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Tom Mazanec
2015-Aug-28, 09:12 PM
A couple centuries or so ago, egg laying mammals and meteorites were pseudoscience.
A century or so ago, continental drift was pseudoscience and Quantum Mechanics probably would have been if anyone proposed it.
Will any of today's pseudoscience be science in 2115?

malaidas
2015-Aug-28, 09:24 PM
Well its only pseudoscience if it's being studied by a process that is masquerading as science, not because a hypothesis is considered absurd. Continental drift wasn't pseudoscience so much as fringe. Fringe can be very good science, it's just that the mainstream for whatever reasons specific to the claim consider the person doing it to be chasing rainbows.

So in answer to your question, if we take any pseudoscience it could become science tomorrow if those studying started doing it properly most will fall down because they have been debunked by real science already. Others may be but its impossible to predict.

Swift
2015-Aug-28, 09:35 PM
A couple centuries or so ago, egg laying mammals and meteorites were pseudoscience.
A century or so ago, continental drift was pseudoscience and Quantum Mechanics probably would have been if anyone proposed it.
Will any of today's pseudoscience be science in 2115?
I don't see that this thread will work in ATM. This is not a single person, such as Tom Mazanec, advocating a specific idea, which is the only allowed use of ATM.

Unfortunately, if I move it out of ATM, it is potentially an opportunity for rule violations, of advocating ATM outside of ATM. But, we'll give it a try. I'll move it to Science & Technology.

I will remind people that your suggestions of answers to Tom's question will need to walk the fine line and not advocate ATM outside of ATM. You may wish to think "suggest", rather than "advocate". Malaidas' point about following the scientific method is a very good one; maybe think "cutting edge science" rather than "pseudoscience".

But if this doesn't work, the thread will be closed.

primummobile
2015-Aug-28, 09:38 PM
I've spent a little time editing this page in the past. It's not by any means exhaustive, nor is it overly technical. But it's a good starting point to see what topics are considered pseudoscience by the mainstream today. As you can see, many of the pseudoscientific claims made today are rather absurd. I can't really see anything, at least from this list, ever becoming mainstream.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_topics_characterized_as_pseudoscience

Noclevername
2015-Aug-28, 09:44 PM
A couple centuries or so ago, egg laying mammals and meteorites were pseudoscience.
A century or so ago, continental drift was pseudoscience and Quantum Mechanics probably would have been if anyone proposed it.
Will any of today's pseudoscience be science in 2115?

A couple of centuries ago, science was still developing, and almost everything studied was still unproven. There was less information to correlate new hypotheses with. Now, we have a lot more background on the basis of current theories; science is more advanced and much, much broader. The pseudoscience of today is not really comparable to the pseudoscience of yesteryear; it has to ignore a much bigger field of confirmed information to be labeled pseudoscience.

antoniseb
2015-Aug-28, 10:00 PM
A couple centuries or so ago, egg laying mammals and meteorites were pseudoscience. ...
Do you have some evidence that monotremes were pseudoscience, as opposed to simply unknown in the zoology community? I can believe that there may have been a brief period during which someone announced their discovery, and was asked for proof, but I'm not sure it fits the definition of pseudoscience. Examples I'm aware of for pseudoscience include aromatherapy, astrology, homeopathy, phrenology, theosophy, etc. For these there is a tradition that involves some careful measuring or placement, but no evidence that they do anything. Quantum Mechanics and Continental Drift never fit this pattern. Maybe it would clear things up if you told us what YOU mean by the term pseudoscience. Possibly I'm misunderstanding the intent of this thread.

malaidas
2015-Aug-28, 10:16 PM
Do you have some evidence that monotremes were pseudoscience, as opposed to simply unknown in the zoology community? I can believe that there may have been a brief period during which someone announced their discovery, and was asked for proof, but I'm not sure it fits the definition of pseudoscience. Examples I'm aware of for pseudoscience include aromatherapy, astrology, homeopathy, phrenology, theosophy, etc. For these there is a tradition that involves some careful measuring or placement, but no evidence that they do anything. Quantum Mechanics and Continental Drift never fit this pattern. Maybe it would clear things up if you told us what YOU mean by the term pseudoscience. Possibly I'm misunderstanding the intent of this thread.

Well there was if I recall some considerable debate over whether quantum was doing empirical science at one point. The question mark being over inferred evidence.

ETA: and as of the last few years those that have pushed for changes to the standards to allow for string theory to be considered a true scientific theorem rather than an elegant hypothesis, through a relaxation of the empirical evidence requirements.

So it isn't necessarily true that science doesn't at times change the goalposts. Such that something considered none scientific now will not at a future time be considered science and thus we cannot necessarily assert at any time that something that would be judged as always having been scientific by the standards at this time would not have been judged none scientific at that time, if it failed their standards which have since changed.

antoniseb
2015-Aug-28, 10:23 PM
Well there was if I recall some considerable debate over whether quantum was doing empirical science at one point. The question mark being over inferred evidence.
But it was never a rote tradition like astrology. It was data being collected, and an answer being sought to explain the odd evidence. That's not pseudoscience.

malaidas
2015-Aug-28, 10:43 PM
Well this is where the problem lies. Let's assume that someone starts making predictions based upon the evidence of tarot cards or whatever. Now scientifically we would reject these conclusions, because the empirical evidence matching the standards of science says that they have no objective value, but in theory this could change iF they could demonstrate that such do have objective value. A whole new science field would in this case be born. This what was once clearly pseudoscience would now be science.

This is out of a hat stuff, as I don't think tarot cards have any value personally, but the point is clear, that what is pseudoscience at any point is that which claims to make objective predictions and conclusions but which does not match the scientific standards at the time. In particular a field that pertains to be scientific.

This was never true of plate tectonics etc I agree.

Noclevername
2015-Aug-28, 11:04 PM
This is out of a hat stuff, as I don't think tarot cards have any value personally, but the point is clear, that what is pseudoscience at any point is that which claims to make objective predictions and conclusions but which does not match the scientific standards at the time.

But many of the pseudosciences have been tested, and found wanting. Research into, say, ESP has consistently failed to result in a predictive theory (no pun intended).

malaidas
2015-Aug-28, 11:08 PM
Oh I agree, likewise there is no scientific evidence for fortune telling or any of them. This is purely about the status of quantum at its birth and the fact that what constitutes scientific evidence can change.

Noclevername
2015-Aug-28, 11:10 PM
Oh I agree, likewise there is no scientific evidence for fortune telling or any of them. This is purely about the status of quantum at its birth and the fact that what constitutes scientific evidence can change.

Quantum mechanics has resulted in consistently predictive theories, though. It's the basis of half our technology today.

malaidas
2015-Aug-28, 11:11 PM
Yes, it is not pseudoscience now, and hasn't been since the consensus agreed that inferred evidence was acceptable. There was a short period however where it would have been considered such in whatever language they chose to express this. This wasn't because the claims were outlandish at the time, but because of the methods being used to draw conclusions didn't match the standards for scientific evidence at that moment

ETA: the point NCN is that what makes something pseudoscience is the method used to draw an objective conclusion and whether or not such raises to current standards of science, not the nature of the conclusion itself.

Ken G
2015-Aug-29, 12:19 AM
I think you had your finger on it earlier, when you said that pseudoscience is not defined by the apparent absurdity of its claims, it is defined by its methods. If we could look at a claim, and say "that claim is pseudoscience", or "that claim is good science", then we wouldn't need to do science at all, we'd already know. So there is no such thing as a "pseudoscientific claim", there is only a "pseudoscientific process to arrive at a claim." The claim isn't the pseudoscience. However, we could ask what claims that are currently pointing to a pseudoscientific process might one day point to a scientific process. I'd say if there was any way to know the answer to that, we wouldn't need science.

Noclevername
2015-Aug-29, 02:33 AM
Ken, I agree with the premise (pseudoscience is the process) but draw the opposite conclusion; IMO unscientific processes will never become scientific. The scientific method is science, and always has been; the only thing disagreed on about QM was the type of application of the scientific process. QM had evidence, that could be tested. With great difficulty, sure, but it has physical consequences subject to repeatable experimental and observational verification. PS conclusions are not reached by scientific methodologies as QM was. At least, I don't know of any that are.

Ken G
2015-Aug-29, 03:30 AM
Ken, I agree with the premise (pseudoscience is the process) but draw the opposite conclusion; IMO unscientific processes will never become scientific. That's not the opposite conclusion, that's the same conclusion. The processes are forever different, any given claim could possibly point to either of those processes, we have no way of knowing without looking at the processes. The key point is, many people think they can tell just by looking at some claim that it must come from pseudoscience. We have found that to be wrong, which is what the OP is saying, but when a given claim goes from pointing at pseudoscience to pointing at science, it's not that the pseudoscience has become science, it's still pseudoscience that, like the blind squirrel, must find a nut occasionally.

(An interesting example of this is the story of the history of the universe first suggested by Edgar Allen Poe in 1848, a good century before the model became something scientific. At the time Poe suggested the idea, it was pretty much classic pseudoscience-- an idea that had no theory to back it, made no predictions that had been tested out successfully, and was suggested more or less entirely because it "seemed right." The ATM section is crammed with that sort of thing! But if you have 100 pseudoscientific ideas, it's not surprising that now and then, one hits the mark, and might later become the conclusion of a scientific process. One could argue that Poe was not really doing pseudoscience because he did not try to apply scientific jargon to confuse people, and he did not claim that observations supported his idea even though those observations had other more natural explanations, but it's still pretty close to a pseudoscientific process when all you have to go on is a hunch that you're right, with no unifying principles or mathematical infrastructure.)

Jens
2015-Aug-29, 05:02 AM
Oh I agree, likewise there is no scientific evidence for fortune telling or any of them. This is purely about the status of quantum at its birth and the fact that what constitutes scientific evidence can change.

The thing though is that quantum mechanics were developed to explain observations. On the other hand, tarot was not. Another thing that comes to mind: I think it was Aristotle who argued that objects fell because of their will or something. That's clearly pseudoscience, am I'm certain it will never be accepted.

Colin Robinson
2015-Aug-29, 05:49 AM
The thing though is that quantum mechanics were developed to explain observations. On the other hand, tarot was not. Another thing that comes to mind: I think it was Aristotle who argued that objects fell because of their will or something. That's clearly pseudoscience, am I'm certain it will never be accepted.

Maybe Aristotle's theories about falling objects will never be accepted again... They were accepted, for around 1800 years.

JohnD
2015-Aug-29, 08:08 AM
It's not the subject of "pseudoscience" that makes it so, but the process.
It is only possible for a 'pseudoscience' to become a 'science' by the application of true scientific methods.
The 'pseudosciences' about right now are so because they depend on opinion and assertion, not theory and experiment. Examples, obviously, would be intelligent design, astrology and homeopathy.
Proponents of all those vigourously advocate their 'science' and demand recognition for the 'pseudoscientific' investigations that jave been done, yet as vigourously resist true scientific exploration of their claims.

At the same time, at the most rarified end of theoretical cosmology, ideas such as superstrings are widely held theories, but offer no practical experiment that could test them. So they have to be termed 'pseudoscience'.
But at least their proponents aren't trying to extract money from the rest of the community, by threats of damnation, prophesy or cures for cancer.

John
PS Lots of quotes, because 'pseudoscience' was the OP's useage, when as I point out, it ain't a science unless it follows science's methods.

malaidas
2015-Aug-29, 08:27 AM
The thing though is that quantum mechanics were developed to explain observations. On the other hand, tarot was not. Another thing that comes to mind: I think it was Aristotle who argued that objects fell because of their will or something. That's clearly pseudoscience, am I'm certain it will never be accepted.

Ok, I do agree with you about tarot, I was trying to pick a pretty politically neutral example, simply for illustration.

Squink
2015-Aug-29, 11:58 AM
Someone may eventually come up with a proper catalyst for cold fusion.
We may eventually have a cheap, reliable, consumer friendly fuel cell that runs off of sugar.
Transcranial direct-current stimulation or Transcranial magnetic stimulation may eventually be useful as a data channel.
Panspermia may become less outre (http://astrobiology.com/2015/08/interstellar-seeds-could-create-oases-of-life.html) among the non-biochemically inclined sects.

Ken G
2015-Aug-29, 12:37 PM
Another thing that comes to mind: I think it was Aristotle who argued that objects fell because of their will or something. That's clearly pseudoscience, am I'm certain it will never be accepted.It isn't clearly pseudoscience by the statement itself; the only way to tell is to look at the process Aristotle used to arrive at it. Since we know Aristotle was not using the scientific method there, that's how we can tell it was pseudoscience. (And actually, pseudoscience requires a pretense at being scientific, and in Aristotle's day, it was all right for philosophers to just assert things they figured had to be true-- so Aristotle was not pretending to be doing science, science was not well enough developed in that day.) These points have been made above, but bear repeating.

Also, we can actually show why we cannot know pseudoscience just by its conclusions, by asking if it could ever make sense for science to come up with an operational definition for "will", and use it to "explain" falling. There is indeed a kind of way we could do that-- we could say that it is the "will" of all objects to continue moving as they had been moving, and this "will" is proportional to the mass of the object (more object, more "will"). Then we can say objects fall because of this "will" to continue their motion.

Sound silly? Actually, this is more or less exactly the view adopted by general relativity-- where we substitute the word "inertia" for "will", and we recognize that it is the falling object that is continuing its previous motion, not the object sitting on the ground that is constantly being accelerated by that force from the ground. The object on the ground is, in effect, being "forced to do something against its will." We might never want to actually explain it that way, but it's closer to GR than Newton's view of what falling is!

So the punchline is, even though Newton's replacing of Aristotle's ideas with his own took us farther from our modern understanding of what falling "actually is" (and many of you already know how I feel about that kind of language!), it was still a huge step forward because the process Newton used allowed his approach to make useful testable predictions. Hence, science beats pseudoscience even when the pseudoscience was more right!

swampyankee
2015-Aug-29, 02:43 PM
A couple centuries or so ago, egg laying mammals and meteorites were pseudoscience.
A century or so ago, continental drift was pseudoscience and Quantum Mechanics probably would have been if anyone proposed it.
Will any of today's pseudoscience be science in 2115?

I think you're confusing pseudo-science with non-mainstream ideas, like continental drift or avian dinosaurs, and conclusions from no data, as a statement that "mammals can't lay eggs"1. Some of these will become science, as happened with continental drift; some will not. Sometimes the conclusions from no data will become so set in stone that people will decide, a priori, that they're sacrosanct and create new classes to put things in; this could well have happened with monotremes (just define mammals as oviparous, and monotremes can't be mammals -- all it would take is a few people at an ICZN conference.

Tom Mazanec
2015-Aug-30, 10:26 AM
What about ball lightning? Is that an example of a phenomenon going from "urban myth" to science in our lifetimes?

Squink
2015-Aug-30, 01:10 PM
What about ball lightning?I've seen that in my microwave (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7RFyh5ABcQ).
It's best without a bowl over it; melts the paint right off the roof of the oven. Steel would likely melt too; eventually.

swampyankee
2015-Aug-31, 02:17 PM
What about ball lightning? Is that an example of a phenomenon going from "urban myth" to science in our lifetimes?

I think that it was a rare phenomenon, so it could not be readily studied, and some of the reported behavior of ball lightning did not seem to follow the expected behavior of inanimate objects.

The eyewitness reports, themselves, may form a useful basis for a study: how people respond to and report rare phenomena which were considered largely legendary.

malaidas
2015-Sep-01, 09:18 PM
However the existence or non existence of ball lightning is not pseudoscience, it is the manner in which one studies such which determines if it is a scientific conclusion or not.

swampyankee
2015-Sep-01, 11:38 PM
However the existence or non existence of ball lightning is not pseudoscience, it is the manner in which one studies such which determines if it is a scientific conclusion or not.

Ball lightning may be an example of excessive skepticism. Of course rare natural egents are hard to study. How would one study the periodic cicada if 16 of the 17 broods were extinct? Would biologists accept an insect thwt only shows up every 17 years?

JohnD
2015-Sep-02, 09:11 AM
However the existence or non existence of ball lightning is not pseudoscience, it is the manner in which one studies such which determines if it is a scientific conclusion or not.

When extended to all investigation, this is what I said in post 19. I agree, malaidas!
John

malaidas
2015-Sep-02, 09:13 AM
swampyankie: True, but that doesn't stop a proper scientific investigation, it just means that such will be harder and take longer. The key is the way in which an investigation is performed, with proper hypothesis, proper controls etc, and above all a reasonable assessment of confidence.

JohnD
2015-Sep-02, 09:30 PM
If this is an 'ignore John' debate, I'm out.

malaidas
2015-Sep-02, 10:21 PM
If this is an 'ignore John' debate, I'm out.

I'm not ignoring you John, I agree with you.

Robert Tulip
2015-Sep-03, 01:24 PM
A couple centuries or so ago, egg laying mammals and meteorites were pseudoscience.
A century or so ago, continental drift was pseudoscience and Quantum Mechanics probably would have been if anyone proposed it. Will any of today's pseudoscience be science in 2115?
Just picking up on the example of astrology, which I have long found fascinating.

Clearly, the nonsense claims of astrologers will never become science. However, that muddies the waters regarding the hypothesis of possible influence of planetary positions on personality and events.

The most rigorous statistical efforts, those of Gauquelin (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_effect), were not able to convince skeptical observers of any consistent planetary effects due to concern that his claims involved selective use of data. But all that proves is that if there are astrological effects, they are far weaker than astrologers claim, so weak as to be sub-statistical.

It could be compared to trying to detect a radio signal from the other side of the planet where the signal is close to zero and the static noise is high. But comparable feats have been done in radio astronomy, although the method for isolating an astrological signal has not yet been found.

One hypothesis is that large scale epidemiological statistical work could find mortality and morbidity trends in planetary transits. I would be interested to conduct such a study based on a sample of a million birth and death dates.

To date the results for astrology are nil, the logic for a possible mechanism is weak, and the culture of astrology is broadly hostile to reason, so the likelihood of salvaging anything from the pseudoscience is low.

Squink
2015-Sep-03, 11:49 PM
Kirlian photography (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirlian_photography) and orgone are apparently still in the dog house.
I was hoping Kirlian photography would at least have found some use in detecting RF leakage points from modern cell phones or something; but searches yield nothing.

Robert Tulip
2015-Sep-05, 03:27 AM
Another example from astrology. You may have heard the claim that Mercury retrograde causes technology problems, eg here (http://astrostyle.com/learn-astrology/mercury-retrograde/). This is now the simplest thing to test by statistical analysis of help desk records of volume of calls. This astrological hypothesis would mean call volumes go up when Mercury travels west in the sky. But I don't think anyone has done such a test as far as I know. Rather than the broad dismissal of all astrology as a priori junk science, there is a case for systematic investigation of claims to see if there may be a grain of wheat among the chaff. The public service here is that there are many believers who adjust their lives based on claims such as the Mercury retrograde one, and if they can be shown they are wasting their time, we strike a blow for science and reason in the public sphere. Alternatively, if a statistical correlation is shown, there would be a need to explain it.

Jens
2015-Sep-05, 04:11 AM
The public service here is that there are many believers who adjust their lives based on claims such as the Mercury retrograde one, and if they can be shown they are wasting their time, we strike a blow for science and reason in the public sphere. Alternatively, if a statistical correlation is shown, there would be a need to explain it.

I would dispute the utility for two reasons. One is that there is no conceivable reason that such a thing can be true. After all, nothing is changing, it's just a perceived effect. And equally importantly, if as you say people are doing things differently due to the belief, then the effects caused by their behavioral changes would overwhelm any possible real effect, so you would end up seeing changes due to a self-fulfilling prophecy. So I would think it would be an exercise in futility.

Ken G
2015-Sep-05, 04:19 AM
I agree with Jens. Now, certainly we all agree that the best policy is always to do the test, if it is easy enough to do (and can be set up to avoid the fact that there might be lots of believers in astrology who are more likely to call in about their problems if they think Mercury is messing with them). But in this case, we really do already know that there is no point in the test-- there is absolutely no way that retrograde motion of Mercury could cause technology problems. The reason we know this is, all we have to do is track how that myth came into existence, and note two key facts about it. First of all, we know for sure that the myth did not originate because of any analysis of evidence. Nothing in astrology ever comes about by analysis of evidence-- whoever first made that claim is 100% guaranteed not to have analyzed any data at all in deciding that, because that is just not how astrological claims get made. How exactly it came about is unknown-- was it just completely made up, like someone thought it made sense for some arbitrary reason, or was it anecdotal-- did someone's gadget break the day Mercury went into retrograde, and poof, there had to be a causal connection? But it wasn't analysis of data, you know that-- astrology never analyzes any data.

The second reason you already know the myth originated in a process that has no merit is that it is clear where retrograde motion ideas come from-- they date back to the Ptolemaic model in which, during retrograde motion, a planet really was going backward in its orbit. But now we know that a much better way to describe what is happening is to say it just looks like it is going backward as the Earth passes it. The people responsible for that article you cited know that, but they don't seem to know that their myth originated in thinking about retrograde motion back when it is was not understood. This is a classic example of garbage reasoning-- a wrong model is used to draw a conclusion, and when the model is replaced, the faulty conclusion is left in place! That only happens in modes of thinking that do not believe in either testing anything, or even basic logical consistency.

What's more, there is a common misconception about retrograde motion that the planet actually appears to move backward in the sky. That's never true, the diurnal motion of the stars is always the dominant motion, and nothing ever appears to move "westward" in the sky. To see retrograde motion, you have to look at the motion against the stars, not against the sky. So it's not even anything backward in what the planet is doing in relation to us, you'd have to think that the stars are also getting into the picture. In other words, if it is not ludicrous enough to think that Mercury could affect your cell phone, you actually have to think that the relation of Mercury to the stars is affecting your cell phone! It's downright silly.

In fact the situation is downright laughable, because the article you cite says: "To top it off, Mercury retrograde also has what’s called a “shadow period” (which we explain in this post about Mercury’s shadow), so you may feel the retrograde a couple weeks before and after it actually happens." Funny thing about this "shadow period"-- if you add up all the shadow periods of all the retrograde motions of Mercury, it adds up to almost 8 months a year! Yes, unbelievably, these people are actually saying that you "might feel" the effects of Mercury on your technological devices more than half the time. So if your cell phone breaks, there's already an almost 2/3 chance it will have happened, entirely randomly, during a retrograde or a shadow of retrograde of Mercury! You can't make this up, folks. It's a complete breakdown of anything remotely resembling sound thinking. So what would be the point of testing it? When sound thinking has totally broken down, what difference is a well designed test going to make? Those committed to the belief are going to disregard the test, and nobody else should even trouble themselves to bother, when what is going on is just so patently obvious already. But if someone does want to look up that data, they should knock themselves out, there's never any harm in actually performing the test-- even completely unnecessary ones, if they are easy enough. But watch out for misinterpreting the outcome-- the test has to be properly controlled.

Jens
2015-Sep-05, 04:21 AM
.
To date the results for astrology are nil, the logic for a possible mechanism is weak, and the culture of astrology is broadly hostile to reason, so the likelihood of salvaging anything from the pseudoscience is low.

Plus, as I pointed out, and I think it is an obvious point, people's personalities might change not because of planetary influences but because of their belief in the influence. If there is no strong effect, I don't know how you could possibly pull that effect out. Even if a person doesn't believe in astrology, their personality could even be influence of the subtle ways in which other people teat them differently because of their sign.

Ken G
2015-Sep-05, 04:41 AM
Plus, as I pointed out, and I think it is an obvious point, people's personalities might change not because of planetary influences but because of their belief in the influence. If there is no strong effect, I don't know how you could possibly pull that effect out. Even if a person doesn't believe in astrology, their personality could even be influence of the subtle ways in which other people teat them differently because of their sign.This would probably most likely come in tests that involve self-reporting of personality traits. Like when people say, "well I'm a Scorpio, so I...", it's clear they are letting the attributes of the sign color their ideas about themselves. That's kind of sad, though perhaps they find some comfort in deceiving themself if they are otherwise very unclear about their own identity. But if you control for that by having people describe other people's personalities, people whose "sign" they don't know, it should be easy enough to make any signal there go away. But I think it's more likely that these kinds of signals don't exist at all, that there's no effect on behavior of any kind based on what people believe about astrology, people just do what they were going to do anyway, and astrology is pure rationalization. I expect it's like fortune cookie fortunes, people simply interpret them as correct because they choose to do so, and there is plenty of ambiguity to work within.

Incidentally, for anyone who doesn't know this, there is a very easy way to see that astrology based on your "birth sign" is complete bunk. The so-called personality traits associated with birth signs that you find in the newpaper, which most people go by, are based on the motion of the Sun through the constellations as it would have been in the distant past, when the astrological signs were first developed. But since then, precession of the Earth's axis means that anyone who thinks they were born with the Sun in some constellation, based on their "sign", is actually wrong, they are off by 1-2 zodiacal constellations. So why hasn't anyone noticed this problem? Why are people saying "well I'm a Scorpio, so I..." when they were not born when the Sun was in Scorpio? Shouldn't these people be saying, for some reason astrology doesn't seem to work, they always self-identify with the forecasts for people 1-2 signs different from themselves?

Now I realize that "serious" astrologers understand about this 1-2 constellation shift, and they denigrate the newspaper horoscopes for not correcting for that. But the point is, most of the believers in astrology are not using the "corrected" astrology, they are using the uncorrected one! Yet they still believe in it! So what does that tell us? It tells us that it's just a human trait for people to want to believe, it's a study in sociology and not astronomy. Decisions are difficult, so why not pretend there is some method for helping us make them? We probably end up doing what we would have done anyway, but the belief that we are following some kind of guidance might help people feel better about their decisions. I shudder to think they might actually make life choices, like who to marry or what career to go into, based on a constellation that the Sun was not even in when they were born.

KlausH
2015-Sep-05, 05:09 AM
I am neither an expert nor a believer in Astrology.
However, many of my friends and acquaintances are (some of them even teach Astrology classes) and I have had many discussions with them in the past.

One main popular misunderstanding is that Astrologers believe that the actual planetary objects would have some kind of mysterious and physical influence on us.
Modern Astrologers (at least the ones I had contact with) do not believe that.

Rather, they believe that
1. Everything is connected.
2. There is a correlation between the patterns of our lives and the patterns of the motions of the planets.

That, to me, sounds a lot more plausible than postulating some kind of mysterious physical influence from the planets on our lives.

Posts, like the ones from Jens or Ken G are actually good examples of a pseudo-scientific approach.
The fact that you (and I actually) cannot imagine how Astrology could possibly work and outright reject it, is entirely irrelevant for a science.

Robert Tulip on the other hand calls for the proper scientific approach.

Test the claims, e.g. the claim that Mercury retrograde correlates with technical problems, and see if there is a statistical correlation.
If there isn't, case closed. If there is, then we need to come up with an explanation (which could be that the studies weren't properly conducted).

Everything else is not science but just hot air, not worth the bits it occupies in your computer's memory.

Jens
2015-Sep-05, 05:52 AM
This would probably most likely come in tests that involve self-reporting of personality traits. Like when people say, "well I'm a Scorpio, so I...", it's clear they are letting the attributes of the sign color their ideas about themselves. That's kind of sad, though perhaps they find some comfort in deceiving themself if they are otherwise very unclear about their own identity. But if you control for that by having people describe other people's personalities, people whose "sign" they don't know, it should be easy enough to make any signal there go away.

I'm not saying it's true, but I think we need to entertain the possibility that if I think I'm adventurous because I'm an Aries, I might actually become more adventurous (due to my belief) and other people might see that and report it.

Jens
2015-Sep-05, 05:56 AM
Posts, like the ones from Jens or Ken G are actually good examples of a pseudo-scientific approach.
The fact that you (and I actually) cannot imagine how Astrology could possibly work and outright reject it, is entirely irrelevant for a science.


Then you misunderstood my post, because I was not outright rejecting it. I was saying that even if it exists, it would seem very hard to show with a test because you have the possibility that there could be self-fulfilling beliefs and I don't know how to control for that. For example, it's possibly that people get tense on the day that Mars goes into retrograde motion (because of their belief in astrology) and that because of the tension, they make mistakes that they wouldn't have made otherwise. I'm just saying that it seems hard to me to imagine how you would actually test it. So please don't think that I'm simply rejecting the idea.

Jens
2015-Sep-05, 05:59 AM
And just adding something, from past exchanges with Robert Tulip I have found him to be an entirely rational person and I imagine he will take my concern seriously and try to think of ways to control for the problem rather than accusing me of pseudoscience or insulting me by saying that my ideas are not worth the bits they occupy in my computer's memory.

malaidas
2015-Sep-05, 06:18 AM
Yes, science is not just about being open minded, it's about realising what questions we are able to answer empirically and what questions we cannot. So scientifically the question becomes not is astrology true, rather can we formulate the question into a fashion that science could falsify, can it yield any risky predictions. To me the specific predictions of individual astrologers do not qualify as an objective test of the basic notion of there being connection. However it is possible to show whether the level of meaningful information is at very least accountable for by statistical probability in the cases of prediction we have or not.

ETA: If we recall that science is not about truth, but instead what knowledge has utility the above can be sufficient to show that astrology currently has no scientific meaning.

KlausH
2015-Sep-05, 06:28 AM
Then you misunderstood my post, because I was not outright rejecting it. I was saying that even if it exists, it would seem very hard to show with a test because you have the possibility that there could be self-fulfilling beliefs and I don't know how to control for that. For example, it's possibly that people get tense on the day that Mars goes into retrograde motion (because of their belief in astrology) and that because of the tension, they make mistakes that they wouldn't have made otherwise. I'm just saying that it seems hard to me to imagine how you would actually test it. So please don't think that I'm simply rejecting the idea.

I understood your point about self-fulfilling beliefs.
A common problem in psychological studies, I would imagine.
Surely, there are ways to account for that.

malaidas
2015-Sep-05, 06:35 AM
I understood your point about self-fulfilling beliefs.
A common problem in psychological studies, I would imagine.
Surely, there are ways to account for that.


If the predictions were specific then I would agree with you. It would possible to do blind tests.

KlausH
2015-Sep-05, 06:36 AM
And just adding something, from past exchanges with Robert Tulip I have found him to be an entirely rational person and I imagine he will take my concern seriously and try to think of ways to control for the problem rather than accusing me of pseudoscience or insulting me by saying that my ideas are not worth the bits they occupy in my computer's memory.

No insult intended.
You are reading way too much into my post.

Either you have the studies that demonstrate self-fulling beliefs or you don't.
The first would be doing science, the latter wouldn't.
To call the latter pseudo-science is appropriate and not an insult.

Ken G
2015-Sep-05, 07:12 AM
Posts, like the ones from Jens or Ken G are actually good examples of a pseudo-scientific approach.
The fact that you (and I actually) cannot imagine how Astrology could possibly work and outright reject it, is entirely irrelevant for a science.But you must understand, not a single aspect of my argument is "I cannot imagine how astrology could possibly work so it must be wrong"-- I never used that mode of argument at all. What I did look at is how people who believe in astrology reach their conclusions. Do you know? Have you asked your friends who believe in astrology how they came to believe in it?

Here's one thing I can assure you: it was not the scientifically controlled assessment of a body of data, not for a single one of them. Do you think my prediction is wrong? Test it-- it won't be.

So that's my issue with astrology. It has nothing at all to do with any belief on my part that astrology is impossible-- it has purely to do with my assessment of their methodology for reaching conclusions. It is quite obvious to me that they simply choose to believe-- period. I have seen cases where they made that choice based on anecdotal "evidence" that is poorly controlled or totally uncontrolled, and cases where they chose to believe simply because it sounded cool to them. But never, ever, have I seen any systematic effort to test any of the claims.

You say they believe in "patterns", but that's exactly what I was talking about-- they don't believe in the same patterns! The vast majority of astrology believers (perhaps not your friends, but still the majority) believe in patterns that don't include the precession of the Earth's axis. In other words, they believe that your personality is affected by the constellation the Sun was in at the date of your birth a thousand years ago, but not when you were born. Then there are the "serious" astrologers, who believe in patterns that do reflect the precession of the Earth's axis, so it does matter which constellation the Sun was in when you were actually born! So this is my point: they believe in patterns, but not the same patterns, so will the "real patterns" please stand up! The issue has nothing to do with which patterns I think are the "right" ones (neither, of course), it has entirely to do with the total inconsistency of sound thinking that is being employed, or not being employed. This is how you should evaluate any claim on truth: not your personal opinion about what could be or could not be true, but by looking at the methodology used to arrive at that claim of truth. That is all I am doing here, and no, it is not pseudoscientific to look at that-- it is regular science, to inspect the methodology.


Robert Tulip on the other hand calls for the proper scientific approach.Except for the possible flaws in proper controls that was pointed out. But yes, if a properly controlled observation could be conducted, anyone is welcome to go for it. My point is this: they will be wasting their time, because it is perfectly obvious that the claims of astrology are baseless-- not because they are ridiculous (though they are, of course), but because the methodology used to arrive at them is quite clearly totally baseless. So here's the point:

Any claim that is arrived at by the process used to arrive at claims by astrology would be a waste of time to test simply because of its vanishingly small probability of being true.

But of course, anyone who does not agree with that is welcome to test them, they can choose at their leisure to test:
1) which "patterns" are the ones that work, where the Sun is when you are born, where the Sun was on the date you were born a thousand years ago, or where the Sun would have been had you been born a thousand years from now.
2) which "biorhythm" theory you want to give a go, or some other form of numerology-- maybe the "pattern" you should test is if you were born on an even or odd day of the month, or a prime day of the year, or if the month and day have the same number-- why not test them all?
3) if the direction of your birth relative to the Earth's magnetic field matters
4) whether or not a magical incantation was recited while you were in utero...
You get the idea. When the methodology of choosing to believe in any of these claims is utterly bereft of any logical basis, then why not test all of them? Are you just going to test astrology because it happens by pure chance to be the most popular of that list of absurd reasons to believe things? It's not the belief itself that tells us which things are worth testing, it is the quality of process used to arrive at the hypothesis. That's science.


Test the claims, e.g. the claim that Mercury retrograde correlates with technical problems, and see if there is a statistical correlation.Except for all the weasel room. Like, for example, I showed that Mercury believers can attribute mechanical failures that happen in almost 2/3 of the year to be due to Mercury. So what this means is, an actual statistical test would need to be set up the opposite way, it would need to be set up to test if things don't break when Mercury is not in retrograde (or its "shadow", please!). And if that ever turned out to be true (and seriously, it won't), we couldn't decide if Mercury being in retrograde makes things break, of if Mercury not being in retrograde offers some mystical protection for things that should actually break as often as they normally do when Mercury is not prograde.

But here's the real point: when the data shows no correlation at all, do you think any of your friends are going to change their belief? I have another testable prediction: they won't, because their belief was never based on data, so will never be responsive to data. It's the methodology, not the belief, that exposes the pseudoscience! So here's the test that's actually worth doing. Look up the data for repair calls on some gismo, say refrigerators, and correlate that data with Mercury. Show the non-correlation to your friends that believe in astrology. Watch what happens next. Now that would be testing something-- though it is something sociological, not astronomical.


If there isn't, case closed. But for whom? For them? No. For you? That case should never have been opened-- it takes a reasonable methodology to open a case in the first place, just look at that list of non-open cases I just gave. Do you really need to close them all to be scientific? I could have listed a thousand, with no worse reason to believe in than astrology. The thing to realize is that it doesn't matter how many people believe in something, if they all used a highly faulty process to arrive at that belief. This is simple sociology, it appears often in the realm of superstition. Are you going to test black cats while you're at it, is that required to be scientific?



Everything else is not science but just hot air, not worth the bits it occupies in your computer's memory.No, you are just scientifically wrong here. It is certainly not "hot air" to look at the methodology used to arrive at a claim on truth, and judge the claim, without any testing, simply based on that methodology. That is a perfectly scientific approach, it's how we decide what merits testing in the first place in a world of limited resources. So it is definitely not scientific thinking to imagine that any baseless claim anyone can make needs to be tested in order to be able to discount it as highly unlikely, simply on grounds of the baselessness of its original methodology, and not on grounds of a hard-to-believe conclusion. Science is all about discovering hard-to-believe things, that's one of the many reasons why belief plays no role in science-- but methodology does. Look at what supports a hypothesis, and if the support has a sound basis, then go ahead and test. If the support is utterly missing, there is no requirement to bother to test it-- unless you have some time on your hands and don't mind. But don't tell me the scientist cannot dismiss it, if there is zero evidence to support it. That's just basic shifting of the burden of evidence, and once you start down that road, don't be surprised when you find that no evidence, no matter how clear, will ever convince the faithful-- they will always just heap more burden of evidence on you, since you were the one who opened that door for them in the first place.

malaidas
2015-Sep-05, 07:48 AM
But you must understand, not a single aspect of my argument is "I cannot imagine how astrology could possibly work so it must be wrong"-- I never used that mode of argument at all. What I did look at is how people who believe in astrology reach their conclusions. Do you know? Have you asked your friends who believe in astrology how they came to believe in it?

Here's one thing I can assure you: it was not the scientifically controlled assessment of a body of data, not for a single one of them. Do you think my prediction is wrong? Test it-- it won't be.

So that's my issue with astrology. It has nothing at all to do with any belief on my part that astrology is impossible-- it has purely to do with my assessment of their methodology for reaching conclusions. It is quite obvious to me that they simply choose to believe-- period. I have seen cases where they made that choice based on anecdotal "evidence" that is poorly controlled or totally uncontrolled, and cases where they chose to believe simply because it sounded cool to them. But never, ever, have I seen any systematic effort to test any of the claims.

You say they believe in "patterns", but that's exactly what I was talking about-- they don't believe in the same patterns! The vast majority of astrology believers (perhaps not your friends, but still the majority) believe in patterns that don't include the precession of the Earth's axis. In other words, they believe that your personality is affected by the constellation the Sun was in at the date of your birth a thousand years ago, but not when you were born. Then there are the "serious" astrologers, who believe in patterns that do reflect the precession of the Earth's axis, so it does matter which constellation the Sun was in when you were actually born! So this is my point: they believe in patterns, but not the same patterns, so will the "real patterns" please stand up! The issue has nothing to do with which patterns I think are the "right" ones (neither, of course), it has entirely to do with the total inconsistency of sound thinking that is being employed, or not being employed. This is how you should evaluate any claim on truth: not your personal opinion about what could be or could not be true, but by looking at the methodology used to arrive at that claim of truth. That is all I am doing here, and no, it is not pseudoscientific to look at that-- it is regular science, to inspect the methodology.
Except for the possible flaws in proper controls that was pointed out. But yes, if a properly controlled observation could be conducted, anyone is welcome to go for it. My point is this: they will be wasting their time, because it is perfectly obvious that the claims of astrology are baseless-- not because they are ridiculous (though they are, of course), but because the methodology used to arrive at them is quite clearly totally baseless. So here's the point:

Any claim that is arrived at by the process used to arrive at claims by astrology would be a waste of time to test simply because of its vanishingly small probability of being true.

But of course, anyone who does not agree with that is welcome to test them, they can choose at their leisure to test:
1) which "patterns" are the ones that work, where the Sun is when you are born, where the Sun was on the date you were born a thousand years ago, or where the Sun would have been had you been born a thousand years from now.
2) which "biorhythm" theory you want to give a go, or some other form of numerology-- maybe the "pattern" you should test is if you were born on an even or odd day of the month, or a prime day of the year, or if the month and day have the same number-- why not test them all?
3) if the direction of your birth relative to the Earth's magnetic field matters
4) whether or not a magical incantation was recited while you were in utero...
You get the idea. When the methodology of choosing to believe in any of these claims is utterly bereft of any logical basis, then why not test all of them? Are you just going to test astrology because it happens by pure chance to be the most popular of that list of absurd reasons to believe things? It's not the belief itself that tells us which things are worth testing, it is the quality of process used to arrive at the hypothesis. That's science.
Except for all the weasel room. Like, for example, I showed that Mercury believers can attribute mechanical failures that happen in almost 2/3 of the year to be due to Mercury. So what this means is, an actual statistical test would need to be set up the opposite way, it would need to be set up to test if things don't break when Mercury is not in retrograde (or its "shadow", please!). And if that ever turned out to be true (and seriously, it won't), we couldn't decide if Mercury being in retrograde makes things break, of if Mercury not being in retrograde offers some mystical protection for things that should actually break as often as they normally do when Mercury is not prograde.

But here's the real point: when the data shows no correlation at all, do you think any of your friends are going to change their belief? Really, do you? (Of course they won't, because their belief was never based on data, so will never be responsive to data. It's the methodology, not the belief, that exposes the pseudoscience.)
But for whom? For them? No. For you? That case should never have been opened-- it takes a reasonable methodology to open a case in the first place, just look at that list of non-open cases I just gave. Do you really need to close them all to be scientific? I could have listed a thousand, with no worse reason to believe in than astrology. The thing to realize is that it doesn't matter how many people believe in something, if they all used a highly faulty process to arrive at that belief. This is simple sociology, it appears often in the realm of superstition. Are you going to test black cats while you're at it, is that required to be scientific?

No, you are just scientifically wrong here. It is certainly not "hot air" to look at the methodology used to arrive at a claim on truth, and judge the claim, without any testing, simply based on that methodology. That is a perfectly scientific approach, it's how we decide what merits testing in the first place in a world of limited resources. So it is definitely not scientific thinking to imagine that any baseless claim anyone can make needs to be tested in order to be able to discount it as highly unlikely, simply on grounds of the baselessness of its original methodology, and not on grounds of a hard-to-believe conclusion. Science is all about discovering hard-to-believe things, that's one of the many reasons why belief plays no role in science-- but methodology does. Look at what supports a hypothesis, and if the support has a sound basis, then go ahead and test. If the support is utterly missing, there is no requirement to bother to test it-- unless you have some time on your hands and don't mind. But don't tell me the scientist cannot dismiss it, if there is zero evidence to support it. That's just basic shifting of the burden of evidence, and once you start down that road, don't be surprised when you find that no evidence, no matter how clear, will ever convince the faithful.

I agree that it is easy to show that the process by which they reach their conclusions is in no way scientific. I also agree that the data we do have from science would seem to refute many of the predictions they make.

However there are two sides to this. One whether or not there is a connection between planetary bodies etc, such that they could have an effect upon us and 2) can such be used to establish meaningful predictions.

Science would support the idea of connection in some sense of the word, after all we are in theory part of an immensely large quantum field, but whether or not such has any meaningful practical effect is dubious. Ignoring the obvious effects that the moon has of course.

Ken G
2015-Sep-05, 09:21 AM
A classic example is the superstition that a black cat crossing your path will give you bad luck. Now, it would indeed be unscientific to say "there's no way a black cat could ever affect your luck," because who knows, there are quantum entanglements in everything that we don't track or know about, we simply expect them to be random in nature. Indeed, that's what "luck" is, the random stuff you are left with after you have accounted for all the predictable connections, so if a black cat could really "affect luck", we wouldn't call it luck any more. But maybe we just call it luck out of ignorance of a true connection-- who knows? The point is, it is never the scientist's job to put credence into any random hypothesis a random computer program could generate (imagine a "hypothesis" program that places random nouns into the sentence ____ causes ____, are you going to do science by setting out to test each of these random sentences?), nor any hypothesis generated by any other equally baseless methodology. So the very first thing scientific thinking does, prior to any testing, is to assess the existing evidence for any hypothesis. If the answer is "none", then no testing is indicated. That's the unspoken first step in the scientific method, unspoken because it is naturally assumed that any scientific hypothesis worth mentioning has some kind of scientific basis, making it worthy of being tested. But when the hypothesis is "a black cat crossing your path will give you bad luck", the first step in the scientific process, prior to any testing, is to ask: "and why do you think that should be true?" If the answer is "because I heard it somewhere", and you go find where they heard it, and get the same answer over and over, you realize what you are looking at: not a scientific hypothesis worthy of testing, but a sociological phenomenon of people choosing to believe things in the complete absence of any controlled evidence.

Now, you might hear someone say "I had a black cat cross my path, and I did have bad luck, so that's evidence", but of course it's not evidence at all, because it is so poorly controlled. We all have a certain amount of bad luck with no requirement for any "reason", so how much bad luck is needed to blame the cat? We don't know how close the cat needs to cross, we don't know how black the cat needs to be to "count", we don't know if "crossing your path" means ahead of you or behind you, or if you get back luck either way. Indeed the whole claim is so poorly specified, and so poorly established, there is really nothing to test there, and no good reason to waste the effort to test it. It's not pseudoscience to say "that hypothesis does not pass the baseline requirements to be regarded as worthy of testing, because the process by which the claim was arrived at is already known, by past testing, to be an invalid process", but it certainly is pseudoscience to say "I've claimed it is true, now it is your job to convince me it isn't." The pseudoscientist cannot be convinced, and the real scientist has no reason to waste time trying.

Jens
2015-Sep-05, 11:38 AM
Either you have the studies that demonstrate self-fulling beliefs or you don't.
The first would be doing science, the latter wouldn't.

I don't understand. You're saying that if you find an effect, and it could be A but it could be B, but you have no evidence it is B, then it must be A? Sorry, that seems illogical to me. If you have no evidence for either A or B, I don't see why you conclude it must be A rather than B..

Jens
2015-Sep-05, 11:44 AM
I understood your point about self-fulfilling beliefs.
A common problem in psychological studies, I would imagine.
Surely, there are ways to account for that.

I suppose a possible solution would be to do a study with people who had no exposure to Western astrology. What would seem difficult to do would be to figure out exactly what to test for. You talked about "patterns". OK, but what does that mean?

Robert Tulip
2015-Sep-05, 02:21 PM
I would dispute the utility for two reasons. One is that there is no conceivable reason that such a thing can be true. After all, nothing is changing, it's just a perceived effect. And equally importantly, if as you say people are doing things differently due to the belief, then the effects caused by their behavioral changes would overwhelm any possible real effect, so you would end up seeing changes due to a self-fulfilling prophecy. So I would think it would be an exercise in futility.

Hello Jens, I am happy to work through these comments, hopefully in a rational way!

The artefact you describe is minimal. Really very few people are more likely to call a computer help desk because they know that Mercury is retrograde. Calls to get things fixed are made when they are broken. I have an interest in this stuff, and had to look it up (http://rtulip.net/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/2015.34013951.xls) to see that Mercury goes retrograde on 18 September and will go forward on 9 October.

I had a long chat with a friend about all this this evening, and we agreed that regression analysis against the moving average of help desk daily call totals (or maybe casual payroll data for help desk staff) would readily show any measurable Mercury effect if such existed. I am not sure if there would be expected peaks in spectral analysis of the wave function.

believers in astrology who are more likely to call in about their problems if they think Mercury is messing with them The number of people who even know this factoid is relatively small, and the number who might care to time their help desk calls by it is smaller. Maybe one in a million calls.
). But in this case, we really do already know that there is no point in the test-- there is absolutely no way that retrograde motion of Mercury could cause technology problems. The reason we know this is, all we have to do is track how that myth came into existence, and note two key facts about it. Your first suggested fact is a reasonable argument, your second is not.

First of all, we know for sure that the myth did not originate because of any analysis of evidence. Nothing in astrology ever comes about by analysis of evidence-- whoever first made that claim is 100% guaranteed not to have analyzed any data at all in deciding that, because that is just not how astrological claims get made. How exactly it came about is unknown-- was it just completely made up, like someone thought it made sense for some arbitrary reason, or was it anecdotal-- did someone's gadget break the day Mercury went into retrograde, and poof, there had to be a causal connection? But it wasn't analysis of data, you know that-- astrology never analyzes any data.
Agreed.

The second reason you already know the myth originated in a process that has no merit is that it is clear where retrograde motion ideas come from-- they date back to the Ptolemaic model in which, during retrograde motion, a planet really was going backward in its orbit. But now we know that a much better way to describe what is happening is to say it just looks like it is going backward as the Earth passes it. The people responsible for that article you cited know that, but they don't seem to know that their myth originated in thinking about retrograde motion back when it is was not understood. This is a classic example of garbage reasoning-- a wrong model is used to draw a conclusion, and when the model is replaced, the faulty conclusion is left in place! That only happens in modes of thinking that do not believe in either testing anything, or even basic logical consistency. ”As the Earth passes it” should read “As Mercury passes the Earth.” Mercury orbits the sun every 88 days, about four times a year, and begins its retrograde when it laps the earth every 120 days (give or take a week with variance due I think to the apsides). The retrograde periods are for about 21 days when Mercury passes between the sun and the earth followed by about 98 days forward motion.

The fact that Ptolemy did not know the physics is not relevant to whether an effect actually exists. Mercury is always between the earth and the sun when it is retrograde. A hypothesis that this causes some mysterious interference can be tested, even if we cannot suggest a mechanism.

What's more, there is a common misconception about retrograde motion that the planet actually appears to move backward in the sky. Apologies for using that over-simplified language in my earlier post, I meant relative to the position of the stars. I was not using your geocentric meaning of sky. :)

That's never true, the diurnal motion of the stars is always the dominant motion, and nothing ever appears to move "westward" in the sky. To see retrograde motion, you have to look at the motion against the stars, not against the sky. So it's not even anything backward in what the planet is doing in relation to us, you'd have to think that the stars are also getting into the picture. In other words, if it is not ludicrous enough to think that Mercury could affect your cell phone, you actually have to think that the relation of Mercury to the stars is affecting your cell phone! It's downright silly.
The dynamic effect of the Mercury retrograde on earth is due to the relation of Mercury to the sun, not the stars. This can be quantified. Mercury’s position vis a vis the sun does have a small dynamic effect on earth, calculable in tides. Mercury’s tidal effect on the earth is one three millionth of the tidal effect of our moon (by Phil Plait's calculation (http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/misc/planets.html)). The retrograde component can be compared to the difference between the spring and neap Mercury microtides caused on earth, between when Mercury is in line or orthogonal to the sun. I quantify this to note the effect is close to zero, albeit that this Mercury and Earth orbital relationship has been pretty well constant for four billion years.

what would be the point of testing it?
The test is for a roughly 21/98 day recurring pattern, with clear defined orbital dates, not for any of the folk traditions that have been elaborated around this orbital structure.

When sound thinking has totally broken down, what difference is a well designed test going to make? A well designed test of trends in call centre data will show if an effect is imagined or real. The fact that people believe myths about how this effect manifests is irrelevant to whether a measurable signal can be found in objective data consistently. The null hypothesis is that there will be no effect.

Those committed to the belief are going to disregard the test, and nobody else should even trouble themselves to bother, when what is going on is just so patently obvious already. There are people open to being influenced by evidence, as occurred when Darwin showed that evolution was a superior explanation to creationism. I have just suggested this Mercury example because it is easier to test than complex sun sign personality traits and far less likely to be distorted by sociological artifacts.

But if someone does want to look up that data, they should knock themselves out, there's never any harm in actually performing the test-- even completely unnecessary ones, if they are easy enough. But watch out for misinterpreting the outcome-- the test has to be properly controlled.
If a call centre could send me its daily call totals for help desk work for ten or twenty years, it would take me an hour or so to calculate in excel if there is any statistical increase of the moving average during Mercury retrograde periods. A nil finding would help put the pseudoscience to bed.

Ken G
2015-Sep-05, 07:19 PM
The number of people who even know this factoid is relatively small, and the number who might care to time their help desk calls by it is smaller.Yes, I'm not particularly worried about queering the result, the data will show no correlation that is statistically significant.

The retrograde periods are for about 21 days when Mercury passes between the sun and the earth followed by about 98 days forward motion. Except that the article you cited also talks about similar kinds of effects during the "shadows", which extends that period by about a factor of 3. It happens 4 times a year, so that's about 2/3 of the year! Very convenient, as usual with weaseling.


The fact that Ptolemy did not know the physics is not relevant to whether an effect actually exists.Of course. But what Ptolemy did do, and astrologers never did do, is build a hypothesis based on existing observations. Such a scientific hypothesis merits careful testing, whether or not there is a physical theory to go with it.


Mercury is always between the earth and the sun when it is retrograde. A hypothesis that this causes some mysterious interference can be tested, even if we cannot suggest a mechanism.Again, suggesting a mechanism is no part of my argument, that's why I never mentioned it. The whole issue is why does anyone think Mercury being in retrograde makes things fail. When you answer that, then, and only then, will you understand why there is no need whatsoever to test the claim, unless you have some time on your hands that you don't mind wasting. Which would be fine, because it wouldn't waste much of my time to hear the answer to your efforts!


If a call centre could send me its daily call totals for help desk work for ten or twenty years, it would take me an hour or so to calculate in excel if there is any statistical increase of the moving average during Mercury retrograde periods. Sure, but why would they want to be put out like that? Don't they have enough to do already?

A nil finding would help put the pseudoscience to bed.Yes, but it is even more important to recognize that pseudoscience doesn't need to be put to bed. It never got out of bed. We already know this, without doing any more work, because all we have to do is examine the pseudoscientific methodology. How did they arrive at their hypotheses? When you answer that, and all you have to do is ask them, you see the hallmarks of pseudoscience.

Now, we should be clear that sometimes it's not obvious when the methodology is pseudoscientific. Astrology obviously uses pseudoscientific methodology, as does belief that black cats cause bad luck. But some other things are not obviously pseudoscientific-- like UFO aliens, or bigfoot. People have reported seeing these things, and if they are not mistaken, then the phenomenon is real. So those need to be examined more closely, the evidence needs to be examined (and it has been). But this is not the case for homeopathic medicine, for example, because there is enough already known about the preposterous methodologies used to arrive at homeopathic hypotheses (just google "oscillococcinum", https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscillococcinum, if you need an enlightening example). We already know about what a placebo is, so when someone brings up a new hypothesis, like "if I dilute bat guana by 1030 times, it will cure depression", there is no need whatsoever to test that claim, because it is not a hypothesis with any kind of scientific basis in the first place. This is also true of astrology, no one who believes in astrology has ever used the slightest trace of scientific thinking to arrive at their hypotheses-- just ask them how they arrived at their hypothesis! It is not their claim that is preposterous, it is their method of arriving at the claim. That's why it's a waste of time to test it.

SkepticJ
2015-Sep-05, 08:57 PM
One main popular misunderstanding is that Astrologers believe that the actual planetary objects would have some kind of mysterious and physical influence on us.
Modern Astrologers (at least the ones I had contact with) do not believe that.

Rather, they believe that
1. Everything is connected.
2. There is a correlation between the patterns of our lives and the patterns of the motions of the planets.

That, to me, sounds a lot more plausible than postulating some kind of mysterious physical influence from the planets on our lives.

Why does it sound more plausible?

Unless the correlation is simply coincidence (which would have no predictive ability) then there would have to be a causal mechanism for consistent correlation of patterns to happen.

Jens
2015-Sep-06, 04:11 PM
The artifact you describe is minimal. Really very few people are more likely to call a computer help desk because they know that Mercury is retrograde. Calls to get things fixed are made when they are broken. I have an interest in this stuff, and had to look it up (http://rtulip.net/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/2015.34013951.xls) to see that Mercury goes retrograde on 18 September and will go forward on 9 October.

I had a long chat with a friend about all this this evening, and we agreed that regression analysis against the moving average of help desk daily call totals (or maybe casual payroll data for help desk staff) would readily show any measurable Mercury effect if such existed. I am not sure if there would be expected peaks in spectral analysis of the wave function.

I think that would be possible to do. The problem is, if you get a negative result, all it shows is that one aspect of Western astrology is wrong. There are lots of predictions, and no mechanism to test, so if this ends up to be false, it doesn't show that there is any problem with astrology, just that specific prediction of astrology.

Ken G
2015-Sep-06, 05:56 PM
Exactly. That's why I predict any such test would be of no value. To us doing the test, the outcome is already obvious, ahead of time, simply because we can already tell that there's no reason to think it will have any effect. In that situation, we would need some scientific basis to expect an effect, or testing it would be spectacularly likely to be a waste of time. The fact that a large group of people believe there is an effect is of no consequence-- we already well understand the sociology of group delusions. So we may as well test if prime numbered days of the the month are more likely to have tornadoes. But to those for whom a null outcome might actually have some impact on how they think, because they currently share in teh group delusion that is a well understood sociological phenomenon, it won't have any impact on how they think. That's also a well understood sociological phenomenon.

kzb
2015-Sep-07, 12:13 PM
I've got a feeling about archaeology and pre-history. I think there are a few surprises in store. For example, only today it was announced that a large structure is underground near Stonehenge.

Then there is the fact that what would have been the most habitable area of north-west Europe a few thousand years ago is now at the bottom of the North Sea. What awaits discovery there? When you think it has taken this long to identify this new structure near Stonehenge, on dry land and in one of the most densely populated nations?

malaidas
2015-Sep-07, 12:53 PM
I am sure there is much to discover about the way they lived etc, but I am highly dubious that anything will be discovered that will fundamentally change our viewpoints over the topics that have been typically studied by pseudoscience, or mythology. The reason being that there is as Ken asserts no good reason to suggest that these ideas might be true, given most of them are in clear opposition to what good science concludes.

For instance I am going to say with great levels of confidence, that we will never discover a stone based highly technological society. I can say this because I know the properties of the stones we are talking about. They are insulators, they are not readilly malleable, there is no evidence of any form of system being formed except for a highly dubious location claim, randomly assigned to anything that might be somehow just about interpreted as some kind of man made stone structure which might just with the stretch of the imagination fit into an idealised zone.

The upshot being that what we will find are many interesting examples of human ingenuity that will fascinate us, that will kake us realise increasingly that our viewpoint of ancient humans as savages is increasingly an arrogance born of our 'superior' position, but in almost certain likelyhood nothing is going to turn up that confirms (by any scientific process) that the claims made by pseudoscience about ancient civilisation are correct.

Ken G
2015-Sep-07, 01:18 PM
Yes, it is remarkable the structures that ancient civilizations built, and many of their methods have been lost to time, but I'm not sure what you should expect to find if they unearth buildings under Stonehenge or in the North Sea other than, "wow, who knew they had the desire and ability to cut and pile that many stones, and with that degree of effort and precision?" What else do you think you might find?

Jens
2015-Sep-07, 01:52 PM
The upshot being that what we will find are many interesting examples of human ingenuity that will fascinate us, that will make us realise increasingly that our viewpoint of ancient humans as savages is increasingly an arrogance born of our 'superior' position, but in almost certain likelyhood nothing is going to turn up that confirms (by any scientific process) that the claims made by pseudoscience about ancient civilisation are correct.

I'm not sure how common it is anymore to see ancient humans as savages, but I do agree with the point. People several thousands of years ago were fundamentally the same beings we are, with the same communicative skills, so as you pointed out, their technological level was clearly lower than ours, so there were technical limitations to what they could do, but it seems certain that they had the same level of ingenuity, so it should not surprise us if we discover ingenuities that we hadn't thought of ourselves.

Ken G
2015-Sep-07, 01:58 PM
Yes, we agree-- we must avoid a sense of "cultural superiority" that says we can go to the Moon, and the ancients were lucky if they could withstand a rainstorm. We know they built structures that will outlast many of the ones we are building today, because what they lacked in technological prowess, they made up for with meticulousness, determination, and perhaps more than a dash of slave labor! Some of their techniques and technologies might have been lost, as well. It would be interesting if we discover an architectural idea that someone today would be inspired by, indeed that may have already happened.

kzb
2015-Sep-07, 05:03 PM
Yes, it is remarkable the structures that ancient civilizations built, and many of their methods have been lost to time, but I'm not sure what you should expect to find if they unearth buildings under Stonehenge or in the North Sea other than, "wow, who knew they had the desire and ability to cut and pile that many stones, and with that degree of effort and precision?" What else do you think you might find?

The level of knowledge is more what I am thinking about. There are Sumerian diagrams which can be interpreted as the solar system, but including Uranus and Neptune (which can't be seen without a telescope). The moons of Mars were also apparently known about in some circles before the supposed invention of the telescope.

I think it may well turn out that technology was more advanced than we think "before the flood" -by which I mean the catastrophic flooding events which happened as we entered the current interglacial period.

Ken G
2015-Sep-07, 07:03 PM
The level of knowledge is more what I am thinking about. There are Sumerian diagrams which can be interpreted as the solar system, but including Uranus and Neptune (which can't be seen without a telescope).And if they are interpreted that way, then they are obviously being interpreted wrongly. That's the problem with interpretation, it can be whatever you like, but you have to be able to back it up with some kind of scientific basis or it is pseudoscience.


The moons of Mars were also apparently known about in some circles before the supposed invention of the telescope."Apparently" is also a weasel word. We can have considerable confidence that nobody knew about the moons of Mars until quite recently, especially when any evidence to the contrary looks like "hey, see those two scratches over by the figure of Mars, they must indicate the moons!". That only works if the scratches are interpreted as moons before we knew Mars had two moons. Otherwise, it's not a sound prediction, it's a rationalization to grab the headline. This is a problem science faces even today.


I think it may well turn out that technology was more advanced than we think "before the flood" -by which I mean the catastrophic flooding events which happened as we entered the current interglacial period.Isn't it vastly more likely that modern interpreters simply like to go for the most shocking claim, rather than the one they can actually support? Surely there's a mountain of evidence already in favor of that interpretation. It reminds me of so many other pseudoscientific situations, like "well, either there's an actual ghost in that house, or the 15 year-old boy who lives there is quite the hoaxster." Um, yeah.

malaidas
2015-Sep-08, 12:56 AM
I'm not sure how common it is anymore to see ancient humans as savages, but I do agree with the point. People several thousands of years ago were fundamentally the same beings we are, with the same communicative skills, so as you pointed out, their technological level was clearly lower than ours, so there were technical limitations to what they could do, but it seems certain that they had the same level of ingenuity, so it should not surprise us if we discover ingenuities that we hadn't thought of ourselves.


Yes my language was perhaps a bit strong, but it's kind of the principle behind a lot of pseudoscientific claims.

Colin Robinson
2015-Sep-08, 02:24 AM
And if they are interpreted that way, then they are obviously being interpreted wrongly.

Why "obviously"? I'm not saying that the interpretations of Sumerian diagrams mentioned are sound. I have no idea whether they are or not. Lens technology goes back quite a long way though the Nimrud lens, which survived to become a modern museum exhibit, is from 7th century BC. The dominant view today seems to be that the ancients used lenses as burning glasses (to start fires), and/or for artisan work, rather than to look at things in the sky. But if it can be established that the Sumerians knew about Uranus and Neptune, the simplest explanation would be that someone back then had some sort of telescope.

Has to be remembered that vast amounts of ancient writings have been lost to us, when cities got sacked and temples and libraries got burned...

Ken G
2015-Sep-08, 04:52 AM
Why "obviously"? Important question, but easily answered. How do we tell anything is obviously wrong? Because it is spectacularly unlikely, based on knowledge we already have. For example, I once had a friend tell me that he had once seen a ghost. He said he was lying on the couch late at night, and a ghostly figure came up the stairs, "like in a dream." Apparently, to him, the fact that the experience seemed dreamlike was the evidence that he had really seen a ghost, because real non-ghosts don't do things that only happen in dreams. I just waited for him to connect the dots, and see the obvious fallacy in his logic! Would I say that he was "obviously dreaming"? You are darned tootin' I would say that, and will again: he was obviously dreaming. Can I be positive he was dreaming? No, there are many things that are obvious to me that I am not positive of. It is obvious to me that I am actually typing these words you are seeing. Am I positive I am doing this? No, obviousness is not about being positive, it is about making sense of information.


I'm not saying that the interpretations of Sumerian diagrams mentioned are sound. I have no idea whether they are or not.Well you should. Saying you have "no idea" if ancient Sumerians could build telescopes that could see Neptune is preposterous, it would make me question your competence for analyzing history at all. Neptune was not even seen by Herschel, it required a calculation of the perturbation of Uranus to find it with large telescopes! Does that mean there is no possible way the Sumerians had powerful telescopes, or the ability to calculate planetary orbits? No, it doesn't mean there's no possible way, it means there's no remotely likely way. That's the difference, and it's quite a far cry from having "no idea" about it!

This gets into the very foundations of scientific thinking. Any of us can certainly say we have "no idea" if the next thing we drop is going to fall or not. After all, we don't know why they fell the last thousand times, and we don't know that that "why" can't change tomorrow. But scientific thinking is not about proving things that we know have to be true, it is about making inferences about what is likely to be true. All I can say is, if you say you have "no idea" if a rock will fall until you drop it, then I want to play high-stakes poker with you! Same for whether or not the Sumerians had powerful telescopes, though it may be harder to collect on the bet.


Lens technology goes back quite a long way though — the Nimrud lens, which survived to become a modern museum exhibit, is from 7th century BC. Well I must confess that I had never heard of the Nimrud lens, and it is an interesting artifact to be sure. Yet there is actually zero evidence that the "Nimrud lens" was a lens at all, and certainly no evidence that it would have been useful in a telescope. What we do see here is how much people with very few constraints on their speculations like to go to town. For example, consider this statement from the Wiki on the Nimrud lens: "The ancient Assyrians saw the planet Saturn as a god surrounded by a ring of serpents, which Pettinato suggests was their interpretation of Saturn's rings as seen through a telescope.[5] Other experts say that serpents occur frequently in Assyrian mythology, and note that there is no mention of a telescope in any of the many surviving Assyrian astronomical writings."

So there you have it, we know Saturn has rings, and we see mention of serpents, so the imaginative headline-grabbing mind goes to town. But this isn't science, it's pseudoscience. Make a prediction, for crying out loud, and then you have science. Unconstrained rationalization is something very different, and has an incredibly poor track record for accuracy!


The dominant view today seems to be that the ancients used lenses as burning glasses (to start fires), and/or for artisan work, rather than to look at things in the sky.There actually is zero evidence they even did that, it's all pure speculation. Indeed, that Wiki goes on to say "The British Museum curator's notes propose that the lens could have been used "as a piece of inlay, perhaps for furniture", and that there is no evidence that the Assyrians used lenses for their optical qualities, e.g. for magnification or for starting fire." Certainly we don't know what it was used for, or if it was used for anything other than a decoration, but that won't stop the speculations. Speculations are fun, but they are not science. Science requires testing of speculations, and the assembly of evidence that can overcome the default stance of skepticism. Do we see any of that here? No, we do not. It is true that optical experts have examined the "Nimrud lens", but they have not been able to demonstrate that it would have been useful for anything like starting fires or seeing planets.


But if it can be established that the Sumerians knew about Uranus and Neptune, the simplest explanation would be that someone back then had some sort of telescope. Yes, and that is a very big "if", which is the point. If it could be established that my friend really wasn't dreaming, then the simplest explanation would be that ghosts do exist. So much for "ifs."


Has to be remembered that vast amounts of ancient writings have been lost to us, when cities got sacked and temples and libraries got burned...Very convenient, that, when one wishes to speculate! But nevertheless, there are some writings, and they don't mention telescopes. And there is the Nimrud lens, and its optical properties stink.

Colin Robinson
2015-Sep-08, 11:05 PM
Do you have some evidence that monotremes were pseudoscience, as opposed to simply unknown in the zoology community? I can believe that there may have been a brief period during which someone announced their discovery, and was asked for proof,

It's not simply that scientists asked for proof after someone sent them descriptions. In 1799, when the first specimen of a platypus arrived in Britain (skin with still-attached bill), the naturalist George Shaw of the British Museum wrote: ""impossible not to entertain some doubts as to the genuine nature of the animal, and to surmise that there might have been practised some arts of deception in its structure." Other naturalists shared his suspicions — they thought it likely that the bill and skin came from different creatures, and had been artificially attached, as in the case of the "Feejee mermaid". See the page about the platypus in the Museum of Hoaxes (http://hoaxes.org/archive/permalink/the_duckbilled_platypus).

Ken G
2015-Sep-08, 11:17 PM
Pseudoscience is still defined by its methodology. In this case, the methodology was not clear-- there can be a layer of subterfuge concealing the methodology, or it can be honest. So it's not a case of the pseudoscience "becoming" science, it was just that it was not originally clear if it was scientific or pseudoscientific methodology, and that later did become clear.

KlausH
2015-Sep-09, 12:22 AM
Important question, but easily answered. How do we tell anything is obviously wrong? Because it is spectacularly unlikely, based on knowledge we already have. For example, I once had a friend tell me that he had once seen a ghost. He said he was lying on the couch late at night, and a ghostly figure came up the stairs, "like in a dream." Apparently, to him, the fact that the experience seemed dreamlike was the evidence that he had really seen a ghost, because real non-ghosts don't do things that only happen in dreams. I just waited for him to connect the dots, and see the obvious fallacy in his logic! Would I say that he was "obviously dreaming"? You are darned tootin' I would say that, and will again: he was obviously dreaming. Can I be positive he was dreaming? No, there are many things that are obvious to me that I am not positive of. It is obvious to me that I am actually typing these words you are seeing. Am I positive I am doing this? No, obviousness is not about being positive, it is about making sense of information.

"Obviously wrong", however, is not a statement arrived at by using any scientific methodology. It is your personal assessment, probably shared by many but none of it makes it science. In the context of this thread it is pseudoscience.
The same goes for your statements about astrology or the Sumerians earlier. A scientist giving his personal opinions on something doesn't make those opinions a scientific statement.

I for one would strongly disagree with your assessment that your friend was obviously dreaming. It is certainly a possibility that can not immediately be ruled out. But it is far from conclusive.
After all he is not the only one reporting ghost sightings.
I have never seen one, but I know plenty of people who have. Sometimes in broad daylight. And some of those people are very smart and brought a healthy amount of skepticism to what they told me. They didn't necessarily want to believe they had seen a ghost and they hesitated telling me about it but they think it is the only description that fits what they saw.
None of that is science either, obviously. I am not saying ghosts are an established scientific fact.
It just puts a serious dent in your "obvious". Both (your obvious and my dent) are personal assessments, nothing else.
You may be deeply convinced that your reasoning is sound. That makes it Ken G-iology at best, but not science. It remains pseudoscience.

The same goes for your statements about how lenses were used.
Personally, I would think it fairly likely that if they had lenses (and that fact seems undisputed) that somebody would have discovered that you can start a fire with them. What's so far-fetched about that?

Scientific methodology requires you to make a prediction and test it by experiment.
Anything else is idle speculation and pseudoscience, no matter how personally convinced you are of the soundness or obviousness of your reasoning.

Cougar
2015-Sep-09, 12:46 AM
"Obviously wrong", however, is not a statement arrived at by using any scientific methodology. It is your personal assessment, probably shared by many but none of it makes it science. In the context of this thread it is pseudoscience.

If the context of this thread stipulates that {if something is not science, then it is necessarily pseudoscience}, I would disagree with such a stipulation.

Ken G
2015-Sep-09, 01:46 AM
"Obviously wrong", however, is not a statement arrived at by using any scientific methodology.I'd say that is just precisely the kind of statement that can be arrived at using scientific methodology. In fact, I would be skeptical of any other path that leads to it.
It is your personal assessment, probably shared by many but none of it makes it science.It is not that it is my assessment that makes it science. What makes it science is that it is a conclusion arrived at via the scientific method.

In the context of this thread it is pseudoscience.No. It would be pseudoscience if it had been arrived at by pseudoscientific methodology. Since it was arrived at via the scientific method, it is a scientific conclusion. The key is basic skepticism-- the cornerstone of scientific thinking.

It is actually a kind of "zeroth step" in the scientific method that is most relevant, a step often overlooked as part of the scientific method because it is just taken for granted. The step is the "formation of a hypothesis" step. This step is not supposed to be "make any random claim you can think of", and set about testing it. That would be a very poor way to do science, because it would be spectacularly unlikely to work. You'd spend all your time getting null results for foolish things to test in the first place! But we do have some data on the likelihood of random statements, like "the ancient Sumerians had powerful telescopes", of being true: it is spectacularly unlikely. Sure, if we have 100 such statements, maybe there's a non-negligible chance one of them will be true, but here we have just one such statement. The scientific method has taught us that such statements are highly unlikely to be correct, because we have no evidence that they are correct, and the claim requires evidence because otherwise it would have no reason to be suspected to be true.

So then the question is, do we have sufficient evidence to be able to promote the random claim "the ancient Sumerians knew about Uranus and Neptune" to a hypothesis that is worthy of testing? Because without any credible evidence, it is "obviously wrong", by the scientific method that says random claims like that are vastly more likely to be wrong. Do we know they are wrong? Not with complete certainty, just like we do not know with complete certainty that the ancient Sumerians did not routinely practice ESP, or levitation, or cure disease with incantations. We have no evidence of any of those things, and no reason to think they should be true. At least we know that powerful telescopes are possible, but that's not nearly enough to count as credible evidence that the Sumerians had them, any more than that they had tanks and helicopter gunships.


The same goes for your statements about astrology or the Sumerians earlier. Yes, the same goes for astrology too-- the scientific method is perfectly capable of telling us that astrology is "obviously wrong," even without testing it at all. It is obviously wrong because the process by which it is believed does not involve any evidence. This is a kind of "zeroth law" of the scientific method, which is generally given the label "skepticism." Without that key principle, scientific inquiry would be impossible-- we'd be too weighed down testing whether the laws of physics change by 1% on prime days of the month, or if the outcome of experiments are influenced by the birthday of the scientist doing the experiment.


A scientist giving his personal opinions on something doesn't make those opinions a scientific statement.Unless the "opinion" is based on the principles of science, as here.


I for one would strongly disagree with your assessment that your friend was obviously dreaming. It is certainly a possibility that can not immediately be ruled out. But it is far from conclusive.The way I use that word, it definitely is conclusive that either he was dreaming, or he just imagined the entire incident, or was hallucinating-- none of which in my view are different in an important way.


After all he is not the only one reporting ghost sightings.That's true. He's also not the only one who dreams, or imagines. There is no question that people who report ghost sitings are deluding themselves, this has been established by the scientific method to a high degree of certainty. Not 100%, of course, science doesn't do 100%.


I have never seen one, but I know plenty of people who have. Correction, you know plenty of people who report seeing one. Plenty of people report all kinds of things that are known to be delusions, at least in the sense that science "knows" things.

Sometimes in broad daylight.Yes, daydreams happen in broad daylight. Or illusions, mirages, faulty memories. All these things are well documented scientific phenomena, like gravity.

And some of those people are very smart and brought a healthy amount of skepticism to what they told me.Yes, remarkably, even smart people are very good at deluding themselves. That is also a well known scientific phenomenon! I know extremely smart people who think the Earth is 10,000 years old, and their ability to reason is clearly being influenced by a strong belief they hold. I'm not saying people cannot believe whatever they want, I'm just saying that scientific reasoning is capable of saying it is "obviously wrong" that ghosts walk among people and can be seen by people. However, people can believe they are seeing a ghost, and it can affect them that they believe that, and they may even value that belief more than they value scientific inference. That's up to the individual.


They didn't necessarily want to believe they had seen a ghost and they hesitated telling me about it but they think it is the only description that fits what they saw.If they didn't want to believe they had seen a ghost, they had a very simple alternative. They could have picked up a science book on the topic of "hallucination." Or, use Wiki: "Complex visual hallucinations (CVH) are also referred to as formed visual hallucinations. CVHs are clear, lifelike images or scenes such as people, animals, objects, etc. For example, one may report hallucinating a giraffe. A simple visual hallucination is an amorphous figure that may have a similar shape or color to a giraffe (looks like a giraffe), while a complex visual hallucination is a discrete, lifelike image that is, unmistakably, a giraffe." Hallucinations are caused by many things, and medical science is only starting to understand them. But, unlike ghosts, we do have good evidence that hallucinations occur, and illusions, and dreams.


It just puts a serious dent in your "obvious". No, there is no dent in the fact that it is obvious that your friends were seeing hallucinations, or illusions, or having false memories, because by scientific inquiry, all those things are well documented-- unlike ghosts. It doesn't mean we are 100% certain there aren't ghosts, and there are hallucinations, illusions, and false memories, but it does mean we can reach that scientific inference.


You may be deeply convinced that your reasoning is sound.Actually, I can give the reasoning, and cite the tests it has already passed. That's why it's science.


The same goes for your statements about how lenses were used.Yes, those statements were also scientific inferences, made by scientists, who studied that "lens" and concluded it would have poor optics and certainly could not be used in a telescope. Those who concluded it could were engaging in pseudoscience, because they were using rampant speculation without evidence-- the classic symptom of pseudoscience.

Personally, I would think it fairly likely that if they had lenses (and that fact seems undisputed) that somebody would have discovered that you can start a fire with them.It is well documented that lenses of various types were used to light fires, and even as a weapon to blind or set fire to enemies. That's a far cry from evidence that telescopes were ever used in any way. In actual fact, there is zero evidence that the Sumerians, or any ancient culture, used telescopes, including cultures where it is documented that they lit fires. Here is what there is actual evidence for, the timeline of telescopes as can be pieced together from actual evidence:(http://www.antiquetelescopes.org/history.html)
c. 3500 B.C. Phonenicians cooking on sand discover glass.

424 B.C. Aristophanes uses a glass sphere filled with water to start fires. Lenses would not be used to study the stars for 2000 years.

14th century--convex lenses to correct farsightedness are developed.

15th century--concave lenses to correct nearsightedness are developed.

1608--In the Netherlands, Hans Lippershey discovers that holding two lenses up some distance apart bring objects closer. He applies for a patent on his invention. This is the first documented creation of a telescope. The idea is independently developed by Jacub Metius and Sacharias Janssen. The patent to Lippershey is denied.

1609--Thomas Harriot (1560 – 1621) English astronomer, mathematician, ethnographer, and translator becomes the first person to make a drawing of the Moon through a telescope, on July 26, 1609, over four months before Galileo.

What's so far-fetched about that?The problem is not that it is far-fetched, that would be judging the content rather than the methodology. There is zero evidence for it that is not sheer speculation. Again, the "zeroth step" of the scientific method is to recognize that any claim that has no evidence to support it, and no reason to expect it to be true, is vastly unlikely to be correct. What this translates into is the most fundamental use of science there is: gaining the power to win a bet. It may be hard to pay off the bet, but the scientific method allows us to conclude that any bet that the Sumerians had telescopes is a sucker bet.


Scientific methodology requires you to make a prediction and test it by experiment. Anything else is idle speculation and pseudoscience, no matter how personally convinced you are of the soundness or obviousness of your reasoning.If that were true, then what about the tests that the laws of physics are different on Wednesdays? What about the tests that machines break on the second Tuesday of any lunar month? By your logic, we cannot scientifically assert that these possibilities are simply not worth our time to test, because they are vastly unlikely to be true, simply because there is no existing evidence for them. The "burden of proof" is an extremely important concept in scientific thinking.

KlausH
2015-Sep-09, 01:57 AM
If the context of this thread stipulates that {if something is not science, then it is necessarily pseudoscience}, I would disagree with such a stipulation.

A fair point. I agree.

My point is that proclamations like astrology, parapsychology or ghosts are "obviously wrong" and a "waste of time" are very unscientific notions, violating the very spirit of science, which is one of exploration and trying to understand the universe we find ourselves in.

Especially, if those "conclusions" are based on a wrong understanding of the matter at hand. In the case of astrology I am referring to the (in my understanding) false notion that astrology claims the physical planetary bodies exert some kind of physical influence on our lives.

If people hold such notions as personal beliefs (however supported by their personal reasoning they believe their beliefs to be) I have of course no problems with that. In some cases I would personally agree. But that is all they are: Personal beliefs and convictions.

Unless you make predictions and test them you are not doing science.

KlausH
2015-Sep-09, 02:20 AM
I'd say that is just precisely the kind of statement that can be arrived at using scientific methodology. In fact, I would be skeptical of any other path that leads to it. It is not that it is my assessment that makes it science. What makes it science is that it is a conclusion arrived at via the scientific method.
Please show exactly what part(s) of the scientific method you used to arrive at the statement that your friend's claim or suggestion he saw a ghost was "obviously wrong".
What experiments did you perform? (Your many words are no substitute for experiments.)
Isn't the simple fact here that you took it as a foregone conclusion that your friend could not possibly have seen a ghost because you (and others) don't believe they could possibly be real?
How on earth is that scientific by any stretch of the imagination?


No. It would be pseudoscience if it had been arrived at by pseudoscientific methodology. Since it was arrived at via the scientific method, it is a scientific conclusion. The key is basic skepticism-- the cornerstone of scientific thinking.
Again, show exactly which parts of the scientific method were utilized. Skepticism is a state of mind, an attitude. It is not a substitute for collection data.



If they didn't want to believe they had seen a ghost, they had a very simple alternative. They could have picked up a science book on the topic of "hallucination." Or, use Wiki: "Complex visual hallucinations (CVH) are also referred to as formed visual hallucinations. CVHs are clear, lifelike images or scenes such as people, animals, objects, etc. For example, one may report hallucinating a giraffe. A simple visual hallucination is an amorphous figure that may have a similar shape or color to a giraffe (looks like a giraffe), while a complex visual hallucination is a discrete, lifelike image that is, unmistakably, a giraffe." Hallucinations are caused by many things, and medical science is only starting to understand them. But, unlike ghosts, we do have good evidence that hallucinations occur, and illusions, and dreams.
So?
All that tells us is that all these happen. People hallucinate, etc.
What does that tell us scientifically about whether or not ghosts are a real and testable phenomena?
Very little. It only tells us that in some cases they could be hallucinations. It tells us nothing more.
How can you possibly scientifically rule out that ghosts are a real phenomenon?
If you leave your own prejudices aside, there is no scientific basis for it.
Absence of evidence has never been evidence for absence and it is not as far as ghosts are concerned.
All science can say is: "we don't know".

That may irk you to no end but if you want to remain in the realm of science the only valid statement at this point in time is "we don't know whether or not ghosts exists in any testable fashion".

Ken G
2015-Sep-09, 02:20 AM
My point is that proclamations like astrology, parapsychology or ghosts are "obviously wrong" and a "waste of time" are very unscientific notions, violating the very spirit of science, which is one of exploration and trying to understand the universe we find ourselves in.My last post addressed that, giving the arguments that saying those things are indeed entirely appropriate for science, and indeed is just what scientists say.


Especially, if those "conclusions" are based on a wrong understanding of the matter at hand. In the case of astrology I am referring to the (in my understanding) false notion that astrology claims the physical planetary bodies exert some kind of physical influence on our lives.Once again, none of my statements about the falseness of astrology have anything to do with the content of astrological claims. Everything I said about pseudoscience is based on the methodology used. If we could judge claims by their content, we wouldn't need science, and we wouldn't have pseudoscience.

If people hold such notions as personal beliefs (however supported by their personal reasoning they believe their beliefs to be) I have of course no problems with that. In some cases I would personally agree. But that is all they are: Personal beliefs and convictions.


Unless you make predictions and test them you are not doing science.Don't forget the first step-- form a scientificaly motivated hypothesis, based on evidence. When astrology does none of those things, there is zero burden of proof on anyone else to test it.

KlausH
2015-Sep-09, 02:22 AM
I'd say that is just precisely the kind of statement that can be arrived at using scientific methodology. In fact, I would be skeptical of any other path that leads to it. It is not that it is my assessment that makes it science. What makes it science is that it is a conclusion arrived at via the scientific method.
Please show exactly what part(s) of the scientific method you used to arrive at the statement that your friend's claim or suggestion he saw a ghost was "obviously wrong".
What experiments did you perform? (Your many words are no substitute for experiments.)
Isn't the simple fact here that you took it as a foregone conclusion that your friend could not possibly have seen a ghost because you (and others) don't believe they could possibly be real?
How on earth is that scientific by any stretch of the imagination?


No. It would be pseudoscience if it had been arrived at by pseudoscientific methodology. Since it was arrived at via the scientific method, it is a scientific conclusion. The key is basic skepticism-- the cornerstone of scientific thinking.
Again, show exactly which parts of the scientific method were utilized. Skepticism is a state of mind, an attitude. It is not a substitute for collection data.



If they didn't want to believe they had seen a ghost, they had a very simple alternative. They could have picked up a science book on the topic of "hallucination." Or, use Wiki: "Complex visual hallucinations (CVH) are also referred to as formed visual hallucinations. CVHs are clear, lifelike images or scenes such as people, animals, objects, etc. For example, one may report hallucinating a giraffe. A simple visual hallucination is an amorphous figure that may have a similar shape or color to a giraffe (looks like a giraffe), while a complex visual hallucination is a discrete, lifelike image that is, unmistakably, a giraffe." Hallucinations are caused by many things, and medical science is only starting to understand them. But, unlike ghosts, we do have good evidence that hallucinations occur, and illusions, and dreams.
So?
All that tells us is that all these phenomena happen. People hallucinate, etc.
What does that tell us scientifically about whether or not ghosts are a real and testable phenomena?
Very little. It only tells us that in some cases they could be hallucinations. It tells us nothing more.
How can you possibly scientifically rule out that ghosts are a real phenomenon?
If you leave your own prejudices aside, there is no scientific basis for it.
Absence of evidence has never been evidence for absence and it is not as far as ghosts are concerned.
All science can say is: "we don't know".

That may irk you to no end but if you want to remain in the realm of science the only valid statement at this point in time is "we don't know whether or not ghosts exist in any testable fashion".

Ken G
2015-Sep-09, 03:23 AM
Please show exactly what part(s) of the scientific method you used to arrive at the statement that your friend's claim or suggestion he saw a ghost was "obviously wrong".I already did-- science has studied a myriad of well-documented phenomena that could have fooled your friend. This includes hallucinations, illusions, false memories, and dreams. What distinguishes these from your friend's belief that it was a ghost is exactly one thing: real ghosts are the only one of those explanations that does not have a scientific basis! There is nothing more scientific than using science to separate a likely explanation, that can cite a mountain of evidence, from an unlikely one, that cannot.


What experiments did you perform? (Your many words are no substitute for experiments.)Absolutely. But there is no need for me to perform them! Goodness, science would be perfectly useless if it only included experiments you have done yourself.



Isn't the simple fact here that you took it as a foregone conclusion that your friend could not possibly have seen a ghost because you (and others) don't believe they could possibly be real?No, I took no such "foregone conclusion." I used the scientific method, as I just described.

Skepticism is a state of mind, an attitude. It is not a substitute for collection data.Yet the scientific method involves a lot more than unguided collection of data. For one thing, it involves skepticism. Without skepticism, there is no science. Skepticism is the single most important first step of science: it tells us what we needn't bother to test, and if we had nothing telling us that, science would go nowhere, bogged down by an inability to form useful hypotheses worthy of being tested.


So?
All that tells us is that all these phenomena happen. People hallucinate, etc.Yes. Unlike ghosts, which nothing tells us happens. This is scientific thinking.


What does that tell us scientifically about whether or not ghosts are a real and testable phenomena?You seem to want to shift the burden of proof onto the person who says ghosts don't exist. That's just not how science works. Is there a burden of proof on the person who says "gizmons" (particles I just made up, with 1.5 times the mass of a proton and half an electron charge, spin 2.1, or maybe 2.2) are vastly unlikely to exist, unless they demonstrate this by experiment? No, "existence" has a very specific meaning in science, it means that a well-formed hypothesis has been well tested and shown to hold up to the standards of scientific inference. Nothing that has not done that can be said to exist, and nothing that has even begun to do that can be said to be at all likely to exist. (And in fact, the search for ghosts has been undertaken by many people willing to waste their time, and sure enough, they wasted their time.)


Very little. It only tells us that in some cases they could be hallucinations. It tells us nothing more.
How can you possibly scientifically rule out that ghosts are a real phenomenon?Because that's the default stance of any scientific proposition. Including gizmons, including ghosts. That's what "skepticism" means, and I've shown why it is a crucial aspect of scientific thinking.

If you leave your own prejudices aside, there is no scientific basis for it.Like my "prejudices" against the poor gizmon? It's not prejudice, it's skepticism. What we can observe happening with ghosts is that people, for reasons of their own volition that have nothing to do with scientific thinking, have decided to suspend skepticism. But scientific thinking says that arbitrary suspension of skepticism, for any reason other than the acquisition of objective evidence, is always vastly unlikely to be a path to truth.

Now, I should mention that sometimes the problem is not the absence of evidence, it is the uncertain character of the evidence. Sometimes we don't know if a hypothesis has been arrived at by scientific methodology, or pseudoscientific methodology, because we don't have enough information. So we could, for example, contrast the claims of people who claim to have seen ghosts, from the claims of people who claim to have seem rocks fall out of the sky. Could we ever tell from the content of these claims which one is science, and which is pseudoscience? No, we could not-- we have no idea which is "more likely", rocks from the sky or ghosts. So that's what you are saying. But I am saying something totally different-- I don't care at all what the content of the claim is, I'm looking at how it came to be accepted by the person making the claim. So here's how that works. If person A sees what they think is a ghost, and person B sees what they think is a rock falling out of the sky, we have no way of knowing, just yet, which of these is the hallucination/delusion/dream, but we know a lot about hallucinations/delusions/dreams, so we look for signs that this is the proper explanation. When it comes to ghosts, we find lots of evidence for that (as I did with my friend, you'd have to look at each of your friend's situations individually to look for that evidence), but when we look at claims of rocks from the sky, we find something quite different-- we find rocks lying on the ground, that aren't Earth rocks! So that's why we have a difference there-- it's not the content of the claim, it's the scientific evidence that tells us the proper explanation. Finding the proper explanation for things is the most important thing that science has been found to be very good at doing-- and pseudoscience has been found to be terrible at doing.


Absence of evidence has never been evidence for absence and it is not as far as ghosts are concerned.On the contrary, absence of evidence in science is certainly evidence for absence. Witness the poor gizmon, which never appears in any science books.

All science can say is: "we don't know".That depends on what you mean by "know." If you take the impossible standard that we "can't be 100% sure", that's obvious, but says nothing useful about ghosts. If you take the perspective that science actually takes, along the lines of "which is judged the vastly more likely eventuality", then we certainly are not stuck with saying nothing else about ghosts other than "we don't know." Indeed, if "we don't know" was all we could say in the absence of a test to the contrary, science would be next to useless. We certainly couldn't fly to the Moon. Just think: "do we know that there aren't aliens that have a law that no one is allowed to leave their planet, and will shoot down a Moon mission? No, we don't know that, guess we can't go to the Moon, it's too risky." But we did not say that, we said "we have no concern at all that aliens are going to shoot down our Moon mission, simply because we have zero reliable evidence that would happen, and so our default stance is to conclude it is vastly unlikely that aliens will shoot down our Moon mission." Notice we could not say that with your version of scientific thinking! You'd have to say "any expectation that aliens won't shoot down our Moon mission is pseudoscience, the truth is we have no idea." You just can't do anything that way.

So no, it's just not true that people who believe in ghosts say that "you can't know" anything that hasn't been tested. There are a billion things that have no less evidence for them than ghosts do, like common superstitions, like people with OCD who have to turn their oven off 15 times before they leave the house or they fear their house will burn down, like paranoia. But believers in ghosts don't think those other things also need to be tested, they just believe in ghosts, period, and they came to that belief by a pseudoscientific path. So there is no point in claiming that this is some kind of consistent and careful application of scientific thinking, when it is clearly a subjective and arbitrary choice to suspend skepticism for one single topic that an individual happens to have had a hallucination/delusion/dream about, or maybe just something that they think is "kinda cool."


That may irk you to no end but if you want to remain in the realm of science the only valid statement at this point in time is "we don't know whether or not ghosts exist in any testable fashion".What irks me (though not in any serious way) is thinking that scientific thinking is forced into the impossible corner that all hypotheses that have not been conclusively ruled must not be given only a remote likelihood of being true, which is what you are saying if you take your stance literally. But that would paralyze any attempt to do anything, if it was actually used consistently, instead of just for cherry-picked topics that people like to believe in for pseudoscientific reasons, like ghosts.

Inclusa
2015-Sep-09, 03:45 AM
I'm not sure how common it is anymore to see ancient humans as savages, but I do agree with the point. People several thousands of years ago were fundamentally the same beings we are, with the same communicative skills, so as you pointed out, their technological level was clearly lower than ours, so there were technical limitations to what they could do, but it seems certain that they had the same level of ingenuity, so it should not surprise us if we discover ingenuities that we hadn't thought of ourselves.

Should we mention that ever since the emergence of Homo sapiens sapiens (not Neanderthals or Denisovans), we consider ancient humans more or less our equals?

malaidas
2015-Sep-09, 07:14 AM
Should we mention that ever since the emergence of Homo sapiens sapiens (not Neanderthals or Denisovans), we consider ancient humans more or less our equals?

Hmm this is a questionable claim. Ignoring obvious socio/political examples that falsify the assertion. There is a huge tendency across modern history to consider ancient peoples as less intelligent than ourselves, not just having less knowledge

I agree with Jens that science no longer thinks this way. But go back 100 or so years and you can find ample examples. more contemporary, You can see this tendency in pseudoscience Like ancient astronaut theory

KlausH
2015-Sep-09, 07:40 AM
@ Ken G
I'm sorry but you can't fool me.
All you've got are your personal beliefs and foregone conclusions, dressed up in a lot of words with a side dish of eloquence.
I am too old to be impressed by that alone.

You have no data either way.
And for some reason you believe that the absence of data allows you to draw scientific conclusions.
It does not. Not in the case of ghosts.
It might if we had a hypothesis as to what ghosts were and how we could interact with them (i.e. measure them in some way), went looking for evidence of that interaction (i.e. measurements) and found none. Then you would have a semblance of a scientific basis to draw a conclusion. But even in this case the conclusion would not be final.

If somebody claimed for example there were still dinosaurs living on our planet, we'd know what to look for and after an exhaustive search (whatever that might be) coming up empty we could draw a tentative conclusion that there are no dinosaurs still living today. But unless you'd be able to scan every inch of our planet at the same time and not find any, you could not rule out a remote or otherwise difficult to access hiding place.

As far as ghosts are concerned we wouldn't even know what to look for.
It is therefor absurd - and a sad example of the "know-it-all" attitude of many contemporary scientists - to claim that science tells us there were no ghosts.
You don't even have a semblance of a scientific basis to justify that conclusion.
All you've got is your personal belief.
And the same goes for other issues brought up in this thread (astrology, parapsychology, etc).

The only justifiable scientific position is "we don't know".

malaidas
2015-Sep-09, 09:17 AM
@ Ken G
I'm sorry but you can't fool me.
All you've got are your personal beliefs and foregone conclusions, dressed up in a lot of words with a side dish of eloquence.
I am too old to be impressed by that alone.

You have no data either way.
And for some reason you believe that the absence of data allows you to draw scientific conclusions.
It does not. Not in the case of ghosts.
It might if we had a hypothesis as to what ghosts were and how we could interact with them (i.e. measure them in some way), went looking for evidence of that interaction (i.e. measurements) and found none. Then you would have a semblance of a scientific basis to draw a conclusion. But even in this case the conclusion would not be final.

If somebody claimed for example there were still dinosaurs living on our planet, we'd know what to look for and after an exhaustive search (whatever that might be) coming up empty we could draw a tentative conclusion that there are no dinosaurs still living today. But unless you'd be able to scan every inch of our planet at the same time and not find any, you could not rule out a remote or otherwise difficult to access hiding place.

As far as ghosts are concerned we wouldn't even know what to look for.
It is therefor absurd - and a sad example of the "know-it-all" attitude of many contemporary scientists - to claim that science tells us there were no ghosts.
You don't even have a semblance of a scientific basis to justify that conclusion.
All you've got is your personal belief.
And the same goes for other issues brought up in this thread (astrology, parapsychology, etc).

The only justifiable scientific position is "we don't know".

Well we can firmly state because of the methodology that concluding that they do exist is not science. I hope no-one would argue with that statement here

but on the other point there is a clearly a scientific viewpoint on these things, beyond just 'we don't know'. It is true we don't know, but in accordance with what we do know, we can say that such is extremely unlikely to be true in the way that pseudo-science says, because it is in violation of other scientific models that we do know to be consistent with reality, (lets not open the can of worms here), thus far. What you are describing is an idealisation of the scientific process, that in practice doesn't really work because there are no absolutes, only levels of confidence. Thus on the basis of investigations that have been done, and in accordance with everything else, it is considered unlikely that ghosts exist in the objective sense that MOST people mean when they refer to ghosts etc.

For example: I can't say with 100% certainty that there is no person who can jump 100 feet in the air unaided. But I can say that science would refute that there is any person who can jump 100 feet into the air unaided for instance. There has been no study to look for people who can jump 100 feet in the air, nobody would bother because its plainly obvious that there is no-one who can, for very good physically demonstrable reasons. Now by your definition we could not conclude this scientifically.

ETA: To be quite honest we are coming into the ballpark of invisible elves in the garden here. I'll ask you a simple question Klaus, should science go looking for the sock monster? Or should any reasonable hypothesis conclude that it is so unlikely that the sock monster exists that we can basically assume that it doesn't pending evidence to the contrary and look for more reasonable explanations?

It is true that science should be open minded and sceptical about any conclusion, the bit you missed was that not all possibilities are equal once you step off the starting line of investigation, they begin to gain different properties of probability as concepts, based upon how those concepts match up to the evidence that we do know and thus make a consistent picture. It is yes our goal that we create a consistent picture and there is no particular reason we can demonstrate that 'reality' should exhibit such consistencies, but never the less it does to our experience, such that we can make sense, which is our purpose. Sciences purpose is to fulfil this using testable predictions but it can also use a level of rationalism in deciding what is likely and what is not based upon our previous objective experiences and based within the ontology that science promotes through its goals, selecting what is reasonable to test and what is simply is not reasonable.

Robert Tulip
2015-Sep-09, 10:29 AM
Don't forget the first step-- form a scientificaly motivated hypothesis, based on evidence. When astrology does none of those things, there is zero burden of proof on anyone else to test it.

My limited understanding of the emergence of relativity and cosmic microwave background radiation is that experimental anomalies were noticed before there was a hypothesis to explain them. So there is a legitimate scientific method in the search for anomalies that cannot be explained by any existing hypothesis. People may not feel burdened by curiosity about the unknown, but scientific advance, as argued by Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, comes mainly when problems are seen in explaining data within an existing paradigm, and this problem of inconsistency provides impetus for developing and testing new hypotheses. The hypothesis is not the first step.

malaidas
2015-Sep-09, 10:35 AM
My limited understanding of the emergence of relativity and cosmic microwave background radiation is that experimental anomalies were noticed before there was a hypothesis to explain them. So there is a legitimate scientific method in the search for anomalies that cannot be explained by any existing hypothesis. People may not feel burdened by curiosity about the unknown, but scientific advance, as argued by Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, comes mainly when problems are seen in explaining data within an existing paradigm, and this problem of inconsistency provides impetus for developing and testing new hypotheses. The hypothesis is not the first step.

An interesting point Robert, IN my experience science can operate in both directions in a sense, but in the tiger chasing its own tail fashion the two are in practice both parts of the same thing. We observe something we wish to explain, we hypothesise and test those hypotheses till we find something that works, this then prompts us to new hypotheses which we then test. The point is this really is chicken and egg stuff. Our science begins as a baby and it is in practice impossible to determine whether the baby hypothesised and then tests or the other way round.

Its certainly not a simple picture

KlausH
2015-Sep-09, 11:37 AM
Well we can firmly state because of the methodology that concluding that they do exist is not science. I hope no-one would argue with that statement here
I would agree with a statement that says we have no evidence that ghosts exists. As far as the methodology is concerned, you'd need to specify which "methodology" you are talking about.


but on the other point there is a clearly a scientific viewpoint on these things, beyond just 'we don't know'. It is true we don't know, but in accordance with what we do know, we can say that such is extremely unlikely to be true in the way that pseudo-science says, because it is in violation of other scientific models that we do know to be consistent with reality, (lets not open the can of worms here), thus far.
Again, that depends on the claims what ghosts are supposed to be.
Without a clear hypothesis as to what ghosts are there is no way to test it.
All we have are eye witness reports (probably dating back hundreds of years) about semi-transparent apparitions of human-like entities capable of certain feats, like going through walls for example. To arrive at any scientific conclusion you would need to have a model or a claim as to what they are and how to go about testing them or otherwise interact with them.
Without such a model science has no "handle" on the phenomena and can't say anything.


What you are describing is an idealisation of the scientific process, that in practice doesn't really work because there are no absolutes, only levels of confidence. Thus on the basis of investigations that have been done, and in accordance with everything else, it is considered unlikely that ghosts exist in the objective sense that MOST people mean when they refer to ghosts etc.
I don't think we have the faintest idea what they are or could possibly be. Without that you have no way to say we were looking for them and couldn't find them.


For example: I can't say with 100% certainty that there is no person who can jump 100 feet in the air unaided. But I can say that science would refute that there is any person who can jump 100 feet into the air unaided for instance. There has been no study to look for people who can jump 100 feet in the air, nobody would bother because its plainly obvious that there is no-one who can, for very good physically demonstrable reasons. Now by your definition we could not conclude this scientifically.
I would say if nobody claims to have seen anybody jump 100 feet unaided we have no reason to even look for the phenomenon.
I am not aware of any such claims.


ETA: To be quite honest we are coming into the ballpark of invisible elves in the garden here. I'll ask you a simple question Klaus, should science go looking for the sock monster? Or should any reasonable hypothesis conclude that it is so unlikely that the sock monster exists that we can basically assume that it doesn't pending evidence to the contrary and look for more reasonable explanations?
Well, has anybody claimed to have seen invisible elfs? I think that would be a pretty tough claim to make, since, well, they are supposed to be invisible, you know.
I am not aware of anybody claiming to have seen a sock monster. Prior to your post I haven't even heard of the sock monster.
Those are therefore not comparable claims. As far as ghosts go we have many claims of sightings. In other words we have a reason to look for them, even if most "know-it-all" scientists dismiss them all.

I am sure some ghost sightings could be explained as hallucinations or (probably more common) fakes or pranks.
But to categorically dismiss all of them without having examined each and every case is not a proper scientific stance.
Obviously, science is done by scientists and if no scientist is moved to examine them, well, that's just that.
However, that does not allow the conclusion that science can say ghosts don't exist. It only allows the conclusion that scientists don't believe in them and dismiss them categorically.

Again, to reiterate, to turn ghost sightings into a scientific investigation you would need a model as to what ghosts are (and, obviously, to dismiss them all as hallucinations or dreams is manifested arrogance, not a scientific investigation). If - as an example - a claim is made that they exist in some kind of realm that only weakly and rarely interacts with our realm then we would need a hypothesis as to what that realm might be and what could exist in that realm. Further, we would need instruments to interact with that realm in order to test that idea.
But without any such testable claim and without instruments to interact with the phenomenon science has nothing to go by, nothing to apply the scientific method to.

To simply say that they "obviously don't exist" is not a scientific claim. It is a forgone conclusion and a personal opinion.

Robert Tulip
2015-Sep-09, 11:58 AM
David Hume made a useful comment 250 years ago in his essay Of Miracles:

"It is a general maxim worthy of our attention that no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish. When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion."

Ken G
2015-Sep-09, 12:46 PM
You have no data either way.That is simply not true, but even if it were, my case would be scientific. This is the case:
1) Even if there had been no data, the scientific conclusion is still that ghosts are highly unlikely, just like the "gizmon" example I gave. You see, there is zero data that gizmons exist, and zero data that gizmons don't exist. In that situation, the correct scientific expectation is that it is vastly unlikely that gizmons exist. This is the default skeptical expectation about every claim that has no support and no reason to be regarded as true. Now, the sole reason that you think ghosts might exist, but you don't think that gizmons might exist (or is your position going to be "we have no idea" if gizmons exist, and denying their existence is pure pseudoscience or prejudice?), is all those anecdotal reports by people of having seen "ghosts." Which brings us to...
2) There is data. Lots of it. There is data on illusions, hallucinations, dreams, false memories, and just plain honest mistakes of perception of all kinds. This data easily accounts for "ghost sightings" without any need for ghosts. Also, there are self-styled "ghost hunters" that have been trying to apply scientific investigation techniques (when they aren't falling into pseudoscience) for decades, with zilch to show for it, even though a credible detection could catapult them to fame and fortune. It's simply a matter of scientific thinking choosing the more likely alternative, that ghost sightings are a well-understood sociological and biophysical phenomenon, versus that they are a completely unknown new phenomenon after all these years of study. Just like Hume said, in Robert Tulip's post.


And for some reason you believe that the absence of data allows you to draw scientific conclusions.I have just outlined the case above, and it is the kind of case that science uses, all the time, to do things like cure disease (without bogus remedies), fly to the Moon (without needing to test baseless concerns, like aliens shooting it down), and build working machinery (without astrological interventions that consider where Mercury is).


If somebody claimed for example there were still dinosaurs living on our planet, we'd know what to look for and after an exhaustive search (whatever that might be) coming up empty we could draw a tentative conclusion that there are no dinosaurs still living today. But unless you'd be able to scan every inch of our planet at the same time and not find any, you could not rule out a remote or otherwise difficult to access hiding place.Obviously, that's why I said science "doesn't do 100%". The problem is, by your logic, if a student asked, say in a science classroom, "does the Tyrannosaurus Rex still walk the Earth?", the only "scientific" answer is "I have no idea." If the teacher said "no, that species has been extinct for millions of years," the student could simply say "have you personally checked everywhere on Earth? Then don't give me your pseudoscientific prejudices, you don't really know." But that is, of course, just silly.



As far as ghosts are concerned we wouldn't even know what to look for.Or for gizmons either-- we don't know what to look for there too. Or invisible elves, this is the point. If you don't even know what to look for, you obviously have no idea what you are even claiming exists. The burden of proof is always on the claim of existence, never on the claim of non-existence. That's scientific thinking. I'm sorry if scientific thinking means that your friends deluded themselves, but that is indeed what scientific thinking concludes. They are of course free to believe that scientific thinking is not the path to truth in this particular case-- but I still want to have a sizeable bet with them in which they win if ghosts are conclusively discovered in the next 20 years, and I win if they are not. That's basically what scientific thinking does, when you boil it all down-- it empowers people to win a bet involving an objectively demonstrable outcome, but it never conveys 100% certainty of anything.


The only justifiable scientific position is "we don't know".Try that in a science classroom, when you get asked "is the Tyranosaurus Rex extinct," or "is it possible for people to levitate objects with their minds," or "is the Earth really 4.5 billion years old." We don't know any of those things, unless one uses the scientific meaning of knowledge.

Ken G
2015-Sep-09, 12:52 PM
My limited understanding of the emergence of relativity and cosmic microwave background radiation is that experimental anomalies were noticed before there was a hypothesis to explain them. So there is a legitimate scientific method in the search for anomalies that cannot be explained by any existing hypothesis. People may not feel burdened by curiosity about the unknown, but scientific advance, as argued by Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, comes mainly when problems are seen in explaining data within an existing paradigm, and this problem of inconsistency provides impetus for developing and testing new hypotheses. The hypothesis is not the first step.Exactly, or the way I put that is, a scientific hypothesis is not invented out of thin air-- it has support. That is how we know it is worth the effort to test. Science would be completely crippled if it really worked like "assume you have no idea about the truth of any random claim you encounter, and act like you have no idea if it is true or not until you test it." But that isn't the scientific method, the scientific method is "don't bother testing something until you have some good reason to think the test will be worth the time and effort." The way we tell that the test is worth doing is we have some evidence in favor of a hypothesis, so the hypothesis is not the first step, the evidence in favor of it is.

In the case of ghosts, the hypothesis that has support is not "people are reporting real ghosts," what has support is "people are making perceptual errors and accounting for them by invoking ghosts." That's the scientific hypothesis that is worth testing, because we know people do make perceptual errors. And it has been tested in many situations involving "ghost hunters" and so on. There's no mystery at all involving ghosts: people make all kinds of unsupported and grandiose assumptions to explain perceptual errors. This fact explains ghosts, UFO aliens, bigfoot, and a host of other pseudoscientific claims, all in one grand swoop, especially when a dash of hoaxsterism and the thrill of fooling others gets thrown into the mix. That's the kind of unification a good scientific hypothesis always produces, a wide array of explanatory power unleashed by a single well-tested hypothesis.

Ken G
2015-Sep-09, 01:08 PM
I'll make the general remark that a good case study in this kind of phenomenon is the Cottingley fairies (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cottingley_Fairies). There the irony is that an illusionist, Harry Houdini, was the one with a firm grip on scientific thinking, and a famed writer of detective stories, Arthur Conan Doyle, was the one who lost track of scientific deduction.

Now I understand the basic point that KlausH is making here. He is saying there is a danger in regarding something as understood before it is really understood-- after all, science is all about surprises. Would the ancient Greeks have thought they were safe in betting that the Earth was the center of the universe? Yes, they probably would have thought that a safe bet. But there is an important difference between using science to draw a conclusion about what is the most likely explanation for some phenomenon, and allowing one's self to be deluded that one has more knowledge than one really has. Scientific thinking always requires maintaining skepticism, so that includes being skeptical that we know ghosts don't exist. However, it also includes a default stance of skepticism about claims of existence of anything that has not been demonstrated by any credible or reproducible evidence to exist! The correct scientific stance is that if there is no evidence it exists, no well-documented phenomenon that its existence explains that cannot more readily be explained within the constraints of what is already known, then the claim of existence should be regarded as vastly unlikely, and bets made accordingly. This applies to ghosts, astrological patterns, and astronomical knowledge of the ancient Sumerians about Neptune or the moons of Mars. There is nothing "pseudoscientific" about that general rule, it is fundamental scientific thinking, and indeed any form of scientific inquiry would be paralyzed by a need to do unwarranted tests of every headline-grabbing speculation that comes to mind, if this principle were not at the heart of any scientific investigation. Indeed, they almost stopped the construction of CERN because of idle speculations that it could destroy the Earth! I'm very glad scientific thinking prevailed, and it was not necessary to do extensive testing to avoid having to say we "have no idea" if CERN is going to destroy the Earth!

So what about meteorites, weren't they just unsupported claims with no evidence, so shouldn't they have been regarded as vastly unlikely? The problem is, pseudoscience is identified by its methods, and the methods are not always clear. If someone reports seeing a rock fall out of the sky, and someone else reports seeing a ghost, how can we tell which one is using scientific thinking? We have to look more closely, which is what Hume was saying also. Did the person walk over to the place where the rock was seen to fall, and find a steaming rock on the ground? Were there other people with them who saw the same thing, and were not just saying they did to support their friend? These are difficult things to determine, and require investigation. But these kinds of investigations were done, and for meteorites, were found to result in physical evidence, that could be unified with a wide array of existing knowledge (like craters and orbital mechanics, and so forth). For ghosts, not. For the Sumerian telescopes, not. And for the astrological influences associated with "patterns" of Mercury, not. Those are all classic pseudoscience, not by their claims, but by their methods for supporting the claims. They all are based on a healthy dose of "gee-whiz coolness", and a glaring absence of solid evidence that is not more easily explained and unified with existing knowledge in some other way, that is sadly more mundane and way less cool.

Robert Tulip
2015-Sep-09, 09:19 PM
The reason I proposed data collection on both Mercury retrograde and transit epidemiology is that these are simple tests of astrology. My reading of the literature indicates that past tests have sought to measure the highly complex question of the influence of sun signs, and the nil result has enabled astrologers to say the data is too complex to measure.

That is not the case for the methods I have proposed which are binary results. Either Mercury lapping the earth does cause effects on communication or it does not. I am amazed that no one has tried to measure this to my knowledge since it is so simple. But the absence of any orderly study is a good indicator of the cultural contempt with which astrology is regarded within academia and of the indifference of its proponents to the scientific methods of evidence and logic.

The transit measurement proposal is more complex than the Mercury one. A widely read pseudo-science book by the astrologer Robert Hand is called Planets in Transit. It makes numerous detailed psychological predictions based on his astrological personal consulting practice experience regarding the current position of planets against a person's natal chart. Many of these predictions would necessarily appear in epidemiological population statistics if true, given that the gas giant movements are so slow that their aspects and transit positions are the same for whole cohorts. Again, this is the easiest thing to test if population data can be made available.

Jens
2015-Sep-09, 11:35 PM
Robert, somehow I don't really see contempt. At least in the US, I think that mainstream newspapers actually carry serious astrology columns, and many people read them and believe them. To be honest, I had never heard about the retrograde influence.

Colin Robinson
2015-Sep-09, 11:51 PM
Robert, somehow I don't really see contempt. At least in the US, I think that mainstream newspapers actually carry serious astrology columns, and many people read them and believe them.

I think Robert mentioned contempt "within academia". Do the newspapers you're talking about represent academia?

Ken G
2015-Sep-10, 01:30 AM
But the absence of any orderly study is a good indicator of the cultural contempt with which astrology is regarded within academia and of the indifference of its proponents to the scientific methods of evidence and logic.I can't agree at all. It is true that there is contempt for astrology in academia (for quite good reasons, frankly), but that has nothing at all to do with the reason there has not been "orderly studies." The reason is much simpler, and is what I said above: the responsibility to do those studies falls on the people who think there is an effect, not on the people who don't, and the people who think there is an effect are precisely the people who never test anything.

You see, the people who don't think there would be an effect expect they would be wasting their time-- there are a host of things they don't test. They don't test if prime days of the month are days when lefthanded people have better luck in card games, for example. Why no tests of that, it would be easy enough! The reason is simple: it is the person who thinks there could be such an effect that is the person who needs to do that test. This is called the "burden of proof." So instead of asking why those contemptuous academics don't bother to test these completely silly astrological claims, ask the really obvious question: why don't the people who believe in this hooey bother to do the tests? Really, I for one would like to know. But I think I already know: they don't really care if it's true or not, they just want to believe it.

A widely read pseudo-science book by the astrologer Robert Hand is called Planets in Transit. It makes numerous detailed psychological predictions based on his astrological personal consulting practice experience regarding the current position of planets against a person's natal chart. Many of these predictions would necessarily appear in epidemiological population statistics if true, given that the gas giant movements are so slow that their aspects and transit positions are the same for whole cohorts. Again, this is the easiest thing to test if population data can be made available.So ask the blindingly obvious question here:

why doesn't Robert Hand do that test, if he's the one suggesting it wouldn't be a complete waste of time???

And how on Earth did Hand get anyone to "widely read" his book, if he wasn't even willing to do that simple test? And you wonder why academics treat the whole topic with contempt? Seriously, you're not joking?

swampyankee
2015-Sep-10, 02:06 AM
Very few of the people who I know that read their horoscope in the newspaper take them the least bit seriously. They also don't read the comics for information or use Beetle Bailey to research army life.

KlausH
2015-Sep-10, 03:13 AM
why don't the people who believe in this hooey bother to do the tests? Really, I for one would like to know. But I think I already know: they don't really care if it's true or not, they just want to believe it.
Like all true believers, that's indeed what most astrology proponents do.
However, I can't help but notice that you are doing the very same thing with your "conclusion" about ghosts.
You already believe that ghosts are "obviously wrong" and nonsense. You don't care whether they exist or not. (Which is fine as a personal stance of course).
However, you for one make matters much worse by simply declaring that science's default stance was that ghosts don't exist until proven otherwise.
Where did you get that from? The scientific method has no such rule. You pull that out of the thin air of your personal beliefs and simply declare it as science.
In my book that is a lot worse than what the true believers do.
You may dress it up with a bit of science speak but that fools very few. Certainly not me.

Emotions, like the contempt you exhibit, have no place in science. Even if most of your peers share it.

I agree with Robert Tulip: that's simply cultural bias and contempt, which has no place in science.

Just to clarify:
I am not saying scientists must investigate ghosts (which is just an example I use since you brought it up).
A scientist should be free to choose what she investigates and should never be forced.

But you don't get to declare your personal beliefs as science's "default position".

Science's default position on ghosts must be an emotion-free and neutral "we don't know".

Jens
2015-Sep-10, 04:02 AM
I think Robert mentioned contempt "within academia". Do the newspapers you're talking about represent academia?

No, you're right. I was looking at it on my iPhone and somehow didn't catch that. I take back my disagreement then.

Jens
2015-Sep-10, 04:12 AM
Science's default position on ghosts must be an emotion-free and neutral "we don't know".

Somehow I think that we may be thinking of different meanings of "we don't know." I agree that on a very fundamental level, we don't know about the non-existence of things. We don't know for certain that there are no dragons or that Hogwarts doesn't actually exist somewhere and teach magic to kids. But the way I see it is, when you have no evidence for something you don't make any assumption that it exists, so it is not so much that you are disbelieving in it but rather that you are not having any belief in it. So for things like ghosts, vampires, leprechauns, Santa Claus, whatever (or on a more familiar basis, the possibility that there might be a bear about to pounce on me from behind), I make no assumption that they exist in the lack of any evidence. If I hear growling I begin to take the possibility of a bear into consideration, but if there is no evidence of it I don't take a stance that it is equally likely it exists or not, even though technically I can't state either possibility with certainty. I suppose that you and most people act in the same way.

KlausH
2015-Sep-10, 04:45 AM
Somehow I think that we may be thinking of different meanings of "we don't know." I agree that on a very fundamental level, we don't know about the non-existence of things. We don't know for certain that there are no dragons or that Hogwarts doesn't actually exist somewhere and teach magic to kids. But the way I see it is, when you have no evidence for something you don't make any assumption that it exists, so it is not so much that you are disbelieving in it but rather that you are not having any belief in it. So for things like ghosts, vampires, leprechauns, Santa Claus, whatever (or on a more familiar basis, the possibility that there might be a bear about to pounce on me from behind), I make no assumption that they exist in the lack of any evidence.

I fully agree.
No assumptions - and therefore no proclamations in the name of science - can or should be made either way.

I am certainly not saying that ghosts exist and personally I don't know what to believe in this regard. I have never seen any. Friends of mine have, though, and some of their stories sound very puzzling and intriguing but that is obviously no proof.

I understand "We don't know" to be a neutral position of simply not knowing either way.

Ken G
2015-Sep-10, 06:01 AM
Like all true believers, that's indeed what most astrology proponents do.
However, I can't help but notice that you are doing the very same thing with your "conclusion" about ghosts.Not so, I referenced all the "ghost hunting" that has gone one over the last 50 years. And what has it come up with? Squat.

There are extreme similarities about what is going on here, between ghosts, UFO aliens, bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, and a host of other pseudoscientific topics that all quack like the same ducks. To summarize what that is, they use clearly pseudoscientific methodology, and you see it all the time in all these areas. Pseudoscientific methodology has all kinds of hallmarks, but the two of greatest importance is inability to take in information that refutes the belief, and essentially zero progress in finding evidence in favor of the belief. And yes, this applies to ghost stories. But one place where this methodology is most obvious is in "ufology". In that area, a particularly enlightening proclamation is "the curse of Philip Klass." Philip Klass was a scientist who took on UFO debunking, but found considerable frustration when he discovered that the "ufologists" had no interest in actual facts, or real evidence, they just wanted to believe in UFOs. So on his death bed, this is what he delivered to those who seemed to him to be completely intransigent in the face of hard evidence:

No matter how long you live, you will never know any more about UFOs than you know today. You will never know any more about what UFOs really are, or where they come from. You will never know any more about what the U.S. Government really knows about UFOs than you know today. As you lie on your own death-bed you will be as mystified about UFOs as you are today. And you will remember this curse.

OK, so that curse is a little mean of Philip, perhaps he is to be forgiven because he worked so hard to save them from wasting more of their valuable time, but they wouldn't listen, they just wanted to waste their own time. But you can take his exact words, substitute "ghosts" for "UFOs", and it will be just as true-- you'll see. The key point from this is, we have here an extremely important signpost of pseudoscience: it never advances at all. So look at ghost stories, at UFOs, at bigfoot, and remember what was said about them 20, 30, even 40 years ago. What do you find? Exactly the same things being said now, to the smallest detail. This despite the fact that we live in a technological age, where people have cell phones that can take movies essentially everywhere you go. If police are suspected of being overly brutal, presto, within a month there are dozens of videos of police brutality. If an actor is suspected of fooling around on their spouse, presto, within a few months there are photos and videos of clandestine meetings. It is no problem at all to obtain hard evidence of anything that is actually happening in this day and age. Yet-- where are the ghosts? The UFOs? The sasquatches? I'll tell you where they are: in people's imaginations, where they have always been. This is the conclusion of evidence, or more correctly, the lack of it. But people who believe things don't care about the lack of evidence-- they just want to believe, period. (In the case of your friends who imagine they saw ghosts, perhaps it is not that they want to believe in ghosts, but it is that they want to believe their senses cannot fool them, or they cannot hallucinate. It is always the thing that people want to believe, that causes them to ignore the evidence.)


You already believe that ghosts are "obviously wrong" and nonsense.Correct, because I have already assessed the mountain of evidence that leads to that conclusion.


You don't care whether they exist or not.Goodness no, how could anyone not care if ghosts exist? If ghosts existed, it would be the single most amazing discovery in the history of humanity. And that's the only reason anyone believes they do exist-- whereas no one believes my "gizmons" exist!

However, you for one make matters much worse by simply declaring that science's default stance was that ghosts don't exist until proven otherwise.That's the default stance for everything, for UFOs, for bigfoot, for the Loch Ness monster, for telekinesis, for astrology, for homeopathic remedies, for the way prime numbered days of the month affect the luck of left-handed people. This is how scientific thinking works, the burden of proof is on the unusual claim, and without that proof, the claim is regarded as highly unlikely. OK, maybe I went a little too far saying "obviously wrong", when "vastly unlikely" would have been better! It means more or less the same thing to me.

As I said, science is about being able to win a bet that relates to objective outcomes. This is what we do when we take a medicine, or get on an airplane, or try to fly to the Moon. We are just trying to win a bet, that has an outcome we can easily see if we won or not. So when scientific thinking says "it is vastly unlikely that ghosts exist", what it means is "I will take a bet at very significant adverse odds that no credible evidence of ghosts will be discovered in the period of the bet." And I will, gladly. It's a sucker bet, easy money.



Where did you get that from? The scientific method has no such rule. You pull that out of the thin air of your personal beliefs and simply declare it as science.No, the scientific method certainly does have the rule that we need a scientific basis for our hypotheses, or they are regarded as unworthy of testing. I guess you've never written a proposal, or tried to commission a study-- that's where you will certainly run into that rule! But the real point is, you invoke this rule essentially every moment of your waking life. You simply don't test every possible hypothesis you encounter-- you only test the ones that seem worthy of being tested. You do this when you get out of bed, when you eat breakfast, when you go to work-- every moment you are making conscious decisions, you are applying the scientific rule of not testing that which gives you no reason to test.


You may dress it up with a bit of science speak but that fools very few. Certainly not me.
So if I say to you, "people named Klaus have bad luck on prime numbered days of the month", you say "until I test that myself, I have no idea that is true." Baloney! If that were true, and you were left handed, you'd have to test it! Of course you'd have to test it, you would want to know when you are going to have bad luck, wouldn't you? It would never be enough for you to have "no idea" if that was true or not! Then, once you've tested that over a large enough statistical sample, at great cost and bother, and found it was complete nonsense, I could then say "actually, it is only between the hour of noon and 1 o'clock on those days, I didn't realize that before", and you will again have to say you have "no idea" if that's true? So now you have to do the tests all over again, because you certainly don't want to get bad luck without knowing it, do you?

So this example puts the lie to your claim that the burden of proof is on the person who says "unusual claims with zero scientific evidence are vastly unlikely to be true." Your claim is just plain wrong, you don't even live your own life that way.

Just to clarify:
I am not saying scientists must investigate ghosts (which is just an example I use since you brought it up).
A scientist should be free to choose what she investigates and should never be forced.It is obvious that a scientist is free to waste their time studying anything they want, including ghosts, or ESP, or bigfoot. But there is already a mountain of evidence that they would be wasting their time-- if you understand pseudoscience as well as Philip Klass did. Most of that evidence is in the form of a striking absence of evidence, coupled with an absence of a logical basis-- just like my claim that you will have bad luck between noon and 1 on prime numbered days of the month, just because someone I once knew named Klaus stepped on dog poo at 12:30 on August 11.


But you don't get to declare your personal beliefs as science's "default position".That's true, I need to back it up. Which I always do.


Science's default position on ghosts must be an emotion-free and neutral "we don't know".Yeah, like what the emotion-free position on your luck on prime days must be, yes? To hold a consistent stance, that is what you must conclude, it comes directly from your own argument!

Ken G
2015-Sep-10, 06:13 AM
But the way I see it is, when you have no evidence for something you don't make any assumption that it exists, so it is not so much that you are disbelieving in it but rather that you are not having any belief in it.But the place where what you mean here really comes to the fore is when we test what you mean. Let's say I had a conclusive test of something that is being claimed, like astrology. I tell you that I just did an exhaustive study of mechanical failures during, and not during, retrogrades of Mercury. Before I give you the results of the test, I make you an offer: if you hazard $1000 of your own money, I will give you $100 if the result of the test is negative. So I'm asking you to bet, with 10-1 odds against astrology. The simple question is: would you put up the $1000, or wouldn't you? This is how you tell whether you are "disbelieving" something, or if you just "aren't believing it". We put it to the test, and discover the difference is not so much!

Jens
2015-Sep-10, 06:51 AM
But the place where what you mean here really comes to the fore is when we test what you mean. Let's say I had a conclusive test of something that is being claimed, like astrology. I tell you that I just did an exhaustive study of mechanical failures during, and not during, retrogrades of Mercury. Before I give you the results of the test, I make you an offer: if you hazard $1000 of your own money, I will give you $100 if the result of the test is negative. So I'm asking you to bet, with 10-1 odds against astrology. The simple question is: would you put up the $1000, or wouldn't you? This is how you tell whether you are "disbelieving" something, or if you just "aren't believing it". We put it to the test, and discover the difference is not so much!

I wouldn't put my money on it, because I have no reason to believe it's true. If you offered to pay me 1,000 dollars if there is a bear right behind me and I have to pay you 100 if there isn't, I wouldn't pay you either because I have no evidence at all to suspect that there could be a bear right behind me.

Ken G
2015-Sep-10, 07:14 AM
I wouldn't put my money on it, because I have no reason to believe it's true. Well I'm sorry, but that's just not good use of logic. It's an easy $100, I'd take it in a heartbeat. I won't ask anyone to put up the dough, but mark my words: in 10 years from now, there will be nothing at all changed in our attitude about ghosts. No new credible evidence whatsoever. You saw it here-- if I could get someone to stake $100 against my $1000, I would, and you would all see--- I'm going to win. This is a scientific prediction, and it's really easy money. Sounds like empty words now-- come back in 10 years.


If you offered to pay me 1,000 dollars if there is a bear right behind me and I have to pay you 100 if there isn't, I wouldn't pay you either because I have no evidence at all to suspect that there could be a bear right behind me.But why have you reversed the correct deal that demonstrates the point? Obviously you wouldn't take that sucker bet. The appropriate bet to show the point would be if I (foolishly) offered to give you $100 if there is no bear behind you, if you, without looking first, will give me $1000 if there is. I'm absolutely positive you'd take that bet-- you're not an idiot. But it certainly puts the lie to your claim that you have no evidence to suspect there is not a bear behind you, simply because you haven't done the test! This clearly exposes the correct attitude about unusual claims with zero evidence to support them-- they are indeed vastly unlikely, a fact we take advantage of constantly, essentially unconsciously, because it's just so obvious. After all-- you didn't test if there is a bear behind you right now, did you? Why not? I hypothesized there was-- and you claim you don't disbelieve it, you simply have no reason to believe it. So why didn't you test it-- a bear behind you would be rather bad, would it not? So why haven't you looked behind you, even now? It's the same thing with ghosts-- there's just no need to look, we already know a claim like that is vastly unlikely if there is no credible evidence that is not more easily explained some other way. The burden of proof is on the claim of existence, not on the expectation of non-existence. Let those who believe in ghosts provide the evidence for them, don't ask me, the scientist, to show it's baloney. I'm going to win my bet, just see.

Jens
2015-Sep-10, 08:37 AM
Well I'm sorry, but that's just not good use of logic. It's an easy $100, I'd take it in a heartbeat. I won't ask anyone to put up the dough, but mark my words: in 10 years from now, there will be nothing at all changed in our attitude about ghosts. No new credible evidence whatsoever. You saw it here-- if I could get someone to stake $100 against my $1000, I would, and you would all see--- I'm going to win. This is a scientific prediction, and it's really easy money. Sounds like empty words now-- come back in 10 years.

Ken, sorry, I misread your offer. I was reading more into it than you intended. Yes, as long as you means "no statistically significant link will be found," I would be willing to take the 10-1 odds that it would be negative. It might come out with a slight association due to chance, which is why I added the caveat about statistical significance.


But why have you reversed the correct deal that demonstrates the point?

Sorry, I reversed it because I misunderstood the question.



The appropriate bet to show the point would be if I (foolishly) offered to give you $100 if there is no bear behind you, if you, without looking first, will give me $1000 if there is. I'm absolutely positive you'd take that bet-- you're not an idiot. But it certainly puts the lie to your claim that you have no evidence to suspect there is not a bear behind you, simply because you haven't done the test! This clearly exposes the correct attitude about unusual claims with zero evidence to support them-- they are indeed vastly unlikely, a fact we take advantage of constantly, essentially unconsciously, because it's just so obvious. After all-- you didn't test if there is a bear behind you right now, did you? Why not? I hypothesized there was-- and you claim you don't disbelieve it, you simply have no reason to believe it. So why didn't you test it-- a bear behind you would be rather bad, would it not? So why haven't you looked behind you, even now? It's the same thing with ghosts-- there's just no need to look, we already know a claim like that is vastly unlikely if there is no credible evidence that is not more easily explained some other way. The burden of proof is on the claim of existence, not on the expectation of non-existence. Let those who believe in ghosts provide the evidence for them, don't ask me, the scientist, to show it's baloney. I'm going to win my bet, just see.

Yes, I agree with you. That's what I meant to say when I said that even though I have no absolute certainty that there is no bear behind me, I will as you say act on the premise that there is none, because I have absolutely no reason to suspect that there might be one. And yes, as you say, I don't bother looking behind me all the time for bears. So I really don't have any argument with you.

Ken G
2015-Sep-10, 12:26 PM
Ken, sorry, I misread your offer. I was reading more into it than you intended. Yes, as long as you means "no statistically significant link will be found," I would be willing to take the 10-1 odds that it would be negative. It might come out with a slight association due to chance, which is why I added the caveat about statistical significance. Yes, we'd have to stipulate the conditions carefully, that's a big problem with science-- it only manipulates likelihoods, and people don't have to accept it, they can always just say "I am unconvinced." In fact, it's the main reason scientists don't test ghost stories, by and large-- they know perfectly well that the people they'd be trying to convince wouldn't pay any attention to the result of the test. This is precisely what Philip Klass discovered, and motivated his "curse." Ghost believers will never accept what scientists call evidence, they can always find some loophole that lets them continue to hold their beliefs.



Sorry, I reversed it because I misunderstood the question. OK, gotcha. All I meant was, KlausH is saying that we are free to simply say "we don't know", we don't have to take a stand on what is more likely. But I can show that isn't true, simply by offering a bet of the type I just gave, and letting people decide if they will take the bet, or not. Then we understand what "more likely" means!

In short, scientific thinking is not about knowing things in the sense of 100% certainty, it is about being able to recognize what is more likely, well enough to "win a bet" (by which I really mean, make prudent decisions involving predicting objective outcomes). In science, "knowledge" means "forming a useful and testable expectation that unifies a broad range of phenomena." Like the concept of pseudoscience, and the mountain of evidence we have about how pseudoscience works, and how to recognize it.

KlausH
2015-Sep-10, 01:48 PM
Not so, I referenced all the "ghost hunting" that has gone one over the last 50 years. And what has it come up with? Squat.
And what conclusion can we draw from that?
Very little.

The common belief of people who believe in ghosts seems to be that they are some kind of disembodied former humans that exist in some kind of realm that is not identical to the physical realm we are all familiar with.
I for one would have not the faintest idea how to translate that into a model that makes sense in the current scientific paradigm, let alone how that could possibly be tested.
Would you?
I doubt it. And without that - i.e. without a means to test for ghosts - how can you possibly search for them? Obviously, you can't.
So, the fact that the search came up empty (ignoring all eye witnesses) could simply mean that we haven't looked in the right place or couldn't look in the right place because we have no access to it.
That is one possible conclusion, next to the one you seem to prefer for personal reasons (contempt, etc), namely that they simply don't exist.
(There are probably other conclusions consistent with the absence of data, but for simplicity let's focus on those two for now)
I say we have absolutely no means to assess which one is more likely.
If you claim otherwise, show me how exactly you can ascertain the "likelihood" you claim to have. Mathematical steps and numbers please.
I say you can't and your usage of the scientific sounding "likelihood" you claim to have is nothing but a smokescreen.
You just prefer one over the other for your personal reasons. That's all that's going on here.



In that area, a particularly enlightening proclamation is "the curse of Philip Klass."
There is nothing enlightening about that curse at all.
It is just another belief. If an alien (ET) race landed at the Platz der Republik in Berlin (Germany) tomorrow, telling us they've been observing us for a while via visible crafts that curse would be revealed to be the smokescreen it is.
I have no idea how likely such an event (the landing) would be.
Do you?
If you claim you do, show in mathematical detail how that likelihood can be computed.

Leaving your personal and emotional preferences and your retreat to "likelihoods" aside, you still got nothing, no usable data to make any scientific proclamation.

Regarding your bet:
All it shows is a human preference for beliefs or cultural biases.
Even if all humans would take it that bet of yours gives us exactly no (as in zero, zilch) usable information to assess whether ghosts (or whatever it is you focus the bet on) exist or not.
It's just another smokescreen.

What is so difficult for you to admit that you have no way of knowing whether ghosts (e.g.) exist or not?

malaidas
2015-Sep-10, 02:16 PM
Another way to look at the question is this, does science currently include ghosts in its models of the universe.... no, right then scientifically ghosts cannot be said to exist, and thus scientifically they don't. Science is always provisional though, so new evidence can change this. The key is understanding the sceptical position here, that holds no absolutes. We can't know they don't exist, but we can know that there is no reliable data that can be used to assert or even suggest that they do.

Looking to back this up, with evidence against, we need step no further than the properties of being seen and also being able to step through solid objects. according to known science To be seen would require that it can effect light, that is it can either reflect or otherwise change light such that our visual processing will see it. The only such things that are known or even theorized are made of baryonic matter, which cannot pass through solid objects because of the pauli exclusion principle. So nothing in our current models would suggest that such could be real, we have no reason to think they are. Whereas we have ample reasons to suggest alternatives that are cobsistent can explain the phenomena. This allows us to start working with scientific likelyhoods. There are other means of looking at this as well. All leading to the same rational conclusion. No we don't know for certain, but science is not about certainty, it's about the highest probability in respect to our current knowledge. The point is that our current understanding would suggest that even in theory they could not exist with the described properties.

This is why they are comparable to the sock monster. People invoke it (largely facetious) to explain why socks go missing in the wash, that is observable evidence. For which there are far more reasonable explanations. Science cannot rule out the sock monster in absolute terms, but given what we do know it can be said to be extremely unlikely next to other explanations, which do typically pan out and thus by science conclude that provisionally they don't.

KlausH
2015-Sep-10, 02:50 PM
Another way to look at the question is this, does science currently include ghosts in its models of the universe.... no, right then scientifically ghosts cannot be said to exist, and thus scientifically they don't. Science is always provisional though, so new evidence can change this.

That's right. We cannot say they do exist. But neither can we say they don't (or cannot) exist.
That state of affairs is neutrally summed up in the statement "we don't know". That is the only point I am making.
Nowhere have I proclaimed that ghosts exist or must exist or are likely to exist.

ETA: To proclaim that science must say "ghosts don't exist" is a biased stance not a neutral one. How is that not obvious?

Basically, what Ken G is suggesting (and if I understand you correctly you now do as well) is an opinion poll.
That's what his "likelihoods" come down to. His "likelihoods" are personal assessments and they would remain personal assessments even if every single person would agree on it. That is nothing but an opinion poll.
And so is his bet. Even if every single person would take the bet it is still only an opinion poll.

Deriving scientific proclamations from opinion polls is not science. Not where I come from.

Ken G is running in circles, trying to extract information where there is none.

No info means no info, means we can't say anything definitively, means "we don't know".

malaidas
2015-Sep-10, 03:00 PM
What I am saying is that science is a provisional system of knowledge that represents probabilities of something being true or not, and this can apply to theoretical things as well. It evolves by evidence, but it can disregard things out of hand (at a current moment) if there is no good reason to consider that they could be true. Now things could change and in the future we might be given reason to think that it is reasonable that they might.

In the case of ghosts, no one is arguing with the observation, rather scientifically the interpretation, because the laws of physics as known do not allow for real things with the properties described, but other working interpretations do fit, we can even demonstrate then to a large extent. We are left with no good reason currently to consider that ghosts are real in the sense that none scientific thoughts describe.

Incidentally I am someone who has experienced phenomena that might be interpreted as a ghost or a group hallucination. I still can't completely explain the experience, but I still maintain that science has no need to include that experience as something objectively meaningful.


What the objection is here, is that you seem to be suggesting that all 'unknowns' are equal. They simply are not. We don't known anything for certain, what we have is as sliding scale of probabilities based upon our current understandings. That is science. Being scientific is to without personal bias to choose the one with greatest probability overall unless they are close or equal.

The only problems with this occur if you consider that science is describing or even seeking absolute truth. It doesn't it seeks explanations with greatest utilility, it seeks that which works in the simplest fashion for us to predict and thus gain a measure of control and understanding over the universe we exist within. To be honest Klaus, given our previous conversations, I am surprised that I need to point this last bit out to you and yet it's the fundamental reason why your argument doesn't hold water.

malaidas
2015-Sep-10, 03:50 PM
For the record, this occurred back in the days when I did believe in certain variant of spiritualism. I had imbibed along with the people I was with certain things, which casts doubt on the reality in the first place. But never the less we were sitting there, with cigarettes and no lighter. We all saw a man with a dog smoking, we walked after him asking for a light anyhow he walked through a set of gates and by the time we got there he had vanished with no feasible hiding place we could discern. Typical ghost/hallucination scenario, good reasons otherwise except that there was nowhere for him to go. It could be real it could not be, but on the balance I see no objective meaning to science considering it.

Ken G
2015-Sep-10, 04:38 PM
And what conclusion can we draw from that?
Very little.Well this is certainly the center of our dispute. I maintain that if ghosts were real, and all those anecdotal stories you refer to (stories of a nature that modern science knows a whole lot about, because we encounter them in so many places, in people who report seeing people levitate themselves, in people who report being taken on board alien spaceships and experimented on, in people who report personality effects based on the imagined locations of the Sun in constellations it is not even in, in stories of people who've seen bigfoot, in stories of people who have been miraculously cured of ailments by drinking pure water that is claimed to be something other than pure water, and yes, in ghost stories) actually amounted to something, then careful investigation for 50 years,and all those people with cell phones and ipads and other recording devices, would have come up with more than total squat. You don't think so. I guess that pretty much sums up our disagreement, I don't suppose there is much more light than that which will be shed on it.


I for one would have not the faintest idea how to translate that into a model that makes sense in the current scientific paradigm, let alone how that could possibly be tested.
Would you?Not without a single item of observational evidence to guide me, no. But that's the whole point, it's pure pseudoscience, so there's never any way to make a reasonable model of it. I'll make another testable prediction: you have never seen a reasonable model of what a ghost is, that makes testable predictions about them. So, am I right, or wrong? Do I win that bet?


I doubt it. And without that - i.e. without a means to test for ghosts - how can you possibly search for them? Exactly, that was my point about "gizmons", a hypothetical particle with charge 2.1 or 2.2 that has zero evidence it exists and we don't even know where to look for it. So by your logic, we must say we have "no idea" if gizmons exist. But that overlooks the fact that if there is an experiment that would detect them if they were there, and you don't yet know the outcome of the experiment, you would be a fool not to take an even-odds bet that they won't show up in that experiment. That's because scientific thinking tells you they won't, and you would be foolish to ignore that thinking.

So, the fact that the search came up empty (ignoring all eye witnesses) could simply mean that we haven't looked in the right place or couldn't look in the right place because we have no access to it.So now ghosts are things that people can see, but iphones can't photograph, and have "no access to"? Maybe they only show up in cameras that can photograph auras, you think? This is the problem with trying to test these things-- any null result can be weaseled out of by the true believer. "That camera can't see ghosts", I guess, or "ghosts don't come out if they know you have a camera." That's the game, it's called pseudoscience. And it makes it completely pointless to try to test these things, just ask Philip Klass-- or his ghost.



What is so difficult for you to admit that you have no way of knowing whether ghosts (e.g.) exist or not?The real question is what is so difficult for you to admit that scientific thinking is not about "knowing" stuff in the way you seem to mean, it is about drawing responsible conclusions about what is likely, and what is pretty obvious hooey? Or do think you do not live in a world surrounded by pretty obvious hooey? (ghosts, ESP, telekinesis, levitation, astrology, homeopathy, UFO aliens, flying spaghetti monsters, psychic surgeons, faith healers, the list just goes on and on... you think that is not a study in the sociology of hooeydom?) Can you not have noticed this, or do you think ghost stories are somehow different from all those others?

Maybe your problem is you are just uncomfortable with saying "I am 100% certain ghosts don't exist." That's fine, you can be uncomfortable with that, but it has nothing to do with science. When I say it is "pretty obvious" that ghosts don't exist, what I mean is, I can use scientific thinking to win a bet that no one is going to find credible evidence of ghosts in my lifetime. That's all I mean by the phrase-- nothing else.

Remember, science is essentially all about winning a bet, i.e., being correct about objective predictions. I told you my objective prediction, and it is going to be right: nothing new will be known about ghosts in the next 10 years, and all the same reasons why people believe in them will be there, but zero credible evidence, because that's just how pseudoscience works. It's everywhere, you only have to learn to recognize it. For a crystal clear example of how pseudoscience works, look up "oscillococcinum." Once you understand that one, you will get them all, for they all work just like that. Or look up the "Cottingley fairies", for another example of how hoaxes work. Not all pseudoscience is a deliberate hoax, some is just honest mistakes, and science can be useful to distinguish the two, once it is already clear there will very likely never be any credible evidence so there is not a third possibility-- as for all the things on the list I just gave, because there would have been by now.

Ken G
2015-Sep-10, 05:07 PM
For the record, this occurred back in the days when I did believe in certain variant of spiritualism. I had imbibed along with the people I was with certain things, which casts doubt on the reality in the first place. But never the less we were sitting there, with cigarettes and no lighter. We all saw a man with a dog smoking, we walked after him asking for a light anyhow he walked through a set of gates and by the time we got there he had vanished with no feasible hiding place we could discern. Typical ghost/hallucination scenario, good reasons otherwise except that there was nowhere for him to go. It could be real it could not be, but on the balance I see no objective meaning to science considering it.
It's certainly a fascinating phenomenon, we can call it "the ghost phenomenon." It's not obvious what the phenomenon is, but it is obvious that it's not real ghosts-- it's a phenomenon involving human perception and interpretation, and how suggestible that is. I'm sure we will learn a lot more about that phenomenon in the future, as we learn more about the mind and its role in perception and interpretation. That will be in stark contrast to what we will learn about ghosts, because that's the difference between science and pseudoscience right there-- only the former advances. (Of course, some will object that I'm a know-it-all and I can't really predict this future. Then take the bet, and come back in ten years and see-- that's science.)

Near me, there is a town which has a special university where people believe that masters can levitate themselves. They know that no one else will believe this, but they send their own kids to this school, so that their own kids can also be among the "believers." Often it doesn't take, and some of the kids reject it, possibly even becoming badly disenfranchised with their parents, while others are indoctrinated. The phenomenon is well studied by science. Of course, no objective evidence is ever produced that levitation is possible-- I guess this knowledge is "just for the faithful" who go to that university. We could call this the "levitation phenomenon", and again it is something fascinating going on, but of course the fascinating thing going on is not levitation. The reason I know this is because I have learned to recognize pseudoscience, and it works more or less the same way everywhere you find it. Thus I could win this bet: no one from that university will objectively demonstrate levitation in the next 10 years. If only I could find someone foolish enough to reject scientific thinking and take that bet, even among the believers in levitation!

malaidas
2015-Sep-10, 05:13 PM
Yes, heres the thing Klaus, I don't know that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. But I'd bite your hand off if you offered a bet about it, such that I will win a grand if it does. The reason being not that our have some knowledge you are not privy to, but because the odds are so overwhelmingly stacked in my favour

This is what science is about

malaidas
2015-Sep-10, 05:33 PM
Yno
It's certainly a fascinating phenomenon, we can call it "the ghost phenomenon." It's not obvious what the phenomenon is, but it is obvious that it's not real ghosts-- it's a phenomenon involving human perception and interpretation, and how suggestible that is. I'm sure we will learn a lot more about that phenomenon in the future, as we learn more about the mind and its role in perception and interpretation. That will be in stark contrast to what we will learn about ghosts, because that's the difference between science and pseudoscience right there-- only the former advances. (Of course, some will object that I'm a know-it-all and I can't really predict this future. Then take the bet, and come back in ten years and see-- that's science.)

Near me, there is a town which has a special university where people believe that masters can levitate themselves. They know that no one else will believe this, but they send their own kids to this school, so that their own kids can also be among the "believers." Often it doesn't take, and some of the kids reject it, possibly even becoming badly disenfranchised with their parents, while others are indoctrinated. The phenomenon is well studied by science. Of course, no objective evidence is ever produced that levitation is possible-- I guess this knowledge is "just for the faithful" who go to that university. We could call this the "levitation phenomenon", and again it is something fascinating going on, but of course the fascinating thing going on is not levitation. The reason I know this is because I have learned to recognize pseudoscience, and it works more or less the same way everywhere you find it. Thus I could win this bet: no one from that university will objectively demonstrate levitation in the next 10 years. If only I could find someone foolish enough to reject scientific thinking and take that bet, even among the believers in levitation!

I would go even a step further and state that given the same circunstances, that me and the same group of people imbibed the substance in the same place, equally without a working lighter I predict we would not experience the same thing, such that the phenomenon in itself has no meaningful scientific input. Indeed I will assert even further that any set of people in the same circumstance are very unlikely to experience the same phenomenon.

ETA: I can assert this through evidence to the contrary, in that I have knowledge of others in comparable circumstances and no knowledge of any independent sightings of the man and his dog who then vanished

Ken G
2015-Sep-10, 07:14 PM
Yno

I would go even a step further and state that given the same circunstances, that me and the same group of people imbibed the substance in the same place, equally without a working lighter I predict we would not experience the same thing, such that the phenomenon in itself has no meaningful scientific input. Indeed I will assert even further that any set of people in the same circumstance are very unlikely to experience the same phenomenon.Yes, there would seem to be a fundamentally non-objective character to the whole experience. In that sense, the situation could be said to have no intersection with science, or no scientific footprint. That means that scientific thinking must conclude that the scientific meaning of "existence" cannot be afforded to what you thought you saw, which is all I mean when I say it "didn't exist." So I am taking the scientific perspective.

Personal belief, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. If we leave the realm of what can be objectively demonstrable, people are free to choose any beliefs they want. No one else will ever be able to meaningfully say what exists or does not exist in the realm of any individual's personal beliefs. In short, individuals are free to believe in ghosts, just as they are free to believe they are brains in a vat.

But the scientific footprint of that belief still comes up "no existence". We could choose to believe that science is blind to the existence of ghosts, anything that is outside of science I would not endeavor to comment on. Everything I've said has been about the scientific existence of ghosts, so their non-existence means that nothing about the ghost-as-real-thing concept helps us explain objective perceptions in ways that we could not explain just as well entirely without the ghost-as-real-thing concept. That's all I mean by "not existing," and it leads me to take the bet that nothing new will be learned about the ghost-as-real-thing model, but a lot may be learned about the human-mind-as-susceptible-to-illusion model. I believe magicians already know a huge amount about that topic! Perhaps that's why Harry Houdini was the voice of reason in the case of the Cottingley fairies.

KlausH
2015-Sep-10, 11:07 PM
@ Ken G and malaidas:

It is interesting that you, Ken G, failed to show how you mathematically derive the likelihoods you rest your entire argument on.
It is also interesting that none of you responded to my post #106 above, where I clearly show that you are doing science by opinion poll.

You brought up the example of the sun rising tomorrow.
That example is irrelevant in the context of the phenomena we are discussing (ghosts, UFOs, big foots, etc - using ghost as a placeholder for all of them).
Why?
Because in the case of the sun rising tomorrow we can apply a mathematical tool called Bayesian inference (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayesian_inference).
We have what is called a "prior probability", namely countless days where the sun rose in the morning. In other words we have data to base the prediction (that it will rise again tomorrow) on.
In the case of ghosts (etc) we have no such thing. All you have is your personal and cultural bias but no prior probability or data.
Comparing apples and oranges I'm afraid.

Let's take an example that is a bit closer to home (at least to you, Ken G, since you say you are a professional physicist/astronomer).
In the time between its prediction and its discovery when I heard physicists talking about the Higgs particle, not one of them said "the Higgs doesn't exist". They all (the ones I spoke to directly or read about) said "We don't know if the Higgs exists. Experiments will tell." - or something along those lines.
Which I believe is the only correct and honest wording.
Had one of them said "the Higgs doesn't exist" it would have been (correctly) perceived as a biased statement.

You are right, science doesn't deal with absolute truths but there are subtle differences in the wording of things.
To say "ghosts don't exist" is a statement born out of prejudice, bias and forgone conclusions.
To say "we don't know if ghosts exist or not" is a neutral statement that reflects the total lack of information we have either way.

Anyways, I think I have said enough on that matter. Read #106 again. It's all there.
As much fun as it has been to see you run in circles, trying to extract information from an informational void, it only holds my interest for a moment.

I respect both of you and your contributions but we just have to agree to disagree.
I maintain that science is not an opinion poll and that the only unbiased way of wording our lack of knowledge on ghosts (etc) is to say "we don't know".

malaidas
2015-Sep-10, 11:52 PM
Ok Fair enough, but I will maintain that 'we don't know' is a relative statement that really applies to everything to relative degrees. Thus we were lot more certain that the higgs existed than we are about ghosts in the sense of some real objective phenomenon. It is true that without seeing it we could not say it existed, but we had very good reason to say it should, and was thus worth looking for. With ghosts we again don't know, but we have reasonable cause to suggest they shouldn't if our laws of physics are correct. This is the key distinction being made

Jens
2015-Sep-11, 12:34 AM
@ Ken G and malaidas:

It is interesting that you, Ken G, failed to show how you mathematically derive the likelihoods you rest your entire argument on.
It is also interesting that none of you responded to my post #106 above, where I clearly show that you are doing science by opinion poll.


To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what you're trying to show. Are you trying to convince me that I should change my way of thinking and consider all possibilities to be equal because I don't know for sure? That whenever I walk around I should wear a helmet because there could be things that fall from the sky and I have no scientific reason to suspect there aren't? I'm not willing to make that change, sorry.

Or are you simply trying to force me to admit that there is no absolute certainty of whether things might exist or not? I think I've already recognized that in fact I recognized it before you pointed it out.

What exactly is it that you are trying to change in me?

Ken G
2015-Sep-11, 01:09 AM
It is interesting that you, Ken G, failed to show how you mathematically derive the likelihoods you rest your entire argument on.That's because I have not quantified the probability. I have also not quantified the probability that there is a bear standing behind you right now. Is that going to be your argument that I cannot know that probability is very small?



It is also interesting that none of you responded to my post #106 above, where I clearly show that you are doing science by opinion poll.That's because I didn't see any basis at all for your claim of an "opinion poll." As I said, science is about winning bets. I would win a bet there is no bear behind you right now, and I would win a bet that no credible evidence of ghosts will be advanced in the next 10 years. You don't have to agree, but the test will be done anyway, and I will be right. That's the beauty of scientific thinking.


Because in the case of the sun rising tomorrow we can apply a mathematical tool called Bayesian inference (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayesian_inference).Actually, it is quite easy to apply Bayesian inference to ghost stories as well, I know a lot about Bayesian inference. But the trouble with Bayesian inference is you need a sense of your "prior expected probability", prior to the addition of new data. There is no new data on ghosts, nor will there ever be. Also, the "prior expectation" is what I have been talking about all this time-- it is small. But you don't agree with that, so you would lose your bet. But it also means, you cannot agree on the right way to apply Bayesian inference, because that's all about prior expectations, and you have labeled any prior expectation to be "prejudice." So much for Bayes!


Let's take an example that is a bit closer to home (at least to you, Ken G, since you say you are a professional physicist/astronomer).Excellent, bring on the example.

In the time between its prediction and its discovery when I heard physicists talking about the Higgs particle, not one of them said "the Higgs doesn't exist". They all (the ones I spoke to directly or read about) said "We don't know if the Higgs exists. Experiments will tell." - or something along those lines.Ah yes, an excellent example indeed, to completely refute your position. You see, there is a spectacular scientific difference between the Higgs particle, and ghosts, and is it this: the Higgs particle was expected to exist for exactly one reason: it made a great deal of sense. By this I mean, it helped us to understand and unify a broad spectrum of behaviors that we see in the masses of particles, in a quantitative and testable way. It made predictions, and it unified information we already had that we could not explain by any other means readily available to us. In fact, it was aesthetically gorgeous, as a theory! So much so, that most particle theorists were already quite convinced that the Higgs would be found, and said so quite openly. You see, they were not ready to weasel out if the Higgs was not found by CERN, the way ghost believers are ready to weasel out that no credible evidence has been found in decades, and won't be in the next decade either, despite all those cell phones. The two are night and day, but thank you for the example, because it makes the contrast so clear.

So yes, no one knew if the Higgs would be found. If the question traded on the stock market, smart money would be somewhere in the 50-50 category, though it might have gone up to odds in favor of the Higgs. This is hardly a hypothetical issue-- many governments actually did "bet" a huge sum of money on the Higgs!

Now contrast that with ghost stories. If there was an ability to trade "options" on the likelihood of ghost stories gaining credible evidence during the time frame that CERN was built and carried out its search for the Higgs, what do you think smart money would be betting on that one? A thousand to one? I doubt no better, but I know I would have given 100 to 1 in a heartbeat, the easiest money I ever made.

In fact, the CERN example is quite appropriate, because there was a very significant pseudoscientific claim that dogged the CERN scientists. It was the claim that CERN could create a black hole that would destroy the Earth. If the CERN scientists had to go in front of the world and say "we have no data on that, so we have to say, we just don't know", then there would be no CERN, and no Higgs discovery. Pseudoscience would have prevailed. Fortunately, they were scientists, so could use scientific thinking to say quite a bit more than "we don't know." They had to admit that they would be entering uncharted territory, but they could still say we know enough about how accelerated particles work, and how black holes would work, to be sure the chances of destroying the Earth are vanishingly small, and the concern has no merit. So pseudoscience, and "not knowing", did not prevail! This is a concrete example of what I am talking about.

So you can claim all you like that the "scientific" stance is "I don't know", but that really doesn't say anything. What says something is probabilities-- and the odds that informed people would give with their hard-earned money. That's when you really need scientific thinking.


To say "ghosts don't exist" is a statement born out of prejudice, bias and forgone conclusions.No, but you have to understand what it means. Scientists don't actually make claims on what exists, because what they mean by what exists is just this: what shows up in their well-tested theories, and what helps them to win a bet by imagining exists. That's really what it boils down to, whether we are talking about atoms, electrons, Higgs bosons, or strings. Each of those is only claimed to exist in proportion to the demonstrated predictive power they give us. Conversely, what is said to "not exist" is precisely the things that take away predictive power, that beguile us into false bets and losing our money and time, like ghosts, ESP, levitation, dousing, psychic auras, astrology, homeopathy, UFO aliens, bigfoot, etc.-- that list just goes on and on. So when a scientist says, and they do, that "none of the things on that list exist", all they mean is none of those things show up in any useful model of anything, none of them have any credible support, and none of them will gain any credible support in the next 10 years, or the next 100 years. (The former is a scientific prediction that you and I can really test-- not a single thing on that list is going to gain any credible evidence, or advance in the smallest way, in the next 10 years. Test it!)

So I suggest we pause this conversation for 10 years. We'll see then if your argument is held as vehemently!


To say "we don't know if ghosts exist or not" is a neutral statement that reflects the total lack of information we have either way.
Yes, so "neutral" as to be completely worthless. Why would you not say the same thing about whether people named "Klaus" have bad luck on prime days of the month between the hours of noon and 1 o'clock? You haven't commented on that at all, so I am very unclear on why you would not say "I don't know if that's true or not." Same for whether or not there is a bear behind you right now, without looking-- how can you say anything but "I don't know"? Of course, if you have some impossible standard of knowing, then I suppose the statement is literally true-- but also totally valueless. The real truth is, you live every moment of your life as if you knew perfectly well there is not a bear behind you, and I can tell this is true-- you are not constantly checking your back! So how do you square those facts with your claim that if you haven't checked the data, you can say nothing more than "I don't know"?

swampyankee
2015-Sep-11, 01:13 AM
Just as there's credulity, there's close-mindedness: being hypercritically close-minded (incredulously so) is just as fallacious as being credulously open-minded. That being said....

People have been looking for ghosts and spirits for a very long time, and never found any evidence of their existence: the likelihood of their existence is vanishingly small, to the point where it can be dismissed without worrying about committing a Type 2 error. Obviously, this doesn't mean that everything we haven't observed has a negligible likelihood of existence: there has to have been a significant effort to find it, and then the evidence has to be evaluated.

malaidas
2015-Sep-11, 01:24 AM
Just as there's credulity, there's close-mindedness: being hypercritically close-minded (incredulously so) is just as fallacious as being credulously open-minded. That being said....

People have been looking for ghosts and spirits for a very long time, and never found any evidence of their existence: the likelihood of their existence is vanishingly small, to the point where it can be dismissed without worrying about committing a Type 2 error. Obviously, this doesn't mean that everything we haven't observed has a negligible likelihood of existence: there has to have been a significant effort to find it, and then the evidence has to be evaluated.

Yes it's about probabilities, based upon what we do know, which give us increasing confidence towards one interpretation or the other. It's never about certainty. That is science. We apply a reasonable method and then analyse, but part of that method is defining a reasonable hypothesis in the first place. We have to have reasonable cause to think that something may have empirical truth, otherwise we are wasting our time searching for moonbeams

So when one looks at ghosts one has to first consider what could allow them to work as described, is it reasonable to suggest that such can exist, what falsifiable hypothesis can we make about them and ultimately which is the most probable situation that can be tested.

As nothing is absolutely true or false in science so this works, because of the goals of science.

Ken G
2015-Sep-11, 01:32 AM
Obviously, this doesn't mean that everything we haven't observed has a negligible likelihood of existence: there has to have been a significant effort to find it, and then the evidence has to be evaluated.I'd say it's even worse than that. Even things that have had no effort to look for are still spectacularly unlikely, unless there is some scientific reason to expect them to exist (say in terms of how it unifies and predicts existing data, thus motivating new experiments about which it makes quantitative predictions), or unless there is some existing credible evidence that is not more easily explained in terms of other things that are already known about. It's a simple issue of default skepticism, and burden of proof, that saves us from wasting vast amounts of time every day, and indeed it is probably the most commonly applied scientific principle of them all-- the one applied by people who apply almost no other scientific principles in the course of their day!

But as you say, in the case of ghosts, we don't even have a situation where no one has looked, we have lots and lots of people looking, with nothing scientific to show but anecdotes that are easily explained in terms of previously known phenomena. The explanations are just not the ones people are looking for, or willing to believe personally. So we have personal beliefs trumping scientific thinking, which crosses the line into pseudoscience as soon as it makes claims on what should be objectively demonstrable (like most ghost stories do).

However, if one lists a thousand such things, then there does become a non-negligible probability that one or two of them might turn out to be true in the scientific sense. It's simply a numbers game. But if one picks out a single one, like ghosts, for who knows what reason (a personal anecdote perhaps?), then we are back in the "tiny probability" category. Frankly, I just don't see why people would pick out one thing from a long list of pseudoscientific beliefs, and choose to regard that one as reasonably likely, when it is supported in no kind of different way from all the rest. It's like choosing to treat an objectively demonstrable medical condition, from which one seeks objectively demonstrable relief, with homeopathy, but not psychic surgery, even though the methodology that supports either is just the same. Whereas if you regard all of them as reasonably likely, then you must have a completely absurd world view. It's kind of a conundrum. I believe the only plausible explanation is the fallacy that people tend to overweight their own limited experiences, when faced with a question that should actually be put to a large body of data!

What would help me is if KlausH would try to quantify what he means by "I don't know." I would like to know what odds he would take that ghosts will receive credible evidence in the next 10 years, to help me understand how he quantifies "not-knowingness."

Also, I should add for clarity that everything I am talking about relates to scientifically testable objective predictions-- none of it relates to beliefs that people may wish to have about things that have no intersection with scientific inquiry. If someone wants to believe in ghosts, but they are not accessible to scientific thought because they don't have objectively testable consequences (like they don't make light that can be registered in a camera), then they can knock themselves out as far as I'm concerned. Science is not all things to all people-- but it is the path to winning a bet about some objectively testable phenomenon.

Robert Tulip
2015-Sep-11, 11:02 PM
..contempt for astrology in academia … has nothing at all to do with the reason there has not been "orderly studies." The reason is much simpler, and is what I said above: the responsibility to do those studies falls on the people who think there is an effect, not on the people who don't, and the people who think there is an effect are precisely the people who never test anything. KenG, discussion of pseudoscience falls more within the realm of sociology than physics, as you have suggested.

CosmoQuest has as part of its mandate science education, recognising there is a vast audience whose knowledge is limited, for example those whom Jens mentioned as taking newspaper horoscope columns seriously.

There is a genuine scientific agenda in busting myths. Astrologers are guided by intuition and tradition, not by evidence or logic, so they naturally have no interest in testing their claims by scientific method.

My view is that many so-called scientific studies of astrology have been contaminated by both the problem of contempt and by poor methodology, assuming that failing to validate folk claims will completely destroy all credibility. To which astrologers have naturally responded that their folk claims are too complex for the simple methods of statistics.

Into this impasse, a useful scientific approach would be to ask whether simpler tests can be devised that will address the astrologer’s argument that their methods are too mysterious and arcane for mere scientists to comprehend.


You see, the people who don't think there would be an effect expect they would be wasting their time-- there are a host of things they don't test. They don't test if prime days of the month are days when lefthanded people have better luck in card games, for example. Why no tests of that, it would be easy enough! Well, no, there are not large communities of people believing these things, or reputable news outlets publishing claims and predictions and diagnoses based on these random ideas you mention, so there is no public interest in subjecting them to rigorous analysis.
The reason is simple: it is the person who thinks there could be such an effect that is the person who needs to do that test. This is called the "burden of proof." So instead of asking why those contemptuous academics don't bother to test these completely silly astrological claims, ask the really obvious question: why don't the people who believe in this hooey bother to do the tests? Really, I for one would like to know. But I think I already know: they don't really care if it's true or not, they just want to believe it. People do care if their beliefs are true, since no one can make the statement “I believe things that are not true.” The issue here is one of method, with astrologers maintaining that scientific method is irrelevant to testing their beliefs. That should be an untenable claim, yet it provides a lot of wriggle room.

So ask the blindingly obvious question here: why doesn't Robert Hand do that test, if he's the one suggesting it wouldn't be a complete waste of time??? And how on Earth did Hand get anyone to "widely read" his book, if he wasn't even willing to do that simple test? And you wonder why academics treat the whole topic with contempt? Seriously, you're not joking?Hand (bio (http://www.astro.com/people/hand_e.htm)) does not care about scientific method, because he thinks it fails on the intuition factor that is at the centre of astrology. He is not unintelligent, but has a completely different view of the universe from that of modern science.

Nonetheless, it should be possible for objective analysis to assess the value of many of his startling claims of planetary effects. I think it is possible for conversation and analysis on these topics to proceed with courtesy and respect, even for those who are highly sceptical that claims could be validated by data.

Ken G
2015-Sep-12, 03:03 AM
My view is that many so-called scientific studies of astrology have been contaminated by both the problem of contempt and by poor methodology, assuming that failing to validate folk claims will completely destroy all credibility.And as I said, there is no requirement on science whatsoever to test astrological claims. That responsibility falls on those who claim there is something to astrology. No scientist worth that designation, not a single one, would ever say "machines break more often when Mercury is in retrograde", unless they had a body of well-controlled scientific data to point to in support of that claim. So scientists are well within their consistent mode of thought to completely ignore any such claim that does not cite evidence. If the astrologers will not cite evidence, they are doing pseudoscience, end of story. The scientist can still "win the bet" by betting against objective outcomes that are based on unsupported claims, and that's how scientific thinking is identified and used.

To which astrologers have naturally responded that their folk claims are too complex for the simple methods of statistics. Yes, very convenient, isn't it? And this is exactly why scientists generally don't waste their time testing astrology. The scientist has already concluded it is pseudoscience and highly unlikely to have any value in regard to objective outcomes, so there is no personal advantage there for the scientific thinker. Also, those who do believe in astrology will never respond to any scientific evidence. They will either claim their ideas are "too complete to test", as you say, or they will claim that scientific studies are "contaminated", as you just suggested. So it's no wonder they don't waste their time doing the tests that the astrologers should be doing, now is it?

Perhaps one counterexample is in educational settings. There, when a science teacher wishes to refute the claims of astrology, they can do various things, like point out that the Sun was not in the constellation claimed by newspaper astrology. Or, they could do controlled investigations on their own class, like ask people who do not know their own sign to identify with personality traits associated with a random list of astrological signs. Some educators do things like that, they just don't publish their results. I haven't done that myself, I find relatively few students interesting in testing astrology, so I don't ask them to waste their time either. I think its popularity has waned greatly in recent years, that's my impression anyway.


Into this impasse, a useful scientific approach would be to ask whether simpler tests can be devised that will address the astrologer’s argument that their methods are too mysterious and arcane for mere scientists to comprehend.I actually don't think that's likely to help, when people don't care much about scientific testing, it doesn't matter how easy or convincing scientists would find a test to be.
People do care if their beliefs are true, since no one can make the statement “I believe things that are not true.” The problem is in the meaning of "true." For many people, the belief is what makes it true, rather than the truth being what makes it believed.


The issue here is one of method, with astrologers maintaining that scientific method is irrelevant to testing their beliefs. Yes, that is indeed the problem, and the main reason scientists generally don't bother to test astrological claims, or oscillococcinum, or psychic surgery, or magical incantations.
Hand (bio (http://www.astro.com/people/hand_e.htm)) does not care about scientific method, because he thinks it fails on the intuition factor that is at the centre of astrology.Exactly.

Nonetheless, it should be possible for objective analysis to assess the value of many of his startling claims of planetary effects. Not for Hand. And for me, I don't need it, it's pseudoscience so there's no credible reason to increase my expectation of the probability it is true just because Hand wrote a book. I could have just made up the claim in my own mind, and had no greater reason to doubt it, because that's just how pseudoscience works. Read up on oscillococcinum, for a crystal clear example of why there is no reason to put any credence into pseudoscientific claims, regardless of how many anecdotal stories those beliefs generate.


I think it is possible for conversation and analysis on these topics to proceed with courtesy and respect, even for those who are highly sceptical that claims could be validated by data.So do I, that's why everything I've said is simply an observational fact. If it sounds harsh on astrologers, that is their own responsibility. All I've said is that they don't respond to objective evidence, so what they are doing is "obvious hooey." That's just precisely what I mean by obvious hooey-- the observation of an unwillingness to respond to objective evidence, just like you said about Hand.