Unifying Concepts Common to All Sciences

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After completing this lesson, you will be able to explain what science is and describe some concepts and ideas that are common across all sciences. A short quiz will follow.

What is Science?

Science is a field of intellectual study that involves analyzing the structure and behavior of the physical world through observation. There are many areas of science: earth science, space science, social science, life science, and physical science. Within those categories you'll find biology, chemistry, physics, geology, astronomy, sociology, psychology, and even mathematics and logic. There are too many to name. So with dozens of areas of science, do they really have much in common?

Well, it turns out that the basic ideas behind science are pretty consistent across disciplines. While the individual sciences might study different topics, or even use different methods or statistical analyses, they share the same approach to understanding the world. This approach has been so successful that it has revolutionized the way we look at the world, and changed how we live in it, leading to the development of every modern convenience and technology that we take for granted today. These ideas are powerful. So let's go through some of the most important ones.

Ideas Common to All Sciences

Probably the most central idea of science is that the world can be explained in a consistent way by collecting and analyzing data and evidence. One assumption this makes is that the world really does make consistent sense. If you measure gravity one day, and it turns out to be a particular strength, it isn't likely to be different the next day. Or if it is different, there must be a rational explanation for why. This is a universe where logic applies. Science simply wouldn't work if this wasn't the case. And if it makes consistent sense, we can collect evidence about it and use it to come to conclusions.

The Scientific Method
The Scientific Method

The scientific method is the approach scientists use to collect and analyze data; it involves controlling every variable except one, so that we can see how that single variable affects a result. This has allowed us to make most of the discoveries about the universe that we have. Galileo, often considered one of the fathers of modern science, was one of the first to use these methods rigorously.

Galileo is considered to be one of the fathers of modern science
Galileo is considered to be one of the fathers of modern science

Another key idea is that nothing is ever certain, only very probable. Contrary to popular belief, science never really proves anything. All science does is collect an increasingly large body of evidence, until it becomes highly unlikely that the prevalent scientific ideas are wrong. But science is always open to new data, and always open to be contradicted. This flexibility is one of its strengths.

Scientific models and relationships are also a big part of science. Not only do we want to understand the universe, we want to make sure that we can use that understanding to make predictions. What use is having a vague understanding of gravity, if we can't predict where a ball will land when we throw it? Science produces simplified models, and mathematical relationships that we can use to predict how the universe will respond to certain events.

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