Does Science Lead to Certainty – The Problem of Induction & Falsification
Channel: Hamza Tzortzis
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Episode Transcript ©
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Now why is it the case of science doesn't need to certainty because of the problem of induction science relies heavily on induction. What is induction is like a thinking process, we have a limited set of observations and data. And as a result of your limited observations and data, you conclude for the next observation that you have not observed, or the entire set of observations that you haven't observed, it moves from the known to the unknown. For example, if I've observed 1000, white sheep, I may conclude the next sheet is going to be white. But is it true? Is it necessarily true? Is 100% true? No is likely to be true given my observations that are limited by may observe a black
So that's the problem reduction, it's probabilistic. It's not what you call a definite knowledge. From that point of view, it may change you may have a future observation that contradicts previous conclusions. So let me give you a principle. Just for it to be in your mind, there can always be a new observation that can be at odds with our conclusions. Based on our limited data. Based on a previous limited data, I repeat, there can always be new observation that can be at odds with our conclusions based on our previous limited data. And that is the beauty of science.
Because it changes and adapts as a result of the new observations in direct or in or direct observations we have experienced.
And this is why philosophers of science gillean Barker and Philip kitcher they say in their book of philosophy of science, a new introduction published by Oxford, scientists revisable. Hence to talk of scientific proof is dangerous, because the term fosters the idea of conclusions that are graven in stone. Now, before we move on to the final false assumption, I want to talk about just a quick note on falsification. Now, Karl Popper, he understood the problem induction is science. You can't prove scientific theories to be true. In a philosophical sense, you can't prove scientific theories to be true in an absolute philosophical sense. You could just show that they were confirmed, but
they may not be true, from that point of view, from from a philosophical point of view, and he felt that was a problem. And he agreed, you can't solve the problem of induction. So what did he What did he invent, if you like, he basically brought into existence this idea of falsification. He said scientific theories can't be proven to be true in an absolute way, but they can be proven to be false. The knowledge that you can have is knowledge of what theories are false. That's the knowledge that scientists should be looking for.
And he called this falsification. Now, what is falsification in a nutshell, it is
the following if a theory claimed that something would be observed under certain circumstances, and it is not observed, then the theory is proved false. Listen to this theory I made up earlier ribbit.
Not remember, ready? All birds that die on a Friday will do so in midflight. Theory.
Beautiful theory. Yeah. All birds that die on a Friday will do so in mid flight. How do you falsify this theory?
You observe a bird that is not flying, it's on the ground and it's walking, and it's a Friday and it died while walking. My theory is falsified.
That's falsification. Okay. Now, what's very interesting is
he was not entirely true, because you can have falsified theories that can be brought back to life. It's like an epistemic intellectual resuscitation.
And all you need to do is change the auxilary assumptions. That's why many academics, scientists and the philosophers of science, they don't really take falsification 100% seriously, from the point of view of being a hard preparing, they're more soft preparing, it's useful to have theories that are falsifiable. But it's not as simple as that. Because if you tweak the assumptions, something that a theory that was dead can be revived. Let me give an example.
How do we discover Neptune?
Does anyone know how we discovered Neptune?
You'll know, I found that I'm joking.
We discovered Neptune because you know, orbits were like wow, you know, orbits are really nice and this smooth and they're doing their thing, right. And, you know, if we if we have another planet like Uranus, it's, it's always should be the same smooth musical cosmic dance right? But you seem to be a bit drunk.
He had a wobbly obey the perturbations of Uranus. He was like, whoo. I'm a bit tipsy. Yeah. So Uranus was tipsy. So the problem here is, what do they do? Do they now say, look, this has falsified our theories about orbits? No, they just changed the assumption. What was the assumption?
They said there's no other planets. So they changed the assumption saying maybe there's another planet that's closer to Uranus, that is affecting the orbit of Uranus. And that's how they discovered Neptune.
So falsified theories
in the at the onset can be revived as a result of tweaking your assumptions. And by tweaking those assumptions, you discover new scientific truths. And there you thought science was simple.