Feyerabend and Kuhn explained

In my own experience scientists are actually fascinated and thrive by their own lack of knowledge. But what about their methods? Is there such a thing as the scientific method or do scientists make great discoveries in the absence of logic and method, driven by intuition, anarchy and (mostly) uncommon sense? Is there any value in the philosophy of knowledge and the study of the scientific method?

Quest for the Holy Grail

In his introduction to The Feynman Lectures on Physics, physicist Richard Feynman wrote “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics. So do not take the lecture too seriously, feeling that you really have to understand in terms of some model what I am going to describe, but just relax and enjoy it. I am going to tell you what nature behaves like. If you will simply admit that maybe she does behave like this, you will find her a delightful, entrancing thing. Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possible avoid it, But how…

Can subjectivism and objectivism be reconciled?

We can compare and confirm sensations received by different individual observers and thus form an objective view, that is, a view that is common to all observers and therefore void of observer idiosyncracies. But this is as far as we can go with the notion of objectivity. We cannot observe the absolutely objective and true reality unless we step outside of our human perspective, which is an impossibility. …

Einstein’s World Part III

In this third and last part of my series on Einstein I want to talk about General Relativity, which, according to some scholars, is the most beautiful physical theory ever invented.

Let us think of cosmological speeds for a while. As passengers on our planet earth, we travel along the earth’s revolution about its axis at the speed of over one thousand miles per hour, if we are in the tropics. That is about twice the speed of a Boeing 747. If we are in New York, our speed is more like 800 miles per hour, because our orbits become…

Einstein’s World Part II

In Part I of this three-part series on Einstein we focused on his biography and on some of the life experiences that shaped his personality and intellect. It is time now to make the effort to understand the meaning and significance of his scientific contribution.

The best place to start is Einstein’s 1905 explanation of the photoelectric effect, which gave him the Nobel prize in 1921. The photoelectric effect is the observation that many metals emit electrons when light shines upon them. It was first observed by Heinrich Hertz in 1887. This photoelectric effect is not to be taken lightly…

The life and work of Copernicus, Tycho, Galileo and Kepler

Galileo faces charges of heresy

In previous articles of this series we talked about the geocentric universe, one that had the Earth at its centre, and how this concept dominated scientific thinking for seventeen centuries. It would take the brilliant mind of Nicolaus Copernicus to upset Aristotle’s and Ptolemy’s geocentric universe.

Born into a prosperous family, Copernicus lived most of his life in Warmia, Prussia, now part of Poland. He learned several languages and wrote most of his works in Latin, the language of science in his time. Copernicus was a true polymath. He obtained degrees in Church Law and worked as physician, classics scholar…

Einstein’s World Part I

When Einstein first published his theory of relativity in 1905, it was said that there were no more than a small handful of scientists in the world who could understand it. Sir Arthur Eddington, an English astrophysicist and one of the early champions of relativity, was asked whether it was true that he was one of only three people in the world who understood relativity. He replied, “who is the third?” He implied, obviously, that he and Einstein were the only two people who understood the theory and there was no third person.

In this series of three parts we…

The Magic of Numbers and Stars

The remarkable achievements of Greek philosophers and scientists laid the foundations of our Western civilization. What was the driving force that motivated those philosophers and scientists to do all this work? It was not glory or money or the need for practical use. It was good old scientific curiosity, a human desire to understand our home planet and our universe.

The concept of the universe in classical Greece has harmony, balance and simplicity, consistent with the aesthetic values of the Greeks. The universe is spherical and has the spherical earth at its centre. The stars are fixed in space but…

John Dewey’s ideas about knowledge and learning

This last of three parts on a truly American school of philosophy, Pragmatism, focuses on another major proponent named John Dewey. Widely regarded as the leading American philosopher of the twentieth century, Dewey was born in 1859, only seventeen years after the birth of William James, but lived well into the mid-twentieth century.

Dewey was born in Burlington, Vermont and studied at the University of Vermont and Johns Hopkins University. He held academic posts in Michigan, Chicago and finally at Columbia University in New York, where he spent most of his life.

The Cosmopolitan Professor William James

In Pragmatism in America Part I we saw that Charles Peirce and William James are often said to be the founders of the American renaissance. English mathematician and philosopher A.N. Whitehead said that James is the analogue to Plato and Peirce to Aristotle. Let us now take a closer look at what William James was all about.

William James was born in New York City in 1842 to a wealthy, intellectual and cosmopolitan family that was constantly a major cultural focus and a subject of continuing interest to historians and critics. William was the brother of notable writer Henry James…

Michael Sidiropoulos

Independent consultant and author who writes about the philosophy of science and the scientific method. His most recent book is “The Mind of Science”.

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