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ScienceAsStorytelling4

ScienceAsStorytelling4 - Science as Storytelling Version...

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Science as Storytelling Version 4.0 (August 21, 2006) B. R. Bickmore Department of Geological Sciences Brigham Young University D. A. Grandy Department of Philosophy Brigham Young University ©2006 B.R. Bickmore and D.A. Grandy. This paper may be copied and distributed only on a non-profit basis, unless the express, written permission of the authors is given. What is Science? Much of our modern culture revolves around something called “science.” Governments want “scientific” analysis of various problems to guide policymaking. News reports detail the latest “scientific” studies about human health. People worry about whether their religion conflicts with “science.” But what is science? This turns out to be a complicated and controversial question, and whenever we try to come up with a really precise definition, we end up calling some activities “science” that we would rather exclude, or excluding some activities we would like to include (L AUDAN , 1996). For example, some people might distinguish science from other activities by noting that scientists perform experiments. However, some sciences are not particularly experimental, e.g., it is hard to imagine astronomers performing experiments on celestial bodies. On the other hand, astronomers do collect and record observations, even if these cannot properly be called “experiments.” Is the collection of observations of the natural world the defining feature of science? Apparently it is not, since astrologers have been observing and recording the motions of heavenly bodies for millennia, and most people would not classify astrology as science. Scientists typically go on to explain their observations by creating theories that might be used to predict or control future events. However, astrologers also explain their observations by creating theories, and they certainly try to use them to predict things (O KASHA , 2002, pp. 1-2)! Furthermore, there is a certain breed of physicists, called “string theorists” who have not yet come up with a single testable prediction, but that does not keep them from being classed with the other scientists in the university physics departments where they work. Even if a precise definition of “science” is not forthcoming, however, most people would agree that, in general, science does involve collecting observations about the natural world and coming up with explanations for them that might help us predict or even control the future. Therefore, we could propose a loose definition of science like the following. Science is the modern art of creating stories that explain observations of the natural world, and that could be useful for predicting, and possibly even controlling, nature.
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It may bother you that we used the word “stories” instead of “explanations,” “theories,” or “hypotheses” in our definition. It might be a bit shocking to think of science as a kind of “storytelling,” because we are accustomed to thinking about science as factual , whereas storytelling sounds so… fictional . After all, people have always told stories to explain natural
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