Well, science to me is the application of the scientific method. You
form a hypothesis you'd like to test, you also need a "null" hypothesis
which is different, you work out the predictions of the hypothesis,
design and conduct an experiment to distinguish one from the other and
see which one is favored by nature, and repeat as your knowledge grows.
It is impractical for everyone's knowledge to be gotten in this
fashion, but it is the most reliable (and self correcting! If you have
some "knowledge" which is mistaken, eventually someone may do an
experiment to set it right. And if experiments are what determines
which hypotheses are correct, or at least which we should believe, then
we don't have troubles with deciding among competing authorites which
may fly in the face of what can be verified in nature).
Lots of expeirments are lengthy, expensive, difficult, and
time-consuming. It is much easier for one person who has done the work
just to tell everyone what the results are. This is one reason why
language, writing, and modern information technology are so crucial to
our understanding of nature. If we'd have to figure everything out each
one of use for ourselves, we'd always start at the same starting place
and only have one lifetime's maximum worth of effort to discover stuff.
So here's the point about school. It is an organized way for
people to convey to each other about what has been learned in the past,
and people usually attend school when they are young enough to be able
to go to school a large fraction of their time without having to work
all the time. (Kids live with their parents or guardians as they attend
school). That way we can get all these defintions, words, speeches and
books conveyed in an organized, efficient manner.
But is that science? No, these are the results of scientific
inquiry, the fruits of our labors. Some may even be wrong. We hope not,
but we may be mistaken about some things. Some just reflect the current
state of knowledge. We used to teach Newtonian mechanics as true, even
though we now know that quantum mechanics and relativity extend it in
Yes, it is possible to make atoms. I don't know offhand of a way
to change the sum of the numbers of neutrons+protons available, but
there may be such a way (you need something called CP violation to do
it, and the CP-violating systems we know about are in the K and B meson
systems. K mesons are lighter than protons and neutrons so their decay
chains cannot include creation of new protons and neutrons. It may be
possible with the B's which are much heavier but I don't know of the
But even if you cannot create new neutrons and protons, you can
rearrange them. And free neutrons will decay into protons. You can
smash up a heavy nucleus, and the lighter nuclei made in the process
will collect electrons from their surroundings to become new atoms.
Release a few neutrons from some process and they will decay to
protons, which will attract one electron apiece to make new hydrogen
Quarks are as far as we know, point particles -- you cannot
condense them. You can take a small amount of matter and make a small
black hole out of it, but it turns out these "evaporate" very quickly
due to Hawking radiation.
I would slightly disagree with Tom about what science is. The whole
interaction between theory and experiment is complicated and plays out
a little differently for each major advance, rather than always
following a simple alternating pattern. Hypotheses don't always have to
be clear cut before experiments, and they certainly don't have to
divide into binary pairs like 'hypothesis' and 'null hypothesis'. Also,
I'd like to emphasize that there's an enormous logical/mathematical
structure tying together much of science, so that different parts
aren't off doing their own things completely independently.
(republished on 07/18/06)