Down Memory Lane - Philosophy of Science Papers

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When I registered for classes, my senior year of High School a brand new course had become available. It was called Philosophy of Science and I knew as soon as I read the title that I would love it. Critical thinking, reading and science (excluding chemistry) were all favorite subjects of mine. The book we used for the course is shown above. I still have my copy all highlighted and written in. I hope my kids will someday enjoy reading it as much as I did. The class ended up being just as challenging and enjoyable as I hoped it would be. Below I share two essays I wrote for that class, that I recently found in my memory box. I'm not sure why I kept them but it was interesting to read them again.

The Background and the Beginning

      What is science? Where and who did it begin with? Did science even really begin or was it there all along? It is believed that it began with Thales of Miletus. THales and other Milesian philosophers such as Anaximander and Anacimenes made a definite break with the past. Supposedly, philosophy and science originated with them. What were the steps?
       First, technology. During the fourth and third millennia BC technological advancement took place in the Nile Valley in Mesopotamia, and there were similar ones occurring in the Indus Valley and in China. But let's go back even further. First there was Mettalurgy. The techniques of hammering, melting and casting were known before 3000 BC, people just advanced that by combining more and more metals in different proportions.  Spinning and weaving were also known in prehistoric times. Pottery is a third invention that had far reaching consequences for the economy of early societies. Accident surely played part in many of the discoveries. The point is: that even though technological advance may have been important, they imply no science, rather guesswork and luck. They demonstrate a highly developed ability to observe and learn from experience.
      Take medicine. The Egyptians began at an early stage to attempt to record imperical data for patients. There were 48 cases of injured people. Each report was divided into the title, the examination, the diagnoses, the treatment, and explanation of difficult medical terms.
      But the development of mathematics and its application to astronomy were even more important than medicine. The main achievement of the Egyptians in this area was the calendar. They divided each year into 365 days, that is twelve months of thirty days each, plus five additional days.
      In general though, the Babylonians far surpassed the Egyptians in both math and astronomy. The Babylonians had very accurate observations. The Babylonians had conducted extensive observations of a limited range of celestial phenomena long before Greek science began. And with the records they accumulated, they were able to predict certain phenomena. Yet despite all of these achievements of these many cultures it is reasonable to argue that Thales was the first philosopher-scientist. There are two important characteristics that distinguish the Milesian philosophers from earlier thinkers. There is what is called Discovery of Nature, and second the practice of Rational Criticism and Debate.
     Discovery of nature is the appreciation of the distinction between the 'natural' and the 'supernatural'. This means that natural phenomena are governed by determinable sequences of cause and effect. A single example will illustrate this: the theory of earthquakes which is attributed to Thales. Thales imagined that the earth was held up by water and that earthquakes were caused when the earth is rocked by wave-tremors in the water on which it floats. The idea that the earth floats occurs in several Babylonian and Egyptian myths. This was a common belief. What makes the difference between science dealing with the Milesians (Thales) and the Greeks (Homer) and such is that the Milesians 'leave the God's out'. As described in Homer or hesiod they attribute an earthquake or flash of lightning to Zeus or Poseidon, the philosophers exclude any reference to the wills of divine personages; their loves, hates, passions and other quasi-human motives. Also, Homer might focus on one particular earthquake or lightning flash, the Milesians focused on those items in general. They investigated the universal and essential, not the particular and accidental.

     The Milesians paid a good deal of attention to rare or striking phenomena. They had a desire to provide naturalistic explanations for things that were usually considered to be controlled by the Gods.
     The Greek philosophers began at an early stage to reflect on the problems posed by the origin of human race and by man's development from nature to culture. Anaximander held that living creatures are first generated in the 'wet' when this is acted upon by the sun. He believed that animals could be spontanetously generated in certain substances under certain conditions. He also suggested that man was originally born in a different species of animal, that is, apparently, some sort of fish.
      When proposing theories on the very first substance that came to be, Anaximander came up with what he called, the 'Boundless' which was a bit of everything, for he thought, if the first substance was water, how could fire have been created out of water because they destroy each other.
     In Anaximenes view, the primary substance was air. The precipitation of rain illustrates how air condenses to form water, and water in turn condenses to form solid ice, and conversely air is formed by rarefaction from water when it evaporates as it is being boiled. Anaximenes theory referred to the processes that can still be observed at work as natural phenomena.
    The measure of these philosophers' achievement is the advance they made in just trying to grasp certain problems. They rejected the supernatural and appreciated that naturalistic explanations can be given in a wide variety of phenomena: and they took the first tentative steps towards an understanding of the problem of change.


       Richard Hooker, in his article states that the basic idea behind empiricism is that knowledge can be derived through careful observation, recording of that observation and experimentation.
      Empiricism developed most rapidly in the field of medicine in ancient Greece, which based its knowledge on empirical observation of the causes and courses of diseases. Hooker uses Aristotle as an example of empiricism. When investigating a subject, Aristotle would catalog everyone's ideas on it, then he would observe phenomena dealing with the subject and derive laws from his observations, and then use those laws against previous authorities.
      Lloyd speaks of the main source of information about early Greek science as being the texts of the Hippocratic Corpus. The Corpus contains texts on branches of medicine such as gynecology or dietics, day-to-day clinical practice, commonplace books and lectures not only on medicine but other subjects as well.
     But Lloyd focuses on the ideas the Hippocrats had in dealing with medicine. The method of treatment mentioned in the Hippocratic Corpus consist of blood-letting surgery, cautery, purgative drugs, and control of regimen. These were just some basic possible cures. 
     Lloyd stresses that the lives of Hippocrats which were mainly medical practitioners were quite different from philosophers, yet in some way they were the same. They made significant contributions to natural science.
     One way they made advances was through using reason, and one writer reasoned about 'the sacred disease', epilepsy. The writer states that 'the people view this disease as being a sacred disease just to cover up their own ignorance'. Sacred, meaning that the people believed that the disease was caused by supernatural agencies, or that the gods are to blame.
     The writer also criticized the people by saying that if the people believed it was inflicted by the gods that they should not bother trying to cure it with various charms and so forth.
     He also gives proof that epilepsy is not sacred by stating that it only affects people which are 'phlegmatic' and not those who are 'billious'.
      He says, "If its origin were divine, all types would be affected alike without this particular distinction."
      I see this particular Hippocrat as being somewhat alike philosophers in the way that he thinks. I see the writer above using the practice of rational criticism and debate very strongly. He questions things, puts them into perspective, and then backs up his ideas with some good points, thus advancing natural science.
     I believe that, yes, the Hippocrats were empiricists and I will use examples to support this.
     The writer has cataloged the people's opinion on a certain subject and will not take the next step to make an observation or experimentation. In Richard Hooker's article, Mr. Hooker also explains observation. It can deal with experimentation. Experience is the parent of all knowledge, and the word experiment is derived from the same word which gives us experience. So we gain knowledge through experience which deals with experimentation.
     Now, going back to the writers next step:
     The writer suggests that an observation be made dealing with the disease. The writer experiments using a goat that has had the same disease and cuts its head open, revealing a foul-smelling brain, wet and full of fluid, proving, because the goat is dead that a deity cannot be involved.
      The writer has investigated, cataloged and made an observation. Now, he uses this proof to come out against 'ignorant believers' of the sacred disease.
      The goat experiment gives an example of an important feature of Hippocratic medicine, which is - the appreciation of the value of carrying out detailed observation when diagnosing a disease. 
      One idea that helped the Hippocrats diagnose diseases was following the 'prognostic' which was a group of guidelines or principles for the examination of a patient.
      Another principle issue which the Hippocrats dwelt on was the general question of the cause of diseases. This was something that many Hippocrats could not seem to agree on. Everyone had their own theory for how diseases were caused. One man believed that transmission through air or breath caused all diseases somehow. There were many contrasting ideas on this subject.
     Also, the problem of the causes of diseases was closely connected with the question of the constituent element of the human body.
    In many ways we see that the Hippocrats were empiricists and not so unlike philosophers, but there is one point that Lloyd brings up that does separate philosophers and Hippocrats. It wasn't in the theory's they presented, or in the method they adopted, but in the underlying motive for which they undertook the inquiry. Lloyd says, "Unlike the philosophers, the doctors had, in the long run, a practical end in view." The treatment of the sick. 


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