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Philisophical contradiction of science

  1. Sep 10, 2003 #1
    Something occurred to me, and it has in the past, but I couldn't isolate it enough to vocalize the idea, but I believe I have.

    Science is founded on the belief that a theory or hypothesis is formulated, tested, and proved or disproved, correct? But I quite frequently see attitudes which contradict this. Of course they always revolve around contraversial "science fiction" ideals, such as UFO's and time travel. The gut reaction of most people is that ideas such as these are fiction and made up, but when examined from a scientific perspective they are "inconclusive". But I've witnessed people who claim to examine things from a purely scientific perspective as "garbage" without precursory examination of the evidence, or any type of investigation. I'm now singling any one person or even topic out, and I realize that every "story" or "theory" that pops up can't be investigated to the fullest due to time limitations. But have been so inundated as a society by radical idealology and "pop culture" that even science has taken on a jaded, skeptical point of view on anything not considered mainstream? It just seems to be the prevailing attitude from what I've observed. Any insights into this?
     
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  3. Sep 11, 2003 #2

    hypnagogue

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    There is a distinction to be made between people who judge by the letter of science and people who judge by the spirit of science. Many of the supposedly scientifically enlightened are so tied down to their current paradigm that they become biased and ultimately blind, and thus lose the true scientific spirit.

    For instance, Robert Millikan won a Nobel Prize in 1923 for experimentally verifying Einstein's photoelectric effect with great precision. But he was such a hard-headed classical physicist that he couldn't accept the theoretical framework behind it, even though the photoelectric effect is clearly logically inconsistent with the notion of light as a wave and indicates that light must be quantized (despite what Newton might say). From http://chem.ch.huji.ac.il/~eugeniik/history/millikan.html :

    See what I mean? Millikan was a text book scientist, the kind you are validly complaining about, whereas Einstein was the true scientist.

    I think this is just a natural human trait; we all have some kind of 'inertia' to our belief systems. Some people are just overly 'inertial,' too cozy believing what they want to believe to consider things from a truly rational perspective. This is a charge commonly leveled against people with strong religious convictions, but it holds equally well for those who think science as it stands today has all or most of the answers.
     
  4. Sep 11, 2003 #3

    Ivan Seeking

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    I feel that many people use science to fulfill the need for a religion.
     
  5. Sep 11, 2003 #4
    I feel that people use religion because it requires much less intellectual effort than science.:wink:

    Seriously, though...I feel that I am completely open-minded to examining new evidence. Any new idea that comes along that contradicts observed data gets lumped into the 'bogus' category until evidence supports it. And, of course, there are some ideas that have been debunked so many times that we can be confident in NEVER thinking about it again.
     
  6. Sep 11, 2003 #5

    hypnagogue

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    Negative.

    Negative, as in "no, that's not the case," precisely because you can't prove a negative, as in "For all X, P(X) is false." Not to mention confounding of data-- because of non-obvious subtleties, the evidence that rejects proposition Y may also seem to reject proposition Z, but it may not strictly be the case that Y is the same phenomenon as Z even if it appears that way superficially; thus, you risk rejecting Z out of hand due to a poor understanding of it. In fact, if you are of the attitude that Z can instantly be hand-waved away, then it is almost certain that you haven't examined it closely enough to have anything greater than a poor understanding of it.
     
  7. Sep 11, 2003 #6

    Ivan Seeking

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    That's completely fair. Not everyone is so open minded. I would be interested though in your definition of debunked. Can you give some examples?
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2003
  8. Sep 11, 2003 #7

    Ivan Seeking

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    Obviously you never tried to keep the commandments during puberty. This is no small challenge...especially in LA in 1975
     
  9. Sep 11, 2003 #8
    Excellent post hypna- That's exactly what I was trying to say- you just said it a little more eloquently:wink: Some people do tend to take it to the extreme- I can't lie- I've been guilty of going to that extreme (even recently) to justify my position on something. Perhaps it's more a psychosematic function or defense mechanism of the human mind to simply seek the highest ground in a flood.

    I also have to say that some people do almost take science as a religion. They hold it up against any other argument refusing to believe it's false. Yet science is not static, and is constantly changing, just like everything else in this world. It has rules, but what some peopele forget is that those rules change, and we must change with them, or be left behind. Science is sort like the constitution. It's a set of guidlines for us to follow. But those guidelines change over time dependin on your interpretation of them. The creators of the US constituion realized this when they made it. If only everyone knew this about science.

    re·li·gion ( P ) Pronunciation Key (r-ljn)
    n.
    A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.
     
  10. Sep 11, 2003 #9
    thanks for making me feel better- I was born in 75. And here I was starting to feel old:wink:
     
  11. Sep 11, 2003 #10
    Probably the best distinction I've heard made on this issue is the difference between a scientist and an engineer. Scientists are interested in discovering the new and unknown, while engineers apply the known. People who promote scientific discoveries as the only meaningful expression of the truth are engineers whether they have the official title of scientist or not. They have replaced their objectivity with the pragmatic bias of an engineer.

    As far as UFOs and science fiction go, these are increasingly based on the gaps in scientific theories and knowledge. Time travel, warp drive, etc. are all theoretically possible according to Relativity, but we just don't know if they really can be achieved. Thus you have both extremes in scientific circles, from extremist skepticism to wild speculation.
     
  12. Sep 11, 2003 #11
    Well, for an instance, how many more times should scientists look into Loch Ness to see if they can find Nessie? We know that pyramids don't sharpen knives or keep food fresh. And we know that every 'famous' psychic is a fraud. Do we need to continuously keep an open mind, in the face of that much evidence against those things, and others?

    As far as things that need to be taken case by case, I subscribe to the notion that the burden of proof lies with the person making the claim, mostly from sheer practicality. If it works, then prove it! Things that have never been displayed to work do not get the benefit of the doubt. If I tell you, for instance, that a banana peel on your head cures lung cancer, it is for me to prove, not for you to disprove.
     
  13. Sep 11, 2003 #12
    I think what your describing is the natural human trait to maintain the status quo and our vested interest in what we have learned and accepted as true in the past. This is nothing new and has been going on since the beginning of science itself before it was Science.
    Acording to John Gobbins, Millikan spent 10 years trying to prove Einstein wrong and won the Nobel prize for proving him right.
    J. J. Thomson saw his son, George Thomson get the Nobel prize in 1937 for proving that electons are waves. In 1903 J.J. had recieved it for proving electrons are particles. (John Gibbins, The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry and the Theory of Everything; 1998). This was not really in the same catagory as both are true and an example of the weirdness of QM. But it does show how much and how rapidly thing in science changes.
    A scientist may spend 8 - 10 years getting his PHD and as many or more studying one particular phenomena and just as he gets is ready to publish some other group comes along and proves that his field of study is no long relavent or wrong. No wonder they don't let go so easily and fight it so hard. This IMO is both good and bad. We should not be in a hurry to accept every new theory or hypothesis but we should not try to hauld progress either.
     
  14. Sep 11, 2003 #13
    I think the philosophical contradiction of science lies in the fact that scientists tend to hide the fact that science is not about truth. For instance, you see on one hand physicists saying "the universe started with a big bang", and on the other hand saying "physics is not about truth, it's about models that make good predictions". It's really hard to understand what the sentence "the universe started with a big bang" means in the context of "the big bang is just a theoretical model and therefore not known to be true".

    If scientists were humble enough to admit that they are in the business of getting things done rather than the pursuit of truth, then the philosophical contradiction would vanish. But as it happens, if they say that out loud they will lose funding for a lot of research that doesn't get things done - cosmology, for instance.

    At least we must concede that, among all the dishonest people in the world, scientists tend to be the less dishonest.
     
  15. Sep 11, 2003 #14

    selfAdjoint

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    There are darn few things that are completely impossible in terms of modern science. Consider perpetual motion (first type). This is said to be impossible because it violates the law of consevation of energy.

    But conservation of energy is only locally true in General Relativity. If you get on a large enough scale, there is no conservation of energy law. So on that scale you might have a valid way to get perpetual motion. Of course the history of the universe might supervene, but nothing inherent would slow down your gadget.
     
  16. Sep 11, 2003 #15
    A few - very important - distinctions have been made so far, but the one that I thought of immediately hasn't been direcly mentioned. amadeus hints at it though, two posts above this one: The distinction between Science and scientists. A scientist is a human. Therefore, human tendencies (seeking of fame, pursuit of money, religious inclinations, etc...) can partially "crowd out" pure Science. Science itself is, as some of the posters have said, open-minded and ready to tackle any idea that falls within its realm (obviously "why" questions are "out of the question" (if you'll pardon the weak pun ), but it's capable of handling most other types of questions), but humans are incapable of sticking to completely pure Science.
     
  17. Sep 11, 2003 #16
    For all X, X = X+1 is false.
     
  18. Sep 11, 2003 #17

    hypnagogue

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    Bah. OK, you can't prove a phenomenal negative: thing X does not exist anywhere in the universe.
     
  19. Sep 11, 2003 #18

    Ivan Seeking

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    You are old. I was lying.
     
  20. Sep 11, 2003 #19

    DrChinese

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    A point to be made for science and scientists:

    There are a great many paths examined which lead nowhere. These are often documented in arcane scientific references, and get little further attention. But because the good stuff is carefully checked and doubled checked over the years, much of the writing about science comes out as glib pronouncements of fact without any apparent consideration for alternate perspectives.

    In reality, these perspectives have been addressed by someone, somewhere, in a very serious manner previously. But you may not be aware of such cases. But as a whole, there is a lot of creative thinking going on - a lot of thinking "outside the box" by scientists.

    Examples: the many worlds interpretation of QM, which has had a lot of time and effort invested in it to date. Ditto string theory, which is promising but so far yielded little concrete relative to the traditional canon. Even ESP, UFOs and other ideas have been studied at great length before concluding there is nothing much to them.
     
  21. Sep 11, 2003 #20
    One area where you see this played out is in the so called complementary/alternative 'medicine'. Basically, 95% is complete nonsense, but every time a study fails to show a link, it is labled 'inconclusive' by CAM supporters. Basically, the only conclusions that they will accept are supportive ones, which so far don't exist.
     
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