Re: preposterous

From: george murphy (
Date: Thu Apr 05 2001 - 10:40:00 EDT

  • Next message: Moorad Alexanian: "Re: preposterous"

    Jonathan Clarke wrote:

    > Was it Rutheford who said that "Science consists of physics and stamp
    > collecting"? I think that attitude with its self righteous sense of
    > superiority to lesser mortals has permeated conciously or otherwise much of
    > the culture of physicists. Certainly when I was an undergraduate I
    > encountered it and it was only partlyu tongue in cheek. This has been
    > reinforced by much of the popular work of the philosophy of science (e.g.
    > Popper and Kuhn) also being written from the perspective where physics
    > provided the norm and the illustrations. At least, that is how I remember
    > them. If we are going to talk about philosophy of science I think we need
    > to conciously distance ourselves from such views because they are so
    > ingrained.

    By way of throwing some petrol on the fire -
            There is some truth in the statement attributed to Rutherford. (& if
    Rutherford didn't say this there is a nice substitute in a statement of Bunsen:
    _Der Chemiker der kein Physiker ist ist gar nichts - "The chemist who is not a
    physicist is nothing at all." Rutherford of course thought it a great joke that
    he had gotten the Nobel Prize for - Chemistry!) Physics achieves a higher
    degree of precision and certainty in the areas in which its methods can be
    applied, and other sciences gain considerably when it becomes possible to apply
    physical theories to them. The application of thermodynamics and quantum
    mechanics to chemistry is an obvious example.
            However -
            1) The methods of physics _can't_ be adoped (at least with our present
    or any forseeable state of understanding) as the _modus operandi_ of some
    sciences - e.g., evolutionary biology.
            2) Physics has achieved so much success by working with differential
    equations and "bottom-up causality" that we tend to forget that those equations
    need boundary conditions (in space & in time), & such conditions bring in
    something like "top-down causality". The nature of living systems may be related
    to this in crucial ways. This doesn't mean that they can never be described in
    terms of physics, but the ways in which the necessary physics will have to be
    formulated may be rather different from that of the present day.
            3) The fact that physics does achieve a higher degree of precision and
    certainty than other sciences doesn't mean that those other sciences can't tell
    us anything at all or give us any confidence in their results. I think that is
    the mistake Moorad has been making: Physics gives precise agreement between
    theory and observation for many phenomena and historical geology and evolutionary
    biology don't give as precise correlations for the phenomena they deal with, so
    we can't place any reliance on the claims of the latter sciences. But that just
    doesn't follow.



    George L. Murphy
    "The Science-Theology Interface"

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