comment by ryan wong (ryan-wong) ·
2020-06-17T04:41:25.834Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Something that has always puzzled me about high school, is why students are required to memorize very specific definitions of terms in the physical sciences. Why is such a high percentage of marks rewarded for being able to recite, word-for-word, that electric potential, refers, specifically, to the work done per unit charge by an external force in bringing a small positive charge from infinity to a point in a E-field without a change in kinetic energy? There are five italicized keywords/terms there which will result in an entire lost mark if missed out.
I hypothesize it's because scientists need to know what something refers to specifically, or there will be a clash in terms. Words are the map to the territory of the natural world, and no large-scale effort to advance science can ever be possible if the millions of scientists around the world were operating on different definitions. Most things are very specific. Important fundamental processes - such as the Haber process for the manufacture of ammonia, which allowed for mass production of fertilizers - occurred the exact same way every single time given the same inputs.
In contrast, because of the complexity of the human mind, social scientists often find themselves having differing opinions on a topic. An example that comes to mind is willpower. A popular psychology book might argue(with research) that willpower is limited and will deplete when used. Another might argue that willpower is only limited if the individual thinks that it is. This has implications for important areas such as time management, relationship-building, and even weight loss. In this case, which framework does one then use in his/her daily life?
Is this why the social sciences, synonymous with "soft sciences", are generally less respected than natural sciences like physics or biology? Is it because there are little empirical, causal answers? Is it because it has much less predicting ability, and therefore less probability to generate real-world results?
More importantly, as someone with a passion in individual and group psychology, what can we do to change that? Is the scientific method suited for the social sciences, or are we forcing the method to fit the field? Is there another way of going about really understanding psychology and developing useful technology with it?