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The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics Paperback – July 6, 2010

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About the Author

Leonard Peikoff is universally recognized as the pre-eminent Rand scholar writing today. He worked closely with Ayn Rand for 30 years and was designated by her as her intellectual heir and heir to her estate. He has taught philosophy at Hunter College, Long Island University, and New York University, and hosted the national radio talk show "Philosophy: Who Needs It."

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: NAL (July 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451230051
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451230058
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #913,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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376 of 446 people found the following review helpful By John P. McCaskey on September 4, 2010
Format: Paperback
Readers of the book should be aware that the historical accounts presented here often differ from those given by academic researchers working on the history of science and often by the scientists themselves.

Harriman, for example, recounts how Galileo determined that "the rate at which a body falls is independent of its weight."

"Galileo demonstrated the answer with his characteristic flair. He climbed to the top of the famous Leaning Tower and, from a height of more than fifty meters, dropped two lead balls that differed greatly in size and weight. The students and professors assembled below saw both objects hit the ground at very nearly the same time. . . . Galileo then asked the next logical question: Does the rate of fall depend upon the material of the body? He repeated the experiment using one ball of lead and another made of oak. Again, when dropped simultaneously from a great height, they both hit the ground at very nearly the same time. Thus Galileo arrived at a very broad generalization: All free bodies, regardless of differences in weight and material, fall to Earth at the same rate." (p. 43)

Harriman rightly observes that this "seems too easy. It appears as though Galileo arrived at this fundamental truth . . . merely by doing a few experiments that any child could perform." But, Harriman explains, Galileo's breakthrough was not the experiments per se but the application of a concept that had eluded his predecessors, the concept of friction. That is, Galileo arrived at his law by carefully accounting for air friction in the Leaning Tower experiment.

This is not, however, the account that Galileo himself gives. Harriman writes, "Imagine that he attempted to drop the lead or oak balls through water instead of air . . . .
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88 of 107 people found the following review helpful By Allan Gotthelf on August 11, 2010
Format: Paperback
I would like to bring this book, by historian of science David Harriman, to the attention of readers with a serious interest in the philosophy of induction. It outlines a fundamentally new approach to the nature of inductive reasoning that I think is of the greatest importance, and indicates how significant episodes in the history of physics illustrate, and provide further evidence for, that approach. The inductive theory was developed by Leonard Peikoff, building on Ayn Rand's revolutionary theory of concepts. Rand's theory (presented in her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology) explains the way concepts are formed on the basis of perceptual awareness, later concepts being built up hierarchically from first-level concepts of entities and their attributes, actions, relationships and so forth. Peikoff has established that there is a class of first-level generalizations expressing or reflecting perceived causal relationships, and a method of building more abstract generalizations hierarchically from them that generates scientific knowledge, and has shown how the validity of these later generalizations rests on the formation, in the course of scientific discovery, of proper concepts (in accordance with Rand's theory). Harriman has written the book in consultation with Peikoff.

Though I can't speak personally for the full accuracy of the historical accounts, they are essentialized with great skill, and lucidly presented. Harriman helpfully indicates how the episodes he discusses illustrate and support aspects of Peikoff's theory. I would like to have seen the connections between the episodes and the theory developed more fully, and the theory itself amplified in places; and the initial account of Rand's theory of concepts is too compressed.
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74 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Theodore Keer on July 18, 2010
Format: Paperback
In The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics, David Harriman has two target audiences, scientists interested in the philosophy of induction, and students of Objectivism interested in science. This book has much to say that will be of interest to both. I recommend it most highly.

David Harriman is a professional physicist and philosopher with a wide grasp of his subject. Interested in putting forth a theory of induction based upon Ayn Rand's theory of concept formation, he briefly introduces his theses, and then examines two classical histories of induction. First he makes a detailed analysis of the history of thought about motion from the Greeks through Galileo and Kepler, to Newton. Then he examines atomic theory from the Greeks through Lavoisier and Kelvin to Mendeleev.

His basic theses are that induction is based on a hierarchy of generalization, parallel in form to Rand's hierarchical theory of concept formation (a subject too complex to address here, but which is covered in her monograph, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology); that progress in science relies not only on the experimental method, which he credits Galileo for first practicing, but on developing an increasingly sophisticated language of concepts, which must be induced in a hierarchical order; and that skepticism results from a flawed, context-dropping view of the history of science.

This last thesis is most informative. He speaks of the flawed Platonic and Cartesian idea of deriving and validating knowledge top-downward from first principles.
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