Thursday, March 21, 2019

Pierre Duhem: Realist or anti-realist?

Pierre Duhem
Pierre Duhem (1861-1916) can be considered one of the last nineteenth-century physicists. Specialist in Thermodynamics, the branch of physics that dominated the second half of the nineteenth century, introduced the idea of the ​​chemical potential at the same time as William Gibbs, expressed in the Gibbs-Duhem equation, which connects the chemical potential with magnitudes such as the volume, pressure, entropy and temperature of a chemical mixture. He is considered one of the creators of physical chemistry and was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize in Physics.
In his scientific work, Duhem confronted Marcellin Berthelot, whose principle of maximum work he opposed. This led to his doctoral thesis being rejected, and he was denied a teaching position at the University of Paris. Duhem was finally shown to be right, as Berthelot’s principle is not generally applicable, for it has many exceptions.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Anti-realist answers to the no-miracles argument

Hilary Putnam

The previous post described the no-miracles argument, proposed by Hilary Putnam. The article ended thus:
What do anti-realists answer to this argument? Are they convinced?
I guess the readers have deduced that the answer to the second question must be negative, otherwise the debate between realism and anti-realism would have ended. Let us look, therefore, at the answer to the first question. Faced with the abductive argument of no-miracles, anti-realists answer in two different ways:
1.      Bas van Fraassen is an anti-realist American philosopher who criticizes Putnam’s argument, arguing that scientific theories are successful because unsuccessful theories have been eliminated by natural selection (i.e. scientists have ruled them out). Therefore, asking why science is successful is similar to asking why basketball players are tall: because they have been selected. Let us see how Fraassen describes his theory, which is called constructive empiricism:

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Abduction and the no-miracles argument

The Cheshire cat,
famous invisible cat
In an earlier post in this blog, I explained with an example the mode of reasoning based on abduction. Although not as strong as deduction and induction, abduction reaches high degrees of confidence in fields such as history, art criticism and others, less scientific than mathematics or natural science.
In another post published in March 2016, I described the fallacy of the invisible cat, which confuses a sufficient condition with a necessary condition for something to happen. This situation occurs when there are several possible causes that may have given rise to the same phenomenon.
In some cases, if we apply abduction to a situation where the fallacy of the invisible cat could occur, a conclusion can be reached. Think of the example I proposed to describe this fallacy:

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The debate of realism and anti-realism

Gottlob Frege

The secular debate between realism and nominalism (or anti-realism, its now preferred name), has been expressed in a few new theories of the so-called analytical philosophy, whose origin dates from the early twentieth century, with Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Circle of Vienna and several philosophers of the last fifty years, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world.
Currently, the two camps, realist and anti-realist, agree on one thing: science works. But although this is considered an incontrovertible fact, very divergent positions are posed to explain it.
As it has always happened throughout history, neither of the two fields is united. Both realism and anti-realism are divided into two branches, at the least.
Let us start by describing the realist position:

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The unreasonable effectiveness of science

Paul Davies

Paul Davies is an British physicist, expert in cosmology and quantum mechanics, well known for his activity in scientific popularization. In one of his articles [1], with the same title as this post, he wrote the following:
The fact that this rich and complex variety emerges from the featureless inferno of the Big Bang… as a consequence of laws of stunning simplicity and generality… has a distinct teleological flavor.
And in his most famous book, The Mind of God (1992), written in response to Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, Davies wrote the following words:
The success of the scientific method at unlocking the secrets of nature is so dazzling it can blind us to the greatest scientific miracle of all: science works.
What Davies poses here has much to do with one of the most pressing problems of our time, the debate between realism and anti-realism, if we use the terms of analytical philosophy. This debate can be summarized in the following words:

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Chinese on the Moon

The hidden face of the moon
On January 2, a Chinese spacecraft landed on the opposite side of the moon.
The fact that the moon rotates around its axis in the same time that it revolves in an elliptical orbit around the Earth has the consequence that our satellite always shows us the same face. For several centuries, the hidden face of the moon was an enigma. In 1870, the science-fiction novel Around the Moon, by Jules Verne, leaves open the possibility that in the hidden face of the moon there could be air, water, life, and even intelligent inhabitants. While the three travelers pass over the hidden face during the lunar night, unable to see anything on the surface, a sudden flash of light caused by a meteor shower illuminates for a moment the hidden area and shows them clouds, seas, forests... or at least that’s what the dazzled observers think they have seen.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The ecological ignorance of ecologists

Ernst Haeckel, usually considered
the founder of Ecology
Ecology is the science that studies the mutual relationships between living beings that inhabit a given territory. Scientists who practice and research in this science are called ecologists.
As its name suggests (the -ism ending is very clear) ecologism is not a science, but an ideology. The people who practice this ideology (also called ecologists in English) are not scientists, but socio-political activists. Why did the creators of this ideology choose a name that can lead to confusion with that of a science, especially in English? No doubt they did it on purpose, to take advantage of the social prestige of science; so that ill-informed people would believe that ecologism is scientific; in short, to win votes.
Obviously there always are honorable exceptions, but it is not difficult to see that many socio-political ecologists are quite ignorant about the ecological science that they are supposed to apply in their practical policies, whenever they reach power positions. As a result, such policies are often counterproductive and even tragic.
Let us look at an example: