Posted: February 26th, 2023

Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Technology

 Please use these questions and the included articles, please make it about 700 words long. Please paraphrase instead of using quotation marks.

a) How do Skolimowski and Bunge define technology? 

b) What are their criteria in differentiating between science and technology?  

c) Explain the main points of both authors when they try to find the relationship between science and technology.  

d) What happens in design process? 

The Structure of Thinking in Technology Author(s): Henryk Skolimowski Source: Technology and Culture, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Summer, 1966), pp. 371-383 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press on behalf of the Society for the History of Technology Stable URL:

/stable/3101935 Accessed: 29/12/2009 17:45

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The Structure of Thinking in Technology HENRYK SKOLIMOWSKI

Inquiry into the philosophy of technology, due to the infancy of the

subject, must start with some reflections on what technology itself is. There is at present a tendency to identify technology with a demiurge of our times, or perhaps even with a Moloch who will bring doom to mankind, that is, mankind as dreamt of by philosophers, not by organi- zation men. In this setting technology assumes a role similar to that which was ascribed to history in the nineteenth century: the role of the final cause which shapes the destiny of mankind and, more specifically, which aims at the total subjugation of man to the machine or, in other words, at turning the human being into a technological component.

It cannot be denied that reflections on technology in this fashion are

philosophical reflections and that consequently they belong to some system of the philosophy of technology. At this point, however, a vital distinction should be made between a philosophy of technology and a technological philosophy. The former belongs to the realm of epistemo- logical inquiry and attempts to situate technology within the scope of human knowledge; the latter belongs to the realm of sociology, broad-

ly conceived, or social philosophy, and is concerned primarily with the future of human society.

Those who prophesy that our civilization will be devoured by the Moloch of technology are expanding a certain vision of the world, are viewing the world through technological lenses, are attempting to establish a new kind of monism, the technological monism, in which the technological order is shown to be the prime mover and the ultimate justification of other orders, moral, aesthetic, cognitive, social, and polit- ical. The articulation of this technological philosophy is perhaps most

important from a social point of view-as a way of alerting us to the dangers of technological tyranny. However, for the time being this technological monism, or whatever name is given to this sociohistorical prophecy, is but a prophecy. As important as it may be from a human

DR. SKOLIMOWSKI, a philosopher of science and technology, is at the School of Philosophy of the University of Southern California.


372 Henryk Skolimowski

point of view, it cannot serve as a substitute for a philosophy of tech- nology proper, that is, for a philosophy that aims at the investigation of the nature and structure of technology, conceived as a branch of human learning and analyzed for its cognitive content.

I shall not be concerned here with the transformation of society by technology. It seems to me that the "monolithic technical world" is but a graphic and perhaps fearsome expression, but not reality. For the time being the evidence that technology pervades the totality of human rela- tionships is rather slim. In the realm of art, for example, modern tech- nology perpetuates at least some traditional human values. The unprece- dented spread of superb reproductions of the great masters, the easy availability of the finest recordings of music of the last five centuries, the spectacular rise in the production and distribution of paperback books, are all due to the advances of technology, and all serve, at least in part, the cause of highbrow culture, not technological culture.

It may be that a comprehensive philosophy of technology should in- clude the moral implications of technological progress. It may be, as some philosophers insist, that, in spite of the semiautonomous develop- ment of technology, a substantial part of modern technology is moved by non-technological forces, that, for example, motor cars are produced in order to make money, intercontinental missiles in order to kill people. Consequently, a comprehensive treatment of the philosophy of technology must examine the presuppositions lying at the foundation of these technological "events" and must attempt to assess their implica- tions for mankind at large. The weight of these problems cannot be underestimated. However, they are outside the scope of my consider- ations.

In this paper I shall be concerned with what I call the philosophy of technology proper, that is, with the analysis of the epistemological status of technology. Technology is a form of human knowledge. Epistemol- ogy investigates the validity of all human knowledge, its conditions, its nature. Therefore, it is the business of epistemology to investigate the peculiarities of technology and its relation to other forms of human knowledge. In particular, it is of crucial importance to analyze the relationship of technology to science. I shall argue in the course of this paper that: (1) it is erroneous to consider technology as being an applied science, (2) that technology is not science, (3) that the differ- ence between science and technology can be best grasped by examining the idea of scientific progress and the idea of technological progress.

In the following sections I shall attempt to provide a basis for a philosophy of technology rooted in the idea of technological progress. Then I shall proceed to show that in various branches of technology

The Structure of Thinking in Technology

there can be distinguished specific thought patterns which can be seen as explaining technological progress.

* * *

Many methodologists and philosophers of science insist that technol- ogy is in principle a composition of various crafts. Regardless of how sophisticated these crafts may have become, they are still crafts. It is argued that technology is methodologically derivative from other sciences, that it has no independent methodological status, and that what makes it scientific is the application of various other sciences, natural sciences in particular. Thus, the scientific part of technology can be de- composed into particular sciences and accounted for as physics, optics, chemistry, electromagnetics, etc. This view misconstrues the situation because it does not take into account the idea of technological progress.

My thesis is that technological progress is the key to the understand- ing of technology. Without the comprehension of technological prog- ress, there is no comprehension of technology and there is no sound philosophy of technology. Attempts that aim at reducing technology to the applied sciences fail to perceive the specific problem situation in- herent in technology. Although in many instances certain technological advancements can indeed be accounted for in terms of physics or chemistry, in other words, can be seen as based on pure science, it should not be overlooked that the problem was originally not cognitive but technical. With an eye to solving a technical problem, we undertake in- quiries into what is called pure science. Our procedures are extremely selective. Out of infinitely many possible channels of research only very few are chosen. Problems thus are investigated not with an eye to in- creasing knowledge but with an eye to a solution of a technical problem. If it were not for the sake of solving some specific technological prob- lems, many properties of physical bodies never would have been examined, and many theories incorporated afterward into the body of pure science never would have been formulated. Perhaps the most ob- vious examples can be found in the sciences of electronics and of space physics. The development of computors resulted in the replacement of tubes by transistors. In developing transistors many properties and laws governing the behavior of semiconductors have been formulated which might never have been formulated otherwise. To take another example, the problem of metal fatigue and many other phenomena concerning the behavior of solids in space might never have been investigated, and theories resulting from them might never have been established if it were not for the sake of constructing supersonic planes and intercon-


374 Henryk Skolimowski

tinental rockets. To mention finally atomic physics, it was in the Man- hattan Project where plutonium, an element not found in nature, had to be developed in the process of producing the atom bomb. Thus, in one sense science, that is pure science, is but a servant to technology, a char- woman serving technological progress.

* * *

I shall now discuss the thesis that technology is not science. By this statement I mean to say that the basic methodological factors that ac- count for the growth of technology are quite different from the factors that account for the growth of science. Consequently, the idea of tech-

nological progress as contrasted with scientific progress must be examined more carefully.

I am in full agreement with Karl Popper that science, in order to exist, must progress; the end of scientific progress is the end of science. This

progress results from the continuous improvement of scientific theories and constant enlargement of the scientific store; more precisely it results from a permanent overhaul of theories and incessant replacement of worse theories by better ones; "better" means simpler, or more uni- versal, or more detailed, or of greater explanatory power, or all these

things together. The objective underlying this endless succession of theories is the increase of knowledge. The pursuit of knowledge (which is another expression for the pursuit of truth) has been and still is the most important aim of science. We critically scrutinize our theories by devising tests of increasing ingenuity and severity in order to learn how squarely they can face reality. Whatever operationists and conventionalists of various denominations may say, science is about real-

ity. The acquisition of knowledge and the pursuit of truth are only pos- sible if there is reality. Thus it is contained in the idea of scientific prog- ress that we investigate reality and that we devise theories of increasing depth in order to comprehend this reality.

What about technology? Is it another instrument for investigating reality? Does it aim at the enlargement of knowledge and the acquisition of truth? The answer is negative in both cases. Hence we come to significant differences between science and technology. In science we investigate the reality that is given; in technology we create a reality according to our designs. In order to avoid confusion I should perhaps say at once that these two kinds of reality are not of the same order. To put it simply, in science we are concerned with reality in its basic mean- ing; our investigations are recorded in treatises "on what there is." In technology we produce artifacts; we provide means for constructing

The Structure of Thinking in Technology

objects according to our specifications. In short, science concerns itself with what is, technology with what is to be.

The growth of technology manifests itself precisely through its abil- ity to produce more and more diversified objects1 with more and more interesting features, in a more and more efficient way.

It is a peculiarity of technological progress that it provides the means (in addition to producing new objects) for producing "better" objects of the same kind. By "better" many different characteristics may be in- tended, for example: (a) more durable, or (b) more reliable, or (c) more sensitive (if the object's sensitivity is its essential characteristic), or (d) faster in performing its function (if its function has to do with speed), or (e) a combination of the above. In addition to the just-men- tioned five criteria, technological progress is achieved through shorten- ing the time required for the production of the given object or through reducing the cost of production. Consequently, two further criteria are reduced expense or reduced time, or both, in producing an object of a given kind.

It hardly could be denied that contemporary freeways and highways mark a technological advancement in terms of durability when com- pared with Roman or even nineteenth-century roads; that modern bridges are far more reliable (in addition to other advantages) than bridges of previous centuries; that photographic cameras installed in artificial satellites are considerably more sensitive (in addition to being more reliable and more durable) than those used in the pre-Sputnik age; that the speed of jet airplanes makes them superior to the planes of the brothers Wright. And no one can deny that if the same plane or bridge or camera can be manufactured less expensively, or alternatively in shorter time (at the same expense), then it will equally mean a tech- nological advancement.

The criteria of technological progress cannot be replaced by or even meaningfully translated into the criteria of scientific progress. And, con- versely, the criteria of scientific progress cannot be expressed in terms of the criteria of technological progress. If an enormous technological improvement is made and at the same time no increase in pure science is accomplished, it will nevertheless mark a step in technological progress. On the other hand, it is of no consequence to pure science whether a given discovery is utilized or not; what is of significance is how much the discovery adds to our knowledge, how much it contributes to the comprehension of the world.

It may be argued that in the pursuit of technological progress we 1 By the "technological object" I mean every artifact produced by man to serve

a function; it may be a supersonic airplane as well as a can-opener.


376 Henryk Skolimowski

often bring about scientific progress as well. It should be observed, on the other hand, that scientific progress may and indeed does facilitate technological progress. Discoveries in pure science, regardless of how abstract they appear at first, sooner or later find their technological em- bodiment. These two observations lead to a conclusion that perhaps neither scientific nor technological progress can be achieved in its pure form; that in advancing technology, we advance science; and in ad- vancing science, we advance technology. This being the case, it should not prevent us from analyzing these two kinds of progress separately, particularly because scientific progress is often treated autonomously and is regarded as the key to an explanation of the growth and nature of science. If we are permitted to divorce scientific progress from technological progress when examining the nature of science, we should be equally permitted to divorce technological progress from scientific progress when examining the nature of technology.

In this context it is rather striking that even such mature and eminent philosophers of science like Popper have nothing better to say than to equate technology with computation rules. Neither Popper nor, to my knowledge, any other authority in the philosophy of science, has cared to examine the idea of technological progress. Hence their remarks on technology, whenever they find it convenient to mention it, are rather harsh and far from adequate.

To summarize, scientific and technological progress are responsible for what science and technology, respectively, attempt to accomplish. Science aims at enlarging our knowledge through devising better and better theories; technology aims at creating new artifacts through devis- ing means of increasing effectiveness. Thus the aims and the means are different in each case.

* * *

The kernel of scientific progress can be expressed simply as being the pursuit of knowledge. The answer seems to be less straightforward with regard to technological progress. However, in spite of the diversity of criteria accounting for the advancement of technology, there seems to be a unifying theme common to them all, or at any rate into which they can be translated. This theme is the measure of effectiveness. Techno- logical progress thus could be described as the pursuit of effectiveness in producing objects of a given kind.

Now, the question is: Can this measure of effectiveness be studied in general terms or, to put it differently, can we aim at a general theory of efficient action and then incorporate it in the idea of technological progress? And a second question: Is there only one, or are there many

The Structure of Thinking in Technology

different patterns leading to an increase of the measure of effectiveness in different branches of technology?

In relation to the first question, it should be observed that, in addition to specific formulas for efficient action constructed for limited scopes of human activity (e.g., the science of management), there is indeed a general theory of efficient action for all activities we choose to analyze. This general theory of efficient action is called praxiology. This theory has been worked out in detail by the Polish philosopher, Tadeusz Kotar- binfski. Since the principles of praxiology are treated extensively in Kotarbiniski's treatise,2 I shall be very brief here.

Praxiology analyzes action from the point of view of efficiency. Praxiology is a normative discipline; it establishes values, practical values, and assesses our action in terms of these values. Practical values should not be confused with other values, aesthetic or moral. Whether we are aware of this or not, it is through constructing praxiological models that we accomplish progress in technology. Progress means an improvement of the measure of effectiveness in at least one aspect. Usually the praxiological model assumes some losses in effectiveness in order to attain more substantial gains. It is sometimes facinating to ana- lyze how meticulous and impeccable is the calculus of gains and losses in the praxiological model, which very often is constructed without an awareness of its praxiological nature.

It seems to me that if the characterization of technological progress as the pursuit of effectiveness is correct, the philosopher of technology must include the study of praxiology and in particular the study of praxiological models in his inquiry. Organization theory is simply inade- quate for this purpose because of its limited scope. The advances of modern technology take on a very complex form requiring integration of a variety of heterogeneous factors as well as the establishment of a hierarchy of levels. What finally matters is the increased measure of effectiveness, but the road to this increase is multichanneled and multi- leveled. Traditional organization theories are unable to handle this com- plexity, but praxiology can.

* * *

Technological progress, analyzed in terms of measures of effective- ness, led us to two questions. The first was whether technological effectiveness can be treated in general terms-this prompted us to con- sider praxiology. The second was whether we can distinguish specific

2Praxiology-An Introduction to the Science of Efficient Action (London, 1965). See also my article, "Praxiology-the Science of Accomplished Acting," Personalist, Summer 1965.


378 Henryk Skolimowski

patterns of thinking leading to the increase of effectiveness in different branches of technology.

I shall devote the remaining part of this paper to the second question. That is, I shall attempt to discern specific patterns of technological thinking for some branches of technology. I do not propose to find such patterns for technology as a whole. What I can offer are some sugges- tions as to how one may approach the problem and discern these pat- terns in less complex fields. If the procedure is right, it will lead to the

discovery of other patterns in other branches of technology. Before I attempt to spell out some of the structures or patterns of

thinking in technology, I shall show what they are and how they work in microbiology. The microbiologist makes daily observations of micro-

scopic sections which are quite simple from a certain point of view. Now what is a microscopic section, for example, of a diphtheria culture? It is, in the layman's language, a specific configuration of certain forms which possess characteristic structures. This is how far we can go in de-

scribing the phenomenon verbally. In other words, no amount of verbal

explanation will render it possible for the layman and generally for the untrained person to recognize the diphtheria culture by mere description. At first the layman and beginning students of microbiology are simply unable to perceive what is there to be seen. After some period of train-

ing they do perceive and are in fair agreement as to what they see. The ability to recognize certain microscopic structures is thus peculiar to students of microbiology.

The art of observation is not universal but specific for a given field or subject matter. Whenever observation plays a significant role in scien- tific investigation, it is selective observation directed toward perceiving some objects and their configurations and toward neglecting others. Observation, however, is not only a perceptual process but also involves some conceptual thinking. Certain types of observation are intrinsically connected with thinking in terms of certain categories.

In general, it seems to me that specific branches of learning originate and condition specific modes of thinking, develop and adhere to cate- gories through which they can best express their content and by means of which they can further progress. I shall illustrate this thesis by examining some branches of technology, namely, surveying, civil engi- neering, mechanical engineering, and architecture, with the understand- ing that the last, architecture, is only in part a branch of technology.

I will start with surveying. The final products of surveying are maps, plans, and profiles in elevation. In order to avoid complications in the analysis, instead of considering a map that is a projection of a larger area of land on a sphere, I shall examine a plan that consists of a projection of

The Structure of Thinking in Technology

a smaller piece of land on a plane as the referential surface. It is quite obvious that we must measure all angles of the figure to be projected on the plane, all its sides, and at least one azimuth. Now, the specific ques- tions for this surveying operation, and indeed for all geodesy, are: Why is this method applied, not any other? Why should we measure the sides with a metal tapeline and not by steps or by eye? Why should we check and adjust our instruments? A surveyor, who is quite capable of skil- fully performing all the geodetical operations, might be less capable of relating all these operations to one theme, one central element that accounts for the specificity of surveying. It is one thing to follow a procedure and another to be able to grasp and verbalize the essence of this procedure or, in other words, to make measurements and to be aware of the specific structures of thinking characteristic for surveying.

What, then, is specific for thinking in surveying? It is the accuracy of the measurement. This can be seen while tracing the development of surveying from its earliest stages as well as while following its recent progress. In the final analysis, it is always the accuracy that lies at the bottom of all other considerations. Sometimes it is expressed in an in- direct and disguised form, for example, when we inquire which of two or three methods is most economic or most efficient. However, even in this case, the silent assumption is that the accuracy remains the same or, at any rate, that the decrease of accuracy is negligible and the economic gains-which sometimes may be of prime importance-are quite con- siderable. It is thus the most conspicuous feature of geodesy that it aims at a progressively higher accuracy of measurement; in an indirect form this may mean a reduction of cost or time or work while preserving the same accuracy. Thus, we may say in a succinct form: To think geodeti- cally is to think in terms of accuracy.

Succinct forms have the virtue that they pin down one crucial ele- ment of the analysis; they have the vice that (for the sake of brevity) they neglect other elements and consequently present a simplification of the phenomenon under investigation. So it-is with our succinct char- acterization of geodetical thinking. It is by no means the only kind of thinking the surveyor performs. It is not even the dominant thinking in terms of the actual time devoted to it. But thinking in terms of accuracy is the most instrumental for surveying. And that means that the practi- tioner of surveying will be a better practitioner if he is aware of the specificity of geodesy and if he applies consistently his knowledge in his practice. And this also means that the researcher in geodesy will be a better one if he consistently keeps in mind that geodesy aims at a pro- gressively higher accuracy of measurement. Furthermore, the grasp of the specificity of surveying will help the scholar who investigates the


380 Henryk Skolimowski

history of surveying. History of any branch of learning is twisted and full of unexpected turns and blind alleys. Unless we discover the "Ariadne's thread" in its development, a history of any discipline will be but a mosaic of unrelated or loosely related events, descriptions, theo- ries. Thus, the discernment of patterns specific for a given branch of learning is not only an activity that may give us the comfort and aes- thetic satisfaction that accompanies neat classifications for the sake of classification but may indeed be of a concrete value to the practitioner, researcher, and historian. It is in these terms that I deem the analysis of patterns of thinking important.

To return to technology, when we consider a typical civil engineer- ing project-whether the construction of a house or a bridge-the deci- sive element is the durability of the construction. Therefore, we may say that thinking, specific for the civil engineer, is in terms of durability. Durability is the starting point, or at any rate the ultimate element of the analysis. The choice of materials and the methods of construction must be related to the required durability.

Theoretical research in civil engineering is directed toward the dis- covery of combinations of materials that will either increase the durabil- ity (of the construction) or lower the costs at the same durability. Dur- ing the execution of a project, some calculations may be made and the accuracy of the calculations taken into account, but here they are of subsidiary importance. The main issue is durability, although admittedly the form of its manifestation may be very complex or disguised.

Perhaps this can be seen even more clearly when we review the his- tory of civil engineering or, in other words, when we review the history of architecture in its constructional aspect. If we omit the aesthetic and utilitarian aspects, the history of architecture can be seen as the develop- ment and perfection of those architectural forms and those combina- tions of materials that increase durability. Although the progression of more and more durable forms is often hidden under the guise of artistic trends and movements, it is there and can be traced easily.

Turning now to architecture proper, architectural thinking is simul- taneous thinking in terms of durability and aesthetics and utility, and the two latter categories are perhaps more important than the first one. When projecting a house, the civil engineer must consider new mate- rials and their combinations as well as new constructional designs. When designing the same house, the architect must consider the standards of comfort, hygiene, and, generally speaking, the "livability" prevailing for his times, as well as the aesthetic tastes of his epoch, its predilections and aversions. Thus, thinking in terms of utility and artistic predilections separates the architect from the civil engineer.

The Structure of Thinking in Technology

I shall now very briefly consider mechanical engineering. The key element in this branch of engineering is efficiency (in the narrow sense of the term when it refers to the efficiency of an engine, whether steam or combustion). Thus, thinking, specific for mechanical engineering, is in terms of efficiency (efficiency here is meant in the narrow sense speci- fied above). In designing engines, the problem of efficiency has two aspects: either we attempt to increase the absolute efficiency and raise it as close as possible to 1, or we attempt to construct a "better" engine while keeping the same efficiency ("better" can mean: safer, cheaper, longer lasting, more resistant). Obviously, certain problems concerned with the strength of materials have to be considered and solved, and therefore thinking in terms of durability takes place here as well; it is, however, of a derivative character. By saying it is derivative, I do not mean to say that it has little significance or no significance at all but, rather, that the starting point for an analysis of durability are problems of efficiency. Problems of durability are not chosen at random but are selected with an eye to the solution of the problems of efficiency.

In considering machine tools, the question of efficiency is not im- mediately obvious but may be shown to be of crucial importance as well. A number of other factors, such as the cost of construction, dura- bility, and useful life, are analyzed at the same time. Finally, we either attempt to raise efficiency while preserving the same cost, the same use- ful life, and the same durability; or we attempt to reduce the cost while preserving the same efficiency, the same useful life, and the same dur- ability; or to prolong the useful life with the remaining data unchanged.

To summarize, to think in terms specific for a given discipline is to think in those terms that (a) determine the lines of investigation within this discipline; (b) account for the historical development of this disci- pline; (c) explain the recent growth of the discipline.

Once again it should be emphasized that categories specific for various branches of technology or, more generally, specific for various branches of learning, are not those that end all but rather those that begin all. They are the key to the analysis. They are the key to the idea of tech- nological progress. Neither should it be surmised that categories I call specific have anything to do with Kantian categories. Perhaps my termi- nology is unfortunate. My point was simply to draw attention to certain patterns of thinking which can be discerned as characteristic for various branches of technology and elsewhere. The most important conceptual elements in these patterns I call categories.

I should not be surprised if the "categorical" analysis as sketched here will be viewed as insufficient for an exhaustive epistemological description of technology. Perhaps it should be remembered that as yet


382 Henryk Skolimowski

no general philosophy of science-which after all has been developed for some centuries-is viewed as sufficient. Can we then expect more from a subject that is beginning to emerge than we expect from a related sub- ject that has achieved a considerable maturity?

* * *

The analysis of the structure of thinking in technology is hampered by the fact that nowadays the construction of bridges, highways, auto- mobiles, or even domestic gadgets is inseparably linked with the con- sideration of beauty and comfort which are basically "non-technical" categories. Technical categories, such as accuracy and durability, are, so to say, the technological constants. They are the yardstick of techno- logical progress. Aesthetic satisfaction and comfort are to a certain de- gree variables. They cannot be measured objectively for all epochs. The more decisive their influence on the object designed, the more difficult it is to recapture the structure of thinking peculiar to a given branch of technology. Architecture again can serve as an example.

Luigi Nervi, Oscar Niemeyer, and Frank Lloyd Wright, among others, are architects for whom the element of a construction (e.g., the beam of a house) is often at the same time a component of an over-all aesthetic pattern. These constructor-architects think at the same time in terms of durability and in terms of aesthetic satisfaction; they find aesthetic expression in functional, that is, purely constructional elements. A similar situation occurs in other domains of technology. While de- signing and constructing automobiles or lathes, can-openers or inter- continental ballistic missiles, the purely technical aspects often are inter- woven with aesthetic and utilitarian aspects. The technological phe- nomenon no longer is identical with the technical phenomenon and can- not be analyzed entirely in terms of the engineering sciences. The social context, the economic structure of a society, the existing social mores and aesthetic predilections-all have their imprint on the technological phenomenon and, to a certain extent, determine its character.

* * *

In summary, I should like to observe that mistaken ideas about the nature of technology reflect what technology was a century or two centuries ago and not what it is today. In the twentieth century, and particularly in our day, technology has emancipated itself into a semi- autonomous cognitive domain. There are many links between science and technology, but a system of interrelations should not be mistaken for a complete dependence. A fruitful way of reconstructing the epis-

The Structure of Thinking in Technology 383

temological status of technology is through grasping the idea of tech- nological progress. Technological progress is the pursuit of effectiveness in producing objects of a given kind. The purely technical elements, such as the accuracy or durability of our products, are often considered in larger economic frameworks which complicate the basically techno- logical typology and even impede the analysis in terms of purely tech- nological categories. In addition, the standards of beauty and utility are becoming intrinsic ingredients of technological products, and this makes our analysis even more difficult. However, our task is to meet these difficulties, not to avoid them. The point is that the structure of technology is far more complex than the methodologist of science is prepared to admit. It is only through recognizing this complexity, and through granting to technology a methodological autonomy, that we may be able to end the stagnation in a field which as yet has only a name -the philosophy of technology.

  • Article Contents
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  • Issue Table of Contents
  • Technology and Culture, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Summer, 1966), pp. 301-451 Front Matter Towards a Philosophy of Technology Prefatory Note [pp.301-302] Technics and the Nature of Man [pp.303-317] Technology as Skills [pp.318-328] Technology as Applied Science [pp.329-347] The Confusion between Science and Technology in the Standard Philosophies of Science [pp.348-366] The Need for Corroboration: Comments on Agassi's Paper [pp.367-370] The Structure of Thinking in Technology [pp.371-383] The Social Character of Technological Problems: Comments on Skolimowski's Paper [pp.384-390] Memorial Lynn Thorndike (1882-1965) [pp.391-394] The Cover Design Dyeing Fabrics in Sixteenth-Century Venice [pp.395-397] Communications A Postscript to Reti's Notes on Juanelo Turriano's Water Mills [pp.398-401] Technology, Traditionalism, and Military Establishments [pp.402-407] The Inaccurate "Slide Rule" [pp.408-409] Book Reviews untitled [pp.410-411] untitled [pp.412-413] untitled [pp.413-415] untitled [pp.415-418] untitled [pp.418-420] untitled [pp.420-421] untitled [pp.421-424] untitled [pp.424-426] untitled [pp.426-428] untitled [pp.428-429] untitled [pp.429-432] untitled [pp.432-434] untitled [pp.434-436] untitled [pp.436-438] untitled [pp.438-440] untitled [pp.440-441] untitled [pp.441-443] untitled [pp.443-444] untitled [pp.444-445] untitled [pp.445-446] untitled [pp.446-447] Notes and Announcements [pp.448-451] Back Matter

Technology as Applied Science Author(s): Mario Bunge Source: Technology and Culture, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Summer, 1966), pp. 329-347 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press and the Society for the History of Technology Stable URL: Accessed: 30-09-2019 20:14 UTC

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Technology as Applied Science


The application of the scientific method and of scientific theories to the attainment of practical goals poses interesting philosophical prob- lems, such as the nature of technological knowledge, the alleged validat- ing power of action, the relation of technological rule to scientific law, and the effects of technological forecast on human behavior. These problems have been neglected by most philosophers, probably because the peculiarities of modern technology, and particularly the differences between it and pure science, are realized infrequently and cannot be realized as long as technologies are mistaken for crafts and regarded as theory-free. The present paper deals with those problems and is there- fore an essay in the nearly non-existent philosophy of technology.

Science: Pure and Applied

The terms "technology" and "applied science" will be taken here as synonymous, although neither is adequate: in fact, "'technology" sug- gests the study of practical arts rather than a scientific discipline, and "applied science" suggests the application of scientific ideas rather than that of the scientific method. Since "technique" is ambiguous and "epis- technique" unborn, we shall adopt the current lack of respect for ety- mology and go over to more serious matters. The method and the theories of science can be applied either to in-

creasing our knowledge of the external and the internal reality or to enhancing our welfare and power. If the goal is purely cognitive, pure science is obtained; if primarily practical, applied science. Thus, where- as cytology is a branch of pure science, cancer research is one of applied research. The chief divisions of contemporary applied science are the physical technologies (e.g., mechanical engineering), the bio- logical technologies (e.g., pharmacology), the social technologies (e.g., operations research), and the thought technologies (e.g., computer sci- DR. BUNGE, a theoretical physicist and philosopher of science, was formerly a pro-

fessor at the University of Buenos Aires; during the academic year 1965-66, he has been visiting at the Institut fur theoretische Physik at the University of Freiburg, and in 1967 he will be at Yale University. He is the author of Causality, The Myth of Simplicity, and other books, including a forthcoming two-volume work entitled Scientific Research.


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ence). In many cases technology succeeds a craft: it solves some of the latter's problems by approaching them scientifically. In other cases, par- ticularly those of the social and thought technologies, there is no ante- cedent prescientific skill because the problems themselves are new. But in every case a distinction must be made between artisanal knowledge and scientific knowledge, as well as between pure research, applied re- search, and the applications of either to action.

The division of science into pure and applied is often challenged on the ground that all research is ultimately oriented toward satisfying needs of some sort or other. But the line must be drawn if we want to account for the differences in outlook and motivation between the in-

vestigator who searches for a new law of nature and the investigator who applies known laws to the design of a useful gadget: whereas the former wants to understand things better, the latter wishes to improve our mastery over them. At other times the difference is acknowledged, but it is claimed that applied science is the source of pure science rather than the other way around. Clearly, though, there must be some knowl- edge before it can be applied, unless it happens to be a skill or know- how rather than conceptual knowledge.

What is true is that action-industry, government, warfare, education, etc.-often poses problems that can be solved only by pure science. And if such problems are worked out in the free and lofty spirit of pure science, the solutions to them eventually may be applied to the attain- ment of practical goals. In short, practice is one of the sources of scien- tific problems, the other being sheer intellectual curiosity. But giving birth is not rearing. A whole cycle must be performed before anything comes out from practice: Practice -> Scientific Problem -> Scientific Research (statement and checking of hypotheses) -> Rational Action. Even so, this is far from being the sole way in which scientific research and action mingle. Ever since theoretical mechanics began, in the eighteenth century, to shape industrial machinery, scientific ideas have been the main motor and technology their beneficiary. Since then, intel- lectual curiosity has been the source of most, and certainly of all impor- tant, scientific problems; technology has often followed in the wake of pure research, with a decreasing time lag between the two.

This is not to debase applied science but to recall how rich its con- ceptual background is. In applied science a theory is not only the sum- mit of a research cycle and a guide to further research; it is also the basis of a system of rules prescribing the course of optimal practical action. On the other hand, in the arts and crafts theories are either absent or

instruments of action alone. In past epochs a man was regarded as prac- tical if, in acting, he paid little or no attention to theory or if he relied

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on worn-out theories and common knowledge. Nowadays a practical man is one who acts in obedience to decisions taken in the light of the best technological knowledge-not pure scientific knowledge, because this is mostly remote from or even irrelevant to practice. And such a technological knowledge, made up of theories, grounded rules, and data, is in turn an outcome of the application of the method of science to practical problems.

Since technology is as theory laden as pure science, and since this either is overlooked or explicitly denied by most philosophers, we must take a closer look at technological theories and their application.

Technological Theories: Substantive and Operative

A theory may have a bearing on action either because it provides knowledge regarding the objects of action, for example, machines, or because it is concerned with action itself, for example, with the decisions that precede and steer the manufacture or use of machines. A theory of flight is of the former kind, whereas a theory concerning the optimal decisions regarding the distribution of aircraft over a territory is of the latter kind. Both are technological theories but, whereas the theories of the first kind are substantive, those of the second kind are, in a sense, operative. Substantive technological theories are essentially applications, to nearly real situations, of scientific theories; thus, a theory of flight is essentially an application of fluid dynamics. Operative technological theories, on the other hand, from the start are concerned with the

operations of men and man-machine complexes in nearly real situations; thus, a theory of airways management does not deal with planes but with certain operations of the personnel. Substantive technological theories are always preceded by scientific theories, whereas operative theories are born in applied research and may have little if anything to do with substantive theories-this being why mathematicians and logi- cians with no previous scientific training can make important contribu- tions to them. A few examples will make the substantive-operative dis- tinction clearer.

The relativistic theory of gravitation might be applied to the design of generators of antigravity fields (i.e., local fields counteracting the terrestrial gravitational field), which in turn might be used to facilitate the launching of spaceships. But, of course, relativity theory is not par- ticularly concerned with either field generators or astronautics; it just provides some of the knowledge relevant to the design and manufacture of antigravity generators. Paleontology is used by the applied geologist engaged in oil prospecting, and the latter's findings are a basis for mak- ing decisions concerning drillings; but neither paleontology nor geol-


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ogy is particularly concerned with the oil industry. Psychology can be used by the industrial psychologist in the interests of production, but it is not basically concerned with production. All three are examples of the application of scientific (or semiscientific, as the case may be) theories to problems that arise in action.

On the other hand the theories of value, decision, games, and opera- tions research deal directly with valuation, decision-making, planning, and doing; they even may be applied to scientific research regarded as a kind of action, with the optimistic hope of optimizing its output. (These theories could not tell how to replace talent but how best to exploit it.) These are operative theories, and they make little if any use of the sub- stantive knowledge provided by the physicial, biological, or social sci- ences: ordinary knowledge, special but non-scientific knowledge (of, e.g., inventory practices), and formal science are usually sufficient for them. Just think of strategical kinematics applied to combat or of queuing models: they are not applications of pure scientific theories but theories on their own.

What these operative or non-substantive theories employ is not sub- stantive scientific knowledge but the method of science. They may be regarded, in fact, as scientific theories concerning action, in short, as theories of action. These theories are technological in respect of aim, which is practical rather than cognitive, but apart from this they do not differ markedly from the theories of science. In fact, every good opera- tive theory will have at least the following traits characteristic of scien- tific theories: (1) they do not refer directly to chunks of reality but to more or less idealized models of them (e.g., entirely rational and per- fectly informed contenders or continuous demands and deliveries); (2) as a consequence they employ theoretical concepts (e.g., "probabil- ity"); (3) they can absorb empirical information and in turn can enrich experience by providing predictions or retrodictions; and (4) conse- quently they are empirically testable, though not as toughly as scientific theories.

Looked at from a practical angle, technological theories are richer than the theories of science in that, far from being limited to accounting for what may or does, did or will happen regardless of what the deci- sion-maker does, they are concerned with finding out what ought to be done in order to bring about, prevent, or just change the pace of events or their course in a preassigned way. In a conceptual sense, the theories of technology are definitely poorer than those of pure science; they are invariably less deep, and this because the practical man, for whom they are intended, is chiefly interested in net effects that occur and are con- trollable on the human scale; he wants to know how things within his

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reach can be made to work for him, rather than how things of any kind really are. Thus, the electronics expert need not worry about the diffi- culties that plague the quantum electron theories; and the researcher in utility theory, who is concerned with comparing people's preferences, need not burrow into the origins of preference patterns-a problem for psychologists.

Consequently, whenever possible the applied researcher will attempt to schematize his system as a black box; he will deal preferably with ex- ternal variables (input and output), will regard all others as at best handy intervening variabes with no ontological import, and will ignore the adjoining levels. This is why his oversimplifications and mistakes are not more often harmful-because his hypotheses are superficial. (Only the exportation of this externalist approach to science may be harmful.) Occasionally, though, the technologist will be forced to take up a deeper, representational viewpoint. Thus, the molecular engineer who designs new materials to order, that is, substances with prescribed mac- roproperties, will have to use certain fragments of atomic and molecular theory. But he will neglect all those microproperties that do not show up appreciably at the macroscopic level; after all, he uses atomic and molecular theories as tools-which has misled some philosophers into thinking that scientific theories are nothing but tools.

The conceptual impoverishment undergone by scientific theory when used as a means for practical ends can be frightful. Thus, an applied physicist engaged in designing an optical instrument will use almost only ray optics, that is, essentially what was known about light toward the middle of the seventeenth century. He will take wave optics into ac- count for the explanation in outline, not in detail, of some effects, most-

ly undesirable, such as the appearance of colors near the edge of a lens; but he will seldom, if ever, apply any of the various wave theories of light to the computation of such effects. He can afford to ignore these theories in most of his professional practice because of two reasons. First, the chief traits of the optical facts relevant to the manufacture of optical instruments are adequately accounted for by ray optics; those few facts that are not so explainable require only the hypotheses (but not the whole theory) that light is made up of waves and that these waves can superpose. Second, it is extremely difficult to solve the wave equations of the deeper theories save in elementary cases, which are mostly of a purely academic interest (i.e., which serve essentially the purpose of illustrating and testing the theory). Just think of the enter- prise of solving a wave equation with time-dependent boundary con- ditions such as those representing the moving shutter of a camera. Wave optics is scientifically important because it is nearly true; but for most


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present-day technology it is less important than ray optics, and its detailed application to practical problems in optical industry would be quixotic. The same argument can be carried over to the rest of pure science in relation to technology. The moral is that, if scientific research had sheepishly applied itself to the immediate needs of production, we would have no pure science, hence no applied science either.

Does Practice Validate Theory?

A theory, if true, can be employed successfully in applied research (technological investigation) and in practice itself-as long as the theory is relevant to either. (Fundamental theories are not so applicable because they deal with problems much too remote from practical problems. Just think of applying the quantum theory of scattering to car col- lisions.) But the converse is not true, that is, the practical success or failure of a scientific theory is no objective index of its truth value. In fact, a theory can be both successful and false; or, conversely, it can be a practical failure and nearly true. The efficiency of a false theory may be due to either of the following reasons. First, a theory may contain just a grain of truth, and this grain alone is employed in the theory's applications. In fact, a theory is a system of hypotheses, and it is enough for a few of them to be true or nearly so in order to be able to entail adequate consequences if the false ingredients are not used in the de- duction or if they are practically innocuous. Thus, it is possible to manufacture excellent steel by combining magical exorcisms with the operations prescribed by the craft-as was done until the beginning of the nineteenth century. And it is possible to improve the condition of neurotics by means of shamanism, psychoanalysis, and other practices as long as effective means, such as suggestion, conditioning, tranquil- izers, and above all time are combined with them.

A second reason for the possible practical success of a false theory may be that the accuracy requirements in applied science and in prac- tice are far below those prevailing in pure research, so that a rough and simple theory supplying quick correct estimates of orders of magnitude very often will suffice in practice. Safety coefficients will mask the finer details predicted by an accurate and deep theory anyway, and such coefficients are characteristic of technological theory because this must adapt itself to conditions that can vary within ample bounds. Think of the variable loads a bridge can be subjected to or of the varying indi- viduals that may consume a drug. The engineer and the physician are interested in safe and wide intervals centered in typical values rather than in exact values. A greater accuracy would be pointless since it is not a question of testing. Moreover, such a greater accuracy could be

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confusing because it would complicate things to such an extent that the target-on which action is to be focused-would be lost in a mass of detail. Extreme accuracy, a goal of scientific research, not only is point- less or even encumbering in practice in most cases but can be an obstacle to research itself in its early stages. For the two reasons given above- use of only a part of the premises and low accuracy requirements- infinitely many possible rival theories can yield "practically the same results." The technologist, and particularly the technician, are justified in preferring the simplest of them: after all, they are interested pri- marily in efficiency rather than in truth, in getting things done rather than in gaining a deep understanding of them. For the same reason, deep and accurate theories may be impractical; to use them would be like killing bugs with nuclear bombs. It would be as preposterous- though not nearly so dangerous-as advocating simplicity and efficiency in pure science.

A third reason why most fundamental scientific theories are of no practical avail is not related to the handiness and sturdiness required by practice but has a deep ontological root. The practical transactions of man occur mostly on his own level; and this level, like others, is rooted to the lower levels but enjoys a certain autonomy with respect to them, in the sense that not every change occurring in the lower levels has appreciable effects on the higher ones. This is what enables us to deal with most things on their own level, resorting at most to the immediately adjacent levels. In short, levels are to some extent stable: there is a certain amount of play between level and level, and this is a root of both chance (randomness due to independence) and freedom (self-motion in certain respects). One-level theories will suf- fice, therefore, for many practical purposes. It is only when a knowl- edge of the relations among the various levels is required in order to implement a "remote-control" treatment, that many-level theories must be tried. The most exciting achievements in this respect are those of psychochemistry, the goal of which is, precisely, the control of behavior by manipulating variables in the underlying biochemical level.

A fourth reason for the irrelevance of practice to the validation of theories-even to operative theories dealing with action-is that, in real situations, the relevant variables are seldom adequately known and precisely controlled. Real situations are much too complex for this, and effective action is much too strongly urged to permit a detailed study-a study that would begin by isolating variables and tying some of them into a theoretical model. The desideratum being maximal ef- ficiency, and not at all truth, a number of practical measures will usually be attempted at the same time: the strategist will counsel the


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simultaneous use of weapons of several kinds, the physician will pre- scribe a number of supposedly concurrent treatments, and the poli- tician may combine promises and threats. If the outcome is satisfactory, how will the practitioner know which of the rules was efficient, hence which of the underlying hypotheses was true? If unsatisfactory, how will he be able to weed out the inefficient rules and the false under-

lying hypotheses? A careful discrimination and control of the relevant variables and a

critical evaluation of the hypotheses concerning the relations among such variables is not done while killing, curing, or persuading people, not even while making things, but in leisurely, planned, and critically alert scientific theorizing and experimentation. Only while theorizing or experimenting do we discriminate among variables and weigh their relative importance, do we control them either by manipulation or by measurement, and do we check our hypotheses and inferences. This is why factual theories, whether scientific or technological, substantive or operative, are empirically tested in the laboratory and not in the battlefield, the consulting office, or the market place. ("Laboratory" is understood here, in a wide sense, to include any situation which, like the military maneuver, permits a reasonable control of the rele- vant variables.) This is, also, why the efficiency of the rules employed in the factory, the hospital, or the social institution, can be determined only in artificially controlled circumstances.

In short, practice has no validating force; pure and applied research alone can estimate the truth value of theories and the efficiency of technological rules. What the technician and the practical man do, by contrast to the scientist, is not to test theories but to use them with non-cognitive aims. (The practitioner does not even test things, such as tools or drugs, save in extreme cases: he just uses them, and their properties and their efficiency again must be determined in the labora- tory by the applied scientist.) The doctrine that practice is the touch- stone of theory relies on a misunderstanding of both practice and theory, on a confusion between practice and experiment and an asso- ciated confusion between rule and theory. The question "Does it work? "-pertinent as it is with regard to things and rules-is impertinent in respect of theories.

Yet it might be argued that a man who knows how to do something is thereby showing that he knows that something. Let us consider the three possible versions of this idea. The first can be summed up in the schema "If x knows how to do (or make) y, then x knows y." To ruin this thesis it is enough to recall that, for nearly one million years, man has known how to make children without having the remotest

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idea about the reproduction process. The second thesis is the converse conditional, namely, "If x knows y, then x knows how to do (or make) y." Counterexamples: we know something about stars, yet we are unable to make them, and we know part of the past, but we cannot even spoil it. The two conditionals being false, the biconditional "x knows y if and only if x knows how to do (or make) y" is false, too. In short, it is false that knowledge is identical with knowing how to do, or know-how. What is true is rather this: knowledge considerably improves the chances of correct doing, and doing may lead to knowing more (now that we have learned that knowledge pays), not because action is knowledge, but because, in inquisitive minds, action may trigger questioning.

It is only by distinguishing scientific knowledge from instrumental knowledge, or know-how, that we can hope to account for the co- existence of practical knowledge with theoretical ignorance and the coexistence of theoretical knowledge with practical ignorance. Were it not for this the following combinations hardly would have occurred in history: (1) science without the corresponding technology (e.g., Greek physics); (2) arts and crafts without an underlying science (e.g., Roman engineering and contemporary intelligence testing). The dis- tinction must be kept, also, in order to explain the cross-fertilizations of science, technology, and the arts and crafts, as well as to explain the gradual character of the cognitive process. If, in order to exhaust the knowledge of a thing, it were sufficient to produce or reproduce it, then certain technological achievements would put an end to the respective chapters of applied research: the production of synthetic rubber, plastic materials, and synthetic fibres would exhaust polymer chemistry; the experimental induction of cancer should have stopped cancer research; and the experimental production of neuroses and psy- choses should have brought psychiatry to a halt. As a matter of fact, we continue doing many things without understanding how, and we know many processes (such as the fusion of helium out of hydrogen) which we are not yet able to control for useful purposes (partly be- cause we are too eager to attain the goal without a further develop- ment of the means). At the same time it is true that the barriers be- tween scientific and practical knowledge, pure and applied research, are melting. But this does not eliminate their differences, and the process is but the outcome of an increasingly scientific approach to practical problems, that is, of a diffusion of the scientific method.

The identification of knowledge and practice stems not only from a failure to analyze either but also from a legitimate wish to avoid the two extremes of speculative theory and blind action. But the


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testability of theories and the possibility of improving the rationality of action are not best defended by blurring the differences between theorizing and doing, or by asserting that action is the test of theory, because both theses are false and no program is defensible if it rests on plain falsity. The interaction between theory and practice and the integration of the arts and crafts with technology and science are not achieved by proclaiming their unity but by multiplying their con- tacts and by helping the process whereby the crafts are given a tech- nological basis and technology is entirely converted into applied sci- ence. This involves the conversion of the rules of thumb peculiar to the crafts into grounded rules, that is, rules based on laws. Let us approach this problem next.

Scientific Law and Technological Rule Just as pure science focuses on objective patterns or laws, action-

oriented research aims at establishing stable norms of successful hu- man behavior, that is, rules. The study of rules-the grounded rules of applied science-is therefore central to the philosophy of technology.

A rule prescribes a course of action; it indicates how one should proceed in order to achieve a predetermined goal. More explicitly, a rule is an instruction to perform a finite number of acts in a given order and with a given aim. The skeleton of a rule can be symbolized as a string of signs, such as 1-2-3- . . . -n, where every number stands for a corresponding act; the last act, n, is the only thing that separates the operator who has executed every operation, save n, from the goal. In contrast to law formulas, which say what the shape of possible events is, rules are norms. The field of law is assumed to be the whole of reality, including rule-makers; the field of rule is but mankind; men, not stars, can obey rules and violate them, invent and perfect them. Law statements are descriptive and interpretive, whereas rules are normative. Consequently, while law statements can be more or less true, rules can be only more or less effective.

We may distinguish the following genera of rules: (1) rules of con- duct (social, moral, and legal rules); (2) rules of prescientific work (rules of thumb in the arts and crafts and in production); (3) rules of sign (syntactical and semantical rules); (4) rules of science and technology (grounded rules of research and action). Rules of conduct make social life possible (and hard). The rules of prescientific work dominate the region of practical knowledge which is not yet under technological control. The rules of sign direct us how to handle sym- bols-how to generate, transform, and interpret signs. And the rules of science and technology are those norms that summarize the special

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techniques of research in pure and applied science (e.g., random- sampling techniques) and the special techniques of advanced modern production (e.g., the technique of melting with infrared rays).

Many rules of conduct, work, and sign, are conventional, in the sense that they are adopted with no definite reasons and might be exchanged for alternative rules with little or no concomitant change in the desired result. They are not altogether arbitrary, since their formation and adoption should be explainable in terms of psycho- logical and sociological laws, but they are not necessary either; the differences among cultures are largely differences among systems of rules of that kind. We are not interested in such groundless or con- ventional rules but rather in founded rules, that is, in norms satisfy- ing the following definition: A rule is grounded if and only if it is based on a set of law formulas capable of accounting for its effective- ness. The rule that commands taking off the hat when greeting a lady is groundless in the sense that it is based on no scientific law but is conventionally adopted. On the other hand, the rule that commands greasing cars periodically is based on the law that lubricators decrease the wearing out of parts by friction; this is neither a convention nor a rule of thumb like those of cooking and politicking-it is a well- grounded rule.

To decide that a rule is effective it is necessary, though insufficient, to show that it has been successful in a high percentage of cases. But these cases might be just coincidences, such as those that may have consecrated the magic rituals that accompanied the huntings of primi- tive man. Before adopting an empirically effective rule we ought to know why it is effective; we ought to take it apart and reach an un- derstanding of its modus operandi. This requirement of rule founda- tion marks the transition between the prescientific arts and crafts and contemporary technology. Now, the sole valid foundation of a rule is a system of law formulas, because these alone can be expected to correctly explain facts, for example, the fact that a given rule works. This is not to say that the effectiveness of a rule depends on whether it is founded or groundless but only that, in order to be able to judge whether a rule has any chance of being effective, as well as in order to improve the rule and eventually replace it by a more effective one, we must disclose the underlying law statements, if any. We may take a step ahead and claim that the blind application of rules of thumb has never paid in the long run; the best policy is, first, to try to ground our rules and, second, to try to transform some law formulas into effective technological rules. The birth and development of modern technology is the result of these two movements.


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But it is easier to preach the foundation of rules than to say exactly what the foundation of rules consists in. Let us try to make an inroad into this unexplored territory-the core of the philosophy of tech- nology. As usual when approaching a new subject, it will be con- venient to begin by analyzing a typical case. Take the law statement "Magnetism disappears above the Curie temperature (770? C for iron)." For purposes of analysis it will be convenient to restate our law as an explicit conditional: "If the temperature of a magnetized body exceeds its Curie point, then it becomes demagnetized." (This is, of course, an oversimplification, as every other ordinary-language rendering of a scientific law: the Curie point is not the temperature at which all magnetism disappears but, rather, the point of conversion of ferromagnetism into paramagnetism, or conversely. But this is a refinement irrelevant to most technological purposes.) Our nomo- logical statement provides the basis for the nomopragmatic statement "'If a magnetized body is heated above its Curie point, then it is de- magnetized." (The pragmatic predicate is, of course, "is heated.") This nomopragmatic statement is, in turn, the ground for two differ- ent rules, namely, RI: "In order to demagnetize a body heat it above its Curie point," and R2: "To prevent demagnetizing a body do not heat it above its Curie point." Both rules have the same foundation, that is, the same underlying nomopragmatic statement, which in turn is supported by a law statement assumed to represent an objective pattern. Moreover, the two rules are equiefficient, though not under the same circumstances (changed goals, changed means).

Notice, first, that unlike a law statement a rule is neither true nor false; as a compensation it can be effective or ineffective. Second, a law is consistent with more than one rule. Third, the truth of a law statement does not insure the efficiency of the associated rules; in fact, the former refers to idealized situations which are not met with in

practice. Fourth, whereas given a law we may try out the correspond- ing rules, given a rule we are unable to trace the laws presupposed by it; in fact, a rule of the form "In order to attain the goal G employ the means M" is consistent with the laws "If M, then G," "M and G," "M or G," and infinitely many others.

The above has important consequences for the methodology of rules and the interrelations between pure and applied science. We see there is no single road from practice to knowledge, from success to truth; success warrants no inference from rule to law but poses the problem of explaining the apparent efficiency of the rule. In other words, the roads from success to truth are infinitely many and consequently theoretically useless or nearly so, that is, no bunch of effective rules

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suggests a true theory. On the other hand, the roads from truth to success are limited in number, hence feasible. This is one of the rea- sons why practical success, whether of a medical treatment or of a government measure, is not a truth criterion for the underlying hy- potheses. This is also why technology-in contrast to the prescien- tific arts and crafts-does not start with rules and end up with theories but proceeds the other way around. This is, in brief, why technology is applied science whereas science is not purified technology.

Scientists and technologists work out rules on the basis of theories containing law statements and auxiliary assumptions, and technicians apply such rules jointly with groundless (prescientific) rules. In either case, specific hypotheses accompany the application of rules, namely, hypotheses to the effect that the case under consideration is one where the rule is in point because such and such variables-related by the rule-are in fact present. In science such hypotheses can be tested; this is true of both pure and applied research. But in the practice of technology there may not be time to test them in any way other than by applying the rules around which such hypotheses cluster- and this is a poor test indeed, because the failure may be blamed either on the hypotheses or on the rule or on the uncertain conditions of application.

Scientific Prediction and Technological Forecast

For technology knowledge is chiefly a means to be applied to the achievement of certain practical ends. The goal of technology is suc- cessful action rather than pure knowledge, and accordingly the whole attitude of the technologist while applying his technological knowl- edge is active in the sense that, far from being an inquisitive onlooker or a diligent burrower, he is an active participant in events. This dif- ference of attitude between the technologist in action and the re- searcher-whether pure or applied-introduces certain differences be- tween technological forecast and scientific prediction.

In the first place, whereas scientific prediction says what will or may happen if certain circumstances obtain, technological forecast suggests how to influence circumstances so that certain events may be brought about, or prevented, that would not normally happen; it is one thing to predict the trajectory of a comet, quite another to plan and foresee the orbit of an artificial satellite. The latter presup- poses a choice among possible goals, and such a choice presupposes a certain forecasting of possibilities and their evaluation in the light of a set of desiderata. In fact, the technologist will make his forecast on his (or his employer's) estimate of what the future should be like if


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certain desiderata are to be fulfilled; contrary to the pure scientist, the technologist is hardly interested in what would happen anyway; and what for the scientist is just the final state of a process becomes for the technologist a valuable (or disvaluable) end to be achieved (or to be avoided). A typical scientific prediction has the form "'If x occurs at time t, then y will occur at time t' with probability p." By contrast, a typical technological forecast is of the form "If y is to be achieved at time t' with probability p, then x should be done at time t." Given the goal, the technologist indicates the adequate means, and his forecast states a means-end relationship rather than a relation be- tween an initial state and a final state. Furthermore, such means are implemented by a specified set of actions, among them the technolo- gist's own actions.

This leads us to a second peculiarity of technological forecast: where- as the scientist's success depends on his ability to separate his object from himelf (particularly so when his object happens to be a psycho- logical subject)-that is, on his capacity of detachment-the technolo- gist's ability consists in placing himself within the system concerned- at the head of it. This does not involve subjectivity, since after all the technologist draws on the objective knowledge provided by science; but it does involve partiality, a parti pris unknown to the pure research- er. The engineer is part of a man-machine complex, the industrial psy- chologist is part of an organization, and both are bound to devise and implement the optimal means for achieving desiderata which are not usually chosen by themselves; they are decision-makers, not policy- makers.

The forecast of an event or process that is not under our control will not alter the event or process itself. Thus, for example, no matter how accurately an astronomer predicts the collision of two stars, the event will occur in due course. But if an applied geologist can forecast a landslide, then some of its consequences can be prevented. Moreover, by designing and supervising the appropriate defense works the engi- neer may prevent the landslide itself; he may devise the sequence of actions that will refute the original forecast. Similarly, an industrial concern may forecast sales for the near future on the (shaky) assump- tion that a given state of the economy, say prosperity, will continue during that lapse. But if this assumption is falsified by a recession, and the enterprise had accumulated a large stock which it must get rid of, then instead of making a new sales forecast (as a pure scientist would be inclined to do), the management will try to force the original fore- cast to come true by increasing advertisement, lowering sale prices, and so on. As in the case of vital processes, a diversity of means will alter-

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natively or jointly be tried to attain a fixed goal. In order to achieve this goal any number of initial hypotheses may have to be sacrificed: in the case of the landslide, the assumption that no external forces would inter- fere with the process and, in the case of the sales, that prosperity would continue. Consequently, whether the initial forecast is forcefully falsi- fled (as in the case of the landslide) or forcefully confirmed (as in the case of the sales forecast), this fact cannot count as a test of the truth of the hypotheses involved; it will count only as an efficiency test of the rules that have been applied. The pure scientist, on the other hand, need not worry about altering the means for achieving a preset goal, because pure science has no goals external to it.

Technological forecast, in sum, cannot be used for controlling things or men by changing the course of events perhaps to the point of stop- ping them altogether, or for forcing the predicted course even if un- predictable events should interfere with it. This is true of the forecasts made in engineering, medicine, economics, applied sociology, political science, and other technologies: the sole formulation of a forecast (prognosis, lax prediction, or prediction proper), if made known to the decision-makers, can be seized upon by them to steer the course of events, thus bringing about results different from those originally fore- casted. This change, triggered by the issuance of the forecast, may con- tribute either to the latter's confirmation (self-fulfilling forecast) or to its refutation (self-defeating forecast). This trait of technological fore- cast stems from no logical property of it; it is a pattern of social action involving the knowledge of forecasts and consequently is conspicuous in modern society. Therefore, rather than analyzing the logic of caus- ally effective forecast, we should start by distinguishing three levels in it: (1) the conceptual level, on which the prediction p stands; (2) the psychological level-the knowledge of p and the reactions triggered by this knowledge; and (3) the social level-the actions actually performed on the basis of the knowedge of p and in the service of extra-scientific goals. This third level is peculiar to technological forecast.

This feature of technological forecast sets civilized man apart from every other system. A non-predicting system, be it a jukebox or a frog, when fed with information it can digest will process it and convert it into action at some later time. But such a system does not purposely produce most of the information, and it does not issue projections capable of altering its own future behavior. A predictor-a rational man, a team of technologists, or a sufficiently evolved automaton-can behave in an entirely different way. When fed with relevant informa- tion It at time t, it can process this information with the help of the knowledge (or the instructions) available to it, eventually issuing a


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344 Mario Bunge

prediction Pt', at a later time t. This prediction is fed back into the system and compared with the preset goal that controls the whole process (without either causing it or supplying it with energy). If the two are reasonably close, the system takes a decision that eventually leads it to act so as to take advantage of the course of events. If, on the other hand, the prediction differs significantly from the goal, this dif- ference will again trigger the theoretical mechanism, which will elab- orate a new strategy: a new prediction, Pt", will eventually be issued at time t", a forecast including a reference to the system's own partici- pation in the events. The new prediction is fed back into the system and, if it still disagrees with the goal, a new correction cycle is triggered, and so on until the difference between the prediction and the goal becomes negligible, in which case the system's predicting mechanism comes to rest. Henceforth the system will gather new information re- garding the present state of affairs and will act so as to conform to the strategy it has elaborated. This strategy may have required not only new information regarding the external world (including the attitudes and capabilities of the people concerned) but also new hypotheses or even theories which had not been present in the instruction chart originally received by the predictor. If the latter fails to realize it or to obtain and utilize such additional knowledge, his or its action is bound to be ineffective. Moral: the more brains the better.

Technological Forecast and Expert Prognosis

The preceding account of technological forecast is based on the assumption that it relies on some theory, or rather theories, whether substantive or operative. This assumption may be found wanting by anyone knowing that the forecasts issued by experts in medicine, fi- nance, or politics are often successful and yet involve no great deal of theorizing. True, most often expert prognosis relies on inductive (em- pirical) generalizations of the form "A and B occur jointly with the observed frequency f," or even just "A and B occur jointly in most cases," or "Usually, whenever A then B." The observation that a given individual, say a human subject or an economic state of affairs, has the property A is then used to forecast that it has, or will acquire, the property B. In daily life such prognoses are all we do, and the same applies to most expert prognoses. Occasionally such prognoses made with either ordinary knowledge or specialized but non-scientific knowl- edge are more successful than predictions made with full-fledged but false or rough theories; in many fields, however, the frequency of hits is not better than the one obtained by flipping a coin. The point, though,

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is that expert forecast using no scientific theory is not a scientific ac- tivity-just by definition of "scientific prediction."

Yet it would be wrong to think that experts make no use of special- ized knowledge whenever they do not employ scientific theories; they always judge on the basis of some such knowledge. Only, expert knowl- edge is not always explicit and articulate and, for this reason, it is not readily controllable: it does not learn readily from failures, and it is hard to test. For the progress of science, the failure of a scientific pre- diction is by far preferable to the success of an expert prognosis, because the scientific failure can be fed back into the theory responsible for it, thereby giving us a chance to improve it, whereas in the case of expert knowledge there is no theory to feed the failure into. It is only for im- mediate practical purposes that expert prognoses made with shallow but well-confirmed generalizations are preferable to risky scientific pre- dictions.

Another difference between expert prognosis and technological fore- cast proper would seem to be this: the former relies more heavily on intuition than does scientific prediction. Yet the difference is one of degree rather than of kind. Diagnosis and forecast, whether in pure science, in applied science, or in the arts and crafts, involve intuitions of a number of kinds: the quick identification of a thing, event, or sign; the clear but not necessarily deep grasp of the meaning and/or the mutual relations of a set of signs (text, table, diagram, etc.); the ability to interpret symbols; the ability to form space models; skill in realizing analogies; creative imagination; catalytic inference, that is, quick passage from some premises to other formulas by skipping intermediate steps; power of synthesis or synoptic grasp; common sense (or rather con- trolled craziness), and sound judgment. These abilities intertwine with specialized knowledge, whether scientific or not, and are reinforced with practice. Without them theories could neither be invented nor applied-but, of course, they are not suprarational powers. Intuition is all right as long as it is controlled by reason and experiment; only the replacement of theorizing and experimenting by intuition must be feared.

A related danger is that of pseudoscientific projection tools, so com- mon in applied psychology and sociology. A number of techniques have been devised to forecast the performance of personnel, students, and even psychologists themselves. A few tests, the objective ones, are somewhat reliable; this holds for intelligence and skill tests. But most tests, particularly the subjective ones (the "global evaluation" of per- sonality by means of interviews, the thematic apperception tests, the Rorschach, etc.) are in the best of cases inefficient and in the worst of


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346 Mario Bunge

cases misleading. When they have been subjected to the test of pre- diction-that is, when their results have been checked with the actual performance of the subjects-they have failed. The failure of most in- dividual psychological tests, and particularly of the subjective ones, is not a failure of psychological testing in general; what is responsible for such failures is either the total absence or the falsity of the underlying psychological theories. Testing for human abilities without first estab- lishing laws relating objective indexes of abilities or personality traits is as thoughtless as asking a tribesman to test an aircraft. As long as no theoretical foundations of psychological tests are secured, their employ- ment as predictive instruments is not better than crystal gazing or coin- flipping: they are practically inefficient and, even if they succeeded, they would not contribute to psychological theory, because they are unrelated to theory. The limited success of psychological testing has led many to despair of the possibility of finding a scientific approach to human behavior, but the right inference is that such an attempt has been tried only after a large number of alleged tests invaded the market. What is wrong with most of "applied" (educational, industrial, etc.) psychology is that it does not consist in the application of scientific psychology at all. The moral is that practical wants-such as personnel training and selection-should not be allowed to force the construction of "technologies" without an underlying science.

Technological forecast should be maximally reliable. This condition excludes from technological practice-not, however, from technological research-insufficiently tested theories. In other words, technology will ultimately prefer the old theory that has rendered distinguished service in a limited domain and with a known inaccuracy to the bold new theory that promises unheard-of forecasts but is probably more complex and therefore partly less well tested. It would be irresponsible for an expert to apply a new idea in practice without having tested it under controlled conditions. (Yet this is still done in pharmacy: recall the affair of the mutagenic drugs in the early 1960's.) Practice, and even technology, is bound to be more conservative than science. Conse- quently, the effects of a close association of pure research with applied research, and of the latter with production, are not all of them bene- ficial; while it is true that technology challenges science with new problems and supplies it with new equipment for data-gathering and data-processing, it is no less true that technology, by its very insistence on reliability, standardization (routinization), and speed, at the expense of depth, range, accuracy, and serendipity, can slow down the advance- ment of science.

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Technology as Applied Science 347

Other Problems

We have looked into a few problems of the philosophy of technol- ogy. Many other challenging problems have been left out, for example, the logic of technological rules; the test of technological theories; the patterns of technological invention; the reason textile, aircraft, and other industries are still largely based on crafts; and the power of tech- nology to bring together previously separate fields (cases of cybernet- ics, nuclear engineering, computer science, space science, and bioengi- neering). These and many other problems are waiting to be discovered and worked out by philosophers attentive to their own times. Why should the waiting time be so long?

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  • Contents
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  • Issue Table of Contents
  • Technology and Culture, Vol. 7, No. 3, Summer, 1966 Front Matter Towards a Philosophy of Technology Prefatory Note [pp.301-302] Technics and the Nature of Man [pp.303-317] Technology as Skills [pp.318-328] Technology as Applied Science [pp.329-347] The Confusion between Science and Technology in the Standard Philosophies of Science [pp.348-366] The Need for Corroboration: Comments on Agassi's Paper [pp.367-370] The Structure of Thinking in Technology [pp.371-383] The Social Character of Technological Problems: Comments on Skolimowski's Paper [pp.384-390] Memorial Lynn Thorndike (1882-1965) [pp.391-394] The Cover Design Dyeing Fabrics in Sixteenth-Century Venice [pp.395-397] Communications A Postscript to Reti's Notes on Juanelo Turriano's Water Mills [pp.398-401] Technology, Traditionalism, and Military Establishments [pp.402-407] The Inaccurate "Slide Rule" [pp.408-409] Book Reviews untitled [pp.410-411] untitled [pp.412-413] untitled [pp.413-415] untitled [pp.415-418] untitled [pp.418-420] untitled [pp.420-421] untitled [pp.421-424] untitled [pp.424-426] untitled [pp.426-428] untitled [pp.428-429] untitled [pp.429-432] untitled [pp.432-434] untitled [pp.434-436] untitled [pp.436-438] untitled [pp.438-440] untitled [pp.440-441] untitled [pp.441-443] untitled [pp.443-444] untitled [pp.444-445] untitled [pp.445-446] untitled [pp.446-447] Notes and Announcements [pp.448-451] Back Matter

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