goals is one of abstract versus concrete.
- Science is more focused on abstract knowledge
- Technology uses the abstract to develop concrete devices and processes.
- The whole arena of science and technology deals with five fundamental components:
knowledge, skills and techniques, discovery, understanding and application.
- It is the interplay between science and technology that leads to advances
in modern society. This interplay results in new products and new companies
selling those products.
We will talk more about technology later, but let's focus on science right
now. Science focuses more on the first four of the five components listed
above and technology on the last one, but both have aspects of and rely
on all of them.
Science is a Process
People often think that science is using the scientific method.
They are right in that science is a process of doing something, but wrong
in focusing on a single method or thought process.
- If the goal of science is to expand knowledge, the process of doing
science is to ask and answer questions.
- The two main aspects of doing science involve understanding on one hand
and discovery on the other.
- There is dynamic tension or synergism between these two that is exiting
and productive. The diagram below shows the relationship between these
two components and their eventual culmination in application (technology).
This diagram shows how understanding is the basis for discovery:
INSERT DIAGRAM HERE
- Based on current knowledge, we creatively map out new areas for exploration.
- This exploration involves developing hypotheses (asking the right questions)
and attempting to answer those questions.
- The questions generate some kind of experiment, whether it is a Gedanken
(thought) experiment, a calculation on a computer or a chemical reaction
that has not been carried out before.
- Two key attitudes or activities are crucial for the experimentation stage.
- The first is intelligent observation which requires that the observer
actively interact with the experiment. This requires not just seeing, but asking
questions about what is being seen and attempting to understand the results
during the process. In fact, Yogi Bera made a comment on doing experiments
as well, "you can see a lot by looking."
- The second attitude ties in with the first and involves serendipity. This
attitude is one of expectation of an accidental or unexpected discovery.
As Louis Pasteur said, "Chance favors the prepared mind."
The key thing about doing the experiment is that you are hoping to make
a discovery. That is, come up with something that was new or different
than what you expected. Of course, when you design the experiment, you
are attempting to address and answer specific questions. This means that
you have some idea about what the answer will be. But real discoveries
in science almost always result from seeing something that was not expected,
something different that changes our thinking and understanding.
The synergism between understanding and discovery works both ways.
- The discovery process, if successful, leads to an unexpected finding. This
finding must be understood before it can be used and brought into the general
framework of existing knowledge.
- To understand a new discovery, you must go through the scientific process
but in a different manner. That is, you must again ask questions about
the discovery, develop a hypotheses (an experiment or way of answering
the question), and see if the hypotheses fits the facts and observations
made during the discovery.
- A further mental component of translating discovery into understanding
involves the development of relationships and concepts.
- Once you confirm the discovery and map out its limitations and attributes,
you must put it into a context of related behavior.
- What are the relationships between your discovery and other aspects of
- What new concepts must be applied or developed to extend the discovery
to more general areas?
- What old concepts must be modified to accommodate this new discovery?
These are the kinds of questions that must be answered before any discovery
results in a true extension of our understanding.
Technology: Not Just a Step-child of Science
Technology results from the process of doing science through application
- Both understanding and discovery are key components of any application.
- Whatever it is that you want to do must be new and useful.
- Once a discovery is made and sufficient understanding has been developed
to see what limitations and applications might exist, converting those
potential applications to reality requires a combination of skills that
go beyond science.
- These include such things as engineering and scale up, device development,
interfacing of a discovery to related technology, plus entrepreneurial
and marketing aspects of implementation of the discovery and understanding.
- All of these are extensions of the basic scientific effort and methods.
To recap, then, it is important to understand what science is about: expanding
knowledge through asking questions. That process encompasses understanding
and discovery that can lead to technological applications.
- Science is a process that is exciting because it involves all aspects of
the human intellect.
- Science is a human process that requires emotional commitment, passion,
energy, and discipline.
- Most important is the often overlooked fact that science is extremely satisfying:
there is nothing more rewarding that making a new discovery that can lead
to technology for improving the way we live.