Re: Sheldon Klein on Religion and Science

Sheldon Klein (sklein@CS.WISC.EDU)
Sat, 17 Aug 1996 16:19:18 -0500


Actually, I came in late on the discussion. I was reacting to the emerging
dichotomy which seemed to be 'its either science or its religion', without
recognition of other categories.

Are you familiar with,

Bridgman, P. W. (Percy Williams), 1882-1961.
The logic of modern physics / by P.W. Bridgman
New York : The Macmillan Company, 1927. ?

There you will find a list of his 'meaningless' propositions
--meaningless to the extent that the operations do not exist (circa 1927)
to test them. Among them were,

'Is time discontinuous?'

'Is the space between all atoms in the universe expanding

and, 'What is the temparature of an atom?'
(at the time, temperature was defined as a function of
the average kinetic energy of molecules bouncing against
a measuring device, and the concept of 'temperature of an atom'
was operationally meaningless.

However, it seemed meaningful in ordinary English, because
the word 'atom' is a concrete noun, and concrete nouns have
physical properties. (sic Sapir-Whorf).

Today, however, there is a different definition of temperature, I am told,
that is post 1950, that is based on the excitation state of electrons in
oribit around atomic nuclei. Accordingly, TODAY, the question is meaningful,
because the operations exist to evaluate the elements of the concept.

Functionally, it would seem that the utilitarian role of Logical Positivism
is as a guide what research lines are likely to yield results given the state
of the art or knowledge at given point in time.

I think your objections are covered by my item 3:

"3. If you can & do test it, it is either 'true' or 'false', but to no greater
extent than the significance of the test."

That allows a great many scientists to have excellent careers persuing theories
that contradict those of colleagues who also have excellent careers.