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The Epistemology and Objective of Science

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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25 August 2018 00:14
 

I struggle with how to title this topic. I’m not formally educated on the subject. I actually want to ask a question far smaller in scope but don’t know quite how to summarize it as a topic. Do with that what you will. All suggestions welcome.

What I’m curious about is the historical progression of science and proto-science. I feel like most successful enterprises can be considered as a sort of basket in the sense that they consist of trial and error. Theory and practice. Plan and contact with the enemy. The science we benefit from now seems to be a specialized descendant of previous methods that proved true and useful. I say ‘seems’ because I feel fairly certain that the errors of the past that we can identify now almost definitely have counterparts that are invisible to us because we don’t have the insights of future generations. This assumes an arc of progress I realize but I’d like to table the post modern objections for the time being.

I’d like to assume an arc of progress for the sake of argument and the isolation of some concepts. Lets say that biology now is superior to biology of three hundred years ago by a standard that is common to both. Namely that it seeks to accurately represent, explain and predict the activity of organic systems. (or some other definition that bridges this span of time) I think some of the improvements are the natural result of upholding certain durable principles. Scientific methods if you like. We have more catalog data. We have more developed and detailed models. We have more sophisticated instruments of measurement. We have more efficient means of transportation and communication and so on.

My question is about whether progress in science is solely or mainly a matter of incremental, practical progress or whether the evolution of philosophy and culture has some important hand in it. I’d especially like to explore the question without any ham handed references to Nazi’s.

I want to suggest that deficits of earlier sciences were actually less about physical resources and more about a misappropriation of attention. I think we can draw that conclusion not only from a historical comparison but from competing theories in our own time. Astronomy is better than astrology but the reason isn’t because of telescopes it’s because astronomy asks different questions. We seem to have as much pseudo science now as we’ve ever had… probably more since the inception of the internet. Better tools are not going to fix this.

Perhaps there are two arcs of progress we might identify. One has to do with increasing physical and informational resources. The second has to do with improvements in our insight. The purpose and scope of scientific endeavor. It’s utility. It’s epistemology. It’s self reflection and authenticity. I say arc not in the purely historical sense because I think both ebb and flow. My inner idealist wants to believe that the large curve is upward.

Between the two I think the latter is the more significant. I think it’s also the one that sees more frequent decline.

Thanks for reading.

 
ubique13
 
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ubique13
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25 August 2018 00:52
 
Brick Bungalow - 25 August 2018 12:14 AM

My question is about whether progress in science is solely or mainly a matter of incremental, practical progress or whether the evolution of philosophy and culture has some important hand in it. I’d especially like to explore the question without any ham handed references to Nazi’s.

Ok, I’ll bite. Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed that “Empiricism is dead” as early as 1895 or so.  Why do you think there are so many ham-handed, reductionist approaches to science?

 
 
Twissel
 
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Twissel
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25 August 2018 01:17
 

for me, any process that shares knowledge is science. An alchemist discovering the basics of chemistry isn’t a scientist unless he will tach others what he has learned.
The goal of science must be to permanently increase the amount of knowledge in the world.

The Scientific Method is the result of science so complicated that it cannot easily be reproduced: as the signal/noise ratio in experiment becomes smaller, science must become more rigorous.

 
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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25 August 2018 14:36
 
Brick Bungalow - 25 August 2018 12:14 AM

Perhaps there are two arcs of progress we might identify. One has to do with increasing physical and informational resources. The second has to do with improvements in our insight. The purpose and scope of scientific endeavor. It’s utility. It’s epistemology. It’s self reflection and authenticity. I say arc not in the purely historical sense because I think both ebb and flow. My inner idealist wants to believe that the large curve is upward.

Between the two I think the latter is the more significant. I think it’s also the one that sees more frequent decline.

I agree, although I might describe the second arc as, simply, separating the objective from the subjective—the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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25 August 2018 14:56
 

If we agree that there are at least two distinct axes in play and that of them is represented by a kind of ‘true vector’ or ‘soundness’ how do you suppose that is distilled and sought after? How are the sort of category errors that represent its counter-part best identified and expunged?

I especially love the idea that sound methods absorb and integrate mistakes with as much or more efficiency as correct decision. I’m thinking, in particular of the large number of innovations and innovations that have been arrived at by accident. There is some variety of human intuition that can pluck a valuable idea from among an array of ridiculous ones.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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25 August 2018 16:19
 

This article from BBC is representative of a number of similar articles that have appeared recently, all dealing with the problem of repeatability. Science done correctly is repeatable. Period. The fact that so much “science” is not repeatable speaks to your observation that the second arc—the one I’m calling separating the objective from the subjective—is “the one that sees more frequent decline.” Or maybe we’re just now becoming more cognizant of a shortcoming that’s been around all along.

The article identifies the problem:

The reproducibility difficulties are not about fraud, according to Dame Ottoline Leyser, director of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge.

That would be relatively easy to stamp out. Instead, she says: “It’s about a culture that promotes impact over substance, flashy findings over the dull, confirmatory work that most of science is about.”

She says it’s about the funding bodies that want to secure the biggest bang for their bucks, the peer review journals that vie to publish the most exciting breakthroughs, the institutes and universities that measure success in grants won and papers published and the ambition of the researchers themselves.

“Everyone has to take a share of the blame,” she argues. “The way the system is set up encourages less than optimal outcomes.”

The solution?

For its part, the journal Nature is taking steps to address the problem.

It’s introduced a reproducibility checklist for submitting authors, designed to improve reliability and rigour.

“Replication is something scientists should be thinking about before they write the paper,” says Ritu Dhand, the editorial director at Nature.

“It is a big problem, but it’s something the journals can’t tackle on their own. It’s going to take a multi-pronged approach involving funders, the institutes, the journals and the researchers.”

But we need to be bolder, according to the Edinburgh neuroscientist Prof Malcolm Macleod.

“The issue of replication goes to the heart of the scientific process.”

Writing in the latest edition of Nature, he outlines a new approach to animal studies that calls for independent, statistically rigorous confirmation of a paper’s central hypothesis before publication.

“Without efforts to reproduce the findings of others, we don’t know if the facts out there actually represent what’s happening in biology or not.”

Without knowing whether the published scientific literature is built on solid foundations or sand, he argues, we’re wasting both time and money.

“It could be that we would be much further forward in terms of developing new cures and treatments. It’s a regrettable situation, but I’m afraid that’s the situation we find ourselves in.”

 
 
mapadofu
 
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25 August 2018 19:04
 

I read a biography of Priestly (_The Invention of Air_ or similar) which placed him in his social an political context: British citizen of the late 18th century, in touch with the elites in America.  I’m convinced that there are a range of social, economic, political… forces that shape how effectively research and investigation activities are at being “scientific”.  Here I’m thinking mostly in line with Twissel’s comment: development and *public dissemination* of research findings.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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27 August 2018 09:27
 

Here’s another article from Vox on the topic: More social science studies just failed to replicate. Here’s why this is good. Of all the scientific disciplines, social science seems to be hardest hit by the so-called replication crisis.

One of the cornerstone principals of science is replication. This is the idea that experiments need to be repeated to find out if the results will be consistent. The fact that an experiment can be replicated is how we know its results contain a nugget of truth. Without replication, we can’t be sure.

For the past several years, social scientists have been deeply worried about the replicability of their findings. Incredibly influential, textbook findings in psychology — like the “ego depletion” theory of willpower, or the “marshmallow test” — have been bending or breaking under rigorous retests. And the scientists have learned that what they used to consider commonplace methodological practices were really just recipes to generate false positives. This period has been called the “replication crisis” by some.

. . .

One of the experiments that didn’t replicate was from University of Kentucky psychologist Will Gervais. The experiment tried to see if getting people to think more rationally would make them less willing to report religious belief.

“In hindsight, our study was outright silly,” Gervais says. They had people look at a picture of Rodin’s The Thinker or another statue. They thought The Thinker would nudge people to think harder.

“When we asked them a single question on whether they believe in God, it was a really tiny sample size, and barely significant ... I’d like to think it wouldn’t get published today,” Gervais says. (And know, this study was published in Science a top journal.)

. . .

All that said, there are some promising signs that social science is getting better. More and more scientists are preregistering their study designs. This prevents them from cherry-picking results and analyses that are more favorable to their favored conclusions. Journals are getting better at demanding larger subject pools in experiments and are increasingly insisting that scientists share all the underlying data of their experiments for others to assess.

“The lesson out of this project,” Nosek says, “is a very positive message of reformation. Science is going to get better.”

 

 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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28 August 2018 13:00
 

My question is about whether progress in science is solely or mainly a matter of incremental, practical progress or whether the evolution of philosophy and culture has some important hand in it

I want to suggest that deficits of earlier sciences were actually less about physical resources and more about a misappropriation of attention

Perhaps there are two arcs of progress we might identify. One has to do with increasing physical and informational resources. The second has to do with improvements in our insight

Unless I am misunderstanding what you are asking, I think the way you are posing the question may be mis-specified, putting a dichotomy in place where one doesn’t quite exist.  Increased physical and information resources lead to an improvement of insight, for instance.  Galileo had a way to measure time (a physical resource) and a highly development mathematics (an informational resource) and was able to bring both together to develop an insight into the acceleration of falling bodies with his inclined plane experiments.  As a manipulation of antecedent conditions in order to derive explanations of phenomena, scientific insights a la Galileo (essentially the tradition we have now) cannot proceed without physical and informational resources.  True, someone like Einstein can come along and reassert that ‘pure science’ is a rational progression of ideas, but his progress was only possible through prior experimental manipulations in the advance of physical knowledge.  In effect he was able to retool the “informational resources” in order to derive a new theory of gravity, space and time, but among the scientific community the real proof was in the pudding of the experiments and observations that confirmed—or more specifically failed to reject—his theories.  So even where science can remove itself from physical resources in order to develop its conceptual foundations (the informational resources), this development occurs on the back of prior manipulations using both physical and informational resources, as well as under the prospect of testing through other manipulations.  In this way, the physical and information resources and potential insight of science are one of apiece—or at least two sides of the same coin.  Their arcs converge; each makes the other reciprocally possible.

As for the evolution of philosophy having anything to do with the incremental, practical progress of science, I know of no instance where philosophical knowledge—and by this I mean the native products of philosophical reasoning applied to traditional philosophical problems—has influenced the development of science, even in contemporary philosophy of science.  As far as I know, scientists have been content to develop their resources and tools entirely independently of and indifferent to philosophers.  So no, philosophy—as far as I know—has had no important hand in the development of science.  If anything, the hand has worked in the other direction: science has influenced the development of philosophy, at least the ‘world view’ accomplished by scientific discovery, if not specific scientific discoveries themselves.  This is most pronounced in the 20th century, seen for instance in Dewey and Sellars.

I know less about culture and science, but I think it is safe to say that the interests of scientists don’t occur in a cultural vacuum without saying culture influences scientific discoveries.  Again, if anything, the influence probably goes the other way.  But I wouldn’t hazard anything beyond this guess when it comes to “culture” and “science.”

 

[ Edited: 28 August 2018 13:24 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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28 August 2018 13:14
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 25 August 2018 04:19 PM

This article from BBC is representative of a number of similar articles that have appeared recently, all dealing with the problem of repeatability. Science done correctly is repeatable. Period. The fact that so much “science” is not repeatable speaks to your observation that the second arc—the one I’m calling separating the objective from the subjective—is “the one that sees more frequent decline.” Or maybe we’re just now becoming more cognizant of a shortcoming that’s been around all along.

The article identifies the problem:

The reproducibility difficulties are not about fraud, according to Dame Ottoline Leyser, director of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge.

That would be relatively easy to stamp out. Instead, she says: “It’s about a culture that promotes impact over substance, flashy findings over the dull, confirmatory work that most of science is about.”

She says it’s about the funding bodies that want to secure the biggest bang for their bucks, the peer review journals that vie to publish the most exciting breakthroughs, the institutes and universities that measure success in grants won and papers published and the ambition of the researchers themselves.

“Everyone has to take a share of the blame,” she argues. “The way the system is set up encourages less than optimal outcomes.”

The solution?

For its part, the journal Nature is taking steps to address the problem.

It’s introduced a reproducibility checklist for submitting authors, designed to improve reliability and rigour.

“Replication is something scientists should be thinking about before they write the paper,” says Ritu Dhand, the editorial director at Nature.

“It is a big problem, but it’s something the journals can’t tackle on their own. It’s going to take a multi-pronged approach involving funders, the institutes, the journals and the researchers.”

But we need to be bolder, according to the Edinburgh neuroscientist Prof Malcolm Macleod.

“The issue of replication goes to the heart of the scientific process.”

Writing in the latest edition of Nature, he outlines a new approach to animal studies that calls for independent, statistically rigorous confirmation of a paper’s central hypothesis before publication.

“Without efforts to reproduce the findings of others, we don’t know if the facts out there actually represent what’s happening in biology or not.”

Without knowing whether the published scientific literature is built on solid foundations or sand, he argues, we’re wasting both time and money.

“It could be that we would be much further forward in terms of developing new cures and treatments. It’s a regrettable situation, but I’m afraid that’s the situation we find ourselves in.”

I think most of the problem in the replication issue—at least as it plays out in psychology—is that neither side of the ‘debate’ can quite agree on what “replication” and “reproducibility” are.  Nosek’s original replication study in Science was contested by a statistical re-analysis of his results, and Nosek replied with his own re-analysis, all in the same journal.  But underneath this ‘debate’ was the rather absurd proposition that we even need a statistical analysis to determine reproducibility, as though replication itself wasn’t what statistical analysis hedges against in the first place (as it is).  In any case, the crisis in psychology goes deeper than just reproducing studies.  It goes to the very reliance of statistical methods in place of repeated experiments and replication, a reliance that came to the fore when two camps used different statistical analysis to determine the scope of the replication crisis.  But isn’t the issue far simpler?  Just do the same thing with all reasonable approximations of doing the same thing and see if the same thing happens.  That statistics is even used in this process to contextualize the data to my mind reflects the underlying problem itself, just repeated in studies of “replication” studies.  For this use fails to recognize that the very logic of statistical methods is to approximate replication with a formal model when true replication is not feasible; therefore using statistical methods to interpret replication studies is kind of nonsense.  The whole point of doing the same thing over again is not to rely on statistics to interpret having done it only once.  That sort of thing…

In an event, that’s one humble practitioners opinion on the replication crisis in psychology.  In our work the problem and its solution is far simpler than either side of the debate would have us believe.  It really should be as simple as determining whether the same thing is done over again, and whether or not the same thing happens, but for some reason, this got lost in the Nosek and detractor’s exchange over the scope of the replication crisis in psychology.

[ Edited: 28 August 2018 13:27 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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28 August 2018 16:57
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 28 August 2018 01:14 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 25 August 2018 04:19 PM

This article from BBC is representative of a number of similar articles that have appeared recently, all dealing with the problem of repeatability. Science done correctly is repeatable. Period. The fact that so much “science” is not repeatable speaks to your observation that the second arc—the one I’m calling separating the objective from the subjective—is “the one that sees more frequent decline.” Or maybe we’re just now becoming more cognizant of a shortcoming that’s been around all along.

The article identifies the problem:

The reproducibility difficulties are not about fraud, according to Dame Ottoline Leyser, director of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge.

That would be relatively easy to stamp out. Instead, she says: “It’s about a culture that promotes impact over substance, flashy findings over the dull, confirmatory work that most of science is about.”

She says it’s about the funding bodies that want to secure the biggest bang for their bucks, the peer review journals that vie to publish the most exciting breakthroughs, the institutes and universities that measure success in grants won and papers published and the ambition of the researchers themselves.

“Everyone has to take a share of the blame,” she argues. “The way the system is set up encourages less than optimal outcomes.”

The solution?

For its part, the journal Nature is taking steps to address the problem.

It’s introduced a reproducibility checklist for submitting authors, designed to improve reliability and rigour.

“Replication is something scientists should be thinking about before they write the paper,” says Ritu Dhand, the editorial director at Nature.

“It is a big problem, but it’s something the journals can’t tackle on their own. It’s going to take a multi-pronged approach involving funders, the institutes, the journals and the researchers.”

But we need to be bolder, according to the Edinburgh neuroscientist Prof Malcolm Macleod.

“The issue of replication goes to the heart of the scientific process.”

Writing in the latest edition of Nature, he outlines a new approach to animal studies that calls for independent, statistically rigorous confirmation of a paper’s central hypothesis before publication.

“Without efforts to reproduce the findings of others, we don’t know if the facts out there actually represent what’s happening in biology or not.”

Without knowing whether the published scientific literature is built on solid foundations or sand, he argues, we’re wasting both time and money.

“It could be that we would be much further forward in terms of developing new cures and treatments. It’s a regrettable situation, but I’m afraid that’s the situation we find ourselves in.”

I think most of the problem in the replication issue—at least as it plays out in psychology—is that neither side of the ‘debate’ can quite agree on what “replication” and “reproducibility” are.  Nosek’s original replication study in Science was contested by a statistical re-analysis of his results, and Nosek replied with his own re-analysis, all in the same journal.  But underneath this ‘debate’ was the rather absurd proposition that we even need a statistical analysis to determine reproducibility, as though replication itself wasn’t what statistical analysis hedges against in the first place (as it is).  In any case, the crisis in psychology goes deeper than just reproducing studies.  It goes to the very reliance of statistical methods in place of repeated experiments and replication, a reliance that came to the fore when two camps used different statistical analysis to determine the scope of the replication crisis.  But isn’t the issue far simpler?  Just do the same thing with all reasonable approximations of doing the same thing and see if the same thing happens.  That statistics is even used in this process to contextualize the data to my mind reflects the underlying problem itself, just repeated in studies of “replication” studies.  For this use fails to recognize that the very logic of statistical methods is to approximate replication with a formal model when true replication is not feasible; therefore using statistical methods to interpret replication studies is kind of nonsense.  The whole point of doing the same thing over again is not to rely on statistics to interpret having done it only once.  That sort of thing…

In an event, that’s one humble practitioners opinion on the replication crisis in psychology.  In our work the problem and its solution is far simpler than either side of the debate would have us believe.  It really should be as simple as determining whether the same thing is done over again, and whether or not the same thing happens, but for some reason, this got lost in the Nosek and detractor’s exchange over the scope of the replication crisis in psychology.

I think that makes a lot of sense, although I can kind of see Nosek’s detractors’ point. How close to the original results do subsequent results have to be in order to claim repeatability? If the original test showed that 95% of kids who passed the marshmallow test went on to become successful, and subsequent tests showed that only 50% did, that seems like a no-brainer. The original results weren’t repeated. But what if the subsequent test showed that 75% of kids who passed the test went on to be successful?

At any rate, I think the BBC article accepted the claim that these tests are not repeatable, and was looking for reasons why the original tests had been accepted.

 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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28 August 2018 22:39
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 28 August 2018 01:00 PM

My question is about whether progress in science is solely or mainly a matter of incremental, practical progress or whether the evolution of philosophy and culture has some important hand in it

I want to suggest that deficits of earlier sciences were actually less about physical resources and more about a misappropriation of attention

Perhaps there are two arcs of progress we might identify. One has to do with increasing physical and informational resources. The second has to do with improvements in our insight

Unless I am misunderstanding what you are asking, I think the way you are posing the question may be mis-specified, putting a dichotomy in place where one doesn’t quite exist.  Increased physical and information resources lead to an improvement of insight, for instance.  Galileo had a way to measure time (a physical resource) and a highly development mathematics (an informational resource) and was able to bring both together to develop an insight into the acceleration of falling bodies with his inclined plane experiments.  As a manipulation of antecedent conditions in order to derive explanations of phenomena, scientific insights a la Galileo (essentially the tradition we have now) cannot proceed without physical and informational resources.  True, someone like Einstein can come along and reassert that ‘pure science’ is a rational progression of ideas, but his progress was only possible through prior experimental manipulations in the advance of physical knowledge.  In effect he was able to retool the “informational resources” in order to derive a new theory of gravity, space and time, but among the scientific community the real proof was in the pudding of the experiments and observations that confirmed—or more specifically failed to reject—his theories.  So even where science can remove itself from physical resources in order to develop its conceptual foundations (the informational resources), this development occurs on the back of prior manipulations using both physical and informational resources, as well as under the prospect of testing through other manipulations.  In this way, the physical and information resources and potential insight of science are one of apiece—or at least two sides of the same coin.  Their arcs converge; each makes the other reciprocally possible.

As for the evolution of philosophy having anything to do with the incremental, practical progress of science, I know of no instance where philosophical knowledge—and by this I mean the native products of philosophical reasoning applied to traditional philosophical problems—has influenced the development of science, even in contemporary philosophy of science.  As far as I know, scientists have been content to develop their resources and tools entirely independently of and indifferent to philosophers.  So no, philosophy—as far as I know—has had no important hand in the development of science.  If anything, the hand has worked in the other direction: science has influenced the development of philosophy, at least the ‘world view’ accomplished by scientific discovery, if not specific scientific discoveries themselves.  This is most pronounced in the 20th century, seen for instance in Dewey and Sellars.

I know less about culture and science, but I think it is safe to say that the interests of scientists don’t occur in a cultural vacuum without saying culture influences scientific discoveries.  Again, if anything, the influence probably goes the other way.  But I wouldn’t hazard anything beyond this guess when it comes to “culture” and “science.”

I will absolutely agree there is no dichotomy. I think most any project we might name has both a stated purpose and some set of resources that might achieve that purpose. Not only is the goal not achievable without both it isn’t even intelligible.

If we can provisionally agree that there is a robust distinction between science and pseudo science and that science is better and that pseudo science has some common deficits that grant it the title I’m just suggesting that the deficits have more to do with intention and less to do with resources. If you will pardon the run on sentence.

As for philosophy… I think that philosophy and science have a fair amount of cross pollination but that isn’t the fundamental nature of their relationship. They mean to represent and organize different kinds of information. Framing them in some kind of competition just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s like comparing apples and jet fuel.

 
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29 August 2018 02:01
 
Brick Bungalow - 25 August 2018 12:14 AM

...

My question is about whether progress in science is solely or mainly a matter of incremental, practical progress or whether the evolution of philosophy and culture has some important hand in it. I’d especially like to explore the question without any ham handed references to Nazi’s.

...

Solely, definitely not. Mainly is a quantitative question, and we don’t yet have a way to gauge the quantities. My guess is that science is mainly a matter of incremental progress, if the measurement criteria is something like the number of billable person-hours spent at it. The number of person-hours spent toward the evolution of philosophy and culture is notoriously difficult to get a handle on. This is probably because that effort cannot be delimited to so-called “working hours” but permeates through all human activity in ways that cannot be detected.

Brick Bungalow - 25 August 2018 12:14 AM

...

I want to suggest that deficits of earlier sciences were actually less about physical resources and more about a misappropriation of attention. I think we can draw that conclusion not only from a historical comparison but from competing theories in our own time. Astronomy is better than astrology but the reason isn’t because of telescopes it’s because astronomy asks different questions. We seem to have as much pseudo science now as we’ve ever had… probably more since the inception of the internet. Better tools are not going to fix this.

Perhaps there are two arcs of progress we might identify. One has to do with increasing physical and informational resources. The second has to do with improvements in our insight. The purpose and scope of scientific endeavor. It’s utility. It’s epistemology. It’s self reflection and authenticity. I say arc not in the purely historical sense because I think both ebb and flow. My inner idealist wants to believe that the large curve is upward.

Between the two I think the latter is the more significant. I think it’s also the one that sees more frequent decline.

Thanks for reading.

Your notions are suggestive of Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, although you are asking a broader question than Kuhn attempted to answer. I think we need to have a bit of a philosophical revolution before we can really approach the topic(s) in a way that even enables worthwhile quantitative thinking about it. There is currently no science that attempts to rigorously study philosophical evolution, and those that concern themselves with cultural evolution are not quantitatively effective in the way that is needed.

One of Kuhn’s ideas is that all or most of the people of influence who hold old ideas have to actually die before new ideas of the nature you appear to be describing can take hold. If that idea is correct (which I think it is), then the granularity of time involved in the processes will be on the order of human generations, which is to say multiple decades.

 
 
burt
 
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29 August 2018 08:31
 

The question posed is directly connected with a long time project I’ve been working on and at present written 3/4 of a book dealing with. This goes back to the late 80s when I started developing a course in scientific reasoning. As part of background research I came across research in psychology on what are called cognitive illusions. The term was chosen to show the parallel with optical illusions and refers to illusions that arise in the mind based on the way that the mind functions. Even if we know it is an illusion, it still seems so. The initial work on this was done by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in research on how people make decisions in cases of uncertainty. They identifies three “decision heuristics” that are used, in place of logical and probabilistic reasoning, which they called representativeness, availability, and anchoring. Briefly, representativeness refers to quick classifications of things on the basis of salient features, even if those features have little to do with anything basic about the thing. First impressions and all that. This also shows up in probabilistic decisions, for example, given a choice of to lottery tickets with respective numbers 12, 19, 28, 33,35,49 and 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 people show a strong preference for the first on the assumption that the second has no chance of winning, it is not “representative” of a random choice. Availability refers to assuming that something that is easily available from memory is more likely to be true than something that is not; and, anchoring refers to having a fixed assumption or belief and rather than changing it when faced with new information, making small adjustments to fit the new information to the already existing “anchor.”

From the early 70s through the 90s lots of research was done on these and other heuristics (although I’d claim that all the ones proposed can be seen as involving various combinations of the original three) and most of this research was focused on how use of them led people into errors of thinking when contrasted to logical and probabilistic analysis. This led to debate as to whether or not people could really be thought of as rational, on the one hand, and whether the usual definition of rationality was any good, on the other.

My take on this was somewhat different. It occurred to me that these three heuristics were the essential requirements for use of language for thought and communication: we’ve got to “represent” things, have “available” memories, and have some “anchoring” framework or context. Given that, it was not a matter of finding better ways to think but rather of learning how to avoid the associated illusions. And that suggested looking at the history of science in terms of the development of ways to avoid cognitive illusions so as to get more accurate understanding of the world. To be brief, doing this I identified three “crisis” periods in the development of science, and while all of the heuristics were associated to each crisis, each crisis seemed to revolved specifically around the need to develop methods to deal with one of them. If the crisis were not resolved, science ceases to develop. Briefly, I’m calling these the Crisis of Categorical Reason, the Crisis of Inductive Reason, and the Crisis of Paradigmatic Reason.

The Crisis of Categorical Reason was associated with representativeness and took place in ancient Greece. It revolved around the need to develop criteria for making rational arguments. It was resolved by Aristotle with his syllogistic logic (there were also contributions from the Stoics, and so on). Then there was a long hiatus as other cultural issues were thrashed out, empires rose and fell, and so on, so that the real development of categorical reason didn’t take place until the medieval Scholastics got hold of it from the Arabs. The Crisis of Inductive Reason was associated with availability and took place in the seventeenth century “Scientific Revolution.” This was the beginning of empirical science, as we know it today, and the crisis had to do with the need to develop tools to evaluate the reliability of available empirical evidence. It was resolved through development of probability theory together with statistics and error analysis. Finally (this is where I still have 1/4 of the book to go) we are in the middle of the Crisis of Paradigmatic Reason, which is associated with anchoring and involves development of ways to evaluate the role of different frames of reference, paradigms, or such within which we operate.

With the transition from medieval science (Aristotelian, deductive, etc.) to empirical science a number of disciplines acquired the mantle of “science,” including physics (of the sort that Galileo did), chemistry, biology, and so on. None of these qualified as “science” according to the medieval understanding. There even was resistance from the Aristotelians to the use of mathematics in science (mathematics produces certain results but no empirical measurement can be certain, therefore math isn’t relevant). This transition required giving up the requirement for strict deductive certainty. I suspect that once we resolve the issues of Paradigmatic Reason we will see lots more respect for the currently looked down upon “social sciences” which, at least when I was a grad student, were not considered “real” science at all.

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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30 August 2018 12:37
 

The idea of “hard’ science is both interesting and problematic. If science is only what can be directly observed, measured, tested, predicted and replicated how are we to study apparently singular events? Or events that occur at scales beyond our current instrumentation? (Just for example) I feel there are many useful domains of study that trespass on the effort to find a rigid definition. My intuition is that most any expanding or emerging field will force a reevaluation of such standards. If that is indeed the case where are we with regards to meaningful distinctions? I think this is one reason not to dismiss philosophy. Both as a basket to catch scraps and as a mechanism of clarification. No domain should be its own oversight.

 
burt
 
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burt
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30 August 2018 22:10
 
Brick Bungalow - 30 August 2018 12:37 PM

The idea of “hard’ science is both interesting and problematic. If science is only what can be directly observed, measured, tested, predicted and replicated how are we to study apparently singular events? Or events that occur at scales beyond our current instrumentation? (Just for example) I feel there are many useful domains of study that trespass on the effort to find a rigid definition. My intuition is that most any expanding or emerging field will force a reevaluation of such standards. If that is indeed the case where are we with regards to meaningful distinctions? I think this is one reason not to dismiss philosophy. Both as a basket to catch scraps and as a mechanism of clarification. No domain should be its own oversight.

The first reevaluation was in the change from medieval to modern science. They kept the condition of logical consistency but dropped the requirement of certainty.

 
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