Saturday, August 27

Thoughts on the philosophy of science.

According to John Gribbin ( the era of the scientific age proper took root from the 16th century.

Up until that time philosophy was regarded as science but thereafter they tended to go their separate ways. But the ancients determined long before that many things lie outside physics so they coined the Greek term meta- physics (translated as outside of physics) for discussions reliant on intuition, reasoning and mysticism. There was no burden to determine truth in the scientific way we consider appropriate in modernity.

Hence the ancient pre Hellenic Greek philosophers concluded that there can only be divine truths that are unchangeable and unknowable by humanity. They used metaphor and myth to make sense of their existence. 

This post seeks to talk about the philosophy of science to invite discussions as to how far we should go in placing our faith in science and whether or not meta - physics remains relevant

A pivotal figure ushering in the scientific age

Thomas Bacon introduced the inductive methodology to scientific theory. Previously scientific analysis was limited to the purely deductive mode of reasoning. 

Bacon's approach as the first empiricist might be viewed as a bottom up approach. Think of it as analogous to busy bee observations peering at the activity within the hive to validate a scientific theory pertinent to the phenomenon observed. Hence science expanded under the heading of empiricism. He also maintained some truths as a matter of reason (logical analysis and proof) and others belong to faith and so we can embrace the concept of double truth.  

Bacon also introduced the idea of the Idols of the Tribe, Cave. Marketplace and Theatre. 

Moving into the modern era

The philosophy of science became increasingly involved as to how we see the phenomenal world and the reasoning as to understand it and or justify a particular view. Fields such as psychology and the social sciences increasingly came to rely on scientifically based underpinnings.

But firstly one needs to define the current terms used.   


The logical progression of a statement representing a particular view of a subject matter or related phenomenon. Examples are the origins of a particular type of artistic movement or media studies in terms of how it applies in history e.g. Cubism , the body of knowledge that applies to stresses in engineering - the construction of buildings and bridges and so on. In the modern era many theories provide only a skeleton outline whilst others lack any credibility. 

Laws, Hypotheses and Scientism 

Recurring patterns in nature have formed the basis of natural laws which have become absorbed into a scientific law which then provides an explanation-  such as the laws of thermodynamics. 

Hypotheses comprise a logical and feasible explanation but lack the evidentiary validation involving observations and testing. Once the hypothesis can be validated it can be considered a scientific theory.  

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the so-called 'logical positivists', posited science as the only true system of knowledge and regarded metaphysics as redundant since it was unable to be verified.  

Scientific theory 

Hence the generally accepted distinction is it is more carefully constructed and specific to the subject matter. Examples might include the theory on the origins of the species, the behaviours of atomic and subatomic particles or specific brain disorders and so on. For a scientific theory to be acceptable it must be verifiable by observations. But certain philosophers thought it must be more demanding.  

Philosopher Karl Popper (1902-1994) and Physicist Lee Smollin (1955) propose further qualification.   

Popper proposed one should exclude those theories which are irrefutable- e.g. where empirical evidence can’t be refuted. That rules out psychoanalysis and irrefutable empirical data confined to a specific analysis.

His basis was that logically these truths are confined to the data examined and not supportive of an overall theory.

Lee Smolin favoured virtuosity- ‘The Trouble with Physics’, for fundamental physics. 

For Smolin a theory must be both capable of being proven experimentally and also make a new prediction, to provide an answer that disproves the old theory, whilst ensuring the new theory is verifiable. 

Determining the Truth - as pragmatically seen from different contexts.

The question that arises is whether or not it is possible for two opposing views to be true, given they are seen or talked about in different contexts. Pragmatically can we revert to a truth based on the premise a truthful proposition is one whose outcomes can be demonstrated to be so (true) over time within a designated context.

Provisional truths are also universal truths  

For instance the general theory of relativity may one day be proven to be flawed if it was found that objects can routinely exceed the speed of light.

Similarly Darwin’s theory of evolution, doesn’t correlate to rapid cellular development given the immense complexity arising from a set of DNA instructions.   

Furthermore species adaptations can rapidly occur. By way of example Okanee salmon spawning in Canada - this species used to reach the ocean in their life cycle (and were huge), but for decades dams have prevented that - they now live their lives in Kootenay Lake and spawn to their birth-streams in the third year of life - turning from silver to the red and green in a soon-to-spawn-and-die fashion.

In economics, their elegant theories are routinely hijacked by our non-rational human responses.    

In a pure programming experiment physicist Stephen Wolfram- “A New Kind of Science and creator of Mathematica’, carried out thousands of experiments to prove creative patterns kept evolving from simple instructions, only possible in modernity given the use of very powerful computers. Programs replicated simple instructions (cellular data as he called it) which continued to evolve in a changing creative pattern when you would expect to see the same pattern repeated. Those changing patterns continued on over billions of cellular data and gave appearances of plants and other life forms even though the basic instructions remained were repeated.    

The necessity to hold provisional truths to be true to obtain the greatest good

Whilst one acknowledges the provisional nature of scientific truth those engaged won’t be effective unless the supporting empirical evidence is acted upon. For instance a good psychologist has to believe in the empirical data underpinning his profession if he or she is to be positively helpful towards patients just as the same principles apply to most professions. The same principle applies to most professions reliant on validated empirical data. 

Hence, notwithstanding the provisional nature of these truths, they are reliable enough not to invite hesitation and to feel comfortable to try alternatives if one type of treatment is unsuccessful. As far as medical science is concerned you treat the patient first and apply the treatment as a secondary process. This sees medical science more of an art than a science in practice.    

But when it comes down to the more serious medical issues nothing beats hard-nosed science as opposed to naturalism.

Modern day changes in the emphasis of philosophy

Given the undeniable success of modern day sciences beginning with Bacon it is hardly surprising that both a materialistic and fact dependent philosophical movement began to place emphasis on logic. Hence logical form and essences took over in philosophy.  In the form of privileged representations.

So, the use of intuition and concepts have fallen by the wayside in philosophy. 

The modern day appeal of science to reject metaphysics is, amongst other things, principally due to a deemed lack of self-correcting aspect of science. That may be more of a perception than a reality.  

In defence of Meta –physics   

In defending metaphysics one might turn for inspiration to the pre Hellenic Greeks ( like Nietzsche ) who proposed that only the GODs possessed divine truth- considered both unchangeable and unknowable.  From a Theistic perspective one might also believe only absolute Truth with capital T is the province of GOD.  

So that earthly truth could only be tied to mystical experiences and in the interpretations of myths and in storytelling- a feeling to be in harmony with GOD(s) or not evident in your emotions. I think there is an argument to say our ever increasing creative memories remain dependent on the narrative that defines our inescapable sense of self.   

The search for meaning and our curiosity continues to underpin modern day existence, just as we still relish those stories we tell each other to help make sense of our existence. 

Conclusion and questions  

Ultimately science is aiming to find the truth and there are many that believe our faith is well foundered in the evidence based criteria and there is no room for any other methodology signalling the death of meta-physics.     

1.       So my question is: Is metaphysics no longer of any use in modernity? 

2.       Do you believe science is a totally rational science? 

3.       Is pure observation really possible? 

4.       Will the social sciences survive into the future to remain as sciences?  

5.       Can idols of the mind intrude into scientific thinking? 

6.       Do some scientists have such an emotional investment in their theories their desire will be to protect their reputations above anything else?   

7.       Are some truths a matter of reason (logical analysis and proof) and others of faith? Or should all truths be subject to the same standard? 

8.       Is it true there is a necessity to hold provisional truths to be true to obtain the greatest good?   

9.       Do you agree with the proposal by Karl Popper to exclude the social sciences and empiricism based theories from scientific theories? 

10.   Can we accept a pragmatic concept of truth – does it hold any merit? 

11.   Should we limit ourselves to just science?  


You are invited to provide answers to any of these questions which will be greatly appreciated. 


Wednesday, August 17

Double Truth

It is true that seemingly valid religious truth arising from revelation might differ from a philosophical perspective based on reason (as separate sources of knowledge)  to provide contradictory truths without detriment to either.

In other words the question is:  Are some truths a matter of reason (logical analysis and proof) and others of faith? Or should all truths be subject to the same standard. 

Here is my response and your answer would be most welcome.

Truth as seen in different contexts.  

I think it is possible for two opposing views to be true, given they are seen or talked about in different contexts.  In other words there is a relativity to truth depending on the context.

Perceptions better served by a pragmatic truth concept  

In relation to their being some truths more dependent on analysis and proof versus one taken on faith  I think that’s more a matter of one’s perception, as the dividing line between the secular versus spiritual (faith) is blurred. 

Rather, my suggestion is to revert to a pragmatic truth based on the premise a truthful proposition is one whose outcomes can be demonstrated to be so (true ) over time within a designated context.

The problem with the idea of a double truth proposition

So that, as I see it, the problem with that idea of a double truth  (which proposes we separate scientific truth from revelation as in faith ) is to ignore Truths relativity. That is a truth with a small t if you will and not a large T for absolute truth that doesn’t exist. Of course there are many things we are entitled to take for granted that are true because we have faith in the underlying science that has proven them to be true to become integral to our existence.. 

Provisional Truths apply universally 

The scientist holds true to provisional truths, trusting in the works of those whom he has come to rely upon until such time as those propositions can be proven to be contrary to previously held beliefs. In a religious sense one might argue its faith based premise involves a leap of faith unconnected to rational thinking but it is nevertheless only sustained if outcomes can be demonstrated to be true over periods of time. Similarly such beliefs are only provisional as our beliefs will change over our lifetime or at the very least into the next generation, just as they do for society, to rediscover or renounce what is believed to be the truth by each subsequent generation.

All truths must be subject to the same standard.  

The same rigors of assessment need to apply equally to both although the scientific method is obviously more tangibly evident as in utilizing a rigorous analysis reliant on observation to provisionally verify a theory. But Science and the scientific methodology to ascertain the truth and religion in its quest for the truth are the tools for philosophers and not their masters. 

Monday, August 8

Neoplatonism and Infinity

For anyone interested in diving more deeply into the fascinating thought world of Neoplatonism this link as per below provides a comprehensive insight. The inspiration for Neoplatonism and its correlation to Hinduism, may have arisen from visits by the ancient Greeks who you may recall were a seafaring and mercantile nation. But maybe these ideas just arose independently. Neoplatonism died out in the 7th century as the ecclesiastical scholarly advancements reverted to Muslim scholars (enhanced by translation to Latin of the works of Aristotle) before it’s returned to its more fundamental roots. But Neoplatonism returned in the early part of the 20th century emergent in Theosophy.

But just as today's modern day scholars may become smitten with Neoplatonism so can one if you are prepared to delve deeply into those ancient abstract ideas, that to my mind represents an amazingly modern day way of thinking relating to the concept of the Great Chain of Being. Their ideas acknowledge the illusion of time. My question is, will we in time be able to ask Dr Albert Einstein what he thinks about it ?  

Here is a quote from him that was included in a letter to the family following the death of Michael Besso included in the book ‘Disturbing the Universe” by Freeman Dyson.

Einstein, said: Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me.

That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.