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  • On Science.

    So here we go, a thread devoted to everyones beleifs and opinions of this thing we call science. What follows is an essay I wrote for a class entitled the Philosophy of Science, now I should mention that after this class I had a great deal less respect for most of the scientific community, and my teacher had a small deal more respect for the meditative community. Anyways here goes, by the way, the footnotes to A&R are from peter kosso's book Appearence and Reality which was the core text for the aforementioned class. Without furth adiu, here goes.

    Quantum Mechanics and the Objective Description of Nature
    Paper #4, Topic #2, by Eric Grant, 03/05/03

    In a statement quite contrary to what our class has read from the works of Peter Kosso, Fritjof Capra wrote about quantum physics that, “the properties of any atomic object can only be understood in terms of the object’s interaction with the observer. This means that the classical ideal of an objective description of nature is no longer valid.”(Capra, The Tao of Physics) Some might consider this statement inflammatory skepticism, and indeed it is capable of angering many traditionalists in the scientific community, but any statement so contested deserves a close, introspective look into the truth of the matter. Therefore in order to elaborate on Capra’s statement in the context of quantum mechanics, I shall start by breaking it down into its first and second sentence and addressing them both in turn.

    In the aforementioned passage from The Tao of Physics, Capra first states that, “the properties of any atomic object can only be understood in terms of the object’s interaction with the observer.” This is a fairly solid statement and, as I will show in the next few paragraphs, everything the scientific community knows about the topic of quantum mechanics has been derived from interactions between the scientific observers and the subject of study. By constructing various experimental apparatus’ and noting the interaction between electrons (or other atomic objects) and the experimental instruments scientific observers have noted several distinct phenomenon which resulted from these interactions and in turn have led us to our current understanding of quantum physics. These phenomenon include such things as the complementary yet incompatible properties of particles and waves, and the “spin” of electrons relative to one another.

    The first major step in quantum mechanics was undoubtedly the realization from multiple experiments under different laboratory conditions that light interacting with the experimental apparatus could exhibit the properties of waves or particles depending upon the type of experiment. This was groundbreaking because it was believed that light must be either particles or waves, and could not be both. In “double-slit mask” experiments scientists observed light behaving with the properties of a wave, but in experiments which examined the photo-electric effect the interaction between light and various metals indicated that light had the properties of a stream of particles called photons. This anomaly was further elaborated upon in 1923, when a theory proposed by Louis de Broglie paved the way into the study of quantum physics. De Broglie theorized that if light, which was thought to consist of waves, had the properties of both waves and particles in different experimental settings, than perhaps electrons and other material objects believed to be particles could also exhibit wavelike properties under the right conditions. Though de Broglie could not test his theory at the time he proposed it, we now know that using an experiment nearly identical to the double-slit mask experiment (with the exceptions being that a crystal is used for the slotted mask and the beam of light is replaced by a stream of electrons) matter does indeed exhibit strong wavelike properties under the right experimental conditions. This being the foundation for quantum theories, we can easily see that the very heart of quantum mechanics is built upon the observed interactions of light and electrons within an experimental apparatus. The core of the theory of quantum physics is simply that “quanta” (infinitesimally small indivisible objects whether photons, electrons, or otherwise) can and must be described “in terms of incompatible properties that cannot be observed together at the same time but that together give a complete model of the behavior of (quanta).”(Kosso, A&R, pg. 124) Quantum mechanics further elaborates on this when citing other observed complementary yet incompatible properties derived from particles and waves, such as exact position and exact momentum as well as others too numerous to list. This is just one example of how our understanding of quantum mechanics hails from the observable interactions between the objects being studied and the experimental apparatus.

    Another example is related to the phenomenon of electron spin. Quantum mechanics describes how the electromagnetic field generated by each electron causes it to rotate (this can also be described as the movement and spinning of the electron being the cause of the electromagnetic field) on the axis which runs from its north magnetic pole to its south magnetic pole, and furthermore it describes the properties and applications of this spinning. In experiments using apparatus which sort electrons into groups based upon the orientation of their axis of rotation we have found that electrons will all spin upon parallel axes, but that they can only be oriented with their magnetic poles facing either end of this axis. Thus the interaction of electrons with specialized experimental equipment has demonstrated that “each electron comes out either as spin-up or as spin-down, regardless of what direction we specified for our coordinate system. No electron comes out at any orientation in between.”(Kosso, A& R, pg. 134) From what we can perceive about the interactions of these electrons, there are only two possible ways in which their spin can be oriented. The current method of measuring the orientation of an electron’s spin is a Stern-Gerlach device. This electromagnetic apparatus generates an electromotive force (EMF) which forces “spin-up” electrons towards a detector at one end of the field and similarly sends “spin-down” electrons to a detector at the opposite end of the field. The detectors are used to measure the spin orientation of the electrons in order to further quantum mechanical research. Though this seems like a very concise method of measuring these properties of electrons, there are some glaring issues with the apparatus. When culminating his explanation of this type of experimental measurement Kosso writes that, “for each individual particle we can measure the spin orientation only once, since measuring is a kind of interaction that affects the correlation between the two particles. Each measurement, in other words, records the information only by altering the specimen so it no longer has the information.”(Kosso, A& R, pg. 140) While the particles begin in a system of electron pairs whose opposite spin orientations “conserve spin” by maintaining oppositely oriented magnetic fields that yield no net spin, the apparatus used to measure their orientation exerts an EMF which completely disrupts the system of the electron pair in order to measure it. This raises the question as to whether the measured spin is actually a natural property of the electron pair system or merely a property of that system when subjected to the Stern-Gerlach device’s EMF.

    These two examples should do well to demonstrate that our understanding of quantum physics is gleamed from the observable interactions between the subjects of study and the experimental apparatus. Our knowledge of quantum theories is not drawn from how the natural world necessarily functions but instead it is taken from the perceivable phenomenon relating to the interaction of subject and experimental instruments and conditions. Indeed, “the properties of any atomic object can only be understood in terms of the object’s interaction with the observer.”(Capra, The Tao of Physics)

    Now that this first point has been clarified I shall move onto the second part of Capra’s statement in which he writes that, “This means that the classical ideal of an objective description of nature is no longer valid.”(Capra, The Tao of Physics) To begin with, I must say that I would not consider it an objective description of an object if someone were to place a label on that object, such that the properties of said label deny the existence of other less popular properties of said object. I also would not consider an experimental measurement to be objective if the process of measurement applies a force to the experimental subject which is so strong that the subject is stripped of the property being measured. These are points which Peter Kosso touches on but never fully explains, and certainly does not fully refute, in his zest to justify the objectivity of science and his own position of scientific realism. But these are only some of the more minor problems associated with asserting that a human being (or group of human beings) can actually put forth an objective description of nature. Though they are valid points, they are shadowed o’er by the simple frightening fact that the term “objective description” is a fallacy, a paradox at best.

    Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines the term “Objective” as meaning something which is, “existing independent of mind: relating to an object as it is in itself or as distinguished from consciousness.” This same dictionary defines the term “Description” as referring to a, “composition intended primarily to present to the mind, or imagination, graphically and in detail a unit of objective or subjective experience.” Though the authors of this dictionary were careful to write the objective/subjective dichotomy into this second definition as if a description could be either-or, a closer read of the definitions of both terms shows that it is inherently impossible for a description to be truly objective. An account constructed by one mind about what that mind thinks it knows, constructed for the purpose of presenting the finished account to another mind, such an account could not possibly exist independent of the human mind. Though the scientific community is well-intentioned with its striving for objectivity they seem to prefer ignoring the simple fact that we are all frail, fallible, confused human beings. To truly construct an objective description of nature a scientist would have to transcend his own humanity to the extent that he could observe reality from a point of no-reference, he would have to be able to perceive the totality of existence and non-existence from a perspective beyond any human thought process. Furthermore, in order to truly objectively describe nature that same scientist would need to communicate his enlightened observations to other human beings without being limited by the mental construct of human language. While bearing all this in mind we can find it much easier to see that for Capra to say that the “classical ideal of an objective description of nature is no longer valid” is a most drastic understatement.

    In my opinion, Fritjof Capra is completely justified in his statement about quantum mechanics and objective description. Our understanding of quantum mechanics is quite obviously a derivative of the observable experimental interactions between atomic objects and the experimental equipment. And honestly, a truly objective description of the ways of nature is not a valid ideal. While it is true that such a thing is one of many unattainable ideals that many people strive for, I would not consider it a remotely realistic goal. But there is a deeper truth in the philosophy which inspired Capra’s book The Tao of Physics. Truly objective observation and harmony with nature is possible, if difficult to achieve. But such achievements cannot be taught or accurately described to another person. However, it’s still worth the effort to try. As you finish digesting the philosophical content of this dissertation I would ask you to forget every word I have written if only it meant that you would remember every word of the following poem, written by a far greater man than I will probably ever be. Remember these words and understand them, and perhaps you will realize what it is to truly objectively observe the ways of nature.

    "Truthful words are not beautiful.
    Beautiful words are not truthful.
    Good men seldom argue.
    Those that are argue are seldom good.
    Those who know are not learned.
    Those who are learned do not know.

    The sage never tries to store things up.
    The more he does for others, the more he has.
    The more he gives to others, the greater his abundance.
    The Way of heaven is pointed but does no harm.
    The Way of the sage is work without effort."

    (Lao Tzu, Tao tê Ching, literally meaning “Way Virtue Classic” or “Classic of the Virtue of the Way”, translated Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English)
    Show me a man who has forgotten words, so that I can have a word with him.

  • #2
    I'll have to come back to this...

    Thanks though.
    practice wu de

    Comment


    • #3
      i got about halfway and got sick of reading about atoms..sorry

      so whats the ending like?

      amitabha
      "did you ask me to consider dick with you??" blooming tianshi lotus

      Comment


      • #4
        I enjoyed reading this, thanks! I wrote something similar about 10 years ago on how human beings observe the world, from the basic building blocks of matter to how life itself is viewed in various places and at various points in history.

        "Is matter solid & connected or merely illusion, one manifestation of a larger order? On the quantum level matter seems to need our participation; a photon in a closed box could be anywhere or every where until we observe it, and then it acts as a particle in one experiment and waves in another. Matter appears to need our active observation of measurement to make it decide how to behave. This of course sounds like madness; solid is solid how could it change? To tribal people this is the very reality with which they live." -anthropologist David Maybury-Lewis.

        Often how things are viewed has to do with the social mindset of the time, & not just in physics:

        "The discovery that the universe is expanding was one of the great intellectual revolutions of the twentieth century. With hindsight, it is easy to wonder why no one had thought of it before.
        …This behavior of the universe could have been predicted from Newton's theory of gravity at any time in the nineteenth, the eighteenth, or even the late seventeenth century. Yet so strong was the belief in a static universe that it persisted into the early twentieth century. Even Einstein, when he formulated the general theory of relativity in 1915, was so sure that the universe had to be static that he modified his theory to make this possible, introducing a so-called cosmological constant into his equations."
        -Stephen W. Hawking, 'A Brief History Of Time.'

        Comment


        • #5
          And your point is?

          I'm not sure how this belittles the accomplishments of the scientific community.
          Experienced Community organizer. Yeah, let's choose him to run the free world. It will be historic. What could possibly go wrong...

          "You're just a jaded cynical mother****er...." Jeffpeg

          (more comments in my User Profile)
          russbo.com


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          • #6
            i am going to say what doc just said, in a much more long-winded, philosophical way:

            in the words of the kinda great (but mostly just really weird) singer/songwriter lori andersen, when you walk, you're really only falling forward and catching yourself, over and over again.

            now, many great philosophers have doubted the existence of, or at least the human capacity to truly understand, an objective reality. however, i am willing to bet that they continued to walk, even after the onset of this doubt.

            i am also willing to bet that at least most of them were reasonably sane. so, you have to ask yourself: how could any sane person, who doubted the existence of a floor outside of their own subjective experience, continue to risk their own health, and use that perceived floor to catch themselves from falling, over and over again?

            the answer is obvious. the floor has caught them from falling for their entire lives. so it's reasonable to believe that it will do so again.

            take the mystery out, and that's all science is. regardless of objective truth, a concept which can be demonstrated and reproduced - for instance, "what goes up, must come down" - is taken as a reasonable belief, until it can be replaced by a more accurate and complete explanation in the future, through further testing and analysis. the scientific method is just the best method we have of logically evaluating human experience so that we can come to the most accurate conclusions possible about the universe. it's proven itself to be the "best", because it has provided us with more specific and useful knowledge about ourselves and our universe than any other method in history.

            that's saying what doc said. now i have something to add to it:

            the unspoken message of your dissertation, given the fact that you are obviously very deeply involved with and in some agreement with TCM, is that, given these perceived flaws in the scientific method, traditional asian philosophies are a better or at least equally valid way of uncovering information that is useful in fields such as medicine.

            since you didn't actually say this, i won't make you back it up, but if you want to, feel free.

            Comment


            • #7
              Doc, it doesn't belittle anyone's accomplishements. It merely points out that anyone who insists their knowledge is better than yours because they observe and describe the world "objectively" is full of bull****.

              Maestro, start reading near the bottom, with the paragraph that starts "Now that this first point has been clarified" read from there till the bottom and you'll get the good part of the paper without too much talk of atoms and quantum particles.

              Incidentally, I'm interested in hearing what zach has to say about empiricism.
              Show me a man who has forgotten words, so that I can have a word with him.

              Comment


              • #8
                please see above.

                that's an example of simple empiricism.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Amen. So I'm not trying to say subjective learning rules and objective knowledge bites, I'm just saying both styles are equally valid.

                  I read an article on the downfalls of scientific medicine (the basic premise of which was that science should be a tool for our use, not a system which enslaves our behaviour) in Acupunture Today recently (which by the way is a lovely medical journal, doc you should subscribe), which said the following.

                  Scientific medicine seeks to eliminate all the variables in an equation to get at the heart of a problem, to discover the one damn molecule that is screwing everything up. This is its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

                  Chinese medicine seeks to incorporate all the variables into the picture, to describe a pattern of disharmony through everything that is affecting the patient. This is its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

                  Anyways, while trying to clean up my hard drive, I ran into another longwinded paper about the nature of the scientific enterprise as it exists today. Part of me wants to post it, and the rest of me thinks its a bit silly to be sharing my college philosophy papers overs this forum.

                  Zach, have you ever heard of the phenomenon of zoopharmocognancy?
                  Show me a man who has forgotten words, so that I can have a word with him.

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                  • #10
                    do you mean "zoopharmacognasy", the practice of watching animals to find out what they eat when they're sick?

                    no, i haven't.

                    Originally posted by daodejing
                    Amen. So I'm not trying to say subjective learning rules and objective knowledge bites, I'm just saying both styles are equally valid.
                    i don't really understand what you mean. the scientific method is a kind of subjective learning, really, and objective knowledge is a philosophical principle...

                    Scientific medicine seeks to eliminate all the variables in an equation to get at the heart of a problem, to discover the one damn molecule that is screwing everything up. This is its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

                    Chinese medicine seeks to incorporate all the variables into the picture, to describe a pattern of disharmony through everything that is affecting the patient. This is its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.
                    this is confusing.... scientific medicine changes its methods as new variables come to light. it just disregards variables that haven't been shown empirically to have any effect on the problem in question. TCM often deals with variables that haven't been proven to have any effect on those problems, such as the placement of mirrors in the patient's house. is this what the author means?

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                    • #11
                      Share. The forum is an educational vehicle for us to share ideas and learn from each other.
                      Experienced Community organizer. Yeah, let's choose him to run the free world. It will be historic. What could possibly go wrong...

                      "You're just a jaded cynical mother****er...." Jeffpeg

                      (more comments in my User Profile)
                      russbo.com


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                      • #12
                        Maybe theis will help clear things up. Maybe not, who knows. Maybe RJW and Uwe will be the only ones who appreciate it..........

                        Defining the Scientific Enterprise
                        By Eric Grant

                        Just what exactly is the scientific enterprise? What are its methods and why should we consider it to be the best system of getting at the truth behind events? These are questions which philosophers, scientists, and academics have been debating for centuries or perhaps even millennia. The answers to these questions are simpler than we would like to believe, but their simplicity is too complicated for most people to understand. To dig into the real answer to these questions we must first dig into some of the well-established “scientific” answers to the questions, and then explore some of the opponents of those views. In the end I will culminate this dialectic by expressing my own belief on the subject and answering the question of the definition of the scientific enterprise.

                        In his text, Reading the Book of Nature, Peter Kosso goes to great lengths to define the scientific enterprise such that, “science aims at the truth about the underlying causes and constituents of phenomena, that its methods for separating truth from falsity here are reliable, that it has discovered a good deal about the reality behind appearance and is making progress toward understanding what is yet unclear.” (paper assignment #3)
                        To really grasp what it is that Kosso means by all this, we must understand what he means by “truth”. Kosso states that the reliability of science lies in the idea that, “A theory is true if it is an accurate representation of some part of what there is in the world..... A theory, like any belief, any proposition, is true if it corresponds to the facts, to the real world.” (Kosso, pg 135) So essentially Kosso tells us that “truth” is correspondence to reality, truth is what really exists and really takes place. It is this idea about what truth is that Kosso bases his entire discussion of the scientific enterprise upon. After all, what is science if not the search for the truth behind events?

                        But furthermore we must understand what it is that Kosso means when he proclaims that the scientific methods are “reliable”. We can only rely upon the methods of science if they are credible and we have strong reasons to believe that they will maintain this credibility. Kosso writes that, “Independence in the testimony (evidence), along with consistency and coherence, are the guidelines of credibility.” (Kosso, pg 163) The principle of independence in the testimony is Kosso’s way of stating that the evidence for the theory in question must be independent of the theory it is proving or disproving. Primarily this means that the accounting theories used to account for the evidence are independent of the theory in question. A good example of this, which Kosso demonstrates, is the practice of radiometric dating of the geological strata in which fossil beds are located and being used as evidence for the theory of Darwinian evolution. Since the accounting theories behind the practice of radiometric dating are all based on physics, and not on evolutionary biology, we can say that the evidence is independent of the theory it is being used as evidence for. The principle of consistency is simply the idea that a theory is consistent with the currently accepted paradigm of theories about reality. A theory should be more likely to be true if it does not contradict all the other things we think are true. The principle of coherence is the idea that true theories will be organized similarly to the organization which nature seems to exhibit. Coherency implies that a theory which makes logical sense and is well ordered is more likely to be true, more likely to correspond to reality.

                        But the most important of Kosso’s ideas about what science should be is the idea that the scientific enterprise must be open to change, open to revision, and open to consideration of radical theories which question the current paradigm. He writes that “science functions under a standard of objectivity as openness..... It is unacceptable to simply ignore observations that seem to refute particular theories or to ignore contradictions among theories in the system.” (Kosso pg 180) It is imperative that scientists objectively consider all possibilities and never ignore anomalies of data or other contradictions to theories. Everything observed must be given consideration and open mindedness must be ever-present. The ideas of truth as correspondence, the guidelines for credibility, and the openness of the scientific community are the pillars for Peter Kosso’s definition of the scientific enterprise. Without these principles we would have to take a deep reevaluating look at what science truly is in contrast to what we believe it to be.

                        Even though Kosso’s claims certainly seem quite valid, there is considerable dissent against his ideas amongst the academic community. Notably, Hilary Putnam disagrees with the notion that truth is correspondence. Even the alleged objectivity of the scientific enterprise is questioned by Larry Laudan and Vine Deloria, whom, amongst many others, both believe that the scientific enterprise is greatly influenced by the sociological factors which influence the scientists themselves.

                        Let me elaborate on how Hilary Putnam finds major problems in believing that truth is correspondence to reality. After all, we have no way of looking at both ends of this correspondence. In addition, we really don’t have any clear idea of what “truth” really is and yet the achievement of this idea is the basis for all theoretical work. Putnam proposes that nearly any consistent set of claims about the causes of events can be considered true, and that we have no justifiably accurate way of proving that one set of claims is closer to the truth than another.
                        In Larry Laudan’s essay “Interests and the Social Determinants of Belief” he elaborately portrays a dialect between several philosophers discussing science and life. One of his characters, the relativist, proposes some very valid and interesting ideas about the alleged objectivity of scientists. Laudan writes that what most scientists ignore, “is the elementary fact that science is a social and a human activity. Science doesn’t take place in some disinterested Platonic world of mental relations; it is produced by scientists who have all the same interests and self-concerns that ordinary folks do.” (Laudan pg 147) Though the scientific enterprise places such a high value on its standards of objectivity and the strength of the theories which support this theoretical system, we often ignore the fact that everyone involved in this enterprise is a non-objective, fallible, self-interested human being. Laudan proposes that many scientists interpret data and accept or deny particular theories not as completely objective persons, but as people with vested self-interests in the success or failure of an experiment or a theory. In this modern world most of the funding for in depth scientific research is provided by large corporations who expect to profit from the results of those studies. If the research yields unfavorable results (i.e., unprofitable results) then the researchers will find themselves with no funding and no ability to continue conducting research. This is just one of many factors which can heavily influence the allegedly objective judgment of a scientist at work.

                        Vine Deloria further extrapolates the idea that objectivity in science is at best a theoretical ideal, and at worst a nearly total fallacy. In her work “Science and the Oral Tradition,” she describes some of the failings of the scientific enterprise which result from typical human interactions. At one point she writes that, “Since it is possible for a prestigious personality to dominate a field populated with fearful little people trying to protect their status, some areas of ‘science’ have not progressed in decades and some scientific doctrines actually have no roots except their traditional place in the intellectual structure of the discipline.” (Deloria, pg 44) Deloria herein explains that the problems with the scientific enterprise lie in the fact that it is supported and maintained by humans. And as a result of human nature, very few humans are even close to being able to act objectively and without concern for their selves. But Deloria also strikes at a bigger issue of the fallacy of an objective scientific community, the blatant prejudice of the predominantly European (and American) scientific enterprise. One of her many examples is the fact that pre-Columbian Native Americans gleaned a great deal of knowledge about medicinal plants by observing animals using plants medicinally. When western scientists heard that the Indians learned about medicinal plants from birds and bears they immediately dismissed the idea as being superstitious folklore. There was no objective consideration of the observed phenomenon, it was immediately dismissed. But in recent times, when western scientists proposed the theory of zoopharmacognosy (which is the idea that animals seek out and treat some medical conditions on their own using medicinal plants) scientists have suggested that we could potentially learn more about medicinal plants by observing local fauna. This is just one of many examples showing a refusal by the scientific community to objectively consider theories from non-western cultures.

                        Ultimately, Putnam, Laudan, and Deloria all raise very valid points about the problems with Kosso’s idealistic vision of the scientific enterprise. It would seem that science works somewhat like communism, it sounds perfect in theory, but in practice it can never operate as it was intended to do so, simply because of human nature.
                        So who has the right idea? Who is painting the true picture? Well, to be perfectly honest, everyone who I’ve mentioned in this dissertation was correct. And yet, every aforementioned person failed to see the real truth of the matter. Science as we see it today is simply another evolution of language. It is an ever evolving system of trying to understand reality, and then communicate that understanding to the rest of humanity. But it is the very methods which science uses which tend to prevent the scientist from ever really understanding anything. What is the truth about reality? There is no truth. There is no falsehood. There is only that which is, that which exists in this one omnipresent moment. Truth and falsehood are linguistic concepts which were invented for the sole purpose of separating accurate linguistic explanations of reality from inaccurate and nonsensical explanations. If there are no words there is no falsehood. When there is no falsehood there is no truth, and we are left only with this beautiful genuine reality which we are an inseparable part of. This leaves us with only one question unanswered. What then, is the definition of the scientific enterprise? I will not be the one to answer it directly, for it has no direct answer. Friedrich Nietzsche, in his book The Genealogy of Morals, once wrote that, “All terms which semiotically condense a whole process elude definition; only that which has no history can be defined.” (Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy & The Genealogy of Morals, pg 212)
                        Show me a man who has forgotten words, so that I can have a word with him.

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                        • #13
                          what do you know dao, this guy managed to say essentially the same thing as you, only focusing on the human fallibility of scientists, as opposed to subatomic particles.
                          Just what exactly is the scientific enterprise? What are its methods and why should we consider it to be the best system of getting at the truth behind events? These are questions which philosophers, scientists, and academics have been debating for centuries or perhaps even millennia.
                          ok. right off the bat the author has set off some warning bells. the scientific method has been around for some 400 odd years.
                          The answers to these questions are simpler than we would like to believe, but their simplicity is too complicated for most people to understand.
                          not for this guy, i bet.
                          Let me elaborate on how Hilary Putnam finds major problems in believing that truth is correspondence to reality. After all, we have no way of looking at both ends of this correspondence. In addition, we really don’t have any clear idea of what “truth” really is and yet the achievement of this idea is the basis for all theoretical work. Putnam proposes that nearly any consistent set of claims about the causes of events can be considered true, and that we have no justifiably accurate way of proving that one set of claims is closer to the truth than another.
                          so what? we shouldn't come to any conclusions about anything, because they might not be The Real Truth? i doubt that ms. putnam would take this stance. and if she doesn't, then she has to admit that we need to have some method of coming to provisional conclusions about things. neither she nor anyone in this article proposes a better way of doing this than the scientific method.
                          "Science doesn’t take place in some disinterested Platonic world of mental relations; it is produced by scientists who have all the same interests and self-concerns that ordinary folks do.” (Laudan pg 147) Though the scientific enterprise places such a high value on its standards of objectivity and the strength of the theories which support this theoretical system, we often ignore the fact that everyone involved in this enterprise is a non-objective, fallible, self-interested human being.
                          this is not a critique of the scientific method. it's a critique of the state of the scientific community.
                          But Deloria also strikes at a bigger issue of the fallacy of an objective scientific community, the blatant prejudice of the predominantly European (and American) scientific enterprise.
                          ah, the point.
                          One of her many examples is the fact that pre-Columbian Native Americans gleaned a great deal of knowledge about medicinal plants by observing animals using plants medicinally. When western scientists heard that the Indians learned about medicinal plants from birds and bears they immediately dismissed the idea as being superstitious folklore. There was no objective consideration of the observed phenomenon, it was immediately dismissed. But in recent times, when western scientists proposed the theory of zoopharmacognosy (which is the idea that animals seek out and treat some medical conditions on their own using medicinal plants) scientists have suggested that we could potentially learn more about medicinal plants by observing local fauna. This is just one of many examples showing a refusal by the scientific community to objectively consider theories from non-western cultures.
                          no, it's not. it's an example of scientifically evaluating a claim to find out if there's any validity to it. just because "scientists have suggested that we could potentially learn more about medicinal plants by observing local fauna" doesn't mean that The Indians Had It Right. it simply means that this area calls for some investigation. science grows and changes as new evidence is brought to light. that's one of the reasons why it's substantially more useful than adhering to centuries-old traditions as the golden standard of truth. perhaps these ideas were dismissed when they were first proposed. but sooner or later (in this case, now), science gets around to evaluating these kinds of claims.

                          it's not a new argument that the scientific community possesses a western bias. whether or not this is true, i would advise the proponents of this argument (who i'm sure do not possess that bias), if they are so certain of this bias, to educate themselves and become an active part of the scientific community, so that they can change that.

                          if you are a proponent of, say, ayurvedic meditation and its benefits, then go out and demonstrate those benefits scientifically. if you can hover in the air, prove it. if you can read minds or detect auras, prove it. and when your methods are criticized, answer the criticisms with sound arguments and hard facts, rather than simply criticizing the scientific method as a whole, or getting frustrated and accusing everyone of being prejudiced.

                          Truth and falsehood are linguistic concepts which were invented for the sole purpose of separating accurate linguistic explanations of reality from inaccurate and nonsensical explanations. If there are no words there is no falsehood. When there is no falsehood there is no truth, and we are left only with this beautiful genuine reality which we are an inseparable part of.
                          .... ok. this guy is NOT flying my airplane.

                          happy monday,
                          zach
                          Last edited by zachsan; 08-16-2004, 11:20 PM.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Zach, you're right on. I got no issues with the scientific method, in my opinion it shouldn't be the only method used, but it definatley works well. My qualms are with the scientific community. Similarly, I have no problems with Jesus, I love the message he tried to share, but I have issues with many of the things people have done in his name.

                            As for the issue with zoopharmacognasy, I was trying to use the example not only to demonstrate the historical bias against aboriginal knowledge, but also the fact that perfectly reasonable ideas are often dismissed and their supporters torn down by the scientific community. Many radical theories which we hold as truth followed this pattern, and were only accepted a century or longer after they had been introduced. Often the only way for a new theory which challenges older theories to become accepted by the scientific community, is for the well respected elderly opponents of that theory to die of old age.

                            ".... ok. this guy is NOT flying my airplane. "

                            ??? and by that you mean................ eh **** it, don't worry I don't have a pilot's license anyway. I do most of my flying in lucid dreams, and that doesn't involve airplanes.

                            Happy tuesday.
                            Show me a man who has forgotten words, so that I can have a word with him.

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                            • #15
                              haha, i don't know, the whole "if there are no words, there is no falsehood" comment got me thinking, if this guy were flying an airplane, would he refuse to talk to air traffic control for risk of creating falsehood. but anyway...

                              i agree that the scientific community can be a bit slow on the uptake of certain ideas that are seen as outlandish, but i don't see this as a problem at all, but rather as a necessity. an example is the theory of continental drift. when it was proposed, it was laughed at, because the scientific knowledge that existed at the time simply didn't support anything like that theory, and it went against the prevailing scientific concept of the nature of the earth's surface. and the thing is, the guy that proposed it (i forget his name, sorry), really couldn't give the scientific community any good reason to take his claims seriously. he could demonstrate things like similarities in minerals in different continents, but that alone was hardly proof of his theory.

                              in time, however, as the scope of knowledge grew, it became apparent that he was right, and new theories came into being to describe the mechanism of continental drift, and so on.

                              the problem with a lot of thinking today, especially from people who don't really understand the nature of science, is that they would take someone like this as an example of a "genius" who was "lightyears ahead of his time" and so on.

                              the thing is, for every one of these theories that turn out to have some validity, there are scores that don't. just because one of them happens to be right doesn't mean that the originator was a genius at all. since the evidence at the time really didn't support his theory, people were absolutely right to be skeptical about it. they were also absolutely right to look into it with more detail as evidence unraveled to make it seem more and more likely.

                              by the same token, scientists today are right to dismiss such claims as astral projection, levitation and corporal immortality, at least until sufficient evidence is uncovered to merit their further investigation, since the existing science doesn't support them at all. after all, there is only so much money in the world that is available to the world of science, and it ought to be applied to fields that are much more in line with existing science, like finding a cure for AIDs or cancer.

                              things like acupuncture or qigong, however, which have proven to have some limited uses for things like pain relief, do deserve to be investigated more thoroughly, to find out the actual mechanisms and true extent of their effectiveness.

                              the beauty of science is that it not only serves as a useful tool for gaining knowledge about the way our world works, but it also keeps us from assuming the truth of things that we think we know, without any proof. in other words, accurate conclusions should be arrived at rationally and critically, not anxiously jumped to. in other words, "slow but steady wins the race."

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