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Author Topic:   Does science ask and answer "why" questions?
RAZD
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Posts: 15474
From: the other end of the sidewalk
Joined: 03-14-2004
Member Rating: 4.4


Message 25 of 353 (647053)
01-07-2012 10:42 PM
Reply to: Message 5 by kbertsche
01-07-2012 12:21 PM


who what when where why how ... purpose and science
Hi kbertsche,

I do believe you and Catholic Scientist got it. Context is very important to good communication.

"Why" has a number of different valid meanings, as you point out. But as CS says, when the context makes a contrast between "how" and "why", it is generally distinguishing between mechanism and purpose. When someone claims that "science answers the "how" questions and religion answers the "why" questions" this is the distinction that he is trying to make. I agree with CS that this meaning should be so obvious from the context of the statement itself that it needs no further explanation.

Another place where context is important is when the 5W's + H are discussed:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Ws

quote:
In journalism, the Five Ws (also known as the Five Ws (and one H), or the Six Ws) is a concept in news style, research, and in police investigations that are regarded as basics in information-gathering.[1] It is a formula for getting the "full" story on something. The maxim of the Five W's (and one H) is that for a report to be considered complete it must answer a checklist of six questions, each of which comprises an interrogative word:[2]

  • Who is it about?
  • What happened?
  • Where did it take place?
  • When did it take place?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How did it happen?

The principle underlying the maxim is that each question should elicit a factual answer facts necessary to include for a report to be considered complete.


Note that this applies to research and police investigations, and not just journalism.

Note that the answers should be different, as they answer different aspects of the situation.

A "how it happened" answer should not be used for "why it happened"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research

quote:
Research can be defined as the search for knowledge, or as any systematic investigation, with an open mind, to establish novel facts, solve new or existing problems, prove new ideas, or develop new theories. The primary purposes of basic research (as opposed to applied research) are documentation, discovery, interpretation, or the research and development of methods and systems for the advancement of human knowledge. Approaches to research depend on epistemologies, which vary considerably both within and between humanities and sciences.

The five Ws + H are good methodology to focus your research.

Suppose you enter your Grandmother's house, hear a teapot whistling, and ask, "Why is the teapot whistling?" Someone could answer in terms of thermodynamics, fluid flow, the physical properties of water, acoustic properties of the nozzle on the kettle, etc. The answer would be a perfectly valid mechanistic answer of "why" the teapot is boiling. But someone could also answer that the teapot is boiling because Grandma is thirsty and wants her afternoon tea. This answer is just as valid and accurate as the first. One answer addresses mechanism, and the other addresses purpose.

Curiously, your first answer actually tells us how it happened that the whistle sounded, the second answer tells us a part of why it happened, a part of the purpose behind the whistling of the kettle.

Even more curiously, however, this purpose does not fully answer the question of why the kettle is whistling. Thirst can be quenched with cold water, tea can be made with cold water ("sunshine" tea) or with water boiled in a pot or from an "instant hot water" tap. In addition, a whistling kettle can be used to boil water for coffee or soup or cold remedies. In scientific parlance there is no direct correlation between a whistling kettle and making tea or with making tea and the quenching of thirst.

Birds, people, animals with brains can have purpose. That purpose does not necessarily fully explain the question.

Yes, we can scientifically discuss (observe and record) parts of why birds sing: one answer proposed on this thread is that birds sing to attract a mate (others could be to protect territory or announce presence). That too is purpose, but again this is not a full answer to the question, it does not answer the question of why did it happen that birds can sing.

There are bird species that don't sing, yet they are not handicapped in their existence compared to bird species that do sing.

There are also birds that sing and don't attract mates.

Thus saying that birds sing to attract mates does not answer the question of why birds sing: mate attraction can be accomplished without it, and singing can also occur without attracting mates. This does not explain why birds sing.

It is a bit like the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy, the complex cause logical fallacy, and the part for the whole logical fallacy all mixed together. Just because you know a (small) part of the answer does not mean that you know (all) the answer.

Science may be able to discuss partial answers, based on observations, assumptions, and inference, but that does not mean that science provides the full answer, or that it ever can. There are certain details in a complete answer that science is not equipped to determine.

Why did it happen that birds can sing?
Why did it happen that the sky appears blue?

These are essentially untestable\unfalsifiable aspects of the "why" issue, and thus cannot be determined through science.

By contrast, science can do very well at answering the how questions, and while those answers may be incomplete, there is no significant reason that would suggest that more details can be developed through science.

How did it happen that birds can sing?
How did it happen that the sky appears blue?

These can be answered through science.

Enjoy.

Edited by Zen Deist, : clrty

Edited by Zen Deist, : link

Edited by Zen Deist, : rearranged a bit


we are limited in our ability to understand
by our ability to understand
Rebel American Zen Deist
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This message is a reply to:
 Message 5 by kbertsche, posted 01-07-2012 12:21 PM kbertsche has not yet responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 35 by Straggler, posted 01-08-2012 4:49 PM RAZD has acknowledged this reply
 Message 124 by bluegenes, posted 01-10-2012 9:33 AM RAZD has responded
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RAZD
Member
Posts: 15474
From: the other end of the sidewalk
Joined: 03-14-2004
Member Rating: 4.4


Message 160 of 353 (647677)
01-10-2012 5:03 PM
Reply to: Message 124 by bluegenes
01-10-2012 9:33 AM


Re: who what when where why how ... purpose and science
Hi bluegenes, still struggling?

I notice we still do not have your answer for why the sky appears blue.

As I pointed out on the other thread, you're assuming your incorrectly restricted definition of why in order to come to your conclusions, although I don't think you're doing this intentionally. "Why", in those questions can be technical. It doesn't have to mean "for what objective purpose", or "for what ultimate reason".

In which case, context is of utmost importance. In the context of providing a complete answer or explanation you end up at the "Big Why" unavoidably. In the absence of context you should default to the "Big Why" question or ask for context.

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.
I dunno why she swallowed that fly,
Perhaps she'll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a spider,
That wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I dunno why she swallowed that fly -
Perhaps she'll die.

If you are satisfied with an incomplete, tentative and partial answer then wail away.

Take the birds singing. A why question might initially be answered by an immediate reason, like "because they are communicating". Then "why do they communicate" could be answered by giving specific functions, like marking territory, mating, warning, etc. Then, if a questioner asks why they do those things, you could give a reasonable general answer like "it's advantageous for them to do so, and aids their survival."

Indeed. Those are the purposes that singing has been used for, it is how they accomplish those tasks, but it doesn't answer why birds sing.

We also have some species of birds that don't (or very rarely) sing, and yet they are not handicapped in either survival or breeding compared to ones that do. There appears to be no relationship between song verbosity and survival. There are also some birds that sing and don't attract mates. There appears to be no real 1 to 1 correlation between any singing behavior and the assigned purpose, as each of these purposes are also achieved without song in many species.

If your answer were correct then the non-singing species would not survive.

It is a bit like the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy, the complex cause logical fallacy, and the part for the whole logical fallacy all mixed together. Just because you know a (small) part of the answer does not mean that you know (all) the answer.

Science may be able to discuss partial answers, based on observations, assumptions, and inference, but that does not mean that science provides the full answer, or that it ever can. There are certain details in a complete answer that science is not equipped to determine.

  • Why did it happen that birds can sing?
  • Why did it happen that the sky appears blue?

These are essentially untestable\unfalsifiable aspects of the "why" issue, and thus cannot be determined through science. They are part of the "Big Why" question.

By contrast, science can do very well at answering the how questions, and while those answers may be incomplete, there is no significant reason that would suggest that more details can be developed through science.

  • How did it happen that birds can sing?
  • How did it happen that the sky appears blue?

These can be answered through science. Is there a "Big How" question that theoretically cannot be answered through science?

Have fun.

Enjoy.


we are limited in our ability to understand
by our ability to understand
Rebel American Zen Deist
... to learn ... to think ... to live ... to laugh ...
to share.


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This message is a reply to:
 Message 124 by bluegenes, posted 01-10-2012 9:33 AM bluegenes has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 168 by bluegenes, posted 01-10-2012 6:09 PM RAZD has acknowledged this reply

  
RAZD
Member
Posts: 15474
From: the other end of the sidewalk
Joined: 03-14-2004
Member Rating: 4.4


Message 273 of 353 (648440)
01-15-2012 8:07 PM
Reply to: Message 272 by xongsmith
01-15-2012 4:02 PM


Re: why ask why?
Hi xongsmith

... Why does the caged bird sing? Excellent use of the word "why", but still, not scientific. From a scientific view, birds sing the way they do because their parents that did before had more surviving offspring to perpetuate their song. ...

That is how some birds that can sing have used song. Not all birds use song to attract mates, and some birds do not sing, so the link between song and mating is certainly not complete nor necessarily causal. Did mating come about after song? It is more likely that song was adapted to various uses, not that it exists for those purposes.

Science can ask how bird singing evolved, how the uses of bird song evolved, how it varies in different varieties and species, and how song is used today: these are proper questions that can be explored by science. Why bird singing exists is not.

Enjoy.


we are limited in our ability to understand
by our ability to understand
Rebel American Zen Deist
... to learn ... to think ... to live ... to laugh ...
to share.


Join the effort to solve medical problems, AIDS/HIV, Cancer and more with Team EvC! (click)

This message is a reply to:
 Message 272 by xongsmith, posted 01-15-2012 4:02 PM xongsmith has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 275 by bluegenes, posted 01-16-2012 8:27 AM RAZD has acknowledged this reply
 Message 283 by xongsmith, posted 01-16-2012 11:41 AM RAZD has acknowledged this reply

  
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