Modification talk:Sciento-2019-0012

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Provide your comments regarding the suggested modification here. At minimum you need to indicate whether you think the modification is acceptable, why "yes" or why "no". The key question here is not whether the modification is flawless - no modification ever is. The key question is whether the modification, if accepted, will provide an overall improvement to our communal knowledge.

Please follow the instructions in the guidelines for readers.

Joshua Allen

8 months ago
Score 0

In his paper, Alliksaar argues for the acceptance of a distinction between theories’ ontological and phenomenological claims, which could be used to more precisely determine whether or not a theory is (or has been) accepted. I do indeed think this distinction has the potential to serve observational scientonomy. However, I remain skeptical of the interpretation put forth on meteorology’s acceptance of classical theories, even if that acceptance is taken to be purely phenomenological.

Alliksaar argues that since textbooks and papers on meteorology derive the currently accepted theories of the subject from, what scientonomy would no longer deem accepted, classical mechanics, either classical mechanics must be in some way still accepted or we are left with a paradox.

Taking the example he puts forth of Newton’s gravitational formula, Alliksaar argues that its implicit premise of a gravitational force acting at a distance is the ontological portion and its premise that, “the observed acceleration between two objects is inversely proportional to the distance between the two objects”, represents the phenomenological claim of the theory. He says that the latter is still accepted. And, indeed, it is. But this characterization of the formula’s phenomenological claim is incomplete. What of the precise assertion that those terms in the formula make - that the resulting acceleration is the gravitational constant times the mass of the first object times the mass of the second object divided by the distance between them squared. Surely no current scientist would concede that this represents the best possible description of the relevant phenomenon, in general (over what is asserted by general relativity). It is merely accurate for some subset of circumstances (i.e., when dealing with, what Alliksaar calls, ordinary macroscopic objects). Without arbitrarily leaving out inconvenient details, as was done above with the less precise stating of the formula’s phenomenological claim, the set of phenomena to which the supposedly still accepted theory is said to apply must be narrowed. This is evidenced by Alliksaar’s later statement that “we still accept that Newton’s law of gravitation is as good a description of the apparent behaviour of ordinary macroscopic phenomena as any other available theory” and so, “the physics community still accepts the phenomenological claims of the law”. But, just because a previous theory performs just as well as a newly accepted theory among a more limited subset of phenomena, that does not mean that it is still accepted.

The fact that a classical mechanics formula might be thought to suffice in the derivation of important (currently accepted) theories of meteorological science seems to me somewhat beside the point. Practitioners in these fields do not necessarily think these classical theories (in their purely phenomenological form) represent the best (phenomenological) descriptions of the relevant objects. They may simply accept that such classical theories are useful insofar as they can be more easily used with no unacceptable loss of accuracy to formulate the foundational theories of meteorology. In this way, they seem to be using them in much the same way engineers do. But, scientonomy’s definition of accepting a theory is taking it to be the best available description or prescription of an object. If a newly accepted theory describes phenomena related to, say, ordinary macroscopic objects just as well as a previous theory, but has the added ability to describe other objects much better, it would be counterintuitive to say that both theories are accepted, just for different objects. It is for this reason that I do not see that any particularly intractable or objectionable paradox arises in these instances that Alliksaar notes of accepted theories (such as the current meteorological ones) being derived from theories that are no longer accepted. As long as the method of the time allows for it, then, to me, such a practice seems unproblematic from a scientonomic perspective.

My position, then, is that, though the paper raises an interesting issue worthy of further research, we should not accept this modification.

Tessa Ng

7 months ago
Score 0

The suggested modification proposes that a community can accept classical theories, such as the phenomenological claims of classical physics, as the best available descriptions of the phenomena they describe while acknowledging that the theories themselves may be outdated. Alliksaar engages the case study of the meteorological community, which relies on classical mechanics and classical thermodynamics as fundamental pillars of their theories about atmospheric phenomena. At the crux of this modification is the idea that the current picture of theory acceptance, use, and pursuit is overly simplistic in practical applications, especially when it comes to the role of classical physics contemporarily. The author calls for a distinction between a theory’s ontology and its phenomenological propositions.

In the case of classical physics, theories tend to be dual-faceted, in that they posit ontological claims, as well as phenomenological claims. An interesting and pursuit-worthy component of the author’s proposal is the idea that a community can accept phenomenological claims as the best available answer to their relevant questions without also accepting the ontological claims. A natural question that arises here is whether the phenomenology of a theory can truly be divorced from the ontology; however, the author engages this concern head on and compellingly distinguishes the ontological and phenomenological claims of Newton’s law of gravitation.

Toggingly to the main argument at hand, the author contends that in many cases, the phenomenological claims of outdated theories from classical physics are still deemed to be the best available theories in the relevant field. This claim is distinctly different from the idea that phenomenological claims can be distinguished from ontological ones, in that it asserts something about what is actually taking place in contemporary scientific communities and what agents believe about the theories they employ. Although the modification presents a compelling case study of the meteorological community, it seems to me that there is insufficient data to accept such a grand generalization that the phenomenological components of outdated theories are still accepted, as opposed to merely used, at large, as there are doubtless epistemic agents whose stance on every aspect of a theory from classical physics is simply use.

The author makes a compelling case for the continued acceptance of antiquated theories from classical physics via a case study of the meteorological community. Conclusively, I believe the distinction between ontological and phenomenological aspects of theories is the most noteworthy and novel proposition of this paper, in that it has depths to be explored in further case studies. It would certainly be of interest to the scientonomic community to investigate how ontological and phenomenological theories differ in their role in a mosaic and in scientific change. My verdict is to reject the suggested modification or withhold judgement until further evidence in favour of it is revealed, as there does not appear to be sufficient data in its favour at this time.

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