Steven Pinker's "Enlightenment NOW" is in many ways a terrific book, from which I have learnt much. But it is also deeply flawed. Science and reason are at the heart of the book, but the conceptions that Steven Pinker defends are damagingly irrational. And these defective conceptions of science and reason, as a result of being associated with the Enlightenment Programme for the past two or three centuries, have been responsible, in part, for the genesis of the global problems we (...) now suffer from, and our current inability to deal with them properly. There is not a glimmering of an awareness of any of this in Pinker’s book. This flaw in Enlightenment NOW is serious indeed. (shrink)
In order to create a good world, we need to learn how to do it - how to resolve our appalling problems and conflicts in more cooperative ways than at present. And in order to do this, we need traditions and institutions of learning rationally devoted to this end. When viewed from this standpoint, what we have at present - academic inquiry devoted to the pursuit of knowledge and technological know-how - is an intellectual and human disaster. We urgently need (...) a new, more rigorous kind of inquiry that gives intellectual priority to the tasks of articulating our problems of living and proposing and critically assessing possible cooperative solutions. This new kind of inquiry would have as its basic aim to improve, not just knowledge, but also personal and global wisdom - wisdom being understood to be the capacity to realize what is of value in life. To develop this new kind of inquiry we will need to change almost every branch and aspect of the academic enterprise. (shrink)
What sort of entities are electrons, photons and atoms given their wave-like and particle-like properties? Is nature fundamentally deterministic or probabilistic? Orthodox quantum theory evades answering these two basic questions by being a theory about the results of performing measurements on quantum systems. But this evasion results in OQT being a seriously defective theory. A rival, somewhat ignored strategy is to conjecture that the quantum domain is fundamentally probabilistic. This means quantum entities, interacting with one another probabilistically, must differ radically (...) from the entities of deterministic classical physics, the classical wave or particle. It becomes possible to conceive of quantum entities as a new kind of fundamentally probabilistic entity, the “propensiton”, neither wave nor particle. A fully micro realistic, testable rival to OQT results. (shrink)
We are in a state of impending crisis. And the fault lies in part with academia. For two centuries or so, academia has been devoted to the pursuit of knowledge and technological know-how. This has enormously increased our power to act which has, in turn, brought us both all the great benefits of the modern world and the crises we now face. Modern science and technology have made possible modern industry and agriculture, the explosive growth of the world’s population, global (...) warming, modern armaments and the lethal character of modern warfare, destruction of natural habitats and rapid extinction of species, immense inequalities of wealth and power across the globe, pollution of earth, sea and air, even the AIDS epidemic (AIDS being spread by modern travel). All these global problems, involving preventable deaths of millions, have arisen because some of us have acquired unprecedented powers to act without acquiring the capacity to act wisely. We urgently need to bring about a revolution in universities so that the basic intellectual aim becomes, not knowledge merely, but rather to help humanity acquire the capacity to resolve conflicts and problems of living in more cooperatively rational ways. The revolution we need would affect every branch and aspect of academic inquiry. The basic intellectual task of academia would be to articulate our problems of living (personal, social and global) and propose and critically assess possible solutions, possible actions. This would be the task of social inquiry and the humanities. Tackling problems of knowledge would be secondary. Social inquiry would be at the heart of the academic enterprise, intellectually more fundamental than natural science. On a rather more long-term basis, social inquiry would be concerned to help humanity build cooperatively rational methods of problem-solving into the fabric of social and political life, so that we may gradually acquire the capacity to resolve our conflicts and problems of living in more cooperatively rational ways. Natural science would change to include three domains of discussion: evidence, theory, and aims – the latter including discussion of metaphysics, values and politics. Academia would actively seek to educate the public by means of discussion and debate. These changes all come from demanding that academia cure its current damaging structural irrationality, so that reason – the authentic article – may be devoted to promoting human welfare. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that aim-oriented empiricism (AOE), a conception of natural science that I have defended at some length elsewhere, is a kind of synthesis of the views of Popper, Kuhn and Lakatos, but is also an improvement over the views of all three. Whereas Popper's falsificationism protects metaphysical assumptions implicitly made by science from criticism, AOE exposes all such assumptions to sustained criticism, and furthermore focuses criticism on those assumptions most likely to need revision if science is (...) to make progress. Even though AOE is, in this way, more Popperian than Popper, it is also, in some respects, more like the views of Kuhn and Lakatos than falsificationism is. AOE is able, however, to solve problems which Kuhn's and Lakatos's views cannot solve. [Back to Top]. (shrink)
This book argues for the need to put into practice a profound and comprehensive intellectual revolution, affecting to a greater or lesser extent all branches of scientific and technological research, scholarship and education. This intellectual revolution differs, however, from the now familiar kind of scientific revolution described by Kuhn. It does not primarily involve a radical change in what we take to be knowledge about some aspect of the world, a change of paradigm. Rather it involves a radical change in (...) the fundamental, overall intellectual aims and methods of inquiry. At present inquiry is devoted to the enhancement of knowledge. This needs to be transformed into a kind of rational inquiry having as its basic aim to enhance personal and social wisdom. This new kind of inquiry gives intellectual priority to the personal and social problems we encounter in our lives as we strive to realize what is desirable and of value – problems of knowledge and technology being intellectually subordinate and secondary. For this new kind of inquiry, it is what we do and what we are that ultimately matters: our knowledge is but an aspect of our life and being. (shrink)
Academic inquiry, in devoting itself primarily to the pursuit of knowledge, is profoundly and damagingly irrational, in a wholesale, structural fashion, when judged from the standpoint of helping to promote human welfare. Judged from this standpoint, academic inquiry devoted to the pursuit of knowledge violates three of the four most elementary rules of rational problem-solving conceivable. Above all, it fails to give intellectual priority to the tasks of (1) articulating problems of living, including global problems, and (2) proposing and critically (...) assessing possible solutions – possible social actions. This gross, structural irrationality of academic inquiry stems from blunders of the 18th century French Enlightenment. The philosophes had the brilliant idea of learning from scientific progress how to achieve social progress towards an enlightened world, but in implementing this idea they made three disastrous blunders. They got the nature of the progress-achieving methods of science wrong; they failed to generalize these methods properly; and most disastrously, they applied these methods to acquiring knowledge about society, and not directly to solving social problems. These blunders are still inherent in academia today, with dire consequences for the state of the world. All this has been pointed out prominently many times since 1976, but has been ignored. (shrink)
What ought to be the aims of science? How can science best serve humanity? What would an ideal science be like, a science that is sensitively and humanely responsive to the needs, problems and aspirations of people? How ought the institutional enterprise of science to be related to the rest of society? What ought to be the relationship between science and art, thought and feeling, reason and desire, mind and heart? Should the social sciences model themselves on the natural sciences: (...) or ought they to take a different form if they are to serve the interests of humanity objectively, sensitively and rigorously? Might it be possible to get into human life, into art, education, politics, industry, international affairs, and other domains of human activity, the same kind of progressive success that is found so strikingly, on the intellectual level, within science? These are some of the questions tackled by What’s Wrong With Science? But the book is no abstruse treatise on the philosophy of science. Most of it takes the form of a passionate debate between a Scientist and a Philosopher, a debate that is by turns humorous, ironical, bitter, dramatically explosive. Even as the argument explores the relationship between thought and feeling, reason and desire, the two main protagonists find it necessary to examine their own feelings and motivations. (shrink)
We urgently need to bring about a revolution in academic inquiry, one that transforms knowledge-inquiry into what may be called wisdom-inquiry. This revolution, were it to occur, would help humanity make progress towards as good a world as possible. Wisdom-inquiry gives intellectual priority to articulating problems of living, including global problems, and proposing and critically assessing possible solutions - possible actions, policies, political programmes. It actively seeks to promote public education about what our problems are, and what we need to (...) do about them. It seeks to discover how problematic aims of social, political and economic endeavours may be improved. It includes a virtual government that seeks to discover what the actual government ought to be doing. In these and other ways, wisdom-inquiry would be actively and rationally engaged in helping humanity make progress towards a better world. Academia as it exists at present, dominated by knowledge-inquiry, cannot engage in these vitally necessary activities, or can only do so in a restricted, ineffective fashion. There are strong grounds for holding that wisdom-inquiry would dramatically enhance the capacity of humanity to make progress towards a better, wiser world. (shrink)
After a sketch of the optimism and high aspirations of History and Philosophy of Science when I first joined the field in the mid 1960s, I go on to describe the disastrous impact of "the strong programme" and social constructivism in history and sociology of science. Despite Alan Sokal's brilliant spoof article, and the "science wars" that flared up partly as a result, the whole field of Science and Technology Studies is still adversely affected by social constructivist ideas. I then (...) go on to spell out how in my view STS ought to develop. It is, to begin with, vitally important to recognize the profoundly problematic character of the aims of science. There are substantial, influential and highly problematic metaphysical, value and political assumptions built into these aims. Once this is appreciated, it becomes clear that we need a new kind of science which subjects problematic aims - problematic assumptions inherent in these aims - to sustained imaginative and critical scrutiny as an integral part of science itself. This needs to be done in an attempt to improve the aims and methods of science as science proceeds. The upshot is that science, STS, and the relationship between the two, are all transformed. STS becomes an integral part of science itself. And becomes a part of an urgently needed campaign to transform universities so that they become devoted to helping humanity create a wiser world. (shrink)
Natural science, properly understood, provides us with the methodological key to the salvation of humanity. First, we need to acknowledge that the actual aims of science are profoundly problematic, in that they make problematic assumptions about metaphysics, values and the social use of science. Then we need to represent these aims in the form of a hierarchy of aims, which become increasingly unproblematic as one goes up the hierarchy; as result we create a framework of relatively unproblematic aims and methods, (...) high up in the hierarchy, within which much more problematic aims and methods, low down in the hierarchy, may be improved as scientific knowledge improves. Then, we need to generalize this hierarchical, aims-and-methods-improving methodology so that it becomes fruitfully applicable to any worthwhile endeavour with problematic aims. Finally, we need to apply this methodology to the immensely problematic task of making progress towards as good a world as feasible. (shrink)
At present the basic intellectual aim of academic inquiry is to improve knowledge. Much of the structure, the whole character, of academic inquiry, in universities all over the world, is shaped by the adoption of this as the basic intellectual aim. But, judged from the standpoint of making a contribution to human welfare, academic inquiry of this type is damagingly irrational. Three of four of the most elementary rules of rational problem-solving are violated. A revolution in the aims and methods (...) of academic in-quiry is needed so that the basic aim becomes to promote wisdom, conceived of as the capacity to realize what is of value, for oneself and others, thus including knowledge and technological know-how, but much else besides. This urgently needed revolution would affect every branch and aspect of the academic enterprise. (shrink)
In this paper I expound an argument which seems to establish that probabilism and special relativity are incompatible. I examine the argument critically, and consider its implications for interpretative problems of quantum theory, and for theoretical physics as a whole.
At present the basic intellectual aim of academic inquiry is to improve knowledge. Much of the structure, the whole character, of academic inquiry, in universities all over the world, is shaped by the adoption of this as the basic intellectual aim. But, judged from the standpoint of making a contribution to human welfare, academic inquiry of this type is damagingly irrational. Three of four of the most elementary rules of rational problem-solving are violated. A revolution in the aims and methods (...) of academic inquiry is needed so that the basic aim becomes to promote wisdom, conceived of as the capacity to realize what is of value, for oneself and others, thus including knowledge and technological know-how, but much else besides. This urgently needed revolution would affect every branch and aspect of the academic enterprise. (shrink)
In this three-part paper, my concern is to expound and defend a conception of science, close to Einstein's, which I call aim-oriented empiricism. I argue that aim-oriented empiricsim has the following virtues. (i) It solve the problem of induction; (ii) it provides decisive reasons for rejecting van Fraassen's brilliantly defended but intuitively implausible constructive empiricism; (iii) it solves the problem of verisimilitude, the problem of explicating what it can mean to speak of scientific progress given that science advances from one (...) false theory to another; (iv) it enables us to hold that appropriate scientific theories, even though false, can nevertheless legitimately be interpreted realistically, as providing us with genuine , even if only approximate, knowledge of unobservable physical entities; (v) it provies science with a rational, even though fallible and non-mechanical, method for the discovery of fundamental new theories in physics. In the third part of the paper I show that Einstein made essential use of aim-oriented empiricism in scientific practice in developing special and general relativity. I conclude by considering to what extent Einstein came explicitly to advocate aim-oriented empiricism in his later years. (shrink)
Neurosis can be interpreted as a methodological condition which any aim-pursuing entity can suffer from. If such an entity pursues a problematic aim B, represents to itself that it is pursuing a different aim C, and as a result fails to solve the problems associated with B which, if solved, would lead to the pursuit of aim A, then the entity may be said to be "rationalistically neurotic". Natural science is neurotic in this sense in so far as a basic (...) aim of science is represented to be to improve knowledge of factual truth as such (aim C), when actually the aim of science is to improve knowledge of explanatory truth (aim B). Science does not suffer too much from this neurosis, but philosophy of science does. Much more serious is the rationalistic neurosis of the social sciences, and of academic inquiry more generally. Freeing social science and academic inquiry from neurosis would have far reaching, beneficial, intellectual, institutional and cultural consequences. (shrink)
Most scientists would hold that science has not established that the cosmos is physically comprehensible – i.e. such that there is some as-yet undiscovered true physical theory of everything that is unified. This is an empirically untestable, or metaphysical thesis. It thus lies beyond the scope of science. Only when physics has formulated a testable unified theory of everything which has been amply corroborated empirically will science be in a position to declare that it has established that the cosmos is (...) physically comprehensible. But this argument presupposes a widely accepted but untenable conception of science which I shall call standard empiricism. According to standard empiricism, in science theories are accepted solely on the basis of evidence. Choice of theory may be influenced for a time by considerations of simplicity, unity, or explanatory capacity, but not in such a way that the universe itself is permanently assumed to be simple, unified or physically comprehensible. In science, no thesis about the universe can be accepted permanently as a part of scientific knowledge independently of evidence. Granted this view, it is clear that science cannot have established that the universe is physically comprehensible. Standard empiricism is, however, as I have indicated, untenable. Any fundamental physical theory, in order to be accepted as a part of theoretical scientific knowledge, must satisfy two criteria. It must be sufficiently empirically successful, and sufficiently unified. Given any accepted theory of physics, endlessly many empirically more successful disunified rivals can always be concocted – disunified because they assert that different dynamical laws govern the diverse phenomena to which the theory applies. These disunified rivals are not considered for a moment in physics, despite their greater empirical success. This persistent rejection of empirically more successful but disunified rival theories means, I argue, that a big, highly problematic, implicit assumption is made by science about the cosmos, to the effect, at least, that the cosmos is such that all seriously disunified theories are false. Once this point is recognized, it becomes clear, I argue, that we need a new conception of science which makes explicit, and so criticizable and improvable the big, influential, and problematic assumption that is at present implicit in physics in the persistent preference for unified theories. This conception of science, which I call aim-oriented empiricism, represents the assumption of physics in the form of a hierarchy of assumptions. As one goes up the hierarchy, the assumptions become less and less substantial, and more and more nearly such that their truth is required for science, or the pursuit of knowledge, to be possible at all. At each level, that assumption is accepted which best accords with the next one up, and has, associated with it the most empirically progressive research programme in physics, or holds out the greatest hope of leading to such an empirically progressive research programme. In this way a framework of relatively insubstantial, unproblematic, fixed assumptions and associated methods is created, high up in the hierarchy, within which much more substantial and problematic assumptions and associated methods, low down in the hierarchy, can be changed, and indeed improved, as scientific knowledge improves. One assumption in this hierarchy of assumptions, I argue, is that the cosmos is physically comprehensible – that is, such that some yet-to-be-discovered unified theory of everything is true. Hence the conclusion: improve our ideas about the nature of science and it becomes apparent that science has already established that the cosmos is physically comprehensible – in so far as science can ever establish anything theoretical. (shrink)
Cutting God in Half argues that, in order to tackle climate change, world poverty, extinction of species and our other global problems rather better than we are doing at present we need to bring about a revolution in science, and in academia more generally. We need to put our problems of living – personal, social, global – at the heart of the academic enterprise. How our human world, imbued with meaning and value, can exist and best flourish embedded in the (...) physical universe is, the book argues, our basic problem. It is our fundamental philosophical problem, our fundamental problem of knowledge and understanding, and our fundamental practical problem of living. It is this problem that we fail, at present, to recognize as fundamental – to our cost. It can be understood to arise as a result of cutting God in half – severing the God of Cosmic Power from the God of Value. The first is Einstein’s God, the underlying unity in the physical universe that determines how events occur. The second is what is of most value associated with human life – and sentient life more generally. Having cut God in half in this way, the problem then becomes to see how the two halves can be put together again. This book tackles outstanding aspects of this problem, and in doing so throws out original ideas about science, education, religion, evolutionary theory, free will, quantum theory, and how we should go about tackling our impending global crises. It transpires that bringing our basic problem into sharp focus has revolutionary implications. It becomes clear how and why many aspects of our social and cultural world urgently need to be transformed. Cutting God in Half is written in a lively, accessible style, and ought to be essential reading for anyone concerned about ultimate questions – the nature of the universe, the meaning of life, the future of humanity. (shrink)
Is Science Neurotic? sets out to show that science suffers from a damaging but rarely noticed methodological disease — “rationalistic neurosis.” Assumptions concerning metaphysics, human value and politics, implicit in the aims of science, are repressed, and the malaise has spread to affect the whole academic enterprise, with the potential for extraordinarily damaging long-term consequences. The book begins with a discussion of the aims and methods of natural science, and moves on to discuss social science, philosophy, education, psychoanalytic theory and (...) academic inquiry as a whole. It makes an original and compelling contribution to the current debate between those for and those against science, arguing that science would be of greater human value if it were more rigorous — we suffer not from too much scientific rationality, but too little. The author discusses the need for a revolution in the aims of science and academic inquiry in general and, in a lively and accessible style, spells out a thesis with profound importance for the long-term future of humanity. (shrink)
The crisis of our times is that we have science without wisdom. All our current global problems have arisen as a result. Learning how to become wiser has become, not a luxury, but a necessity. The key is to learn from the success of science. We need to learn from scientific progress how to achieve social progress towards a wiser world. This is an old idea that goes back to the French Enlightenment. However, in developing the idea, the philosophes of (...) the Enlightenment made serious blunders, and it is their botched version of the Enlightenment programme that was developed throughout the 19th century, and built into academia all over the world in the early 20th century with the creation of the social sciences. As a matter of great urgency, we need to put right the intellectual/institutional blunders we have inherited from the 18th century. We need to bring about a revolution in academic inquiry so that the basic task becomes, not just to acquire knowledge, but to help humanity learn how to make progress towards a wiser world. (shrink)
Much of my working life has been devoted to trying to get across the point that we urgently need to bring about a revolution in the aims and methods of academic inquiry, so that the basic aim becomes to seek and promote wisdom rather than just acquire knowledge.
This paper considers objections to Popper's views on scientific method. It is argued that criticism of Popper's views, developed by Kuhn, Feyerabend, and Lakatos, are not too damaging, although they do require that Popper's views be modified somewhat. It is argued that a much more serious criticism is that Popper has failed to provide us with any reason for holding that the methodological rules he advocates give us a better hope of realizing the aims of science than any other set (...) of rules. Consequently, Popper cannot adequately explain why we should value scientific theories more than other sorts of theories ; which in turn means that Popper fails to solve adequately his fundamental problem, namely the problem of demarcation. It is suggested that in order to get around this difficulty we need to take the search for explanations as a fundamental aim of science. (shrink)
Cosmological speculation about the ultimate nature of the universe, being necessary for science to be possible at all, must be regarded as a part of scientific knowledge itself, however epistemologically unsound it may be in other respects. The best such speculation available is that the universe is comprehensible in some way or other and, more specifically, in the light of the immense apparent success of modern natural science, that it is physically comprehensible. But both these speculations may be false; in (...) order to take this possibility into account, we need to adopt an hierarchy of increasingly contentless cosmological conjectures until we arrive at the conjecture that the universe is such that it is possible for us to acquire some knowledge of something, a conjecture which we are justified in accepting as knowledge since doing so cannot harm the pursuit of knowledge in any circumstances whatsoever. As a result of adopting such an hierarchy of increasingly contentless cosmological conjectures in this way, we maximize our chances of adopting conjectures that promote the growth of knowledge, and minimize our chances of taking some cosmological assumption for granted that is false and impedes the growth of knowledge. The hope is that as we increase our knowledge about the world we improve (lower level) cosmological assumptions implicit in our methods, and thus in turn improve our methods. As a result of improving our knowledge we improve our knowledge about how to improve knowledge. Science adapts its own nature to what it learns about the nature of the universe, thus increasing its capacity to make progress in knowledge about the world. This aim-oriented empiricist conception of science solves outstanding problems in the philosophy of science such as the problems of induction, simplicity and verisimilitude. (shrink)
If our concern is to help wisdom to flourish in the world, then the central task before us is to transform academia so that it takes up its proper task of seeking and promoting wisdom instead of just acquiring knowledge. Improving knowledge about wisdom is no substitute; nor is the endeavour of searching for the correct definition of wisdom.
In this paper I argue for a kind of intellectual inquiry which has, as its basic aim, to help all of us to resolve rationally the most important problems that we encounter in our lives, problems that arise as we seek to discover and achieve that which is of value in life. Rational problem-solving involves articulating our problems, proposing and criticizing possible solutions. It also involves breaking problems up into subordinate problems, creating a tradition of specialized problem-solving - specialized scientific, (...) academic inquiry, in other words. It is vital, however, that specialized academic problem-solving be subordinated to discussion of our more fundamental problems of living. At present specialized academic inquiry is dissociated from problems of living - the sin of specialism, which I criticize. (shrink)
From Knowledge to Wisdom argues that there is an urgent need, for both intellectual and humanitarian reasons, to bring about a revolution in science and the humanities. The outcome would be a kind of academic inquiry rationally devoted to helping humanity learn how to create a better world. Instead of giving priority to solving problems of knowledge, as at present, academia would devote itself to helping us solve our immense, current global problems – climate change, war, poverty, population growth, pollution... (...) of sea, earth and air, destruction of natural habitats and rapid extinction of species, injustice, tyranny, proliferation of armaments, conventional, chemical, biological and nuclear, depletion of natural resources. The basic intellectual aim of inquiry would be to seek and promote wisdom – wisdom being the capacity to realize what is of value in life for oneself and others, thus including knowledge and technological know-how, but much else besides. This second edition has been revised throughout, has additional material, a new introduction and three new chapters. (shrink)
There is a need to bring about a revolution in the philosophy of science, interpreted to be both the academic discipline, and the official view of the aims and methods of science upheld by the scientific community. At present both are dominated by the view that in science theories are chosen on the basis of empirical considerations alone, nothing being permanently accepted as a part of scientific knowledge independently of evidence. Biasing choice of theory in the direction of simplicity, unity (...) or explanatory power does not permanently commit science to the thesis that nature is simple or unified. This current ‘paradigm’ is, I argue, untenable. We need a new paradigm, which acknowledges that science makes a hierarchy of metaphysical assumptions concerning the comprehensibility and knowability of the universe, theories being chosen partly on the basis of compatibility with these assumptions. Eleven arguments are given for favouring this new ‘paradigm’ over the current one. (shrink)
In this paper I outline my propensiton version of quantum theory (PQT). PQT is a fully micro-realistic version of quantum theory that provides us with a very natural possible solution to the fundamental wave/particle problem, and is free of the severe defects of orthodox quantum theory (OQT) as a result. PQT makes sense of the quantum world. PQT recovers all the empirical success of OQT and is, furthermore, empirically testable (although not as yet tested). I argue that Einstein almost put (...) forward this version of quantum theory in 1916/17 in his papers on spontaneous and induced radiative transitions, but retreated from doing so because he disliked the probabilistic character of the idea. Subsequently, the idea was overlooked because debates about quantum theory polarised into the Bohr/Heisenberg camp, which argued for the abandonment of realism and determinism, and the Einstein/Schrödinger camp, which argued for the retention of realism and determinism, no one, as a result, pursuing the most obvious option of retaining realism but abandoning determinism. It is this third, overlooked option that leads to PQT. PQT has implications for quantum field theory, the standard model, string theory, and cosmology. The really important point, however, is that it is experimentally testable. I indicate two experiments in principle capable of deciding between PQT and OQT. (shrink)
In this paper I argue for a priori conjectural scientific knowledge about the world. Physics persistently only accepts unified theories, even though endlessly many empirically more successful disunified rivals are always available. This persistent preference for unified theories, against empirical considerations, means that physics makes a substantial, persistent metaphysical assumption, to the effect that the universe has a (more or less) unified dynamic structure. In order to clarify what this assumption amounts to, I solve the problem of what it means (...) to say of a theory that it is unified. There are, I argue, eight different kinds of unity important in theoretical physics, all varieties of one basic idea. This provides us with a precise way of partially ordering physical theories with respect to their degree of unity. It also leads to a hierarchical view of physics, according to which physics makes a number of increasingly insubstantial metaphysical assumptions concerning the comprehensibility and knowability of the universe. Two of these are identified as constituting a priori conjectures. I conclude by arguing that the view developed in the paper resolves the traditional clash between empiricism and rationalism in the philosophy of science, and has important implications for science, and for academic inquiry more generally. (shrink)
Incommensurability was Kuhn’s worst mistake. If it is to be found anywhere in science, it would be in physics. But revolutions in theoretical physics all embody theoretical unification. Far from obliterating the idea that there is a persisting theoretical idea in physics, revolutions do just the opposite: they all actually exemplify the persisting idea of underlying unity. Furthermore, persistent acceptance of unifying theories in physics when empirically more successful disunified rivals can always be concocted means that physics makes a persistent (...) implicit assumption concerning unity. To put it in Kuhnian terms, underlying unity is a paradigm for paradigms. We need a conception of science which represents problematic assumptions concerning the physical comprehensibility and knowability of the universe in the form of a hierarchy, these assumptions becoming less and less substantial and more and more such that their truth is required for science, or the pursuit of knowledge, to be possible at all, as one goes up the hierarchy. This hierarchical conception of science has important Kuhnian features, but also differs dramatically from the view Kuhn expounds in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In this paper, I compare and contrast these two views in a much more detailed way than has been done hitherto. I show how the hierarchical view can be construed to emerge from Kuhn’s view as it is modified to overcome objections. I argue that the hierarchical conception of science is to be preferred to Kuhn’s view. (shrink)
In my book Understanding Scientific Progress, I argue that fundamental philosophical problems about scientific progress, above all the problem of induction, cannot be solved granted standard empiricism (SE), a doctrine which most scientists and philosophers of science take for granted. A key tenet of SE is that no permanent thesis about the world can be accepted as a part of scientific knowledge independent of evidence. For a number of reasons, we need to adopt a rather different conception of science which (...) I call aim-oriented empiricism (AOE). This holds that we need to construe physics as accepting, as a part of theoretical scientific knowledge, a hierarchy of metaphysical theses about the comprehensibility and knowability of the universe, these theses becoming increasingly insubstantial as we go up the hierarchy. Fundamental philosophical problems about scientific progress, including the problems of induction, theory unity, verisimilitude and scientific discovery, which cannot be solved granted SE, can be solved granted AOE. In his review of Understanding Scientific Progress, Moti Mizrahi makes a number of criticisms, almost all of which are invalid in quite elementary ways. (shrink)
In this paper I set out to solve the problem of how the world as we experience it, full of colours and other sensory qualities, and our inner experiences, can be reconciled with physics. I discuss and reject the views of J. J. C. Smart and Rom Harré. I argue that physics is concerned only to describe a selected aspect of all that there is – the causal aspect which determines how events evolve. Colours and other sensory qualities, lacking causal (...) efficacy, are ignored by physics and cannot be predicted by physical theory. Even though physics is silent about sensory qualities, they nevertheless exist objectively in the world – in one sense of “objective” at least. (shrink)
In this paper I put forward a new micro realistic, fundamentally probabilistic, propensiton version of quantum theory. According to this theory, the entities of the quantum domain - electrons, photons, atoms - are neither particles nor fields, but a new kind of fundamentally probabilistic entity, the propensiton - entities which interact with one another probabilistically. This version of quantum theory leaves the Schroedinger equation unchanged, but reinterprets it to specify how propensitons evolve when no probabilistic transitions occur. Probabilisitic transitions occur (...) when new "particles" are created as a result of inelastic interactions. All measurements are just special cases of this. This propensiton version of quantum theory, I argue, solves the wave/particle dilemma, is free of conceptual problems that plague orthodox quantum theory, recovers all the empirical success of orthodox quantum theory, and at the same time yields as yet untested predictions that differ from those of orthodox quantum theory. (shrink)
We face grave global problems. One might think universities are doing all they can to help solve these problems. But universities, in successfully pursuing scientific knowledge and technological know-how in a way that is dissociated from a more fundamental concern with problems of living, have actually made possible the genesis of all our current global problems. Modern science and technology have led to modern industry and agriculture, modern medicine and hygiene, modern armaments, which in turn have led to much that (...) is good, but also to habitat destruction, extinction of species, population growth, the lethal character of modern war, and the impending disasters of climate change. We urgently need to bring about a revolution in universities so that they put problems of living at the heart of the academic enterprise and take, as their basic task, to help humanity learn how to make progress towards as good a world as possible. (shrink)
The Urgent Need for an Intellectual Revolution For much of my working life (from 1972 onwards) I have argued, in and out of print, that we need to bring about a revolution in the aims and methods of science – and of academic inquiry more generally. Instead of giving priority to the search for knowledge, academia needs to devote itself to seeking and promoting wisdom by rational means, wisdom being the capacity to realize what is of value in life, for (...) oneself and others, wisdom thus including knowledge, understanding and technological know-how, but much else besides. A basic task ought to be to help humanity learn how to create a better world. (shrink)
In this paper I show that Einstein made essential use of aim-oriented empiricism in scientific practice in developing special and general relativity. I conclude by considering to what extent Einstein came explicitly to advocate aim-oriented empiricism in his later years.
Many scientists, if pushed, may be inclined to hazard the guess that the universe is comprehensible, even physically comprehensible. Almost all, however, would vehemently deny that science has already established that the universe is comprehensible. It is, nevertheless, just this that I claim to be the case. Once one gets the nature of science properly into perspective, it becomes clear that the comprehensibility of the universe is as secure an item of current scientific knowledge as anything theoretical in science can (...) be, more secure, indeed, than the most firmly established fundamental theories of physics, such as quantum theory or Einstein's general theory of relativity. (shrink)
Once it is appreciated that it is not possible for an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God to exist, the important question arises: What does exist that is closest to, and captures the best of what is in, the traditional conception of God? In this paper I set out to answer that question. The first step that needs to be taken is to sever the God-of-cosmic-power from the God-of-cosmic-value. The first is Einstein’s God, the underlying dynamic unity in the physical universe which (...) physics seeks to depict by means of a true, unified, physical “theory of everything”. Science has already achieved some theoretical knowledge of this God-of-cosmic-power. The second is what is of most value in our human world, and in the world of sentient life more generally. Having cut God in half in this way, our fundamental problem, intellectual and practical, becomes: How can the God-of-cosmic-value (as it is represented on earth at least) exist and best flourish within the God-of-cosmic-power? Or, in other words: How can what is of value associated with human life – and sentient life more generally – exist and best flourish within the physical universe? Clearly acknowledging that this is our fundamental problem, in academic inquiry, and in all that we do, might help what is of value in life to flourish rather better than it does at present. (shrink)
Two radically different views about time are possible. According to the first, the universe is three dimensional. It has a past and a future, but that does not mean it is spread out in time as it is spread out in the three dimensions of space. This view requires that there is an unambiguous, absolute, cosmic-wide "now" at each instant. According to the second view about time, the universe is four dimensional. It is spread out in both space and time (...) - in space-time in short. Special and general relativity rule out the first view. There is, according to relativity theory, no such thing as an unambiguous, absolute cosmic-wide "now" at each instant. However, we have every reason to hold that both special and general relativity are false. Not only does the historical record tell us that physics advances from one false theory to another. Furthermore, elsewhere I have shown that we must interpret physics as having established physicalism - in so far as physics can ever establish anything theoretical. Physicalism, here, is to be interpreted as the thesis that the universe is such that some unified "theory of everything" is true. Granted physicalism, it follows immediately that any physical theory that is about a restricted range of phenomena only, cannot be true, whatever its empirical success may be. It follows that both special and general relativity are false. This does not mean of course that the implication of these two theories that there is no unambiguous cosmic-wide "now" at each instant is false. It still may be the case that the first view of time, indicated at the outset, is false. Are there grounds for holding that an unambiguous cosmic-wide "now" does exist, despite special and general relativity, both of which imply that it does not exist? There are such grounds. Elsewhere I have argued that, in order to solve the quantum wave/particle problem and make sense of the quantum domain we need to interpret quantum theory as a fundamentally probabilistic theory, a theory which specifies how quantum entities - electrons, photons, atoms - interact with one another probabilistically. It is conceivable that this is correct, and the ultimate laws of the universe are probabilistic in character. If so, probabilistic transitions could define unambiguous, absolute cosmic-wide "nows" at each instant. It is entirely unsurprising that special and general relativity have nothing to say about the matter. Both theories are pre-quantum mechanical, classical theories, and general relativity in particular is deterministic. The universe may indeed be three dimensional, with a past and a future, but not spread out in four dimensional space-time, despite the fact that relativity theories appear to rule this out. These considerations, finally, have implications for views about the arrow of time and free will. (shrink)
In this article I reply to comments made by Agustin Vicente and Giridhari Lal Pandit on Science and the Pursuit of Wisdom (McHenry 2009 ). I criticize analytic philosophy, go on to expound the argument for the need for a revolution in academic inquiry so that the basic aim becomes wisdom and not just knowledge, defend aim-oriented empiricism, outline my solution to the human world/physical universe problem, and defend the thesis that free will is compatible with physicalism.
When scientists choose one theory over another, they reject out of hand all those that are not simple, unified or explanatory. Yet the orthodox view of science is that evidence alone should determine what can be accepted. Nicholas Maxwell thinks he has a way out of the dilemma.
Philosophy of science is seen by most as a meta-discipline – one that takes science as its subject matter, and seeks to acquire knowledge and understanding about science without in any way affecting, or contributing to, science itself. Karl Popper’s approach is very different. His first love is natural philosophy or, as he would put it, cosmology. This intermingles cosmology and the rest of natural science with epistemology, methodology and metaphysics. Paradoxically, however, one of his best known contributions, his proposed (...) solution to the problem of demarcation, helps to maintain the gulf that separates science from metaphysics, thus fragmenting cosmology into falsifiable science on the one hand, untestable philosophy on the other. This has damaging repercussions for a number of issues Popper tackles, from the problem of induction to simplicity of theory and quantum theory. But his proposed solution to the demarcation problem is untenable. Metaphysical assumptions are an integral part of scientific knowledge, inherent in the persistent acceptance of unified theories against the evidence. Once this is appreciated, it becomes obvious that natural philosophy, a synthesis of science and philosophy, is both more rigorous and of greater intellectual value than the two dissociated components we have today. What Popper sought for could come to full fruition. Problems that Popper tackled, from the problem of induction, to the problem of unity of theory, problems of quantum theory, and problems concerning the scope and limits of physics, all receive more adequate resolution within the new, fully-fledged natural philosophy. (shrink)
The Comprehensibility of the Universe puts forward a radically new conception of science. According to the orthodox conception, scientific theories are accepted and rejected impartially with respect to evidence, no permanent assumption being made about the world independently of the evidence. Nicholas Maxwell argues that this orthodox view is untenable. He urges that in its place a new orthodoxy is needed, which sees science as making a hierarchy of metaphysical assumptions about the comprehensibility and knowability of the universe, these assumptions (...) asserting less and less as one ascends the hierarchy.This view has significant implications: that it is part of scientific knowledge that the universe is physically comprehensible; that metaphysics and philosophy are central to scientific knowledge; that science possesses a rational, if fallible, method of discovery; that a new understanding of scientific method and rationality is required. Maxwell argues that this new conception makes possible a natural resolution of long-standing philosophical problems about science, regarding simplicity, induction, and progress. His goal is the reform not just of the philosophy of science but of science itself, and the healing of the rift between the two. (shrink)
Three big philosophical problems about consciousness are: Why does it exist? How do we explain and understand it? How can we explain brain-consciousness correlations? If functionalism were true, all three problems would be solved. But it is false, and that means all three problems remain unsolved (in that there is no other obvious candidate for a solution). Here, it is argued that the first problem cannot have a solution; this is inherent in the nature of explanation. The second problem is (...) solved by recognizing that (a) there is an explanation as to why science cannot explain consciousness, and (b) consciousness can be explained by a different kind of explanation, empathic or “personalistic” explanation, compatible with, but not reducible to, scientific explanation. The third problem is solved by exploiting David Chalmers“principle of structural coherence”, and involves postulating that sensations experienced by us–visual, auditory, tactile, and so on–amount to minute scattered regions in a vast, multi dimensional “space” of all possible sensations, which vary smoothly, and in a linear way, throughout the space. There is also the space of all possible sentient brain processes. There is just one, unique one-one mapping between these two spaces that preserves continuity and linearity. It is this which provides the explanation as to why brain processes and sensations are correlated as they are. I consider objections to this unique-matching theory, and consider how the theory might be empirically confirmed. (shrink)
The Enlightenment, Popper and Einstein Abstract Nicholas Maxwell Email: firstname.lastname@example.org In this paper I discuss four versions of the basic idea of the French Enlightenment of the 18th century, namely: To learn from scientific progress how to achieve social progress towards an enlightened world. These four versions are: 1. The Traditional Enlightenment Programme. 2. The Popperian Version of the Enlightenment Programme. 3. The Improved Popperian Enlightenment Programme. 4. The New Enlightenment Programme. The Traditional Enlightenment Programme is the version of the (...) idea upheld by the philosophes of the French Enlightenment. It was developed throughout the 19th century and put into practice in the early 20th century with the creation of departments of social science in universities all over the world. It is however damagingly defective. The Popperian Version of the Enlightenment Programme is an improvement, but still defective. As we go down the list, from 1 and 2 to 3 and 4, each Programme improves on its predecessor, until with The New Enlightenment, which can in some respects be associated with Einstein, we arrive at a version of the idea which can genuinely help humanity make social progress towards an enlightened world. (shrink)
What are quantum entities? Is the quantum domain deterministic or probabilistic? Orthodox quantum theory (OQT) fails to answer these two fundamental questions. As a result of failing to answer the first question, OQT is very seriously defective: it is imprecise, ambiguous, ad hoc, non-explanatory, inapplicable to the early universe, inapplicable to the cosmos as a whole, and such that it is inherently incapable of being unified with general relativity. It is argued that probabilism provides a very natural solution to the (...) quantum wave/particle dilemma and promises to lead to a fully micro-realistic, testable version of quantum theory that is free of the defects of OQT. It is suggested that inelastic interactions may induce quantum probabilistic transitions. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that neuroscience has been harmed by the widespread adoption of seriously inadequate methodologies or philosophies of science - most notably inductivism and falsificationism. I argue that neuroscience, in seeking to understand the human brain and mind, needs to follow in the footsteps of evolution.
There is an urgent need to bring about a revolution in the overall aims and methods of academic inquiry, its whole character and structure, so that it takes up its proper task of promoting wisdom rather than just acquiring knowledge. We need to put right a philosophical blunder – a philosophical disaster one should perhaps say – that has overtaken academia, and is built into its structure. It is a blunder about what the overall aims and methods of academic inquiry (...) ought to be. The responsibility to make clear what is wrong, and what needs to be done to put things right, lies above all with philosophers. This indeed, in my view, is the fundamental task for philosophy today: to shout out, loud and clear, that we urgently need to bring about an intellectual and institutional revolution in the aims and methods, the whole structure and character, of academic inquiry, so that it takes up its proper task of helping humanity learn how to create a wiser world. This, if philosophers really were serious about their subject and really did love wisdom, is what they would do. -/- . (shrink)
Are special relativity and probabilism compatible? Dieks argues that they are. But the possible universe he specifies, designed to exemplify both probabilism and special relativity, either incorporates a universal "now" (and is thus incompatible with special relativity), or amounts to a many world universe (which I have discussed, and rejected as too ad hoc to be taken seriously), or fails to have any one definite overall Minkowskian-type space-time structure (and thus differs drastically from special relativity as ordinarily understood). Probabilism and (...) special relativity appear to be incompatible after all. What is at issue is not whether "the flow of time" can be reconciled with special relativity, but rather whether explicitly probabilistic versions of quantum theory should be rejected because of incompatibility with special relativity. (shrink)