Understanding ‘Understanding’

Quotes from Addy Pross, What is Life? How Chemistry becomes Biology

Chapter Understanding ‘Understanding’

“In the scientific world we strive to achieve understanding of phenomena in the world around us through application of the scientific method.”

“At the very heart of the scientific method is the process of induction, a way of reasoning whose roots can be traces back to ancient Greek philosophy, but was raised to scientific prominence with its formal description by Francis Bacon.”

“Inductive reasoning involves the reaching of general conclusions from a set of empirically obtained facts – what one might simplistically term pattern recognition.”

“In fact all cognitive beings, human and non-humans alike, apply the method routinely, whether consciously or subconsciously, in a process that has been deeply engrained in us all by evolution. Yes, your pet dog, despite his lack of familiarity with Bacon’s treatise, or epistemology in general, also routinely applies the inductive method.”

“But it took the genius of an Isaac Newton to recognize a much broader pattern, one which links the behavior of falling apples to the orbits of celestial bodies.”

“But what that means, however, is that there is no absolute and deep understanding as to why apples fall. Gravity is just the name of the general pattern to which the falling apple event belongs.”

“Ultimately all scientific explanations are inductive – they involve no more than the recognition of patterns and the association of the specific within the pattern.”

“We have used the term ‘pattern’ to describe what it is that the inductive method seeks, though scientists typically use other terms, such as hypotheses, theories, laws, to mention the main ones, the difference being primarily in the degree to which the pattern has been confirmed.”

“If we keep in mind that every hypothesis, theory, or law is ultimately just a pattern, the day that theory or law is modified or revoked will be less surprising, less disconcerting.”

“There is no fundamental explanation for any phenomena and the best we can do is to say that the pattern is the explanation.”

“It should be emphasized that the same set of observations may on occasion be interpreted in different ways and so may lead to the recognition of different patterns.”

“In conclusion, when a system can be patterned in more than one way, the question as to which pattern is better may well depend on the particular application.”