Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: The Philosophy of Science A Very Short Introduction

The Philosophy of Science A Very Short Introduction by Samir Okasha discusses the very nature of science and what it means to engage in scientific thinking. The book will bring you through the definitions of science, scientific reasoning, realism and anti-realism, scientific revolutions and philosophical problems. It is solid reading for students and laypeople that desire to get a basic grasp of science.

Science started in the 1400 to 1700 with people like Copernicus who built a model of the universe and Aristotle who put forward ideas of physics, biology, astronomy and cosmology. Science is a way in which we think about the world (i.e. scientific mindset) and how we compare and contrast elements to come to conclusions of the world in which we live. 

A key component of science is a concept called falsifiable brought forward by Karl Popper. All theories and predictions must be falsifiable in the sense that experience can determine them wrong over time. Pseudo-science was described as theories of psychotherapy brought forward by Freud because anything the patient does can be explained away with no obvious observable proofs of latent functions. 

Consider the use of a theoretical model to predict that a certain event will occur. As time moves forward the event either happens or it doesn’t thereby making is verifiable. Theories that cannot be tested and shown to be false are also unlikely to be true. There must be criteria to lend support or take support away from the theory. If you can’t prove or disprove it then it isn’t a theory.

More pointedly the book discusses induction and deduction as methods of understanding concepts and coming to new conclusions. The example of deduction provided by the book is 1.) The French like wine, and 2.) Pierre is a Frenchman therefore it can be deducted that Pierre likes wine.  It doesn’t matter if the inferences actually make the conclusion true but that they can lead to the conclusion. 

Inductive reasoning is difficult to use in science but is commonly applied to everyday life. It is assumed that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West every day. Using inductive reasoning we can say that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow and set in the West. We are likely to be right but that doesn’t make it a truth while the observation isn’t necessarily proof that it will happen over and over. 

The book doesn’t move into this concept but it is possible to use deductive, inductive and probable abductive reasoning together to be more accurate. We may use deductive reasoning to go from the general down to the specific and then use inductive reasoning to rebuild the model outward in another place to see if it also holds true.  We can then use abductive reasoning to understand the likelihood of the conclusion holding true to the explanation in both examples. 

Either way you are likely to find the book interesting and provide a broad understanding of the basic principles of science. It is the type of book you should read if you have studied the sciences, plan on studying to a doctorate, or want to test something within your environment. The price on kindle is reasonable and retails for around $2.

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