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maggie_simon's picture

Thoughts on experience and limitations of science

Tuesday in class, the point was made that humans can only perceive those stimuli (such as light, sound, pressure differences) that can be picked up by proteins in our bodies.  The reason that we cannot perceive infrared radiation or radio waves is because we do not have the proteins to detect them.  However, we can perceive their existence through other apparatus that can detect them and that then translate them into stimuli that we can detect, such as the conversion of radio waves into sound waves.  So in this sense, we can perceive the existence of some things that we would otherwise not be able to experience in their original form.


Two ways in which we can come to perceive those things that we cannot directly experience is through 1) accidentally stumbling upon them empirically (through experiments that do not turn out as we expect, giving us a glimpse of something else that must be at work), and 2) conceiving of the possibility of something existing through theory and thought-experiments (extrapolating from previous experience or perceptions) and then devising a way to perceive it.  Of course the problem with this is that we can prove it with an experiment, but by “prove” I refer back to the lesson in the beginning of the semester, in which we discussed “getting it less wrong. When we use another apparatus to perceive the existence of those things that we cannot outright experience we are again limited in the same way as before with our bodies because our apparatus is also limited in what it can perceive (also, one might imagine, in what it can perceive and translate for us so that we also can perceive it).  We therefore cannot justify that science is objective because it is limited by what we can perceive and can get other things to perceive for us.  However, we could perhaps say that science can be objective if we refer to science as a description of the world that we can experience directly (this leaves such branches as quantum mechanics out of the definition because quantum phenomenon cannot be perceived directly).  Thus, science is objective if it is used to explain the reality that we experience through our five senses.


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