Category Archive: The Truth of Science

Harvard University Press: 1997.

The stimulus to further development

As Max Planck once remarked in a lecture,

A living and flourishing theory does not avoid its anomalies but searches them out, for the stimulus to fur­ther development comes from contradiction, not from confirmations.

The point to keep in mind is that although falsifiability, rather than verifiability, is the most important criterion in determin­ing whether a theory is scientifically meaningful, its usefulness for the greater task of building confidence in a theory is limited. A theory is accepted not simply because it has withstood many attempts at falsification, the need for such tests notwithstanding, but because it leads to predictions that are experimentally verified. After all, the purpose of a theory is to be productive and not just to fail to be wrong. [115]

Subjective objectivity

The ethos of objectivity that every proper scientist subscribes to requires that the search for truth about Nature be disinterested. If an experimenter is looking for observational facts, she has to accept what Nature offers, irrespective of whether it conveniently fulfills her expectations or awkwardly obstructs her pet hypotheiss. If a theorist is constructing a conjecture and throws it open for testing in the laboratory, he finally has to assent to the verdict of those tests even if it destroys the theory he has spent years developing. … Such demands on personal integrity are often hard to follow … but these demands are ultimately the foundation on which science rests. [216]

They simply are

When we speak of the truth of something, the first point to note is that this something has to be a statement or an assertion; contrary to frequent usage, it makes no sense to speak of the truth of a fact or of a property. “The ‘facts’ themselves … are not true. They simply are,” William James reminds us. To insist on this is not pedantry or hair-splitting. Formulating an assertion is attempting to communicate and therefore requires transmissible concepts and langugage: truth thus cannot be separated from human concepts and our linguistic apparatus. [203]