Nature of Science – Rational or Empirical…???
Posted by khuram on August 24, 2007
There is widespread misconception among many supporters of modern established science that scientific facts and theories are all empirical in nature and this so-called “empirical” knowledge is superior to any kind of “rational” knowledge. Sometimes back, I had a little debate with supporters of the idea of so-called “empirical science”. In that debate, I pointed out that modern science’s over-emphasis on “empirical methods” is based on following false and misleading point of view:
“The sense-perception information is gained using our basic senses. It is opposed to the information that one develops by pure rational reasoning.”
In my opinion, the above-quoted point of view is misleading. First of all I do not accept the idea of “pure rational reasoning”. For me, the idea of a Rationalist that mind can find the first principle without any involvement of sensory information is WRONG AB INITIO.
In this connection, for me, point of view of John Locke is true that all basic knowledge comes only through the channel of senses. Mind cannot reach to any first principle without involvement of sensory information.
A Rationalist like Descartes or Hegel says that mind, at its own, can reach to first principle. All other knowledge of reality then can be deduced out of that first principle. Thus this form of Pure Rationalism works on deductive logic.
Now I try to explain that this “Pure Rationalism” is deductive logically inaccurate. Consider the following simple deductive argument:
All A is B
All B is C
Conclusion: All A is C
Now I try to analyze this “conclusion”. This deductive conclusion consists of four words which are (i) All, (ii) A, (iii) is (iv) C
In this conclusion, not a single word is anything new. All these four words are already contained in the premises. So in any deductive conclusion, all the contents of conclusion are already contained in the premises. In the conclusion, only the arrangement of words is changed.
Now take the example of a renowned first principle i.e. “Cogito Ergo Sum”. Descartes claims that this is the first principle of his philosophy. In the Pure Rationalism, all other contents of philosophy must have to be deduced out of this first principle.
Now we know that in any deductive conclusion, only the arrangement of words is changed. What it means? If Descartes` philosophy is really a Pure Rationalism, then there should not be more than three words in his whole detailed philosophy.
Pure Rationalism is logically wrong….!!! because actually there are so many words in the philosophy of Descartes. Descartes is having a false claim that he is pure Rationalist Philosopher. In the real sense, his Philosophy could not go against the basic idea of John Locke. That`s why his detailed philosophy is having so many words … which are although seeming to be the part of reasoning … but actually have come from sensory information.
Now I again come to the above-quoted statement, which, in my opinion, is a completely misleading point of view. I reproduce that statement below:
“The sense-perception information is gained using our basic senses. It is opposed to the information that one develops by pure rational reasoning.”
In this connection, my opinion is that sensory information is considered to be opposed to rational reasoning by the “Pure Rationalist Philosophers”. Pure Rationalists` point of view is logically wrong so this statement is also logically wrong.
Fact is not that reasoning is opposed to sensory information. Fact is that reasoning is actually a RE-ARRANGEMENT of sensory information.
My opinion is that all knowkledge is basically empirical … because point of view of John Locke i.e. an Empiricist, was right, in my assessment.
But in my opinion, there is no clash between “empirical knowledge” and the so-called “rational knowledge”. Rational Knowledge is actually just a re-arrangement of empirical knowledge. This point of view, basically, was originated by David Hume.
Here, an objection can be raised that point of view of modern science is not akin to the philosophy of “Pure Rationalism” because modern science doesn’t work on any given “first principle”.
My point of view is that mere fact that science doesn’t work on any given first principle doesn’t make it purely empirical in nature. Modern science is still very much “rational”, in my opinion. But modern science is not “rational” in the sense of “pure rationalism philosophy”. Modern science is “rational” only in the true sense of rationalism. And the true rational sense is that product of reasoning has to be a “re-arrangement” of sensory data. So in this right sense, we should not find any clash between product of reasoning and any empirical knowledge. If we try to look more closly, we shall find that product of reasoning, being the “re-arrangement” of sensory information, can be considered to be the final product. Mere sensory information can be regarded as just raw material in this right sense. In this way, rational knowledge i.e. the product of reasoning, should be considered to be superior form of knowledge because of being the final product in essence. Mere empirical knowledge is actually inferior because it is just like raw material which still has to go through the process of rational reasoning. The mistake of modern science is that it considers itself only empirical in nature. It is important to highlight that modern science, mistakenly, not only disowns, but also degrades all the forms of rational reasoning. As a collateral mistake, modern science considers only empirical knowledge to be the superior most form of knowledge. And as a result of this kind of mistakes, modern science doesn’t officially recognize any valid role of logical reasoning in it’s research procedures. It’s proof is that theory of logic is not the part of syllabus of study of science at any level.
I have mentioned earlier that in the “true rational sense”, product of logical reasoning has to be a “re-arrangement” of empirical knowledge. I have no objection against a True Rationalist. I have objections against only Pure Rationalist. A True Rationalist knows the importance of sensory or empirical information. But he doesn`t confine himself to just empirical procedures. The procedure of a True Rationalist can be stated like:
Sensory Information >>> Logical Conclusions >>> Empirical Verification>>>Logical Interpretation of Empirical Verifications
I have objections against “established” scientists also. They are Not True Rationalists because they ignore the LOGIC part of this true procedure. If anyone is a PhD. in Physics, I am hopeful that he/ she migh not have seen Theory of Logic as a part of his/ her syllabus.
Here I am in need to clearly differentiate between “True Rationalism” and “Pure Rationalism”. Accepted definition of Pure Rationalism is “such a Philosophical view that accepts the possibility that mind can reach to first principle (i.e. axiom) without help or involvement of sensory information.” This form of Pure Rationalism downgrades sensory information, by assigning superiority to only Pure Rational Knowledge. All the detailed philosophy of reality is supposed to be rationally deducible out of that first principle. In this way pure rationality can find everything about reality even in complete absence of sensory information. This philosophical view has created a misconception as if there is some clash between sensory knowledge and rational knowledge.
In the times of Galileo, Johannes Cappler and Newton etc. when Old Greek “rational” (i.e. pure rational … as supposed) theories were found to be wrong as per experimental tests, then sensory or empirical data/ information got superiority over the so-called pure rational knowledge. Then scientists started degrading all the forms of rational knowledge because no one bothered to see that actually rational knowledge was not any entity which could exist independently of empirical knowledge. General idea was that empirical knowledge and rational knowledge were having separate and independent sources of origin and that now onwards, only empirical knowledge became standard of truth. Newton’s laws of Motion were declared to be Empirical Laws whereas fact is that let’s say First Law of Motion is a complete Logical Law. My question is that what is the empirical proof that an object shall always remain in the state of rest until and unless it is impressed upon by a net positive force? What could be the “empirical proof” for such a law? Obviously such a law can only be empirically tested in the time-scale of infinite period because the thing to be empirically confirmed here is that the object shall ALWAYS remain in the state of rest. So the complete empirical test can be performed only over an infinite period of time. Not only that this law cannot be empirically tested, it is also not the product of any empirical test but is the product of Logic. In order to develop this law, Newton himself had not conducted any experiment. This law happened to be the Logical Conclusion of those experiments which Galileo had performed on inclined plane. Galileo had found that a ball, in a double inclined plane, when moves downwards on downside plane, it accelerates. And the same ball when moves upside, on the other upside plane, the ball decelerates. Galileo reached to its logical conclusion that if ball is neither moving downside, nor upside; then it would neither accelerate nor decelerate. The logical conclusion, to which Newton reached was that if a ball is neither accelerating nor decelerating, then the ball shall be in the state of rest or uniform speed. And since Newton knew the concept of Force of Gravitation, so he drew another logical conclusion that downside acceleration and upside deceleration of ball was due to net downside force and net upside force respectively. The next logical conclusion was that in the absence of any “force”, the ball shall neither accelerate nor decelerate. And the other logical conclusion was that a ball, if neither accelerating, nor decelerating, it means that either it is at rest or it is moving with uniform speed. And the final logical conclusion was a simple generalization that any object, as long as it is not impressed by any net positive force, it shall either remain in the state of rest, or shall remain in continuous straight and uniform speed motion.
So despite this complete logical construction, this law is still considered to be an “Empirical Law”, and therefore, a part of “Empirical Knowledge”. Any “Rational Knowledge” is still disregarded, as scientists believe in the erroneous idea of some clash between empirical and rational knowledge. Although the scientists do sometime talk of ‘rationality’ as well and it is also true that their concept of ‘rationality’ is not akin to the philosophy of Pure Rationalism, but still their concept of rationality cannot be regarded as true rationality. It seems that scientists are not clear on the issue of type and nature of ‘rationality’ that should be the part of their procedures. In above discussion, I mentioned the True Rational Procedure in following way:
Sensory Information >>> Logical Conclusions >>> Empirical Verification>>> Logical Interpretation of Empirical Verifications
Currently, scientists are disregarding “Rational Knowledge” and “Theory of Logic” as well. The true rational procedure, as identified above involves application of the theory of logic at two important stages.
Just the “Empirical Verification” cannot become a solid proof until and unless such “Empirical Verification” has been logically interpreted and explained. Those who are not scientists may not believe in the just simple truths of scientists. I believe that many illogical and inaccurate theories are still the part of established science.
Modern science emphasizes on its so-called “empirical methods” so much that it tends to almost completely deny any valid role of logical reasoning or the theory of logic in the process of development of new scientific theories. This position of modern science can be described in the words of a so-called scientist in following way:
“While all credible scientific theories are logically consistent, logic by itself has seldom, if ever, discovered any scientific theory.”
It is a super false idea. I already had discussed the complete logical development of first law of motion by Newton in the above discussion.
So previously, I had shown that first law of motion was the product of “LOGIC”. Now I try to show that second law also had come from the door of LOGIC. As first law was stating the logical results of the complete absence of force, second law just stated the logical results of presence of force. In the first law, the logical result of the absence of force was non-acceleration. This non-acceleration had two logical states which were (i) complete rest and; (ii) uniform velocity motion.
Now come to see what was the second law in fact. Second law just had introduced the element of “force” in the same situation of first law. In the first law, the absence of force had given the result of “non-acceleration”. So the LOGICAL result in second law, of the “presence” of “force” was the “acceleration”. Second law of motion was outcome of just mere logic up to this point. The next problem was that ok there had to be “acceleration” in the presence of “force” … but how much acceleration…??? The issue of “how much acceleration” required experimental works as well as application of mathematics. For the development of second law of motion, logic played primary role whereas experimental and mathematical works had secondary function.
Perhaps science is having complete pragmatic self-conception, which may be useful but may not be acceptable to True Rational Philosophy because of being inconsistent with facts. Science only sees if “outcome” is useful or profitable or not. Science focuses only on end results and doesn`t bother to see or evaluate the sources of origin of scientific theories.
Was Mendeleev`s “Periodic Table” not the outcome of logic? He had constructed that table on the basis of “consitent” or “ordered” properties exibited by certain elements. Is logic not the name of consistency and order? He had placed even some unknown elements of his time in their proper order. The act of placing an unknown thing on its right place was a logical act and cannot be regarded as “empirical” act in any way. It is just like as premises come from sense experience whereas right logical conclusion is formed without direct sense perception.
Even the John Dolton`s theory of atom was also logical. Original theory of atom was just the logical answer to such questions as why only specific quantitative combination of different elements result in chemical compounds.
Uptill now I have discussed only the role of deductive logic in the process of development of scientific theories. Actually role of deductive logic is really limited. Most ideas or scientific theories are actually the outcome of ANOLOGY, which is a form of inductive logic. To understand the role of analogy, readers will have to go through my following article in complete:
In my opinion, Newton had reached the concept of Gravitational Force of earth through the process of analogy. If anyone asks, I can write about it in details as well. Coulumb`s law is very much similar to Newton`s Law of Gravitation. Role of analogy cannot be overlooked in the process of development of Coulumb`s law because analogy works on the basis of “similarity” between processes or phenomena or things. Many of the theories of Einstien were “analogical” in nature like the idea of “similarity” between field of gravitation and an accelerated system. The idea that if accelerated system could bent ray of light then a gravitational field also could bent ray of light, was also analogical idea. And remember that it was this idea which was experimentally verified to be true in 1919 during the time of a solar eclips.
I am having the opinion that more than 95% new ideas come through the process of analogy, i.e. a form of LOGIC. I have given link to my related article for its details.
So science should not be restricted to just “empirical procedures”. There is valid role of rational reasoning in the process of discovery of new scientific facts. So there is need to include theory of rational reasoning in the research procedures of science as well as in the syllabus of science education.