Philosophy of Science is a field that had always intrigued me but I never had the chance to formally study. During Innovative Learning Week, I got the chance to see the Surgeon’s Hall Museum and delve into this fascinating field.
If every swan mankind has observed is white, does this mean all swans must be white? This questions illustrates the fundamental logical flaw in inductive reasoning that has plagued the field of epistemology and statistics for centuries. The Surgeon’s Hall Museum is filled with medical artefacts, ranging from 18th century scalpels and drills to preserved organs and deformed heads. It was very Sherlock Holmes, very medieval, and very Edinburgh.
With intermittent breaks to explore the museum, the discussion sought to explore questions of how we know what we know. Deduction is by definition more truthful and certain than induction, and yet humans have evolved to make inductive conclusions about the world around us, simply because it was convention for survival. The technique of abduction, or inference to best explanation, has come to be thought of as a happy medium.
In a whirlwind tour of epistemological development, beginning with the Artistotleans, moving through Newton, Ockham, Hume, and Sir Karl Raimund Popper, the event left audiences with some understanding of why we never expect the unexpected, but still many questions to be answered. As I now know (thanks in part to Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman) there are indeed black swans, even when it contradicts all previous observations.