Science At Centurys End

Science At Centurys End: Philosophical Questions On The Progress And Limits Of S

Martin Carrier
Gerald J. Massey
Laura Ruetsche
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  • Book Info
    Science At Centurys End
    Book Description:

    To most laypersons and scientists, science and progress appear to go hand in hand, yet philosophers and historians of science have long questioned the inevitability of this pairing. As we take leave of a century acclaimed for scientific advances and progress, Science at Century's End, the eighth volume of the Pittsburgh-Konstanz Series in the Philosophy and History of Science, takes the reader to the heart of this important matter. Subtitled Philosophical Questions on the Progress and Limits of Science, this timely volume contains twenty penetrating essays by prominent philosophers and historians who explore and debate the limits of scientific inquiry and their presumed consequences for science in the 21st century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7244-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Martin Carrier, Gerald J. Massey and Laura Ruetsche
  4. Introduction: Science at the End of the Century: Prospects and Limits of Science
    (pp. 1-10)
    Martin Carrier, Gerald J. Massey and Laura Ruetsche

    Since the time of Francis Bacon the progress of science has been part of the agenda of philosophy. As is typical of a philosophical question, the issue has been contentious. Whereas some claim that science will progress continually, others regard science as being constrained by a number of cognitive and moral restrictions. Famous among the latter is Emil Du Bois-Reymond, who suggested in 1880 that there areWelträtselor riddles of the universe, some of which science will never be able to resolve. Du Bois-Reymond included “the essence of matter and force” and “the emergence of sensory experience or consciousness”...

  5. Frontiers of Knowledge

    • 1 Extending Ourselves
      (pp. 13-32)
      Paul Humphreys

      “Limit science” is a usefully ambiguous term. Limit science is in one sense the best that we can do. But in the other, punning, sense it suggests that the best we can do is, well, the best that we can do and thus falls short of what is desired. So it will help if we use different words for the two senses—“limit” for the ideal achievement and “limitation” for falling short of that or some other desired goal. We must then be careful that unreasonable expectations about achieving limits are not automatically misconstrued as limitations. There is a limit...

    • 2 The Limits of Generative Atomism: Comment on Paul Humphreys’s “Extending Ourselves”
      (pp. 33-39)
      Peter McLaughlin

      Science, Kant tells us in theProlegomena, knows “limits” but no “bounds” or “bounds” but no “limits”—the translation is to a certain extent arbitrary and Kant’s use of terms is not entirely consistent. What he means is that some things lie forever beyond the reach of science because they are not the kinds of things that science can tell us about: primarily questions of metaphysics or morals. However, within its own proprietary realm (that is, the empirical knowledge of nature) science has no bounds or limits: its progress will never be completed.¹ As plausible as this position is as...

    • 3 The Limits of Natural Science: Rescher’s View
      (pp. 40-60)
      Robert Almeder

      Nicholas Rescher’s view on the nature and limits of natural science includes the following basic items¹:

      1. There are some nontrivial, empirically answerable questions that we cannot answer by appeal to the methods of testing and confirmation proper to the natural sciences. Answers to questions about the validity of the inductive method itself, or about the basic beliefs upon which natural science rests at any time, for example, we cannot establish directly and noncircularly by appeal to inductive methods.

      2. The methods of induction are also limited in that even when one’s particular beliefs about the world turn out to be fully...

    • 4 Toward the Pale: Cosmological Darwinism and The Limits of Science
      (pp. 61-75)
      Laura Ruetsche

      Philosophy, some have said, is the history of future science. A metaphysician is, after all, the sort who looks at a pink ice cube and sees—or rather, hopes for—a successor to particle physics unparticulate in nature (Sellars 1962, §VI). Metaphysics, so practiced, is not the inquiry that comes after physics, but the one that goes before. Should science reach a state beyond which itcannotprogress, a state of science completed or science incompletable, science would cease to have a future substantially distinct from its present. Science at its limit would mark the end of metaphysics, so conceived....

    • 5 Nicholas Rescher on the Limits of Science
      (pp. 76-83)
      Jürgen Mittelstrass

      Examining the ideas of Nicholas Rescher is always intellectually profitable and enjoyable. No other thinker today has a broader philosophical horizon than Rescher, and virtually none can express his or her thoughts as precisely as Rescher does. We all—if we are lucky—know some things precisely and many things imprecisely, and thus in the case of philosophy have many opinions but few really tried and true insights. Nicholas Rescher apparently takes no satisfaction in mere opinions, which, as Kant (1942, 343) once put it, “pop up here and there” in philosophy, nor does he recognize any limits to knowledge....

    • 6 Limits of Science: Replies and Comments
      (pp. 84-91)
      Nicholas Rescher

      These brief comments are responses—in alphabetic turn—to the critical commentary that Robert Almeder, Jürgen Mittelstrass, and Laura Ruetsche have offered regarding my published views about the limits of science. The brevity of these responses should not be taken to mean that I underestimate the importance of the issues being raised. However, it seems both necessary and sufficient for this occasion to indicate somewhat telegraphically the general direction—the overall tendency and general strategy—of my response.

      Robert Almeder’s discussion of my position is on the whole both informative and constructive. There are, however, a few issues about which...

    • 7 How to Pile up Fundamental Truths Incessantly: On the Prospect of Reconciling Scientific Realism with Unending Progress
      (pp. 92-109)
      Martin Carrier

      Progress is among the most cherished ideas in the communities of scientists and philosophers of science alike. It is widely believed that epistemic progress is unlimited and goes on forever. But there is another view, likewise dear to the hearts of most scientists and philosophers of science: the view that science manages increasingly to reveal the innermost secrets of nature. It approaches the truth about the universe. The problem is that these two beliefs do not harmonize easily. If the truth is discovered, the matter is settled; there seems to be no room for further progress. Conversely, if science moves...

    • 8 Can Computers Overcome Our Limitations?
      (pp. 110-134)
      Nicholas Rescher

      In view of the difficulties and limitations that beset our human efforts at answering our questions in a complex world, it is tempting to contemplate the possibility that computers might enable us to overcome our cognitive disabilities and epistemic frailties. We may wonder: Are computers cognitively omnipotent? If a problem is to qualify as soluble at all, will computers always be able to solve it for us?

      Of course, computers cannot bear human offspring, enter into contractual agreements, or exhibit heroism. But such processes addresspracticalproblems relating to the management of the affairs of human life and so do...

    • 9 Limits to Self-Observation
      (pp. 135-149)
      Thomas Breuer

      This contribution has two purposes. One is to show that for an internal observer it is impossible to measure exactly all past states of a system in which she is contained, if the time evolution of the observed system is Markov stochastic.

      The other is to put this result into perspective. To this end I will introduce as an everyday example of self-observation the picture in the picture, then report earlier results that it is impossible to measure exactly from inside all present states, and to measure exactly from inside all past states if the time evolution is deterministic.


    • 10 Blinded to History? Science and the Constancy of Nature
      (pp. 150-178)
      Alfred Nordmann

      When Ptolemeian astronomers studied the skies, they did so as spectators who, from their fixed vantage point, watched celestial motions. Kant and Lichtenberg taught us that the Copernican Revolution began by questioning this relationship between inquirers and their domain of inquiry. When Copernicus, Galileo, or Kant watched the skies, they saw only how thingsappearedto them as earthbound observers whose vantage point is implicated and participates in the motions of the heavenly bodies. The epistemological lesson of the Copernican Revolution is therefore that knowledge becomes more objective when the implicit conditions under which observations are made and knowledge is...

    • 11 On Kinds of Timelessness: Comment on Nordmann
      (pp. 179-192)
      Richard Raatzsch

      In his chapter Alfred Nordmann considers a great variety of problems. I will not comment on all of them; instead I restrict myself to what I take to be one main line of his argumentation, which can be summarized in three propositions:

      1. Lavoisier’s chemistry is—contrary to that of Priestley—ahistorical.

      2. Lavoisier’s exclusion of time from chemistry marks an important step in the direction of objectivity in science.

      3. In Priestley’s as well as in Lavoisier’s case, views on the nature of chemical processes go hand in hand with certain metaphysical, ethical, and political views.

      In my comment on Nordmann’s stimulating...

    • 12 Metaphors and Theoretical Terms: Problems in Referring to the Mental
      (pp. 193-216)
      Hans Julius Schneider

      What is it that makes expressions for “mental events” meaningful in cases in which the objects referred to (such as neurophysiological processes or items in the “stream of consciousness”) cannot be supplied? It is argued in this chapter that a construal of these expressions as theoretical terms for natural objects is misguided. Instead, they should be taken as metaphors of a special object-constituting kind. For them a cultural-linguistic practice is primary, and the “objects referred to” are secondary. As a consequence, a hermeneutic (as contrasted with a scientific) understanding of the corresponding field of psychology is called for, and in...

    • 13 Unity and the Limits of Science
      (pp. 217-234)
      Margaret Morrison

      The theme of this volume, the limits of science, is interesting for several reasons. On the one hand science, as a human activity, sometimes serves to limit itself. Technological advances determine the kind of experimental findings that are possible in, for example, the area of high-energy physics. As a result some theoretical predictions about the fundamental constituents of matter cannot be verified until experimental physics can surpass the limits currently in place, that is, until accelerators can be built that are capable of producing energies high enough to create conditions under which certain kinds of particles can be detected. But...

  6. Prospects for the Special Sciences

    • 14 Limits and the Future of Quantum Theory
      (pp. 237-246)
      Gordon N. Fleming

      Quantum theory may be the preeminent example of a scientific theory the history and current status of which are indicative of what many regard as our present confrontation with the limits of science. It is a framework theory (Shimony 1987, 401) more broadly applied and extensively empirically corroborated than any other in the history of science. It is widely believed to be, in principle, universally applicable to the physical world in essentially its present form (with serious qualifications regarding only the general relativistic, early universe, or quantum gravity contexts). And yet, after seventy years of intense analysis and argument, it...

    • 15 Limits to Biological Knowledge
      (pp. 247-264)
      Alex Rosenberg

      In this chapter I argue that one particular science faces limits that do not confront other sciences, and that these limits reflect a combination of facts about the world and facts about the cognitive and computational limitations of the scientists whose business it is to advance the frontiers of this science. The science is biology, and the limitations I claim it faces are those of explanatory and predictive power. In the first part of this chapter I advance a contingent, factual argument about the process of natural selection that consigns the biology in which we humans can take an interest...

    • 16 A Physicist’s Comment to Rosenberg
      (pp. 265-283)
      Michael Stöltzner

      InInstrumental Biology or the Disunity of Science, Alex Rosenberg advocates the former in order to prevent the latter. If we intend to maintain an empiricist methodology and a physicalist metaphysicsfor the whole of science, we must admit that—due to our limited cognitive faculties—“biology isrelativelymore instrumental a science than the physical sciences” (Rosenberg 1994, 1–2). Rosenberg’s relative instrumental disunity is rooted in a thoroughly realistic interpretation of the theory of natural selection—the only biological theory that, by his account, contains laws in the same sense as do physics and chemistry. Thus the axioms...

    • 17 The Limits of Experimental Method: Experimenting on an Entangled System: The Case of Biophysics
      (pp. 284-307)
      Giora Hon

      Setting limits to knowledge is a worthwhile enterprise of no less importance than the unwearied endeavor to move the boundaries of knowledge a little further. Indeed, the establishment of such limits may provide a cornerstone for the construction of a new theory or a profound insight into scientific practices. This century has seen two such contributions in science: the uncertainty principle and the incompleteness theorem. Undoubtedly, these results of Heisenberg and Gödel constitute essential elements of our current knowledge of, respectively, the physical and the formal—physics and mathematics. Both results exhibit a fundamental proof of limitation: a proof of...

    • 18 On Some Alleged Differences between Physics and Biology
      (pp. 308-316)
      Andreas Hüttemann

      In his stimulating and provocative chapter, Giora Hon argues that the range of application of the experimental method is limited. Even though it is a successful method with regard to inanimate systems, it cannot be extended to living systems. This methodological claim is based on an ontological claim. Living systems as opposed to inanimate systems are said not to possess a state. However, the experimental method presupposes that the systems under investigation possess such a state.

      In the first part of my commentary I focus on what I take to be the main line of argument for this thesis. In...

    • 19 Models of Error and the Limits of Experimental Testing
      (pp. 317-344)
      Deborah G. Mayo

      Experimental practice, if viewed as more than a source for experimental narratives or illustration, could produce a decisive transformation in the image of scientific inference by which we are now possessed.¹ Anyone who looks upon the nitty-gritty details of most experimental testing in science soon discovers that our neat and tidy models of experimental inference have very limited applicability. The data are inexact, noisy, and incomplete; extraneous factors are uncontrolled or physically uncontrollable; it may be impossible to replicate and nearly so to manipulate; and there may be huge knowledge gaps between the scope of theories and any experiment we...

    • 20 Inductive Logic and the Growth of Methodological Knowledge: Comment on Mayo
      (pp. 345-354)
      Bernd Buldt

      A good deal of Deborah Mayo’s chapter consists of descriptions of impressive examples of scientific research, and concerning these I find nothing to comment on. But in addition to these case studies, she also presents us with a concise introduction to her project of providing an error-statistical reading of Neyman-Pearson test theory. There is much to comment on here—perhaps even too much for a short note—since by doing this we become caught between the fronts in an “ideological war,” as Howson calls it. In this dispute between different schools of scientific inference and different views of probability, I...

    • 21 On Modeling and Simulations as Instruments for the Study of Complex Systems
      (pp. 355-374)
      Manfred Stöckler

      Research on complex systems is a central topic in contemporary science. The analysis of complex systems exhibits features that normally cannot be found in early textbooks of philosophy of science. The dynamics of the system is generally not known in detail. In many cases, we do not even know the quantities that are decisive for the dynamics of the system. When the basic equations describing a system are known, very often the solutions cannot be calculated: analytical methods are usually not applicable, if the interactions are nonlinear.

      Complex systems expose the limits of our capacities to deal with objects by...

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 375-376)
  8. Index
    (pp. 377-386)