The late 19th and 20th centuries have seen advances in technology and scientific understanding the likes of which have not been seen before in such a short amount of time in known Human history. In the last hundred and fifty years science has advanced so much that one would barely recognize the lifestyle of Humans before all these technological wonders.
In fact, if the scientists and thinkers of pre-industrial society had had a glimpse of the technology available to the average early 21st century man they would probably surely think some sort of sorcery was involved and would not believe for one moment that all these technological innovations were based on concepts of the governing laws of the universe that have applied all through mankind’s history. In fact, modern science looks pretty solid when one examines all of its wondrous creations and the fact that new ones keep coming out daily.
For instance, it would appear that modern science has correctly solved the understanding of concepts and principles which govern how electricity flows in a circuit. After all, computers, hair dryers, TV’s and other such electronic devices use this scientific understanding to function properly and in turn most people use such devices every day, thus is this science proven every time such a device is used successfully? It is easy to classify such scientific understanding as fact when devices built upon the science work and work very dependably at that.
However is this science fact as would appear, or is merely conjecture based upon an observable phenomenon? Perhaps something entirely different happens when we throw the switch on a light bulb and it illuminates than what science says happens. Even though the light bulb lights up every time, that does not necessarily mean that the scientific understanding of how the light bulb works is true. Take for instance the scientific principles of projectile motion.
In a simplified form, current physics explains that projectile motion is composed of two components. A y component which describes the objects path in a vertical direction and the x component which describes the object’s motion in relation to a horizontal direction. This explanation show that projectiles travel in an arc and its has been proven countless times through experiment upon experiment since its original conception. However, the modern principles of projectile motion is not how scientists have always explained the phenomenon.
In fact, the theory proposed by medieval scientists in drastically different from what is now accepted. This scientists of yesterday tried to explain projectile motion from what they observed and the most likely example of projectile motion that a medieval scientist would have seen would be a catapult or some other similar device. When someone on the ground observes such a device in action it is hard to see that the object moves in an arc because the object is usually observed from the back (hopefully not the front) rather than from the side.
Scientists would observed that object appeared to move up at a fairly constant rate then go smashing into the ground some distance later. Thus, the theory that they adopted to explain this motion was that an object had a certain amount of energy when it was thrown. This energy, which they called “impetus” caused the object to go up in a straight line at whatever angle it was fired at and once the object reached its maximum height, it used all of its impetus and fell straight down in a vertical line to the ground.
This theory of projectile motion existed for some time and it was not until scientists such as Galileo started conducting sound scientific experiments that the modern ideas of projectile motion were formed. Thus it is evident that even if a device (the catapult in the above example) harnesses some phenomenon, the explanation for the phenomenon is not necessarily true just because the device works. This example instead shows what science really is. Science is an attempt by Humans to explain the world around us.
When something is observed, a scientist begins to propose ideas as to why something is happening the way it is. The scientist uses all the current scientific theories to support his new idea and also uses experimentation to test the new idea. Over time through experimentation the idea is refined and if it appears to be sound then it is accepted as theory. However, in the future a new breakthrough may come about which renders this old theory obsolete and scientists at the time of the discovery will realize that the previous theory that was accepted as truth was completely wrong.
Perhaps many theories widely believed today will become obsolete upon new discoveries in the future and future scientists will dismiss ideas many modern scientists hold as truths just as modern scientists easily dismiss the medieval idea of impetus. Thus the question arises once again of whether science is fact or plausible fiction. Science is fact, however it is a different kind of fact than that of absolute truth. Science is best defined as “scientific fact”. Scientific fact is a generally accepted explanation of reality and it is open at all times to inquiry.
This idea of a scientific fact is definitely not an absolute fact, as absolute truths exist only in the realm of mathematics. Rather, facts in the context of science are explanations which seem to explain a phenomenon and which hold in line with other accepted scientific facts. Furthermore, there are varying degrees of scientific fact. For instance, theories in paleontology and sub atomic theory are much more prone to change over time with further scientific discovery than the concepts of Newtonian physics which have been unchallenged for hundreds of years.
Therefore it is clear that as scientific fact exists for longer and longer periods of time without being disproved and that new theories are built upon the original theory that also appear to be valid, then that scientific fact approaches closer to absolute fact than theories which are newly formed. However, it is core to science being science that no theory can every be 100% absolute truth. Only by constantly questioning a scientific idea and searching for a better explanation is progress made and hence if one began accepting scientific facts as absolute facts, progress would cease.
Thus science can be explained in terms of multiple scientific facts. However if these scientific facts can be disproved at any time, how are they any different than convincing fiction? Scientific fact as stated above attempts to approach absolute truth but can never actually be absolutely true, however as ideas are constantly improved upon they become closer and closer to this untouchable absolute truth. Sound scientific facts can be reproduced by any scientist and are given more plausibility each time they are successfully reproduced.
This is how science is more fact in the sense of an absolute fact rather than being fiction. If a scientific theory apparently explains a phenomenon, can be reproduced multiple times and it agrees with other scientific facts then it is more likely truth than just a convincing fiction. Convincing fiction on the other hand is something that is false at its core, but appears to be true via various convincing arguments.
Science does not fall under this category because science is developed using methods such as the scientific method that require a scientist to be very thorough and hence ideas which appear to be true, but which are in reality fiction, will be weeded out through experimentation. There is somewhat of a gray area between this convincing fiction and scientific fact because of the idea of various degrees of scientific fact as mentioned above, however good science which follows the scientific method is differentiated from the plausible fiction simply from the fact that it is reproducible and that it agrees with other widely accepted ideas.
Science is constantly built upon itself and if one was to classify all science as convincing fiction then that would mean that all science is inherently false, instead the idea of science as scientific fact allows for the idea that science is true which allows for further scientific advancement because one can rely on previous scientific ideas and treat them as fact to build new theories which if also are scientifically proven will further validate the original theory.
Thus scientific ideas which are developed through the appropriate means of scientific method and which are reproduced by other scientists can be accepted as fact in the context of science. This scientific fact is seen as being inherently true due to the fact that it is built upon former scientific ideas that have been time tested and which approach as close to absolute truth as possible. Although a new piece of information can come to light that totally disproves a theory, the likelihood of disproving most core theories (ie. ravity) is relatively slim due to the fact that ideas that have been built upon the core theory have also been scientifically proven and accepted as scientific fact. Therefore core science is much more fact than fiction as it is proven via extensive experimentation and the newer more controversial theories are also more fact as they are built upon the core theories which are close to being absolute truth.