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Is the scientific method both faith and knowledge based?

  1. Jan 14, 2005 #1
    Does the scientific method mark the coexistence between belief and actual science, and describe tenets that involve a religion of information? Its prediction of world events may apply equally to measuring the electron's mass, or consequently to the conviction in its own efficacy.

    The scientific method cannot justify itself by circular logic, but by its reflection of nature in the reproducibility of results. Creed, on the other hand, survives by seeming self-fulfilling prophesies that define the mind in terms of often uncontrollable events.

    May one say that the scientific method has become as much a way of life for many as a process for determining material truths? What philosophical effect could the scientific method possibly have when applied to itself?
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2005
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  3. Jan 14, 2005 #2


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    Any systematic has to involve a leap of faith that it's worth while and effective. That's as true of philosophy and mathematics as it is of physical science.
  4. Jan 14, 2005 #3
    I'll comment if no one else will!

    Now I would answer "yes and no" to that! :wink: It all depends on how you look at it. :biggrin: This thread is called "Philosophy of Science and Mathematics"! In order to have an intelligent discussion, one needs to define "Philosophy", "Science" and "Mathematics" and no one does a competent job: ergo, none of the discussions can be called intelligent. Though I suspect I have an idea of what you mean by "a religion of information" there are certainly a great number of various interpretations available.
    I take it here that you want to use the "scientific method" to resolve philosophic issues. Nice idea but not likely to be implemented. :rolleyes: Not as long as philosophy is an "inexact science" (if it could be called a science).
    You act as if the "scientific method" is a well thought out idea. :yuck: The human race has very few "well thought out ideas"; most of their ideas are not thought out at all (and that includes their "scientific" ideas).
    Now that is vague enough to be interpreted any way one wishes. :confused: So I guess I will agree with it – am I "doing" philosophy now? :rofl:
    Well, if you are interested in thinking objectively about the issue, I'll give you my thoughts. First, the "scientific method" is a poorly expressed idea; as normally given, it bears little resemblance to what would be an objective approach. Let me put for the the following diagram of "the scientific method" in an objective attack.

    Any conceivable question can be answered via the following procedure:

    1. List out all the possible answers! (Now this is the really difficult part as most of us are not bright enough to think of "all" of them. So, the scientists first error is to only work with a few possibilities. Well, that's life; perfection is hard to come by.)

    2. For each answer, work out all the logical consequences of that answer being correct. (Now this step is a real bear too. Mainly because working out those consequences requires belief that we know the correct answers to other relevant questions. Oh well, life is tough all over; I guess the best they can do is presume they know the right answer to most questions and truck on. Creed and science seems to be getting mixed here doesn't it.)

    3. Now we have "all possible answers" (that we can think of anyway) and the "consequences" relevant to each answer (presuming we know a lot already) and we can just look down those lists of consequences until we find a difference. When we find a difference, all we have to do is look at reality and see which consequence actually occurs. Low and behold, we have eliminated a possible answer (the consequences are not what happens)!

    4. As we continue this process, we either eliminate a possible answer or something else happens: two or more answers yield exactly the same consequences. In that second case, it clearly makes no difference at all as to which answer is correct and, if it makes utterly no difference what the answer is, are you really asking a question worth answering?

    The whole point of this discourse is to reveal the lack of objectivity in what is extraordinarily presented as "exact science". Most people seem to think that what makes a science "exact" is the fact that it can yield definite answers. This perception is not true at all; what makes a science exact is that they make it exactly clear what presumptions underlie their conclusions. And so called "exact scientists" are not near as exact as they would have us believe.

    And lastly, philosophy could be an exact science if done carefully. The only problem then would be that all you jokers couldn't talk about things you don't understand and that would really throw a cramp in your style. :devil: Seriously, is there anyone out there who would like to talk about something they understand? o:)

    Have fun -- Dick
  5. Jan 14, 2005 #4


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    Hmm, let's see now ...

    "What is the colour, smell, taste and feel of a [tex]\tau[/tex] neutrino?"

    I conceived it, so it comes within Dr Dick's 'domain of applicability'. Now, Step 1, "list out all the possible answers". I think I need the help of the author of the method.
  6. Jan 14, 2005 #5
    Yeh, you need help all right! But, if that's an example of your best effort, you aren't bright enough to be worth any attention on my part; you clearly didn't spend any time thinking about it! :zzz:
  7. Jan 14, 2005 #6

    Brave work to overturn 1000 years of convention. I see you constructing a "quantum logical" approach, where a difference ("interference") between answers ("positive propagation") and consequences ("negative propagation") yields a hierarchy of results ("Many Worlds").
  8. Jan 14, 2005 #7


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    Humour me, Dr Dick ... explain - in words of one sylable if necessary - how my question fails (or is beyond the domain of applicability of your august idea) ... really ... pretend I'm from Missouri ...
  9. Jan 15, 2005 #8
    Loren, it's been far too long since I got to participate in one of your threads. Always excellent questions, even more excellently phrased (and, as the veterans among you know, I'm not given to flattery; this is the sincere truth).

    Before I can answer, I need to know: by "scientific method" are you referring to the high-school text-book/Bacon/observation-hypothesis-experimentation-theory process, or are you referring to the more post-Popper "disqualificationist" (if I may coin a term) approach that (AFAIK) real theorists seem to prefer?

    By that, I mean, are you referring to the Inductionist concept that led Bacon to devise the "scientific method", or the anti-Inductionist method that is typically employed?
  10. Jan 15, 2005 #9


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    If you were from Missouri, you wouldn't spell "color" with a "u". Problem solved. (Duh, Nereid, if you just stop and think about it. :tongue2: ) I think I'm getting the hang of this.
  11. Jan 15, 2005 #10
    Hello Mentat,

    Thanks for your faith in my worldview, and your ability to decipher my meaning. The Popper, "disqualificationist" method - is that the eventual falsification of theories by experimentation?

    As for the more primitive of the two scientific methods, induction relies on faith in the worldly Laws it emulates. Bacon's classical scientific religion is a medieval clockwork cycling through hypothesis, experiment and modification of hypothesis. It was not only simple, but at the time, rather revolutionary, and has yet to wind down. It has a magical quality of eliciting modern truths from Grecian elements, or of a portable test supplanting the repetitive rosary. Perhaps, like Christianity over Mediterranean polytheism, the physical creed credited to the monk Bacon eventually eroded greatly literal Biblical interpretation of the cosmos.
  12. Jan 15, 2005 #11


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    Mentat! How wonderful to see you again!!! Welcome back ... please don't disappear again, OK?
  13. Jan 15, 2005 #12


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    OK, pretend I've been corrupted by those perfidious Anglos/Poms/Brits/English ... and have forgotten how words are spelled 'in the real world'. So are you from Missouri (too)?
  14. Jan 16, 2005 #13


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    Close- Florida. I only add the extra "u"s during leap years. You know, cause I have the extra time and all. Anyway... How do other scientific methods handle your question, "What is the colour, smell, taste and feel of a tau neutrino?"
  15. Jan 16, 2005 #14


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    About the same way they handle determination of the isospin and isotope composition of an uffish thought! (and AFAICS, they don't even begin to address why the slithy toves gyred and gimbled in the wabe).

    A question carries with it a huge amount of baggage - quite apart from the language in which it's expressed, there are historical aspects ("Where is Sedna tonight?" cannot even be asked before Sedna had been discovered and named), theoretical ones ("When will the 3C75 SMBHs collide?" has built into it layer upon layer of theory), and so on.

    So let's discuss your question ("How do other scientific methods handle your question?") - but first, which method are you taking as that to compare to ('other')?
  16. Jan 16, 2005 #15


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    If 'the scientific method' is 'what scientists actually do' (i.e. an operational definition), then it can certainly be applied to itself!

    Mentat has mentioned Bacon (and his philosophical descendents) and Popper; I contend that neither applied the method to itself; instead they pondered deeply and philosophically and gave birth to a view of the method which looked a bit like an early European artist's view of the Australian landscape (e.g. http://www.artrenewal.org/images/artists/W/Watling_Thomas/large/Watling_Thomas_A_Direct_North_General_View_Of_Sydney_Cove.jpg [Broken]). Kuhn was probably the first to attempt the project, and IMHO his result has all the hallmarks of a first draft.

    But back to the philosophical question ... (l8ter, but for folk who like this kind of discussion, why not visit the Ebla Forum?)
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  17. Jan 16, 2005 #16
    1. The scientific method requires some axioms. We still do no know any absolute "truth" that it can be derived from.

    2. Regarding Popper:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/ (See critical evaluation)

    3. From an earlier thread:

    It seems that this discussion about the foundations of science stirs quite agitated feelings. In a way this is a strange since Ockham's razor as the scientific method is all that stand in the way of the postmodernistic explanations.

    Let's take another approach. Ockham's razor is simple the statement that when curve-fitting, one should find the solution that best fits the data while avoiding overftting. Understand that a cuve is a theory, it is more than the data. Now, a objection is that this general goal is very vague and is not a description of how science is practiced today. This is true. The scientific method today follows one particular solution to this problem, namely cross-validation.

    Cross-validation is essentially that the data should be divided into subsets and that the value of a theory is how well it predicts the data on "virginal" subsets. That is, subsets not used in making the theory.

    Now this is a very powerful and robust solution of how to apply Ockham's razor. But it is in no way the only solution. And it has some great disadvantages.

    One is the requirement for "virginal" data. Let's assume that an alien civilization sends a long message to Earth. The cryptographers solve this message, using all the data available. But according the cross-validation, "virginal" data never seen by the cryptographers is required to decide if this is the correct solution. So if one demands that only cross-validation should be used in science, then even if a solution if found that gives perfect meaning to a very long message, this is pseudoscience.

    One other problem with cross-validation is the assumption that the subset will contain all the information of the whole set. But it may well be that the only way to find a solution is by looking at all the data available. Saving some data for "virginal" testing may make it impossible to find a solution.

    Furthermore, even if cross-validation can find a solution, it is in not certain that it is more efficient at doing this compared to alternatives like MML, MMD, AIT or AIC.

    So in the end, the critiques have mistaken one good solution of how to apply Ockham's razor with the whole scientific method. There may well be many different ways to apply Ockham's razor, with different ways having different efficiency depending on the particular situation.

    4. Examples of science using MML and not cross-validation:
  18. Jan 16, 2005 #17
    Yeah. He presented it as an opposing view to that of the Vienna Circle (logical postivism was their basic tenet).

    Well, it was a Kuhnian revolution, to say the very least. David Hume was the first (AFAIK) to poke serious holes in it (as he also did with Causality), but, in the end, Induction has some pretty serious flaws.

    As to the question of whether the scientific method requires a leap of faith (and I assume you're equating "faith" with "credulity"), I'd say it clearly does. Paradoxically, it seems that the scientific method was invented specifically to avoid making unwarranted assumptions.
  19. Jan 16, 2005 #18
    Now, let me address the original questions directly...

    That depends on what you mean by "actual science". If "actual science" is a method that is free of belief, then I'd have to ask first how you believe this can be accomplished and why you believe it should be (hint, hint :wink:). If, OTOH, "actual science" is a method that is free of all beliefs except those two (for the purpose of argument), then I'd have to ask how one could consider that a step (in any direction) from the previous paradigm.

    But then, post-Godel, can we really speak of a system's justifying itself?

    Hold up...you're saying that the scientific method could justify itself by Induction (which is how it justifies everything else) right? How, then, could it justify Induction?

    Define "material truth". It's tempting to define it as simply "those truths which hold true under each observation/experiment", but that temptation arises from a pre-supposed bias toward the scientific method.

    I would, instead, define "truth" as "justified belief in social context" (this is not of my originality...it's Richard Rorty's view, as expressed in "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature"). IOW, it's what you can get away with claiming; or what you can defend successfully in argument.

    In that case, a "material truth" is a statement about something material, which can be defended in argument. If this be accepted, then the scientific method could only be seen as a likely source of material truth if it has already become an authority in the mind of those arguing. Seems somewhat self-fulfilling, doesn't it?
  20. Jan 17, 2005 #19


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    How about the method you use?
  21. Jan 17, 2005 #20

    By "belief" I mean logically and cognitively supportable truthvalues, distilled by the individual, as opposed to intuitive or cultural standards of knowledge. In any case, we are free to choose whom to believe.

    The scientific method should justify itself as far as testing local or incomplete phenomena; i. e., the method is not universal. Whichever the chosen scientific method, one can only truly test other, similar scientific methods with at least one element (a specific statement of hypothesis, experiment, measurement, etc.) different than its own.

    "Material truth," I posit (claim, if you will), is derivable by parallel classical and quantum scientific methods, and thus represents independent nonsimultaneous dichotomies in regard to the observer:

    The scientific method itself is subject to the quantum correspondence principle

    The scientific method originally codified experiment over intuition, whereas the quantum correspondent method now codifies the duality of classical and quantum logic.

    A thumbnail sketch:

    1. Does a measurement achieve {C} unitarity or {Q} interference with respect to observer?

    2. Is the observation thus {C} classical or {Q} quantum?

    3. Truthvalues: {C} if true, QED; if false, revise experiment; {Q} if repeated measurements "conflict," continue them to establish a quantum-probabilistic table of truthvalues.

    4. Repeat if necessary modified experiment and {C} realize classical processes, or {Q} establish quantum statistical description.
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