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Tag Archives: History Of Science

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 had already be set. 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 three 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.

Science vs. metaphysics

Modern science began with a turn away from medieval debates about metaphysics to focus on how things happen, rather than a metaphysically-adequate why. This was an indifference to metaphysics, not a deliberate ignorance or repudiation of the subject.

But that began to change in the 19th century with the influence of materialism, secularism, and the professionalization of the sciences, culminating in TH Huxley’s effort to make the sciences “agnostic”. Huxley promoted science against other forms of knowledge, not in addition to them.

Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe. TH Huxley

His intention behind agnosticism was to establish and maintain epistemic merit of science without any unknowable, metaphysical or theological, apparatus. Science is the practice of agnosticism, and for this reason, our best way to knowledge. J. Byun

This is a form of scientism, an assertion that science is the pre-eminent or even the only legitimate source of knowledge. The irony is that scientism implicitly makes a metaphysical claim about the reality that can be known, which is the metaphysics of naturalism.

“Methodological naturalism” is the contemporary term but it amounts to the same thing: science must ignore or repudiate the possibility of other knowledge. Instead, the science community and its promoters should be indifferent to metaphysics so that regardless of whatever metaphysics people accept, they should also accept the claims of science.

Science and conformity

For the purposes of understanding science it is best to focus on “closed theories” – Heisenberg’s term for theories that are superseded. That’s because we understand the limits of closed theories, so a true evaluation of their content can be made.

This fit well with the old model of academia: focus on a canon of classics, not on the latest hot ideas. Such an education provided time for contemplation and understanding. The humanities were king then, with the arts and sciences following along.

That changed in the 19th century, with the spread of the the Prussian model of education. Universities were to engage in cutting-edge scientific research and teach the latest theories rather than the ideas of the past. The sciences were repositioned to the top of the academic hierarchy and “open” theories were promoted with their seemingly limitless potential to transform society. “It’s all different now” was born.

One problem was that old academic weakness: conformity. A school is not in the position to say “we don’t know” without making students wonder why they are there. Instead, what is taught as knowledge covers everything and is everywhere authoritative.

Academic conformity didn’t much matter when the canon was fixed and the debates focused on the fine points. But when the canon became open and the latest ideas were now in play, academic conformity sought a rapid end to scientific debate. The consensus was formed quickly and doubt silenced.

Science changed. (The humanities did, too, but that’s another story.)

Science today has become more like the old humanities: debate is about the finer points – not the larger questions, which were decided some time ago. Anyone who doubts this is a “science denier”.

The irony is that all the great scientists of past centuries were “science deniers” in this sense. Following the crowd rarely leads to great advances. Like the old Scholasticism arrayed against Galileo, the science establishment has ways to enforce conformity. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Aristotle’s physics

Physicist Carlo Rovelli wrote the article “Aristotle’s Physics: A Physicist’s Look” published in the Journal of the American Philosophical Association, Volume 1, Issue 1, Spring 2015, pp. 23-40 with a free version available here. Luke Barnes summarizes the article here. For more on limited domains see here and here.

Below are some excerpts from the free version:

Aristotelian physics is a correct and non-intuitive approximation of Newtonian physics in the suitable domain (motion in fluids), in the same technical sense in which Newton’s theory is an approximation of Einstein’s theory. Aristotelian physics lasted long not because it became dogma, but because it is a very good empirically grounded theory. The observation suggests some general considerations on inter-theoretical relations. p.1

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