iSoul In the beginning is reality

Tag Archives: Science

sciences in general, what they are and their methods

Upper and lower causes

This post continues the discussion posted here.

Aristotle’s four causes (or my version of them) may be divided into two groups: an upper group and a lower group. I call the upper group hyperaitia (from Greek hyper, over, above + aitia, cause) and the lower group hypoaitia (from Greek hypo, under, beneath + aitia, cause):

Causes Δ time Δ space
hyperaitia final formal
hypoaitia efficient material

Natural science uses only the lower causes; it is hypoaitial. One might say that Aristotle’s science was hyperaitial since that is where he started. His metaphysics was hylemorphic (or hylomorphic) since it posited that everything has form and matter.

A science that uses only efficient and formal causes may be called dynamorphic. Such is the emerging science of dynamic information.

A top-down science or process, etc. may be called hyperhypo. A bottom-up science or process, etc. may be called hypohyper. A form applied to a material is hyperhypo. A material with emerging form is hypohyper.

Temperament and explanations

The temperament of science exists within the typology of philosophy. Aristotle’s typology of causes (explanatory factors) provides a fourfold typology, which provides the basis for each twofold scientific temperament. The four causes/factors are the final, formal, efficient/mechanism, and material.

Final Cause or Teleology Formal Cause
Efficient Cause or Mechanism Material Cause

The scientific temperaments are:

hylomorphic – material and formal (Aristotle)

dynahylic – efficient/mechanism and material (lower; modern)

dynamorphic –and formal (design)

dynatelic – efficient/mechanism and final (transportation)

teleomorphic – final and formal (upper)

The teleomorphic is the inverse of the dynahylic. Each temperament is a explanatory axis of the full explanation.

These explanatory factors address why and how. There are also other factors to consider: who, when, and where.

Singular and regular

There is a basic distinction between what is singular, unique, non-repeating and what is regular, usual, natural. The latter is the domain of science, both natural and social science, whose premise is that if something repeats, it is characteristic of the way things are. What if something does not repeat? Then science cannot deal with it, except perhaps as an outlier that becomes a footnote or is simply removed.

History is different. It is the singular, the unique that stands out and needs explaining. Why did someone not do the culturally usual thing? Why did the singular characters of history arise instead of the many other common characters? Why did war break out here but not there or there?

History goes beyond science to investigate singular people and events. In fact, these are the most important things about history. The common appearances of the sun and moon, the regularity of the tides and seasons, the life-cycles of countless humans and other organisms are not the core of history.

What’s history is what happens that’s different. As the old newspaper line has it, “When a dog bites a man, that is not news. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.”

Some people say that anything that is not natural is “supernatural”. That implies it must be something beyond or against nature, but that is not necessarily so. Something unexpected is not necessarily beyond or against nature. It may be that a unique set of circumstances called for a unique response. It may be that an unusual individual rose to the top at a unique time in history.

A balanced knowledge of reality requires taking into account both sides, the singular and the regular. If we only look to science, we will miss the singular things. If we only look to history (or the news), we will miss the regular things. Science needs history and history needs science. A science or history that monologues is deficient. They need to dialogue to be balanced.

Wasmann on biology and evolution

From Modern Biology and the Theory of Evolution by Erich Wasmann, S.J.

Translated from the Third German Edition by A. M. Buchanan, M.A. London, 1910

Excerpts from Chapter IX, Thoughts on Evolution (with most footnotes omitted)

Note: creatio e nihilo means ‘creation from nothing,’ a slight variation on creatio ex nihilo, ‘creation out of nothing’.



For over forty years a conflict has been raging in the intellectual world, which both sides have maintained with great vehemence and energy. The war-cry on one side is ‘Evolution of Species,’ on the other ‘Permanence of Species.’ No one could fail to be reminded of that other great intellectual warfare regarding the Ptolemaic and the Copernican systems, which began about three hundred and fifty years ago, and raged with varying success for over a century, until finally the latter prevailed. Perhaps the present conflict between the theories of evolution and permanence only marks a fresh stage in that great strife, and, if so, how will it finally be decided?

The contest that we have to consider was stirred up by Charles Darwin, when he published his book on the ‘Origin of Species’ about the middle of last century. The theories advanced by Lamarck and Geoffroy St. Hilaire at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries may be regarded as causing preliminary skirmishes, but Cuvier’s powerful attacks soon succeeded in overthrowing the new ideas of evolution (see p. 28). It was not until the year 1859 that the great battle began, which has received its name from the commander-in-chief of the attacking army, Charles Darwin. The warfare with which we are now concerned centres round Darwinism, so-called.

I say, so-called Darwinism. A few words of explanation are absolutely necessary. The thick smoke of the powder, which hid the battlefield from our gaze, is gradually dispersing,

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Aristotle’s physics

Physicist Carlo Rovelli wrote the article “Aristotle’s Physics: A Physicist’s Look” published in the Journal of the American Philosophical Association, Volume 1, Issue 1, Spring 2015, pp. 23-40 with a free version available here. Luke Barnes summarizes the article here. For more on limited domains see here and here.

Below are some excerpts from the free version:

Aristotelian physics is a correct and non-intuitive approximation of Newtonian physics in the suitable domain (motion in fluids), in the same technical sense in which Newton’s theory is an approximation of Einstein’s theory. Aristotelian physics lasted long not because it became dogma, but because it is a very good empirically grounded theory. The observation suggests some general considerations on inter-theoretical relations. p.1

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Amateur and independent science

An independent scientist (or gentleman scientist) is someone who pursues scientific research while being independent of a university or government-run research and development body. “Self-funded scientists practiced more commonly from the Renaissance until the late 19th century … before large-scale government and corporate funding was available.” (Wikipedia)

Independent scientists are amateurs in the sense that they are doing scientific research for the love of it (the word is from the French amateur, “one who loves”) rather than as an occupation. They may have an occupation in a related field such as teaching science but their scientific research is done on their own time. Or they may be professional scientists in a specialty other than their research.

I remember years ago hearing the great Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős remark that an “amateur mathematician” had done work in number theory. He explained that the amateur was a professional mathematician but not a professional number theorist. That made the person an amateur number theorist. It is the same with professionals in any specialty outside their own.

Some great scientists were professors of mathematics, such as Galileo, who was a professor of mathematics at the University of Padua, and Isaac Newton, who held the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge.

In the history of science many breakthroughs have been done by amateurs. Here are some great amateurs or independent scientists:

Albert Einstein – physics
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek – microbiology
Charles Darwin – biology
Gregor Mendel – genetics
Joseph Priestley – chemistry
Michael Faraday – electromagnetism
William Herschel – astronomy

One could add others who were primarily inventors such as Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers, since science is often given credit for inventions.

On a related note, Robert A. Stebbins wrote Amateurs, Professionals, and Serious Leisure (McGill, 1992) and other works on productive uses of one’s free time.

Inverse causes

I’ve written about Aristotle’s four causes before (such as here and here). This also continues the discussion of observers and travelers, here.

Forward kinematics refers to the use of the kinematic equations of a robot to compute the position of the end-effector (the device at the end of a robotic arm) from specified values for the joint parameters. Forward kinematics is also used computer games and animation. Inverse kinematics makes use of the kinematics equations to determine the joint parameters that provide a desired position for each of the robot’s end-effectors.

In other words, forward kinematics is for finding out what motion happens given particular inputs, whereas inverse kinematics is for determining how to move to a desired position. In terms of the four Aristotelian causes or explanatory factors, forward kinematics is concerned with the efficient and material causes, and inverse kinematics is concerned with the final and formal causes.

The surprising thing is that these two kinds of causes (higher and lower) are inverses of one another.

Higher Final Formal
Lower Efficient / Mechanism Material

From the lower perspective one begins with some material. From the higher perspective one begins with the objective. From the lower perspective forces and laws make things happen. From the higher perspective following plans gets the job done.

One can see rôles parallel to the causes:

Traveler Set the destination Plan the trip
Observer Observe the motion See the material

And in robotics (or animation):

Inverse Pick the end position Plan the motions
Forward Make the motions Pick the device

One could say that forward kinematics is for scientists and inverse kinematics is for engineers since the latter incorporate objectives and designs in their work but the former are focused on observation only. To go beyond observation scientists would have to open up to formal and final causes.

Observers and travelers, continued

This post continues the topic of the previous post here. This is a post about two kinds of people. First a warning:

There may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not. – Robert Benchley

Actually, this post is about two different roles that people take, though some people get stuck in one role or the other. Consider these pairs of complementary roles:

speakers and listeners, writers and readers, artists/performers and viewers, musicians and audiences, programmers/designers and users, producers and consumers, etc.

Scientists and engineers often have complementary roles: engineers making things that work in the world and scientists observing and seeking to understand the world. In the MBTI personality types, there are judgers and perceivers. Combine all these with travelers and observers, transmitters and receivers, of the previous post.

What is the basic distinction here? It’s between an active role and a passive role, between having a goal and a way to get there vs. letting things go and seeing what happens. In terms of Aristotle’s four causes, it’s between the final and formal causes vs. the mechanistic/efficient and material causes.

Aristotle give an example of a sculptor, who starts with a final goal in mind and develops a plan, a design, a form. Then they take some material such as marble or clay and use tools to form it into something. An observer would only see the last two steps: the material and the action on it. They would have to infer the first two steps – or else stick to the empirical and ignore the first two steps.

In terms of studying motion, the distinction is between having a destination and moving there vs. starting somewhere and observing what motion there is. These two roles lead to the two approaches to space and time: 3+1 dimensions and 1+3 dimensions.

These roles are distinct even when they’re combined. For example, scientists do experiments, which requires an active role, but the purpose is to observe, which means to watch what happens.

These roles are different enough so that communication may be a problem. They speak different dialects and some translation may be required for them to understand one another. Knowing about personality types provides a clue as to how to approach those who prefer to take a particular role.

A few favorites of this “different kinds of people” genre:

There are three kinds of people in the world: Those who know math and those who don’t.

There are 10 kinds of people in the world: Those who understand binary and those who don’t.

There are two types of people in this world: Those who can extrapolate from incomplete data

Design illustrated

This post continues thoughts about design, last posted here.

Here is a description of how cement is made from the Portland Cement Association:

In its simplest form, concrete is a mixture of paste and aggregates, or rocks. The paste, composed of portland cement and water, coats the surface of the fine (small) and coarse (larger) aggregates. Through a chemical reaction called hydration, the paste hardens and gains strength to form the rock-like mass known as concrete.

The key to achieving a strong, durable concrete rests in the careful proportioning and mixing of the ingredients. A mixture that does not have enough paste to fill all the voids between the aggregates will be difficult to place and will produce rough surfaces and porous concrete. A mixture with an excess of cement paste will be easy to place and will produce a smooth surface; however, the resulting concrete is not cost-effective and can more easily crack.

The design in this case is the proportion of ingredients in the mixture. It might happen that the ingredients formed naturally but they would be in the correct proportion only by design. That is, the particular application entails a goal, which the design meets.

Certainly concrete can and does happen naturally in aggregate rock formations. But it does not meet a need without a design. And that doesn’t happen naturally. Roads built with concrete only happen because engineers and construction crews built them. There’s nothing natural about that.

Knowledge and repetition

Consider the distinction between repeatable events from unrepeatable events. Repeatable events includes events that have repeated or may be repeated at will (as in a laboratory) or may possibly repeat in the future. Unrepeatable events are events that are very unlikely to repeat or are impossible to repeat. It is said that science only studies repeatable events, and it can be argued that history is the study (science) of unrepeatable events – not that it excludes repeatable events but that it focuses on unrepeatable events.

“Nature” could be defined as the realm of repeatable events. Then natural science would be the study of nature or repeatable events. Those events that are unrepeatable would be left to historians but ignored by natural scientists. But could such scientists rightly study the past while ignoring unrepeatable events? Ignorance of unrepeatable events would be a limitation and a defect. We would not expect historians to ignore repeatable events, so why expect scientists to ignore unrepeatable events?

We may well expect events that only involve inanimate nature are repeatable in some way. But are all events with living beings repeatable? The position of naturalism says, Yes. But at some point we need to say, No, at least some living beings have free will (or whatever you want to call it) so that their actions may be unrepeatable, and thus beyond the purview of a science of repeatable events.

Knowledge of repeatable and unrepeatable events may need different methodologies to address both kinds of events but it could not ignore either kind without bias. We need both the study of history, with its unrepeatable events, and the study of science, and its repeatable events, as independent disciplines. The synthesis of science and history would require a different discipline, perhaps called “scihistory” or “histence”, that would balance the input of each discipline with the other.