As You See It

Assumptions

To the Editor,

I have the March edition of the Current (Volume 6 Issue 4). In it is a column by Larry Scheckel (Ask a Science Teacher). I would like to comment on an editor’s note statement made at the end of his column, under ‘Further Note’, which I feel is scientifically false and misleading. I have a B.S. in Physics and an M.S. in Chemical Engineering, and recently retired as Technical Manager of VPI Corporation in Sheboygan.

The statement was ”... modern physics is laced with philosophical assumptions (italics mine) that are, at best, questionable; at worst, destructively false.” My complaint is that this statement is, in itself, false. Science does NOT rest on ‘assumptions’, philosophical or otherwise. Science proceeds from hypotheses, which are used to construct theories, which in turn, are either proven or discarded. Assumptions, per se, have no place in science. Especially in science, to ‘assume’ something is to make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.

Assumptions imply untested, unproven assertions which would effectively block any progress in any scientific field.

That said, there are realms of advanced theoretical astrophysics and quantum physics that set forth hypotheses that seem at first to be philosophical in nature, but these are, again, hypotheses that rest on solid scientific conjecture. But they are not ‘assumptions’, and to say that they are gives the public a false impression of the methods by which science, especially physics, had made such spectacular progress in the 20th century. For example, look at Einstein’s relativity theories, and quantum mechanics’ wave-particle duality, and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. The latter two make possible all the electronics everyone uses today, but at the time they must have sounded very ‘philosophical’ indeed.

I would challenge the editor to show me concrete examples of some of the “philosophical assumptions” that he claims modern science is laced with.

Sincerely,
Bud Pazur


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