I am making my work in philosophy of science easily available in print. Some of the articles — Philosophy and Contemporary Physics, Early Modern Attacks on Reason, The Anti-Copernican Revolution, and Do Scientists Need Philosophy? — have never before been available in any format. A popular course, The Philosophic Corruption of Physics, has been available only as an audio recording, whereas I now offer an edited transcript of these lectures. (Click on the “Essays and Articles” heading above.)
Much of this work focuses on the relationship between philosophy and physics, and how irrational philosophy has affected theoretical physics. It is a fascinating topic, and I hope readers find value in my unique perspective on it.
In Chapter 6 (page 199, paragraph 2), I gave an uncharitable description of Volta’s initial mistake in identifying the cause of electric current. In the Spanish edition, the paragraph reads:
“Volta and Galvani had each committed a similar error. In their efforts to localize the cause in either the metals or the frog, they changed the experimental conditions and observed a different effect. When Volta eliminated the frog or any conducting fluid between the dissimilar metals, he observed a momentary transfer of electric charge but not a continuous electric current. When Galvani eliminated the dissimilar metals, his vigorous swinging of the frog caused muscle injury, which stimulated the nerve and caused contractions. But his original experiment had involved no such injury; it had been a simple hop-step, not a swing dance.”
In Chapter 3 of the English edition (page 111), there is a minor scientific error. When discussing the mathematical form of Kepler’s second law, I gave an incorrect definition of the angle beta (called the “eccentric anomaly”). In the Spanish edition, Figure 8 is corrected and beta is properly defined as “the angle between the line of apsides and the line from the center to the point on the major radius circle that is directly vertical of the planet.” The corrected Figure 8 makes the idea clear.
In Chapter 2, I discuss Galileo’s discoveries about the motion of bodies. On page 43 of the English edition, paragraph 4 caused a great deal of unnecessary confusion. Now, in the Spanish edition, the last three sentences have been modified to read:
“Or consider Galileo’s second experiment: Imagine that he had restricted himself to dropping objects of different density through liquids instead of air, perhaps thinking that it would be easier to investigate a slower motion. He actually did such experiments, and concluded that the objects quickly reach a maximum speed that depends on their density, which is similar to what the Greeks had assumed for all falling bodies. Such experiments are easily misinterpreted as evidence that weight is always an essential factor in determining the rate of fall.”
In the English edition, generalizations were sometimes described in a way that was too narrow. In essence, generalizations refer to the nature of a class of entities or their corresponding mode of action. The latter type of generalization states a causal connection, but the former merely states the nature of the thing (which explains its action under any particular circumstances). The book is about inductive generalizations, not merely those that explicitly state a causal relationship. I make this clear in the Spanish edition. For example, on page 21 of the English edition, I have replaced paragraphs 2 and 3 with the following:
“Generalizations — both first-level and higher — are universal statements about a class of entities, identifying their attributes or their corresponding mode of action. All assert that the members of a class of entities have attributes that make them a certain kind of thing — or they assert that this kind of thing necessarily acts in a certain way under a given set of circumstances, which is the essence of the law of causality. This is true on all levels of development, from “Balls are spherical” to “Chemical elements are composed of identical atoms”; or from “Pushing a ball makes it roll” to “A net force exerted on a body causes it to accelerate in accordance with the law F = mA.”
“Aside from attributes that we grasp by direct perception, the nature of entities is discovered by studying their actions. The only justification for inferring the future from actions of the past is the fact that the past actions occurred not arbitrarily or miraculously, but for a reason, a reason inherent in the nature of the acting entities themselves; i.e., the justification is that the past actions were effects of causes — and thus if the same cause is operative tomorrow, it will result in the same effect. We unite an entity with its actions by means of grasping causal connections.”
I am happy to announce that a Spanish translation of The Logical Leap is now available (El Salto Logico, in kindle format from Amazon). Domingo Garcia and Juan Manuel Munoz worked hard to achieve an excellent translation, and I’m grateful for their effort and for their deep understanding of the book.
I’m also grateful for the opportunity to correct some minor errors in the original book. I will add posts on my editing — in which I explain why the Spanish edition is slightly better than the English edition.
We hear the horror stories about propaganda that passes for education today. Our schools seem to be engaged in a battle against civilization. They demonize industry in the name of environmentalism, they perpetuate the myth of the “noble savage” in the name of multiculturalism, and they exalt sacrifice of the individual to the tribe in the name of “public service.”
Such propaganda is toxic. Because it is explicit, however, it is easily removed from a curriculum (or rejected by a student who is open to rational counter-arguments). In other words, these elements of the curriculum are like a malignant tumor that can be cut out. If this were the only problem, then the solution would be obvious: Eliminate the false ideas that constitute a frontal assault on civilization and individual achievement.
Unfortunately, the real problem is subtler and deeper. It is implicit rather than explicit, and insidiously spread throughout the curriculum. The laws of natural science are taught in the same way as the lies of environmentalism and multiculturalism. The conclusions are to be accepted on authority, not grasped by reasoning from evidence. The child does not develop the ability to distinguish between true and false ideas; instead, both are passively memorized and repeated back on tests. The damage is done regardless of whether the ideas are true or false; either way, they are empty assertions that serve as clubs to beat young minds into submission.
A healthy child hungers for real understanding, and our schools starve his mind until it atrophies. We ache with empathy when we see the emaciated bodies and protruding ribs of hungry children. But is a starving mind less painful than a starving body? In one sense, cognitive starvation is worse because the child does not even know what he needs — so his screams are silent. Yet we need to hear them.
How to nurture a child’s body is well understood; how to nurture his mind is being discovered at Falling Apple Science Institute. We are developing a curriculum that does not merely tell children what is known — it shows them exactly how we know it. The student grasps every step of the reasoning process and arrives at the conclusions independently. He is an active discoverer, not a passive memorizer.
We have completed our first astronomy books and outlined the entire science curriculum. But there is much more work to be done. With the modest budget required to support a small team of experts, we can provide children with real knowledge and help them become successful, creative thinkers.
Please contact us (at www.fallingapple.org) for more information about our curriculum and how you can help us achieve our goals.
Idiocy is epidemic.
From politicians, we hear that wars can be won by providing jobs to the people who are trying to kill us (surveys show that many of them want to be airplane pilots). From ecologists, we hear that most species will be extinct and most natural resources depleted within a year — and this message has been repeated every year since Woodstock. From economists, we hear that economic depression is caused by “over-production,” so we will be wealthy if we stop producing wealth. From religious fundamentalists, we hear that our planet is as immobile as their minds and only slightly older.
There are two types of idiocy. Type 1 is characterized by ignorance and Type 2 by an inability or unwillingness to process information. Falling Apple Science Institute has discovered a correlation between the size of the idiot and the type of idiocy: Small idiots (who are typically children) tend to suffer from Type 1, whereas large idiots (who are typically adults) tend to suffer from Type 2. There is little hope for those afflicted with Type 2, and cases of Type 1 can progress to Type 2. Fortunately, a cure for Type 1 is being developed and tested.
Following tradition, Falling Apple Science Institute calls the cure “education.” The term is somewhat confusing because it often refers to indoctrination programs that have been causally-linked to Type 2 idiocy. But we refer to a program that develops the individual’s capacity for independent thought by providing essential knowledge and showing how it was discovered. There is strong evidence that a Type 1 idiot who is repeatedly exposed to the discovery process can be transformed into a creative, thinking individual.
To learn more about this cure, and perhaps even participate in clinical trials, visit www.fallingapple.org and contact me for information.
The Logical Leap is one of the major texts used in a course on scientific method at Western Carolina University. Mark Wilson, the professor who teaches the course, is director of the forensic science program at the university. Forensic science is a fascinating field — it uses abstract theory and advanced technology to solve practical problems. Mysticism and skepticism are useless in this field, but the method described in my book resonates with such reality-oriented thinkers.
Prof. Wilson recently published a review of The Logical Leap on Amazon. Here is his wonderful final paragraph:
“I have used The Logical Leap as a textbook in my course in Scientific Method at Western Carolina University for three years. The students find the book very easy to understand, especially as compared to some of the other assigned readings. When asked to reformulate an argument from the course reading materials, they consistently perform much better from assignments focused on The Logical Leap. This, I believe, is due not only to the clear writing style, but also to the intelligibility of the arguments themselves. David Harriman has taken a very complex topic and cogently reduced it to its essentials. While doing so, he has introduced the study of scientific method to many truths that have, unfortunately, been missed in most academic treatments of this crucially important topic.”
In the 17th century, Isaac Newton was asked about the cause of gravity. How exactly does the Sun attract Earth across the large distance between them? Newton didn’t know the answer, so his response was reasonable. He said: “I don’t know.”
In the 20th century, Niels Bohr was asked about the cause of subatomic particle behavior. Bohr didn’t know the answer, but his response was different. He said: “Subatomic particles have no specific nature, so the concept ’cause’ is inapplicable and your question is invalid.”
Newton understood that the equations of physics identify an aspect of a total reality that exists independent of us, and many aspects of that totality are unknown. Bohr, however, denied the independent reality of the microscopic world and therefore denied that there is anything to know beyond our percepts and equations.
Newton’s view was: “There’s a world out there; let’s investigate it.” Bohr’s view was: “There’s a world in here (consciousness); let’s describe it.”
There’s a (real) world of difference between these views. Newton was free to explore the universe. Bohr was trapped inside his mind and stopped from asking questions.