The nature of science

Is nature a coherent system, and can it be perceived by human reason? Or is nature just like a madman, disjointed, lunatic and irrational? Some scientists assert that the nature itself is full of chaos and madness. Thus the entire knowledge system of science, which was requested to pursue the ultimate truth of the universe, was and is filled with conflicts and debates.

In his paper, Origins and Development of Ecology, Arnold G. van der Valk devotes to explore the shaping process of ecology as a distinct science. Basically, the foundation of his investigation lies on two concepts proposed by Charles S. Peirce (1839-1914), namely, abduction and convergence. Abduction brings novel hypotheses; convergence develops the confirmed hypotheses and discards the unconfirmed hypotheses. Arnold examined five hypotheses and claimed three defining hypotheses continue to be influential during the later development of ecology. The three defining hypotheses are adaptation-distribution, community-equilibrium, succession/super-organism hypotheses. However, two of these hypotheses are ambiguous, and ecologists’ conceptions on some core terms in the discipline are divergent.

The debate between the holistic character of Frederic E. Clements and the individualistic hypothesis of H.A. Gleason, the debate over island biogeography, and the debate over biodiversity and community, make the reality that it is difficult for ecology to converge when it was supposed to. Besides, Arnold considers that in ecology, “problems with the formation of some defining hypotheses” and “the lack of a uniform community of ecologists” are responsible for the current inconsistent state of ecology.

Taking his analysis into account, I find that the formation of ecology is very interesting. The disciple appears to be going through the same struggling process when in astronomy the geocentric theory and the heliocentric theory were irreconcilable, and in optics the wave theory and the particle theory were colliding with each other. The history of science tells the nature of it. I would say science could not survive without debates.

Above all, Arnold makes a very impressive job when he analyses the structure and effectiveness of an analogy, through which Clements proposed the terms like climax formation, super organism, and climax community and these are just like an individual plant, grow and die. It is a problem because in his analysis the analogy Clements utilizes seems to be inappropriate.

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