Realism

Here’s why I link to David Coppedge:

This [is] not to say that we must doubt what a car is, and whether we are driving down the road, or what will happen if we drive into a brick wall. But when discussing scientific objects like a quark, or the interior of a star, or a black hole, or a species, or a population, or a gene, or global climate change, or laws of nature – and the causes of their interactions and how we explain them — scientists get onto slippery philosophical ground very quickly. A finite number of instances cannot necessarily be extrapolated to a class. A time sequence does not necessarily imply a cause-effect relationship. A majority of scientists can be wrong (bandwagon fallacy). And today’s best theory is not necessarily a good theory (Macbeth’s best-in-field fallacy). These are just a few of the caveats that can be levied against even simple, down-to-earth explanations in our everyday experience. The problems become even more significant in astronomy and cosmology, where the line between theory and observation is often very fuzzy.

This entry about globular clusters reminds us that scientists can never simply assume that their theories correspond to Reality with a capital R. No matter what the textbook says, or how solid the scientific consensus appears, everything in science is subject to revision. Some things are subject to revolution. Whenever a scientist says “We now know,” that’s the time to get out the red flag and say, “We heard that line 100 years ago, and now look.”

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4 thoughts on “Realism

  1. I remember working with some electronic engineers. There would be some design problem, and some engineers would sit around speculating what the problem was; they would try and analyze the situation without hooking some o’scopes or logic analyzers up to it.

    I or someone else would eventually hook up a logic analyzer to it and find out exactly what the problem was.

    What these astronomers and cosmologists do is similar to what those engineers did. They’re stuck here on this little ball called Earth, with no physical way to probe what’s happening way out in the universe, and they then supposedly tell us exactly what happened out there billions of years ago based on what’s happening in the here and now at this one little place in the universe.

  2. Scientists are realists. They think that objects exist in the way that they are observed, even if there is no observer. Berkeley, Kant and Schopenhauer reminded them that objects exist, as they do, only for an observing subject. When there is no observing subject, the objects may exist, but not in the way that they are observed. Is it no wonder that they have their paradoxes in science?

  3. My complaint is not about people making claims about what they’ve observed, but about what they haven’t observed.

    If you weren’t there at the time something happened, you can’t have observed it. If you can’t have observed it, then however flawed or unflawed your sense of observation, or however accurate or inacurate, the bottom line is that it’s impossible for observation to have come into play for that moment of time.

  4. Scientists are realists. They think that objects exist in the way that they are observed, even if there is no observer.

    I would say that scientists think that objects exist in the way that they are described. That allows for them describing things formally that are not observed at all, and denying the existence of things that are observed informally but cannot be described formally.

    When there is no observing subject, the objects may exist, but not in the way that they are observed.

    Buddha, is that you? Dark matter…multidimensional strings…gravitons…the Higgs boson…are these objects which exist, but not in the way they are observed?

    Is it no wonder that they have their paradoxes in science?

    Ironically, no.

Instigate some pointless rambling

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