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scientific realism
Posted: 01 December 2008 07:58 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I am in a philosophy of science class at the moment.  I am a skeptic and generally agree with most of scientific views of the skeptics movement. One problem that I am having been in this class is I don’t see a good enough argument for scientific realism Which if there isn’t a good enough argument for scientific realism I don’t see the point of even studying science.

Let me define scientific realism with a couple definitions

First, I will quote wikipedia

Scientific realism is, at the most general level, the view that the world described by science is the real world, as it is, independent of what we might take it to be. Within philosophy of science, it is often framed as an answer to the question “what does the success of science involve?” The debate over what the success of science involves centers primarily on the status of unobservable entities apparently talked about by scientific theories. Roughly put, scientific realism is the thesis that the unobservable things talked about by science are little different from ordinary observable things (such as tables and chairs).

next I will quote.  My philosophy of science textbook


1. we all inhabit a common reality, which has a structure that exists independently of what people think and say about it, except in so far as reality is comprised of thoughts, theories, and other symbols, except in so far as reality is dependent on thoughts, theories, and other symbols in ways that might be uncovered by science

2. one actual and reasonable aim of science is to give us accurate descriptions (and other representations) would reality is like. This project includes giving us accurate representations of aspects of reality that are unobservable

one last definition that I will quote is from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosphy

Scientific realists hold that the characteristic product of successful scientific research is knowledge of largely theory-independent phenomena and that such knowledge is possible (indeed actual) even in those cases in which the relevant phenomena are not, in any non-question-begging sense, observable

the arguments I have read in favor of scientific realism seem to have better refutations then the arguments themselves.

also the arguments against scientific realism seem quite strong

I guess my question then is, what is everyone’s thought on this? is there a defensible argument for scientific realism, if not then what?

I will try provide a response to any arguments that people come up with that I have read.

[ Edited: 01 December 2008 08:04 PM by zntneo ]
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Posted: 01 December 2008 08:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Well, the overarching question is this. If the results of scientific inquiry are not reasonable enough to warrant assent, then which results are? Which sorts of studies are we to use that are more epistemically well-founded than the methods of science?

The only response to scientific realism that I can see is a sort of corrosive skepticism in which we never have knowledge of anything. But this does damage to what we mean when we use words like “know” in ordinary discourse. No, the results of science are not certain to be true, but there is nothing truer than them that we have access to, and that is enough.

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Posted: 01 December 2008 08:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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dougsmith - 01 December 2008 08:07 PM

Well, the overarching question is this. If the results of scientific inquiry are not reasonable enough to warrant assent, then which results are? Which sorts of studies are we to use that are more epistemically well-founded than the methods of science?

The only response to scientific realism that I can see is a sort of corrosive skepticism in which we never have knowledge of anything. But this does damage to what we mean when we use words like “know” in ordinary discourse. No, the results of science are not certain to be true, but there is nothing truer than them that we have access to, and that is enough.

oops did i type wrong, I’m meant that scientific realism is the idea,  basically, that our scientfic theories aretrue, or approximately true, or that an aim of science is to try to explain what in reality, is actually like.

 

 

 

 

edit nevermind this post i misunderstood you

[ Edited: 01 December 2008 08:20 PM by zntneo ]
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Posted: 01 December 2008 08:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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dougsmith - 01 December 2008 08:07 PM

Well, the overarching question is this. If the results of scientific inquiry are not reasonable enough to warrant assent, then which results are? Which sorts of studies are we to use that are more epistemically well-founded than the methods of science?

The only response to scientific realism that I can see is a sort of corrosive skepticism in which we never have knowledge of anything. But this does damage to what we mean when we use words like “know” in ordinary discourse. No, the results of science are not certain to be true, but there is nothing truer than them that we have access to, and that is enough.

one anti-realist position is the following from Bas C. Van Fraasen called Constructive empiricism

Science aims to give us theories which are empirically adequate; acceptance of a theory involves as belief only that it is empirically adequate

someone like Thomas Kuhn, proposed a family of views called metaphysical constructivism:

the view that in some sense, we have to regard the world is created or constructed by scientific theorizing


then there is the instrumentalist view of science

we should think of scientific theories as devices for helping us deal with experience . rather than saying that describing the real world is impossible , an instrumentalist
will urge us not to worry about whether a theory is a true description of the world, or whether electrons “really, really exist.” If a theory and neighbors as to make good predictions, what more can we ask”


Quotations come from my philosophy textbook

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Posted: 01 December 2008 10:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I affirm that the natural world is real.

I affirm that science provides the most accurate description of the natural world.

I affirm unobservable phenomena can be predicted by scientific theories and also be real.


Many times scientific theories predict phenomena that at the time were not observable but later were proven to be correct as technology improved. Einstein didn’t prove his theory until he had the opportunity to record a solar eclipse and see that the light had been bent. String theorist may prove some of their predictions with the Hadron colider.

All scientific theories are subject to change and not considered fact. When a theory predicts an unproven phenomena it isn’t considered a fact or real. It is only considered to be the best current description of reality. It makes sense to treat the current description of reality as real instead of less adequate or debunked descriptions.

It is important to make the distinction between treating theories as real and claiming theories are the absolute truth about reality. You would treat a ordinary object like a chair as real until you realized it was not i.e. it is actually a hologram or made of balsa wood, at that point you would treat it as you currently know it to be. In that same way unobservable phenomena may be predicted by a theory which perfectly describes all observable phenomena, but also predicts phenomena we can not test. It would make sense to treat those unobservable phenomena as real, until a simpler theory can describe reality as well or better then the current theory, or if it becomes possible to disprove those phenomena.

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Posted: 01 December 2008 10:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I have no background in this philosophical “scientific realism”, however, as a retired scientist, I’ll state my views and you can see if they make sense or if you see flaws in them.

1.  The universe exists, and the word we have assigned to describe that existence is “reality”.
2.  The amount of information in the universe is, for all practical (if not mathematic) purposes, infinite.
3.  We can observe only a tiny fraction of that reality/information, and we can assign that which we believe describes reality as our “truth”.
4.  We can develop inter-relations that seem to describe processes and materials of the universe, that is, reality, and these become part of our “truth”.
5.  When relationships seem to exist, but for which we don’t have complete observable information, we can insert interim concepts so the theories match our observable reality.  However, we must be ready to revise our beliefs in the event of additional information which requres that we do.

i don’t see our ideas/theories as constructing reality.  While we can adopt any “truth” we want, that doesn’t mean that we are generating or adopting a new reality.

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Posted: 02 December 2008 05:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Occam - 01 December 2008 10:38 PM

I have no background in this philosophical “scientific realism”, however, as a retired scientist, I’ll state my views and you can see if they make sense or if you see flaws in them.

1.  The universe exists, and the word we have assigned to describe that existence is “reality”.
2.  The amount of information in the universe is, for all practical (if not mathematic) purposes, infinite.
3.  We can observe only a tiny fraction of that reality/information, and we can assign that which we believe describes reality as our “truth”.
4.  We can develop inter-relations that seem to describe processes and materials of the universe, that is, reality, and these become part of our “truth”.
5.  When relationships seem to exist, but for which we don’t have complete observable information, we can insert interim concepts so the theories match our observable reality.  However, we must be ready to revise our beliefs in the event of additional information which requres that we do.

i don’t see our ideas/theories as constructing reality.  While we can adopt any “truth” we want, that doesn’t mean that we are generating or adopting a new reality.

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I do find Khun’s idea that we construct a new reality whenever we change paradigms a bit far out there. It kind of seems like you are saying that as long as our models are predictive than that is all that we can hope for.  We shouldn’t hope for our theories even approximately match reality?

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Posted: 02 December 2008 05:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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zntneo - 01 December 2008 08:46 PM

one anti-realist position is the following from Bas C. Van Fraasen called Constructive empiricism

I am aware of van Fraassen’s views; they make no sense to me. He is a realist about everything that we can see with the naked eye or telescopes. He is an instrumentalist about everything we can see with microscopes. (He seems to believe that using a microscope involves a sort of theorizing about what we perceive that we do not have to do while using telescopes or telephones). This is just silly. I find the argument completely unpersuasive.

Of course, I agree with him and others that the aim of science is empirical or predictive adequacy, otherwise known as “saving the phenomena”. But insofar as we are to make metaphysical claims, we have no better epistemic backing than our scientific theory. E.g., see Quine’s notion of epistemological naturalism.

zntneo - 01 December 2008 08:46 PM

someone like Thomas Kuhn, proposed a family of views called metaphysical constructivism:

the view that in some sense, we have to regard the world is created or constructed by scientific theorizing

This is a claim which is either trivial or false. It is trivial in that “in some sense” means that our knowledge of the world is constructed by scientific theorizing. But everyone already knows that to be the case, we didn’t need Kuhn to tell us.

It is false in that it leads to post-modernist nonsense about science being only one myth we tell about the world, no different from the myths of the ancient Greeks or Christians, and if Jane wants to believe that the earth was created in 6000 BC and Ruth wants to believe that the earth is five billion years old, there is nothing to choose between them, they each construct their own world. (That is, it leads to this unless one also asserts that scientific theorizing is constrained by the way the world is independent of that theorizing. But that gets us to scientific realism).

Further, your Kuhnian claim is false in that it implies that before scientific theorizing, there was no world. That is about as clear a reductio ad absurdum as you can get.

zntneo - 01 December 2008 08:46 PM

we should think of scientific theories as devices for helping us deal with experience . rather than saying that describing the real world is impossible , an instrumentalist
will urge us not to worry about whether a theory is a true description of the world, or whether electrons “really, really exist.” If a theory and neighbors as to make good predictions, what more can we ask”

Quotations come from my philosophy textbook

OK, but try to consider the implications of those quotes.

BTW, I agree with the issue about asking whether electrons “really, really exist”. Some of the concerns of instrumentalists is that they are aware, as I am, that science does not give certainty. All it can tell you is that by our best evidence, electrons exist. When one asks a question piling on the “reallys”, (“Do electrons really, really, REALLY exist?”) it sounds like one is asking, “Do they exist even if we are for now wrong about the way the final science will turn out?” and then of course we can’t know that. Perhaps they really don’t exist. But all we can do is go by our best theories, as per Quine.

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Posted: 02 December 2008 10:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I find what Doug said in his initial response especially pertinent: “If the results of scientific inquiry are not reasonable enough to warrant assent, then which results are? Which sorts of studies are we to use that are more epistemically well-founded than the methods of science?”

Is certainly possible to twist inevitable epistemelogical uncertainty into a theory that either nothing is real or whatever is real is unknowable. But where does that leave us? How is it useful? How does it explain the dramatic changes in our way of life since the advent of modern scientific reasoning and experimentation? It seems like a lot of extreme conceptual yoga is called for if one wants to assert that there either is no reality to investigate or that our investigations are only self-referential, not connected to any true reality. I don’t see the point.

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Posted: 02 December 2008 03:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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zntneo - 01 December 2008 07:58 PM

I am in a philosophy of science class at the moment.  I am a skeptic and generally agree with most of scientific views of the skeptics movement. One problem that I am having been in this class is I don’t see a good enough argument for scientific realism Which if there isn’t a good enough argument for scientific realism I don’t see the point of even studying science.

Because science gets results.

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Posted: 03 December 2008 01:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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danlhinz - 02 December 2008 03:48 PM
zntneo - 01 December 2008 07:58 PM

I am in a philosophy of science class at the moment.  I am a skeptic and generally agree with most of scientific views of the skeptics movement. One problem that I am having been in this class is I don’t see a good enough argument for scientific realism Which if there isn’t a good enough argument for scientific realism I don’t see the point of even studying science.

Because science gets results.

Apparently not results in terms of establishing what is real and what is not ... are you prepared to argue for scientific realism?  Or do we divert to the utility of science since it doesn’t really matter what is real and what is not if we can obtain technologies that enable us to suit our fancies?  Is the latter the appropriate end of science?

I remember reading about the latter idea as a postmodern view of science.

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Posted: 03 December 2008 02:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Bryan - 03 December 2008 01:50 PM

Or do we divert to the utility of science since it doesn’t really matter what is real and what is not if we can obtain technologies that enable us to suit our fancies?

Divert? Why do we have to divert? The fact that science enables us to “suit our fancies” clearly shows that, say, bacteria exist, and that antibiotics exist, and that antibiotics help us to fight bacteria. And if this whole thing is just a dream in some big brain floating in space, then in that big brain antibiotics still kill bacteria. Philosophy can be weird.

[ Edited: 03 December 2008 02:36 PM by George ]
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Posted: 03 December 2008 02:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The utility of science is an argument for what is real. The lack of utility in other systems of understanding the world (e.g. mythology) is an argument against their version of what is real. Philosophers can obscure this with intricate arguments, but the fact that science works better supports the contention that it’s onto something real.

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Posted: 03 December 2008 02:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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George - 03 December 2008 02:33 PM
Bryan - 03 December 2008 01:50 PM

Or do we divert to the utility of science since it doesn’t really matter what is real and what is not if we can obtain technologies that enable us to suit our fancies?

Divert? Why do we have to divert? The fact that science enables us to “suit our fancies” clearly shows that, say, bacteria exist, and that antibiotics exist, and that antibiotics help us to fight bacteria.

So you would argue for the truth of scientific realism on that basis?

And if this whole thing is just a dream in some big brain floating in space, then in that big brain antibiotics still kill bacteria. Philosophy can be weird.

Apparently not (in answer to my question).  You seem to have simply posted a long version of “yes”—unless you’re contradicting yourself.

[ Edited: 03 December 2008 02:53 PM by Bryan ]
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Posted: 03 December 2008 02:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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mckenzievmd - 03 December 2008 02:43 PM

The utility of science is an argument for what is real.

In its current simple form it’s rather like an assertion for what’s real.  wink

The lack of utility in other systems of understanding the world (e.g. mythology) is an argument against their version of what is real.

Have religion’s unfalsifiable propositions been falsified or something?  Could you be specific?

Philosophers can obscure this with intricate arguments, but the fact that science works better supports the contention that it’s onto something real.

The flip side of your statement is that ignorami can obscure the logic with simplistic statement, but the fact is that logic and reason don’t support that scientific realism is true.

This thread will go boring in a flash if nobody gets past the assertion phase.  Props to Doug for plowing into the thick of it, torpedoes be damned.

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Posted: 03 December 2008 03:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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How am I contradicting myself? Whatever the universe is, in it the antibiotics kill bacteria. We know this thanks to science.

Maybe I am in the wrong thread… confused I am scared.

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