Archives For Popper

Those who believe this, and those who do not, have no common ground of discussion, but in their view of their opinions they must of necessity scorn each other. Plato

What are the implications of this with regard to empathy and understanding, social awareness and compassion; those catch cries and mantra’s of the contemporary ‘value creation’ zeitgeist? The zeitgeist of the rejection of traditional values, the decay and fragmentation of cultural institutions and as Popper asserts, the era of irrationalist doctrine seems to be the fruits of the German influence on the West. (see Alan Bloom, Nietzsche, Heidegger and the Frankfurt school)

“One of the components of modern irrationalism is relativism (the doctrine that truth is relative to our intellectual background, which is supposed to determine somehow the framework within which we are able to think: that truth may change from one framework to another), and, in particular, the doctrine of the impossibility of mutual understanding between different cultures, generations , or historical periods – even within science, even within physics.”
Popper: The Myth of the Framework

This could be framed as a problem directly related to Gadamer’s hermeneutics. Does the ‘framework’ correspond to Gadamer’s horizons? At the outset it seems as if this will become a question of degree; of determining a sensible approach to moral standards and judgments. To what extent is Gadamer’s hermeneutics outcome driven? Does he seek just to describe the state of man’s existence in the world and ability to interpret events/texts/reality? Or does he seek a normative approach to seeking truth? (this will determine the character of his relativism)

“The proponents of relativism put before us standards of mutual understanding which are unrealistically high.”
Popper: The Myth of the Framework

What is a realistic level of mutual understanding? The proponents of relativism are thus asserting that mutual understanding is impossible, which seems a contradiction to the mantra of ‘understanding’ delivered by the ‘socially aware’ social elites. Popper argues that such impossibility is not the case and that common goodwill can lead to far reaching understanding. This is a very different picture to mutual understanding. Mutual understanding asserts an equality of understanding for ones own set of beliefs (frameworks) and the others. Far reaching understandings asserts that ones own set of beliefs can maintain a hierarchy of priorities/values/ethics/morals whilst still ‘seeing’ or empathizing with the other. Common goodwill implies cultural institutions and traditions, as it is through these that the ‘common’ find expression.

“Furthermore, the effort is amply rewarded by what we learn in the process about our own views, as well as about those we are setting out to understand.” Popper: The Myth of the Framework

This has correlation to Gadamer’s fusion of horizons.

On tradition:

I hold that orthodoxy is the death of knowledge, since the growth of knowledge depends entirely on the existence of disagreement.Popper: The Myth of the Framework

Popper goes onto an exposition of the importance of culture clashes in the development of the intellectual characteristics of Western civilization. He sees the ‘framework’ as a direct opposition to the notion of argument and discussion. The ‘framework’ asserts that there is no access to the truth so therefore discussion and critical evaluation of reality is arbitrary.

The Myth of the Framework defined by Popper:

“A rational and fruitful discussion is impossible unless the participants share a common framework of basic assumptions or, at least, unless they have agreed on such a framework for the purpose of the discussion.” Popper: The Myth of the Framework

Popper is defending a directly opposite thesis:

“that a discussion between people who share many views is unlikely to be fruitful, even though it may be pleasant; while a discussion between vastly different frameworks can be extremely fruitful, even though it may sometimes be extremely difficult, and perhaps not quite so pleasant (though we may learn to enjoy it).” Popper: The Myth of the Framework

Cultural Relativism

Relativism is the result of over-optimism concerning the powers of reason – that is, the over-optimistic expectation concerning the outcome of a discussion. When it is discovered that a discussion doesn’t lead to victory for truth of one side over another (the chaotic and random nature of our existence and relations in the world), over-optimism turns to a general pessimism. This observation of Popper’s seems to me to fit perfectly with the pessimistic view of mankind put forward by those who embrace cultural relativism, especially those of the environment movement. On one hand you hear words of compassion and understanding (code for cultural relativism, and a particularly arrogant view; as if no one else has compassion or understanding) and on the other that mankind’s ascent from the darkness of deep-time is a malignant cancer on the earth (total pessimism). This also accounts for the psychology of the mistrust of the marketplace by the far-left.

In terms of difference between people and cultures, some are arbitrary. Fashion, music, language, arts etc, even what side of the road you drive on, comes down to gradual integration of the more appropriate and popular ideas (formats for cultural life). However, Popper introduces the elephant in the living room: institutions, laws and customs.

“Some countries and their laws respect freedom while others do less, or not at all. These differences are most important, and they must not be dismissed or shrugged off by a cultural relativism, or by the claim that different laws and customs are due to different standards, or different ways of thinking, or different conceptual frameworks, and that they are therefore incommensurable or incomparable. On the contrary, we should try to understand and to compare. We should try to find out who has the better institutions. And we should try to learn from them.” (Popper, p46)

This is crucial to the confusion of today’s discussion on issues such as multiculturalism and the vision for how our societies demographics are to play out over time. It seems to me that multiculturalism usually gets discussed by the (biased and often completely out of touch) media in terms of two extremes, neither of which anyone actually wants in reality. On the one hand, a totally culturally relative vision in which no critical thought or discussion between two different cultures is to take place, usually propped up by misguided accusations of racism, (this is the desirable mode for the countries media and politically correct) and on the other hand, an exclusive closed door culture (which I’m yet to be convinced actually exists). These are the terms of the discussion as they appear on the front page of the average newspaper.

“Cultural relativism and the doctrine of the closed framework are serious obstacles to the readiness to learn from others. They are obstacles to the method of accepting some institutions, modifying others, and rejecting what is bad.” Popper, p46 The Myth of the Framework

Cultural relativism also has to conclude that morality is identical with legality, custom or usage. popper relates this to Hegel, for whom truth itself was both relative and absolute. Hegel is followed by Marx, who (obviously) asserts that each mans conceptual framework is determined by his ‘social habitat’. Marx also asserted a difference between ‘bourgeois’ science and ‘proletarian’ science.

So, where to if the insight asserts that all things are relative, yet we need to be able to exercise critical judgements?

“Thus to the fallibilist the notion of the truth, and that of falling short of the truth, may represent absolute standards – even though we can never be certain that we are living up to them. But since they may serve as a kind of steering compass, they may be of decisive help in critical discussions.” Popper, p48 The Myth of the Framework

Philosophy of science is going to be an invaluable tool in analyzing this argument as it is hermeneutics claim (as represented by Gadamer) to universality that Habermas points out leaves no room for criticism in the social or natural sciences. If we are subject to our horizons of prejudice and preconception, how can science or social science critique? Gadamer claims that this state of being is not normative, it just simply is. To what extent would Popper or Kuhn, or even Einstein, agree?

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“[…] if a theory is incompatible with possible empirical observations it is scientific; conversely, a theory which is compatible with all such observations, either because, as in the case of Marxism, it has been modified solely to accommodate such observations, or because, as in the case of psychoanalytic theories, it is consistent with all possible observations, is unscientific.”

This is a cold, dis-passionate view to establish a method for critiquing the rise of new sciences and ideologies in the 20th century (and obviously prior centuries as well). It does not assert that what is unscientific may not one day become scientific, nor that an unscientific theory or observation may not be enlightening. Popper is addressing demarcation. To separate out that which is and is not scientific.

Induction and Deduction

Induction according to the Oxford English dictionary is defined as follows: “The process of inferring a general law or principle from the observation of particular instances”. The Stanford On-line Encyclopedia explains that induction is not opposed to deduction. Induction has undergone a semantic/lexical change in meaning through the 20th century. Induction used to refer to simply the inference of a conclusion from a set of instances i.e. A is a white swan, B is a white swan, therefore all swans are white. Induction has been refined to not infer from observation nor particulars and does not lead to general laws or principles.

enumerative induction or universal inference; inference from particular instances:

a1, a2, …, an are all Fs that are also G,

to a general law or principle

All Fs are G.

A weaker form of enumerative induction, singular predictive inference, leads not to a generalization but to a singular prediction:

1. a1, a2, …, an are all Fs that are also G.

2. an+1 is also F.

Therefore,

3. an+1 is also G.

Singular predictive inference also has a more general probabilistic form:

1. The proportion p of observed Fs have also been Gs.

2. a, not yet observed, is an F.

Therefore,

3. The probability that a is G is p.”

taken from the Stanford Encyclopedia

Induction is used to estimate the validity of a set of observations as evidence for a statement/proposition about the whole to which they refer.

Deductive, on the hand, works to establish validity and soundness in an argument/proposition by making statements about whether the premises are true or false. Logic uses deductive reasoning.

The deductive procedure:

a) formal: testing the internal consistency of the theoretical system to see if it involves any contradictions.
b) semi-formal: the axiomatising of the theory to distinguish between its empirical and its logical elements.
c) comparing the new theory with existing theories to determine whether it constitutes an advance upon them. One theory is deemed better than another if it has greater empirical data and greater predictive power than its rival.
d) empirical application of the conclusions derived from the theory to test whether it is true. Corroboration does not equal verification, but does prove validity.

Popper argues that induction is never actually used by the scientist destabilizes the Newtonian/Baconian insistence on the primacy of pure observation. Popper argues that all observation is selective and theory laden and that there are no pure or theory-free observations (a characteristic of Heideggerian thought). Popper inserts falsifiability in induction’s place. Falsifiability is not concerned with the origin or nature of the evidence gathered, as Popper argues it is easy to obtain evidence for any viewpoint. Falsifiability simply requires that the theory or conclusion be testable and be conceivably false. Any corroborative evidence should count scientifically only if it is the result of a genuinely risky prediction. Therefore, Popper’s scientific method takes on the characteristic of refutation. The best way to test is to search for refutation as it is logically impossible to conclusively verify a universal proposition by reference to experience. One falsification refutes the theory. The falsification does not need adjusting (as in the case of Marxism), but rather the theory/universal proposition (characteristic of science).

“[…] while advocating falsifiability as the criterion of demarcation for science, Popper explicitly allows for the fact that in practice a single conflicting or counter-instance is never sufficient methodologically to falsify a theory, and that scientific theories are often retained even though much of the available evidence conflicts with them, or is anomalous with respect to them.” Stanford Encyclopedia

Popper recognizes the very human, problem-solving orientation of science and therefore the importance of intuition, subjectivity and the imagination. It does not matter how a theory is arrived at, but rather how it can be tested and falsified/refuted. This view was endorsed by Einstein:

“There is no logical path leading to [the highly universal laws of science]. They can only be reached by intuition, based upon something like an intellectual love of the objects of experience.” Stanford Encyclopedia

This focus on the human characteristic of the scientific endeavor places special emphasis on the role played by the independent creative imagination in the formulation of theory.

Popper on pseudo-science and the personalities it attracts:

“I found that those of my friends who were admirers of Marx, Freud, and Adler, were impressed by a number of points common to these theories, and especially by their apparent explanatory power. These theories appeared to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred. The study of any of them seemed to have the effect of an intellectual conversion or revelation, opening your eyes to a new truth hidden from those not yet initiated. Once your eyes were thus opened you saw confirming instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of the theory. Whatever happened always confirmed it. Thus its truth appeared manifest; and unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth; who refused to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions which were still ‘un-analysed’ and crying aloud for treatment.” (Popper in Conjectures and Refutations, p35)

Probability

“[…] with increasing content, probability decreases, and vice versa; or in other words, that content increases with increasing improbability.” (p 218)

“This trivial fact has the following inescapable consequences; if growth of knowledge means that we operate with theories of increasing content, it must also mean that we operate with theories of decreasing probability … Thus if the aim is the advancement or the growth of knowledge, then a high probability cannot possibly be our aim as well: these two aims are incompatible.” (p218)

“And since a low probability means a high probability of being falsified, it follows that a high degree of falsifiability, or refutability, or testability, is one of the aims of science – in fact, precisely the same aim as a high informative content.” (p219)

Truth and Content: Verisimilitude vs Probability

on the credibility of science:

“We hold that this ideal can be realized, very simply, by recognizing that the rationality of science lies not in its habit of appealing to empirical evidence in support of its dogmas – but solely in the critical approach: in an attitude which of course, involves the critical use, among other arguments, of empirical evidence (especially in refutations).” (p229)

Popper is not interested in theories being secure, certain, or probable. Theories that can be tested for mistakes, in order to learn from said mistakes, and therefore improve are the desirable approaches to science: they allow for falsifiability.

“Thus the very idea of error – and of falsifiability – involves the idea of an objective truth as the standard of which we may fall short.” (p229)

Fallibilism: we can never be completely certain about factual issues.

Scientific Change: Conjecture and Refutation

Conjecture: stage 1 of a two step cycle of scientific change. A conjecture is a hypothesis that describes and explains something in the world/universe. A good conjecture is a bold one that takes many risks.

Refutation: the hypothesis is subjected to critical testing in an attempt to show that it is false.

A new conjecture should not be a reaction to falsification in an attempt to avoid the problems revealed by earlier testing. This would lead to an ad-hoc theory, lacking justification and eventually coherence.

“In the ‘Influence of Darwin’ essay, the obvious justification for tracing the background to Darwin’s innovation is to show how much of an innovation it was. In contrast to over two millennia of philosophical commitment to the priority of fixed forms and permanent ends, of over-arching design and pre-established constraints, and a companion denigration of change, the merely experiential and chance, Darwin’s work marks a momentous shift in point of view regarding reality.” (Browning, p8)

“The new approach in philosophy is itself transitional, in process, today and for the foreseeable future. It is not one, at least in 1910, of providing firm hypotheses, much less final answers, regarding the large philosophical problems it faces.” (p14)

“The Darwinian revolution, Dewey declared, had opened the way for a transformation of ‘the logic of knowledge’.” (P18)

“The new proposals regarding knowledge in the first essay and regarding truth in the second were formulated by Dewey concisely, yet meticulously. A specific case of knowing is an experience that, as such, intends or points to another experience, not itself immediately present, but as one which would become fully and immediately present were certain operations carried out. So understood, a knowing upon which one relies in predicting or attempting to control a future experience may be disappointed and, therefore, assessable as misleading. And the truth of an idea (or judgment, proposition, belief, etc) consists of its ‘effective capacity’ to ‘make good,’ that is, to lead to the completion or achievement to which it points by means of the operations and actions it proposes.” (p18)

Writing about John Dewey’s famous essay “The Influence of Darwinism on Philosophy” in The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy and Other Essays in Contemporary Thought: John Dewey, Larry A. Hickman, Douglas Browning

These thoughts point towards an understanding of reality that is itself transitive. This sounds as if it would be in conflict with historicism, as defined in the early 20th century, and the logical positivists. It sounds resonate of Gadamer and Heidegger.

Einstein’s Main Ideas:

Special Relativity

Coordinate spacetime is not absolute, the simultaneity of events is observer-dependent, speed of light is invariant.

Many of the individual elements of SR had already been developed by Lorentz, Abraham, and Poincare.

Their work, however, was burdened with being an elaborate extension of classical ideas whose meaning seemed to become more obscure as it proceeded.

Einstein’s revolutionary contribution was in starting afresh and giving an entirely new physical interpretation to the symbols involved.

At first, the limited data on fast electrons contradicted SR, but Einstein was so sure of the theory that he was unperturbed. After several years, new and better data proved him right.

General Relativity

Gravitational fields are manifestations of the curvature of spacetime. The curvature of spacetime originates in the stress-energy of the material contained within the spacetime.

In 1915, Einstein showed that GR would have three measurable effects that differed from the predictions of classical physics:
(i) precession of the perihelion of the planet Mercury’s orbit
(ii) deflection of starlight passing close to the sun
(iii) red shift of the spectral lines of light radiated by a massive body.

(i) resolved a standing problem in physics.

(ii) and (iii) were later empirical verified, (ii) most famously by Eddington’s observations during a 1919 eclipse.

Mass is a form of energy, E=mc2

Understanding of gravitation, electromagnetism, and other interactions should be sought in a unified-field theory.

Quantum Mechanics

In one of his 1905 papers, Einstein argued that light itself comes in discrete quanta of energy.

In 1915, experiments by R.A. Millikan provided strong evidence that Einstein’s explanation was correct.

However, many physicists remained unconvinced of the literal reality of photons until the discovery of the Compton effect in 1923.

Einstein was one of the first to develop the description of atomic processes in probabilistic terms. He early on (1916) expressed discomfort at the element of randomness, and he never fully accepted this aspect of quantum mechanics.

In 1935, he wrote “Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality be Considered Complete?” with Podolsky and Rosen which discussed the extent to which quantum mechanics was a complete description of reality.

Incompleteness

Einstein believed that quantum mechanics was incomplete.

He always hoped to find a new theory which would give a more satisfying account of atomic behavior.

This theory would not be a mere appending of hidden variables to quantum theory but would establish new concepts from which the quantum theory would emerge as only a statistical approximation of the truth.

Einstein’s Philosophical Views

Einstein was motivated by simplicity in theory choice.

What warrant is there for this? One reason (borrowed from Schlick) is that simpler theories generally contain fewer arbitrary elements and only non-arbitrary elements are likely to correspond to reality.

Positivism vs. Realism

Einstein was attached to the 19th century view on causality.

Summary of the Einstein-Bohr dialogue: complimentary vs. objective reality; “It became clear to me from listening to them both that the advent of quantum mechanics in 1925 represented a far greater break with the past than had been the case with the coming of special relativity in 1905 or of general relativity in 1915 […] how wrong I was in accepting a rather widespread belief that Einstein simply did not care anymore about the quantum theory. On the contrary, he wanted nothing more than to find a unified field theory which not only would join together gravitational and electromagnetic forces but also would provide the basis for a new interpretation of quantum phenomena.”

Einstein, influenced by Ernst Mach, began his philosophical life as a positivist.

Later on (post wide acceptance of quantum theory), he became a defender of Realism

Einstein argued that measuring B should not effect elsewhere located object A: “If one renounces the assumption that what is present in different parts of space has an independent, real existence, then I do not at all see what physics is supposed to describe”.

Einstein was a realist about determinism. This required him to be an anti-realist about quantum mechanics.

Or, as Einstein, tended to put it, it required him to endorse that quantum mechanics was incomplete. The complete description will be deterministic.
This is where the famous, “God doesn’t play dice with the universe” quote comes from.

Einstein on the Scientific Method:

“We now know that science cannot grow out of empiricism alone, that in the constructions of science we need to use free invention which only a posteriori can be confronted with experience as to its usefulness. This fact could elude earlier generations, to whom theoretical creation seemed to grow inductively out of empiricism without the creative influence of a free construction of concepts. The more primitive the status of science is the more readily can the scientist live under the illusion that he is a pure empiricist. In the nineteenth century, many still believed that Newton’s fundamental rule ‘hypotheses non fingo‘ should underlie all natural science.” (p14)

“Newton, forgive me; you found the only way which in your age was just about possible for a man with the highest powers of thought and creativity. The concepts which you created are guiding our thinking in physics even today, although we now know that they will have to be replaced by others farther removed from the sphere of immediate experience, if we aim at a profounder understanding of relationships.” (p14, 15)

Einstein’s Contribution:

“His special relativity includes the completion of the work of Maxwell and Lorentz. His general relativity includes the completion of Newton’s theory of gravitation and incorporates mach’s vision of the relativity of all motion. In all these respects, Einstein’s oeuvre represents the crowning of the work of his precursors, adding to and revising the foundations of their theories. In this sense he is a transitional figure, perfecting the past and changing the stream of future events. At the same time he is a pioneer, at first Planck, then he, then Bohr founded a new physics without precursors – the quantum theory.” (p15)

In 1905 Einstein produced 6 papers:

1) The light-quantum and the photoelectric effect, completed March 17. This paper, which led to his Nobel Prize in physics, was produced before he wrote his PhD thesis.
2) A new determination of molecular dimensions, completed April 30. This was his doctoral thesis, which was to become his paper most often quoted in modern literature.
3) Brownian motion, received May 11. This was a direct out growth of his thesis work.
4) The first paper on special relativity, received June 30.
5) The second paper on general relativity, containing the E = mc2 relation, received September 27.
6) A second paper on Brownian motion, received December 19.

These papers mark the entry of Einstein’s genius into the world of physics. These papers concern two central, early 20th century problems of physics. First, molecular reality. “How can one prove (or disprove) that atoms and molecules are real things? If they are real then how can one determine their size and count their number?” (p19)

The second problem was the molecular basis of statistical physics: “If atoms and molecules are real things, then how does one express such macroscopic concepts as pressure, temperature, and entropy in terms of the motion of these submicroscopic particles?” (p 19)

Reference:

Subtle Is the Lord: The Science And the Life of Albert Einstein by Abraham Pais Oxford University Press
italics are from Melbourne University Lecture Slides

Teleology:

Any philosophical account which holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are inherent also in nature. Broadly the term is used elsewhere to mean an action involved at aiming at goals.

A thing, process or action is teleological when it is for the sake of an end.

Deductive:

Deductive reasoning says essentially that the conclusion must be true if the premises are true. This is different to inference and induction in which a conclusion is arrived at based on a set of patterns/occurrences/events.

Inductive:

Inductive reasoning evaluates propositions, arriving at the most probable conclusion. The conclusion is justified by examples.

Logical Positivism:

This is empiricism combined with rationalism, incorporating mathematical and logico-linguistic constructs. It is a type of analytic philosophy. It began with a group known as the Vienna circle of who Karl popper was a contemporary but not a part. They opposed all metaphysics on the basis that all knowledge should be codifiable by a single common language of science (Wittgenstein).

Humean Critique of Induction

The driving question is: “Does Induction lead to knowledge?”.

In Hume’s work, the terminology is slightly different from that of today. Primarily: reason refers to deductive reasoning, and induction refers to inductive reasoning. Demonstrative refers to deductive and probabilistic refers to the generalisation of causal reasoning.

Hume saw that causation was the most important associative relation, since: “by means of that relation alone we can go beyond the evidence of our memory and senses.” Therefore causation is the basis of all our reasoning concerning matters-of-fact. To add to this, it follows that we therefore infer propositions about the world onto or from these causation’s. These inferences are not due to reason (deductive). At the root of this is the idea that effects are distinct events from their causes.

The arguments conclusion states that in induction (causal inference) experience does not produce the idea of an effect from an impression of its cause by means of an understanding or reason, but by the imagination. The problem with inductive reasoning is what it implies about nature:

“that instances of which we have had no experience, must resemble those of which we have had experience, and that the course of nature continues always uniformly the same.” (Hume THN, 89)

This principle can’t be proved deductively, as deductive proof would make it a necessary truth, and the principle here is not necessary. It’s antecedent is consistent with the denial of its consequent. Hume sees inference as a habit of the mind that drives inductive reasoning. The force of induction that drives this inference is a subjective power, not an objective feature of the world. Inductive inference is not and could not be reasoning; either probabilistic or deductive, from premise to conclusion.

Karl Popper

A self-professed ‘critical rationalist’; a dedicated opponent of all forms of skepticism, conventionalism, and relativism in science and in human affairs generally, a committed advocate and staunch defender of the “Open Society”, and an implacable critic of totalitarianism in all its forms. He was a critic of logical positivism, especially of what he considered to be its misplaced focus on the theory of meaning in philosophy and upon verification in scientific methodology. Popper argued that psychoanalysis had more in common with primitive myth than with science and science was a superior form of knowledge building as it was accountable and had negative implications (it could be disproved). For Popper Marxism had started out scientific, but degenerated with additions of ad hoc hypotheses as the predicted reality didn’t pan out. This made it pseudo-scientific.

The central problem in science is demarcation: distinguishing between science and ‘non-science’. Popper also holds that there is no unique methodology specific to science. Science consists largely of problem-solving. Falsifiability is the key concern of scientific investigation. It is easy to obtain evidence in favor of virtually any theory, and such ‘corroboration’, as he terms it, should count scientifically only if it is the positive result of a genuinely risky prediction, which might conceivably have been false. Therefore a genuine test of a scientific theory is logically an attempt to refute or falsify it, and one counter insistence falsifies the whole theory.

As a result a scientific theory can never be genuinely or logically verified. Hence we go with the best available theory. Einstein was in line with this view in the sense that he saw that science started with intuition (problem solving). Science in Poppers view starts with problem solving and not observation (observation is the way in which to grapple with problems).

For Popper any theory X is better than a rival theory Y if X has greater empirical content, and hence greater predictive power, than Y. This means that science is deductive, not inductive. Popper was different from the Logical Positivists in that he did not claim that non-science was meaningless.

Science is interested in theories with a high informative content. The higher the informative content of a theory, the lower will be its probability, for the more information a statement contains, the more ways in which it may turn out to be false. Informative content is therefore inverse in proportion to probability, though directly proportionate to testability.

Verisimilitude

The problem of articulating how one false theory might be closer to the truth than another false theory. This is closely connected therefore with falsifiability, in the sense that a theory may be highly informative, yet eventually falsified. This does not mean the theory is worthless as at some stage it had a level of predictive power and explanation. This level is the degree of its verisimilitude.

Conjecture

Conjecture simply refers to a proposition that is unproven, but thought to be true and not disproven i.e. supporting information of a given scientific theory is conjecture of that theory.

Refutation

A falsification or objection. A given piece of empirical information or evidence might be conjecture or refutation for a theory.

According to Popper, in science any given hypothesis and resultant experiment must be falsifiable and must not rely on induction as its method of gaining verification. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Karl Popper, 2006 p5) In fact, Popper’s criterion of the scientific status of a theory holds that any hypothesis or theory cannot be conclusively verified as such, but rather needs to be prohibitive of particular events or occurrences and held to account on its measure of corroborative evidence and possible refutation. Falsifiability therefore means the possibility of empirical observations that are incompatible with the theory or hypothesis.

At the root of this reasoning is the notion that all observation and empirical testing is subject to bias and/or error, whether it be human or mechanical and that such observation is selective and theory-laden:

“[Popper] argues that the Baconian/Newtonian insistence on the primacy of ‘pure’ observation, as the initial step in the formation of theories, is completely misguided: all observation is selective and theory laden – there are no pure or theory-free observations.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Karl Popper, 2006 p5)

The theory therefore depends upon certain corroborative empirical observations, and upon genuine tests and attempts to refute or falsify it. The theory can never be absolutely verified. Added to this, the risk level of the prediction in relation to the theory determines its accountability. Essentially a confirmation should count only if it is the result of a risky prediction. (Popper p26)

Induction is different to falsifiability in that it is a deliberate attempt to observe and draw boundaries around a given occurrence or event and narrow the possibilities for refutation or falsifiability (falsifiability hence being the attempt to refute these boundaries). Induction sets out to be verified and confirmed, rather than held to account on potential on-going and unforeseen contradictions or disproving phenomena (as in the case of falsifiable theories where the more potentially falsifiable the hypothesis, the more empirical data needed, the more rigorous the testing and informative the results). Induction is a selective process that observes an event or occurrence looking for patterns, and eliminates among the number of observed patterns and alternate possibilities until an objective and assumedly unbiased conclusion is arrived at. This is inference based on multiple observations.

Popper associates the inductive method with the unfettered gathering of verification and confirmation. He also identifies logical problems and inconsistencies in this method. Popper asserts that the actual procedure of science is to operate with conjectures (opinion or theory without sufficient evidence or proof) and then to test via repeated observation and experiment. In the case of scientific theories that transcend experience, empirical evidence becomes limited, though according to the principle of empiricism, the acceptance or rejection of scientific statements depends upon observation and experiment. (Popper, p29) Taking this problem and procedure into consideration it is not the explanatory power a theory has that concerns Popper, as he was able to find cases in the lived experience of the world around him in which explanatory theories (scientific or political) could be verified over and over again; in this sense revelatory. It is the testability of a theory that is of concern, rather than the gathering of confirmation. An abundance of confirming instances and verifications was for Popper the root cause of the problem of demarcation.

Popper’s assertion about the scientific method addresses the problem of demarcation; the difference between science and pseudo-science. In essence, Poppers criterion for the scientific status of a theory set up an opposition between falsifiability (refutation and testability) and induction (the gathering of verifying data). Induction is rejected as Popper states:

“Confirming evidence should not count except when it is the result of a genuine test of the theory; and this means that it can be presented as a serious but unsuccessful attempt to falsify the theory.” (Popper, p26)

This serious but unsuccessful attempt to falsify the theory can henceforth become ‘corroborating evidence’ depending on the particular situation. As the theory is still falsifiable this corroborating evidence is essentially different from inductive empirical evidence, as it does not confirm the theory; it does not infer. This state of falsifiability solves the contradiction inherent in induction; that observation will always be incomplete or insufficient in determining the scientific status of a theory. This is of course not to say that such empirical evidence does not, after rigorous testing and attempted refutation strengthen or put in a better standing the theory.

Bibliography

Popper, Karl: “Science: Conjectures and Refutations” http://cla.calpoly.edu/-fotoole/321.1/popper.html accessed 6/1/2008