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Old 06-07-2010, 05:49 PM   #76
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I'm guessing here but science is built on theories. When a theory is proved wrong then it's discarded and another, hopefully better, theory replaces it. Science can't actually prove a theory to be true but it can prove one false. All the current scientific theories are therefore "trusted" to be true until proved otherwise.

Just my 2c
This is very profound, and very clearly stated.
There is a quite established line of thought, due originally to Popper, according to which the only steps forward, toward a better understanding (of anything in practice) are trough a process of confutation (falsification).

In other words and extending the image, you learn only if you break the rules. I love that.
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Old 06-07-2010, 07:13 PM   #77
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Beauty can never be useless imho .
I think what you say about science is, broadly, true - but philosophy is a different matter.
Philosophy can question what science takes on trust.
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Could you explain what you think science takes "on trust"?
I think Stephen J. Gould said it best:

.....In science "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional consent." I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.
..........— Stephen Jay Gould, (1941 –2002. "Evolution as Fact and Theory"; Discover, May 1981.


Still, there is a sense in which science subscribes to a certain metaphysical outlook, and that in believing that the world makes sense at all. It didn’t really have to. The laws of physics could have been completely random and arbitrary; and perhaps in some alternate universe, they are. The universality of the laws of nature in this universe, so far as we know its nature and those laws, is a quite remarkable and under-appreciated thing in itself.
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Old 06-07-2010, 07:22 PM   #78
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This is very profound, and very clearly stated.
There is a quite established line of thought, due originally to Popper, according to which the only steps forward, toward a better understanding (of anything in practice) are trough a process of confutation (falsification).

In other words and extending the image, you learn only if you break the rules. I love that.
Right you are about Popper. In his view—which is very mainstream—elements which are not capable of being falsified have no place in a scientific theory. Miniature deities may be responsible for the the strong nuclear force; but as there is no conceivable experiment that could be done to disprove such an hypothesis, it has no place in science.
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Old 06-07-2010, 07:26 PM   #79
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Good question, I don't know of any "philosophy for dummies" book, but I'm sure there must be one. I have "meditation for dummies" and I found it very useful. Someone mentioned Bertrand Russel's History of Western Philosophy, but I haven't read it.
There is "Philosophy for Beginners" which is kind of a comic book and "Bluff your way in Philosophy". Both are very good.
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Old 06-07-2010, 07:50 PM   #80
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One of the best introductory books on the subject I've ever read is one I mentioned earlier, The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant. Because it was first published in 1926, you won't be reading anything approaching modern philosophical thought in its pages, but it remains a great overview of the philosophical classics, and is extremely readable.

Unfortunately, it's not available as an e-book, but last I checked it can still be found in paper and audio formats.
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Old 06-07-2010, 11:33 PM   #81
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Perhaps I'll throw out some suggestions. (I'm a philosophy professor, though the kind of philosophy I focus on is not really the kind you tend to read for the “fun” of it.)

Meditations on First Philosophy by Descartes. Far and away the most commonly assigned book into Introductory philosophy classes, since it covers all the basics, and introduces students to rigorous thinking so well (and of course was very influential in its own right).

Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous by George Berkeley (18th century Irish philosopher). This is a beautifully written dialogue in which Berkeley (through the character Philonous) argues for immaterialism, the theory that no matter exists. The arguments are not really convincing in the end, but it may change the way you think nonetheless.

The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell. This piece is not at all representative of Russell's usual philosophy (for that, look at The Philosophy of Logical Atomism), but it's broader and more accessible, and is a good accessory to the others mentioned.

If you liked Popper, a good next stop would be A. J. Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic, which advances the logical positivist doctrines into more traditional areas of philosophy. These sorts of views are not taken very seriously any more, but in the middle of the century they were all the rage in the English speaking world.

I'd make some more recommendations if people are interested in special topics. E.g., for philosophy of science, read T. Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; for political philosophy, try John Rawls's A Theory of Justice; these are high level works but still accessible.

It's not really my cup of tea, but people interested in existentialism usually start with Sartre's Existentialism is a Humanism (though I think he himself wouldn't regard it a serious work). If you were more into Nietzsche, my favorite work of his is The Genealogy of Morals, though that's not saying much (--don't much care for that kind of stuff.)

I've never heard anything good from a academic philosopher about Simon Critchley's work (and I've read lots of bad stuff), though I haven't read it myself, so take that with a grain of salt.
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Old 06-08-2010, 02:09 AM   #82
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A great book and a good introduction to philosophy and philosophers is Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy.

An entertaining as well as informative read.
Have to a agree Russel's book is a good intro to Philosophy..I have read it twice over the years. Also, for a quick good light overview...Maybe Geoff and others would like

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder.... A novel about the history of philosophy..Not perfect but very good...

http://www.amazon.com/Sophies-World-...5977111&sr=8-1

Also, Oxford produces the Very short introductions, or VSI. Those include some philosophers as well. Back to Russell. Another Book like his is Will Durant's History of Philosophy. Also a good general overview of Western Philosophy.
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Old 06-08-2010, 03:25 AM   #83
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I'm guessing here but science is built on theories. When a theory is proved wrong then it's discarded and another, hopefully better, theory replaces it. Science can't actually prove a theory to be true but it can prove one false. All the current scientific theories are therefore "trusted" to be true until proved otherwise.

Just my 2c
This is a misrepresentation. I much prefer Tom's quote

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I think Stephen J. Gould said it best:

.....In science "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional consent." I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.
..........— Stephen Jay Gould, (1941 –2002. "Evolution as Fact and Theory"; Discover, May 1981.
It is misguiding to say that science cannot prove a theory to be true. I suppose there might be a very small chance that another, better explanation of why apples fall may appear some day, but the probability is so low it's not worth mentioning.

It is also misguiding to say that theories are accepted until proven false. Before a theory is accepted, even provisionally, it must at least be considered to be plausible. By plausible I mean that it fits the facts and laws of physics as we already know them, or if it contradicts them, it must present reproduceable facts in support of their new questions, and/or new answers.

I will admit that there is an element of trust. I cannot check myself most of the scientific facts that I have been taught. I trust them to be true because I know they can be, have been and continue to be checked by scientists. I guess that scientists themselves cannot personally check all the fact, so they have to accept some of them on "trust", meaning on the knowledge that others have verified them using proven scientific methods.

I was going to say that I don't see what philosophy can gain by questioning this, but it's not true. There are some fascinating questions about science and how it evolves. More on that later, I hope (I do have to pretend to work for a living...).
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Old 06-08-2010, 04:00 AM   #84
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Could you explain what you think science takes "on trust"?
I think science takes on trust those things it regards as axiomatic.

For example, a lot of science is maths and rests on mathematical and logical axioms, 'Pi in the Sky: counting, thinking and being' by John D. Barrow is a fascinating book about the philosophy of maths, that explores whether what science takes on trust is philosophically valid.

Opening paragraph:
"A mystery lurks beneath the magic carpet of science, something that scientists have not been telling, something too shocking to mention except in rather esoterically refined circles; that at the root of the success of twentieth century science there lies a deeply 'religious' belief - a belief in an unseen and transcendental world that controls us in an unexplained way, yet upon which we seem to exert no influence whatsoever."

Sounds not unlike Plato's world of forms.

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Old 06-08-2010, 05:17 AM   #85
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I think Popper has slipped out of the top ten philosophers of science by now. He was trying to draw hard and fast lines between science, on the one hand, and other ways of looking at the world, and that is very difficult to do. Back in the late 60s, when I was quite interested in all this, I recall thinking that Paul Feyerabend had cooked Popper's goose for him. He argued that, on the one hand, if you look at how scientists actually come up with their discoveries, falsification is not that big a concern, and that on the other hand, philosophers have no business laying down the law for scientists, who are quite capable of making their own way. That seemed to chime with Polanyi's claim that all scientific knowledge is, in its conception, personal knowledge that arises in the scientist's search for reality. I recently decided to look at this stuff again and picked up Samir Okasha's 'Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction'. Popper gets very little mention, and neither Feyerabend nor Polanyi get into the index at all, so I guess I must have been wasting my time back in the day.

If you are interested in the history of Christianity, you might want to look at Diarmaid MacCulloch's recently published book of that title. I've got it in a digital edition (expensive, but it's a very heavy book!) and I'v been finding it very readable indeed. MacCulloch is not a believer, but he is sympathetic to Christianity (as he says, on the male side his immediate ancestors had been Anglican pastors for three generations, and he was brought up in a vicarage), but he brings out the contradictions and hesitations very well. He actually begins the story in Greece, as he argues that most of the early Christians, and in particular Paul, were as much influenced by Greek philosophy as they were by Judaism. Obviously the Greeks had a profound influence on later developments.

Simon Critchley is perhaps a little too much of a deconstructionist to endear himself to American philosophers - although I guess he'd get a good hearing in a French department. I found his book on Comedy OK, but not particularly earth-shattering. His videos are quite fun to watch.

I think my own favourite philosophers right now are Ian Hacking (because I'm reading his "The Social Construction of What?") and Galen Strawson because he argues for panpsychism, which fills me with happy laughter.
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Old 06-08-2010, 05:26 AM   #86
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I think science takes on trust those things it regards as axiomatic.

For example, a lot of science is maths and rests on mathematical and logical axioms, 'Pi in the Sky: counting, thinking and being' by John D. Barrow is a fascinating book about the philosophy of maths, that explores whether what science takes on trust is philosophically valid.

Opening paragraph:
"A mystery lurks beneath the magic carpet of science, something that scientists have not been telling, something too shocking to mention except in rather esoterically refined circles; that at the root of the success of twentieth century science there lies a deeply 'religious' belief - a belief in an unseen and transcendental world that controls us in an unexplained way, yet upon which we seem to exert no influence whatsoever."

Sounds not unlike Plato's world of forms.
Yes, it's true that there is that aspect in mathematics and geometry. But I am not very knowlegeable on that subject (or maybe I should say, I'm even more ignorant than on others). I'll make a note of that book you mentioned, it sounds interesting

I have to admit though, that the comparison to religion sounds a bit dubious to me, like so many attempts to "put science in its place" that are usually based on misconceptions about scientific methods. I think that questioning science is healthy, but doing it for religious reasons... well, maybe it's better not to go into that debate.
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Old 06-08-2010, 05:28 AM   #87
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Can we question science, without questioning religion - and vice versa ?
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Old 06-08-2010, 05:29 AM   #88
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One thing about axioms: they may not be proveable, but they work. We have sent rockets in space and people on the Moon based on a scientific system that is itself based on them. So the trust is pretty much validated by practice, I'd say.
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Old 06-08-2010, 05:30 AM   #89
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As long as one accepts that man did land on the moon ! (but that's another issue entirely)
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Old 06-08-2010, 05:35 AM   #90
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Can we question science, without questioning religion - and vice versa ?
I suppose it's hard not to look at both as concurrent systems of thought, since they have, in part, the same goal to explain life, the universe, and everything. I personally have no interest in questioning religion, because I don't find it has anything to do with me. I don't need it, and it doesn't need me. However, it is obvious that there is a very deep need for religion in many human beings, and that interests me, and scares me, given the shapes it has taken in the past and is taking now, in the world we live in.

I'm sorry for not replying to everyone, there are so many great contributions that I would like to reply to, it's hard to keep up

Thank you all for making this thread so lively, I hope it will continue this way
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