Tuesday, 15 April 2008

practice before theory

NYT reports that
Archimedes researchers have discovered that the evolution of physics — or, at least, mechanics — is based on an interplay between practice and theory. The practical use comes first, theory second. Artisans build machines and use them but do not think about why they work. Theorists explain the machines and then derive principles that can be used to construct more complex machines.

The Archimedes researchers say that by studying this dialectic they can better understand what people knew about the natural world at a given time and how that knowledge may have affected their lives.

This is a commonplace argument in some philosophical circles, and it is for precisely this situation interdisciplinary programs -- such as history and philosophy of science departments -- exist. The best part of our job is integrating the results from so many fields: classics, archeology, sociology, history, and philosophy, to name a few. I imagine that we philosophers would go happily along, thinking stuff up without input from those other fields, but we'd be much poorer for it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I forwarded that article to our friends in ancient science. Jackie suggested that it severely overestimated the number of people working on ancient science. She figures there are only 50 rather than a 100.