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Author Topic:   The problem with science II
JavaMan
Member (Idle past 492 days)
Posts: 475
From: York, England
Joined: 08-05-2005


Message 1 of 233 (314815)
05-24-2006 6:45 AM


My interpretation of Faith's position
In a previous thread Faith tried to explain to us why she has a problem with the scientific approach to life. Quetzal has made a stab at trying to understand what Faith is going on about in the Deep Faith, Deep Science thread, but I think he's got the wrong end of the stick. So here's my attempt :)

Consider the following poem by Emily Dickinson:


The nearest dream recedes, unrealized.
        The heaven we chase
        Like the June bee
        Before the school-boy
        Invites the race;
        Stoops to an easy clover—
Dips—evades—teases—deploys;
        Then to the royal clouds
        Lifts his light pinnace
        Heedless of the boy
Staring, bewildered, at the mocking sky.
  
        Homesick for steadfast honey,
        Ah! the bee flies not
That brews that rare variety.

Although I haven't the foggiest idea what the first line means, and only have an inkling of what she's getting at in the final verse, this poem has a direct, visceral effect on me and stirs up a whole world of images and feelings. That's the effect of the poem itself - like our experience of life, it is rich, complex and ambiguous.

Now science is like a literary analysis of a poem. It isolates features of its subject in order to elucidate general patterns. So just as this poem can be analysed in terms of the poet's use of insect imagery, or her use of dashes for punctuation, so human life can be analysed in terms of its biochemistry or its evolutionary history.

What Faith objects to, I think (I'm sure she'll correct me if I'm wrong), is what she sees as the attempt by those with a scientific world view to claim that the scientific analysis is more real than the human experience, as if a literary critic were to claim that the literary analysis were more important than the poem being analysed.

So is this a real problem with science or just a misunderstanding by someone who doesn't understand how science works?

For my part, I believe it's a real problem, not a misunderstanding. Scientists, being human, can often overstate their case and draw general conclusions about human nature that aren't really justified by the evidence. And science, because it operates within a wider society, can be as affected by fashion and political expediency as any other social activity.

Sometimes, false scientific generalisations can have such an impact that they may even stifle scientific research for decades. A case in point is the dominance of behaviourism in psychology from the 50s through to the early 90s. The discovery of simple and repeatable mechanisms of conditioning seemed to provide a hard, scientific basis for a discipline that, until that point, had spent its time discussing vague, humanistic concepts such as memory, reasoning, consciousness, etc. In their desperation to appear 'scientific', behavioural psychologists perversely seemed to believe that it would be possible to understand human psychology without understanding what goes on in people's heads. For decades, any psychologist who wanted to investigate cognition was ridiculed as approaching the subject unscientifically.

It wasn't until the advent of modern neuroscience that this tyranny of behaviourism was overthrown.

Edited by JavaMan, : Admin request


The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible
Replies to this message:
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 Message 5 by Faith, posted 05-24-2006 9:59 AM JavaMan has responded
 Message 7 by Sour, posted 05-24-2006 11:49 PM JavaMan has responded
 Message 16 by Omnivorous, posted 05-25-2006 3:04 PM JavaMan has responded
 Message 196 by SuperNintendo Chalmers, posted 06-13-2006 8:24 PM JavaMan has responded

  
AdminNWR
Inactive Member


Message 2 of 233 (314838)
05-24-2006 9:06 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by JavaMan
05-24-2006 6:45 AM


If you can change the title, so that it does not read like an attack on Faith, I will promote this topic. Maybe just change the first title word to "The".
This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by JavaMan, posted 05-24-2006 6:45 AM JavaMan has responded

Replies to this message:
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JavaMan
Member (Idle past 492 days)
Posts: 475
From: York, England
Joined: 08-05-2005


Message 3 of 233 (314849)
05-24-2006 9:47 AM
Reply to: Message 2 by AdminNWR
05-24-2006 9:06 AM


Edit opening post
If you can change the title, so that it does not read like an attack on Faith, I will promote this topic. Maybe just change the first title word to "The".

Done. I've added a subtitle just to make clear what the context is.


The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible
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AdminNWR
Inactive Member


Message 4 of 233 (314851)
05-24-2006 9:50 AM


Thread moved here from the Proposed New Topics forum.
  
Faith
Member
Posts: 31821
From: Nevada, USA
Joined: 10-06-2001
Member Rating: 1.1


Message 5 of 233 (314854)
05-24-2006 9:59 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by JavaMan
05-24-2006 6:45 AM


Re: My interpretation of Faith's position
Hi JM. Just want to say that your presentation has more in common with what I'm after than Quetzal's, but I'm still not ready to get into it. Snow's book hasn't arrived, taking its time, and I also want to go back over what I've already said on the subject, and it's hitting me that it's a really big subject and I really care about it and there's probably too much to think about. Maybe I'll get some inspiration and post anyway, but right now just want to let you know it's on hold for me.
This message is a reply to:
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JavaMan
Member (Idle past 492 days)
Posts: 475
From: York, England
Joined: 08-05-2005


Message 6 of 233 (314860)
05-24-2006 10:15 AM
Reply to: Message 5 by Faith
05-24-2006 9:59 AM


Re: My interpretation of Faith's position
Maybe I'll get some inspiration and post anyway, but right now just want to let you know it's on hold for me.

Sure. No problem. It's an issue that interests me too. We'll see where it goes.


The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible
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Sour
Member (Idle past 420 days)
Posts: 63
From: I don't know but when I find out there will be trouble. (Portsmouth UK)
Joined: 07-27-2005


Message 7 of 233 (315038)
05-24-2006 11:49 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by JavaMan
05-24-2006 6:45 AM


JavaMan writes:

Now science is like a literary analysis of a poem.

Is it? I think testability and repetition are key parts of science that are not involved in literary analysis. Poetry appeals to peoples emotions and experience and its interpretation is subjective.

JavaMan writes:

So just as this poem can be analysed in terms of the poet's use of insect imagery, or her use of dashes for punctuation, so human life can be analysed in terms of its biochemistry or its evolutionary history.

Is that right? I still think that even on big issues, 100 scientific interpretations (where evidence exists and we are not postulating) will be more uniform than 100 analyses of a poem.

JavaMan writes:

... the attempt by those with a scientific world view to claim that the scientific analysis is more real than the human experience, as if a literary critic were to claim that the literary analysis were more important than the poem being analysed.

Well for me I think that (to the extent we can agree that reality is objective and solid whether we experience it or not) scientific analysis is more real. Now that doesn't mean my human experience isn't real, I'm experiencing it and it certainly is real to me. However, because my experience occurs in my head, as a result of filtering, rationalisation, conditioning, etc. my human experience is often wrong. I am sure we have all been certain of having witnessed a particular event in a certain way and been surprised to find that our recollection or interpretation is simply incorrect. Witness the variation in police witness reports for the same crime.

That we can individually verify that the earth is spherical by observation, or calculate the relative gas compositions of air and agree every time suggests to me that a scientific world view is more likely to be correct than my experience, especially when repeated observations disagree with me or my intuition. I'd hold relativity as an example, I'm regularly shocked by the realisation that the universe makes sure light travels at the same speed no matter what I do. The Monty Hall dilemna is another good counter-intuitive example where I know my initial human experience is simply wrong.

While I have lurked here for a couple of years, I have never engaged Faith(or anyone) in posting, and it would impolite of me to comment on her position. However, I think that because qualia is by its nature subjective, anyone trusting it more than science has at least slight solipsist tendancies. Distrust of science may be misunderstanding in many cases, I suspect it also partly a desire to not doubt that oneself is not only fallible but largely a product of our experience - an internal and ultimately incommunicable experience at that.

As you say JavaMan, science is conducted by people, with all the same desires and emotions as the rest of us, it strikes me as natural that human mistakes are made. We should treat these mistakes as we would any other human failings. Luckily testability usually wins over, this for me is very comforting, if it were not the case the universe would truly be a very odd place.

What does this mean for faith(the thing not the poster)? I think its value is in the use that those who have it find, and its harm is the extent that those who have use it for validating opinions that are harmful to others or demonstrably fallacious.

I am not a scientist, but I would tick the scientific world view box.

Hm, constructing well formed and considered posts is harder than it looks. My respect for the members of this community has just increased.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by JavaMan, posted 05-24-2006 6:45 AM JavaMan has responded

Replies to this message:
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 Message 10 by JavaMan, posted 05-25-2006 8:25 AM Sour has responded
 Message 12 by fallacycop, posted 05-25-2006 2:04 PM Sour has responded

  
JavaMan
Member (Idle past 492 days)
Posts: 475
From: York, England
Joined: 08-05-2005


Message 8 of 233 (315064)
05-25-2006 3:58 AM
Reply to: Message 7 by Sour
05-24-2006 11:49 PM


Welcome
Hm, constructing well formed and considered posts is harder than it looks. My respect for the members of this community has just increased.

Welcome to the fray. And good post. In fact it's so good I'm going to have to think about it for a while before I respond properly :).

(By the way, what part of the UK are you writing from?)


The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible
This message is a reply to:
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Sour
Member (Idle past 420 days)
Posts: 63
From: I don't know but when I find out there will be trouble. (Portsmouth UK)
Joined: 07-27-2005


Message 9 of 233 (315067)
05-25-2006 4:38 AM
Reply to: Message 8 by JavaMan
05-25-2006 3:58 AM


Re: Welcome
Thankyou.

(By the way, what part of the UK are you writing from?)

Portsmouth, home of the Royal Navy, the roughest pub in England(allegedly) and to my chagrin, the UK's first Genesis Expo.


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JavaMan
Member (Idle past 492 days)
Posts: 475
From: York, England
Joined: 08-05-2005


Message 10 of 233 (315084)
05-25-2006 8:25 AM
Reply to: Message 7 by Sour
05-24-2006 11:49 PM


Science is an interpretation of reality not reality itself
Now science is like a literary analysis of a poem.
Is it? I think testability and repetition are key parts of science that are not involved in literary analysis. Poetry appeals to peoples emotions and experience and its interpretation is subjective.

You shouldn't take analogies too literally. I'm using an example from a field outside science to show the difference between experiencing a thing and analysing it. That's as far as the analogy goes. I'm obviously not saying science and literary criticism are the same thing.

... the attempt by those with a scientific world view to claim that the scientific analysis is more real than the human experience, as if a literary critic were to claim that the literary analysis were more important than the poem being analysed.
Well for me I think that (to the extent we can agree that reality is objective and solid whether we experience it or not) scientific analysis is more real. Now that doesn't mean my human experience isn't real, I'm experiencing it and it certainly is real to me. However, because my experience occurs in my head, as a result of filtering, rationalisation, conditioning, etc. my human experience is often wrong. I am sure we have all been certain of having witnessed a particular event in a certain way and been surprised to find that our recollection or interpretation is simply incorrect. Witness the variation in police witness reports for the same crime.

I'm not saying that scientific descriptions of the world aren't true, and I don't disagree that sometimes what they tell us about the nature of things contradicts our personal experience. (Although I'd argue that this is a rarer occurrence than you suggest - if our perception of things were so faulty we wouldn't have much chance of surviving, would we?)

But a scientific description is an interpretation of reality, not reality itself. It is a model of reality, built up by making generalisations about particular instances. If you want to explain the biochemistry of human behaviour, for example, there are whole bits of reality that you need to leave out in order to build your model. Alternatively, if you want to explain behaviour in terms of evolutionary advantage you have to leave different parts of reality out of your model.

Now this simplification and generalisation is very powerful. It allows you to make accurate predictions about how things work, and this can sometimes mislead people into believing that the model is a complete representation of the thing under investigation. And when the object of investigation is human experience itself, you can get the absurd situation I tried to describe in my previous post, where scientists, or those expressing a scientific world view, claim that a particular model of human experience is more important for understanding human experience than the actual experience itself.

Edited by JavaMan, : Edited a typo


The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible
This message is a reply to:
 Message 7 by Sour, posted 05-24-2006 11:49 PM Sour has responded

Replies to this message:
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Sour
Member (Idle past 420 days)
Posts: 63
From: I don't know but when I find out there will be trouble. (Portsmouth UK)
Joined: 07-27-2005


Message 11 of 233 (315131)
05-25-2006 1:18 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by JavaMan
05-25-2006 8:25 AM


Re: Science is an interpretation of reality not reality itself
You shouldn't take analogies too literally. I'm using an example from a field outside science to show the difference between experiencing a thing and analysing it. That's as far as the analogy goes. I'm obviously not saying science and literary criticism are the same thing.

Ok, maybe I took it too literally, but I also don't think the analogy is particularly useful. You could also say science is like food criticism. You can argue with a food critic but can never prove him wrong, obviously science is different.

I'm not saying that scientific descriptions of the world aren't true, and I don't disagree that sometimes what they tell us about the nature of things contradicts our personal experience. (Although I'd argue that this is a rarer occurrence than you suggest - if our perception of things were so faulty we wouldn't have much chance of surviving, would we?)

I'd be interested in this argument.

But a scientific description is an interpretation of reality, not reality itself.

Agreed, but it is an interpretation based on fact, rather than subjective experience, or interpretation. Literary analysis is _based_ on interpretation. The interpretation of the analyst is the basis of their position.

Alternatively, if you want to explain behaviour in terms of evolutionary avantage you have to leave different parts of reality out of your model.

Which parts? I'm not saying there aren't any, I'm just interested.

Now this simplification and generalisation is very powerful. It allows you to make accurate predictions about how things work, and this can sometimes mislead people into believing that the model is a complete representation of the thing under investigation. And when the object of investigation is human experience itself, you can get the absurd situation I tried to describe in my previous post, where scientists, or those expressing a scientific world view, claim that a particular model of human experience is more important for understanding human experience than the actual experience itself.

Agreed. ish. I'm not sure the actual experience itself is that useful for understanding the experience. The experience of eating doesn't explain taste, it demonstrates it, but can it offer an explanation?

Are you talking about understanding human experience or finding deeper meaning? What does understanding human experience mean?


This message is a reply to:
 Message 10 by JavaMan, posted 05-25-2006 8:25 AM JavaMan has responded

Replies to this message:
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fallacycop
Member (Idle past 3694 days)
Posts: 692
From: Fortaleza-CE Brazil
Joined: 02-18-2006


Message 12 of 233 (315139)
05-25-2006 2:04 PM
Reply to: Message 7 by Sour
05-24-2006 11:49 PM


Monty Hall?
Sour writes:

The Monty Hall dilemna is another good counter-intuitive example where I know my initial human experience is simply wrong.

Would you care to elaborate? I never heard of that dilema before. (Or may be I just don`t recognize the name)
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kjsimons
Member
Posts: 667
From: Orlando,FL
Joined: 06-17-2003


Message 13 of 233 (315145)
05-25-2006 2:24 PM
Reply to: Message 12 by fallacycop
05-25-2006 2:04 PM


Re: Monty Hall?
Here's a link where you can play the Monty Hall three door game. There is a link at the bottom of the page with a explanation.

http://math.ucsd.edu/~crypto/cgi-bin/monty2?1+17427


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sidelined
Inactive Member


Message 14 of 233 (315147)
05-25-2006 2:31 PM
Reply to: Message 12 by fallacycop
05-25-2006 2:04 PM


Re: Monty Hall?
fallacycop

If I may take the opporunity to elaborate for Javaman, the monty hall problem is a puzzle dealing with counterintuitive concepts of probability.

You may or may not know of Monty Hall from the game show The Price is Right. On the show he has a selection of three doors behind one of which lies an automobile and behind the other two a less than desirable reward. First you are asked to pick one of the doors after which Monty will reveal one of the doors {since he is aware of the loction ofthe car} and lo you are presented with a box or some such non prize.

Now you are given the choice of keeping the door you originally chose or trading it for the other remaining door. People mistake the true odds of probabilty involved in taking the last door and giving up the one they originally chose.


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Adminnemooseus
Director
Posts: 3884
Joined: 09-26-2002


Message 15 of 233 (315149)
05-25-2006 2:47 PM


Test message - I'm having a operations glitch happening with this topic
Test message - Do not reply to this message.

Carry on with regards to the previous message.

Adminnemooseus

Added by edit: OK, glich seems to have gone away. Before, when I clicked on message 14 (the then last message) at the All Topic index page, I would be directed to the middle of message 1 rather than going to message 14. Doing many tries, this always happened. Perhaps some sort of Firefox quirk. Not a major problem anyway. Sorry about the extra debris I just inserted.

Edited by Adminnemooseus, : See above.


    
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