A Mission Statement

The History, Philosophy and Mythology of Science an Unholy Triumvirate.

Since at least the early 1960s it has been common practice to regard the history and philosophy of science as a specious of Siamese twins somehow joined at the hip, in a well-known (well-known amongst philosophers of science that is!) bon mot Imre Lakatos wrote, “philosophy of science without history of science is empty; history of science without philosophy of science blind” producing a wonderfully Münchhausian definition of the two disciplines and their interdependency. One cannot do history of science without first defining what this thing ‘science’ is that one wishes to investigate historically, a task that definitely belongs to the philosophy of science. On the other hand for the philosopher of science to define ‘science’ he really needs a comprehensive knowledge of how it evolved historically. A classical chicken and egg problem that can only be solved by ‘science’ lifting itself out of the sump of vagueness on its own hair.

In this blog I intend mostly to deal with the history of science in the early modern period, that is roughly the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries (although I will allow myself to roam into other time periods as the mood takes me) and I shall be guided by my own personal blend of the philosophy of science that is made up of roughly equal parts of Lakatos, Paul Feyerabend, Stephen Toulmin, Christopher Hill, Erlanger Constructivism and my own weird take on the discipline that involves such concepts as ‘patchwork pluralism’ and the ‘drunken hotel guest theory’ of the progress of science, both of which are potential themes for future postings. My historiography is also guided by my own dictum, ‘methodology becomes dogma; dogma blinds’.

However it is the third member of the unholy triumvirate listed in the title that is the main driving force for most of my work and will also provide much of the substance of this blog, the mythology of science. It is considered a prerequisite for an educated person to know the main features of the history of Western science and these are duly taught in our schools, colleges and universities. Unfortunately that, which most people believe to be the principle or outline ‘facts’ of the history of science are not facts at all but myths. What is taught in our educational establishments is not the history of science but the mythology of science. Unfortunately this pervasion of falsehoods is not restricted to polite cocktail party chat but is used by such people as historians and philosophers (of the non-scientific variety) to formulate their theories, leading to some real intellectual perversions. My life’s function as a historian of science is to serve as a myths-of-science buster and one of the principle functions of this blog is to expose and explode those myths.

Like all of my role models I of course reserve the right to also blog about anything and everything that takes my fancy or currently occupies the vacant lot that I call my brain.

I hope some will stick around for the ride.


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15 responses to “A Mission Statement

  1. Sounds brilliant (I just arrived here via Ptak’s Science Books). You’ve probably read it already, but if not, Clifford D Conner’s A People’s History of Science: Miners, Midwives, and “Low Mechanicks” – http://www.booknoise.net/sciencehistory/index.html – is worth checking out. It’s very much in your territory, debunking the myth of the history of science as a progression of “Great Men with Ideas”.

  2. “as a specious of Siamese twins” I assume you meant “species,” although your typo fortuitously describes the attitude of certain scientists and wannabes (comment threads at Pharyngula come to mind).

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  4. Who are you? How do I credit you if I am quoting your blog?

  5. A very interesting blog.
    Re “It is considered a prerequisite for an educated person to know the main features of the history of Western science and these are duly taught in our schools, colleges and universities.” – but is it?
    I agree with you on mythologies in science, but I think a much bigger problem is that only a tiny minority get to hear the basics of modern science in many parts of the world…that said, look forward to your posts..

    • Hi Thony Christie,

      I concur with Cormac O’Rafferty and like the scope and validity of your highly commendable mission statement.

      Whilst “The History, Philosophy and Mythology of Science [is] an Unholy Triumvirate”, the History, Philosophy and Sociology of Science is definitely a holy alliance. Sociology includes the study of myths, and the social science includes sociology, anthropology, archaeology and criminology.

      In any case, the science and philosophy of research (and of knowledge) are very complex. We live in a world where issues and problems are often multifactorial and require multidisciplinary approaches to understand and solve.

      As far as I can remember, when I studied computer systems engineering many years ago, most matters regarding user interfaces, ethics and societies came from certain subjects available in the computer science department, not the engineering department. Even then, the issues discussed were not anywhere near as acute or pressing at the time as they are now, let alone the emergence of new issues as new technologies and automations took hold.

      In addition, the many problems and impacts of science in general, and computing and information technologies in particular could have been considerably reduced and better moderated or monitored, if not eliminated, when more scientists are much better informed by the philosophy of science, the history of science, and the sociology of science.

      Regarding sociohistorical viewpoints, one way of looking at the problem or issue of social construction is through the works of Michel Foucault, a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas who is credited for his critical studies of social institutions, most notably psychiatry (Madness and Civilization), social anthropology of medicine (The Birth of the Clinic), the human sciences (The Order of Things, The Archaeology of Knowledge, The History of Sexuality) and the prison system (Discipline and Punish), at least to the extent that the social construction of history is an (un)necessary evil, so to speak. The explication and insightful analysis of critical theory and ethics in relation to Foucault and Habermas in the light of social/moral philosophy and postmodernism can shed some good insights.

      History, philosophy and science are not immune to the pitfalls of following the default framework, the prevailing theoretical perspective, the dominant paradigm, and the latest trend or pop ideology. On the one hand, historians and philosophers should be empirically informed by the sciences most relevant to their work. On the other hand, scientists should have at least some historical awareness and philosophical training before assuming narrow interpretations of the data that they are compiling. In short, historians, philosophers and scientists alike need to collaborate to draw accurate and responsible interpretations and conclusions. Hence, SoundEagle has always adopted a multidisciplinary approach, however difficult and challenging that approach may be(come). An example can be gleaned at http://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/facing-the-noise-music-grey-barriers-and-green-frontiers-of-sound-society-and-environment/, which will also cater to those who have a deeper passion or concern for history, anthropology, sociology, musicology, philosophy and environmental studies.

      In addition, SoundEagle wonders whether we can hope for some fundamental changes and sustainable improvements over the next decade or two. When one looks at the great number of schools, theories and disciplines within criminology and criminal law, one would like to hope that some long-term solutions could be found in spite of the steady decline of some traditional customs and institutions amidst the rapid social and technological changes faced by contemporary societies and peoples. SoundEagle, for one, is not very optimistic.

  6. aqilaqamar

    I wish I was as interesting as you buddy 😀

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  8. Michael Russo

    For someone who just found your blog (through recent entry that made it to the front page of hacker news) and is interested in ‘catching up’ on it, is there any particular order I should read it in? Or where to start?

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