Sunday, February 04, 2007

The new (postmodern) scientific method

13 Comments:

Blogger Brian S said...

Ha! The first diagram is as wrong as the second!

Scientific theories do not begin with observations.

They begin with a problem.

The problem could be an observation that was not predicted and cannot be explained by the prevailing theory. But it also could be that the prevailing theory is incompatible with other theories, or that it is inelegant. Problems come in an infinite number of different guises.

Only when you know the problem can you go about finding a solution. The solution to a problem is an explanation, not a generalized prediction from a set of observations.

Explanations are not justified by repeated observation. We tentatively accept an explanaton if it is a good solution to the problem. By good solution, I mean it has survived critical attempts to undermine it and no experiment has falsified it.

2/05/2007 08:47:00 am  
Blogger Brian S said...

...further to the above...architecture also begins with a problem does it not?

2/05/2007 08:54:00 am  
Anonymous Kane Bunce said...

Brian, if you do not observe reality how do you know there is a problem? Finding a valid problem is a corollary of observing reality not the other way around. Therefore observation of reality is the first step.

2/05/2007 11:03:00 am  
Blogger Brian S said...

Kane,

I answered your question when I wrote "[t]he problem could be an observation that was not predicted and cannot be explained by the prevailing theory. But it also could be that the prevailing theory is incompatible with other theories, or that it is inelegant."

So observations can play a very important role in knowing you have a problem. But they don't play the role you think they do (enabling us to induce a theory).

Without a theory, you do not know what to observe.

Scientists do not spend millions, say, launching a space probe to test general relativity just to do a random series of observations. The observations they carry out are informed by the theory of relativity. And what they are looking for are observations that do not conform with the theory. Relativity itself grew out of a series of problems with the preceeding theory: Newtonian mechanics.

Observations are used to falsify theory (unless the theory is existential, in which case they are used to confirm the theory). We test our theories against reality with the idea of finding holes in the theory.

Science did not grow out of theories induced from observations. Inducing a theory from observations is a non-sequitur, as though a scientific theory were just a generalized prediction. Scientific theories make predictions but they are more than just mechanisms for making predictions; they are explanations.

Ultimately science grew out of myths (primitive theories), when people had the bright idea of actually testing myths against reality.

...

BTW, PC, what would be the architectural analogue of diagram 2?

2/05/2007 10:20:00 pm  
Blogger Chefen said...

I think Brian is saying he ain't no cryptoinductivist.

2/06/2007 08:16:00 am  
Blogger Kane Bunce said...

Brian, without observation of reality we cannot have a theory that is even remotely resembling consistent with reality. In order to have any knowledge we must use our senses and then integrate the information they provide us. That is the first part of knowing anything, therefore observation is the first part of making a theory, be it scientific, artistic, or economic (or any other type of theory). With integration of sensory data we cannot have a knowledge of reality. With knowledge of reality we cannot have a theory. Full stop.

Here is an example: say for example I was trying to come up with a new theory on curing cancer. If I didn't observe the reality of how cancers and the human body works my theory would never work because it would not pertain to reality. Such a theory would only work if it grew out of observations on how cancers and the human body works.

Another example: say i got a job working on the development of the nanobots that if they work could be put in the blood and be able to kill any diseases and heal damaged cells, even ones damaged by age or cancer. I would have to observe how the technology of such nanobots works, how the human body works, how the human cells work, how the diseases work, etc in order to come up with any nanobot theory that worked. If it did not grow from induction of such observations it would not pertain to reality and therefore not work.

Both examples would not only fail to heal, they would cause damage if they did not grow from the mentioned observations and integration of all relevant information. Such a process is what reason is. Reason is a mandatory for accurate and successful science.

Inducing a theory from observations is a non-sequitur, as though a scientific theory were just a generalized prediction.

I never spoke of generalised predictions. I spoke of specific observation of the reality of that which one wants to study. Without integration of such observations (read: reason) no accurate and working theory is possible.

Scientific theories make predictions but they are more than just mechanisms for making predictions; they are explanations.

Explanations are what I am talking of. Without observation of reality there can be no accurate explanations, as illustrated in my two examples.

Ultimately science grew out of myths (primitive theories), when people had the bright idea of actually testing myths against reality.

"testing myths against reality" is what I have been talking about. If we don't observe reality we can't do such testing.

I think Brian is saying he ain't no cryptoinductivist.

I have no ideal what "cryptoinductivist" means. No online dictionary i tried found it, not even AskOxford which searches the database of the Complete Oxford Dictionary, the most complete dictionary in existence.

2/07/2007 11:18:00 am  
Blogger Brian S said...

Kane,

Crypto-inductivist - it's a term from Chapter 7 of David Deutsch's "The Fabric of Reality" - a book you have no doubt heard of if you were following the Quantum Mechanics debate on this blog.

A crypto-inductivist is someone who believes that the invalidity of inductive reasoning raises a serious philosophical problem, namely the problem of how to justify relying on scientific theories.

Chapter 3 of FoR is online here and explains why science is not and never could be a process of inductive reasoning from observations.

I hope I can give a more detailed response to your post later, but I'm afraid that for now its beddy-byes for me, as I have to get up early tmorrow!

2/07/2007 11:48:00 am  
Blogger Kane Bunce said...

No, I don't follow the quantum mechanics posts on this blog. I try to avoid such issues as they have no interest to me.

Chapter 3 of FoR is online here and explains why science is not and never could be a process of inductive reasoning from observations.

In other word, Chapter Three says science isn't about reality at all. As I have already illustrated we need to integrate knowledge of reality into any scientific theory. This can only be done via reason (logical integration of sensory data).

I gave to concrete examples of how this is the case. As I said, if I was to try too such medical inventions without observing the reality of the relevant factors (such as the human body) I would not only fail but cause harm to patients as my theories for the inventions would not be based on reality.

Although it is fictional, the TV show House M.D. does a good job of illustrating how reality is an important part of medical science. Physics and chemistry need knowledge of reality just as much as the medical sciences do.

2/07/2007 11:59:00 am  
Blogger Brian S said...

In other word, Chapter Three says science isn't about reality at all.

Absolutely not. Chapter 3 says that science uses hypothetico-deductive reasoning, not inductive reasoning. I don't really think you want to claim that hypothetico-deductive reasoning is not reality based.

2/07/2007 10:11:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

Kane - Now for my longer reply :)

In order to have any knowledge we must use our senses and then integrate the information they provide us.

Yes, but note that what you are really saying is that we must use a theoretical framework. Integration of information is not a-theoretical. Nor is knowing what to observe.

That is the first part of knowing anything, therefore observation is the first part of making a theory, be it scientific, artistic, or economic (or any other type of theory).

Science in the 21st century for the most part is concerned with realms quite outside direct human experience; knowing what to observe requires sophisticated theories. For example, without the theory of relativity we would never have contemplated gravity wave detectors. The whole process by which we go about observing gravity waves is theory-laden. Now it might turn out that measurements of gravity waves reveal a flaw in relativity, in which case it must be discarded and a new theory found.

Theories begin life as conjectures put forward to solve problems.

Conjectures require human creativity. Human creativity draws on many things, including things that actually transcend experience, such as the theories you hold to be true. But, when you make a conjecture, the observations that could falsify your conjecture have yet to be made. Most conjectures never get experimentally tested - they can be ruled out by argument alone. When a conjecture is actually tested, what is tested are predictions made by the conjecture. We attempt to falsify the conjecture by showing that its predictions are wrong.

Conjectures that have survived good criticism and attempts at falsification we tentatively accept as theories. In no way was that theory arrived at inductively - the construction of the theory required human creativity (which can draw on anything) and hypothetico-deductive logic.

Here is an example: say for example I was trying to come up with a new theory on curing cancer. If I didn't observe the reality of how cancers and the human body works my theory would never work because it would not pertain to reality. Such a theory would only work if it grew out of observations on how cancers and the human body works.

The problem that you haven't recognised is that any set of observations is compatible with an infinite number of theories. So the observations in and of themselves give no reason to prefer one theory over another. To quote David Deutsch: "We choose a scientific theory because arguments, only a few of which depend on observations, have satisfied us (for the moment) that the explanations offered by all known rival theories are less true, less broad or less deep". So your theory of cancer would be justified for this reason - that it is the best explanation available.

Another point here is that when you say "observe the reality of how cancers and the human body works", what you mean is assimilated a vast body of knowledge arrived at through theories of how cancer and the human body works. Most of the reality that these theories are concerned with is at the cellular and molecular level and there is no way of apprehending this reality without those theories.

2/08/2007 06:48:00 am  
Blogger Kane Bunce said...

Integration of information is not a-theoretical. Nor is knowing what to observe.

The point is that before any theoretical work can be done we must make such observations first (so yes it isn't theoretical). Since we must do this before doing anything theoretical it is therefore the first step in any process of the creation of anything new, be it scientific, economic, artistic, or otherwise.

Science in the 21st century for the most part is concerned with realms quite outside direct human experience

Translation: it is concerned for primarily with things either outside of existence or outside of what we can perceive. This is highly flawed. It is only that which we can perceive that we should be dealing with, as we can only benefit of that which we can perceive. And with we cannot perceive it, even with the help of machines, there is good reason to doubt its existence, or at least abandon the study of it. Unless we can find a way to perceive of it that is.

For example, without the theory of relativity we would never have contemplated gravity wave detectors.

And without observation of reality we could not have a theory on relativity that is accurate. All knowledge (and everything else) eventually boils down to three primaries, three axioms:

1. Existence: That which exists exists.
2. Consciousness: We are conscious beings and need to use that and our faculty for reason to know anything.
3. Identity: A is A. A can never be Non-A. Everything is of its nature.

Without knowledge of these self-evident facts no knowledge is possible. In order to know these we must observe existence. Things that do not do so on a human levels, such as animals and the severely mentally handicapped, do not know these and as such are severely limited compared to us. it is our observation of reality, which leads to knowledge of the three axioms, which leads to knowledge of other things, that allows us to know anything and it is knowledge that allows us to create accurate theories.

Even when we use theories in observation, that is based on previous observation that wasn't theory laden. Eventually our observations boil down to the three axiom, which cannot be boiled down further.

Also relevant is a corollary of the law of identity (created by the Greek philosopher Aristotle) is the law of causality, which isn't an axiom, but is important. The law of causality is often quite accurately referred to as cause and effect. I assume I do not have to explain cause and effect to you. I assume you are smart enough to know what that is.

Theories begin life as conjectures put forward to solve problems.

I am aware of that. But for such conjecture to be accurate it must be based on reality, otherwise it is just an irrational assumption (read: an assumption not based on reality).

Conjectures require human creativity.

Yes. But what defines our creativity? Our metaphysical and epistemological. Only a logical integration of sensory perception can lead to accurate metaphysics and epistemology.

Human creativity draws on many things, including things that actually transcend experience

Rubbish. Creativity draws on what i mentioned above, which can only draw from experience. Take writing for example (and this I know a a lot about thanks to 14 years of experience). A writer cannot convincingly write about what he has not experienced. Nor can a painter convincingly paint things he hasn't experienced. The same applies to scientists. Even assumptions, conjectures, and theories to be accurate have to be based on an observation of reality. No observation equals inaccurate 100% of the time.

Creativity can only draw on things we know. Knowledge is based on experience. No experience equals no knowledge.

As for induction, well without induction we can have no knowledge of reality and therefore no accurate theories. thus science needs induction in order to be accurate, in order to pertain to reality. Science is only useful if it pertains to reality.

How do you suppose Thomas Edison invented over 200 things? By not observing reality? If so then you are highly inaccurate.

The problem that you haven't recognised is that any set of observations is compatible with an infinite number of theories.

Actually I never thought that. You are adding meaning to what I said. A nit of advice to people for when they try to interpret me: take what I say at face value. I talk and write at face value. I never add a hidden or implied meaning. I speak and write literally, at face value.

So the observations in and of themselves give no reason to prefer one theory over another.

Translation: "Reality and reason give no reason to prefer one theory over another." The point of observation is to know reality. As long as one is rational one can always do this. Reality and reason do give us reason to prefer one theory over another, therefore so do observations.

To quote David Deutsch: "We choose a scientific theory because arguments, only a few of which depend on observations, have satisfied us (for the moment) that the explanations offered by all known rival theories are less true, less broad or less deep"

Just a few of which depend on observations? Mr Deutsch is incorrect. All knowledge depends on observations, therefore so do theories. Without observations we do not know reality, therefore we have no knowledge, therefore we do not theories.

Furthermore, as I illustrated above, all knowledge relies on the observation of reality that leads to knowledge of the three axioms and the law of causality. Without knowledge of these no other knowledge can exist. Without knowledge we have nothing to bass theories on. Therefore the observations that lead to knowledge of the three axioms and the law of causality is needed to create theories.

So your theory of cancer would be justified for this reason - that it is the best explanation available.

With something like cancer (or any other health care) no doctor worth 10% of his pay check will use a theory in anything other than trials unless there is hard evidence that it works. That it is "the best explanation" isn't good enough. They want hard evidence that it work otherwise they won't risk their patient. Evidence requires an o0bservation of the reality of the trials and tests.

The same applies in other fields of science. No engineer worth 10% of his pay check would try invent a new technology based on a untested theory.

The same applies to early stages, such as the creation of a theory.

Another point here is that when you say "observe the reality of how cancers and the human body works", what you mean is assimilated a vast body of knowledge arrived at through theories of how cancer and the human body works.

No, I don't. I mean proven facts. No medical scientist worth 10% of his pay tries to create a medical theory based on unproven theories. If he worth even 10% of his paycheck he bases it on proven facts not theories. Remember, theories are unproven. When they are proven true (say for example in the medical trials of a new medical drug or tests in the case of new technology) do they become facts rather than mere theories.

Most of the reality that these theories are concerned with is at the cellular and molecular level and there is no way of apprehending this reality without those theories.

As I said above they are facts not theories. But yes, without them, no apprehension is possible. This has been my point from the beginning. Without such comprehension of the facts of reality no apprehension orb understanding is possible.

2/08/2007 10:24:00 am  
Blogger Brian S said...

Kane,

Your requirement that we make observations in-vacuo, unguided by theory, is simply unrealistic. Meaningless data gathering exercises are the refuges or politicians and beaurucrats.

Observations works best when guided by theory. Data seldom speaks its own meaning, so you need the background context of the theory (or conjecture) to make sense of your data.

You need to be biased; to have a point of view.

This applies to everyday sensory data also. You do not come into the world knowing the meaning of what you observe. That is something you learn and much of that learning is so in-built you forgot you ever did it. Observe a toddler and you will see toddlers are constantly experimenting, making conjectures and trying them out. Sensory data initially means nothing to a baby.

Theories do indeed transcend experience. Nobody has seen the interior of an atom or the surface of a neutron star, but we know about these things in exquisite detail. Never having experienced these things, I can nevertheless draw on that knowledge when I attempt to construct new theories.

Deutsch is correct that most scientific argument does not depend on observation. Some - a very important part - does. Most scientific arguments are of the sort we are having right now, where neither of us are rushing out to make new observations.

General theories are never proven true by observation. It is simple logic: A universal statement cannot be proven true by observing a finite number of confirming instances. Universal statements can be falsified, however, by finding a counterexample.

Existential statements, on the other hand, can be confirmed by finding an instance, but never falsified.

Truth exists, but to know the truth you need to consider more than the observations at hand; you need to consider the explanatory power of your theories. You see this I think when you write:

Reality and reason do give us reason to prefer one theory over another, therefore so do observations.

But observation only insofar is it enables us to falsify a universal or confirm an existential.

I would suggest you read some Karl Popper and compare and contrast Popper to Ayn Rand (I'm a libertarian of the Popperian variety, not the Randian variety).

2/08/2007 12:22:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

As for induction, well without induction we can have no knowledge of reality and therefore no accurate theories. thus science needs induction in order to be accurate, in order to pertain to reality.

Kane, obviously you see yourself as a rationalist, but you obviously don't see how inductivism plays right into the hands of the irrationalists: you end up batting for the other side.

Inductivism is all about justified true belief. Data that doesn't fit is an inconvenience. Hypothetico-deductive logic on the other hand is about finding mistakes and correcting them; about testing your theories to find the flaws. Hypothetico-deductive logic says you should make a whole lot of conjectures about the facts, and then test and criticise them all to see which hold water.

Don't seek to justify your beliefs by how well they conform to observation, try to find weaknesses in your beliefs and correct them. That is how you get at the truth of things.

Politicians love induction. Can you think why?

...

BTW, your stance on quantum physics is completely irrational!

2/09/2007 09:37:00 am  

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