Monday, August 15, 2011

Science, Knowledge, Bias

Response to

Did it ever occur to you that perhaps people are just being "pedantic" when they object to your strawmen? You also never defined what you mean by "Knowledge". But in general terms, knowledge is an extremely fuzzy concept that has really never been nailed down by philosophy. It's a placeholder concept, we don't know what it is but we know it when we see it.

Even justified knowledge can (and has been) proven false. For example: CLEARLY the sun goes around the earth, I can see it moving, I don't feel like I'm moving. I can form this into a series of hypotheses that I test and all are born out by the facts. Therefore, I can form a justified belief that the sun goes around the Earth. What's wrong here is that I don't have ALL the facts. I didn't do a very good job and I missed some obvious difficulties. If you want to see an example of this at work in reality check out my post on it: Where I give a long list of observables that must ALL be satisfied by our theory and the geocentric theory absolutely fails a number of tests. Tests I may not have been aware of initially.

This is the hurdle you must overcome with any epistemic theory and this is the REASON the scientific methodology exists as it does today.

To put it more succinctly, Science is our best methodology for removing sources of error and bias from our conclusions.

So science is not the only route to knowledge - you can just make shit up based on a dice roll and it MIGHT be true - you can form theories from abstract ideas and hope they are true - or you can measure the universe and gather facts and jump to conclusions - or you can take those same facts and subject them to best possible testing that humans have devised. The first three ensure that you suffer from all the types of errors and bias that we KNOW exist.

You can use ANY process you want to come up with hypotheses (including dice rolling, with computers this is a reality) - the question is, how do we decide which ones are actually true.

The "empiricists dilemma" is irrelevant because it cannot be demonstrated. I could postulate that we exist only in the fart of a magical unicorn, I have no BASIS for such claims so they are absurd. You also cannot prove that we weren't created in JUST this very instant. Again, we have no basis for making such a claim other than to wonder "what if". "what if" is fine, come back when you can prove we aren't just swirls in the fart of a magical unicorn. I can postulate an infinite number of absurdities (thanks to recursion). So you now have an infinite number of absurd things that are exactly equal to your "dilemma" in weight. Surely that sheds a different light on it?

Science's only burden is to demonstrate utility - it has done. It has proven itself time and time again to falsify even our a priori assumptions and bring us closer to "Knowledge".

To propose there is some OTHER process for doing the same thing (better)?) is to claim that LEAVING IN errors and bias produces better results, which is absurd.

In short, I reject your strawman of science and I show that the negation of science leads to an absurdity.

"Science is a social construct" - so is philosophy. You can use philosophy to come up with hypotheses but if you want them to be accepted as valid descriptions of reality then you'll have to submit them to testing and validation. Are you SERIOUSLY suggesting that we must accept as true random SHIT that people make up no matter how strongly it disagrees with physical reality?

"The atheist fortress of fact is a philosophical position" - this isn't even a distinct idea that I can comment on.

"They will only accept as scinece [sic] the things that rule out God belief" - blatantly false and more than a few scientists have believed to invented clever arguments and evidences for God. You are confusing your own Confirmation Bias and other cognative disabilities with our refusal to accept false evidence.

Look at the case of Lourdes. There used to be THOUSANDS of miracles claimed at Lourdes. Then a commission was setup to try to validate them and instantly the 'miracle' claim rate dropped to a mere trickle. Now this was still in the early 1900's. As medical science has advanced the miracle rate at Lourdes dropped further, and further, and now it's pretty much at zero. Are there ANY even claimed since about 1987? Where did all the miracles go? What you had was millions of visitors who were primed to believe in a miracle and you had massive levels of fraud and simple confirmation bias. And even then the 'confirmed' miracles in the earlier part of the century were of the "disease went into remission" variety. Well, whoop-de-do. Some of those diseases had no known cases of remission so they were counted as miracles but work since has shown that natural remissions to occur in those diseases as well. But guess what, they refuse to retract their 'miracle' claims.

Confirmation Bias. So now we have MILLIONS of people failing to get any miracle cure at all and one random person goes into remission and that is a miracle. Has anyone regrown a lost limb after visiting Lourdes? Nope, not a one. It's unable to produce any miracle that doesn't otherwise also have Natural causes. The fact that people still believe in these types of Miracles is the true Miracle.

So, please produce someone who can pray for someone and regrow a limb and do that under strict scientific scrutiny and that would the type of evidence that I would find acceptable.

I will not find pathetic cover-ups for Natural processes as evidence.

"There's more to the universe than the surface level of how the physical aspect function" - I'm sure that this statements actually means much of anything but can you demonstrate some fact that shows this is necessarily true?

P.S. It's the HIGGS (two G's) not Higs and that is a SIMULATED trace, not an actual trace.

See how little sources of error creep in? :)

1 comment:

  1. Metacrock posted a follow-up comment over on his blog. I posted the following reply:

    "knowledge an extremely precise concept ... Knowledge is an organized body of things that can be learned and known"

    This is a circular definition which suffices only for casual discussions. It says nothing about the truth of such knowledge or the epistemology behind it.

    You can hem and haw around it or you can address it but it is a critical question: How do you claim to know something is true in absence of any supporting evidence?

    "you want to take knowledge out because you are not learned"
    The definition of knowledge is a matter of on-going debate among philosophers in the field of epistemology

    This fact is easily borne out by a review of the literature.

    Steup, Matthias and Sosa, Ernest (eds). 2005. Contemporary Debates in Epistemology. Malden (MA): Blackwell
    "In contemporary epistemology, there has been an extensive debate on whether justification is internal or external" (and numerous other statements)

    "information" - yes, information is fuzzy concept as well. But, at least in some domains, there are mathematical descriptions of information (Shannon tied information to entropy).

    How much "information" is there in the Mandelbrot set? Well, it contains an infinite amount of data but it is computable by a very small program. This has lead to some information theories around computability. There is also Zeilinger's principle which has some interesting things to say about reality ("A Foundational Principle for Quantum Mechanics" by Anton Zeilinger, Foundations of Physics, vol 29, p 631 (April 1999)).

    So I think information is still fuzzy but has a much stronger physical footprint than "knowledge", mainly because "information" is many orders of magnitude simpler and is tied to concepts of thermodynamics and quantum mechanics which are founded on empirical observations.

    "O yes it's so very ery imporant t oet that extra g in there"

    No, your typos aren't my point at all. The point was that you presented an image as "Higgs boson particle trace" and it wasn't, it was only a SIMULATION of what we might expect to observe (that's why I gave you a link to a paper backing up this statement). From this someone might erroneously conclude that the Higgs had been confirmed. That person might then form further conclusions which are false. I'm sure you didn't mean to misrepresent this claim but this could be a source of accidental error to someone in the future.

    How do we guard against this? Well, one is by peer review - my pointing it out in a comment will hopefully help to guard against someone making that error. Ideally you would add the word "simulated" into the caption.

    So I challenge you now on two fronts:

    #1 demonstrate your claim that "knowledge [is] an extremely precise concept" - which would require refuting the sources I gave and supplying your "extremely precise" definition (preferably one that is sourced) but one that isn't circular would be a good start. Once we have YOUR definition we can compare and contrast it to Locke, Descartes, Plato (etc).

    #2 How do you claim to know something is true in absence of any supporting evidence?

    Are you relying on a priori knowledge?

    Consideration of philosophical paradoxes can also make the point that a priori justification is fallible. We seem to be a priori justified in believing that if you take one grain of sand from a heap of sand, you are still left with a heap, and that if you only have one, or no, grains of sand, you do not have a heap of sand. But we know that one of these propositions must be false, for the first leads to the denial of the second. So a priori justification must be fallible (cf. Bealer 1998, 202).