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# What it means to "explain" something in science often comes

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What it means to "explain" something in science often comes [#permalink]

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12 Aug 2004, 23:12
What it means to "explain" something in science often comes down to the application of mathematics. Some thinkers hold that mathematics is a kind of language--a systematic contrivance of signs, the criteria for the authority of which are internal coherence, elegance, and depth. The application of such a highly artificial system to the physical world, they claim, results in the creation of a kind of statement about the world. Accordingly, what matters in the sciences is finding a mathematical concept that attempts, as other language does, to accurately describe the functioning of some aspect of the world.

At the center of the issue of scientific knowledge can thus be found questions about the relationship between language and what it refers to. A discussion about the role played by language in the pursuit of knowledge has been going on among linguists for several decades. The debate centers around whether language corresponds in some essential way to objects and behaviors, making knowledge a solid and reliable commodity; or, on the other hand, whether the relationship between language and things is purely a matter of agreed-upon conventions, making knowledge tenuous, relative, and inexact.

Lately the latter theory has been gaining wider acceptance. According to linguists who support this theory, the way language is used varies depending upon changes in accepted practices and theories among those who work in particular discipline. These linguists argue that, in the pursuit of knowledge, a statement is true only when there are no promising alternatives that might lead one to question it. Certainly this characterization would seem to be applicable to the sciences. In science, a mathematical statement may be taken to account for every aspect of a phenomenon it is applied to, but, some would argue, there is nothing inherent in mathematical language that guarantees such a correspondence. Under this view, acceptance of a mathematical statement by the scientific community--by virtue of the statement's predictive power or methodological efficiency--transforms what is basically an analogy or metaphor into an explanation of the physical process in question, to be held as true until another, more compelling analogy takes its place.

In pursuing the implications of this theory, linguists have reached the point at which they must ask: If words or sentences do not correspond in an essential way to life or to our ideas about life, then just what are they capable of telling us about the world? In science and mathematics, then, it would seem equally necessary to ask: If models of electrolytes or E=mc? say, do not correspond essentially to the physical world, then just what functions do they perform in the acquisition of scientific knowledge? But this question has yet to be significantly addressed in the sciences.

22. Which one of the following statements most accurately expresses the passage's main point?

(A) Although scientists must rely on both language and mathematics in their pursuit of scientific knowledge, each is an imperfect tool for perceiving and interpreting aspects of the physical world.

(B) The acquisition of scientific knowledge depends on an agreement among scientists to accept some mathematical statements as more precise than others while acknowledging that all mathematics is inexact.

(C) If science is truly to progress, scientists must temporarily abandon the pursuit of new knowledge in favor of a systematic analysis of how the knowledge they already possess came to be accepted as true.

(D) In order to better understand the acquisition of scientific knowledge, scientists must investigate mathematical statements' relationship to the world just as linguists study languageâ€™s relationship to the world.

(E) Without the debates among linguists that preceded them, it is unlikely that scientists would ever have begun to explore the essential role played by mathematics in the acquisition of scientific knowledge.

23. Which one of the following statements, if true, lends the most support to the view that language has an essential correspondence to things it describes?

(A) The categories of physical objects employed by one language correspond remarkably to the categories employed by another language that developed independently of the first.

(B) The categories of physical objects employed by one language correspond remarkably to the categories employed by another language that derives from the first.

(C) The categories of physical objects employed by speakers of a language correspond remarkably to the categories employed by other speakers of the same language.

(D) The sentence structures of languages in scientifically sophisticated societies vary little from language to language.

(E) Native speakers of many languages believe that the categories of physical objects employed by their language correspond to natural categories of objects in the world.

24. According to the passage, mathematics can be considered a language because it

(A) conveys meaning in the same way that metaphors do

(B) constitutes a systematic collection of signs

(C) corresponds exactly to aspects of physical phenomena

(D) confers explanatory power on scientific theories

(E) relies on previously agreed-upon conventions

25. The primary purpose of the third paragraph is to

(A) offer support for the view of linguists who believe that language has an essential correspondence to things

(B) elaborate the position of linguists who believe that truth is merely a matter of convention

(C) illustrate the differences between the essentialist and conventionalist position in the linguists' debate

(D) demonstrate the similarity of the linguists' debate to a current debate among scientists about the nature of explanation

(E) explain the theory that mathematical statements are a kind of language

26. Based on the passage, linguists who subscribes to the theory described in lines 21-24 would hold that the statement "the ball is red" is true because

(A) speakers of English have accepted that "the ball is red" applies to the particular physical relation ship being described

(B) speakers of English do not accept that synonyms for "ball" and "red" express these concepts as elegantly

(C) "The ball is red" corresponds essentially to every aspect of the particular physical relationship being described

(D) "Ball" and "red" actually refer to an entity and a property respectively

(E) "Ball" and "red" are mathematical concepts that attempt to accurately describe some particular physical relationship in the world

Thanks.
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Manager
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13 Aug 2004, 00:29
Director
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13 Aug 2004, 02:24
14 mins

DCBBB

(I think my first Q ans is wrong and just have a feeling that OlegC's ans is correct. Anyways will wait for the OA)
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13 Aug 2004, 06:21
Wow, I had a difficult time understanding the passage, and answering the questions too. I tried to paraphrase each para as I went on, but lost it. Would this passage be considered a tough one?
Can someone help, please ? Thanks.
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13 Aug 2004, 07:57
ACBBA...13 minutes..4 minutes to read...9 minutes to answer. I felt that this one is a real tough passage..
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13 Aug 2004, 08:06
6 mins to read. Lot of time (around 10 mins) to answer 4 questions

22. D
23. A or C; I choose C
24. B
25. D or E. I choose D
26. What is there in lines 21-24? Not sure, but B?
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13 Aug 2004, 09:53
very tough passage, among the toughest scientific passages I've come across
took close to 14 minutes to answer the q's, and I have little faith in my answers
daaba
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13 Aug 2004, 10:59
This one reminds me of some horrifying LSAT passages!!!
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14 Aug 2004, 04:13
I hope that these kind of RCs dont appear in the actual exam.
14 Aug 2004, 04:13
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