History and Philosophy book by Scott Kleiner


Scott A. Kleiner

This book is intended to offer a historical, conceptual and methodological analysis of selected iconic shifts (revolutions) in scientific belief and practice. Part I is a reexamination of The Copernican Revolution in the light of philosophical thinking about the history of science that has emerged in the last 60 years since its publication in 1959 (Kuhn I). The philosophy and historiography drawn from Part I is then sought and compared with that evident in the history of evolutionary inquiries (Part II) and genetics (Part III). Since turning my focus to the Philosophy of Biology in the early 1970’s, I have sought studies in its history with the objective of articulating a theory of change and discovery with the guidance of epistemic values realized in inquiries (questioning strategies) in the physical sciences (Kleiner, 1968, 1970). Particularly evident in the three disciplines here studied are the trade-offs between those willing to sacrifice realism (ontic comprehensiveness) for mathematical fruitfulness (instrumentalism). I was surprised to learn from Rosenberg’s Instrumental Biology that there was instrumentalism in biology, because wasn’t it obvious that Darwinian histories (Kitcher, 1984) had to be fully realistic to be causally efficacious? in explaining phylogeny? But, of course, R.A. Fisher’s fruitful program articulated in articles (1915-1921) and a book in 1930 was instrumental biology.
As with Galileo, Kepler and Newton, the pursuit of the goal of enhancing the realism of mathematical models was a driver of discovery as the Copernican Revolution unfolded (Kleiner, 197?), but also as the Darwinian-Mendelian revolutions unfolded. I thus advocate a heuristic and qualified realism, not the unrealizable ‘literal’ realism brought up in recent philosophical debates (Laudan, 1986) Newton settles for an ontology that gives progressively epistemically accurate models only up to a point, the point at which empirical resolution is technically limited and, as we now know, causal determinativeness declines into chaos (Randall, 2014). Mendelism and evolutionary theory has a similar escalation of realism and indeterminism from linkage, adding chromosomes to the ontology (late 19th century cytology), to karyotypes and sub-karyotypes, to subpopulations emerging within genetic populations, to cells, developing biological individuals, reproductive and symbiotic groups, genes, their sequences, enzymes and theirs, regulators, enhancers and repressors, major transitions (Michod, 1999), and comparative developmental studies (Raff, 1996). Mendelian populations were initially studied with single-locus models and were, like the Laplacian Ideal, fully deterministic in their etiology (at least in Fisher’s ideal infinite populations). Introducing linkage in computer models of the Mendelian reproductive cycle gives rise to chaos, where small variations of allelic fitnesses produce diverging evolutionary trajectories. The same outcome occurs with the proliferation of small Mendelian isolates, where sampling error generates sampling error and disparity among these isolates.
A historiography of science should embody a criterion for demarcating science from non-science through a historical timeline. The timeline represents a history of one or more converging or diverging scientific disciplines. The timeline contains a succession of episodes and various cognitive, ontological and methodological commitments. One such historiography, subscribed to more by scientists than historians, chronicles and described the most recently successful scientific enterprises but dismisses all or most seemingly contrary predecessors as unscientific, called ‘Whiggism’ (Butterfield, 1931), or, more descriptively, chauvinism of the present. The ‘Scientific Revolution” of renaissance Europe is often thought of as the Copernican Revolution but also embodies the whiggish conception that Greek and later heliocentric cosmologies are unscientific. A better way of thinking about this episode is that it consists of an extended process of the intrusion of science into daily life, a process of human well-being becoming increasingly dependent upon science and scientific progress.
Galileo had ‘military contracts’ wioth the Medicis for his calculation of projectile trajectories and his ever-improving telescopes. The ancient ‘two-sphere’ universe had immediate application to terrestrial navigation and is still used for instruction in spite of its falsity. But also, ancient Egyptians kept track of annual solar cycles for forecasting Nile floods and Babylonians tracked lunar cycles for short term time-keeping and planetary cycles for affairs of the person and state.

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