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Tag Archives: History Of Science

Abstract and concrete movements

Abstraction in Western culture has increased over time, so much so that Hegel made this the engine of history: his dialectic is a progression from the concrete to the less concrete, the abstract to the more abstract. Certainly, the history of natural science shows this progression. Modern physics is more abstract than classical physics. Every science becomes more abstract over time.

Increased abstraction in society and politics requires larger collections of people. Equality with increased abstraction requires equality within larger groups of people. For example, pan-European equality is less abstract than equality within global equality. Increased abstraction requires loyalty to ever larger groups.

History does seem to progress toward greater abstraction. Tribal cultures gave way to city-states, then to nations, then to globalism. In the U.S., there has been a progression from an English culture to a European culture, to a Euro-Afro-Latin culture, to an increasingly global culture. Those who promote this movement are called “progressives”. Those who resist it or support caution about it are called “conservatives”.

In sub-cultures of the West and in some non-Western societies there are movements in the opposite direction, toward more concreteness. They are often called “regressive”, which assumes a prior progressive movement. They could simply be called “concretive” (or “introgressive”) since they prefer the more concrete to the more abstract.

Those who prefer more concrete or at least a less abstract culture are considered traditional, old-fashioned, or backwards. In order to engage their opponents, traditionalists need to justify their preference for the concrete in more abstract ways, which they may find difficult. But the concrete has its advantages as much as the abstract does.

One danger of greater abstraction is that one loses touch with concrete reality. After all, human beings are concretely embodied. Concrete food, shelter, and much more are necessary for human life. Traditional social and political structures have much experience and stability behind them and so “should not be changed for light and transient causes” (the U.S. Declaration of Independence). And the new global human who ignores the local culture where they happen to be is looking for misunderstanding and worse.

In fact, there is no global, pan-religious, pan-racial, pan-sexual, pan-economic, pan-linguistic culture. Is such a culture even possible? In this world, that is highly doubtful. People are both concrete and abstract, body and spirit.

Concrete and abstract movements both have their place. Cultures will lean more toward one than the other, but both are legitimate.

Three kinds of empirical science

This post is related to an old post here.

Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of empirical science, which correspond to three views of nature.

(1) The ancient view of empirical science is represented by Aristotle, which includes the careful observation of undisturbed nature. Motion, for example, meant natural motion, not “violent” motion in which there is a change of the natural course of things. Experimentation was not considered a way to understand undisturbed nature.

(2) The early modern view of empirical science includes experimentation because nature is understood to include what happens after an intervention in the course of nature. These experiments allowed early modern scientists to isolate causal factors in nature. The human observer was not considered part of any experiment.

(3) The late modern view of empirical science includes the observer as part of nature. The distinction between natural and artificial is discarded. The origin and nature of humans is included in his view of nature. Empirical science covers all aspects of human beings that can be observed. The scientist has a double life in which they both are and are not the object of science.

The second kind of empirical science is superior because it goes beyond the undisturbed nature of the first kind and does not include the contradiction at the heart of the third kind.

What Galileo really demonstrated

Galileo Galilei’s inclined plane experiment is described in his work Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences, which I quote from the Dover edition. He speaks (through his character Salviati) of “those sciences where mathematical demonstrations are applied to natural phenomena, as is seen in the case of perspective, astronomy, mechanics, music, and others where the principles, once established by well-chosen experiments, become the foundations of the entire superstructure.” (p.178) This is the ancient method of science that Galileo applied to experiments, establishing the foundation of modern science.

Galileo states his Theorem II, Proposition II as:

The spaces described [i.e., traced] by a body falling from rest with a uniformly accelerated motion are to each other as the squares of the time-intervals employed in traversing these distances. (p.174 or p.142 on the OLL edition)

But it has just been proved that so far as distances traversed are concerned it is precisely the same whether a body falls from rest with a uniform acceleration or whether it falls during an equal time-interval with a constant speed which is one-half the maximum speed attained during the accelerated motion.

Then he describes his experiment:

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Dual calendar systems

The unit for all calendars is the day, the diurnal cycle of daylight and night. A lunar calendar is based on the monthly (synodic) cycle of the Moon’s phases. A solar calendar is based on the annual cycle of the Sun’s height above the horizon. A lunar-solar (lunisolar) calendar is based on the lunar month modified in order to match the solar (or sidereal) year. The solar-lunar calendar is based on the year but includes months similar to the lunar cycle.

“The lunisolar calendar, in which months are lunar but years are solar—that is, are brought into line with the course of the Sun—was used in the early civilizations of the whole Middle East, except Egypt, and in Greece. The formula was probably invented in Mesopotamia in the 3rd millennium bce.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)

The lunar and lunar-solar (lunisolar) calendars are the oldest calendar systems, and are still used in some traditional societies and religions. The Hebrew (Jewish) and Islamic calendars are examples of the lunar-solar calendar systems. Solar and solar-lunar calendar systems came from Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The solar-lunar month departs from the lunar month but combines to equal a year.

The question is why the Moon forms the primary cycle in some calendars, whereas the Sun forms the primary cycle in other calendars. The reason may well be that some societies think in terms of 3D time, whereas other societies think in terms of 3D space. The difference is that in 3D space the Earth revolves around the Sun and the Moon revolves around the Earth, whereas in 3D time the Earth revolves around the Moon and the Sun revolves around the Earth. In the former case the solar cycle is primary, whereas in the latter case the lunar cycle is primary.

When European societies considered the Earth to be the center of all celestial motion, their calendars were already established. So the correspondence between calendar systems and the dominant perspectives (spatial or temporal) applies to the original development of calendars.

Historians and scientists

Historians establish the facts of history, of what happened in the past. They do this with a variety of sources, some documentary, some physical, and whatever else they find is relevant. Key particulars are more significant than universals in establishing the facts of history. Historians may consider scientific theory in doing this, but they may also conclude that some things happened that don’t fit well with current scientific theory. Whether or not there was an earthquake in 1755 that destroyed Lisbon is a matter of history, not science.

Scientists are dependent on historians for the facts of history. Scientists do not get to establish the facts of history, nor the limits of what could have happened in the past. The latter restriction is difficult for scientists to observe. If historians establish facts that don’t fit well with current scientific theory, then scientists are likely to react defensively rather than revise their theories.

Biblical (or creation) scientists consider the Bible as the key to history, and limit science to that which is consistent with biblical chronicles. As with all scientists, they depend on historians for facts about the past but not all historians have a high view of the biblical record. Disagreements among historians lead to variations in science, since they are working with different facts about the past.

The different rôles of historians and scientists are often confused. Astronomy is a case in point. Astronomical historians may work with documents produced by those who could be considered scientists from the distant past. But the interpretation of ancient or medieval scientific documents is not part of science. Astronomical historians deal with the particulars of history, in which universals play only an indirect rôle.

Astronomical scientists deal with universals, as all scientists do, and make use of the facts of history along with recent observations. Scientists may advise historians but science is dependent on history for facts about the past, not the other way around.

Balancing contraries

Other posts on contraries include this.

Contrary opposites entail one another. There is no north without south or tall without short, for example. Some things such as sex are contraries in some respects but not in all respects.

Contrary opposites are symmetric. Contraries can be reversed or inverted, and they are still there. Since mirror opposites do not necessarily exist, mirror images are not contraries, though they exhibit a symmetry.

Because contraries entail one another and are symmetric, it is arbitrary to always prefer one to the other. One could just as well prefer the opposite contrary.

Contrary opposites can be unified into a higher perspective that contains them both. Unification is an expanded position that incorporates contraries.

Contrary opposites can be balanced in a duality that resists unification. A static equilibrium or dynamic harmony favors contrary opposites equally.

Ancient science prefers static contraries in balanced duality. Modern science prefers dynamic contraries in progressive unification.

All theories are limited

This post continues previous posts on this topic, such as here.

Once a theory becomes established, it is always valid. It is never falsified. What happens is that its limits are discovered. Any pretense to being universal breaks down.

All theories are limited. Theories are analogies, and all analogies have limits. It is the scientific fashion to initially present a theory as universal, but this is a manner of speaking, not to be taken literally. No theory is universal because all theories have their limits.

When the limits of a theory are known, it is what Werner Heisenberg called a closed theory. An open theory is one whose limits are not known. It may be considered universal, even though it is not. But until its limits are known, no one knows its limits so it’s as if there are none. Eventually, limits will be found.

This means for example, there are several valid theories of the figure of the earth: the flat earth, the spherical earth, and the ellipsoidal earth. Each is valid within a certain domain of accuracy and precision.

There are several valid theories of the celestial bodies: simple geocentrism, Ptolemaic geocentrism, Copernican heliocentrism, Tychonic geoheliocentrism, Keplerian heliocentrism, Newtonian barycentrism, and Einsteinian cosmology. They are all valid within their domain of applicability.

Several theories of biological diversity are valid: fixed species, fixed kinds with limited change, and change over time (evolution). None of these are universal. They all have their limits.

Creation and evolution intersect

The controversy over creation vs. evolution, or creationism vs. evolutionism (naturalism), is often treated as an either-or, one-or-the-other proposition. In fact the creation models of today contain much that would be classified as ‘evolution’ (change over time).

Before the 19th century, theories of creation accepted a static model in biology, geology, and astronomy. That is, the universe of today was considered virtually the same as it was when first created. Extinction, for example, was widely considered impossible. In the 19th century Georges Cuvier and others showed that fossils were the remains of living beings and extinctions did occur. That upended the static model of creation.

Opponents of creationism, from Darwin to today, define creationism as the static model of creation. However, creationists have included change over time to their model of creation, starting in the 19th century and continuing today. Much of what commonly comes under the heading ‘evolution’ is part of the creation model today: adaptation, natural selection, speciation — all are part of creationism.

It is false to identify creationism with a static model of creation.

What parts of evolution theory are not part of creation theory today? Universal common descent is part of evolution theory but not creation theory. Change over time is limited in creation theories to within life forms or kinds (similar to genus or family), whereas there are no limits to change over time in theories of evolution. The postulate of deep time is necessary for theories of evolution, but not for theories of creation.

Importantly, humans are different only in degree from other animals in theories of evolution, but in theories of creation humans are different in kind from other animals. This point goes beyond mere biology to a statement of what it means to be human. Accordingly, it is open to other disciplines. For example, Mortimer J. Adler’s The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes makes a philosophical case for humans being different in kind from other animals.

Theories of creation and evolution intersect. Their differences are about the limits to change over time, rather than the existence of change over time.

History of theories of creation

A theory of creation (also known as a creation theory) is an older term that has been overshadowed by the terms creation science and especially creationism since 1980 (see Ngrams here and here). This overlooks the long history of theories of creation, and implies that the subject is of recent vintage, purely a reaction to theories of evolution, which is badly mistaken.

This brief survey shows that there were and are various theories of creation before and after Darwin and Huxley. First, let us show when creationism arose. The Online Etymology Dictionary states about creationism:

1847, originally a Christian theological position that God immediately created out of nothing a soul for each person born; from creation + -ism.

As “science teaching based on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Book of Genesis, the scientific theory attributing the origin of matter and life to immediate acts of God,” opposed to evolutionism, it is attested from 1880. Century Dictionary (1897) defines creationism in this sense as “The doctrine that matter and all things were created, substantially as they now exist, by the fiat of an omnipotent Creator, and not gradually evolved or developed.”

A search of the text of Darwin’s Origin of Species shows that what he called “the theory of creation” is the same as the 1897 definition of creationism. Darwin referenced no exponent of this theory, and yet he made it the sole foil for his “theory of descent with modification”. The conclusion is that Darwin is the originator of the creation theory he has in mind. What for Darwin was bad science was for TH Huxley not science at all, as if he could remove pre-Darwinian biologists from science.

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Conventions in science

The main convention of modern science is that it is based on observation only. This convention treats experiments, interventions, and projectiles as if they always happened naturally. Then it is easy to assume, for example, that the transmission and reception of light are at the same speed, a convention promoted as a fact.

It also makes it easy to assume that heavier bodies have the most effect in dynamics, since they move the least and so are seemingly the least impacted. This is like the observer who sees but does not intervene, and so is little impacted by what happens (quantum mechanics notwithstanding).

But this obscures the fact that scientists do perform experiments and do intervene in various ways – and people in general do, too, as they move about. It also obscures the fact that conventions determine much of science.

Take dynamics, for example. Newton set the convention by taking the ancient concept of gravitation and ignoring its inverse, the ancient concept of levitation. One could as well reverse the convention and take levitation as the standard. That would mean that instead of distance weighted by mass for the barycenter (Greek barys, heavy) as the center of motion, the weighting is by inverse mass for the ‘elaphrocenter’ (Greek elaphros, light, unheavy) of motion.

It so happens that observation of the Sun orbiting the Earth fits well with the inverse convention. The irony is that science purports to follow observation, but ends up discounting many ordinary observations, not because they are wrong, but because they are against conventions.