Letter `Laws' of science

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Sir: David Packham's letter (13 July), defending the introduction of the sociology of science into school curricula, could only have come from an academic - one who apparently wants to bring into the GCSE classroom abstruse philosophical debate about in what sense scientific laws are "true".

I do not start my first-year keyboard students with Stockhausen and lectures on the structural function of harmony: I teach them pieces in the key of C and tell them that the chord of G7 leads to the chord of C. As far as their early experience of music is concerned, that is true. Those who stay the course will later learn that G7 sometimes leads elsewhere, and that this is just the kind of thing that can make a piece interesting for the listener. Similarly, I digested Newton's Laws of Motion and the Rutherford-Bohr model of the atom before I went on to Einstein's theories and quantum mechanics.

I then found that Einstein showed that Newton's laws did not hold in all circumstances, but that they still work as near as dammit most of the time. I also know that the atom is not really a lot of tiny electrically charged golfballs orbiting a bigger one, but it's still the best mental picture I have and it has served me well.

Bertrand Russell stated: "Mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true." Apparently there are those who would apply this to the natural sciences also, but if such a statement had been my introduction to science, I should soon have given it up as a bad job.

Comments