Experiment versus Observation

This blog illustrates some of the conclusions flowing from the Knowledge Acquisition Spectrum mentioned in an early blog.

Were Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle scientists? Granted, Pythagoras and Aristotle were keenly interested in theory-free knowledge (getting their hands dirty). Pythagoras and Plato were involved with mathematics, so they potentially worked with the mathematical assistant. Practically though, Plato especially worked with Mathematical determinism – and discouraged thinkers from “getting their hands dirty.” Indeed, he is credited with the concepts of theory and Mathematical determinism.

Was Euclid a scientist. No. He was a superb mathematician! It cannot be determined if he believed in Mathematical determinism.

Is mathematics a science? No, it is an abstraction. It is a many times useful tool to provide order and uncover patterns in events. Its unruly and complex growth leads to “worlds on paper.” Pure (complex) mathematics is even more remote than “worlds on paper.”

Was Ptolemy of Alexandria a scientist. Partly. He made extended observations of the heavens and he accumulated much data. But his Almagest was a mathematical attempt to “save the appearances” of the heavens. He acknowledged that he could not actually inspect the heavens, so he treated his Almagest as a useful fiction that saved the appearances.
Was Copernicus a scientist? No. He was a mathematician and model builder. He applied Mathematical determinism to the heavens, using Ptolemy’s data but giving the equants and epicycles a new center – and adding epicyclets.

Was Kepler a scientist? Partly. At least he used Brahe’s voluminous observational data to “save the appearances.” But he really believed in the application of Mathematical determinism to astronomy. (But his mathematics had not yet grown into complex mathematics.) Yet he was forced to confront the inelegant ellipses

Was Galileo a scientist? Partly, depending upon which segment of his work is referred to. His experiments on motion are the centerpiece, where he skillfully used the mathematical assistant. But he was also a model builder – working with mathematics as the language of science, perhaps with Mathematical determinism, as Plato proclaimed it.

Was Newton a scientist? Partly. Many experiments are recorded to him. But he also theorized, using the mathematical assistant. But his pragmatism made him uneasy with the, by then, complex Mathematical determinism. He famously declined to hypothesize on the cause of gravity. In fact, he also famously declined to believe that gravity could account for the specifics of the solar system – the necessary initial forces were beyond gravities “grasp.” To him, experiment and observation were not the same as what complex mathematics said.

Was an alchemist a scientist? No, but with wrong ideas, they did make many valuable chemical discoveries and developed many laboratory pieces of equipment.

Yet these individuals were serious thinkers. They did not succeed in opening the black-boxes before them. It takes more than Models to explain reality.

So today….

Is the LHC (atom smasher) at CERN an experimental or an observing device? It holds promise of being partially experimental, but, as we have seen in the last blog, results are not “visible” without relying on copious layers of unpublished computer code, construction and operational details and assumptions. It is a saving (some of) the appearances, but it outruns its headlights. It is the domain of unobservables, “illuminated” with complex Mathematical determinism.

Is a telescope an experimental device or an observing device? An observing device. Yet with color filters or designed to work with non-standard light wavelengths, additional discoveries can be made. However, depth perception is missing. Thus, Models in astronomy that “provide” depth perception are based on complex Mathematical determinism. It is saving the appearances.

Is economics a science? No. It is data at the mercy of theoretical models.
Is a physician a scientist? Usually no. Observation and statistical records can lead to discoveries. He does not perform destructive interrogation. He cannot probe to ultimate realities.

Order is a good thing! But to what extent is it extrapolatable? Bertrand Russell referred to the case of the “ignorant chicken,” who got used to the daily routine of the farmer coming out and feeding him. Then one day the farmer came out with an axe!

Discontinuities are real! Mathematics or logic cannot predict “events.” Extrapolation is useful. Grandiose extrapolation is a misleading infatuation – sometimes in a deadly manner!

Thus the need to always recognize the Knowledge Acquisition Spectrum. Theory-free knowledge and Theory-Generated Understandings must be kept separate.

Thinkers dimly see this as they acknowledge that “all science is provisional.” Very little of theory-free knowledge is provisional; theory-dependent understandings are provisional.

Human-sourced or human-independent knowledge is not the same as God-imparted knowledge!

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