PHILOSOPHY AND SCIENCE

A HYPOTHETICAL REVIEW OF ARISTOTELIAN THEORY IN THE WRIGHT BROTHERS AND NEIL ARMSTRONG’S EXPERIMENTS

Ogechukwu Anierobi

  

Copyright 2018 by Ogechukwu Anierobi
  
 

Painting of Richard Anderson.


According to Merriam Webster, philosophy can be described as follows, a discipline comprising at its core logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics and epistemology. It can be termed the sciences and liberal arts, exclusive of medicine, law and theology.

Philosophy is also the 4 year college course of major seminary, all learning exclusive of technical precepts and practical arts.
Philosophy can also be referred to as pursuit of wisdom, a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means. It is an analysis of the growth of and concepts of expressing fundamental beliefs.

Merriam Webster further explained philosophy as the most beliefs, concepts and attitudes of an individual or group.

During the New York Times Book Review, in 15th February 2009, Jim Holt said “Broadly speaking, philosophy has three concerns; how the world hangs together, how our beliefs can be justified and how we live”.

Issues like social philosophy, political philosophy, economic philosophy all lies in the ethics of what philosophy is all about, that is, a system of philosophical concepts. Webster simply identified it as a theory underlying or regarding a sphere of activity or thought. e.g. the philosophy of war. The study of ideas about how to do something or how to live.

Great philosophers like Aristotle (384-322 BCE), Plato (428-348 BCE), Kant (1724-1804), Hume (1711-1776), Wittgenstein (1889-1951), Locke (1632-1704), Descartes (1596-1650), Socrates (469-399 BCE) etc, are the contemporary voices that explored the study of philosophy.

Jim Holt is right, philosophy is a broad and complex subject, involving an enormous grade of sub-branches. While moral philosophy is concerned with what is right, epistemology centers on the nature of knowledge and metaphysics focuses on determining what exists.

Basic theories of philosophy includes Plato’s allegory of the cave, Confucianism, nihilism, I think therefore I am, the Socratic method, karma, Rousseau’s the social contract, Samsara, Aristotelian virtue, ethics etc.

Dr. Olisaemeka Maduabuchi in his book “The philosophical issues in education”, gave an epistemological definition of philosophy as love of wisdom. He went further to give philosophy a look from two senses. Philosophy in a general sense and philosophy in a loosed sense. In a general sense philosophy is considered an ideology while in a loosed sense philosophy is conceived as an academic discipline.

In capturing this statement “ on 17th December 1908 Orville and Wibur Wright’s plane was airborne for twelve seconds, covering a distance of 36.5 meters. Just seven hundred and eighty seven months later, Neil Armstrong flew ten million times as far to land on the moon, yet we continue to argue about what Aristotle said twenty-four centuries ago”. It will interest my reader to know that The Wright brothers, Orville (August 19, 1871- January 30, 1948) and Wibur (April 16, 1867- May 30, 1912) were two American inventors, aviation pioneers, aviators and engineers who are generally credited with inventing, building and flying the world’s first successful airplane on 17th December 1903.

It was indeed a huge invention that brought about advancement in the world’s technology and in the history of inventions. Nevertheless, as the world marvels at the Wright brothers’ invention, Neil Armstrong (August 5, 1930- August 15, 2012) an American aeronautical engineer, astronaut, university professor, test pilot and naval aviator, travelled to the space and stayed 8 days, 14 hours, 12 seconds, becoming the first man to walk on the moon. Though Orville and Wibur’s plane was airborne for twelve seconds, covering a distance of 36.5 meters, four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Neil Armstrong flew ten million times as far to land on the moon in 21st July 1969 and even spent two and a half hours outside the spacecraft.

This is not a mystery, but what Aristotle termed “four causes” which explains the nature of change. A thing’s material cause is the nature of the raw material out of which the object is composed, its formal cause is how that matter is arranged, its efficient cause is simply the thing that brings something about, where a thing came from, and its final cause is its purpose.

Aristotle as one of the contemporary philosophers propounded many works such as, natural philosophy, all life originated from the sea and complex life came from a gradual development of less complex life, principle of non-contradiction, symbolic logic, validity in reasoning, virtue ethics, etc.

Many of the theories that Aristotle put forth have not held up to the passing of time and scientific advancement. We argue about what Aristotle said twenty-four centuries ago because we probably thought or believe that science constantly studies proposition that specifies some forms of relationship between two variables through experimentation and gradually accepts claims that can not measure up with stronger claims.

Agu Anthony O. (2007:37)) while explaining hypothesis said “it is merely an evidence for supporting or rejecting one’s pre-conceived ideas or views, hypothesis has to clear, verifiable and testable. This is a theory that is tested. Hypothesis is a guess answer to our research, question or tentative answer”, therefore this research work is backed up by the following hypothesis, which were derived from our tentative question or research question. I think that the controversy in what Aristotle said twenty-four centuries ago was as a result of individual’s pre-conceived views.

Nevertheless, Aristotle’s “four cause” and other works cannot be overlooked in the progress of philosophy even in other interests of life. Its application would continue to impact great knowledge in all areas of human studies. Material cause which Aristotle put forth as what a thing is actually made of aligns to providing some critical answers to ascertain why Neil Armstrong travelled ten million times far to the moon than Wright brothers plane. The first controlled, sustained flight was powered by heavier-than-air aircraft, the brothers of Wright later developed their flying machine to the first practical fixed wing aircraft, through aircraft controls, the fixed-wing powered flight was provided with up thrust to be sustained on air for a while, unlike Neil Armstrong’s Luna 2, a spherical aircraft with protruding antennas and instrumentation. It’s instrumentation comprises of scintillation counters, Geiger counters, a magnetometer, Cherenkov directors and micrometeorite detectors. Once Luna 2 was split from its upper stage it started transmitting information back to earth using three different transmitters. These transmitters provided precise information on its course, allowing scientist to calculate that Luna 2 would hit its mark on the moon. In order to be able to provide a visual from the earth on September 13, 1959, when it was first launched, the spacecraft released a vapour cloud that would expand to 650-kilometer (400mi) diameter that would be seen by observations in Alma Ata, Byurakan, Abastuma, Tbilisi and Stalinabad.

This vapour cloud also acted as an experiment to see how the sodium gas would act in a vacuum and zero gravity. (description of Luna 2, Re: Wikipedia).

The nature or stages of change of Aristotle gave a detailed review of how unimaginable it would be with the idea of Neil Armstrong travelling into the space when the airborne of The Wright brothers’ plane is still credited a huge technological advancement. Aristotle’s material or matter cause interpreted the first nature of change that existed between The Wright brothers and Neil Armstrong which was the nature of the components of raw material they used in their experiments. While Orville and Wibur Wright made use of simple apparatus, Neil Armstrong’s Luna 2 spacecraft was technically advanced, coupled with the intelligence of other professionals.

Still ahead, the second phase or stage of Aristotle’s “four cause” formal cause which is how a matter is arranged further explains the variance in The Wright brothers’ and Neil Armstrong’s experiments. While the Orville and Wibur gained the mechanical skills they needed for their success through practicing and working in their shop with printing presses, bicycles, motor and other mechanical machines, they worked with these machineries, precisely bicycle influenced their notion that an unstable vehicle like a flying machine could be controlled and balanced with practice. Orville and Wibur until 1903 when their plane was airborne were only based in conducting extensive glider tests that resulted to building the first airplane engine. It was what advanced their skills as pilots. The only third party in their team was Charlie Taylor, who was then their bicycle employee. In 1889 Orville dropped out of high school which was after his junior year to set up a printing business, in fact both brothers did not receive diplomas but they developed their skills mechanically through constant work with machinery.

Aristotle was absolutely right describing formal cause as how a matter is arranged and I think that is the most important stage of nature of change. Neil Armstrong did not wake up on the morning of 21st July 1969 to land on the moon. It started with some systematical arrangements. From taking flying lessons at Grassy Wapakoneta Airfield, to studying aeronautical engineering at Purdue University and some flight trainings under the U.S Navy. In July 1969 when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, with the overwhelming experience he felt on stepping into the lunar orbit, he, Apollo 11 Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, service module worked in collaborations. He encountered major challenges or semi-accidents in his flight career which probably played much role in boasting his knowledge that lead to his moon landing, thus proving Aristotle’s formal cause right that the success Neil Armstrong had over The Wright brothers was how their experiments were arranged or carried out, both technically, mentally, socially (as in professionalism of people they engaged in their projects) or otherwise.

Finally, the “efficient cause” and “end cause” which Aristotle said was where a matter came from and the purpose of it respectively. The Wright brothers’ “end cause” was merely their belief that like bicycle, an unstable vehicle such as
rotating machine could be controlled and balanced with practice, immediately their plane was airborne, their belief was fulfilled, it did not matter how meter high it flew, meanwhile, Neil Armstrong’s initial target was moon landing and so he did, thus “cogito ergo sum”.

However, if I may describe efficient cause as what derives a thing, either passion or desire of the mind because that is where the first process begins. If one do not have idea of establishing a specific project, even till infinity, the end result would be empty. Therefore, The Wright Brothers’ passion grew when their father bought them first toy helicopter unlike Neil Armstrong who at a tender age was more into fight travels because of the nature of his father’s job.

Philosophy and science are not opposed to each other, there are various points on which philosophy and science agree”. Rev Prof. B.O Eboh. I quite believe that due to the relationship between philosophy and science, there is possible progress in philosophy. Prof. Eboh agrees that when one removes philosophy from science, science looses it’s theoretical element. So, philosophy progresses as science develops.

Therefore one asking if the possible progress in philosophy worth it is like asking if growth and development is necessary, either human body or all round growth, such as political, social, economic, science and technological development. It is interesting for me to put forth that it is progress in philosophy that resulted to scholars to combine the works of Aristotle together through the help of his students’ lesson notes as his original work was never recovered, just like his teacher Plato.

No matter how we argue, doubt or discard what Aristotle said twenty four centuries ago, our sentiments can not hamper the facts of reality, and that reality till tomorrow was what Aristotle described from 384-322 BCE.

In summary, Aristotle was convinced that his four "causes" provided an analytical scheme of general applicability, some of them generates controversy which I earlier pointed out was due to individuals’ pre-conceived idea. Wherefore explanations of nature of change are classified into four fundamental kinds of result to the question "why?". We do not have knowledge of a thing until we have grasped its why.


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