Understand Philosophy of Science - A Teach Yourself Guide

22 Dec 2012

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Book: Understand Philosophy of Science - A Teach Yourself Guide
Author: Mel Thompson
ISBN-13: 978-1444157659

We all know what “Science” is. But, what does it mean to say that something is “scientific”?. Astronomy is science. What about Astrology?. Main stream medicine is science. What about faith healing? Or energy meridian tapping?. What does the label “scientifically proven” mean to us?. How do we verify the claims of science and the theories proposed by scientists?. If these questions pops up in your mind when you look at the title, then you must read this book.

On the other hand, Philosophy is all about asking questions, examining arguments and getting clear with the reality. Do you know that Science emerged from Philosophy?. In one way, I could say that Science is a specialized branch of philosophy. Yes. Science was initially called as “Natural Philosophy” until eighteenth century. I did not know that. I love science, read about all possible latest inventions in science. But, never traced the origin of Science. I am so happy to have read this book. Otherwise, my knowledge about understanding of science would never be complete.

This book examines the methods and arguments used in science to validate the scientific claims. It will help us to clarify or simplify the language used by science. It examines the logic by which theories are developed in Science. After reading this book, if someone tells you a new scientific logic or proposal, you can validate the idea by your self with various methods. How awesome is that?

The chapter The history of science, gives us the brief overview of science from medieval age till today’s digital world. It’s very interesting to see gradual progress science has made over the years and their contributors.

Some of the key discussions in this book are …

Scientism is the view that science is the only source of factual knowledge.

Deductive argument starts with a general principal and deduces other things from it. Ex., if we assume that all heavenly bodies must be perfect spheres, then a logical deduction is that there cannot be any mountains on the moon.

Inductive argument starts with observations or experimental results and sets the general principles taking them in to account. Ex., if we see mountains on the moon, then you can conclude inductively that not all heavenly bodies are perfect spheres.

Abductive argument just tries to infer a reason for a present phenomenon. You don’t frame any theory, just try to explain the situation. Ex., if you see an unopened letter on the pavement, you may conclude that the postman must have dropped it (out of million other possibilities).

Logical Positivists position was that the only valid statements by Science were those confirmed by experimental or observational evidence. Ex., If I say that there is a dog in the room, I actually mean that, if you go into that room, you will see a dog. Simple. It rejects everything else. This concept helped boost the progress of Science in early days. However, the latest relativity theory and quantum physics does not fit into this narrow schema.

The theory of falsification says that, a scientific theory cannot be proved to be true by simply adding new conforming evidences. If some piece of sound evidence goes against your theory, it may be enough to show that the theory is false. The theory is not discarded immediately. It just means that there is something out there, which the theory cannot account for. So, in theory, if any theory is claimed to be scientific, then it may be possible for it to be falsified.

These are just few of the concepts discussed in the book in early chapters. This book discusses a whole range of scientific questions like “Do we know things, or only our experience of them?”, major scientific discoveries throughout the history, how the new theories challenged and replaced the old theories, the observations of those scientists which made them create the theories, the methodology used by them to conclude a theory, recent economic influences on scientific discoveries etc.

This book is a feast of information for those who wish to understand Science in totality. For casual readers, the first chapter The history of Science is good enough to get a grip of Science. I recommend this book for everyone.

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