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?