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Skeptical/Critical Approaches
Record Type: Review   ID: 639

A Physicist's Guide to Skepticism

Rothman, Milton A.

 Rothman, who is a physicist, writes: "This book is philosophy of science as understood by an experimental physicist, written for the nonspecialist" (p. 9). He adds: "The underlying theme of this book is: How do we trace the boundary between fantasy and reality? This question is not merely hypothetical; successful existence in the real world requires a good ability to define this boundary with some accuracy. Because illusions and hallucinations abound, rational man has been forced to create a system of elaborate mechanisms and methods which aid in recognizing reality and separating it from the world of fantasy. These methods make up the system of knowledge called science" (p. 9). He divides the laws of nature into two major groups: laws of permission and laws of denial. The latter "are rules that tell us what cannot happen to a system of objects" (p. 11). He adds: "Understanding the laws of denial gives a logical basis for skepticism. Pseudosciences make claims of extrasensory perception, psychic energy, poltergeists, unidentified flying objects, and other exotic phenomena. It requires the knowledge of only one basic principle of science, namely, the law of conservation of energy, to justify a position of extreme skepticism toward these claims. Conservation of energy, as we shall see in Chapter 4, is experimentally verified to a degree of precision that makes it one of the most firmly grounded and solid pieces of knowledge in history. With such a permanent bit of knowledge in hand we can justify our skepticism toward claims for phenomena that purport to do what in reality cannot be done" (p. 12). The book has nine sections: "Beliefs and Disputations," "Models of Reality: Particles," "Models of Reality: Quantum Theory," "Interactions," "Laws of Permission and Laws of Denial," "Reductionism, Prediction, and the Laws of Denial," "Verification and Falsification," "Living Skeptically," and "Epilogue." The Epilogue concludes: "As appealing as the mysteries of the occult and the supernatural may be, solving the mysteries of the real universe is ultimately more rewarding" (p. 220). There is an appendix that explains "Why things can't go faster than light."
Publisher Information:Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988. 247p. Chap notes; 16 figs; Ind: 243-247; 3 tables
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