Why technology is not science

The relation between ancient science and ancient technology is identical to the relation between modern science and modern technology. Tools, whether invented by a homo erectus, an ancient Egyptian, or a Medieval artisan, are as science-based as the laser used in LASEK; and they are as much a part of technology as cruise missiles and power plants. Knife, at the time of its invention in the Bronze Age, required as much cutting-edge (no pun intended!) science as laser did a few decades ago. And as it was built to replace the old Stone-Age sharp stones, knife was as end-specific as a nuclear power plant, a cruise missile, or a linear accelerator: it was meant to kill and cut with, not to cook with!

A nuclear power plant is a “tool” that uses the abstract principles of physics – such as E=mc2 – to produce electricity for consumption. It comes out of a branch of technology, and, therefore, it is not science!  A cruise missile is nothing but a glorified gun. It is a destructive power which was developed with the clear intention of annihilating buildings and human beings. We can blame science for its production as much as we can blame arithmetic for the production of simple “war” machines of 2000 years ago such as catapults.

A linear accelerator is of a completely different nature.  Although a substantial amount of advanced technology is used in its construction, it is not designed to produce anything for human consumption, and certainly not for his annihilation.  It is a machine that probes the structure of matter to a deeper and deeper level.  One can say that it is a huge microscope capable of “seeing” subatomic particles.  Why the author puts linear accelerators alongside power plants and cruise missiles is unclear.

The complexity of both modern technology and modern science has caused many critics, unfamiliar with either, to confuse the two, equate science with technology and assign “value” to both.  The preceding discussion has shown that while technology is loaded with value, science is completely value-free.

7 thoughts on “Why technology is not science”

  1. Would “Computer Science” qualify as “Science”? I was wondering what would be the material in computer science. Especially when the inquiry is about algorithms, ways of computation and so on. Is it just Mathematics?

    1. Computer science is an extension of mathematics. And mathematics is not science, it is the language of science. It is the language in which theoretical physics, for example, is spoken. So, I would say that computer science is more of a language than science.

      1. I would say that mathematics (and thus computer science) is more of a science than it is not. It does differ in that it uses “proof” instead of “evidence”, but informally, it often starts with evidence. The domains are certainly different, one being real, and the other imaginary (abstract), but both demand the same reasoning. Maybe it is best to say that CS is Math and leave it at that, rather than saying that math is a language.

  2. Sadri, when you say “One could say that the efforts of the physicists of the late eighteenth and mid nineteenth centuries paved the way…” you are making people who were motivated to understand technological developments into physicists.
    But many of them were in fact engineers. Many of the founders of thermodynamics were engineers, such as Sadi Carnot who studied military engineering. Josiah Willard Gibbs was awarded the first American PhD in engineering “On the Form of the Teeth of Wheels in Spur Gearing”. There are a number of other great names that I could cite. So the growth of science and technology and their interactions are more intertwined than you write in the paragraph above. When after quantum mechanics was developed, you know that physicists dropped the study of continuum mechanics and aerodynamics and after that these fields developed mostly at the hands of people whose academic departments were in various branches of engineering (and applied mathematics mainly in the Great Britain). Think of people such as Ludwig Prandtl, Theodore von Karman, Stephen Timoshenko, Keith Stewartson, James Lighhill and others.

    1. Stan, I am talking about science and technology, not scientists and engineers. There is a huge difference. As you rightly point out, sometimes science comes from engineers (I can add to your list , the most theoretical of all physicists, Paul Dirac, who was an electrical engineer as an undergraduate). This distinction becomes less and less prominent as we move to the beginning of any discipline in physics. Gilbert was a physician! But he started the science of electromagnetism. Sadi Carnot was an army engineer, as you mention, but he started the science of thermodynamics. While the messenger may have varied background, the message gets detached from him, once it becomes science.

      1. Sadri, Your statement, “One could say that the efforts of the physicists of the late eighteenth and mid nineteenth centuries paved the way for the technicians and inventors of the second half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries to create many novel and ingenious devices. ”

        Your statement clearly identifies as physicist as the originators of the ideas, and I pointed out that many of them were engineers. I

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