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Scientific Method?

  1. Dec 13, 2007 #1
    ok in my philosophy course we just started studying science and my teacher is TELLING us that the scientific method is WRONG.

    I asked him how and he says that because it doesn't work leads to wrong answers etc. etc. he pointed out about how we didn't know about organisms that can live smaller than amino acids? (idk the truth in this so w/e lets just assume its true it can work with just about anything found wrong with scientific theories) He states that since this new 'fiddly bit' doesn't fit the previous knowledge we disregard it.

    naturally i pointed out that that would go against the scientifc method AS WELL as the fact that we found new knowledge that does not fit our models doesn't disprove the METHOD it contradicts the THEORY.

    So he made us read Thomas Kuhn on scientific revolution... I pointed out how Kuhn PROVES my point about the paradigms being incorrect and not the method but that's when he said that the METHOD itself IS a paradigm... so i told him that sure you can say that but its also a self proving paradigm... the very fact that you can arrive at true answers using the method proves it works its just we as humans always somehow mess it up...

    So he then just told me i was missing the point and that i had already had my own answer and just wouldn't accept what he's saying... but i REALLY did think it through ... could someone clarify wtf he is trying to tell me why it's correct and maybe an alternative method to aquiring knowledge ?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 13, 2007 #2
    arghhh.. i hate it when someone tries to press himself upon anyone
  4. Dec 13, 2007 #3


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    To quote the seminal work of the great philosopher D. Adams
    That's right!" agreed Majikthise. "You'll have a national Philosopher's strike on your hands!"

    Frankly, what philosopher think of science is about as important as what rocks think of geology!

    The clasic counter example has to be relativity. 350 years of Newtonian gravity and the obvious facts that length, time and mass can't change with speed are thrwon out because of a tiny fiddly bit in the orbit of mercury.
  5. Dec 13, 2007 #4
    yeah i was getting on about things like that these 'paradigm shifts' but he claims that the paradigm is the method itself... i don't understand how he makes the claim that it is flawed
  6. Dec 13, 2007 #5


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    There are good teachers and there are bad teachers....

    My daughter had a great philosophy teacher in high school, so she absolutely loved it and couldn't wait to take it in college, thinking it could only get better. She ended up withdrawing from the course because the professor was such an idiot.
  7. Dec 13, 2007 #6
    You could ask him what reasoning method (or paradigm) he uses to determine that this other paradigm is wrong...

    But frankly, saying that something is wrong because it provided wrong answers is not technically incorrect and it should not be offensive either. Science is indeed limited. If it were not then we would already have all the answers. The limits of science certainly do not make it worthless, we do like our cell phones and measles vaccines.
  8. Dec 13, 2007 #7
  9. Dec 13, 2007 #8
    I understand where he is coming from, I assume he's an existentialist? Basically, as I see it, is that all he is trying to say that the scientific method can never be totally correct and can never be totally proven. Its the same idea that you cannot prove the sun will rise tomorrow, just because you have knowledge of its life expectancy, the forces around us, etc. To find absolute truths, you need reason, and even then, reason can be manipulated in some form or another, just depends on your philosophical point of view. Your point of view, the scientific method, is determinism. Where it is something we can use to predict a lot of the things around us, it will never be complete, simply because of the uncertainty principle.
  10. Dec 13, 2007 #9


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    Newton->Einstein was a big paradigm shift to scientists, in abandoning a special frame of reference. My point was that science is prepared to change it's mind because of fiddly little details.

    I think the most obvious example in modern science is plate tectonics - I remember some quote form the inventor, saying how amazed he was at the resistance to it, when everyone he met for the next 20years commented on how they had believed it all along!
  11. Dec 13, 2007 #10
    One would like to think so, wouldn't one? Einstein wasn't exactly new with his ideas on abandoning special frames of reference. In the 20th century, scientific "revolutions" generally do not happen, as in Newton's days, by a single individual (more like a generation of scientists).

    Even Kuhn admitted that he continued to teach Newtonian Mechanics after the introduction of STR.

    The orbit of mercury was no small detail, as it constituted a falsification of Newtonian Mechanics. That is why it was given so much precedence.
  12. Dec 13, 2007 #11


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    I still teach conventional current flow after the discovery that the electron is -ve!

    The OP point (or rather their lecturer's point) was that small details are ignored or covered up rather than discard an existing theory.
  13. Dec 13, 2007 #12
    The point Kuhn was making is that scientific advancement doesn't happen based on scientific principles... not that there is anything wrong with the method per se. There is however an irrational element to what we accept as evidence, based not on the evidence but on prevailing understanding. What is evidence, what is error? Scientific advancement tends to rely more on the old school dieing off and enough younger more open minded types being around.

    We don't really look at the evidence.... until a critical mass is reached. We discount things that don't fit the prevailing theory as 'error'. Yes the method is self-correcting, but you still need that 'eureka' moment, which is not part of the method, so the evidence makes sense.

    This is not the same as throwing out the scientific method. I'd say your teacher sucks.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2007
  14. Dec 14, 2007 #13
    YES, thank god someone understood what i was saying. Your point of the 'human factor' is what i tried explaining to him... nothing wrong with the METHOD but with our understanding etc. the method is only limited by us not by itself.. Therefore you can't make some crazy general statement that the method is completely wrong because we don't understand some parts that come from using it..
  15. Dec 14, 2007 #14
    but i guess this is pointless because today he kept on going with his 'the method leads to things we don't understand ergo is wrong' thinking and teaching no matter what i tell him hah :D

    For instance he gave us a reading by Paul Feyerband(?i think?) and he said this guy had demolished galileo, newton, einstein... etc. Like he single handedly thrown out Relativity in these readings he has (doesn't tell us how just tells us he did) and when i pointed out to him that this book was written in 1994 and i have read MUCH more recent work which corrects some 'mistakes' or 'flaws' found in such theories (like poppers original big bang) he just dismissed it and said 'oh well thats good keep on reading' ..

    haha. ignorant bastard.
  16. Dec 14, 2007 #15
    Meh. Don't let someone brandishing the word "wrong" push your buttons. Scientists should simply care if their method works and if it is useful; it does and is has been. The more the better; right and wrong are all-or-nothing ideas best left to philosophy. Why not adopt your prof's technique: smile and move on! This way, he will have taught you something after all. :smile:
  17. Dec 14, 2007 #16
    yeah dude but he's not saying just it's 'wrong' he is saying that its like DEAD WRONG ... like basically its just plain stupid and everyone who follows it is aswell but not giving any proof to support his claims other than a few 'fiddly bits' which is part of human understanding and not the method.. it pisses me off that he would discredit what I say because he's a teacher

    oh and i might add he's not a prof. hs teacher. he has also never taken a philosophy course and this isn't the first time i've caught him teaching something wrong (he attempted before to teach us that Kantian ethics lie in the ends ONLY intent means nothing at all... i pointed out about the sense of duty, he didn't like this. :))

    as well i'm not the type of person who would like to have my intellect insulted by just accepting what he tells me that i know is wrong. (I.e. His misinterpretation of Kuhn..)
  18. Dec 19, 2007 #17
    defenders of the scientific method tend to imagine that the scientific method is synonymous with reason itself and that the only alternative to the scientific method is mysticism. perhaps that is how it should be but in reality the scientific method as it is practiced today is more akin to fuzzy logic than objective reasoning. and that isnt even taking the politicization of the whole establishment into account.

    of course that may not be what your teacher meant. he might simply have been wrong.
  19. Dec 19, 2007 #18
    Paul Feyerabend.

    One can certainly criticize science and the method.... thats always good, but this guy is so over the top he's in crackpot territory. Certainly not a recognized authority, just loud about his opinions.
  20. Dec 19, 2007 #19
    i get what your saying about but the key is you saying 'as its practiced' he was not attacking this he was attacking the method not the human factor. As well he used the scientific method model thing which i thought was kind of elementary science and not what actual scientists use when they are researching etc. (question hypothesis procedure experiment etc..)

    Well i already read his 'against method' and what i got from it was that we can't even say that the scientific method is a method as scientists actually use it only philosophers apply this method to science in order to attempt to understand what scientists do.

    idk though D:

    As a side note yesterday he decided to teach us about chaos theory. He dragged in Heisenberg uncertainty principle somehow and he explained it as saying we just can not be certain about anything we DO measure. i am certain it means the other way around... you can be certain about what you DO measure but the more certainty in this measurement (accuracy) then the less certaincy in other measurments you might have tried to make at the same time...
    as well he talked about the double slit experiment and the reason that the interference pattern would disappear under observation was because the mass of the objects now in the room effected the gravity. Well then.
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2007
  21. Dec 21, 2007 #20
    Mathematics allow you to work with infinite dimensions, which not implies infinite dimensions exists. Is math wrong because of that? Or, like Einstein used to say, we "ask the wrong question"?
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