Feeds

Google and the End of Science

Bringing it all back Hume

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

Between a metaphysical horned entity and an undulating patch of blue

The historically influential ideas in science I've described are all consonant with Empiricism. This notion has been a philosophical constant, even as different theories and justifications of science and scientific method arose, revolved around it, and fell away with new turns of history. The connection between science and empiricism has become identification - empiricism is spoken of as the methodology of science.

But from Hume's quite specific (and contingent) difficulty with causation, through to logical positivism's broad (and necessary?) demarcation of science, it's possible to separate the preoccupations of philosophers and those of scientists. The former have managed, despite the success of the latter, to put into doubt one or other part of the narrative (for want of a better word) of what constitutes science and its method. The difficulties have been negotiated rather than resolved. Which leaves the state of play where?

At a time when reinterpreting concepts like "causation" is seen as methodologically viable, then abolishing referents in favour of interpretations obtains legitimacy as a means of justification. But it also sets the stage for interpreting observational evidence, the basic raw material of science, with the focus on consistency with extant interpretations. The logic of some contemporary scientific explanations would not particularly disconcert ancient Greeks, who explained events in terms of the action of divers gods on obdurate matter.

If being seen to dabble with occult agencies is unacceptable to scientists, it may be thought that Anderson's option is viable - is it such a big deal for a scientist to hack up a bit of code? An ontology-free science would still be able to distinguishing itself from myths of sundry sorts, while demonstrating superior efficacy in practise.

Anderson's thesis of the "end of theory" is the logical consequence of letting philosophical Empiricism set the agenda for the "reflective practise" (to use a current buzz-word) of scientists. In effect it is not very different from the conclusion reached by Bishop Berkeley, Hume's philosophical predecessor, in regard to knowledge - things exist only as long as I am perceiving them.

Anderson has recognized that when instruments take the measurements for science, human perception is no longer relevant within the Berkelian epistemology. Cue Occam's razor. The novelty in Anderson's thesis is the assertion that technology has advanced to the point where the empiricist theory of knowledge can be executed as a practical program. Concerns about job security are the least of it. But then Anderson is not doing science, but metaphysics.

However, Anderson's identification of Google, everyone's favourite internet research tool, as his engine of choice for the destruction of science is not the only way forward. The alternative suggested here is to revisit the premises of the historical arguments - and reject empiricism as a metaphysical basis for science. Its disjunction of logic and experience as accounting fully for the sources of knowledge remains an open invitation to all-comers. Hume effectively knew it, and there is no stigma attached to citing Hume, as his rigour and subtlety as a philosopher continues to inspire even today.

So the irony is that science, having made its tribal lay with the philosophical school of empiricism over three centuries ago, and seemingly having derived sustenance from it, now has to kill it to go forward. The alternative for scientific theorising, if Anderson is correct, is to be killed by it - by it and Google.

Never has hard thinking been more required.®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
Human spacecraft dodge COMET CHUNKS pelting off Mars
Odyssey orbiter yet to report, though - comet's trailing trash poses new threat
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.