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Philosophy of Science

Philosophy of Science

This paper explores the philosophy of science.  The philosophy of science is mainly concerned with metaphysics and epistemology, but it is not completely divorced from ethics.  This paper defines the necessary philosophical underpinning of science.  At the end of this paper I will show that the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics is inconsistent with the philosophy of  science.  Note that I am not suggesting that every scientist holds or held this philosophy.

Identity: The fundamental principle of science is that A is A (Identity), meaning that things exist; they have certain properties; they always act in accordance with these properties; A does not suddenly become B without a reason.  Aristotle had three laws of thought: 1) Law of Identity, 2) Law of non-contradiction, and 3) Law of excluded middle.  It seems to me that the second and third laws follow from the Law of Identity.   Note for the present discussion we will assume that A is an inanimate object.

Causality is the second tenant of science meaning things happen for a reason or for every effect there is a cause.  This means that A is always A unless acted upon by another object/force.  For example, gold is always gold unless it is acted on by another object/force.  It means a body at rest stays at rest unless acted upon.  Causality and Identity result in repeatability.  In other words things in the same situation will act in the same way.  A mass acted upon by a certain force will accelerate in a consistent way.  Identity and causality provide the justification for experimentation.  If an experiment is correctly setup to exclude other factors (object/forces) then it will result in the same result, excluding measurement and experimental errors.  If any of these tenants were not true, then there would be not point to experimentation.  If a lead ball’s mass could suddenly change without any cause, then experimentation would never lead to repeatable results.  When we find out experiments are not repeatable, then we know that we have failed to account for a variable.  Note the Identity and Causality tenets are the rejection of superstition.

Experimentation: The goal of experimentation is to isolate causes and effects.  For instance, if we are to determine if the gravitational effect of an object on Earth is the same, independent of mass, we have to ensure that our experiment does not include other factors.  For example, we cannot allow wind resistance in our experiment.  This means the objects have to have an equal wind resistance, or better yet, we need to eliminate wind resistance in our experiment.

Since no experiment or measurement can be perfect, we take into account measurement/experimental errors.  Note that if these errors are truly random (Gaussian), then they will average out for a continuous random variable and significantly reduce for a discrete random variable.  If they are not random, then we have not properly setup of the experiment, meaning we have failed to account for a variable.  Note the experimental tenet of science requires that we can trust our senses.  This does not mean that our senses give us perfect information, but that the information we receive from our senses is also ruled by the Identity and Causality laws.

Theories: Identity and causality allow us to use logic and reason to categorize and predict results, or form hypothesis and theories.  Experiments are used to verify or disprove these theories.  Smaller theories can be built upon using logic to create broader theories.  For instance, inertia and Galileo’s law of falling can be applied to planets and tides, which is what Newton did in creating his ideas of motion and gravity.

A good scientific theory is one that explains and predicts many individual facts.  Every theory so far is incomplete and it is where experiment does not agree with theory that leads to the next big leaps in science.  Thus if we assume that heavier object are subject to a greater gravitational acceleration than lighter objects, but we find that lead balls of differing masses fall at the same rate, we know we need to revisit this hypothesis/theory.  This also means that there is an evolutionary or expanding nature to scientific theories.  Newton’s laws of motion and gravity refined and expanded upon Galileo’s theory of inertia and his law of fall.  Einstein’s relativity did disprove Newton, it just refined and expanded on them at speeds near the speed of light and in regions of very large gravity.  Part of how we know that Einstein’s theory of relativity is ‘correct’ is that it is consistent with Newton in certain regions and with the body of facts that Newton physics explained.  There is a similar thing in mathematics, where we define over what range a statement is true.  For instance, if a*b=c, then b=c/a, where a is a non-zero real number.

This evolutionary, expanding nature of scientific theories is the difference between a real science and pseudo science (or at least a poorly formed science).  In a pseudo science a new theory can come along and predict totally different results.  For instance, under classical economics printing money (counterfeiting) has a negative effect on the economy.  Along comes Keynes and suddenly if the government prints money it causes an increase in wealth (GPD).

Perfect Knowledge: Does knowledge have to be perfect knowledge in order to be knowledge?  Often scientific theories are attacked because as being incomplete.  Every scientific theory so far is incomplete, because we don’t know everything about everything.  I am going to postulate that we cannot ever know everything because there is always a deeper layer of knowledge.  For instance, Newton explains the effects of gravity but not how it works.  In fact, Newton was greatly disturbed that his best explanation of gravity required action at a distance without some intermediate (corpuscle).  Knowledge is certainty that a fact or theory is correct within certain limits and therefore repeatable in science.  For instance, if a builder assumes that Earth is flat or described by Euclidean geometry will this inaccuracy cause any problems?  Even if the builder is constructing a building with a mile long foundation, the error of assuming the Earth is flat is less than two inches or much less than the underlying variation in the terrain.  On the other hand if I am sailing across the world or launching a spaceship and I assume that the Earth is flat, then I have a problem.  This is like the bounds in mathematics and as long as we know the bound of our knowledge it does not cause any problems.  On the other hand, discovering the bounds of our knowledge is where the really interesting science and engineering occur and how we expand the bounds of our knowledge.  The idea that knowledge has to be perfect seems to come from Plato’s idea of pure forms.  Physics makes it clear that Plato’s ideal forms do not exist and are not necessary for science or realism.  Attacking a scientific theory for failure to explain everything is meaningless, it is just saying we have not learned everything.  It is only a valid attack on a scientific theory if it predicts something that turns out to not be so – a contradiction.  Even then the contradiction may only occur within certain bounds or only matter within in certain bounds, in fact any well tested scientific theory will only be meaningfully incorrect within certain bounds.

In keeping with this idea of imperfect or lack of absolute knowledge, I am sure my thesis (philosophy of science) is not ‘perfect.’  As a result, I have tried to define the minimum requirements for the philosophy of science.  I have not for instance included Locke and Newton’s corpuscular ideas, which are really about their philosophy of how physics works.

Statistics as applied to physical sciences is not in conflict with the Law of Identity or Causality.  Statistics are a way of bounding our lack of knowledge about certain factors.  For instance, if you know all the initial conditions of a coin flip, you can determine whether it will land on heads or tails exactly.  In grad school in physics I had to solve a similar problem of a quarter slightly tilted to one side and given an initial velocity, will it land on heads or tails.  There is an exact solution, it is not random.  Statistics also deal with measurement errors and uncertainty in the conditions of the experiment.  None of this in anyway suggests that the Law of Identity or Causality is suspended.

Curve fitting: There has been a popular theory in physics that all we are doing is curve fitting and understanding is illusory and wrong.  Curve fitting is something engineers do when working from first principles is too complex.  For instance, we know that the resistance of a thermistor varies with temperature, but we cannot solve the relationship from first principles.  In this case we will take a number of measurements (experiments) and then just fit a curve so that we can covert an output resistance, actually voltage to a temperature.  Curve fitting is useful, but it does not provide an understanding of the underlying phenomena and is generally limited to very specific situations.  It is not the goal or what science does.  Science looks to understand underlying physical phenomena, not just model it.  Curve fitting can tell you the rate that an object will fall to Earth, but not why and it can’t tell you why this is related to planetary orbits.

Animate objects present additional challenges.  For instance, a tad pole turns into a frog.  Does this violate the law of Identity?  The answer is no because a tadpole never turns into a cat or something else.  But with animate objects it is necessary to apply the law of identity at a finer granularity.  For instance, are you the same person you were ten years ago?  Well all the cells in your body have completely changed and you are older, so probably you have some wrinkles and of course ten years of experience you did not have ten year ago.  The difficulty with animate objects is that they can use internal energy to change their position or state.  But when we look inside of the animate object we see that it acts according (sometime very complex) to the law of Identity and Causality.

Ethics: The philosophy of science does include an ethics, which is that we must report (record) data accurately.  Fudging the data in science is the greatest sin in science.  This is one of the reasons the proponents of Anthropomorphic Global Warming (AGW) cannot be taken serious.  Not only have they repeated lied and fudged the data but their advocates suggest this is okay in fact required.  It also why much of economic data can no longer be taken seriously.

The Copenhagen Interpretation (CI) of Quantum Mechanics (QM)

There was a great fight at the beginning of QM over how to interpret Schrodinger’s wave equation.  Einstein, Schrodinger and others never accepted the point particle statistical model (PPSM) of QM.  Nothing in the mathematics or experimental evidence required the PPSM of QM and certainly nothing required the CI model.  The main justification for the statistical approach to QM is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.  If we can only know the location and momentum of a particle with certain precision then we cannot know the original state of a system exactly or the final state of the system exactly.  This is how I resolved the statistical nature of QM while I was in grad school in physics and I would bet that this is how most physicists think about this issue.  Note new research has shown problems with the uncertainty principle.  However, the CI does not resolve the issue this way.  The CI has never actually been well defined, but here is a rough sketch of their ideas:

a) negation of causality

b) negation of realism and

c) involvement of infinite and imaginary velocities or masses.

Note that part (a) directly contradicts one of the fundamental tenants of science.  You may think I am exaggerating, so here are some quotes:

Heisenberg[1] states clearly:

“The law of causality is no longer applied in quantum theory.”

In order to be coherent, physicists today should no longer try to find the cause of a physical phenomenon. According to Heisenberg’s statement, there is no cause, it is simple magic. Greenberger[2] uses the same expression and states simply, “Quantum Mechanics is Magic”.

Much more recently, following the use of the Copenhagen interpretation, Feynman[3] concludes:

“The theory of quantum electrodynamics describes Nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense. And it agrees fully with experiments. So I hope you can accept Nature as she is – absurd.”

Even worse, Mermin states that the results of those absurd interpretations are enjoyable. He[4] writes:

“The EPR experiment is as close to magic as any physical phenomenon I know of, and magic should be enjoyed.” (Whole section[5])

You may think the rejection of realism is also not true.  But here is another quote by Heisenberg.

“The next step was taken by Berkeley. If actually all our knowledge is derived from perception, there is no meaning in the statement that the things really exist; because if the perception is given it cannot possibly make any difference whether the things exist or do not exist. Therefore, to be perceived is identical with existence.”[6]

Clearly, the CI rejects the fundamental tenants of the science of philosophy.  We know that without causality the whole point of experimentation is meaningless – if anything can happen what is the point of an experiment.  The only logical result is that even the proponents of CI did not believe what they were saying.  However, the problems with the PPSI of QM keep compounding.  Below is a list of some of those problems.

1) Requires infinite velocities

2) Spin makes no sense for a point particles.[7]

3) Point Particles:  “Because point particles are assumed to occupy no space, they have to be accompanied by infinite charge density, infinite mass density, infinite energy density. Then these infinities get removed once more by something called “renormalization.” It’s all completely crazy.. But our physics community has been hammering away at it for decades. Einstein called it Ptolemaic epicycles all over again.”[8]

4) The Laser: “At the heart of laser action is perfect alignment of the crests and troughs of myriad waves of light. Their location and momentum must be theoretically knowable. But this violates the holiest canon of Copenhagen theory: Heisenberg Uncertainty. Bohr and Von Neumann proved to be true believers in Heisenberg’s rule. Both denied that the laser was possible.”[9]


Carver Mead, who studied under Feynman and worked closely with him had this to say about the CI.  “It is my firm belief that the last seven decades of the twentieth will be characterized in history as the dark ages of theoretical physics.”[10]


[1] Heisenberg, Werner, Physics and Philosophy, the Revolution in Modern Science, New York, Harper and Row, 1966, p. 88.

[2] Greenberger, Daniel, Discussion remarks at the Symposium on Fundamental Questions in Quantum Mechanics, Albany, SUNY, April 1984.

[3] Feynman, Richard P., The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1988, p. 10.

[4] Mermin, N. David, “Is the Moon There when Nobody Looks? Reality and the Quantum Theory”, in Physics Today, April 1985, p. 47.


[5] Marmet, Paul, Absurdities in Modern Physics: A Solution,

[6] Heisenberg, Werner, Physics and Philosophy, the Revolution in Modern Science, New York, Harper and Row, 1966, p. 84.

[8] American Spectator, Sep/Oct2001, Vol. 34 Issue 7, p68, Carver Mead, The Spectator Interview,

[9] American Spectator, Sep/Oct2001, Vol. 34 Issue 7, p68, Carver Mead, The Spectator Interview,

[10] American Spectator, Sep/Oct2001, Vol. 34 Issue 7, p68, Carver Mead, The Spectator Interview,


  1. Great flow of logic. The Jesuits and St Thomas would be impressed.

  2. More about the LASER: In order for the LASER to work, the first photon has to align with the stimulated photon both in time (phase) and energy, but this violates the (CI non-causality) uncertainty principle. In addition, it means that causality has to apply and that the atom that is excited has to work in a predictable way – in other words A is A. This shows that either Bohr and Von Neumann did not take the CIQM seriously or that they denied that a laser was possible.

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