A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

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

Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on July 2nd, 2017, 11:21 am 

It is good to be aware of the Tautology Problem. Peacocks are keenly aware of it. Perhaps much can be learned when a trait increases reproductive success but decreases prior adaptations that made the peacock formerly able to blend in better, be less of a target to predators, and move faster. No doubt the field of evolutionary biology benefits when fitness is broken down into multiple forms, sometimes with conflicting "agendas." Largeness sometimes leads to extinction, when an ecosystem undergoes upheaval and food supplies decrease drastically. The big beast may have had a selective advantage from a display perspective, and driving off reproductive rivals, and perhaps weathering cold, but may be more dependent on a stable food chain, and so more vulnerable to climate shift. A gene can be favored in one regime, but not in another. To avoid tautology in reproductive fitness, we need to see that fitness is not a unitary thing, free of competing demands from the environment.

In humans, e.g., one might find a tribe's survival enhanced by members who sacrifice their own survival in order to protect others and pass along a cultural strategy. Another tribe might have a member who chooses to not reproduce in order to seek some spiritual illumination, which later boosts tribal morale and helps weather hard times without perishing. It would be hard to pinpoint a gene, or set of genes, that would necessarily promote these sorts of fitness of a group. Culture becomes integral to the environment in higher mammals.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 2nd, 2017, 11:28 am 

Ahem

No one ever gets this BiV, but you will if I can explain it right...

Let's say "peacocks with lengthy wattles (not sure if they have wattles, but it's besides the point) fare better than the less well wattled peacocks" The Caucasian ones, perhaps.

Now, this is an empirical hypothesis. We could never learn if it's true or not without empirical investigation.

But when you generalize...


Try and see what happens


Sealions don't have wattles
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 2nd, 2017, 11:31 am 

I'll try again... specifically speaking "those with such and such do better than those without such and such"

insert your fave such and such

Generalized, it becomes a vacuous truism

Why? Because such-and-such is contextually sensitive. Big eyes might be good for a tarsier. Not much use to a mole. Right?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 2nd, 2017, 11:37 am 

So when generalized, we get: :"Those with stuff that tends to conduce to reproductive success tend to do better than those without" (depending if it's a binary or continuous trait)

Fitness is... brace yourself.. multiply realizable

Correct, my friend?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 2nd, 2017, 11:47 am 

Now, when multiple realizability is allowed in... um, what was Dawkins saying about "constant improvement"?

Get me?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on July 2nd, 2017, 11:55 am 

Sure. That's what I was trying to say about context. The environment is a dynamic, ever-shifting context. Some species even go so far as to dial reproductive success down to zero when food is scarce. Adults conserve energy, don't mate, and maybe a few live to see a better year. It's the "how" that is interesting, not the mere numbers, or the spotting of those dull tautologies.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 2nd, 2017, 12:00 pm 

Not quite sure if we're on the same page yet. And it's bad news for you if we are.

You mentioned heritable genes earlier. Doesn't make the tautology disappear. What we have instead is "Those most able to survive and transmit their genetic material tend to... well, you know, survive and transmit their genetic material."

To escape the viscious circularity, BiV, we need a definition of fitness that does not appeal to reproductive success. Do you see this?

The eugenisists had one LOL
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 2nd, 2017, 12:01 pm 

How do you spell vicious again?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 2nd, 2017, 12:05 pm 

Ok, let me ejaculate...

The eugenicists' problem was... "How come the sick, infirm, dumbasses, and alkies (ahem) seem to be doing better than us? " (i.e. fecundity of the Chens: just when you thought it was safe...

Well, they only could if we had a non-circular definition of fitness, likesay... "white, male, and Oxbridge educated"

Now that's an empirical hypothesis.

That's a definition of fitness that does not circularly appeal to itself.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 2nd, 2017, 12:11 pm 

To break the circularity, BiV, you need a definition of fitness that does not appeal to itself. Computer nerds call it "recursive"
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 2nd, 2017, 12:13 pm 

Now what Darwin and Galton took "fitness" to be was certain traits (ahem, blonde and blue-eyed)....

At least they weren't circular
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 2nd, 2017, 12:16 pm 

BraininVat, ma ole pal, I wouldn't wanna be dogmatic about this. I know of at least two people -- really clever dudes - who deny what I say. Gould and Pinker. I respect them both. But I think they're wrong in my worthless opinion.

I know a lot of dumbasses too who simply assert it.. coz.. you know... it's embarrassing
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on July 2nd, 2017, 12:20 pm 

NoShips » July 2nd, 2017, 9:05 am wrote:Ok, let me ejaculate...

The eugenicists' problem was... "How come the sick, infirm, dumbasses, and alkies (ahem) seem to be doing better than us? " (i.e. fecundity of the Chens: just when you thought it was safe...

Well, they only could if we had a non-circular definition of fitness, likesay... "white, male, and Oxbridge educated"

Now that's an empirical hypothesis.

That's a definition of fitness that does not circularly appeal to itself.


that was precisely my point, when I said that culture is part of the environment. Being fat used to be indicator of fertility, and men found it attractive. Now skinny is more attractive in some areas of this planet, even though it may correlate with lower fertility, weakened immune system, more vulnerable to famine, higher miscarriage rate, etc.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on July 2nd, 2017, 12:22 pm 

Hope you understand I accept the tautology problem as a real one.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 2nd, 2017, 12:25 pm 

Ok, so now... can the unfit win?


Yes, I know, they can if we do this statistically. So can purple haired grannies beat the casino.

But is this not to escape straight tautology with an ... asymptote...?

Too drunk to type any more, my friend

I hope this link works. A man of your wattle will enjoy it :-)

http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/2492

I admire both these men enormously. As I admire you.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 2nd, 2017, 12:30 pm 

Braininvat » July 3rd, 2017, 1:22 am wrote:Hope you understand I accept the tautology problem as a real one.



As always BiV. I don't really give a shit. Sober says it's useful. Fodor (listen carefully) says it's a theory unable to carry the load it's meant to.

Hey, BiV, I admire you enormously, as you know. I spent several sleepless nights trying to get Fodor's point. I do now. There are videos on Youtube "Fodor attacks Darwinism" or something. NO ONE gets him. See if you do.

Shoulda caught me earlier. Goodnight, my brilliant friend.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 2nd, 2017, 12:35 pm 

Now, if you can make this video work, Elliott Sober understands Fodor perfectly. He's a clever chap. (oops, I take back what I said about "no one")

Let's talk more tomorrow.

By the way, Jerry Fodor is the worst public speaker in the world except me. Doesn't mean he's dumb. LOL
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 2nd, 2017, 12:43 pm 

Braininvat » July 3rd, 2017, 12:55 am wrote:Sure. That's what I was trying to say about context. The environment is a dynamic, ever-shifting context. Some species even go so far as to dial reproductive success down to zero when food is scarce. Adults conserve energy, don't mate, and maybe a few live to see a better year. It's the "how" that is interesting, not the mere numbers, or the spotting of those dull tautologies.


Hey! Stop rubbing it in! Thought we were friends?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on July 2nd, 2017, 2:11 pm 

Hahaha. No worries, baldness is a sign of virility. It's also a sign you can think so powerfully that the energy radiating from your brain has burned up all the follicles. You just need to explain this better to prospective mates.

Are you saying that I have to be Sober to understand Fodor perfectly? The video won't run on this Android notebook I'm using atm, but I will load it elsewhere later today or tomorrow a.m. Or, I'll youtube "fodor attacks darwinism" or whatever, see what that catches.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby hyksos on July 2nd, 2017, 2:45 pm 

NoShips » July 2nd, 2017, 12:39 pm wrote:
hyksos » July 2nd, 2017, 3:11 am wrote:I was about to come to this thread and leave some notes about how the vast majority of DNA on earth is tied up in the oceans in these little machines called marine bacteriophages. I was going to say something about how this is suggestive of evolution having actually happened.

But it appears I have arrived too late. The forum regulars are already catching on to what is really going on in this thread. The most glaring portion of this thread is NoShips refusal to discuss the specifics about any particular scientific theory. It is as if he knows ahead of time that he must keep the subject in completely abstract generic terms in order to seem to strengthen his position. If he were possibly drawn into specific pieces of evidence and their specific theories, he would surely lose ground quickly, much like a failing army getting bogged down into mud.



It's hard to know what to to when confronted with someone such as yourself, Hyksos. You've already made your position clear, a few pages ago, that science produces no knowledge; one consequence of which is that nothing scientists say should be believed, when they're talking shop at any rate. Absolutely nothing!

Now, if you ask me, it's about as arrantly absurd as a position can possibly be, the kind of thing we might expect to hear from a fellow claiming to be Napoleon. It is, nonetheless, your position, and you're the little Corsican who has to face the consequences.

Now, what on earth would be the point of bringing up DNA, marine bacteriophages, and whatever else when, on your own account (not mine), scientists know diddly-squat about these things?

Come to think of it, why even mention evolution at all? According to your position of scientific omni-ignorance, the amount of knowledge science has to boast on the issue is -- better steady yourselves now, folks -- zilch!

Now who's supposed to be the bad guy here again?



For the record, I also posted in this thread that the data (evidence) collected by science should count as knowledge.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby hyksos on July 2nd, 2017, 2:53 pm 

I want to add something else about this. In the instrumentalist tradition, science does not produce knowledge in the sense of a capital T truth. . His implicit position appears to be that because science cannot produce knowledge, it therefore cannot succeed at anything at all.

Science does however, still produce theories to predict and model a body of evidence. Even in the harshest conditions of instrumentalism (Say, extreme scientific anti-realism), then even in those situations, a particular theory can still be wildly successful at modeling a body of evidence.

In short : admitting that science does not produce knowledge does not also entail that science is therefore ineffective or impotent at succeeding in what it is trying to do.

These epistemic issues surrounding science say much more about our psychological expectations of what we expect science can accomplish. NoShips is engaging in sophistry if his point is that

"If science cannot do everything I expect from it out-of-the-box, then it can't do anything ever, and should never be believed".


That does not follow.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby hyksos on July 2nd, 2017, 2:57 pm 

The theory of evolution by natural selection is wildly successful at modelling and predicting the evidence collected in nature.

Surgery, medicine, and dentistry are wildly successful at curing disease and illness.

Aerodynamics and engineering are wildly successful at getting a jet to fly.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on July 2nd, 2017, 7:00 pm 

A few moderatorial points:

1. After 26 pages, I see a pattern where insights are getting lost in the noise, "noise" here defined as "members starting to repeat their earlier points, whilst talking past each other."

2. Several have made the point that science is successful, often wildly so. Even Noships has conceded this. So there's really not much more to say on that, is there?

3. Hyksos, you have made a fair point in regard to science being able to form very useful models of the world, even if it has some of the epistemic weaknesses that have been spotlighted in this thread. Quite right, that we shouldn't toss out models just because they fall short of being perfect and formally flawless knowledge.

4. This leads to one of my favorite mottoes: Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It's a sound motto in politics, sex, cooking, science, and really just about everything.

5. Induction - I think everyone here is smart enough to acknowledge the Humean limits of induction. Or the subjective aspects of Bayesian statistics which, somehow, can approach objectivity as everyone in good faith (don't over interpret "faith" here) is willing to revise their credences as new evidence presents itself. Science is deeply fortunate in that it is an approach to knowledge that has actually made lack of certainty, and the willingness to have assertions shattered by new evidence, a dogma. It's the best sort of dogma there is, putting all the other intellectually disreputable dogmas down the garbage chute.

I am turning moderation (if needed) of this thread over to other mod/admins. Whoever that may be, they may be less congenial to digression, so keep to the topic, avoid personal comments, use DIRECT QUOTES when referring to other members' opinions, and have some fun. You know the drill.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 2nd, 2017, 9:09 pm 

hyksos » July 3rd, 2017, 3:53 am wrote:I want to add something else about this. In the instrumentalist tradition, science does not produce knowledge in the sense of a capital T truth.


There's no such thing as untrue knowledge, dude. If it ain't true, it ain't knowledge.

At least where I come from.

With no disrespect intended, I don't think you fully understand what instrumentalism means.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 3rd, 2017, 2:28 am 

BiV, if you're interested, this video has Jerry Fodor explaining the core idea of his 2010 book "What Darwin Got Wrong".

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIYKCHPe5n8

Of particular relevance to our most recent lucubrations on the tautology issue, pay close attention around the 46 minute mark. Neither Fodor nor his questioner use the word tautology, but that's exactly what they're discussing.

Questioner: "... when you state selection theory at the level of generality you're demanding, it turns out to be a priori true."

JF: "Exactly!

Questioner: " ... what is wrong with a priori true?"

JF: "Nothing. But it's a bad idea to be an a priori truth masquerading as an empirical theory."


Whether or not you accept Fodor's argument, I'd still recommend giving the book a butcher's. He's such a wonderfully clever man and his breadth of knowledge is quite staggering. Among other insights, you'll see him draw connections between selection theory and behavioristic psychology. Crap speaker albeit, but a terrifically entertaining writer -- the only philosopher who makes me laugh out loud on a regular basis! (Can't remember if he has his jester's motley on in that particular book).

Right or wrong, doesn't Nietzsche say something like... the errors of great men are vastly more fruitful than the truths of small minds?

What was that you said? Oh, butcher's hook = look :-)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby hyksos on July 5th, 2017, 11:27 am 

Fodor is right. Charles Darwin made an explicit comparison between Artificial Selection (this is animal husbandry and the domestication of crops) with Natural Selection.

Within the Fodor presentation, the word "selection" is the crucial focus. We supposed that within an ecosystem there is some mechanism which "selects" among co-extensive traits. If that were really happening, then ecosystems would not be a collection of physical accidents, but would act like a mind, and the selection mechanism would be intensional ( with an 's'). Another way of putting this is that Nature (consider it as an agent) the agent-named-Nature would select traits on the basis of how they would be used in the future. The agent-named-Nature would be , in some way, preparing those traits for a better future time.

These arguments (likely others) are the reasons why in academia they define the word evolution as "a change in allele frequencies". That definition is both unsatisfying and non-committal. When you start tilting evolution strongly towards Natural Selection, then you run into this problem of a Selector Entity doing the Selecting Stuff.

Counter-arguments are where things get really interesting : but likely exceed the scope of this thread (better left in the biology section). For starters, we could justifiably say that sexual selection of mates really is a mind doing actual selection in an intensional way (with an 's'). But it's not a mysterious mind. It is real minds of mammals and birds looking at the traits of their future mates. It is the minds of men perceiving the wide hips, firm breasts, and long legs of potential partners -- and these traits having causative effect on her fitness in both child-bearing and in being a good mother to those children who do not yet exist.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on July 5th, 2017, 12:16 pm 

"Intension," as a philosophic term, refers to the connotation of a word, as opposed to what is designates. Morning star and evening star both refer to Venus, but have different intension. I'm not sure it's quite relevant here, as the word "selection" has a specific technical meaning in evolutionary biology which it does not have in other areas. In ET, "selection" actually just means a change in allele frequencies. Nowhere in ET, that I'm aware of, does selection imply or connote a "selector entity." The trees got sooty in Birmingham, and darker moth allele frequency rapidly increased. No entity was involved in the saving of those moths from hungry birds. The use of "selection" seems perfectly satisfactory and commits only to the obvious adaptive shift of darkening the wings.


As to ".....wide hips....long legs..." Why does good motherhood require long legs? I think the "long legs" thing is entirely a cultural artifact driven by fashionistas. Actually, higher estrogen correlates with a higher torso length/leg length ratio. And shorter legs are a useful adaptation to cold climates. Everything is a tradeoff, once culture comes into the picture.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby hyksos on July 5th, 2017, 4:28 pm 

In ET, "selection" actually just means a change in allele frequencies. Nowhere in ET, that I'm aware of, does selection imply or connote a "selector entity."

Did you watch the Fodor video above?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on July 5th, 2017, 5:57 pm 

I will. If that's what Fodor suggests, then he may be making another ET strawman. Will try to watch later.

Edit: Snuck a peek. Hmm. Fodor seems not to understand a lot of biological concepts, as they relate to phenotypic expression. He misses a lot on Gould's spandrels.

"The crucial test is whether one’s pet theory can distinguish between selection for trait A and selection for trait B when A and B are coextensive: were polar bears selected for being white or for matching their environment? Search me; and search any kind of adaptationism I’ve heard of. Nor am I holding my breath till one comes along." -- Fodor (quote from the Why Pigs Don't Have Wings essay, which preceded the book)

Does he not understand a trait piggybacking on another? Or that "matching their environment" is easily seen as the answer, where adaptation depends critically on a predator reducing their visibility. Is it really in doubt what trait goes along for the ride?

The rival mechanisms he suggests to NS seem to be supplementary of NS, not contradictory. He seems to have ontological problems seeing how a gene mechanism can also be an adaptation. Wow, must there only be one pure narrative of how things work, Jerry? Only simple functional levels need apply? Sorry, I just don't like his dumbed down biology.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 5th, 2017, 7:18 pm 

Braininvat » July 6th, 2017, 6:57 am wrote:I will. If that's what Fodor suggests, then he may be making another ET strawman. Will try to watch later.

Edit: Snuck a peek. Hmm. Fodor seems not to understand a lot of biological concepts, as they relate to phenotypic expression. He misses a lot on Gould's spandrels.

"The crucial test is whether one’s pet theory can distinguish between selection for trait A and selection for trait B when A and B are coextensive: were polar bears selected for being white or for matching their environment? Search me; and search any kind of adaptationism I’ve heard of. Nor am I holding my breath till one comes along." -- Fodor (quote from the Why Pigs Don't Have Wings essay, which preceded the book)

Does he not understand a trait piggybacking on another? Or that "matching their environment" is easily seen as the answer, where adaptation depends critically on a predator reducing their visibility. Is it really in doubt what trait goes along for the ride?

The rival mechanisms he suggests to NS seem to be supplementary of NS, not contradictory. He seems to have ontological problems seeing how a gene mechanism can also be an adaptation. Wow, must there only be one pure narrative of how things work, Jerry? Only simple functional levels need apply? Sorry, I just don't like his dumbed down biology.


Sigh. Here we go again.... "He's an ignorant hillbilly and doesn't get it".

I'm willing to bet Fodor "gets it" better than all of us knuckleheads put together.

I mean FFS, friend. Do you really believe Fodor doesn't know what spandrels are? Maybe he thinks they're banjos. LOL. Give the man a little credit. His entire book is premised on the spandrel thing.
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