Posts by BenWilson

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  • Hard News: Right This Time?,

    Matthew, I thought it was a little bizarre too, when I read Granny this morning. But I'm not especially bugged - the truth will out. It may come as a surprise to the public, but that will just add to the fun. Amazing how fast an unassailable fortress of popularity can collapse.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8599 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Right This Time?,

    If the Mikare Rauta/John Halliwell canoe (they decided to name each other in their own languages) had a sail, then it would lend new meaning to the old phrase "Buffeted by contrary winds".

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8599 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Right This Time?,

    Maui's act of punching his own nose to provide the bait reminds me of Harawira. He is likely to land the entirety of NZ with it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8599 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Right This Time?,

    Would this canoe better be called "Waka Aotearoa" or "Whaka Australia"? Tangaroa's decision is final.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8599 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Right This Time?,

    Place idiots in boat push away from shore, retreat rapidly, duck as required.......

    Even better, put them in a canoe, and ask them whether it's a waka or a whaka.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8599 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Miracles just rate better, okay?,

    ChrisW, thanks for those links btw.

    This is clearly science in action, but not by the same methodological rules that apply to say particle physics.

    Indeed. It strikes me that science of the past almost always starts with "observe", and very seldom has "make predictions" as key parts of methodology, unlike physics which seems to be mostly the other way around. Physics seems to be the science most people turn to for inspiration on method, though, because experiment is so easy to conduct, the refutations of theories are so demonstrable. It's not nearly so easy when looking at dinosaur footprints - basically the conclusions are still highly debatable, and the way forward not nearly so clear. Maybe more of these footprints will be found, helping us form a clearer picture. Maybe not.

    Some aspects of the study are amenable to physics-like methodology. The scientists could extrapolate from the hypothesis that these structures are footprints some conclusions that have not yet been observed, and go looking for those things - finding them as a result of such predictions would be strong corroboration for the theory. For instance, they could make some guesses about what kind of dinosaurs they were, and search similarly old geological sites for other indications of these dinosaurs, perhaps other fossils that would usually be found with these dinosaurs. But failing to find such things is not going to crush the theory, the way a failure of such a prediction would in physics. If light was not observed to bend around the sun after multiple attempts to observe this, Einstein's relativity theory would have suffered a big setback.

    So, the quest for a full, necessary and sufficient definition of *the* scientific method is futile.

    Well, that's the kind of claim Feyerabend makes. Although he tends to suggest it's worse than futile, that it might actually do harm. Paleontologists might find themselves out of funding, because they can't measure up to the standards of physicists, for instance.

    I'm not so sure - a full, necessary and sufficient definition might not be futile, just really hard. It might be a very, very large description. To this extent I can't agree with Feyerabend on purely logical grounds. It seems to me that he's making a claim that could well be proved wrong in itself.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8599 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Miracles just rate better, okay?,

    *Thanks for your input. I appreciate it. In arguing this you are at least engaging with it. I don't think you've engaged with more than about 30% of what I've said, but that 30% is 30% more than nothing. I'm guessing the other 70% is because the background reading is not shared - have you read much on the philosophy of science? Have you read Popper and Kuhn? Do you really feel in a position to understand Feyerabend, who is basically answering Lakatos? You admit to not having read Feyerabend, who is the actual subject of most of this debate.

    *I don't mind crackpots. A lot of good has come from them. Indeed, a lot of science has come from them. I'd even go so far as to say that a great deal of the very best science would have been so labeled. People who think in ways that fall outside of the mainstream are a massive source of discovery and creativity. It's a good description of some of histories greatest geniuses.

    *Persecution takes many forms. It doesn't just have to involve death or jail sentences. Sometimes it's as simple as not allowing people to sell their wares, or to obtain the base materials from which to conduct experiments. Or it can be from the drowning out that occurs when orthodox programs receive 100% of the institutional funding and the alternative ones have to do it entirely out of their own pockets. Or it can be something you suggested above, the refusal to teach alternative ideas to children.

    *Treating something as an ideology is only knocking it down a peg if you had already elevated it beyond that, and consider ideology to be a dirty word. I don't do either.

    *I don't think you have a theory of science at all. Your opinion on it seems to be 'whatever the majority of scientists think it is', which is of course a circular definition. All of your attempts to show that there is a method fall back on finding some source of authority on the matter. The more you do so, the wider you cast your net of definitions, the less specific your definition of science becomes. You admit of many counterexamples, many diversions from this method. You're even at the point of positing the idea of thought experiments standing in place of 'observation'. It seems to me that you are actually a lot more sympathetic to Feyerabend than you realize. You're getting the inkling that in actual fact, putting a tight yoke around what science is, is impossible, and you're refusing to do so, backing down from the posed challenge that you say what the method is, slithering away from every 'hard and fast rule' to what? Soft, long and fuzzy rules? An elaboration of the methods of every single scientific theory that you consider scientific? Or perhaps just a list of theories you consider scientific? When will your 'refinements' (which in many cases actually chuck out previous principles) end?

    > You're avoiding the question.

    See above, I had given an answer in good faith. If you didn’t accept it just say so, but the false bravado isn’t necessary.
    Now to my questions.

    And now you're avoiding it again. Basically, in taking account of Einstein, you have changed your position quite a lot. I'm not surprised this happened - such is the history of the philosophy of science. As science progressed, so did the philosophizing about it, although it almost always lags well behind the science. In doing so, it serves a number of purposes. Firstly, it can sometimes help us to understand the science of the past. Secondly, it serves to lend to science an air of legitimacy, as though it rests on a bedrock of philosophical truth, deeply rooted in logic and earnest yet humble philosophizing. This is much like trying to find deep philosophical arguments to support Christian dogma - an activity that takes clever and talented people and sets them to work finding the heretics. Orthodox science programs, as political institutions, have much to gain from such support.

    The idea that science may be actually quite inexplicable, that it will follow methodological paths in the future that we can't accept now, is hard for many philosophers to accept (and also hard for laypeople). This is actually a fault of philosophers, rather than scientists, who generally aren't so concerned to understand philosophy, they're more interested in nature, and methodology can come after the fact a lot of the time.

    Now to your question: You asked how the world became convinced of the truth of Einstein's theory, and suggested it was because of the scientific method. I can see a plethora of other possibilities. It could be because he discovered something. It could be that physicists were convinced by his mathematics too. It could be because he helped make atomic bombs, and that's just damned impressive. I'm certainly inclined to think it's much more from his results than his method, exactly as it was for Galileo.

    *I don't intend to have a debate about the difference between tendency and style. In fact, I don't really like to have debates about how words are commonly used at all. That doesn't shed much light on anything. Perhaps you felt you were making a methodological claim when you said I tend to chuck the baby out with the bathwater. If so, I'd be interested to hear what you think my method is.

    *I've never claimed my view on science was typical. Indeed not many of my views on anything are 'typical'. I don't find beliefs being typical, normal, average, common, widely accepted, broadly supported, popular, as being particularly good reasons to agree with them. I never have. This has always made me deeply uncool, but I really don't care.

    Ah, so I’m not just disingenuous and prideful, but delusional as well. Good to get your input there.

    Don't take it too hard. I think everyone buys into mythology, a series of unproved (and often unprovable) assumptions about the world. It's a vital part of life. Some of us challenge various part of it, where we are interested to do so, but in doing so must leave others untouched. In those areas, we generally don't even realize that we have made assumptions.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8599 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Miracles just rate better, okay?,

    I wish that too 81st. I'm tiring of it now, and it would have been good to hear some criticism by someone who had read Feyerabend. Like I said from the outset, I find his position interesting, rather than thinking it necessarily true. There are other problems with it than what Steve is talking about. He's been doing a good job of providing the groundwork, posing the usual possibilities for the concept of scientific method, that tend to first occur in these kind of debates, and he seems to be a modernist so there's a guarantee of argumentative clash. I'm getting rather tired of acting like I'm not a modernist, just so that Feyerabend doesn't get misunderstood. There are people here who are far more postmodern than I, who might be able to shed a lot more light, if only they would speak up.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8599 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Miracles just rate better, okay?,

    > This seems to be your approach to many issues, from my experience here. If things have “serious” flaws you throw out the baby with the bathwater. You have an odd “things need to be clear” approach, for someone who claims to appreciate nuance

    Your stylistic comments are noted.

    I think this bears further comment, but wanted to think about it some more. Ironically, I was bathing both of my children whilst doing this thinking, and both of them survived, although the elder does insist that I at least act like I might throw him out with the bathwater, giggling hysterically as I dangle him upside down over the vortex of water disappearing down the plughole.

    I'm guessing this comment comes from my suggestion in the On Morals thread that I find ethical non-cognitivism hard to put down? The baby would in this case be 'ethical statements'? And in this thread the baby is 'scientific method'?

    It was off-the-cuff for me to suggest you are making a stylistic comment here, rather than anything with real meat. But it was also on the money, I think. You seem to think that in failing to be convinced about the primal importance of these purely human constructs, that I therefore must lack all ethics, and disavow science. I do not. I simply think that these kinds of beliefs are 'heuristic'. We don't have much else to go on, so we have to use 'rules of thumb' all the time.

    When I act, I follow ethics that were mostly trained into me. I don't need to have a grand ethical theory to function - as rules of thumb ethics are useful. I just don't make the intellectual mistake of equating them with the truth - I think such a practice is dangerous and can be foolish.

    Similarly, I was trained in science like most kids, and I studied it at university (although some philosophers would like to deny that, along with a massive host of subjects taught in science faculties). I know how to go about the business of my particular science - mostly I'm in the business of discovering algorithms. This is done via a plethora of methods, rules, tricks, experience, luck and research. I just don't make the mistake of thinking I have any grand theory on science because I am involved in one corner of it, and practically my entire existence is based on scientific work. On the contrary, I'm generally mystified by it, and amazed at how damned unpredictable it is. I'm open to any path that could lead to discoveries and new truths.

    So when you say I'm chucking out the bathwater, I think this is wholly unfair. Quite the opposite, I think insisting on a grand theory is chucking out the bathwater, because all the other theories could be true. I stick to the position that the existence of serious flaws in an idea are a good enough reason to be skeptical about them, and I remain skeptical about both ethics and science.

    This is a stylistic choice. You could opt to mentally commit to various views, despite their flaws, so as to see where they lead. I was very much fond of doing this as a younger man. I was a Rule Utilitarian, Tarskyist, Socialist, Atheist, Popperian, Social Contractarian, who believed P=NP and robots would pass the Turing Test in my lifetime. Now I'm not. I lean toward some of these positions, but recognize their faults. That's what I mean by holding a nuanced view.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8599 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Miracles just rate better, okay?,

    It was a facetious comment. I didn’t think an emoticon or exclamation mark would be necessary for you - I’ll adjust my posting style.

    Nah, it's cool man. You haven't worked out my style is "deadpan" yet. Stick to your way, it works.

    I’m not sure what you point is here.

    I'm asking you to give some kind of indication of what you could even accept as evidence. Since the position Feyerabed is taking is that orthodox opinions on scientific method are wrong, you're unlikely to find
    'creditable', 'mainstream', opinions to support Feyerabend, now are you? But all around the fringes of mainstream science are studies which claim to be scientific - we already have discussed chiropraction in this thread a lot. If chiropractors claim to be scientific, and have a slightly different take on the scientific method, then you can either:
    1. Call them unscientific, because of that
    2. Widen your definition of science.

    Feyerabend opts for the latter. You opt for the former.

    No one who claims it is the most superior thought developed by man. But I suspect what he means is that it is impossible to examine those limits, not that people have not tried.

    No one who claims science is of a different level to voodoo or magic in giving us knowledge about the world. Your second sentence is completely baseless.

    I thought this would come up, the tedious reparsing of a cherry picked, out of context piece of something quoted from Wikipedia. It's a sign to me that it's time to exit this debate, before it goes all Kiwiblog. The full quote you made was:

    “science is much closer to myth than a scientific philosophy is prepared to admit. It is one of the many forms of thought that have been developed by man, and not necessarily the best. It is conspicuous, noisy, and impudent, but it is inherently superior only for those who have already decided in favour of a certain ideology, or who have accepted it without ever having examined its advantages and its limits”

    From which you deduced:

    Check out that assumption: no one else who disagrees with his conclusion could possibly have examined science’s advantages and limits!

    The conclusion in this case is that 'science is not inherently superior to all other forms of thought'. So I stand by my guess that his reason would be for starters because a systematic examination of all forms of thought has not been conducted, and never could be.

    People treat ideologies as true, too, so nothing is achieved by “contrasting” it with ideology.

    Not all people do. I don't treat Christianity as true, for instance. So there is a lot to be gained by treating Christianity as an ideology, rather than just a truth, and the same goes for science. It means ideas like "the freedom of religion" could be analogously applied to science, and people could be free to choose the scientific ideology they believe in, without persecution, perhaps even without systematized disadvantage.

    The scientific method is true in the sense that it works.

    Christianity "works" too, man. That's a very weak justification.

    you can like something without thinking it is a method.

    Obviously - where did I say otherwise?

    When you said:

    If he doesn’t at least provide an alternative way of saying what science is, it is untenable to claim he wasn’t against science.

    It's even quoted conveniently just above the piece you are asking about. You are suggesting that unless he proposes a method, he is against science. That is plain wrong.

    Heh... if you restate the point I know you hold, it will be magically more convincing. Perhaps by voodoo? Feel free to use that in your arguments, by the way.

    Actually, I'm getting the feeling that by the end of this your opinion will resemble mine almost entirely, you just won't be able to admit it, out of pride. You said there's no hard and fast rules in Rule Number One of your supposed method. Which makes it a No-Method Method. It's the method of working out what science is from anecdotes, and then trying to claim that's systematic.

    How did we come to accept Einstein’s theories, again? Would we have accepted them if they hadn’t been able to predict the phenomena they said they would? What will replace this?

    You're avoiding the question. Your Rule Number One says start with observation, then frame your hypothesis. Did Einstein do this? No. Did anyone else? No, because Einstein already framed the hypothesis. So this method is not science, the way it happened that time.

    This seems to be your approach to many issues, from my experience here. If things have “serious” flaws you throw out the baby with the bathwater. You have an odd “things need to be clear” approach, for someone who claims to appreciate nuance

    Your stylistic comments are noted.

    the world abounds with portrayals of science as dramatic, noisy, bold, unfathomable, and frankly a bit crazy.

    Unlike your portrayal, which is of something that can be clearly understood from one Google search on the matter, and anything else anyone thinks is patently false by virtue of not agreeing with some dictionary definitions and encyclopedia entries on the subject. You don't seem to be able to acknowledge that the subject is incredibly controversial. You've bought into the mythology so thoroughly, that basically, you can't get it. You refuse to.

    This idea of geniuses doing these miraculous things no one else can even explain is not any better for science or humanity than the overly-restrictive, methodological approach you are concerned about.

    It might be true though. Perhaps the mythology you want everyone to buy into is useful, but ultimately false, like Christianity could be. Which is only ever useful for a short period of time.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8599 posts Report Reply

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