So, I've been thinking about this question as part of an assignment which I have to do and one way in which I have approached it is the following;

Our view of the world is essentially that pre-conceived idea of what physically happens based on what we can observe through the 5 senses. I'm working with this particular definition, at least for now.

Now, we can agree that a large part of constructing a scientific theory is observation.At the very least, that is what is clear within the inductivist view of science.

Naturally, because of this link to observation, I'm arguing that scientific theories destabilize our view of the world more than they solidify it, since they present details that we are not able to observe directly through our senses, thereby changing our understanding of what is actually happening in the world.

Would this argument actually work? If it does not, why?


So the original question was the following;

‘Every theory destabilizes as much as it solidifies our view of the world’’ (Nathan Jurgenson). Discuss.

I'm discussing this in the context of the human sciences and natural sciences

  • Are you arguing that "scientific theories let us create tools that enhance our senses"? – Jasper Apr 18 '17 at 0:56
  • Are you arguing that "a person who has not been exposed to a certain scientific theory is likely to interpret a certain combination of sensations differently than a person who has been exposed to that scientific theory"? This claim might be empirically verifiable. You might be able to look up research papers that have attempted to verify or falsify it. – Jasper Apr 18 '17 at 0:58
  • Maybe it's best to put this in terms of an example. So, without learning any theory in physics, we see that a ball will fall to the ground when it is released and a pendulum swings with a constant period. Now, from these sets of observations, as well as other mechanical examples, we can say that the world is deterministic. We obtained that from our senses. We study classical mechanics, a theory of physics, which is inherently deterministic. That is, you can always determine the future state of a system if you know enough about its current state. – Abhijeet Vats Apr 18 '17 at 1:04
  • Are you arguing that people's "confirmation bias" causes them to notice sensations that are consistent with accepted scientific theories, and dismiss sensations that are not consistent with those theories? There is empirical evidence that babies expect "conservation of numbers of objects" (not types or masses of objects). The evidence is that the babies pay more attention, not less attention when this "conservation law" is violated. – Jasper Apr 18 '17 at 1:05
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    You say "scientific theories clearly do more to destabilize our view of the world". More than what? Because science deals with what we can not directly observe, and only sensory observations count. Well, religion, art, etc., also often deal with what we can not directly (or ever) observe. Are you comparing science to them? I would think that any kind of practice "destabilizes" our views because they have to change as we refine it. Science is only one such practice. – Conifold Apr 18 '17 at 1:30

I think its trivial to argue that any theory does a combination of stabilizing and destabilizing worldviews. Naturally, it stabilizes those parts of your world view which are consistent with the theory, and destabilizes those which are not.

To argue that it stabilizes more or destabilizes more, we need a way to compare these effects. Finding a way to do that is not easy. Sometimes it stabilizes more, such as when you've noticed some strange coincidence in our observations and you find out that there is a theory behind it. Other times it destabilizes more, such as when you thought you knew everything and someone kicks the chair right out from underneath you (QM and relativity are notorious for that).

I don't know if you can say universally that theories destabilize more than stabilize. If so, the most unstable people would be the ones who learned the most theories. This concept of stabilization must be taken globally. You are also destabilized when you cannot predict what is going to happen because you lack theories to do the prediction with. A theory that destabilizes at first may stabilize in the long run.

I think avalanche breakdown in diodes may be an excellent example. To understand avalanche breakdown you need to understand QM, because the effect involves quantum tunneling. You may choose to view QM as a destabilizing theory if you please. However, once you understand it, integrated circuits are a bit less magic. So here's the question... which is more stable? Having QM under your belt and understanding the theory behind avalance breakdown? Or believing that IC's are simply magic? It turns out that you can live quite the stable life believing that ICs are magic devices powered by smoke. And that makes the decision really complicated. Was your life destabilized by learning enough QM to take the magic out of ICs?

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