The Logic Of Scientific Discovery, by Karl Popper
This book is certainly a serious one and one that is well worth reading, but it is a different sort of book than one might expect. After all, Popper is a man whose thoughts about pseudoscience and his feuds with other thinkers and his thoughts about prophetic sociology were well-known and quite beloved for good reason. But his thoughts on the logic of scientific discovery show a different and less immediately praiseworthy side of his thinking, and that was his immense hostility to induction and his refusal to consider any sort of thinking or reasoning as empirical because of the limits of human understanding and the ubiquity of subjectivity. In that sense, Popper can be considered as somewhat of a post-modernist because of his denial to scientific theories of a feeling of empirical solidity, which has made his work all the more popular to those people who have wished to take science off of its self-appointed pedestal of importance and authority. That does not make this work particularly easy to understand but it does make the work important, if not for the reasons that one would automatically or naturally tend to think.
This book is nearly 500 pages long, and about 200 pages of it at least are made up of appendices, which is a remarkable and unusual degree of additional writing once the main text is done. The book begins with a translator’s note as well as a preface to the first edition of the book in 1934 and the first English edition in 1959. After that the book begins with an introduction to the logic of science (I), with chapters on a survey on some important and genuine scientific and philosophical problems (1) and the problem of a theory of scientific method (2). After that there is a discussion of some of the structural components that would go into a theory of experience (II), including some theories (3), the idea of falsifiability (4), the problem of the empirical basis (5), degrees of testability (6), the ideal of simplicity (7), probability (8), some observations on quantum theory (9), and corroboration (10) and how a theory deals with tests. After that come a long list of appendices, including seven in the original set and twelve new appendices that are included in a further collection, which includes some thoughts on an experiment by Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen and a letter from Einstein, before the book ends with a name and subject index.
My own impressions of this book are somewhat mixed. There is a lot of great discussion on here and Popper certainly has given any reader of this book a lot to think about and mull over, all of which makes for worthwhile reading. This is certainly an important book in the development of the philosophy of science, and like the work of Kuhn, it tends to show science as a human activity and subject to human biases and frailty. Nevertheless, just as the author argues that one can develop sharper understanding of aspects than is commonly thought, so too the realization that humanity is deeply subjective and partial does not mean that there is no objective truth or reality but that we as human beings cannot find it on our own, all of which ought to increase our humility as thinkers and reasoners. This seems to be the point that Popper is trying to get across as well, a reminder of the need for humility in the face of creation in light of our own limitations. Yet this book simultaneously requires a high degree of knowledge and interest in philosophy and probability and those who are deeply intelligent in such matters are often not very humble about the limits of their understanding.