Philosophy of Science: How we know what we think we know by Alex Dunedin


Title of talk:

Philosophy of Science: How we know what we think we know

Bullet points of talk:

  • The essential nature of science
  • The ancient origins of scientific understanding
  • Science as a collective endeavour
  • Falsifiability and Karl Popper
  • Increasingly and decreasingly reliable knowledge
  • Assumptions – the use of a priori notions
  • Models and metaphors
  • The map is not the territory
  • Skepticism and pseudo-skepticism

A few paragraphs on your subject:

“Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves” – this is something Richard Feynman said about the thing he was most know for; ‘science’. But what exactly is ‘science’ ? What is the fundamental nature of this sometimes esoterised practice ? In this talk I am going to try and tackle some of the basic elements of the philosophy of science – that is, the wisdom which helps us make practical sense of knowledge and argue that the fundaments are the basis of how each person negotiates living in the world.


The philosophy of science is a vast area which has been discussed for thousands of years as a collective endeavour so this talk will only explore some of the key ideas. I would argue that in elementary forms, what we find in science and scientific method are codified expressions of the everyday faculties which we use to understand everything.


The notion of science has become esoterised by some so that they may convince others that the ‘scientific world’ is created of an elite with special cognitive abilities and training which conforms to the hackneyed ‘brightest and best’ meme. I would argue that science is rooted in the common instruments of knowledge and everyday learning which each person is equipped with. A historical example is how Pythagoras kept mathematical workings secret from outsiders on pain of death, but now we see children learning and using that knowledge without any surprise now.


So in this talk I am going to go through some key thinkers who have made contributions to what scientific method is examining how these fit together to produce a culture of epistemological error checking (as Gregory Bateson phrased it).


A few paragraphs about the speaker:

I have long been involved as a library researcher in biomedical sciences producing reviews and reports for people and organisations on various topics. This gave me the opportunity to be drawn into conversations and studies of the history of medicine and the philosophy of science, especially in this epoch where such vast arrays of research and textbooks are so accessible. This background has produced a helpful interest in thinking about how we know what we think we know and the methods we use to formulate and test ideas.


What free internet knowledge resources to explore the theme further?

Hypothesis, Theory, Model and Law

The Common Instruments of Knowledge

Common Sense – A Theory of Inherent Knowledge

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy



This event took place at The Outhouse (12A Broughton Street Lane, Edinburgh) on 12th October 2023