All we see is motion or change.
We never see particles, mass, or gravity. As a simple example, the mass of 1 kg is defined as that which accelerates at 9. So, mass is not defined or measured by itself. We rather measure motion and then say that something that moves like this must have this property. But it is entirely possible that someone else can come up with another way of explaining the same motion, which is based on equally unperceivable ideas. Nobody has seen a point particle, an electromagnetic wave, a gravitational field, mass, or charge. This is purely an invention of the human mind.
When it works well we say that it must be true because it works so well. This has happened many times in science already. For example, Newton initially proposed a corpuscular theory of light by extending the idea of particles in case of gravity. Nobody talks about this theory today because we found the interference phenomena which the corpuscular theory could not explain. So we said that light is not particles but waves. Then a few centuries passed and we found blackbody radiation where we could measure that light is indeed measured as particles but collectively it behaves as waves.
Thus, we went from corpuscles to waves to something that is neither of these two things. Therefore, the idea that because it works it must be true is generally false, and it has been proven false many times. Our previous theories have been thrown out and new theories have been proposed.
Therefore, because science is changing, most people got tired of claiming that science represents the truth. Now, at any given time there are many things that any scientific theory is unable to explain. For example, neutrinos are predicted to be massless particles but observations show that they must have mass.
So, not only do we have a partial explanation but even this partial explanation contradicts observations in some cases. In that sense the Standard Model—which is considered the pinnacle of scientific achievement today—is incomplete and it contradicts known facts. Does this mean we throw out the Standard Model and start fresh with something else? We keep proclaiming the truth of the Standard Model because we have spent so much effort in building it and even when we know that it is incomplete and contradictory to facts we keep sticking to it.
While in theory we say that science builds models and we can change the models if the need arises, in practice we are far more attached to our scientific models unless something new comes around. Thomas Kuhn called this the problem of paradigm shift. An enormous amount of data has to accumulate to repudiate a theory before we will reject it. Until that time we keep tinkering with the model, hoping that somehow or other we will be able to fix it. The more successful a theory the harder it is to change it and get broad acceptance from others. Then if this generalization works we still have no empirical evidence for the concepts themselves because we only observe motion or change but the concepts that are used to explain this motion or change remain outside empirical verification.
Then even when we find that in some cases that the theory contradicts experiment we are unable to reject it unless we have an alternative. Even though we know that it is broken, we keep using it as far as we can. There is a methodological problem here, namely that we will never find a way that will tell us how to do better generalization, which means potentially science will remain incorrect forever.
We will just build some theories which will live for some time until we find a problem and create a new theory. So, science based on empirical method has no known end. It is an activity that produces some benefits but since it never ends we can never say that we have obtained true and complete knowledge. The theories of science are just like the products of engineering such as roads and bridges. Today you build some road and bridge and it will be useful for some decades and when the road or bridge has become old then you tear it down and build a new one and hopefully it would be a better one.
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Also, like the road and bridge there are some limitations for the use of the theory. The road or bridge is suited only for some types of vehicles, and will not work for every kind of transport you can imagine. Similarly, the theory will work in some cases and break down when you try to use it in every scenario. This led some philosophers to coin the term Instrumentalism regarding scientific theories.
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Like the toolkit of a workman has many tools and the workman decides which tools to use when, similarly, science must be treated like the toolkit of a workman. The workman knows which tools to use, and that is his expertise.
And there will always be many kinds of partially useful theories. There is nothing sacred about the theory because you can replace one tool with a better tool tomorrow. You never say that you have the complete toolkit for all the jobs, and you never claim that your tools are perfect. You just use these tools and get a job done today, and hope that you will have better tools tomorrow. Instrumentalism is the most sustainable philosophy of science today. And in this philosophy there is simply no claim that these tools can solve all problems, that these are the best tools, or even that we will continue to use the same tools tomorrow.
Science is good for here and now, for the chosen set of problems we want to solve, to the extent that we are approximately able to solve them for our needs, until the time we discover some blatant limitations. So, instrumentalism takes out all claims of truth, reality, perfection, and intellectual superiority from science. A craftsman works with tools and the scientist works with theories which are just like tools.
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The tools are imperfect, but they are the best tools we have today, until we find some different or better tools. So, this is the problem of empiricism—there no guarantees, things may or may not work, we reserve the right to change everything at any time, and this knowledge comes at a huge cost which has to be borne by the public. But since the empirical method cannot guarantee this, and history has shown that laws keep changing, how do you justify that science is indeed very important to society and we must invest in it?
This is achieved by deception in science by which the public which pays for science has to be kept in the dark about the methodological problems otherwise they will stop paying for it. If you tell the public that the billions of dollars we are spending are for tentative and incremental improvements and it is not guaranteed to be true, that it may not always work, and that it can change anytime in the future, thereby wasting your investments, then the public will question this investment. Scientists want to stay away from this questioning and suppress any dissent that can create doubts about what they are doing.
So most people think that the scientific method stands on solid foundation and blindly believe in it. The first problem is that reason operates on axioms or well-known ideas, but you cannot create new ideas simply by reasoning. This is the problem of creativity, or how you arrive at new theories and ideas.
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The empiricist would argue that we come up with new ideas by looking at the world. The world shows us new phenomena and we are inspired by these new phenomena to create new ideas. Ideally, the rationalist response can be that we can freely create new ideas because the power of creativity lies in us. But this type of claim is never made because it brings a risk, which is that someone can say that you are simply imagining things, and someone can imagine differently.
How does this imagination help us, and why should we be interested in your imagination? In particular, how is rational thinking different from fictional literature where the author creates fictional characters, personalities, and situations and then goes about describing their behavior using logic and reason based on these fictional creations?
So, rationalism runs the risk of being bundled with fiction if we say that creativity is within us. So most rationalists are also Platonists. They claim that there is world of ideas which exists as pure possibility and we intuit this world through the mind and then express it through reason. So it is not merely our creation, and it is not obtained from the observation of phenomena.
It is rather intuited from a world of ideas or possibilities. And what we prove using reason is true in all possible worlds, whether or not we find actual instances of these things within the present world here and now. The problem is that rationalism opens the gates to a new metaphysics where there is a world of Platonic ideas and our mind is able to perceive this world of ideas even without the senses.
And to the extent that the real world follows the theories created by reason, we are compelled to believe that the real world is in some sense a reflection of the Platonic world of ideas. This then leads to the problems of how the Platonic world is reflected in the present world, and how the mind is able to perceive this world even when it is not reflected. So rationalism—contrary to what most people think—actually leads us into some kind of mysticism where there is a transcendent world and by our minds we can know this world. The problem with this mysticism is that Enlightenment and Renaissance in Europe were predicated on the rejection of transcendence of religions.
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It was claimed that religion is based on faith and belief and we are not going to accept anything based on faith and belief. But the problem is that we cannot obtain new ideas by reason, unless we say that we are perceiving another world of ideas. Therefore, we must either be limited to what we already know, or we must accept transcendence and mental perception.