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Why Supplement the Traditional Scientific Method with Karl Popper’s Ideas?

Written by Jerry L Krause

The first plank of Principia Scientific International’s mission statement is to be the leading independent voice for principled science as per the Traditional Scientific Method (TSM) and associated ideas of Popper.  Hence, the question asked by the title.  Or, what are the associated ideas of Popper bringing to the table?  Or?  As I wrote John O’Sullivan, I am confused. newton and popper

The name of Principia Scientific International (PSI) must be associated with Isaac Newton’s classic book—The Principia.  So more specifically:  Why were not Newton’s four Rules of Reasoning in Philosophy not sufficient to define the traditional scientific method that was borne of the Age of Enlightenment and that gave rise to the technological advances of the industrial revolution?  Only the founders of PSI, who wrote its mission statement, can answer these questions.

The bad science, relative to the good traditional science, PSI terms “Post-normalism which is defined as a pre-deterministic approach where policy and outcome dictate the kind of ‘science’ needed to justify it. Perceived as the most culpable purveyors of this modern malaise are national governments, NGO’s and big corporations.”  At first I agreed with this diagnosis of the problem.  But I now consider it misses the central point.  It is human ‘nature’ that once one has claimed ownership of an idea, it is tough to give it up because to give it up is to admit that I was wrong.  People do not ‘naturally’ want their ideas challenged.

As I studied PSI’s mission statement, I found I had overlooked a danger inherent in the second plank:  “Be an authoritative source of information for the advancement of new scientific ideas and the raising of standards in science for the benefit of the broader international community.”  While I understand the why of this plank but we must conscious of the danger inherent with the word—authoritative.  I am a newcomer to PSI and first commented on your site relative to Keith Bryer’s article (Prevailing Theories Have Been Proven Wrong Before, May 29, 2016).  My first two comments were the first and second pages of an essay I had previously written.  My first comment reviewed a portion of Richard Feynman’s address at a 1955 fall meeting of the National Academy of Sciences (USA).  And the central theme of his comments was:  “Our freedom to doubt was born out of a struggle against authority in the early days of science.  It was a very deep and strong struggle:  permit us to question—to doubt—to not be sure.”  Hence, we know that authority can be the authority to censure that with which we do not agree.  I understand fully this is the purpose (to permit us to question—to doubt—to not be sure) of PSI which its founders envisioned.

But yet, authorities are required to maintain some consistent standards.  Teachers must grade student performance with grades other than A, as the specific case warrants.  I have had more than one student tell me:  “I studied hard and I could only earn a C.  So, I quit studying hard, and discovered I still got a C.”  I believe most can imagine what some, many?, students would likely do in this situation.  Transfer the time previously spent studying hard for this specific C course to a course where if one quit studying hard one would predictively earn an F because a student can learn nothing if a student does nothing.  Here, while it has nothing to do with science, I believe a teacher should structure the instruction and its goals so that the entire class, if each student studies hard is capable of earning a C or better.  C is good but it is not the best.  And each student needs to find what it is that they do best.

I do not know what Feynman had seen which caused him, in his address, to strongly encourage (challenge) scientists to permit others to question—to doubt—to not be sure. I reviewed three cases which illustrated the ills of 20th Century science which I cannot see of having anything to do with national governments, NGO’s, or big corporations.  Each of these cases of simply bad scientific behavior were confined wholly within scientific communities and dealt with purely scientific issues not related to the general public.

Based upon my conversations with John O’Sullivan, I know he has been a fair, just, ‘editor’ in my case.  However, since I cannot see how any ideas of Karl Popper could enhance the TMS, I still would like an answer of the title question from some of the founders of PSI.

And now I see, that I have been tested.  For 6/03/2016 an article, Science as Falsification, was published.  I doubt this was an accident.  And a good portion of this article was copied from Wikipedia.  As I prepared to compose this article, I had read about Karl Popper’s ideas at Wikipedia.  But was reluctant to quote what I read because I was not sure if Wikipedia would be accepted by PSI as an authority.  So now I can conclude that the founders of PSI have concluded that Popper, in the 20th Century, added this idea of falsification to the traditional scientific method.  Which the founders of PSI and Karl Popper seem to not see (understand, ??) as existing as practiced and written about by Galileo.

I have to ask:  Has every founder of PSI read Galileo’s classic?  Has any founder of PSI read Galileo’s classic?  I know I had not until the near the end of my teaching career.  None of my science professors had ever selected it as textbook for me and I had never selected it as a textbook for my students.

Henry Crew and Alfonso de Salvio, the translators of Galileo’s classic from Italian to English provide a possible explanation for the previous observation.  “For more than a century English speaking students have been placed in the anomalous position of hearing Galileo constantly referred to as the founder of modern physical science, without having any chance to read, in their own language, what Galileo himself has to say.”  Their translation of Galileo’s effort was published in 1914.

Now I am going to review a bunch of other historical facts and bring them together to make a hypothesis; a word which Motte translated from Newton’s The Principia which was originally written in the Latin language, the language of scholars and philosophers for some time.  I quickly point to the fact that Galileo insisted that his work was written in Italian, the language of the common folk, and not in the language of the scholars and philosophers.  This even though that by academic appointment, sought by Galileo, that he was a philosopher.

In 1917 a book—Louis Agassiz as A Teacher—by Lane Cooper was published.  The first paragraph of this book was:  “When the question was put to Agassiz, ‘What do you regard as your greatest work?’ he replied:  ‘I have taught men to observe.’  And in the preamble to his will he described himself in three words as ‘Louis Agassiz, Teacher.’”

In his book—“What Do You Care What Other People Think?”—Richard Feynman (1918-1978) wrote:  “Before I was born, my father told my mother, “If it’s a boy, he’s going to be a scientist.””  And Feynman innocently wrote:  “My father taught me to notice things.” And illustrated this with a story.  “One day, I was playing with an “express wagon,” a little wagon with a railing around it.  It had a ball in it, and when I pulled the wagon, I noticed something about the way the ball moved.  I went to my father and said, “Say, Pop, I noticed something.  When I pull the wagon, the ball rolls to the back of the wagon.  And when I’m pulling in along and I suddenly stop, the ball rolls to the front of the wagon.  Why is that?”

““That, nobody knows,” he said.  “The general principle is that things which are moving tend to keep on moving, and things which are standing still tend to stand still, unless you push them hard.  This tendency is called ‘inertia,’ but nobody knows why it’s true.”  Now, that’s a deep understanding.  He didn’t just give me the name.

“He went on to say, “If you look from the side, you’ll see that it’s the back of the wagon that you’re pulling against the ball, and the ball stands still.  As a matter of fact, from the friction it starts to move forward a little bit in relations to the ground.  It doesn’t move back.”

“I ran back to the little wagon and set the ball up again and pulled the wagon.  Looking sideways, I saw that indeed he was right.  Relative to the sidewalk, it moved forward a little bit.

“That’s the way I was educated by my father, with those kinds of examples and discussions:  no pressure—just lovely, interesting discussions.  It has motivated me for the rest of my life, and makes me interested in all the sciences.  (It just happens I do physics better.)”

Now it remained a mystery to Feynman and the Feynman family how his father acquired this deep understanding of science.  My hypothesis as questions:  Could have his father have read Crew and de Salvio’s translation of Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences?  Could his father have read Louis Agassiz as A Teacher?  Could his father have even read portions of Motte’s translation (published 1846) of the The Principia?  Could his father have developed such a deep understanding simply because he read these books and learned?  And it remained a mystery to Feynman if there was any relationship to what he had learned from his father relative to his success as a physicist.

Have a good day, Jerry