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Author Topic:   The Scientific Method For Beginners
Straggler
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Posts: 10285
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


Message 121 of 138 (521796)
08-29-2009 9:04 AM
Reply to: Message 120 by Dr Adequate
08-29-2009 8:57 AM


Re: Distraction
Very well. If the proposition that I have two legs was carefully examined by anyone who could a) examine me b) count c) define the word "leg", would their conclusion be "tentative"?

Technically - Yes. In any practical sense worth actually worrying about - No.

The place that this particular consideration has in the philosophy of science is that it is obligate on every philosopher of science to explain why we should in practice ignore it.

Then ignore away.

But don't be surprised if you get continually harassed by people making these same trivial, irrelevant and annoying points everytime you use the term "proven".

Edited by Straggler, : No reason given.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 120 by Dr Adequate, posted 08-29-2009 8:57 AM Dr Adequate has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 122 by Dr Adequate, posted 08-29-2009 9:33 AM Straggler has responded

  
Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16107
Joined: 07-20-2006
Member Rating: 8.0


Message 122 of 138 (521802)
08-29-2009 9:33 AM
Reply to: Message 121 by Straggler
08-29-2009 9:04 AM


Re: Distraction
Technically - Yes.

So now there's a "technical" meaning of "tentative" which I also have to worry about?

Look, "tentative" has a plain meaning in plain English. It does not apply to the opinions that people who counted my legs might form about how many legs I have.

But don't be surprised if you get continually harassed by people making these same trivial, irrelevant and annoying points everytime you use the term "proven".

It's not going to happen all that frequently, because how many people am I going to meet who will want to make, and I quote, "trivial, irrelevant and annoying points", every time I maintain that the proposition that I have two legs should be regarded as proven?

You, on the other hand, if you insist on using your "technical" language, may possibly run into derision rather more often.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 121 by Straggler, posted 08-29-2009 9:04 AM Straggler has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 123 by Straggler, posted 08-29-2009 9:46 AM Dr Adequate has responded

  
Straggler
Member
Posts: 10285
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


Message 123 of 138 (521804)
08-29-2009 9:46 AM
Reply to: Message 122 by Dr Adequate
08-29-2009 9:33 AM


Re: Distraction
You, on the other hand, if you insist on using your "technical" language, may possibly run into derision rather more often.

If I start questioning the number of legs football players actually have the next time I am watching a match in the pub - Then you would certainly be right. And such derision would be quite justified.

However if I were to be discussing the scientific method or, more generally, the philosophy of science then such considerations are arguably less justifiably dismissed with mere derision.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 122 by Dr Adequate, posted 08-29-2009 9:33 AM Dr Adequate has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 124 by Dr Adequate, posted 08-29-2009 10:51 AM Straggler has responded

  
Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16107
Joined: 07-20-2006
Member Rating: 8.0


Message 124 of 138 (521811)
08-29-2009 10:51 AM
Reply to: Message 123 by Straggler
08-29-2009 9:46 AM


Re: Distraction
However if I were to be discussing the scientific method or, more generally, the philosophy of science then such considerations are arguably less justifiably dismissed with mere derision.

True. Under those circumstances, people such as myself will dismiss such considerations at length with well-reasoned arguments.

Edited by Dr Adequate, : No reason given.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 123 by Straggler, posted 08-29-2009 9:46 AM Straggler has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 125 by Straggler, posted 08-29-2009 11:23 AM Dr Adequate has not yet responded

  
Straggler
Member
Posts: 10285
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


Message 125 of 138 (521815)
08-29-2009 11:23 AM
Reply to: Message 124 by Dr Adequate
08-29-2009 10:51 AM


Tentativity
The reason that tentativity is important in science is because it is an acknowledgement of the fact that we can never knowingly have ALL of the relevant evidence. It is an acknowledgement of the very practical limitations imposed on knowledge and certainty. It is an acknowledgement of the possibility that new evidence can turn up that will completely blow away much of what we think we know.

As applied to the number of legs you have (or other such examples) the whole things is fairly academic as the only way such conclusions could be wrong is if you are a "brain in a jar", dweller in a matrix or some other equally pointlessly irrefutable philosophical consideration.

However tentativity as an acknowledgement of the very practical fact that we can never knowingly have all of the relevant evidence is a rather key aspect of any discourse that seeks to consider how confident we can be in our evidence or the conclusions that we derive from our evidence. This remains true no matter how many legs you may or may not have.

Edited by Straggler, : No reason given.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 124 by Dr Adequate, posted 08-29-2009 10:51 AM Dr Adequate has not yet responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 127 by kbertsche, posted 08-29-2009 12:21 PM Straggler has not yet responded
 Message 128 by Modulous, posted 08-29-2009 2:15 PM Straggler has responded

  
Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16107
Joined: 07-20-2006
Member Rating: 8.0


Message 126 of 138 (521821)
08-29-2009 12:20 PM
Reply to: Message 119 by Straggler
08-29-2009 7:26 AM


Scientific Doubt Versus Philosophical Doubt
But in philosophy of science terms it is not proven, and never can be, that you actually have two legs. You could be an example of that philosophers favourite a "brain in a jar" with no legs at all.

There are two types of doubt.

In scientific doubt, we acknowledge that if contrary evidence to our theories was found tomorrow, we would change our minds. Of course we would. Duh. If, for example, in Haldane's famous phrase, someone found "rabbits in the Cambrian", then so much for the history of evolution. If an asteroid had a triangular orbit, so much for the theory of gravity.

But we have to exclude the "brain in a jar". For if we start to entertain that philosophical doubt, then how can we do science at all? According to scientific doubt, I am very sure of, for example, the broad outlines of the history of evolution, but would change my mind given contrary evidence.

According to philosophical doubt, of the "brain in a jar" type, not only could I not be very sure of any proposition, but I should also never know that it was falsified. Consider, for example, the case where I am a brain in a jar and have been fed completely accurate information about biology. But tomorrow someone feeds me false information about rabbits in the Cambrian. But I can ignore it under the hypothesis that I am a brain in a jar.

According to the principle of scientific doubt, my opinions can be trumped tomorrow by contrary evidence.

According to the principle of philosophical doubt, my opinions have already been trumped by the fact that it is possible to produce an ad hoc argument.

In order to do science at all, we have to reject the principle of philosophical doubt.

What should we write in our science books? --- for example, that humans have one heart, or three, or none? According to our normal ideas, we are obliged to say one. And according to the principle of philosophical doubt, we can't say one way or the other.

Edited by Dr Adequate, : No reason given.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 119 by Straggler, posted 08-29-2009 7:26 AM Straggler has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 131 by Straggler, posted 08-29-2009 3:12 PM Dr Adequate has not yet responded

  
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 416 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 127 of 138 (521822)
08-29-2009 12:21 PM
Reply to: Message 125 by Straggler
08-29-2009 11:23 AM


Re: Tentativity
quote:
The reason that tentativity is important in science is because it is an acknowledgement of the fact that we can never knowingly have ALL of the relevant evidence. It is an acknowledgement of the very practical limitations imposed on knowledge and certainty. It is an acknowledgement of the possibility that new evidence can turn up that will completely blow away much of what we think we know.

As applied to the number of legs you have (or other such examples) the whole things is fairly academic as the only way such conclusions could be wrong is if you are a "brain in a jar", dweller in a matrix or some other equally pointlessly irrefutable philosophical consideration.

However tentativity as an acknowledgement of the very practical fact that we can never knowingly have all of the relevant evidence is a rather key aspect of any discourse that seeks to consider how confident we can be in our evidence or the conclusions that we derive from our evidence. This remains true no matter how many legs you may or may not have.



As I've said earlier in this thread, in actual scientific practice we would normally consider the fact that Dr Adequate has two legs to be an "observation" or "data." We would normally not speak of his two legs as a "theory" or as "proven" (or "regarded as proven"). The observation that he has two legs is tentative, but only slightly so. If it turns out we were wrong, we would normally explain this as bad data or an incorrect observation.

As you say, tentativity is important in science because we can never have all of the evidence. And we don't know which evidence we may have misinterpreted. In order to figure out the unknown, we must juggle data with varying degrees of probability as to their correctness. We are comfortable with some measure of uncertainty. This is in contrast to engineering, where uncertainty is generally not acceptable.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 125 by Straggler, posted 08-29-2009 11:23 AM Straggler has not yet responded

    
Modulous
Member (Idle past 389 days)
Posts: 7789
From: Manchester, UK
Joined: 05-01-2005


Message 128 of 138 (521836)
08-29-2009 2:15 PM
Reply to: Message 125 by Straggler
08-29-2009 11:23 AM


Re: Tentativity
As applied to the number of legs you have (or other such examples) the whole things is fairly academic as the only way such conclusions could be wrong is if you are a "brain in a jar", dweller in a matrix or some other equally pointlessly irrefutable philosophical consideration.

There are other possible considerations that are more likely than brains in jars. I don't know if being confused about the number of legs one has is a specific symptom of having a stroke - but there are a number of unusual conditions one could have (such as thinking one of your legs actually belongs to your brother). If Dr A had lost one of his legs in an accident and also suffered a stroke or other neurological condition he may remain convinced he has two legs, when he has only one or no legs.

I have heard stories of soldiers who have lost a leg in combat, and have continued to run (actually hopping) not realizing that they are a leg missing.

In some of these...delusions...the sufferer does not accept the evidence presented by others, dismissing them as absurd maybe even paying them no attention whatsoever.

Of course, these aren't the normal state of affairs (as far as I am aware, maybe I'm the one who is crazy ), but they are the kinds of things tentativity might cover too. Since people who are suffering under these kinds of delusions often dismiss the possibility they are deluded out of hand as 'absurd' and come up with all sorts of reasonings and rationalisations.

Therefore - we have at least one reason (as small as it is) to consider the possibility that Dr A has less than two legs based on his protestations to the contrary.

Ultimately, it seems, Dr. A does not accept the epistemological principle of fallibilism when it comes to trivial pragmatic concerns. He seems to feel that the best way to avoid worrying about such things as the M√ľnchhausen Trilemma is to simply appeal to some form of realism for the sake of practical existence. And as I said, he has a point, for all incense and porpoises we have to accept certain things as 'proven'. Unfortunately, the scientific method requires us to not take any empirical claim has guaranteed true - even (perhaps especially!?) the ones we are most sure of. There are very few situations in day to day life where anybody bothers to actually follow this (I don't conduct a series of tests, ask independent people to confirm the results and carry out there own tests) before I get up to make a cup of coffee that I have legs, arms, a corporeal body, a kitchen, mugs, a kettle etc).

So really, I think Dr A is talking about the practical, real-world, as practiced scientific method. As opposed to the 'ideal scientific method' which nobody geniunely follows all the time because it would interfere with getting on with the business of having a life.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallibilism
I also recommend The Multiple Meanings of Tentative Science, Adam T. Johnston. Weber State University


This message is a reply to:
 Message 125 by Straggler, posted 08-29-2009 11:23 AM Straggler has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 129 by Straggler, posted 08-29-2009 2:45 PM Modulous has acknowledged this reply
 Message 130 by kbertsche, posted 08-29-2009 2:59 PM Modulous has acknowledged this reply
 Message 135 by Dr Adequate, posted 09-01-2009 10:40 AM Modulous has responded

  
Straggler
Member
Posts: 10285
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


Message 129 of 138 (521838)
08-29-2009 2:45 PM
Reply to: Message 128 by Modulous
08-29-2009 2:15 PM


Re: Tentativity
Modulus writes:

So really, I think Dr A is talking about the practical, real-world, as practiced scientific method. As opposed to the 'ideal scientific method' which nobody geniunely follows all the time because it would interfere with getting on with the business of having a life.

Indeed. Which is why I wrote the following in Distraction (Message 119).

Straggler writes:

How relevant this particular philosophical consideration is to this topic is debatable. I would suggest it is a distration from the main aim of your topic. But if you refuse to even make a quick concilatory nod to such philosophical considerations then I feel that you are destined to spend most of the rest of this thread defending that position.

Anyway I'll leave it at that. Feel free to ignore this particular distraction.

But Dr A did not ignore the "distraction" and I, rightly or wrongly, felt compelled to respond in turn.

Anyway: All of this is a distraction from what I think you, I and Dr A would all very probably agree (minor quibbles aside) is the main point of this thread. Ultimately all three of us are on the same "side" in this. So I will now shut-up.

Unless of course I get another response that I feel compelled to rise to


This message is a reply to:
 Message 128 by Modulous, posted 08-29-2009 2:15 PM Modulous has acknowledged this reply

  
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 416 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 130 of 138 (521839)
08-29-2009 2:59 PM
Reply to: Message 128 by Modulous
08-29-2009 2:15 PM


Re: Tentativity
quote:
So really, I think Dr A is talking about the practical, real-world, as practiced scientific method. As opposed to the 'ideal scientific method' which nobody geniunely follows all the time because it would interfere with getting on with the business of having a life.

Yes, but he is not using the practical, real-world, as-practiced scientific language regarding "proof." My foray into this thread was simply to try to pull the language closer to that used by scientists (or at least by leading physicists). (And in so doing I got sloppy with "theory" and "law" which pulled us off on another tangent.)

Edited by kbertsche, : No reason given.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 128 by Modulous, posted 08-29-2009 2:15 PM Modulous has acknowledged this reply

    
Straggler
Member
Posts: 10285
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


Message 131 of 138 (521840)
08-29-2009 3:12 PM
Reply to: Message 126 by Dr Adequate
08-29-2009 12:20 PM


Re: Scientific Doubt Versus Philosophical Doubt
What should we write in our science books? --- for example, that humans have one heart, or three, or none? According to our normal ideas, we are obliged to say one. And according to the principle of philosophical doubt, we can't say one way or the other.

We should write what we find to be true.

As long as we acknowledge the very practical fact that no scientific conclusion can ever be based on knowingly having 100% of the relevant evidence then a degree of tentativity is an inevitable byproduct. The admission that we are drawing conclusions on incomplete evidence is what logically leads to the other components of the scientific method you mention even being necessary.

We wouldn't need to hypothesise or test conclusions if we had complete evidence available. Thus the principle of tentativity is inherent and innate within the scientific method even as you have described it. Sometimes this actually matters in practise. Much of the time, as you so eagerly point out, it doesn't.

But given that in this context you have called it "irrelevant" and I have called this a "distraction" there is little point distracting this thread down this line any further. As I said to Mod above I will now stop. But I hope that I have managed to explain why I, and I think others, are giving this whole "tentativity thing" more airtime than you would wish despite essentially agreeing with you as to it's irrelevance in the more practical context you are exploring.

Feel free to have the last word on this should you so wish.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 126 by Dr Adequate, posted 08-29-2009 12:20 PM Dr Adequate has not yet responded

  
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 416 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 132 of 138 (521843)
08-29-2009 4:08 PM
Reply to: Message 118 by cavediver
08-29-2009 5:54 AM


Re: Theory of Gravity
quote:
quote:
Interestingly, we don't usually call the full set of Maxwell's Equations either a "theory" or a "law."

Actually, we do. This is Maxwell's electromagnetism or the theory of electromagnetism. The laws explained by this theory are those you have mentioned, all empirically derived from observation. But Maxwell unified these laws into his theory, and went on to predict electromagnetic radiation.

We will sometimes speak of "Maxwell's Theory" (particularly in a historical context). But the set of equations themselves are usually called "Maxwell's Equations" rather than "Maxwell's Theory."

This message is a reply to:
 Message 118 by cavediver, posted 08-29-2009 5:54 AM cavediver has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 133 by cavediver, posted 08-30-2009 6:44 AM kbertsche has responded

    
cavediver
Member (Idle past 1928 days)
Posts: 4129
From: UK
Joined: 06-16-2005


Message 133 of 138 (521879)
08-30-2009 6:44 AM
Reply to: Message 132 by kbertsche
08-29-2009 4:08 PM


Re: Theory of Gravity
But the set of equations themselves are usually called "Maxwell's Equations" rather than "Maxwell's Theory."

Yes, because they are the equations resulting from Maxwell's Theory But we commonly speak of Maxwell Theory in relativity, quantum gravity, and string theory. When we combine the actions of Maxwell Theory with other actions, we speak of, for example, Einstein-Maxwell Theory, Maxwell-Yang-Mills Theory, Maxwell-Chern-Simons Theory.


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 Message 132 by kbertsche, posted 08-29-2009 4:08 PM kbertsche has responded

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kbertsche
Member (Idle past 416 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 134 of 138 (521944)
08-30-2009 5:17 PM
Reply to: Message 133 by cavediver
08-30-2009 6:44 AM


Re: Theory of Gravity
quote:
quote:
But the set of equations themselves are usually called "Maxwell's Equations" rather than "Maxwell's Theory."
Yes, because they are the equations resulting from Maxwell's Theory.

I agree completely (and used virtually the same wording earlier in this thread).
quote:
But we commonly speak of Maxwell Theory in relativity, quantum gravity, and string theory. When we combine the actions of Maxwell Theory with other actions, we speak of, for example, Einstein-Maxwell Theory, Maxwell-Yang-Mills Theory, Maxwell-Chern-Simons Theory.

Nothing I've said in this thread contradicts the statements above.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 133 by cavediver, posted 08-30-2009 6:44 AM cavediver has not yet responded

    
Dr Adequate
Member
Posts: 16107
Joined: 07-20-2006
Member Rating: 8.0


Message 135 of 138 (522127)
09-01-2009 10:40 AM
Reply to: Message 128 by Modulous
08-29-2009 2:15 PM


Re: Tentativity
Unfortunately, the scientific method requires us to not take any empirical claim has guaranteed true - even (perhaps especially!?) the ones we are most sure of.

Well ... no. It requires us to take lots of empirical claims as true. This is why we don't see scenes like this played out in laboratories up and down the land.

Scientist A: So, before I look down my microscope, I'm just going to check the laws of optics one more time.

Scientist B: What's the point? You know we can't prove the laws of optics are correct, right?

Scientist A: I guess not.

Scientist C: And even if you could, you wouldn't really know whether you were looking at real things down your microscope, 'cos the Devil might be deceiving you into seeing things that weren't there, yes?

Scientist D: Guys, guys, guys, aren't you all being a little naive here? What makes you think that that's a microscope?

Scientist A: Well, it was last time I ... oh ... oh, I see what you mean.

All scientists in chorus: All hail the intellectual rigor of the scientific method!

Edited by Dr Adequate, : No reason given.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 128 by Modulous, posted 08-29-2009 2:15 PM Modulous has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 136 by Modulous, posted 09-01-2009 11:26 AM Dr Adequate has responded

  
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