Bayesian Provisionality Applied to an Epistemology of Science

By Brett Wilson and Stuart Sim.

Published by The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review

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Kuhn’s work on the socio-epistemology of science gained far wider acceptance among cultural commentators than it did within science, where a strong adherence to Popper’s principle of ‘falsifiable predictions’ remains strong. Many see this as a failure by science to relinquish its modernist traditions of truth and objectivity in the face of postmodern developments in philosophy, despite the highly speculative nature of science’s theorising at the frontiers of knowledge. Our paper interrogates this fractured state of epistemology within science and proposes a novel approach based on provisional Bayesian constructs adapted from the field of sensory perception. Written from the perspective of a scientist with an interest in philosophy and a philosopher with an interest in science, our new approach is designed to overcome many of the concerns and limitations of both modern and postmodern philosophies. It could also be regarded as an important step towards reconciling the apparently incommensurable Kuhnian and Popperian models of science to encourage a more inclusive transdisciplinary approach to research across the arts, sciences and humanities.

Keywords: Bayesian Epistemology, Provisional Constructs, Epistemologies of Science

The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review, Volume 10, pp.15-23. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 253.720KB).

Dr. Brett Wilson

Senior Research Fellow, Department of Art and Design, Faculty of Creative Arts, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK

Brett Wilson is a recently-retired scientist, acting now as a “Scientist in Residence” in the Department of Art and Design at the University of the West of England, where he teaches research methods to graduate arts-practitioners undertaking MA and PhD studies. He is a co-founder of Project Dialogue which brings together research participants from across the academic spectrum to enquire into the underlying communalities across the arts, sciences and humanities. The group has developed teaching courses based on a transdisciplinary approach to the cultural history of science for presentation to both arts and science students. His personal research interests are in philosophy of science, particularly in respect of theories of knowledge for describing science and its discoveries and how such theories can be made accessible across a wider academic base.

Prof. Stuart Sim

Professor of Critical Theory, Department English and Creative Writing, Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK

Stuart Sim is Professor of Critical Theory and Long Eighteenth-Century English Literature in the Department of English & Creative Writing, Northumbria University. The author or editor of 31 books, his work has been translated into 17 languages. He was elected a Fellow of the English Association in 2002. Amongst his recent publications are The End of Modernity, and The Lyotard Dictionary (both Edinburgh University Press). Professor Sim’s research interests extend from recent critical theory, through English prose fiction to aesthetics and philosophy of science.