Testability and Epistemic Shifts in Modern Cosmology

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Kragh, Helge
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During the last decade new developments in theoretical and speculative cosmology have reopened the old discussion of cosmology’s scientific status and the more general question of the demarcation between science and non-science. The multiverse hypothesis, in particular, is central to this discussion and controversial because it seems to disagree with methodological and epistemic standards traditionally accepted in the physical sciences. But what are these standards and how sacrosanct are they? Does anthropic multiverse cosmology rest on evaluation criteria that conflict with and go beyond those ordinarily accepted, so that it constitutes an “epistemic shift” in fundamental physics? The paper offers a brief characterization of the modern multiverse and also refers to a few earlier attempts to introduce epistemic shifts in the science of the universe. It further discusses the several meanings of testability, addresses the question of falsifiability as a sine qua non for a theory being scientific, and briefly compares the situation in cosmology with the one in systematic biology. Multiverse theory is not generally falsifiable, which has led to proposals from some physicists to overrule not only Popperian standards but also other evaluation criteria of a philosophical nature. However, this is hardly possible and nor is it possible to get rid of explicit philosophical considerations in some other aspects of cosmological research, however advanced it becomes.