First up the list is Nancy Cartwright's work which has been discussed on the previous thread 'Debunking skeptical propaganda'. Cartwright has made an interesting journey from an 'anti-realist' to an 'anti-fundamentalist' position. The anti-realist position was developed in her book How the Laws of Physics Lie, the anti-fundamentalist position is developed in her later works. In Nature’s Capacities and Their Measurement she develops and embraces the concept of 'capacities' which replaces the concept of 'law' (which she rejected). In The Dappled World she tries to marry both approaches from the previous books.
Fundamentalism to her means 'blind faith' in the working of laws of nature, often 'in the face of contradictory evidence'. If you want to read a defence of fundamentalism, here is a nice quote by Carl Hoefer: 'These [fundamental laws of nature] are what physics has been seeking, and getting closer and closer to actually grasping, since the time of Descartes. They are truths, expressible in mathematical language, that accurately describe the behavior of all things in the physical world, at all times and places. This view has been standard among physicists, and most philosophers of science, for at least a hundred years” (quoted in Teel, see below)
As I do not want to suggest an in depth discussion and evaluation of Cartwright's philosophy of science I have chosen one example mentioned by Cartwright (in The Dappled World) as starting point. This example contains an obvious parallel to a problem encountered in climate science. I quote from a recent PhD thesis by Paul David Wilkinson Teel which summarizes the issue nicely (and is a treat to read):
Cartwright refers to a thought experiment put forth by Otto Neurath in his 1933 article, “United Science and Psychology,” in which a one thousand dollar bill is swept away by the wind in [Vienna's] Saint Stephen’s Square. Cartwright says that those of us brought up within what she calls the “fundamentalist canon” know through Newton’s second law that force equals mass times acceleration. This law applies to falling objects; the thousand dollar bill is a falling object; therefore, the physicist should be able to predict where the bill will land. But, in practice, the physicist cannot.
Cartwright says that Newton’s second law does not apply to this situation, because (like all scientific laws) it applies only in models that have been deliberately set up so that, all things being equal, the law holds. These models invariably involve shielding, which keeps out things like wind (or even air), magnetic fields, sound, or whatever else might interfere with the particular law at work. Cartwright writes that many scientists would object here and say that “there is in principle . . . a model in mechanics for the action of the wind, albeit probably a very complicated one that we may never succeed in constructing.” But Cartwright says this objection is based on a fundamentalist faith rather than on any evidence we actually have.
This is why Cartwright argues that the world, rather than being homogenous under a universal rule of law, is dappled. She acknowledges that natural laws are real and are useful. But she insists they are limited to shielded models that do not always match real-life circumstances. Others, she says, disagree: 'Fundamentalists want more. They want laws; they want true laws; but most of all, they want their favourite laws to be in force everywhere. I urge us to resist fundamentalism. Reality may well be just a patchwork of laws.'
The analogy to climate models should be obvious and the following two questions arise: How fundamental are the 'laws' or 'principles' which govern the models, and how much 'dappledness' does climate science allow?
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