How We Gain Knowledge: Conjecture and Refutation

As discussed in my last post, if science can’t be justified by inductive reasoning, how do we justify it?

Popper’s own epistemology (i.e. theory of how we gain knowledge) is based around conjecture and refutation.
All knowledge is gained by starting with conjecture. Interestingly, inductive “reasoning” does seem to play a role in this. As documented in the Taleb’s book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable we humans seem to be wired for inductive “reasoning.” We see non-existent causes and effects everywhere. Taleb gives these questionable cause/effects a name: narrative fallacies. Taleb spends a lot of time discussing the problems with our built in inductive reasoning. But there is an upside. We easily generate conjectures – mostly bad ones. Continue reading

Francis Bacon vs. Karl Popper: The Fallacy of Observationalism

In my last post I argued that, contrary to popular belief, science is not actually about observation.

Here I wish to taken an aside and discuss two of the main competing schools of epistemology (i.e. the theory of how we gain knowledge). The traditional view of science was founded by Francis Bacon. This school of thought is (as Popper describes it anyhow) is as follows:

According to Bacon, the nature or essence of the method of the new science of nature, the method which distinguishes and demarcates it from the old theology and from metaphysical philosophy, can be explained as follows:

Man is impatient. He likes quick results. So he jumps to conclusions. Continue reading

What is Science: Is Science about Observation or Falsification?

In previous posts I responded (or gave other people’s responses anyhow) to the ideas that science is primarily about prediction, Reductionism, or Holism. In those ideas we found some truth, but not the whole truth.

Another common point of view is that science is really about observation. Related to this is the idea that science is primarily about empirical evidence or in other words must be falsifiable. As it turns out, these points of view are somewhat correct, but also misleading.

Science is Not Primarily Observation

I doubt science would have any meaning if we didn’t take the ideas of observation and empirical evidence seriously. Descarte is rumored to have tried to argue in favor of pure reason, but we know that this doesn’t work out in real life. The problem is that our reasoning capacity is too broad. We can think of logical possibilities that just happen to not exist. Continue reading

Algorithmic Reducibility

…the chameleonic nature of numbers [is] so rich and complex that numerical patterns have the flexibility to mirror any other kind of pattern. (Douglas Hoftsadter in I am a Strange Loop, p. 159)

In my last post, I discussed the point of view known as ‘reductionism’ and the problems with that point of view. In summary, reductionism is the false belief that sciences that work with the smallest units of nature – atoms and below – are somehow more fundamental explanations of reality than emergent ones, such as thought or computation.

A few posts ago, I discussed computability and comprehension. My final conclusion was that while algorithms and explanations aren’t the same thing, you can’t have an explanation without having an algorithm. Continue reading

What is Science: Is Science about Reductionism or Holism?

In my last post I discussed Scientific Realism vs. Positivism. The conclusion I drew was that, while both are useful points of view, Scientific Realism is the one you want if your desire is to comprehend reality. In this post, I’m going to discuss Deutsch’s arguments surrounding Reductionism and Holism, two points of view that Deutsch argues are also a hindrance to Scientific Realism.

Reductionism

Deutsch describes Reductionism as the belief that:

…science allegedly explains things reductively – by analysing them into components. For example, the resistance of a wall to being penetrated or knocked down is explained by regarding the wall as a vast aggregation of interacting molecules. The properties of those molecules are themselves explained in terms of their constituent atoms, and the interactions of these atoms with one another, and so on down to the smallest particles and most basic forces. Reductionists think that all scientific explanations, and perhaps all sufficiently deep explanations of any kind, take this form. (The Fabric of Reality, p. 19)

Continue reading