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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Science : Etymology

I checked out your site for the etymology of science and it was rather... indigent, Thai.
So.. I am deliberately cheating on this one, and giving you the etymology from my French dictionary.
I am doing this because the Grand Robert Historique is a little more succint than the OED, and is better at transmitting the historical evolution of the word. The OED has a purely analytical, descriptive approach, and the word's history falls by the wayside.
This piece is a translation of what I put on my loony forum in July. Complete with.. MY commentary on the implications of the etymology for us, at this time.

Here is a word whose etymology and history everybody should know at a moment when "science" has become our new.. RELIGION. In the following piece, I will stick my commentary between parentheses, in order to allow you to differentiate between me, and the Grand Robert.

Science : First appearance (I think) in the French language in 1080 in "The Song of Roland". Borrowed from the classic latin scientia, "knowledge", particularly "scientific knowledge" which starting at the classical period takes on the meaning of the Greek episteme, "theoretical knowledge", from whence "epistemology". (I shall add that the original meaning of "theory" is "a group of people sent to a religious performance, or to consult an oracle". In the word "theory" we hear the root theos, which means "god". In the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations we observe how religion and knowledge are linked together in our ancestors minds. We will see why later.)
"Science" at first refers to the know-how which is derived from "knowledge" combined with (manual) skill, and starting in around 1119, the corpus of "knowledge" aquired from studying an object. Before the XIVth century, the word applies particularly to knowledge as a practical object subservient to religion. Moreover... the word is used in a religious context in 1120, with respect to the "intimate knowledge of God and creatures", from whence "the spirit of science", "the spirit (esprit, difficult to translate...), essence of God insomuch as he gives knowledge to man (1553), and the transcendental knowledge of the creation that God has.
In the middle of the XIIth century the generalized opposition between theoretical and practical knowledge emerges. (I would like to remind you that this opposition marks the beginning of a separation, a compartmentalization which translates in the separation between head/brain and hands. Increasingly, the value of what is produced with the hands will be debased, while what is produced with the head will be... INFLATED he he. The problem being particularly, the separation of head and hands... We are still suffering terribly in our civilization from the result of this compartmentalization.)
XVth century : "avoir la science infuse" means "to have the knowledge that God gives by pure inspiration (the breath of God ???), in reference to the knowledge that Adam received from God (and not from biting that apple, careful...), the expression has taken on the meaning "to know... INNATELY (my capitals), and then, to claim to know everything. (1835) (Note the deterioration in the meaning, the mockery that arises ...)
During the Renaissance, "modern" thinkers came to understand that science must be founded on formal reasoning, i.e., on mathematics, on direct observation, and controlled experimentation (!!!! The Robert's prejudices are evident here...). Two types of knowledge vyed for preeminence : law, an emanation of divine thought and a framework for human life, and mathematics which also manifested a certain world.. order. The concept of "science" draws away from theology, and philosophy, and the idea of method begins to impose itself. (I remind you that this evolution corresponds to the rise of humanism in Europe. Humanism is an ideological approach which progressively evacuates a reference to a transcendence ideal and/or divine. The founding fathers were probably.. devoted to a reference towards an IDEAL transcendance, but not a.. DIVINE one. Transcendance can be inferred from the structure of language, as you have learned from my previous posts, right ??) Starting at the beginning of the XVIIIth century, "science" refers to "exact and universal, and verifiable knowledge expressed through laws". (Please notice how this definition of science corresponds to... the rise of our modern democraties, the rise of the value of reason. Please note also that... the word "law" is retained, but it has subtely changed meaning...)

(I would like to impart to you to what extent it is essential to understand this little topo. We retain the medieval root and meaning of the "science " in the expression "God only knows". This means... ONLY God knows. God, in the medieval topo WHICH WE REMEMBER IN/THROUGH OUR LANGUAGE is the garant of truth, and only through him does man receive... science/knowledge. The place of the garant, the person who... GUARANTEES, in other words is fundamental because.. we must RECEIVE knowledge from somewhere (someone ?) and.. HOW DO WE KNOW IF IT IS TRUE ???
Other EXTREMELY IMPORTANT OBSERVATION : the fact that... our modern judicial systems and ideological fascination for the.. LAW mask the fact that the latter emerged from a.. THEOLOGICAL context, my friends. This is... CAPITAL.

In the Renaissance topo (humanism, anthropocentrism, which still dominate western civilization..), man acquires knowledge/science himself through observation and experimentation, by formal reasoning applied to (personal) experience.
But.. the question/problem of the garant/guaranteer remains intact. CAN MAN BE THE GARANT/GUARANTEER OF HIS OWN KNOWLEDGE ? At the risk of usurping God's (symbolic !!!!!) place ?
I think that at rock bottom we have an innate knowledge that we receive our lives, our knowledge our words from... ANOTHER. (Levinas). Therefore.. a certain anthropocentrism/humanism is a delusion, a dangerous one for our species, that at this time has embarked on a frantic search for all powerfulness on everything that moves.)

I warned you that this would be long...


Debra said...

I hope that you can see just how indigent the Web sites, including.. Widipedia are with respect to the topo that I just threw down for you.
There is no.. thinking in Wikipedia.
This topo will be an intro to the Dukakis incident, which I STILL plan to get around to.. one of these days...

Debra said...

More than an etymology, this is an extremely succint.. history of an idea. Very very succint. And generalized, of course...

Dink said...

I truly do love etymology. And its great that your source breaks down the connotations over various periods because they do change.

One of the foundational concepts of how I define science is that every sentient being could reproduce identical data. From agreed upon physical constants we have a universal common experience. From there a universal reality.

Because "perception is reality" to the individual and perception can be wildly skewed, we need a universal reality to override perception. And this universal reality can't be dictated, each individual needs to have the ability to test the data themselves for it to be trusted.

And with the complexity of some science its been far easier just to trust than to reverify. Its unfortunate that some have chosen to betray the trust and deceive for their own benefit, but such is life and at least we can reverify.

I define faith as trust without the ability to reverify/question. So I can't see science as a faith because I'm always allowed to question without repercussion. But there is no language/concept authority so defining faith is kind of the wild west.

Vaguely related, here in the US I swear we are running out of words with which to individualize new products. Everything has been used by some past or current product so were just packing syllables together now. Medication may be the worst example.

Dink said...

And because I'm feeling chatty I'll bring up another issue.

'Tis the season of holiday parties (which I suspect explains Thai's hiatus). I can behave extroverted, but I feel exhausted afterward so I guess on the spectrum this shifts me into the introvert side. I started looking up definitions (extrovert/introvert/ambivert)and it seems to go back to Jung. Any insight on which is ideal? Or why people differ? Do extroverts have more fun or is it just the booze? ;)

Debra said...

I will present the extrovert/introvert dilemma in the following way...
My 21 year old son went through EVERYBODY'S HANDS when he was tiny. And he became... very socialized.
My 19 year old daughter went through... NOONE'S hands when she was tiny (due to illness). She is much LESS socialized.
But... socialized people are less indivualistic/individual than the unsocialized ones, on the whole.
But society changes due to the people.. on the fringes of the school of fish, not the people at the center of it.
At great cost, generally, to those individuals who stick out.
Keynes said that it was better to be wrong with everybody else than right alone (in the market system) and this is what I figure he meant...
As far as.. running out of new words is concerned, just try to get a handle on how many books have been written since the printing presses revved up...

Petterritory said...

Interesting Article! I do agree with you. Etymology refers to history of words and how their form and meaning have changed over time. I am impressed with your precise expressions. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
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Debra said...

Dinky, I don't believe in the necessity of a universal reality to preside over perception.
Universality is another name for.. totalitarianism.

Thai said...

Deb, I agree AND this is really good.

And to make a point, it is not very different from Godel's incompleteness theorem which Street Dog shared with us:

"this statement is false"

Think about it.

There is no such thing as a truly closed system- not even the universe.

At least no such thing as a closed system as far as humans can see.

Closed systems are theoretical approximations to describe things, nothing more.

We are simply using different languages to say exactly the same thing.

Thai said...

Agree universality is another name for totalitarianism from some viewpoints.

And you cannot escape this ever.

It is as absolute as the conservation of energy. If the conservation of energy is not absolute, neither is universality, neither is totalitarianism.

I do believe the conservation of energy is absolute.

So far it has NEVER been disproved.

Thai said...

You may not like that I am a bad speller and that my comments contain lots and lots of typos, but it is what it is ;-)

You like to describe this problem by (correctly) saying "we are not rational animals" a viewpoint with which I completely agree.

But this does not change certain basic facts, even if you wish it otherwise.

One must always start with a template when they are creating something from nothing.

And you dislike of the smell of certain roses does not change the fact that the human mind has certain basic kernels or templates within its structure around which the rest of it crystallized.

And once these templates were chosen, many other doors were shut to us as humans.

The mind (indeed everything we know and I mean everything) started for us as a template and moved from there.

Totalitarianism is a fact of life whether we would like to pretend otherwise or not. If you do not believe me, jump out of the open window of a jet airplane at 30,000 feet and see what happens.

However what we want that totalitarianism to look like is another matter and is to some degree under our control however. Some roses simply smell different by changing their name.

Everything we think of as somehow being independent (its own closed system) is really connected to everything else AND there is a:

conservation of energy
conservation of risk
conservation of entropy conservation of time

These all still hold true.

It is what it is

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits