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Science & Anti-Science December 6, 2003 by RedStar2000


Are there "other roads" to "truth"? Are there things that we legitimately "know" that science cannot "explain"?

This is a collection of posts dealing with the thorny problem of "truths" without evidence and even without rational arguments.


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quote:

No scientist worth his salt has ever claimed to know how things work.


Nonsense. We know how many things work and we learn more about that with every passing year.

How do we "know"? Because when we interact with the real material world, it "responds" "as if" what we think about it is actually "true".

quote:

Scientific 'truth' does not apply to most areas of human experience.


Actually it does...though many people, being ignorant of science, are unaware of what is really happening in their experience.

quote:

Scientific reasoning is not applicable to many circumstances - art, emotion, beauty, humanity.


Sure it is...although our science in these areas is still very primitive.

The implication of this whole train of "argument" is that because science cannot explain everything with perfect accuracy, it "follows" that we are "obligated" to disregard science in favor of poetry, metaphysics, etc.

This overlooks (deliberately?) the fact that science does really explain things...while non-scientific "explanations" are purely subjective and inherently unverifiable.

quote:

Certain things cannot be rationalised and should not be rationalised. Sometimes you just know something is right with a greater certainty than would be possible if you had reached it by logical reasoning.


Yes, the Nazis called it "blood truth" if I'm not mistaken. Not every romanticist or irrationalist is a fascist...but it's hard for me to see why they wouldn't be. It's the (pardon the expression) logical culmination of 19th century anti-science dogmatists.

It's a bit disappointing to find this sort of view expressed at Che-Lives...but, I remind myself, we do live in a period of reaction.
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 2, 2003
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quote:

Everybody is ignorant of science in most areas - especially the areas mentioned above: emotion, beauty and what have you.


Yes, but that does not have to be the case, does it? Especially if we clear away all the anti-science rubbish that clutters our mental landscapes.

I've known people (in California, naturally) whose minds were a toxic-waste dump of ancient and contemporary nonsense. They were, quite literally, impossible to talk to.

quote:

And our romantic, poetic knowledge in these areas is very sophisticated.


Says who? And what evidence can they provide to demonstrate that they know what they're talking about and not just blowing smoke out of their ass?

quote:

BUT I AM SAYING THAT IT IS NOT THE BE-ALL AND END-ALL OF TRUTH


No it isn't...but it's the only thing we've got that works. And works better as time passes.

All of the "non-scientific" roads to "truth"--after many thousands of years trying--end up in blind alleys...that is, ends up with someone saying "it's true because I said so".

That's no good. Completely useless. And at least slightly insulting, to boot.

quote:

Just because someone disagrees with you on something, it doesn't mean they're 'anti-socialist', 'reactionary' or a 'class Enemy', you know.


What I know is that no matter how carefully I word a statement, it can still be completely misunderstood. Look at it again: NOT every romanticist or irrationalist is a fascist...

I was actually trying to word it in such a way that it clearly didn't apply to you.

quote:

The socialist movement owes as much to romance as it does to logic.


That's one of those statements that we really have no way of knowing whether they are true or not.

We're pretty sure about the region of the brain where emotions originate and some of the electro-chemical actions that are taking place...but the details are very subtle and elusive, and it may take a century or more of research to pin them down.

But if you are talking about the "here and now", I would agree that participants and supporters of revolutionary movements operate from mixtures of rational thought and irrational emotions in various proportions.

But I would also caution you that emotion is a dangerous foundation to build on. I have infinitely more confidence in people who have actually made the effort to really think rationally about this stuff...than I have in people who think it's "really cool".

To put it crudely, the more clearly we think rationally, the better our chances.

quote:

Did Che go into Bolivia because he thought he had a 67% chance of triggering a Latin American revolution? He went in for romantic reasons.


What you suggest is almost certainly true...and it was a mistake, wasn't it?

He was nearly 40 years old and suffered from asthma...does it make rational sense for a guy like this to go adventuring in the highlands of Bolivia?

How much more could he have accomplished by becoming, for example, the permanent head of Cuba's delegation to the UN...and traveling the world speaking on behalf of revolution everywhere? How many people now would know him as more than just a picture on a t-shirt?

His death in Bolivia is regarded by some people as "inspirational", as a kind of "martyrdom"...but I think it was a tragedy and a waste.

quote:

Che wrote poetry (now I'm using the narrow sense of the word) and didn't Lenin or someone as well? Revolution is inseparable from romance.


Mao is probably the guy you're thinking of (not Lenin). Ho Chi-Minh also wrote poetry.

Of course, none of these guys are remembered as poets...if all they had ever done was write poetry, they'd be forgotten now.

I don't dispute your contention that revolution has a romantic appeal "above and beyond" the objective reasons that support it.

But "romance" is promiscuous...the Nazis had an enormous "romantic appeal" to German youth in the 1930s. Muslim fundamentalism has an enormous "romantic appeal" to young males (and, incredibly, even some young females) in the Middle East and even in Europe.

Anyone can (at least in principle) tug on our emotional responses...only rational thought can step in and say "Wait a minute! What's really going on here?"

quote:

The best example is the very reputation of maths and science, and the people who do them. The common conception is that they are 'smart' subjects, and hence the people who practice them are 'smart'.


I agree this is the common (mis)conception. There are obviously many people in such fields who are, shall we say, not the brightest bulbs in the marquee.

But I think the reason for this "elevated reputation" is that what people in maths and science "know" turns out to have a fairly high probability of actually being true...in other fields, truth is much more elusive or even nonexistent.

If you look at a field like psychology, for example, you'll find a large number of contending paradigms, none of which can demonstrate a clear superiority over any of the others.

A field like literature or music is even more subjective. I used to be a little reluctant to confess that, to my ears, Mozart sounded like elevator music. Then, to my gratification, I read that one of the world-class performers of classical keyboard works agreed with me.

Ah ha! Vindication at last!

But consider all those endless controversies. How could they ever be decided, one way or another? A highly intelligent person--a genius even--could spend a lifetime developing "rational" arguments why Mozart is "superior" to Handel--but no such arguments would make Mozart sound better or Handel sound worse to my ears.

Such things really are "a matter of taste"...and whatever you want to call that, you can't call it knowledge.
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 5, 2003
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quote:

In fact, Roman pragmatism is one of the key reasons that science in the Mediterranean took a dirt nap, resulting in a drought for scientific advancement, including the dark ages.


Four key inventions of late Roman antiquity and the early middle ages: the windmill and water wheel (perhaps crucial to the earliest beginnings of mass production and modern capitalism); the modern horse-collar (allowing the use of horses instead of oxen for plowing); and the modern stirrup (allowing a not-particularly-skilled mounted horseman to fight effectively without being thrown...suggested as the primary reason for the Muslim defeat at the Battle of Tours).

Science in antiquity had few practical consequences. This was partly because the science was not very good (it was new, after all) but mostly because in an economy based on slave labor, labor-saving devices were usually not particularly profitable. There was little incentive to fund scientific research for its own sake...it didn't have a track record of success, so to speak.

The Romans were not "pragmatists" in any philosophical sense, but their attitude towards practical engineering had a pragmatic bias...they were partial to devices that actually worked.

But, by the fourth century, their society was rotten with numerous superstitions--including Christianity--and in such an atmosphere, scientific progress was rather unlikely. The last scientific mind of any note--Hypatia of Alexandria--was murdered by a Christian mob in 415CE. (She was an astronomer who invented the astrolabe...an early form of sextant.)

There would be no more scientists for another five centuries...and then, it would be in Baghdad that progress would resume. (Did you know that algebra is an Arabic word?)
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 6, 2003
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quote:

He also told me to tell you that he was focusing on just one of the aspects leading to the cessation of science for over a millennium.


Science did not cease for "over a millennium" but for rather less than half a millennium.

One confusion here is in the question of what science really is.

Is it careful and accurate observation of the real world?

Is it the development of mathematical tools?

Is it the construction, by trial and error, of technology that works?

Or is it the use of experiment...carefully holding all possible variables constant except the one that you want to investigate?

Our own modern pragmatism blurs all these things together and, for the sake of convenience, calls the package "science".

Some historians of science prefer a more rigorous, experimental, definition...suggesting that it's actually misleading to talk about anything prior to the 17th century as science.

Personally, I think of it as a "habit of thought"--a way of looking at the world that insists upon rigorous logic and firm evidence to support any contention about anything. I've actually referred to proletarian revolution as "the Marxist hypothesis"--it has yet to be confirmed.

Some have used phrases like "the universe of critical discourse" or "conjecture and refutation" to describe this outlook.

It's the one that makes sense to me.
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 6, 2003
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quote:

So you admit that we don't know enough about science to use it to understand these things? (And I'm talking about the situation as is, not what might be or 'has to be'.)


Sure. Our real knowledge of these things is very far from complete at this time.

quote:

And would you not also accept that we do understand them through the other, the non-scientific, methods?


Absolutely not! Somebody's, anybody's unsupported assertion about anything is totally unreliable.

quote:

You science dogmatists and your 'evidence'! There is no evidence, but you're can't seriously claim that it's all hot air.


That is exactly what "it" is...until evidence is forthcoming.

quote:

You will be very hard pressed to convince me that any brain chemist has a better understanding of the workings of human emotion than Lord Byron did, nor do I see how you could think that yourself.


The understanding of a "brain chemist" is, at this time, admittedly quite weak.

But I wouldn't take the word of a "lord" about the weather outside without checking for myself!
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 7, 2003
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quote:

5000 years of art, metaphysics, philosophy, psychology - Sophocles, Plato, Ovid, Shakespeare, Shelley, Donne, More, Freud, Kerouac, Dickinson, Kavanagh, Wilde - You're claiming all this comes to nowt because of a lack of evidence? You're claiming that all this tells us nothing about the human condition? About life? That none of this is useful to people? I'm speechless. The only way I see for you to dismiss all this is a deep and decided ignorance of everything.


Actually, I have a nodding acquaintance with many of your "all-stars"...but there was a reason I didn't pursue the relationship. None of them could actually demonstrate that what they had to say was anything more than "hot air".

To be sure, some of it was witty (Wilde), some of it was interesting from a historical aspect--as an insight into the way people once thought of things, much of it was boring (Freud's middle-class fantasies) or disgusting (Plato's fascism).

I think you give yourself away with that phrase "the human condition". From a Marxist standpoint, there's no such thing. There are particular humans situated in particular moments of history under particular circumstances.

With considerable study, they can be understood. But there's no understanding of humans "in the abstract"...because they do not exist.

Of course, many people do (or claim to) find one or more of your "all-stars" "useful" or "instructive"...but I'm afraid that has no bearing on their genuine utility. Some people have always had a certain fondness for "mind candy"...and I don't see anything wrong with that until they attempt to use it as a "guide to action" in the real world.

That's when you get into trouble with the unproven hypothesis...you act as if what one of those guys said was actually true, and the real world knocks you on your ass and stomps on your face!

The more we really know, the better our chances for avoiding that unhappy fate.
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 9, 2003
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quote:

Science can not prove anything. Science is nothing more then a belief. Science has no more credibility then religion.


This is what's known as a purely metaphysical challenge, because I know you wouldn't go with it in real life.

If you were sick, would you pick a witch doctor to treat you or a real doctor? Or would you have a cardinal or archbishop pray for your recovery?

In fact, the actual mechanisms of cause and effect can often, though not always, be demonstrated both mathematically and experimentally.

The reason that people always fall when they jump off bridges is because space-time is curved in the proximity of mass...and the curve is quite steep near the surface of the earth.

quote:

I find it hard to believe that anything actually exists on a physical level.


I find it quite hard to believe that you are not just blowing smoke out of your ass.

In your daily life, you act "as if" the physical world is real and the physical world responds "as if" it were real.

What would you like, a "Certificate of Authenticity"?

Signed by "God"?

quote:

This leads me to know that truth can only be known through logic, not math or science.


Afraid not...because logic depends upon its premises. In fact, it's rather easy to construct verbal paradoxes that are entirely "logical" and make no sense at all. The Cretan Paradox, for example...
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 13, 2003
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quote:

Science ain't no kind of guide to action. As I touched upon above, science is useless when it comes to making life decisions. You can't expect someone to choose who to marry on the grounds that xx + px = q. I doubt anyone, ever, has used science as a guide to life.


Well, you probably shouldn't...as the formula should be written: x(x+p)=q

I agree that we rarely see "life decisions" as suitable for resolution by a mathematical formula; though, if you ever decide to gamble in a casino, a grounding in probability theory will help you a lot! You will win more and/or lose less than 99% of the people there and you will do that consistently. I speak from personal experience.

There is clearly a complex relationship between our "emotions" and our "rational best interests" that is, as yet, poorly understood by science.

That could be a reason why we make so many bad decisions. You mention the example of marriage: in the U.S., something over half of all marriages end in divorce.

How will the "humanities" be of use here? They may be "comforting"...but what use will they be in making that "life decision"? There's nothing there to tell you if you made "the right choice"...only accounts (usually fictionalized) of people who made good choices or bad choices.

I suppose you might argue that some of those works offer "clues" as to whether a choice is good or bad...but do people pay any more attention to those "clues" than to science?

If he's "hot" or she's "hot", if there is a lot of "sexual chemistry" (and science does understand some of this), then there is an encounter and a relationship in the making.

quote:

...philosophy is the guide to life. And art is the vessel of philosophy.


I would think that philosophy would be "its own vessel". One is free to see what philosophers have to say for themselves...it's not a secret.

The "pretty words" of Messrs. Kavanagh and Shakespeare don't actually say anything. You may "like the sound" but the semantic content is zero.

quote:

It deconstructs each point into a series of self evident truths.


This sounds like a line from some pamphlet by the Modern Language Association...you're not fooling around with those people, are you?

In any event, those "truths" are not "self-evident" and probably not true at all.

There's no such thing as a soul and consequently no need for garments of any color to clothe it.

quote:

I recently heard that criminal psychologists study the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as a model for what happens psychologically to couples who commit a crime together. I thought that might interest you.


They might do a good deal better by studying real couples who commit crimes together. But then psychology is, at best, a "fringe science". There's data there and some interesting ideas but...it's pretty thin soup.
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 19, 2003
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The Modern Language Association (MLA) in the U.S. is a professional group of academics...and deconstructionism is their "flavor of the decade".

quote:

Art inspires people, there's no doubt about it.


Well, it "inspires" some people. If we could settle on what is actually meant by "inspiration".

I can't say that my life has been "changed" by a single book...I've probably read somewhere between 10 and 20 thousand.

There have been some that I found to be emotionally moving (not the classics, by the way)...but emotions, like hangovers, are usually gone in a few hours.

But what's really going on when you read an "inspiring" book? Someone is saying something that you agree with and is saying it particularly well.

That has no bearing on its validity.

quote:

Of course people pay more attention to art than to science.


I'm not sure how true this is, but even if it is true, how helpful is that, really?

What do writers do, after all? They make up stories. The stories don't have to be true.

They may be "inspirational" or "emotionally moving" or whatever...but accuracy is not a requirement.

If you proceed to make "life decisions" on the basis of fiction, can you really be "shocked" when things turn out disastrously?

quote:

But a lot of art does have some message in it as well. You know that. Everybody knows that. You can't be seriously claiming that every work of art is entirely aesthetic in intent and does not seek to portray some point or other. (Usually it is a moral message, because, as was pointed out, science has no way of understanding the concepts of right and wrong and never will.)


No, I quite agree with you that much of art does contain implied or explicit messages. The question we are discussing here is: are the messages worth anything?

Your point about morality is also pertinent...is the "morality" advocated in a particular work of art helpful or harmful?

And science can say some useful things in this regard...by telling us with considerable accuracy what the effects will be of a particular "moral" decision.

Not fiction. Not something made up. Real truth about the real world consequences.

Science can't tell you that it's "wrong" to burn "witches"...but it can tell you that there's no such thing as a "witch" and describe in great detail what it probably feels like to be burned alive.

quote:

...beauty is more important than meaning.


I guess "importance" is a matter of subjective preference; I think real knowledge about the real world is far more "important"...and useful.

But that's just me.
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 21, 2003
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quote:

...but there is more to ideas than whether or not they are true.


See, this is where discussion becomes well nigh impossible with irrationalists...they say things like this and what are you supposed to respond with?

quote:

Like Kierkegaard said, "Life is a contradiction, the truth cannot explain it." We all have some personal philosophy, or "guide to action" as you called it, which can be evolved through art. It is not a matter of it being 'true', rather, it is a matter of whether something can help us. And science cannot tell us whether it will help us; even if it could tell us how a course of action would affect the world (which it can't), it would still not take into consideration the question of how we view the world, which is a matter for non-scientific reasoning.


How is something that is not true "helpful"?

This is not a matter of "non-scientific reasoning", it is not reasoning of any kind.

I offered an example of how science can accurately describe the effects of a given course of action. Many others could be given. If, "inspired" by some work of art, you decide to leap from a position elevated above the earth's surface in the belief that you will fly, science will tell you what will really happen...you will plummet to the lower elevation at a speed of 32 feet per second per second...that is, your speed of descent will increase by 32 feet per second for each second that you fall (minus air resistance).

How's that for a "life decision"?

I suppose the Danish Christian philosopher Kierkegaard is no worse an anti-rationalist than any other figure you might have chosen...but why would any sensible person choose him at all? What are his "ideas" good for?

quote:

Ultimately, no science can prove that 2 + 2 isn't 5.


"Ultimately", no science can "prove" that some people are not hopelessly ignorant. But evidence for that thesis is not exactly unavailable.
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 22, 2003
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quote:

My point was that the values of ideas from art are often not a matter of whether they are true or false. I didn't say they were 'not true'; they are not a matter of truth or falsehood. For example, I learned from 'The Picture Of Dorian Gray' that "a man who is a master of himself can end a sorrow as quickly as he can invent a pleasure". It is not appropriate to question whether the precept is true; the important thing is one's belief in it. Science will never ever be able to supply such ideas. Beauty is truth.


Yes, but what exactly is the point of "beliefs" which can "never ever" be verified?

Does it "feel good" to "believe" in things which by their very nature (according to you) can never be said to be true in any meaningful sense of the word?

If so, I'd say that's a very odd form of "feeling good".

It seems to me that it is in our rational self-interest to build up the most accurate "picture of the world" in our minds that we possibly can. We know that it's not "perfectly accurate" and will never be so...but the better it is, the better decisions we can make...the life decisions that we make will have an improved chance of turning out the way we want them to.

quote:

Firstly, certain spheres are, by their nature, inaccessible to scientific reasoning - like morality or anything that is subjective.


True, science cannot tell you how you "ought" to behave properly...yet. But it can tell you, as I said before, what the consequences will be if you make certain kinds of "ought" decisions.

If, for example, you say that teenagers "ought not" to have sex because it's "immoral", science will tell you that your prohibitions will not be effective without draconian measures...amounting to virtual imprisonment of all adolescents.

Why? Because the hormones are pumping at the highest rate they ever will. Their bodies are delivering the message in an extremely forceful way: mate now!

Another example: if you decide that homosexuality is "immoral" and must be suppressed, science will tell you that your goal is impossible...it's currently thought that around 2% of the population is born gay and there's no way to stop the exercise of their sexuality short of murdering them at puberty.

Science can't tell you whether it's "right" or "wrong" to drop nuclear bombs on people...but it can tell you in vivid detail what will happen if you decide to do it.

To a rational person, those consequences weigh heavily in ethical or moral choices.

quote:

...there are certain areas that could possibly be understood by science but can be understood more completely and more quickly (often thousands of years more quickly) by non-scientific reasoning - like beauty, psychology or design.


But, as you admit, we don't really know if we "understand" anything real from those sources.

Someone goes on a Crusade (one of the early ones) to the "Holy Land" and returns with a pile of loot...which he piously uses to "beautify" a cathedral. In the following generation, someone worships at this "beautiful" cathedral and is "inspired" to also go on a Crusade...but this time the "heathens" are ready for him and he dies in the bloody muck when the Muslims recapture Jerusalem.

Bad "life decision" there.

There was no science then to remind him that there are no gods worth fighting for, much less dying for.

quote:

...science is not as reliable as people like to think. Redstar, you claim that we can know the truth of a hypothesis through science because the world responds 'as if' the hypothesis were true. But there are any number of hypotheses which are supported by the observed facts. The idea that the earth is stationary and the sun revolves around it is supported by everything I see.


Yes, so it would seem...but you have not looked carefully enough.

Ancient astronomers quickly discovered the odd motions of the planets in the night sky...they wandered about instead of remaining fixed. A Greek astronomer constructed a theory to account for these motions based on the "common sense" assumption that the earth was at rest and all the objects in the sky revolved around it.

But the centuries passed and observations accumulated. The old Greek theory had to be modified and made more and more complicated to explain the observations.

The more carefully people looked, the less the real world acted "as if" the Greek theory was true.

With Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, a new theory was advanced, much simpler, and "suddenly" the real world acted once more as if "the new theory was true".

It was.

It's quite likely that the science of 2200 or 2500 or 3000 will regard the science of our era as quite primitive in many respects...though keep in mind that we still use 17th century Newtonian physics to send small spacecraft throughout the solar system and do that with incredible accuracy.

Science progresses...a good "truth" is replaced with a better "truth".

In the realm of the irrational, there is no real progress...just the replacement of one fashionable (and unprovable) "revelation" with another.

The styles change...but nothing else does.

"Evolutionary psychology" is just social Darwinism with a fresh coat of paint; and the turgid Germanic revelations of Adolph Hitler can be found in the impeccable Greek of Plato.

quote:

I wouldn't go so far as some and say that science is no more reliable than religion, but its conjectures are not absolute truth, as is the popular error.


Here, at least, we quite agree. The image of scientist as "high priest" of "a new revelation" is utterly false to the idea of science...regardless of the fact that some scientists like to adopt that pose and many ignorant people accept such absurd pretensions.

What I try to do is encourage people to pay very serious attention to science...but to also remember that "science" has been gravely wrong in the past and might be wrong about something right now.

Skepticism is always in order.
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 27, 2003
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quote:

Surely you don't think that in a few hundred years science will have advanced to be able to answer moral questions?


I have no idea, of course. What I know with absolute certainty is that the whole complex of irrational philosophies and religions won't ever have answers that are worth a shit.

Anything that they might ever get "right" will turn out to be a lucky guess. Because that's all they ever do...guess.

quote:

Science cannot tell us that God or gods don't exist. Nor can it tell us that the soul doesn't exist or even that witches don't exist. In fact, I don't think science can ascertain the non-existence of anything.


It can provided that you are willing to accept a fundamental principle of rational thought: absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

If, on the other hand, lack of evidence is "irrelevant" to your "thinking", then you can assert any nonsense that you wish and proceed to act "as if" it was "true".

History has demonstrated rather clearly where that path leads.

quote:

Well, you don't know that it is true with any greater certainty than the Greeks knew that their pre-Copernican model was.


Of course I know it with "greater certainty"...because I have much more and much better evidence than they did.

quote:

Enlightenment cannot be reached through the accumulation of knowledge.


Then what good is it? And, for that matter, what is it?
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 28, 2003
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quote:

Science is nothing special, it's just particularly formalised philosophy.


That, um, happens to work.

And works better with each passing year.

quote:

You would be quick to tell me that something outside of one's ken can still exist. I imagine that you, as a man of science, believe in unobserved galaxies, or extraterrestrial life? (Correct me if I'm wrong here.) What evidence is there of these? You believe in these things because they fit in with your model of the universe.


Yes, a reasonable extrapolation of what is already known is not uncommon in scientific thought. Even entirely new speculations are welcome...provided at least some initial rationale can be offered based on what is already known.

But I certainly don't "believe" in them...I think they are interesting speculations that await supporting evidence.

quote:

The notion of science disproving the existence of God is absurd; you've gone far beyond the popular overreliance on science into strange Bertrand Russell-esque dogmatism.


That mis-states the priority. "God" is a hypothesis for which no reliable evidence has ever been provided by its proponents.

In addition, of course, it could hardly be asserted that the "God hypothesis" is a "reasonable extrapolation" of what is already known--in fact, if true, the "God hypothesis" throws out all of science or any systematic form of knowledge. A universe "ruled" by a "supernatural entity" would be completely unknowable and unpredictable in any meaningful sense.

Since the universe does seem to be knowable, the only logical conclusion is that supernatural entities don't exist.

That's not "dogmatism", it's logic...and plain common sense.
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First posted at Che-Lives on December 14, 2003
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quote:

It seems to me that you don't base that view on your experience of the human condition, rather that you try and squeeze your experience into that oversimplified framework. The fact which you refuse to admit is that science does not explain most things - the things that are most relevant to us.


Well, "relevance", like many other things, seems to be in the eye of the beholder.

If you are ill, and science not only explains the cause of your illness but furnishes a reliable cure, that would be pretty damn "relevant"...especially if you would die without that cure.

The "promise" of science is that someday we will not die unless we want to...a rather drastic alteration in "the human condition", wouldn't you agree?

That outcome, if it materializes, will certainly be several centuries in the future...but that's the trend.

In the meantime, what are the trends in non-scientific "knowledge"? There aren't any. All of the speculations about "the human condition"--religious, philosophical, artistic--have completely failed to come up with anything that reliably "works".

They have a million "recipes for living"...none of which have been shown to be trustworthy. You can try one after another...and sometimes they will "work" for a little while. But then new situations arise, before which they are bewildered and helpless...their "explanations" become insulting and disgusting.

quote:

Science shows no signs of being able to explain morality, science can't tell us how to live, science can't explain the one and only truly obvious fact of the human condition, the existence of consciousness.


There are some scientists who argue that certain kinds of "morality" confer a "reproductive advantage" to those who adopt them...I'm not convinced that this particular theory is true, but it demonstrates that an effort is being made.

Science has a great deal to say about "how we should live"...or, more precisely, what the probable outcomes are of certain "life choices". You still have to make the choices--no one can do that for you--but your choices are much more informed than they ever were by the random speculations of non-scientists.

The thorny problem of consciousness is being wrestled with in many laboratories, even as we speak. Our knowledge of the brain and how it works has advanced quite a bit over the last few decades...but there is still a very long way to go, admittedly.

Will we ever "know" with certainty? Who can say?

But again, one thing we can be certain of is that non-scientists will never come up with anything more than speculation. Once in a while, by chance, the speculation will turn out to be a good one...but 99.999% of the time, it will be and has been meaningless noise. Pretty noise or ugly noise...but still noise.

quote:

What is true of relation - of form and quantity - is often grossly false in regard to morals, for example. In this latter science it is very usually untrue that the aggregated parts are equal to the whole.


Poe evidently thought that "morals" was a "science" and could be "quantified". That's actually much more extreme than my more modest outlook...I would not dream of suggesting that we were remotely close to such knowledge.

But that's the nature of unscientific speculations; this guy says this, that guy says that, no one has any way of demonstrating the superiority of one opinion over another...just babble, babble, babble.

Before humans learned how to do science, it was understandable that they would take refuge in speculation. We do seem to be "hard-wired" to seek explanations for the world around us...a bad explanation is better than none.

But now that we've begun to develop good explanations--ones that "really work"--isn't it time to send all the bad explanations to the museum?

I don't know how the universe began, how life originated, how consciousness emerged, or the "best" way to live...but I do know that real explanations exist and are ultimately discoverable.

That's the "gift" of science--it is possible to learn the real answers.

Knowing that, my present ignorance is a temporal accident and doesn't bother me at all. I feel no need to latch on to this or that speculation just in order to say "I have an explanation which I think may be true".

Speculations are not answers.
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First posted at Che-Lives on December 20, 2003
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quote:

Art, religion and philosophy can give us very good guides to life and to the pursuit of happiness. Countless people have gained a lot through their religion, through art or through philosophy. No one has ever lived a happier life by applying scientific reasoning to their life.


Countless people? And "no one"?

You "know" this, of course, because you "asked around" and that's what everyone told you, right?

Right???

Well, I'm in a position to dispute your second claim, at least. "Scientific reasoning" is the reason that I'm alive. When I was 8 years old, I contracted pneumonia...with a fever of 105 degrees F. In those long-lost days, doctors made house-calls. Within a few hours, I received what looked like a quart of penicillin in my young ass.

The doctor mentioned "casually" to my parents that I would have been dead in less than 24 hours without treatment.

I learned this much later, of course...along with the fact that lots of kids died that way when my father was a child. In much of the world, they still do.

You may have your art, religion, and philosophy and much comfort may you gain from them.

I'll take science.
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First posted at Che-Lives on December 21, 2003
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quote:

What evidence is there that science can tell us how to live?


I didn't say that it "can".

But if the question is a real one that has real answers that actually work, then the evidence of the effectiveness of the scientific method up to now strongly implies that only science will discover those answers.

It may not, of course, be a "real" question at all. That is, it may conform to the grammatical conventions of the English language for asking a question, but is actually babble.

"How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" is not a real question, even though it "looks like one" in English. There's no such thing as an "angel"...and therefore the "question" of "how many" is just noise.
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First posted at Che-Lives on December 22, 2003
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