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Dmytry comments on Fake Explanations - Less Wrong

58 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 20 August 2007 09:13PM

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Comment author: Dmytry 03 December 2009 05:45:46PM *  2 points [-]

Phew. This is just an 'ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer' situation.

Questions 'why' and 'what is' are metaphysical or semantic and have nothing whatsoever to do with science. The only reason why those are prevalent in education is that education sucks. Science is not a search for answers to "why X happens", even though it is popularized as such.

My school physics wasn't like this at all (eastern Europe here). I would have a problem to solve - how many watts of heating are required to maintain uniform temperature of 20 degrees Celsius in a 10x5x2.2m room with concrete walls of 20cm thickness and outside temperature of -20 degrees Celsius (you can look up thermal conductivity of concrete). A very reasonable question. In the end, you're good in physics not when you have some warm inner feeling of understanding, not when you can 'explain' why something happens, but when you can PREDICT what will happen and/or make things happen. Nature couldn't care less if you know or not "why" stone axe is good for killing a mammoth (or something), it doesn't care if you call it 'inertia' or something else.

Comment author: royf 02 June 2012 07:35:16AM 3 points [-]

I agree that the word "why" is perhaps not the best choice, but it really stands for "what is the physical mechanism for".

Anyway, what you describe is engineering, not science. A scientist explains the mechanism by which a stone ax can kill a mammoth. An engineer uses this understanding to design a better ax. A craftsman builds the ax. A warrior takes the ax, kills the mammoth, and wins the girl.

Comment author: johnlawrenceaspden 27 August 2012 02:56:03PM 1 point [-]

Questions 'why' and 'what is' are metaphysical or semantic and have nothing whatsoever to do with science.

And yet without them, science barely seems worth doing. I mean, someone finds out a new and seemingly useless fact about gravity and their name goes down in history. Someone makes a slight improvement to a mobile phone and they're not even famous in their own company.