Philosophy of Science
As indicated on the syllabus, you will do two essays for this class. This, the first one, will be focused on material early in the Theory and Reality book: the Hypothetical-deductive model of theory verification and Karl Popper’s theory of Demarcation.
What you will do for this essay is this:
Choose and describe two theories about the world and/or the forces that operate in it. Select one theory that is likely to pass Popper’s test and one that will not. Pick some theories that interest you. They should be theories related in some way to natural science (in other words, a theory about the way the world is or something that happens or has happened in the world). Avoid social theories for this one (we’ll get to those for the next essay). You might choose a theory about what makes objects fall, what killed the dinosaurs, the missed 2012 apocalypse, how Noah saved all of the animals, how the Shroud of Turin ended up with Jesus’ face on it, why atom bombs explode, what causes the flu, or why Greenland is melting.
Explain each theory. What is it meant to account for, what is the evidence, who advocates it…?
Next, plug each into the hypothetical-deductive model
If you do not remember this, you can refresh your memory by reading the brief description on pages 43-45 of the Godfrey-Smith book. Just identify the hypothesis and what anticipated observations would serve to verify the hypothesis. Another way to put this is, how is each theory supposed to follow the model of explanatory inference? Here you will want to be clear about what the evidence is (found or hoped for) that would support the theory.
Next, assess each theory according to Karl Popper’s theory of demarcation. You will want to briefly explain Popper’s theory and how it works before you apply it to your theories. Describe what Karl Popper thought he was doing and why. Then decide whether your theories pass the test as “scientific” or not. Explain why each passes or fails.
Lastly, reflect on the implications of these analyses. What do you think? Does your theory look good after being so analyzed? Does the analysis reveal any of these theoreticians to be misguided or unfair to scientific theory?
This may or may not be a “research paper.” As far as the two theory assessment strategies go, you can rely solely on our book. You might have to do a little research in order to thoroughly describe your scientific theories and/or be clear about the evidence. Include a bibliography to identify any outside sources. You can look into Karl Popper through other sources if you like but this is not necessary. The descriptions of his ideas, and the hypothetical-deductive model, in our text should be sufficient.
Again, think for awhile about the theories you might analyze. There are those we have raised in class like Newtonian mechanics (or Newton’s laws of motion), Darwinism, Creationism, Psychology (Freud), Marx’s theory of history, and global warming. You could look into witch identification theory, consider the carbon dating of the Shroud of Turin, or the discovery of “Lucy” (the missing link) in relation to evolution, analyze the theory behind stem-cell research or quantum mechanics, DNA theory, E=mc², or the wave/particle duality of light (if you dare). There are theories about alien visitations, wizards building Stonehenge as well as one in which the universe is created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. If you are familiar with “the Secret,” you might know of a theory in which focusing on a desired object or goal makes it yours. Einstein’s theory of gravitational waves was apparently just recently confirmed. Certain dances can make it rain and no one has ever been to the moon.
If you can’t think of a topic or you have any trouble working out the details of the analysis or the research, talk to me. I will be happy to help you zero in on a topic and even offer suggestions for secondary sources. Look over the examples from the handouts posted on the website. You can use any of those if you like. It is more fun to come up with your own but those are fair game. Think about theories in your field of study.
If it seems like an overwhelming project, don’t think of it all at once. It basically has four parts. If each part took a page, you’d have four to five pages. 1) 2 theories, 2) hypothetical deductive model applied to each, 3) Popper applied to each, 4) what can you decide from all of this?
Parts 2 and 3 should include explanations of the theoretical approaches to assessing theories, not just the application.
If you pick two interesting theories, this might be fun.
The essay should be about 4-5 or so pages, standard fonts and margins.
Greenland is one of the coldest countries in the world. Much of this is owed to the fact that the country is covered by ice. The ice sheets in Greenland are however losing a lot of ice with each passing day, (Xu, 2013). Measurements of ice have been done by researchers and the findings point to a future whereby Greenland will no longer be covered with much ice as it is currently……………………..