Oct 03

As a student, I once went to a philosophy of science lecture,

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As a student, I once went to a philosophy of science lecture, expecting that I might become a regular attendee. The nervous and ill-prepared lecturer was clearly a science fan, but revealed himself as a charlatan within fifteen minutes when, while talking about the March of Progress, he stated that Einstein had proved Newton wrong: that Izzy’s quaint notions of falling apples and inclined planes were no match for clever ole Al’s warped space-time and bending torch-beams. Newton had not only been labouring under a hopeless delusion when he really should have known better, he was also now as irrelevant as a Flat-Earther. This had me spluttering – not only was it disrespect for one of my heroes (not to mention the venerable Platygeans), there was also the fact that mechanics was alive and well and I had a test on it the following day. Worst of all was the ignorance of what a useful scientific model was and its relationship (or otherwise) to truth, which I had thought would be at the core of the philosophy of science. I got up and left. I had come to the lecture to get away from what I saw as the blinkeredness of my own engineering courses, not to find a misplaced version of the same. What can I say, I was a high-minded first-year.

Of course it occurred to me later that this had been just an introductory talk, and perhaps I had missed the all-important BUT at the lecture’s thirty-minute mark. However, the experience did awaken me to the dangers of science fandom. Yes, Einstein was very clever, and all of us who were born in the twentieth century have been told this before. But be cool about it for God’s sake. Better a Flat-Earther than a sir-please-sir toady.

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