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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

"What is this thing called science?" by A F Chalmers

This is an extremely readable account of the history and philosophy of science. He explains some difficult ideas with brilliant clarity.

He talks about the problem of induction, expressed by Bertrand Russell as the problem the turkey faces when, following daily examples, he induces that he is always fed at 9AM ... until he discovers he is wrong on Christmas Eve. Furthermore, since what you see depends on what you expect, in some sense theory comes before observation; Chalmers illustrates this rather neatly with an example about junior doctors learning to see what the weird marks on X-rays actually mean.

He then discusses Popperian ideas about falsificationism at length and shows the weaknesses of this theory.

He then looks at alternative accounts of the historical development of Physics from the point of view of Lakatos, Kuhn and Feyerabend.

For me, the most important moments came when he was talking about concept networks. He argues that "the Newtonian concept of mass" is more precise than "the concept of democracy" (pp 77 - 78) because "the concept plays a specific, well-defined role in a precise, structured theory." (p 78). "If this suggested close connection, between precision of a term or statement and the role played by that term or statement in a theory, is valid, then the need for coherently structured theories follows fairly directly from it." (p 78). For example, a dictionary definition requires one to understand many other words. He also quotes Feyerabend as asserting the importance to Copernicus of the "internal connectedness" of the parts of his system. (p 103)

This of course links to the idea that Kuhn viewed "normal science as a puzzle-solving activity" (p 92) and, putting coherence above correspondence, stated that "puzzles that resist solution are seen as anomalies rather than as falsifications of the paradigm." (p 92)

But Chalmers also provides a justification which I can use for my choice of Grounded Theory as a methodology for exploring liminality: "Precise experimentation can only be carried out if one has a precise theory capable of yielding predictions in the form of precise observation statements." (p 79) and since Galileo was creating a new paradigm "it need not be surprising that his efforts involved thought experiemtns, analogies and illustrative metaphors rather than detailed experimentation." (p 79)

This is a well written and readable account of the history of physics though perhaps a little out of date with the latest ideas.

April 2016; 170 pages

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