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TERM PAPER Science, Engineering & the Modern World

The demarcation issue of what is and isnt Science was not of great interest in the pre-modern
times. It has only evolved due to the increasing number of subjects in the modern world being
studied in the way that the umbrella term Science once referred to.
This has led to the need for classifying and separating Science from pseudo-Science.
Many of the pre-modern topics are now unanimously agreed upon as pseudo Science such as study
of Religion, Philosophy, Astrology, Vastu-Shastra et cetera. They were found to not obey any of the
many popularly agreed definitions 1 of Science (more on that later).
None of the practices and beliefs that these topics preached were found to be provable,
experimentally reproducible or even observable in nature. And are characterized by exaggerated and
contradictory claims. And thus they were easy to discard as Science.
But the oldest topic in the history of mankind, Mathematics, and the newest topic of the modern era,
Computer Science, have still not found a home on either side of the boundary. But why is that?

Definition of Science
Before moving on to that question, let us first (try to) define Science.
The clearly accepted winner in todays world is called the Scientific Method.
It proposes that scientific fields are defined by the presence of scientific theories that are
falsifiable, inductive generalizations that survive comparison with reality and that those theories
lead to paradigms, foundational principles based on empirical evidence that concisely summarize
fields of knowledge and that produce consensus among a fields practitioners. 2
As discussed later, some part of Maths does follow this rendition of Science, but theres also
mathematics that quantifies experimental evidence, and then theres mathematics that expresses
Science, or knowledge, is the need to find truth. But truth may exist not only in nature,
surrounding us, but in the abstract of it too. Thus I think that the definition of Science needs to be
broadened to encompass truth in the abstract.

1. Science need to be clearly defined before a conclusion about Is Math a science? can be
2. http://arachnoid.com/scientific_paradigm/resources/scientific_paradigm.pdf

TERM PAPER Science, Engineering & the Modern World

Mathematics as a Science
Mathematics has evolved greatly from how it was studied thousands of years ago from counting and
calculation to systematic study of shapes and physical objects, apart from its most obvious
emerging role as a tool for other subjects including natural science, medicine, economics to even
social sciences. It is agreeably indispensable.
But what is it?
Mathematics has been called the language of nature by not one but many famous philosophers
and scientists including Galileo Galilei who said The universe cannot be read until we have
learned the language 4
This is what some of of the other great minds of our society have had to say for Mathematics:
Aristotle defined mathematics as "the science of quantity" 4
Albert Einstein stated that "as far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not
certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality." 4
Carl Friedrich Gauss referred to mathematics as "the Queen of the Sciences" 4
Benjamin Pierce said that mathematics is "the science that draws necessary conclusions" 4
Iris Runge, german applied mathematician aptly notices that ..no consensus has been
reached about whether mathematics is a natural science, a branch of the humanities, or an art
form. 3

It maybe because of the emergence of so many branches of Mathematics that it has become hard to
agree on its definition.
I am convinced of the view that Mathematics is an abstraction of the real world objects through
symbols, of actions through mathematical operations and so on. Atleast some part of it is, involving
the branch knows as Applied Mathematics. Unarguably, the branch of Abstract Mathematics and the
subject of complex numbers can not be seen in the real world.
This extract from the Wikipedia page on Mathematics 4 explains this well,
The history of mathematics can be seen as an ever-increasing series of abstractions. The
first abstraction, which is shared by many animals, was probably that of numbers: the
realization that a collection of two apples and a collection of two oranges (for example)
have something in common, namely quantity of their members.

3. Iris Runge: A Life at the Crossroads of Mathematics, Science, and Industry-Renate Tobies, pp. 9
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematics

TERM PAPER Science, Engineering & the Modern World

Not all math is detached from the natural world as it may seem. It is only the symbols and the letters
that are a figment of humans imagination, but not the idea of Math itself. There are a lot of
examples from history of Science where things were discovered through equations long before they
were verified by empirical observation (eg. Neptune). The fibonacci series is a famous example that
is shown to manifest in the nature. It is said that it was discovered by observing the offsprings of
rabbits. Im sure the rabbits arent familiar with the idea of sequences and series that they would
decide to follow it in their mating process.
But it is also true that Mathematical theories are very different in a sense from Scientific theories.
Though some do follow suit. One very simple example would be Pythagoras. He theorized that the
squares that can be put alongside two smaller sides of a right triangle can be rearranged and put
alongside the largest side of the triangle. Its possible he observed this in the nature from, say,
wooden pieces lying around? We dont know.
Then, this theorem, like any other scientific theorem, was verified that it held true for every right
angled triangle they found in nature or could draw on paper, its statement improved from the
colloquial statement of Pythagoras to the algebraic form we all know today, found complex proofs
from rearrangement to differentials. Even Einstein discovered 5,6 a proof for the simplest theorem
known since two thousand years ago.
Further, we used this theorem to discover others like Pythagorean triplets, Pythagorean
trigonometric identity, and even applied it to three dimensions 7.
Hence, this theorem can be said to have followed the Scientific Method completely.

Computer Science as a Science

Theres a very cloudy misconception surrounding this term. Computers are the result of the intertwingling of Electrical Engineering and Mathematics. But that isnt what Computer Science is
about. Computers are just a tool for the scientific part of computer science which is Computation.
Computation is nothing but a subset of mathematics.
Edsger Dijkstra summed it up best: Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy
is about telescopes. 8
Computer Science is often regarded as soft Science because it doesnt deal directly with nature
like other sciences. Its artificial in a sense. In computer science, the goal is not to figure out the
answers to factual questions, but rather to figure out how to get answers. The procedure is the
solution. While scientists want to figure out what is, computer scientists want to know how to 8.
Does Computer Science in a strict manner follow the Scientific Method? If we consider the method
minus observing the nature i.e. creating hypothesis, generalizing it, verifying (in the abstract),
improving, and applying it to create more hypothesis, I think it does fairly well. In the end it relies
on whether Mathematics crosses the boundary or not.
5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagorean_theorem#Einstein.27s_proof_by_dissection_without_rearrangement
6. Note that I say discovered. Artists conjure art but mathematics, like Science, is intertwined with
nature. So, like truths and laws of nature, it can only be discovered.
7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagorean_theorem#Solid_Geometry
8. http://www.jonahkagan.me/projects/writing/cs-essay.html

I would like to close out with this comic from early days of xkcd.
Randall Munroe is a humorous guy, but what he does best is provoke thought.

Permalink : http://xkcd.com/435/

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