The Humble Giant

In Loving Memory of Karl Popper

John Driggs
11 min readSep 18, 2019


There’s a straightforward path to philosophy. That is, we each have prejudices — racial prejudices, class prejudices, religious prejudices, sexual prejudices, academic prejudices, the list goes on. And the important thing about philosophy is that it criticizes these prejudices. It shows, through creative criticism, how dependent and false these prejudices are, and then it attempts to improve upon or eliminate those which we find objectionable.

This philosophical path is even true of science, of scientific prejudices or theories. Scientific laws can never be proved, neither by experiements, nor by logical deduction. All scientific theories are conjectures, ingeniously conceived hypotheses, which can never be translated into truths.

One must proceed differently, indirectly. One must try to show the falsity of a theory — try to falsify it, as Popper says. If an error is found, then the scientific conjecture is untrue, and a new draft that avoids this possible error will come a bit closer to truth. This was the underlying theme of Popper’s revolutionary book, the Logic of Scientific Discovery, which was published in 1934.

One good and interesting example to demonstrate Popper’s point is Einstein’s theory of gravitation. One consequence of Einstein’s theory — one deduction — is that light coming from a distance star to the earth will be deflected near the sun. Einstein calculated that under certain conditions, even in Newtonian theory, such a deviation would result, but far less than his own theory.

Now, you normally can’t see a star when it is close to the sun. But Einstein realized that during a solar eclipse, when the moon is in front of the sun, one could photograph the stars around the sun and compare it with a photograph taken of the same group of stars without the sun. One just needs to take a picture of the same group of stars six months later when the sun isn’t in the location of the stars.

This was done by Eddington in 1919. The cluster of stars where the sun was expected were photographed six months before the solar eclipse. And then during the solar eclipse the same cluster of stars were recorded when they were near the sun. And it turned out that the stars were exactly where they had been predicted.