Philosophy 167: Class 2 - Part 12 - An Alternative Reason Why Copernicus's Theory Should Have Been Preferred to Ptolemy's: Bringing Empirical Evidence to Bear on Scientific Questions.

Smith, George E. (George Edwin), 1938-


  • Synopsis: Although there is no empirical grounds whatsoever for preferring Copernican Astronomy to Ptolemaic Astronomy, Copernicanism was accepted. This video concludes with an answer as to why. Specifically, the system was seen as beautiful.

    Opening line: "I'm gonna give you a different reason for preferring Copernican astronomy, though."

    Duration: 5:16 minutes.

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I'm gonna give you a different reason for preferring Copernican astronomy, though. And that's why I added this slide because in the past I've only given my own reason and decided it's not fair to you because almost certainly at the time, this describes the reason people jumped on Copernicanism who did, is they found it beautiful.
And what they meant by beautiful, you get so much for free. My own proposal, and it's, I'll read it out, I won't read the whole rationale. You can do that for yourself, I'll summarize it. If a theoretical claim opens the way to bringing theory mediated empirical evidence to bear on questions that have heretofore resisted empirical answer, then the claim ought to be accepted as a working hypothesis and on-going research be predicated on it, provided that there are adequate safeguards against being systematically misled, that is, led down a garden path by the research in question.
What I mean by a garden path is years and years of research that all gets tossed out because you discover it's pre-supposing something that's false. An example of that would be all the research on the ether during the 19th century in conjunction with electricity and magnetism. I can find you other examples.
So you don't mind starting down a garden path, if right away you can discover this isn't working. So you want a very strong test when you adopt something like this. But in column A, excuse me. Copernicas, in this case, the very fact that we open the way to the possibility of doing triangulations where, in the past, we had no way to do them is a wonderfully exciting thing to do.
And it certainly caught Kepler's eye, and it caught Masalan's, enough so that he spelled it out and spelled out the potential. Now what I go on to say in here I'll simply summarize it, very much an expression of my views. Namely, actually developing evidence as science is incredibly much harder than is generally recognized.
And, therefore, any time you find any working hypothesis that opens the possibility of bringing evidence to bear on questions that before there was no way to bring evidence to bear on questions, you should take it very seriously if you have adequate safeguards against being misled, being led down a garden path.
And I wanna claim, time and again, communities have accepted a proposal on very little evidence, precisely for this reason, not because so many possible explanations are offered. Now I should say something about that. I could have said it earlier and I just skipped it. Tom Coon, in his face-to-face discussions with me, would make the point, and I would always agree with him, almost every important result in the history of science became an accepted result within the community when there was virtually no evidence for it.
The example you'll see most dramatically in this course is the most important single principle before Newton, the principle of inertia. Motion continues in a straight line in the absence of any disturbing factor. It's extremely difficult to get evidence for that, but it was almost immediately accepted when it was put forth.
I don't have enough time to dwell on this. I still have 25 minutes. I wanna do eco very quickly. I'm happy enough if you simply see there are two possibilities here. One is this inference to best explanation move making it aesthetically very attractive. Another is you're opening up avenues for bringing empirical evidence to bear that weren't there before.
And I think the latter had more of an, well, Kepler's a funny guy, but the latter ends up being what Kepler sits on, as you'll see next week. The very possibility of doing triangulation opens up all sorts of possibilities. Any questions on that? I mean, what's this, an example of my shoving my views about science down your throat?
But gently enough, insofar as I've now given you an alternative slide, and an alternative account. And, by the way, for those who don't know, I have a 50-year career as a failure analyst in turbo machinery and jet engines. And let me assure you, I react incredibly positively anytime one proposal explains a whole bunch of other things.
It's almost the only thing I do as a failure analyst, how any detective does when one idea explains a whole bunch of things. I run with it for all I, but then I'm careful enough to come back and start criticizing at some point, am I kidding myself. At any rate, I do not wanna dismiss that explanatory move because it's at the center of my own practice.
But I don't engage in research, remember, I got a PhD in failure analysis.