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Primary and Secondary Qualities

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  • ted.wrinch
    I didn t find anything new or illuminating in my search on the topic but I did come across a book that was interesting for its attempt to provided an account
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2012
      I didn't find anything new or illuminating in my search on the topic but I did come across a book that was interesting for its attempt to provided an account of 'physical science' within a historical and philosophical context. It was exactly this context that was not provided during my university physics degree and that I had to provide for myself after I graduated. The book's blurb describes its purpose well:

      "…the text was a landmark in science education. It was the first modern textbook in physics (or on any other science) to make full and effective use of the history and philosophy of science in presenting for the general and science-orientated student an account of the nature of physical science. …The book shows the unifying power of science by bringing in connections to chemistry, astronomy, and geoscience. …"

      Section 12.6 provides the gen. on our topic:

      "…Galileo drew the distinction between those experiences and concepts that might safely serve as the foundation stones of science and those which, having a measure of more subjective meaning, should from the point of view of science be *regarded as sources of illusion and debate* [my emphasis]. We now call them respectively, primary and secondary qualities. The primary qualities are direct and observables that can be mathematically symbolised and measured, such as position and motion, the very elements that could be quantified and at the time had simple operational significance, to use the modern phrase. The qualities regarded as secondary were those not then accessible to instrumental measurement, those that were largely qualitative in the modern sense.

      By and large, the distinction between primary and secondary qualities, which impressed and was accepted by such followers of Galileo as Newton himself, still holds in the physical sciences. We might say that Galileo's distinction reduced the extent of *eligible* experience to a small fraction of scientists' total experience, but to precisely that fraction that they could quantify and therefore share unambiguously with their fellows. The ideas of physical science look so stylised and unreal just because we demand of them that they help us describe those features of experience that the common-sense view of reality by and large cares least about - measurement, mathematical manipulation, numeral prediction, and clear communicability - while falling to describe exactly those most prominent uses of everyday expressions, namely our feelings, reactions, and other personal involvements [also colour, sound, taste, touch and smell!].

      Developments in branches of psychology and the social sciences are reminiscent of that early search for quantification in physics and chemistry. [this looks like physics arrogance - do the humanities subscribe to this viewpoint?]"

      page 164 ,'Physics, the Human Adventure: From Copernicus to Einstein and Beyond', Gerald Holton, Revised by Stephen G Brush, 2001, 560 pages

      What I want to point out is that this description matches my account of how and why physical science works, that I provided to WC when I was over there. This account was variously ignored, rejected, and belittled. But, as I concluded then, all that those responses indicated was the closed-minded and prejudiced approach to knowledge and understanding of the WC, including that of their supposed scholar and tutor of the history and philosophy of science, Der Staudi - long may he rest content in his blissfully ignorant, self-conception of superiority.


      Ted Wrinch
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