Popper on cosmology

An important paper by Helge Kragh, tipped off by David Miller!

The paper examines the historical contexts of the interaction between cosmology and Popperian philosophy of science. Apart from covering Popper’s inspiration from Einstein and his views on questions of cosmology, it focuses on the impact of his thoughts in two periods of controversy of modern cosmology, the one related to the steady state theory and the other to the recent multiverse proposal. It turns out that the impact has been considerable, and continues to be so, but also that the versions of Popperian methodology discussed by cosmologists are sometimes far from what Popper actually thought and wrote.

I include in Section 5 some new information about his late opinion of cosmological models, as he described it in a hitherto unknown letter shortly before his death in 1994.

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7 Responses to Popper on cosmology

  1. Brian Scurfield says:

    I had a quick look at the paper. From the intro:

    > According to Peter Medawar, Nobel laureate and eminent physiologist, Popper was the greatest authority ever on the scientific method. He praised the “great strength of Karl Popper’s conception of the scientific process,” a main reason for the praise being “that is realistic – it gives a pretty fair picture of what goes on in real life laboratories.”

    It’s silly to start a supposedly serious paper about Popper by making out that he was an authority when an important part of Popperian philosophy is that there are no authorities. The author seems impressed by authority. I wondering at this point how well he understands Popper. Note the lack of understanding, also, in the parts about “great strength” and Popper being a “pretty fair picture” about what goes on in labs.

    Later in the paper we have this:

    > He [Popper] was interested in the “logic of scientific discovery,” but discoveries themselves were foreign to his system of philosophy. This system portrayed science as a series of critical discussions, not of real discoveries made in the laboratory or in the astronomical observatory. As the Australian philosopher David Store [sic] quipped, in Popper any “actual discovery would be as out of place as a hippopotamus in a philosophy class.”

    The author quotes Stove approvingly and calls him a philosopher! Moreover the point is incorrect. And this is not the only place he brings up Stove.

    What did you (or Miller) think is good about the paper?

  2. Brian Scurfield says:

    I had a quick look at the paper. From the intro:

    > According to Peter Medawar, Nobel laureate and eminent physiologist, Popper was the greatest authority ever on the scientific method. He praised the “great strength of Karl Popper’s conception of the scientific process,” a main reason for the praise being “that is realistic – it gives a pretty fair picture of what goes on in real life laboratories.”

    It’s silly to start a supposedly serious paper about Popper by making out that he was an authority when an important part of Popperian philosophy is that there are no authorities. The author seems impressed by authority. I’m wondering at this point how well he understands Popper. Note the lack of understanding, also, in the parts about “great strength” and Popper being a “pretty fair picture” about what goes on in labs.

    Later in the paper we have this:

    > He [Popper] was interested in the “logic of scientific discovery,” but discoveries themselves were foreign to his system of philosophy. This system portrayed science as a series of critical discussions, not of real discoveries made in the laboratory or in the astronomical observatory. As the Australian philosopher David Store [sic] quipped, in Popper any “actual discovery would be as out of place as a hippopotamus in a philosophy class.”

    The author quotes Stove approvingly and calls him a philosopher! Moreover the point is incorrect. And this is not the only place he brings up Stove.

    What did you (or Miller) think is good about the paper?

  3. Rafe says:

    You make some telling points Brian, I only skimmed the paper, what I like and presumably Miller likes is that an active cosmologist is keeping Popper’s ideas alive in the contemporary literature, which is more than the philosophers are doing.

    Given the amount of focussed reading and writing that I am trying to do at the moment I really can’t pay close critical attention to everything that appears in front of me. Like the five or six or more challenging emails that are waiting every morning from the lists that Elliot Temple is running.

  4. Brian Scurfield says:

    Rafe, you skimmed the paper and didn’t spot the Stove quotations! The “hippopotamus” quote was even something you discussed on your website in your review of Stove.

    I wonder if Helge-Kragh knows about the-rathouse? Or talked to Popperians about Stove? If he is interested in keeping Popper’s ideas alive he needs to understand them better.

    Another thing I notice in the paper is that Deutsch is not referenced or discussed despite there being a discussion of multiverse cosmology and Popper.

  5. > You make some telling points Brian, I only skimmed the paper, what I like and presumably Miller likes is that an active cosmologist is keeping Popper’s ideas alive in the contemporary literature, which is more than the philosophers are doing.

    It’s not actually keeping Popper’s ideas alive to contradict them and promote bad anti-Popperian philosophy, even if it gives some kind of credit and praise to Popper by his name.

    Spreading misinformation about the Popperian worldview, as well as bad philosophy, is actually harmful to the cause of promoting and perpetuating Popper’s ideas.

    > Given the amount of focussed reading and writing that I am trying to do at the moment I really can’t pay close critical attention to everything that appears in front of me. Like the five or six or more challenging emails that are waiting every morning from the lists that Elliot Temple is running.

    I think this is a mistake (common to many people). How will your focussed reading and writing produce the best results they could if you aren’t actively exposing your ideas to the best available criticism?

    Yes you know way more than Helge Kragh, and it’s enough to actually promote Popper rather than the opposite. But I think even better is possible and actively using critical discussion for everything is the way to achieve the most.

    I take it you disagree, but you have not written up your contrary position and exposed it to criticism from everyone and won the argument.

  6. The paper’s author doesn’t explain Popper’s position. The author also makes lots of vague statements like:

    A series of interviews with biochemists conducted by Michael Mulkay and Nigel Gilbert indicated that although Popper’s philosophical message was well known among them, and many of the scientists subscribed to it, his philosophy of science had only very limited influence on their actual scientific practice.
    In what way do Popper’s ideas supposedly apply or fail to apply? This is never explained.
    This paper reminds me of the State Science Institute’s smear of Rearden Metal: it contains nothing by way of explanations but leaves a vague impression that Popper’s epistemology is at best a flawed optional extra for understanding the world.
    Also, the author presents selective quotes from a letter Popper wrote to the author. The author deposited a quote from the letter in the Popper library. I am puzzled about why the author did this rather than posting the text on the net. Given the lack of substance in the rest of the article I don’t think these quotes are usable since the author may have misunderstood what parts of the letter are important because the author knows nothing about epistemology.

  7. Rafe says:

    I am on the run at present, I will get back to David and ask why he liked the paper, actually I will re-read his email first to find if I read his email as carelessly as I skimmed the paper itself.

    Then I will do a more considered post. A weird situation, my major project at present following the Guides is a book Misreading Popper with a sample of the readings which recycle radically defective views of Popper.

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