Science steers the future of technology. Where science goes technology follows.
Science is the structuring of knowledge. It is the organization of knowledge such that knowledge can be tested, so that it is easier for new varieties of knowledge to appear, so that knowledge can be archived and restored, so that knowledge can be communicated without grave error, so that knowledge can be built upon and extended, and most importantly, science is the method whereby knowledge is structured so that it can be structured further.
It is not necessary that science increase the “truthfulness” or volume of total information. It is only necessary that it increase the order and organization of knowledge.
The history of science is the evolution of knowledge’s organization. The evolution of knowledge began with relatively simple organizations of information. The most simple organization was the invention of the “fact.” Over time, the ways in which knowledge could be ordered increased, as did the complexity of that organization. Today, the organization of knowledge within science is extremely layered, richly convoluted, and present at many levels. In research we have double-blind clinical trials and tests for the validity of simulations, for example. The scientific method today bears little resemblance to the earliest attempts at science 400 years ago, before the advent of experiment, report, peer review and other inventions.
The development of the technium is fundamentally the evolution of science and knowledge. I do not mean the history of scientific inventions, where one type of discovery is cataloged before the next. Chronologies of inventions, as fascinating as they are, don’t tell the underlying story of how this narrative of change reshapes itself. Technology developed as knowledge could be structured more deeply.
In many ways the evolution of knowledge in science more resembles the evolution of knowledge in a living organism, as it evolves and complexifies over deep time. Of the many ways in which a mammal differs from a sponge say, one of the primary differences is the additional layers in which information flows through the organism.
If we examine the major transitions in biology, we can arrange the story of life in several ways. We could chronicle such spectacular biological transitions as organisms migrating from the seas to land, or acquiring backbones, or developing eyes, or the arrival of flowering plants, or the demise of dinosaurs, and the rise of mammals. These are important benchmarks in our past and legitimate achievements in our ancestors’ tale.
But I believe the most revealing way to view the 4 billion-year history of life is to mark the major transitions in the informational organization of life’s forms. In this view biological organization means knowledge organization. To view its stages we need to call out the major transitions of structure over evolutionary time. This was the method of John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmary who found eight thresholds of biological information organization in the 4 billion-year old history of life. Each level in their hierarchy indicates a major re-ordering of biological information. For example, the invention of sex is actually a major innovation in structuring genetic information to maximize evolvability. Animals using sexual recombination of genes will evolve faster. The natural invention of multicellularity and of colonies of multi-cells are further structuring of biological bits.
I’d like to do the same with the evolution of knowledge, that is with the evolution of the science. Rather than catalog inventions such as copper, bronze and iron, or the invention of steam power, or electricity, I find it far more useful to dwell on the structure of information within the technium. We can read the technium’s evolution as the deepening structure of knowledge. This suggests the following parallel, that the evolution of technology also trends along with the evolution of the scientific method, since science steers technology.
In researching the trajectory of the scientific method I was shocked to discover how untold its story is. The pillar of technological strength and the foundation of our modern culture is science’s advance. Beneath the advance of science is the advance of the scientific method. You would think a culture as dependent on science would own at least one good history of the scientific method, but I was unable to find such a story. So I have quickly and somewhat cursorily assembled a brief timeline of the scientific method.
Advances in the Scientific Method:
280BC Libraries with Index
1000 Collaborative Encyclopedia
1410 Cross-referenced Encyclopedia
1550 Invention of the Fact
1590 Controlled Experiments
1609 Scopes and Elaboratories
1650 Societies of Experts
1665 Necessary Repeatability
1752 Peer Review Referee
1780 Journal Network
1920 Falsifiable Testability
1926 Randomized Design
1937 Controlled Placebo
1950 Double Bind Refinement
1946 Computer simulations
Each of these landmarks are innovations in knowledge organization. There may be ones that I missed; let me know if you have one in mind.