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

The SUPERB Theories of Science

Roger PenroseA while back I did a post about my three favorite non-fiction authors: David Deustch, Roger Penrose, and Douglas Hofstadter (Gesundheit!). This post is about Roger Penrose.

Roger Penrose has an interesting categorization system for scientific theories that I’d like to share. (Later on, I’ll give David Deutsch’s alternative approach.) Penrose believes there are three categories of theories. They are:

  1. SUPERB
  2. USEFUL
  3. TENTATIVE

He goes on to say that say he’s considered making a fourth category called MISGUIDED but then thought better of it because he didn’t want to lose half of his friends.

In this post I want to talk about the seven scientific theories Penrose considers to be in the SUPERB category. These are the theories that, as Penrose puts it, have been phenomenal in their range and accuracy. Continue reading

Positivism vs. Scientific Realism: An Example

In my last post I started to discuss the differences between Positivism and Scientific Realism. To over simplify it, Positivism cares only about the predictive abilities of science and does not care about whether or not science is getting ever closer to some underlying truth. Scientific Realism takes all scientific theories seriously as approximations of an underlying truth.

Actually, despite what Deutsch says (in my last post), I feel Positivism has value. Though I generally agree with Deutsch, sometimes you just want to predict an outcome and you don’t really care about why it works. In fact, I think most people would be shocked to realize that this is how most science and engineering are done. Scientists rarely become philosophical about what their equations mean for reality.

However, Deutsch is right about one thing. Positivism ultimately fails to grasp the value of believing your explanations. It is only through believing your explanations that you can comprehend them. And only by comprehending them can you refine them into something even more useful. Continue reading