Is the whale a fish?

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

Is the whale a fish?

Postby NoShips on November 16th, 2016, 4:48 am 

Well, one thing you can be certain of is if you give an affirmative answer to the question "Is the whale a fish?" in a science test, you're not gonna score any points. Having said that, though, is there a "correct" answer to this question which defers to more than simply convention, but to the facts of Mother Nature herself?

Joseph LaPorte in his "Natural Kinds and Conceptual Change" argues, in defiance of conventional wisdom, that there is not.

Better recap conventional wisdom first then. Here we go...

1. We start off in the good old prescientific days of yore with our traditional, vernacular categories such as fish, whale, cow, rodent, predator, bird, reptile, vermin, and so forth.

2. Science comes along and "discovers" (note these scare quotes) that certain creatures have been lumped in the wrong category; the whale providing the quintessential example. (We also discover that certain categories -- e.g. "vermin" -- are scientifically irrelevant). The ancients were simply wrong to call the whale a fish. Whales get kicked out, and the category "fish" shrinks by one member.

Another example offered by LaPorte is that of the guinea pig, which it turns out is not as closely related to the other paradigmatic rodents as we had thought. On conventional wisdom our less enlightened forebears were -- as a matter of brute fact -- incorrect in classifying the guinea pig as a rodent, and as a result, the poor guinea pig received the same ostracization as the whale.

Through all this, the meaning of the terms "fish" and "rodent" did not change. The ancients were just confused about what they meant.



Here endeth conventional wisdom. LaPorte wisdom now:

1. Agreed

2. Science does indeed discover that certain creatures are not as closely related as we once believed, but it is no "discovery" that whales were miscategorized. As things turned out, the systematists (dominated these days by the schema known as "cladistics" wherein organisms are classified according to evolutionary lineages) chose to contract the category "fish" and give whales the boot. But they might just as well have gone the other way. They could have expanded the category "fish" to include whales and everything else that evolved from (gilled) fish.

The ancients were not wrong to call the whale a fish; the meaning of the term "fish" has been changed. Where it was vague before, it is now more sharply defined.




Sound far fetched? Think of dinosaurs. When the discovery was made that birds evolved from dinosaurs, the scientists chose the alternative route: they massively expanded the category "dinosaur" to include eagles, sparrows, chickens, and all our other feathered friends.

So now there are a lot more dinosaurs than previously thought. And, if the coin had fallen the other way, there might have been a lot more fish too!

Here's the man himself to explain:

"Guinea pigs would still merit the label "rodent" according to a couple of reasonable responses to the discovery that they are not as closely related to mice and rats as people had thought. After things called by a label like "rodent" are found not to constitute an exclusive clade, scientists generally have two options for adjusting the use of the label in order to assure that the term is assigned a scientifically respectable clade. They can pare the unacceptable taxon down or they can extend it. They can either say that some things formerly believed to belong to the extension do not belong to it, or they can say that some things formerly believed not to belong to the extension belong to it after all. Scientists who have urged that the traditionally recognized rodents do not form a historical group have suggested that guinea pigs be ousted from the rodent camp. They have suggested paring down. But extending would have been another option. Scientists could have urged that in fact the "rodents" are far more inclusive than was previously realized and include horses, seals, and primates. On this resolution, we are all "rodents"! "
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby Eclogite on November 16th, 2016, 6:23 am 

All classification is artificial, therefore calling a whale a fish was correct under the terms of the system then in force and incorrect under the present scientific system. A problem only emerges when persons think that the classification is real and absolute. We classify in order to order our thoughts, not to capture the reality of Nature.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby NoShips on November 16th, 2016, 6:54 am 

Eclogite,

I think what you say is true to a certain extent, but surely we wouldn't want to endorse a position that one taxonomy is as good as another. For example, classifying organisms according to colour would probably not be very sensible.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby NoShips on November 16th, 2016, 7:26 am 

"We classify in order to order our thoughts, not to capture the reality of Nature." - Eclogite

This comment, however, I think might be rejected by many. You seem to be denying the idea of a "natural kind" (gold, water, tiger, etc), the existence of which, I believe, does constitute part of received wisdom. To wit, science discovers essences. (e.g. the essence of water is H2O).

In other words, the essentialist would claim a substance might have all the superficial properties of water (walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, etc.), yet would not be water inasmuch as it lacks the requisite chemical composition.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby Eclogite on November 16th, 2016, 9:25 am 

NoShips » Wed Nov 16, 2016 10:54 am wrote:Eclogite,

I think what you say is true to a certain extent, but surely we wouldn't want to endorse a position that one taxonomy is as good as another. For example, classifying organisms according to colour would probably not be very sensible.
That would depend upon our purpose. If am an interior decorator then classifying organisms by colour would be very valuable. I could avoid suggesting pets for clients, that clashed with the furniture. I note that the common names for many birds, a form of classification, include such examples as the Lesser Black Backed Gull or the Blue Tit.

So, some taxonomies are far superior than others in one set of circumstances and markedly inferior in another. Calling a whale a fish in biblical times was perfectly satisfactory.


This comment, however, I think might be rejected by many. You seem to be denying the idea of a "natural kind" (gold, water, tiger, etc), the existence of which, I believe, does constitute part of received wisdom. To wit, science discovers essences. (e.g. the essence of water is H2O).

In other words, the essentialist would claim a substance might have all the superficial properties of water (walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, etc.), yet would not be water inasmuch as it lacks the requisite chemical composition.
I am saying that their are many natural kinds and their sets overlap and intersect. We choose a particular perspective to meet a specific need, or needs. That creates a classification system that may seem natural, but nature does not recognise it any more, or less than the others.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby NoShips on November 16th, 2016, 9:29 am 

That all sounds very sensible to me, Eclogite. Although I still feel many would claim that science does "carve nature at her joints".

Looking forward to hearing other opinions...
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby Eclogite on November 16th, 2016, 9:54 am 

NoShips » Wed Nov 16, 2016 1:29 pm wrote:That all sounds very sensible to me, Eclogite. Although I still feel many would claim that science does "carve nature at her joints".

Looking forward to hearing other opinions...
I should have emphasised that my point is very much an opinion. However, I do not feel, from a practical point of view it doesn't make much difference either way.

Let me take an example from your thread on truth where you note that calling plate tectonic theory a model might startle geologists who consider them to be real. If I were a practicing geologist the investigations I would carry out, the tools I would uses, the analyses I would conduct and the conclusions I would reach would be near identical whether I considered I was simply modelling reality, or defining it.

The benefit I get by taking my particular position is that I can avoid worrying about whether or not it is real. Or, in the context of this thread, I can avoid trying to persuade a devout OT believer that a whale is not a fish, since I know from his perspective it actually is. This frees up time for eating chocolate.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby NoShips on November 16th, 2016, 10:04 am 

I'm having all kinds of problems with the quote function. Sorry to do this the old fashioned way. In response to your...

"Let me take an example from your thread on truth where you note that calling plate tectonic theory a model might startle geologists who consider them to be real. If I were a practicing geologist the investigations I would carry out, the tools I would uses, the analyses I would conduct and the conclusions I would reach would be near identical whether I considered I was simply modelling reality, or defining it."


I think there's an important distinction here; one that lies at the crux of the issue, namely, is such-and-such a theory involving quarks true, or is it simply that all the observational consequences of the theory are consonant with the position that it is as if quarks are real.

Philosophers call the latter position "empirical adequacy" - the theory is true insofar as it correctly predicts observational phenomena (who cares if quarks are real or not); the former, our old friend truth -- the entities and mechanisms posited by the theory really do exist.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby hyksos on December 9th, 2016, 2:06 pm 

I think there's an important distinction here; one that lies at the crux of the issue, namely, is such-and-such a theory involving quarks true, or is it simply that all the observational consequences of the theory are consonant with the position that it is as if quarks are real.


You are flirting with something called Instrumentalism. It is a position that appears in the Philosophy of Science.

I could go on for 8 pages about this topic, but I am still in the process of cross-checking your other posts around this forum. (Also you should know that I am an instrumentalist. )

It's funny that you should use the example of quarks. Fundamental particle physics is where Instrumentalist science reigns supreme. Quantum Field Theory is a cluster of equations that predict the phenomenal behavior of particles. But what the equations "say in english" is perplexing in the deepest ways. If you take the equations literally, you will notice that they appear to be saying that a particle knows where it is going before it gets there. Concepts of here-and-there break down. Deep concepts of before-and-after break down. The arrow of time vanishes. Backwards=forwards. (Taking the equations literally, comma,) we cannot derive anything that even remotely fits into a 'narrative' "gear A turns gear B and then C happens." Even the question about whether there is any physical distinction between the substancy-particles and the equations on the chalkboard. Even those distinctions break down.

Given that you were talking about cladistics at the beginning of this thread, it is clear that you are flirting with the (dangerous) idea that Instrumentalism can extend beyond physics into biology.

The answer is - yes it can.

Instrumentalism is a big dirty secret hidden under the rug of the Scientific Method. There is a reason why Instrumentalism is never mentioned by the likes of Carl Sagan, Niels deGrasse-Tyson, Bill Nye, and Richard Dawkins. There is a reason why PBS Nova never tells you about Instrumentalism.

(--- I will stop right there. Still reading your other posts on the forum --- )
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby Braininvat on December 9th, 2016, 2:20 pm 

They could have expanded the category "fish" to include whales and everything else that evolved from (gilled) fish.


Whales evolved from land animals, herbivores similar to modern cows. They never had gills.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby Forest_Dump on December 9th, 2016, 8:07 pm 

Braininvat wrote:
They could have expanded the category "fish" to include whales and everything else that evolved from (gilled) fish.


Whales evolved from land animals, herbivores similar to modern cows. They never had gills.


One could include whales in the geneological clade with fishes but that clade would also include all amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals including us. But this is indeed because of our cultural heritage that gives primacy to geneology and inheritance. If we talked to peoples who hunt these things, they might classify them according to the technology it takes to capture so whales might be classified with swordfish and sharks, that are also caught by harpoon, but not with the fish that are caught by net, etc. On the other hand, were I to classify by flaour, I would group whales ith seals and some birds (e.g., puffins and murres) but not with fish. What is the best way to classify?
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby NoShips on December 9th, 2016, 8:50 pm 

hyksos » December 10th, 2016, 3:06 am wrote:
Instrumentalism is a big dirty secret hidden under the rug of the Scientific Method. )



Here's another big dirty secret: There's no such thing


People usually get outraged at the suggestion. Beats me. The Beatles did just fine without a grand unifying "Beatles Method".
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby NoShips on December 9th, 2016, 8:52 pm 

Braininvat » December 10th, 2016, 3:20 am wrote:
They could have expanded the category "fish" to include whales and everything else that evolved from (gilled) fish.


Whales evolved from land animals, herbivores similar to modern cows. They never had gills.



Did the ancestors of these land-dwelling herbivores have gills?
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby NoShips on December 9th, 2016, 8:53 pm 

Forest_Dump » December 10th, 2016, 9:07 am wrote:
Braininvat wrote:

One could include whales in the geneological clade with fishes but that clade would also include all amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals including us.


Yes, Forest, that's exactly the point LaPorte is making.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby Scruffy Nerf Herder on December 9th, 2016, 9:44 pm 

NoShips » November 16th, 2016, 3:54 am wrote:Eclogite,

I think what you say is true to a certain extent, but surely we wouldn't want to endorse a position that one taxonomy is as good as another. For example, classifying organisms according to colour would probably not be very sensible.


The old nomenclature and scientific taxonomy aren't comparable. It's not about one taxonomy being as good as another, it's about one being taxonomy and the other being a simple reflection of culture. Aristotle and Linnaeus were the exception, not the norm.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby Forest_Dump on December 9th, 2016, 9:45 pm 

NoShips wrote:Yes, Forest, that's exactly the point LaPorte is making.


Okay, so what am I missing (other than that this "clade" is pretty much usually called "vertebrates").
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby NoShips on December 9th, 2016, 9:48 pm 

Forest_Dump » December 10th, 2016, 10:45 am wrote:
NoShips wrote:Yes, Forest, that's exactly the point LaPorte is making.


Okay, so what am I missing (other than that this "clade" is pretty much usually called "vertebrates").



Conventional wisdom has it that our forebears were wrong -- as a matter of fact -- to call the whale a fish.

LaPorte argues to the contrary. The term was previously "vague". Subsequently scientists have made it the case that the whale isn't a fish -- not discovered that the whale isn't a fish.

This takes us into the murky depths of philosophy of language, essentialism, Kripke, and other horrors.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby wolfhnd on December 9th, 2016, 10:27 pm 

The whole idea that there is no scientific method is like saying there is no method for distinguishing between fantasy and external reality. Philosophers can expound endlessly on such mundane questions but contribute very little in the way of enlightenment. When Forest asked me if a dog smelling his shit was doing science I would have to say yes. The dog is using his senses to determine reality. Philosophers often turn away from their senses and muck around in fantasy.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby Scruffy Nerf Herder on December 9th, 2016, 11:09 pm 

NoShips » November 16th, 2016, 4:26 am wrote:"We classify in order to order our thoughts, not to capture the reality of Nature." - Eclogite

This comment, however, I think might be rejected by many. You seem to be denying the idea of a "natural kind" (gold, water, tiger, etc), the existence of which, I believe, does constitute part of received wisdom. To wit, science discovers essences. (e.g. the essence of water is H2O).

In other words, the essentialist would claim a substance might have all the superficial properties of water (walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, etc.), yet would not be water inasmuch as it lacks the requisite chemical composition.


Science is not ontology. See here Newton's "rules of reasoning"; they can be seen after the definitions, laws, and scholium. It's primary goal, irrespective of whatever one's epistemological bent is in philosophy of science, is recognized as the prospect of coming up with theories that explain phenomena.

Now, there are those who believe that we can come up with theories that explain ultimate generalities, and ultimate generalities are ostensibly what essences are, essences being understood as those statements that are necessary to define something in the most general context possible. Much of science has been an attempt to arrive at universals by observing particulars. However, that may not even be possible and it isn't necessary to reference when thinking of the Scientific Method itself; the Method may be carried out under epistemology such as the hypothetico-deductive method or more traditional, inductive Newtonian reasoning (the Principia is probably the most methodologically influential piece of work, however much Bacon's Novum Organum and Leibniz's various inquiries into "natural philosophy" have been referenced in this context), but that doesn't mean any of them necessarily epitomize or individually define the Method.

This is all the Method is, generally speaking:

1B.png


There are dominant trends in thought which will come and go (e.g. Newton's peculiarly Aristotelian methodology, geared towards inductive/analogical reasoning, crossing swords with the likes of Popper, geared towards deductive reasoning), but the Method itself hasn't changed overmuch throughout and since the Scientific Revolution.

Moreover, Eclogite was describing nomenclature as a practice, not referring to ideals and academic goals.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby Forest_Dump on December 9th, 2016, 11:20 pm 

wolfhnd wrote:The whole idea that there is no scientific method is like saying there is no method for distinguishing between fantasy and external reality. Philosophers can expound endlessly on such mundane questions but contribute very little in the way of enlightenment. When Forest asked me if a dog smelling his shit was doing science I would have to say yes. The dog is using his senses to determine reality. Philosophers often turn away from their senses and muck around in fantasy.
The whole idea that there is no scientific method is like saying there is no method for distinguishing between fantasy and external reality. Philosophers can expound endlessly on such mundane questions but contribute very little in the way of enlightenment. When Forest asked me if a dog smelling his shit was doing science I would have to say yes. The dog is using his senses to determine reality. Philosophers often turn away from their senses and muck around in fantasy.


Just for the record, while I don't want to get into this much, I definitely wouldn't say there is no scientific method nor would I say the scientific method doesn't work. However, I would say that there are other ways to gain knowledge, the scientific method can be used to gain non-scientific knowledge, that methods other than a strict adherence to this scientific method can also result in scientific knowledge and finally (?) that, as Feyerabend argued, an overly rigid adherence to the scientific method can lead to "ossified" thinking.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby NoShips on December 9th, 2016, 11:43 pm 

People generally take it the wrong way when someone like myself (or Feyerabend) claims there is no such thing as The Scientific Method. The claim is not that science is entirely unmethodical (which would be a ludicrous claim), but that there is no single, unifying Method of science.

Why would you want one anyway (as Forest hints at)? Who's being disrespectful here? Seems to me the insult, if there is one, comes from those who would have us believe that scientists are little more than mindless automata shackled to some rigid Method, the steps of which they slavishly follow, somewhat like cooking cannolis.

And that IS how Bacon envisioned science: geniuses need not apply.

Hey teacher, leave 'em geniuses alone!
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby NoShips on December 9th, 2016, 11:46 pm 

The traditional "observe -- form hypothesis -- test hypothesis -- revise hypothesis" is so inane it doesn't even merit a good trashing.

Erm, unless you twist my arm hard enough.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby Scruffy Nerf Herder on December 9th, 2016, 11:58 pm 

NoShips » December 9th, 2016, 8:43 pm wrote:People generally take it the wrong way when someone like myself (or Feyerabend) claims there is no such thing as The Scientific Method.


Well then let's try to take it the right way.

NoShips » December 9th, 2016, 8:43 pm wrote:The claim is not that science is entirely unmethodical (which would be a ludicrous claim), but that there is no single, unifying Method of science.


What would constitute a method in your mind? There is no such thing as a rigid methodological norm in any area of inquiry; this fact does no damage to various epistemological stances in a field fitting into a meta-narrative.

NoShips » December 9th, 2016, 8:46 pm wrote:The traditional "observe -- form hypothesis -- test hypothesis -- revise hypothesis" is so inane it doesn't even merit a good trashing.


No offense, but what's inane is this passing for an argument. Find me a single example of scientific methodology that doesn't fit into that overall epistemological meta-narrative, and I'll grant that you've given it a good trashing.

Rather, what instead may not have merited a response was your earlier equivocation between science and ontology. And yet it's best to assume a more charitable stance, and I've no inclination to disparage you. Were I in the mood for "a good trashing" I would have just nit-picked such statements in the OP, for example by pointing out that it's silly to say H20 is the essence of water when there is such a thing as ionized water, and much of the water in the atmosphere doesn't exist in such a simple molecular form.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby NoShips on December 10th, 2016, 12:09 am 

Uh oh, here we go then (rolls up sleeves)...

Questions to consider:

1. To what kind of things would we want to apply the predicate "is a method" without reducing the meaning of the word to triviality. Supposing I can successfully identify certain steps that have been followed by all lottery jackpot winners (e.g. Step 1: buy ticket; Step 2: check numbers; Step 3: collect the dosh), would we want to say that I have identified the "Lottery Jackpot Winning Method"? If not, why not?

2. Many insist The Scientific Method is real, but when I ask them what it is, everyone tells me something different. Bacon, Descartes, Newton, Mill, Whewell, Mach, Duhem, Poincare, Popper, Lakatos, and a hundred others have all written on The Scientific Method. But their "Method"s are not the same. Is one right and all the rest wrong?

3. "Observe"? Not very helpful. That rules out blind people, I suppose, but rules in coconut crabs and stegosaurus. Who doesn't observe?

4. "Form a hypothesis"? What's methodical about that? "Form a hypothesis" amounts pretty much to "have an idea" -- hardly what can be described as a methodical process. Kekule claims the structure of the benzene molecule came to him in a dream. Erm, method, you say?

could go on...
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby NoShips on December 10th, 2016, 12:15 am 

P.S. By the way, hypotheses are all the rage these days, but were considered a big no-no until relatively recently. Theories, under earlier inductivist accounts, were supposed to be derived from data, not constructed to accommodate the data.

Larry Laudan tracks this brilliantly in "Science and Hypotheses".
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby NoShips on December 10th, 2016, 1:15 am 

"Scientific method is something talked about by people standing on the outside and wondering how the scientist manages to do it....

What appears to [the working scientist] as the essence of the situation is that he is not consciously following any prescribed course of action, but feels complete freedom to utilize any method or device whatever which in the particular situation before him seems likely to yield the correct answer. In his attack on his specific problem he suffers no inhibitions of precedent or authority, but is completely free to adopt any course that his ingenuity is capable of suggesting to him. No one standing on the outside can predict what the individual scientist will do or what method he will follow. In short, science is what scientists do, and there are as many scientific methods as there are individual scientists."

-- Percy W. Bridgman
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby wolfhnd on December 10th, 2016, 2:54 am 

Well Forest I certainly didn't bring you into this because I thought you didn't believe there was a scientific method. I was only making the point that any method of acquiring information through the senses to verify a hypothesis could be considered a scientific method. There are other disciplines that don't rely directly on observable phenomena such as math but strictly speaking they only have to be internally consistent. The problem is there are fantasy worlds that humans construct based on faith in some ideology and many of them can be traced to a philosopher. These fantasy worlds are as real as the physical world but do not exist outside the minds of the believers.

Since I used a dog in the other example I will continue with that analogy. A dog hears a book fall off a shelf in another room because the floor shifted or whatever and starts to growl believing there is an intruder where there is none. The instinct to expect agency where there is none has obvious survival value because it is better to expect a predator and find only a phantom than to wait and be a hundred percent certain. The imagination of the dog in this respect is not much different than that of a human and the evolutionary consistency is obvious. What may not be so obvious to many people is that the confirmation process is science. Cautiously entering a dark room to find what is there using all the empirical data available is the essences of science and is perfectly natural. You could say that the scientific method is an extension of what comes naturally and is formally called evidence and reason.

The human mind is not the construct of individual experience and is designed to be erected on a cultural framework. It is therefore susceptible to parasitization by not only sound ideas but questionable ones as well. For those things that shared with us we ask how the information was acquired. Did you see it, did you hear it, did you smell it, or feel it. To be skeptical means that you require empirical evidence. In the case of something abstract like math we still rely on some physical proof at the foundational stage. You can measure the volume of a sphere for example to see if your formula is accurate. The proofs are simply lost to history and more complex abstraction are built upon those that had previously been confirmed.

The issue I have is that what was previously relegated to religious faith has morphed in the modern world into Post Modernism which rejects objective reality. If all belief systems are equally valid then there can be no distinction made between fantasy and reality. The dangers of such a cultural norm should be self evident. If NoShip is saying that their is some way of gaining knowledge other than sensual experience I disagree. The experience need not be that of the individual but at some point in our history it originated as something someone experienced and transmitted forward. Anyone can construct a philosophy that is internally consistent and share it with other people but that does not make it consistent with objective reality. You can share a fantasy as easily as a sensory experience.

The problem I believe is in the way that the connection to experience is lost over time within the consciousness of the individual and a culture. Genius is not just the property of an individual brain but requires a long cultural history of shared and confirmed observation that the individual may not even be aware of. Who remembers learning to speak for example. Language is a tool just as much as a stone knife is but it leaves little record of it's origins within our collective consciousness.

Like any tool language can be used to construct or destruct. It has survival value only when is consistent with reality. While it is fashionable to deconstruct religious beliefs other belief systems are not receiving the same kind of scrutiny by the only reliable measure which is empirical data. At best we can only hope to have a partial view of reality regardless of the sophistication of our language tools. but if we wish to survive it will have to do and will be based on evidence.

Finally keep in mind that our instincts are also constructed from experience and reflect our evolutionary heritage. They are not necessarily consistent with objective reality because bits and pieces of junk accumulate along the way and they are approximate solutions to objective problems for the species. Emotions are at the heart of who we are without them there would be no language or thought. They are the foundation on and motivation for everything we are and do. People often confuse being emotional with being irrational because the rationale for those emotions are not part of our consciousness nor preserved by history. There is a collective wisdom hidden in the shared emotions of the species the problem is how they are interpreted and applied. When combined with fantasy they can be dangerous but when confined within an objective view of reality those dangers are mitigated. Fantasy itself has it origin or motive force in instinct but it is neither the instincts nor the fantasy that are dangerous it is how we act act on them or how confused they may make us. They can also be as defective as any other part of the body or misused by others. There are simply no perfect theories nor solutions.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby Scruffy Nerf Herder on December 10th, 2016, 4:16 am 

NoShips » December 9th, 2016, 9:09 pm wrote:1. To what kind of things would we want to apply the predicate "is a method" without reducing the meaning of the word to triviality. Supposing I can successfully identify certain steps that have been followed by all lottery jackpot winners (e.g. Step 1: buy ticket; Step 2: check numbers; Step 3: collect the dosh), would we want to say that I have identified the "Lottery Jackpot Winning Method"? If not, why not?


The predicate "is a method", at least in the context of philosophy of science and philosophy in general, applies to reasoning that has epistemological precedent and substance. The universe of discourse is paramount.

NoShips » December 9th, 2016, 9:09 pm wrote:2. Many insist The Scientific Method is real, but when I ask them what it is, everyone tells me something different. Bacon, Descartes, Newton, Mill, Whewell, Mach, Duhem, Poincare, Popper, Lakatos, and a hundred others have all written on The Scientific Method. But their "Method"s are not the same. Is one right and all the rest wrong?


Nope. They are all perspectives which exist under a meta-framework.

NoShips » December 9th, 2016, 9:09 pm wrote:3. "Observe"? Not very helpful. That rules out blind people, I suppose, but rules in coconut crabs and stegosaurus. Who doesn't observe?


I'm afraid I don't see your point here. Should the Scientific Method involve not observing? As mundane as it must seem we don't possess grandiose tools of perception and a posteriori reasoning is what it is, the senses can be flawed and reasoning by induction/analogy is problematic.

Can we observe what is noumenal, i.e. the Kantian underbelly? Probably not. Yet still we can observe.

NoShips » December 9th, 2016, 9:09 pm wrote:4. "Form a hypothesis"? What's methodical about that? "Form a hypothesis" amounts pretty much to "have an idea" -- hardly what can be described as a methodical process. Kekule claims the structure of the benzene molecule came to him in a dream. Erm, method, you say?


There is no other sensible method by which we can try to direct future musings and observation. A guess is better than nothing, and this part of the process is vague and intangible necessarily, because we conduct our thoughts in vague and intangible ways when in gnosis limbo.

Regardless, the vast majority of the scientific endeavor has involved refining theories, not trying to see which guesses stick. Celestial mechanics, for example, has grown quite sophisticated and this is more the product of refinement than anything else; the changes made may look like paradigmatic meteorites today but the process has been fairly metered since Copernicus and Kepler, and their innovations weren't all too different from Ptolemaic astronomy anyways.

NoShips » December 9th, 2016, 10:15 pm wrote:"Scientific method is something talked about by people standing on the outside and wondering how the scientist manages to do it....

What appears to [the working scientist] as the essence of the situation is that he is not consciously following any prescribed course of action, but feels complete freedom to utilize any method or device whatever which in the particular situation before him seems likely to yield the correct answer. In his attack on his specific problem he suffers no inhibitions of precedent or authority, but is completely free to adopt any course that his ingenuity is capable of suggesting to him. No one standing on the outside can predict what the individual scientist will do or what method he will follow. In short, science is what scientists do, and there are as many scientific methods as there are individual scientists."

-- Percy W. Bridgman


Sure, Bridgman may say that, but let's see him turn around and describe several of the most notorious pseudo-scientific endeavors 'science'. This is antinomial talk, one second a scientist can say there is no method, and the next he's following the same general guidelines anyways, all the while regarding a whole range of activity, that could fit the description given here, as pseudo-science.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby NoShips on December 10th, 2016, 6:02 am 

Scruffy,

I'm reluctant to get embroiled and sticky in a protracted debate over the existence or non-existence of "The Scientific Method" (TSM) -- been there, done that -- although it is indeed a pleasure to discuss these matters with someone as knowledgeable on the topic as you obviously are. Just a few general remarks then.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying: "The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking", which to me sounds pretty much right; there is no method or form of reasoning, that I'm aware of anyway, which is the sole property of science. Scientists reason like all the rest of us, though perhaps with a little more rigour than the mob, appealing to deduction, induction, inference to the best explanation, and so forth, as it suits their needs -- just like everyone else does.

The problem with specifying TSM has always been finding the right balance between permissiveness and restrictiveness: too permissive ("observe, form & test hypotheses") and it turns out the whole world is doing science, after all, who doesn't form and test hypotheses?; too restrictive (e.g. "perform experiments"), on the other hand, and much of what we intuitively would like to classify as bona fide science gets excluded.

Take, for example, Wolfhnd's remark above: "I was only making the point that any method of acquiring information through the senses to verify a hypothesis could be considered a scientific method.". But we ALL do this! The postman does it when the letterbox is jammed, the car mechanic does it when your engine won't start, and perhaps even Braininvat's cat does it when the foodbowl is not in its usual place. Now, given that the whole world is "acquiring information through the senses to verify a hypothesis" it makes as much sense to call it The Postman Method as it does to call it The Scientific Method, viz., no sense at all.

According to Nordish folklore, TSM is understood to be a unique method, gradually discovered by, and used only by, practitioners of science, which unifies all the sciences, explains the success of science, and serves to demarcate science from non-science or pseudoscience. These days, I sense, more and more people are beginning to realize this view is simply not tenable, yet for whatever reasons, scruple over rejecting the idea altogether, attempting to salvage something from the wreckage through redefinition. On Wiki, for example, we're now told, "The scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge."

It's a gambit that strikes me as counterproductive, louche even. The definite article -- "the" -- after all, implies one method, just as "the bank manager" implies one heartless bloodsucker. More poignantly, if TSM actually encompasses a whole panoply of methods and inferential modes in a state of continual flux, as Wiki and I think yourself (with your "meta-framework") suggest, then we can no longer appeal to TSM to explain the success of science, or invoke TSM as our demarcation criterion. Proponents of Intelligent Design, for instance, or astrologers, might quite plausibly claim that they adhere to a newly developed branch of TSM. For TSM to do any useful work, as opposed to functioning merely as a slogan, I suggest it would have to be a fixed, timeless, unitary method.

It's my belief there exists no such beast.


A couple of specific remarks on your post above:

"I'm afraid I don't see your point here. Should the Scientific Method involve not observing? As mundane as it must seem we don't possess grandiose tools of perception and a posteriori reasoning is what it is, the senses can be flawed and reasoning by induction/analogy is problematic."

Certainly science involves observing; so does being human or being an aardvark. Presumably all scientists breathe and undergo peristaltic contractions of the gut, too, just like everyone else. Given that it's not the sole property of the scientific endeavour, why bother mentioning it at all?

"There is no other sensible method by which we can try to direct future musings and observation. A guess is better than nothing, and this part of the process is vague and intangible necessarily, because we conduct our thoughts in vague and intangible ways when in gnosis limbo."

Again, you stretch the scope of the term "method" far beyond what I, and I hazard what most other competent English speakers, would countenance. Guessing is surely something we resort to in the absence of a reliable method.
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Re: Is the whale a fish?

Postby vivian maxine on December 10th, 2016, 12:49 pm 

I quit where Scruffy decided to draw a diagram - one I could understand, heavens to Betsy! Makes sense and my answer is: No matter. Whatever it is this year it will be different next year. In other words, pure science.

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