what IS science, anyways?

The following is a selection from An [Embodiment-Somatic] Practitioner’s Guide to Science Research, Notes Edition. To purchase the full pdf version of this, see more here.

What is Science, Anyways?
The overall intent of this guide is to assist you in finding reliable science research related to your field. To aid this process I first want to address the question what is science? For, without a hardy sense of what science is, it is less possible to understand what is or what is not reliable science.

The Stew of Science is Both Sturdy and Malleable.
I find that science is a bit like a simmering stew. It has a distinct flavor and body, as well as the possibility to change with the addition of new ingredients. Often it is a slow change, and on rare occasion a particular addition alters the stew dramatically [1]. When looking into history about this particular system of knowledge it becomes evident that science emerged.

Before science was science [2], various words, such as scholars, knowledge seekers and knowledge keepers, and more, were used to identify culturally diverse researchers [3]. The formation of the particular system known today as science came about from a combination of various scholars’ work. A few early ingredients to this science-stew include:

  • The Surgical Papyrus [4]. This is one of the earliest medical texts to have survived, from the Egyptian region of Africa, around 1600 BCE. The systematic procedures outlined in this manual were early influences on the formation of scientific methodology.
  • Some suggest that the earliest mention of a still and of distillation processing is was created by Tapputi-Belatikallim, a Babylonian Mesopotamian, living in ancient Mesopotamia-Iraq [5]. She worked around 1200 BCE and is considered by some to be one of the world’s first chemists [6][7]. Another person often considered a founder of chemistry is Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan (Gerber)[8][9]. He is noted to have furthered scientific methodology via introducing controlled experiments to his work, living in the Persian empire around 721-815 BCE [10].
  • One mathematics term integral to science is zero [11]. While the counting system of the Sumerians included a zero-like place holder predating 2500 BCE, many believe it was not until around 650 AD, in India, that the concept of zero was formalized.[12] The formal definition and operational usage is credited to a Hindi astronomer and mathematician named Brahamgupta [13].
  • The word algebra, another aspect of mathematics essential to modern science, comes from the title of Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi’s pivotal book. His work was just a piece of an even greater expanse of knowledge, thriving in Persia in the 800s AD. Without the building block of his work in mathematics, astronomy and more, the historic path of science would look drastically different [14].

Seeing just a few of the early ingredients in the formation of science reveal that the stew of knowledge we call science did not suddenly appear in the world, fully formed. Rather, science emerged. The emergence of science happened in relation to culturally broad pools of knowledge, ingredients from widely diverse systems of knowledge [15][16][17][18].

What I find particular interesting and important is that science is both mutable and forte. By mutable I mean, what science is has continually changed throughout the centuries. It is not static; it changes. By forte, I mean strong. For example, the science term evidence based is used in popular culture precisely because modern science methods are widely regarded as reliable. Yet, reliability [19], sturdiness – these are not synonyms for fixed or rigid. Science does not have definitive, neat and tidy pages like a book.

Science is slowly simmering. It is ever-in-process. The stew of science is both sturdy and malleable.

source notes

  1. Staff, NPR/TED. (2017, February 24). Naomi Oreskes: Why Should We Believe In Science? | WBUR News. WBUR.Org. https://www.wbur.org/npr/516709308/naomi-oreskes-why-should-we-believe-in-science
  2. Staff. (2018, November 26). Who came up with the word “science”? | Ask Dr. Universe | Washington State University. Ask Dr. Universe. https://askdruniverse.wsu.edu/2017/11/14/who-came-up-with-the-word-science/
    Butler-Adam, J. (2015, October 1). The weighty history and meaning behind the word ‘science.’ The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/the-weighty-history-and-meaning-behind-the-word-science-48280
  3. The Red Nation Podcast. (2020, August 30). The end of US empire? w/ Kim TallBear. SoundCloud. https://soundcloud.com/therednationpod/the-end-of-us-empire-w-kim.
    Recently I heard Dr Kim Tallbear using terms “big ass science” and “little ass science” on this podcast. I immediately had a sense of what she was getting at. On one hand there is the sort of science that I am trying to give you a sense of in this guide, “big ass science”. On another hand, there are many other systems of knowledge, other rigorous researchers – whose work often happens outside of scientific communities.

    In this guide I am absolutely not claiming that one sort of researcher is more important or reliable than another. Rather, I think many types of knowledge systems are tremendously important!

    Simultaneously, my hope is to help you hone your hearing. To help you understand what sort of knowledge system someone is referring to, even when the same word is used. When someone says “scientist” or “researcher” do they refer to modern “big ass” science? Are they referring to a person or group using rigorous methods like an Ayurvedic practitioner? Or one highly skilled at working with fire, like a North Folk Mono tribe elder? Can you listen beyond a specific word, to hear more about the heart of their meaning? I hope this guide helps you to do so.
  4. Hughes, J. T. (1988). The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus: an analysis of the first case reports of spinal cord injuries. Spinal Cord, 26(2), 71–82. https://doi.org/10.1038/sc.1988.15.
  5. Temple-Wood, Emily. August, 2019. “It’s Time These Ancient Women Scientists Get Their Due.” Women in Science & Engineering on Nautilus. Accessed on September 19, 2020. http://wise.nautil.us/feature/440/its-time-these-ancient-women-scientists-get-their-due.
  6. International Labmate. (2014, July 30). Who Was the First Ever Chemist? Labmate Online. https://www.labmate-online.com/news/news-and-views/5/breaking-news/who-was-the-first-ever-chemist/31143
  7. Helmenstine, A. (2017, December 27). Who Was the First Chemist? A Woman Named Tapputi. Science Notes and Projects. https://sciencenotes.org/who-was-the-first-chemist/
  8. Shuttleworth, M. history of the scientific method. (n.d.). Explorable.Com. https://explorable.com/history-of-the-scientific-method
  9. Coombs, M. (2015, June 23). Medichem: History of Chemistry. MediChem. https://www.medichem.org/history/chemistry.asp
  10. History of Science. (2019, July 3). CK-12. https://flexbooks.ck12.org/cbook/ck-12-middle-school-physical-science-flexbook-2.0/section/1.5/primary/lesson/history-of-science-ms-ps
  11. Matson, J. (2009, August 21). The Origin of Zero. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/history-of-zero/
  12. Across the globe, completely unrelated, Mayans developed a numerical term zero around 200 AD. This example shows how sophisticated ideas have emerged and existed without necessarily being related with one another. This sort of phenomena is sometimes called simultaneous invention. When speaking of various ingredients combining to eventually form modern science – a variety of factors played a role in which sorts of traditional knowledge went into the pot and which did not.
  13. Szalay, J. (2017, September 18). Who Invented Zero? Livescience.Com. https://www.livescience.com/27853-who-invented-zero.html
    https://www.famousscientists.org/muhammad-ibn-musa-al-khwarizmi/
  14. Famousscientists.org. 2021. Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi – Biography, Facts and Pictures. [online] Available at: <https://www.famousscientists.org/muhammad-ibn-musa-al-khwarizmi/&gt; [Accessed 2 October 2021].
  15. In many Eurocentric science texts, Europeans and/or ancient Greek scholars, are centralized in the foundation of modern science. However, many modern scholars trace early ingredients of science back to cultures and sources older than some of the Greek scholars typically noted within Eurocentric academic settings.
    When did Science begin?. Scientific Gems. (2021). Retrieved 2 October 2021, from https://scientificgems.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/when-did-science-begin/.
    – (2021). Retrieved 2 October 2021, from https://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/history-science-technology-and-medicine/history-science/brief-history-science.
    Rough Science . A Brief History of Science | PBS. Pbs.org. (2021). Retrieved 2 October 2021, from https://www.pbs.org/weta/roughscience/discover/briefhistory.html.
    The Weighty History and Meaning Behind the Word Science. The Conversation. (2021). Retrieved 23 October 2015, from https://theconversation.com/the-weighty-history-and-meaning-behind-the-word-science-48280.
  16. In addition to many cultures not being referenced when Eurocentric scholars speak of the formation of science, only some cultures ended up in the pot from which modern science emerged. This can be seen in the example of the mathematics term zero, discussed above.

    Various systems of ancestral knowledge, which is still alive and relevant today – often referred to in academia as Indigenous Knowledge, Indigenous Science, Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), or other names – is currently being added into the modern science pot. Sometimes this occurs via Indigenous scholars contributing their own work. Sometimes this integration is done in a equitable and collaborative way. Sometimes integration of this kind are done in extractive ways, common within the long history of western science.

    Native Knowledge: What Ecologists Are Learning from Indigenous People. Yale E360. (2021). Retrieved 2 October 2021, from https://e360.yale.edu/features/native-knowledge-what-ecologists-are-learning-from-indigenous-people.
    These Indigenous educators are bringing Western and Native science together in the classroom. Ensia. (2021). Retrieved 2 October 2021, from https://ensia.com/articles/environmental-education-traditional-ecological-knowledge-native-science/.
    -https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0706-0?proof=t%29Nature
  17. LibGuides: Physics: History of Science – Non-Western science. Dal.ca.libguides.com. (2021). Retrieved 2 October 2021, from https://dal.ca.libguides.com/c.php?g=256994&p=5086950.
  18. Non‐western science, past and present. Taylor & Francis. (2021). Retrieved 2 October 2021, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09505438809526214?journalCode=csac20.
  19. I am using a lay term of reliability, synonymous with strong, durable, etc. There are some definitions to be found within science research which are more precise:
    – (2021). Retrieved 2 October 2021, from https://www.mytutor.co.uk/answers/17699/A-Level/Psychology/What-is-the-difference-between-reliability-and-validity/.
    – Base, K., & difference?, R. (2021). Reliability vs validity: what’s the difference?. Scribbr. Retrieved 2 October 2021, from https://www.scribbr.com/methodology/reliability-vs-validity/.

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