A ‘no miracles’ argument is still prevalent in the scientific realism debate, even if a lot has changed since Hilary Putnam’s formulation of it, and even if the word ‘miracle’ is generally avoided. For example, realists think that if the most central ‘working’ parts of a scientific theory were not even approximately true (for any serious theory of ‘approximate truth’), then it would be incredibly unlikely (‘miraculous’) for that theory to deliver successful novel predictions with ‘perfect’ quantitative accuracy (e.g. to several significant figures). It would be like perfectly predicting the time and position of the next solar eclipse based on a completely false (not even approximately true) model of how the sun, moon, and earth interact. Here it is appropriate to talk in terms of ‘counterexamples’ to scientific realism: any historical case where a scientific theory delivered ‘perfect’ predictions but where the central working parts of the theory are now thought to be radically false would be a very serious thorn in the side of nearly every contemporary scientific realist position.
About Elizabeth Hannon
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Entries by Elizabeth Hannon
While we have a better understanding of the olfactory pathway today, many of the central questions remain unresolved. How do you classify smells and how do you make their perception comparable? (And how do you control the volatile stimulus, its concentration, and its administration in psychophysical studies?) What are the perceptual dimensions of smell? Are there such things as primary odours? How does the brain represent smells? From this perspective, the discovery of how the sense of smell works presents us with an intriguing, yet untold, history of creativity in scientific reasoning.
Philosophers of science of all stripes draw on the history of science. However, within philosophy of science there are diverging trends between literature in the history and philosophy of science and the work in (what often goes under the name of) ‘general’ philosophy of science. With the caveat that what follows paints a picture with very broad brushstrokes, the trend among those working on integrated history and philosophy of science is towards recognizing particular differences between scientific fields, periods, and practitioners. On the other hand, the driving motivation in general philosophy of science is towards unified frameworks and theories.
The decision of the Co-Chief-Editors of the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science is that the Sir Karl Popper Prize for 2016 should be awarded jointly to Elizabeth Irvine for her paper ‘Model-Based Theorizing in Cognitive Neuroscience’ (Br J Philos Sci, 2016, 67, pp. 143–68) and Eran Tal for his paper ‘Making Time: A Study in the Epistemology of Measurement’ (Br J Philos Sci, 2016, 67, pp. 297–335).
Need scientists worry about philosophy? Or should philosophers get off their backs and let them do their work in peace? Unsurprisingly, many scientists want to stay clear of philosophical discussions. What is more disturbing is when I hear philosophers themselves announce that our discipline has nothing useful to offer science. In my view, they could not be more wrong.
A while back, we decided to implement a ‘soft’ word limit of 10,000 words and we asked authors who wanted to exceed this limit to write to us with a justification. More than a year later, we’ve found that not one paper submitted that exceeded 10,000 words couldn’t have been pruned and nonetheless retained all that mattered (and, indeed, was and did). So to make things more straightforward for all concerned, the Editors have decided to make the 10,000-word deadline firm. Papers exceeding this length will automatically be returned to authors.
Aesthetic considerations feature widely in science. Many scientists claim that aesthetic values guide their activities, motivate them to study nature, and even shape their attitude regarding the truth of a theory. Some scientists also regard the product of their intellectual activities, whether scientific theories, models, or mathematical proofs, as works of art. Interestingly, recent studies in neuropsychology have shown that exposure to beautiful equations activates the same area of the brain in mathematicians and scientists as exposure to beautiful pieces of art. How is the concept of beauty understood by scientists; how do they come to regard some features of a theory as aesthetically appealing; and what role can be given to aesthetic considerations in scientific reasoning?