1 - Introduction 1 1. SCIENCE, PHYSICS, AND BIOLOGY If one...

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S CIENCE, PHYSICS, AND B IOLOGY 1 J. Newman, Physics of the Life Sciences, DOI: 10.1007/978-0-387-77259-2_1, © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008 1. SCIENCE, PHYSICS, AND BIOLOGY If one examines the course catalog of a large, contemporary, university in the United States for fields of instruction in science, one can find such titles as animal science, astronomy, atmospheric science, biochemistry, biology, botany, chemistry, computer science, geology, ecology, mathematical science, meteorology, physics, psychology, toxicology, and zoology, to name but a few. Each of these is a field of study in its own right consisting of many subtopics. On the other hand, a catalog from a U.S. college that existed in the early 19th century probably would show at most only two “sciences”: natural history (the progenitor of geology and biology) and natural philosophy (physics and chemistry). Over the years, there has been an explo- sion of speciation in science, resulting in what appears at first sight to be a techno- logical Tower of Babel. Although the factual content of the many branches of modern science may serve to differentiate one from the other, all branches share certain common characteristics and concepts. Most important, all of the sciences share a way of thinking. Science is a search for truth predicated on the belief that there is an absolute physical reality; things aren’t just figments of our imaginations. Science is based on observation. Unlike the observations of creative art or religion, for example, which tend to be pri- vate and highly personal, scientific observations are made, as best as can be done, in a public way, that is, in a way that anyone, in principle, could repeat them. Scientific truth is couched in models . A model is not the thing itself, but a repre- sentation of the thing, much like a metaphor. A model is a guess about how the thing works based on a set of empirical data. (If the dataset is very large and the model appears to be especially useful, it is called a theory . In science, the colloquially pejo- rative phrase, “That’s only a theory,” would never be used because in science a the- ory is the best kind of guess one can have.) A model can be physical or pictorial or verbal. Often in science, models are mathematical. Mathematics is an incredibly eco- nomical way of expressing an idea. One equation can encapsulate tomes of empirical data. Better yet, an equation can be used to predict outcomes of experiments per- formed under conditions never seen before. In fact, prediction is the heart of science. Science is a relentless series of predictions designed to identify the limitations of previously established “truths.” By tearing down and supplanting prior knowledge, science aspires to produce an ever-clearer picture of physical reality. In this sense, science can be said to be an insatiable pursuit of provisional truth.
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This note was uploaded on 11/10/2011 for the course PHYS 232 taught by Professor Hand during the Spring '08 term at University of Tennessee.

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1 - Introduction 1 1. SCIENCE, PHYSICS, AND BIOLOGY If one...

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