Part of a Series of Excerpts from Prof. Sundar Sarukkai’s Book, ‘What is Science?’

Dr. Sarukkai now considers whether other activities also rely on the use of logic-

” Given what we understand by logic, it is indeed difficult to see how only science is concerned with logic. Even theology sets out its claims and arguments in a logical manner. It finds ways to relate evidence to a larger theory of the divine. In the theological arguments of Indian philosophers like Sankara or Ramanuja, any talk of the divine is presented through rigorous logical arguments. In fact, the language of logic and epistemology pervade these discourses. Similarly, one can see theology’s engagement with logic in the writings of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.”

” Logic pervades human action and human thought. Where science differs from other disciplines is in the set of conceptual terms that it uses.”

“… there are many logics present in science: the logic of its discourse, the logic of its practice (that brings together experiment and theory), the logic of its instrumental world, the logic of its method and so on. Once we break up the relation of science with logic in this manner then we can have a better means of comparing the rationality of science with the rationality of other human activities.”

(Page 63)

” Cooking, sports, astrology, religion, literature all have their own logic in different ways and in different degrees. Fiction, for example, has a deep relation with logic;”

” Cooking is a lot like chemistry and has within its practice elements of scientific methodology. Astrology makes stronger claims given that it has quite well-defined theories, claims to predict like science does, also uses calculations and so on. So to claim that these other activities are not logical like science is to misunderstand the role of logic in science as well as the importance of logic in other activities. One could perhaps go to the extent of saying that scientists intuitively understand the ambiguous relationship between logic and science – the best illustration for this claim is that logic as a subject is not taught to science students!”

” The reason why science is stuck on logic and rationality as distinguishing marks is more historical in nature and is part of the story of the origins of modern science where conflicts between science and religion were at the forefront. It is part of the larger movement in the western civilization, following Enlightenment, to appropriate reason and rationality as defining markers of their civilization. Reason and logic were used as political categories to distinguish and then subjugate cultures (note the often cited observation of the colonial British that Indians had no capacity for logic and reason) and when science continues this trend in response to other activities and disciplines even today we have to recognize the politics inherent in such an act.”

(Page 64)

Dr. Sarukkai explains how Science is influenced by aesthetic considerations also, and not just logic-

” In both theory and experiment aesthetic judgements (a judgement of what is beautiful, for instance) play an important role. Scientists routinely talk of some works of science as being beautiful. Many times aesthetic considerations play a significant role in the acceptance of certain theories. Scientists also place a premium on the relation between beauty and truth. Often, scientists choose theories as well as experiments which they think are beautiful.”

” We can find examples of this view across the different disciplines of science (Tauber 1996). Kohn points out that Darwin’s theory of evolution had profound aesthetic influences. Darwin’s ‘aesthetic-emotional ambition’, which was awakened on his Beagle voyage, was ‘later transformed into high scientific theory’. Darwin’s two influential metaphors of ‘wedging’ and ‘entangled bank’ were central to his Origin of Species. Kohn argues that the ‘tension between the sublime and the beautiful’ which ‘later became the critical Darwinian theme’ was reconciled in his two metaphors. In biology, the discipline of embryology illustrates a continuing aesthetic in its discourse. Gilbert and Faber point out that the ‘visual aesthetic of embryology puts a premium on emergent form and finds expression in its focus on symmetry, order, pattern repetition, and elegance (visual simplicity).’ Another example is the ‘aesthetic’ analysis of an experiment on the replication of DNA by Meselson-Stahl which has been considered as one of the most ‘beautiful’ experiments in biology.”

(Page 65)

” In the case of physics, Chevalley points out that Heisenberg believed that ‘physics is like art.’ Heisenberg’s argued that different conceptual systems in physics, namely, Newtonian, thermodynamics, relativity and quantum theory, are actually like different ‘styles’ of art. There is also a suggestion that the overthrow of Ptolemy’s theory by the Copernican one was influenced by aesthetic factors. Another example from physics is the use of aesthetic factors in the visualisation of digital image processing in astronomy. In the case of theoretical physics, many physicists give importance to aesthetics in theories. To name three: Weyl, Dirac and Chandrasekhar. In the context of symmetry, Weyl and Wigner placed a premium on its related aesthetic factors. Root-Bernstein gives the example of Weyl who chose beauty as the primary criterion for a theory even ‘when the facts refused to cooperate’. Dirac’s often cited quotation claims something similar: ‘It is more important to have beauty in one’s equations that to have them fit experiments’. The physicist Weisskopf says, ‘what is beautiful in science is the same thing that’s beautiful in Beethoven.’ In the case of chemistry, Root-Bernstein quotes the chemist Woodward who remarked, ‘Much as I think about chemistry, it would not exist for me without these physical, visual, tangible, sensuous things.’ (The things referred to here are crystals, odours, colours and so on.)”

” Mathematicians have consistently preferred (though not always articulated) aesthetic considerations in their formulations. G.H. Hardy is a paradigm example of one who privileges beauty: ‘Beauty is the first test: there is not a permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics’. Seymour Papert believes that the emphasis on the logical part of mathematics as against its aesthetic value leads to a failure ‘to recognise the resonances between mathematics and the total human being which are responsible for mathematical pleasure and beauty’. Looking at aesthetics in science from a Kantian perspective, Chernyak and Kazhdan claim that ‘mathematics is aesthetic by its very nature … mathematics is poetry.’”

(Page 66)

” Sometimes, a judgement on what is true is based on the aesthetics of the theory or experiment. A very good example of this is Eddington. It has been suggested that Eddington’s experiment, which is officially accepted as having provided the first proof of General Relativity, did not actually demonstrate conclusive proof of the theory. It was Eddington’s belief in the ‘beauty’ of Einstein’s theory, with the concomitant belief that a theory with such beauty had to be true, that led him to proclaim that Einstein’s theory had been proved by his experiment.”

(Page 67)
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