would like tonight to speak to you about the the
significant, distinguishing features, or characteristics among: thorough
thinking, analogous thought and refutable conceptualizations.
like tonight to speak to you about the significant, distinguishing features,
or characteristics among: thorough thinking, analogous thought, and refutable
conceptualizations. These phrases may all appear to be synonymous; one
for the other and all for one.
Alas, I hope to show that they are not
equal or the same in what they mean. What they correspond to is a sort of pyramid of associations. Those associations run from
uncertain to less and less rigorous ways to describe what we see. What this means is that thorough thinking may not explain an
observation and only some concepts can be relied upon to predict what may occur under those same or similar circumstances.
We distinguish these phrases because certainty is so elusive. Or so I think, we look at these discoveries as a sort of pyramid
of knowledge, the apex of which is a rare, predictive, and testable
form of knowing. That is the form of knowledge that we will call science
and it will be divided into the physical and life sciences. The physical sciences are largely unvarying sciences
(once called natural philosophy) and the life sciences that all
possess a temporal variation in that time is a significant component
of varying outcomes in the life sciences. Once called natural history,
as the term implies, if you reverse time in the life sciences some very
strange and impossible situations arise, whereas time reversal in physical
science has a very different sort of outcome.
Because Feynman in the Meaning of It All suggests that science is not
strictly speaking or merely ordered thought, the three phrases
thorough thinking, analogous thought, and refutable conceptualizations
will be considered in reverse order. I do this because I want to interpret
the author and make my point that science is not a search for truth
or the mastery of authority. According to Feynman, and before him Jacob
Bronowski –a famous mathematician and interpreter of science and the
arts– science is a quest. Both men see it as an ongoing search for sensible and testable new ideas
because as Bronowski insists, science is a set of disciplines
existing always on the edge of error. (Ascent of Man)
as Feynman argues The more definite the statement, the more important
it is to test. He believes that because We have a way of
checking whether an idea is correct or not. By that Feynman says
We simply test it against observation, which is difficult
indeed, despite his use of the word simply. But it does
establish his factual statement that There is no authority who
decides what is a good idea. And it is here that we have the most
significant concept with respect to modernity and the history of thought.
We live at a time, despite the tide otherwise among a widespread number
of divergent groups, when We have lost the need to go to an authority
to find out if an idea is true or not, as Feynman articulates (p. 22)
in his initial lecture.
To be quite clear, we decide certainty by testing a concept for accuracy
and determining to what extent it is in error; we do not test goodness
in the sciences based on the intensity of ones logic, the feel"
of ones reason, or the hope of discovering supporting evidence.
No one tests by finding exceptions, errors and seeks to account for
the ever present uncertainties in our experimental evidence and mathematical
accounts or descriptive explanations of those real tests of anyones
By applying this strict definition of science as a means of determining
uncertainty and the degree of error in our reason, Feynman says we
can try it out; and find out if it is true or not. (p. 21) That
is not because an Einstein or a Faraday said so, but because the evidence
we use to test the concept verifies the hypothesis.
While at the level of thorough thinking, true may seem like the opposite
of error and thus using analogous thought you insist science is
the search for truth. You may even say, because Feynman, an authority
on light and nuclear forces, said that science is a means of testing
if it is not true
. (Ibid.) that our scientists discover
truths. Worse yet, you may by a judicious, but mistaken use
of analogy–tell me that the priests and priestesses of the pagan past
are analogous to the men and women scientists today who seek
the truth. Why quibble you say over how the search for error is
qualitatively different from the seeking out of truths?
This thinking analogical analysis
breaking things down into comparable concepts that make up a
bigger whole is after all what serious thinking is all about. Yet in
his last lecture, I believe this fallacy of mistaking thorough thinking
with scientific search for errors and uncertainty is why Feynman talks
about witch doctors and makes the spurious analogy (see he uses analogous
thinking) between witch doctors and psychiatrists.
Might I suggest to
you that the search for error in any idea, concept or especially in any
belief system, is of quite significant difference from searching for
truth. In both the means of discovery and the things discovered the necessity for refutable conceptualizations is important to reveal errors in what we know of the world. That is in part why Feynman refers to gravity
and the inverse square law as an example of a testable or what
I will call a refutable rule. That is to say any concept is precisely accurate because
(ironically) you can try to disprove it and in doing so it withstands the test to discredit the idea with observable evidence.
Now thinking and thought involve concepts, or what Richard Feynman calls
"new ideas." As he suggests we need words "to express
ideas." (116) We need a lot more words than we have to convey accurately
the conditions we now understand as universal (everywhere) and predictive
(inverse square law).That it is possible to find a rule, like
the inverse square law of gravitation, is some sort of miracle. It is
not understood at all but it leads to the possibility of predictionthat
means it tells you what you would expect to happen in an experiment
you have not done. (page 23)
Feynman insists, No. Its nowhere near as good as a proposition that the planets
move about the sun under the influence of a central force which varies
exactly inversely as the square of the distance from the center.
(p.19) He clarifies his point by saying that the second theory is better
because it is so specific; it is so obviously unlikely to be the result
of chance. Furthermore, Feynman argues that the prediction is
so definite that the barest error in the movement can show that it is
Inverse square law,
I will return
to this significant distinction I am making between accurate, that is to say, less uncertain
bodies of knowledge and the search for truth. I do so because as
he reminds us science is more than just thorough thinking.
also be more than just testing the observable or testing a hypothesis
by collecting evidence to refute your assumptions. Nevertheless, why
is science not the same as knowledge of the truth?
because long ago William of Ockham suggested that we do not needlessly
complicate our explanation of events if we are rigorous thinkers? Yes,
but also no. It is because an experiment, any experiment, if well constructed
to test assumptions and carefully observed to rule out uncertainties
has more than a simple outcome.
I hope to convince you that there are not merely affirming or denying
results in any experimental test of a new idea. Experiments are done to test any authorities
assumptions. Yes, an experiment may verify a hunch, it may refute the
hypothesis we are testing, but what if it does neither?
Truth is not
the simple opposite of error, nor is it a state of being error-free, nor even limiting
the inherent degrees of error, because experiments can have a third, undecipherable
outcome. These unconvincing outcomes of experiments neither support,
nor refute the hypothesis, but they remain inconclusive.
the more famous of these experiments, conducted at Case Western Reserve
in Cleveland, Ohio by professors Michelson and Morley in the 1880s
is just such an experiment. Both men hoped to discover the existence
of Isaac Newtons hypothesized fluid called ether by
measuring the period of light waves moving in the same direction or
opposite the earth and those moving at right angles to the Earths
motion about the sun. Everywhere the men measured light traveled at
precisely the same speed. For twenty-five years people argued about
the characteristics of the ether. Was the ether expanding ? Was it contracting? So it was until Albert Einstein had a new
idea. That was the idea of relativity which replaced the Newtonian arguments for the existence of the undiscoverable ether.
My point here is that thorough thinking, analogous thought and
refutable conceptualizations are not the same thing because when experimental
evidence is reviewed it may support a new idea. The experiment
tests and refutes the assumption based on analogous thought or thorough
thinking, or the experimental test of an observation may remain inconclusive.
My argument tonight is among one of many reasons why Feynman sees that
uncertainty is a valuable asset when searching for errors (or truths).
In science, if it is careful, accurate and predictable scientific information,
the concept must pass the test. We must be able to make a thesis statement
that can be refuted; otherwise, the meaning for science is not limited
sufficiently on which to base any reliable observation. As you will
see observation alone is insufficient to determine whether Claudius
Ptolemy, Tycho Brahe, or Johannes Kepler is the more correct about the
cosmic structure of the solar system. But that is next weeks discussion.