In the previous post (not counting the webinars one, which was more of an announcement), I talked a bit about a new high-level model about scientific knowledge. However, I didn't talk much about its evolution, since that would make for a very long article (or even a book!). In this article, I'll look into some additional parts of this model and how it can help us understand the evolution of scientific knowledge. All this is closely tied to the data science mindset since, at its core, Data Science is applied science in real-world problems. So, in the previous article, we covered research, fidelity, and application as the key aspects of scientific knowledge and how the three of them are closely linked to a fourth one, the scope. But how do all these relate to the scientist and her work? Let's find out.
So, if you recall, the aforementioned factors can be visualized in the schematic we saw in the previous post.
But what lies in the middle of this? What’s at the heart of scientific knowledge? If you guessed the scientific method, you are right. After all, scientific knowledge doesn't grow on trees (with the exception of that apple tree upon which Newton was resting, perhaps). The scientific method is at the core of it since it binds research, fidelity, and even application to some extent. When an engineer (or even the scientist herself) explores a new theory and tests its validity, he makes use of the scientific method. Without it, he could still argue for or against the theory, but it would be more of a philosophical kind of treatise than anything else. Naturally, philosophy has value too, especially when it is a practical kind of philosophy, like that of the Stoics. However, in science, we are interested more in things that can be formulated with mathematical formulas and be tested rigorously through various data analytics tools, such as Statistics. This scientific method also constitutes the mindset of the scientist, something very important across different disciplines.
Now, if we were to explore this further, going beyond the plane of all the aforementioned aspects of scientific knowledge, we’d find (at least) two more aspects that are closely related to all this. Namely, we’ll find understanding and vision, both of which have to do with the scientist primarily. Understanding involves how deep we go into the ideas the scientific knowledge entails. It is not just rational though since it involves our intuition too. Understanding is like the roots of a tree, grounding scientific knowledge to something beyond the data and making the scientific theory we delve into something potentially imbued by enthusiasm. When you hear some scientists talk about their inventions, for example, you can almost feel that. No scientist would get passionate about math formulas but when it comes to the understanding of the scientific knowledge they have worked on, they can get quite passionate about it for sure!
On the other direction of this we have vision, which has to do with what we imagine about the scientific knowledge, be it its applicability, its extensions, and even the questions it may raise. The latter may bring about additional scientific projects, evolving the knowledge (and understanding) further. That's why it makes sense to visualize this as an upwards vector. Besides, we talk about understanding going deep, which is why we'd visualize it as a downwards vector. Naturally, we'd expect these to be correlated to some extent since deeper understanding would make for loftier visions regarding the scientific knowledge we explore. Also, these two aspects of scientific knowledge highlight the evolutionary aspect of it, rending it something highly dynamic and adaptive.
Hopefully, this article has shed some light on this intriguing topic. It may be a bit abstract but scientific knowledge is like this, at least until it manifests as technology. Feel free to share your thoughts on this topic through this blog. Cheers!
Zacharias Voulgaris, PhD
Passionate data scientist with a foxy approach to technology, particularly related to A.I.