LaTour mounts a defense of science

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

LaTour mounts a defense of science

Postby TheVat on October 25th, 2018, 11:39 am 

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/maga ... ience.html

(if you have paywall issues, you can access the article by switching your browser to incognito mode)

( not an article for skimming, or picking off the first few paragraphs. Please comment only if you have read the entire article.)

Here's a link, if anyone wants the book....

https://www.amazon.com/Down-Earth-Polit ... n+to+earth
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Re: LaTour mounts a defense of science

Postby davidm on October 25th, 2018, 12:18 pm 

Thanks for the link, BiV. Will read and comment later. It looks quite interesting.
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Re: LaTour mounts a defense of science

Postby davidm on October 25th, 2018, 4:05 pm 

I was intrigued by a number of things in the article. I am no expert on postmodernist philosophy, but it always struck me that the main postmodernist arguments have been misinterpreted, perhaps deliberately so in many cases. A strawman of postmodernism is that it says there are no facts, no truths, indeed that there is no reality — the very claim that article describes, in its outset, as Latour confronting.

I think a better characterization of postmodernist thought is that there is no point-of-view-independent truth, no overarching metanarrative, because such ideas are always point-of-view dependent — and thus self-refuting. There is, as Rorty wrote, no “view from nowhere.” Which research projects, in science say, that we choose to pursue, have political, cultural, social and funding motivations, among other factors, and are sustained by a network of self-reinforcing assumptions, beliefs, and desires.

It seems to me Sabine Hossenfelder (whether one agrees with her or not) argues something like this when, in critiquing the current state of science, she writes:

This production of fantastic ideas has been going on for so long it has become accepted procedure. In the foundations of physics we now have a generation of researchers who make career studying things that probably don’t exist. And instead of discarding methods that don’t work, they write increasingly more papers of decreasing relevance. Instead of developing theories that better describe observations, they develop theories that are harder to falsify. Instead of taking risks, they stick to ideas that are popular with their peers.

Of course I am not the first to figure beauty doesn’t equal truth. Indeed, most physicists would surely agree that using aesthetic criteria to select theories is not good scientific practice. They do it anyway. Because all their colleagues do it. And because they all do it, this research will get cited, will get published, and then it will be approved by review panels which take citations and publications as a measure of quality. “Baked in bias” is a pretty good summary.


But all of the above is far different from claiming that that there are no facts at all, or that facts are whatever comports with my tribe or my wishful thinking. There is no entailment from the dubiety of point-of-view-independent “truth” or the cultural/political motivations of science to the conclusion that “there no facts, period” or to the claim, as has been recently made on this very forum, that all beliefs are mere superstitions.

But as the Times article states:

If anything, our current post-truth moment is less a product of Latour’s ideas than a validation of them. In the way that a person notices her body only once something goes wrong with it, we are becoming conscious of the role that Latourian networks play in producing and sustaining knowledge only now that those networks are under assault.


The article also notes:

”We need to show the bankruptcy of this climate controversy without closing down the fact that science is a set of situated practices and not capital-S science.”


And:

After all, when climatologists speak about the facts in a measured tone, acknowledging their confidence interval, the skeptics claim the mantle of science for themselves, declaring that the facts aren’t yet certain enough and that their own junk science must also be considered. And yet when prominent climate scientists present their facts with passionate conviction, climate skeptics accuse them of political bias.


So it’s a double bind, largely because of the fact that we have a president who is a troll, we have a government of trolls, and we have a large segment of Americans who are either trolls themselves or easily tricked by trolls. I don’t think Trump is the disease but a symptom of it.

In the early days of the Internet many claimed it wold be the most revolutionary development since the printing press, opening a whole new world of knowledge to ordinary people who otherwise would have a hard time discovering things. A similar prediction was made for TV at its inception, that ordinary people would sit around watching broadcasts of great symphonies or lectures by the prominent thinkers of the day. Instead we got soap operas, reality TV, Donald Trump, and an endless stream of commercial schlock.

Instead of opening the world, the Internet seems to be closing it, inducing people to conform to and commune with their own tribes in hermetically sealed houses of mirrors.

Because climate change is at the center of all things now, as Latour realizes, we may have to acknowledge at some point that it’s too late to keep the Titanic from hitting the iceberg.

Beginning in the 80s, Latour writes in the opening to his new book, the wealthy elites decided there no longer was a common world, and decided to shelter themselves from it. This coincided with the election of Reagan, and has gone into overdrive today. I think the wealthy few know perfectly well that the world is headed toward climate-change abyss and they don’t care. What they intend to do is line their pockets, loot the commonweal for every dime they can grab, and dance and party on the deck of the Titanic as it steams toward the iceberg, while relying on propaganda ministries like Fox News and social media trolls to keep the public baffled by bullshit and ever more prone to believe in a world without facts, consequences, reason, or rationality itself.
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Re: LaTour mounts a defense of science

Postby wolfhnd on October 25th, 2018, 8:29 pm 

I really don't understand why these articles contain more setting of the scene than ideas but I guess that is off topic and maybe it doesn't annoy other people.

The simplest argument against post modernism is that as animals we are entirely subject to physical reality. That we are social animals and as such products of the social environment seems self evident not a remarkable insight. We are shaped by our instincts which are themselves a product of the physical environment and a culture that if you look back in time far enough was also shaped by physical reality. It is only the complexity derived by the evolution of culture that hides our origins as semi competent apes. Our relationship to physical reality is so profound that we have big brains because of culture not culture because we have big brains. Again there is nothing profound in observing that the tools make the scientist.

I was asked once in these forums if a dog sniffing his excrement was doing science and I was happy to answer in the affirmative. A dog acquires a great deal of information about physical reality by sniffing excrement. If dogs had hands then they too may have developed a culture of tools and subsequently large brains. This sort of co-evolution is not remarkable once the scientific principles are understood. Additionally the concept of swam intelligence is not uncommon in nature with all social species displaying it to one degree or the other.

The more complex issue is the scientific view that everything is made of stuff. At first glance culture seems to contradict the idea. After all things that are very important to us like money are not made of stuff. They are cultural abstraction that help us navigate the social environment independent it would seem of physical reality. I would argue that is just the delusion that is created by complex chaotic systems that traditional scientific methods have no tools for dealing with (which offers an interesting insight into why climate change was central to the article). It is about the social environment and tools but not in the way suggested.

The post modernists are simply heretics arguing against the false God of science. It isn't the scientists however that made science a God. That was done by the philosophers who killed God and replaced it with reason. The scientists were just doing what comes naturally with unusually powerful tools.

The real post modern reality is that there is no physical reality as traditionally proposed. Science is shaping a whole new view of reality in which everything is made of information not stuff. It would seem it is time for the post post modern pseudo intellectuals to emerge.
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Re: LaTour mounts a defense of science

Postby -1- on October 26th, 2018, 1:23 pm 

wolfhnd » October 25th, 2018, 8:29 pm wrote:The more complex issue is the scientific view that everything is made of stuff.


I am sorrry, but I disagree. Scientists deal with properties of stuff. Scientists observe and report. It is not the view of scientists per se that everything is made of stuff. It is their view that what they view, observe and report, is repeatable, considerably consistent in behaviour, and can be described. "Everything is made of stuff" is not a scientific finding.

wolfhnd » October 25th, 2018, 8:29 pm wrote:The post modernists are simply heretics arguing against the false God of science.

What? What "God of science"? Science has no God. God is a supernatural being, believed to be what it is without any evidence other than scriptures written a very long time ago by dilettantes; gullible, largely uninformed people who were punished in their childhood when they voiced opposing opinions to it, and who were lead by example and by expectations and by constantly recurring rituals in their family lives and in the community, to believe in a god, who believe in gods.

The very nature of science is that it rely on no supernatural explanation. God is the construct that is the ultimate in supernatural explanations.

Therefore I daresay that this above quote is not congruent with logic.

In your post you created a few Strawman fallacies, (Science has a god, science believes the world is made of stuff), and created some philosophical-sounding arguments that are in my opinion invalid, since the premise they were built on were fallacious.
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Re: LaTour mounts a defense of science

Postby bangstrom on October 26th, 2018, 3:50 pm 

-1- » October 26th, 2018, 12:23 pm wrote: Scientists deal with properties of stuff.


But what is “stuff?” There is a dichotomy in physics where some consider all stuff to be made of particles while others say all stuff is nothing but waves. The closer we examine particles, the more they look like waves. The particle theory of matter has been with us since the time of ancient Greece so it has a long history and particle theory came to dominate over wave theory after WWII because of the enormous success of particle theory in developing the bomb. All funding and research went into particle theory so we now have what may be the invention of a host particles and forces of dubious reality and the abandonment of wave theory.

-1- » October 26th, 2018, 12:23 pm wrote:
The very nature of science is that it rely on no supernatural explanation.


Latour’s complaint is that the God of old has been replaced by Science as a new god- the creator of all and the source of all knowledge. Science has its own priesthood and dogmas and a Book of Laws as did the old God. The connection between science and religion is hard to miss.

This Manifesto ( http://www.gsjournal.net/old/physics/smulsky.htm) claims that the tendency of science to invent supernatural explanations (Mach called them “metaphysicals”) is no different now from what it was in the ancient past so nothing but the names have been changed. The manifesto was written in 1998 and my first impression was that it overstated its case but there have been so many new “metaphysicals” since the its writing- Accelerated cosmic expansion, exotic dark matter and dark energy, Machos and Wimps, string theory, branes, etc. I often wonder if the Manifesto is an understatement.

Here is a quote from the Manifesto:
“The explanation of the world given by contemporary physics is identical to that of primitive peoples of the distant past, who envisioned various demons and gods to be masters of the winds, fire, light and dark. While primitive peoples imagined these entities to be in the likeness of human beings, contemporary theoretical physicists call on mathematical conceptions. The result is the same, however, imaginary objects are conjured up as if real. In turn, many people have lost their orientation to the factual, ontic environment, so that nowadays superstition and mysticism are widespread and have captivated highly educated even more than common people.

There is a deep disproportion between contemporary experimental and theoretical physics. Man has engaged the Earth, Moon and Sun, penetrated the depths of the Earth and seas, investigated the conditions prevailing in ancient times and projected conditions that may prevail in future epochs. One is convinced of the reality of such natural phenomena and of the nonexistence of otherworldly machinators. But, parallel to this, theoretical physics created an imaginary world, which to a large extend contradicts observed reality. This parallel world contains notions, that are incomprehensible using common sense; so that, man has lost confidence in his judgment. Thus, people began accepting ideas that are both personally and socially destructive, based on nothing but imaginary constructions.

In consequence, it is now a high priority task to banish this illusory, fabricated world from science, and life.

Many objects conjured up by theoretical physicists have taken on the same degree of reality for them as the 'real', existing world. With the help of these objects they have interpreted the results of experiments, and found calculational techniques for designing practical equipment, which, in turn, they have taught to younger generations; so that nowadays existence of such concocted entities provokes absolutely no doubt
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Re: LaTour mounts a defense of science

Postby TheVat on October 26th, 2018, 8:21 pm 

....from LaTour to Sabine Hossenfelder to Joseph Smulsky's take-down of the metaphysical priesthood of field theories...and someone taking a swipe at philosophers (well, at least the scientific realist).

Perhaps one hope for fundamental fields of Science is to simply avoid metaphysics and make no ontic claims regarding events and processes. LaTour has articulated the Rortyian position of "no view from nowhere" in terms of the institutional conventions and how the sausage factory grinds out and connects facts. (is LaTour showing us a campus map of Quine's "web of belief"? He does lend support to the Quinean idea that there are no independently freestanding scientific facts that gleam resplendent atop pillars of objectivity....)

Carnap endorsed Hume and said metaphysics should be discarded. Lakatos, OTOH, maintained that all scientific theories have a metaphysical "hard core" essential for the generation of hypotheses and theoretical assumptions. It's a big debate, keeping ontological stuff or discarding it. Maybe we need philosophers to keep working on this, to keep institutional science from getting too dogmatic. Or we get Ms Hossenfelder's nightmare of too many theoretical people toying with empirically unsupported fancies.

Are you still around, Reg_Prescott?
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Re: LaTour mounts a defense of science

Postby -1- on October 26th, 2018, 10:24 pm 

bangstrom » October 26th, 2018, 3:50 pm wrote:
But what is “stuff?”


That is under investigation. It is not the nature of scientists to say "stuff is this" and stick with it tooth and nail. Whatever the world shows to us, is what stuff is. Tools and methods of inquiry are refined all the time, and therefore "stuff" keeps changing, according to what the findings indicate.

-1- » October 26th, 2018, 12:23 pm wrote:
The very nature of science is that it rely on no supernatural explanation.

bangstrom » October 26th, 2018, 3:50 pm wrote:Latour’s complaint is that the God of old has been replaced by Science as a new god- the creator of all and the source of all knowledge. Science has its own priesthood and dogmas and a Book of Laws as did the old God. The connection between science and religion is hard to miss.

This complaint is false in several of its claims.

Science is not a creator, like the quote claims. That is misinformed opinion.
Science has no priesthood, no dogmas. Dogmas are unchangeable subjects of belief. "Respect thy parents so you have a long life in this world." That's dogma. Science has no dogmas; it is a completely misinformed opinion.

Science has no book of laws as did people who believed in gods. God's laws, claimed religious people, are immutable, never changing. They were more guidance to behaviour than explanations how things were. In fact, calling religious laws decreed allegedly by a god equivalent to physical laws is fallacious reasoning, called equivocation.

The connection between science and religion that you claim is hard to miss is simply not there. It is only uniformed, misguided, false, opinion, and it is borne out of the minds of fanatically religious people.

I don't think any further discussion is warranted here. You are deeply seeped in false impressions. You and I are worlds apart in our weltanschauung. It is impossible to make you and me come to some common ground on this topic. I therefore cease and desist. I said my peace; I don't for even one moment believe that you comprehend anything I said; not because of your intellect, which is apparently fine, but because of your emotional commitment to thinking in a way that makes my points unacceptable to you, no matter what.

This is not reciprocated by me; if you can convince me of your truth, I'll accept it, but please stay away from fallacious thinking, illogical arguments, and ill-informed false facts. If you promise to do that, and you are able to convince me of your truth, whatever it is, with reason, logic, and evidence, then I promise I'll follow your words.

Apparently you are incapable of reciprocating this same venture.
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Re: LaTour mounts a defense of science

Postby bangstrom on October 26th, 2018, 11:34 pm 

-1- » October 26th, 2018, 9:24 pm wrote:
I don't think any further discussion is warranted here. You are deeply seeped in false impressions. You and I are worlds apart in our weltanschauung.


I find we have common ground here. I agree we are worlds apart in our Weltanschauung and I have a suspicion that I have been where you are now.
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