Wednesday, March 08, 2006

(94) Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge

At 11.45 a.m. on April 21st 1993 I was travelling on the Northern Line of the London Underground from Belsize Park to Waterloo. It bifurcates at Camden Town, where I changed to the other line.

I was late for an appointment in Woking. I was reading from my unedited main text of examples of coincidence. A friend had expressed an interest in it and I was planning to go through it with him upon my return from Woking. I also planned to take it with me to a discussion organised by the Society for Psychical Research in Kensington on April 24th called Psi/Synchronicity.

This was certainly the first time that I had read through the material in any public place.

I flicked through and arrived at page 86 where I had referred to what seemed to me a most striking coincidence.
I was reading through the paragraph, which centres on the key distinction between partial and certain evidence:
On May 22nd 1988, I was thinking about "the problem of proof" and the distinction between something glimpsed (meteor) and something for which incontrovertible evidence can be produced (meteorite).
Then it occurred to me that really big meteorites not only produce samples of extraterrestrial rock (the stuff that changed the scientists’ minds); they also produce craters!
A crater is even clearer evidence!
This whole business began with me discovering on December 22nd 1984, the existence on the dark side of the moon of Plaskett’s Crater, although it meant very little to me at the time.

This extract appears in Part Two: The Narrative, Epilogues and Appendices section .

I looked up and saw that the first person in my line of view was a man three seats away reading from a book. I was able to make out the title: Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, by Sir Karl Popper.

This was the only time that I ever saw anyone reading from this work.
I had read it in the late 1980s, and had quoted from it in depth in the original appendices to my main text, for Popper was a most influential philosopher of science.
I had referred to this classic work of his in which he outlines the process which led him, circa 1920, to formulate his criteria for distinguishing a properly scientific theory from a pseudoscientific one.
Indeed, I had included these criteria in the second appendix to my original main text.

It was as we got to Leicester Square that I noticed what he was reading.

To my everlasting shame, I did not go over and show him what I had been reading from and therefore how splendidly meaningful a coincidence it was that he should have been reading from that volume. I saw that he was not far into it.
My extracts start around page 37.
Maybe those were the very pages that he was looking at!?
But he got off at Embankment station, so now we’ll never know.
... ... ...
Three days later I attended the Society for Psychical Research Psi/Synchronicity workshop. One of the speakers was Dr Ivor Grattan-Guinness.

He also mentioned the category of ‘Second Order Coincidences’, i.e. those that lead to coincidences, claiming that when a coincidence leads on to another coincidence then it has become an object in its own right.

In the audience I was scribbling notes on points that I wished to raise in the later general discussion. The contents of this example seemed well worth bringing up, apropos coincidences leading to coincidences.

I was writing that I ought to do so when Grattan-Guinness made a reference to the sorts of innocent actions that may prompt a coincidence "... switching compartments in the underground train... "

When the Northern Line Underground train had pulled in at Camden Town I had, for some reason, not entered the carriage directly in front of me but had walked down the train to the next one, and indeed had even then walked past several vacant seats before taking the one that led on to the above coincidence.

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