Michael Battalio

Friday, May 06, 2016

Serious conversations (part 68): What is science - part 6

This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine.  These are my edited responses from that conversation.  The sixty-third – seventieth entries deal with the nature of science.

We’ve previously spent a lot of space on who is a scientist.  Now I consider the hierarchy of the sciences.

  I also want to take a moment to comment on the hierarchy of science.  In my academic career I’ve gotten the general impression that physics looks down on the other sciences as being lesser, easier, and derivative.  This is somewhat true as all the other sciences are in some way or another applied physics.  (I also feel the disdain of pure theorists who look down on experimentalists.  That is a different conversation.)  One reason I’ve always been drawn to physics even though I’m reasonably happy as a atmospheric dynamist is that I feel that physics is somehow a higher pursuit, and at times I still regret having gone into atmospheric science in the first place when I think I would be much happier in particle physics or astrophysics.  I often wonder why it is I think like that.  It could perhaps be because of how late physics is taught it us in high school.  I was not formally introduced to physics until my senior year of high school, but we are taught biology, Earth science, and chemistry earlier.  This makes physics seem more advanced.  Or it could be because physics is less connected to the other science than other sciences are to each other (think of how connected biology is to chemistry).  

I’m still not satisfied on why physics is thought of as the highest pursuit.  I get that physics is more mathematically involved, and in many ways it is harder that the rest of the “hard” sciences.  But why is it harder?  Can it just because of the math required to understand or manipulate the theory?  Could it because it can be so counterintuitive at times?  I cannot think of any other field that can be more counterintuitive than quantum mechanics, mostly because all the other sciences deal with larger length scales.  I don’t think I’ll ever get a good answer on why I think physics is a “higher” pursuit.  It simply is.

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