Anybody interested in the Philosophy / Sociology of Science?

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  • #1
jlaw
I'd really like to know. :)

Typically, practitioners of science treat the concerns raised by these disciplines in a very defensive manner. I don't mean to use "Philosophy" and "Sociology" interchangeably here, although that wouldn't be entirely wrong.

In short, I'm really only interested in finding out how you'd define science and the scientific method. This means talking about the nature of scientific facts in relation to social facts. It is also to talk about facts--"What is a fact?" In other words, where do you stand on the question of "universal / scientific objectivity."

I hope this makes sense :)
 

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  • #2
Borg
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Please read the Terms and Rules in the INFO tab. Philosophy discussions aren't allowed on the forum.
 
  • #3
jlaw
Please read the Terms and Rules in the INFO tab. Philosophy discussions aren't allowed on the forum.
Hey! Thanks for letting me know and apologies for the oversight.

But, since the guidelines say that philosophical discussions will be allowed at the discretion of mentors, do you think this thread would stand a chance?

I'd be thrilled and thankful if this stayed :)
 
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Borg
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It doesn't happen very often and, in the rare cases where it does, the threads usually end up getting locked. PF is actively moderated to keep discussions focused on mainstream science. Philisophical discussions typically go well outside of those boundaries. PF has tried it in the past but it just ends up taking too much effort to moderate.
 
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  • #5
jlaw
Ah okay! I will keep this in mind. Fingers crossed for this thread :)
 
  • #6
Ryan_m_b
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PF has tried it in the past but it just ends up taking too much effort to moderate.
Also vary rarely were discussions actually about philosophy. Very little of the academic subject would be included and threads quickly descended into (or even started off with) personal opinions and worldviews.
 
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Thank you @Ryan_m_b for your detailed explanation.

@jlaw My personal opinion is that this special rule has its justifications. To me these are:
  • Whereas all other sciences discussed on PF follow a strict rule of being scientific aka mainstream, philosophy rarely is. It means debates on the meta level usually have no relation to actual philosophical science or whatsoever. Participants normally just write what they think, regardless of how profound it is, and the least of our members have a philosophical education. To call such debates philosophical is an insult to actual philosophers.
  • Although natural scientists and mathematicians are typically as interested in such questions as anybody else is, perhaps even more, they restrict discussions about them to what I call dinner table talks. Unfortunately you cannot emulate these on a public internet platform for many reasons. One reason is anonymity. People say things on the internet which they wouldn't dare if it was personal, i.e. any stupid remark will find its way into the open, when if personal would be rethought before.
  • Experience teaches that those debates will usually end up in two parties arguing against each other with a few moderate people in the middle which will be overheard, and their language decays rapidly as their repeated and repeated same arguments won't - what a surprise - convince the other side.
  • There is no predefined end of such a debate. It can go on forever without adding any insights.
  • Everybody has to contribute something, regardless of its value.
  • References to actual philosophy(-ers) are rare up to not existent.
  • There are other places on the internet which are specialized to deal with philosophy.
These have been my personal views on why I like this "no-philosophy" rule, not because I do not appreciate philosophy, but because I do appreciate philosophy.
 
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In short, I'm really only interested in finding out how you'd define science and the scientific method.
Metaphysics never made it into being 'science', not even by the terms itself described about 'being scientific'. Regardless of this, the contribution to the self-identity of science cannot be denied and I believe no scientist would deny it.
However, it still remains a thorny subject for a scientist to use a non-scientific science to define and discuss science, no?

It was just a week or two ago that a topic went sink due some sophistry around 'being scientific'. Was not a nice sight. I don't think we need that.
 
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  • #9
verty
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I'd really like to know. :)

Typically, practitioners of science treat the concerns raised by these disciplines in a very defensive manner. I don't mean to use "Philosophy" and "Sociology" interchangeably here, although that wouldn't be entirely wrong.
Why do you say it wouldn't be entirely wrong? Those are two different things, aren't they? One is about the individual and one is about society at large. I don't see how they can be reconciled.

In short, I'm really only interested in finding out how you'd define science and the scientific method.
I'll give this a go. Science is a body of theories not yet shown to be false, and corroborated by a preponderance of the evidence. Science is also a body of practice or methodology tested and proven to advance science as well. Hopefully this is a fair attempt. But seriously, personal theories are not really in line with the rules of the forum. I have tried to best to represent not my own theory but what science is.

"What is a fact?" In other words, where do you stand on the question of "universal / scientific objectivity."
If the experiments are repeatable and are tested in various locations, etc, then it must be objective knowledge, surely.

I hope this makes sense :)
I hope this didn't stray too for the edge of the boat, is all.
 
  • #10
symbolipoint
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The discussions which followed the original post show why the Terms and Rules were also referenced.
I'd really like to know. :)

Typically, practitioners of science treat the concerns raised by these disciplines in a very defensive manner. I don't mean to use "Philosophy" and "Sociology" interchangeably here, although that wouldn't be entirely wrong.

In short, I'm really only interested in finding out how you'd define science and the scientific method. This means talking about the nature of scientific facts in relation to social facts. It is also to talk about facts--"What is a fact?" In other words, where do you stand on the question of "universal / scientific objectivity."

I hope this makes sense :)
Yes, many of us are interested in the sociology and philosophy of science. Any discussion and analysis can be interesting only briefly, and then not much more is of much use until a later refined question comes up, or a later refined comment comes up.

A scientist wants to explore knowledge, usually of the natural world but USUALLY not of the human social world. Still when scientists confer with other scientists, they are intereacting and this is now some kind of social interaction involving cooperation and maybe also competition - involving skills, concepts, resources, value, priorities, influence, power - so you see, even scientists become wrapped into human problems, and this can also be connected to people in the nonscience community.
 
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  • #11
jlaw
Hey, all!

I understand your points, and I will refrain from posting threads related to philosophy over here. Thanks for explaining.

However, if it's not too much, I'll stop by addressing some particular questions some of you have raised.
 
  • #12
jlaw
Why do you say it wouldn't be entirely wrong? Those are two different things, aren't they? One is about the individual and one is about society at large. I don't see how they can be reconciled.



I'll give this a go. Science is a body of theories not yet shown to be false, and corroborated by a preponderance of the evidence. Science is also a body of practice or methodology tested and proven to advance science as well. Hopefully this is a fair attempt. But seriously, personal theories are not really in line with the rules of the forum. I have tried to best to represent not my own theory but what science is.



If the experiments are repeatable and are tested in various locations, etc, then it must be objective knowledge, surely.



I hope this didn't stray too for the edge of the boat, is all.
While philosophy and sociology are usually regarded as separate fields, in the context of examining science, they are very similar. That is, their arguments, methods, conclusions, and even suggestions are very similar. While P of Science focuses on the question of method, the nature of scientific imagination and objects, S of Science concerns itself with the values and personal interests that dictate one's scientific endeavors. This is, of course, a very inadequate summary, but I wish it conveys a gist.

I agree with your definition of objectivity. My intent for creating this thread was also to probe related aspects such as inter-subjectivity and subjectivity. However, I shall not do that now since it is against the rules of this forum. :)
 
  • #13
jlaw
Metaphysics never made it into being 'science', not even by the terms itself described about 'being scientific'. Regardless of this, the contribution to the self-identity of science cannot be denied and I believe no scientist would deny it.
However, it still remains a thorny subject for a scientist to use a non-scientific science to define and discuss science, no?

It was just a week or two ago that a topic went sink due some sophistry around 'being scientific'. Was not a nice sight. I don't think we need that.
It does remain a thorny subject. That is why I thought I would create this thread. Can one at all talk about objectivity without relying on a metaphysical argument. Sure, it depends on how one defines metaphysics and reality, but that will not be in agreement with the rules of this forum.

I see why PF has the no-philosophy policy. :)

I hope these replies do not draw unnecessary, unwelcome attention.
 
  • #14
symbolipoint
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Philosophy Of Science?
I don't know what that is.

Sociology of Science?
Sociologists can turn to an exploration of how scientific society works, and the way scientific society and non-scientific society work and interact. A generalized situation could be a manufacturing company which includes some laboratory personnel, and the office & sales people. Maybe this situation would be more in line with Human Resources than Sociology, but still, the manufacturing company might be modeled as a society.
 
  • #15
symbolipoint
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While we/you're at it, include the sociology of scientists and contrast with the sociology of engineers. Their goals are often different. Scientist: Explore and Understand. Engineer: Get results. Make something work. Is that really more about philosophy?
 
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As was said before, the philosophy of science and sociology of science have become very much intertwined at a conceptual level. I would go even further and say that sociological methods are the most productive (and perhaps even the correct) methodology for describing the philosophy of sciences, i.e. the most productive way of approaching the philosophy and history of sciences is as a sociologist would, i.e. as an actual scientist would.

As such, questions pertaining to differing philosophies of sciences in contemporary sciences, such as modern physics always seem to be phrasable entirely in sociological terms. Doing this carefully, and backing up statements using references, seems to be capable of completely circumventing the trouble of actually discussing philosophical ideas themselves. Just describing and analyzing the social characteristics is often enough to resolve at least some of the more interesting philosophical issues encountered in practice, often when engaging with colleagues who have a different point of view, i.e. a different philosophy.

By simply identifying ideological factors which lead to particular points of view, one is capable of predicting statistically what the philosophy of some specialized scientist is, what factors lead him to that philosophy and how that philosophy has evolved over time in the field in question. Such an analysis can reveal ideas and entire philosophies which are good in some cases for solving particular scientific problems, but at the same time represent serious intellectual impediments if generalized to other problems.

These ideas and philosophies, at least in physics, are codified methodologies for solving some widely occurring issue. Examples are perturbation theory, regression analysis and linear extrapolation. Each of the above is widely successful for their originally intended use cases but have been generalized grossly beyond, sometimes successfully often not so. The reason that these are philosophy of science problems instead of mere science problems is because 1) they occur across all the sciences, 2) such tools are conceptually simple, i.e. mathematically often very well understood, but at the same time their domain of validity for application outside of a pure mathematics or extremely simplified physics context is not that well understood or even studied at all, and 3) experiment offers no guide forward because the intratheoretical gap becomes enormous and at the same time technically nigh-indistinguishable.

The solving of the above sort of problems is more often than not undertaken by scientists themselves, often unsuccessfully even after many many repeated attempts. These scientists are actually ill equipped to solve such problems, because the regular scientific method they have been taught does not help them in solving such problems. These problems tend to be nowhere near the more regular (or optimal) scientific case of comparing clear-cut well defined intertheoretical predictions using experiment.

This is explained also by philosophy and history of science, namely that most scientists are technicians beholden to practicing traditional science and so they do not have the required visionary maturity necessary to be able to correctly conceptually reframe theories as is done during revolutionary science. In other words, it is easier to build upon an existing theory and methodology than it is to rewrite an entire theory and invent an accompanying methodology. In this age of specialization it is obvious we are clearly training technicians, based on the fact that technicians have strongly thrived going forward using the traditional methodologies. It is only when this thriving stops, that this problem becomes apparent.
 
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  • #17
verty
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... questions pertaining to differing philosophies of sciences in contemporary sciences, such as modern physics always seem to be phrasable entirely in sociological terms. Doing this carefully, and backing up statements using references, seems to be capable of completely circumventing the trouble of actually discussing philosophical ideas themselves. Just describing and analyzing the social characteristics is often enough to resolve at least some of the more interesting philosophical issues encountered in practice, often when engaging with colleagues who have a different point of view, i.e. a different philosophy.
I think if people have a question in mind that irks them or is interesting to them, they will look for the answer. For example, Descartes was interested in the question, how do I know anything at all? And he looked for the answer and came up with an idea called rationalism. But I for example am not interested in the question of how we know stuff. We learn it, that's good enough for me.

I just don't see how you could study this beyond some sort of questionaire: have you sought answers to any of these questions? How does the soul control the body, etc. I mean, it's just silly, isn't it, to be concerned about such stuff.

But scientific questions, why does this lichen fossil seem to lack certain traits that modern lichens have? This is much more interesting, I think. So I guess what I'm trying to say is, society is not that interested in what philosophers think about, and I don't think that will change. So studying what philosophies people have so that one can reformulate one's own view is a philosophical endeavour, IMHO. It's not sociology, I wouldn't think, because we just aren't interested in it.

By simply identifying ideological factors which lead to particular points of view, one is capable of predicting statistically what the philosophy of some specialized scientist is, what factors lead him to that philosophy and how that philosophy has evolved over time in the field in question.
If he is interested in philosophy at all, that is.

Such an analysis can reveal ideas and entire philosophies which are good in some cases for solving particular scientific problems, but at the same time represent serious intellectual impediments if generalized to other problems.
Is not having a particular interest in philosophy a problem? What if "live and let live" is the philosophy, is that good enough?

I won't comment on the rest of Autodidact's post because I don't know about those theories that he mentions.
 
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I think if people have a question in mind that irks them or is interesting to them, they will look for the answer. For example, Descartes was interested in the question, how do I know anything at all? And he looked for the answer and came up with an idea called rationalism. But I for example am not interested in the question of how we know stuff. We learn it, that's good enough for me.
That question belongs to metaphysics, i.e. philosophy proper and not philosophy of science and therefore not answerable by sociological means.
I just don't see how you could study this beyond some sort of questionaire: have you sought answers to any of these questions? How does the soul control the body, etc. I mean, it's just silly, isn't it, to be concerned about such stuff.
You seem to be confusing ill-defined questions with philosophy of science questions. In the philosophy of science, a philosophy means a point of view, for example the belief that Newtonian dynamics is valid at all scales, the belief that the Gaussian distribution is the most common distribution occurring in nature and the belief that quantum theory is more fundamental than general relativity.

To put it more explicit: scientific theories, both verified and unverified ones, together with their related mathematical machinery, experimental predictions, psychological imagery, unquestioned assumptions and practically the entire academic school of thought associated with the practitioners of the thepry are philosophies. From the point of view of philosophy of science, special relativity represents a philosophy, so does Newtonian mechanics, aether theory, string theory, axiomatic quantum field theory and real analysis. These philosophies are more general classes of the theories that represent them.

All scientists hold onto one or more philosophies; what may be a good philosophy in one domain may be hopelessly inadequate in another. The problem is it often isn't that obvious when a good idea turns into a bad one and when to stop relying on it. If a certain subset, domain or specialization in a science is stagnant and the respective scientists cannot solve it themselves, a good place to look is to analyze that groups philosophy in order to precisely identify the problem in order to tackle it better. Theoretical physics for example is plagued by the issues of being stagnant and having many inadequate tools and has been for over 40 years now.
But scientific questions, why does this lichen fossil seem to lack certain traits that modern lichens have? This is much more interesting, I think. So I guess what I'm trying to say is, society is not that interested in what philosophers think about, and I don't think that will change. So studying what philosophies people have so that one can reformulate one's own view is a philosophical endeavour, IMHO. It's not sociology, I wouldn't think, because we just aren't interested in it.
The type of question asked by philosophy of science is precisely analogous to your definition of a scientific question.

Examples: why do most contemporary physicists seem to have no regard for formal proofs whatsoever while contemporary pure mathematicians are practically obsessed with it? Why do contemporary mathematicians hold such views? When did holding such views become the norm in the mathematics community?

Why do specialists in different branches of physics tend to have such opposite views of what is fundamental?

Why do practicing physicists hold group theoretical notions such as symmetry as necessarily fundamental in physics? When did this start occuring and for what reasons?

Why do physicists hold conservation laws in such high regard? Was this always the case? Has the attitude w.r.t. conservation changed substantially? When and why?

Why do successful physics theories such as Newtonian mechanics end up getting modified? When does this modification tend to occur? What are key mathematical aspects of such modifications?

All of these questions are answerable by sociological methodology and moreover, depending on the specific questions and answers, they are capable of identifying key factors (whether these be historical, mathematical, psychological, social, financial, etc), biases and assumptions among scientists which explain the data better than what scientists claim to answer for themselves, or even worse, answer for their colleagues.

These answers have consequences for entire syllabi, education systems, research programmes, amount of specialists needed in some domain, etc. Needless to say, most of this philosophy of science research is carried out by authorative scientists who have been active for decades in their respective fields.
If he is interested in philosophy at all, that is.

Is not having a particular interest in philosophy a problem? What if "live and let live" is the philosophy, is that good enough?

I won't comment on the rest of Autodidact's post because I don't know about those theories that he mentions.
Practically everyone is interested in some philosophy, do not try to kid yourself that you and/or others are completely aphilosophical by artificially introducing boundaries of thought; this doesn't just limit yourself but also tends to limit others as they will consciously or unconsciously copy such behavior for whatever reasons (group identity, conflict avoidance, ideological conviction, etc).

I don't want to go into your post too much as this is straying from the topic of philosophy of science to the topic of philosophy itself, which is as others have said here, a whole other discussion altogether wherein most people, especially scientists, tend to lack the necessary academic sophistication required to say anything useful at all. I will however say the following, as it is and has been the point of view of many, including prominent scientists such as Einstein and Feynman.

Science, especially physics, is so enticing to many people precisely because it is capable of answering certain particular philosophical questions using the precision of mathematical frameworks, i.e. giving accurate but uncertain empirically based answers to certain questions. Even stronger, physics tends to entice both the public and scientists more than the other sciences because it literally is the philosophy of nature, written in a highly mathematicized form and based on previously gained empirical data. It is a common misunderstanding of both physics and philosophy to view the two as completely seperate disciplines.

What is space? What is time? What is energy? Make no mistake, these are purely philosophical questions. Fundamental physics questions are deeply philosophical, because in the hierarchy of the natural sciences, physics has practically subsumed all other sciences and so become capable of answering most if not all of their deep questions itself without any recourse to philosophy per se. Not having or trying to not rely on a philosophy at all when doing science is a philosophy as well; in philosophy of science as well as in physics this position is called instrumentalism and it is a characteristic philosophy of many late 20th century physicists.

Many people go into science because they find some phenomena fascinating. Others go into it because they have a knack for solving simple scientific problems and they realize that they would do well at this as a job. These aren't sttict criteria, one could go into science for entirely different reasons for why one ends up staying in science. The point is, having knowledge is worthy in itself, not because it might lead to some technological applications; understanding the physics of some phenomenon is recognizing that something is already a naturally occurring application of physics.
 
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