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Educating The Public About Science

David Longley David at longley.demon.co.uk
Fri Jun 2 13:46:20 EST 1995

In article <3qksav$1v1 at fiona.umsmed.edu>
           iapaul at fiona.umsmed.edu "Ian A. Paul, Ph.D." writes:

> Finally, I thank Matt Jones for asking David Longley for the definition 
> of "truth functional".  Having seen David's explanation, I would have to 
> take issue with that definition of science since it implies that science 
> as a field involves the search for ultimate truths.  While it may be true 
> that that is the loftiest goal of scientific research (and I would even 
> take issue with that) it is also the goal of many fields of scholarly 
> work (e.g. theology).  Thus, it is not the exclusive domain of science.  
> Moreover, as I describe above, it is probably not even an accurate 
> description of science since even if the data are unequivocal, the 
> interpretation of that data is quite subjective.  The fact that a body of 
> my peers might share my subjective evaluation of a data set does not 
> diminish its fundamental subjectivity.  As a simply example, consider the 
> Copernican revolution in astronomy.  Both Ptolemy (and his followers) 
> worked with the same data set at Copernicus.  The revolution *and* the 
> advance in scientific understanding lay not in the data but in its 
> interpretation.  Thus, it is not even philosophically accurate to 
> describe the process of scientific research as "truth functional".

In 1951 Quine wrote an influential paper called 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism' 
(also found in From a Logical Point of View' 1953). The two dogmas are 
1) analyticity and 2) reductionism. 

With respect to the first dogma, the logical positivists cleaved knowledge 
into the empirical and analytic, calling the former 'the pursuit of truth'
(science) and the latter 'the clarification of meaning' (philosophy). 

In 'two dogmas..', Quine effectively demonstrated that we have no clear 
definition of analyticity and that that therefore the whole notion of 
philosophy as having a method distinct from science is bogus. Epistemology
is then naturalised to empirical psychology (ie how we learn). He has also
given us some logical tools to help identify what can and can not be juggled
within First Order Logic (predicate calculus) as a guide to pursuing real
physical entities rather than fanciful attributions (e.g as 'virtus dormitiva'
caloric, phlogiston etc). 

Since the language of physics is essentially mathematics, and that is 
extensional (truth-functional) and since all the rest of science can be
expressed within the language of the predicate calculus, it would seem to
be a good touchtone. As a psychologist, I like the idea that we only learn
when we encounter something unknown/unfamiliar (animals only learn when 
their expectations are violated - Rescorla and Wagner 1972) and that the
behaviour can be modelled by artificial neural networks (Gluck and Bower 1988),
although as it is single layer, multiple linear regression would suffice.
It also fts nicely with some work I did in the early 1980s using naloxone
to retard 'the habituation of' B.J Pharm (1981). 

Quine's anti-reductionist stance argues that all we know is brought to bear
on anticipating what happens on our sensory surfaces, and that we learn to
anticipate....I would say, protect ourseleves from the unexpected....

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