Archive for the ‘History of Science’ Category

What Use Philosophy?

March 23, 2018

Only Philosophy will teach the children well:

STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics), or STEAM (adding “Arts” to the preceding) are the latest (well justified) fashion in teaching children in the USA (inspired by China and Singapore). The method is spreading (and I contributed to push it). However, a subject has been forgotten, the most important: philosophy (and, in particular, the history upon which it rests!)

Like science, philosophy is a sum over histories. But it isn’t just that. Like science, philosophy is a method. Like science, the engine of philosophy is unbiased common sense. Yet, a more general method. Like science, philosophy uses facts, and is itself, among other things, a set of facts (not forgetting that ideas and emotions are, themselves, facts). Yet, philosophy doesn’t just use scientific facts (that is, facts beyond any suspicion). Like science, philosophy is a method of enquiry to guess further facts. Like science, philosophy establishes systems of thought. Like science, philosophy can use a single fact to put in doubt a system of thought, and build another. Unlike science though, philosophy can guess facts, and propose (or even establish) systems of thought on those guesses.

Hence philosophy, the philosophical method, common sense applied to whatever, is the key to major advances in science. Major advances in science call upon, and necessitate, guessing the imaginable. They call upon the philosophical method. No philosophical method, no major advances in science possible. Indeed, any major advance in science is built on new facts, and to go fetch those new facts require desire, hope, imagination, systems of potentialities, fancy financing on fumes, curiosity about what could be, etc.

Our bodies love to dance, in part because we love music, part of our dialogue with the universe. Learning to learn, or just to tolerate others’ music is not just pleasant, it’s enriching, a form of wealth which honors the spirit, source of all and any goodness, besides being our very essence!

Buridan’s momentum, force, inertia, relativity of motion and heliocentrism in the Fourteenth Century provide a  nice example of philosophy & science entangled:

Indeed Buridan (circa 1340 CE) guessed that Aristotle’s false physics depended upon neglecting air resistance and friction in general. Absent those errors, what was left was the theory of inertia, a particular case of impetus theory. Buridan noted that we can only ever observe relative motions. We cannot really know absolute motions. So if, for example, we happened to be in a boat going along a coastline, we really don’t know whether the boat we are in is moving or if the coastline is moving alongside us. Nicole Oresme pushed further the physics unmoved on a movable ship argument (replicated by Galileo 250 years later).

A consequence was that a heliocentric system, with planets orbiting the sun indefinitely (and the Earth rotating on itself) was a possibility. Buridan then slyly said that such a system couldn’t be distinguished experimentally from the one in “Scripture”, so we may as well believe the latter. It was an invitation to develop other observations.

Amazingly, both (rector) Buridan and (elected bishop in 1377 CE!) Oresme, having removed all reasons against heliocentrism, and having argued that it was more economical a system of thought, then said it couldn’t be decided, pointed out that this failure showed the limits of reason, and thus that reason couldn’t be used against (their) faith: “What I have said here, by way of diversion of intellectual exercise can in this manner serve as a valuable means of refuting and checking those who would like to impugn our faith by argument.”

“Argument” (reason) is a very powerful, says Oresme, but not powerful enough to determine whether the Earth moves or not. Similarly, if “argument” cannot answer a physical question about the world, we have to be very careful about arguing about faith. Oresme has therefore used rational arguments about physics, involving relativity of motion, to show rational argument can come short, in physics, and thus metaphysics (“faith”).

This is a magnificent example of how entangled science, philosophy and… faith, are.

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Trying to teach science alone is trying to teach the chicken, how it moves, without its head (philosophy):

Philosophy goes much further than science and its scientific method, as the philosophical method, which uses whatever, enables to establish systems of thought using whatever, including emotions, songs and poetry (the great Twelfth Century philosopher was relatively as famous as the Beatles for his songwriting; even more than Buridan and Oresme, Abelard was in total war with the Catholic Church, namely Saint Bernard; he got emasculated and excommunicated for it…) In particular, philosophy establishes wisdoms of life: why and how to live. Can’t live without it. It may as well be taught, lest all young end up as Jihadists, snowflakes, or culture deprived nerds.


Here is a bit of the love of more advanced wisdom. More advanced philosophy enables to listen to music others, less mentally advanced types, can’t hear. Therein a happiness others are deprived from. However, establishing new thinking inside one’s brain is expensive, not just expansive, and involves suffering. Thus, some whine, Nietzsche prefered suffering to happiness. (Not really true: Nietzsche observed that lions are happy, and  imagined them happy not to be mice… Bertrand Russell, like all good hypocrites, practicing the opposite of what they preach, disingenuously called Nietzsche not compassionate… While siding with the despicable Kaiser in World War One… while Nietzsche correctly vomited the preceding Kaiser already)

Here is a relevant philosophical perspective Buddha himself blithely ignored: IF ONE PREFERS SUFFERING TO HAPPINESS, HOW CAN THINGS GET WORSE? Verily, suffering and happiness are entangled: happiness is best experienced, like the best tsunami, with the contrasting experience, of a lowering of expectations…

Philosophy at its best. Science can’t do that.  

Science can study suffering, science can’t say why one should study suffering, and what to do with it. Only philosophy can do that, thus only philosophy can order science to get going.

We, humans, have been scientists, for millions of years, but so are we, because we love to be wise. That’s how we are. Neglecting the love of wisdom is neglecting us. It is easy to see how greedy potentates will want to neglect us. Let them not have it. In ancient Rome, philosophy failed first, followed by the failure of democracy, then intelligence. Teach philosophy to children, and, if you don’t, ultimately science and technology themselves will falter, as they did in Rome, barbarity will win, as civilization won’t be sustainable anymore. 

To finish how we started here, the most important subject to teach, with heart and mind, is the most encompassing philosophical attitude. How to do this with children? By teaching them the history of civilizations (notice the plural). Killing two birds with one stone. The rise of violent Muslim Fundamentalism in Europe, in particular France, is directly attributable to an astounding lack of knowledge of history among not just the young, but also self-described “intellectuals” (multiple shootings and wounded in France again today, March 23, 2918, in attacks claimed by Daesch, the so-called Islamist State… no problem we shall just live in a state of siege, adorned by shootings in the streets, schools, supermarkets…)

Generally when taught, in only in one hour, the rough circumstances of Muhammad’s ascent to the position of Mecca’s dictator, a discernible mental shift among young Muslims is discernible. It’s just astounding that this telling part of history is not taught anywhere in French schools (all the more as France is a direct political, cultural and legal descendant of the Roman State, half of which got violently invaded, and ruined… by the immediate successors (“Caliphs“) of Muhammad…

China, Europe, India, are the major scientific, and technological powers of civilization. It is no coincidence that they are also the philosophical superpowers.

Human is the philosophical animal. And science, facts known for sure, a consequence. Art also: try to make symbols that will last 50,000 years… without any science.

You want life and the pursuit of happiness? Let society pursue philosophy first!

Patrice Aymé

 

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Science Is Always Right

February 17, 2018

Science is Right, By Definition, and ever more knowledgeable, from evolution.

What is science? What we know, for sure. Yes, because there is such an emotion as certainty, or quasi-certainty. It’s because we were pretty sure that we came down the trees into the savanna. To discover plenty of new, life saving truth, plenty of science. Like how to drink from, and cook tubers. So yes, there is a notion of truth, and it made us, our species, our genus, Homo, whose genius is to have mastered truth.

Prehistoric men were found with fire starting kits comprising dozens of parts. Humans have used science, what is sure, for millions of years. Fire for 1.3 million years, clothing for two million years (up north), stone tools and weapons for millions of years before that (monkeys and apes, even some birds do). All this was made possible by, and demonstrates sure knowledge: science.

Volcanic lightning is caused by friction (creating electric charges), and then dynamics. Separating small particles from big ones, an application of Newton’s F = ma; F is a given, from supersonic gas, but a, the acceleration, varies, as m, the mass of particles, vary. Hence charges get separated, something lightning solves.

We understand why a violent volcanic explosion generates lightning (one of thousands of triumphs of recent science). That does not mean that the prehistoric science of making fire with sparks from flints or friction from wood are wrong. Just the opposite: both mechanisms come into play to generate lightning from volcanoes. Science goes deeper, darker, ever more. 

Similarly, the twentieth century theories of gravitation did not make Newton wrong (as the naive is won to believe). Actually, the recent theories made Newton twice more right. Indeed. First, Newton pointed out exactly a problem with his theory, which he excoriated as “absurd” (and he used even more vigorous words): Newtonian style gravitation was supposed to be instantaneous, through empty space, Newton hated that. Laplace, a century later, invented the simple mathematical picture of a field propagating at finite speed; that caused waves (1807). A century later, Henri Poincaré, main author of what he called the “theory of relativity”, rolled out relativistic gravitational waves (1905).

After Poincaré’s death (1912), Einstein, working with Hilbert, produced a specialization of Poincaré’s general gravitational theories. That theory was just a MODIFICATION of Newtonian theory (which is its first order, that’s how the Einstein equation is found). Basically, as Poincaré found in 1899, light in Maxwell theory has inertial, thus gravitational, mass. As light was used as the metric in Poincaré’s Relativity, the metric of spacetime was mass dependent. (Those who have the Einstein cult can’t possibly understand the logic underlying the science just alluded to, and that includes many physicists!)

Claiming that science is always wrong is equivalent to saying that we know nothing. It was tried before, and not just by Karl Popper. The confused Socrates perniciously tried to impose that notion, that men were ignorant, and knew nothing (however Socrates knew more than the rest…). Of course, the elites knew everything (or acted as if they did): thus Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander, Antipater and Craterus were all friends, united in their belief that the people knew nothing. And thus 23 centuries of dictatorship was necessary.

Instead, the truth is the opposite: there is such a thing as truth and knowledge. Science is always right, and this is why planes fall off the sky so rarely, and we are going back to the Moon. That doesn’t mean that science can’t be made to become always more refined, powerful, all-knowing. Newtonian mechanics is good enough for rocket science, but, for GPS, one has to be a bit more subtle, and use Relativity (as clocks run slower in a gravitational field, and the greater, the slower…)

Science being right, doesn’t mean that scientists are always right each time they open their mouths. Science is right, scientists are wrong. Example? When physicists come around, and speak as if they were god, this being demonstrated because they apparently witnessed the birth of the universe, they are clearly crazy, and calling them “scientists” is a bit too quick: generously one could say that they are specialists driven to madness by all too many years of hard studies. 

We have gone a long way since Anaximander proposed we all evolved from fishes, and research professor Lamarck, after decades studying mollusk fossils in microscopes, confirmed that, indeed, life had evolved over millions of years (1800; parroted by others later). The Ancient Greeks were perplexed by static electricity. Now we understand it very well, and soon we will understand it better (as Quantum Computer fabrication will force us to understand better atomic and single electron dynamics).

Science is an exploration always renewed, but real knowledge has been accumulated, and when 2,000 Athenians lifted the general amnesty, to target Socrates specifically, and him alone, they showed us that epistemology should be taken seriously. Socrates claimed ignorance, the 2,000 jurors claimed he should have known. No, indeed, science is not fake news! Besmirching science with error painted all over is error unbecoming a deep thinker.

Patrice Aymé

P/S: The approach above is antipodal to that of Karl Popper. Popper basically believed that to be science, science ought to be demonstrably false (OK, I can never resist ridiculizing him, although I like Popper!) This silliness causes real damage: consider the essay linked above:”Why Science Is Wrong” it clamors in its click-bait title (the article is not as bad as its title, but the damage is done). 10,000 people applauded, thus identifying science and fake news, damaging knowledge, thus everything, and validating fake news. So you see, Popper may sound like an ethereal subject, considering the notion of science in the 1930s. But now, nearly a century later, we have popular authors regurgitating the same notion, that, if it’s science, it’s wrong. Popper would say, and did say, that it is not at all what he wanted to say. Yet, he said it, no mistake about that.

TRUTH, SCIENCE: CONSTRUCT, Only Then Try To Falsify

December 24, 2016

The notion of truth is central to the human condition. “Belief”, “Faith” claim to solve it. But there is a better way: dynamics.

BUILD, THEN VERIFY: HOW SCIENCE & TRUTH PROGRESS. TRUTH IS AN ECOLOGY.

Popper’s Error: Science Is Not Just About Falsification. Science Is Construction First, Falsification Later:

Abstract: ‘Falsification’ ruled 20th-century science. However, falsification was always second to construction. First construct, only then falsify. Why? As simple as it gets: One cannot falsify something that one has not constructed.

So what is truth? For a hint: look at biological evolution: in a way evolution is a truth, any species solves a number of problems it is confronted to. (It could be the Ebola virus: the virus solves the problem of its own survival.) I will show truths are also denizens of an evolutionary process. (Leaving the Bible’s Logos in the dust…)i

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Detailed Examples Show That Falsification Is Always Second To Construction: the heliocentric theory jumps to mind.

Heliocentrism (Earth rotates around the Sun) was first proposed by the astronomer Aristarchus (320 BCE). At least so said Archimedes. The arguments were lost. However, Aristotelian physics was in the way. PPP Carefully Looking At The Phases Of Venus Falsified The Ptolemaic Model of the Solar System

Buridan (~ 1345 CE) demolished Aristotelian physics (no, islamophiles, Buridan was indeed first). Armed with his correct inertial theory, Buridan proposed that Earth turned around the sun. But he could not prove it. Copernicus said more of the same two centuries later: yet it could not be proven.

The philosophical argument had been known for 18 centuries: the Sun was the bigger thing, so the smaller thing, Earth, should rotate around the bigger thing. (Maybe some Ancient Greeks thought about another argument, relative to speed: if the Sun turned around, in just a day, its speed had got to be enormous; enormous speeds were unfriendly; if Earth rotated around, it needed to rotate on itself: would the clouds fly away? Aristotle’s erroneous physics said so, but Buridan explained  that Aristotle’s arrow experiment was false, by introducing rotary inertia.

Kepler came out with his laws, a stupendous achievement. Still one could not prove heliocentrism definitively. It had become the simpler description, though, by a long shot. 

Falsification Of The Egocentric Ptolemaic System Was Only Provided By The Goddess Venus

Falsification Of The Egocentric Ptolemaic System Was Only Provided By The Goddess Venus; By The Way, I Protest Against The Adjective “Copernican”. Aristarchus, and Even More, Buridan, Were The Main Architects of Building The Truth About The Heliocentric System. Buridan threw Down Aristotelian Physics, Something Even Archimedes Did Not Do (that we know of!)

[In the Ptolemaic System, Venus Was Always Between Earth And Sol, Thus, Venus Always Appeared As A Crescent. Seeing Venus fully lighted by Sol showed Ptolemaic astronomers were full of it. Now, OK, they had to wait for the progress of European optics in the middle Middle Ages… Reading glasses and all that…]

And then Galileo found that the little things, the four satellites of Jupiter, were rotating around the big thing (Jupiter). Another indice.

At this point, there were several independent lines of arguments each pointing at heliocentrism as the most economical, most likely explanation (size, speed, lesser overall rotational inertia (rotational “impetus”, to speak as Buridan did), Kepler’s Laws, Jupiter’s satellites).

It was a “beast in the forest approach”: it sounded like a lion, it smelled like a lion, it had the color of a lion, it looked as if it had the ears of a lion. So what of Popper’s “falsification” approach in this? Suppose that it did not have the color of a lion. Does that prove it’s not a lion? No. It could be bright red, because it’s covered with blood, and it’s still a lion. Or all black, because it’s in the shade, yet, still a lion.

By 1613, though, Galileo’s telescope had enough power to resolve the phases of Venus (and dare to publish the result). Only then was the heliocentric theory definitively proven, and the Ptolemaic system ruled out. If the way the phases behaved had not come out right, heliocentrism would have been wrong. PPP Venus provided with the Popper Falsification. However, even before that, all astronomers had come to the conclusion that it was certain that the Earth turned around the Sun.

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Of The Bad Influence Of Popper & The Primacy Of Falsification:

Falsification is not fun and cuts down the impulse of imagination. Putting falsification from cognition first kills imagination. Imagination is more important than cognition. Imagination is the definition of the human condition.

To realize that only the phases of Venus were an incontrovertible proof, one had to have derived the heliocentric theory far enough to come to that conclusion. By the time it became clear that the Venus phases were the incontrovertible proof could be, 99% of the theory of heliocentrism was established. 

It was a question of mental chicken and egg: neither came first, the theory had to evolve. Actually, the phases of Venus can be resolved by exceptional observers with fantastic eyes, and special atmospheric conditions (the human eye can resolve a minute of arc, Venus apparent size is around two-third of that).

If one had been guided by only finding a definitive proof of heliocentrism, one would have invented no science. For example Buridan and his students invented graphs. They also demonstrated early calculus theorems, but without any of the sophisticated formalism, equation, analytic geometry, which those theorems would push to discover…

By considering that only the last step of an inquiry makes that inquiry scientific, Popper and his falsification obsession make science impossible. (Down with Popper; make no mistake, I like Popper, but then I also “like” Ivanka Trump’s mien in the coach cabin of a Jetblue sardine can, when she kept calm in the middle seat, while being “harassed” by two PC college professor idiots… They were thrown out of the plane, came to regret their actions, and then deleted their Tweeter accounts where they wrote about the deedd they planned. Both the martyrized Ivanka and one of the cruel college professors of barbarity were with small children, including two infants…)

As Buridan pointed out, one could not tell the difference, experimentally , between the heliocentrism he proposed and Scripture (so one may as well believe scripture, he added insolently). But that impossibility to falsify did not prevent him to think about it, and to think about it as a science.

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Evolution theory is even more constructivist: 

The Greek philosopher Anaximander of Miletus, before the Persian fascist annihilated Miletus, proposed that people descended from fishes. Later, Aristotle, baffled by fossils, ordered his students to go out, observe and establish a registry of living forms.

By then evolution theory by mixed artificial and natural means was well-known in Greece, as related methods produced superlative cattle sold around the Mediterranean. Nobody can know how much was explicitly in writing about evolution (out of 700 Greco-Roman classics we know of, only 150 survived… through the Frankish controlled monasteries).

Evolutionary ideas were revived in the Eighteenth Century, until Lamarck proposed the theory of evolution in 1800 CE. Lamarck became quickly an object of hatred from the dictator Napoleon and the Christian Church. A bedrock of his conclusions were microscopic studies of fossils of mollusks (decades behind the microscope destroyed his eyesight). Lamarck was a research professor, not a falsification professor: he invented ideas, and even words: he used neologisms such as biology, mollusk, invertebrate, etc.

Lamarck also proposed a non-selective mechanism to explain evolution (as I said above, the Greeks were thoroughly familiar with natural and artificial selection). That obviously could not be disproven, and the mechanism was completely unfathomable. It is only now that epigenetics has been demonstrated to exist, and some mechanisms explaining it have been made explicit.

Methinks there is much more to come (because DNA is a Quantum machine in a Quantum environment, and all interactions are non-local…

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Those Who Don’t Want To Build, Don’t Want to Know:

We build theories, first. Then we test them, always. First build.

Those who don’t want to build, don’t want to falsify.

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Finding Truth By GOING BEYOND The BIBLICAL GOD:

To assuage and pacify the Neoplatonist leadership of the Roman empire, the evangel of John proclaims in its first few sentences that the “logos” was God, and God was the “logos”. In other words, logic, the discourse, ruled the universe.

Now the “logos” itself is its own truth: any logic defines a propositional truth from its axioms: well-formed propositions are “true” in a sense. HOWEVER, propositional truth is not ALL the truth in a logical system. That observation is the key to the problem of truth.   

Moreover, there is the problem of meta-truth. Meta-truth evolves out of truth (Godel famously proved that meta-truth existed). Logicians have been struggling with both non-propositional truth and metatruth (Godel’s proofs were proofs of existence, and did not provide with an explicit mechanism to build metatruths; later Godel and Cohen rolled out axioms which were independent of others, and thus could be considered true or not).

The preceding shows that building a scientific theory is a built-up of truth: Popper’s work was naive, removed from reality.

A scientific theory’s formation is an evolution of truth: it defines truth as it goes. Science is the best state of formal knowledge we have: thus truth is an evolution

Still, although truth evolves, that does not mean there is no absolute formal truth. There is: planes fly, don’t they? For a plane to fly one million formal truths need indeed to be true, at the same time, or the plane would crash.

Thus one can see that truth does not evolve like a species: metatruth evolves like an ecology does, generating on its way perfect species, local truths. An ecology evolves perfect species, such as sharks and oysters, which barreled, same as they always were, through massive extinction waves in the last few hundreds of millions of years. Evolution also produced species whose main business is to evolve, such as hominins (ourselves and all those cousins of us we used for dinner, in the past).

So, in the evolution of logic and metalogic, perfect truths are produced, so perfect they become part of the logos themselves (truths such as realizing that love is the engine of all things human!).

God is truth, and we make it up, as we debate reality with our imagination.

Patrice Ayme’

P/S: The essay is better appreciated if one is familiar with 20th century philosophy of science (and it penetrated the exercise of science itself, especially physics). Karl Popper claimed that, if a theory is falsifiable, then it is scientific. However, if I say, tomorrow the sky is blue, that’s falsifiable, but not necessarily scientific. The Popperian criterion excludes from the domain of science not unfalsifiable statements but only whole theories that contain no falsifiable statements. That’s silly, because Popper wanted to ‘prove’ that Marxism was not scientific… Yet clearly the work of Marx contains falsifiable statements. Moreover, Pauperism leaves one with the Duhemian problem of what constitutes a ‘whole theory’ as well as the problem of what makes a proposition ‘meaningful’.

My approach above pretty much throws the whole thing through the window. Science has to do with truth, and metatruth, which have architectures of truth, just as a building or a plane have them.