Syllabus [SciRev Fall 2008]

For the Week of 12/3/08

Assignment 13-Last One

::::Philosophy of Science:Pascal's_Niece's_eye.jpg

Philosophy of Science Primer

Those who have given presentations need to get me a one page thing I can post on the web.  Just extract one juicy tid bit… If you have a picture that is interesting… just throw it in a .doc and point out some details and how those details relate to your topic.  Nothing too complicated and definitely don’t give me anything boring.  I want these asap.

Some of the big questions:

Do we believe in science like we believe in religion? 

How does belief in the heliocentric theory differ from faith in some religious idea?

Does a mathematically expressed law of nature like F=ma simply model nature or is it actually how nature acts?  By this I mean, is Nature mathematical.  If so, is Nature like Plato would like us to believe, that Truth is mathematics (or at least one aspect of truth is Mathematics), and that our vulgar perception of reality is just a vague coincidental shadow-puppet show crudely derived from reality? 

If we allow F=ma or the equation of universal gravity F=GMm/r2 to be a Law of Nature (disregarding all the historical dp/dt issues), then how do we account for Einstein’s modifications to these.  Do his observations on measurement (Special and General Relativity Theory) make Newton wrong, or just a special case of Einstein’s theory?  Similarly, if we allow Newton’s force equations to be laws that are just a little fuzzy around the edges, how do we catagorize Ptolemy’s very workable cosmological model that uses the geometrical (gear-like) mathematics of epicycles on epicycles on circles, which in my mind are much like a Taylor series approximation which gets more and more accurate as you map out more and more terms of the infinite series. 

Even more troubling, we could quite easily do a coordinate transformation and map all astronomical motions from a stationary earth whose center is (0, 0, 0).  … or consider the “fact” that we no longer think that the center of the cosmos is the sun?  In some sense, Einstein’s theories of relativities make the idea of a center rather absurd.  If the history of cosmology was essentially geocentric up until the 16th century, and it was heliocentric until the 20th centrury… is cosmology now egocentric?  (I’m told that the 70s was/were the Me generation.)  And… isn’t “ego” just another arrangement of “geo?”  – g-e-o-…move the “e” over… – e-g-o… Must’nt that mean something?  Have we come full circle and don’t even know it?  [Sorry for freaking you out but I couldn’t resist.]

Is a “true” theory an less true if it was considered differently by its forumlator or by us, now?  I’m specifically thinking of how Kepler thought of his three laws and how we think of his three laws.  He doesn’t even think of his three laws as a set of three laws.  Only later did someone (perhaps Newton) extract the three gems from Kepler’s work.  He was headed for a totally different goal than what later physicists were going after. 

Is mathematical truth really Truth.

As scientists and engineers how do you deal with the God concept?  In general, how do you think the relationship between religion and science has changed between then and now?  Has religion changed… has the definition of God changed, … have both changed… how?


These are just a few of the questions that I can think of off the top of my head.  I may add some more as I think of them.


Finish reading the Westfall biography of Newton over break.

Read this overview of Hume’s thoughts on inductive reasoning (and a few other tidbits): Hume_ProblemsWithInduction.htm Hume (1711-1776) [I don’t know where this outline came from… a philosopher-friend of mine sent it to me years ago and I then modified it. If you refer to it in an essay, make up some sort of citation that makes sense, or find a more credible source and cite that.]


Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

A little science….

Pascal’s Theorem a.k.a. Hexagrammum Mysticum Theorem: Any arbitrary hexagon inscribed in a conic ellipse (or circle of course), if the opposite sides are extended, the three intersection points will be in a single line.  Here is a nice little demo of Pascal’s Theorem: demo 1.  Here is another: demo 2. [None of the descriptions of this theorem are all that clear.  I think what this means is that if you connect the perimeter of any hexagon inscribed in an ellipse and extend the opposite sides,(meaning sides 1 & 4, 2 & 5, and 3 & 6) there will be 3 intersections and those intersections will all be on the same line. Additionally, the hexagon does not need to be open… meaning that the perimeter can actually cross itself… meaning (I think) that if you put 6 points anywhere on an ellipse and extend from each point two lines to any two other points, that there will always be 3 intersections of these extended lines and that those 3 intersections will always be on the same line.  Now, upon further investigation, I suspect that a regular hexagon inscribed in a circle will live outside of this theorem, as opposite sides are parallel and ought to never intersect, but none of the write-ups of this thm. (that I, admittedly, found on the internets) mention this... What’s with that?  Somebody figure this out.]


A little religion…

Wiki-derived story – faith and Blaise Pascal (1623-1662):

Soon before Pascal wrote his famous Pensées, the book which contains his famous wager, his religion was reinforced by an apparent miracle that occurred in the chapel of the Port-Royal nunnery. His 10-year-old niece, Marguerite Périer, was suffering from a painful fistula lacrymalis [recall the anal fistula we discussed earlier in the term] that exuded a nasty bad-smelling pus through her eyes and nose—an affliction the doctors pronounced hopeless. On March 24, 1657, a believer presented to Port-Royal what he and others claimed to be a thorn from the crown that had tortured Christ. The nuns, in solemn ceremony and singing psalms, placed the thorn on their altar. Each in turn kissed the relic, and one of them, seeing Marguerite among the worshipers, took the thorn and with it touched the girl's sore. That evening, we are told, Marguerite expressed surprise that her eye no longer pained her; her mother was astonished to find no sign of the fistula; a physician, summoned, reported that the discharge and swelling had disappeared. He, not the nuns, spread word of what he termed a miraculous cure. Seven other physicians who had had previous knowledge of Marguerite's fistula signed a statement that in their judgment a miracle had taken place. The diocesan officials investigated, came to the same conclusion, and authorized a Te Deum [laudamus] [We praise Him, the Lord] Mass in Port-Royal. Crowds of believers came to see and kiss the thorn; all of Catholic Paris acclaimed a miracle. Later, both Jansenists [a sect to which Pascal belonged] and Catholics used this well-documented miracle to their defense. In 1728, Pope Benedict XIII referred to the case as proving that the age of miracles had not passed.  Pascal made himself an armorial emblem of an eye surrounded by a crown of thorns, with the inscription Scio cui credidi—"I know whom I have believed."  His beliefs renewed, he set his mind to write his final, unfinished testament, the Pensées… see Pascal’s wager below….


Read Blaise Pascal’s famous wager, section 233, from his book, Pensées: Pensées – SECTION III: OF THE NECESSITY OF THE WAGER.  Poke around the internet or in the recesses of your own mind and come up with some objections and objections to the objections to Pascal’s Wager.

Everybody read the following.  This is confusing stuff.  I highly recommend that you jot down notes as you read this.  I suggest you organize your notes by philosopher.  I basically want you to get a feel for what has gone on in the past 80 years or so.


Gregory_ProgressRationalityScience-720KB.pdf 3pp- Introduction


Baum_Popper-Kuhn-Lakatos-1.5MB.pdf  5pp- Alright…. prove it!


Popper's Falsification Essay: 6pp-  This is the philosopher Karl Popper on his famous theory of falsfication.


Hull_Studying_Science_Scientifically.htm 12pp- This outlines several philosophies of science: Age, birth order, and novel predictions. Skim over the first few pages and then read closely when you get to the part on Planck’s Principle.


Pajares-Synopsis of Kuhn's SSR 8pp- This is a very abbreviated outline of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions- by Frank Pajares, from the Philosopher's Web Magazine.  Kuhn’s book is probably the most famous work on the philosophy of science in the past 50 or even 100 years.  Keep in mind, this is 8 pages long, and the book is over 200 pages long.  You miss some of the subtleties of his argument in this form. 


Sokal and the Hoax


Sokal’s now famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) essay in the journal Social Text in 1996 set off a huge hub-ubb in academic and intellectual circles.  [Outside of these circles, it is pretty much irrelevant, but it is rather interesting all the same.] 

1) First, read the Alland review of his book and the Boghossian PDF describing the situation.  These both cover much of the same turf, so you can sort of skim the second one you read.  Both of these tell the basic story. Alland is more favorable and Boghossian more suspicious.

2) Then look at his original article from 1996 that got everybody so pissed off. Notice that most of the article is footnotes and citations and references.  The article’s body is only 15pp.

3) Then (optionally) read an excerpt from Sokal’s book.  This gives a good flavor of his general thought. 


Boghossian_Sokal_Hoax-1.4MB.pdf 9pp


Alland_Rev_of_Sokal-172KB.pdf 4pp

and look at this


This is the actual article that started the whole hub-ub,

“Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” 

I don’t expect you to actually read all of it, but find a section, a few pages, and see what you can make of it.


Here is a section from Fashionable Nonsense.  It is pretty funny stuff.


Write an essay.  This stuff is made for essay writing.  As usual, impress me by actually referring to the readings, as many as you can. Be sure to summarize the gist of the author you are discussing.  For the “souped-up” essays you could try to analyze things we have studied in this class in terms of some of these philosophers and/or you can dig into some of the materials listed below.




Alland, Alexander. "Don't Cut the Pi Yet! (Review of Sokal and Bricmont's Fashionable Nonsense)." American Anthropologist 100, no. 4 (1998): 1026-1029. Alland_Rev_of_Sokal-172KB.pdf


Baum, Robert F. "Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos: A Crisis of Modern Intellect." In Science & Culture in the Western Tradition: Sources and Interpretations, ed. John G. Burke, pp. 274-279. Scottsdale, Ariz.: Gorsuch Scarisbrick, 1987. Baum_Popper-Kuhn-Lakatos-1.5MB.pdf


Boghossian, Paul. "Chapter 26: The Sokal Hoax." In Scientific Inquiry: Readings in the Philosophy of Science, ed. Robert Klee, pp. 265-273. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Boghossian_Sokal_Hoax-1.4MB.pdf


Brush, Stephen G. "Should the History of Science Be Rated X?" Science 183, no. 4130 (1974): 1164-1172. Brush1974_X-RatedScienceHistory-640KB.pdf What will we tell the children?

Cartwright, Nancy. "The Metaphysics of the Disunified World." Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 2 (1994): 357-364.  Cartwright-Metaphysics_Disunified_World-268KB.pdf


Feyerabend, Paul. "Chapter Viii: How to Defend Society against Science." In Scientific Revolutions, ed. Ian Hacking, pp. 156-167. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.  Feyerabend_DefendAgainstScience-1.7MB.pdf  Sticking it to the Man.


Gregory, Frederick. "Progress and the Rationality of Science." In Science & Culture in the Western Tradition: Sources and Interpretations, ed. John G. Burke, pp. 263-265. Scottsdale, Ariz.: Gorsuch Scarisbrick, 1987. Gregory_ProgressRationalityScience-720KB.pdf


Hessen, B. The Social and Economic Roots of Newton's 'Principia'. New York: Howard Fertig, 1971.  Hessen-Marx-and-Newton-3.1MB.pdf  There are several essays in this PDF.  This stuff is what they call “whack” these days.  You might find it interesting all the same.  These are Marxist analyses of Newton and SciRev and Industrial Rev. topics.  Those with an interest in political theory may find this interesting even if you don’t agree with it.


Hull, David L. "Planck's Principle." Science 202, no. 17 (1978): 717-723. Hull_PlancksPrinciple-4.1MB.pdf  This is outlined in the other Hull reading, but this has the details and methods better explained.  Don’t trust anybody over 30.


Hull, David L. "Studying the Study of Science Scientifically." Perspectives on Science 6, no. 3 (1998): 209-231. Hull_Studying_Science_Scientifically.htm


Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. This is perhaps the most influential book in the philosophy of science of the last 100 years. We just don’t have time to read it. You library must have this.


Kuhn, Thomas S. "What Are Scientific Revolutions?" In The Probabilistic Revolution, ed. Lorenz Krüger, Lorraine Daston and Michael Heidelberger, pp. 7-21. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987.  Kuhn_WhatAreSciRevs_ProbRev-2.7MB.pdf


Oberg, Barbara Bowen. "David Hartley and the Association of Ideas." Journal of the History of Ideas 37, no. 3 (1976): 441-454. Oberg-Hartley_Association_of_Ideas-424KB.pdf


Oldroyd, D. R. "Some 'Philosophicall Scribbles' Attributed to Robert Hooke." Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 35, no. 1 (1980): 17-32. Oldroyd-Philosophicall_Scribbles-Hooke-428KB.pdf


Sokal, Alan D., and J. Bricmont. Fashionable Nonsense : Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science. New York: Picador USA, 1998. Sokal_Fashionable_NonSense_Lacan-2MB.pdf





Back to Syllabus [SciRev Fall 2008]


Me –

Extra Fun

What is going on here:

How is Pascal working here?

Explain it to me with diagrams and writing and get a point or 3. 




…or here…




Review Materials


Philosophy_of_Science-Notes-review-955KB.pdf - chaos


Posted: 12/6/08 5:29 PM