The Decline of Certainty in Science

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

Sinking of the Titanic - A Metaphor

Three great ship disasters 1912-1915

Of the three disasters, the first is almost forgotten, memory of the second fading, third remains vivid. Why?

Effects of sinking

Loss of Titanic was a death-blow to an overconfident world-view. There have been many others.

Lisbon Earthquake, November 1, 1755

Evolution

Non-Euclidean Geometry

Parallel Postulate of Euclid

Given a line and a point not on the line, only one line can be drawn through the point parallel to the given line.

Postulate seemed somehow "different," was focus of many attempts to prove.

Discoverers of non-Euclidean Geometry

Impact

Geometry seemed as nearly absolute as knowledge could be. The discovery that there were many kinds of geometry, all equally valid, was a blow to the very roots of certainty.

Relativity

Uncertainty Principle

Incompleteness Theorem

A common theme in the above topics has been the abuse of scientific ideas as models for philosophy. Scientists and non-scientists alike should be aware of "scientific proof" for ideologies.

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Created 20 May 1997, Last Update 30 May 1997

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