Monday, June 29, 2009

Assumptions in Science

It is a hobby of mine to collect assumptions in the scientific method as I have a personal interest in philosophy in general, and the philosophy of science in specific. I try to keep them to a bare minimum and disprove assumptions, usually analytically. So, in this blog post, I am going to list some assumptions general to the scientific method that I do not think the method would work without, and give some commentary. I would appreciate input on the assumptions listed, as well as suggestions for further assumptions.

If there are Laws in nature, then those laws do not change with respect to time or space.

I don't think its necessary to assume that Laws do, in fact, exist, because science is a inductive process based in empiricism. So, if Laws exist, we will observe them -- they are not assumed to exist. However, because of the nature of science to build on the work of others, and because it sometimes takes time to fully understand the limits of a theory (Look at Newton)
, we assume that the Laws do not change from one time to another. They are, in this sense, eternal. I think it is better to state the assumption like this than to say that "Time Exists" or
"Space Exists" or "Laws Exist", because these are things that are either difficult to define outside of empirical definitions, or they are things that we do not know exist. If Time does not exist, then of course the laws won't change with respect to time, because a non-existent entity can't effect an existing one. It also doesn't presuppose that we will actually find order in the universe. We hope to find order, sure, but we can't say that we will find order without performing an experiment.

Our Physical World is Deterministic

This is an assumption that I've come to question as of late. I state "Physical World" because science only deals with the physical world. Further, the scientific method does not deal with any other possible physical world, but the one in which we live, because that is the only one which we can empirically verify, which is the highest form of verification in scientific inquiry. However, the term "Deterministic" is one that requires a bit of elucidation.

If by "Deterministic" all we mean is "Physical Laws can not be violated" then I am fine with the assumption of Determinism as an assumption (or, really, that's more of a definition). However, philosophically speaking, Determinism has a much wider meaning. Generally it means that every event from the beginning of time was determined before all events occurred. This can be demonstrated with a Thought Experiment: Supposing we know the physical laws of a photon, and we are present to observe the beginnings of the universe, then we can determine, through a long series of calculations, exactly where the photon is going to go.

However, I do not think we assume Determinism. I think by saying that Determinism is a major assumption in the scientific method, we're putting the cart before the horse. Rather, the evidence amassed through the scientific method suggests that our physical universe is a deterministic one. However, even within the confines of Monism (that the universe does not have any parrelel realities that act in different ways. Generally compared to Dualism, which is generally attributed to Descartes), and that Monism is our Physical Universe, things aren't necessarily deterministic in the grand sense that everything is predetermined before it happens. Rather, it is deterministic in the sense that physical laws can not be violated, and so action is limited, but only within the confines of physical laws, not completely Deterministic as it is usually defined.

There is a Truthful connection between our mind and the Universe

This is a recent one I came upon, so I haven't thought about it as much. It basically assumes that science, in general, is coming closer to the truth about things, rather than the truth about the way we think about things. There is no logical reason for assuming this, but it seems to be working so far. It's the sort of assumption one makes if they either believe in Dualism, or are not purely empirical, such as that demonstrated by David Hume. Science, dealing with Induction to understand data, and Deduction as means for formulating Hypothesis's and understanding of several Induction's, does not only deal with pure empiricism. Rather, it hops between "Types". These types are somewhat separate unto themselves and can be regarded as "Methods to Knowledge".

EDIT: Going through these posts again, I've realized that I've changed the most on this post. I fully disagree assumption 1 and 2, and I think "assumption" 3 can be well argued for, and therefore doesn't count as an assumption -- though it may have to be argued for in a "philosophic" sense, so it may still be an assumption within the domain of science if one accepts that these things are distinctly different at this point.


  1. An interesting read.

    Certainly I'm a monist, but in exactly what manner is a little more open to interpretation. I'm inclined to believe the mental is a manifestion of the physical, and that thoughts and feelings are determined by the physical (compounds in the brain, synapses, previous experiences, which are interpreted by the physical brain, and stimuli which are physical).

    To me, the universe seems to be deterministic in the sense that there is only one possible outcome for any situation, but the probablistic nature of quantum mechanics makes me doubt. In short, I believe (that is, I have faith that) the universe is deterministic in that sense. It's a comfort to me and not necessarilly logical, but I don't try to evangelize anyone to this belief. =)

  2. You see, that's what I had thought, but now I'm not so sure. One: It's nothing something we assume in science. Because the scientific method works (empirically verified), and I had thought it was an assumption, I just thought the end of the universe would be entirely set in stone from the beginning of the universe.

    I'm not opposed to this conclusion, mind, I'm just uncertain about it now. The biggest reason being that scientific laws are predictive, but they 1) Do not predict everything, and 2) they are not worded as cause-and-effect type laws. Some "x" may cause some "y", but usually these explanations are something we, as humans, look for. In the Ideal Gas Law, for example, there is nothing that states "x causes y", it's just a relationship between measurements of physical properties.