Thursday, July 10, 2008


The philosophy of science has a long history. But it's modern history has it as a goal to understand the underlying logic of science, the scientific method, and scientific discovery.

The modern history of the philosophy of science starts with Francis Bacon. In what has now been dubbed "Naive Baconianism" the theory went that scientists amassed data and a theory somehow emerged about the data.

This was subsequently replaced by Popper's falsificationism where the claim is that scientists ever attempt to falsify their theories by proposing falsifying hypotheses and then testing them, ultimately either offering corroborating evidence or a falsifying instance.

Another competitor for a theory of how science works is Kuhn who said that science works in paradigm shifts. That is, there is a research program and scientists work with it until something better comes along.

Fayerabend also offered an alternative, so did Lakaos.

But what we are seeing now is the emergence of a new way of looking at the logic of science - the petabyte method. We take a massive amount of data - more than we ever could have handled previously and see what data emerges from that. The method allows for all sorts of unorthodox results, and much of it is largely independent of the paradigm that a given science works with. Of course the computer models still make assumptions about the data, but they are able to crunch the numbers in a way that is irrespective of what the numbers mean. It is very "structuralist" or "Hilbertian" in that way. I suspect that philosophers of science will have to start rethinking their views on Bacon, as scientists increasingly rely on huge data sets and computationally intense formulations of results.

More on this to come.

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