AF Chalmers - What is this thing called Science?

Chapter 3 - Experiment



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Chapter 3 - Experiment

Chalmers in this chapter assumes that secure facts can be established by careful use of the senses.

The term “secure facts” that is related to “knowledge” is not defined within serious philosophy and is not used within science. See comment to p.xx.

But observations should be described in a manner that the may be reproduced and can therefore be controlled. Observations do not need to be directly registered by the senses (see comments to p.5-9 and p.24).


Can scientific knowledge be derived from secure facts?

Decisive "no".

With two undefined terms in the same question, the answer ought to be a decisive “Oh”.

Science is built by carefully described observations and hypotheses based on such observations.


If there are facts that constitute the basis for science, then those facts come in the form of experimental results rather than any old observable facts.

Observations can be reported with various grades of controllability.

It is almost a rule that descriptions of observations made after the scientific method was generally accepted is more controllable.


If experimental results constitute the facts on which science is based, then they are certainly not straightforwardly given via the senses.

As commented on p.5-9, 24 and 27 observation is preferably not registered directly through the senses.


Experimental results are fallible, can be updated or replaced, outdated, rejected, and they can be ignored.

Observations may be erroneous. Who have claimed anything else?

Theories are even more liable to be erroneous, because they are based on observations and reasoning together.

By acting dynamically, and not statically dogmatic, the scientific method is considering errors to occur and to be critized.


Old experimental results are rejected as inadequate and replaced by more adequate ones.

This has serious implications for much orthodox philosophy of science, for they undermine the widely held notion that science rests on secure foundations.

Only Chalmers claims that science rests on secure foundations. Se comment to p.xx. Science “rests“ on reported observations and conclusions based on these observations.

A factor that increases the reliability to scientific reports is that the observations are performed in such a careful manner that they are able to be criticized and shown to be erroneous.

Is “orthodox philosophy of science” what existed before the “scientific revolution”? Is Chalmers again describing the sixteenth century peasant (se comments to p.xxi and 18)


Experiment as an adequate basis for science



If the experimental basis of science is fallible, then the knowledge based on it must be equally fallible and revisable.

It is quite clear that every statement, even concerning observations and theories may be erroneous.

Science is by most people considered as more reliable than other sources of information, presumably because observations and theories are described in a manner that they may be criticized an corrected.

Radically new results are not accepted before they have been verified by others within the scientific community.


If theories are appealed to in order to judge the adequacy of experimental results, and those same experimental results are taken as the evidence for the theories, then it would seem that we are caught in a circle.

A theory is a summary of experimental results.

When one theory is possible to couple to another (i.e. with a different type of experimental results) the acceptance of the theories increases.


Then there is a strong possibility that science will not provide the resources to settle a dispute between proponents of opposing theories by appeal to experimental results.

If there is a dispute between proponents of opposing theories, the probability for that neither of them will be accepted is high. In such cases additional observations are needed, and if the area is interesting some scientists will immediately want to make a contribution.

Within science hypotheses that cannot be verified are viewed by suspicion and have major problems in getting acceptance.


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