Eddington’s parable and how tools determine what we perceive as truth

Here is Eddington’s parable,
Healthcare, etc. 2/02/12 7:05 AM noreply@blogger.com (Marya Zilberberg) methods methodology Eddington’s parable philosophy science hysteria scientific tools
What do Marie Curie, a Geiger counter and mass hysteria have in common? Well, to answer this question we need to go Sir Arthur Eddington, who was a British astrophysicist and philosopher of science at the turn of the 20th century. He came up with what is frequently referred to as the Eddington parable, which has nothing to do with the stars specifically and everything to do with how we make scientific progress. Here it is for your reading enjoyment, as told in this editorial (available by subscriptionby Diamond and Kaul, two highly respected clinician-researchers:

Let us supposethat an ichthyologist is exploring the life of the ocean. He casts a net into thewater and brings up a fishy assortment. Surveying his catch, he[concludes that no] sea-creature is less than two inches long. An onlooker may object thatthe generalization is wrong. “There are plenty of sea-creatures under twoinches long, only your net is not adapted to catch them.” The ichthyologistdismisses this objectioncontemptuously: “Anything uncatchable by my net is ipso facto outside the scope of ichthyological knowledge, and is not part of thekingdom of fishes which has been defined as the theme of ichthyological knowledge. In short, what my net can’t catch isn’tfish”.

Suppose that a more tactfulonlooker makes a rather different suggestion: “I realize that you are right inrefusing our friend’s hypothesis of uncatchable fish, which cannot beverified by any tests you and I would consider valid. By keeping to your own method of study, you have reached ageneralization of the highest importance—to fishmongers, who would not beinterested in generalizations about uncatchable fish. Since thesegeneralizations are so important, I would like to help you. You arrived atyour generalization in the traditional way by examining the fish. May I point out that you could havearrived more easily at the same generalization by examining the net and the method ofusing it?”

So,you see my point? Tools determine knowledge. Period.

In part yes, but I thought we know now better. There is this eternal conflict of sampling and generalizability and l’d leave at that.



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