There is a discussion of Karl Popper on the Philosophy Talk now podcast which is from October 2006. The podcast is divided into a number of sections – for me the main ones were the central discussions with a number of philosophers and scientists. The program is interspersed with music and phone-ins from listeners.
‘The reason we believe things is because they haven’t been disproved’
The hosts of this podcast take us through some of Popper’s early biography. What was fascinating was that here was another influential figure coming out of Vienna and when we look more closely we see that he was actually a research assistant with Adler, who’s individual psychology was examined earlier in an earlier book review in this blog, where I thought that Freud and Nietzsche appeared to have had some influence on the contents of the book (although this was not by Adler himself). This is not surprising as Freud was also living in Vienna at this time as were the logical positivists and Wittgenstein. As there was considerable poverty in Vienna at that time, Marxist philosophy was quite pervasive and apparently Popper himself was a Marxist for a brief period. The other key event that happened at that time was that Einstein’s theory was tested and proved successful overturning some of the notions about the Ether that had persisted since the time of Newton. Since the theories of Freud, Adler and Marx were thought to create a comprehensive science that explained all parts of peoples’ lives, the significance of Einstein’s theory was taken by Popper to mean that there needed to be a means of distinguishing between science and non-science. His solution was to argue that falsifiability was sufficient for science – in other words that theory was scientific if it could be stated in way that could be falsified and remained valid until there was falsification. He had also come up with the concept of prescience – that is something which is not yet science but which can later be established as science when it becomes possible. Popper was also contrasted with the logical positivists for whom anything that was not provable was meaningless as opposed to simply being ‘non-scientific’.
One scientist – Peter Godfrey Smith who was interviewed during the program suggested that science progresses not just through the data and the theory but in three ways between two opposing theories and the data that emerges. Falsification of one theory works if the opposing theory can better explain the data which seems to be a description of the Hegelian Dialect. He later made the point that the falsification is usually not so clear cut and that a best-fit approach is used instead.
Returning to Popper’s life – he had lived close to Wittgenstein although they moved in different social spheres and thus didn’t meet until Wittgenstein invited him to Cambridge where the now infamous poker episode took place. Despite Popper’s reliance on deductive processes, the hosts describe ‘a whiff of induction’ as a necessity (I wonder if this was also necessary for Popper’s works!) in creating the bold conjecture which needs to be tested. There follows a discussion of Thomas Kuhn’s work on the philosophy of science and how this contrasted with Popper’s viewpoint. There are also some comments on Popper’s views on the open society.
The podcast makes some of Popper’s ideas very accessible and it would be good to see further podcasts exploring Popper’s ideas further.
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