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Scientific theories and empiricism

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Scientific theories and empiricism
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devilsadvocateUser avatarPosts: 246Joined: Sun Aug 08, 2010 8:28 pm

Post Scientific theories and empiricism

The thread "When does scientific theory stop being a theory" got me thinking about empiricism and scientific realism. Especially the post about how theories explain strings of facts (observations). I'm thinking amongst other things Hume's challenge for induction. Hume wasn't arguing that induction is only so reliable, he was arguing that past events are absolutely no indication at all for future events. After all we merely observe strings of facts, not causation itself. In this regard, are we like Russell's chicken? Every day the farmer comes with a bucket of seeds. The chicken seems justified enough in her belief supper follows farmer, but as we know from grander scheme of things, eventually the farmer will come with an axe instead of a bucket.


So I pose this as a form of challenge, if you will: How justified are scientific theories on observations alone? Try to stay on observable evidence alone, careful not to assume any metaphysics.
Jazz isn't dead, it just smells funny.
Tue Jul 19, 2011 6:44 pm
CosmicJoghurtPodcasterUser avatarPosts: 808Joined: Tue Oct 26, 2010 7:59 pm Gender: Pinecone

Post Re: Scientific theories and empiricism

I fail to see how scientific theories can be safely derived from inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning gives us a real, non-assumptial understanding of the facts, and therefore I can't seem to find anything wrong with it being used as solid evidence... But not inductive reasoning, oh no. Again, that's my layman view.
Perception of reality results in interpretation of reality which results in a deformation of reality.
Thu Jul 21, 2011 2:45 am
CaseUser avatarPosts: 1080Joined: Sun Feb 28, 2010 9:40 pm Gender: Cake

Post Re: Scientific theories and empiricism

I support this fruitful conversation with the following artist's impression thereof.

Image
I am determined that my children shall be brought up in their father's religion, if they can find out what it is.
Charles Lamb (1775 - 1834)

Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
Thu Jul 21, 2011 10:07 am
Your Funny UncleUser avatarPosts: 556Joined: Sat May 22, 2010 11:38 amLocation: UK Gender: Male

Post Re: Scientific theories and empiricism

The moment gravity fails and we all fly off the Earth into space we'll know that Hulme was right. Until such time I reckon the scientific method seems pretty reliable.
“I don't believe in an afterlife, so I don't have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.” - Isaac Asimov
Thu Jul 21, 2011 10:48 am
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SquawkModeratorUser avatarPosts: 2011Joined: Sun Feb 22, 2009 8:25 pm Gender: Tree

Post Re: Scientific theories and empiricism

You're farmer/chicken analogy is subject to a flaw which science actually works to counter. Let me expand on this.

A theory is only as good as the assumptions on which it is based. There are certain assumptions that we must make in order to use any form of reasoning. For one, the notion that reality exists, and two, that we can reason about reality. We should try to eliminate any other assumption as far as possible.

Beyond that we begin to make inferences. The chicken cannot make a sound inference of the farmer/food situation because it's treating the information in a vacuum. It has no knowledge of supermarkets, or even of cognition, of the farmers true purpose.

From this we see that past events are a predictor of future events if we can establish from first principles a cause and effect relationship, even if that relationship is probabilistic rather than strictly deterministic. If a given assumption (reality exists) is actually false (and it's possible), then all bets are off. Easiest example here would be if we actually live in a matrix and an alien being (the designer of the matrix) is capable of changing the fundamental constants that define our reality).

In short, a theory is only as good as the assumptions that underpin in. The more assumptions you can remove, the stronger the theory.

Might be worth noting that there is a branch of apologetics call presuppositionalism which asserts that the only justification we have for reason is God. It's a failed position since it assumes its conclusion (reason), then attempts to justify it, but you try getting a presuppositionalist to realise that. Head, wall, pain.
Pope Rat: "Exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny."

Squawk response: "O Rly?"
Thu Jul 21, 2011 1:08 pm
devilsadvocateUser avatarPosts: 246Joined: Sun Aug 08, 2010 8:28 pm

Post Re: Scientific theories and empiricism

There are certain assumptions that we must make in order to use any form of reasoning. For one, the notion that reality exists, and two, that we can reason about reality. We should try to eliminate any other assumption as far as possible.


I constructed the argument from the viewpoint empiricism is the accepted epistemology. I believe it is possible to have sound reasons, deduced from observations (which incidentally count as, at least when carefully performed, justified evidence in this epistemology), that reality exists. This is not on the table (at least doesn't have to be) nor is the justification for empiricism in general. You can think of the question in this way: IF we adopt empiricism (and we agree reality exists to boot), WHAT can we justify to believe in. All justification has to be deduced from observations and observations alone.

Might be worth noting that there is a branch of apologetics call presuppositionalism which asserts that the only justification we have for reason is God. It's a failed position since it assumes its conclusion (reason), then attempts to justify it, but you try getting a presuppositionalist to realise that. Head, wall, pain.


Isn't same kind of logic given as an answer to the problem of induction most often? In so many variations the attempted justification for induction is of the general form "Induction has worked so great in the past, so of course it's silly not to trust it". That is of course just circular logic. Good luck trying get people to recognize this as well.

Before you're ready to throw me in the loony bin, I want to make what I'm claiming here clear: I am NOT saying we shouldn't trust induction, what I am asking is can we have any rational justification for induction, given only strict empiricism as epistemology.
Jazz isn't dead, it just smells funny.
Fri Jul 22, 2011 6:37 pm
SquawkModeratorUser avatarPosts: 2011Joined: Sun Feb 22, 2009 8:25 pm Gender: Tree

Post Re: Scientific theories and empiricism

devilsadvocate wrote:
Before you're ready to throw me in the loony bin, I want to make what I'm claiming here clear: I am NOT saying we shouldn't trust induction, what I am asking is can we have any rational justification for induction, given only strict empiricism as epistemology.


No, we can't. That's exactly what I intended to spell out, and I'm pretty sure you already know the answer is no given what you posted. I won't throw you in the loony bit at all for it, because it's a position I agree with.

However, in addition to arguing that it cannot be justified, I would then argue that in order to even start to comprehend the world you must accept it as being true unconditionally (ie, it's an axiom), because you cannot even trust the thoughts you have if you don't accept it axiomatically.
Pope Rat: "Exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny."

Squawk response: "O Rly?"
Fri Jul 22, 2011 9:28 pm
ImprobableJoeLime TordUser avatarPosts: 6195Joined: Sun Feb 22, 2009 3:24 pm

Post Re: Scientific theories and empiricism

Too many big words... I assume that someone in this thread is LYING TO ME!!!! :lol:
Come visit my blog! There will be punch and pie!
Fri Jul 22, 2011 9:40 pm
AndiferousUser avatarPosts: 2727Joined: Mon Jan 04, 2010 7:00 amLocation: Laputa Gender: Time Lord

Post Re: Scientific theories and empiricism

<3 Joe.

I still prefer deduction.
"As there seemed no measure between what Watt could understand, and what he could not, so there seemed none between what he deemed certain, and what he deemed doubtful."
~ Samuel Beckett, Watt
Sat Jul 23, 2011 8:04 am
impikuUser avatarPosts: 211Joined: Sun Jun 05, 2011 9:58 amLocation: Hell. Gender: Cake

Post Re: Scientific theories and empiricism

devilsadvocate wrote: Hume wasn't arguing that induction is only so reliable, he was arguing that past events are absolutely no indication at all for future events. After all we merely observe strings of facts, not causation itself.


Reality is regular but to infer logical necessity from induction is absurd. It is a non-sequitur. I think I posted something like this on this forum somewhere, probably free will vs determinism thread. I said that the matter simply transcends the scope of mere empiricism. It's a rudimentary mistake to simply enumerate "causal" events based on observation and argue for causal determinism, it just doesn't cut it.

devilsadvocate wrote:How justified are scientific theories on observations alone?


Whether it is epistemically justified or not is beyond me. I would have to read/learn more to have an opinion but it is justified pragmatically, and it is this reason why I value science.
"Who needs Satan when you have a God like this?" -- Robert M. Price

"In the sphere of thought, absurdity and perversity remain the masters of the world, and their dominion is suspended only for brief periods." -- Arthur Schopenhauer
Sun Jul 31, 2011 11:42 am
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