Science as a unique component of modern culture. Historical considerations. Perceptions of science in different cultures. Modern science and traditional knowledge. Evolution and trends in knowledge acquisition. Transdisciplinarity.
Chair : Robert Halleux Secretary-General,
What makes science unique in
the experience of mankind?
Maria Carla Galavotti
The paper will first recollect the position held by thinkers belonging to the analytic-empiricist tradition, who give a definite answer to the question posed by the title. They in fact claim that a "criterion" between scientific and non-scientific statements can be defined, providing a precise characterisation of science as opposed to pseudoscience. They also believe in the possibility of formulating general standards of scientific procedure and of analysing the logical structure of scientific inquiry, with the end in view of showing that science serves the rational pursuit of acquiring reliable knowledge of the world on which we live. As to the nature of scientific inference, the adherents to the analytic-empiricist perspective have taken different attitudes, while some, like Rudolf Carnap and Hans Reichenbach, have taken an inductivist stand, others, like Carl Popper, have taken the deductivist perspective.
The analytic-empiricist position has been challenged by the so-called "post positivists" who deny the possibility of defining univocally scientific method and call attention to the historic-sociological aspects of science. Some, like Thomas Kuhn, stress the need to take into account scientific practice and it's pragmatically aspects and support methodological relativism. Paul Feyerabend has gone farther advocating methodological anarchism, on the claim that there is no way of giving a univocal account of "scientifically", or "scientific rationality", especially on a logical basis.
The debate between these schools seems to have left no room for an epistemological analysis of the nature and specificity's of scientific knowledge. Still, the plausibility of this kind of study can be found in a pragmatically perspective, according to which science is to be analysed within a specific context. This involves a renunciation to an overall picture of science; to focus on scientific achievements obtained in various fields of inquiry. An analysis of this kind requires weaker concepts than those traditionally adopted by philosophers of science like the use of models in place of general laws and the adoption of a probabilistic approach to important notions including explanation and causality. Though more restricted than advised by neoempiricism, the notion of scientific method and rationality depicted by a similar epistemology can nevertheless throw some light on the nature of science and its specificity's.
How modern science was born and developed
It is generally considered as a matter of fact that science, defined as a rationally founded discourse on the nature of things, began in ancient Greece, and that experimentalism was part of these early developments, particularly in the fields of physiology and medicine, where experimentalism and critical reflection on method were strongly linked to each other. The "modern" period is generally defined by historians as starting with the end of the Middle Ages and ending with the French Revolution. This period includes the 17th century's Scientific Revolution. However, what is called "modern" science is often understood as science in its contemporary features, such as highly developed experimentalism, strong connections with technologies and social development in general, concern with cognitive and methodological aspects. Historians of science tend to think that modern science took its real start at the beginning of the 19th century. In this presentation, I will deal mainly with 19th and 20th century science. During this period, the interplay between theoretical and experimental aspects became crucial and even so dramatic that in most influential ideas on science, science was defined in a very modern way as a learning process, it means as a process of creation of new concepts in order to interpret previously unknown data. The increase in the scope of the human mind's cognitive tools, in mathematics and mechanics, was unprecedented. The increase in dimensionality, in the microscopic as well as the macroscopic dimensions, of the sciences of the world, of matter and energy - including the sciences of the earth - was equally unprecedented. The sciences of man and of its mind as products of biological evolution were also major constituents of these developments.
However, purely cognitive or purely objective descriptions of these developments are insufficient to understand them fully. Creative minds, highly original and often isolated men, as was often the case in the 19th century, took part in a knowledge enterprise which became a major goal in many countries, with cultural and political differences in the awareness of the importance of scientific progress and in its pace. Scientific progress became in some cases a major tool in the construction of the nations economic and political power. It is now being a major tool in the construction of the future for the whole of mankind.
About non-science, para-science
"History of science is the history of mankind". These words from George Sarton (1884-1956) illustrate the triumphalism of scientists in the first half of the 20th century. Being the only cumulative and universal process, science was unanimously considered as productive of values. However, the last decades have witnessed the development of a wide spectrum of attitudes calling science into question, from the scientists' autocriticism to a radical distrust (anti-science). These widespread opinions have today a strong political impact and might at least weaken the very development of scientific research. In connection with this, one has observed the renewal of systems of knowledge which were excluded from the positivist definition of science (para-science, from the Greek "para": next to, without any value judgement); or of radically false systems that give themselves the appearance of science (pseudo-science, from the Greek "pseudomai", which means to lie). All these attitudes, theories and practices require a multi-disciplinary analysis: historical, sociological, epistemological and psychological.
Hostile attitudes to science do not concern its truth-value as they did in the previous centuries. Apart from some marginal situations, the reat religious systems have reached a compromise with science. What is criticised is its technological applications and their consequences on man, his environment and society. However, in parallel with this, the sociological approach of Kuhn's disciples, which views the scientific paradigms as a pure product of the social consensus, introduced in the study of science a relativism that overshadows the specificity of the scientific enterprise.
In the face of science's failures and dangers, several systems of traditional knowledge, which had been marginalised by the dominant (Western and academic) science have surfaced again in the North and in the South. The conflicts, of which traditional knowledge is the object, are not only intellectual ones. They conceal important power issues. Finally, pseudo-sciences (astrology, alchemy, deviatory crafts, magic, etc.) represent an inadequate response. Their influence on the mentalities poses a real threat, which is all the more serious since they are often associated with authoritarian ideologies. Instead of simply refuting them in the name of the scientific method, it is preferable to study their origins, their basic concepts (nature, revelation, tradition), their thought mechanisms (analogy, experiment) and their rhetoric (authority and persecution rhetoric).
The conclusion is a plea for an adapted policy regarding teaching and popularisation.
Western and non-Western
Juan José Saldaña
Has a non-western science existed? This seemed to be the first question that suggests the title of this communication. At the present time we met enough historical evidences to respond affirmatively to that question. The history of science has been able to sustain, for example that in the Chinese, Hindu and Meso-American civilizations original scientific knowledge that arose with total independence of the West took place.
A second question is if the non-western science has been reducible to the Westerner, that is to say if both are not but portions of oneself scientific knowledge. It has been affirmed equally that the science non Westerner finished to be integrated to the western scientific tradition in more or smaller measure and in different moments of its evolution. This was the case in the Greece of the antiquity, the high Middles Ages, the Rennaissance or the main consequence of the Discovery of America; or in cases like that of Meso-America or India an abortion took place of the non-western cognitive traditions for the imposition of the western science, which didn't go to the mainstream of this because of that abortion. Areas of knowledge that were developed outside of occident it is true that although they have arrived until to the present they still have not been able to be integrated to the western science, as in the very well-known case of the Chinese acupuncture.
Once the diffusion took place of the European science to practically the whole orb, and seen science like an institution, the question that arises is if this process came to mean a pure and simple adoption of science according to the European pattern, or if, on the other hand, trans-cultural exchanges and forms of domestication of science took place. Here also the historiography of the science has put of relief that is this last what happened, because in fact they arose forms of cultivation of the science different from the European as, for example, the different loci of scientific activity in Islam which included the Mosque, the medieval Arab practice of translation and innovation of scientific texts, and the study of the local realities in Latin America that were of interest for the regions and Europe doesn't.
Once made the verification of the existence of a non-western science in the cognitive plane as in the social one, at the present time the historians of science wonder for the paper that has had the cultural diversity in the development of science. When coming this way they have left the conception of the scientific development that assigned a homogeneous and non-historical character to the forms that met the modern science in the European occident, to take step with it and for the first time to the writing of a truly world history of science. What these studies are showing is that the culture of science has not been independent of the other cultural and social factors present in a society in a given moment.
Finally, the communication finishes pointing out that, as all revolutionary knows today, the revolutions -included Scientific Revolution, we think- are not exportable. For it, the social history of the science allows to affirm that it corresponds to each society to design the appropriate strategies to return viable the projects for a scientific modernization. History, culture and science have been in the past crisscross elements and it will be stiller in the future if it is that the goal must be possible of making of science a social good one shared by the whole Humanity.
The invention of classical scientific modernity
From an epistemological point of view, classical scientific modernity can be fully characterized by two terms: algebraic and experimental. From a historical point of view, science was becoming more and more "international", as much on account of its sources as through its development and extensions.
My purpose in this talk is to show that these main characters were founded between the 9th and 13th centuries by scholars scattered between Muslim Spain and the outposts of china, but who were all writing in Arabic. The appropriation of this new rationality by the scholars began from the 16th century, which will give rise to improvements. It would then seem essential that whoever wishes to understand classical modernity should break with the periodization drawn by historians, founded on a causal link between the events of political, religious and literary Renaissance history and the events in science. This new historical knowledge is required to better understand historical universality of science.
A new survey of the Needham Question
Why did modern science, or scientific revolution, rise only in the West at the time of Galileo but not in China, despite the latter had reached a quite high level in applying human natural knowledge to practical human needs before the fifteenth century? This question is the core of Joseph Needham1900-1995's monumental project Science and Civilization in ChinaSCC.
In fact, as early as the 17th -18th centuries, the Jesuits coming to China had already noted the "backwardness"of Chinese science and some thinkers of the Enlightenment had tried to find appropriate explanations. Moreover, during the first half of the 20th century, a number of Chinese scholars had devoted their attentions to the"backward"problem. All these arguments emerged before that the SCC was widely popular among academic circle.
The ultimate goal of Needham's SCC was to promote mutual understanding among different cultures. According to his conviction, like art and literature, science is the common heritage of the whole humankind. Therefore any non-Western culture is no longer to be treated as "backward"and the modern science should be considered as the great composition of the scientific knowledge in different civilizations.
Contemporary Chinese scholars do not only stress Needham Question; it also causes a global interest. Recently, there are several articles discussing the Needham Question based on the social contexts of Japan, Korea, India, and Egypt, respectively. The volume of the Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures is another example of the influence of Needham's works.
Nowadays the"science"has been attacked by various criticizers, post-modernists, feminists, ecologists and humanists etc. Nevertheless, science has not gone to its end. For a developing country, people should not only explore the reasons of"backwardness"; more importantly, they may also need to find a way of maintaining the coexistence of the modern science and traditional science, and promote their prosperity together, like people doing with traditional Chinese medicine and modern Western medicine.