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Concern with Scientific Method
Posted: 23 November 2010 10:11 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I only have one that bother me in accordance to the article http://www.csicop.org/si/show/field_guide_to_critical_thinking/ .

Falsifiability
I disagree with the absolute acceptance of falsification in science as a determiner of truth. The reasoning for its acceptance has a serious flaw. In order to analyze this, let’s first assume its truth and check out its potential implications. By the article from James Lett the rule is as follows:

“It must be possible to conceive of evidence that would prove the claim false.”

Assume that someone claims that there is a heaven. This seems to be a clear-cut case to show how falsifiability is effective. There seems to be no evidence that one can put forward or conceive that could disprove such a statement. Ideally, this is true if the proof is required in the present circumstances of our understanding. You could argue that even if you waited until you were dead and did not experience heaven or anything, it would be meaningless because you could not experience the disproof. This makes sense.
    But who says heaven is the only possible conception in the minds of people’s imaginations? What about the possibility of discovering that you were in a temporary game of human life, like playing a virtual reality game on a computer? That would certainly disprove that the heaven you assumed existed was not true after all. This example just shows that falsifiability can be ineffective. Is there a situation in which something could be considered true but yet not capable of being disproved?

James writes,

The rule of falsifiability is essential for this reason: If nothing conceivable could ever disprove the claim, then the evidence that does exist would not matter; it would be pointless to even examine the evidence, because the conclusion is already known — the claim is invulnerable to any possible evidence.

This is acceptable reasoning. But then James continues ...

This would not mean, however, that the claim is true; instead it would mean that the claim is meaningless. This is so because it is impossible — logically impossible — for any claim to be true no matter what.

No claim can logically be certified as true no matter what? Okay, I challenge anyone reading this sentence to deny that they are doing so! Is this falsifiable? Can you provide yourself convincing evidence that can disprove that you are reading this right now? If you can’t, then you are unable to provide falsification for your experience. Isn’t this quite in tune with empiricism? Your subjective experiences cannot be put to question—even if they were hallucinogenic relative to the real world.
This should obviously be a disproof to falsifiability using an example of one instance where it fails. Therefore, it isn’t true logically as it is stated and should be reconsidered.

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Posted: 24 November 2010 12:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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“For every true claim, you can always conceive of evidence that would make the claim untrue — in other words, again, every true claim is falsifiable.”

Seems just blatantly wrong.  On several levels, some of them practical, some of them related to the nature of hypothesis testing, and some of them profound and mathematical (eg Godel’s incompleteness theorem).

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Posted: 24 November 2010 07:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Speaking generally, in philosophy of science Popper’s falsifiability criterion has been considered incorrect for decades now. For more on this I’d suggest listening to the recent PoI podcast with Massimo Pigliucci, which you can find HERE, by clicking on the link in the first post.

The reasons it doesn’t really work, however, don’t really touch on the points you make. Do recall that the falsifiability criterion was specifically designed to highlight the distinction between science and non-science. It’s not intended to highlight the distinction between truth and falsity, or between meaningful and meaningless statements.

For an example: it’s impossible to falsify any true statement of mathematics, or any statement that is true by definition (“all bachelors are unmarried”).

Also, your beef isn’t with the ‘scientific method’ per se, but with a criterion of the so-called “demarcation problem”, that of demarcating science from non-science.

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Posted: 24 November 2010 08:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Dougsmith:

Speaking generally, in philosophy of science Popper’s falsifiability criterion has been considered incorrect for decades now.

I am not aware of this claim. Apparently, it hasn’t caught onto the mainstream online. How do you find out if this is the popular view amongst Scientists or not? All Wiki’s don’t mention any downfall of falsifiability. Are they trying to hide something?

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Posted: 24 November 2010 11:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Just from my understanding to prove something you need to setup testable criteria. In setting up the criteria necessary to pass you also conversely imply the criteria necessary to fail.

Heaven is not testable. That we are in some virtual reality game, (a la brains in a vat) is not testable. It is impossible to set up criteria to prove or disprove either case. There is no way to test either scientifically.

Doesn’t mean either is not possible. Just means it is not reasonable to insist on acceptance of either possibility because neither can be proven scientifically.

Things like language definition and math which I also see as a language are true by fiat. It’s true because we say it is true and agree it is true. Doesn’t really fall under science or a need for scientific proof. One can always disagree with a definition however in doing so one loses all basis for communication of ideas and concepts.

Pseudoscience, an individual gets to decide for themselves the reasonable criteria necessary to accept something as proven. However for it to be considered scientific you need to have the criteria used accepted by a consensus of notable scientists which have expertise in the field that covers whatever you are trying to prove. If you don’t get that consensus you can claim something has been proven scientifically however it will not be accepted by the scientific community as anything more then pseudoscience.

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Posted: 24 November 2010 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Scott Mayers - 24 November 2010 08:17 AM

I am not aware of this claim. Apparently, it hasn’t caught onto the mainstream online. How do you find out if this is the popular view amongst Scientists or not? All Wiki’s don’t mention any downfall of falsifiability. Are they trying to hide something?

Don’t know about scientists; they really aren’t as interested in these kinds of issues as philosophers are, they just do the science. It’s the philosophers who are interested in trying to codify and make precise these boundary conditions.

Wiki isn’t a “they” so much as an amorphous group of people. I’m sure there’s no hiding going on; it’s just that it hasn’t been updated by professional philosophers of science. (Of which Pigliucci is one). For 99.99% of people these issues are of no real import.

For more on this issue, see the post on science and pseudo-science in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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Posted: 25 November 2010 08:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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To give an example of how these philosophical issues are involved in daily life consider a wife who suspects her husband of cheating on her.  She is convinced by her anxiety that her husband has been having affairs even thought they have been married for 20 years.  He has taken many business trips to far away lands and it would not have been difficult for him to have concealed the adultery for years.  She has no observable evidence to prove that he has indeed had affairs just suspicious behavior that could be interpreted many different ways.  A husband has no way of FALSIFYING his wife’s theory.  He can’t prove he did NOT do something.  Still, even though it cannot be falsified it could be true or it might not be true.  This shows the danger of BELIEVING (as opposed to saying “I don’t know”) something which cannot be falsified.  The couple eventually gets divorced.

[ Edited: 25 November 2010 09:01 AM by brightfut ]
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Posted: 25 November 2010 11:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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brightfut - 25 November 2010 08:56 AM

The couple eventually gets divorced.

That’s so sad…. downer  they couldn’t work it out ey
sorry
It was just a heck of a way for this thread to end, oh and I do get your drift brightful.
In fact, so often these philosophical threads just leave me in the dirt with my head spinning.  This one was refreshing, concise, Doug style, and for me enlightening to a craggy corner of my mind.

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Posted: 25 November 2010 05:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Don’t be sad.  I thought my post was really positive, a cautionary tale.  The next time you think of being anxious, jealous, and suspicious about your spouse remember this lesson.  It might save someone a lot of pain.  There, that’s a more positive way to end this thread.

[ Edited: 25 November 2010 05:30 PM by brightfut ]
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Posted: 25 November 2010 08:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I like when people relate things to everyday situations. That’s a good one brightfut.
It does not support a good reason for keeping falsification as a necessary rule though. The burden of proof lies with the wife to prove that her husband is cheating for one. In the second place, she has no positive connecting evidence to support her conviction that he is guilty any more than there may not exist evidence to the contrary. And just because there wasn’t evidence to prove his innocence for certain, it is possible to conceive of such evidence. He could have had a good alibi.

What makes pseudo-science different is that their conceptions are not conceivable relative to our understanding of our experiences. Unless we have samples of physics that accord to our experience we cannot extend our certainty to some possible conception.
For instance, it is possible to imagine a husband cheating because it is not out of our everyday physical experiences. But an after-death plane of existence is a little tougher because the physics of it in the minds of the believers are obscure and do not accord with anything we nor they themselves have ever witnessed. There’s no sample to draw upon here.

I have no beef with the logic of falsification. It is true and valuable in many circumstances. But as an absolute rule, it falls apart. It is good to use to determine whether someone is fixed with certainty about a proposition and would not bend by convincing arguments. It doesn’t guarantee their position is false. But it puts the responsibility of proof on them to provide a positive argument.

One possible solution would be to require falsifiable situations be contained in an indeterminate universal. If the logical universal or class is determined, like you reading this sentence is certainly part of your determined universe, it doesn’t apply. Then the criteria would be to first be certain that the proposition is undetermined.

Gnostikosis:

Heaven is not testable. That we are in some virtual reality game, (a la brains in a vat) is not testable. It is impossible to set up criteria to prove or disprove either case. There is no way to test either scientifically.

You’re right. But the qualification standard in question is not testability but falsification.

P. S. Thanks for the advise dougsmith. I am reading your recommendations.

[ Edited: 25 November 2010 09:12 PM by Scott Mayers ]
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Posted: 26 November 2010 12:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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As usual, situations and their solutions are complex and can be varied.  Using Brightfut’s example, the wife could think as follows: I know he’s having affairs while he’s away so I may as well do the same.  Or:  I’m going to pray that he stops doing sinful things. smile

[And I’m not going to give up using Popper’s falsifiability theorem while arguing with theists, because they won’t know the criticisms above. LOL ]

Occam

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Posted: 26 November 2010 03:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I think one of the reasons why the falsifiability theorem is problematic is due to intelligent minds being involved.  I know that no evidence does not prove absolutely that something does NOT exist.  In the example I gave, if the wife’s husband had been stupid he would have slipped up at some point and left some evidence after 20 years.  An intelligent husband could think of every possibility for being found out and take steps to avoid detection.  If it wasn’t for this possibility the wife could conclude that since she has not found any conclusive evidence after 20 years he’s probably innocent.  We can’t prove God does not exist because if God is super intelligent God could cover up any evidence of its existence if it wanted to.  Otherwise, a simple test of the effectiveness of prayer could easily prove that prayer does not work.  Christians believe that God is intimately involved in their daily lives.  The chances of this being true and yet scientists can’t even prove that God exists is highly improbable.  We can’t prove that our brains are not in a vat because whatever wants us to believe otherwise will sabotage any tests we could do to prove it.

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Posted: 27 November 2010 12:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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We can hypothesize all sorts of scenarios which may exist but that are unprovable and have no identifiable effect on us.  However, it’s a waste of time to operate under any conditions or restrictions such a belief may have.  Far more efficient to accept what we see in the natural world and function within those parameters.

If we postulate a god and recognize that s/he’s so far above us that we cannot even slightly understand or identify his/her actions or motivations (the story of Job), them we cannot be justified in believing anything like “god is good”. “god will punish you”, “god will answer your prayers”, etc.  I can then postulate that god ignores a random percent of prayers and causes negative outcomes for the rest of them.  It follows then that one should avoid praying for fear of being damaged rather than helped.

Occam

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Posted: 27 November 2010 01:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Occam. - 27 November 2010 12:44 PM

If we postulate a god and recognize that s/he’s so far above us that we cannot even slightly understand or identify his/her actions or motivations (the story of Job), them we cannot be justified in believing anything like “god is good”. “god will punish you”, “god will answer your prayers”, etc.  I can then postulate that god ignores a random percent of prayers and causes negative outcomes for the rest of them.  It follows then that one should avoid praying for fear of being damaged rather than helped.

Occam

More accurately: such a view you criticize is mentioned in *Job* - *and then* it is roundly criticized by the author.

Succinctness *per se* is not *necessarily* clarity’s core.

Chris Kirk

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Posted: 27 November 2010 06:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Nah, not more accurately, just without boring explanation.  After getting defecated upon by god for lord knows how long, Job says, hey, I’ve followed all your rules, I’ve been a good guy, what the hell are you picking on me for.  And god says [Job 38-42], stupid worm, how dare you think you can understand what I do, but he says it a about four pages.  If you reread what I wrote, I was paraphrasing god’s words in my first sentence up to the closing parenthesis.

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Posted: 27 November 2010 08:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Occam. - 27 November 2010 06:32 PM

Nah, not more accurately, just without boring explanation.  After getting defecated upon by god for lord knows how long. Job says, hey, I’ve followed all your rules, I’ve been a good guy, what the hell are you picking on me for.  And god says [Job 38-42], (3) stupid worm, how dare you think you can understand what I do, but he says it a about four pages.  If you reread what I wrote, I was paraphrasing god’s words in my first sentence up to the closing parenthesis.

Occam

Succinctness is usually wrong when it’s not well-informed; and paraphrasing is unreliable when from the unsympathetic.

You know, you didn’t even have to (fail to) paraphrase Job. You could have just said that some people claim God is utterly incomprehensible, and that’s true enough. But that isn’t the theory of standard theology, either. Aquinas has a nice summary of the range of views on the comprehensibility of God in *Summa Theologiae* I QXIII Article 2 ‘Whether Any Name Can be Applied to God Substantially?’ & Article 3 ‘Whether What is Said of God and of Creatures is Univocally Predicated of Them?’

Chris Kirk

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