• Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

The word Science has been derived from the Latin word scientia (means “knowledge”). It is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of explanations based on past and present observations and predictions about the universe that could be tested. In the past science was closely associated with philosophy. In the 17th century, natural philosophy (called “natural science” now) became a separate branch of philosophy. In a broad sense the term “science” is still used to mean reliable knowledge regarding a topic, for example political science and social science. The narrower meaning of the word “science” developed during the 19th century when it became increasingly associated with the study of the natural world in a disciplined way (the scientific method), including physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, geology etc. The naturalist-theologian William Whewell coined the word scientist in the 19th century (1834) to differentiate people who sought knowledge on nature from those who sought knowledge in other areas.

Science in a broad sense existed in many ancient civilizations. Thousands of years ago, knowledge about nature was gathered that had helped the development of complex abstract thinking, as shown by the construction of buildings such as the pyramids, complex calendars (The Mayan), techniques for making poisonous plants edible etc. The specialized pursuit of such knowledge was called philosophy. The majority of the philosophers were mainly speculators or theorists, particularly interested in astronomy.

A scientific theory is empirical that is always subject to revalidation on the basis of new evidence. Therefore, no theory could ever be considered a certainty. Truth and certainty are two distinguishable entities as nicely explained by Karl Popper,  the philosopher of science. He states that scientific knowledge “consists in the search for truth”, but it “is not the search for certainty … All human knowledge is fallible and therefore uncertain.”

Galileo is considered one of the fathers of modern science.We have come a long way since the time of Aristotle, Kuan Tzu (4th C. BCE), Socrates, Ptolemy, Copernicus,Newton, Darwin, Mendel, Einstein etc to the era of Hawking, the 21st century and a new millenium. Several scientific inventions and discoveries in the 20th century have revolutionized the life and culture of the Mankind. Some notable (not exclusive) ones include aeroplane and the jet engine; space travel; satellite; submerine; nuclear, solar and wind power generation; ultrasound; TV; computer; internet; mobile phone; genetic mapping; stem cell research; IVF; reasearch methodology etc.

Accumulation of scientific knowledge is an eternal journey through the unknown. It would go on and on as it is open ended.


“If a man will begin with certainties,

he shall end in doubts;

but if he will be content to begin with doubts,

he shall end in certainties.”

Francis Bacon (1605)


© Dr Sudipta Paul,, 2012

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