This series began as an attempt to understand the scientific method and the nature of scientific knowledge. Scientific knowledge is associated with terms such as ‘evidence-based’ and ‘objective’. The scientific method is associated with terms such as ‘experiment design’, ‘data collection’, ‘hypothesis testing’, and ‘falsifiability’. There are multiple books on these topics, but this series diverges from most such writing in a few important ways.
Firstly, it is not dismissive of philosophical questions but attempts to engage with them and at times, even propose an answer to them. Moreover, an attempt is made to show how philosophical thinking may even contribute to a better understanding of science. It is even hoped that the reader would come to see philosophical thinking as essential to this task.
Secondly, a crucial point to consider is that of where to begin this investigation. Should one begin with reading the works of Galileo and Newton? Sushrutha? Aristotle? Should one read a research paper and follow its trail of citations and references? Some book by a contemporary author? The problem with all these approaches is that every such work is connected to a large number of other works on which they are dependent. Similar is the case with the other books too.
To address this problem, I chose to center my explorations around the NCERT Science textbooks. These textbooks are designed so as build upon the previously existing knowledge of the child and introduce new concepts and theories using them. Furthermore, these prerequisite concepts are also introduced in lower classes. For example, it is only after a child is familiar with concepts such as leaves, water, energy, sunlight, chlorophyll, oxygen, and carbon dioxide that they are introduced to the concept of photosynthesis. Therefore, the hope is that they will not require an endless series of writings to be read and are to some extent self-contained.
Thirdly, this series is an attempt at gaining and recording first-hand knowledge. Therefore, there is an unwillingness to immediately accept views based on a claim of authority. It is true that I will be guided by the textbook but I will not shy away from expressing my differences with it. The central point is that I will not be prejudiced in my doubting. I will doubt what is said in the textbook just as much as anything which may seem contrary to it. Also, the desire for first-hand knowledge entails going out in the world and getting one’s hands dirty since science concerns itself with the physical world and not just speculation. This also, I will take up.
Another aspect of this series is that it concerns itself with very preliminary and simple questions of science. A problem I find with how philosophy of science is done is that the focus is too much on scientific theories which are at the frontiers; for instance, quantum mechanics, general theory of relativity, and neurobiology. These theories are at the cutting edge of research and are also ‘hot topics’. But the concepts they create, employ, measure, explain, and criticize are hard to fathom. They require considerable training and expensive instrumentation. It is with the foundations on which these grander structures of science stand that I wish to study.
I would however, like to state upfront that this series is not an attempt to teach school children philosophy. It is more of an attempt to ground questions from philosophy of science in scientific investigations which are simple but also do justice to science.
Yet another feature of this series is that it is written so as to be accessible to a lay audience (perhaps not children) who may not know much about science or philosophy but can understand English. I hope that it can also serve as a good introduction to these topics and may even serve to popularize them too. Moreover, students of science may appreciate the fact that it does not immediately jump to abstract ideas. Science students like to talk about concrete and specific problems and not vague elusive ideas. I hope that such students find in this series the relevance of philosophy to such concrete particular problems. Hope you enjoy reading the series!