America has poured about 200 billion dollars into cancer research since President Nixon declared war on cancer in 1971. How is the war going after three decades? Why do assessments vary as widely as “beating cancer” and “loosing the war on cancer?”.
How does aspirin reduce pain and inflammation? How does it prevent heart attacks? Why does it upset the stomach? How do scientists discover the answers? This article examines research and development in the history from willow bark to aspirin to “super aspirins” Celebrex and Vioxx. Scientists adopt various approaches: trial and error, laboratory experiment, clinical test, elucidation of underlying mechanisms, concept-directed research, and rational drug design. Each approach is limited, but they complement each other in unraveling the mystery of a (...) wonder drug. (shrink)
“Inventing AIDS.” “Constructing cancers.” Relax; no bioterrorist mischief is implied. Like “Construction of nature,” “Social construction of illness,” “Social construction of scientific facts,” and many others, these are titles of scholarly books and projects in science, technology, and medicine studies. They express a fashion shared by doctrines loosely known under the rubric of postmodernism. It is recognizable by the frequent scare quotation marks around words such as truth, reality, scientific, and objectivity. The scare quotes convey the message that scientific knowledge (...) is so permeated by politics and cultural biases that it cannot be true and any claim to objectivity is illusory. (shrink)
“I myself was forced to call myself a molecular biologist because when inquiring clergymen asked me what I did, I got tired of explaining that I was a mixture of crystallographer, biophysicist, biochemist, and geneticist.” Thus explained Francis Crick, who with James Watson discovered in 1953 the double helical structure of DNA, the genetic material..
All complex systems are complex, but some are more complex than others are. Biological systems are generally more complex than physical systems. How do biologists tackle complex systems? In this talk, we will consider two biological systems, the genome and the brain. Scientists know much about them, but much more remains unknown. Ignorance breeds philosophical speculation. Reductionism makes a strong showing here, as it does in other frontier sciences where large gaps remain in our understanding. I will show that reductionism (...) and its claims have no bases in actual scientific research and results. The Human Genome Project will serve as a case in point.. (shrink)
Chance and accidents play important roles in scientific discoveries, but they are not blind luck. Serendipity is not merely stumbling on things unsought for, it is the ability to see significances and find values in the things stumbled upon. Without this ability, accidents do not lead to discoveries, as Pasteur observed: “Chance favors the prepared mind.” What are the characteristics of a prepared mind in science? How do chance and serendipity work in scientific research in general and drug discovery in (...) particular? (shrink)
PDF version This talk explores three concepts of system in engineering: systems theory, systems approach, and systems engineering. They are exemplified in three dimensions of engineering: science, design, and management. Unifying the three system concepts is the idea of function: functional abstraction in theory, functional analysis in design, and functional requirements in management. Signifying what a system is for, function is a purposive notion absent in physical science, which aims to understand nature. It is prominent in engineering, which aims to (...) transform nature for serving the wants and needs of people. (shrink)
Behaviors of chaotic systems are unpredictable. Chaotic systems are deterministic, their evolutions being governed by dynamical equations. Are the two statements contradictory? They are not, because the theory of chaos encompasses two levels of description. On a higher level, unpredictability appears as an emergent property of systems that are predictable on a lower level. In this talk, we examine the structure of dynamical theories to see how they employ multiple descriptive levels to explain chaos, bifurcation, and other complexities of nonlinear (...) systems. (shrink)
PDF version General principles and globally valid knowledge are essential to the progress of science and technology. However, globalization should not obscure the local origins of empirical knowledge and the necessity of particular factual information in practical applications of science.
Much complexity we see around us stems from a similar source, structures generated by the interactive combination of many constituents. The constituents themselves can be rather simple, so can the relation between any two. However, because there are so many constituents in a large system, their multiple relations generate a relational network that can be highly complex, variegated, and surprising.
Objectivity – to account for nature as it is, free from subjective biases – is a standard of science and commonsense. However, postmodernists distort it into God’s perspective. Because God’s position is beyond human reach, they dismiss objectivity as a sham and relegate all science and knowledge to be nothing but social constructions relative to specific cultures. Their forced choice between two polar options – an illusory absolute stance and arbitrary cultural fashions – is unwarranted. Objectivity has clear meaning within (...) the bounds of human understanding. (shrink)
Behaviors of chaotic systems are unpredictable. Chaotic systems are deterministic, their evolutions being governed by dynamical equations. Are the two statements contradictory? They are not, because the theory of chaos encompasses two levels of description. On a higher level, unpredictability appears as an emergent property of systems that are predictable on a lower level. In this talk, we examine the structure of dynamical theories to see how they employ multiple descriptive levels to explain chaos, bifurcation, and other complexities of nonlinear (...) systems.. (shrink)
Like science, engineering engages in analysis and synthesis. But whereas scientists tend to break matter down to its most basic building blocks, engineers ultimately aim to assemble myriad components into a complex system. Because the components are heterogeneous, engineers must integrate knowledge in many areas, and multidisciplinary teamwork is common practice. Like science, engineering covers both the general and the particular. But whereas scientists tend to design particular experiments for discovering general laws of nature, engineers tend to formulate general principles (...) for designing particular artifacts. Modern engineering has developed general theories about large types of artificial systems, notably information, control, and computation theories. These engineering theories are most effective for designing concrete artifacts, yet their abstract theorem-proof format is closer to pure mathematics than the format of physical theories, which are closer to applied mathematics. The apparent paradox accentuates the engineering emphasis on creating things rather than discovering phenomena already existent. (shrink)
In the past two or three decades, complexity not only has been a hot research topic but has caught the popular imagination. Terms such as chaos and bifurcation become so common they find their way into Hollywood movies. What is complexity? What is the theory of complexity or the science of complexity? I do not think there is such a thing as the theory of complexity. Not even a rigid definition of complexity exists in the natural sciences. There are many (...) theories trying to address various complex systems. What I try to do is to extract some general ideas that are implicit in these theories, and more generally, in the way that scientists face and think about complicated situations. (shrink)
What is technology, what does technology mean? One notion, which originated in the Greek téchnē, points to the rational ability to create and produce. This ability is primordial, for to produce the means of living and create meanings of life in work are vital to human existence. Modern technology grew out of ancient téchnē by developing its own reasoning and knowledge into science.
Perhaps Archilochus simply meant that the hedgehog’s single defense defeats the fox’s many tricks. Yet, the hedgehog and the fox were turned into metaphors for two types of thinkers and writers by the historian philosopher Isaiah Berlin. All the thinking and actions of the hedgehog revolve around a single vision and are structured by a single set of principles that the hedgehog holds to be universal. Foxes lack such central vision and universal principles; they seize many experiences and pursuit many (...) ends, always holding concrete particulars to be paramount. Each way of thinking has its strength and weakness; neither is superior to the other. Berlin cited Plato, Dante, and Dostoevsky as hedgehogs; Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Pushkin foxes. Tolstoy was diagnosed as a fox who imagined himself a hedgehog. (shrink)
“Closure occurs in science when a consensus emerges that the ‘truth’ has been winnowed from the various interpretations.” More than once in library books I saw “sic” scribbled in the margin pointing to the scare quotation marks in this and similar texts. If the readers read on, they would discover that scare quotes around scientific truth, fact, reality, nature, technological progress, and similar terms are fashionable in postmodern literature and are spreading beyond it. Scientific results are “true.” Scientists arrive at (...) the “fact.” What do the scare quotes mean? What are their effects? (shrink)
Speculations from God’s position are illusory; we have no access to that position. Ontology concerns not with what exist as God ordains but with what exist as intelligible within the bounds of human understanding. It calls for analyzing not only nature but also the characteristics of our own thinking that make possible analysis and knowledge of nature, so that we do not inadvertently attribute our conceptual contributions to what exist naturally.
Mind is not some mysterious mind stuff; no such stuff exists and the universe comprises only physical matter. It is an emergent property of certain complex material entities, not brains alone but whole human beings living and coping in the physical and social world. This thesis involves three ideas: materialism, emergent properties, and intentionality. The first two belong to the mind-body problem and the status of mental properties in the material universe. The third refers to the mind-world relation, the symbiotic (...) relation between subject and object in cognition and experience. (shrink)
PDF version As a scientific productive activity, engineering is closely associated with natural science on the one hand and industry on the other. The emergence of chemical engineering was influenced by the America’s industrial structures and academic institutions. The science-oriented characteristic of chemical engineering in turn impacted the development of industrial structures, especially the rapid rise of a competitive petrochemical industry.
Seeing a rose or hearing the doorbell is among the most common and immediate of experiences. Sense perceptions are also most fundamental and important; on them base all our factual knowledge and empirical science. Does their epistemological priority stem from their being unanalyzable primitives given to us? Do they have structures? If so, what are the structures and where do they come from? The importance of these questions extends beyond psychology to the justification of all knowledge and science.
Scholars in science and technologies studies talk about a “pure science ideology” or “scientific ideology.” Stereotyping applied science as a dull and mindless practice that generates no new knowledge, the ideology grossly distorts both pure and applied science. What is its origin?
It is now fashionable to say that science and technology are social constructions. This is true, or rather, a truism. Man is a social animal. Man is a linguistic animal, and language is social. Hence all products of human activities and everything that involves language are social constructions. But an assertion that covers everything becomes empty. The constructionist mantra that science or technology is “not a simple input from nature” attacks a straw man, for no one denies the necessity of (...) enormous human efforts in research, development, and design. To say that these are social activities should not imply that they are indistinguishable from other social activities such as politicking or profiteering. An investigation into their peculiarities will bring to relief their intellectual and technical characteristics. The argument that science and technology are social constructions because they involve many assumptions is again a truism. Whenever we think, whenever we find things intelligible, we invariably have used some concepts and made some assumptions. Philosophers such as Kant have painstakingly analyzed concepts without which intelligibility is impossible. The important questions are not whether scientists and engineers make assumptions but what kind of assumptions they make; not whether they make judgments, but what kind of reasons they offer to support their judgments. Are the assumptions and justifications all social? Or are they mainly technical? Admittedly, the boundaries between the two are not always sharp, but is it impossible to make any differentiation at all? (shrink)
This paper presents two interpretations of the fiber bundle formalism that is applicable to all gauge field theories. The constructionist interpretation yields a substantival spacetime. The analytic interpretation yields a structural spacetime, a third option besides the familiar substantivalism and relationalism. That the same mathematical formalism can be derived in two different ways leading to two different ontological interpretations reveals the inadequacy of pure formal arguments.
Quantum field theory (QFT) combines quantum mechanics with Einstein's special theory of relativity and underlies elementary particle physics. This book presents a philosophical analysis of QFT. It is the first treatise in which the philosophies of space-time, quantum phenomena, and particle interactions are encompassed in a unified framework. Describing the physics in nontechnical terms, and schematically illustrating complex ideas, the book also serves as an introduction to fundamental physical theories. The philosophical interpretation both upholds the reality of the quantum world (...) and acknowledges the irreducible cognitive elements in its representation. The interpretation is based on an analysis of our ways of thinking as the are embedded in the logical structure of QFT. The author argues that philosophical categories are significant only if they play active and essential roles in our knowledge and hence constitute part of the theories in actual use. Thus she regards physical theories as primary, extracts their categorical structure, and uses it to rethink key philosophical questions. Among the questions this book tries to answer are: What are the quantum properties independent of measurements? How do we refer to individual things in a continuous field? How do theories relate to objects? What are the general conditions of the world and of our ways of thinking that make possible our knowledge of the microscopic realm, which is so intangible and counterintuitive? As a penetrating analysis of vital themes in contemporary science, the book will engage the interest of students and professionals in physics and philosophy alike. (shrink)