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Assignment 3 - History of Science. Case Studies from Golem
Marcus Jägemar
ITS-EASY
marcus.jagemar@mdh.se
Daniel Hallmans
ITS-EASY
daniel.hallmans@mdh.se
1. Chapter 1: "Edible knowledge: the chemical transfer of memory".
1. Describe McConnell’s experiments and what they are trying to establish.
The main goal of the experiments performed by McConnell is to see if obtained knowledge by one individual can be
transferred by chemical means to another individual, i.e. the recipient worm digesting the brain of the source. In their
experiment a pond of water contains a worm. When the worm is subjected with a bright light the testers want the worm
to arch. To achieve this, they condition the worm by using light and electricity.
2. What were the methodological problems with worm experiments?
It was difficult, if not impossible, for other people to redo the experiment. Simple experiments like this must be possible
to mimic since many will do so, thus the credibility of the whole paper relies on technical details. Today, there is a
substantial emphasis on the possibility to redo the test like described in Wikipedia “…always rely on repeatable
procedure and logical analysis of the results…” [3]. McConnell’s experiment also required quite skilled personnel to
perform the training. Additionally it was difficult to obtain the correct strength of light to trigger the worms to arch. Too
much light causes worms to arch, regardless of their conditioning. Is the knowledge really transferred or are the worms
reacting according to their predefined sensitivity to light? There is a substantial difference between these two facts. The
first statement means relates to the possibility to learn or memorise an action to a stimuli, the second is a pure physical
reaction present in all worms regardless of training.
3. What did Georg Ungars work show?
Ungar was working with rats and mice transferring memory between individuals by grinding the brain of the donor
injecting it into the test subject. The test setup consisted of one white and one dark box. Any rat/mice entering the dark
box would suffer an electrical shock through the metal gridded floor. Ungars work showed that it was possible to learn
one rat to avoid the dark box and by grinding the brain and injecting it into a non-learned mice the knowledge was ,
according to Ungar, transferred (to some extent).
4. How did the controversy about chemical transfer of memory end?
It is interesting to read recent articles recapping McConnells research. Rilling [2] describes bluntly that “One reason for
the missing citations to McConnell is that his memory transfer paradigm was a failure”. In other words we can say that
his successful research related to worm-learning was overshadowed by the failure of chemical knowledge transfer. Also,
any future research in the area of chemical knowledge transfer was blacklisted. As stated in [1] one scientist immediately
felt an increased distance toward scientific peers due to the contents in his presentation. Ultimately the field of chemical
knowledge transfer died with Ungar in 1977 some time after he had overtaken the field from McConnell.
2. Chapter 2: "Two experiments that 'proved' the theory of relativity".
1. What were the main ideas behind Michelson-Morley experiments during the 1880s?
They wanted to show that light travels at different speed depending on the direction relative to the earth rotation. The
result was the opposite; light travels at the same speed regardless of the direction of the earth.
2. Can we say that these experiments proved the theory of relativity? Try to connect to Popper’s
understanding of scientific theories and the role of the experiment.
Popper refutes induction, which is central in connecting the Michelson-Morley experiments to the general theory of
relativity. In the experiment they show that the speed is not different under the particular condition. To support the
general theory of relativity one must induce that the result is applicable in general terms from the limited test performed.
Popper would not approve this.
3. What was the reason that Miller experiments during the 1920s haven’t been accepted?
No other scientist could repeat the experiment and produce the same result.
4. Explain what sorts of problems did Collins and Pinch find with Eddington's measurements 1919?
Eddington performed two sets of tests, one in Africa and one in Brazil. One test supported Newtonian physics and the
other supported Einsteinian physics. The question at the time was which one to support? Finally Eddington wrote a diary
of the experiment and completely left out the Newtonian support altogether, thus only supporting one path of reasoning.
We find this, at best, ethically questionable.
Chapter 4: "The germs of dissent: Louis Pasteur and the origins of life".
1. Describe the background of Pasteur-Pouchet controversy. How does it relate to Darwinism?
Pasteur claimed that mould would not grow if the newly admitted air were itself without living organisms. Pouchet on the
other hand claimed that life could spring out of pure air and nutrients. Darwinism was at the same time also based on the
theory that life was spontaneously generated from dead matter.
2. Explain the figure on page 83 in your own words.
People in Box 1 believe that life does grow in pure air and you can show it with an experiment. People in box 2 believe
that the new life in the experiment is not spontaneous generation instead the air for example was not pure. People in box
three believe in spontaneous generation and try to find reasons to why the test failed. People in box four think they have
showed that there is no spontaneous generation and that the test was OK.
3. In which context can spontaneous generation of life from non-living matter appear?
Life can grow under the right circumstances, for example from only a nutrient substance.
4. We today know that Pouchet was wrong in his claims about spontaneous generation of life in his
laboratory experiments. Explain why he could have won Academy prize anyway, had he not withdrawn?
One difference between Poucher and Pasteur was the nutritive medium they used for their experiments, Pasteur using
yeast and Pouchet hay infusions. It was not until 1876 that it was discovered that hay infusions supported spores that is
not easily killed by boiling, while boiling of yeast kills all life thus using a contaminated sample.
5. What does that say about the role of experiments for the development of science?
It is difficult to be completely certain about all parameters in an experiment since future research can discover new
currently unknown factors.
What are your conclusions on all three chapters taken together as a discussion of the historical
development of science?
When reading about McConnel and Ungars experiment, even though the test subjects are worms and rats, we feel
nauseated when contemplating grinding parts of the brain and then injecting it into other individuals. It is easy to see that
there is a growing ground for animal rights groups.
One apparent consequence to this experiment is according to [2] “The failure of memory transfer has probably
overshadowed McConnell's success with invertebrate learning”. The interpretation we make from this statement is that a
researcher must be extremely confident and rigorous with all published results. Any failure providing a sound scientific
ground and complete documentation may in the worst case invalidate all research made by the researcher. Also, the more
unorthodox result, the more proof and peer verification is needed. Which is a sound opinion in our eyes. As a final word,
it is good that the research community could resist the temptation of accepting chemical knowledge transfer as a fact but
the apparent downside is the automatic disregard for the beneficial parts of it related to worm-learning etc.
REFERENCES
[1] Collins, H. M. & Trevor Pinch (1998 [1993]) The Golem: What Everyone Should Know About Science (
Cambridge, Cambridge University Press )[2nd edition 1998, The Golem: What You Should Know About
Science].
[2] M. Rilling (1996). The Mystery of the Vanished Citations, 51(6), 589–598.
[3] Wikipedia [online], http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experiment, Accessed 2012-10-22