Some personal thoughts on the scientific method:
There is no neutral observation. Bacon's formulation of science
is naive, but at the time it was appropriate. At that time
knowledge was also based on hearsay, people were getting burned at stakes
on the strength of what someone else said about them, how popular they were
whether they slept with too many people and other such reasons.
When we make an observation we bring with it information which informs the
observation. Sometimes the new information obtained is not
sufficient to choose between many different priors and so
so two camps claim the same observation as proof for two opposing theories.
Social situation can inform the prior. A very good example of this in
in the phlogistan - oxygen debate between Lavoisier and Priestley in
the 18th century.
Theories have to be falsafiable, this means that they should not admit ad hoc explanation.
That would seem to be a good thing. To show something is falsafiable is a bit more tricky.
Popper suggests that only by disproving something can you obtain information.
Theory- all crows are black (no information as it is only a theory). I see a white
crow now I know that All crows are not black !. I have falsified a theory
and obtained information. Unfortunately someone comes along and looks and my white crow,
places it under some running water for a while and low and behold the paint washes off !!
(i have leaned not to trust scientists talking about crows ;).
Science is theory laden, if you don't like to results from an experiment that used
a complicated piece of equipment then you can argue with the science of the
equipment. (e.g. Pons and Fleischmann, exempt they were really wrong).
So where does that leave us?, well the answer is that we seek consistency given
as small a set of assumptions as possible (cos it's more fun that way)
What are the assumptions:
- The Universe exists (at least a representation of information exists)
- The objects in the universe (people, mice, rice pudding as examples)
- The objects within the universe communicate coherently
and can come to agreement about states in the universe
there I think that's all you need. (if you don't like these
postulates, these articles of faith then i have others, no just kidding
then you would not be doing science ;< )
This gets around solipsism
. These postulates are just postulates of consistency
Another way of looking at them is they justify induction
not clear yet why this is so in a universe
which behaves consistently
accepting the plausible explanation is a plausible thing to do
(uggg, circular argument
, but I hope you see what I mean).
Induction requires some reason to believe in the inductive hypothesis
(can't be proved). This reason is the plausibility of the
hypothesis. Why does the universe work in a nice plausible consistent
way? I don't know but by being able to check with others I can convince myself that it does.
(Einstein said that it was not amazing that we knew so much, but that we knew anything at all)
OK, so what is it that science tells us? (what is it to be plausible?).
We have this amazing ability to communicate to each other about the world around us,
we can compare notes, bang rocks together, we can think! It's nice to be able to explain things.
To give plausible explanations. Sure a flat earth explains what I see when I look
around but then gravity has to be independent from mass in some strange way, and yet act on mass
at the same time (cos otherwise gravity would be stronge at the edges of
the flat earth than at the centre and I've never heard of anything like that)
, but the earth as a really big ball and gravity as a central force explains the things I
see around me, and the motions of all of the planets, cool.
It explains the weight of the apple in my hand and the phases of the moon
(By the way Newton was a genius).
So we have this complicated web of every experience that surrounds us. Science
does two things. It tries to explain the experiences and connect together
all of the experiences. Like trying to weave a large rug, everything is connected to
everything else. Sometimes we realise that we have been waving the wrong way,
standing back a bit the pattern doesn't match up. Thats waht peer review is for, just
to check that the pattern adds up.
So far most of the carpet has been woven with physics, astronomy, chemistry
biology, but we still don't know what the fibers of it are, there are so manyholes so many open questions.
How we think, what colour is, what is love? why do dogs like people?
Now you might say, yeah sure but what if you make two carpets that both explain and connect together
everything ? and ok that might be possible, but as
scientists we tend to think that the lightest carpet
(the one with the least amount of ad hoc dirt on it) will be unique. I can't say that it is
or that it will be, I can't say that the carpet will ever get finished,
I only know that I am having a hell of a time trying to make it all fit together.
Richard P. Feynman describes the scientific method as trying to
work out the rules of chess by simply observing a game. It's a nice analogy.(%-=