Thursday, December 4, 2014

551: Science and atoms...

In my previous lecture I said, that most traditional philosophers of science have taken for granted the assumption that the main goal of science is
reaching comprehensive truth about the world. The goal of explaining natural phenomena is related to the this goal.
Today we also take it for granted that mathematics is one of the most important tools of science, that reality is mathematical, that logic is the basis of scientific rationality.
And here is another thing in science, that we take for granted. It is a totally sound procedure to analyze matter by taking it apart.
So we have molecules and molecules are built of atoms and atoms are structures with a nucleus, protons, neutrons and electrons.
But just ask yourself the question: what would make me assume that this stone in my hand is in fact a mass of small particles clustering together?
The idea that matter is made up of discrete units is a very old one, appearing in many ancient cultures such as Greece and India. The word "atom", in fact, was coined by ancient Greek philosophers. 
Some followers of Plato construed the world to be an imperfect reflection of an underlying reality. A more radical discontinuity was suggested by the atomists Democritus (c. 460 – c. 370 BC) and Leucippus. 
For the atomists, the relation between appearance and reality was not the relation between an original and an imperfect copy.
Rather, they believed that objects and relations in the “real world” were different in kind from the world we know by means of the senses.
What is real, according to the atomists, is the motion of atoms through the void. It is the motions of atoms which cause our perceptual experience of colors, odors, and tastes. 
Were there no such motions, there would be no perceptual experience. Moreover, the atoms themselves have only the properties of size, shape, impenetrability, 
and motion, and the propensity to enter into various combinations and associations. Unlike macroscopic objects, atoms can be neither penetrated nor subdivided.
Several aspects of the atomists’ program have been important in the development of subsequent views of scientific method. 
One influential aspect of atomism is the idea that observed changes can be explained by reference to processes occurring at a more elementary level of organization. .
This became an item of belief for many natural philosophers in the seventeenth century. That sub-macroscopic interactions cause macroscopic changes was affirmed by Gassendi, Robert Boyle, and Newton, among others around 1600.
Maybe for this reason also the microscope was developed in those days. An instrument, that allowed to peek in the micro-world, like the telescope helped to look into the macro-cosmos.
Two factors weighed against any widespread acceptance of the classical version of atomism. The first factor was the uncompromising materialism of this philosophy. 
By explaining sensation and even thought in terms of the motions of atoms, the atomists challenged man’s self-understanding. 
Atomism seemed to leave no place for spiritual values. Surely the values of friendship, courage, and worship cannot be reduced to the concourse of atoms. A classic worry of homo sapiens.
Moreover, the atomists left no place in science for considerations of purpose, whether natural or divine.
The second factor was that these ideas were founded in philosophical reasoning rather than evidence and experimentation. 
And today it is the other way around completely. This early Greek thought has created a world of chemistry, nuclear physics and cell biology and more.
Thank you…  the floor is yours … ^_^
Main Sources:
MacMillan The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1995
A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, John Losee (2001)
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, T. Kuhn (1962)

The Discussion

[13:16] ZANICIA Chau: Thank you Herman
[13:16] Bejiita Imako:
[13:16] Huntress Selenium: Interesting take on the history of atomism, herman.
[13:16] Ciska Riverstone: thank you herman
[13:16] herman Bergson: Yes, the main point is that such an idea seems to come out of the blue
[13:17] Bejiita Imako: the word atom mean individable however that have been disproven by experiments
[13:17] Huntress Selenium: I find it interesting that atomic theory was associated with materialism as nowadays, it is used to back up ideas that reality is essentially spiritual--what with the monadic quality of quanta.
[13:17] herman Bergson: could say...discovered by the interacting organism with its environment
[13:17] herman Bergson: With Democritus it was plain materialism....
[13:18] herman Bergson: you also find it in Indian philosophy
[13:18] Huntress Selenium: Neither out of the blue or the interactions of organisms with the environment, but out of the genius of extraordinary minds.
[13:18] Pearce Kingsley: What influence do you think atomism had on twentieth century Process Thought from Whitehead and Hartshorne for instance?
[13:18] herman Bergson: Those minds do not live in a vacuum
[13:18] Huntress Selenium: herman, yes, why the present state of atomic theory is used to justify Indian or Eastern philosophy
[13:19] herman Bergson: I don’t know if we can speak of atomism in the classic sense Pearce....
[13:19] herman Bergson: the main point here is a a more methodological one....
[13:20] herman Bergson: the believe that the road to scientific truth.....and for the Greek , ontological truth leads to the idea of atoms
[13:21] Huntress Selenium: It was an attempt to stop the regress, like Aristotle's First Cause, or Plato's forms.
[13:21] herman Bergson: Like for instance a sense data theory , or  the attempt to find basic statements, which fit into propositional logic
[13:21] herman Bergson: They had to deal with the problem of motion indeed Huntress :-)
[13:21] Pearce Kingsley: I'm thinking of the concept from Whitehead that the only reality is "becoming" rather than anything material.  All material things are artifact, etc.
[13:22] Huntress Selenium: Well, the problem of motion was a subset of the more general problem of a subject for attribution.
[13:22] herman Bergson: That is also an old debate Pearce between Democritus and Parmenides...
[13:22] herman Bergson: what IS? Matter or Change?
[13:23] Huntress Selenium: Motion or change lead to contradictions, they thought, unless you had an underlying reality that didn't move or change; atoms were constantly in motion, even for Democritus.
[13:24] ZANICIA Chau: It fascinates me that theorists have no room for 'grey' areas. Clearly some things merge/co exist/overlap/catalist
[13:24] herman Bergson: Another important point is that in those days from the Greek on till the 17th century all kinds of different ontologies and epistemologies lived happily together
[13:25] herman Bergson: That indeed, Zan, was the next step
[13:25] Huntress Selenium: Uhhhh. well, I suppose, but the Church did close ranks around Augustine, Aquinas, Ptolemy
[13:25] herman Bergson: the idea that science only pursued one goal...truth.....there is no room for grey....not even 50 shades of grey :-)
[13:25] ZANICIA Chau: lol
[13:26] Ciska Riverstone: hehehe
[13:26] Huntress Selenium: Heh.  ::thinks of science as a form of BDSM::
[13:26] Bejiita Imako: lol
[13:26] Bejiita Imako: hahahaha
[13:26] Bejiita Imako: ok bend over now all!
[13:26] Bejiita Imako: hahaha
[13:26] ZANICIA Chau: hahaha
[13:26] herman Bergson: ^_^
[13:26] Blackrose Baroque: blushes
[13:26] Bejiita Imako: ill inject some higgs bosons
[13:26] herman Bergson: oops...people....mind your language :-)
[13:26] Bejiita Imako:
[13:26] Bejiita Imako: hahaa
[13:26] ZANICIA Chau: hahaha
[13:26] Blackrose Baroque: pff.....i'm too young for this
[13:27] herman Bergson: Sorry Blackrose....
[13:27] Huntress Selenium: Bejiita, hands off my bosons, please!  Thank you very much.
[13:27] Bejiita Imako: lol
[13:27] ZANICIA Chau: hahahaha
[13:27] Pearce Kingsley: Aquinas and Augustine relied heavily on Aristotle for their theologies.
[13:27] herman Bergson: Aquinas did....yes
[13:27] ZANICIA Chau: yes
[13:27] Huntress Selenium: Pearce, not so much Augustine, who relied more on Plato
[13:27] herman Bergson: indeed Huntress
[13:28] ZANICIA Chau: ah yes ture
[13:28] ZANICIA Chau: true I meant
[13:28] Huntress Selenium: But they both tried to solve the problem of substantial form--how being and form, Aristotle's distinctions, could come together as they clearly do in defined objects.
[13:28] herman Bergson: and there you see the difference in approach....
[13:28] Huntress Selenium: It's back to Parmenides, though--how can Being (a plenum) be specified without the annexation of nothingness.
[13:29] Pearce Kingsley: I think Augustine's neo-platonism is much exaggerated.  Esp. with regard to things like transubstantiation.
[13:29] herman Bergson: the aristotelian way is working with ideas...concepts.....the materialists focus on atos are realisty
[13:29] herman Bergson: atoms
[13:29] herman Bergson: and those days it was a kind of open debate...
[13:30] herman Bergson: where materialism wasn’t the popular theory...
[13:30] Huntress Selenium: Well, 'reality' is a little question-begging, isn't it, herman?  You mean 'materiality,' I think
[13:30] herman Bergson: And you see how through history for some reason focuses eventually on specific ideas
[13:30] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:31] herman Bergson: And here we might follow Kuhn's line of as a social process
[13:31] herman Bergson: But that is for future lectures :-))
[13:32] Huntress Selenium: Yes, the sociology of it is important, but to say that therefore there is no objective component to science?
[13:32] Huntress Selenium: That comes under Plato's classic attack--well, since some people don't agree with that, it must, by its own terms, be false.
[13:33] herman Bergson: There is pretty much objective content in science in a pragmatic way at  least....
[13:33] Huntress Selenium: In engineering, yes; but some science, like string theory, is purely theoretical and computer-model based.
[13:33] herman Bergson: And some scientists are hardly interested in the ontological status of their matter at hand
[13:33] herman's eyes: 2014-11-11  [23:33]  herman Bergson
[13:33] herman's eyes: 2014-11-11  [23:33]  herman Bergson
[13:34] Huntress Selenium: Their loss.  lol
[13:34] herman Bergson: the big bang theory is also just a model....
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: true, its not verified by any means, but still a strong theory
[13:34] Pearce Kingsley: as is cognition
[13:35] Huntress Selenium: Well, it does have links to sensory data--like microwave energy seemingly emanating from everywhere.
[13:35] herman Bergson: And in a previous lecture we learnt that computer, c.q. mathematical models arent that mathematical at all
[13:36] Huntress Selenium: yes, they are far from true mathematical models in many cases.
[13:36] Pearce Kingsley: May I ask what c.q. stands for?
[13:36] herman Bergson: casu quo...
[13:36] herman Bergson: i.e.
[13:36] Bejiita Imako: ok
[13:36] Pearce Kingsley: Ah OK.
[13:36] herman Bergson: we use the latin form....doesn’t seem to be international :-)
[13:36] Huntress Selenium: Heh, I thought you had meant to type, .'i.e.'
[13:38] herman Bergson: Anyway, I hope that I could make it clear to you that what we easily take for granted as science is not so obvious as it looks like
[13:38] Huntress Selenium: You do a good job of that, herman
[13:38] ZANICIA Chau: certainly
[13:38] Bejiita Imako:
[13:38] Bejiita Imako: for sure
[13:38] herman Bergson: thank you...
[13:38] Bejiita Imako: YAY! (yay!)
[13:39] Ciska Riverstone APPLAUDS!!!
[13:39] herman Bergson: I guess then you have enough to think about again till next Thursday :-))
[13:39] Blackrose Baroque: thank you Herman, (sorry being late tonight)
[13:39] herman Bergson: Class dismissed ...thank you all
[13:39] Pearce Kingsley: We don't meet this Thursday?
[13:40] ZANICIA Chau: Thank you Herman
[13:40] Bejiita Imako: nice class herman
[13:40] herman Bergson: Yes we do meet Pearce
[13:40] Huntress Selenium: Thank you, herman
[13:40] Ciska Riverstone: thank you herman
[13:40] Bejiita Imako: cu soon
[13:40] Bejiita Imako:
[13:40] herman Bergson: My pleasure
[13:40] Ciska Riverstone: take care bejiita
[13:40] Huntress Selenium: bfn, herman; everyone
[13:40] Ciska Riverstone: bye folks
[13:40] Bejiita Imako:
[13:40] ZANICIA Chau: Bye everyone
[13:41] Blackrose Baroque: goodnight everyone
[13:41] herman Bergson: Night Blackrose
[13:41] herman Bergson: Sweet dreams :-)
[13:41] Blackrose Baroque: :)


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