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CosmicJustice Blog

Fundamental science vs applied science

CJCJ
edited May 2014 in General

As a pupil in primary I would find refuge in the school library. There was a huge corridor devoted to Sciences. 90% of it was dedicated to fundamental sciences and the rest to a few applications. Being a child, I remember the the huge tomes of astronomy, geology, biology, beautifully illustrated with their superb thick glossy pages... They talked about the origin of our planets and the depths of the oceans making my mind soar with dreams of research and discoveries. The applied science books, few as they were, appeared to be poor manuals of lists of procedures that would make an insomniac fall asleep, by comparison.

As the years went by the fundamental science books started giving way to the applied sciences and by the time I finished school the tables were turned. Starting academic life with biology, I moved on to cybernetics with a twist: the degree was called Intelligent Systems (IS) in Reading University. The twist being that the degree included Computer Science (reasonably enough), Cybernetics (of course) and Psychology (the twist). Up to that point I had no respect for psychology, claiming it to be a science in the making but not there yet. And in that mindset I entered the amphitheatre for my first class. It was a shock I still remember vividly. There were 8 of us from IS in a crowd of hundreds. As youth would have it, eyeballing came immediately. 6 boys in a sea of women. The first thing I noticed was that there was no curiosity in my classmates' eyes, instead I found fear, uncertainty and a sense of urgency. Talking with them over the next few months I came to understand that most of the psychology students were there to solve a specific issue for themselves or a loved one. At first, it appeared a very noble thing to do, but as the lab work went on it became quite obvious that my classmates had absolutely no interest in what makes the human mind tick, all they wanted was a list of ingredients or procedures that would cure their ailment.

The saddest discovery of my academic years was that most of the scientists I met (our lecturers mostly and some visitors) would rather bask in the lime light of fame than advance our understanding (there were exceptions of course). The culmination of my disappointment came when I passed my 1st year psychology exam by demonstrating that most personality theories in use at that time did not even adhere to their own validity requirements. The sadness deepened when our cybernetics lecturers illustrated many examples where they were tasked by the government and other big players to model systems and the responses they would get is that their analyses were useless due to their non-linear results. In other words a negative feedback system was too complex for them (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feedback). They wanted quick fixes for short-term relief.

In my discussions with my peers, I became aware of the possibility that most people do not care about the greater picture nor about how things work. What most people seem to want is a band-aid to heal a severed member. The exceptions I did acknowledge had two things in common: they were into fundamental research and cared very little about fame and fortune... Funny enough most of them were biologists, mathematicians and musicians (who would have thought that musicians would make such excellent scientists). The second thing they had in common was that they were unashamedly atheist.

All this could be a false positive by a glitchy pattern recognition system, thus I ask you: What can you say about comparison/contrast between fundamental science and applied science? Do you believe/know that there is or isn't an abyss of difference between the two? If so, is it as crucial as it appears to me?

I mean no disrespect. All I wrote relates to my greatest question and is only empirical. Should anyone take offence, it was not my intent and I apologise in advance.


Read more of the article here at its source.http://www.richarddawkins.net/discussions/2014/4/27/fundamental-science-vs-applied-science
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