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20131020 The Meaning of Science



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During the first half of my life I lived in environment where everything was science or at least scientific. I studied Scientific Communism, Scientific Atheism, and other Soviet Scientific BS. I also studied subjects which had nothing scientific in their titles, things like mathematical physics, electronics, Boolean algebra, design of computer processors, and quite a few others included in university studies for system engineers. Even at the time I noticed an interesting phenomenon that the more words “science” and “scientific” used in description, the less reliance on experiment this subject contained and more difficult it was to pinpoint reason why, despite lots of very logical and complex statements representing this subject, they clearly made no sense whatsoever if compared with realities of the world around me.

Obviously I never heard about Karl Popper and his epistemological work. Somehow it did not even get into books with names like “Critic of bourgeois philosophy of science” which I kind of liked to read to amuse myself by the strange inability of bourgeois philosophers to accept compelling logic of Soviet Official Scientific Whatever. Now I finally got to read “Logic of Scientific Discovery” and really enjoyed a clear thinking of Karl Popper even if I left Soviet notion of “Scientific” behind long, long time ago.

This book is somewhat complicated so I would not try to go into details and particularities of its logic. The most important in it is a notion of scientific logic, which includes two steps process – building of theory and its falsification or more precise attempts for its falsification.

This notion of falsification is, probably the most important contribution to understanding of science as method of knowledge acquisition. In short falsification of theory is the clearly defined conditions for experiment and its outcome, which, if proved to be true, falsifies the theory, or in other words proves that it is incorrect. The simplest example of this method is a theory that sun always rising every morning. The falsification of this theory would be fact that one morning sun did not raise. Even if sun will rise the morning after, the original theory still is falsified and we’ll need another theory to explain the phenomenon of raising sun.

By the same pattern an extension of this theory would be the theory that sunrise is directly connected to the chief priest’s making sacrifices to gods. The falsification of this theory would be the statement that if chief did not make sacrifices, sun still would rise. It is scary, but if proved to be true, it would make the theory about sacrifices and chief false and could even lead to chief’s unemployment since his work on making sunrise to occur is just not necessary.

One very interesting consequence of this logic is impossibility of any settled science whatsoever because as long as theory is scientific it has a statement of falsification. It doesn’t matter how many such statements where tested and confirmed because for theory to remain scientific it should still have a statement, which could be tested only sometime in the future. As soon as such statement could not be provided the theory cease to be scientific and become an article of faith. And that is exactly what happened with all this “scientific” theories that I studied in the late Soviet union – they where falsified and before disappearing turned into articles of faith, and pretty evil faith at that.

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