Aristotle is a villain to physicists. His ideas about science kept us back for centuries.
the contempt for history and logic, the hubris is palpable...
In order for it to be a scientific question, it has to be defined in a way that is measurable mathematically... so that it can be used to make predictions. If you can't test your answers by making predictions then it isn't science.
Natural philosophy or philosophy of nature (from Latin philosophia naturalis) was the philosophical study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science. It is considered to be the precursor of natural science.
From the ancient world, starting with Aristotle, to the 19th century, natural philosophy was the common term for the practice of studying nature. It was in the 19th century that the concept of "science" received its modern shape with new titles emerging such as "biology" and "biologist", "physics" and "physicist" among other technical fields and titles; institutions and communities were founded, and unprecedented applications to and interactions with other aspects of society and culture occurred.
Isaac Newton's book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), whose title translates to "Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy", reflects the then-current use of the words "natural philosophy", akin to "systematic study of nature". Even in the 19th century, a treatise by Lord Kelvin and Peter Guthrie Tait, which helped define much of modern physics, was titled Treatise on Natural Philosophy (1867).
So science was born out of philosophy. And like a child who wants to affirm her independence, she has ever since tried to take a distance from her mother, including sometimes by being grossly unfair or even insulting to her.
This said, since the birth of modern science in the 19th century, philosophy herself has evolved and taken a distance with facts and logic, sometimes straying very far into nonsense, e.g. Hegel, Heidegger or Derrida, so that could also explain some scientists' disdain.
I recommend reading Karl Popper, if one wants to appreciate how philosophy of science can be useful to scientists. Particularly “An argument for indeterminism”, perhaps his most brilliant book on the subject of science.
Imagine asking how Mitochondrial DNA might prove maternal ancestry but not have a mathematically predictable equation to prove it. So
Today we discuss the words used in science , the history, the story of how a scientific word came to be. And what better place to start off our series of Science Diction with the word scientist. How did the word scientist come to be?
Joining us now to talk more about that is my guest Howard Markel. He's professor of the history of medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He's also director of the Center for the History of Medicine there. And he joins us from WUOM out there in Ann Arbor. Welcome back to SCIENCE FRIDAY.
Dr. HOWARD MARKEL (University of Michigan): Well, thanks for having me, Ira.
FLATOW: The history of the word scientist. Scientist is not that old a word, is it?
Dr. MARKEL: No. I was really amazed. It's only about 176 years old, to be precise. It came around in 1834. And a Cambridge University historian and philosopher of science named William (technical difficulties) coined it.
FLATOW: William, again? We missed that name.
Dr. MARKEL: William Whewell. It's spelled W-H-E-W-E-L-L. And he (technical difficulties) science, and it was an early point in science, at least experimental science, when a lot of the game rules were actually being developed. So he was really quite an umpire and was consulting with people like Darwin and Faraday and a lot of other prominent scientists that we idolize today.
FLATOW: Mm-hmm. And so how did they get around to using that word?
Dr. MARKEL: Well, no one really knew what to call a scientist. There was all these different names like cultivators of science and...
FLATOW: Wasn't there a natural philosopher used?
Dr. MARKEL: Natural philosopher, yes. And so he thought - you know, there's a lot of consilience. In other words, he came up with a lot of jumping together of all fields of science. And we ought to come up with a word that refers to all of them. And so he was actually writing in 1834. He came up with (technical difficulties) terms. The first he considered was savant, or men of learning. But he dismissed that for both being presumptuous and French. He was British, as you recall. He also considered the German term naturforscher, which is really naturalist. But he worried that some might make fun of that term, calling it nature-poker or nature-peeper. And as you just mentioned, natural philosopher was dismissed because it was simply too wide and too lofty a term.
But eventually he came up with, by analogy with artist, that they might (technical difficulties) word scientist. But he had a few qualms about that because it was close to a few other words that were not held in high regard. The first was economist. That may still be true to this day. And the other was atheist, which was a real problematic term back in those days. But he came back to it, nevertheless and he said, you know, I think this is a word, a cultivator of science in general ought to be called a scientist.
And a review of his work in Blackwell's magazine later on that year, in 1840, described it even better. They said Leonardo da Vinci was mentally a seeker after truth. He was a scientist. Well, Correggio, who as you may recall like to play with lightness and (technical difficulties) so the size of body parts, was an asserter of truth. He was an artist.
FLATOW: Hmm. How did he get to be friends with all those famous people, Faraday, Darwin?
Dr. MARKEL: Well, he was the master of Trinity College at Cambridge, so he had a very good position. He was also a fairly good scientist in his own right. He was a mineralogist. He wrote about geology. He wrote about oceanic tides, mathematics. So he was around.
And he was actually writing a book that became very well known, "The Philosophy of the Inductive Science," at this time, where he was trying to set up - how do you come up with a hypothesis? How do you prove it? Should it be universal? And you know, this all seems, you know, so basic to us today. But (technical difficulties) back in 1830s, 1840s, when real science, as we understand it, was just being laid out.
FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number, if you'd like to talk with Howard Markel about the origin of the word scientist.
Howard, how do you come up with this stuff?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr. MARKEL: Well, I'm afraid to tell you because it's so easy. You may not ask me to come back. We want to look up a word, any word in English language. The best place to start is the Oxford English Dictionary because it not only gives you definitions of the word, but it tells you every point in English history where it first appeared.
Dr. MARKEL: (Technical difficulties) look it up. But that's the fun of it because you never know what you're going to find, and it's always something good, and you find all these connections. And so finding out about that scientist was a relatively new word led to Whewell's works and then it led to me finding about who his friends were and so on. I even learned that he died, unfortunately, falling off a horse at the age of 71. But it's really just - you know, you start with that Oxford English Dictionary and you're off to the races. And so, you know, it's so much fun looking up things. So I hope the listeners want to do that as well.
FLATOW: You know, it seems like there was sort of an evolution. The first words that you mentioned were - ended in ER, nature-poker, nature-peeper, natural philosopher. And now it seems like you take the words and you put an ist, scientist, naturalist, you know, biologist.
Dr. MARKEL: Yeah - biologist, geologist.
FLATOW: Yeah. They just decide, well, we're going to go with that kind of ending. We'll take the same things - the discipline that these people do, put an ist on it instead.
Dr. MARKEL: Well, what's really neat is that it all comes from the word artist. And you know, often there's great art in great science, just as there often is great science in great art. I think it's a really neat coming together (technical difficulties)...