Theory construction and experimentation in high energy particle physics, circa 1960-1970

Abstract

In this paper, I address the issue of to what extent the theory-dominated view of scientific experimentation describes scientific practice. I rely on a time period from the history of High Energy Physics (HEP), which spans from early 1960s to early 1970s. I argue that theory-ladenness of experimentation (TLE), which grounds theory-dominated conception of experimentation is too coarse-grained inasmuch as it prevents us from seeing the correct relationship that exists between theorizing and experimenting in the scientific practice of HEP. I articulate that in order to be able to get a better understanding of scientific practice, a revision needs to be made in the general conception of TLE. I propose that such a revision is possible if we abandon the commitment that experimentation is always driven by theory. I consider what I call “theory-drivenness” of experimentation (TDE) as a form of theory-ladenness, which amounts to the claim that experiments, from their initial design up to their final stage, are carried out under the framework of a prevailing theory for the purpose of providing definite answers to specific questions already posed by the same theory. I argue that electron-proton inelastic scattering experiments in HEP were firstly carried out without having any recourse to a phenomenological model. From here, I claim that these experiments are not theory-laden in the sense implied by TDE. On the other hand, I argue, inelastic scattering experiments are theory-laden due to the fact that the scientists who perform them are committed to background theories of HEP. That is, I admit the validity of TLE as a philosophical claim, but I attribute a weaker status to it as opposed to its general conception. That is, I propose to differentiate TDE from TLE by claiming that TLE does not entail TDE.

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Koray Karaca
University Of Wuppertal

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