Quote of the moment - By all means email any worthy quotes

    What does a fish know of water in which it swims all its life? What does a man know of nature of which he is an integral part? The ancient answer is: he knows and he knows not. (cited in Saraswati, 1995 (Ed) Man in Nature)

    The more I have learned in life, and I have learned a lot, the less confident I am in what I know. From this, I conclude that adamancy is a sign of ignorance. M. Ferguson 2010- Polymathica

Friday, 2 July 2010

On the 'science and technology' problem and the malady of modern consciousness

Often in literature and education curriculum, in addition to the typical pop-culture and general [even some academic] conversation, the word "technology" can be synonymous with "Science"; as if they are one and the same human endeavour.

Those who study Technology [with a captial 'T'] can find this to be a sometimes odd pre-conception in others.  Its arguably part of greater "malady of modern consciousness" when attempting to understand the technological nature of things.

The following slide is taken from a conference presentation (see citation inset) and offers a comparison between science and technology that goes beyond a simplistic separation of "the study of natural" versus "the study of human-made" world  [if its not natural then what is it...?]

It is perhaps important to note that technological ways of knowing were in existence tens of thousands... of years before science and the scientific method was formalised -  ancient cultures managed to live quite adequately without the western conceptions of knowing.   In this way, rather than science preceding technology, technology pre-dates science.

It would be far from prudent to advocate an 'either-or' argument [science indeed helps in the development of knowledge to (ill)inform technological action]  but it does offer a schema for greater clarity in communication and understanding, furthermore, an aid in making the purpose of an activity clear.  e.g. Are we seeking to understand, or seeking to make something 'work' in its context.

moreover, this distinction can contribute in clarifying the kinds of capabilities required when thinking and acting technologically and/or thinking and acting scientifically.  

Technological thinking is a core capacity for active adaptation, as fundamental as, mathematical and scientific ways of thinking [or any other for that matter].  A way of thinking that, once choices are made (consciously or unconsciously), have immediate consequence and often, long term feedback (both positive and negative).


  1. Am I correct in saying that technology is inherently practical? I have heard it said that technology is applied science, but as you point out, technology can be developed without applying the scientific method.

    I guess that one thing that science and technology have in common is that they are tested through observation. Science is tested in a controlled environment, and technology in the real world.

    As a history teacher, my primary interest has been the social impact of technology. Science is obviously important, but I always find myself asking how scientific (or technological) developments actually impact people.

  2. Thanks for the comment Paul,

    I admit its tempting to think about this in terms of 'practical' and 'real world'. I don't think its wrong, but I don't think its right either (hows that for an academic response). Arguably the duality of 'theory'-'practice' has become less helpful- and perhaps never really was. Over the years I have come to wince when I hear fellow teachers and even academics boldly declare that students are "doing 'theory'" or "we need more practical and less theory". It can suggest ignorance of what theory is.

    Someone once said to me, something like, that it not the case that when we act on something that we suddenly park our brains somewhere else whilst we get on with the task at hand. Rather, its the constant iteration between theory practice OR praxis.

    Unfortunatley western society in partciular has had this, theory-practice thing, beat into their neural structures for so long that to hear it said differently can lead to cognitive dissonance and active resistance - hence the reference to maladay in the post. Its only those who have the humility towards new knowledge that seem to grow and overcome it in time.

    Its interesting that cultures that do not think in terms of this duality, are some of the most sustainable cultures on the planet. I think we can learn a lot from them.

    I agree regarding interest in technology as a history teacher. having a capacity in technacy is fundamental to all other knowledge domains- just like language, number is to all other domains. technacy is particularly obvious in the likes of anthropology and archeology in particular- the ability to extract knowledge of society and culture from the material and technical dimensions is, I would assume, central to that study.

    I have actually found resistance amongst some humanities teachers, with regards to, as you say social impact of technology. Some find it really difficult to accept that to understand it better, we sometimes need to consider technology as having agency in particular contexts-particularly wrt technology transfer.

  3. Science (from the Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge") is an enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the world.

    Technology is the usage and knowledge of tools, techniques, crafts, systems or methods of organization in order to solve a problem or serve some purpose. The word technology comes from Greek τεχνολογία (technología); from τέχνη (téchnē), meaning "art, skill, craft", and -λογία (-logía), meaning "study of" The term can either be applied generally or to specific areas: examples include construction technology, medical technology, and information technology.


    Science is knowing, technology is doing.

  4. Thankyou for taking the time to add to the discussion. Just some random thoughts to add.... Yes I'm familiar with these ancient definitions. Indeed I covered them briefly in my honours thesis, as have probably countless students of technology. Authors like Kelvin W. Willoughby provide a thorough exposition on defining technology and it is far more problematic that asserting a 'language' perspective of technology. My main point is that understanding technology the way we do is coloured by our, albeit useful, cartesian system of knowledge. technology itself is, in some i guess magical way, a kind of Meta knowledge. where Techne -craft which implies a sense of reasoning requires further 'ology' to be more thoughtful with how we influence the shape of our world. It might be argued that if Technology is not a meta-knowledge it is perhaps simply a useless tautology~ the knowledge of our knowledge to shape the human made world- perhaps. To argue "science is knowing" and "technology is doing", I would counter is somewhat simplistic and not very useful for the scope and scale of influence humans now have in their "techno-sphere". As an aside, if Science is the organisation of Knowledge ONLY, then I have a worry this risks putting mystical knowledge systems into the same science category and we open up a whole other can of philosophical worms. So my conclusion about the semantic and etymological perspectives of technology are a useful, and indeed important, but only to see how the understanding (science- if you will) of our understanding of technology and its evolution. Is is far less useful when attempting to 'apply' technology nor understand how it manifests itself in the physical expression of ideas. -


Anything to add? Please feel free to add a comment that adds to the discussion.