The discovery of the atomic nucleus was announced a century ago, in 1911. How does one “see ” a nucleus? It is not there for the mere looking; its existence and properties must be inferred. This takes one into deep waters in the philosophy of science, the problem of scientific realism. Peter Godfrey-Smith describes scientific realism this way: One actual and reasonable aim of science is to give us accurate descriptions (and other representations) of what reality is like [emphasis added]. This project includes giving us accurate representations of aspects of reality that are unobservable. By ‘unobservable ’ Godfrey-Smith means ‘not directly accessible to our senses. ’ In such cases, philosophers of science distinguish the observable from the detectable. In science we work with models, conceptual representations of real things and processes. When the object of study is not directl
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