The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science

By Peter Medawar | Go to book overview

16
Expectation and prediction

Wise folk may or may not form expectations about what the future holds in store but the foolish can be relied upon to predict with complete confidence that certain things will come about in the future or that others will not.

It is well worth while insisting upon the clear distinction of meaning between the two. A prediction always pretends to foreknowledge where an expectation is merely a hypothesis with a future setting ('I expect Pluto Republic to be on sale in October 1982') -- a hypothesis which the passage of time will either corroborate or confound. We cannot be viable human beings without taking some view of what will happen in the future. We confidently expect that the sun will rise tomorrow morning: it has become a habit of thought, but as the great Scottish philosopher David Hume ( 1711-76) pointed out we should be plunged into a labyrinth of philosophical difficulties if we attempted to prove that the sun would rise tomorrow on the basis that such a declaration would have been true every yesterday.

Astronomical predictions are perhaps the most famous of all and have in the past been the most awe-inspiring. They extend all the way from predictions such as one finds in nautical almanacs, giving us the exact times of sunrise, sunset, phases of the moon, high tides etc.; but grander than all of these, in the year 1704 the English astronomer and mathematician Edmund Halley predicted that the comet which now bears his name would return in 1758-- it is again expected in this neck of the woods in 1986.

Surely such predictions embody foreknowledge? Not really: the future position of the comet is deduced from our present knowl-

-182-

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The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword - The Phenomenon of Medawar v
  • Contents xiii
  • Introduction xiv
  • 1 - The Phenomenon of man 1
  • 2 - Hypothesis and imagination 12
  • 3 - Is the scientific paper a fraud? 33
  • 4 - The Act of Creation 40
  • 5 - Darwin's illness 52
  • 6 - Two conceptions of science 59
  • 7 - Science and the sanctity of life 72
  • 8 - J.B.S. 86
  • 9 - Lucky Jim 94
  • 10 - On 'the effecting of all things possible' 104
  • 11 - Further comments on psychoanalysis 120
  • 12 - The strange case of the spotted mice 132
  • 13 - Unnatural science 144
  • 14 - Florey story 162
  • 15 - In defence of doctors 170
  • 16 - Expectation and prediction 182
  • 17 - Scientific fraud 196
  • 18 - Son of stroke*** 203
  • 19 - The question of the existence of God 207
  • 20 - On living a bit longer 212
  • Notes 218
  • Sources 228
  • Index 231
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