Tuesday, 10 April 2012
Isaac Newton’s Scientific Method
William Harper, Department of Philosophy
University of Western Ontario
12:05 pm, 817R Cathedral of Learning
Abstract: On the basic Hypothetico-deductive model hypothesized principles are tested by experimental verification of observable consequences drawn from them. Empirical success is limited to accurate prediction of observable phenomena.
Newton’s inferences from phenomena realize an ideal of empirical success that is richer than prediction. To realize Newton’s richer conception of empirical success a theory needs to do more than to accurately predict the phenomena it purports to explain; in addition, it needs to have the phenomena accurately measure parameters of the theory. Newton’s method aims to turn theoretical questions into ones which can be empirically answered by measurement from phenomena. Propositions inferred from phenomena are provisionally accepted as guides to further research. Newton employs theory-mediated measurements to turn data into far more informative evidence than can be achieved by hypothetico-deductive confirmation alone. On his method deviations from the model developed so far count as new theory-mediated phenomena to be exploited as carrying information to aid in developing a more accurate successor.
All of these enrichments are exemplified in the classical response to Mercury’s perihelion problem. Contrary to Kuhn, Newton’s method endorses the radical transition from his theory to Einstein’s. These richer themes of Newton’s method are, also, strikingly realized in the response to a challenge to general relativity from a later problem posed by Mercury’s perihelion.
We can also see Newton’s method at work in cosmology today in the support afforded to the (dark energy) cosmic expansion from the agreeing measurements from supernovae and cosmic microwave background radiation.