By Chet Yarbrough
This is a tough audiobook to adequately summarize. Dr. Jeffrey Kasser offers evidence for the value and advance of human knowledge through philosophy and science. Kasser explains that philosophy is the beginning of what becomes a scientific world view. Kasser attempts to drag skeptics out of Socrates’ cave with a “36 lecture” series titled “Philosophy of Science”.
Kasser recounts the history of science from a world controlled by fickle gods to a world of cause and effect. Then, in the early twentieth century, Kasser notes that science reveals a world of probability. Kasser reports on views of science changed by philosophers like Karl Popper, Paul Feyerabend, and Bas van Frassen.
Popper suggests science cannot be proven but only falsified. His point is that only infinite experimentation can prove the truth of a scientific theory. Infinity, by definition, is boundless; therefore, science offers limited truth in so far as no one can reach an infinite number of experiments to prove a theory.
Feyerabend argues that scientific method is a constraint rather than exploratory tool of science. To Feyerabend, when science begins with hypothesis, research is restricted and experimentation becomes biased by pre-conceived or experienced perception.
Bas van Fraassen suggests that, at best, science can only reveal approximate truth about the physical world. His view lends itself to quantum physics where cause and effect become probabilistic rather than definitive.
These three philosophers, as well as several others noted by Kasser, steer science to a category of understanding called logical positivism. Logical positivism is argued to be the primary focus of what is called good science. Logical positivism suggests that science must be based on direct experience and logic; within limitations like those argued by Popper, Feyerabend, von Frassen, and others.
However, Kassen suggests even logical positivism is challenged by the realization that acts of analysis, particularly measurement of results, distort reality. Distortion comes from the act of measurement and the bias of human cognition. In other words, experiments done by different scientists with the same results remain only qualified scientific truths. Experimentation, even accompanied by logic, becomes suspect. Observational measurement and human perception are critically important to science but, by nature, both measurement and perception taint objective truth.
Kasser explains the truth of science lays in experiment designed to disprove hypothesis. Logic generates hypothesis. Hypothesis is tested for falsity through experiment. Experiment requires measurement. Science experiment is influenced by measurement and human perception which raises doubt about results of tested hypothesis.
Newton’s laws work in the macro world. We no longer believe rocks fall to the ground because they live there. Newton’s laws of motion suggest that a bowling ball and a basketball will fall at the same rate of speed, even though their mass is different. This is experimentally and logically provable. Kasser notes that Newton’s laws infer a cause-and-effect world. If a rock, bowling ball, or basketball are picked up and dropped, they will fall to the ground. If they are in a vacuum, they will fall to the ground at the same rate of speed.
In the micro world, components of atoms that combine to form what we see as bowling balls and basketballs cohere to each other in a way that does not conform to Newton’s laws. The components of atoms operate in accordance with quantum mechanics which shows that elements of atoms in bowling balls and basketballs do not follow Newton’s laws of motion. The orbital planes of atomic elements like quarks and leptons appear and disappear; i.e. they do not follow a predictable pattern of action. Cause and effect in the macro world is replaced by probability in the micro world.
None of this is to suggest that Newton’s laws are false or that quantum mechanics are anything more than an expansion of Newton’s laws. However, at this stage of scientific discovery, the two laws are not presently compatible, even though both laws are experimentally confirmable. Attempts have been made to unify these laws. String theory is the present day most studied hypothesis but it fails the criteria of null hypothesis because of today’s instrumental and cognitive limitations.
Philosophy and science are integral to the advance of human civilization. We are still looking at shadows of reality but Kasser infers philosophy and science are the best hope for Socrates’ spelunkers.