Science and Technology

Science and Technology

How are Science and Technology related? Is one more fundamental than the other? Or they are they inextricably linked?

… or why could Leonardo design a helicopter, but not build one? 

(Steve Lawless)

Science… and Technology. They are often spoken of together in the same breath as if they were siblings, or a married couple. But just how exactly are they related?

First of all let’s look at the etymology of the words. Etymonline tells me that

  • Technology comes from the Greek tekhnologia “systematic treatment of an art, craft, or technique,” .
  • Science comes  from Latin. scientia “knowledge,” from sciens(gen. scientis), prp. of scire “to know,” probably originally “to separate one thing from another, to distinguish,” related to scindere “to cut, divide,”

Very roughly I think this means that ‘technology’  is about how some activity is achieved, and is thus close to engineering in its aims. Science, has the sense of a wider study of not just  ‘how’ but also ‘why’.

So how are they related? I think the diagram at the head of the page captures two interesting features of the inter-relationship.

Firstly, new technology builds on older technology and new science builds on older science. This much we are familiar with. And it is clear that new technology enables new science – think of the atomic force microscope or the computer – technologies that have enabled diverse scientific advances. Similarly science enable new technology, but in general it is not the bleeding edge of science which is built into technology. Technology which is sold has to work! And so, in general, it incorporates the previous generation of science. So the top level of diagram doesn’t have any horizontal lines.

There are exceptions to this structure, and sometimes the generations succeed each other so quickly it all seems like a blur. But what this means is that in general it is not possible to say what science a new technology will enable, or what technology new science will enable. That’s the thing about the future: we don’t know what is going to happen.

P.S. I have to say that this is not my idea – but I can’t find out whose idea it was originally!

2 Responses to “Science and Technology”

  1. Steve Lawless (@Steve_Lawless) Says:

    Which is why Leonardo could design a helicpoter but not build one.

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