Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy of Science’

In 1620 Fracis Bacon published his philosophical work titled Novum Organum which in english translates to “new instrument”. In Novum Organum,  Bacon outlines a new method of logic which replaces syllogism.  As you may know, at the heart of deductive reasoning, the notion of syllogism is used ( I guess most notably by Aristotle) to arrive at the truth by using a combination of facts. In this brief critique, I will discuss how Baconian method is too faulty to describe at least fundamental physical science.

Novum Oraganum

Baconian method is the process of arriving at the truth is by reduction and inductive reasoning. Now, I think Baconian method for the most part is a good pragmatic approach and it works very well for most subfields of science and especially well for biology, chemistry as well as most of physics. However,  the Baconian approach of science is too confining when it comes to explaining the workings of fundamental physics. This is not to say that a fundamental physicists should ignore phenomenas and his reductive tendencies.  Now most scientist I know don’t even think about what they ought to do as a scientists in  philosophical terms. For me I amuse myself once in a while just so that I am distracted from what I do for a little while.

While there may be assumptions in science at first one cannot let these assumptions contradict principles that are known not to violate to theories with remarkable experimental precision as well as mathematical consistencies (such as certain physical symmetry). Usually the assumptions become contradictory with the known principles if they are not robust. At some point, science should produce predictable results, but there is definitely room for constructive imagination in fundamental science and in my opinion it is an important force in our understanding of the universe.

At this point, I just want to give a counterexample which is sufficient to falsify the Baconian system of scientific method. The example that comes to my mind immediately is the Theory of Special relativity and its more general form (which is appropriately but perhaps slightly misleadingly) called the General Theory of Relativity. The theory of relativity was largely a work of great insight by Einstein. Now, one should be aware that there were and will be beautiful theories of nature that just doesn’t fit with how “nature” decided the workings of the universe. It would naïve to claim that Relativity was just a theory of pure thought, but Einstein’s imagination did play a crucial role.

So, imagination has played crucial role in the history of fundamental science and people should be careful not to overly generalize philosophical positions to explain fundamental science.The other common philosophical dogma thats abused way too often is Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn’s work.  That could be a topic for discussion in the future.  Note that at one point in history, there was no distinction between scientists and natural philosopher. Now the bridge is sufficiently large.  I am not really talking about the value of morality in sciences and so on. But as far as reaching “scientific truth” is concerned, it would not be far fetched to say that science guides philosophy as a discipline as oppose to philosophy deciding what science oughts to do.

Read Full Post »