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MC: Cornelius Borck: How does falsification work? Karl Popper’s exchanges with John Eccles as case study on the rhetoric of scientific argumentation

When May 30, 2018
from 10:00 to 02:00
Where Phil I, Building B, R.029
Contact Name
Contact Phone +49 641 / 99-30 053
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Falsification, the idea that science cannot prove hypotheses to be ultimately true but disprove wrong ones, is probably still the most popular philosophy among scientists. The concept of falsification has been developed by Karl Popper in his early book Logic of Scientific Discovery and it rose to prominence after he met with the neuroscientist John Eccles at the end of World War II. At the time, Eccles was deeply embroiled in the argument on the question whether neurons communicate via electrical signals or chemical mediators, one of the big debates in the history of the neurosciences. Eccles led the campaign for the electrophysiologists, but eventually defeated himself in a series of famous experiments and celebrated his defeat as the victory for falsification.

The talk revisits this famous episode as a test case for the debate between philosophy of science and historical epistemology on discovery and justification. Eccles’ intellectual mobilization was grounded in a series of geographical moves, technological adaptations and re-arrangements of his group. This massive travel of people, ideas, instruments, and techniques had mediated between the contradictory views, long before Popper kindled Eccles to reflect about the conflicting paradigms, and the new theorizing did hardly change his experimental practice. Popper’s immediate effect was a critical and reflexive distance that enabled Eccles to present his evidence more persuasively, as can be shown from archival sources. The exchanges between Eccles and Popper thus demonstrate how the philosophy of falsification acted as powerful strategy for writing science rather than doing experiments.

 

// Prof. Cornelius Borck (University of Lübeck, Germany)

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