Sunday, October 03, 2010

No such a thing as scientific method

I don't think it exists any such thing as a scientific method. Unless we mean by it the ordinary exercise of intelligence, wherever and whenever testified by men in their dealing with what concerns them. With this of course I don't say that doesn't exist science: either those which mostly go under this name (physics, chemistry, biology in all their scope), or others that encompass the aspects of experience (like the sense of beauty and goodness) from which those abstract.

Most of all I don't think that such a thing as a scientific method had its beginning (invented or discovered?) with Galileo Galilei.

I first find it introduced by 20th century philosophers of science: strange creatures, these, who in their love of science behave like voyeurs, who appreciate making love as something to look at rather than engage in, but, after having watched, turn to the lovers to instruct them on the best way to do it.

Why is it so, it needs to be seen.

Many people are convinced by them, including my present interlocutor; I think they are hacks, who understand very little of science, and still less of life. Where does this difference comes from? I could answer, being pretty sure to be misunderstood, that it is a question of faith: that aspect of experience that makes us trust some people rather than other, as better communicating to us a sense of human belonging that makes us feel attuned with humanity at large.

To be clear, and repeat myself because my interlocutor doesn't seem to get the point: there aren't people who live by reason and others who live by faith, or, to stress the thing still strongly, there aren't people who have faith and others who don't. All people have faith, in the sense I tried to explain in the last two posts, even the dear friend who is prompting me with questions; and all people have exercised and exercise their reason; so all people live by reason and faith.

Should I say that people make love without need to be instructed by voyeurs? But can only be instructed by lovers?


Back to the point: at the outset I could have equally said, instead of "I don't think", "I don't believe". As for all belief, even of my persuasion of the non existence of a scientific method could be asked on what is grounded. Excluded sheer faith, that doesn't exist, and granted that I trusted other people's teaching, the answer con only be: on reasons tested in reality.

I take, for a start, the second point: the attribution to Galilei of the paternity of the scientific method. This is a turning history of science into mythology: meaning, to find a cultural here to justify one's own positions. As a matter of fact the Galilei cultural hero of the promoters of the scientific method is just a caricature of the real Galilei.

I exemplify with bits of my conversation with Andrea.

To his opposing rationality and irrationality, I replied with mathematics:

Rational are the numbers we can divide; irrational are therefore the zero and the infinite, which cannot be devided; and yet algebra requires both: take zero and infinite away from it, and algebra collapses. So algebra embraces the rational and the irrational.

To which Andrea retorted:

Well the meaning of rationality in math hasn't much to do with that of rationality as intended when we mean the ability to exercise reason. In the first case rational means simply: capable of being expressed as a quotient of integers (or as a fraction if you prefer). Any parallelism between the two definitions is founded on mere assonance.

Strange conclusion, for one who just made an appeal to Galilei as the founder of science based on method. For Galilei in fact math was the language in which nature is written (by the creator), so, by way of it, it should be possible to reach an apodictic reading of how things are in nature. He appears therefore to be rather in agreement with to me, or better, I with him.

Totally opposite is the view of the power of science defended by my interlocutor according to the alleged scientific method:

Some of the truths that had been previously stated as absolute have fallen miserably under the progress of our ability to exercise reason, therefore we have an experimental proof about the need to be very careful with what we say is absolute at one point in time. The only so called absolute truths that have survived in the minds of some of us are those against which no confuting proof has yet emerged, most of the times unfortunately it is not because of the power or the essentiality they express but because of the generalness (and, allow me, sometimes vaporness) of their statement that makes them intrinsically unfalsifiable.

Very nice, very pretty, but it doesn't have anything to do with Galilei, nor with Newton, or for that matter with Einstein. This popperianism doesn't have anything to do with the practice of science, but a lot with politics.

The great question is: is it possible a science of politics?



Andrea said...

Dear HP,
I am amazed, in the last posts I've been rephrasing a very simple but fundamental question in different forms, I give it one last try:
If faith is, as you a say, "that aspect of experience that makes us trust some people rather than other", Why do you still trust people when they tell you to believe in things the validity of which collides with evidence and with the findings of science? Or to substitute my definition with yours: "How does faith, religious faith, comply with the ordinary exercise of intelligence (since that is how you define science)?"
That question is left unanswered, instead you seem to be giving more importance to the fact that some of the concepts I have expressed adhere to "popperianism" and not to the view Galileo…
How can the level of compliance of my view of the world with one single source be considered an indicator of the validity of the view itself?
The problem that should be addressed is whether the sources say conflicting things, and not if one is entirely "Galiean ot Popperian"

Math is a human abstraction, not necessarily a coding language in this I surely wouldn't agree with Galileo, which doesn't necessarily invalidate all of Galileo's opinions.
But again the fact that Math was for Galileo the language in which nature is written doesn't back you hypothesis according to which "zero and infinite are irrational and the other mathematical entities are instead rational", that is a mere effort to establish, by a "rhetorical escamotage", a supposed equal dignity of the rational and the irrational in the paths of knowledge and experience.
Again the pervasive "absolutization pattern" in your reasoning makes you fail to recognize that the same word can have different meanings in different contexts and they are not necessarily interlinked.
My mentioning Galilei was simply a response to your even more mythological effort to trace the roots of science, as it is today, in the method followed by Platone and Aristotele. How is that approach closer to what science is now, than the approach of Galileo, is a mistery that you leave unsolved.
I wonder where would you think the findings of science come from if not from applying a method that has proven itself valid, call it scientific, call it something else. To have such an opinion you should give direct proof of your or someone else's ability to obtain results in any scientific discipline without a method. You obviously haven't spent much time in a lab (which is not necessarily bad, but it surely doesn't help understanding the way science makes progress).
I have mentioned countless examples of incompatibility (or let's say very low likelihood of compatibility) between the findings of science and a view of the world generated by a faith in a God who loves mankind. But none of them has been addressed by you so far.

Humbly Presumptuous said...

Dear Andrea,
I wanted this to stay as a private answer in comments, but I don’t know why the larger version was not taken. So you'll find the rest in a post.
Please, forgive me the allusion to Popper, that was for the public of the post. I understand it is annoying to be categorized.
You see, the answer is simple: because I don't think there is collision. But to be credible it implies in the end an appeal to trust.
So, for a start, to ground an appeal to trust that, not knowing me, you have no reasons to have, I would invite you to read a couple of books that helped me in forming my ideas about science, to which I already referred in my posts: Personal knowledge by Michael Polanyi and Against Method by Paul Feyerabend. They are outside of today cultural mainstream, but there are no reasons why outside of this there can't be very interesting and valid works. As third, I would invite you to read Toward an ecology of mind, by Gregory Bateson, a fascinating figure of anthropologist, psychologist and epistemologist very concerned with the question of the unity of Mind and Nature (title of another of his books). None of them is specifically theological, but they can all prepare a ground for that rational discussion of theology that at present you exclude.

Humbly Presumptuous said...

For now, let me add this:

I too, in my youth, was very disturbed by that apparent collision between the teaching of the Church and science. There seemed to be no way out: neither could be true at the same time. And though, I didn't want to give up either: I didn’t want to hold to my faith making a sacrifice of reason, and I didn't want to give up faith to keep on reasoning.
The way out of the dilemma came from faith: I mean, trust in those who had educated me, that prompted me to study, i.e. to face the challenge coming from science. It was a dangerous path, because it could have led me to naught, with religion necessarily yielding to science.
Such was not the case. I discovered that where science seemed to go against Church teaching, it was because it was faulty, not really scientific. This at the same time required a deepening in the understanding of that teaching, to see why and how it agrees with what is really scientific in science.
I foresee a possible objection, so I want to be clear: it is not faith that decides what is really scientific, but reason: what is science can only be judged on the basis of what the scientific tradition evidences.
Here comes in my polemic against the "scientific method": it doesn't look like what the great scientists actually do.
Did I answer now your question? I hope yes, even though only in way of principle. Have I demonstrated that Church teaching and modern science do not collide, so to be able to assert with all the reasons of the case that the world is created by a benevolent God? Well, no. Not because there are no such reasons, but because they require time, and, as I said, trust.

Humbly Presumptuous said...

Andrea, if you were to accept my invitation and read the books I signaled to you, and after shouldn't agree with them, it would be an occasion to expose your ideas to the challenge of answering to their objections, so clarifying them better.

Andrea said...

-I discovered that where science seemed to go against Church teaching, it was because it was faulty, not really scientific-
I hope you realize the power and danger of the above sentence, I have a few objections to make:

0) If you redefine science to make it compatible with faith you cannot call it science anymore, call it a new science, call it whatever you want, but then you have to reconcile it with the findings of the mainstream science, the one that has made progress possible so far.
It is not enough to say that science has been faulty so far, you have to prove that it has been.

1) I think you should be able to communicate your findings without sending me to the library. I hope you agree that the success of science and rationality lies in the ability to explain the most complex phenomena decomposing them in simple laws, we can assume that we both are smart enough to communicate and understand such simplicity. But I will accept the challenge provided you take on the reading of an equivalent amount of books that will be suggested by me… (give me some time to elaborate on a few candidates I have in mind)

2) You see, this is were we disagree, knowing you (although it would surely be an interesting experience as it always is to get to know someone with an above average ability to make use of intellect) wouldn’t make a difference if you could rationally expose the reason why you think there is no collision between faith and reason. The problem is that in order to assess compatibility one has to be explained in the terms of the others. And on the science side this cannot be achieved by mere faith in someone, but it has to be explained without any resorting to faith. Why? because it is the very role of faith in science we are discussing…

3) I would expect that a rational motivation of your sentence would have demonstrated its validity to tons of rational people, therefore I urge you to submit your claims to the scientific community, and I will join you as soon as I am done reading the books you suggest.

4) I could (but I won’t) reverse your statement in the following way: “”I discovered that where Church seemed to go against Science findings, it was because it was faulty, not really ‘Churchy’ “. Such an approach could not be easily shown to be less valid than yours. From this I might go on and elaborate a theory on the most likely kind of God we could conceive given the findings of science. A God that “may” have created 4 fundamental physics laws and sat on a couch for the last 12 billion years. Why am I not doing it? because it is and irrational approach, much less rational than accepting incompatibility.

Andrea said...

I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but from a rational point of you, I cannot avoid feeling that belief is panicking. On one side we have science contributing enormously to the progress of mankind and not needing contamination from other disciplines, or and enlargement of its scope to justify its validity. On the other we have belief trying to jump on the winner’s bandwagon and twisting the very definition of science to make up for its anachronism, and the fact that the pre-conditions for its diffusion are rapidly vanishing.

Humbly Presumptuous said...

Dear Andrea,
perhaps you have noticed the fact that I said that science has to be valued on the basis of what the scientists do, primarily the pathmarking scientists like Galilei Newton Einstein. And nothing else.
For the rest, let me time for the next posts.

Andrea said...

Yes, the problem raises when what they do brings to conclusions that collide with the hypothesis that underly a belief system.

So, sorry for taking a shortcut but I have assumed that you believe in God , even if you never explicitly said so (I have considered the fact that you write on a religious blog a pretty good clue)
As far as interesting and relevant readings are concerned I'd like you to take a look at the following two books. Let me clarify that these books are not anti-belief books (in spite of the fact that at least one of the two authors is unfortunately more famous for being an atheist than for being a biologist), nor they intend to endorse their findings as morally good (that is not the purpose of science anyway). Instead of taking a bottom up approach by showing why I think science as it is practiced today is good and not bad,the purpose is to submit to you a top down approach by examining scientifically the rationale of human behavior, which are to me the key elements to identify the need (or the absence of need) for belief. I favor this approach over defining what knowledge really is because the latter involves the risk of getting into the typical paralysis of trying to answer the question "What is reality" by defining "What is What" first...
I "believe" our ability to formulate true statements is limited by nature itself (we have dimensional constraints that impede direct observation of many phenomena), but putting together a coherent corpus of models is what we can surely aim at.

The books:
The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins
The Evolution of Cooperation - Robert Axelrod

I will consider our readings a reciprocal act of courtesy with the purpose of phasing into the "other interlocutor mode" for a while, and better understand our positions.

Only one pre-requisite: you have to consider Darwin a scientist, if you don't then the discussion is in an even more infant state than we suspected.

Humbly Presumptuous said...

Dear Andrea,
I read some time ago Dwarkins' book, and I understand why can fascinate. It is well written and its thesis is intriguing. But I felt some uneasiness, I mean, not the religious man in me (which doesn't exist, because "religion" is a false concept, as I tried to explain in a post some time ago), but the scientist in me. Now, science is a global thing, but the one I have expecially cultivated is anthropology, dealing with the social and hence cultural envoronment of men's life. The reasons for that uneasiness were clarified by the reading of Nature via Nurture by Matt Ridley, who dealt at large with how the genetic endowment of man reacts with the environment, for men always mediated by other men.

An other thing: you tend to confuse the trust aspect of faith with the belief aspect. When I said that faith in those who had educated me turned me to research, I mean my trusting them as honest and reasonable people, who, if they thought what they thought must have had their good reasons. And I discovered that they did.

Of course I can explain that reasonableness by myself, without nead to send you to the library. That was just an invitation to know some authors who reflected on science on a line somewhat different from the one you follow, without being necessarily men of faith (in your sense).

Whatever genes do for us, at the level of our coscious relating to each other there is an impredictability that requires trust, which cannot be washed away from our discourses. Which leads me back to the first post I wrote in answer to your first comment. All that was said there belongs to anthropolgy as a scientific discipline.

Humbly Presumptuous said...

To say it better: that was a little essay in scientific anthropology: meaning, a discourse of man that accounts for what we observe men do. Does it negate that there are innate genetic factors. By no means. It would be like denying thate there are some that are students more inclined toward mathematics and others that are more inclined toward English lit, or whatever. This doesnt take away, however, the fact that we all relate to each other, and that this raises specific requirementsfluaalic.

Humbly Presumptuous said...

Sorry, I was quite sleepy and I made a lot of mistakes. I try again.

To say it better: that was a little essay in scientific anthropology: meaning, a discourse on man that accounts for what we observe men do. Does it negate that there are innate genetic factors (from evolution or whatever other way)? By no means. It would be like denying that there are students more inclined toward mathematics and others that are more inclined toward English lit, or whatever. This doesn't take away, however, the fact that we are all educated into a world of men, with all that this requires.

By the way, how do you cancel a wrong comment?

Andrea said...

your approach to Religion and Science is becoming a little bit blurry to my eyes, the reason being that you declare yourself Catholic on one side but you don't' call yourself religious, you talk about genetic factors on one side but then you seem to comply with the notion of a predestined prevalence of mankind in nature (a prevalence that by Catholic notions doesn't emerge naturally as that of any other specie but is of supernatural nature)

I agree with you that our complex behavior cannot be over simplified, just as that of apes, dolphins, whale and the other most evolved mammals, evolutionary theories explain and take that into account quite well. So my "fascination" for them as you call it does not emerge from faith of trust In Dawkins (I don't know him) but from the rationality of the thesis that are exposed. Had Dawkins name been Jerry Lewis, his theories would appear just as valid (in spite of the fact that he would have spent most of his life making people laugh while secretly embarking on the study of genetics) I am aware that we are at the borders of scientific knowledge, but that's just how science works. It starts by making assumptions based on evidence to explain unknown phenomena, those assumptions become accepted when new evidence emerges or they are just kept as the most likely hypothesis until something changes. In the case of genetics we have proofs these are not theories anymore.
Now the "selfish gene" view might be one part of the correct explanation
but the fact that genes are the common "Lego Bricks" of whole life is indisputable. Our gene code being at 96% in common with that of apes, at least 50% with that of plants supports the following evidences that I think strongly collide with any religious view:

- there's only one currently known kind of life and it is that based on DNA replication (wether via sexed or unsexed reproduction) of carbon based organisms.
- A first man never existed
- Men's superiority to other species is a result of evolution in the environment ruled by physics laws, not the effect of an intention of any kind, whether internal or external to the system itself.

I'd really like to know if your broad and modern concept of religion agrees with those statements or not,.
If you agree with those, than I will become very curious about how the essence of your religiosity and how it complies with the Catholic Church.

PS: I cancelled my comments via a dedicated option that was given to me by Blogger after posting. I suspect your interface for editing messages and comments may be different due to the administrative rights you have on the blog.

Humbly Presumptuous said...

Dear Andrea,
I am not surprised that you are a bit perplexed by what I say. The fact is that on this whole question of "religion" and "science" I am very critical, not just of the way science is defined, but also of the way it is defined religion.
(That's why I chose as pseudonym "humbly presuptuous": why presumptuous should be clear enough; humble, instead, because it was not my merit if I had good teachers, and if I was given an intelligence that clicks.)
I find our use of the two concenpts faulty, for the very simple reason that if I deal with non modern Europeans or Americans what we call their religion is simply for them knowledge of the world, call it their science.
Now, out choice is simple: either we think that anybody exept enlightened Europeans or Americans were a bunch of credulous morons, or we have to try to see how also their understanding of the world had reasons that we could comprehend and embrace in ours.
That has been the teaching of cultural anthropology, that requires us to go through a moment of "anthropological doubt", requiring us to expose what we thought we knew, and even what we thought we don't and cannot know, to the insults and denials inflicted, to our dearest ideas and habits, by ideas and habits that can contradict them to the highest degree.
To oppose "religion" and "science" the way we do in our society, doesn't matter whether in favor of the one or the other, is one of our dearest ideas and habits.

Andrea said...

Dear HP,
We all have been credulon morons at some point in time, I mean we humans as a whole. Judgement must be made taking into account the context in which this concepts have been formulated.
We thought the earth was flat, what a bunch of credulon morons we were at that time, but then we realized it wasn't, we thought mankind was special because we thought some entity had intentionally created human life with a purpose. I wouldn't go so far as to say those who have that opinion are morons, but I can say that we have evidence against this, or at least the means to estimate a very, very low level of probabilty for such an event compared to other possibilities.
I am unaware of any type of religion that is not based or inspired by my last statement. Furthermore I am not aware of any type of religion which is not referring to absolute moral values that do not undergo the sort of evolution or adaptation you refer to both science and religion. This is why i cannot consider myself religious in anyway and I am amazed by the fact that those who define themselves as religious do not feel any discomfort when they give up on this issues.

Humbly Presumptuous said...

I don't think you get the point. To start, I am not speaking of science and religion, but of "science" and "religion", if you see the difference. I said that these are two words to conceptualize the evidence of what men do and say, and that they are to this aim inadequate and therefore wrong: on their basis we cannot understand others, and not even ourselves.
I hope to find time to explain it in a post.

Andrea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrea said...

Isn't understanding our origins a contribution to understanding ourselves? I believe Science with or without quotes, has done much more on that road than any other discipline, supporting its findings with evidence.
DNA molecules and evolution are not philosophical conjectures, they are the evidence of what men have researched and discovered, applying rationality and common sense.

I really see no possible contribution for cultural anthropology, to the process of establishing if evolution has taken place or not.

Ultimately,any problem can be decomposed even to the point where it becomes a phylosophical issue if you wish, and its relevance is questioned. But this doesn't help its solution in any way. Therefore questioning the nature of science and religion won't help you answer the simple questions I have asked so far, questions to which an answer is of value even in our limited frame of reference.
We must take into account such frame of reference (the fact that we are here, now, and that if you eat me in the head it hurts) and live with without need to delude ourselves to fill the gaps.

Andrea said...

That said given our limits in our ability to know reality, and given the fact that we might only be able to model it, we have produced a model that has undergone many refinements and revolutions in the late 2000 years as a consequence to the explanation of phenomena previously considered inexplicable. A friction, now stronger than ever, has emerged between the predictions and explanation of such a model with the intentions of a loving Creator.
I summarized them once again:
- the Earth has no predominant position in the Universe, it is only one of the possible gardens
- There is no first man
- scientific determinism pervades the universe.
In the absence of an ability to reconcile the frictions theologians, and less accultured believers show the two following curious approaches.
1) Question the validity and meaning of the model
2) Skip on the frictions and live without thinking about them.

A more humble and less presumptuous approach would be to re-assess our role in the universe on the basis of such findings.

Andrea said...

I am reading Polanyi's is well written.
At page 3 unfortunately I have to face the first element of disagreement:

The Author
"Why did Copernicus exchange his actual terrestrial station for an imaginary solar standpoint?
The only justification for this lay in the greater intellectual satisfaction he derived from the celestial panorama as seen from the sun instead of the earth.Copernicus gave preference to man's delight in abstract theory.. in a literal sense therefore the new Copernican system was as anthropocentric as the Ptolemaic view, the difference being merely that it preferred to satisfy a different human affection"

My Comment:
On one hand such consideration would require a knowledge of Copernicus psychology which we may assume the author does not have. In lack of such knowledge the author should indicate why his interpretation of Copernicus motivation is preferable to that by which any new discovery is accepted by the scientific community which is roughly the following:
"When a theory describes a phenomenon with greater accuracy, more simplicity, a better ability in making predictions it becomes a better model"

The intellectual satisfaction is a CONSEQUENCE not a CAUSE in this case. In fact The complexity of epicycles in previous theories made the prediction and the interpretation of stellar movements very difficult. This problem was solved by formulating the hypothesis that the Sun was at the center of our galaxy, and this was done with great humility against what common sense and religious views suggested. How can intellectual satisfaction be the initial motivation to go against common sense? It may be a reward once we find that common sense was wrong, but this does not mean that any scientific discovery emerges from an act of intellectual vanity against common sense.

Andrea said...

I have dedicated a post on my blog to the Michelsson Morley experiment issue, which is mentioned in "Personal Knowledge" (Polanyi) as an evidence for how science can sometimes be unscientific.

It's written in italian, if you do not speak italian I'll translate it.

Humbly Presumptuous said...

I don't need to enter into an author's head to see the satisfaction expressed by his work.
But what's most interesting here is the adjective "intellectual" added to "satisfaction". Nothing to do with vanity coming from having achieved a better explanation of facts than before. It means the satisfaction inherent to seeing things becoming intelligeble.

Andrea said...

Dear HP,
pertaining to your sentence: "It means the satisfaction inherent to seeing things becoming intelligible", I'd like to point out that whichever the meaning, such satisfaction exists only after the results have been achieved and it is illogical to consider it the "primal cause" of a new theory. One may, of course, wish to obtain some sort of reward for his work, but to say the it is the reward that generates the work is illogical, because the content of the two are absolutely unrelated.
The sentence "The only justification for this lay in the greater intellectual satisfaction he derived from the celestial panorama as seen from the sun instead of the earth" is illogical. For things to become intelligible the theory must explain better the observed phenomena, and this happens before any satisfaction is derived from it.

Humbly Presumptuous said...

Three moments go together in sequence: 1) evnisaging a new expplenation (like: let me try this), 2) finding it intellectually satisfying; 3) assenting to it.

Andrea said...

I agree, the key is the sequence,
2) cannot be the cause of 1)

but there are a few missing elements.

1) Let's try this (hypothesis : what if we assumed the sun is the center of the earth's orbit instead of the other way around)
1.5 ;-)
a) Does 1) comply with observation? (it would be impossible to prove otherwise so let's further test the hypothesis)
b) does 1) represent reality in a more simple way or does it allow us to explain previously unexplained phenomena? (yes it explains the current movement of stars without requiring epicycles), does it allow us to make better predictions (yes)
2) It seems to be an intellectually satisfying alternative let's keep it, and discard the first one until further evidence emerges

time goes by

3) Did new theories emerge that comply with our hypothesis? (yes: gravitation laws confirm our hypothesis) Did we have the means to verify experimentally that the Earth is actually revolving around the Sun and to test the law of gravity? (yes)

Intellectual satisfaction increases, gravity is "true" as it is "true" that the earth revolves around the sun. There's no need to have faith in the guy who initially told us, we can experimentally verify the hypothesis independently.

4) any further steps

Andrea said...

Other possible hypothesis:

Is God the origin of gravity?
We have no evidence against this

Is God the origin of the other 3 basic forces?
We have no evidence against this

Once those 4 forces are put in place, given its state at one point in time, does the universe require an intentional intervention of external actors to transition to the its next different state?
This hypothesis does not comply with the current findings, we have evidence against this hypothesis. Local alterations of such laws would imply an immediate collapse of the entire universe....