Patterns of Discovery: An Inquiry into the Conceptual Foundations of Science

By Norwood Russell Hanson | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

...treat of the network and not of what the network describes.

WITTGENSTEIN1

This essay stresses philosophical aspects of microphysical thinking. Although elementary particle theory is much discussed by philosophers of science its features are not understood. Philosophers often refer to the uncertainty relations, the identity principle, the correspondence principle, and to theoretical terms like 'φ'; and these references enliven discussions of causality, determinism, natural law, hypotheses and probability. Rarely, however, do they square with the concepts employed by the physicist. Why is this? Why is microphysics misrepresented by philosophers?

The reason is simple. They have regarded as paradigms of physical inquiry not unsettled, dynamic, research sciences like microphysics, but finished systems, planetary mechanics, optics, electromagnetism and classical thermodynamics. 'After all', they say, 'when microphysics settles down it will be like these polished systems.' Such a remark constitutes a mistake in any approach to microphysics. If this attitude is accepted, the proper activity for philosophers of physics would then appear to be either (1) to study the logic of the deductive systems which carry the content of microphysics, or (2) to study the statistical methods whereby microphysical theories are built up from repetitive samplings of data. These two approaches may apply to 'classical' disciplines. But these are not research sciences any longer, though they were at one time -- a fact that historians and philosophers of science are in danger of forgetting. Now, however, they constitute a different kind of physics altogether. Distinctions which at present apply to them ought to be suspect when transferred to research disciplines: indeed, these distinctions afford an artificial account even of the kinds of activities in which Kepler, Galileo and Newton themselves were actually engaged.

General conceptions formed on the basis of this first mistake should be equally suspect. Observation, evidence, facts; these notions, if drawn from the 'catalogue-sciences' of school and

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Patterns of Discovery: An Inquiry into the Conceptual Foundations of Science
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter I - Observation 4
  • Chapter II - Facts 31
  • Chapter III - Causality 50
  • Chapter IV - Theories 70
  • Chapter V - Classical Particle Physics 93
  • Chapter VI - Elementary Particle Physics 119
  • Appendix I 159
  • Appendix II 161
  • Notes 176
  • Index 235
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