Education, Musings, Philosophy, Rambliings, Uncategorized

There and Back Again: Science from Aristotle thru the Scientific Revolution in a nutshell

Previously, I have done two posts about logical fallacies and the importance of learning how to think. In this series of posts, all the information comes from a class I am taking called Philosophical Borderlands of Science and Religion, subtitled, ‘How to think about weird things.’ Now that we’ve covered the importance of logic in how we approach things that aren’t quantifiable, we can now talk about the development of science as a tool for informed inquiry.

The views of Aristotle held sway in the West for 2,000 years. Aristotle had a unification theory that covered astronomy, biology and later medicine. It privileged logic over common sense and was partially based on general observations. People have looked to Aristotle for the foundations of science for thousands of years. However, they often overlook the path taken by alchemists whose views were incorrect but did attempt to follow a method and use experiments to test their theories. Alchemists believed that all metals were alive and that they ‘grew’ in the earth. They also believed it was their job to help the metals ‘mature’ into gold, just as the alchemists themselves sought to mature from lead matter into spiritual gold. They held that there were seven planets and seven metals. Each planet corresponded to a metal.

Saturn – Lead

Jupiter – Tin

Mars – Iron

Sun – Gold

Venus – Copper

Mercury – Mercury

Moon – Silver

Alchemists followed a path of secrecy because they believed the masses were not worthy of the great work and partially because their process of experimentation in finding the philosopher’s stone amounted to medieval trade secrets.

In searching for the Philosophers stone, alchemists used three stages of experiments to try to reach the end result. The first stage was Nigredo or the Black stage that corresponded to calcination or killing. The second stage was Abedo or the white stage wherein the alchemist attempted to resurrect what had been calcinated or killed so to speak, with a bath of rebirth resulting in a white stone. The third and final stage was the Rubedo or red stage where the new result would be nourished fed and heated resulting supposedly in a red powder.

There were many alchemical fakes that appeared along the way. Paracelsus, Comte de St. Germain and Nicholas Flammel (JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame chose this name well!) but you may be surprised to know that Issac Newton, John Locke and Robert Boyle were also Alchemists. A common way alchemists faked their abilities was to fuse a rod of half lead and half gold and to pain it black, so that when inserting the rod into an alchemical mixture the paint would be stripped away and would reveal the gold half of the rod. Another was to have a hollow rod at one end with a bit of mercury inside and to seal it with wax. After inserting the rod into a hot mixture, the wax would melt and permit the mercury to escape which would then be revealed to have materialized after the liquid material was heated away.

Of course the most famous trial of the emerging scientific revolution is the Galileo trial but not everyone realizes that this was a battle of scientists rather than one of science versus religion. Pope Urban was trained in the science of the day and was friends with Galileo and supported him as a patron. In fact, Galileo’s proofs for his heliocentric theory were very weak, didn’t work and hence could offer no unifying explanation of why the planets move around the sun. In fact, Galileo’s work was set aside for Tycho Brache‘s, which at the time, was thought to provide a better scientific explanation for these celestial phenomena.

It isn’t until Descartes and Newton that we find the first new synthesis of scientific thought emerge since Aristotle. Nearly 1,500 years had passed and by the time the scientific revolution got underway, the scientist had replaced the philosopher and theologian as the arbiter of truth in the West. Descartes is the father of modern philosophy and a proponent of Mechanical philosophy. The modernist Cartesian method of science at the time had four steps which were systemic doubt, analysis, synthesis and rigorous written proofs rather like geometry. Descartes made the most of systemic doubt by asking what could be doubted and resulted in his famous statement, I think therefore I am.

It is with Descartes that science returned to asking questions that had long been the preserve of the ancient Greeks. Mind Body Dualism suggests that there is a body and that there is a mind and that these are not the same thing.  There is the problem of interaction in the mind-body paradigm that chiefly concerns how the mind and body interact. many theories have been put forward and discarded since Descartes and I will stick to the main ones.

Epiphenomenalism suggests that physical events cause mental events only. It essentially suggests that the mind is an ineffective by-product of the physical states of the brain. This view was held by Thomas Huxley. The problem with this is that it is self referentially absurd in the extreme and logically produces an argumentum ad absurdum.

Identity Theory suggests that brain states are equivalent to mental states. It is a reductionist theory and if you have brain loss you have mind loss.

Functionalism is related to Multiple Realizability which makes a rather computerized suggestion that there is a hardware and a software distinction in the mind. It also suggests that brain states are NOT equivalent to mental states and emphasizes function and not form or matter.

Eliminativism says mental states don’t even exist only brain states and that things such as pain don’t really exist. Another aspect of this is that folk psychology is a problem and that common sense theories of the mind, in terms of beliefs and desires lack a language required to express reality clearly.

With Mind Body Dualism we arrive in the modern age. Stay tuned for reports on using the scientific method to investigate such extreme phenomena such as Alien Abduction, Near Death Experiences and Conspiracy Theories!


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