Philosophy of science-the first two and a half millennia.

How does science work? And what's all this about quantum mechanics?

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Re: Philosophy of science-the first two and a half millennia.

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Dubious wrote: Mon Sep 24, 2018 1:18 am
I think most scientists have no problem acknowledging that you can't get to a theory without an hypothesis to light its fire. Can't see why it would need another term to denote a difference already apparent.
A few newly observed and unexplained phenomena ain't so bad either to light that proverbial Feuer.
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Re: Philosophy of science-the first two and a half millennia.

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-1- wrote: Mon Sep 24, 2018 7:56 pm
Dubious wrote: Mon Sep 24, 2018 1:18 am
I think most scientists have no problem acknowledging that you can't get to a theory without an hypothesis to light its fire. Can't see why it would need another term to denote a difference already apparent.
A few newly observed and unexplained phenomena ain't so bad either to light that proverbial Feuer.
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Re: Philosophy of science-the first two and a half millennia.

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-1- wrote: Mon Sep 24, 2018 7:53 pmFicken, I love the German language. You can't write gibberish worth shit until you at least partially master the Grundregel des Worterbucher von Hermannstadt.
Easy Tiger, that smacks of schadenfreude.
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Re: Philosophy of science-the first two and a half millennia.

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Dubious wrote: Mon Sep 24, 2018 1:18 am I think most scientists have no problem acknowledging that you can't get to a theory without an hypothesis to light its fire. Can't see why it would need another term to denote a difference already apparent.
I think most scientist would acknowledge that there is no method to the madness. Any structure/formalism one finds is a posteriori.

This is where I side with Feyerabend's "Against method",
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Re: Philosophy of science-the first two and a half millennia.

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c
Dubious wrote: Sun Sep 23, 2018 3:15 amThat's the point I was trying to make; that evolution has long ceased to be theory and shouldn't be preceded by "the theory of...", being a misnomer.
I concur. In "neo-Darwinian xxxx of evolution" the xxxx must forthwith be replaced with, by consensus of my Church's Ladies Knitting Group, "scientists-spawned evil manipulation of facts arranged by the Devil himself" in each literary, scientific and socio-ethical journal, past present or future,
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Re: Philosophy of science-the first two and a half millennia.

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So anyway, the editors are considering a revised version of the OP, but mentioned that what they really need are short biographies for the feature Brief Lives. They asked whether I could do one on Thomas Kuhn, so I bashed one out (Oi! Stop sniggering!) and submitted it for consideration. Below is the version I sent, which even if it is accepted will need a bit of polishing, and it might be of interest for some who are thinking of writing to see how this publication lark plays out.


Thomas Kuhn Brief lives

In 1962 Thomas Kuhn published a book from which the prevailing philosophy of science has not recovered, and probably never will. Generally it was assumed that the only history that was relevant to science was recent. Science was believed to be a relentless march towards the truth, and that every innovation was an advance. Scientists may have been standing on the shoulders of giants, but every change was assumed to be taking us higher. Ironically, Kuhn did what many philosophers of science were recommending that scientists do and actually looked at the evidence. What he saw was that far from being the steady accumulation of objective truth about the way the world functions, the history of science is punctuated by moments when the prevailing consensus was completely shattered. His first book, The Copernican Revolution, detailed the events and causes of one of the most graphic examples. It was this general model that he expanded on in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

Life

Thomas Kuhn was born on July 18 1922, in Cincinnati. His father, Samuel, a veteran of World War I was an industrial engineer and investment consultant, whose wife Minette, née Strook, was a graduate of Vasser College, a private Liberal Arts College, who wrote for and edited progressive publications. Both parents were active in left-wing politics and in keeping with their radical outlook, Thomas was educated at various progressive schools which developed independent thinking, rather than adhering to a traditional curriculum. Perhaps because of this, at the age of seven, Thomas was still barely able to read and write, so his father took it into his own hands to bring him up to speed. The frequent moves may have made it difficult for Thomas to establish long term relationships, particularly with women, for which his mother prescribed a course in psychoanalysis. Hating his counsellor, who frequently fell asleep during sessions, Kuhn cured himself by marrying Kathryn Muhs in 1948 who, like his mother, was a graduate of Vassar College. They had three children; Sarah, Elizabeth, and Nathaniel, before getting divorced in 1978. Three years later Kuhn married Jehane Barton Burns.

His less than prodigious literacy notwithstanding, Kuhn was an outstanding student with a particular interest in maths and physics, and was admitted to Harvard in 1940. America entered World War II in Kuhn’s second year as an undergraduate and after gaining a BSc in physics on 1943 with the highest honours, Kuhn joined the Radio Research Laboratory which had been set up to develop countermeasures to enemy radar systems. This took him initially to Britain and later into liberated France and Germany itself, to examine captured equipment first hand.

On his return to Harvard, Kuhn continued studying physics as the most convenient route to gaining a doctorate, which he achieved in 1949, though his commitment to physics was dwindling as his interest in philosophy was grew. While working on his PhD, he was invited to teach a course in the History of Science to undergraduates and it was while preparing for this that he had the insight that was to inspire his most influential work.

One of the key moments in the development of his ideas was his study of Aristotle. Since the view of science at the time was that it is accumulative; Kuhn went looking for the ancestral physics expecting to find the foundations on which Galileo, Newton et al had built. Instead, Kuhn was baffled to discover that Aristotle’s understanding of physics was, from a modern point of view, complete nonsense. Struggling to comprehend how someone so wrong could be so revered, Kuhn realised that in order to appreciate Aristotle, he had to understand the context in which Aristotle had been working. In doing so, he drew a picture of science that was completely different to most contemporary analyses.

The scientific method.

In the middle of the 20th century, philosophy of science was almost exclusively focussed on defining the scientific method. The assumption was that ‘science’ is an objective ideal that is independent of human foibles, and that if we could just describe its characteristics, then everyone would have a template for doing proper science. The debate was largely between the logical positivists and Karl Popper. Both took the view that science was a rational endeavour; that scientists would obediently follow where the evidence led them. The difference was that broadly speaking the logical positivists stuck to the traditional view that science was the accumulation of ‘facts’ and the refinement of mathematical models that accounted for those facts with ever increasing accuracy. Their distinctive feature was they insisted that science should stick strictly to observable facts. In a nutshell, the ‘verification principle’ the logical positivists advocated, demanded that anything that could not be supported by empirical evidence was metaphysics and had no place in science. One problem, which in fairness the logical positivists were well aware of, is that no amount of empirical evidence can prove a scientific claim. The classic example is that a million white swans do not prove that every swan is white. Popper’s innovation was to point out that it only takes one black swan to prove they’re not, and that therefore, as an endeavour seeking certainty, science should commit itself to proving theories wrong. So while the evidence could show you what was likely to be true, or definitely false, nearly everyone agreed that the defining feature of science was a commitment to looking at that evidence.

The Structure

By looking at the historical evidence, Kuhn believed that he could see a pattern in the data, which in part is what physicists are trained to do. According to Kuhn, most of science is guided by a set of principles and core beliefs about which there is a general consensus. The word that Kuhn used for this intellectual framework was ‘paradigm’; for instance, prior to the Copernican revolution, Aristotle’s model of the universe, which put Earth at the centre, was accepted for two thousand years. Some of the data was puzzling, but scientists and mathematicians, notably Ptolemy, worked within the paradigm to solve those puzzles. During that time, astronomers were able to plot and predict the positions of the heavenly bodies with an accuracy that is remarkable, especially given that technological advances, not least the telescope, have made the model demonstrably false; but for the scientific purposes of the time, it worked. Working within the bounds of such a paradigm is what Kuhn called ‘normal science’ and in that way, the practise of medieval astronomers resembles the models of the scientific method that most philosophers of science were trying to describe.

It’s not just an historical problem though. One of Kuhn’s early essays was called The Essential Tension, in which he discusses the conflicting pulls of the desire to innovate and the conservatism needed to do normal science. For every Einstein, there are thousands of scientists who, as you read this, are doing the routine calculations that keep our modern world ticking along. There are scientists trying to solve puzzles like dark matter and dark energy; they don’t, contrary to Popper’s recommendation, abandon a theory because of one black swan, and all of this science is done within the paradigm that Einstein created. Then of course, there are also scientists trying to develop different paradigms, which aim to explain exactly the same empirical evidence in innovative ways and, the hope is, account for the puzzles satisfactorily. There are, for instance, many alternative theories which seek to incorporate gravity of which String Theory and Loop quantum gravity are just two examples.

Among the most controversial aspects of Kuhn’s model is that different paradigms are ‘incommensurable’, that is to say that in extreme cases there can be no meaningful dialogue between scientists who hold different perspectives. In an attempt to demonstrate this he referred to Gestalt psychology, according to which people create a complete picture of the world that is a context in which they can operate; in some ways analogous to a scientific paradigm. That the same evidence can inspire different world views is sometimes illustrated by the duck/rabbit illusion. The point Kuhn was making is that if you are talking about a duck, you are going to make no sense to someone looking at a rabbit. In a similar way, String Theorists are looking at the universe and seeing eleven dimensions, whereas according to Loop Quantum Gravity, there are only four.

This raises another issue that people criticised. How do you decide whether you are in fact looking at a duck, or a rabbit? Kuhn argued that just as your worldview is influenced by your experience, your scientific paradigm is determined in part by the education you have had. This led to accusations of relativism, which Kuhn tried to counter by saying that there are objective criteria that can be applied:
1. How accurately a theory agrees with the evidence.
2. That it is consistent within itself and other theories.
3. It should explain more than just the phenomenon that it was designed for.
4. The simplest explanation is the best; apply Occam’s Razor, in other words.
5. It should make predictions that come true.
However, he had to concede that there is no objective way to establish which of those criteria is the most important, and that scientists would make their own mind up for subjective reasons, so that “When scientists must choose between competing theories, two men fully committed to the same list of criteria for choice may nevertheless reach different conclusions.” Eventually though, according to Kuhn, a new, revolutionary model is found that looks promising and everyone settles down to developing it, solving puzzles, in the way of normal science.

The reception

Many philosophers and physical scientists were initially sceptical, hostile even, to the depiction of scientists as normal people who held opinions and made decisions for idiosyncratic reasons. Social scientists, on the other hand, were inspired by The Structure of Scientific Revolutions to develop their discipline. Prior to publication, the most influential sociologist of science was Robert Merton. His main focus had been on why scientific theories are rejected; after The Structure, sociologists turned to why theories are believed.

In a way, Kuhn’s masterpiece was a product of exactly the sort of process it was describing. While ‘normal’ philosophers of science, the logical positivists and Popper, were working within a paradigm of what science was about, there had been an accumulation of troubling anomalies. Scientists like the Ludwik Fleck and Michael Polyani were pointing out that in their experience, science didn’t actually work in the way that philosophers assumed. Kuhn acknowledged his debt to both men and he also quotes Max Planck: “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”


For better or worse, Kuhn’s opus changed the way that science is viewed. It is no longer straightforwardly an ideal that people should aspire to, rather it is something that is shaped by ordinary, and a few extraordinary people. Kuhn spent much of his subsequent career elucidating and dealing with the fallout, it is a major part of his legacy that so does everyone else in the business. “When reading the works of an important thinker,” he said “look first for the apparent absurdities in the text and ask yourself how a sensible person could have written them.” This is now what sociologists and most philosophers of science are compelled to do.

The end

Thomas Kuhn retired in 1991, age 69. In 1994 he was diagnosed with cancer of the throat and lungs. He died two years later, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, aged 73.
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Re: Philosophy of science-the first two and a half millennia.

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I have found myself often disagreeing with Kuhn on the 'incommensurability' aspect.

For example Newton would think Einstein was a lunatic, but Einstein would be able to recognise Newton's perspective is just a subset of his own, and he should be able to 'translate' his ideas in a way that Newton would understand them. After all the Einstein's field equations produce the exact same results as Newton's equations here on Earth, only with far greater precision.

More often than not a new paradigm is more encompassing than the last one. It is more general because It has to be able to explain all the phenomena the previous paradigm managed to explain/predict without contradicting any of the existing empirical evidence AND bring something new to the table. Otherwise it is of far lesser utility to the broader society. After all science is a pragmatic institution. And because of that - prediction is the revealed preference of scientists. Of course - a theory that predicts AND explains is a winner!

One example I can think of is the polyamorous relationship between Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science. Over the last century or so the three fields seem to exist in a symbiosis. Whenever any two in the triad get stuck - the third always comes to the rescue. And so if one wishes to influence their close neighbours, then one must learn to speak their language. One must overcome the 'incommensurability'. Or let Planck's principle run its course.
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Re: Philosophy of science-the first two and a half millennia.

Post by uwot »

TimeSeeker wrote: Thu Sep 27, 2018 11:53 pmI have found myself often disagreeing with Kuhn on the 'incommensurability' aspect.
What did you think you were doing at the time?
TimeSeeker wrote: Thu Sep 27, 2018 11:53 pmFor example Newton would think Einstein was a lunatic, but Einstein would be able to recognise Newton's perspective is just a subset of his own, and he should be able to 'translate' his ideas in a way that Newton would understand them. After all the Einstein's field equations produce the exact same results as Newton's equations here on Earth, only with far greater precision.
Well, the difference between them, in terms of paradigms, is that Newton was content to believe in 'spooky action at a distance', and Einstein wasn't. Einstein's 4D spacetime is the rubbery stuff that fills Newton's empty space.
TimeSeeker wrote: Thu Sep 27, 2018 11:53 pmMore often than not a new paradigm is more encompassing than the last one. It is more general because It has to be able to explain all the phenomena the previous paradigm managed to explain/predict without contradicting any of the existing empirical evidence AND bring something new to the table. Otherwise it is of far lesser utility to the broader society. After all science is a pragmatic institution. And because of that - prediction is the revealed preference of scientists. Of course - a theory that predicts AND explains is a winner!
That's pretty much in line with Kuhn's 5 criteria for objectivity, although there is such a thing as 'Kuhn loss', which is basically the explanatory powers which some previous paradigms have that their replacements don't.
TimeSeeker wrote: Thu Sep 27, 2018 11:53 pmOne example I can think of is the polyamorous relationship between Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science. Over the last century or so the three fields seem to exist in a symbiosis. Whenever any two in the triad get stuck - the third always comes to the rescue.
Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science are not in themselves paradigms unless, for example you argue that the universe is made of measurable forces, some sort of stuff, or it's all a simulation respectively; any one of which can be perfectly consistent with the evidence.
TimeSeeker wrote: Thu Sep 27, 2018 11:53 pmAnd so if one wishes to influence their close neighbours, then one must learn to speak their language.
That would probably be more effective than battering them with links to wikipedia.
TimeSeeker wrote: Thu Sep 27, 2018 11:53 pmOne must overcome the 'incommensurability'. Or let Planck's principle run its course.
What usually happens is that people develop a paradigm, or Gestalt if you're into psychology, or Weltanschauung, if you're really into foreign words, and because it makes sense to them, they boorishly insist that it is true. There's plenty of half wits peddling some religious hokum, or non-duality, simulation, holographic projection, many universe, you name it; there's more unfalsifiable theories than you can shake a stick at, and there is no shortage of clowns who will call you an idiot for not accepting their fruitloopery.
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Re: Philosophy of science-the first two and a half millennia.

Post by uwot »

Anyway; here's what the Ed said about the Kuhn piece:
"Hi Will, that was quick! I had a brief look, and what I saw looks good to me. It will be a few months before we can get round to it, though, as there are already a couple that have been waiting in the queue and we should do them first. So we're probably looking sometime in the spring. You'll know exactly when because we'll send you proofs beforehand."
So it looks like it might make it in, but if you have read it, you will agree that it needs a bit of tarting up first. The proofs will probably bounce back and forth a couple of times until everyone is happy and then in it goes.
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Re: Philosophy of science-the first two and a half millennia.

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Here is a brainfart born from my musings/encounters in the last few weeks. In the word of Niehls Bohr:
There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature. We must be clear that when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images and establishing mental connections.
Language is not adequate to express experiences. The moment you are speaking of experiences, you become like Wittgenstein, if all his other work was total garbage, this may be the one thing he did get right:
I never actually hit the target with my words, but if you watch around where I’m shooting, you’ll begin to see that I’m always aiming at the same moving target, and you’ll get an idea of what I’m actually trying to say.
It is ironic that both Philosophers AND Physicists are laying claim that all they are doing is figuring out what they can SAY about the world.
So how do we decide what language to say it in?

Philosophers say it in English. Physicists say it in Mathematics. Logocentrism is both a blessing and a curse. Language is all we have. To describe the world, to communicate our knowledge about the world. And then this question struck me:

What is the ontology of language? Logic.

So lets focus on Language then and how it relates to Kuhn's paradigm shift (this is my observation/hypothesis):

For the triad of Physics/Mathematics/Computer science every paradigm shift corresponds to a shift in language.

We didn’t have system dynamics until we had calculus (Temporal logic)
We didn’t have Statistical mechanics until we had probability ( Modal logic)
We didn’t have computation until we had programming languages (Chomsky hierarchy) AND Lambda calculus (Church-Turing).
We didn’t have information theory without entropy and probability (Shannon) and information theory is basically formalized empiricism.

And we didn’t have Mathematical Proof theory without Lambda calculus and Type theory. The Curry-Howard isomorphism tells us that mathematical proofs are isomorphic to computer programs. And Quantum Physics is starting to hint at us that reality is ‘computational’ in nature.

If we are going to be describing reality OR communicating knowledge we need language. And logic is the ontology of language.
And ontology is reality. Language is reality?

At this point I might upset a lot of scientists if I pointed a finger at John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Language is power ;)

And I think language shifts in scientific community closely correlate with paradigm shifts. And I am not sure which one is the causal variable.
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Re: Philosophy of science-the first two and a half millennia.

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TimeSeeker wrote:
If we are going to be describing reality OR communicating knowledge we need language
And logic is the ontology of language. And ontology is reality. Language is reality
I do not think that you can describe logic in relation to ontology although it is a form of language
And ontology cannot be used in any scientific sense because science is strictly ontologically neutral

And to describe language as reality is to confuse the map with the territory which should always be avoided
The laws of physics are written in mathematical language but it does not mean the Universe is mathematical

We describe reality using language but we could just as easily observe reality without using any language at all
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Re: Philosophy of science-the first two and a half millennia.

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surreptitious57 wrote: Sat Sep 29, 2018 5:17 am I do not think that you can describe logic in relation to ontology although it is a form of language
That is not what I meant. What I am asking is "What is the ontology of language itself?". I am hinting at linguistics.

BUT! There is a problem. What language do you use to speak ABOUT language/linguistics. Your conception of language is based on language itself. That is circular reasoning! At best - your conception of language is based on USING language. You've just made the circle bigger.

One of my favorite Feynman quotes is "What I cannot create I do not understand" and so I ask: can a linguist create language?

Computer Science students get to solve this problem in practice when they have to study compilers. You are asked to:
1. Invent an arbitrary language (lets call it L). You get to decide its grammar/rules.
2. Write an interpreter for your language (obviously - you have to do that in another language). So the grammar of L is defined in Python.
3. Using the interpreter you made in #2 above write a interpreter for L IN L. e.g the grammar of L is defined AND interpreted in L.

That is not circular - that is recursive! Self-definition! Creation.

Having done that your conception of language is now based on having created a language. It is empirical.
This is so fundamentally important that I hadn't recognized it until 2 hours ago. I think this is the root-cause of Logocentrism.

Try and do that in English!
surreptitious57 wrote: Sat Sep 29, 2018 5:17 am And ontology cannot be used in any scientific sense because science is strictly ontologically neutral
Physics is an ATTEMPT to describe ontology in the language of Mathematics.

It is only as 'neutral' as the language corresponds to reality (this is the correspondence theory of truth).
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Re: Philosophy of science-the first two and a half millennia.

Post by surreptitious57 »

TimeSeeker wrote:
What language do you use to speak ABOUT language / linguistics. Your conception of language is based on language itself
That is circular reasoning! At best - your conception of language is based on USING language. You have just made the circle bigger
Thought existed before language ever did because it is more primitive and less complex
To then say that conception of language is based on language itself is demonstrably false

Conception is another word for thought so to initially conceive of a language does not imply actual language
Language is either written or spoken but conception or thought is neither of these because it is much simpler

You can conceive the beginning of a new language in your mind without actually writing it down or saying it out loud
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Re: Philosophy of science-the first two and a half millennia.

Post by Duncan Butlin »

Science can go wrong by omission as well as by contradicting the evidence. Consider the ‘force field’ that surrounds every man as he goes about his daily business. It is very important to the conduct of social affairs and yet the social ‘sciences’ have all but ignored it. This has had disastrous consequences for the balance of power between the sexes in Western society. Science has performed far worse than the religions have in this regard, which is saying something. Rational argument has been quite useless in response to the #MeToo movement, for example, whereas some religions have made some useful contributions. Please consider the following brochure on the subject: Science is Worse than Religion
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Re: Philosophy of science-the first two and a half millennia.

Post by surreptitious57 »

TimeSeeker wrote:
Physics is an ATTEMPT to describe ontology in the language of Mathematics
Science is the study of observable phenomena and nothing else. And therefore has nothing to say about the ontological
nature of reality. It has nothing to say about reality full stop. ONLY observable phenomena [ the two are not the same ]
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