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Protosciences are fields of study that existed before the modern scientific method was established[note 1] before developing into proper science. They were often concerned as much with occultism or religion as with natural phenomena. Continuing to hold belief in a protoscience that has been discredited in favor of a modern scientific field is considered pseudoscience. In a broader sense, much of science could also fall under the term "protoscience". If a field of study is consistent with existing science, but has not yet been tested rigorously by the scientific method, because it is still in its formative years, then that protoscience (read: not-yet-science) is to be distinguished from pseudoscience (read: never-science). Technically speaking, all science could be a protoscience: you never know if tomorrow, something new will be found which utterly shakes the foundations of science and creates a paradigm shift (kind of like what radium did a century ago).
Examples of past protosciences include
- alchemy, which developed to chemistry
- astrology, which developed to astronomy
- herbalism and folk remedies, which developed to pharmacology
- alienism, which developed to psychology (although Thomas Kuhn would argue that psychology is still a protoscience)
- Marxism, which developed to sociology
The theory of hypnotism or "animal magnetism" was, for instance, never developed into a science (although modern neurologists do study hypnosis).
Modern protosciences may or may not include things such as artificial intelligence, ball lightning, quantum computing, string theory, astrobiology and memetics. By definition, we can only speculate on what these will lead to, as future scientific discoveries must be unknown in the present. Stay tuned.
- We can't say for sure when exactly, but a good guess would be 1620 with Francis Bacon's Novum Organum.