There are many possible critiques of scientific method, from many different viewpoints and for many different reasons. Many of these are fairly technical, or rightfully should be, such as the application of the Heisenberg uncertainity principle, a rather technical law about the impossibility of measuring electrons, into a general statement about the role of the observer in defining the observed. Some critiques of science are based on the obvious history of science as being clearly biased by social prejudices, such as the infamous "nine out of ten doctors prefer camels" or the "science" of eugenics. Many critiques of science don't even attempt to have any kind of logical or conceptual basis, but instead appeal to people's preference that it should be the nature spirit, and not photosynthesis, that makes the plants grow.

One of the best critiques of science, however, was one I learned from reading Matrin Heidegger's book What is a Thing. I am not a trained philosopher, so my interpretation of what exactly Heidegger was trying to say may not be in accordance with the general interpretation of his views. This is, however, what Heidegger's words inspired me to think:

Heidegger points out that in the famous Tower of Pisa experiment undertaken by Galileo Galilei, to prove that objects of different sizes would fall at the same speed, the objects did not actually hit at the same time, and that was clear to everyone present (I don't know exactly what source Heidegger uses for it), but that the only after factoring in air resistance and the like were the bodies falling at the same rate. In other words, Gallielo was imagining the balls dropping in a vacuum, and not only in a normal vacuum, but in the most perfect vacuum ever, mathematical space, the Cartesian grid. Heidegger then points out that the major advance that led to modern science was not observation, but rather mathematical projection. In other words, scientists were able to undertake experiements because they imagined a neutral world space in which experiments would be unaffected by outside factor. In other words, the view of science is of particles moving around in a field with homogenous properties.

This then, is Heidegger's thinking. My own thinking goes a few steps farther. Perhaps because I am familiar with the Journey to the West, I know of the traditional Chinese system of metaphyisics, the Tai ji, the yin and yang, the five phases and the ten thousand things. It is a rather myriad form of metaphysics, perfect to hang a tragic love story or swashbuckling crazy monkey story off of. However, it is perhaps not best suited for high precision laboratory work. However, although this complicated metaphysical belief system is no longer used, science is still based on a metaphysical system. In the modern scientific belief system, there is space and matter. Matter moves around in space and changes form in space, but it can not actually affect space. It is quite impossible it seems, to change the gravitational constant or the 10 trillionth digit of pi by lighting a match, or even by a star going super nova.

From this observation that there seems to be unchanging laws of the universe, it is easy to deduce that the laws of the universe are an independent principle, out there whatever is going on in them. Since every billiard ball we ever drop will follow these laws, it is easy to deduce that the laws are independent of what is going on inside of them. We could stretch this to say that if a billiard ball "appeared out of nowhere", as it were, it would still follow the laws of physics, because these laws are independent of what takes part in them.

However, this two principle of metaphysics may be just as useless as the ornate monkey and his travelling companions metaphysics. Why does the monkey even need one friend? Because, the truth is, there is no "out there" for a billiard ball to suddenly appear out of and thusly follow the laws of physics.

The belief that there is an independent "laws of physics" that we can depend on no matter what arrangement the particles inside of it start out in is based on the fact, or the belief that we can somehow rearrange situation inside the universe. Which, of course, to our everyday experience we can (it may be time for me to move my desk out of this corner soon, after all), but within the bounds of the entire system of physics, nothing can be cut and pasted from one location to another. This is the philosophy of superdeterminism, which states that things can not be "explained" by "physical laws", because we can never remove things from those laws. The things and the laws are one.

Thus, we see that the scientific viewpoint, which simplified the old complicated "four humours", "seven spheres" cosmology down into atoms and the void can be reduced down even futher into "stuff just happens, there is no way to investigate the cause".

To give a coherent critique of science, or the scientific method we must be clear about what we mean by the scientific method. It is this given interpretation of the scientific method that will then be critiqued. What I propose is that we take the "scientific method" to be the process that is undertaken in the pursuit of scientific information. Principally the process should take into account how we construct our pictures of the world, and how those pictures change. My first critique of the above writeup is that it claims to critique the scientific method. It actually critiques a scientific viewpoint, a world picture if you will. It does not directly address the processes that lead to the view point.

It should be noted here that there are competing and strongly different theories of what the scientific method is. For some examples consider the following; The Popperian view is that scientific knowledge advances only through refutation. The consequence of this view is that the most valid scientific theories ought to be the most outrageous, for by setting up theories that can be cleanly refuted we expand our information about the world. The Kuhnian view is that scientific knowledge advances through revolutions, paradigm shifts. It is a sort of a condensed matter kind of a view. Experiment and theory begin to diverge leading to a critical point at which the incumbent theory is radically and rapidly overturned. Tipping points and the like abound in this theory. The logical positivists view point is that we make atomistic and verifiable statements and these statements combine to tell what is and is not the case about the world. The post-modernists would have us believe that any text has any interpretation and science tells us nothing about the external world, only about the social structure of scientific communities. The matter is complicated. I think the reason for that is science is pursued by people and people tend to be complicated. My own proposal for a scientific method is pinned on two statements. The practical applications we create from our science seem to become more, and not less effective, in manipulating the world. Our theories seem to become more coherently connected. I'll not say more about this as I am engaged in a critique of the above writeup and not a description of the scientific method.

So much for some background. I will try to paraphrase the above writeups argument.

Heidegger says that the ability to abstract, to create thought experiments, was the great advance provided by Galileo. In particular the creation of abstract space and entities inside that space.

Modern science has done away with monkeys but retains space and matter as independent entities.

Matter cannot effect space

At this point Glowing Fish uses the example of the gravitational constant and pi, so we must assume that for GF space is not simply a neutral place, but that is has physical properties.

these properties are intrinsic, i.e. they have to be the way they are, they do not change, they are called laws.

these laws act on objects inside space and independent of the nature of the objects.

So this is the scientific picture/method that will be critiqued.

the critique follows.

Space and the entities inside it are not, after all, independent. The idea that they are independent comes from the fallacy that the contents of the universe can be rearranged. In a closed universe no instantaneous re-arrangement can take place. Therefore all actions that happen in the universe are contingent on some prior action. If everything that happens is dependent upon a previous event occurring, then it no longer makes any sense to distinguish between cause and effect, as the chain of causation is uninterruptible. Things happen, and continue to happen, because they have happened in the past.

Phew, OK.

Here is my reply to these points on a point by point basis. Out of historical interest Galileo probably did not conduct the experiment at the tower of Pisa. This is a legend. What is know is that his theory of mechanics was derived from experiments in which balls of different density were rolled down inclined planes. Air friction was not a problem. In addition Copernicus had ventured into the realm of imaginary space before Galileo, as had Ptolemy and all of the geometry, back to Euclid. Heidegger was looking for absolutes in his philosophy, hence the emphasis on absolute space.

The critique is about a world view. It is not about a methodology of pursuing science. The node would better be titled a critique of an inaccurate physical picture of the world.

The picture of the world as presented does not correspond with current ideas about space and matter. Since Einstein's theories of relativity space and matter are intimately linked. Space tells matter how to move, matter tells space how to bend, as Einstein once put it. They are by no means independent. In any case, the philosophical question of super determinism is independent of which theory you take for space and matter. The question of super-determinism is one of causation.

The intrinsic properties of space which GF calls laws are not considered to be unchanging and constant. The value of pi is known to be a function of the curvature of the space that one finds oneself embedded in. Adding mass changes the curvature. If I sit next to a circle the local curvature of space will have changed and the value of pi around the circle will be different. No one knows what sets the value of the gravitational constant. There are theories in which it changes.

The idea that GF critiques is an outmoded picture of the world. The idea that GF uses to critique it is a powerful one and is independent of the picture of the world. It is depended on our picture of causation. What he calls super-determinism has a very old pedigree. Instead of looking at the writings of Heidegger the ideas traced in the public writings of Leibniz with his monads. Spinoza too follows a similar line. The great ancestor of super determinism is Aristotle. Super determinism is another name for the unmoved mover argument. Aristotle uses this argument to call for the existence of God. In Aristotle’s philosophy God is not a personable entity, but rather the ideal toward which all animate matter moves and all inanimate matter moves away from, causing at once motion in the universe along with intellectual and ethical principles. One could ask of GF's thesis "stuff just happens", what happened first? what is the prime mover, etc..

However this is an old argument. Whether science assumes this or not, people certainly assume that intervention in their lives is possible. People behave under the understanding that they have will. That they can bring into existence actions. Science serves us as, in one role, a methodology for accounting for causation. If I pull lever x then y will be the effect. That we continue to pursue science is a good argument that it has done this aspect of its job well. Science provides a litany of causes, but very few reasons. It will happily tell the how, the why is more subtle. We behave as if super-determinism is not the case, and our best pictures of the world, i.e. our best scientific theories, either, in the case of quantum mechanics, say that super determinism does not hold in every size scale in nature, or else they say, as in the case of chaos theory, that the determinism that happens in a system is not visible due to the complexity in the system. There is enough room to believe that this type of determinism is not the case. If it were the case it would be of little practical consequence as we would behave as if it were not the case anyway.

To summarise. The above writeup critiques a false picture of the world, and does so badly. The critique depends on one of the oldest philosophical threads which is untenable behaviourally and for which there is sufficient evidence in the current physical sciences to safely ignore.

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