CoIin: The "pessimistic induction" argument
Here's a list of scientific theories composed by philosopher of science Larry Laudan which according to him were empirically successful (i.e had descriptive and predictive power, that is, they "worked" ) but which nonetheless all contain theoretical terms which we now know/believe to refer to nothing at all "out there" :- (By the way, he claims this list is far from exhaustive)
the crystalline spheres of ancient and medieval astronomy;
the humoral theory of medicine;
the effluvial theory of static electricity;
the ‘catastrophist’ geology, with its commitment to a universal
the phlogiston theory of chemistry;
the caloric theory of heat;
the vibratory theory of heat;
the vital force theories of physiology;
the electromagnetic ether;
the optical ether;
the theory of circular inertia; and
theories of spontaneous generation.
Now, the argument goes, through a process of induction (ie. a "more of the same" inference regularly employed by scientists Eg. all pieces of copper tested so far have conducted electricity, therefore all copper conducts electricity ) shouldn't we expect the future to resemble the past? In other words shouldn't we consider it likely that unobservable entities in our current theories will also turn out to be referring to nothing?
My purpose here is not to science-bash, but rather to draw attention to the fact that most people throw around terms like electron, quark, gene, etc as if they were "in the bag" dead-cert. Just offering food for thought. Caveat emptor.
Da_Inscrutable_1: if a tree falls down in the middle of a forest while no one was around to see/hear it, does it make a sound?
CoIin: Hi Hope
Just to be clear, anti-realism doesn't mean anti-science. The difference is that the truth claims of the anti-realist are much weaker than those of the realist.
The realist insists that there is an independent reality out there and that scientific theories correspond, or should aim to correspond to that reality, i.e. good scientific theories are "true" or approximately so.
Some anti-realists concede that there is an independent reality, but deny that we can know whether scientific theories correspond to it or not, i.e. a good scientific theory should "work" ; its "truth" is something we cannot know.
Others, like the relativist, might claim that a scientific theory CAN be "true", but this truth is always paradigm-dependent.
I would guess that the vast majority of scientists are "realists" - they believe they are uncovering truths of the world. Anti-realism is more common among philosophers of science.
Oh, and finally, this realist/anti-realist talk is generally confined to unobservables. I think we're all realists when it comes to planets and diamonds, dogs and canaries
CoIin: "capable of thinking for itself"
That's a bold claim, ole dawg. Or are we being anthropomorphic?
harlett: nature had to be aware that the changing weather patterns would sterile certain species and begin to mutate the genes. our own species is living proof of nature does in fact have a awareness.....heck our body chemistry thinks for itself independently of us..
CoIin: @ Harlett
A lot of scientists would distinguish between acting "for" a purpose and acting "with" a purpose. Eg. a squirrel collecting nuts is acting for a purpose, but to claim that it's acting with a purpose in mind is a bit too far out for me.
You've raised an interesting point though - the role of "teleological" explanations, i.e. explanations in terms of ends, goals, purposes.
In the old Aristotelian worldview, everything in nature was explained this way - stones fall to the Earth because that's where they "belong"..
The science fans out there might scoff - a physicist's explanation is more likely to involve natural laws - but we still see teleological explanations in the domain of biology.
Why do mammals have a heart?
In order to pump blood, of course.
Having said that, I don't think any scientist or philosopher would claim that the body has a purpose in mind for acting the way it does.
CoIin: Here's another important point for fans of science to ponder. What does science stand to gain or lose by commiting itself not only to the instrumental value of theories (i.e. "our theories work" ) but by claiming that these theories are "true" and that the entities postulated within (quarks, etc) actually do exist.
As long as we limit ourselves to the claim that scientific theories are instruments or tools which provide predictive power over natural phenomena, as well as control over these phenomena in the form of technological applications, then there is no problem with the idea of "progress" in science - no one would deny that science can DO more now than it could before.
The realist stance raises the question of credibility. Even a quick glance through the Wireclub forums will convince anyone that science has its enemies - lots of them - usually those with a religious motivation.
When scientists assume the realist position, they run the risk of becoming targets of ridicule (admittedly from those who know little about science - but a significant force nonetheless).
We often hear posters on these forums say things like "Bah! Last year scientists were telling us that caloric and phlogiston existed. Now we're told there is no such thing. Next year they'll be telling us that electrons and genes don't exist."
The "instrumentalist" is immune to this form of attack, while the realist would seem more vulnerable by virtue of the additional explanatory powers he seeks.
Think about it this way. If we all assumed an agnostic position to the "truth" of scientific theories and treated the unobservable entities contained within as merely useful mnemonic or heuristic devices - we all speak of "the average American family" without commiting ourselves to the existence of such an entity - would science be any less potent? What would it not be able to do that it can do now?
The answer is apparently nothing.
Farwuq: CoIin: Ok, friends... Scientific realism vs anti-realism. Where do you stand?
Do quarks exist? If they do, do they exist "out there" or do they exist in the sense that Japan exists?
Or should scientific theories merely be "empirically adequate"? (Edited by CoIin)
6 months ago • Report
Evidently "tw" stands with the "dualists". (believers in duality), lol.
Why is it, that, whenever someone asks a question, or poses a "choice", it is always "one or the other" ? Is it self-justification ? ( so, that, no matter what the answer [or choice] would be, the questioner feels "right" and justified either way ? Also known as "baiting", lol; just asking.....
CoIin: Philosophers can be divided into 2 kinds - those who believe philosophers can be divided into 2 kinds, and those who don't
CoIin: Well, I think so, Hope.
When we say "materialist", I think it means people who believe ONLY in matter in motion. No gods or Rods or silly stuff like that