Neural plasticity and the limits of scientific knowledge

Dissertation, University of Sussex (2015)
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Abstract
Western science claims to provide unique, objective information about the world. This is supported by the observation that peoples across cultures will agree upon a common description of the physical world. Further, the use of scientific instruments and mathematics is claimed to enable the objectification of science. In this work, carried out by reviewing the scientific literature, the above claims are disputed systematically by evaluating the definition of physical reality and the scientific method, showing that empiricism relies ultimately upon the human senses for the evaluation of scientific theories and that measuring instruments cannot replace the human sensory system. Nativist and constructivist theories of human sensory development are reviewed, and it is shown that nativist claims of core conceptual knowledge cannot be supported by the findings in the literature, which shows that perception does not simply arise from a process of maturation. Instead, sensory function requires a long process of learning through interactions with the environment. To more rigorously define physical reality and systematically evaluate the stability of perception, and thus the basis of empiricism, the development of the method of dimension analysis is reviewed. It is shown that this methodology, relied upon for the mathematical analysis of physical quantities, is itself based upon empiricism, and that all of physical reality can be described in terms of the three fundamental dimensions of mass, length and time. Hereafter the sensory modalities that inform us about these three dimensions are systematically evaluated. The following careful analysis of neuronal plasticity in these modalities shows that all the relevant senses acquire from the environment the capacity to apprehend physical reality. It is concluded that physical reality is acquired rather than given innately, and leads to the position that science cannot provide unique results. Rather, those it can provide are sufficient for a particular environmental setting.
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Archival date: 2016-08-15
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2015-12-09

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