The purpose of pseudo science

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Kerrie

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I am wondering what you all think the purpose pseudo science can serve in our advancement in science. Was it ever possible that at one time the current advancements we have made were considered ridiculous and "mystical"?
 
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I believe that most of the current discoveries where considered mystical some day.
But in the old days people did not really see that their time discoveries were actually mystics before, therefore they did not believe their time mystics (which mostly turned out into science later).
But since we understand now that any mystic can turn true at some time, we started to appreciate mystics (some how), or maybe we have some kind of inner concept for a 'good mystic' or 'real mystic' (or call it whatever you want).

Even if mystics don't turn into science, they will still be a good (and enjoyable) way to let people think.
 

russ_watters

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I am wondering what you all think the purpose pseudo science can serve in our advancement in science.
Like an anchor to a ship. It is strictly a hinderance.
Was it ever possible that at one time the current advancements we have made were considered ridiculous and "mystical"?
Certainly. But that was BEFORE science evolved. When the scientific method was nailed down, astrology morphed into astronomy and alchemy into chemistry.

But since then, psuedo-science has served only to distrtact (or worse defraud) the general public from REAL science.

One exception: when pseudo-science is created ONLY for the purpose of entertainment. Science fiction. But science fiction makes no claims of validity.
 
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I suppose pseudo-science (or rather the figures on the amount of belief therein) could be used as a gauge to ascertain how scientifically illiterate the general populace is. But I'd, of course, be more comfortable without it.
 
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I rarely ever post something in the M & PS forum but allow me one comment:

When the Englishman Mitchell thought of the idea of a star that became so dense that it's gravity would so immense that not even light will be able to escape from it aka a black hole, didn't that seem like pseudoscience?

He had not "proof" of such an object and people in his day might cough "crackpot" in his presence.
 

Kerrie

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or how about when copernicus suggested that we were in a heliocentric solar system?
 
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When the Englishman Mitchell thought of the idea of a star that became so dense that it's gravity would so immense that not even light will be able to escape from it aka a black hole, didn't that seem like pseudoscience?
How do you mean?

or how about when copernicus suggested that we were in a heliocentric solar system?
I'm wary of examples dating that far back; real science is so very young that certain examples blur the lines between science and something else simply because scientific inquiry wasn't very well established at all. I don't think you can really blame pre-Galileo and pre-Newton people for falling seriously victim to pseudoscience and other superstitious nonsense; today would be a different story.
 

Zero

Current pseudoscience is 99% useless, and the last 1% is lost amongst the nonsense. We have the ability to test things, and pseudoscience doesn't measure up.
 

Kerrie

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i don't think that all of psuedo science is useless, but there are many who blow the importance of out out of proportion, thus making it more useless...i think that if there is a situation that is mysterious, and current accepted science cannot answer (such as astrology), we should keep the door to it open some...
 

russ_watters

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When the Englishman Mitchell thought of the idea of a star that became so dense that it's gravity would so immense that not even light will be able to escape from it aka a black hole, didn't that seem like pseudoscience?
or how about when copernicus suggested that we were in a heliocentric solar system?
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

When Copernicus started investigating a heliocentric solar system he did so in an effort to correct known flaws in current models of the solar system. That makes it an hypothesis. That is absolutely a scientific process.

I don't know the specific's of Mitchell's work, but I would assume he already knew that light was affected by gravity when he started his speculation. Again, that makes it an hypothesis and a scientific process.

This is part of the problem with psuedo-science. People don't even know what it is (maybe the term is misleading). It sounds like you guys are assuming that anything that is not an established scientific theory (or goes against one) is pseudo-science. That is not what pseudo-science is. Pseudo-science is simply non-science masquerading as science (and its easy to make something LOOK like science to someone who is not scientifically minded).

Incidentally, considering any idea that goes against established theory to be psuedo-science is part of what allows it to continue. Once you can convince someone that Copernicus's theory was pseudo-science before it was science, all bets are off. ANY idea, no matter how asinine is instantly possible. That people don't understand the difference is why things like perpetual motion hoaxes are so common and so easy to pull off.
 

Kerrie

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but wasn't copernicus ridiculed because of his hypothesis? wasn't he the one who studied and gathered the evidence for it?

russ, i have studied astrology for 12 years-and i am not talking about reading linda goodman's sun signs, or llewellyn books either...that is like listening to Fox news if you are a democrat and expect to get "the facts"...anyway, i have self studied it on people and continue to do so because i find that the "coincidences" really aren't...that there is enough evidence (plenty of it actually) to convince me that it is valid to a point...i won't get into why i think it is, as i can save that for a juicy thread later...

my point it, astrology is scoffed at because it has a bad representation thanks to your local newspaper, yet those who go way beyond the superficiality of it understand why it works and why it has been a language of the human soul for thousands of years and continues to grow...

if, in your lifetime, something such as astrology was proven scientifically to be valid, would that be enough to convince you that psuedo-science might be useful?

i think what we need to realize overall is that our science is a:

WORK IN PROGRESS

therefore, an incomplete process, therefore more wonderful discoveries out there to understand...

balanced with this thought, we need to remain skeptical (not doubtful), we need to remain centered on our intentions of discovering our reality, not inventing fantasies...
 

Tom Mattson

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Originally posted by Kerrie
but wasn't copernicus ridiculed because of his hypothesis? wasn't he the one who studied and gathered the evidence for it?
Yes, but that is not what makes a method of inquiry "pseudoscientific".

i think what we need to realize overall is that our science is a:

WORK IN PROGRESS

therefore, an incomplete process, therefore more wonderful discoveries out there to understand...
And we do realize it. In fact, we brag about it. Science is self-correcting, and it is through self-correction that our ideas about the universe come ever closer to The Laws of the universe (which are undoubtedly not the same as the equations we currently know).

Here is what makes a theory "scientific".

1. It must be consistent.
That is, for no statement X should it be possible to deduce both X and NOT X from the axioms of the theory.

2. It must be valid.
That is, its claims must be correctly derived via logic and, if applicable, mathematics.

3a. It must be satisfiable.
That is, it must make claims that are subject to empirical investigation. If a theory is analytically false, then it is known to be trivially false with no need for investigation.

3b. It must be falsifiable.
That is, it must make claims that, if false, will show the theory to be false. If a theory is analytically true, then it is known to be trivially true with no need for investigation.

Points 3a and 3b can be summed up as:

3. It must be contingent.
That is, it must be contingent on the outcome of experimental investigations.
 

Kerrie

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the point i was trying to make is, that there might be "theories" that are considered pseudoscience because of the lack of scientific evidence, but scientific evidence is only as good as our technology of classifying it as such...as we continue to expand our understanding of our reality, it might be possible that something once considered pseudoscience becomes scientifically provable due to our evolving technonology ad understanding...

i am not saying that the loch ness monter exists we just haven't found him yet, but i think pseudoscience gets more negative criticism then it deserves at times...
 

Tom Mattson

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Originally posted by Kerrie
the point i was trying to make is, that there might be "theories" that are considered pseudoscience because of the lack of scientific evidence,
Such theories would not be so considered by trained scientists and philosophers of science. If you look at the criteria I gave, you will see that classification of a theory as "scientific" and "not scientific" has nothing to do with gathering evidence. The judging of a theory is done solely on the basis of the claims made by the theory itself.

Take string theory for example. It is by no means proven, as we do not have the technology to see if it is predictions are satisfied or falsified. Is it scientific?

Yes.

Let's look at the criteria again.

1. It must be consistent.
String theory is an elementary (albeit sophisticated!) mathematical formalism from which it is not possible to derive contradictory conclusions. Thus, it is consistent.

2. It must be valid.
String theory is derived from its base assumptions without resorting to any questionable mathematics. Thus, it is valid.

3a. It must be satisfiable.
The predictions of string theory are, in principle, accessible to experimental verification. While we do not yet have the technology to check whether or not the claims are in fact satisfied in nature, we do know that the claim is satisfiable, and that is all that is required. Thus, string theory is satisfiable.

3b. It must be falsifiable.
The predictions of string theory are also such that, if one of them is found to be contrary to nature's workings, the whole theory is proven wrong. An example is the low-energy manifestations of the single, unified force. String theory correctly separates into the more familiar 4 forces at low energies. If it did not, then we could say for certain that string theory is wrong. Thus, string theory is falsifiable.

3. It must be contingent.
Because it meets both 3a and 3b, it is contingent.

Thus, string theory is scientific, even though it has not been adequately tested due to technological limitations.

I picked that one because it addresses your point head-on.

edit: bold font bracket
 

Tom Mattson

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Let's take a look at the development of a toy pseudoscientific theory.

Hypothesis 1a: I have a rock that keeps tigers away from my home.

(Yes, that comes straight from The Simpsons. Is there anything that show isn't good for? )

This theory is both consistent and valid, but only trivially so because it has only one prediction!

This theory is also both satisfiable and falsifiable:

*Satisfiable because the theory is satisfied when no tigers are around.

*Falsifiable because the theory is shown to be bunk if a tiger is around.

This theory is thus scientific.

So, how do I investigate it? Well, I could observe the area around my home, and if no tigers show up then I take that as strong inductive evidence that the theory is good.

But is that enough? I could also deliberatly bring a tiger around and see if something (presumably attributable to the rock) doesn't keep the tiger from coming around. If that works, then I try to develop other explanations (besides the rock) that caused it. If it does work, then I know the theory is no good, and it is thus said to have been falsified.

Now, let's say I really like my theory, so I weaken its claim so that I can hang onto it.

Hypothesis 1b:
I have a rock that keeps tigers away from my home, except when there is a tiger around.

What happens when there is no tiger? The theory is satisfied.
What happens when there is a tiger? The theory is satisfied.

Those are the only options! Since it is impossible for the theory not to be satisfied, it is unfalsifiable and therefore pseudoscience.
 

FZ+

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To be fair, a large number of scientific theories have a stage of pseudoscience in development, before proper tests and predictions can be compiled. Many such pseudosciences make the migration to science, as we find ways to apply them to reality. (eg. Faraday's laws of EM)
But these unfortunately are rare cases. IMHO, any theory that is based on not being testable, ie. strict faith and denial of criticism, is scientifically a time waste bucket, until we see a change in its principles that makes it come in line with the proper scientific method. It is not neccessarily false, but it is not worth considering. What matter is, as tom said, not the availability of evidence, but the whole approach to the theory. If the theorist says agree with me and ignore all contrary evidence or I won't listen to you, then the pseudoscience has no "purpose".
 

(Q)

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Pseudoscience - An activity resembling science but based on fallacious assumptions.

A fallacy is a misconception resulting from incorrect reasoning. An assumption is a statement that is assumed to be true and from which a conclusion can be drawn.

So the question would be, does it help, educate or increase our understanding in any way if we draw conclusions based on incorrect reasoning and assume or believe them to be true?

I don’t think there is one person who can honestly answer, “yes” to this question.

Yet, pseudoscience abounds and flourishes everywhere. And every advocate of pseudoscience will emphatically answer, “no” to the above question.

Why is that?
 

russ_watters

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but wasn't copernicus ridiculed because of his hypothesis? wasn't he the one who studied and gathered the evidence for it?
ARRRRRRGH!!!! Where's my gun? I need to shoot myself in the head. Tom, you did a great job of explaining it where I clearly failed.

To be fair, a large number of scientific theories have a stage of pseudoscience in development, before proper tests and predictions can be compiled.
Can you provide an example? What I said earlier is that a scientific theory CANNOT come from pseudo-sciece. The corrolary to that is if an idea becomes a scientific theory, it was never pseudo-science to begin with.

the point i was trying to make is, that there might be "theories" that are considered pseudoscience because of the lack of scientific evidence...
Stephen Hawking provides a recent example of this. Part of his work was an extension of Einstein's relativity in which he (and Roger Penrose) predicted the existence of black holes. At the time, no such phenomenon had ever been observed and indeed he conceded that the idea may be simply a mathematical quirk of the equations and not a physical reality. *BUT* the theory was arrived at scientifically, and therefore was NEVER pseudo-science. Reread Tom's #3. Just because we don't YET have the technology to prove something doesn't mean it is not provable pseudo-science.

but wasn't copernicus ridiculed because of his hypothesis?
Scientists are still human (clearly). They make mistakes. Many will have a negative knee-jerk reaction to a revolutionary new theory. But that knee jerk reaction is not how you determine if something is science or pseudo-science. That determination is made SCIENTIFICALLY, not EMOTIONALLY.

(Q) (are you a god?) Great point. And an answer to your question:
Why is that?
You gave the answer: fallacy. Misconception. Misunderstanding. The vast majority of the general public simply doesn't understand the meaning of the word "science."
 

Kerrie

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i think i have a clearer definition of pseudoscience now, and a more balanced one as well...

so what purpose can pseudoscience serve to help science?
and can we define clear examples of pseudoscience?
 

(Q)

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Kerrie

so what purpose can pseudoscience serve to help science?

Pseudoscience can help to educate. If people wish to learn what are correct conclusions based on assumption, they simply need to turn to science – and when they wish to learn what is incorrect, they can turn to pseudoscience. In this way, they can compare for themselves what is reasonable and what is not.

can we define clear examples of pseudoscience?

Certainly, there are plenty of examples:

Flat Earth
Parapsychology
Astral Projection
Applied kinesiology
Cartomancy
Catastrophism
Channeling
Chiromancy
Cold nuclear fusion
Creationism
Cryptozoology
Dowsing
Hydrino theory
Intelligent Design
Fortune telling
Magnet Therapy
Numerology
Orgone energy
Perpetual motion
Phrenology
Psychics
Transcendental Meditation
Astrology
Ufology

This is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

If you wish, I can give you a full breakdown of how to recognize pseudoscience.
 

FZ+

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russ_watters: actually, (Q)'s post gives me some examples of things that we regard as pseudoscience today, but may actually have a scientifically valid basis. I will clarify that I mean that pseudoscience can provide inspiration. To be a good, useful theory, a pseudoscience must become scientific.

"Dowsing" : Traditionally the preoccupation of spiritualists, some research has suggested that there does exist a scientific mechanism for this to work, based on the electrostaticl/magnetic properties of water (I think). More work need to be done, but dowsing can be tested scientifically.

"Magnet Therapy" : Ok, all those claims of live forever etc etc are pretty false. But magnetic fields have now been shown with QM to have certain interesting effects on chemical reactions. In particular, a weak magnetic field can affect the "spin" of particles in reactions that produce free radicals, improving the yield of these reactions.

"Numerology" : Kepler's laws, which form the basis of celestrial mechanics is basically, numerology. However, the observation of what seems a very co-incidental pattern in the orbits of planets, which was attributed to such ridiculous concepts as "music of the spheres" eventually did gain a theoretical basis with Newton, and now are used to make various predictions such as the orbits of satellites etc.

"Ufology" : Well, maybe. The sensationalist, faith based attitude of most ufologists have contributed greatly to the pseudoscientific nature of this line of research. However, we cannot simply disclaim these automatically. In many quarters, ufology is persued scientifically, resulting in the discovery and analysis of things as varied as a "spiritual" centre in the brain and ball lightning. No aliens yet, but this pseudoscience has generated much more interest via association with worthy schemes like SETI.
 

russ_watters

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russ_watters: actually, (Q)'s post gives me some examples of things that we regard as pseudoscience today, but may actually have a scientifically valid basis.
Well I thought we established that if it has a scientific basis, its not pseudoscience...?
I will clarify that I mean that pseudoscience can provide inspiration. To be a good, useful theory, a pseudoscience must become scientific
Certainly it is possible for something that is pseudoscience to be approched scientifically, thus becoming real sceince. Maybe we can define a halfway category - "fringe science."

Fringe science would be anything that *IS* scientific, but the scientific foundation is weak (as opposed to pseudoscience where the scientific foundation is nonexistant). SETI is something I would consider fringe science. 10 years ago, string theory may have been considered fringe sceince.

This may just add to the confusion though.
 

(Q)

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If you look above at Tom’s post, which outlines the criteria necessary for theory development (consistency, falsifiable, etc,) you’ll find that dowsing, magnet therapy, numerology and Ufology do not meet those criteria, hence they are relegated to the Pseudoscience bin.

If anyone can show that they DO meet the criteria, they will become scientific theories.

As far as SETI is concerned, there are no observations whatsoever for them to conclude ET exists; therefore a hypothesis cannot be formed. They are simply speculating based on the assumption that if we are here, perhaps there are other intelligent life forms in the universe, maybe even nearby. It very well could be valid speculation and eventually found to fit the criteria for good science.

But at this point in time, it’s only speculation.
 

Kerrie

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i think where we could go wrong is, to completely forget about pseudoscience because it is "unscientific", to be absolute in saying that pseudoscience could never really contribute would be to limit ourselves, and this is unscientific in itself...
 

(Q)

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Kerrie

to be absolute in saying that pseudoscience could never really contribute would be to limit ourselves

If Pseudoscience draws incorrect or false conclusions, it cannot contribute to anything. If you were to observe something happening and then attempted to describe what you’ve seen and reached the wrong conclusion, how is that going to contribute to your understanding? Each time you observe the event, you’ll always be wrong in understanding how it works.

Knowing this, we can logically conclude that it is Pseudoscience that is limiting our understanding of how things really work. Pseudoscience does not contribute; it is a barrier to our understanding and knowledge.
 

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