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Overview of Science

This is a rough overview of science that we'll be covering in C1, mainly the scientific method, the flaws in it and its epistemic values etc.

dominic choa

on 27 April 2010

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Transcript of Overview of Science

Overview of Science Background: rise in modern science parallels the progress of enlightenment.
Man's changing viewpoint that he is the centre of the universe and the measure of all things translates to his desire to seek knowledge of the physical world to enable him to manipulate the physical world to suit his wants/needs. Philosophy Natural Philosophy Natural Sciences Science Physics
Biology Natural Sciences vs Supernatural vs

Social sciences Science can be distinguished from pseudo-science as it is falsifiable- can be proven wrong. Sigmund Freud
Psychoanalysis and psychology Scientific method Certainty?? Category of Knowledge: these questions are now under the purview of science:
a) How did the universe begin (religion)?
b) How do you treat a fever (folk remedies)?
c) What is a rainbow (myth)?

Social Science.
Problem of social science:
scientists are studying the participants' accounts of their own thoughts.
Free will involved.
Observer effect. Why is science the dominant cognitive paradigm? Since the Age of Enlightenment, science has arguable been the most effective way of explaining the world. It works.
It self-regulates.
It is better than the alternatives (religion, myth) Better? By what yardsticks?
Usefulness? Certainty? Before Science, it was truth by authority Criticisms of Science (problems with scientific method): Selectivity Expectations Some observations have to be omitted Implications? The theories derived may be false/incomplete as the parts that we have omitted may cause/ have some correlation with the phenomena. Scientists often have commercial interests, so they may be under great stress to prove their theories correct. This may lead to bias when conducting the experiments/interpreting the data as scientists may alter/omit data to fit their theories. For example, they may ignore frequent anomalies which may indicate to them that the theory is false. Implications?
Science loses its epistemic certainty.
However, false theories are usually exposed by fellow scientists when published in science journals. This is linked to the aspect of science that it has a self-regulating mechanism. Observer Effect Process of observing the phenomena (instruments used) may affect the thing being observed. These changes may be minute in some cases, but the problem still remains and the reliability of the scientific method is decreased. Example: Measuring the resistivity of a material.
The ammeter used to measure the current is not perfect in the sense that it has no resistance itself. Thus, it would add to the overall resistance of the circuit (however minute) and hence our evaluation/conclusion would be affected. Expert Seeing Experts (people with
nowledge and experience
in a particular field). Example: Ruy Lopez (chess opening)
s a normal chessboard
(worse still, pieces of wood). Confirmation Bias When you have a hypothesis, you tend to want to prove it right. Experiments might be designed such that they only examine factors which match your bias (linked to selectivity and expectations) This is often caused when the order of the scientific method is jumbled up (when theory comes before experimentation etc). Background Assumptions Scientists are supposed to observe, hypothesize, experiment, and then create a theory: in reality, they almost always have a theory first. Closely linked to confirmation bias. Under-Determination From a finite set of observations, we make conclusions that we feel fit everything/ reality. This can't be solved by increasing the number of observations as the possible number of observations are infinite. Link to Occam's Razor: when we have >2 theories, we should choose the more simple one. His exact words were: 'entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity. However, there are counter-examples to this. For example, when our observations are limited/wrong. One example would be the discovery of Neptune. Neptune was the only planet to be discovered by theory as scientists noted that Uranus' orbit did not fit their laws on planetary motion. Instead of scrapping their theory in totality (which is what falsification posits), scientists (or astronomers) hypothesized that there was another planet (which was later discovered to be Neptune) whose gravitational pull affected Uranus' orbit. Thus, they began searching for this planet and managed to find it where it was postulated to be. Karl Popper & Falsification Popper defined science as knowledge/theories/laws that can be falsified (proven to be false). With this demarcation, scientists and philosophers have argued that fields such as astrology (horoscope) and acupuncture (qi and yin and yang) should not be accorded such high levels of trust as they are not scientific in nature (and thus cannot be claim to be science hence it cannot enjoy the certainty that comes with scientific knowledge). They argue that astrology cannot be falsified (how can we say that something like 'you may/should [these modal verbs leave room for the non-occurrence of the said event] experience a improvement in your love life this month' is false? And, for that matter, has anyone ever seen/touched qi? Can we quantify qi? Main arguments against pseudo-science:
a) vague claims
b) ad hoc exceptions (it didn't work because you haven't washed your amethyst crystal enough)
c) not falsifiable Verifiability (opposite of falsifiability) Science is based on inductive reasoning Popper traded usefulness for epistemic certainty (more in notes). Problems with Induction:
According to Hume's problem of induction,
we have no good reason for believing in science (inductive reasoning).
What works/is now may not be in the future. Counter-arguments like it has worked in the past and thus should work again is itself an inductive argument. Or: it is probable true (because it has been found to be true in every occasion in the past so it should still be true in the future) is also an inductive reasoning. Or: we are programmed to rely on inductive reasoning because it is convenient (evolution) falls back on the first argument (because it has been useful so it will continue to be useful; and it is also a naturalistic fallacy: because we tend to rely on inductive reasoning (natural), we therefore (should) rely on inductive reasoning. Abduction (not kidnapping)- inference to best explanation (IBE).
Take the most likely explanation. Link to Occam's razor. Epistemology and the difference from Practicality:
Popper says that scientists should try to prove scientific theory wrong and that the rest of the theories have just not been proven wrong yet. To prove a theory right requires proof of all things at all times (which is quite impossible). To prove a theory wrong, we just need one example which violates it. Link to the Discovery of Neptune and Popper's argument can be countered. Criticisms of Falsification:
It is negative. There are simple too many possible theories out there that are yet to be discovered so it is quite impossible to disprove all the false ones to trim it down neatly to the truth.
It is not pragmatic and therefore not practised. Most scientists set out to prove their theories right to acquire knowledge/theories (linked to previous point on plausibility of verification vs falsification). So it is not in their interest to start disproving theories to find a true theory. Why then, despite all the limitations and flaws inherent in
the scientific method, do we still trust in science?

a) It works nonetheless (usefulness, though again it is problematic if you consider Hume's problem of induction, because it may not always work, which seriously undermines its usefulness [how can something be considered useful if it is useful here today but may not be useful elsewhere sometime else?)
b) It is the best worst method
c) It self-regulates [because of falsifiability] (which is more than can be said for pre-science cognitive paradigms like superstition and religion).
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