The Limits of Science

Discussions on the philosophical foundations, assumptions, and implications of science, including the natural sciences.

Re: The Limits of Science

Postby Paradox on October 2nd, 2014, 3:32 pm 

Does the supernatural offer better options of proof?
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby dlorde on October 2nd, 2014, 5:51 pm 

Philosophytalks » October 2nd, 2014, 7:50 pm wrote:1) Science relies on the presupposition of the laws of physics and the laws of nature...

Not really. It infers those laws from observation.

science itself cannot explain why certain fundamental laws of nature do exist.

That's partly why they're considered fundamental. If we learn that they are the result of some more fundamental features of nature, we'll have explained them in terms of those features - as atoms were explained in terms of protons, neutrons, and electrons; and protons and neutrons in terms of quarks; and all particles in terms of quantum field excitations.

The methodological approach means that there are certain things it cannot find as well. In theory, the methodology means that it could never account for things that aren't quantitative and things that leave no evidence as to why they occur (Now im not going to argue that these things do exist in this post, but im just saying if these things to exist then science could not find them).

Science can't quantify things that can't be quantified and can't find things that can't be found? OK.

Finally, it would seem that science cannot account for moral truths. There is nothing that can be scientifically proven about goodness or evil. Science could only test our reaction to certain responses which we believe to be good or bad, but it couldnt provide an account for things that are good or things that are bad as such.

Moral truths? tricky subject. Are things 'good or bad as such'?

Science can, in principle, tell you why you believe something to be good or bad, and give a plausible account of the origins of such beliefs.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby neuro on October 3rd, 2014, 8:21 am 

Philosophytalks » October 2nd, 2014, 7:50 pm wrote:If someone tried to assert that science was the be all and end all of knowledge, then I would thoroughly argue against it for it is too restricted in terms of encompassing all fields of our knowledge (like ethics and aesthetics).

I imagine everybdy here would "thoroughly argue against" someone who would "assert that science was the be all and end all of knowledge".

And I met nobody here that would assert such a thing.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby owleye on October 3rd, 2014, 9:26 am 

neuro » Fri Oct 03, 2014 6:21 am wrote:
Philosophytalks » October 2nd, 2014, 7:50 pm wrote:If someone tried to assert that science was the be all and end all of knowledge, then I would thoroughly argue against it for it is too restricted in terms of encompassing all fields of our knowledge (like ethics and aesthetics).

I imagine everybdy here would "thoroughly argue against" someone who would "assert that science was the be all and end all of knowledge".

And I met nobody here that would assert such a thing.


neuro's Strawman criticism is apt under the assumption that anyone who contends that only scientific knowledge counts as knowledge, probably hasn't delved into the variety of usages under which the term is used.

However, as nearly as I can tell, Philosophytalks hasn't come to grips with it either. It seems as if in his travels he has observed folks using the phrase "I know X is wrong" where X is an ethical matter, say 'lying' or 'cheating' or the phrase "I know X is beautiful or sublime", these being empirical in nature. Yet one wonders if that is really the case. Do we actually find out what's right or wrong empirically, or is there something else involved? Kant, for example, drew a strong line suggesting that ethics is totally outside the faculties we use to acquire knowledge. You may see it differently, of course, but in what sense would you say that knowledge is involved in ethics? And, in so far as aesthetics goes, unless you're speaking of your own preferences, or other subjective conditions, which are private to you, the use of knowledge doesn't quite seem appropriate. Such declarations as "I know what I like." probably should better be understood as "I'm aware of what I like." just to indicate that it's a reflective action allowed by our being creatures who have this capability.

No matter. In the usual ways the term is used in philosophy, 'knowledge' refers to one of two activities, (1) knowledge gained from experience and (2) knowledge gained from study. Scientific knowledge probably contains of both of these, but insofar as science is an institution devoted to knowledge, it has succeeded because of its Scientific Method, which intends as far as possible to make knowledge independent of the scientist -- i.e., truly objective. If you read the journals and other peer-reviewed papers of scientists, whether involved in theoretical work or in evidence gathering or in testing, you will notice a persistent emphasis on removing any personal opinions about what it is doing. Testing regimes intend to completely eliminate biases.

Now it may not succeed in its endeavor, even in following what its Method requires, but to the extent that it is successful, it is because of its regimen. Do not be misled into thinking that science is but one among many ways of knowing. Science stands out in ways that no other institution can match in terms of knowledge acquisition and we rightly turn to it when we are stumped.

(For a contrary view, read "Against Method" by Paul Feyerabend.)
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby Philosophytalks on October 3rd, 2014, 12:51 pm 

Dlorde,

What I mean't by "science cant quantify things that arent quantifiable" is just that if there was something out in the world which wasnt quantifiable, then science wouldnt be able to find it (highlighting the limit). I didn't mean to argue that there are things which are unquantifiable (if that is the way you took it). But your other responses were fair enough and I understand where you are coming from, thank you for actually responding to them without being condescending.
Maybe another way to rephrase my point about the natural laws is that, in the same way a thiest would presuppose the existence of God, science presupposes the existence of these fundamental laws? I agree that if science finds out things about the natural laws then it would explain them (like you explained about the proton being explained by quarks etc) but at the moment, the scientific explanations that rely on these natural laws to be true are limited because they havent explained the natural laws yet? (Like with the conservation of energy, to my knowledge they have observed it and understood it, but they havent got an explanation to it?)

Owleye, you make a very strong point which I would not contest and that is that science does stand out in ways that no other institution can acquire knowledge. I 100% agree with it and I am not doubting it. I was just throwing in a few suggestions which were about the thread question of "The limits of science" and it would seem to me that ethical issues (granted have issues within theirselves) but may also cause science issues too if it is the case that ethical things are independent of scientific explanation.

Maybe I could throw one more limit in here:
1) Science relies on induction. As amazing as science is, and as many things science has found out, its one limit is that it relies on inductive arguments and thus (IMO) science could never prove things to be certain either, they will just hold for as long as they hold but it is never 100% that they will occur tomorrow.

Uncertainty occurs with most things, but again i'm not saying science is rubbish (I hope that isnt what I am coming across like) but im just trying to highlight a couple of limits to science.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby neuro on October 3rd, 2014, 1:04 pm 

Philosophytalks » October 3rd, 2014, 5:51 pm wrote:Maybe another way to rephrase my point about the natural laws is that, in the same way a thiest would presuppose the existence of God, science presupposes the existence of these fundamental laws?

I have the impression that our mind works this way: by transforming sequences into causal chains, in order to be able to understand, to predict, and to act in an adequate way. And by generalizing (or trying to).
It smply is the way our mind (our brain?) is built.
So, presupposing general laws does not seem to me a prejudice of science, but rather THE working mode of our mind.

One may object that our mind is also made to wonder, be astonished, and look for something ethernal and infinite (god).
If this is your point, it might have some merit.

Maybe I could throw one more limit in here:
1) Science relies on induction. As amazing as science is, and as many things science has found out, its one limit is that it relies on inductive arguments and thus (IMO) science could never prove things to be certain either, they will just hold for as long as they hold but it is never 100% that they will occur tomorrow.

Well, curiously enough, many think this is one of the main virtues of science: holding interpretations as long as they are not falsified. And forgetting about the possibility of irreversibly demonstrating a "truth"... And being well aware of this.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby owleye on October 3rd, 2014, 4:34 pm 

Philosophytalks » Fri Oct 03, 2014 10:51 am wrote:Maybe I could throw one more limit in here:
1) Science relies on induction. As amazing as science is, and as many things science has found out, its one limit is that it relies on inductive arguments and thus (IMO) science could never prove things to be certain either, they will just hold for as long as they hold but it is never 100% that they will occur tomorrow.


Careful. You may be falling into the trap that many novice philosophers have fallen into after reading Hume's portrayal of the argument you are citing. I admit I'd been mistaken as well. While it makes sense what Hume is portraying (about black crows, for example), since the 19th century, where mathematics more or less exploded in its advancement (coupled with improvements in logic that had laid dormant since Aristotle), statistics has made gains that really give it greater weight than you might think.

In any case, you might want to understand Bayesian statistics, which has within it an inference model that is very helpful to developing inferences in science. And there's the famous Kolmogorov who developed the notion of a limiting frequency which aids in making inferences that Hume wasn't able to, especially when complexity is involved. Information theorists as well have gotten into the act, seeing as how the brain is quite adept at determining relevance of incoming data, coupled with determinations of reliability.

Indeed, economics wouldn't even be considered a science were it not able to develop decent statistical models. (Same with politics, at least in its ability to predict outcomes of elections.) Weather forecasting and climate forecasting have improved significantly in the last century, though, of course, not to everyone's satisfaction.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby dlorde on October 3rd, 2014, 6:14 pm 

Philosophytalks » October 3rd, 2014, 5:51 pm wrote:Maybe another way to rephrase my point about the natural laws is that, in the same way a thiest would presuppose the existence of God, science presupposes the existence of these fundamental laws?

No. To repeat - the fundamental laws are the result of observation; they were discovered in the mathematical predictability and consistency of the behaviour of the natural world - which is why they're often called natural laws. This is the polar opposite of presupposing the existence of anything, especially God.

1) Science relies on induction. As amazing as science is, and as many things science has found out, its one limit is that it relies on inductive arguments and thus (IMO) science could never prove things to be certain either, they will just hold for as long as they hold but it is never 100% that they will occur tomorrow.

In fact, both induction and deduction are used in science, although the canonical scientific method is usually characterised as inductive. Scientific theories are necessarily provisional. Of course "they will just hold for as long as they hold" - that is trivially obvious. Science doesn't (excplicitly) deal in proof, but in evidence and disproof.

im just trying to highlight a couple of limits to science.

Most intelligent people (particularly scientists) are well aware there are limits to science; but at least you're trying ;)
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby AllShips on October 4th, 2014, 11:04 am 

A couple of thoughts on dlorde's post above:-

1. @ - "No. To repeat - the fundamental laws are the result of observation; they were discovered ... "

This seems to me oversimplistic. I can happily concede that a law such as "(all) copper conducts electricity" represents an inductive generalization from observed to unobserved cases. But how about Newton's three laws or axioms of motion, say? (whether they're still considered valid is beside the point) Does anyone suppose that Newton went around pushing walls, doors, and other objects to see whether an action force is always accompanied by an equal and opposite reaction force?

Or how could he possibly "discover" his first law - "in the absence of any external forces a body will continue ..." - through observation when there are no such bodies in the universe! No body is free from the effects of external forces. How can this possibly be a generalization from observed to unobserved cases when there have been no observed cases?

What about Einstein telling us about the speed of light being constant? Does this not have a certain stipulative character to it (in combination with certain experimental findings, of course)? "Let's ASSUME the speed of light is fixed and see what happens".


2. Re - "The Scientific Method"

I don't think most people have a clue what the scientific method is, confident assertions to the contrary notwithstanding. The standard formula these days seems to be something like "Science never proves anything, but it can disprove things."

Well, says who? This would appear to be the ghostly voice of Karl Popper (although the shortcomings of his falsificationist program are well known). But where does induction and evidence come in? The implication in the above "standard formula" is that while theories cannot be conclusively proven, they can at least receive a certain support from evidence. But Popper categorically rejected induction in no uncertain terms. If we're going to take Popper's version of the Scientific Method as our standard, then all talk of evidence and inductive confirmation is redundant. We seem to forget, Mr Popper is the very same fellah who tells us that theories are never confirmed by evidence TO ANY DEGREE.

Many popular formulations of that elusive beast we rather nebulously call The Scientific Method seem to pick and choose willy-nilly from various sources, mindless of the loss of coherence thereby incurred, much like the Christmas nativity play we see every year. We get wise men and a guiding star from Matthew (or whatever) and shepherds and a stable from Luke, and the result is a conflated mish-mash of our own invention. No gospel writer ever told a story like that one we see on stage.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby dlorde on October 4th, 2014, 8:36 pm 

AllShips » October 4th, 2014, 4:04 pm wrote:...how about Newton's three laws or axioms of motion, say? (whether they're still considered valid is beside the point) Does anyone suppose that Newton went around pushing walls, doors, and other objects to see whether an action force is always accompanied by an equal and opposite reaction force?

Or how could he possibly "discover" his first law - "in the absence of any external forces a body will continue ..." - through observation when there are no such bodies in the universe! No body is free from the effects of external forces. How can this possibly be a generalization from observed to unobserved cases when there have been no observed cases?

Well Newton's laws were based on the previous work done by Descartes, Wren, Wallis, Huygens, and others, to explain various observations (it wasn't entirely original). ISTR it was Newton himself who said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants".

What about Einstein telling us about the speed of light being constant? Does this not have a certain stipulative character to it (in combination with certain experimental findings, of course)? "Let's ASSUME the speed of light is fixed and see what happens".

Again, the context is important - it didn't come out of the blue; Einstein was aware that the existing explanatory models were inadequate to explain the observations (abstracted as Maxwell's equations for eletromagnetism and those of classical mechanics, which seemed contradictory) in a single model, so he came up with an integrated solution - based on the work of Newton, Maxwell, Hertz, Doppler, and Lorentz - which was the result of observation.

The observations came first; without them, there would be nothing to explain.

We seem to forget, Mr Popper is the very same fellah who tells us that theories are never confirmed by evidence TO ANY DEGREE.

I guess we've been lucky that, empirically, it works well enough that we can get stuff done ;)
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby AllShips on October 4th, 2014, 8:55 pm 

"The observations came first; without them, there would be nothing to explain."

No doubt this is true but it's also rather vacuous and uninformative, I think. No one is suggesting scientists just sit at home and make stuff up based on nothing at all.

But your previous post seemed to be saying that scientists DERIVE their laws methodically from observation. That's a much stronger claim and I don't think one that can be defended.

You seemed to be suggesting that the laws are somehow sitting there in the data just waiting to be discovered, much as an archaeologist unearths some ancient artifact. You seemed to be implying that the evidence ENTAILS the law or theory in question.

I think you may be overlooking the creative element in making the jump from data to law or theory.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby Marshall on October 4th, 2014, 10:54 pm 

AllShips » Sat Oct 04, 2014 5:55 pm wrote:...
But your previous post seemed to be saying that scientists DERIVE their laws methodically from observation. That's a much stronger claim and I don't think one that can be defended.
...

Strawman. I checked back and previous post did not say laws derived methodically.

You seemed to be suggesting that the laws are somehow sitting there in the data just waiting to be discovered, much as an archaeologist unearths some ancient artifact. You seemed to be implying that the evidence ENTAILS the law or theory in question.


That is a quite an exaggeration. The poster did not say that and did not "seem to suggest" it. That idea of law "sitting in the data " like an artifact waiting to be dug up is something you made up.

Be careful not to attribute to people things they didn't explicitly say. Don't make me warn you again, Allships.

Best wishes.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby TheVat on October 4th, 2014, 11:05 pm 

Call me naive, but I did think natural laws were sort of lurking there, in the data, waiting to be found. Patterns of regularity and consistency.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby Forest_Dump on October 4th, 2014, 11:17 pm 

There are some important basic points here. We are now and have always been bombarded by a potentially infinite number of observations about and from the world around us. But for various reasons (which I would argue have changed over time) we select certain specific things to pay attention to (which of course also varies by personal inclination, professional interest, etc.) and look for correlations with other things as well as make interpretations about the things we choose to observe with those interpretations strongly conditioned by our personal and cultural, etc., histories. (I.e., interpretations certainly also don't come out of the blue or without context.) It certainly is reasonable, if not necessary, to see science evolving out of specific cultural historical contexts which need to include the religion and politics it evolved out of (in fact the mere idea of "laws" is not without this historical context - see Compte). In short, there may well be a degree of creativeness in deriving things like laws or theories. In fact I would argue that there definitely is a lot of creativeness and in fact lo agency as well as historical contingency and ultimately strong cultural, economic, ideological influence that makes science anything but universal in either time or cultural application or value and even that many "scientists" (including here) may not agree with me. But what point does that ultimately make? I certainly believe in a measure of cultural relativity of things like science but that in no way entails absolute relativity in that science then necessarily is equated with some fundamentalist religious extremism, Tarot cards, etc. Science is certainly limited in many ways, largely dependant upon how you wish to define science, but IMHO it is certainly still better in many ways than any alternate we have come up with so far.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby Marshall on October 4th, 2014, 11:19 pm 

Braininvat » Sat Oct 04, 2014 8:05 pm wrote:Call me naive, but I did think natural laws were sort of lurking there, in the data, waiting to be found. Patterns of regularity and consistency.


Like the five Platonic solids which Kepler saw in the nested sizes of the orbits of the planets? Pattern recognition depends on prior acquaintance with patterns I guess, and mathematicians invent them. Our language of templates evolves, I guess, by the good ideas being imitated and modified and transposed and combined.
The pattern recognizer BRINGS something distinctly human-grown, something cultural. I think.

It's a mystery to me. Did you know that Planck originally decided to be a musician and studied MUSIC? I seem to recall reading that, and then he changed over to physics. Maybe the discrete steps underlying the black body curve came unconsciously from his appreciation of the musical scale. Just a wild speculation.

Anyway I don't want to get into this discussion.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby Forest_Dump on October 4th, 2014, 11:57 pm 

I think you are quite right that one (specific to a culture?) value is a kind of automatic pattern recognition. There certainly has long been associations drawn between math, harmonics and explanations of the way the universe works by way of vibrations, etc. Is there any kind of basic causal connection? I m not so sure but there are certainly explanatory connections. But we always seem to look for patterns, even here they may not really exist and then work from and then try to explain these perceived patterns. People do seem to me to rebel against the idea of randomness, lack of order, lack of any perceived "progress", etc.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby dlorde on October 5th, 2014, 7:26 am 

AllShips » October 5th, 2014, 1:55 am wrote:But your previous post seemed to be saying that scientists DERIVE their laws methodically from observation. That's a much stronger claim and I don't think one that can be defended.

Straw man. I didn't make that claim.

ETA: Dang, Marshall gazumped me.

You seemed to be suggesting that the laws are somehow sitting there in the data just waiting to be discovered, much as an archaeologist unearths some ancient artifact. You seemed to be implying that the evidence ENTAILS the law or theory in question.

Another straw man. You can make up whatever implications you like, but I think they say more about your own agenda than about what I said.

I think you may be overlooking the creative element in making the jump from data to law or theory.
On the contrary, I think hypothesis generation is one of the most interesting parts of the process, not least because it is often dominated by System 1 (Type 1) thinking; fast, automatic, stereotypic, associative, highly parallel, subconscious.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby AllShips on October 5th, 2014, 7:42 am 

I wasn't aware I was pushing any particular agenda, and I don't recall constructing any strawmen, but it seems people here are very anxious not to let me speak for reasons I find puzzling and disturbing. It's not my intention to upset anyone; simply to get things right insofar as this is possible at all.

Here's the passage you wrote which led me to make to draw the conclusion I did. I've been told it was a misinterpretation and I've been warned not to make it again. Ho hum.

"No. To repeat - the fundamental laws are the result of observation; they were discovered in the mathematical predictability and consistency of the behaviour of the natural world - which is why they're often called natural laws. This is the polar opposite of presupposing the existence of anything, especially God."

You say these laws are the "result" of observation, but apparently they are not "derived" from observation (naughty me) as I took your comments above to imply. Well, what's the difference? Can you please explain precisely how this comes about? How exactly do scientists make the move from data to law or theory?

Fingers crossed that this post survives.
Last edited by AllShips on October 5th, 2014, 9:02 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby owleye on October 5th, 2014, 8:54 am 

Marshall » Sat Oct 04, 2014 8:54 pm wrote:
AllShips » Sat Oct 04, 2014 5:55 pm wrote:...
But your previous post seemed to be saying that scientists DERIVE their laws methodically from observation. That's a much stronger claim and I don't think one that can be defended.
...

Strawman. I checked back and previous post did not say laws derived methodically.

You seemed to be suggesting that the laws are somehow sitting there in the data just waiting to be discovered, much as an archaeologist unearths some ancient artifact. You seemed to be implying that the evidence ENTAILS the law or theory in question.


That is a quite an exaggeration. The poster did not say that and did not "seem to suggest" it. That idea of law "sitting in the data " like an artifact waiting to be dug up is something you made up.

Be careful not to attribute to people things they didn't explicitly say. Don't make me warn you again, Allships.

Best wishes.


I'll have to support Allships here. It was an impression of his about your claim that observations are the source of laws, or however you phrased it. Your response to that criticism has been mainly to deflect it by calling upon a historical basis for Newton's laws that didn't actually address it, and rather weakly ended with a "that's not what I said." What he was asking you do to is to take a look at what you wrote and explain it in the face of his objections. For example, though Allships may be correct in so far as individual theorists developing models or laws of nature from within their own genius, they are not entirely out of whole cloth. And there is a background set of known observations on which such theories are expected to comply.

The scientific method is somewhat illusive, to be sure, but, were I to defend it, I'd personally go with text-book definitions, which in my reading begins with data gathering and only then is followed by the so-called hypothetical-deductive theorizing, and subsequently tested by conducting experiments. The language I use suggests a logical basis for it, and, of course, this was the project the logical empiricists sought to develop, which faltered significantly because it couldn't get past its own logic.

In any case, whatever is the scientific method, I'd say to the extent that science follows it, it is the reason why it is a successful enterprise. I believe the intent of the method is to remove as much as possible subjective content (i.e., the import of individual theorists, data gatherers, or experimentalists) and have their work stand on the merits of objective evidence (as much as possible, anyway). Philosophers of science (among which include scientists who reflect upon these things) intend to be helpful in their critique. At least that's how I'd paint that picture.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby owleye on October 5th, 2014, 10:07 am 

For some reason my post was directed to Marshall by way of the quote button (and perhaps subsequent editing). I thought it was being directed to dlorde, and my references are to what I believed he had written in response to Allships. It's possible that Marshall supported dlorde and I happened to extract what I did from the wrong post, and, if so, then my remarks can be applied, though not directly, to Marshall's defense. No matter, I assume this is not a science forum in which the scientists are pouncing on anyone who deviates from its canon. I'm only too happy to defend science, but such defenders are not immune from being criticized either.

And the strawman fallacy is being overused here. It usually refers to an objection to something claimed by a straw man that no one is objecting to. In this case, the objection is to something being quoted and leaves a certain impression in the reader, which is in need of clearing up. And the reader in her criticism often has a need to expand on the objection by indicating how it can be interpreted -- the ramifications of that impression, if you like. It's probably the case that such an impression wasn't intended and its author can come to its rescue by elaborating on what was intended, but leaving the impression sit without it being attended to, and instead criticizing it as a straw man, isn't going to accomplish that.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby Marshall on October 5th, 2014, 11:48 am 

dlorde » Sun Oct 05, 2014 4:26 am wrote:
I think you may be overlooking the creative element in making the jump from data to law or theory.
On the contrary, I think hypothesis generation is one of the most interesting parts of the process, not least because it is often dominated by System 1 (Type 1) thinking; fast, automatic, stereotypic, associative, highly parallel, subconscious.


Here's an informational thread with links to sources:
viewtopic.php?f=124&p=268454#p268451

that Kahneman scheme ("thinking fast and slow", the type 1 non-conscious parallel processing underlay etc) that you introduced us to in another thread does seem to fit in here. Could help understand hypothesis generation or the type of pattern guessing that leads, in science, to formulations of natural law.

On the other hand I was excited by the thought that mathematicians help to grow our vocabulary of patterns. There's this book Harmonices Mundi by Kepler, around 1619. Contains moments where he is totally ecstatic. In this book he both sees that the period and the radius of the orbits are related by THREE HALVES POWER (very nontrivial, greeks only related things by integer powers) and he sees a pattern of Platonic solids relating the orbits of the 6 planets he knew about.

I may be misremembering. It excites me to think that our ability to recognize patterns in nature grows and evolves and becomes richer by the earlier INVENTION OF PATTERNS by a kind of artistic mathematics that prepared the way, that invented the template of the Platonic solids so that Kepler could later misapply it and think that he had found the theory of everything. Our leaps are sometimes ridiculous but it's all good :^)

Let's celebrate a Kepler quadricentennial sometime.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby TheVat on October 5th, 2014, 12:10 pm 

This is one of my (I hope rare) fits of renouncing analysis, but...science seems to me an array of tools for teasing out patterns and causal connections which shouldn't be called a method....more "the art of what works." We can't say precisely what science is, but when a tool doesn't work, we notice.

I hope all chatters here feel free to misunderstand others and put occasional bad spin on. We invented language, so we can call each other on strawmen and such. Mods don't need to step in, when the parties can work it out.
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby Marshall on October 5th, 2014, 12:36 pm 

At the moment I can't find the posts where DLorde introduced the authors Dehaene and Kahneman into our discussion of how thinking works. Here's a post of mine where I was reacting to ideas from those sources and gave some links:
viewtopic.php?f=55&t=27766&p=268674#p268613

This business of "hypothesis generation" in science is really interesting. and probably not specific to science. farmers see patterns in the weather. wives recognize patterns in their husbands' behavior. ah hah! experiences can occur in all sorts of contexts.

but science (the topic of this thread after all) does provide some good examples to study. Planck in 1900 imagined oscillators in the cavity walls emitting and absorbing energy in discrete amounts. After physicists beat their heads against an intractable problem of heat-glow for many years, not seeing the pattern in how the energy of warmth was distributed over wavelengths.

Kepler in 1619 or whenever it was, using the Latin word "sesquipotentia" for the one-and-half power. Or sesqui-something. I forget exactly. sesquicentennial means 150th birthday.
The one and half power of the radius gives the orbit period. Jupiter is 5 units out and takes 12 years to go full circle. 53/2 ≈ 12
You can't invent newtonian dynamics until somebody sees a pattern that relates time and distance proportions.
Even if he does not understand the reason for that pattern or even has a wrong explanation for it. I'll paste something from Wikipedia
Johannes Kepler, Harmonices Mundi [The Harmony of the World] (Linz, (Austria): Johann Planck, 1619), book 5, chapter 3, p. 189. From the bottom of p. 189: "Sed res est certissima exactissimaque quod proportio qua est inter binorum quorumcunque Planetarum tempora periodica, sit præcise sesquialtera proportionis mediarum distantiarum, … " (But it is absolutely certain and exact that the proportion between the periodic times of any two planets is precisely the sesquialternate proportion [i.e., the ratio of 3:2] of their mean distances, … ")
Marshall
 


Re: The Limits of Science

Postby owleye on October 5th, 2014, 12:37 pm 

Braininvat » Sun Oct 05, 2014 10:10 am wrote:This is one of my (I hope rare) fits of renouncing analysis, but...science seems to me an array of tools for teasing out patterns and causal connections which shouldn't be called a method....more "the art of what works." We can't say precisely what science is, but when a tool doesn't work, we notice.

I hope all chatters here feel free to misunderstand others and put occasional bad spin on. We invented language, so we can call each other on strawmen and such. Mods don't need to step in, when the parties can work it out.


A very practical remark, often heard in situations where there is conflict. Presumably everyone will step back and reconsider what they've been saying.

However, as one who has some (limited) experience in scientific research, I daresay that science isn't so unstructured as I read in what you say about it. Indeed, even in cooking, there is a sense in which methodology is a consideration. Where I find agreement in what you say is that the methodology under consideration isn't one that is represented in credos (for example, as are found in engineering) or in conceptions that are mandated by individuals, but instead in a projected ideal that becomes overarching, as if there is a God of Science who has entered the conscience of the scientist making sure they are doing its (science's) bidding and not her own.
owleye
 


Re: The Limits of Science

Postby dlorde on October 5th, 2014, 6:36 pm 

AllShips » October 5th, 2014, 12:42 pm wrote:You say these laws are the "result" of observation, but apparently they are not "derived" from observation (naughty me) as I took your comments above to imply. Well, what's the difference? Can you please explain precisely how this comes about?

There's a difference between denying I made a particular claim, and denying the validity of the claim. I denied making the claim that 'scientists DERIVE their laws methodically from observation'.

How exactly do scientists make the move from data to law or theory?

Richard Feynman is a good guide here:
.
Given some natural world observation(s) in need of explanation, they 'guess' at the explanation; Feynman said, "We always try to guess at the most likely explanation". Then they compute the consequences of the guess, and compare them directly with observation (e.g. experiment) and/or experience. If they don't agree, the guess is wrong. If the guess isn't shown to be wrong, and it's consequences are confirmed repeatedly in different ways, and it is considered to be the simplest and most likely explanation for the observations, it may be provisionally adopted as a theory or law. As Feynman maintained, the key to science is that if your guess disagrees with experiment (observation), it's wrong.

The 'guess', when formally expressed, is usually called an hypothesis, and is informed by experience (which also involves observation). It may be derived methodically, in a logical fashion (in some contexts, it can be done algorithmically), but it often involves creative or intuitive 'System 1' thinking.

You can find lots more on this subject online - the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has some good articles.
dlorde
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby AllShips on October 5th, 2014, 7:05 pm 

With all due respect, I don't think Richard Feynman is a good guide at all. A brilliant scientist he may have been, but he was apparently not well versed in the philosophy of science.

The "Method" we hear him espouse in that video is unmistakably Popper, Popper, POPPER! It's pretty but hopelessly inadequate, I'm afraid.

Feynman tells us:-

"If it disagrees with experiment, it's wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn't make a difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn't make a difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is. If it disagrees with experiment, it's wrong. That's all there is to it."

That certainly is NOT all there is to it.

Take, for example, the well known case of the anomalous orbit of Mercury which Newtonian mechanics was NEVER able to explain. The observation disagreed with theory. On Popper (and thus Feynman's) account, then, the theory is falsified -- it's WRONG! -- and should be rejected.

As we all know, it wasn't rejected.

Cases like these are commonplace in science. As the history of science testifies, scientists, by and large, do not allow prima facie falsifying evidence to kill a theory, especially when that theory is well established. They probably won't even see the recalcitrant evidence as "falsifying evidence" but will likely refer to it as "puzzling" evidence or as a "challenge" or "a problem for the theory".

What we'll likely see instead is an attempt to FIT the puzzling evidence INTO the theory. And voila, disconfirming evidence morphs into confirming evidence. And if it can't be made to fit, I'd suggest you're still unlikely to see a good theory given its marching orders just like that.

What say you now, Prof Feynman?
AllShips
 


Re: The Limits of Science

Postby dlorde on October 5th, 2014, 7:31 pm 

AllShips » October 6th, 2014, 12:05 am wrote:Take, for example, the well known case of the anomalous orbit of Mercury which Newtonian mechanics was NEVER able to explain. The observation disagreed with theory. On Popper (and thus Feynman's) account, then, the theory is falsified -- it's WRONG! -- and should be rejected.

As we all know, it wasn't rejected.

As it happens, Feynman explicitly addresses this example in the video.

What say you now, Prof Feynman?

Sadly, he passed on some time ago.

I certainly agree that falsification does not always occur when contradictory observations are made; sometimes the contradictory data must be confirmed - experimental errors are possible; sometimes the comparison is flawed and, on detailed analysis, the data turns out not to be contradictory; sometimes the theory is refined in the light of data that doesn't fit - in which case it's arguable whether it's a new theory or not, and so-on. The practice of science is a complex and often messy business, but IMO, Feynman has the principles right. YMMV.
dlorde
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Re: The Limits of Science

Postby owleye on October 6th, 2014, 10:53 am 

dlorde » Sun Oct 05, 2014 5:31 pm wrote:
AllShips » October 6th, 2014, 12:05 am wrote:Take, for example, the well known case of the anomalous orbit of Mercury which Newtonian mechanics was NEVER able to explain. The observation disagreed with theory. On Popper (and thus Feynman's) account, then, the theory is falsified -- it's WRONG! -- and should be rejected.

As we all know, it wasn't rejected.

As it happens, Feynman explicitly addresses this example in the video.

What say you now, Prof Feynman?

Sadly, he passed on some time ago.

I certainly agree that falsification does not always occur when contradictory observations are made; sometimes the contradictory data must be confirmed - experimental errors are possible; sometimes the comparison is flawed and, on detailed analysis, the data turns out not to be contradictory; sometimes the theory is refined in the light of data that doesn't fit - in which case it's arguable whether it's a new theory or not, and so-on. The practice of science is a complex and often messy business, but IMO, Feynman has the principles right. YMMV.


Despite this post's adherents, I find this is a copout. The overturning of Newton's gravitational theory itself is what prompted Popper's reconsidering of science and his falsification idea came to be viewed within the science community as rescuing it, in some sense. The idea that a theory can be overturned doesn't sit lightly among scientists who are in need of some authority to their findings. And, though falsification can be understood in the light of it assisting in that endeavor (i.e., a theory that has never come across any evidence to the contrary gives it some authority) Popper's ideas, which Popper himself has reconsidered in the light of Kuhn, has nevertheless been retained within the science community, and Allships is pointing it out in Feynman. If you think the science community now understands its achievements in some better way than falsification, I'd like to know. Certainly if "science is a complex and often messy business" it's not going to be seen any differently than, say, politics. Turning to Feynman's principles, whatever they are, and which you apparently think represent the accomplishments of science, well, I think you should tell us about them and pass it along. Shout it from the rooftop. In the meantime, both Kuhn and Nagel have much to say on the topic. I've indicated my ideas from time to time on this board, though their value is principally to me, the significant portion of it being that alternative and descriminatory theories are needed in order for any thought of a theory's reconsideration.
owleye
 


Re: The Limits of Science

Postby Philosophytalks on October 6th, 2014, 11:18 am 

neuro wrote:I have the impression that our mind works this way: by transforming sequences into causal chains, in order to be able to understand, to predict, and to act in an adequate way. And by generalizing (or trying to).
It smply is the way our mind (our brain?) is built.
So, presupposing general laws does not seem to me a prejudice of science, but rather THE working mode of our mind.


Neuro, if this is the case:
Then would it mean that everything we believe is subjective, for everything we notice is just a formulation of a possible chaotic world to make it more simplistic and understandable? (This is in reference too "transforming sequences into causal chains").

And would it also be the case then that rather than science proving this about the world, it is proving things about the way the mind interprets the world? For the world could be chaotic, but if we formulate it to me structured then is science proving things about the chaos or about the mind-made structure?

PhilosophyTalks

p.s. You said about the mind being able to be astonished; Could I just ask then how would that fit in with your view of how the mind works? Because if the mind shapes the way things are, why would we be astonished by things we have shaped? e.g. astonished by a sequence within a causal chain for example?
Philosophytalks
 


Re: The Limits of Science

Postby Marshall on October 6th, 2014, 12:23 pm 

owleye » Mon Oct 06, 2014 7:53 am wrote:... If you think the science community now understands its achievements in some better way than falsification, I'd like to know. Certainly if "science is a complex and often messy business" it's not going to be seen any differently than, say, politics. Turning to Feynman's principles, whatever they are, and which you apparently think represent the accomplishments of science, well, I think you should tell us about them and pass it along. Shout it from the rooftop. ...


Hi Owl, did you ever read or listen anything by the prominent philosopher of science named Nancy Cartwright?

I've found her description of how things actually work in physics admirably realistic and persuasive.

She uses analogies with politics, the adversarial court trial legal process. She's a keen observer of the battles that are part of how theorists do business.

I don't know if you meant this to sound like a warning, could the implication be that if you SAY that "science is a complex and often messy business" then WATCH OUT because people will not think of science as different from political fights? Or trial lawyer court fights? Struggle, in other words. I wasn't sure what you meant.

Do we have a kind of mythical façade that the members of the community resolve disagreements logically by "turning the crank" according to a fixed set of rules? And we should be afraid to admit that fights break out and people change their theories rather than let them be falsified, and they keep calling them by the same name, or they cling to them and trust that some little discrepancies will be worked out, or they redefine the domain of applicability. Classical theories are still all right within their domain of applicability and quantum theory should recover classical in the limit. If you look closely there is BLUR AND MESS.
So maybe we should not ADMIT this? Because then people will think of science as NO BETTER THAN POLITICS.
The public will lose respect, maybe?

I really do not understand what the argument is.

Feynman's statement in that clip was, I think, NORMATIVE AND INFORMAL. speaking informally he held up the most important norm he hoped people in the community would follow. the proudest banner. to which the most people would pay lip-service allegiance. But. But real people are not automata and they fudge and shift and so on. They fool themselves. And there is always wiggle room for interpretation. So he HAD TO AFFIRM this normative principle, because every once in a while people do gather around the flag and reach consensus and declare something no longer interesting to modify and try to preserve. The community has to affirm its idealistic principles because to some extent they work now and then, in a partial way. And if they didn't pay lip-service regularly things would be even worse. He said it as well as anyone could, in a very understandable wide-audience way.

I'd be interested to know what DLorde thinks of Nancy Cartwright as a contemporary philr. of science. DLorde do you have someone better to propose? Someone alive and active now, writing and lecturing, responding to today's scene in physics? Someone with top phil. of science credentials who is:
1. analytically astute, smart
2. intensely interested in the community, norms, and process of science
3. realistic, not hypocritical, not deceived or deceiving with formulas
Marshall
 


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