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science = determinism?

Chris Gordon-Smith c.gordon-smith at virginnet.co.uk
Wed Nov 24 17:58:14 EST 1999

On Wed, 24 Nov 1999 16:30:55 +0000, christian.bau at isltd.insignia.com
(Christian Bau) wrote:

>In article <81givs$p6k$1 at newsserver.rrzn.uni-hannover.de>, "Frank Buckler"
><fb at m2.ifb.uni-hannover.de> wrote:
>> Science tries to explain reality. 
>No. That is exactly the reason why psychoanalysis is considered
>non-scientific by many, because it is quite good at explaining any
>psychological reality, but extremly weak at making predictions. 
>Science tries to create verifiable (and therefore falsifiable) theories
>about reality. Science tries to predict, not to explain. 
Certainly science should predict. However, I believe that it should
also explain. A theory of planetary orbits that says they follow
elliptical orbits may be able to predict future positions of planets.
However, the theory is not really satisfying until we understand why
the orbits are elliptical (ie until we explain the ellipses in terms
of gravity).

When I was at college in the Seventies I was taught quantum mechanics,
and was told that it was a predictive theory.  It was OK to regard
questions of how the theory should be interpreted, such as "What is
the wave function?" and "What is meant by 'collapse of the wave
function'?"  as questions of "philosophy". Most working scientists
could safely leave these questions to philosophers.

This made some of us feel pretty uneasy. I now think that this
attitude is a complete cop-out, and plain wrong. 

When Einstein said that "God does not play dice", he was not saying
that quantum mechanics was not good at predicting. He was (I think)
saying that the theory was unsatisfactory because it did not, in his
view, provide a good explanation of reality.

I believe that science should be about understanding the nature of
reality. Predictive theories are useful and necessary, but we also
need explanations. Without a good explanation, we cannot be sure that
we have got to the heart of the matter. If we are satisfied to see
planetary orbitals just as ellipses, then we won't open up all the
other areas that follow from an understanding of gravity.

By the way, I am assuming that there is such a thing as 'reality'. I
find the idea that reality is an illusion or non-existent to be pretty
objectionable. However, finding a proof for the existence of reality
could be tricky!

Chris Gordon-Smith
London UK


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