Reality and Philosophy -|- Educational Philosophy Theory

Reality and Philosophy

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Science: reality and philosophy

Look around the world, explain what you see using a logic progression of steps. The steps need not be reached through any logical order, but such an order must exist when they are used to create a casual, explanatory, predictive, or classifying statement. This is science. If there is anything that could possibly be agreed upon among philosophers of science, this is probably as far as they could get. Science involves so much more than this, but there is virtually nothing else than can be agreed upon (and I hesitate to say that my general and meagre definition would even go unquestioned).

Science is essentially a human construct, created by humanity’s need to explain, understand, predict, and classify. We feel encumbered by ignorance and science is one way to combat that (the other major remedy being religion). Over the past millennia, science has (dare I say) surpassed religion as the “better” explanation of almost everything. Though this essay won’t touch on the subject, it seems that although religion and science were created for the same reasons (to answer the question “why?”), science has progressed and adapted its answer, while religion remains steadfast with the answer “because.” Even still, science is as much a human construct as religion, only differing in subject matter and applicability to (relative) reality.

Science requires explanations. The definition of a proper explanation is no more apparent than the definition of science itself. But it is generally agreed upon that an explanation must explain why and how some event occurred, and it must explain it correctly and consistently, not simply accidentally. These explanations must follow a logical order as stated above. In essence, if the entirety of the subject matter and the terms is understood, the explanation should be logical. Explanations, obviously, require a certain understanding.

Explanation requires understanding, therefore so does science. To explain why ice melts, you need to understand the changing of matter-states and the transfer of thermal energy (I won’t even pretend to understand the details, but suffice to say anyone in university can explain it roughly). Thus, the explanation is dependent upon some level of understanding, and in turn, the explanation creates a further level of understanding. This understanding must be true for the explanation to be proper, but as I will discuss later, an accidentally correct understanding (as with an accidentally correct explanation) can be just as useful in the short run as a consistent and completely correct one.

Science also strives to be predictive. This is possible through the correct application of understanding and explanation. If you know that and ice cube melted when you put it on the table, and you know why it melted, you can predict with a reasonable amount of certainty that a different ice cube will melt if certain conditions (for example, surrounding temperature) are met. This predictive power is the most useful aspect of science. Although it lends nothing to the attainment of truth, almost all practical applications of science are created through its predictive properties. Predictions are also one of the only ways to show us that science has flaws. A failed prediction shows a flaw in understanding, or explanation, or both. Prediction, understanding, and explanation are three very important concepts to science.

Sets of explanations and predictions are set out in the form of theories. These theories attempt to be true to the way the world really is, but most often function on how the world is perceived to be by the theory makers. As alluded to in the introduction, the formulation of theories need not be any more logical than the painting of an abstraction. It seems often times in science that theories are formed creatively, with explanations that assume understanding (that doesn’t actually exist) that therefore create new understanding (with no logical foundation), and this new understanding is used to reinforce the original explanation, correctly and logically. Theory creation can be as much a product of creative trial and error as it can be the result of good logical deduction and strict (or not so strict) induction. The evolution of scientific theories is within the domain of science as well, and tends to stem from the guidelines that science has set out (not that they are strict or well defined). Such evolutions tend to occur when a theory is not precise enough, or cannot be precise enough.

Precision is, therefore, a major component of the evolution of theories, and a major component of science in general. To further science, arguments and explanations must become more and more precise: their explanatory and predictive power must also become more precise. Science itself started out vague and imprecise. Over time, scientific disciplines have emerged and although science itself is rather encompassing (and lacks any precision whatsoever), the disciplines themselves and the theories within have become ever more precise – something that will continue indefinitely. One of the major limiting factors to this precision, and the one of the most controversy, is that of scientific objectivity.

Science is a human construct. Humans are subjective by nature, assuring that pure objectivity is impossible. Therefore objectivity in science is impossible (please refer to my paper “Impossible by Nature” for a detailed argument). The inherent subjectivity within science has two major implications: The first being that the route humanity takes towards the truth is rough and winding. The second implication is that certain areas of science will progress exponentially quicker than other areas. It’s obvious that subjectivity, and the level of it in any particular discipline, has a severe impact on the evolution of science, but the real question is whether this impact is detrimental. Lack of objectivity acts as detour, not as a road block, and therefore should not hinder the overall evolution of science; it simply disrupts the allocation of resources, as well as the relative speed of such evolution. In fact, subjectivity only truly affects the application of science.

Although on a philosophical level science holds no greater goal than the attainment of absolute truth, it seems that most views of science are indifferent to this goal. Science is still a human construct that serves humanity’s curiosity. From every view but the philosophical, a false theory that has similar predictive and explanatory power to a completely true theory is just as satisfying. From a universal standpoint, humanity is far from understanding everything within our scope of existence, and even farther from understanding “it all.” A theory created this millennium could be horribly inaccurate (although relatively precise) on a universal level and still be applicable, useful, and perceived as true for hundreds of years. Only philosophy makes the distinction between something that works by accident, and something that works because it is completely correct; the rest of the world is simply indifferent.

Science is, however, of great use to the world, despite its philosophical drawbacks. The total accuracy of a theory is relatively unimportant from most views of science, at least in our temporal period. A theory must only be accurate within the scope of our human necessity and understanding. This is because the same applications of science can be made no matter the theory that explains the science, as long as the theory correctly explains it – there is no differentiation between accidental correctness and truth. The reason for this is the same reason commerce exams are several times easier than philosophy ones: you can guess with a limited degree of understanding, and arrive at the correct answer. The result is the same as if you knew the actual answer and the reason for it: you get the marks for the question.

Flawed theories can prove extremely useful, in fact. Atomic theory, that atoms are the smallest form of matter, lasted centuries (almost two thousand years if I recall correctly) and had countless impacts of a very large magnitude. The theory itself was flawed and incorrect, but to the extent that it was applied, it proved very useful. It is probable that no complex theory currently in existence is absolutely correct, but that does not limit their usefulness. Usefulness is dependent upon how well the theory explains and predicts things within the scope of human understanding and application. In fact, although many philosophers are quick to denounce and criticize flawed theories and strive to make theory acceptance more stringent, flawed theories can be extremely beneficial to humanity. A flawed theory that works sufficiently for the application of science is far better than no theory at all. While obviously a (more) true theory is highly sought after, such theories are much more complex and require much more time to formulate and create. Flawed theories with sufficient power allow advances in technology that would otherwise go unrealized. It seems that the philosophy of science does not realize this.

The philosophy of science continuously criticizes and points out the flaws in science, scientific method, and points to the vagueness of the guidelines of science. While many of these criticisms are true and deserved, philosophers fail to recognize how dependent humanity has become upon these flaws and how such flaws have allowed science to move forward. Even on a strictly philosophical level, some such flaws have been beneficial. The prime goal of philosophy is the attainment of absolute truth, and the goal is the same within the philosophy of science. Philosophers criticize flawed theories because they are fake-truths masquerading as depictions of reality. This criticism is deserved, but the philosophers fail to realize that the same flawed theories they denounce have led to major technological breakthroughs and technological reform. This rapid technological revolution has in turn led to an increase in humanity’s scope of understanding and ability. And, as such, the increased ability and understanding allows further scientific evolution. The cycle exists and works, so why must it be incorrect? It is possible that the only way to ever reach the truth is to exhaust every possible untruth. If this I true, then current science, the science that is so criticized for being undefined and flawed, has actually been the true path to enlightenment all along.

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