- Series: Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science (Book 293)
- Paperback: 316 pages
- Publisher: Springer; 2012 edition (January 24, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9400796463
- ISBN-13: 978-9400796461
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #644,472 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Is Water H2O?: Evidence, Realism and Pluralism (Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science) 2012th Edition
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From the reviews:
“The present book is Hasok Chang’s second book in History and Philosophy of Science. … he takes the example of the discovery of the formula H2O for water. … The jury were very impressed by the overall quality of the book. Excellent scholarly research underpins the historical part of the book, and Hasok Chang develops his philosophical theses with clear and rigorous argumentation. … book will be much discussed in the coming years, and become a central text in the history and philosophy of science.” (Fernando Gil International Prize, fernando-gil.org.pt, February, 2014)“This book is an exemplary instance of a welcome contemporary trend to produce work that self-consciously attempts to integrate history and philosophy of science. … The history is detailed, acute and informative and the philosophical views defended are challenging. The book is valuable and well worth reading both by those professionally involved in history and philosophy of science and more widely.” (Alan Chalmers, Science & Education, October, 2012)
From the Back Cover
This book exhibits deep philosophical quandaries and intricacies of the historical development of science lying behind a simple and fundamental item of common sense in modern science, namely the composition of water as H2O. Three main phases of development are critically re-examined, covering the historical period from the 1760s to the 1860s: the Chemical Revolution (through which water first became recognized as a compound, not an element), early electrochemistry (by which water’s compound nature was confirmed), and early atomic chemistry (in which water started out as HO and became H2O). In each case, the author concludes that the empirical evidence available at the time was not decisive in settling the central debates, and therefore the consensus that was reached was unjustified, or at least premature. This leads to a significant re-examination of the realism question in the philosophy of science, and a unique new advocacy for pluralism in science. Each chapter contains three layers, allowing readers to follow various parts of the book at their chosen level of depth and detail. The second major study in "complementary science", this book offers a rare combination of philosophy, history and science in a bid to improve scientific knowledge through history and philosophy of science.
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Top customer reviews
HERE'S THE EXPANSION
When I was a boy, we were basking in the afterglow of phenomenalism. It was still perfectly respectable to adhere to the likes of Bergmann, Russell, Mach and Freddie Ayer. In fact, I'm not far from there now. Kuhns became the flavor of the day, with a lot of staying power. That has resulted in some pretty outlandish claims about the relativity of science (by which I will always mean physics). And Karl Popper, of course, one of my favorites. But infusing the whole atmosphere of the late 20th century -in physics and philosophy - a kind of hard core realism became more and more acceptable. I don't know why, maybe the computer facilitating a materialist theory of mind. This took place as physics became less and less imaginable, as Berkeley would say. Indeed, today we are treated to twice yearly books by physicists themselves waxing philosophical and questioning the correspondence of their theories with reality. Baggott, the most widely read, is but one.
Chang give reading suggestions at the beginning of this book. For a quick go thru, either just to get to the philosophy part or to make it easier, he suggests a reader may skip the latter part of the first three History of the Chemical Revolution chapters. I didn't. They were quite interesting. Idiosyncratically, for me, I deal with older terminology in some of my restoration work and I actually found it enlightening in that respect.
I can only hint at the philosophy of science aspect. You really should read it. "Reality" is defined as that which is resistant to our will. Science is the exploration of that realm. There are many procedures we can use to launch investigations, at any one time they may seem contradictory, but Chang's point is they can all be "valid" within their own definitional scheme and some, even the losers may contain insights the winners do not. "Theory" is - thank God - a term that is shunned in the book. The upshot is a kind of pragmatism and multitude approach which avoids the kind of glib relativism often associated with such a view. By the end of the book, I felt some one had washed my brain. Is water H2O? I don't want to get to much into it, but it always seemed to me that's a very simplistic way of thinking, this book shows why. "Atom" and like words are often tossed out like the y belong to the group "kings and ships and sealing wax": they do not. Read this book.
I keep bees. In another 65 million years when our descendants are living in damp borrows, the descendents of bees may be writing physics books. The sensory apparatus of a bee is really, really different from ours (what it's like to be a bee is an order of magnitude harder than what it is like to be a bat). Bee physics may be untranslatable into homininspeak for all I know. It may not even be "object-based" as ours is, to start with. But bee physics will be just as valid as our own, just as good as physics. Read this book.
The fifth chapter may be off putting to some readers, and I feel it is the weakest part of the book. One because it's unlikely that philosophical suggestions from outside will alter the course of physics and two because some of Chang's suggestions for introducing alternative type programs into the school curriculum may easily be misunderstood.
Regarding the PRICE controversy: the paperback was 60+. There are plenty philosophy and other books I wouldn't buy at this price out of principle (the Cambridge Ancient Histories are 200-300+!). This one, $65, a bargain.
P.S., there's a cartoon in this weeks New Yorker ( Oct. 3, 2014) which could serve as a frontis for the second edition. Two guys in lab coats standing in the CERN and one says, "when you've got an accelerator, everything looks like a particle."
If you're not interested in reading yet another history of chemistry, albeit a very interesting and original one, then you should fast forward to chapter 5: "Pluralism in Science: A Call to Action," wherein Hasok Chang makes his cogent and persuasive argument.
I enjoyed learning so much about the history of chemistry. Prof. Chang makes a compelling argument that it is important to learn about the details and make independent judgments rather than believe everything wrapped in a scientific wrapper. It is technical and challenging to read, but he seemed to make a consistent effort to be approachable and not write over my head. It is well-researched and documented. A nice piece of work and I hope he receives the academic credit he deserves.
The questions he raises are important for society to consider and to motivate people to investigate further, especially students. Ever since we invented tools there has been a question about technology. Simplicity and a broad reach are not necessarily consistent with current knowledge. Ultimately truth and beauty may be united, but do not progress together. It may be a matter of perspective, so it is personal. This seems counter-intuitive to the nature of science and mathematics which are heralded for the universality and independence. These ideas are difficult to discuss without turning into a mush pie and Chang’s books by using specific examples raise narrow and broad questions which are important and worth your time.