|Representing and Intervening - Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science|
|Source: Hacking - Representing and Intervening - Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science|
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Analytical table of contents
Introduction: Rationality – 1
Rationality and realism are the two main topics of today's philosophers of science. That is, there are questions about reason, evidence and method, and there are questions about what the world is, what is in it, and what is true of it. This book is about reality, not reason. The introduction is about what this book is not about. For background it surveys some problems about reasons that arose from Thomas Kuhn's classic, "Kuhn (Thomas) - The Structure of Scientific Revolutions".
PART A: REPRESENTING
Realism about theories says they aim at the truth, and sometimes get close to it. Realism about entities says that the objects mentioned in theories should really exist. Anti-realism about theories says that our theories are not to be believed literally, and are at best useful, applicable, and good at predicting. Anti-realism about entities says that the entities postulated by theories are at best useful intellectual fictions.
J.J.C. Smart and other materialists say that theoretical entities exist if they are among the building blocks of the universe. N. Cartwright asserts the existence of those entities whose causal properties are well known. Neither of these realists about entities needs be a realist about theories.
Positivists such as A. Comte, E. Mach and B. van Fraassen are anti-realists about both theories and entities. Only propositions whose truth can be established by observation are to be believed. Positivists are dubious about such concepts as causation1 and explanation. They hold that theories are instruments for predicting phenomena, and for organizing our thoughts. A criticism of ‘inference to the best explanation' is developed.
C.S. Peirce said that something is real if a community of inquirers will end up agreeing that it exists. He thought that truth is what scientific method finally settles upon, if only investigation continues long enough. W. James and J. Dewey place less emphasis on the long run, and more on what it feels comfortable to believe and talk about now. Of recent philosophers, H. Putnam goes along with Peirce while R. Rorty favours James and Dewey. These are two different kinds of anti-realism.
T.S. Kuhn and P. Feyerabend once said that competing theories cannot be well compared to see which fits the facts best. This idea strongly reinforces one kind of anti-realism. There are at least three ideas here. Topic-incommensurability: rival theories may only partially overlap, so one cannot well compare their successes overall. Dissociation: after sufficient time and theory change, one world view may be almost unintelligible to a later epoch. Meaning-incommensurability: some ideas about language imply that rival theories are always mutually incomprehensible and never inter-translatable, so that reasonable comparison of theories is in principle impossible.
H. Putnam has an account of the meaning of ‘meaning' which avoids meaning-incommensurability. Successes and failures of this idea are illustrated by short histories of the reference of terms such as: glyptodon, electron, acid, caloric, muon, meson.
Putnam's account of meaning started from a kind of realism but has become increasingly pragmatic and anti-realist. These shifts are described and compared to Kant's philosophy. Both Putnam and Kuhn come close to what is best called transcendental nominalism.
I. Lakatos had a methodology of scientific research programmes intended as an antidote to Kuhn. It looks like an account of rationality, but is rather an explanation of how scientific objectivity need not depend on a correspondence theory of truth.
BREAK: Reals and representations – 130
This chapter is an anthropological fantasy about ideas of reality and representation from cave-dwellers to H. Hertz. It is a parable to show why the realism/anti-realism debates at the level of representation are always inconclusive. Hence we turn from truth and representation to experimentation and manipulation.
PART B: INTERVENING
Theory and experiment have different relationships in different sciences at different stages of development. There is no right answer to the question: Which comes first, experiment, theory, invention, technology, ...? Illustrations are drawn from optics, thermodynamics, solid state physics, and radioastronomy.
N.R. Hanson suggested that all observation statements are theory-loaded. In fact observation is not a matter of language, and it is a skill. Some observations are entirely pre-theoretical. Work by C. Herschel in astronomy and by W. Herschel in radiant heat is used to illustrate platitudes about observation. Far from being unaided vision, we often speak of observing when we do not literally ‘see' but use information transmitted by theoretically postulated objects.
Do we see with a microscope? There are many kinds of light microscope, relying on different properties of light. We believe what we see largely because quite different physical systems provide the same picture. We even ‘see' with an acoustic microscope that uses sound rather than light.
There is not one activity, theorizing. There are many kinds and levels of theory, which bear different relationships to experiment. The history of experiment and theory of the magneto-optical effect illustrates this fact. N. Cartwright's ideas about models and approximations further illustrate the varieties of theory.
Many experiments create phenomena that did not hitherto exist in a pure state in the universe. Talk of repeating experiments is misleading. Experiments are not repeated but improved until phenomena can be elicited regularly. Some electromagnetic effects illustrate this creation of phenomena.
Measurement has many different roles in sciences. There are measurements to test theories, but there are also pure determinations of the constants of nature. T.S. Kuhn also has an important account of an unexpected functional role of measurement in the growth of knowledge.
Bacon wrote the first taxonomy of kinds of experiments. He predicted that science would be the collaboration of two different skills — rational and experimental. He thereby answered P. Feyerabend's question, ‘What's so great about science?' Bacon has a good account of crucial experiments, in which it is plain that they are not decisive. An example from chemistry shows that in practice we cannot in general go on introducing auxiliary hypotheses to save theories refuted by crucial experiments. I. Lakatos's misreports of the Michelson-Morley experiment are used to illustrate the way theory can warp the philosophy of experiment.
Experimentation has a life of its own, interacting with speculation, calculation, model building, invention and technology in numerous ways. But whereas the speculator, the calculator, and the model-builder can be anti-realist, the experimenter must be a realist. This thesis is illustrated by a detailed account of a device that produces concentrated beams of polarized electrons, used to demonstrate violations of parity in weak neutral current interactions. Electrons become tools whose reality is taken for granted. It is not thinking about the world but changing it that in the end must make us scientific realists.
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