Scientific Discoveries as Historical Artifacts
Historical explanations are distinct from conventional experimental results in many ways. The issue of verification by repetition does not arise because we are trying to account for the uniqueness of detail that cannot, both by the laws of probability and time’s arrow of irreversibility, occur together again. We do not attempt to interpret the complex events of narrative by reducing them to simple consequences of natural law; historical events do not, of course, violate any general principles of matter and motion, but their occurrence lies in a realm of contingent detail. (The law of gravity tells us how an apple falls, but not why the apple fell at that moment, and why Newton happened to be sitting there, ripe for inspiration.) And the issue of prediction, a central ingredient in the stereotype, does not enter into a historical narrative. We can explain the event after it occurs, but contingency precludes its repetition, even from an identical starting point (ibid., p. 278).
KeywordsScientific Discovery Historical Explanation Cultural Domain Congruent Goal Burgess Shale
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