Monday, September 5, 2011

Philosophy of Science

Several claims are commonly made about science.

  1. Scientists are unbiased observers.
  2. Scientists use the scientific method to confirm or falsify their theories.
  3. Scientists have no preconceptions in collecting data and deriving theories.
  4. Science is self-correcting because scientists readily abandon theories, when they don’t fit the facts.  

While the claims are true to a point they are not entirely true.

The problem is that data by itself does not falsify or confirm theories.  The interpretation of data is actually somewhat subjective in practice because it is not self interpreting. It needs to be interpreted by way of a theoretical system. Also the scientific method is a generalization of how science is suppose to work it is not a fixed rule.

Scientists have sometimes shown tremendous loyalty to their theories. Finally a scientist’s theories are always influenced by philosophical assumptions.


Science requires starting assumptions because our knowledge is incomplete which is contrary to the myth of Scientists having no preconceptions. The results of scientific inquiry are greatly influenced by starting assumptions such that having the wrong starting assumptions results in wrong theories.

  1. Some basic assumptions of science are as follows:
  2. That the Universe can be understood.
  3. That it is governed by certain rules.  - Laws of Nature.
  4. That these laws apply everywhere.

While these are normally taken for granted they are assumptions


The real question of philosophy of Science is “What is science?”  This is not as easy a question to answer as it may seem because Science dose not fit easily into a box because it is simply impossible to draw a clear line between science and non-science because there is too much overlap between them.

The key concepts of Science are observation, falsification and repeatability. However even these are not absolute since not everything fits into them.  There are things in the universe that can not be seen such as atoms, subatomic particles, black holes. There are things that can not be tested such as an unbounded universe and the Cosmological Principle. Some things can not be repeated such as the origin of life, and the origin of the universe it self.

A big part of the problem is the desire of some scientists to eliminate from science areas of study they don’t like so the question of “What is science?” remains an open question.

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