The Name and Nature of Science: Insights from Jane Jacobs and Greco-Roman Society

By Paul T. Keyser.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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We can simultaneously address both the nature of science and its progress by considering under what circumstances science evolves. Science exists in some form in every culture, and consists at least of recipe-collections believed efficacious; typically, the collections are organized and systematic, and include principles conceived as explanatory. Recipes that are efficacious are preferred, and recipes will rarely be static: practitioners adjust them to suit new circumstances. Evolution is a substrate-neutral algorithm, and occurs in any system exhibiting variation and replication moderated by differential fitness – thus recipes and explanations evolve as people employ and alter them. Any Popperian falsification of a recipe or principle serves as a demonstration of its lack of fitness, i.e., as a demonstration that the explanation is internally incoherent or else that the recipe does not conform to the knowable world. Unconsciously-selective evolution can become conscious – especially in a polity that provides a rich context of debate and challenge. Jacobs argued that polities manifesting the “commercial” syndrome produce more debate and challenge in contrast to those manifesting the “guardian” syndrome. The rise and decline of science during the 13-century Greco-Roman world strongly correlates with the degree of freedom of debate and thought. That freedom increases the selection pressure on science and thus accelerates its evolution. Page has demonstrated that diversity of outlooks and methods among collaborators is vastly more likely to produce innovation and results that are more efficacious, i.e., are more fit. Science may validly be defined as that set of practices (recipes) plus theories (explanations) which evolves in a suitably robust ecology of debate and challenge, and the evolution of science may validly be described as its progress.

Keywords: Commercial Syndrome, Democracy, Evolution, Guardian Syndrome, Innovation, Jacobs, Popper, Progress

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp.65-84. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.744MB).

Dr. Paul T. Keyser

Watson Research, IBM Watson Research, New York, NY, USA

Paul T. Keyser studied physics and classics at St. Andrew’s School, Duke, and Boulder. After a few years of research and teaching in Classics, at Edmonton, Cornell, and other places, he returned to his first love, programming. He is currently crafting Java and Eclipse plug-ins for the IBM Watson Research Center, in the Component Systems and Business Process area. His publications include work on gravitational physics, stylometry, and ancient science and technology. His most recent book is the Encyclopedia of Ancient Natural Scientists (Routledge 2008).