Allo V Psycho wrote: ↑
Sun Apr 18, 2021 3:22 pm
OK, I'll bite!
Logical positivism is a philosophical viewpoint, and to be honest, I don't really mind if philosophers debunk it.
I suspect my view may be similar to Shpalman's. I suspect that there is an observable universe out there, and under the same conditions, it will perform consistently. This makes it worth experimenting on. I'm comforted by the fact that the process of 'women and men working in science' makes demonstrable progress, and when philosophical theories change, all planes don't fall out the sky. Hell, even when theories of aerodynamics change, planes don't fall out the sky - each new theory can nest old ones within it.
I've already said I don't think 'truth' is a phenomenon I can usefully work with - I aim to make "conditional statements of probability that are useful'. I further think these CSoPtaUs have what I call 'Zones of Applicability'. I think these can be extended by positive verifications.
( I have a slightly odd personal history which may influence my views - a degree in physics, followed by a switch to biology and 25 years in the lab, followed by a switch to social sciences).
I don't want to generalize, but I think scientists are quite keen on the idea of Truth being a useful concept, even if modulated by probability (which is hardly straightforward itself
). For example, they want to say things like 'it is not true that Jesus came back from the dead', or maybe, 'it is extremely unlikely that Jesus came back from the dead'. They also want to say complicated things like 'observation causes the wave function to collapse' and have them be meaningful in a way that saying something like 'the nothing annihilates itself' is not. Positivism provides a justification for this by asserting that abstract claims in e.g. quantum mechanics are founded, distantly but firmly, in sense experience, and can be rationally understood on that basis. Logical
Positivism went further by actually trying to carry this reduction out, using the tools of the then new methods of mathematical logic. So, they start with basic statements whose truth or falsity is uncontroversial, and they declare the meaningful sentences to be those that can be built up from these using the formal machinery of what we now call propositional logic. The problem is that none of this works. The logical positivists themselves could not agree what kind of things the 'basic statements' (which they called 'protocol sentences') should be, it turned out to be tremendously difficult to form anything except a trivial theory with this method (Rudolph Carnap made a lot of effort in this area), and, to cap it all, the methods of formal logic are just not powerful enough. The logic problems come from the fact that propositional logic uses the 'material implication', where 'A implies B' is equivalent to 'not A or B', which is not appropriate in science where you don't want statements like 'if you build it, they will come' to be true just because you haven't built it yet.
So why does it matter that Logical Positivism is not correct? Well, on the one hand it obviously doesn't. As you point out, a lot of scientists 'believe it' in some more or less vague way, and yet science continues. Tangible advances are made that manifest as new and better technology, and so on. I have three responses to this line of thought.
First, maybe it will matter in the future. When calculus was invented by Newton and Leibnitz in the 17th century it was fundamentally incoherent. Nevertheless, it was an extremely powerful tool for solving technical problems. It was only after science had significantly advanced that the fundamental incoherence started causing big problems, and then the subject had to be rebuilt from its foundations. It is not hard to imagine that at some point in the future our understanding of the universe will have advanced to a point where the question of what it means to ‘understand the universe’ will have to be taken more seriously for more progress to be made. I believe something like this is already happening in high energy physics. I see an ongoing controversy on issues such as string theory, and the multiverse. Some commentators (e.g. Peter Woit) argue that the claims of e.g. string theory are not real science, while obviously their proponents think otherwise. Presumably it matters who is right.
Second, maybe it actually does matter even now. Yes, most working scientists can happily ignore the details of logical positivism, because the 'science industry' as it currently exists allows a lot of scope for ‘cookie cutter’ careers. Every professional understands the publishing standards of their field. It can be like a game, and the idea of Truth doesn’t have to enter into it at all. I.e. chain together statements and methods that reviewers accept, make sure p < 0.05 (or whatever) at the end, profit. Theorists have a version of this too. If anything, the administrative culture of modern academia actively encourages this approach. Many if not most working scientists happily ignore the mathematical details of the statistical methods they use. This works fine until it doesn’t, e.g. the replication crisis in psychology, significant problems in the medical literature, and so on. Now obviously, science and technology are advancing, despite these setbacks, but if there is an underlying reality, and if technological advance roughly correlates with better understanding this reality (i.e. the Realist justification of science, which has problems of its own), then presumably methods that are better equipped to understand this reality will lead to better tangible results. So the philosophical question of how scientific theories map to reality should, presumably, have some practical importance.
Finally, if these philosophical issues are unimportant because most scientists can do their jobs while ignoring them, and nothing broke down in the real world when philosophers realized logical positivism was untenable, then surely the same holds for belief in e.g. the resurrection. Religious people are just as capable of compartmentalizing their belief in miracles as scientists are of compartmentalizing their belief in logical positivism, as the actual history of religious scientists amply demonstrates. Indeed, the resurrection is only highly improbable, while logical positivism is definitely false. No cathedrals collapsed when people switched to deism either.
To head off any ‘what about pedophile priests?’ type comments, yes the power of the Church as an institution is a problem, but not one I’m talking about here.