Bigsley the Oaf

Toward A Structural Theory of Thought Disciplines

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on April 8, 2013

Is there a word which generalizes the following concepts?

– Science
– Mathematics
– Philosophy
– Religion

I’d like to refer to these as thought disciplines. Each carries with it certain properties which relate the thinking efforts of an individual to the efforts of a community.


In science, one conducts experiments in order to gain data, which data is communicated to the community. One also forms hypotheses which model the data and which are used to guess future data. If one can form reliable hypotheses, these hypotheses are promoted to “theory.”

In mathematics, one combines statements which are known by the community to be true to form new statements which the community collectively knows to be true. Such a combination is known as a “proof” and its validation is distributed among trusted members of the community.

In philosophy, one examines the basic stuff of thought/experiment and attempts to communicate the results of this examination to the community. If the individual members of the community can validate the examination by repeating it on themselves then such an original examination becomes part of the basis of the community’s collective system.

In religion, certain members of the community (priests, monks, etc.) examine spiritual phenomena, validate it via their own internal processes, and then communicate this information to the masses, who may or may not be allowed/able to contest/examine this information on an individual basis.


What properties belong to the intersection of these disciplines? Each has an associated community. Each has an accepted means by which products of thought can be validated and then disseminated within the community. Each has an additional means of dissemination of these products to the “masses.”


What properties differ amongst these disciplines?

The structure of “authority” differs.

Scientific authorities are “scientists.” If you disagree with a scientist you are likely to be shot down rather quickly. However, unlikely many religions, science has a fairly low bar for entry. Because the content of science is material and because material is observable by most, most have the necessary means to participate in science in at least a cursory way.

Mathematical authorities are “mathematicians.” The minimum requirement to become an authority you must understand the underlying rules of mathematics (logic). As soon as one understands the basic rules of logic one can begin validating proofs. However, to become a successful mathematician (a high authority) one must also make major gains in intuition about what is true. One must not only prove things but also prove interesting things.

Philosophical authorities are philosophers. However, if you disagree with one of my philosophical beliefs then we are likely to belong to different philosophical communities. Because the basis of philosophy is individual belief/understanding, a difference in opinion is likely to result in a communal rift.

Religious authorities have no unifying name. It’s unclear how to become a religious authority, especially a powerful one. Because religious authorities deal with difficult and painful topics in a way that attempts to be at once idealistic and concrete, it is not always clear what personal properties lend themselves to such work.


These disciplines also differ with respect to the way they structure knowledge, and the types of knowledge (content) with which they deal. I’ve often said that science and mathematics are subsets of philosophy, with mathematics the servant of science. Religion is perhaps a superset of philosophy.

What I mean by this is that philosophy deals with the totality of thought, including relationships between thoughts. E.g. a proper philosophical question might be “what is meant by ‘red?'” Another philosophical question might be “if I believe X and I believe Y, should I believe Z?”

Mathematics deals only with relationships between thoughts. Mathematics does not deal with the basis of perception or with thoughts themselves directly. Instead, mathematics talks about how ideas might be combined to form new ideas, or teased out into component ideas. In mathematics we can say: “If X is true, then Y is true,” but we can never actually say whether X is true or not.

Science deals only with relationships between thoughts, across people. If you believe X and I believe Y, who is right? The answer is: s/he who can reproduce evidence of their belief. Mathematics serves science because mathematical truths are scientific truths, but not vice versa.

The knowledge structures of religion are perhaps a superset of those of philosophy. Every statement in philosophy (and hence every mathematical and scientific statement) is potentially a religious statement. I believe that religion has the capacity to speak of things outside the realm of personal experience, however (higher things – e.g. things in the realm of interpersonal experience/transpersonal experience).

We can summarize this hierarchical theory of thought disciplines as follows:

Religion > Philosophy > Science > Mathematics.


Have you ever noticed how much friction there is between these disciplines? Atheist philosophers/scienties ABOUND, the religious scorn the secularism of existential philosophy & the sciences, and I have heard quite a few scientists call philosophy “stupid and impractical.”

Of course, in my experience, almost all who scorn another discipline do so in the darkness of their own ignorance. It’s only by opening ourselves up to the principles of discipline inherent in each of these structures that we can explore space unboundedly. Until then, the blind lead the blind…


3 Responses

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  1. Vicente Peláyez said, on April 8, 2013 at 3:42 am

    What does it mean that mathematical truths are scientific truths? Are you sure that’s right? For example, it’s scientifically true that the Earth rotates around the Sun, right? And what that means is that a lot of experimental data accords with that and no significant experimental data conflicts with it. Right? But is that the set of criteria by which we judge (potential) mathematical truths?

    • bigsleytheoaf said, on April 8, 2013 at 4:19 am

      What I mean to say when i say that mathematical truths are scientific truths is that every mathematical truth (since it is internally verifiable) is a scientific truth (since internal verifiability implies external verifiability). This is all to say that mathematical truth is a specialization of scientific truth – there are strictly more and strictly more constraining criteria applied to verify that something is mathematically true than those which are applied to scientific truths.

      Does this clarify?

      It’s scientifically true that the Earth revolves around the Sun – this is a scientific statement, but not a mathematical one.

      It’s mathematically true that there are no solutions for x^n + y^n = z^n other than (0, 0, 0) for n > 3 (Fermat’s Last Theorem) – this is a mathematical statement, and a scientific one. The sense in which it is a scientific truth is the sense in which the proof is a reproducible deduction of this statement from other, simpler (but also true) statements.

      All mathematical statements are scientific statements.
      Not all scientific statements are mathematical statements.
      All scientific & mathematical statements are philosophical statements.
      (this is all within this notional framework that I’m constructing)

  2. […] my previous post I put forward the notion that “Religion > Philosophy > Science > […]

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