Philosophy of Science

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Without Confucius, Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn, would we have the nonstick frypan?

Key concepts in the philosophy of science, include "methodology", "paradigm", "falsification", "naïve empiricism" and "indeterminacy". The specific meaning of each of these terms is a matter of on-going discussion, but there is a general consensus within academia that they sound quite nice.

edit Methodology

The philosophy of science is an intrinsically problematic field, if not an outright anomaly, as the very mention of science and philosophy in a single sentence raises inevitable concerns about illicit synthesis of disparate findings from the two cultures.

Nonetheless, notable efforts have been made to square this metaphorical circle ever since the days when Socrates unveiled the first methodological quibbles before the world, just as Anaxagoras was assembling the first astrolabe.

Socrates is remembered today as the first true philosopher of science, while Anaxagoras is considered the first naïve empiricist.

edit Noted philosophers

The following philosophers either specialized in the meta-theory of science, or else dabbled with the topic while on holidays:

  • Confucius, who compiled a book of aphorisms on the political philosophy of scientific etiquette,
  • Karl Popper, who wrote on falsifiability and use of search-lights for interrogation,
  • Thomas Kuhn, who studied scientific revolutions,
  • Marquis de Sade, who wrote about the practice of vivisection in home laboratories.

edit Thomas Kuhn's thesis on paradigms

For the religious among us who choose to believe lies, the self-proclaimed experts at Wikipedia have an article about Philosophy of Science.

A notable account of scientific progress is given in Thomas Kuhn's book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

According to Kuhn, a scientific paradigm emerges when a charismatic professor attracts a group of determined followers who proceed to deconstruct (smash up) the laboratories of rival scientists. When there are no more rival labs left to deconstruct, the revolutionaries have to decide what to do next. At this stage, a new charismatic professor often emerges. The old professor's own laboratory may then get ransacked, and the old scientist himself is put on trial for crimes against the humanities.

This is technically known as a paradigm shift, and is really a lot of fun.

edit Popper's falsification theory

According to Karl Popper, a scientific theory can never be proven true. On the contrary, the hallmark of a scientific theory is that it can be falsified -- proven false. The degree of falseness of a scientific theory may be either constant or variable, and is in principle quantifiable by the use of Lie algebra.

How, then, does the category of science differ from the category of fiction? The answer seems to be that all falsehoods are fiction, but only proven falsehoods qualify as science. The popular term "science fiction" is a naïve tautology.

Cat toast

Schrödinger's pussycat paradigm in diagrammatic form.

The relationship between science and falsification is not always fully understood by the critics of scientific claims, such as evolution and global warming. Too often, the critics assume that if they prove evolution (for instance) to be false, they have thereby proven it to be unscientific.

Implicit in any such argument is the misconception that scientific rigor and extravagant fantasy are two different things. Actually the reverse is the case: the theory of evolution is accepted as scientific because it can be rigorously proven false, and often has been.

edit Indeterminacy

In the mid 20th century, Popper's closely-argued work on the role of fantasy in science led to a revolutionary reinterpretation of nuclear physics called quantum mechanical theory.

According to the new paradigm, it is impossible to tell whether a cat is dead or just sleeping, unless you actually pull its tail and see if it meows. This finding is called indeterminacy, was posited on theoretical grounds by Erwin Schrödinger, and was confirmed experimentally by the Marquis de Sade.

edit Critiques of Kuhn and Popper

While the findings of Kuhn and Popper have been widely accepted, they have also been the target of some incisive critiques. A notable instance is Paul Feyeraband, an Austrian-born logician influenced by the Frankfurter school of dialectical philosophy and sausage-making. Feyerabend writes that both Kuhn and Popper "combine faulty hermeneutics with obscurantist rhetoric and nineteenth-century idealism. They represent bourgeois semiology at its worst." In short, he thinks they both suck.

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