Popper’s Response to Kuhn

In my last post I reviewed Kuhn’s ideas on how the growth of scientific knowledge takes place. I found that, contrary to popular belief, Kuhn and Popper have more in common than they have different. Both deny all the popular notions of science as being based primarily around use of observation to refute the current theory. Both also deny that scientists are ‘objective’ in the usual sense. Both also agree that this lack of ‘objectivity’ is a good thing for the community as a whole.

What I did not have space for, in my last post, was to give some of Popper’s responses to Kuhn.

Unfortunately, Popper initially misunderstood Kuhn. His initial impressions were more like the popular portrayal of Kuhn as someone that did not believe in the growth of scientific knowledge at all. However, Popper – being Popper – eventually came to accept that he had probably misunderstood Kuhn. (See Myth of the Framework, p. 63, note 19)

However, even with some misunderstandings in mind, Popper’s responses to Kuhn are enlightening.

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Kuhn vs. Popper: Kuhn’s Challenge to Popper

In my last post, I wrote somewhat glowingly of Popper’s epistemology based on Conjecture and Refutation. In a previous (older) post on Millennial Star I even went so far as to explain why I felt there were some touch points between conjecture and refutation and the Gospel. To summarize, Popper believes all knowledge of all types growths through a process of having problems, conjecturing solutions to those problems, then refuting those conjectures based on the discovery of new problems. Through this process we ‘evolve’ our explanations and they improve over time. The end result is increasing verisimilitude – i.e. closeness to reality – of our knowledge. (I note here that this produces increasing verisimilitude without use of induction.)

Now I will consider the strongest challenger to Popper’s epistemology as elucidated by Thomas S. Kuhn, author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Popper and Kuhn are often considered to be two dynamically opposed views of scientific growth that are in struggle for the heart and soul of science. (See, for example, this book here. I have not read it and don’t intend to.) In actuality, Kuhn and Popper have far more in common than they have different from each other. But Kuhn’s view of science does ultimately pose a threat to the very concept of Scientific Realism and proposes, in it’s place, a Positivist view of the world as our ultimate reality. [1] Continue reading

Popper and the Gospel

In my latest “Reason as a Guide to Reality” post over at Wheat and Tares,  I talked about Popper’s theories of how we gain knowledge based on Conjecture and Refutation.

Here we now have a profound touch point between science and religion. Consider the following scriptures.

D&C 122:7

…all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.

D&C 105:6

And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience…

Romans 5:3-5

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

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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