Geoffrey Gorham: Philosophy of Science

Philosophy of Science: Bolinda Beginner Guides by Geoffrey Gorham. As a printed book: The Philosophy of Science: A Beginner’s Guide

  1. The Origin of Science
  2. Defining Science
  3. The Scientific Method
  4. The Aims of Science
  5. The Social Dimensions of Science
  6. Science and Human Features

My impression of the book was quite good. The book is well structured and it gives a good systematic overview of what is referred to as philosophy of science. I would say that the author has covered different viewpoints pretty well and I confirm that the book, as its name says, is a good introduction into the philosophy of science.

For me personally, it was especially interesting to listen to topics on relativism, feminism science, and science studies, as this was the first time I got systematically acquainted with them.

A few general comments are below.

Nowadays there are many works on consciousness and they add a different insight into conventional definitions of science. Let us consider for example observations, that are crucial for empirical sciences and to this end, I will describe the paradox from Max Velmans’ book. We got accustomed to three dimensional visual world that we observe. When we speak about Copernicus revolution for example, we assume that we observe Moon, Sun and stars by our eyes. Yet, let us look at this processes from the viewpoint of modern neuroscience.

So, there are photons that fell onto retina. Then there is information processing by neural nets in our brain and, voila, we see objects. No one knows how this exactly happens. However provided neural nets are in the brain, then what we consciously see must be also there.

To show the point more clear, please just look in the mirror and ask yourself, where your image that you see is located: behind the mirror or in your brain? It must be a result of your brain, hence how it could be physically behind the mirror.

If you accept this argument, then there is a three dimensional physical world, there is a brain in this world, and finally visual mental images of the external world that are, according to the logic above, geometrically located in the brain. Now the paradox (Max Velmans, Is the brain in the world or the world in the brain?):

Lehar (2003), however, points out that if the phenomenal world is inside the brain, the real skull must be outside the phenomenal world (the former and the latter are logically equivalent). Let me be clear: if one accepts that

a) The phenomenal world appears to have spatial extension to the perceived horizon and dome of the sky.

b) The phenomenal world is really inside the brain.

It follows that

c) The real skull (as opposed to the phenomenal skull) is beyond the perceived horizon and dome of the sky.“

Hence, if Moon, Sun and stars that are consciously observed are geometrically located in the brain, what would the word observation mean in this context? The paradox also brings a new insight to a problem realism vs. instrumentalism.

Now let me make a quote from Feyerabend’s Philosophical Papers, (Problems of Empiricism, Chapter 1, Historical background: Some observations on the decay of the philosophy of science, 1981).

p. 25 “This, then, is the end of the twentieth century dream of a scientific rationalism. Once, long ago, the belief in general laws of reason led to marvelous discoveries and so a tremendous increase in knowledge. Early physics, astronomy, mathematics were inspired by this belief as was the magnificent Aristotelian opus. In those times, and even more recently, during the rise of modern science and its twentieth century revisions, Lady Reason was a beautiful, helpful occasionally somewhat overbearing, goddess of research. Today her philosophical suitors (or, should I rather say, pimps?) have turned her into a ‘mature’, i.e. garrulous but toothless old woman.

I am not sure that  Geoffrey Gorham agrees with that, but his book (especially the Chapter 6) displays many evidences that Feyerabend was right.

Finally Feyerabend’s quote on science and politics (ibid.):

p. 25-26. “It is generally agreed that a free society must not be left at the mercy of the institutions it contains; it must be able to supervise and to control them. The citizens and the democratic councils that exercise the control must evaluate the achievements and the effects of the most powerful institutions. For example, they must evaluate the effects of science and take steps (withdrawal of financial support; reduction of scientific influence in elementary and highschool education; limitation and perhaps complete removal of academic freedom; and so on) if these effects turn out to be useless of harmful.”

This important question should have been discussed more. For example, when Geoffrey Gorham presented neurolaws, I have thought whether a society should allow scientists to go that far. Why not to treat the correlations that neuroscience finds, the same way as the Mars effect?

Einstein on Time

At the end of his book Philosophy of Science: Bolinda Beginner Guides (The Philosophy of Science: A Beginner’s Guide), Geoffrey Gorham has mentioned the words of Einstein on time on occasion of Besso’s death. I have found in Internet to this end:

Time and its Relationship to Consciousness
An Overview, Mansoor Malik & Maria Hipolito

When his lifelong friend Besso died, Einstein wrote a letter to Besso’s family, saying that although Besso had preceded him in death, it was of no consequence,”for men who have knowledge of physics know that the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.

It happens that this statement is quite popular in Interent. It is hard to say who first has written it.

An interesting paper about Kurt Gödel and Albert Einstein that give more insight on Einstein’s statement:

What were Einstein and Gödel talking about?
by Jim Holt

Decades later, Gödel, walking with Einstein, had the privilege of picking up the subtleties of relativity theory from the master himself. Einstein had shown that the flow of time depended on motion and gravity, and that the division of events into “past” and “future” was relative. Gödel took a more radical view: he believed that time, as it was intuitively understood, did not exist at all. As usual, he was not content with a mere verbal argument. Philosophers ranging from Parmenides, in ancient times, to Immanuel Kant, in the eighteenth century, and on to J. M. E. McTaggart, at the beginning of the twentieth century, had produced such arguments, inconclusively. Gödel wanted a proof that had the rigor and certainty of mathematics. And he saw just what he wanted lurking within relativity theory.

But Gödel came up with a third kind of solution to Einstein’s equations, one in which the universe was not expanding but rotating. … What makes this rotating universe truly weird, Gödel showed, is the way its geometry mixes up space and time. By completing a sufficiently long round trip in a rocket ship, a resident of Gödel’s universe could travel back to any point in his own past.”

Einstein was not entirely pleased with the news that his equations permitted something as Alice in Wonderland-like as spatial paths that looped backward in time; in fact, he confessed to being “disturbed” by Gödel’s universe. Other physicists marvelled that time travel, previously the stuff of science fiction, was apparently consistent with the laws of physics. (Then they started worrying about what would happen if you went back to a time before you were born and killed your own grandfather.) Gödel himself drew a different moral. If time travel is possible, he submitted, then time itself is impossible. A past that can be revisited has not really passed. And the fact that the actual universe is expanding, rather than rotating, is irrelevant. Time, like God, is either necessary or nothing; if it disappears in one possible universe, it is undermined in every possible universe, including our own.

A certain futility marked the last years of both Gödel and Einstein. What may have been most futile, however, was their willed belief in the unreality of time. The temptation was understandable. If time is merely in our minds, perhaps we can hope to escape it into a timeless eternity. Then we could say, like William Blake, “I see the Past, Present and Future, existing all at once / Before me.” In Gödel’s case, Rebecca Goldstein speculates, it may have been his childhood terror of a fatally damaged heart that attracted him to the idea of a timeless universe. Toward the end of his life, he told one confidant that he had long awaited an epiphany that would enable him to see the world in a new light, but that it never came. Einstein, too, was unable to make a clean break with time. “To those of us who believe in physics,” he wrote to the widow of a friend who had recently died, “this separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, if a stubborn one.” When his own turn came, a couple of weeks later, he said, “It is time to go.”

Astrology as Science: Mars Effect

During the discussion of the demarcation criterion (what is science and what is not), Geoffrey Gorham has mentioned the Mars effect, and I have found some info to this in Google.

Wikipedia on Mars effect:

The Mars effect is a name often used to refer to a reported statistical correlation between athletic eminence and the position of the planet Mars relative to the horizon at time and place of birth. This controversial finding was first reported by the French psychologist and statistician Michel Gauquelin who, in his book L’influence des astres (“The Influence of the Stars”, 1955), the first rigorous study of astrological claims,[1] suggested that a statistically significant number of sports champions were born just after the planet Mars rises or culminates.”

Michel Gauquelin, Is There Really a Mars Effect?
Above & Below: Journal of Astrological Studies, Issue 11, Fall 1988, pp. 4-7.

In the paper there is a figure that shows the original Mars effect.