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    08 Nov '07 22:543 edits
    Ok, so I have now finished listening to 'Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It', a lecture series presented by Steven L. Goldman. Its homepage is at [http://www.teach12.com/ttcx/coursedesclong2.aspx?cid=1235&pc=Science%20and%20Mathematics] You can download it for $35 (though I have heard rumours that it can be found on some strange system called BitCascade or some-such?...)

    I listened to it in response to FreakyKBH's prompting in the thread 'A Religious Scientist', near the bottom of page 9. I had stated that there was an agreed upon 'scientific method' (and I described it by quoting the first 5 sites from a Google search on 'Scientific Method', all of which described the same basic process). Freaky said that the method was far from agreed on and there was much controvesy, advising me to listen to these lectures for more detail.

    Thanks Freaky, it was certainly interesting, though I found it a bit tedious at times. My summary follows, apologies for the inevitable innaccuracies in dates and the lack of names, I cought the gist but was listening in the car so could not maintain constant full attention.

    The first few lectures covered up to around the 18th century, where people were debating whether Truth (this means absolute truth, Universal, Necessary and Certain or UNC-Truth with a capital 'T'😉 could be ascertained through pure thought and reasoning or through experimentation. I think the concensus by the end of this period was that UNC-Truth could never be acheived by any means. However truth (Particular, Contingent and Probable or PCP-truth with a small 't'😉 could be acheived through a combination of:

    1. observation of perceived phenomena

    2. thought and reasoning resulting in hypotheses explaining those and future phenomena

    3. experimentation to test and refine/discard the hypothesis.

    This is essentially the scientific method as I have previously described it and as described in the websites I quoted on this forum. Up to the beginning of the 19th century, the method continued to be debated but was essentially accepted by the early 1800s (around the time when the term "Natural Philosophy" became replaced by "Science" ) . No other description of the scientific method is mentioned through the rest of the lectures.

    The remainder of the main part of the course, including the bits covering what are generally known as 'The Science Wars' (Google the term) of the mid to late 20th century was entirely dealing with philosophical issues about whether science can be objective or whether it is relative to culture, society and basic human nature and also whether science is modelling Reality or just our experiences. Note that none of this was debating what the scientific method was, only what it could tell us. My take on the outcome of these debates is that:

    1. In many ways, science cannot be objective since the things we think about and the things we experience are largely driven by our society and our nature as human beings: our desires, fears and ways of thinking and the interpretations our minds make on the signals coming to us through our sense organs. However, it is the most objective that we can be, given those limitations.

    2. Science can only provide interpretations of our experiences, not an absolute description of Reality. But since our experiences are driven by reality, there is a connection there that enables us to find out if a scientific statement is wrong.

    My commentary on point 1 is that yes, I can see that the problems scientists think about and the theories they come up with are quite possibly not objective: a different society or a different species would think about different things and would come up with different explanations and also use different assumptions. However, the final part of the method: testing the hypothesis using experimentation provides a degree of objectivity. It tests the consistancy of the assumptions and the hypothesis. If the tests fail then either the hypothesis or the assumptions or both do not make a good model of experience. Note that if the tests pass, that does not mean the assumptions and hypothesis are True (if A implies B and B is true, that does not mean A is true. I think goldman referred to the fallacy of Affirming the Anticedent). Even if A implies B through Z and B through Z are all found to be true, that still does not mean A is True. It just means that A has not yet been found to be false and A may be accurate enough to be useful as a predictive tool (A may actually be True but we will never know that in UNC terms).

    My commentary on point 2 is that the scientific method cannot give us UNC Truth, however nothing else can either. The best we can ever hope for is PCP truth and the scientific method is the only one so far found that can give us that.

    Interestingly, although Goldman mentioned that a few of his characters were students of Popper, he never actually covered Popper himself. I have no idea why and would welcome others suggestions. Surely Popper is as important in the debate as many others that Goldman covered?

    The last but one lecture was a fun diversion where he systematically dismantles the idea that Intelligent Design is a scientific theory. I get the impression he does not hold his colleague, Micheal Behe, in high regard.

    I think the sub-title of the course is misleading. The course is about 'what scientists know' but it is not about 'how they know it'. That would require a detailed discussion of what the scientific method is and this course does not cover that beyond a brief summary within the first couple of lectures. The course only really covers what the scientific method can tell us.

    All in all it was interesting but as a support for Freaky's assertion that the scientific method is not agreed upon, I think it fails dismally. The scientific method was formulated in the 16th and 17th centuries and was pretty much accepted by the early 19th century. After that, Goldman was describing purely philosophical debates over what the scientific method does, not what it is since that has been agreed on for over 200 years. And even then the final concensus seems to always return to the fact that although it is true that the method can only model our experience and never give us the UNC-Truth, it can at least give us PCP-truth (descriptions of our experience that are consistant and useful and theoretically disprovable). No other way of thinking about reality (or our experience of it) has been proposed that even gives us that much.

    So as I originally stated and Freaky attempted to disprove, there is one accepted scientific method and it has been established for around 200 years. Different scientific disciplines may implement it in different ways but the basic method is fixed. Philosophers may argue about what it can tell us about reality (what it does) but they do not argue about what it is.

    I'd like to quote the last thing Prof Goldman said: "Science, understood, (as having actualities in scientific objects like the atmosphere, like the planet Earth as its object) is the most effective tool we have for dealing with experience.

    --- Penguin.
  2. Territories Unknown
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    09 Nov '07 20:531 edit
    Originally posted by Penguin
    Ok, so I have now finished listening to 'Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It', a lecture series presented by Steven L. Goldman. Its homepage is at [http://www.teach12.com/ttcx/coursedesclong2.aspx?cid=1235&pc=Science%20and%20Mathematics] You can download it for $35 (though I have heard rumours that it can be found on some strange system c ffective tool we have for dealing with experience.

    --- Penguin.[/b]
    Sorry, but I lost the thread in the middle of the page full of others. I did not purposely avoid comment.

    While we can argue the other points in future discussion, let's narrow it down to the salient one here. That point being, what scientific method to employ? Penguin says the same is universal, I say not so fast. Are we agreed on this?
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    09 Nov '07 22:47
    Originally posted by FreakyKBH
    Sorry, but I lost the thread in the middle of the page full of others. I did not purposely avoid comment.

    While we can argue the other points in future discussion, let's narrow it down to the salient one here. That point being, what scientific method to employ? Penguin says the same is universal, I say not so fast. Are we agreed on this?
    Observe, hypothesize, experiment. That's fairlyuniversal right?
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    09 Nov '07 23:01
    Originally posted by FreakyKBH
    Sorry, but I lost the thread in the middle of the page full of others. I did not purposely avoid comment.

    While we can argue the other points in future discussion, let's narrow it down to the salient one here. That point being, what scientific method to employ? Penguin says the same is universal, I say not so fast. Are we agreed on this?
    That is reasonable.

    As far as I could discern, the lectures did not make any mention of any method other than the one I have described after the 18th century. No competing theory was described. The entire course was focused on what the single agreed on method could actually tell us. It did not describe competing methods in any way.

    Can you give any evidence for another scientific method being proposed by anyone in the last 200 years? If you say there is more than one basic method then please point us to resources that describe a second method and that demonstrate genuine controversy over which to use. I don't think you will be able to do the first part, let alone the second.

    --- Penguin.
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    09 Nov '07 23:05
    Good post, Penguin.
    Science can never be wrong because it never said it was right.
  6. Hmmm . . .
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    10 Nov '07 05:43
    Originally posted by Penguin
    Ok, so I have now finished listening to 'Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It', a lecture series presented by Steven L. Goldman. Its homepage is at [http://www.teach12.com/ttcx/coursedesclong2.aspx?cid=1235&pc=Science%20and%20Mathematics] You can download it for $35 (though I have heard rumours that it can be found on some strange system c ...[text shortened]... ffective tool we have for dealing with experience.

    --- Penguin.[/b]
    Thanks for sharing that. The interesting aspect for me is that it seems to confirm my own philosophical view that the grammar of our consciousness is all we have to try to decipher the syntax of the universe; while, at the same time, that grammar is itself part of (and derived from) that larger syntax. This seems to be a viewpoint that serigado and I—he from his scientific perspective, me from my Zen Buddhist perspective—have been in continual agreement on.
  7. Territories Unknown
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    10 Nov '07 16:38
    Originally posted by serigado
    Good post, Penguin.
    Science can never be wrong because it never said it was right.
    Not so fast. Science does say it is right, in that it confers upon itself, as Penguin quoted the professor, as being the best method for comprehending reality.
  8. Territories Unknown
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    10 Nov '07 16:39
    Originally posted by Penguin
    That is reasonable.

    As far as I could discern, the lectures did not make any mention of any method other than the one I have described after the 18th century. No competing theory was described. The entire course was focused on what the single agreed on method could actually tell us. It did not describe competing methods in any way.

    Can you give any evi ...[text shortened]... use. I don't think you will be able to do the first part, let alone the second.

    --- Penguin.
    You're right: the lecture did not specifically describe competing methods, but it did allow that others exist. That is what I would like to pursue.
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    10 Nov '07 16:44
    Originally posted by FreakyKBH
    Not so fast. Science does say it is right, in that it confers upon itself, as Penguin quoted the professor, as being the best method for comprehending reality.
    NO it doesn't. Science never says it is right: Religion does that. Auto-critique is basic in science. Science makes assertions and ADMITS by hypothesis it is right. That's very different from saying "this is right".
    Science is the best way to comprehend reality, of course. Is there a debate here?
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    12 Nov '07 12:52
    Originally posted by FreakyKBH
    Not so fast. Science does say it is right, in that it confers upon itself, as Penguin quoted the professor, as being the best method for comprehending reality.
    It does not say it is the best method, listen to the prof. He does not say that science is the best method there is, he says it is the best method we have.

    There may be a better method but if there is, nobody has yet found it. Unless of course Freaky is keeping it to himself.

    --- Penguin.
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    12 Nov '07 13:05
    Originally posted by FreakyKBH
    You're right: the lecture did not specifically describe competing methods, but it did allow that others exist. That is what I would like to pursue.
    It allows that others could exist. Indeed there are obviously plenty of other ways of looking at the universe we find ourselves in as evidenced by the thousands of religions throughout history. Unfortunately, non of the 'competing' methods works particularly well so as a competition it is currently a one-horse race.

    --- ~Penguin.
  12. Territories Unknown
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    13 Nov '07 01:06
    Originally posted by serigado
    NO it doesn't. Science never says it is right: Religion does that. Auto-critique is basic in science. Science makes assertions and ADMITS by hypothesis it is right. That's very different from saying "this is right".
    Science is the best way to comprehend reality, of course. Is there a debate here?
    Science never says it is right: Religion does that.
    Perhaps we're not hearing each other exactly. Both positions have been employed by those who use their knowledge within their respective fields for the purpose of gaining/keeping power. I subscribe to neither.

    Auto-critique is basic in science. Science makes assertions and ADMITS by hypothesis it is right.
    Auto-critique is basic in any quest for any truth, period.

    Science is the best way to comprehend reality, of course. Is there a debate here?
    Only if that reality is limited to what can be measured by the instruments of one's choice.
  13. Territories Unknown
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    13 Nov '07 01:08
    Originally posted by Penguin
    It does not say it is the best method, listen to the prof. He does not say that science is the best method [b]there is, he says it is the best method we have.

    There may be a better method but if there is, nobody has yet found it. Unless of course Freaky is keeping it to himself.

    --- Penguin.[/b]
    It does not say it is the best method, listen to the prof. He does not say that science is the best method there is, he says it is the best method we have.
    Difference without a distinction, really.

    There may be a better method but if there is, nobody has yet found it.
    The man of God shall live by faith. I like that one, myself.
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    13 Nov '07 13:252 edits
    Originally posted by FreakyKBH
    [b]It does not say it is the best method, listen to the prof. He does not say that science is the best method there is, he says it is the best method we have.
    Difference without a distinction, really.

    There may be a better method but if there is, nobody has yet found it.
    The man of God shall live by faith. I like that one, myself.[/b]
    Difference without a distinction, really.

    Difference with an important distinction, really. "The best method we have" accepts the possibility of a better way whereas "the best method there is" is a dogmatic statement that says catagorically that there can be no better way. Sounds like religion to me.

    The man of God shall live by faith. I like that one, myself.

    Yes but the trouble with that is that you have no way of knowing whether you are utterly wrong. The scientific method is the only method we have that attempts to find out whether its statements are utterly wrong.

    Religion just makes its statements and says "Accept them. No further investigation is required.". And different religions tell us to accept diametrically opposed statements. They cannot all be right and yet they all tell us to have faith that their particular set of statements is The Truth.

    How can that ever be considered a better method than the scientific one? How can we have any 'faith' that any given religion is an accurate model of our experience of reality?

    --- Penguin.
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    13 Nov '07 13:481 edit
    Originally posted by FreakyKBH
    [b]Science never says it is right: Religion does that.
    Perhaps we're not hearing each other exactly. Both positions have been employed by those who use their knowledge within their respective fields for the purpose of gaining/keeping power. I subscribe to neither.

    Auto-critique is basic in science. Science makes assertions and ADMITS by hypot ...[text shortened]... ]
    Only if that reality is limited to what can be measured by the instruments of one's choice.
    Perhaps we're not hearing each other exactly. Both positions have been employed by those who use their knowledge within their respective fields for the purpose of gaining/keeping power. I subscribe to neither.
    [/b]
    We were talking about the best method to comprehend reality, not what you would do with that knowledge.

    Auto-critique is basic in any quest for any truth, period.
    Yes, but religion doesn't auto-criticize it self. It has a dogma. And Religion is not a quest for truth. It's an answer for truth, an unquestioned one.

    Only if that reality is limited to what can be measured by the instruments of one's choice.
    So what? Doesn't stop from being our best shot.
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