2018-01-31

How to Make Sociology Engineering-Grade

I want a true engineering-grade science of social technology. Therefore we should understand what an engineering-grade science is, and whether the notion of science properly applies to social phenomena.

Based on the example of the sciences used in engineering, any true engineering-grade body of scientific knowledge consists of the following:

  1. Language of deduction based on logic and mathematics, but specialized and abbreviated to make the kind of computations needed in the field faster and easier. For example, in engineering, the language is generally calculus, and there are specific notions like eigenvalues and complex numbers that are commonly useful.

  2. First principles which provide the basic ontology and laws of the examined area of reality. For example, conservation of mass, conservation of energy, maxwell’s equations of electrodynamics, Newton’s laws, the ideal gas law, the second law of thermodynamics, continuity assumptions of continuous materials, etc.

  3. Practical results and knowledge in terms of the language of deduction and the first principles. A few types at varying levels of computability:

    1. Derivable from first principles using the language of deduction, both in principle and practice. For example, the viscous drag in laminar flow in pipes, derived first principles like bernoulli’s equation, the vibration in a beam, the power of an idealized steam turbine, the existence and nature of high-altitude lightning.

    2. Derivable from first principles in principle, but not in practice for complexity reasons. For example, the fuel mixing dynamics of a novel rocket engine design, friction from turbulent flows, atomic weights and chemical behaviors of stable isotopes, or the dynamics of flocculated powders suspended in flows.

    3. Not derivable from first principles, but known in practice, and phrased in terms of the first principles and language of deduction. For example, the composition and properties of air, properties and availability of engineering materials, designs of various standard or available pieces of technology.

  4. Practical body of skills and techniques and hueristics and tacit knowledge for how and when to apply various mathematical techniques, simplifying analytical assumptions, empirical characterizations, useful technological components, and so on.

  5. Surrounding body of non-scientific knowledge, that is, knowledge which is known in practice but not phrased in terms of the scientific first principles or language of deduction. For example, in pre-scientific metalworking shops, there are many rules of thumb about what color a spring should be glowing before you quench it, what to quench it in, what patina color its surface should turn for heat-treating, and such like. This knowledge eventually finds its way into scientific phrasing.

Additionally, science has the property, like mathematics, that it is one integrated body of knowledge, not separate non-interacting silos of knowledge. There are multiple subfields, and subfields within subfields, but they all occasionally draw on each other, they speak the same fundamental langauge, get used in the same technological systems, and they never contradict. The unity and non-contradiction is of course because there is only one reality, and Science and Mathematics reflect the structure of reality.

That said, the sciences used to be more separated, before they reached the maturity level of plugging in to the common framework of unified mathematical science. Whether a science needs to reach a certain level of maturity before being integrated into other sciences, or whether it should attempt to integrate from the start is an important question for how a new science of social technology will be produced.

I have described this mostly in terms of engineering, as it is the most prototypical example of a mature and practically impressive scientific body of knowledge. However, a major claim I wish to make is the following:

The form of a science as mathematics, rigid laws, and explanations and predictions, is not limited to the hard sciences, but applies to social phenomena as well. Real social science will have different principles, different logic, and different results, but it will still have principles, logic, and results.

Its principles will be recognizable as unbreakable laws about the nature of the world within some scope. Its logic will be recognizable as a branch of mathematics. Its results will be phrased in terms of, and often derived from or derivable from, its principles, using its logic. It will be surrounded by a pre-scientific wilderness of practical wisdom, some real, some fake. It will produce technology.

In these fundamentals, sociology should be like any other scientific discipline.

This claim doesn’t seem to be widely accepted by either mainstream sociology, or by any alternative sociology I am aware of. Though it does seem to implicitly bleed through occasionally, especially in economics.