A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 5th, 2017, 1:43 am 

vivian maxine » May 5th, 2017, 2:05 am wrote:Biv, as for "truth", doesn't the same hold for "proven"? I have been told - and read - many times that science never proves anything. They develop the best evidence and others work at it to confirm what has been said. The more confirmations, the closer they come to "proven" but they never make it 100% (as Newton would confess if he could).


To which BiV replied...

Vivian, you are correct in saying that science does not prove things. Results can be more or less strongly confirmatory, but they don't render proof in the way that a logician or mathy does.


Vivian, with all due respect to Swampman, er I mean BiV, I'd once again advise caution.

The answer offered you by BiV is, I think it's safe to say, that which would be offered by most scientists you ask. It's important to realize, though, that there is no be-all-and-end-all answer to questions like the one you just asked, which constitute grist to the philosopher-of-science's mill.

To elaborate a little, as evidence (whatever that is - a question for another day), or perhaps I should say, as that which is taken to be evidence, accumulates for a theory, the scientists' confidence in the truth of that theory is likely to grow commensurately.

Confidence, or subjective degree of belief (i.e., one dude's opinion), it's essential to understand, is quite a different kettle of fish from objective probability. Trust me (yeah, baby) when I say that no one has the foggiest idea what the objective probability of the theory of general relativity, or the theory of evolution, or any other theory that suits your fancy, being true is, or even if the notion of objective probability is meaningful at all in this context.

Some brave souls (Carnap et al) have tried, to articulate such a notion of objective confirmation with an attempt to generate a formal inductive logic ... as you might have guessed by now, to no avail, alas. It certainly would be a nice thing to have: then we could say, for example, such-and-such a theory, given our current body of evidence, stands a 63% chance of being true -- objectively! (i.e. not just my opinion)

Every time you hear a scientist aver "Science is all about [...]", or "Science has nothing to do with [...]" I strongly suggest you take it with a pinch of sodium chloride. What you're hearing is an opinion, if that is not made explicit by the scientist herself, and bet yer Sinatra collection losers like myself with no life, given a little time, can scrape up a few quotes from noted scientists who aver the exact opposite. :-)

Back to confirmation then. Well, despite what BiV and I daresay most other scientists will tell you on the matter, you'll find other thinkers (e.g. Hume, Popper - yes, the falsification dude, and hero to every scientist) who will insist, insofar as the problems of induction are (apparently) insoluble, scientific theories are never confirmed to any degree. Yes, you heard right; forget what you hear about "confirming evidence" -- there ain't no such thing!

Popper came to see a theory's ability to incorporate any observation (evidence) whatsoever as more of a vice than a virtue. And when I have to listen to the more zealous apologists of evolutionary theory bloviating on their mountains of confirming evidence, their complete paucity (so it appears) of negative evidence, and their disdain at the pathetic pseudoscientific fumblings of Creationist imbeciles (whom they've clearly never read), I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the Popperian programme.

Too much evidence, like mangos and lychees, is not necessarily a good thing.

To recap then, I'd revise your "The more confirmations, the closer they come to "proven" but they never make it 100%" as

"The more confirmations, the closer they come to being regarded as proven. For all we know, the theory might still be hopelessly and utterly false."
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Positor on May 5th, 2017, 8:56 am 

NoShips » May 5th, 2017, 6:43 am wrote:"The more confirmations, the closer they come to being regarded as proven. For all we know, the theory might still be hopelessly and utterly false."

Or possibly:

"The more confirmations, the closer they are regarded as coming to being proven."

(Is there a significant difference, or am I just being pedantic?)

What still puzzles me is how we can rationally choose between theories if we have no idea how close any of them are to being correct. If confirming evidence does not exist, is it rational for scientists to behave as if it does? If subjective belief is not grounded in objective probability, how can it be justified?

If a theory which makes specific quantitative predictions (I'm not talking about evolution here!) has been hugely successful in the past, always fulfilling those predictions, this must be due either to (a) pure coincidence, which statistically is vanishingly unlikely, or (b) some objective property the theory has, which skews the statistics away from a random distribution. No scientist or philosopher can seriously believe (a) — and if they did, they would have no proper grounds for future predictions. So it seems that (b) is right, and that successful theories have some objective property to a greater degree than unsuccessful ones. But if this property is not truth (or closeness to truth), what is it?

"Why do some scientific theories work better than others?" seems a legitimate philosophical question.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on May 5th, 2017, 9:03 am 

I don't believe science is the only way to know things (or at least strongly suspect them, haha), and have explored many fringe areas and belief systems, everything from numerology to animism to the chance my cats are dead relatives keeping an eye on me. So, full disclosure, I have a Feyerabendian streak, and have been known to sneer at "theory of everything" ambitions. My swamp doppelganger has been known to cuddle with quantum Bayesianism in a most anti-Realist manner. He's been known to write from this IP address while I sleep. Here's an interview some of you might enjoy and find relevant to topic....

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/was-philosopher-paul-feyerabend-really-science-s-worst-enemy/
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 5th, 2017, 9:54 am 

@ Positor - These are wonderful questions. I'm hoping to write more tomorrow for us to follow this up. One thought that comes to mind immediately is antirealist philosopher Bas van Fraassen's response to your second last paragraph: scientific theories, he claims, like biological organisms, are subject to selective pressures: those organisms/theories that have what it takes to survive, er, tend to survive; the rest tend to get eliminated. QED (make of that what you will)


@ BiV - Yeah, I recently read Horgan's "The End of Science", a collection of his interviews for Scientific American over the years with a smorgasbord of noted scientists and philosophers -- including bad boy Feyerabend. Believe it or not, even Steven Weinberg (of all people!) admits to a fondness for Feyerabend's anarchy!

There's a lot we could discuss about PF, but for now compare these...

"Just as Kuhn had when I interviewed him, Feyerabend denied that he is anti-science. His insistence that there is no scientific method is pro-science. Science’s only method is “opportunism,” he said. “You need a toolbox full of different kinds of tools. Not only a hammer and pins and nothing else." This is what he meant by his much-maligned phrase "anything goes" (and not, as is commonly thought, that one scientific theory is as good as any other). Restricting science to a particular methodology--such as Popper's falsification scheme or Kuhn's “normal science”--would destroy it." -- Paul Feyerabend (from the interview you posted)


"He [the scientist] therefore must appear to the systematic epistemologist as a type of unscrupulous opportunist: he appears as realist insofar as he seeks to describe a world independent of the acts of perception; as idealist insofar as he looks upon the concepts and theories as free inventions of the human spirit (not logically derivable from what is empirically given); as positivist insofar as he considers his concepts and theories justified only to the extent to which they furnish a logical representation of relations among sensory experiences. He may even appear as Platonist or Pythagorean insofar as he considers the viewpoint of logical simplicity as an indispensable and effective tool of his research." -- Albert Einstein
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 6th, 2017, 7:30 pm 

@ BiV - At long last, part (ii) of my lengthy address to you at the bottom of the previous page...

To recap first, my twofold assault looked like this:

(i) The philosophy of language you're defending here is, I believe, demonstrably false, as evidenced by actual developments in science, and

(ii) Inasmuch as its consequences for scientific realism -- a doctrine you're clearly eager to uphold -- would be catastrophic, it's not a philosophy you'd want to be defending anyway.


Part (i) has already been dealt with ("f=ma", for example, is neither a trivial defining statement nor immutable, in my opinion); part (ii) follows below:

To get the show on the road, three facts I trust everyone, including both the scientific realist and antirealist, can agree on:

Fact 1: Certain theories in the history of science are just plain wrong; the phlogiston theory of combustion, for example. Joseph Priestley's phlogiston theory was not "improved on" by Lavoisier and his oxygen; it was replaced. The term "phlogiston", as far as we can tell, refers to nothing, or more correctly, it fails to refer. It's an empty name, just like "Santa Claus", "Pegasus", "unicorn", and "sensitive male lover". Nothing in nature corresponds to these terms. On the other hand, a term such as "oxygen" does, we believe, refer to something out there in reality; its referent is a chemical element.

(Achtung: "Oxygen" [with quote marks] is a word or a name. It has six letters. It begins with "O". It is not a gas. Oxygen [no quote marks] is a gas, not a word.)

Fact 2: Taking atoms as our example, numerous theories involving atoms have been proposed through the centuries by scientists including Dalton, Bohr, Ruherford, etc., and presumably new theories of atoms are waiting in the wings to make their appearance someday soon. The properties that these scientists have attributed to atoms are not identical. E.g., Dalton's atoms are indivisible; Rutherford's are not.

Fact 3: Braininvat wishes to defend the realist doctrine that successive scientific theories in the same domain bring us closer and closer to truth.


The scientific realist's manifesto: Science converges on truth. There may indeed have been numerous theories that use the name "atom", and it's also true that the properties imputed to these atoms have varied from theory to theory. Nonetheless, from Dalton to modern day, these are all theories about the same thing, moreover these are progressively better theories about the same thing. There is continuity of reference; intertheoretically, the term "atom" refers to the same (set of) things.

The scientific realist's nightmare: The various theories that involve the term "atom" are not co-referring. Insofar as nothing in nature corresponds to the the kind of entity Dalton (for example) described, Dalton's "atoms", like the term "phlogiston", fail to refer. The various theories that invoke "atoms" are not progressively better theories about the same thing; they are not theories about the same thing at all. They are theories about nothing, with the possible exception of our current theory -- fingers crossed! Thus, inasmuch as earlier theories failed to refer, realist talk of convergence upon truth is nonsensical.

BiV's eschatological crisis: Your philosophy of language not only entails the abovementioned calamity of referential emptiness, but the end of civilization as we know it.

"The place in science where a truth can be absolute in in equations that are effectively tautological and so can't really be wrong. F=ma, for example, is really just defining what we mean by "force." It doesn't really wobble or crumble in some Quinean web of assumptions and theories. It's just a trivial defining statement like: "Duck" refers to those things that quack and have webbed feet. Two things plus two things is called "four things." Etc." - You

Let's focus our attention on ducks then, and imagine ourselves back in the good old days of early humanity when animals, plants, minerals and so on were just beginning to acquire names. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Thog and Plag, enjoying some raw mastodon meat and edifying persiflage around the campfire one evening:

Thog : "One of these bastards took a shit outside my cave again."

Plag : "One of what bastards?"

Thog : "One of these, um, well, we haven't given them a name yet."

Plag : "Given what a name? What are you talking about, dude?"

Thog : "Lord, give me strength! Right, that's it. From now on the word "duck" will refer to those things that quack and have webbed feet. Look on it as a trivial defining statement."

Plag : "Oh, one of these bastards. Why didn't you say so in the first place?"


And 'twas ever thus. On your account then, BiV, "a duck is a thing that quacks and has webbed feet" is a trivial defining statement, an analytic statement specifying necessary and sufficient conditions for duckhood, a perfect analogue of "a vixen is a female fox". Anything that satisfies your description (syndactyly and quacking) is, by definition, a duck; conversely, anything not satisfying the description fails to qualify as a duck.

Now, I'm not holding you on pain on death to this particular checklist of ducky features. Revise it if you like, add a few duckish properties here and there; the point remains unchanged. Schematically, a duck is analytically defined as anything with the properties [P1, P2, ... Pn], and the word "duck", if it refers at all, refers to everything out there in nature satisfying this description. In the event that nothing out there in nature satisfies the description, we must conclude that the term "duck" fails to refer. Fear not, duckophiles, we all know that it does!

For clarity, compare with the case of another less quotidian beast. Why do we deny existence to unicorns? Presumably because a unicorn is defined in something like the following way [animal, horselike, has a single horn on its head], as far as we can tell nothing in nature answers to this description, and thus the word "unicorn", we conclude, has no referent; it fails to refer.

BiV's theory of reference (extended): Associated with every name or term ("duck", "atom", "Santa Claus", "phlogiston", "oxygen", etc) is a description. The name refers to whatever satisfies that desciption. If nothing satisfies the description, the name fails to refer.

(We might wish to alter this strict descriptivist theory of reference, as Searle did, such that only a certain cluster of properties in the description need be satisfied. That is, some but not necessarily all, properties must be satisfied.)

Now, at this juncture, as we gird ourselves to graduate from ducks to atoms, personal integrity and fear of lawyers compel me to point out to our readers, if there are any, that nowhere has BiV explicitly affirmed the appropriateness of his linguistic analysis of the terms "force", "duck", and "four" to be extended so as to include other theoretical terms of science such as "atom". I will do so now at great personal risk to myself. Don't try this at home.

Back to atoms then. Let's suppose, schematically, that Dalton's atoms were attributed the following properties: [A, B, C, D], Bohr's atoms [B, C, D, E], Rutherford's [C, D, E, F], and so forth... you can see where this is going.

Now, even though the term "atom" has remained constant throughout, the properties assigned to it, or its attendant description, has altered quite radically. Let us suppose that, as far as we can now tell, nothing in nature answers to the description that Dalton (or Bohr, or Rutherford, etc.) pegged to his term "atom".

A timely reminder now of what we agreed on above:

"Schematically, a duck is analytically defined as anything with the properties [P1, P2, ... Pn], and the word "duck", if it refers at all, refers to everything out there in nature satisfying this description. In the event that nothing out there in nature satisfies the description, we must conclude that the term "duck" fails to refer."

Making the appropriate changes from ducks to atoms, and introducing the term "datom" for the Dalton atom, we get:

"Schematically, a datom is analytically defined as anything with the properties [A, B, C, D], and the word "datom", if it refers at all, refers to everything out there in nature satisfying this description. In the event that nothing out there in nature satisfies the description, we must conclude that the term "datom" fails to refer."

As far as current scientific knowledge can guide us, nothing in nature has the properties ascribed to the datom. The same considerations apply, mutatis mutandis, to the batom (Bohr atom) and the ratom (Rutherford atom).

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Pessimistic Conclusion: Given the kind of descriptivist theory of reference espoused by BiV and applying it to a broader range of entities, we must conclude that yesteryear's theories of atoms failed to refer -- they were theories about nothing (cf. phlogiston). Successive theories of atoms, contra the aspirations of scientific realism (SR), do not progressively approach truth. Therefore, SR fails locally when applied to atoms, and if descriptivism is projectable to other unobservable theoretical entities, SR fails globally too.

It is indeed true, that the extension (i.e., all those objects picked out by the term) of the word "duck" will consist almost entirely of objects that have webbed feet and make quacking noises. The connection is adventitious however; the two criteria specified constitute neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for duckhood. We would not deny membership of the Duck Club to the offspring of bona fide duck parents who, due to anatomical irregularities, were unable to quack or did not have webbed feet. Conversely, we would reject for membership Braininvat himself in the unlikely event he grew webbed feet and began making quacking noises. We might call him The Man from Atlantis, we might call him nuts; we would not, however, call him a duck.

Consider a thought experiment: if creatures were discovered on a distant planet that had webbed feet and made quacking noises, and perhaps were even superficially indistinguishable from Earth ducks, would they be ducks? If not, why not? (Remember Putnam and Twin Earth?) What makes a duck a duck then? Evidently not, contra the popular maxim, simply the fact that it walks (on webbed feet) and quacks like a duck.

BiV's claim that the term "duck" refers to those things that quack and have webbed feet, that this is a trivial defining statement, cannot be upheld. The term "duck" does indeed, in most cases, refer to creatures that quack and have webbed feet, but the term does not refer in virtue of said creatures satisfying those criteria.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Prognosis: Looks like you need a philosophy of language that will secure fixity of reference to theoretical terms -- so that the term "atom", for example, will continue to successfully refer intertheoretically -- even as their meanings drift. Buy me a 6-pack and I'll tell you who has one.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Epilogue: The above analysis is almost certainly confused in all kinds of ways. I find this material (phil of language) very hard, but an exchange such as this provides a rare opportunity to rehearse what I've been reading and identify gaps/holes/Grand Canyons in my understanding. Critiques, comments welcome. Thanks, BiV! :-)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on May 6th, 2017, 8:06 pm 

Very enjoyable and insightful piece, NS, laced with wit and humor. You may be making me out to be philosophically more set in my ways than I actually am, so of course here is a 6-pack and my eagerness to hear who has the medicine for meaning drift and outright failures to refer. I sorta feel, maybe in a Wittgensteinian "family resemblances" theory of meaning, that perhaps there is a way that Rutherford, Bohr, and Weinberg could all be talking about atoms and not wake up hating each other in the morning and indeed achieve some slight commonality of referring to those little bits of matter. I need to digest all this for a bit.

And, as my current avatar photo makes clear, no one would dare call me a duck. What a terrible fall that would be, in the Pecking Order of reality!
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 6th, 2017, 8:14 pm 

Psstt! Kripke and Putnam -- the causal (as opposed to descriptive) theory of reference.

Might help, might not. Thanks for the booze anyway.

*burp*
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 6th, 2017, 8:21 pm 

Braininvat » May 7th, 2017, 9:06 am wrote:I sorta feel, maybe in a Wittgensteinian "family resemblances" theory of meaning, that perhaps there is a way that Rutherford, Bohr, and Weinberg could all be talking about atoms and not wake up hating each other in the morning and indeed achieve some slight commonality of referring to those little bits of matter.


Doesn't seem to me this would help, BiV. In fact what you're suggesting sounds pretty much like Searle's "cluster theory" -- an improvement perhaps, but still firmly within the descriptivist camp though.

What makes a duck a duck? What would a scientist say? Evolutionary lineage perhaps? Probably not a superficial description.

We'll have to see your cladistics, sir.


Edit: Do you see parallels here with our Swampman brouhaha? Your claim was that Swampman, inasmuch as he is physically identical with you, would share your memories.

My contrary claim was that Swampman, at the moment of inception, would have no memories. Don't memories -- like a footprint -- require a causal history?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Heavy_Water on May 6th, 2017, 10:32 pm 

Braininvat » May 5th, 2017, 8:03 am wrote:I don't believe science is the only way to know things (or at least strongly suspect them, haha), and have explored many fringe areas and belief systems, everything from numerology to animism to the chance my cats are dead relatives keeping an eye on me. So, full disclosure, I have a Feyerabendian streak, and have been known to sneer at "theory of everything" ambitions. My swamp doppelganger has been known to cuddle with quantum Bayesianism in a most anti-Realist manner. He's been known to write from this IP address while I sleep. Here's an interview some of you might enjoy and find relevant to topic....

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/was-philosopher-paul-feyerabend-really-science-s-worst-enemy/



Hey Brain...how's it hanging?

But may I ask you this? Re your pursuit and exploration of things that were decidedly non science.

Like with Animism and numerology. Did you glean any useful information? Anything that added to your knowledge and worldview? And of our true station in the Cosmos? In the proverbial Grand Scheme of Things? As science helps us to do?

That is to ask you, did you gain any truths in exploring things of a psuedo scientific or metaphysical nature? Other than maybe just discerning in the end hat there was no truth to the attendant claims? That the emporer had no clothes? LOL

Mind you I'm not denigrating out of hand those things you mentioned. Nor mocking the process of exploring psuedo science or anything metaphysical. Or, hell, even paranormal. I myself have forayed into those areas. I am truly interested to learn if a man of science such as yourself ever found any compelling facts are truths in areas that science usually doesn't take seriously. Or even sometimes mocks.

You tell me yours and I'll tell you mine. LOL

Cheers, mate.

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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 6th, 2017, 11:16 pm 

Dang! That 6-pack was stronger than I thought. I'm seeing quadruple.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby vivian maxine on May 7th, 2017, 6:02 am 

duck --- not in nature. See how Henry likes to duck the issue. Now how did that happen? :-)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Dave_Oblad on May 7th, 2017, 10:08 am 

Hi NoShips,

That's called "Emphasis"... lol.

Best wishes,
Dave :^)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Forest_Dump on May 7th, 2017, 11:04 am 

Heavy_Water wrote:But may I ask you this? Re your pursuit and exploration of things that were decidedly non science.

Like with Animism and numerology. Did you glean any useful information? Anything that added to your knowledge and worldview? And of our true station in the Cosmos? In the proverbial Grand Scheme of Things? As science helps us to do?

That is to ask you, did you gain any truths in exploring things of a psuedo scientific or metaphysical nature? Other than maybe just discerning in the end hat there was no truth to the attendant claims? That the emporer had no clothes? LOL

Mind you I'm not denigrating out of hand those things you mentioned. Nor mocking the process of exploring psuedo science or anything metaphysical. Or, hell, even paranormal. I myself have forayed into those areas. I am truly interested to learn if a man of science such as yourself ever found any compelling facts are truths in areas that science usually doesn't take seriously. Or even sometimes mocks.


For myself, I work hard to maintain a solid measure of scientific skepticism but that includes being aware that we don't know everything as yet and that can include powers or forces we just don't know how to recognise yet. It has only been relatively recently that we have learned much about electricity, magnatism, radioactivity, etc. And we learned that these forces or powers can be concentrated or conveyed in some substances more than others (e.g., electricity more through copper or water but not rubber; magnetism is concentrated more in iron, etc.)

All this goes to my keeping more of an open mind about other as yet not scientificlly discovered or even recognized powers or forces. So, for example, I live and work with traditionalist First Nations people who believe another "power", also referred to as medicine, etc., can be differentially concentrated in some plants, which then become concentrated in different animals that eat them (and thus some people), etc. and that, for reasons we don't know, this power is more concentrated in places where the earth, etc., is less disturbed (i.e. wild) and care is taken to respect and preserve this power/medicine. Some people may thus be more aware of this power, may be able to concentrate and/or manipulate it, for both good or bad (judgement call and no decision on my part whether or how much this is deliberate, etc.).

So bottom line, I remain a reverent agnostic but with leanings towards some forms of animism or animatism but without going so far as Gaianism or a lot of that crystal-waving some get into. While I respectfully follow some Midiwiwinism I also see some of it as having been "infected" with Christianity over the past few centuries and some is simplistic ritualism probably due to things that happened that apear to be supernatural so the actons became simply ritualized without a full understanding of why those things happened.

I don't intend this to be any kind of religious debate but merely to briefly argue that some of th unerlying factors here are not necessarily non-science but instead to argue that simply and simplistically rejecting some of this stuff may well be more bad science.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on May 7th, 2017, 11:16 am 

Hey Brain...how's it hanging?

But may I ask you this? Re your pursuit and exploration of things that were decidedly non science.

Like with Animism and numerology. Did you glean any useful information? Anything that added to your knowledge and worldview? And of our true station in the Cosmos? In the proverbial Grand Scheme of Things? As science helps us to do?

That is to ask you, did you gain any truths in exploring things of a psuedo scientific or metaphysical nature? Other than maybe just discerning in the end hat there was no truth to the attendant claims? That the emporer had no clothes? LOL

Mind you I'm not denigrating out of hand those things you mentioned. Nor mocking the process of exploring psuedo science or anything metaphysical. Or, hell, even paranormal. I myself have forayed into those areas. I am truly interested to learn if a man of science such as yourself ever found any compelling facts are truths in areas that science usually doesn't take seriously. Or even sometimes mocks.



Haven't found anything solid or compelling. It was a way of saying, I've at least had a look. Mostly I've found evidence that our brains are really good at finding patterns, even in inputs that are random. Synchronicity is everywhere, but I remain uncertain what might be going on behind the scenes. Selection bias seems to afflict us all.

I like Forest's take on the epistemic value of not ruling out alternative perspectives on the dark underbelly of reality.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby vivian maxine on May 7th, 2017, 11:40 am 

Some time ago, there were some scientists who did a serious study of ESP and the possibility of some people having ESP or a sixth sense. As I remember, they came to no conclusion at all - found not enough evidence to support claims but enough to make them keep on wondering.

As for the "power" in plants, Science Daily had an article just a short time ago where some scientists were saying they had evidence that plants communicate.

So, we can say that at least scientists - some of them, anyway - do keep an open mind about such things.

As for the "infection" of Christianity, that has indeed happened and, if history tells it true, this was deliberate. Christmas is where it is on the calendar because the Celts celebrated Winter Solstice at that time. Same is true of All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day which was another important celebration time. Harvest "thanksgiving"? I forget now. The Church always tried to merge the (what they called 'pagan') religions into Christianity as much as possible to make Christianity attractive.

But, you knew all that. Just saying.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby bangstrom on May 7th, 2017, 3:46 pm 

vivian maxine » May 7th, 2017, 10:40 am wrote:Some time ago, there were some scientists who did a serious study of ESP and the possibility of some people having ESP or a sixth sense.

Rupert Sheldrake has several long term studies of telepathy with people and animals and he claims to have many positive results. He has studied the ability of dogs to know when their owners are coming home, how people can sense when they are being stared at, and “telephone telepathy” where people know who is calling when the phone rings. He has hours of interesting vids on YouTube.

Microbes are known to communicate through chemical signaling known as “quorum sensing” and the ability of red maples to communicate by the emission of volatile compounds has been well documented. Paul Stamets, among others, has studied the ability of trees to communicate through the arbuscular fungi (mostly mushrooms) that connect their root systems and Staments has even goes so far as to suggest that mushrooms are sentient beings. A microscopic cross-section of mushroom tissue has more intracellular connections than the human brain and anyone who has walked through the North Western woods talking to the mushrooms can tell you that the mushrooms talk back.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby vivian maxine on May 7th, 2017, 4:29 pm 

And if trees communicate with each other, that takes care of the old question of the falling tree. The other trees will hear. Those who have ESP know it and those who don't have have trouble believing it. Guess we'll wait and see.

By the way, that "bookazine" (looks like a magazine; costs like a book) that I mentioned the other day - "The Mysterious Brain"- has a very good short article about animals and consciousness.

"Consciousness is an abstract philosophical quantity that defines humankind. Though more researchers now believe that animals are " That headline ended without a period and the way it reads, I think something got lost.

It refers to the Cambridge Declaration and says that, in 2012, a number of prominent scientists signed the declaration which says "The brains of the vast majority of animals meet all anatomical, biochemical and physiological conditions to be conscious and able to make informed decisions".

It sounds like quite a brave decision. They will have a lot of defending and proving to do. If you want to see it, it is on sale at bookstores. The rest of it is also quite interesting.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Heavy_Water on May 7th, 2017, 6:13 pm 

vivian maxine » May 7th, 2017, 10:40 am wrote:Some time ago, there were some scientists who did a serious study of ESP and the possibility of some people having ESP or a sixth sense. As I remember, they came to no conclusion at all - found not enough evidence to support claims but enough to make them keep on wondering.

As for the "power" in plants, Science Daily had an article just a short time ago where some scientists were saying they had evidence that plants communicate.

So, we can say that at least scientists - some of them, anyway - do keep an open mind about such things.

As for the "infection" of Christianity, that has indeed happened and, if history tells it true, this was deliberate. Christmas is where it is on the calendar because the Celts celebrated Winter Solstice at that time. Same is true of All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day which was another important celebration time. Harvest "thanksgiving"? I forget now. The Church always tried to merge the (what they called 'pagan') religions into Christianity as much as possible to make Christianity attractive.

But, you knew all that. Just saying.



Oh, about the notion plants communicate....that is a proven fact! But it is not due to psuedo science ideas such as Rupert's morphic resonance. It's just good old botanical science. They communicate three ways....via root systems, which is how trees usually do it. And by pheremone type emissions that are transmitted as a component of photosynthesis. The third way is most intriguing....they secret the chemicals they wish to transmit to another plant as a part of their pollen. Thus letting the bees and other pollinators serve as unaware messengers.

My undergrad biology professor told us he actually got his PhD in botany by doing his dissertation on the topic of plants communicating.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Heavy_Water on May 7th, 2017, 6:19 pm 

bangstrom » May 7th, 2017, 2:46 pm wrote:
vivian maxine » May 7th, 2017, 10:40 am wrote:Some time ago, there were some scientists who did a serious study of ESP and the possibility of some people having ESP or a sixth sense.

Rupert Sheldrake has several long term studies of telepathy with people and animals and he claims to have many positive results. He has studied the ability of dogs to know when their owners are coming home, how people can sense when they are being stared at, and “telephone telepathy” where people know who is calling when the phone rings. He has hours of interesting vids on YouTube.

Microbes are known to communicate through chemical signaling known as “quorum sensing” and the ability of red maples to communicate by the emission of volatile compounds has been well documented. Paul Stamets, among others, has studied the ability of trees to communicate through the arbuscular fungi (mostly mushrooms) that connect their root systems and Staments has even goes so far as to suggest that mushrooms are sentient beings. A microscopic cross-section of mushroom tissue has more intracellular connections than the human brain and anyone who has walked through the North Western woods talking to the mushrooms can tell you that the mushrooms talk back.


Yeah, sheldrakes stuff was interesting for awhile. But he has had a horrible time in convincing any of his colleagues that his morphic resonance has any validity. Apparently his alleged findings are never replicated by others. He has been drummed out of hard science and is now a guest proof at some Noetics institute in California.

Here's a challenge for ya....Go net surfing and see if you can find just two biologists who agree with morphic resonance. Are are even are willing to say it has a chance of existing! Good luck with that. LOL
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby dandelion on May 7th, 2017, 6:20 pm 

Vivian referred to this, I think, http://fcmconference.org/img/CambridgeD ... usness.pdf

Also, sorry if I missed it, but, NoShips, do you have a view about sufficient grounds for any knowledge?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Heavy_Water on May 7th, 2017, 6:34 pm 

Braininvat » May 7th, 2017, 10:16 am wrote:
Hey Brain...how's it hanging?

But may I ask you this? Re your pursuit and exploration of things that were decidedly non science.

Like with Animism and numerology. Did you glean any useful information? Anything that added to your knowledge and worldview? And of our true station in the Cosmos? In the proverbial Grand Scheme of Things? As science helps us to do?

That is to ask you, did you gain any truths in exploring things of a psuedo scientific or metaphysical nature? Other than maybe just discerning in the end hat there was no truth to the attendant claims? That the emporer had no clothes? LOL

Mind you I'm not denigrating out of hand those things you mentioned. Nor mocking the process of exploring psuedo science or anything metaphysical. Or, hell, even paranormal. I myself have forayed into those areas. I am truly interested to learn if a man of science such as yourself ever found any compelling facts are truths in areas that science usually doesn't take seriously. Or even sometimes mocks.



Haven't found anything solid or compelling. It was a way of saying, I've at least had a look. Mostly I've found evidence that our brains are really good at finding patterns, even in inputs that are random. Synchronicity is everywhere, but I remain uncertain what might be going on behind the scenes. Selection bias seems to afflict us all.

I like Forest's take on the epistemic value of not ruling out alternative perspectives on the dark underbelly of reality.



The homo sapien mind is without a doubt obsessed with seeking and discerning patterns. It evolved to do so, and the trait of pattern seeking is as hardwired in us as is say, the fight or flight reaction. This is why we see a man in the moon and Jesus Christ in our pancakes, or poodles pushing shopping carts in clouds.

Or..why all those conspiracy theories. The mind seeks those patterns and causes relentlessly. Even when they're not really there.


As far as synchronicity, I love the idea and really hope there's something to it. I've experienced some very compelling episodes of it, but in truth I have grave doubts. What would the medium be for it? Carl Jung, whom I always liked far more than his colleague Sigmund Freud, was a big believer in it! Read about his Golden Scarab story sometimes.

My wife is a big fan of synchro. A true believer. She calls synchro moments, God Shots. Jung said they occurred when you got a glimpse of the underlying intelligence that pervades and indeed runs the universe. The fact Freud thought it was pure woo was one of their major differences.

It's quite difficult to find any scientist who believes in it. I dunno. Deepak Chopra is a believer. Does he count? LOL
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 7th, 2017, 10:38 pm 

Positor, before examining your most recent and thoughtful post, a quick recap, first, of some comments I made earlier in the thread:

To me, a scientist or philosopher of a more empiricist bent will emphasize the observable, and will be deeply suspicious of unobservable, (what he takes to be) metaphysical notions such as causation (you mentioned smoking causing cancer), will be reluctant to affirm the existence of unobservable entities (quarks, say), and may downplay or deny any role to explanation in science. (me, page 4)


In what follows I'll be using "anti-realist" as a blanket term to cover a family of related positions covering empiricists, positivists, instrumentalists, and other nervous, neurotic types who are forever glancing around suspiciously as if half expecting to be set upon by armed assailants at any moment.

But surely the power -- the essence! -- of science lies in its "going behind the scenes" to construct theoretical systems which unify and perhaps (purport to) explain these observational facts of which you speak. And, unlike the simple (*twitch*) facts of observation, the truth of these theories cannot be ascertained by just looking. (me, page 7)


In the above quote, I'm speaking as the realist (i.e. most people) would speak.

I presume, though I have no statistics, that the vast majority of scientists do not take this perspective [i.e. instrumentalism], but, rather, take their theories to be attempts at representing reality. Instrumentalism, by contrast, treats theories as only a tool; a calculating device. (me, page 8)


I'm not sure I understand you correctly, Ken, but I think what you're doing here (as other members have done throughout the thread) is arguing from the success of scientific theories to the truth of scientific theories.
Often called the "no miracles" or "success argument", it goes something like this:
Premise 1 : Science is successful (it "attains real world results" as you put it)
Conclusion : The best explanation for the success of science is that our best scientific theories are true, or approximately true. (Anything else would be a "miracle")
Scumbag antirealists/instrumentalists like myself generally affirm the premise ("got us to the Moon and all that, eh?"), but reject the conclusion. (me, page 8)


The argument from underdetermination of theories by evidence maintains that an indefinite number of mutually incompatible theories are compatible with all the empirical evidence. For an empiricist (antirealist/instrumentalist) that's all the evidence there is. A realist, on the other hand, might appeal to what I'll call non-empirical evidence in order to break the deadlock. This might include qualities of a theory such as explanatory loveliness, elegance, simplicity, etc. The realist argues that these qualities give us additional reason to believe that a theory is true.
How many times, for example, have you heard it said that evolutionary theory provides the best explanation of certain biological phenomena? This is an appeal to non-empirical evidence, namely, explanatory goodness.
(me, page 8)


The obvious reason for adopting Occam's razor as a methodological principle is that simpler theories are easier to work with. That simpler theories are more likely to be true, on the other hand, surely requires an additional argument, and as far as I'm aware, no one has ever formulated one. (me, page 8)


In the last sentence substitute "explanatorily virtuous" for "simpler" and hold that thought. We'll return to it before the day is through.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) : From an array of candidate explanations, we are justified in making the inference from the relative goodness of one particular explanation to its truth.


IBE is ubiquitous in science. Ask a scientist why we ought to believe his theory of black holes, or dark matter, or natural selection, or tectonic plates, or whatever else, and you'll likely be told his theory provides the best explanation for the evidence.

Now, whether or not the scientist makes the connection explicit, or whether he's even thought about it before, the implication here is clearly that since (in his opinon) theory X provides the best explanation for the data, we have good grounds for believing that theory X is true. After all, scientists tend not to emphasize the fact that "natural selection" contains 16 letters and one space; no one ever thought there was any connection between orthography and truth. Apparently, though, many of us do feel there is such a connection linking explanatory goodness and truth.

This is where the anti-realist balks. All evidence, on his account, is empirical, and an "explanation" is scarcely the kind of beast we can observe like, say, a smoking volcano, a dinosaur fossil, or a skin rash. Similarly, we're perfectly happy to adopt the simpler (another non-empirical "virtue") of two otherwise indistinguishable theories on purely pragmatic grounds -- it makes life easier, after all -- but if you're gonna assert some link between simplicity and truth, we'd like to see your argument, chaps. Some scientists, notably Einstein, do speak this way, as if simplicity, elegance, beauty, etc., add weight to a theory's epistemic warrant; none, though, as far as I'm aware, has ever cashed their aesthetic predilections out in the form of a cogent argument.

Generally speaking, then, the scientific realist affirms, while the antirealist denies, the legitimacy of IBE.

Time now to look at your argument, Positor:


Positor » May 5th, 2017, 9:56 pm wrote:
If a theory which makes specific quantitative predictions (I'm not talking about evolution here!) has been hugely successful in the past, always fulfilling those predictions, this must be due either to (a) pure coincidence, which statistically is vanishingly unlikely, or (b) some objective property the theory has, which skews the statistics away from a random distribution. No scientist or philosopher can seriously believe (a) — and if they did, they would have no proper grounds for future predictions. So it seems that (b) is right, and that successful theories have some objective property to a greater degree than unsuccessful ones. But if this property is not truth (or closeness to truth), what is it?



Well, it does appear, at first blush anyway, that you've come up with a pretty compelling argument for scientific realism. But what form does the argument take?

The data/evidence : Some scientific theories "make specific quantitative predictions [and have] been hugely successful in the past, always fulfilling those predictions."

Candidate explanation 1 (CE1) : Pure coincidence
Candidate explanation 2 (CE2) : Some objective property the theory has, which skews the statistics away from a random distribution.

Conclusion : CE2 is a superior explanation to CE1. Therefore we are epistemically licensed to infer the truth of CE2.


Your argument takes the form of an inference to the best explanation! It simply begs the question against the antirealist, thus is unlikely to move anyone not already convinced of the legitimacy of IBE.

By way of analogy, imagine a case where you affirm (like Einstein seems to have done), while I deny, that simplicity conduces to truth. You subsequently produce an argument to support your claim.

"And why should I believe this?" I ask.

"It's a simple argument."
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Dave_Oblad on May 8th, 2017, 1:35 am 

Hi All,

I came here about 7 years ago as a hard core Atheist. I came here to try out my ideas regarding our underlying Reality at Planck Scales. My Model grew in sophistication and I got an education in several Fields of Science from other members.

Several years ago, I came to believe the Quantum Reality looked a lot like an Information Processing System. I began calling it a Logic Network with many similarities to Neuron Networks. I began to wonder if the Universe could actually think and perhaps be self aware. This led me to the hypothesis I've called the "Cosmic Mind".

I'm still not a big fan of any specific religion, too many issues with most all of them. But I've heard it expressed many times in non-denominational words: "The Universe knows what its doing".

I don't pray to it. I'd assume it is already aware of what I need or want. Oddly enough, things seem to happen in my life that have an underlying long term purpose. I could list quite a few of them but won't. Just say I am watching for clues or patterns that might indicate some sort of sentience.

But here is an interesting one anyway. I have, over the last few months, been feeling a sense of Dread.

That I need to get out of Southern California real soon. So I have made plans to move to Tucson Arizona as soon as I can retire. I love SoCal and I hate the idea of moving. But my instincts are telling me to move.

So are these instincts just a silly fabrication, or some deep calculation within my subconscious? Or is the Universe sending me a subliminal message to leave SoCal as soon as possible?

For a Hard Core Science geek like me, I should be inclined to rationalize this Dread away, despite its persistence. On the other hand, what harm can it be to believe the Universe is trying to tell me something that I shouldn't ignore? Should I trust that the Universe knows what it is doing?

Well, I decided to be very unscientific about this and follow my instincts. I'm going to move soon. If nothing interesting happens to SoCal this summer.. then I'm probably wrong.. but no big loss. I needed to sell my home anyway, to prepare for retirement, and buy a less expensive home to clear my mortgage.

We'll see what happens, if anything, later this summer in SoCal. Was my move justified? Let's hope not.

Best Regards All,
Dave :^)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 8th, 2017, 1:35 am 

dandelion » May 8th, 2017, 7:20 am wrote:
Also, sorry if I missed it, but, NoShips, do you have a view about sufficient grounds for any knowledge?


Er, not yet, just some kinda vague and epistemically pusillanimous scruples about preferring to err on the side of caution.

Stick around :-)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 8th, 2017, 1:51 am 

@ Dave

Just a random thought after reading through your post (seems we posted together - woooooh, spooky, eh): from the fact that you're unable to articulate your unease or dread, it needn't follow that this unease is irrational. Might an appeal to "tacit knowledge" be appropriate here?

Take, for example, the way we're all effortlessly able to construct grammatically impeccable sentences of English -- even us Scots! -- without having much clue as to the underlying rules. (We leave that to the linguists.)

Or, more relevant to this thread, and as Positor has alluded to above, most of us would like to think that science is, by and large, a rational enterprise. That said, scientists themselves are generally unable to articulate the methodological precepts, if there are any, that guide their choice of theory, acceptance of evidence, etc. It's left to the philosophers to try and make explicit what is (presumably) implicit.

Anyway, I'll consider any offers under USD1000 for your house :-)

P.S. Arizona has scorpions and big hairy spiders. Aaaaarrrggghhhhh!!!!!!
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Dave_Oblad on May 8th, 2017, 2:48 am 

Hi NoShips,

Yea, this Dread might be nothing more than facing Retirement.. but it feels like a lot more than just that. I'm an Electronics and Software Design Engineer and everyday is like taking an IO test. But I see a definite trend in loss of Short Term Memory, a tool I desperately need for programming. So I must retire soon, I simply can't do my job much longer. Especially for another 3 years required to pay off my current Mortgage.

Not to mention (but I will) the incessant need to solve a huge array of daily problems from the Field. I yearn for a more simple life.

But again, perhaps I am merely insecure about what the future holds? That's me rationalizing my Dread away. But My Dread drops dramatically only when I think about being someplace far away from here. That's not rational, to leave a place I'm familiar with.

This Dread seems more about "Place" than just about an unknown future.

Anyway, I only brought this up due to a turn in this thread about the subject of synchronicity. For example, my Boss would be dragging his heels in finding a replacement for me. It would be in his best interests to postpone my retirement for as long as possible.

Then, about a month ago, I run into a guy working the cash register at a local convenience store and strike up a conversation. Turns out I need a lot of work on my house to sell it and his father is a handyman needing work. But, the kid is also just finishing college at a Technical Institute and looking for employment as an Engineer real soon.

Now his father (Casey) is fixing up my house and I'm mentoring him (Kevin) to be my replacement.

Is that Kismet or Synchronicity or just pure Coincidence?

Go figure... lol.

Best wishes,
Dave :^)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 8th, 2017, 2:52 am 

Positor » May 5th, 2017, 9:56 pm wrote:
What still puzzles me is how we can rationally choose between theories if we have no idea how close any of them are to being correct. If confirming evidence does not exist, is it rational for scientists to behave as if it does? If subjective belief is not grounded in objective probability, how can it be justified?

If a theory which makes specific quantitative predictions (I'm not talking about evolution here!) has been hugely successful in the past, always fulfilling those predictions, this must be due either to (a) pure coincidence, which statistically is vanishingly unlikely, or (b) some objective property the theory has, which skews the statistics away from a random distribution. No scientist or philosopher can seriously believe (a) — and if they did, they would have no proper grounds for future predictions. So it seems that (b) is right, and that successful theories have some objective property to a greater degree than unsuccessful ones. But if this property is not truth (or closeness to truth), what is it?

"Why do some scientific theories work better than others?" seems a legitimate philosophical question.



Hi again. In my initial response to you, Positor, I alluded to one possible anti-realist rejoinder to your concerns. Bas van Fraassen is one of the most well known contemporary philosophers of science of a more anti-realist bent. He describes his position as "constructive empiricism". I quote the following from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:



3.1 The Miracle Argument
One way that the constructive empiricist might indirectly support constructive empiricism is by taking issue with Hilary Putnam’s miracle argument for scientific realism. This argument holds that scientific realism “is the only philosophy that doesn’t make the success of science a miracle”. Putnam goes on to argue that the statements that a scientific realist would make about our mature scientific theories are “part of the only scientific explanation of the success of science.” To give an adequate scientific description of science, scientific realism needs to be assumed.

Putnam’s basic idea is as follows: if the scientific theories are false, why would they be so successful? Van Fraassen famously replies with an evolutionary analogy:

"I claim that the success of current scientific theories is no miracle. It is not even surprising to the scientific (Darwinist) mind. For any scientific theory is born into a life of fierce competition, a jungle red in tooth and claw. Only the successful theories survive—the ones which in fact latched on to actual regularities in nature."

Van Fraassen’s point is that a theory can be empirically adequate, and hence latch on to the observable regularities in nature, without being true. The scientific competition between theories hinges on which theory accurately describes the observable world; it does not hinge on which theory is actually true. Thus, it would not be miraculous for science to arrive at an empirically adequate, scientifically successful, yet false theory. (See the discussion of the Miracle Argument in the entry on scientific realism for more on the miracle argument as a consideration in favor of scientific realism.)

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/const ... mpiricism/
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby vivian maxine on May 8th, 2017, 8:54 am 

New places, new faces, new experiences, new interests --- does wonders for the soul, Dave. That's what retirement is all about. A whole new life in another direction. Life is full of amazing things. Go for it.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on May 8th, 2017, 9:57 am 

Thus, it would not be miraculous for science to arrive at an empirically adequate, scientifically successful, yet false theory. (See the discussion of the Miracle Argument in the entry on scientific realism for more on the miracle argument as a consideration in favor of scientific realism. )




Before I go dig into Putnam, are there well known examples of the empirically adequate but false theory? I mean recent ones.



Dave, following your story with hopes that AZ works out for you. Watch out for sandstorms. The coincidence is a curious one - it does appeal to the good omen pattern finder in the brain.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby dandelion on May 8th, 2017, 3:41 pm 

Ok, shall do, NoShips, and hope it all augurs well, Dave.
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