Saturday, November 01, 2008

Doggerel #167: "If It's Not Particles, You Can't Study It!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

I've been dealing with a woo who apparently thinks us naturalists/materialists/scientifically-minded people can't study phenomena that can't be easily reduced to a handful of particles. Or at least that's what I've gathered. This is, of course, bunk. Science is the study of effects. Particle physics have nothing to do with it. We've just successfully reduced much of the universe to those units.

The scientific method mentions nothing about particles, atoms, or anything like that. Those are things that were discovered thanks to the method, not a required part of it. Though I suppose some people can't be blamed for thinking about particle physics: It was the sort of thing Einstein looked at, results are often predictable even if it's weird on the quantum level, and just about everything we know anything about is made of it.

Of course, science studies many things before we know how it works on the molecular level. Geneticists were able to study how genes work before DNA was discovered and decoded. All it took was predictable behavior on the genes' part. There's nothing stopping the scientific method from analyzing more complicated things like bodies and minds. The data are just very noisy. Even if you add in some magical component made of stuff currently unknown to science, that's not going to be a problem in the long run. As long as it behaves in a consistent manner, it doesn't matter if we think with complicated chemicals or ethereal pixies.

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