Philosophy and Science

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Re: Philosophy and Science

Postby Braininvat on January 7th, 2017, 11:37 am 

The other ball that always gets dropped is Instrumentalism. (For better or worse,) I am the resident Instrumentalist on this forum. I would hope to communicate that Instrumentalism is not new, and can be seen implicitly in the writings of Auguste Comte in the 1830s. I love science and I have had intimate personal exposure to it academically. But as an Instrumentalist, I have very little faith in the power of science to answer The Grandiose Philosophical Questions of Existence. 



I've been an Instrumentalist ( more of the pragmatic and induction-loving John Dewey variety than the Popperian variety ) most of my life, so much so that it didn't much occur to me to defend it or study rival views. I share your lack of confidence in science to answer many of the Big Questions. Most of my insights, of a feeble and fleeting sort, on the BQs have come from a meditative frame of mind rather than from scientific empiricism. What science has done, however, is define better the boundaries of knowledge as they impact metaphysics and so on....without saying what is ultimately real, science can say what is more likely to be illusory and unreal. It exposes physical and neurological limits in knowledge, which is no small contribution to the handling of BQs.
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Re: Philosophy and Science

Postby TLK on January 7th, 2017, 1:27 pm 

hyksos » Sat Jan 07, 2017 6:16 am wrote:
The other ball that always gets dropped is Instrumentalism. (For better or worse,) I am the resident Instrumentalist on this forum. I would hope to communicate that Instrumentalism is not new, and can be seen implicitly in the writings of Auguste Comte in the 1830s. I love science and I have had intimate personal exposure to it academically. But as an Instrumentalist, I have very little faith in the power of science to answer The Grandiose Philosophical Questions of Existence.



I have read that some (maybe most) Instrumentalists do think that it is sensible to talk about causation in science. It seems like one could imagine an Instrumentalist view of science without including the notion of causation. What is an Instrumentalist argument for including causation in the process of doing science?
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Re: Philosophy and Science

Postby hyksos on January 7th, 2017, 4:38 pm 

An instrumentalist theory would allow for causation, particularly in cases involving pathological findings with medicine and illness. So you could still have a theory that says,

Sodium cyclamate is known to cause cancer in laboratory mice.


Those kinds of biological "causes" are often vague enough to avoid a commitment to an actual mechanical process at the cellular level.
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Re: Philosophy and Science

Postby TLK on January 8th, 2017, 10:26 am 

hyksos » Sat Jan 07, 2017 1:38 pm wrote:An instrumentalist theory would allow for causation, particularly in cases involving pathological findings with medicine and illness. So you could still have a theory that says,

Sodium cyclamate is known to cause cancer in laboratory mice.


Those kinds of biological "causes" are often vague enough to avoid a commitment to an actual mechanical process at the cellular level.


From the perspective of science as a tool for solving practical problems, wouldn't it be just as meaningful to say that there is a constant correlation between the presence of sodium cyclamate and cancer in laboratory mice? Does the concept of cause and effect allow the solving of practical problems that cannot be equally solved by just referring to constant correlations rather than cause and effect?
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Re: Philosophy and Science

Postby dandelion on January 8th, 2017, 10:47 am 

BadgerJelly » January 6th, 2017, 5:30 am wrote:
It was interesting to watch the vid dandelion put up. When they say "science" has come to mean a kind of "truth". You here this everyday as a way to varify decisions. "It's science!" People say. What I mean here is we express the success of science and translate this success as a "truth" in day to day conversation. I should be very clear I am talking about colloquial use of language within the general public. Very often science in courts is made to fit the case and used to politically alter opinion. People play on the false representations of science as an unquestionable body of evidence, where in reality the science is doing anything but settle on one conclusive answer or one conclusive way of interpreting the data gathered.

Badger, thanks, this is from the interview in the thread linked,
‘Horgan: Can science attain absolute truth?

Rovelli: I have no idea what “absolute truth” means. I think that science is the attitude of those who find funny the people saying they know something is absolute truth. Science is the awareness that our knowledge is constantly uncertain. What I know is that there are plenty of things that science does not understand yet. And science is the best tool found so far for reaching reasonably reliable knowledge.’

Or from another interview, “Scientific ideas are credible not because they are sure, but because they are the ones that have survived all the possible past critiques, and they are the most credible because they were put on the table for everybody's criticism.”
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Re: Philosophy and Science

Postby dandelion on January 8th, 2017, 11:07 am 

Hyksos,

If relevant, the differences may be cultural but I’ve never watched the people listed, just some parodies I think.

I thought I may have offered an opportunity for expounding on the balls you’d prefer kept in the air and your views of doing science with the inquiry about your exemplar's, Higgs’, advance. Say, in which part or parts in your view does “doing science” or Higgs’ advance lie, somewhere after questioning given research and offering an alternative, the rejected paper, the later accepted one, according to Higgs, in looking in the wrong place for application, with input from others like Weinberg, with the discovery of 2012, …?
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Re: Philosophy and Science

Postby dandelion on January 10th, 2017, 8:53 am 

Rather than Bill Nye, etc., my early introduction to science was more programmes like, e.g., the broadcaster and naturalist, Attenborough’s-

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-38297025

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mI7f3xVgZdA
(philosophical views)
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Re: Philosophy and Science

Postby hyksos on January 10th, 2017, 7:55 pm 

From the perspective of science as a tool for solving practical problems, wouldn't it be just as meaningful to say that there is a constant correlation between the presence of sodium cyclamate and cancer in laboratory mice?


The answer is no. We have way more than a mere statistical correlation. In lab science you have a control group kept under the same conditions. Or if you really want to drive the argument, you have 18 control groups and 6 mouse environments with the cyclamate. I would say you have confused science with journalism.

Does the concept of cause and effect allow the solving of practical problems that cannot be equally solved by just referring to constant correlations rather than cause and effect?

The solving of "practical problems" might involve Church going or community basketball... both outside of my realm of expertise.

An instrumentalist knows that at the stage of science in which numbers are being "written on paper" he has nothing (At that stage) other than correlations. That is not somehow washed away by ideology. The elevation of a theory from petty correlation to Strong Causation comes with more tedium. Usually control groups, and often the ability of far-away labs to reproduce the same result.
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Re: Philosophy and Science

Postby Forest_Dump on January 10th, 2017, 8:26 pm 

hyksos wrote:From the perspective of science as a tool for solving practical problems, wouldn't it be just as meaningful to say that there is a constant correlation between the presence of sodium cyclamate and cancer in laboratory mice?

The answer is no. We have way more than a mere statistical correlation. In lab science you have a control group kept under the same conditions. Or if you really want to drive the argument, you have 18 control groups and 6 mouse environments with the cyclamate. I would say you have confused science with journalism.

Does the concept of cause and effect allow the solving of practical problems that cannot be equally solved by just referring to constant correlations rather than cause and effect?
The solving of "practical problems" might involve Church going or community basketball... both outside of my realm of expertise.

An instrumentalist knows that at the stage of science in which numbers are being "written on paper" he has nothing (At that stage) other than correlations. That is not somehow washed away by ideology. The elevation of a theory from petty correlation to Strong Causation comes with more tedium. Usually control groups, and often the ability of far-away labs to reproduce the same result.


Of course, I would say that that is old news. Gathering more data that the earth orbits around the sun isn't really cutting edge science anymore. I would say the science now would be deterining precisely what sodium cyclamate does at the cellular or genetic level to result in cancer.
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Re: Philosophy and Science

Postby BadgerJelly on January 11th, 2017, 12:59 am 

Forest -

Science determines nothing. The scientists poses a theory and then poses a way to test the theory.

I like to think of it from the.perspective of the sodium cyclamate. It has no concern about causing or not causing cancer in mice.

Dandelin is confusing science with scientists. Or measuring stuff with thinking about how things relate beyond an abstract string of numbers, what those numbers mean in themselves, what questions are appropriately framed and such. But now it sounds more like what people call "philosophy".

To get back to the question in the OP it is clear enough to me to distinguish "science" from "philosophy" (as they are today) as differences in measuring.

So I ask the question without the ability to accurately measure things is science different from philosophy in any way? For me they are both part of the development of logical theory, they are both theoretical fields and the "science" end of theory is what it is because of measurements.

It appears both extremes would accuse each other of either disregard for the humanist view of data or disregard toward the data in favour of the humanist view.

This is the great boon of the proposition of science. It has, in its method, a rigid disregard for interpretation. It merely churns out the response from nature and measures it as best and precisely as it can. The human attitude then presented with such data is open to make rational associatons dictated by their own personal research and to give or take validity.

In this sense to the scientist what is real is what is measured not what is experienced. What is experienced is a speculation understood loosely under the guise of scinetific knowledge that has us surrounded by the real and reveals many things in natural human experience to be viewed as unreal. The appearance for the scientist is nothing other than a "mere appearing to be so". Only when the experience is brought into a field of accurate measurement it the scientific atritude ready to lay claim to the idea of "real".

So science and philosophy are siblings of reason. Other items of human interest can be looked at with an rational eye and considered "as if" they were rational interests. Art though, depending on how you view this, is not a rational theoretical activity even though we try to apply such an idea practically and call it critic ... we then find we are beginning to move in philosophical spheres of thought and science may also be loosely applied too.

It is the cross-over of such natural thought that clouds and diversifies distinctions. Science has the biggest influence over us because it can literally measure the difference and where it cannot rational thought it mostly absent.
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Re: Philosophy and Science

Postby hyksos on January 11th, 2017, 2:44 am 

The more that I look at things, I cannot get rid of the feeling that Existence is quite weird. You see a philosopher is a sort of intellectual yokel, who gawks at things that sensible people take for granted. For "sensible people" Existence is nothing at all, is just basic so lets go on and do something. See this is the current movement in philosophy. Logical analysis says, "You must not think about Existence. It is a meaningless concept." Therefore philosophy has become the discussion of trivia. No "good" philosopher lies awake at night worrying about the destiny of Man , the nature of God, and all that sort of thing. Because a "philosopher" today is a practical fellow who comes to the university with a briefcase at 9 and leaves at 5. He "does philosophy" during the day -- which is -- discussing whether certain sentence have meaning and if so, what. And he would (as Willam Earl said in a very funny essay) -- he would come to work in a white coat, if he thought he could get away with it.

The problem is he's lost his sense of wonder. Wonder is like (in modern philosophy) something you must not have. It's like enthusiasm in 18th-century England, in a very bad form. But you see, I don't know what question to ask when I wonder about the universe. It isn't the question that I'm wondering about, it's a feeling that I have. Because I cannot formulate the question that is my Wonder. The moment my mouth opens to utter it, I suddenly find I'm talking nonsense. But that should not prevent Wonder from being the foundation of Philosophy.

So there is obviously a place in life for a religious attitude in the sense of awe. Astonishment at existence


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Re: Philosophy and Science

Postby Forest_Dump on January 11th, 2017, 9:48 am 

BadgerJelly wrote:Science determines nothing. The scientists poses a theory and then poses a way to test the theory.


I would be cautious here. It seems to me that exploring the causes of things is actually pretty close to (one of) the philosophical heart(s) of science. For example, change/evolution over time was noted long before the 19th century (granted there is room for cautious debate here) but it was in the proposal of a method or cause that set apart the ideas that became NDT. Similarly, in medical science, we know that disease (and death) was known about as far back as we have evidence of sentience but it was in the exploration and recognition of mechanical causes of diseases (e.g., bacterial or fungal infections, etc.) that we find the scientific progress. So, most of us probably would not say that sodium cyclamate acts as some kind supernatural agent that causes a mysterious uncontrolled growth, etc., and call that science. Instead, we would offer something like an alternate hypothesis, that sodium cyclamate, when exposed to a cell, chemically causes X to happen and that results in a mutation, etc., in the nucleaic or mitochondrial DNA, etc. by such and such a chemical reaction or whatever. Finding correlations between things may well be cutting edge science at an early stage in scientific research but after some point in time I would say that the science moves on and simply stacking up correlations stops beng science and may even become a block to progress.
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Re: Philosophy and Science

Postby TLK on January 11th, 2017, 12:15 pm 

hyksos » Tue Jan 10, 2017 4:55 pm wrote:
From the perspective of science as a tool for solving practical problems, wouldn't it be just as meaningful to say that there is a constant correlation between the presence of sodium cyclamate and cancer in laboratory mice?


The answer is no. We have way more than a mere statistical correlation. In lab science you have a control group kept under the same conditions. Or if you really want to drive the argument, you have 18 control groups and 6 mouse environments with the cyclamate. I would say you have confused science with journalism.
Does the concept of cause and effect allow the solving of practical problems that cannot be equally solved by just referring to constant correlations rather than cause and effect?

The solving of "practical problems" might involve Church going or community basketball... both outside of my realm of expertise.

An instrumentalist knows that at the stage of science in which numbers are being "written on paper" he has nothing (At that stage) other than correlations. That is not somehow washed away by ideology. The elevation of a theory from petty correlation to Strong Causation comes with more tedium. Usually control groups, and often the ability of far-away labs to reproduce the same result.


I didn't say that there aren't other means to solve practical problems but that the view of instrumentalism in science is that science is not about trying to find out what physical reality is but instead science is a tool used to address certain kinds of practical problems. How would you characterize scientific instrumentalism?

I get that "correlation does not (necessarily) imply causation" and that much diligent work must be done in many cases to establish what are spurious correlations rather than what are said to be causes. How do scientists go about separating spurious correlations from causes? They change the variables until there is, as much as they can determine, only one variable that consistently precedes the targeted type of event. For example:

http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/ ... hy-science

The most reliable causal knowledge comes not from passive observations, but from controlled experimentation. In the medical sciences, the experiments often take the form of randomized clinical trials. Consider the claim that a particular drug causes lowered blood pressure. How might one test this claim? One possibility would be to make the drug available on the open market and observe hypertension patients who choose to take the drug and those who do not. There is a problem with this methodology. Suppose that the drug is expensive; one might expect that patients who buy the drug will be wealthier on average then those who do not. Wealthier patients might enjoy any number of other benefits—such as access to better healthcare generally, better diets, and so on—that influence whether or not they experience a reduction in hypertension. If one finds that patients who take the drug do in fact experience greater reduction in blood pressure levels than those who do not, it can still not be known whether this reduction is due to the drug or due to one of the other advantages associated with wealth. In a randomized trial, it is determined randomly which patients will receive the drug and which will be given a placebo instead. Randomization helps to ensure that treatment is not correlated with any other causes that might influence recovery.


Notice, though that what is being done is establishing that only one correlation is constant through all the changes in variables. That one constant correlation through changes in variables is what is then called a cause and effect relationship.

When I said "constant correlation" what I meant is a correlation that persists through all changes in variables. I did not mean to imply that spurious correlations are constant correlations. I probably should have clarified that. The notion of causation goes beyond merely positing a constant correlation that persists through changes in variables. The notion of causation contains the concept of "producing a change". It's not just that two types of events are constantly correlated and that persists through changes in variables but that one type of event produces another type of event.

To me the term "instrumentalism" when applied to science implies that science is only a tool to be used to achieve some goal (not give us a description of objective reality). I have taken it that the goal is to solve certain kinds of practical problems (like finding a medicine to alleviate symptoms of a particular disease). Given that understanding of what scientific instrumentalism is about, I don't see where there is practical benefit to saying one type of event "produces" another type of event over simply saying that there is a constant correlation the persists through changes in variables. Either way, it works - take the medicine and the symptoms are alleviated (given the right conditions).

Now if you have a different take on what scientific instrumentalism is about, then that may imply something different.
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Re: Philosophy and Science

Postby TLK on January 12th, 2017, 11:21 am 

On further reading and reflection I can see that my notion that scientific instrumentalism is about solving practical problems takes an unnecessary step in stating the purpose of science in a instrumentalist perspective. It is probably better to say that scientific instrumentalists think of science as a tool for making accurate predictions about certain kinds of events we observe. That is probably a better accounting of scientific instrumentalism than saying it is about trying to solve practical problems. I think it is probably the case that most of the time scientists are using science as a tool to solve practical problems (if for no other reason than it's a lot easier to get funding much of the time if you are investigating a solution to a practical problem), but I can see that instrumentalism doesn't necessarily imply that the pursuit of science must be about solving practical problems.

That doesn't change the main thrust of what I'm saying, though. When it is said that through the process of experimentation that we have established a very likely cause and effect relationship that we can use to predict future events, if we strip away the notion of something producing a change in something else, then we are still left with a correlation that we can use to reliably predict future events. IOW, in terms of the instrumentalist view of science as a tool for making better predictions, the crucial thing is using a process that identifies a correlation that does make such predictions. The notion of one thing producing another thing does not improve the accuracy of the ability of the correlation to make predictions. For purposes of making accurate predictions the crucial thing is finding the correlations that make such predictions, not assigning cause and effect relationships to the correlations.
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