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my definitions for various fields

Philosophy: building consistant qualitative languages to describe reality

Mathematics: building consistant quantitative languages

Experimental Science: observing reality quantitatively

Theoretical Science: describing and explaining the past and predicting the future based on the data provided by experimental science, using consistant languages built from mathematics and philosophy

Engineering: using the predictions of theoretical science to develop new technology and control the future

Theology: making up whacky stories to keep people amused and pacified with warm fuzzies, while avoiding known data at all costs

Logic is central to both philosophy and mathematics because it's literally the study of consistancy. I should say, by the way, that when I say "philosophy" I mean "analytic philosophy." I'm not sure what continental philosophy is, but I suspect it's not far off from my definition of theology.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an engineer. It seemed that engineers had the most "power" in the world; they were the ones who knew how to make things happen, to control their destiny. The fate of the world is in their hands. As I grew older, I realized I was mostly correct, but I'd overlooked one important detail. After all my engineering classes, a BS in CMPE from Georgia Tech, and a few years of experience in the workplace as an engineer, I gradually realized that while engineers may know how to make things happen, they don't really know why they happen or what they're doing, they just use cookbook recipies that they get from theoretical science. It's there where the real understanding lies. I wasn't as interested in power and control as I thought, I was more interested in knowledge and understanding, which is the hallmark of theoretical science. This led me to slowly migrate away from engineering and into theory. By now I've long since given up on my dreams of engineering, they seem dull and uninteresting by comparison. I have no idea if most people would even agree with my assessment of what these various fields are about. Maybe they are biased by my own personal feeling about what's important in the world. And I'll admit, that as I've grown older, my appreciation for what they are and how they work has changed (mostly, the details have filled in). But this is how I see them and why I chose the field I did. My hope is that I haven't gotten in over my head. There's a lot that goes on in theoretical physics, and there is a huge arsenal of tools coming from many different fields which is necessary to be good at it. Only time will tell whether I can live up to what I'm rapidly getting myself into, but I've at least figured one thing out for sure: this is what I want to do, and this is what will make my life happy and meaningful.

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
lars_larsen
Apr. 27th, 2005 03:51 am (UTC)
Engineering is boring. But science is hard. Such are the perils we face.
kaolinfire
Apr. 27th, 2005 04:05 am (UTC)
I think I pretty much agree with those definitions. :)

I'd much rather have nifty things happen than fully understand everything that was going on. Well, _everything_ would be cool, but I mean to a given field's extent...
firmament
Apr. 27th, 2005 05:16 am (UTC)
I think that's probably an uncharitable definition of theology. Whether you ultimately think the subject matter refers to anything real, it seems like theology really is a systematic discipline.
spoonless
Apr. 27th, 2005 06:59 am (UTC)
I threw theology in there on a whim as a joke... I consider it a joke field, whether or not it's systematic. I'm aware that it's usually the prophets and religious figures who come up with the myths, and the theologians who do the somewhat more respectable job of classifying them. If they're really studying something, then it's some subset of human nature.
billings
Apr. 27th, 2005 05:53 am (UTC)
Science: looking at the world to keep people amused and pacified, while avoiding unknown data at all costs

Wherever you look, the void pushes back.

Really, all that matters is the last sentence. Find out what's important to you and do it, and the rest of the details will illuminate themselves. Theological or no, you're bound to find a higher power to believe in somewhere.
spoonless
Apr. 27th, 2005 07:08 am (UTC)
You and I have a strange and precarious relationship. But I think I'm finally getting used to it.
naebliser
Apr. 27th, 2005 07:36 am (UTC)
"but I've at least figured one thing out for sure: this is what I want to do, and this is what will make my life happy and meaningful."

that is the most self affirming thing I have heard out of lj in a long time. awesome.

bvihvhkjbkfdmek
Apr. 27th, 2005 01:54 pm (UTC)
You've probably seen this before, but if not...

"Somebody once said that philosophy is the misuse of terminology which was invented for just that purpose. In the same vein, I would say that mathematics is the science of skillful operations with concepts and rules invented for just this purpose. The principal emphasis is on the invention of concepts. ... The great mathematician fully, almost ruthlessly, exploits the domain of permissible reasoning and skirts the impermissible." (Wigner)

(Anonymous)
Apr. 27th, 2005 05:13 pm (UTC)
Which out the ones you've defined do you think is the most powerful? I would guess Theology since it actually is controlling the way people think and feel. Kind of keeping them in a tight little box. That is one way theology could be considered the most powerful. But which one is the most powerful in controlling/changing the world? Is it still theology. Isn't it one's morals and beliefs that drive a person? Or is there something else that drives people, like greed and ambitions? But where does greed and ambition come from? Is it from people's beliefs and morals (or no beliefs and no morals)?

But isn't theology just the study of religion? So how can it be controlling anything?
spoonless
Apr. 28th, 2005 06:26 pm (UTC)

Which out the ones you've defined do you think is the most powerful?

I clearly stated that in the post: engineering.

The others, including theology are just about understanding things. Only powerful in an indirect sense. Theology in my opinion is about understanding a disease... why people give up thinking in favor of easy and comfortable explanations rather than looking at the facts. It could be useful for learning from our mistakes, but that's the only use it has.

A related question would be: is religion powerful? Surely it seems that the church has a great influence in the world which would tempt one to say yes; but I'd say no. Religion is like an 800 pound sack of manure lying in the middle of a highway. Yes, it has the power to slow us down a bit and cause some people to swerve into the side of the road. But technology will always find ways of coping with it... we will build bigger and better vehicles which can get through without being significantly hindered by religion. When the steam rollers and hum-vee's come through, religion will have no choice but to be squashed by the truth. It has no real power, no lasting power. It's only a temporary snag in the progress of mankind.
burdges
Apr. 29th, 2005 05:43 pm (UTC)
diseases
Theology in my opinion is about understanding a disease

No doubt religion is a disease, but one needs a slightly deeper notion of disease to understand why.

In the past religion memes have been a very successful for many reasons, and hence were "good" (in the same way that a turtle's camafloge is "good"). For example, they usually tell you to butcher the tribe of unbelievers and rape all their women, which is exactly the sort of behavior which would get your genes and memes ahead in the middle east 2000+ years ago. Of course, its quite beneficial to a religion to not let its components be experemented, and it has a lot of defense mechanism to prevent this.

"Mementically" science "is" the process of packing sets of mutuallly exclusive of memes/idea into little experemental death matches (using a Popper definition of science). So its a memetic analog of the development of meiosis, chromosomes, etc.

Prior to our genetic material being forced into chromosomes. There would be lots of genetic material which did quite well *because* it cheated during meiosis. Heck, cheating meiosis is good for any piece of genetic material, as it gets into more offspring. So what forced them into line, and what keeps them in line? Apparently, a piece of genetic material which cheats tends to drive its whole species / subspecies to extinction.
BTW, Y chromosomes are attenuated X chromosomes, not a holdover from before meiosis. Meiosis predates gender.

Anyway, biologists do view such rouge pieces of genetic material are diseases today. Similarly, religion is a disease *because* science exists.

As for the sack of manure theory, it took a massive numbers of extinctions to bring the number of rouge pieces of genetic material down to acceptable levels. So maybe we should expect a lot of "human waist" in the process of eliminating of religion too, which is most unfortunate.

(Anonymous)
May. 1st, 2005 04:53 pm (UTC)
On the contrary. I didn't finish your post feeling I knew what you thought was most powerful. I left thinking that he wasn't quite sure which was more powerful. Read:

'When I was a kid, I wanted to be an engineer. It seemed that engineers had the most "power" in the world; they were the ones who knew how to '

You say "it seemed that engineers had the most power". That leaves the answer to the question at hand open right from the beginning. So the reader reads on to see if there are any more clues...

'make things happen, to control their destiny. The fate of the world is in their hands. As I grew older, I realized I was mostly correct, but I'd overlooked one important detail. After all my engineering classes,
a BS in CMPE from Georgia Tech, and a few years of experience in the workplace as an engineer, I gradually realized that while engineers may know how to make things happen, they don't really know why they happen or what they're doing, they just use cookbook recipies that they get from theoretical science. It's there where the real understanding lies.'

This poses the question, 'does he believe knowing why is more important than knowing how and does this effect his belief about engineering?'. You never *clearly* stated or implied that engineering was the most powerful. You said you were mostly correct in thinking that engineering was most powerful. So now I wonder if the incorrect part in your thinking would make you conclude it is not the most powerful.

Readers/your audience will probably not make assumptions. If a question on the comprehension test of these passages was "Which field does the writer believe is most powerful", I wouldn't have any right to say engineering. I would fail that test.
spoonless
May. 3rd, 2005 06:21 am (UTC)
I do think I implied it, but you're probably right... I apologize for saying that I "clearly stated it" since it was a bit open. I think the place where I implied it the strongest was here:
I wasn't as interested in power and control as I thought, I was more
interested in knowledge and understanding, which is the hallmark of
theoretical science. This led me to slowly migrate away from engineering
and into theory.


I do think that these two sentences have the logical implication that I see engineering as having more power and theoretical science as having more knowledge. I've seen things on reading comprehensive tests which are more indirect.

I thought of another analogy for the whole system... the way I see it, engineering is the arms, experimental science is the eyes, math & philosophy are like the logical and verbal/language processing areas of the brain (and also the mouth), and theoretical science is the cortex. (And of course, theology is the anus where all the smelly hot air comes out. Why does theology always end up as the butt of my jokes!)
ikioi
May. 2nd, 2005 04:33 pm (UTC)
Hey Jeff, This is Pat. This is the first reply I've posted.

I have some questions about your definitions.

What made you decide to go with the "Building languages.." part. Why languages? At the very least, why plural? Why not "building understanding", or simply the good old "The study of..."?

Also, based on the above, would you consider any of these topics to be a subset of another? I suspect none of them is a subset of the other, though one may cover a topic (with greater precision) which is a subset of the topic which another covers (with less precision, but greater breadth).

What is the real difference between qualitative and quantitative? I know one's about not-necessarily-numerical attributes and the other is about specifically-numerical attributes, but what is the real difference? I have defined math as the science of measuring things. If that definition is equivalent to yours, then what's the equivalent definition of philosophy?

BTW, you consistently misspelled consistent. :)
spoonless
May. 3rd, 2005 06:05 am (UTC)
Great questions.

Unfortunately, they're the kind I can't answer in any short amount of space. I've written and thought about the issue of "what is mathematics?" quite a bit over the past year. I personally consider it the most interesting problem in philosophy. I'm nowhere close to solving it, but I've slowly made some progress towards understanding.

What originally inspired me to start writing this particular post was some recent discussions I was having on real_philosophy:

http://www.livejournal.com/community/real_philosophy/223520.html
http://www.livejournal.com/community/real_philosophy/226073.html
http://www.livejournal.com/community/real_philosophy/226739.html

(not relevant to this discussion, but I figured I'd link to it in case anyone is interested in reading some of my thoughts on the mind/body problem.)

I've had this thought many times... but it's so true... the more I argue about philosophy with people the more I am struck by how much everything revolves around language. There are a few really dumb people I've run into who are genuinely wrong about things... but the majority of intelligent philosophers are saying real things... the problem is that we all use different meanings for words. Every good philosophy discussion I've had boils down to people comparing two competing languages and sorting out which one is the more consistant way to talk about stuff. Most people have a good feeling for how the world works. It's not like one person is going to experience life in a way that's completely contradictory to someone else. It's only when they try to put it into words where people start to differ wildly in how they talk about things and contradicting each other. So that's why we need philosophy... to sort out the meanings of things and narrow our means of speaking about things into a consistant set of languages. It doesn't even have to be a single language it gets narrowed down to, but the point is to weed out "bad" ways of expressing things which are misleading and only applicable to a small range of experience. And also learning how to interconnect seemingly paradoxical languages with each other by developing meta-language and meta-analysis.

oops, 4000 character limit... continued in next reply
spoonless
May. 3rd, 2005 06:06 am (UTC)
...continued
Like I say, it's not the first time I've thought this, but I happened to start thinking about it again and I remembered that I also often describe math as language-building. It's based on the same sort of thing, trying to make these abstractions we have (which presumably would be used to describe the
world) consistant. In math, it's a more systematic approach and the consistency is ensured with "proofs" and very exact rules of inference. There is a lot of similarity to math and philosophy, and the reason I original decided to make the post was because I thought of this way of saying they only differ in terms of one being qualitative and the other being quantitative. Although I realize it's not
an exact statement. Notice that I appended "to describe reality" to philosophy but not to math. The reason I did that is to acknowledge the fact that philosophers usually say more explicitly that what they're doing is figuring out how to talk about the real world. Some mathematicians believe that's
what they're talking about, but others believe that the languages they're developing need not describe "our world". Perhaps they are describing alternate worlds or possible worlds. Other mathematicians would say that what they're describing is real and a part of "reality" but not a part of the "physical world". Some don't believe they are describing anything at all, they're just creating consistant structures from nowhere. I wanted to be a bit neutral on that whole issue because I think it's a complicated one. Although it is a philosophical issue so I do believe that the question is not really
"what are they describing" but "what's the most consistant way to talk about what they're doing". In other words, it all depends on how we define "real world", "possible world", "structure", "mathematics", etc. I do think there are better ways of talking about it and worse ways. But so far I haven't run across any foolproof way to talk about "what math is" that's entirely consistent and fits all of my intuitions about math.

So in short, the reason I didn't use the word "studying" for math is because it's not entirely clear
what they're studying or if studying something is the main part of what they're doing. They are also doing other things, like creating. I'd somewhat say they create things and then study them. But ultimately, I also believe that nothing is really being created, just rather discovered. I would probably not use the word measuring, it seems like you'd have to stretch it a bit to fit all types of math. About 9 or 10 years ago I came up with a definition for math as "the study of patterns"; I now think that's a bit vague and not specific enough. I'd probably say the same thing about measuring. Unless you define it more, I'm not sure exactly how it applies to most of math.

One way of looking at math that I really like... and this comes in part from Deutsch... is to see it
as a computation. They are taking ingredients from the real world and then combining them together in new ways to see how they interact. In the same way that a computer "scientist" both writes and studies code in the abstract... but it has physical meaning in that you could put it on a computer and run it to see what it does. We pick reasonable axioms based on our observations of the real world, but put them together in new ways that haven't been seen before and sometimes they do interesting things like form beautiful structures that have all sorts of interconnections to each other. The really bizarre thing is, if left to a bit of creativity and intuition, a lot of the math that the mathematicians come up with because they find it interesting... even the stuff they don't think is going to be "applicable"... ends up being important in physics for describing real things we just hadn't seen yet. Complex numbers, group theory, topology, differential geometry, category theory. I don't know the
whole history, but I'm fairly sure most of the fields were developed long before they found their uses in physics. This miracle is what Eugene Wigner describes as "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences" (see link at beginning of third reply)
gustavolacerda
May. 3rd, 2005 09:42 pm (UTC)
Re: ...continued
Regarding philosophy being about languages, did you see this http://www.livejournal.com/users/gustavolacerda/173691.html ?
spoonless
May. 3rd, 2005 06:07 am (UTC)
...continued
http://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc/MathDrama/reading/Wigner.html

I don't know how to explain it, but it's the reason I say it's the most "interesting problem in philosophy". There's something really spooky and amazing about math; I think nature ends up using a lot of the available consistant structures that are out there. And somehow mathematicians often intelligently "guess" which are the interesting structures to explore and they end up being the important and
useful ones even though they were just doing it out of curiousity. The only guess I can offer so far is that it's because they are combining really fundamental things that they take from the real world... and those same things tend to combine in all possible ways. But I'm not sure I'm saying anything meaningful there. And I know this is getting long and rambly. Anyway, maybe that gives an idea of
some of my thoughts on mathematics. There's a lot more, but I have to stop at some point. :)

Also, based on the above, would you consider any of these topics to be a subset of another?

Probably not; I want to say that math and philosophy are subsets of one umbrella, but I don't know if there's a name for that umbrella. They overlap a little bit, but not much. The others (science, engineering) seem pretty separate. I can't think of any other subsets.

What is the real difference between qualitative and quantitative?

Another good question. I was wondering that myself when I wrote it, and I'm not sure. But those words seem right to me. The naive thing to say would be "precision". Quantitative descriptions are precise, they tell you exactly what's going on and everything is rigid and unbreakable. Qualitative descriptions give you a feeling for what's going on, which is somewhat more "human" and often more "intuitive" but there are less boundries between concepts and more gray area. A qualitative language teaches you different things about reality than a quantitative language does. I think they're both important. It's good to know exactly what's going on, but it's also good to know what it means in
terms of your experiences.


BTW, you consistently misspelled consistent. :)

Thanks for pointing this out! I must have been doing this all my life, because the e looks totally wrong to me. I can't believe it's an e! :)
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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