A Theory of Wonder: Evolution, Brain and the Radical Nature of Science

by Gonzalo Munévar (Lawrence Technological University)

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“A Theory of Wonder” is a wonderful book. Professor Munevar, an original philosopher of science, challenges logical empiricism, falsificationism (critical rationalism), scientific realism, Bohr’s epistemology, and the philosophy of science of Kuhn, Feyerabend and Lakatos. Thus he creatively explores the evolutionary relativism: a novel and “dynamic” philosophy of science on the basis of evolutionary biology and neuroscience with a focus on living organisms. By contrast, the old and “static” philosophies of science are almost entirely based on physics that focuses on inanimate objects. The author provides a biologically based theory of relative truth, and thereby holds that truth is relative to a frame of reference, and that success explains truth, not the other way around. Creative and germinal is his view of science: “Science as Part of Nature”, and “Science as Radical Knowledge”. In sum, this thought-provoking work brings forth a new field in philosophy of science. In order to develop and complete this new field, further inputs from philosophers and scientists are much needed.

Yuanlin Guo
Professor of Philosophy
Center for Science, Technology and Society
Tianjin University, China


Gonzalo Munévar’s “Theory of Wonder” provides a detailed, well organized journey through the controversies animating 20th century philosophy of science between those looking for a logic of science that captures its method, and those such as Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend who take the history of scientific practice seriously. Munévar makes this history come alive for scientists and intelligent laypersons, rather than just professional academic philosophers. It is a sophisticated and very engaging account on both a personal and professional level. He presents an innovative exploration of an alternative for the 21st century in which a naturalistic perspective on biological evolution and cognitive neuroscience can shape our understanding of scientific inquiry. His clever arguments and his scholarship reflect a broad interdisciplinary understand of science and its history.
He punctuates his lively discussion with a large variety of scientific examples and observations that show a masterful command of the literature and a well-focused analysis and criticism—a tour de force. Munévar holds that science is an extension of our sense of wonder, but holds that the nature of science described by much of 20th-century academic philosophy of science actually baffled practicing scientist and blunted their curiosity. He offers instead a new, optimistic vision of the field in which science is seen as part of nature, and the nature of science can only be adequately understood if the insights of science itself (particularly evolutionary biology and cognitive neuroscience) are taken into account. This is a large task, but Munévar makes an admirable start in doing so.
The book should be especially valuable to an international audience drawn to the work of Paul Feyerabend as we approach the centenary of his birth. Feyerabend was Munévar’s mentor and friend, who shaped his view of science and launched him on the path that has led to it.

David W. Paulsen
Professor emeritus
The Evergreen State College


Mr. Munévar's manuscript addresses what can be considered the main issue that arises about science from a philosophical reflection, that is, what is the nature of science. The philosophy of science as an autonomous discipline originated around this question and other more specific ones that derive from it at the end of the 19th century and developed more systematically throughout the last century and the last two decades.
Understanding what scientific progress consists of and explaining its success are two central specific questions about the nature of science. The most dominant answers to these two questions have been, respectively, that scientific progress lies in the application of the scientific method and that the success of science is due to discovering the truth about the world, that is, it achieves a true knowledge of how this is, regardless of our state of knowledge and our cognitive abilities.
The manuscript focuses on these two problems, that of progress (scientific method) and that of success (scientific realism), taking them from the answers given in the first half of the 20th century to the most current proposals, and to finally expose and argue the personal solutions given to these by Munévar. This is done masterfully, exposing each of the main points of view precisely and clearly and how they are overcome among themselves: inductivism present in positivists or logical empiricists, falsification in its various variants (radical, Popper and Lakatos), and the historicist turn favored mainly by Kuhn and Feyerabend. As for the original solutions that Munévar proposes, these are based on the findings of the historicist school (so that Munévar recognizes the intellectual debt that he owes to Feyerabend), but it goes further by enriching this historical perspective with the scientific one that considers evolutionary biology and neuroscience in the context of evolution. Munévar calls "evolutionary relativism" to the solution he proposes, to the point of view he develops, because science seen from history and evolutionary biology cannot be understood as a cumulative or progressive process in which a conception or point of view is consolidated, but rather as a process in which science undergoes drastic changes and in which different conceptions of the world can be given that can be equally correct, and even so it is possible to speak of progress in science.
Munévar's work, while in principle it is aimed at specialists in philosophy of science, given the general problem with which it deals and the way it exposes itself, it may also be of importance for philosophers in general, concerned with the central problems of epistemology. Even because of the centrality of the philosophical problems dealt in the work, I consider that this could be a good tool in university courses, specialized and introductory on philosophy, and much better in philosophy of science.
I believe that the main impact that the work could have lies in the original idea that it displays to understand the nature of science, the evolutionary relativism. Although it is a controversial thesis, as the author himself acknowledges, the exposition and the justification made are clear and precise, supported by arguments from the history of science and evolutionary biology, including elements of neuroscience. Besides, it seems to me that the work could also be welcomed by specialists and a wider audience, cultured, because of the way it is written, starting from the historical context of the problem up to its current state. Although technical, all this with a clear and precise language is accompanied by illustrations that are very appropriate to the subject matter, which allows non-specialists to follow the line of argument.

Germán Guerrero Pino
Professor, Department of Philosophy
Universidad del Valle, Colombia


Gonzalo Munevar is an internationally recognised philosopher of science and among the most important interpreters of the work of Paul Feyerabend, a philosopher of science renowned for encouraging a deep sense of wonder at our abundant reality. He is superbly placed to offer a powerful reflection on the nature of wonder - a complex concept and experience with, I think, a deep role in human life. Munevar argues that the sciences, properly understood, can enrich our sense of wonder - a theme rooted not only in his work on Feyerabend but his recent research in neuroscience and space exploration. Perhaps more than any other sciences, they are apt to evoke a sense of wonder. Munevar is certainly unique in being capable of philosophical reflection on both human consciousness and the cosmos.

Dr. Ian Kidd
Professor, Department of Philosophy
University of Nottingham

‘A Theory of Wonder’ aims to determine the best way science can satisfy our sense of wonder by exploring the world. Empiricism tells us that science succeeds because it follows the scientific method: Observation passes judgment on Theory – supporting or rejecting it.

Much credit is given to the inventor of the method, Galileo, but when historically-minded philosophers of science like Kuhn and Feyerabend called our attention to what Galileo actually wrote and did, we were shocked to find out that Galileo instead drives a dagger through the heart of empiricism; he strikes down the distinction between theory and observation. Plain facts, like the vertical fall of a stone, ruled out the motion of the Earth. To conclude that the stone really falls vertically, however, we must assume that the Earth does not move. If it does move, then the stone only “seems” to fall vertically. Galileo then replaced the “facts” against the motion of the Earth with “facts” that included such motion. This process is typical during scientific revolutions.

A good strategy for science is to elaborate radical alternatives; then, and on their basis, reconsider what counts as evidence. Feyerabend was called irrational for this suggestion; but looking at the practice of science from the perspective of evolution and neuroscience shows that the suggestion is very reasonable instead, and, moreover, explains why science works best as a radical form of knowledge. It also leads to a sensible biological form of relative truth, with preliminary drafts leading to exciting discussions with other researchers in the philosophy of science.

This book will be of particular interest to university students, instructors and researchers in history or philosophy of science, as well as those with a general interest in the nature of science.

LIST OF FIGURES

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

PREFACE BY DAVID LAMB

FOREWORD

CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION

CHAPTER 2
THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF INDUCTION

CHAPTER 3
THE PERILS OF DISPROVING THEORIES

CHAPTER 4
SCIENCE AS A DARING ENTERPRISE: CHOOSING BY CONVENTION

CHAPTER 5
DOGMATISM IN SCIENCE: KUHN AND SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS

CHAPTER 6
FEYERABEND AND SCIENTIFIC ANARCHY

CHAPTER 7
ONE LAST PLEA FOR “RATIONALITY”: RATIONALITY AND THE GROWTH OF SCIENCE

CHAPTER 8
EVOLUTION AND SCIENCE

CHAPTER 9
EVOLUTIONARY RELATIVISM

CHAPTER 10
ALTERNATIVE WAYS OF PERCEIVING THE UNIVERSE

APPENDIX:
THE FATE OF INDUCTIVE LOGIC

INDEX

Gonzalo Munévar was awarded his Ph.D at the University of California at Berkeley, where Paul Feyerabend acted as his Ph.D dissertation director. His dissertation argued that creatures with different brains were likely not only to perceive the world differently but also to conceptualize it differently, which had serious consequences for the philosophy of science and led Munévar to a social conception of scientific rationality.

Dr. Munévar has spent his career publishing papers and edited collections of articles and monographs, including ‘Radical Knowledge’ and ‘Evolution and the Naked Truth’, on the crucial topics of the nature of evolution and neuroscience. Before retiring as a full professor, Munévar switched most of his teaching and research to neuroscience, including some experimental work that has continued in retirement. His other two intellectual commitments all along have been the philosophy of space exploration and the writing of literature. He has published two novels and recently completed two books of poetry.

Kuhn, Feyerabend, historical philosophy of Science, Anything Goes, scientific pluralism, Galileo, Lakatos, incommensurability, evolutionary epistemology, neuroscience of knowledge, evolutionary epistemology, logic in science, evolutionary relativism, perceptual relativism, scientific relativism, scientific anarchy, proliferation, scientific rationality, theory laden, data, phenomena

See also

Bibliographic Information

Book Title
A Theory of Wonder: Evolution, Brain and the Radical Nature of Science
ISBN
978-1-64889-197-7
Edition
1st
Number of pages
206
Physical size
236mm x 160mm
Illustrations
46 Color
Publication date
September 2021
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