21.171 prediction and explanation?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2007 09:09:20 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 171.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2007 07:07:23 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: explanation and prediction

In our work, when we attempt to describe the significance of results
we believe to be reliable, can we ever say that our procedures
*predict* something or other that has yet to happen or that we have
yet to test, or are we constrained only to say that these results
*explain* what we have seen or tested? It seems to me that unhelpful
cultural baggage (chiefly physics as understood by the Vienna Circle
et al) privileges the former to such a degree, as the real arbiter of
theory, that we're unwisely tempted to go for the more prestigious
alternative without asking what we mean by this. In a weak sense, if
we say that X may happen under conditions A, B and C, and then it
does, we can say that we've predicted it, but such usage doesn't mean
much by itself and blurs dangerously into the stronger sense normal
to the physical sciences, that X will happen under those conditions.
Again it may help at this juncture to consider older fields in which
prediction in the strong sense is simply not on, in which theories
are for explaining, not for predicting. Biology would seem to be one
of these. Very good in this regard is an article by Michael Scriven,
"Explanation and Prediction in Evolutionary Theory", Science NS
130.3374 (28 August 1959): 477-482. It's in JSTOR.



Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
http://staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/. Et sic in infinitum (Fludd 1617, p. 26).
Received on Tue Jul 24 2007 - 04:30:07 EDT

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