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The Modern Science Myth

By sto0 in Culture
Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 01:53:22 AM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)
Science

After reading about three myths in an education magazine; one Christian creation myth, one Norse creation myth and one Greek creation myth, I began to question the balence of this article, since it was posed as piece of classwork material for teachers. I believed there to be a rather glaring problem: they had missed out one other important "myth": the modern science myth.


This article isn't out to bash modern science over the head with a big stick -- I personally agree with much of the scientific ideas and concepts which I know of with a few exceptions, and I would like to think that I have applied fairly decent scientific understanding and meta-scientific understanding (philosophical reasoning) to those areas. I don't claim to have a very deep knowledge of science either, but I feel that I know enough to share certain ideas I have had.

The term I objected to in each section of the aforementioned educational article was "myth". Not the real, true meaning of myth, but the implied meaning and the subconcious synonyms which arise in the mind.

Technically, a myth is a) a tale with supernatural characters or events or b) an imaginary object or person. This particular definition is different from common perception of the word. Usually the latter association is used, and I feel that it is this perception which should be reconsidered.

In our apparently open and tolerant western society, everyone is said to be entitled to have their own beliefs. No one set of ideas is deemed to be absolutely correct or true. This philosophical idea is supposed to be one of the bases of postmodern thought and something held in the worldview. Why, then, does the world permeate the concept that science is outside of this set? We see it in schools more than most, the aforementioned article being a prime example of the way society views "religions" in comparison to something they think is in a different realm of its own; outside of beliefs and religious-type discussion. Science seems to be treated as intrinsically correct in education (at least in my own, that is), and it is possibly seen as an absolute truth system, where beliefs are rooted in the supernatural and the spiritual, science is rooted in reality. Trust in science and scientists can be formed implicitly, as I feel I have to a certain extent. This lead me to think in this way:

  1. Reality is a self-contained set
  2. Reality is consistent
  3. Ultimately all reality will be explained by science or meta-science

This view is highly inconsistent with the postmodernist axiom of the nonexistence of truth. Science cannot prove anything, implies this concept -- many take the opposite for granted. We hear of brave "futurists" who confidentally predict the huge leaps and bounds science will take in days to come, almost as though, like computing power, the power of science will exponentially increase. But science isn't like that in my understanding. Science is as much a hazy subject in its own way as religion is. I feel that something which is important is the model nature of science.

Put simply, science is only a possible model of our world and universe. As far as I know, fundamentally physics is the underlying model on which the rest of mainstream science is based, and the physical nature of the universe determines this fact. The idea is that if this underlying model is correct and true, so the extrapolations will also be true. Biology and chemistry are two large areas of such extrapolations. However, the main thrust of this particular argument is a more general one: much of science is based on a single model -- one possibility. This implies that our particular model of the universe could have a definite end and limit of its applicability, but another, different model may carry us on further. One example of this is Newtonian mechanics and quantum mechanics - Newtonian is one way, albeit limited, to look at the universe; all this went only so far at which point quantum physics was developed to take a look at the universe at a different angle, and enabled us to discover further. I think that our particular model is by no means infallible.

I suppose that many people may have been bludgeoned (like me) into believing scientific facts because they come from the mouths of well-respected characters, perhaps never thinking of reasoning the idea out in their own head. For example, I can't deny that in my mind the theory of evolution has holes, in some ways I'd like to believe it since it is a very elegent theory, but it's easy to take this as being the be-all and end-all of life. We have developed by chance, over millions of years and somehow have managed to evolve into sentient beings, capable of advanced thought, technological creation and a have obtained a highly complex emotional set. I believe that some theorists may point out the that transitionary stages of the evolutionary process don't exist, and the maze-like probabilities which evolution would have to satisfy would require more than the several hundred million years we have apparently been developing, but to be honest, I'm not fully qualified in this area, and I'm merely speaking as from an outsider's viewpoint. Theories always have initial problems, and no one theory will ever be the "only" way of seeing our world.

Yet a great deal of this is held as a common, "correct" viewpoint in our schools. Anyone who reasonably critises it is in danger of being against established common knowledge scientific opinion. Other such theories are taught as fact in our schools, not as one of the ways (to the best of our current knowledge) of describing the world around us. But the difficulty is how to provide a more balenced view. Therein the main problem lies -- in the almost philosophical nature of the underlying concept of scientific models, which, admittedly is difficult to begin with. It is therefore easier to believe that one prototype is the only truth than that model being a possible description of the truth. This does sometimes make some of the uncertainties of human existence temporarily disappear; we are able to understand and relate to such common-knowlege concepts as sound, which for example occurs in accordance to a particular scientific model which we know exists. Perhaps the way forward is to start conceptualising reality as being something which is ultimately beyond complete and formal description. Scientific theories are, I believe, only a part-reflection of the absolute truth system which is veiled by our imperfect and finite view of reality. Like a fractal landscape, we will never succeed in uncovering all the detail of it's construction and design. Different models reflect different sections of the ultimate image, but none will uncover the whole image.

We cannot see subatomic particles, but we have developed a model that incorporates them because it seems the best way to explain the interaction we can observe. It is analogous to being able to see an object which is covered by a sheet. We can see the bumps and that object creates, and theorise as to its shape, but never see the true shape as a whole, or all the details on that shape. We can see merely the interaction that the object produces on the sheet. I do not know whether we will ever be able to remove the metaphorical sheet from our reality or not, but hopefully this isomorphism may convey something of the profound nature of the fabric of our universe's makeup.

Some see beliefs in a sub-category of many other things of the world, possibly as a side-issue, or a non-parallel concern to other things in life. I personally see it the other way round. Beliefs are based on our perception of the world around us, and science is based on perception as much as some faiths are. Both require some faith or an inexplicable reasoning to get anywhere - in many religions it is the knowledge of God, and in science it is the desire to discover more about our universe; however, for others it is a mixture of both. One example of a mixed approach to these areas of life was Isaac Newton, who was probably one of the most inventive and brilliant scientists who has ever lived. I state "inexplicable reasoning" as a driving force behind scientists, and many other professionals -- although people may not feel that there is a spiritual dimension to their work, it is fair to say that most people normally want to discover more about our world for some "inexplicable reason". It is this force that I would like to understand -- I ask why we wish to explore the universe and progress.

I feel that it is easy to have missed this "inexplicable reasoning" or choose to ignore it. In fact, this same rationale can be applied to all professions but particularly to science.

Why continue - what point does it have?

Perhaps for me personally, this is the oversight which pervades much of our culture, where distractions are pretty common. Many people have their reasons for pursuing their own goals, but it's understandable when our understanding falls down when we approach the larger scope of things. Is there any meaning in our universe that ultimately can be fathomed? In my view, the only thing that would justify even slightly the need for progress is the belief in our own species. Our culture does at times push the image that people should attempt to climb their own personal ladder through the pursuit of a vain faith in humanity. Vain may sound harshly critical, yet we need to apply that kind of discernment and stricture to a civilisation which has maimed, slaughtered and killed each other since the very dawn of our existence. This fact cannot be thrown away lightly.

The only explanation for me in our relentless quest for development must be attributed to some kind of in-built search for a hidden backdrop to our world and universe. This may sound like a resignatory excuse, but until there are other theories which match up to the powerful logic of this one, I seem to have only one option of explanation (give me your view!). That this explanation should require a force external to the universe is possibly a foolish thing to many people. It seems to be far too irrational and unfounded. Much better is the concept that it is a genetic-based drive, yet I consider this to be a perhaps shallow observation of the evidence. For me, this drive seems to be far too complex and profound for mere genetics to be a bedrock. The sophistication and chaotic nature of human emotions should be enough to imply that, not forgetting that motives such as artistic ambition seem illogical when scrutinised. Such things do not progress humanity in an evolutionary logic.

All of these ideas could be considered from an opposite viewpoint, of course -- that in-built genetics and the human condition have collectively brought this "phenomena" about.

In conclusion, the missed "myth" of science from the article mentioned earlier only ratifies the notion that it is all too easy to rely on common-knowledge science to think out issues for you, and that common-viewpoint is all too common. Science requires faith in something; whether this is humanity or a higher power is a subject of controversy. Personally I believe in the latter, but others perhaps believe that they are self-motivated at a base level. I don't find this satisfactory, because as stated before, I believe it to be somewhat missing the evidence.

Whatever your beliefs, if we are to succeed in discovering more about our world, we must continue to realise the depth and subtlety of the universe we live in, and not be content to "dumb-down" the cosmos as if it were all within our rather measly grip. Respect for this is, I believe, highly important.

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Are we really here?
o Yes, reality is *really* real. 38%
o No, it's all just a big dream. 5%
o When we dream, that's reality. The rest is just a dream. 9%
o The Matrix, of course. 18%
o Screw you and your philosophical questions: I'm a hedonist. 28%

Votes: 76
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The Modern Science Myth | 94 comments (59 topical, 35 editorial, 0 hidden)
You should read the "myth" of... (2.00 / 1) (#1)
by ti dave on Sun Dec 30, 2001 at 06:17:40 PM EST

Coyote, the Trickster.

very cool, and quite possibly real...

Cheers,

ti dave


"If you dial," Iran said, eyes open and watching, "for greater venom, then I'll dial the same."

you should take a phil. of sci. course, man (4.77 / 18) (#2)
by sayke on Sun Dec 30, 2001 at 06:38:29 PM EST

or get a philosophy of science textbook and just mow through it. hell, there's probably good websites out there specifically designed to introduce people to the subject.

regardless, for many people, science isn't a "hazy subject" - it's more like a way of life; an approach to figuring shit out for people who spend much of their time and effort specifically and carefully trying to figure shit out.

you would almost certainly be fascinated by the history, sociology, and philosophy of science. scientsts have spent vast piles of time navel-gazing, and have written about their findings eloquently and readably. well, fairly readably... any discussion of underdeterminism or bayesianism is going to seem pretty arcane to a n00b, but that happens with everything ;)

regardless, most scientists nowadays don't need to call theories "true" - all they do is call certain theories "more useful" or "less useful", and they might say things like "i really like that idea" or "that really ties a lot of stuff together". a while ago, most scientists started talking about "epistemic values", and the figuring out what epistemic values they associated with a "good" theory - epistemic values influence theory preference and selection. here's a quick list of common epistemic (cognitive) values found in scientists:

  • predictive power (does it help to accurately predict stuff?)
  • explanatory power (does it help to accurately explain stuff?)
  • novelty of explanatory and predictive power (did it make new and bizzare predictions and explanations?)
  • generality (the more stuff explained and predicted, the better)
  • simplicity (occam's razor; no ad hoc-ery)
  • tentativeness (minimization of pseudo-certainty - does it refrain from making wild and all-encompassing assertions?)
  • openness to peer review and criticism
  • testability/verifiability
  • falsifiability
and then there's contextual values - these are held by some scientists and some other people, and they traditionally influence theory creation, but they really shouldn't influence theory preference or selection - in fact, not letting your contextual values influence theory preference or selection is often called "objectivity". here's a quick list of contextual values:
  • ex nihilo creationism by a (usually specific) god
  • individual autonomy as basic good
  • greatest good for greatest number (as judged by !?) as basic good
  • existance of a grand unified theory just waiting to be discovered
  • non-existance of a grand unified theory (pervasive incomprehensibility)
you can no doubt figure out lots more.

anyway, i'm going to have to vote -1 on this story, because, and no insult intended, you don't know what you're talking about on this one, man =/


sayke, v2.3.1 /* i am the middle finger of the invisible hand */

Models and extrapolations (4.90 / 10) (#4)
by brion on Sun Dec 30, 2001 at 06:51:09 PM EST

Put simply, science is only a possible model of our world and universe.

"A" model is overly simplistic. Rather a collection of many models, most of which can be related to others in some way.

As far as I know, fundamentally physics is the underlying model on which the rest of mainstream science is based, and the physical nature of the universe determines this fact. The idea is that if this underlying model is correct and true, so the extrapolations will also be true. Biology and chemistry are two large areas of such extrapolations.

Hardly. They're all connected, obviously, on a low level, but it strikes me as silly to claim that biology and chemisty are "extrapolations" of physics. Rather, the various disciplines slowly merged together, as the study of life got down to the cellular level where we deal with chemical interactions, which brings us down on a still smaller level to atomic and subatomic interactions.

But it's difficult to say that physics is "the basis" for these unless you've got a very backwards idea of how science works. Biologists and chemists didn't invent their fields of knowledge by extrapolating from their knowledge of microscopic particle physics -- quite the contrary, they started with macroscopic observations (this kind of animal eats that kind of plant) and developed more and more detailed theories to account for these observations.

The important part is: the observations don't go away when the theory changes. That animal still eats that plant even if we all wake up tomorrow with a radical new theory of subquantum foozawats that proves all of physics "wrong". A new theory has to account for old observations -- and the old theory is still as good as it was before to the degree that it accurately reflected and predicated observations. Newtonian physics, though "incorrect" is still used every day, because it's sufficiently accurate for most uses, and quantum physics will likely still be used after it's been replaced by something else because some calculations will be easier and just as accurate with it. "Objective truth" doesn't have to exist for a scientific theory to be widely accepted and used as though it were fact, merely accordance with observation.

The widespread consideration of current scientific theories as actually being "truth" or "fact" is something that is beaten out of anyone who actually studies science, since it's inherently contra-scientific.

For the general populace, though, is it so wrong? Surely the "fact" that the "scientific facts" can change from time to time with the acceptance of a new theory should just help everyone to distance themselves from that silly old notion of Objective Truth?



Chu vi parolas Vikipedion?
Models (none / 0) (#16)
by sto0 on Sun Dec 30, 2001 at 10:19:46 PM EST

"A" model is overly simplistic. Rather a collection of many models, most of which can be related to others in some way.

Hmm... sorry, I don't think that it was that clear, but I did go on detail the different models we have. I should have written "collection of models" instead!

[ Parent ]
Who's dumbing down? (3.71 / 7) (#6)
by mech9t8 on Sun Dec 30, 2001 at 07:19:35 PM EST

Whatever your beliefs, if we are to succeed in discovering more about our world, we must continue to realise the depth and subtlety of the universe we live in, and not be content to "dumb-down" the cosmos as if it were all within our rather measly grip

Of course, that's essentially what most religions tend to say: "God (the universe) is too vast to be understood, but if you follow our little book here and our religious leaders, you don't need to worry about all that, everything you need is right here."

Real science, on the other hand, is part of the infinite quest for knowledge - the search for understanding of the universe, bit by bit, and no matter how deep our understanding goes, we're going to keep trying to understand more and more. The beauty of science is that if one of the religions is actually right about creation, or the best way for humans to behave in society, or whatever, science will figure that out - it may take thousands of years, but it'll get there. Science is always as "right" as humans, at our current knowledge level, can be. A religion that's "wrong" isn't likely to evolve into a religion that's "right", but science that's wrong will eventually right itself.

(There are, of course, people that misunderstand the nature of science, who think everything science postulates is a hard fact and that humans will understand everything within our lifetimes. Just because science is a good way of looking at the universe doesn't render it immune to dumbasses.<g>)

So there may be someone "up there" who made us, it could be that our urge to learn isn't "mere" genetics (although anyone who thinks the genetics qualifies as "mere" really doesn't understand just how complex genetics really is - I doubt we'll fully understand the human genome even in thousands of years), but trudging along with our very human science is the only way to find out - instead of going for the "quick fix" offered by very human religions.

Well, that's my current thinking, anyhow. ;)

--
IMHO

Science is more dynamic than mythology (4.83 / 12) (#7)
by jesterzog on Sun Dec 30, 2001 at 07:23:33 PM EST

From where I'm sitting, there are plenty of religions and generators of mythology who are perfectly happy to assume that their ideas are 100% correct, true, and often enforcable. Perhaps you can clasify science as another one of them, but I think it's different and much more credible because science is not supposed to be an answer or an explanation. It's a way of thinking and a methodology to answer questions as accurately as possible (but no more accurate than is possible) based on known information, experimentation and assumptions.

From what you've said I don't think you should be arguing against science. You should be arguing against something like how it's taught to people in schools. If something in science is being presented as fact without it being proven or without the assumptions being available, then it's not genuine science.

When done properly, science is self-critical and peer reviewed. You can't easily perform an experiment and publish the results, and not have someone try to replicate it if it gets popular enough. It's based on assumptions, the non-obvious of which should be stated. If you ever go back to the original papers where ideas and theories are actually published rather than the media's flashy portraital of a brand new discovery which is actually only in the first stage, I think you'll find that all reasonable assumptions are stated. If they're not and the theory is important enough to be noticed by more than the person who developed it, it'll be hammered and discredited in peer review.

And it's not too big-a-thing if fundamental idea changes, either, because usually by that time the original idea has shown itself to be a good enough model to describe at least for what it's already being used for. What another theory does is open a door to understand it in a different and more accurate way.

For example, when relativity was developed, it didn't cause a severe re-think in building construction which would have been based on Newtonian physics until then. The reason would have been that newtonian physics was, and still is, a perfectly good model to use for almost everything.

Even the definition of mathematics is fundamentally based around the axiom of choice, which is more of a theoretical thing than anything based on the real world. If the Universe was shown to be inside out and the axiom of choice was somehow proven to be invalid with respect to the Universe, it would mean that maths would have to be re-designed so that it was useful for what was needed. But it wouldn't make existing maths useless.

Even when I was taking chemistry at high school we were being taught an atomic model that had been outdated since some time in the 1950's. The reason wasn't that the school was behind the times -- the teacher made it clear to us that it was an outdated model. The reason it was being taught was that it was an intuitive model good enough to explain ewverything that we needed to know, and getting more advanced would have alienated about 90% of the class.

Because everyone cites each other in proper scientific methodology and wouldn't be very respected if they didn't, it's not difficult when a paper is questioned to search through recursively, identify anything that might be affected, and verify that it's still valid.

Now that I've said all of this, I'd like to point out that science is not the same as all of the other myths you've listed. Creation myths and various other myths tied up with religion and modern astrology aren't peer reviewed, and they aren't open to dynamic change when new ideas are discovered. Usually if anything it's forced, such as the catholic church admitting that the world was round and the Earth wasn't the centre of the Universe and finally in the 1990's, apologising to Galileo for his persecution.

What irritates me isn't science, it's how it's mis-perceived by media and how it often gets presented to people who do always accept what they see or hear on TV. Things like the one scientist who disagrees with a thousand others but who gets equal media time to make noise about it in front of a population often not qualified to understand it really annoys me.


jesterzog Fight the light


Axiom of choice (none / 0) (#10)
by richieb on Sun Dec 30, 2001 at 09:30:28 PM EST

Even the definition of mathematics is fundamentally based around the axiom of choice, which is more of a theoretical thing than anything based on the real world. If the Universe was shown to be inside out and the axiom of choice was somehow proven to be invalid with respect to the Universe, it would mean that maths would have to be re-designed so that it was useful for what was needed. But it wouldn't make existing maths useless.

Actually axiom of choice says that given a bunch of non-empty sets, you can form another set by taking a single element out of each set you started with. Hardly a cosmic statement, although it becomes more interesting when we are dealing with infinite sets.

Anyways, mathematics tries to build consistent formal systems based on a set of axioms. You can add or remove axioms, and hope that you will not introduce any contradictions. The system can be equaly valid with or without the particular axiom.

The best example of this is geometry. In Euclidean geometry you assume that any line can have only one parallel line through a given point, in non-Eclidean geometry you assume that there no parallel lines or that there are more than one. In either case you get mathematical systems that are consistent and suprisingly useful in other disciplines of science.

Removing or changing a axiom does not make the math "wrong".

...richie
It is a good day to code.
[ Parent ]

Cool. Thanks for the correction (nt) (none / 0) (#14)
by jesterzog on Sun Dec 30, 2001 at 09:56:22 PM EST


jesterzog Fight the light


[ Parent ]
No, not at all. (5.00 / 1) (#27)
by Estanislao Martínez on Mon Dec 31, 2001 at 01:46:42 AM EST

Anyways, mathematics tries to build consistent formal systems based on a set of axioms.

This is widely believed, but not really true. First of all, there is such a thing as inconsistent mathematics.

More importantly, very few mathematicians really believe that math is just about formal manipulation (a.k.a. "empty formalism"). They believe the symbols stand for certain entities, and that the rules for manipulating them correspond to properties of the domain they represent.

And there are philosophies of mathematics which are very anti-formalist and anti-realist, e.g. Intuitionism, which holds that mathematics only exists in the mind, and symbols only serve to communicate mathematical thought.

--em
[ Parent ]

You expand the range of inconsistency... (none / 0) (#70)
by swoolley on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 03:03:33 AM EST

...I gather you are religious? j/k

Mostly, work on inconsistency has to do with making additional distinctions, not some realist idea of "inconsistency". Like the system in your link that describes an intersection zero having values both zero and one: think of the variables as sets instead of singleton measures, you you don't have contradictions. The "inconsistentist" is actually looking for a meta-level consistent system to describe such behavior.

You are obviously on the advocacy (excuse the pun) side of mathematic realism. One of those "axioms" he mentioned can be inconsistency of a certain limited behavior. I'm sure you're at a basic understanding of type or set theory (either will work). The mathematician is certainly capable of encapsulating inconsistency. (Note how they work in the liar's paradox or even Escher as an example! On many levels they are completely consistent, and if we've been exposed to _some_ philosophers of math, we'd be acquainted with how to deal with such antinomies.

Remember when Russell showed the Paradox in Frege's notion of set theory? It almost seemed that there was a contradiction, but the problem was fixed soon enough, right? You work with the resolution all the time when you make a distinction between the set of something and the something itself.

After all, anybody can build an inconsistent system: P and not P. Now if somebody said that P was true a half a second ago and false now, I would say that isn't an inconsistency: that is an observation that P has changed due to some relevant context, most notably, the the fact that they are at different times is just _one_ obvious distinction that could be made. If you actually sit down and read what the "Inconsistent Mathematics" are about, you'd see that they are chock-full of distinctions that pull them out of a "realist" inconsistency.

Seth

[ Parent ]
Dialetheism (none / 0) (#79)
by Estanislao Martínez on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 06:07:04 PM EST

Mostly, work on inconsistency has to do with making additional distinctions, not some realist idea of "inconsistency".

Yes. Mostly. There is such a thing as Dialetheism, however.

You are obviously on the advocacy (excuse the pun) side of mathematic realism.

Nope. If I have a particular interest in the issue it is in understanding to what degree not just mathematics, but even elementary propositional logic, is a matter of cultural convention. The question of whether it is possible to have a mathematics founded on a semantics that admits inconsistency is interesting because it bears on theories about social construction of reality and cultural relativism.

--em
[ Parent ]

Peer review (4.00 / 3) (#51)
by pyramid termite on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 10:14:39 AM EST

Creation myths and various other myths tied up with religion and modern astrology aren't peer reviewed, and they aren't open to dynamic change when new ideas are discovered.

Considering that a great deal of literature and art can be shown to have religious influences from various cultures and that the creators are forever commenting on each other's work, that just doesn't hold up. Ancient religions borrowed concepts and gods from one another constantly and what one culture might define as belief would be defined quite differently by another. As far as dynamic change is concerned, scientists are often more open to it than other people, but there's always going to be those who fight it and those who embrace it.

In an ideal world, people would recognize science as a method of inquiry and not a source of authority. But it wasn't presented to most people that way - "these people know more than us, and therefore we should listen to them" was the subliminal attitude presented in the media. Gradually, it entered the public's head that quite a few times, what these people were telling us, or what the media was reporting them as saying was wrong. Some even came to the conclusion that the reason some scientists have come up with certain conclusions is that they are paid by a company to come to those conclusions and none other. Look at the scientists who work for tobacco companies - how much credibility do they have? One can cite the current controversies over global warming, ritalin, nuclear power, diet, etc. etc. as cases where one set of people with axes to grind have their authorities and another set have authorities that disagree and the man on the street comes to the conclusion that it all boils down to who's paying for the research. The statements "Everything's bad for you" and "Studies show that lab research causes cancer in mice" are expressions of that kind of cynicism. Add to this the postmodern sensibility that truth is relative, even though there are a great many people who will argue that it isn't, and we end up hearing a bunch of authorities who are absolutely convinced of their "truth" even when there are others who can disprove their truth with a "truth" of their own. Is it any wonder that people don't percieve science as an authority? "They've" been proved wrong many times, "they're" been caught taking money to say certain things, "they" can't make up their minds, "they're" not listening to what "we" have to say anyway, why should "we" believe "them"? "It's just a theory," says the cultural relavist, even when he's a creationist, "and therefore our theory is just as good as yours." All sorts of facts can be swept under the table when this is asserted, but none the less, some say it and others believe it.

Science in the way it's presented to some, and in the way it works in the real world is a myth. Sure, it's free and rational inquiry into the nature of the universe, but who decides what's being inquired into? Corporations and government, who are less interested in free inquiry and more interested in results that will benefit them and give them what they're trying to get, whether it be a new wonder drug or proof that a certain policy is not harmful. Sure, it's peer reviewed, but peers are a dime a dozen and a lot of wrong stuff gets out there anyway; or, just as bad, people decide they'll do their papers on something safe and insignificant while the major controversies often stay untouched. The problem with the science myth is that the scientists aren't in a white lab in an ivory tower somewhere doing what they want; they're in a political world where their research may have real political consequences, and this can affect what they do and how they do it and how it is percieved when they've done it.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
The axiom of choice.. (5.00 / 1) (#55)
by Weezul on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 12:44:42 PM EST

..is provably consistent with the other axioms of set theory, i.e. any inconsistancy in set theory with choice translates into an inconsistancy in set theory without choice. It's still possible for physicists (or phyiscially motivated mathematicians) to find that they need to drop choice for some reason, but since physicists have never really taken a level of rigor any where near requiring considerations of choice this seems like useless speculation at this point. Indeed, physicists are quite happy working with incosistant theories, so long as the inconsistancy has been pushed off to areas which they consider the job of mathematicians. They have good historical precedent for this as Dirac used it quite effectivly in his formulation of modern quantum mechanics.. and von Neumann plugged all the mathematical holes.

Set theories currently beleive that they have found large cardinal axioms which answer "all" importent questions about the real numbers.. what sets are measurable type questions. Anyway, this is clearly being done for purely aestetic (coolness) reasons, but it is much more likely to (ever in the distant future) have an impact on physics then choice since it effects which functions are measurable (and can be integrated). I suppose you can get all sets to be measurable if you drop choice, but they you have infinite dimentional vector spaces without a basis and no Hahn-Banach theorem.. that seems much worse for physics. I donno.. I do model theory, algebraic geometry, and groups of finite Morley rank now, so I'm out touch with all this stuff anyway.. :)

"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." - Benito Mussolini
[ Parent ]
Science the method vs. science the belief system (4.66 / 6) (#21)
by seebs on Sun Dec 30, 2001 at 11:17:04 PM EST

The problem you'll run into here is that science is many things. Just as some Christians believe in harassing people not like themselves, and others believe in loving all humans without exceptions, you will find some people for whom "science" means a gradual attempt to understand and explain the universe, and others for whom it means "hating religious people".


a few reflections (4.83 / 6) (#23)
by Komodo321 on Sun Dec 30, 2001 at 11:39:04 PM EST

Put simply, science is only a possible model of our world and universe. . . . The idea is that if this underlying model is correct and true, so the extrapolations will also be true. Biology and chemistry are two large areas of such extrapolations.

Science is not a model - it is a process that has yielded a collection of models. To the degree that the models correspond with reality, they are kept and improved. You state that physics is the underlying model, and that biology and chemistry are extrapolations - not so!! Chemistry and biology are sciences in their own right - they overlap with the various physics, but involve higher order phenomena that cannot be predicted entirely from the physics. (And even if physics is the underlying basis of other sciences, which physics?? Classical Newtonian physics? Particle physics? Quantum physics??? Each is a very different idea set that applies only to a certain scale and domain).

And why bother with post-modern dis-establishmentarianism at all? Post modernism might be of value in examining the social fetishes built around the name of science, but it is generally a simplistic approach that dodges the central issues in the philosophy of science. 98% of postmodernism is formulaic tripe, argumentum ad hominem, and sophistry. ("Who says so?" "What are their biases" "What do they have to gain by asserting that?" --> "There are many possibilities - a single truth is not possible").

Geometric induction is essentially a process of prayer - an appeal from the finite mind to the infinite for a light on finite concerns. -- Boole

But wait a minute (none / 0) (#52)
by pyramid termite on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 10:26:22 AM EST

98% of postmodernism is formulaic tripe, argumentum ad hominem, and sophistry. ("Who says so?" "What are their biases" "What do they have to gain by asserting that?" --> "There are many possibilities - a single truth is not possible").

Do you really think one can understand today's politics or culture without asking such questions? I don't. In a world where what people are and often, who's paying them, affects what they say and do, one has to ask.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Could someone clear something up for me? (4.00 / 2) (#29)
by illustir on Mon Dec 31, 2001 at 06:03:56 AM EST

Perhaps the way forward is to start conceptualising reality as being something which is ultimately beyond complete and formal description. Scientific theories are, I believe, only a part-reflection of the absolute truth system which is veiled by our imperfect and finite view of reality.

I still haven't been able to get a hold of the book but isn't something along these lines the gist of "Objective Knowledge: an evolutionary approach" by Popper?

--
Alper

...when two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong.
--Richard Dawkins



Goedel's Incompleteness Theorem may apply.... (3.50 / 2) (#38)
by grout on Mon Dec 31, 2001 at 03:28:18 PM EST

Perhaps the universe is beyond formal description, but if so, that may simply be because formal description is known to be a very weak method for describing complete truth. If no formal system can prove all mathematical truths, then what hope is there of proving all realities?
--
Chip Salzenberg, Free-Floating Agent of Chaos

[ Parent ]
Do you even know what you are talking about? (2.66 / 3) (#47)
by Estanislao Martínez on Mon Dec 31, 2001 at 10:21:54 PM EST

Perhaps the universe is beyond formal description, but if so, that may simply be because formal description is known to be a very weak method for describing complete truth. If no formal system can prove all mathematical truths, then what hope is there of proving all realities?

The Incompleteness Theorems apply to arithmetic, or any theory that incorporates arithmetic. There are complete first-order theories of, e.g., the real numbers.

The question of whether a complete logic of the mathematics necessary to state scientific theories is far more complex than your attempt at sounding smart can begin to recognize.

--em
[ Parent ]

Goedel... (4.50 / 4) (#49)
by swoolley on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 03:29:36 AM EST

Well, as far as logic is concerned, there is no way to verify a system from within itself. Otherwise, you develop ontologies that don't make any sense. Goedel's Incompleteness Theorem specifically referred to Russell's Principia Mathematica, that was arithmetic, but, if you remember, it was an attempt to place logic and arithmetic in the same arena, and Goedel's Reply essentially showed the obvious tautology that verification from without can't come from within. Even Goedel's Statement must be taken from within a logical framework.

Essentially, what I am saying is that if you are logical, you have to agree with him, and if not, you aren't talking about logic so there's no point heeding your words.

He does know what he's talking about, but it appears that you've missed out on virtually every Philosophical work on it. Postmodernism comes from it (though, like early logical positivism, postmodernism suffers from many problems of verification. Postmodernism itself isn't coherent, so any use of the word strikes of incoherency, which is what the Sokal debate showed, in the Social Text and Lingua Franca).

That's the problem these days: nobody is willing to take their common sense they learned in math and willing to apply it to social sciences. Math and the soft sciences aren't two separate realms devoid of contact. They should be closer. Call me a positivist, but statements like these are really not productive, especially concerning the fact that you provide no reason why it shouldn't apply to other stuff? You do realize that he was talking in context of proof and logic, eh? Let me put it this way: "A coplete logic of mathematics is necessary to state scientific theories that want to have a complete logic of mathematics as a foundation." That's not complex: it is a tautology. Sure, you can state scientific theories without a logical framework, but why? Observations are more important than logic, but why not at least try to maintain some assurance of consistency, lest we fall into a logical quagmire of "mutually assured" inconsistency.

(aside -- heck, adequacy.org editor? Probably means the reply was satirical and the guy really does know about a little bit of the history of ideas, but he's trying to throw people off to his cunning intelligence!)

As far as the article is concerned, the author seemed to miss Systems and Cybernetic Theory completely, so it was quite dissappointing, in that it kept harping on an issue that few in intellectual circles call science. I was expecting a more thorough critique. Nobody's denying that Science isn't a myth or worldview these days, and much of the scientific community understands that (and I too worry about corporatization of Science and other corrupting factors). All too often, it is the public view of science that is messed up, and critiques of science often come from popular views of what science is. I fear the article exhibits a bit too much of that feeling. Let us try to be critical of science in productive ways.

Seth Woolley

tautology.org
logicalpositivism.org

[ Parent ]
I don't think you understood me. (5.00 / 1) (#50)
by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 05:42:20 AM EST

Well, as far as logic is concerned, there is no way to verify a system from within itself. Otherwise, you develop ontologies that don't make any sense. Goedel's Incompleteness Theorem specifically referred to Russell's Principia Mathematica, that was arithmetic, but, if you remember, it was an attempt to place logic and arithmetic in the same arena, and Goedel's Reply essentially showed the obvious tautology that verification from without can't come from within. Even Goedel's Statement must be taken from within a logical framework.

You don't happen to know much about Paraconsistent Logic, nor Inconsistent Mathematics, right? Gödel's theorems apply to consistent theories (theories in which absolutely no statement of the form A & -A can be proved). If you use a nonclassical logic and abandon consistency for merely nontrivial theories (theories in which not every statement is provable), you can state an arithmetic that can prove its own nontriviality. It has been done with relevant logics.

Thus there arises a philosophical question about the status of consistency and nontriviality; can science do with nontriviality instead of consistency?

Essentially, what I am saying is that if you are logical, you have to agree with [Goedel], and if not, you aren't talking about logic so there's no point heeding your words.

I happen to know a good amount of logic. Repeat with me the following statements:

  1. Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems apply only to consistent theories that can prove the axioms of arithmetic.
  2. The first-order theory of the real numbers is complete. Look it up. For example, Rogers, Robert (1971), Mathematical logic and formalized theories; a survey of basic concepts and results, discusses first- and second- order logic, and the theories of arithmetic and the real numbers under each logic.
  3. To the degree you can formalize a scientific theory solely within the weaker mathematical theory of the real numbers, you can have a complete theory of said science. Gödel's Theorems do not prove that a scientific theory can't be complete, as the author of the comment I replied to claimed. It is an interesting question whether a given science can be formalized in such a way to avoid use of the Peano axioms or their equivalents, but a question that requires actually being worked out in a case-by-case basis.
That's the problem these days: nobody is willing to take their common sense they learned in math and willing to apply it to social sciences.

Math is not common sense. It is specialist knowledge, and involves very complex conventions.

Math and the soft sciences aren't two separate realms devoid of contact. They should be closer.

This is very easy to say, and, as a person who has been actively involved with both sides, allow me to say that it is not merely difficult to do-- there is a philosophical abyss separating the two fields.

You do realize that he was talking in context of proof and logic, eh?

You do realize that I have a good amount of knowledge about logic and the philosophy of mathematics, certainly enough to realize what he was talking about and why it was nonsense?

--em
[ Parent ]

And you seem to be missing what I said. (3.00 / 1) (#59)
by swoolley on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 04:36:23 PM EST

Let me reclarify because you obviously missed the boat:

All your points have nothing to do with what the comment poster and I have been saying.

Regarding point 2, however, notice that it is only "complete" (has the capability of being complete) _because_ you can't prove its axioms. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the poster seemed to me (yes he was a bit vague) to be saying that _verification_ meant _proving axioms, be they Peano's, or any other set of axioms_.

And point 3: the comments on here have been talking about verifying science itself scientifically. In that case, Goedel does at least _deserve_ a passing mention because they are talking about similar things.

Even if you do think that some science can be formalized on top of Peano, you still have the problem of verifying Peano, as the comment maker was probably pointing out.

If you don't formalize on top of Peano, I suspect that you'd get into the same situation as you would with first-order math. You might have to prove it for each one, or use some inductive argument or proof by contradiction.

But at least give the guy, and me, some credit. Nothing you actually said had anything to do with the point, as I saw it. Perhaps the comment was so vague that you automatically made this axiom that he was wrong, by assumption, and built up a lot of other ideas in your head about how he was wrong. I took it from the perspective that he had something worthwhile to say and thought of how it would apply. And, despite your mentions of paraconsistent and inconsistent logic, I still fail to see why you would think that Goedel wouldn't apply, if one were to generalize his argument to more than Peano's axioms.

And yes, I do know about nonconsistent systems -- I strictly pointed out in my comment that I was working from the assumption of shooting toward a consistent system (one that doesn't need to prove its own axioms), while ignoring inconsistent systems.

One possible avenue of failed understanding may have come from the fact that I was talking about the failure of trying to prove axioms of a consistent system (possibly the same system) from within a system that doesn't require a proof of its own axioms.

And you just kept reiterating the completeness (in a different category) of a first-order system. Hello? It is the completeness of proving axioms that I am talking about, not one that doesn't care if it can prove its own axioms. Why does this matter? In science we depend on things like scientific induction that are not immune from criticism for verification of science itself. The reference to Popper on Objective Knowledge obviously means we were getting into philosophy of science and Popper's criticisms of certain types of verificationism and the meta-level discussion of science.

So you've got a math background. It doesn't mean you have a philosophy of science background, too.

One recurring problem I find with mathematicians is that they're always going into arbitrary assumptions and never worrying about proving _those_ assumptions.

Are you going to say again that pulling in Goedel was nonsense?

Seth

[ Parent ]
Wavelength readjustment (5.00 / 1) (#63)
by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 09:24:54 PM EST

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the poster seemed to me (yes he was a bit vague) to be saying that _verification_ meant _proving axioms, be they Peano's, or any other set of axioms_.

I think you are reading too much into the original post.

Even if you do think that some science can be formalized on top of Peano, you still have the problem of verifying Peano, as the comment maker was probably pointing out.

I was proposing the question of how much of scientific theories can be expressed without using the Peano axioms or equivalents.

You seem to be talking about something different completely than I am. I am talking, on the one hand, about whether scientific theories can have a semantically complete statement within first-order logic; this independent of whether the axioms of such a theory can be proven consistent or not within first order logic (for which the answer must be no). On the other hand, I am raising the interesting question of whether a nonclassical statement of the same theories could prove its own nontriviality, and enable the use of arithmetic in the formalizations; this given that there are relevant arithmetics that can indeed prove that they are not trivial.

--em
[ Parent ]

I admit, I did... (4.00 / 1) (#69)
by swoolley on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 02:33:38 AM EST

read a lot into the original post. But my main point was that that reading was possible, and thus you were a little off for exclaming that he didn't know what he was talking about.

In fact, I'm sure we are talking about stuff completely different. I was trying to say stuff about other views, but you kept trying to defend your one example that Goedellian ideas didn't apply in every possible reading. I was just showing that another reading was possible, and it wasn't necessarily related to a strict interpretation of Goedel, though, many _have_ used strict interpretations in philosophy of science. In fact, there was a movement in Germany and Italy that really embraced Incompleteness in that way (more generally), but we don't hear about it much anymore save as a chapter in philosophy of science history. I'd suggest Hans Reichenbach's _The Rise of Scientific Philosophy_ as well as other logical-empiricists/positivist writings for a balance. They didn't like Goedel's mathematical realism much, so they didn't quote him a lot, but you can see the discussion of mathematics all around him (quoting Russell, Wittgenstein, and Hilbert, etc.), and it really rubs off.

Check out this from a Foundations of Mathematics discussion list, where Goedel is invoked against his own will in a very "political" debate on math as real or functionalist:

"""In fact, I believe strongly, that Goedel's theorem could just have well have been used by W to bolster his own ideas in the philosophy of mathematics, which were in strong opposition to those of Goedel. One of these, in my opinion, is that truth (including mathematical truth) cannot be regarded as any kind of "correspondence" between a sentence and "reality." Goedel's theorem (though psychologically perhaps could not have been discovered except by a realist, an empirical proposition which may or may not be true) simply "shows" that truth is a "family resemblence" concept, which has no essential nature--similar to "winning" in games. Goedel's argument (as W SHOULD have seen it) simply shows how to extend "truth in PM" to truth in a stronger system.""" (W=Wittgenstein,PM=Principia Mathematica)

http://www.math.psu.edu/simpson/fom/postings/0001/msg00169.html

Obviously somebody thought that Goedel could apply to questions about reality! I know I'm probably in the minority, since most mathematicians don't worry too much about the philosophy of their own field. Physicists tend to have a better understanding of how math really is useful than most mathematicians, and how it can be used in reality. Hence people like Feynman and Einstein, or even W.D. Hamilton, who are busy building mathematical models from reality. They often had to come up with their own notation because the mathematicians were bogged down with classical physics. Newton and Kepler are historical examples of this as well, with Calculus.

Seth

[ Parent ]
just think .... (5.00 / 1) (#75)
by streetlawyer on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 07:08:37 AM EST

If Kant was taught in American intro-to-philosophy courses, we wouldn't have to put up with this constant mangling of Goedel.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
You have misunderstood Goedel. (5.00 / 1) (#64)
by Nyarlathotep on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 11:57:37 PM EST

Goedel said that recersevely enumerable axiom systems capable of both multiplication and addition are incomplete. You seem to be ignoring the recursivly enumerable part, i.e. there exists a computer program which will give you the whole list of axioms if it runs long enough.. possibly forever if you have a countably infinite list of axioms.

It's trivial that the set of all statments true about the integers is a perfectly good complete axiom system for the integers. This is true of an mathematical object. I don't know why EM keeps talking about the real numbers.. they are not special this way and it's likely just confusing you more.

Can Goedel's argument be made to apply to science? This questions is impossible to answer without really understanding how human beings think and discover.

Next, no one ever proves axioms. A physicists might choose to make one or two reproducable natural effects into axioms and you might consider the experements leading up to this as verification, but axioms are just the mental tools used to keep you from changing what you are talking about as you do deductions.

You are likely confused because mathematicians are interested in proving that some axioms colelctions are *consistant* (almost totally unrelated to "verification"). Mathematicains oftin do this by producing a model of the axiom system. The first result you sould know about here is that there is a model of set theory + the axiom of choice inside set theory without choice. This means that any inconsistancy involving the axiom of choice is an inconsistancy in set theory it's self.. which is still possible.

Note: You might consider verification of axioms to be verifing, not that the axioms are true, but that they are not too big, i.e. if I have three fact A,B, & C and I prove that A & B => C then I have "verified" that A & B is sufficent when I want C to be true.

Anyway, try not to get too hung up about the philosophical importance of axioms.

Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!
[ Parent ]
Mathematicians, get out of philosophy of science! (4.00 / 1) (#67)
by swoolley on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 01:53:33 AM EST

You guys just mess it up, like you always do, thinking I'm just saying something about math, when I'm saying something about math _and_ reality at the same time. If I were to say something about math, it wouldn't help me at all unless I had some special circumstance where I could first prove that that mathematical construct behaved in a similar way to reality, and then I could show how the construct helped to predict something about how my perceptions of reality behave.

Second, this is not about what Goedel said, literally. It is about a theoretical generalization of proofs along the same line as Goedel's Incompleteness Theorem and other navel-looking proofs.

"Can Goedel's argument be made to apply to science? This questions is impossible to answer without really understanding how human beings think and discover."

I agree! But let us say we get close to understanding humans, can we begin to venture into conceptualizing systems of proof with vigorous logical systems?

"Next, no one ever proves axioms."

I agree again! Actually this was one of my points about really proving something (in the lay sense, not the logical sense). Most people think if you "prove" something is true, it has some special significance in reality, but as we all should know, every logic needs some synthetic statement lest we can meddle in absurd -- and empty -- tautologies. (That statement itself is essentially axiomatic -- What can be shown cannot be said.) If I say 2 + 2 = 4, it means nothing unless we live in a unary reality, etc. That was the main error of the Rationalists, like Plato and Descartes.

As an example:

"2 miles per hour plus 2 miles per hour equals 4 miles per hour."

According to relativity, we'd have a problem in that acceleration is not uniform, because it depends on other information about the observer.

In another example, if you set up three stars really far apart, their internal angles would not sum up to 180 degrees. (You can describe this with non-euclidean geometry and relativity theory.)

I was merely objecting originally to the comment that said that Goedel had nothing to do with understanding reality. Obviously Hofstadter felt it was really important, or else he wouldn't have written the Pulitzer -Prize-winning book, _Goedel, Escher, Bach_, eh?

OK. So somebody says to you that they can prove that their system is not only consistent, but is complete enough to the point that they can prove their own axioms (all of them). It was Goedel that started people thinking (As I recall, he didn't show it for all cases) along the path that perhaps you can't do this type of thing.

Why do the mathematicians (this wasn't you, really, but EM) try to nitpick away at a thought-provoking comment? You are right that the whole thing about the real numbers that EM kept bringing up smacked of mathstudentist-lets-show-everybody-how-important-my-specialist-knowledge-is-ism. I'm sure the negativity from EM is really going to help people possibly learn about things they don't know.

Seth

[ Parent ]
philosophy (5.00 / 1) (#74)
by Nyarlathotep on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 05:38:11 AM EST

I have never really taken philosophy that seriously, but I think I can make one comment which you may find helpful:

Goede's theorem it unlikely to be useful to you as it's meaningfulness lies entirely in the limites of the listing of the axioms. You might instead look directly at variations on the liar paradox, which originally motivated Goedel.

My opinion is that philosophy and art exist to throw out wacky funadamentally wrong ideas with just a grain of truth that can motivate more down to earth people (like Goedel). I'm not shure philosophers or artists ever really answer anything. Goedel gave the liar paradox mathematical value.

Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!
[ Parent ]
Argument From Ignorance (+1: Target) (4.00 / 1) (#37)
by grout on Mon Dec 31, 2001 at 03:25:16 PM EST

Just because you don't see the evolutionary benefit of a particular human drive, doesn't mean that it isn't there. Your opinion that motives such as artistic ambition seem illogical when scrutinised says little about human nature, but much about your lack of knowledge of evolutionary psychology. Reacting to ignorance by leaping into metaphysical fantasy, when the knowledge you lack is readily available for the Googling, is appallingly typical.

I voted this story up because I want it and its counterarguments to reach a wide audience. The counterarguments are stronger and will, I hope, eventually win. After all, while science has no proof, it has repeatable experimental evidence for falsifiable theories. Some memes work best in isolation, and "science is just another belief system" is one of them.

PS: I recommend you examine Robert Wright's book Non-Zero: The Logic Of Human Destiny. Several theories related in this book provide fine motives for a person to seek esteem from his peers, even by such seemingly minor means as posting comments on K5. :-)
--
Chip Salzenberg, Free-Floating Agent of Chaos

Torn (4.00 / 2) (#41)
by maveness on Mon Dec 31, 2001 at 03:51:32 PM EST

I've dithered a lot on how to vote this article. The subject is one of great interest, and the comments are generally patient and well-informed.

On the other hand, the essay itself seems to be the musings of an intelligent but uninformed speculator. There is SO much material out there on philosophy of science; the relationship between science and philosophy (per se -- metaphysics, epistemology, etc.); human evolution and its relationship to culture, cognition, and emotion; the role of religion and myth historically and anthropologically and so on. Each of these topics is rife with controversy and generally a substantial intellectual history -- coming to them relatively "cold" just isn't helpful. And essentially taking them ALL on at once is just plain unmanageable.

So, I'm going to vote it down -- on the premise that one well-informed and well-formed story with a single or at most a few related propositions that can be debated will be more interesting and useful than a vague, fairly diffuse story with so many gaps and assumptions.

Still... not feeling thrilled about the choice.

*********
Latest fortune cookie: "The current year will bring you much happiness." As if.
[ Parent ]

Semantic confusion (4.66 / 3) (#53)
by tz on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 11:46:19 AM EST

The problem with most of the discussion of science (also see my secular dogma post in another article) is that, like humpty dumpty, "science" means whatever the person saying the word intends at that moment.

It can mean the precision that like 2+2=4, mixing A with B will yield C and D, or that in a vacuum a ball starting from rest will be going 32+ fps in one second.

It can equally mean the uncertain lands of economics, sociology, medicine, and even areas of chemistry and physics.

Although there was an excellent post on "the philosophy of science", I think that is too strong. More often, someone with an interest is in the second category (uncertain science) and using the word "science" to give it the veneer of the first (precise science).

In any case, what should be taught in schools is not what to think, but how to think. How to evaluate arguments and determine whether something is certain or even calculable. Right now people with open minds simply mean things go in one ear and out the other. And that is what is being taught.



The difference between science and blind faith (4.66 / 3) (#58)
by HenryR on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 03:41:27 PM EST

I'm sorry, I'm confused. The point of science is that is doesn't require a faith of any sort (a faith in the abilities of your contemporaries is very useful but not necessary). Science strives to develop models of the behaviour of the world. Most often, this in fact necessitates a mathematical statement of the model being explored.

So let me gloss a little, and assume that the entirety of science's body of knowledge is mathematically expressible (an interesting debate in itself!). It is only meaningful to talk about the 'truth' of mathematics with respect to a set of axioms and a inferential structure, which we can call a 'model', by which we can deduce new rules as a result of applying the inferential process to the axioms and existing hypothesised rules. The process of science is to obtain empirical results in order to:

a) 'Read between the lines' and construct new hypotheses, which are then fitted into the existing structure. If they will not fit, i.e. they are not predicted by the current model then either the model is not sufficiently general to describe the area of exploration or the experiment was inaccurate

b) Refute or confirm a prediction.

Good science should involve a), and a lot of b).

Without the axioms and inferential rules, we cannot reason, and we cannot prove. And is important to remember that proof is only meaningful relative to a model. The search for a Grand Unifying Theory is the search for a model that will prove, or predict, all experimental outcomes. But were we to discover such a model, we could *never show its validity*. The quality metric to apply to a model is not its 'provability', but its *usefulness* in describing the world.

In this, I agree that "Science cannot prove anything". But to perform scientific research is not to blindly believe in its truth - this belief is contained in the very notion of science as a way of thinking, and so the requirement for it is removed from the scientist.
----------------------------
http://www.desiderate.co.uk
Faith + existing (3.00 / 1) (#61)
by sto0 on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 07:52:29 PM EST

"The point of science is that is doesn't require a faith of any sort"

No, I disagree and that was one of the main points in the article. We treat science as though it doesn't require some kind of faith, because this faith is so very rooted in our modern ways of thinking. Logical reasoning is very important to science, but as with many things we have to understand that science is bound by this, in the same way that maths is based on axioms. Hence, science is true to the particular axioms we have chosen, but not objectively so. This is similar (IMHO) to many religions, which, generalising, have a basis of logic and reasonable thinking, but some core (i.e. axioms) which is believed through faith.

For example: why should I believe the axioms of maths or science? There is no logical reasoning to actually back them up, hence, in a very crude way, they require a bit of faith to assume.

[ Parent ]
Not quite (4.00 / 2) (#71)
by JetJaguar on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 03:10:47 AM EST

A couple of things:

First, before you start messing around with the axioms of science, I need to have some good evidence that a different set of axioms would actually work, otherwise I'm simply not going to give much credence to merely thinking about the possibility of it. Show me a way to build a useful scientific method with a broken (or nonexistant) axiom of causality, and I might consider your ideas more carefully.

Now, I admit it does take a bit of faith to believe the axiom of causality, but I think placing this axiom (arguably the most basic axiom of science) on the same level of what's required for religious mythology is a pretty enormous stretch.

IMHO, they are different things, and I think using the word faith in both contexts is more a shortcoming of language than a valid comparison. In one case, you have very strong inductive support if nothing else, and in the other you have a much more "touchy feely" kind of faith where any inductive support is, frankly, pretty darned weak.

[ Parent ]

Is causality an axiom? (none / 0) (#84)
by Shpongle Spore on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 03:22:36 PM EST

I can't explain coherently from memory, but if you're interested, read "The Unconscious Quantum" by Victor J. Stenger. Towards the end of the book he discusses whether causality is actually an emergent property of large systems. It's also interesting to read for the detailed (and harsh!) critiques of writers like David Bohm and Frijtof Capra.
__
I wish I was in Austin, at the Chili Parlor bar,
drinking 'Mad Dog' margaritas and not caring where you are
[ Parent ]
QM and causality (none / 0) (#92)
by JetJaguar on Mon Jan 07, 2002 at 06:01:08 PM EST

Well, I'm not familiar with Stenger's writings, but in a broad sense, I would say that I would be highly suspicious of putting a lot of stock in this kind of argument if it's based on quantum theory. There are enough oddities in QM and QED theory that I just think the theories are not well suited to make strong arguments about causality. A deeper underlying theory like, for example, string theory, might be able to shed a little more light on it, but we really won't know until such theories become better developed.

[ Parent ]
Science doesn't imply belief (5.00 / 1) (#76)
by HenryR on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 07:27:30 AM EST

For example: why should I believe the axioms of maths or science? There is no logical reasoning to actually back them up, hence, in a very crude way, they require a bit of faith to assume.

That was kind of my point - you don't have to believe in some absolute truth of a model, and in some ways to do so is actually counter to what science is trying to achieve.

To believe that science is 'true' clearly requires faith, but that is tortological in my view.

*But* to practice science doesn't require any faith in your models and axioms, save that you believe the model you are adopting is a useful and practical one. None of science is saying 'we believe this is how the world operates', it is saying 'this is a very useful model of how the world behaves, given that it predicts some behaviour we have observed'. This in my opinion is the dividing line between religous faith and science - religous faith implies that ideas are believed to be absolutely true, whereas science rejects such a possibility.

Shadows on a cave wall and all that :)

Henry
----------------------------
http://www.desiderate.co.uk
[ Parent ]
Faith in Science? No. (none / 0) (#90)
by phliar on Mon Jan 07, 2002 at 12:11:29 AM EST

sto0 writes:
The point of science is that is doesn't require a faith of any sort
No, I disagree and that was one of the main points in the article.
In that case, I don't think you made the point in the article. Science does not require faith. It (and when I personalise science in this way, I merely use it as shorthand to mean "most scientists") develops models that are useful. You don't have to believe in the Truth of a model; you evaluate its effectiveness and decide whether it's worth working with.

When newtonian mechanics failed to explain black-body radiation, did science insist that we must all believe that newtonian mechanics is right even though the evidence suggests otherwise? No; Boltzmann, Planck and all the others came up with a new model. The one simple refinement of quantisation explained so many different things you might sometimes get rapturous things like "it's so beautiful it must be true!" - I've been guilty of that so often! - but we're still not talking about faith. QM is useful and models reality to a very high degree of accuracy; you don't have to take it on faith. No one is asking you to believe in The Truth of QM.

What is myth? Myth doesn't have to have anything to do with reality. Perhaps you feel that "science as taught in schools" is just like a myth - "electron as tragic hero whose only sin is transgression against the electric field" - and that may be true. Don't confuse science and the scientific method with what some secondary school teacher might have told you.


Faster, faster, until the thrill of...
[ Parent ]

No, No, No! (4.00 / 2) (#60)
by tjh on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 06:29:08 PM EST

'No one set of ideas is deemed to be absolutely correct or true. This philosophical idea is supposed to be one of the bases of postmodern thought and something held in the worldview.'

Aaargh! Do you not see that this sort of thinking falls apart when applied to itself? If nothing is true then the statement that nothing is true is also not true! Thus it refutes itslef!

Modern, (post-enlightenment) societies do not say there is no truth, merely that no one has really got to it yet. Thus we allow people to live the way they like (within certain safeguards), as we can see other ways of life as 'experiments' in the art of living, which we can draw conclusions from before embarking on our own experiments.

We do not force people to believe things, not because any belief is as good as any other, but because the history of forcing people to believe things has been, well, disastrous.

Please read 'The open society and its enemies', by Karl Popper



The Truth is out there (none / 0) (#66)
by eliwap on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 01:50:36 AM EST

We do have a few truths that are indeed self evident but we seem not to want to recognize them. Our understanding of the details may be limited but they're there.

1) Existence is
2) There is at least one perceiving mind that preceives existence
3) There are things that this perceiving mind cannot perceive
4) "I" exist

"Understanding is the basis of communications. Enlarge your mind to multiple points of view. The world is infinitely larger than your huge ego. -- Hey I said that :)"
[ Parent ]

But... (none / 0) (#72)
by swoolley on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 03:27:03 AM EST

If I try hard enough I can percieve all! It is just that those things that aren't (within my perceiving mind) ... aren't actually there.

In fact you aren't. Seriously. You just ... aren't.

That sentence feels short, doesn't it? There's a reason.

I wish people would get over "to be" and finally add the rest of the predicate.

Person you; /* does 'you' exist yet? */

you = new Person(W,A_S,P); /* Now you do! */

You aren't really real until you are initialized, otherwise, you're just a null pointer that just had a predefined "label". In fact, you can compile that code so that there's not a single label needed (unless you consider locations in memory "supernaturally" existing).

Same goes for "God". You know, "God" is quite meaningless without properties, but once you start adding those properties, all of a sudden, "God" doesn't feel quite like a god anymore. You felt it was better not knowing what "God"'s properties were like.

I wonder why.

(I do find it odd why your "self-evident" truths were all statements about reality having nothing to do with tautologies like 2 + 2 = 4. Maybe your statements weren't all that self-evident at all, considering we can't even make a computer understand those four points without a lot of effort, and by the time that we do, we've done an aweful lot of "explaining to it just what reality is like". Did you know those things were true when you were a newborn baby, before you had a chance to learn them (through environmental learning) or maybe it was evolution that made you understand those thing based on natural selection building your brain and thought processes a certain way (with some added help from environmental reinforcement)?

I don't know. Maybe they aren't so self-evident as you make them out to be. Maybe they are evident from seeing evidence of them. Could that be?

Seth

[ Parent ]
2 + 2 = 5 (none / 0) (#77)
by eliwap on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 07:29:50 AM EST

There is a difference between the capability to express what is perceived and the perception itself. The difference between what you perceive in your mind and what you perceive to be outside your mind is a question of catagory, not quantity, or quality. All of your perceptions, whether they actually are of things outside of your self or simply your imagination exist only in your mind. More on this later.

Once there is perception of something, anything at all then at the very least one can say there is existence and that existence is perceived. It doesn't mean that what is perceived can be expressed and the perceiving doesn't say very much about the nature of that which is percieved nor does it say very much about the nature of that which perceives.

As far as "you" there is no logical way to determine the "real" existence of anything "out there." As far as has been determined perception is done through tranlation of information comprising of various wavelengths of light, sound, etc into perceived physical reality. What is perceived physical reality is a construction of the mind. Maybe the construction is accurate one, maybe not. After all, the world is not flat. This is not to say that "you" doesn't exist, only, it very difficult to prove logically. It is something taken on faith based on the perceptions of "I"

Once "I" am I am.

And as for trying to describe G-d. Well I can't and I wouldn't want to. For the reasons you mentioned. However, that doesn't make G-d meaningless. suffice it to say, logic has a hard time to prove or describe what if anything existed before the big bang. Science cannot.

Mathematical constucts are just that, they are human constructs and quite frankly I have a hard time with math. <br<br> Once again, speaking for the baby. I can't. I don't remember being a baby. But observing baby's they do seem to be very aware of themselves and their environment.

Now...before anyone says anything about my "self evident truths" and this discussion. Just because there some things that are true and other things that I don't know or can't know doesn't mean they aren't there. I think and believe "you" exist :) but if you ask me to prove it logically I couldn't and neither could anyone else. I will take it on faith that the representation of what I perceive as being outside myself actually exists and that not everything that I perceive is a complete self delusion.

But after all is said done existence is real. Can I prove it logically -- no. Can I describe "existence" -- no. Do I perceive -- yes. Can I describe what I perscrive to exist -- yes. This is the real paradox about what I am trying to say. I can't describe, or put my hands on "existance" I discuss it as though it were a concept, but according to the best information and experience that I can gather, those things that I can put my hands on, or the things that are constructed in my mind. All of these things are built on something that I have no ability to describe at all -- existence. The only thing that I know to be real.

"Understanding is the basis of communications. Enlarge your mind to multiple points of view. The world is infinitely larger than your huge ego. -- Hey I said that :)"
[ Parent ]

Take two chickens... (4.00 / 1) (#62)
by valency on Tue Jan 01, 2002 at 08:49:43 PM EST

Actually, take an ameboa and a chicken. Put the chicken in a box. Now, selectively breed the ameboa -- in each generation of offspring, kill the half that is least like a chicken.

After a few million years, you'll have a chicken instead of an ameboa. Furthermore, since you're applying intelligence to selectively breed these ameboa, you'll produce a chicken far faster than evolution would have.

Now, I hand you these two chickens (the "engineered chicken" and the "real chicken"). Aside from how long each took to make, how would you tell them apart?

The results of a creationist act and of evolution are utterly indistinguishable. You can't tell the difference between a bred organism and an evolved one.

I tend to lend evolution more credence than creationism, but I think that anybody who claims to be able to uphold one and utterly discredit the other is just plain bonkers.

- a

---
If you disagree, and somebody has already posted the exact rebuttal that you would use: moderate, don't post.

Not True (4.00 / 1) (#65)
by eliwap on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 01:38:30 AM EST

You may have what appears on the surface as identical creatures, but deep detailed genetic analysis would reveal different evolutionary histories. One would have remenants of ameoba genes while the original chicken which never had an ameoba as a relative would not.

"Understanding is the basis of communications. Enlarge your mind to multiple points of view. The world is infinitely larger than your huge ego. -- Hey I said that :)"
[ Parent ]

Actually... (4.00 / 1) (#81)
by Obvious Pseudonym on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 07:08:57 AM EST

You would assume that the tests for 'chickenhood' used to decide which amoeba descendents are more chickenlike would be done by looking at it on a genetic level - so it would have become a chicken when it is genetically the same as your test chicken - rather than just superficially similar in shape.

In fact, all of the involved creatures (the original chicken, the original amoeba and also the amoeba-chicken) share at least 75% of their genetic material anyway - it is the basic stuff for things like 'this how to make cytoplasm', 'this is how to make a cell membrane' and so on.

Obvious Pseudonym

I am obviously right, and as you disagree with me, then logically you must be wrong.
[ Parent ]

Actually (none / 0) (#82)
by eliwap on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 11:07:19 AM EST

This only possible in cloning. As you are aware, every creature, even those of the same species have variations in their genetic makeup. This, apparently is the mechanism of natural selection.

In order to gain offspring, you need the genetic material of the parents, which get their genetic material from their parents and so on. There is always a remnant of the genetic material of the ancestors. The chicken the chicken that was developed through selective breeding would have remnants of the ameoba that were unique to the ameoba. Otherwise the genetic bases apon which that organism develops would not exist. Hence, the organism itself could not exist.

"Understanding is the basis of communications. Enlarge your mind to multiple points of view. The world is infinitely larger than your huge ego. -- Hey I said that :)"
[ Parent ]

Bad example (none / 0) (#94)
by Curieus on Tue Jan 15, 2002 at 09:01:56 AM EST

This is a clear example of circular reasoning.

You take a single cell organism and start breeding and selecting.
Next you assume that the right traits will 'appear' and that you manage to detect and select them.
In the end you claim you have the chicken and use it as proof that it works.

But that was exactly your premise that it would work like that.
Now go forth and do the experiment. Then we can see whether you have a chicken.


[ Parent ]
Mechanism vs. Raison d'Etre (4.00 / 1) (#68)
by eliwap on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 02:03:09 AM EST

Science only describes the mechanisms that drive existence. It does not nor can it explain existence, because science depends on causaility and no one has yet to satisfactorily explain how causality came to be. We only recently have begun to understand what happened immeidiatly after causality initiated.

"Understanding is the basis of communications. Enlarge your mind to multiple points of view. The world is infinitely larger than your huge ego. -- Hey I said that :)"

Puff Puff Pass (3.33 / 3) (#73)
by spacefrog on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 05:05:58 AM EST

Whatever you are smoking there, the rest of us would like a hit.

Sigh... (5.00 / 3) (#78)
by epepke on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 02:29:59 PM EST

When voting this down, I pointed out that someone who writes something about science and myths should know about science and myths. The author demonstrates a knowledge of neither. Since this was voted up, I guess I have to explain in more detail.

A myth is a story within a culture that explains or resonates with some aspect of that culture. Whether it is true or not is irrelevant to its value as a myth. This is not difficult; just look for "myth" on dictionary.com and take the union of meanings 1 and 2. Camelot, the Kennedy kind, was a myth for the Baby Boomers. The Apollo moon landings were myths for my generation, the "tweeners" or "Punk" generation. The Challenger explosion is a myth for Generation X. All three occurred, and only Camelot was substantially fictionalized.

Science, at its basis, is a method for eliminating falsehood. It is one of two such common systems. The other is the judicial system.

There do exist scientific myths. Frankenstein is one. The Age of Invention is another. Discussing them might be interesting, but this article does not seem to have anything to do with that..

Perhaps the author simply has a problem with the way science is taught in primary and secondary schools. As someone who spent 13 years as a research scientist, so do I. But that's because the schools suck, and science is usually taught by people who have no training or experience in doing it. As such they teach a dry collection of "facts," which is precisely the opposite of what science is about. If you don't like that, do something about the "science" teachers or the school administrators who have in the past 10 years made volunteer lectures by real scientists unwelcome or the common people who seem to want schools to suck.


The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


could you elaborate? (none / 0) (#80)
by goosedaemon on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 09:51:52 PM EST

on school-taught science vs. real science?

[ Parent ]
Real science vs. school science (4.00 / 1) (#83)
by JetJaguar on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 01:01:41 PM EST

Not to put any words into the mouth of epepke, but as someone with a background in science and some experience in science education matters I think I can give a feel for it.

Real science is generally a much more dynamic, open-ended, and collaborative process than what is generally taught in schools. Real science begins with the exploration of (or collecting data on) some familiar (or not so familiar) phenomenon. Once the exploration phase is complete, you analyze that data to look for patterns or relationships between the different things you observed. Often (if it hasn't happened already), a group of people are brought together to brainstorm what the cause and effect relationships might be and begin the theory building process. Finally, consensus is built on the theory (or set of competing theories) as well as some thought to any experimental errors that may have crept into their experiments, new experiments are proposed to test the theories to find out which one best matches the exploration, and the cycle repeats.

This just isn't something that happens in school taught science. Heck, 90% of the time, if there are any hands on experiments in the first place, they are "cookbook" type experiments, leaving no room for students to explore or be creative or possibly discover something unexpected, and even worse, the answer is usually given to them about what they should expect to see even before they start the "experiment" (using the term loosely). In other words, the science that is taught in schools is boring, and unrepresentative of the real thing. Blindly throwing facts at students and then magically expecting them to develop the ability to evaluate real scientitific theories without ever having been taught how to do it is rediculous, but that is what we do. And the parents and teachers in the schools resist and scream when anyone tries to introduce real science into schools, in the name of "Well, I didn't learn it that way, and if the old way was good enough for me, it's good enough for my kids," without realizing that the old way really wasn't good enough to begin with.

However, there is cause for some optimism, as there are many projects being funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and others to try and put "inquiry" into the class, and these projects have met with some success (after much gnashing of teeth).

[ Parent ]

No, no, no (5.00 / 1) (#85)
by trhurler on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 07:15:08 PM EST

First of all, "postmodernism" is so incredibly last millenium. It, along with all the fake individualism(ie, hordes of idiots all doing the same "different" things within very narrow politically correct lines of acceptability,) it inspired, is as cold and dead as your writing style. The idea that all, most, or even many of us would refer to ourselves as "postmodernists" is absurd.

Second, truth does exist. There are right and wrong answers, even if we only very rarely have ever known one in the grand scheme of things. Please see my latest diary entry, which discusses this very subject.

Third, people have their own reasons for learning new things; not all are the same. However, in general, learning things makes us feel competent, in control of our world, and so on, and these are all feelings people like, which doubtless explains some of it. Being paid, making life better, and so on are also reasons. There's no one big secret to it all.

Finally, I've seen this "science requires faith" argument before, but never stated quite so disingenuously. The most a scientist must concede is that his knowledge is limited, contextual in nature, and imperfect. You might call this "faith in reason," but seeing as reason is an inborn faculty of man, I'm not sure "faith" in it makes any more sense than "faith" in the ability to move one's arms and legs, blink, or turn one's head. In any case, it certainly is not the same faith religious people speak of, because the object of "faith" in the case of reason is something known by virtually everyone throughout history both to exist and to be useful.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

Reason (none / 0) (#86)
by sto0 on Fri Jan 04, 2002 at 06:11:15 PM EST

"but seeing as reason is an inborn faculty of man"

Is it?? I think that assuming that it is and not a creation of man says a lot about your understanding of the article.

[ Parent ]
Reason (4.00 / 1) (#87)
by JetJaguar on Sat Jan 05, 2002 at 02:59:59 AM EST

Is it?? I think that assuming that it is and not a creation of man says a lot about your understanding of the article.

I'm not intending to flame you, but your statement says a lot about your lack of understanding of the subject matter. Is reason, a creation of man? I highly doubt it, it is much more likely to be an evolutionary adaptation, and hence, inborn. Now, you can argue that we may have developed this inborn trait beyond what evolution originally gave us, but that still doesn't remove the fact that we have some inborn reasoning ability. If we humans (heck, even primitive animals) can't reason very effectively in our respective environments, we would not have lasted very long.

Further, examples of primitive reasoning ability in animals abound all around us. Pet cats have learned to come running when they hear the "music of the can opener," or have learned that if they cry that they will get food....and you don't have to look very far to find even more interesting reasoning abilities. In other words, most animals have pretty good "if x then y" logical capabilities (within certain bounds), humans have just learned to symbolize, synthesize and abstract the ability, and in doing so have made it a much more powerful tool, but it is still something that we are born with. If it weren't, it's highly unlikely that we would have much ability to learn anything.

[ Parent ]

Reasoning (none / 0) (#88)
by sto0 on Sat Jan 05, 2002 at 09:24:30 AM EST

You: "Is reason a creation of man? I highly doubt it"
Him: "but seeing as reason is an inborn faculty of man"

I think you'll see what I'm getting at, and it was mainly the couching of his argument which just assumed that this was something to be brushed past as insignificant. The question I was asking was more about whether the inbuilt reasoning is just that, or has been evolved as you say. I was rather irritated by this poster's assumption!

[ Parent ]
But (none / 0) (#91)
by trhurler on Mon Jan 07, 2002 at 12:10:39 PM EST

The guy who replied was pretty much on the mark. We've formalized the notion of what "reasoning" is, we've defined different kinds of reasoning, we've provided ourselves with cause to believe in the efficacy of various forms of reasoning - but doing all that did itself require reasoning. To invent reasoning requires - reason. As such, it seems quite obvious that the basic functions of reason are an inborn talent. Yes, it evolved, biologically speaking - so what? By the time we were human beings, we could reason. What else matters for purposes of my claims?

The reason I brushed it off as not needing defense is that it is obvious; if any old animal could just "invent" reasoning, the world would be full of talking donkeys and pontificating anteaters. It is built in, even if knowledge of how to properly make use of it is not.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
But... (none / 0) (#93)
by sto0 on Tue Jan 08, 2002 at 10:17:40 AM EST

I understand your reasoning (about reasoning ;), and perhaps I was being too fundamentalist when I said that we can't assume innate logical ability.... but, I feel that this answer beings up a lot of questions, and your response of:

"if any old animal could just "invent" reasoning, the world would be full of talking donkeys and pontificating anteaters"

brings up many questions for me since it implies quite a great amount about the differences between humans and the rest of the (non-reasoning) animal world. Don't you think so?

[ Parent ]
Too long! (5.00 / 1) (#89)
by phliar on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 10:59:16 PM EST

The article is a tad long. (So I'm writing a long reply!)

You need to read more about the philosophy of science. I don't know where one goes to study it; all the scientists I know (I am one) have a good grasp of it without having explicitly studied it.

There is a fine book by Asimov: The Relativity of Wrong. Read it. Also read Karl Popper's stuff, and perhaps the "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences" by Eugene Wigner.

In a very fundamental sense, science develops a model for the physical world and uses it to make predictions about the world. If the predictions are correct and allow us to say useful things about the world, the model is "good". Scientists might even say the model is correct without necessarily believing that the model represents the platonic ideal of the laws of the world - it is a good short word to use in everyday speech. When the model fails to explain certain phenomena - for instance, blackbody radiation, or the null result of the Michelson-Morley experiment, or the orbit of Mercury - another model must take over, and this new model must reduce to the old one, explain why the old one described the world so well. In other words, quantum mechanics reduces to newtonian mechanics when energies are large; and relativistic mechanics reduces to newtonian when velocities are small.

I'd like to point out a couple of things though:

For example, I can't deny that in my mind the theory of evolution has holes, ... We have developed by chance, over millions of years and somehow have managed to evolve into sentient beings ... and the maze-like probabilities which evolution would have to satisfy would require more than the several hundred million years
This is false thinking. What in your intuition tells you that millions of years are not enough but several hundred million years are?

Also, please distinguish the notion of evolution, which is incontrovertible, from the theory of natural selection which is a mechanism that explains [or tries to explain] why and how evolution happens.

I have to admit that I am a little uneasy about the field of anthropological evolutionary biology from a philosophical standpoint. I have a math, physics and computer science background - and all those fields are stronlgy axiomatised. (Read about Hilbert's Programme from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Gödel's work which basically said that Hilbert's entire premise was flawed.) Theories of physics are falsifiable [Karl Popper] i.e. one knows what data would point out failures of the theory (which is the same as a model), and experiments can be performed. We can't perform experiments in anthropology and the evolution of our "intelligence", we only have plausible sounding stories. (And I know nothing about chemistry and biology, so I'm not going to say anything about whether or not they're flawed or extensions of physics or what.

Newtonian is one way, albeit limited, to look at the universe; all this went only so far at which point quantum physics was developed to take a look at the universe at a different angle, and enabled us to discover further.
Not a view from a different angle but a more precise view. When our measuring instruments started getting better, we could see the limitations of newtonian mechanics even in ordinary cases. (Incidentally, it's a scientific custom that when a scientists's name is applied to something, it loses its initial capital letter; hence the unit of energy is a joule, not a Joule, and it's newtonian mechanics. It is a great honour for one's name to lose its capital letter.)

However, while keeping in mind the idea of the model and that scientific theories do not claim to be The Truth - never lose sight of the fact that in modern societies we are constantly bombarded with so much utter and complete bullshit - angels, astrology, horoscopes, creationism - Science is the best way we have to approaching The Truth.


Faster, faster, until the thrill of...

The Modern Science Myth | 94 comments (59 topical, 35 editorial, 0 hidden)
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