Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

My philosophy teacher

  1. Jan 25, 2012 #1
    In class, she said "there's no way of definitively knowing if the universal law of gravity will remain valid in 10 000 years. Science is therefore dependant on the probabilistic nature of its findings by assuming them to be definite."

    What do you think of her statement?

    This is my first philosophy course and I don't know if i'll be able to tolerate her. I know for a fact she is biased and heavily favours non-science students.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 25, 2012 #2

    Ryan_m_b

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Science is all about model forming. We observe phenomenon, come up with hypotheses to explain said phenomenon and then test these hypotheses. Using the data from these tests we come up with predictive models that are testable, explanatory and can be used to manipulate the world around us in desirable ways. When we encounter new phenomena we look at them using our models, it may be that the new phenomena confirm the model or it could be that they show the model to be incomplete.

    Empiricism is a practical philosophy. If we observe that water boils at 100C many times in a row we can safely assume that it will boil at the same temperature again. If it does not it might suggest that there is something we are missing, some variable that has not been taken into account. So science does not assume things to be definite at all, every discovery and every conclusion in science is tentative and open for revision in the event that new data comes to light.
     
  4. Jan 25, 2012 #3

    Pythagorean

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    your teacher is right, but the question to his answer is "so what?"
     
  5. Jan 25, 2012 #4

    Pythagorean

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

  6. Jan 25, 2012 #5
    And, if you ask me, this is one of the great thibgs about science. Scientists are willing (generally) to revise what they know ...to say "Ok, I know a bit more information now, so that means what I thought was right before has changed a bit".

    I wonder would your philosophy teacher be so open to change?

    Seán
     
  7. Jan 25, 2012 #6

    Pythagorean

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Lots of young science majors do tend to equate science to truth
     
  8. Jan 25, 2012 #7

    Ryan_m_b

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Definitely. Every statement in science comes with the (often) unspoken caveat "To the best of our current knowledge."
     
  9. Jan 25, 2012 #8

    chiro

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    In some ways I don't blame them: we have all these formulas, all this technology, are able to predict a tonne of stuff and all of this is forced down their throats: i.e. all the stuff that we already know so from that point of view it doesn't surprise me.

    Also most of the introductory years is about the basics that are well established which correlate to all the rules and associated material described above, whereas talking about what is unknown is usually put off to the side.

    The fact that it takes so long nowadays to say "here is what we know" is probably IMO, one reason why most students realize what "we don't really know" which is what you are talking about.
     
  10. Jan 25, 2012 #9

    Pythagorean

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    depends on the discipline, I think. My neuro teachers are always telling us we'll be writing the new text books.
     
  11. Jan 25, 2012 #10

    chiro

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Thats definitely true, but I the way I see science going now, people in 50 or 100 years are going to have to start early and do more before they get to the research stage.

    Even though I continually see knowledge being refined down to a point where it reaches minimal size for minimal digestion and maximal understanding, the context for all of this still won't diminish: it will just get deeper.

    Having said the above though, it is amazing what we are capable of and how young people pick up things a lot quicker than the older folk.

    Also I am wondering what the next developments in communication, language (including mathematics) and education will be in that period: we could well have technologies where people download information complete with all the surrounding context directly. Now that would be amazing!
     
  12. Jan 25, 2012 #11

    Ryan_m_b

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    True but I think this will be compensated by an emphasis on specialisation which we are already seeing today. I did biology as a BSc and I did a totally different degree to some of my friends who took the same course. Every year (almost every term really) presented more and more modules to choose from in a variety of topics.

    My Masters was interesting in that a philosophy of many of the teachers was that this specialised attribute had great potential so long as interdisciplinary research was promoted. A labs worth of scientists with different (but overlapping to some extent) backgrounds can produce far more innovative research than people cut from the same cloth.
    As much as I would love that I imagine it would turn me into a bitter old man constantly complaining at students that "Back in my day we had to sit in the library until our eyes bled! You kids don't know how good you've got it"
     
  13. Jan 25, 2012 #12

    DaveC426913

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Concurrence with all responses, but especially Ryan's.

    One of the key things hopefully you will learn from taking philosophy class alongside your sciences is that, no matter how sure we are of all our physics all our observations are predicated on the assumption of "as we currently understand it".

    While we have every reason to be confident that gravity will not change in the next 10,000 years, that is not the same thing as saying "it cannot change".

    Philosophy is a discipline that helps temper our arrogance that we think we know how the world is going to work.



    An example of a practical way this is applied is in the Principle of Mediocrity. We base our cosmological models of the universe on the assumption that the rest of the universe is pretty much the same as here. If this is true, we can build models; if it is not true, we cannot.

    Your philosophy course will hopefully keep these kinds of assumptions in the fore-front of your mind.
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2012
  14. Jan 25, 2012 #13
    Probability is just another metaphysical assumption that science can discard at will. The only thing science is dependent upon is what is useful at the time for cataloging and organizing data.
     
  15. Jan 25, 2012 #14

    Moonbear

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I think her statement is illogical and skips over unstated assumptions. The first half of the statement is an accurate and factual premise. The second sentence is a conclusion that does not follow from the premise and illustrates a lack of understanding of what science is. Somewhere between sentence 1 and sentence 2, she made the assumption that science requires assuming all theories are definite, which is exactly the opposite of what science assumes. For her to make such an illogical jump from statement 1 to statement 2 shows that she is not only ignorant of science, but also ignorant of how to construct a philosophical argument. You might really blow her mind by asking if she would make the same argument if philosophy were substituted for science in her statements and then pointing out that science is a branch of philosophy dealing with the physical world.
     
  16. Jan 25, 2012 #15
    I agree with Moonbear.

    Science is the way of telling what is more likely or less likely to happen (to be true).
     
  17. Jan 25, 2012 #16
    The assertion itself is an absolute one and, therefore, by its own standards not a scientific one! Contextualists would even argue its so much vague and contradictory mumbo jumbo along the lines of insisting you can have an "up" without a "down". Compelling sounding word salad along the lines of "The Jabberwocky" that we could swear says something meaningful only because it implies contexts we are familiar with.
     
  18. Jan 25, 2012 #17

    Dembadon

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    That's exactly what I thought when I read it. I would've raised my hand and asked, "What am I supposed to infer from from that?"
     
  19. Jan 25, 2012 #18

    epenguin

    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    This is the old question of induction. As far as I know almost no philosopher has thought it can be proved as a generality (I believe John Stuart Mill was an exception, not taken seriously by anyone). Yet we all use it.

    Bertrand Russell somewhere mentions that turkeys assume by induction the farmer is a nice man there for their welfare.

    I guess the answer is that we do have a bit more relevant insight into the nature of things than do turkeys, from wider knowledge we can understand that their assumption will break down at some point.

    I think there is a host of phenomena the astronomers geologists etc. can tell us that makes sense on the basis that the present law has held for a long time back. Some of them are so constraining they could be regarded as tests that the law was true. We use the law to make models to explain how galaxies evolved etc. Now it will always be true that not everything is explained in this way, not everything has neatly fallen into place. So we have to try some other explanation. But what do we choose to modify? - the supposedly general law or some other feature of our modelling? As a rule we will modify the other feature. We hold on to what has been considered the general law, because otherwise it is too easy. If we can modify our general laws we will find we can rather readily explain everything and anything. Which does not really help us progress. We need the constraints and assistance of the general law even if it leaves us with an apparent mess of for the time being unexplained things. Only if we are really really forced by either an experiment/observation that is somehow focussed on the law so as to constitute an undeniable test of it with no other explanation of a failure to explain than the failure of the law are we prepared to doubt it, and even then it is only when we have a convincingly better one (then we'd have to talk about the criteria of 'better') do we abandon it. This is the conservative aspect of Science (of which Kuhn speaks and considers essential even though it has to shatter sometimes).

    In other words we have to combine conservatism with flexibility, but the gravitation law stands high in the hierarchy of things we try to conserve.

    We apply the same logic to other things than physics or science. We commonly recognise that certain things have 'always' proceeded in a certain way, but at certain junctures we recognise that circumstances have changed and the old rules failed, hopefully we have a wider vision of why.
     
  20. Jan 25, 2012 #19

    Astronuc

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    That's clearly an exaggeration. Did one ask for the proof of such a statement?
     
  21. Jan 25, 2012 #20
    I didn't ask, I simply listened. It would have had little effect if i had decided to argue with her. She has a reputation of being biased and harsh on students who dare defy her ways of reasoning. She makes it mandatory to read her book (written by her). It is full of examples such as gravity not being necessarily valid in 10 000 years, etc.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook




Similar Discussions: My philosophy teacher
  1. My philosophy (Replies: 7)

  2. My teacher told me (Replies: 22)

  3. My philosophy of life (Replies: 67)

  4. My AP Chemistry teacher (Replies: 13)

Loading...