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  1. #11
    alz
    alz is offline Senior Member Frequent Poster
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    To define an area of study as important can be challenging and quite biased due to our life experiences.
    The areas of study that the op mentioned are all important in advances in life, however, these areas have different impacts so it is hard to refute any of them.

    To answer the op's question, I believe the science areas generally play a larger role in maintaining or improving the quality of life. Although this may be a unpopular choice here, but I believe the arts and humanities to be of least value to society. These areas although may be insightful at times, do not aid in the advancement of soceity.

    @Saizou: I agree with most of your arguements, however you didn't include the biological sciences. This area is one of the most significant in my opinion. For example, the development of the smallpox vaccine by an immunologist named Edward Jenner, also other drugs that were investigated by pharmacologists. To develope vaccines studying the immune system is essential, and deciding which antgen to use for better stimulation. It is through studies done by these scientist that vaccines and drugs can be developed to help improve the quality of life. Another way biological sciences has been used is in the forensic lab, through molecular techniques such as PCR, the identification of potential suspects is made possible.

  2. #12
    Saizou is offline Senior Member Always Around
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    Quote Originally Posted by alz View Post
    @Saizou: I agree with most of your arguements, however you didn't include the biological sciences. This area is one of the most significant in my opinion. For example, the development of the smallpox vaccine by an immunologist named Edward Jenner, also other drugs that were investigated by pharmacologists. To develope vaccines studying the immune system is essential, and deciding which antgen to use for better stimulation. It is through studies done by these scientist that vaccines and drugs can be developed to help improve the quality of life. Another way biological sciences has been used is in the forensic lab, through molecular techniques such as PCR, the identification of potential suspects is made possible.
    Naturally biology is one of the important fields of natural science. But I wouldn't include it in the list of most important sciences, because biology is still dependant on chemistry. Without the understanding of chemical processes, specifically organic chemistry, biology as a field of science would be crippled.

  3. #13
    Stuyvesant is offline Senior Member Always Around
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    I realise that this post was not directed at me, but I've got a couple of points of contention/agreement here.

    Quote Originally Posted by Saizou View Post
    ...Which actually is somewhat relevant to my point. By applying the physical sciences we can get results directly applicable to entirely unrelated fields of study. However, it's kinda hard for a historian to influence the development of, say, Astrophysics.
    This is one of the issues that I had with ranking fields - there is too much inter-relation between the subjects. Also, pushed to its limits, most fields can be viewed purely in terms of maths or philosophy. This makes comparisons difficult.

    ...Additionally one could attempt to measure the general happiness, but that would require a lot of time and resources, and even then you could get skewed results because the question of happiness is an inherently subjective one. One can, on the other hand, logically deduce that the vast majority of people wouldn't be happy if they had to live in poverty and hardship, which means that material wealth on some level does produce happiness.
    I agree with this - using longevity as a measure of general happiness isn't a bad way to go. If you consider the modern man and the stress induced heart attacks - they're a bi-product of unhappiness.

    And yet the organizational sciences would be crippled without the natural sciences, because of the lack of fast and reliable communications. During the middle ages, communication and organzation consisted of writing a letter and hoping that it reaches its destination. Hell, even in the far more sophisticated Roman Empire, communications still were slow (though more reliable).
    It's unfair to say that the social sciences would've been crippled without the natural science. In a similar vein, without the changes in society and man's view of his place in the world, the technology would've been moot. Often one will kick start a change in the other.

    Here you are assuming that the humanities actually give some meaning or purpose to life. Why is this the case?

    Furthermore, you're implying that nothing but the humanities can give meaning or purpose to life. Why is this the case?
    I can't answer the second part there, but with regards to the first, I was under the impression that the humanities exist to further our understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe. They exist to explore that which the physical science cannot. I don't know about purpose to life, but I know that these are the fields that I turn to for meaning.

  4. #14
    echoblaze is offline Senior Member Community Builder
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    happiness = how well reality manages to match up with our expectations. so, if we're using happiness as a measure, we could look at how different fields affect:

    1) our ability to control reality
    2) expectation management

    for 1), technological advances (mainly from physical sciences) allow us to control nature like never before
    for 2), you could make a case for psychology and religion

  5. #15
    dna2playboy is offline Senior Member Community Builder
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    Quote Originally Posted by dizzcity View Post
    Fine Arts - Studies on creative techniques to express truths or opinions through a particular medium. (Art, Music, Drama, Creative Writing, etc.)
    I don't do any of that. I just draw nude girls and sell them to the computer nerds who jack off to them(jyuu). No great truth there except geeks r horny. the heart wants what it wants? there is no greater pursuit than that of self? hah!

  6. #16
    dizzcity is offline Senior Member Long Time Member
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    Wow, lots of interesting arguments and points of view. Great! Love to hear more.

    Anyway, to answer some points brought up:

    Quote Originally Posted by Saizou View Post
    Which actually is somewhat relevant to my point. By applying the physical sciences we can get results directly applicable to entirely unrelated fields of study. However, it's kinda hard for a historian to influence the development of, say, Astrophysics.
    Wasn't that precisely what happened in the Renaissance? Many scholars and natural philosophers started to scour historical texts dug up from ancient libraries to find out what the pre-Christian scholars believed. Johannes Kepler (who formulated the laws of planetary motion) was particularly influenced by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. And most fundamental astronomy depends on recorded incidents of celestial movements in the past (particularly comet and planetary sightings).

    The standard of living involves many factors, but the best indicator is actually the average lifespan, because it's inversely proportional to a lot of bad stuff. Starvation? Average lifespan goes down. War? Average lifespan goes down. Bad (or no) healthcare, hard labour and poverty? Average lifespan goes down.

    Additionally one could attempt to measure the general happiness, but that would require a lot of time and resources, and even then you could get skewed results because the question of happiness is an inherently subjective one. One can, on the other hand, logically deduce that the vast majority of people wouldn't be happy if they had to live in poverty and hardship, which means that material wealth on some level does produce happiness.
    Very well, I accept average lifespan as a good indicator of standard of living, instead of the hard-to-measure and subjective term "happiness".

    I addressed this above. Material progress does lead to happiness, if by no other reason, then because it removes some of the causes of unhappiness.

    It is hardly reasonable to blame this on physics and chemistry. The mistreatement of factory workers was hardly anything new when we consider how the old aristocracy treated the peasants during the earlier eras, and all the advances in weaponry only gave the old aristocracy more sophisticated tools to enact their agenda. Warfare and atrocities have unfortunately been the norm for as long as humanity has existed. The fact that the west developed the best tools for this can be attributed to the natural sciences, but the will to use them for evil ends can clearly not be ascribed to them.

    In fact, this is actually an example of the dark side of human nature and society. While it may sound callous, the hard truth is you have to take the good with the bad. Nearly every advance can be used for good and for evil, but that doesn't change the fact that the natural sciences have contributed far more good than bad advances.
    I accept that material progress, caused by technological and economic development, can in fact, benefit society greatly. In fact, I'll add to your argument. With increased productivity generated by developments in the natural sciences, we are able to support larger populations through more efficient food production, energy utilization, construction of housing and sanitation measures. These are all due to developments in physics and chemistry, in particular. Without these developments, the average lifespan of humankind (if you count infant and child mortality) would be much lower than it is now.

    And I agree, the natural sciences should not be blamed for any evil they cause, because in essence they merely provide tools. It is the human will, and human nature, which uses the power of these tools to change society for good or for evil. But if that is the case, doesn't that mean that whatever changes human nature, or influences human will, is more important?

    That's the point I'm trying to make. It is the development in moral philosophy and ethical standards that leads to technology being used for good rather than for evil (or to raise average lifespans by promoting peace and cooperation rather than lowering lifespans through war and exploitation). The same advances in technology listed above can be used to feed and house the poor in society, or build extermination camps and gas chambers for minorities. The difference is a matter of political philosophy, not science. Therefore, developments in politics and philosophy affect society on a much larger scale (amplified by the scientific tools developed by that society), than pure discoveries and innovations in the sciences.

    Here you are assuming that the humanities actually give some meaning or purpose to life. Why is this the case?

    Furthermore, you're implying that nothing but the humanities can give meaning or purpose to life. Why is this the case?
    As Stuveysant said before me... I don't mean to say that the humanities can give meaning or purpose to life. What I meant was that the search for meaning and purpose to life falls naturally into the field of study that is the humanities. Therefore, developments in the study of the humanities allow us to understand our natures better, and thus better formulate (or discover) meaning and purpose to our lives.


    Why should we take the US Declaration of Independence as a guide? In fact, going a bit further, all of these rights are merely the means to an end, i.e. a greater net amount of happiness in society. They are not ends in themselves, so why should we treat them as if they were?
    No problem with not using the US Declaration of Independence as a guide. I just used it as an illustration which the forum readers might be more familiar with, rather than speaking in abstract terms.

    The weakness of this argument is that none of the life sciences would be meaningful without chemistry. As an example, it's the biochemists who develop all our drugs, no?
    This is a minor quibble. The foundation of all Western medicine is drugs and surgery, yes. And that is highly dependent on chemistry for drugs and engineering technology for surgical tools. Not necessarily true for eastern (or alternative) medicines. It occurs to me that these divergent trends grew out of the fact that Europe developed the scientific method whereas China and India didn't, and so relied on empirical studies and natural philosophy instead. I won't argue about which one is better, but what I want to point out is that the development of chemistry isn't the be-all and end-all of medicinal and life sciences. And the drugs-and-surgery approach is also turning out to have its own set of limitations, particularly in areas where environmental or psychological factors play a more important part than the physical.

    However, apart from medicine (and general biology), I do believe and agree that the rest of the life sciences are strongly dependent on the development of the natural sciences. This is largely due to the fact, as several people have mentioned, that everything is interrelated. And that, once you get down to the cell level and below, you need scientific tools and instrumentation developed in the other disciplines to properly make observations.

    And yet the organizational sciences would be crippled without the natural sciences, because of the lack of fast and reliable communications. During the middle ages, communication and organzation consisted of writing a letter and hoping that it reaches its destination. Hell, even in the far more sophisticated Roman Empire, communications still were slow (though more reliable).
    Quote Originally Posted by Stuyvesant View Post
    It's unfair to say that the social sciences would've been crippled without the natural science. In a similar vein, without the changes in society and man's view of his place in the world, the technology would've been moot. Often one will kick start a change in the other.
    I basically agree with Stuyvesant on this. I think there is a danger in our modern society of glorifying technology and scientific development as the foundation and end to all human knowledge. That is to say, for the past 500 years or so there has existed a prevailing attitude which can be expressed something like: "Technology exists so that we can pursue things which will help us develop better technology to solve all our problems." (Which is a gross oversimplification, but now that I think about it, may have provided the subconscious motivation for starting discussion on this topic in the first place...) So, I guess the underlying question to this inquiry is: "Will having better technology and more progress in the natural sciences (or whatever field you espouse) solve the problems of humanity? - and if not, what will?"

    Which field of study has the best chance of providing the answer to the problems plaguing humanity?

    Is it a particular one? (And if so, are we putting focus on the right one?)
    Is is many in combination, or all? (And if so, is our R&D focus proportioned correctly?)
    Is it none? (And so there are no answers, life sucks, and then you die?)

    More food for thought and discussion. I'm just thinking out loud here.

    -Dizzy-
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  7. #17
    Saizou is offline Senior Member Always Around
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    As some of the arguments I respond to are similar, there will probably be instances where I repeat myself in this post. Just so you know in advance.

    Quote Originally Posted by Stuyvesant View Post
    This is one of the issues that I had with ranking fields - there is too much inter-relation between the subjects. Also, pushed to its limits, most fields can be viewed purely in terms of maths or philosophy. This makes comparisons difficult.
    Yes, I raised this point earlier. However, there is a definite hierarchy in these interrelations that cannot be discounted, as the very possibility of advances in one field often is dependant on new discoveries in another. For example, physics could not have been developed into its current state without the invention of calculus, which is a purely mathematical innovation. The same applies even today, where new discoveries in physics and chemistry drive the development of other fields.

    And likewise, while it's true that the natural sciences can be reduced to math, we still don't get any direct benefit from purely mathematical discoveries. Basically math is important because of its applications, as is philosophy.

    Quote Originally Posted by Stuyvesant
    It's unfair to say that the social sciences would've been crippled without the natural science. In a similar vein, without the changes in society and man's view of his place in the world, the technology would've been moot. Often one will kick start a change in the other.
    Actually I wouldn't say that it's unfair at all. I'd even argue that these changes in society and man's view of his place in the world were in fact driven by the progress of technology and natural science.

    The reason for this is that the natural sciences work, and they work in a way that's obvious to everyone. One can quibble about details in politics and philosophy and never get to any satiscfactory conclusion, but it's really hard to argue against physics when you see skyscrapers and aeroplanes, or in earlier times when the cannonballs are roaring around you.

    Therefore people understood that the natural sciences worked, and therefore people began to understand and accept the underlying premises of natural science, and the empirical framework that they are built upon. The reactionary parts of society tried (and still try) to halt this process, and with the humanities they were successful for a long time, but as natural science is so useful, progress was inevitable anyway. Therefore, much of the credit of transforming society can be attributed to natural science, even the transformation of society than allowed the social sciences to progress.

    And again, it's really hard for advances in the humanities and social sciences to aid the progress of natural sciences. I, for one, can't think of any examples where this has happened.

    And on a tangential note I'd say that philosophy owes for more to math and physics than most people realize, but that's a whole different argument.

    Quote Originally Posted by Stuyvesant
    I can't answer the second part there, but with regards to the first, I was under the impression that the humanities exist to further our understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe. They exist to explore that which the physical science cannot. I don't know about purpose to life, but I know that these are the fields that I turn to for meaning.
    That's well and good for you. However, it would be a mistake to assume that the natural sciences cannot fulfil a similar role. Consider the view of man as an biological machine, shaped by natural laws and functioning as a complex system of biological and electrochemical processes. Is this view any less valid than any provided by the humanities? I would even argue that the contrary is true.

    So in other words, it's not at all impossible to view man in terms of physics and chemistry, because that's essentially what we are. Not to say that you can't find meaning in these fields, I'm merely arguing that they are not the only way.

    Quote Originally Posted by dizzcity
    Wasn't that precisely what happened in the Renaissance? Many scholars and natural philosophers started to scour historical texts dug up from ancient libraries to find out what the pre-Christian scholars believed. Johannes Kepler (who formulated the laws of planetary motion) was particularly influenced by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. And most fundamental astronomy depends on recorded incidents of celestial movements in the past (particularly comet and planetary sightings).
    Actually, Kepler's laws are entirely different from what the ancient greeks believed. Kepler's first law states that the orbits of planets are elliptical, which was extremely radical back in the day. The general view in that time (one that had been inherited from the greeks) was that the orbits were circular, because circles were considered to be perfect shapes. This is completely different from Aristotle's view. Hell, Aristotle thought that the earth was the centre of the universe and that all other celestial objects rotated around it.

    And naturally measurements and charts are important, but I don't think that simple measurements and the notations thereof should be considered an entirely different branch of science.

    Quote Originally Posted by dizzcity
    I accept that material progress, caused by technological and economic development, can in fact, benefit society greatly. In fact, I'll add to your argument. With increased productivity generated by developments in the natural sciences, we are able to support larger populations through more efficient food production, energy utilization, construction of housing and sanitation measures. These are all due to developments in physics and chemistry, in particular. Without these developments, the average lifespan of humankind (if you count infant and child mortality) would be much lower than it is now.

    And I agree, the natural sciences should not be blamed for any evil they cause, because in essence they merely provide tools. It is the human will, and human nature, which uses the power of these tools to change society for good or for evil. But if that is the case, doesn't that mean that whatever changes human nature, or influences human will, is more important?

    That's the point I'm trying to make. It is the development in moral philosophy and ethical standards that leads to technology being used for good rather than for evil (or to raise average lifespans by promoting peace and cooperation rather than lowering lifespans through war and exploitation). The same advances in technology listed above can be used to feed and house the poor in society, or build extermination camps and gas chambers for minorities. The difference is a matter of political philosophy, not science. Therefore, developments in politics and philosophy affect society on a much larger scale (amplified by the scientific tools developed by that society), than pure discoveries and innovations in the sciences.
    This is a good point, but it's incomplete. What you didn't take into account is that the worldview that natural science implies also affects the development of ethics and politics.

    I touched upon this subjec earlier, but I'll reiterate. The natural sciences are based on an empirical worldview, one that demands evidence and objective argumentation. Evil governments who use the fruits of science to kill and oppress are merely using the results of science to enact a far more primitive worldview than the scientific one, a worldview based on emotion and subjective desires.

    And these governments owe next to nothing to any science at all, mostly they are only the logical extensions of various primitive forms of autocracy. Social science and political philosophy are in these cases powerless to change the situation, as any invocation of them serves only as a means to give an air of legitimacy, but the underlying premises are ignored entirely in favour of whatever fantasy that's currently popular among the rulers.

    So basically the transformational capabilities of the political and social sciences are very limited in societies that misuse the fruits of the natural sciences, and thus I'd say that your point that the political sciences are more important doesn't hold.

    Quote Originally Posted by dizzcity
    As Stuveysant said before me... I don't mean to say that the humanities can give meaning or purpose to life. What I meant was that the search for meaning and purpose to life falls naturally into the field of study that is the humanities. Therefore, developments in the study of the humanities allow us to understand our natures better, and thus better formulate (or discover) meaning and purpose to our lives.
    I think I responded to this earlier.

    Quote Originally Posted by dizzcity
    This is a minor quibble. The foundation of all Western medicine is drugs and surgery, yes. And that is highly dependent on chemistry for drugs and engineering technology for surgical tools. Not necessarily true for eastern (or alternative) medicines. It occurs to me that these divergent trends grew out of the fact that Europe developed the scientific method whereas China and India didn't, and so relied on empirical studies and natural philosophy instead. I won't argue about which one is better, but what I want to point out is that the development of chemistry isn't the be-all and end-all of medicinal and life sciences. And the drugs-and-surgery approach is also turning out to have its own set of limitations, particularly in areas where environmental or psychological factors play a more important part than the physical.
    I'll actually argue that western medicine is far superior in almost every concievable way. After all, it wasn't herbal medicine that wiped out smallpox, now was it?

    The western medicine has created antibiotics and vaccines as well as identified the real causes of diseases. Hell, back in the day people used to think that disease was caused by evil spirits and other fanciful explanations. Thanks to scienticif research we now know about germs and viruses as well as other causes for disease and can treat it accordingly.

    Alternative medicine, on the other hand, is basically a crapshoot. It may work or it may not, nobody really knows because there hasn't been any rigorous testing.

    Furthermore, if we use our agreed-upon yardstick of average life expectancy, there is a quite strong correlation between deaths by disease and the availability of western medicine, as shown by the amount of people who die by disease in the third world versus the amount that die is the west.

    And I'll reiterate, western medicine is based upon the natural sciences. As you yourself commented, no drugs could be developed without knowledge of biochemistry, and surgery would be impossible without precision engineering. And likewise, progress in these fields would be impossible without advances made in physics and chemistry.

    Quote Originally Posted by dizzcity
    I basically agree with Stuyvesant on this. I think there is a danger in our modern society of glorifying technology and scientific development as the foundation and end to all human knowledge. That is to say, for the past 500 years or so there has existed a prevailing attitude which can be expressed something like: "Technology exists so that we can pursue things which will help us develop better technology to solve all our problems." (Which is a gross oversimplification, but now that I think about it, may have provided the subconscious motivation for starting discussion on this topic in the first place...) So, I guess the underlying question to this inquiry is: "Will having better technology and more progress in the natural sciences (or whatever field you espouse) solve the problems of humanity? - and if not, what will?"
    First I think you should define the concept of "problems of humanity".

    Secondly, technology has solved enormous problems already, such as the necessity of hard labour imposed by a largely agrarian society and the spread of infectuous disease among others. And furthermore, the natural sciences are definitively proven to work (which is more than can be said for many other fields), so it seems more likely that we can find solutions there than in other fields.

 

 
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