Archive for ‘how science works’

January 28, 2013

Maps are false

by Neil Rickert

This is intended as a companion to my recent post “Kepler’s laws are false.”

I have, in front of me, a Rand McNally road atlas of the Chicago area.  It is a few years old, so a tad out of date.  But it is not that “out of date” aspect that I will be discussing.

I am currently looking at the part of the map that covers near where I live.  I see that some of the roads are red in the map.  But when I drive on those roads, they are the same gray/black color as most of the other roads (such as the ones shown as yellow or white in the map).

January 28, 2013

HSW – Kepler’s laws are false

by Neil Rickert

While my title line might seem dramatic, I want to be clear that this post is not intended as a criticism of Kepler, or of Kepler’s laws.  Rather, it is critical of the view that scientific laws are true descriptions of the world.  This post is intended as part of my series on how science works.  My aim is to describe my own understanding of Kepler’s laws.

The basis of Kepler’s laws

In case some of my readers are not familiar with them, Kepler’s laws are an attempt to account for the motion of the planets in our solar system.  Kepler’s laws were preceded by the Ptolemaic idea that the planets moved in cycles and epicycles.  Galileo argued, instead for the idea of Copernicus, that the planets traveled in circular paths around the sun.  I presume that Kepler was looking for something a little more precise than the Copernican circles.

January 10, 2013

HSW – Against induction

by Neil Rickert

In this post, I shall argue against induction.  Specifically, I shall argue against what I referred to as “philosophic induction” in a recent post.  My earlier post — “All emeralds are green” — was intended to illustrate the view that I shall be presenting here.  I suggest you read that now, if you have not already done so.  Throughout this post, I shall assume familiarity with that story.

That emeralds are green has sometimes been used to illustrate the idea of induction.  Presumably, the argument would be:

  • All the many emeralds that I have seen were green;
  • Therefore all emeralds are green.

Interestingly, emeralds were also used by Nelson Goodman in his skeptical “grue” argument.

January 4, 2013

Connecting science with perception

by Neil Rickert

I have two ongoing series of posts, one on perception and the other on how science works.  These are very much connected, as I will explain in this post.

My interest in the main topics of this blog led me to study the question of how humans learn.  I understood, all along, that the increase in scientific knowledge is closely related to learning.  Or, as I think Quine puts it, science is learning writ large.  Thus I used the growth of scientific knowledge as a publicly observable instance of learning.

January 1, 2013

HSW – about induction

by Neil Rickert

I have long been a critic of induction.  The trouble with the word “induction” is that it is used in many different ways.  As part of my continuing series on how science works, I want to explain here what I am criticizing, and what I am not criticizing.

Baconian induction

Sir Francis Bacon suggested used the term “induction” in his recommendations on investigating the natural world.  As described by Wikipedia, his method called for:

procedures for isolating and further investigating the form nature, or cause, of a phenomenon, including the method of agreement, method of difference, and method of concomitant variation.

December 2, 2012

HSW2 – How I see Newton’s mechanics

by Neil Rickert

This continues my discussion of how science works, a topic that I introduced in a recent post.  The “HSW” in the title of this post is intended to indicate that.  My plan, for this post, is to describe how I look at Newton’s laws.  I won’t be discussing his law of gravity here, mostly to keep this post reasonably short.  I might post on that at a future time.

A note on history

I am not an historian.  My primary concern is with how the science works, rather than with how it was discovered.  If you think that I have said something about history, then you have misunderstood.  Some of what I am discussing here might actually be due to Galileo or to other scientists.

November 25, 2012

How does science work?

by Neil Rickert

For the moment, I am presenting this as a question.  It is a question for which I believe I have the answer.  But I will postpone discussing that until future posts.

I am currently watching (for the second time), a TED talk by David Deutsch:

In that video, Deutsch is puzzling about what changed at the time of the scientific revolution.  He correctly points out that people have been making observations and coming up with explanations for thousands of years.  We often describe their explanations as myths.  Something must have changed in what we are doing, that made science possible.

December 5, 2011

How does science work?

by Neil Rickert

As I mention in my post on the not-yet-published book “Mathematics and Scientific Representation”, the author Christopher Pincock says “The success of science is undeniable, but the nature of that success remains opaque.”  That’s an admission that philosophy of science does not fully understand how science works.  In this post, I give my own opinion on the reason for the success of science.

As I see it, science works mainly because it is systematic.  When we are not sufficiently systematic, when we represent the world in a willy nilly manner, it is hard to keep track of a lot of information.  You can see this in the example of the first builder in “The parable of the three builders.”  By being more systematic, science reduces the cognitive cost and that allows us to keep track of far more information about the world.

Because it is systematic, science make available a vastly increased amount of information about the world.  More and better information leads to better predictions.