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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

indeterminacy at the

indeterminacy at the quantum level of reality. Forhim, so-called quantum indeterminacy simplyreified our remaining ignorance about microphysicalcausation. Popper was more sanguineabout this prospect, as he pursued the hypothesisthat physical determinism is false. He proposedinstead that reality consists of objective probabilities,or ‘propensities’.Neither Nagel’s nor Popper’s concerns led to thecollapse, or even the reorientation, of physics.Rather, like other related foundational matters,they were simply cordoned off from physics’ dayto-dayempirical work. After all, physicists gain therespect of their peers by designing clever experimentswhose results can be captured by elegantmathematical formalisms, all the while remainingagnostic about the metaphysical significance oftheir inquiries. This is what makes physics aspecialised science, as opposed to a total ideology. Itis also none other than Kuhnian normal science,which, in the case of quantum physics, continuesapace – that is, until the funding runs out for itsmain instrument, the particle accelerator. Meanwhile,physicists who show a keen interest infoundational questions are easily labelled ‘hasbeens’ and ‘also rans’ in the scientific sweepstakes.Even Nobel Prize winners are treated as overgrownchildren feasting on their intellectual dessert after78

having supped on the gruel of normal science. Suchare the consolations of philosophy!Perhaps I am unfairly focusing on the lack ofimpact that the positivists have had on the physicsagenda. Subtle readers of the history of scienceknow that positivism was always a ‘made for export’philosophy. In other words, positivists have wantedto spread what they took to be the secret of physics’scientific success to the more backward disciplines.To be sure, the ‘secret’ varied over the history ofpositivism, but its social function remained largelythe same. To imagine what positivism looks like to aphysicist, consider how the zeal of a missionary oran imperialist appears to an enlightened believer orcitizen at home: what causes the domestic marketto cringe may just impress the overseas market.Unfortunately, the positivist call for unity failedto impress biology, the science whose practitionersmost clearly realised that it was in need of unification.However, this was not from lack of trying.The logical positivists declared biology a protosciencestill mired in the metaphysical disputebetween ‘mechanism’ and ‘vitalism’, which turnedon whether life could be exhaustively explainedby mechanical processes. Some positivists, focusedon the molecular basis of genes, held thatbiology would be eventually reducible to physics.Others, focused on the morphological structure of79

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