It is not enough, then, to say that science is about prediction of how the world will change over time. Science doesn’t just seek to make any predictions, it seeks to make predictions of a particular sort—predictions with verifiable consequences—and it does this by attempting to pick out patterns that are in evidence in the world now, and projecting them toward the future. That is to say: science is the business of identifying genuine patterns in how the world changes over time. It is precisely this projectability that makes a putative pattern genuine rather than ersatz; this is why science is of necessity concerned with more than just enumerating the facts about the way the world is now—just given the current state of the world, we could hypothesize a virtually infinite number of “patterns” in that state, but only some of those putative patterns will let us make accurate predictions about what the state of the world will be in (say) another hour.
1.3 Toy Science and Basic Patterns
Let’s think more carefully about what it means to say that science is in the business of identifying genuine patterns in the world. Consider a simple example—we’ll sharpen things up as we go along. Suppose we’re given a piece of a binary sequence, and asked to make predictions about what numbers might lie outside the scope of the piece we’ve been given:
Is there a genuine pattern in evidence here? Perhaps. We might reasonably suppose that the
- The sense of “genuine” here is something like the sense of “real” in Dennett’s “real patterns” (Dennett 1991). I wish to delay questions about the metaphysics of patterns for as long as possible, and so opt for “genuine” rather than the more ontologically-loaded “real.” What it means for a pattern to be “genuine” will become clearer shortly. Again, see Section 0.2 for more on the underlying metaphysical assumptions here.
that the classical Maxwellian formulation of the electromagnetic force as a function of a purely local electrical field and a purely local magnetic field is incomplete. The effect was predicted by the Schrodinger equation years before it was observed, and led to the redefinition of electromagnetism as a gauge theory featuring electromagnetic potentials, in addition to fields. See Ahranov and Bohm (1959). Thanks to Porter Williams for suggesting this case.