Ever since middle school, we have been taught in our science classes that science is the study of the natural world based on facts learned through a clear-cut process of experiments and observation.

Indeed, experimentation and observation are most certainly a part of scientific discovery, however as we learned in class, 20th century thinkers such as Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn, in their own ways, reject this classical view of the scientific method, and instead describe their respective views on what science truly is.

We learned in class that scientist and historian Thomas Kuhn noted in his studies that science does not progress in a timely, linear fashion or build upon itself with new knowledge, but instead undergoes “periodic revolutions.” In the excerpt of his writing, he describes how a “rigid” paradigm can lead to scientific discovery. Additionally, he writes that for there to be a scientific discovery, there must be an anomaly, or something that does not fit within the paradigm. “Normal science,” or science as we may be familiar with, in nature, does not expect such anomalies. To Kuhn, scientific discoveries spawn from anomalies that either may or may not lead to a paradigm shift, and is really not a “highly cumulative enterprise.”

Popper’s “problem of demarcation” outlined in Conjectures and Refutations notes his criterion for the scientific status of a theory. To him, “testability is falsifiability.” In other words, a theory which is not refutable is not scientific. For example, you may have a theory that all swans are white. Then, if you spot a black swan in the park, you can conclude that not all swans are white. This basic example favors falsification in that you refuted the claim that all swans are white. This general idea, to Popper, should be applied to all scientific findings, and if it cannot be refuted, it scientifically invalid.

My personal answer to the question, “How can we understand science” is this: Science does not follow a dictionary answer like most other English words do. Additionally, as mathematical as science can be, science is also an incredibly philosophical topic. While considering the ideas of Popper and Kuhn, science continues to move forward with time, with its growing fields and aiding new technologies (linearly vs non-linearly, logically vs non-logically). The science of today is most certainly not the science of yesterday. While (to me at least) science is a difficult to define, we can read into philosopher’s ideas and agree, disagree, or use it to inform or build upon our own ideas and opinions.