Anyone here familiar with Karl Popper work and ideas?
Posted: 12 June 2012 07:24 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I’m new to Karl Popper and my ability for following deep logic and philosophical arguments doesn’t get much beyond the WIKI level, since after a while it just starts sounding like mucho blahblah.  Still I know that’s my short coming as much as anything else.


So with that intro. 
Does anyone here, who’s familiar with Popperian logic, have an opinion or something to share regarding the following opinion a friend shared with me?

Popper has claimed that his dictum that science proceeds only by falsification is a methodological prescription, and hence not falsifiable.  That is incorrect.  That it is a methodological prescription means only that it is not falsifiable in the same way as empirical claims.  However, if we find a situation in which following Popper’s dictum will clearly lead to the wrong choice being made by scientists, we have falsified his dictum as a methodology.  In this case, the choice of scientists in the 19th century to preserve the law despite the facts was clearly correct, and vindicated in the 20th century.  Popper’s theory of scientific methodology has therefore been falsified.  It is inadequate for discussing real science, and trying to place science in a Popperian straight jacket will only impoverish it.

[ Edited: 12 June 2012 10:11 AM by citizenschallenge.pm ]
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Posted: 12 June 2012 07:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It’s “Karl Popper” not “Poppers” ...

He was a prominent philosopher of science and politics around the later middle part of the 20th c., but when I studied philosophy of science as an undergrad and grad student his ideas virtually never came up. (And if they did, it was to argue, as you just did, that they are inadequate). My sense is that he is more famous among the literate general public than among philosophers per se, although like anyone of fame, I am sure he has a few followers here and there.

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Posted: 12 June 2012 08:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I read his Objective Knowledge long ago, and thought it persuasive.  I don’t know what your friend is referring to regarding 19th century scientists and “the law.”  I would think, though, that there is a difference between the practice of science and philosophy of science, just as there is a difference between the practice of law and the philosophy of law.

Popper is also famous, or infamous depending on your point of view, for his political philosophy, e.g. The Open Society and its Enemies.

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Posted: 12 June 2012 10:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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dougsmith - 12 June 2012 07:36 AM

It’s “Karl Popper” not “Poppers” ...

Oops   red face , I knew that.  Perhaps a little Freudianish slip there, Poppers used to be a nick name for my Dad in the post high school days.

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Posted: 12 June 2012 10:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I believe he was at UCLA for a short time while I was there, but Chemistry majors were exempt from philosophy courses (probably didn’t want us to learn about ethics), and I was too stupid to take any as electives when I might have ended up in one of his classes.  I don’t know much at all about him, and possibly his theory of falsifiability may be flawed, however it’s a great day to day addition to one’s thinking.

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Posted: 12 June 2012 10:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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ciceronianus - 12 June 2012 08:26 AM

I read his Objective Knowledge long ago, and thought it persuasive.  I don’t know what your friend is referring to regarding 19th century scientists and “the law.”  I would think, though, that there is a difference between the practice of science and philosophy of science, just as there is a difference between the practice of law and the philosophy of law.

Popper is also famous, or infamous depending on your point of view, for his political philosophy, e.g. The Open Society and its Enemies.

Look right at my grade level       cheese
Karl Popper on the Open Society and Its Enemies

But, thanks for that tip, looks like there’s more stuff on Popper to be found in easy listening format. . .

As for that short spiel at the above link, interesting, and more than a little truth in it, but the problem is that it’s always left to others,
who usually are just as, if not more self-centered, quite often more ruthless, flawed individuals to make
the judgement calls that Popper pointed out need to be made.

{edited for clarification}

[ Edited: 13 June 2012 06:38 AM by citizenschallenge.pm ]
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Posted: 12 June 2012 10:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Occam. - 12 June 2012 10:27 AM

. . . and possibly his theory of falsifiability may be flawed, however it’s a great day to day addition to one’s thinking.

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Posted: 12 June 2012 10:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Doug can do a far better and more accurate job than I can here, but if a proposition is incapable of being shown to be false under ANY circumstances it’s not meaningful or able to be used in an argument.  E.G.  The sun will come up tomorrow or it won’t.  (True, but yeah, so what.  It’s meaningless.)

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Posted: 12 June 2012 11:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Occam. - 12 June 2012 10:43 AM

Doug can do a far better and more accurate job than I can here, but if a proposition is incapable of being shown to be false under ANY circumstances it’s not meaningful or able to be used in an argument.  E.G.  The sun will come up tomorrow or it won’t.  (True, but yeah, so what.  It’s meaningless.)

Well, the criterion of meaning wasn’t, AFAIK, something from Popper, that’s more a Vienna Circle move. (One based on attempting to give the meanings for every word based on some derivation from sense contents. That program failed pretty badly).

I think Popper’s notion was that if the proposition wasn’t even theoretically falsifiable then it wasn’t a scientific claim. That went hand-in-hand with the notion that any scientific claim could be falsified by a single counter-instance. That’s theoretically true but false in practice, since there are plenty of examples of theories that chug along even with minor problems (counter-instances) here and there.

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Posted: 12 June 2012 11:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I work in a soft/humanities field that went through a phase of trying to science-up by injecting heavy doses of Popper smirk , so I have some familiarity with him.

Basically, I think your friend is right about some things, wrong about others. 

Methodological prescriptions (“oughts”) are not falsifiable, and insisting that they are doesn’t make it otherwise.  For example, “there is broken glass here” is an empirical statement (deals with an “IS”) and is falsifiable.  “You ought to wear shoes because there is broken glass” is a prescriptive statement (deals with an “OUGHT”).  How does one falsify an “Ought” statement?  You don’t, although you can falsify the underlying premises if they are empirical.  However Popper was not doing empirical research—he was not doing the science of science; he was doing the philosophy of science.  Falsification doesn’t apply to his statement or his premises (which were logical, not empirical).

Your friend’s larger point may be valid (or not, depending on what their ultimate argument is).  Strict falsification is not a sufficient explanation of why science works, although Popper’s basic insights—e.g., that scientific knowledge is provisional and we can never be sure when we are right, only when we are wrong, etc.—remain key.  Later philosophers have built on Popper, taking in the more social aspects of science and the real-world fuzziness of results. 

So if your friend is arguing that there is more to scientific practice than just testability and falsification, they are right.  If, however, they are arguing that some field is a science even though it doesn’t generate testable and falsifiable hypotheses (think Intelligent Design), they are wrong.  Testability is not sufficient, true, but it is necessary. 

I hope that was clear.

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Posted: 12 June 2012 11:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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citizenschallenge.pm - 12 June 2012 10:33 AM

Look right at my grade level       cheese
Karl Popper on the Open Society and Its Enemies

Somehow, it doesn’t seem too impressive coming from that little toy judge.  And why the tennis ball flags and the crossed racquets?  It’s true the judge’s head looks like a tennis ball.

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Posted: 12 June 2012 02:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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ciceronianus - 12 June 2012 11:49 AM
citizenschallenge.pm - 12 June 2012 10:33 AM

Look right at my grade level       cheese
Karl Popper on the Open Society and Its Enemies

Somehow, it doesn’t seem too impressive coming from that little toy judge.  And why the tennis ball flags and the crossed racquets?  It’s true the judge’s head looks like a tennis ball.

yea i know.

However, that was the gateway to more interesting stuff.  Now if I could understand Spanish, it looks like I could spend all day listening to stuff.  I happen to be involved in a few days of mind numbing data sorting work, fortunately, it allows me to listen to lectures so I’ve had a great time scouring YouTube.

There’s a good six part-er, the last two sections being the most interesting, in fact I hope to transcribe a little bit and perhaps continue this conversation later.

5/6 knowledge  
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0ImCg3nAoU&NR=1&feature=endscreen
12:45     Truth in the form of criticism, we have to constantly criticize our own theories, our own interpretations,
rational criticism.
It must be a completely impersonal criticism

It is criticism asking itself, did I not make a mistake have we not overlooked something
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdsk6RnmcCA
6/6   2:00   distinction between two types of knowledge
Subjective
Objective

And this is a nice short talk he gave, actually read by someone else, which isn’t all together a bad thing.

Sir Karl Popper’s “Science as Falsification”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztmvtKLuR7I&feature=endscreen&NR=1
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Apxeo, thanks for that, it does help.  Also welcome to CFI - hope to read more from you.

[ Edited: 13 June 2012 06:34 AM by citizenschallenge.pm ]
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Posted: 12 June 2012 11:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Popper’s ideas are important in, let’s say the in the logic of scientific discovery. (Actually this is the title of his first great work.) In my opinion it is less important in the sense of the method of scientific discovery.

In the logic it is true that scientific theories should be falsifiable in principle. That means, a theory must predict some phenomena that can be observed or measured. If science confirms such an observation, then the scientific theory is not necessary proven, but it passed at least one single test. But there might be many more observations that can be done, and any of them might show the theory to be wrong. If that happens then the theory is falsified.

This logic of falsification is of course a great demarcation criterion to separate science from pseudo science. If pseudo science does not predict any empirical propositions, that in principle could be falsified, then it is simply not science.

Keeping that in mind, as method Popper’s ideas are not ‘easy to implement’. And that is because much of the observations are not obtained just by looking, but are themselves heavily theory loaded. And these theories themselves might not be rock steady proven (i.e. many possible predictions are not tested yet, or are practically not testable (to discover the next elementary particle we must build an accelerator that rounds the earth, say 40,000km, we build it at the equator)). A nice example is the cosmic distance ladder: it bears heavily on theories about Cepheids, Supernovae, etc. So one cannot always be sure if a theory really is falsified, because it was falsified by another theory that is also not very sure. So in practice science often sticks to theories because they do some predictions correct, others maybe not quite, but we have no better theory at the moment.

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