Book Review: Philosophy of Science, A Short Introduction by Samir Okasha
Hello readers! Welcome to JYI's first Book Review, our latest addition to the News and Features Department designed to quench the thirst for knowledge that ails you, the science undergraduate. With these book reviews, we will be occasionally highlighting a particularly interesting book with a topic in science. We will be providing a synopsis of the book, reviewing the details, providing personal insight from the author on his/her inspiration for the book, and ending with a comprehensive review. Whether searching for the perfect book for your science project, looking to further your knowledge in a particular subject, or just looking for a good read, JYI's Book Reviews will serve you well as an undergraduate pursuer of knowledge.
Senior News and Features Editor
News and Features Department, JYI
Title: Philosophy of Science: a Very Short Introduction
Author: Samir Okasha
Reviewed by: Suvash Shrestha, Science Journalist
Science is historically a vehemently debated and hotly discussed topic. Consensus is hard to achieve in science; ideas are diverse concerning even the definition of science, let alone the true meanings and interpretations of scientific discoveries, experiments and philosophies. But these disagreements, arguments and continuous attempts to find a better explanation, reasoning and logic are exactly what have been driving the progression of science from art to art form. In Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction, Samir Okasha explores different ways of looking at science through the prism of life by citing various scientific experiments and highlighting examples from history.
A scientific theory is either deduced or induced. What seems such a simple concept is actually so much more, and Okasha demonstrates this with a few examples. "All Frenchmen like red wine. Pierre is a Frenchman, therefore he likes red wine." This seems logical provided that the first two statements, called premises, are true. This is deduction. However, usually it is not possible to deduce a theory because we simply cannot examine every object. Therefore, it's induction that's mostly the basis of scientific theories. "The first five eggs in the box are rotten. All the eggs have the same best before date stamped on them. Therefore, the sixth egg will be rotten too." This seems sensible. But no one exactly knows how the sixth egg will turn out to be. A similar example in science can be made with Down's syndrome. Children with Down's syndrome have an extra chromosome, but have the scientists examined all the Down's syndrome children before making the conclusion that they, too, possess an extra chromosome? Obviously not! They examined a large number of Down's syndrome children and they induced their theory. The problem with theory of induction is it relies heavily on "Uniformity of Nature" an assumption that all objects of the same kind behave similarly, which is again a matter of great discussion. By testing these widely accepted scientific virtues, Okasha leaves the reader in an interesting position where he/she is perhaps unwilling to accept what he has proposed, yet at the same time is unable to dismiss his propositions.
In addition to deduction and induction, Okasha discusses other topics such as science, pseudoscience, realism, and idealism in science,subjects which are equally mind-engrossing. Is an atom a reality or just an idea? Well, no one has seen it. All we have are indirect evidences from experiments, which themselves are marred with many questions and criticisms about their setup, observations, calculations and explanations. Okasha has shed light over many such issues in science whose reality we take for granted, but which are hard to provide logical explanations for.
What I found most commendable about the book is the unique vantage point from which science and its theories are explored. It is not explaining what a scientist did or how he did it; instead, it explains how scientists think and how they draw conclusions. What is the correct way to make conclusions? What has been driving science and what has led to scientific revolutions? What is the future of science? In addition to the various topics explored, there are also interesting stories behind some big scientific discoveries that are an added attraction of the book.
Author Dr. Samir Okasha, who is a Professor of Philosophy of Science at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, states that his goal in writing Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction was to convey the philosophy of science in a manner understood by everyone, whether or not they had prior knowledge of philosophy. "My aim was to write a concise introduction to the philosophy of science that would appeal to, and be accessible to, readers without much background in philosophy," Dr. Okasha states. "In particular, I had in mind science undergraduates with an interest in broader philosophical and methodological questions." Dr. Okasha also sought to convey his ideals in manner free from complicated jargon, with real-world examples that all readers would be able to relate to. "I tried to write a book that was as free as possible from philosophical jargon, which many readers find off-putting and which often isn't actually necessary to explain the main ideas. Also, I tried to include lots of real scientific examples, drawn from different areas of science. I think it's important to anchor philosophical discussions of science in the science itself."
Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction is an intriguing book that captures the reader from the first page and keeps him glued till the last. The ideals are easy to understand and presented with a good flow of information. The book is short in length, but Okasha made the conciseness of this book work by leaving the reader wanting more. The Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction is a must-read book for all, as it's well thought-out discussions on long-accepted scientific theories transcend science and becomes applicable in all areas of academia as it begs us to consider, "Yes, but what if?"