July 20, 2016

Technology vs. Science

Technology is the practice of using known properties of objects or materials to turn things into tools with which to get stuff done. Science is the methodology of investigating how things work by posing a hypothesis, designing an experiment, running the experiment, and evaluating the data to see if it proves or disproves the hypothesis.

You don't actually have to understand why something works the way it does in order to make use of the properties it has. Knappers didn't understand the molecular structure that made flint flake just so, yet they were able to create a startlingly effective technology with it. That's the difference. Science seeks to understand a thing's properties. Technology, on the other hand, wishes to put those properties to good use.

Why am I ranting about this? Some months ago, I got into a... debate... with someone who was absolutely determined that science and magic were just different names for the same thing. They're not. Science is a process, and magic is a different project. You can use magic scientifically, in a spirit of inquiry, but you cannot use science magically. They are not the same.

Further, most magic is performed technologically, not scientifically. The practitioner probably understands at least some of the principles involved in their work, but they don't work magic to understand, they work magic as a means to an end. Magic is a tool, a technology.

The person I was arguing with claimed to be using a simplistic, but not untrue, definition of science -- science is a process using the scientific method to solve problems, or some such -- but they didn't actually use that definition, and kept insisting that technology was part of science. They couldn't, or wouldn't, grasp the distinction, grasp that technology is fundamentally different from science, that it doesn't use the scientific method. And that was what they based their insistence that magic and science were the same on, since they were defining magic as creating change according to will, and technology changes the world. (Science, of course, can also change the world, simply the knowledge it provides, but it's not at all the same as setting out to create change in accordance with will. But all of their examples were technology, not science.) It was pretty annoying for me.

At any rate, no one who thinks that science is the same as technology understands what science actually is. Nor does anyone who thinks that magic is the same as science.