Monday, January 4, 2010

Some Philosophy of Science

This post is my exploration of various concepts and standards in the philosophy of science. The purpose of the exploration is to define clear criteria for the inclusion and exclusion of various approaches within economics as being scientific. Unfortunately, the existing literature and philosophy dealing with what science is are crude and unhelpful for a variety of reasons. The many myths about the scientific or nonscientific nature of particular arguments or models within economics are probably due to this deficit. Thus, it must be addressed if the discipline is to obtain practical clarity and a real public policy vision.

In particular, This is intended to be an exploration of the essence of the science, the science itself, rather than its practical application. The definitions given of what science is, such as in Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions do not generally make this distinction, often blending the institutions of science with the science itself. Generally, there may be a vast number of institutions and rituals surrounding a particular practice of science that are not part of the science itself. To the degree that these things are necessary for the science to exist, there must be some requirement - a property of the science itself - that creates this necessity.

The essential, classifying property of science is that science is a way of observing. The development of sciences is really the development of different ways to observe phenomena. When a conscious being observes a phenomenon, it initiates a mental process whereby it assigns a meaning to what was observed. The theories of science are particular techniques for assigning these meanings.

The type of technique that is created for the purpose of assigning meanings is what I'll call the structure of reality theory. This theory defines and creates the objects used by the observer of a given phenomenon in his explanation of that phenomenon. This is typically a partial replacement of whatever other intentionality might exist for the phenomenon, but I can't say that there aren't cases of pure augmentation. Science isn't the only thing that creates structure of reality theories; rather these theories are, in my schema, an essential component of all human understanding. Their totality provides a cover for the domain of object definitions in the thought process itself. As a dynamical system, the thought process is always drawing from this domain of object definitions to create the objects of thought corresponding to observed phenomena, memory, and mere imagination. The thought process is apparently also capable of making changes to these structure of reality theories based on the qualities of the objects of thought that are created, and of communication to other individuals (and to itself) of a fragmentary form of both objects and structures. In this way, the system evolves and the thought process of the individual changes.

Science is differentiated from other methods of creating structure of reality theories in that science attempts to base its structure of reality theories on only observed phenomena and formal logic. Properly speaking, this is impossible, as phenomena are not accessible to the consciousness prior to their interpretation into objects. Once the object is created, it has already been processed by the structure of reality theory in which imagination, memory, and communications from other consciousnesses may have exerted significant influence. Remembered or communicated objects trace their origins back to either imagined or observed phenomena. Therefore, to establish a record of pure observation, science needs a way to systematically exclude imagined phenomena and any phenomena of unverified origin.

Science is also differentiated from other methods because it seeks a specific explanatory telos. In more general terms, this means that each science has a defined end-point at which it is fully understood. It poses a finite set of questions, which, when answered completely, would constitute a complete structure of reality theory that cannot be improved to better answer these questions. At first glance, this might seem to be nothing more than a descriptive property, but it has a key function to the development of the science itself. When we talk or think about reality, we tend to forget that each topic to which we turn our attention has its own collection of concepts, defined in relation to each other, that collectively constitute the topic. These are an expression of the structure of reality theory that we have with respect to that topic. The science must have an origin, and this origin is in the criticism of objects that arise through a less scientific structure of reality theory.

Neither of these are unique to science. Rather, sciences are the ways of knowing that exhibit both of these characteristics.

No comments: