On the Limits of Experimental Knowledge

Peter Evans, Karim P Y Thebault

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Abstract

To demarcate the limits of experimental knowledge, we probe the limits of what might be called an experiment. By appeal to examples of scientific practice from astrophysics and analogue gravity, we demonstrate that the reliability of knowledge regarding certain phenomena gained from an experiment is not circumscribed by the manipulability or accessibility of the target phenomena. Rather, the limits of experimental knowledge are set by the extent to which strategies for what we call ‘inductive triangulation’ are available: that is, the validation of the mode of inductive reasoning involved in the source-target inference via appeal to one or more distinct and independent modes of inductive reasoning. When such strategies are able to partially mitigate reasonable doubt, we can take a theory regarding the phenomena to be well supported by experiment. When such strategies are able to fully mitigate reasonable doubt, we can take a theory regarding the phenomena to be established by experiment. There are good reasons to expect the next generation of analogue experiments to provide genuine knowledge of unmanipulable and inaccessible phenomena such that the relevant theories can be understood as well supported.
This article is part of a discussion meeting issue ‘The next generation of analogue gravity experiments’.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages23
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Volume378
Issue number2177
Early online date20 Jul 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2020

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Science and Philosophy

Keywords

  • Hawking radiation
  • experimental knowledge
  • stellar nucleosynthesis
  • inductive triangulation

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