Scientific Irrationalism: Origins of a post-modern cult

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tomclarke
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Scientific Irrationalism: Origins of a post-modern cult

Post by tomclarke »

I'm posting this to provide a place to discuss GIThruster's alarming anti-science views which have been aired on another thread. Such views are common, and at least one other poster here shares some of these ideas.

My antidote to this is most clearly expressed by David Stove (though I have some other ammunition which we will maybe need later on).

David Stove is an Australian essayist and philosopher who is not widely known.

His defence of objective (absolute) scientific knowledge, and criticism of the ever-fashionable amongst artsy soft-science types Popperian school of post-modernism is for me compelling.

It matters, because post-modernism, applied to science, has been used to deny the possibility of scientific truth. If it is all relative, scientific fashion, why should we believe one bunch of scientists (today) over some other bunch, in the past?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popper_and_After
This book is about a recent tendency in the philosophy of science: that tendency of which the leading representatives are Professor Sir Karl Popper, the late Professor Imre Lakatos, and Professors T.S.Kuhn and P.K.Feyerabend.

These authors' philosophy of science is in substance irrationalist. They doubt, or deny outright, that there can be any reason to believe any scientific theory; and a fortiori they doubt or deny, for example, that there has been any accumulation of knowledge in recent centuries.

Yet, [...] these writers are not at all widely recognized by their readers as being irrationalists. [...]

It is from these two facts that the question arises to which Part One of this book is addressed: namely, how have these writers succeeded in making irrationalism about science acceptable to readers, most of whom would reject it out of hand if it were presented to them without disguise? [...]
Part Two of the book is addressed to the question: what intellectual influence led these writers themselves to embrace irrationalism about science?
and, here is some fun:
Neutralising Success Words

Stove starts chapter one by clarifying the sort of view that would uncontroversially constitute an irrationalist position regarding science.
  • Much more is known now than was known fifty years ago, and much more was known then than in 1850. So there has been a great accumulation or growth of knowledge in the last four hundred years. This is an extremely well-known fact, which I will refer to as (A). A philosopher, in particular, who did not know it, would be uncommonly ignorant. So a writer whose position inclined him to deny (A), or even made him at all reluctant to admit it, would almost inevitably seem, to the philosophers who read him, to be maintaining something extremely implausible.
Stove then advances his reading of the philosophers he is criticising: "Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, and Feyerabend, are all writers whose position inclines them to deny (A), or at least makes them more or less reluctant to admit it. (That the history of science is not "cumulative", is a point they all agree on)." Popper himself had given a 1963 summary of his thoughts the title "Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge", seemingly endorsing (A) in almost identical language. Nonetheless, the question Stove addresses in the chapter is "How do these writers manage to be plausible, while being reluctant to admit so well-known a truth as (A)?"

A general answer to this question is offered: "the constant tendency in these authors to conflate questions of fact with questions of logical value, or the history with the philosophy of science." Stove claims this tendency is "widely recognized", but waives both this general answer (and its supporters) in favour of seeking a more specific account.

Stove's first step in refining the general answer is observing what he calls mixed strategy writing in the authors he is examining. He uses this expression, since it is not always clear to him whether the writing expresses "equivocation" or "inconsistency". What is common to the examples Stove offers is that something well-known is mixed with something extraordinary, without the clash being resolved; the "irrationalism" is introduced simultaneously with orthodoxy, rendering it more plausible to the reader—disbelief is suspended.

A straightforward example is provided by Thomas Kuhn's description of "paradigm shift", where he asserts the well-known fact that the world is the same after "paradigm shift" as before.[3] Yet, at the same time, Kuhn also suggests that solutions to problems achieved under old paradigms are lost, redundant or "un-solutions" under new paradigms—denial of (A) above.

Examining Kuhn's use of the word solution more closely, Stove notes that Kuhn sometimes uses it in the ordinary way regarding practical knowledge, but at other times in a weaker sense, specific to Kuhn's theory, that a solution is relative to a paradigm, people, place and time. This equivocation on solution actually provides Stove with an answer of exactly the type he was looking for. All his authors, with many similar words, show similar equivocation. Stove lists knowledge, discovery, facts, verified, understanding, explanation and notes the list is far from complete. Idiosyncratic weak senses of these words are a characteristic of the writing of his subjects that explains clearly how a reader, presuming ordinary use of language, might believe them to be expressing something more orthodox than is, in fact, their intention.


At this point, Stove coins the expression neutralizing success words and provides an uncontroversial example from everyday language to illustrate it.
  • Nowadays in Australia a journalist will often write such a sentence as, "The Minister today refuted allegations that he had misled Parliament", when all he means is that the Minister denied these allegations. "To refute" is a verb with 'success-grammar' (in Ryle's sense). To say the Minister refuted the allegations is to ascribe to him a certain cognitive achievement: that of showing the allegations to be false. "To deny", on the other hand, has no success-grammar. So a journalist who used "refuted" when all he meant was "denied" has used a success-word, but without intending to convey the idea of success, of cognitive achievement, which is part of the word's meaning. He has neutralized a success-word [emphasis original].
Stove also provides a quote from Paul Feyerabend (1975:27) explicitly directing his readers to "neutralize" his success words or not, according to their own preferences.
  • My frequent use of such words as 'progress', 'advance', 'improvement' etc., does not mean that I claim to possess special knowledge about what is good and what is bad in the sciences and that I want to impose this knowledge upon my readers. Everyone can read the terms in his own way and in accordance with the tradition to which he belongs [emphasis original].
Last edited by tomclarke on Wed Aug 29, 2012 7:30 am, edited 1 time in total.

tomclarke
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Post by tomclarke »

I put this under news even though it is not exactly breaking news because it is about specific newsworthy scientific ideas. But apologise to all those who justifiably think it should be under general.

tomclarke
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Post by tomclarke »

David Stove's one page Helps to Young Authors

Neutralizing success words, after the manner of the best authorities

(From David Stove, Popper and After, chapter 1)

How to rewrite the sentence: Cook discovered Cook Strait.



Lakatos:
  • Cook `discovered' Cook Strait.

Popper:
  • Among an infinity of equally impossible alternatives, one hypothesis which has been especially fruitful in suggesting problems for further research and critical discussion is the conjecture (first `confirmed' by the work of Cook) that a strait separates northern from southern New Zealand.

Kuhn:
  • It would of course be a gross anachronism to call the flat-earth paradigm in geography mistaken. It is simply incommensurable with later paradigms: as is evident from the fact that, for example, problems of antipodean geography could not even be posed under it. Under the Magellanic paradigm, however, one of the problems posed, and solved in the negative, was that of whether New Zealand is a single land mass. That this problem was solved by Cook is, however, a vulgar error of whig historians, utterly discredited by recent historiography. Discovery of the Strait would have been impossible, or at least would not have been science, but for the presence of the Royal Society on board, in the person of Sir Joseph Banks. Much more research by my graduate students into the current sociology of the geographical profession will be needed, however, before it will be known whether, under present paradigms, the problem of the existence of Cook Strait remains solved, or has become unsolved again, or an un-problem.

Feyerabend:
  • Long before the constipated and boneheaded Cook, whose knowledge of the optics of his telescopes was minimal, rationally imposed, by means of tricks, jokes, and non-sequiturs, the myth of Cook Strait on the `educated' world, Maori scientists not only `knew' of the existence of the Strait but often crossed it by turning themselves into birds. Now, however, not only this ability but the very knowledge of the `existence' of the Strait has been lost forever. This is owing to the malignant influence exercised on education by authoritarian scientists and philosophers, especially the LSE critical rationalists, who have not accepted my criticisms and should be sacked. "No doubt this financial criticism of ideas will be more effective than [...] intellectual criticism and it should be used". (Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. LVIII, 1978, p. 144).

Skipjack
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Post by Skipjack »

Awesome thread tomclarke!
The last post made me ROFL!

303
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Post by 303 »

GITThruster
Theology is often capable of deriving truth. Science never is. Science is the pursuit of fact, not truth. These are entirely different pursuits, hence the difference in focus I already noted. In short, science can't ever tell you that you should love your neighbor which is a matter of truth. Theology can't ever tell you why the sky is blue, which is a matter of fact.
And if your neighbour is a child rapist, or wife beater, or leader of the local racial supremacy group? I'm not certain i recognise this 'truth'.

tomclarke
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Post by tomclarke »

303 wrote:GITThruster
Theology is often capable of deriving truth. Science never is. Science is the pursuit of fact, not truth. These are entirely different pursuits, hence the difference in focus I already noted. In short, science can't ever tell you that you should love your neighbor which is a matter of truth. Theology can't ever tell you why the sky is blue, which is a matter of fact.
And if your neighbour is a child rapist, or wife beater, or leader of the local racial supremacy group? I'm not certain i recognise this 'truth'.
Indeed. I don't really want to trespass too much on theology, don't know enough about it, but while there are interesting moral questions:
  • Is is good to love your neighbour?
and practical questions:
  • Will you be better off if you love your neighbour?
All of these involve subjective judgements about what is good in a way which puts the matter into a completely different domain from science.

GIThruster will probably claim that science involves subjective jusdgements. I will happily argue, from a standpoint of objective Bayesian epistomology, that any such subjective jusgements are not intrinsic (in principal, though maybe not in practice, they could be avoided), and anyway they reduce in significance as evidence increases.

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Post by MSimon »

The cure to all this is engineering. Can you make an artifact from the knowledge base?

You may not be able to keep the nukes from flying. (Love your neighbor) but can you defend against them? (Shoot them down in flight).
Engineering is the art of making what you want from what you can get at a profit.

AcesHigh
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Post by AcesHigh »

303 wrote:GITThruster
Theology is often capable of deriving truth. Science never is. Science is the pursuit of fact, not truth. These are entirely different pursuits, hence the difference in focus I already noted. In short, science can't ever tell you that you should love your neighbor which is a matter of truth. Theology can't ever tell you why the sky is blue, which is a matter of fact.
And if your neighbour is a child rapist, or wife beater, or leader of the local racial supremacy group?
or EVEN WORSE...

...

...

a MUSLIN!!!
:shock: :shock: :shock:

ladajo
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Post by ladajo »

or EVEN WORSE...

...

...

a MUSLIN!!!
A piece of Cloth???
I don't get it.
The development of atomic power, though it could confer unimaginable blessings on mankind, is something that is dreaded by the owners of coal mines and oil wells. (Hazlitt)
What I want to do is to look up C. . . . I call him the Forgotten Man. (Sumner)

stefanbanev
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Re: Scientific Irrationalism: Origins of a post-modern cult

Post by stefanbanev »

tomclarke> "I'm posting this to provide a place to discuss GIThruster's alarming anti-science views which have been aired on another thread. Such views are common, and at least one other poster here shares some of these ideas..."

Well, it is not a surprise you stigmatize it as an "anti-science" ;o) it should be quite inconvenient for some people to look at "Holy cow" from such angle. The irony is that the appeal for "science" belongs to "faith" it claims to oppose....

tomclarke
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Re: Scientific Irrationalism: Origins of a post-modern cult

Post by tomclarke »

stefanbanev wrote:tomclarke> "I'm posting this to provide a place to discuss GIThruster's alarming anti-science views which have been aired on another thread. Such views are common, and at least one other poster here shares some of these ideas..."

Well, it is not a surprise you stigmatize it as an "anti-science" ;o) it should be quite inconvenient for some people to look at "Holy cow" from such angle. The irony is that the appeal for "science" belongs to "faith" it claims to oppose....
The issue here with post-modernism - which is essentially GITs standpoint, is subtle.

It is not per se anti-science. But it requires all statements of truth to be relative not absolute, which means that scientific truth, which as any engineer knows does not bend to the whim of the person beholding it but conforms to absolute real-world laws - gets downgraded. To do this successfully you need to downgrade scientists, scientific institutions, etc.

All of which GIT did on the other thread. So while he is not precisely anti-science (and I guess would strongly deny this) it comes to the same thing in practice.

My viewpoint here is not in any way anti-religion. I'm just anti-religion pretending to be science. Most theologists would agree I think.

Diogenes
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Post by Diogenes »

AcesHigh wrote:
303 wrote:GITThruster
Theology is often capable of deriving truth. Science never is. Science is the pursuit of fact, not truth. These are entirely different pursuits, hence the difference in focus I already noted. In short, science can't ever tell you that you should love your neighbor which is a matter of truth. Theology can't ever tell you why the sky is blue, which is a matter of fact.
And if your neighbour is a child rapist, or wife beater, or leader of the local racial supremacy group?
or EVEN WORSE...

...

...

a MUSLIM!!!
:shock: :shock: :shock:
From my reading, you guys are pretty much talking about the same people.
‘What all the wise men promised has not happened, and what all the damned fools said would happen has come to pass.’
— Lord Melbourne —

Diogenes
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Re: Scientific Irrationalism: Origins of a post-modern cult

Post by Diogenes »

tomclarke wrote:I'm posting this to provide a place to discuss GIThruster's alarming anti-science views which have been aired on another thread. Such views are common, and at least one other poster here shares some of these ideas.
I must have missed this thread. In what manner is GIThruster professing an "anti-science" view.
‘What all the wise men promised has not happened, and what all the damned fools said would happen has come to pass.’
— Lord Melbourne —

tomclarke
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Re: Scientific Irrationalism: Origins of a post-modern cult

Post by tomclarke »

Diogenes wrote:
tomclarke wrote:I'm posting this to provide a place to discuss GIThruster's alarming anti-science views which have been aired on another thread. Such views are common, and at least one other poster here shares some of these ideas.
I must have missed this thread. In what manner is GIThruster professing an "anti-science" view.
for example:
Oh please. . .almost all of academia is based upon completely subjective relations between teachers and students. If the instructor gets what he wants the student succeeds. If the instructor does not get what he wants, it does not matter how gifted and insightful a student is, nor how well he/she has mastered the material. Academia is as corrupt at its core as Hollywood. I can't count the number of times I saw high school teachers and tenured university profs receiving sexual favors for grades. In any event, most serious universities censor the work of their profs so they are not implicated in crackpot notions. Work that can't pass peer review is not an acceptable subject for consideration and we all know it's publish or perish. Just as example, there are no institutions I am familiar with that will allow a student to do his or her doctoral thesis on ZPF physics, because most physicists consider it crackpot. Sonny White tried to focus his doctoral work at Rice on ZPF and was denied. This is the standard, not the deviation.

Just search if you want examples of persecution of academics, by academics based upon things like Evolution or AGW.
From
viewtopic.php?t=3200&start=4560&postday ... highlight=

around pages 301-305

Jeff Mauldin
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Engineering, repeatable experiments, and the philosophy of s

Post by Jeff Mauldin »

"The cure to all this is engineering. Can you make an artifact from the knowledge base?"

I have come to think this is very important to the "philosophy of science." It seems to me that every time something that has been engineered is used, that use is (besides being useful) a repeat of a repeatable scientific experiment. You can flap your gums all you want about what is and is not science, but if I can successfully repeat an experiment or, better yet, you can repeat an experiment I did first, we see something about how the universe works. It might happen to be a really simple result that is due to great underlying complexity in how the universe works, but we know the universe doesn't work in a way that gives us a different result. If we can come up with ideas on how the universe works that let us explain more and more and (as Kuhn would probably say) different results and let us engineer more different and interesting capabilities, we are advancing science.

I really liked Kuhn the first time I read him, and I think I agree with him almost completely. He helps understand how people develop, improve, hold on to, change, and move on from collections of ideas which help understand how the universe works and shows how wrong headed it is to think we have a perfect understanding of how the universe works (and how science works). But rumination about what scientists are "doing" and whether or not there is an actual underlying "truth" is mostly a waste of time if you hold science up to the repeatable experiment standard and the engineering ethos. Drop a science philosopher off a cliff and it won't matter much what paradigm he is using to understand how the world works--the result will be the same. I think Kuhn is right on about paradigms and paradigm shifts, and 'normal science.' But the explanatory power of any paradigm goes exactly as far as it goes in explaining how the universe works. Experiments with unexplained results indicate we don't know everything about how the universe works and gives us a chance to figure more out. Figuring those things out might just be refining the 'current paradigm' or having a 'paradigm shift.' Its certainly true that we get things wrong and sometimes hold on to our wrong ideas too long (or give up right ideas when we should have held on to them). Although I certainly think there is a real 'the way things work,' I'm much more confident that the way the universe works, whatever it is, is not self-contradictory. You can convince me otherwise with an experiment which proves that the way the universe works is contradictory. (Contradictory--not just unexpected or unexplained.) Show me a repeatable experiment and I'll say 'Yup, that must be how the universe works. What can I do with that or what else do I need to figure out to do something with that?'

So for all those who claim unexplained results. Great! Get us repeatable experiments. Even better, make something that works using your results. It's been done before, and it'll probably be done again. (I'll even take something that works 1 time in 10, as long as I can keep getting the result.) Prove that your results aren't something we already know about. Don't be mad at me for being skeptical beforehand--get the repeatability and I'm in your camp.

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