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parallaxicality
2005-Oct-29, 02:33 PM
I'm studying for a masters degree in history, and recently had a rather troubling seminar with a highly talented historian/literature professor who complained at the lack of interdisciplinarity in humanities research (this is a science-related question, I promise). He claimed that historians, in their relentless pursuit of "truth" have favoured the study of "documents" over "texts"; leaving literature and its historical contexts to be studied by language majors. The valuable insights into the hopes, aspirations and ideals of a period that literature can give is not seen as the domain of objective, rational inquiry. This is, he points out, rather incongruous. After all, simply studying the documents of the Cold War will give you far less of an idea of the public mood and uncertainties of the time than watching 50s scifi movies. Watching "The Taming of the Shrew" will give you a better idea of women's behaviour in the 16th century than reading "courtesy books" which discuss an ideal, rather than an actuality.

Anyway, what he ultimately said was that many things, texts, artefacts, even pictures, could be read historically. He even went so far as to mention that archaeological and anthropological remains could be read historically. It was at this point that I began to wonder, where does history end and science begin? Of course, I am aware of the scientific method; hypothesis followed by experiment followed by repeatable result etc. However, at what point does this ideal of objectivity break down? I've often read that science and other forms of "rational" inquiry are based on fact. But it seems to me that what is really being spoken of is observations. Scientists make observations and then infer the facts from them. But how solid are these facts?

My degree has already made it very clear that there is no such thing as historical truth; all that occurs is the reading and interpritation of a text. But where does that leave me as far as science is concerned? After all, the genetic code and the geological record are, in their own way, texts. How do I stand up to a creationist who claims that he is merely reading the text one way, and I another?

R.A.F.
2005-Oct-29, 04:13 PM
My degree has already made it very clear that there is no such thing as historical truth; all that occurs is the reading and interpritation of a text. But where does that leave me as far as science is concerned?

...no such "thing" as historic truth?? I must disagree with an example...:)

Back in 1852, ole' Ben Franklin was playing around with a kite during "inclement" weather. As a direct result of that "playing around", Lightning Rods started popping up all around the Country (and the World).

The incidence of buildings being destroyed by Lightning dropped dramatically.

How is that not "historic truth"?


(There are many, many examples throughout history...this one just happens to be my favorite.)

parallaxicality
2005-Oct-29, 04:28 PM
We only have the historical record to tell us that Franklin's experiments inspired the lightning rod. It is quite possible that someone else inspired it; we take it for granted because it is what we are told from day one of our lives. And anyway, how can you connect one man's experiment with a phenomenon that spread all over the world? It might be that Franklin's discovery and the use of the lightning rod were independent. Of course, to prove this statement wrong, you look at historical records. But historical records are products of human bias and perceptions. For instance, it is "historical truth" that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. In another reading of history, the telephone was invented by an Italian years earlier, and Bell stole the credit.

Nowhere Man
2005-Oct-29, 04:30 PM
That's quite a trick for Ben, since by 1852 he'd been dead for 62 years. I presume you mean 1752. There is also some debate about whether he did this himself, and at least one source states that he proposed the lightning rod concept years before the kite incident. The kite business was not "playing around" but a deliberate investigation into the state of electric charge in clouds.

History is a debate now. All we have from times before the invention of the photograph are the writings or recorded memories of those who were there. And after photography, there is still the possibility of deception or misinterpretation.

Edit to add: Science consists of repeatable experiments. History doesn't. One has to be objective when dealing with both, and try not to apply your own biases to your observations.

Fred

parallaxicality
2005-Oct-29, 04:35 PM
Photographs, even undoctored ones, are not any more reliable than texts. Most are of entirely staged events or of individuals specifically composed to record themselves as they wish posterity to see them. Even those seemingly of random events are coloured by what the photographer wishes to show and conceal.

R.A.F.
2005-Oct-29, 05:01 PM
It might be that Franklin's discovery and the use of the lightning rod were independent.

...and you have just made an extraordinary claim...backed up only by the idea that they "might" have been independent...

Prove it...


That's quite a trick for Ben, since by 1852 he'd been dead for 62 years.

Yeah, Ben was quite "tricky". :)


I presume you mean 1752.

Well, I got the "52" right!! :lol:


The kite business was not "playing around"...

Sorry...that was my "attempt" at humor...:(

TheBlackCat
2005-Oct-29, 06:18 PM
...and you have just made an extraordinary claim...backed up only by the idea that they "might" have been independent...

Prove it...
I don't think you are quite understanding parallaxicality's post. He is not claiming that Ben did not do those things, he is simply claiming there is no way to definitively prove that he did those things. Although it is far-fetched, there is at least the extremely remote possibility that it is all wrong. We are dealing with things that happened in the past based on incomplete and possibly faulty records created by a imperfect, possibly biased people. That does not makes it wrong. The case with Ben is very well-documented by a variety of sources with completely different biases and perspectives, so it is very unlikely to be made up. Nevertheless, no matter how much evidence we come up with, there is no way to absolutely prove that any historical event happened.

To take an even more extreme example, I'll use the US Civil War. This is something that has such a mountain of evidence behind it that there can be no reasonable doubt that it occured. However, there is the extremely, extremely, extremely remote possibility that there was somehow some massive conspiracy that people thought up one day to teach everyone after that the civil war occured when in reality nothing of the sort happened. I understand this proposition is unbelievably silly, I picked it specifically for that reason, but there is still an extremely minute chance that it occured. It is not worth serious consideration, but the fact that there is a chance means we cannot be 100% sure that the civil war occured (even though we may way more than 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 99999% sure). It is the same thing as in science, no matter how sure we get nothing can be absolutely proven.

Ken G
2005-Oct-29, 07:52 PM
So let's return to the purpose of the thread: to understand the difference between a scientific fact and a reading of a text. Clearly, reproducibility is a key part of science, yet many experiments cannot be reproduced. We can't set up a Big Bang, but we can watch the show from the original version. Of course, as we do, we are in fact reading a text, complete with all our biases, and more importantly, our limited intelligence. So why is ID or creationism not simply another reading of the text? The answer is, it is just another reading of a text! But the point is, it is not a scientific reading. It is a reading that ignores most of the evidence, and is designed to reach a pre-arranged conclusion. That's a different reading all right. But we have to stop getting hung up on concepts like fact and truth, and realize that the debate is what is the scientific method of reading a text, and what isn't.

Granted, it is really evolution, not the Big Bang, that is of greatest debate. Evolutionary processes can be reproduced, and are, yet we will probably never use them to generate a new species like homo sapiens (think of the ethical issues if we did!). So we will probably always be reading a text there. The issue is what method will be used-- what are the rules it must follow to be considered science. What has worked in the past? What has led only to ignorance and superstition?

Jeff Root
2005-Oct-29, 09:05 PM
Great thread! Great content in the original post and replies!

My meager thoughts:

A scientist makes observations and records them. Those records
are historical documents. Someone-- maybe the same scientist--
uses those observations as the basis of a theory. That person
writes up the theory. It is a text.

Other scientists will look at the records of the observations
and/or the text of the theory, and try to determine whether the
records are accurate, whether the theory fits the observations,
and whether some other theory might fit better, or at least
equally-well.

Historians will look at the records of the observations and/or
the text of the theory, and try to determine whether they were
actually written by the person who claimed to write them, when
and where they were actually written, how the writings may have
been affected by other events going on at the time, etc.

I see historians as scientists with limited opportunities to
perform experiments-- a lot like astronomers.

As for the title of this thread-- Of course there is such a
thing as fact-- you just can never be completely certain what
those facts are. Bad eyesight, bad records, bad theory, bad
memory, can all lead a person astray.

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

John_Charles_Webb
2005-Oct-30, 01:05 AM
There is a theory that concludes (theorizes?) that all experiments are influenced by the observer.
see, http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/Numbers/Math/Mathematical_Thinking/observer.htm

Suggesting, perhaps, that everything, except mathematics, contains a relative condition of ambiguity.

Metaphysics ( a system of cause and effect that differs from everyday physics... take off your mind and enter) implies that there are two sets of reality:
1) consensus reality wherein a vast majority agree upon something and make it a "fact" or belief.
2) a transcendental reality wherein one receives information that violates the current consensus reality (Einstein's mind experiments [imagining] are a good example).

My opinion is that all (non-mathematical) "facts" are current beliefs subject to modification.

Here is (perhaps) an on-point example:
The Great Pyramid at Giza (a GIANT 'text' artifact) was observed for thousands of years (since 2800 B.C.). The relationship of the pyramid's height to the sum of the length of its base sides is that of a radius to a circle ( 1/2 Pi ). Early civilizations, who (we are told) knew nothing about Pi did not recognize the ratio embedded into the pyramid's design. So, they interpreted the pyramid in the terms that they understood (big, rocks, slope,
huh, grunt). When Hipocrates (325 A.D.) was credited with discovering Pi then the Great Pyramid gave up an additional secret. It took on an evolved (enhanced) meaning that could cause a reinterpretation of that period. The "facts" were changed by a new observation.

It seems to me that your teacher is (partially) doing you a favor by weaning you from consensus reality and alowing for the creation of a measure of self reliance (a root, perhaps, of all new discovery). Perhaps, "fact" can be substituted with "current belief". Nevertheless, his (your teacher's) reference to movies (a mythological medium) seems a bit off-base.

quote: "Scientists make observations and then infer the facts from them.
But how solid are these facts?" end quote.

The "facts" become more solid by recurrences and duplication, but are, never-the-less, subject to revision.... after all, Einstein turned (portions of) Newtonian Physics upsidedown. I guess that what your teacher is saying is to "question reality".

01101001
2005-Oct-30, 01:39 AM
The Great Pyramid at Giza (a GIANT 'text' artifact) was observed for thousands of years (since 2800 B.C.). The relationship of the pyramid's height to the sum of the length of its base sides is that of a radius to a circle ( 1/2 Pi ). Early civilizations, who (we are told) knew nothing about Pi did not recognize the ratio embedded into the pyramid's design. So, they interpreted the pyramid in the terms that they understood (big, rocks, slope, huh, grunt). When Hipocrates (325 A.D.) was credited with discovering Pi then the Great Pyramid gave up an additional secret. It took on an evolved (enhanced) meaning that could cause a reinterpretation of that period. The "facts" were changed by a new observation.

What facts changed by the new observation?

Ken G
2005-Oct-30, 05:39 AM
I think JCW means that the significance of a fact can change when we understand its full context, even if the fact itself doesn't change. For example, if we ever find that the digits of Pi contain a linguistic pattern of some kind, rather than being random in character, then that would be a new "fact" even though Pi itself has been with us all along. It speaks to the issue that even the results of a mundane observation could be telling us something amazing that we are simply blind to because we don't yet understand it in the proper context. Is that the idea, JCW?

TheBlackCat
2005-Oct-30, 05:46 AM
Here is (perhaps) an on-point example:
The Great Pyramid at Giza (a GIANT 'text' artifact) was observed for thousands of years (since 2800 B.C.). The relationship of the pyramid's height to the sum of the length of its base sides is that of a radius to a circle ( 1/2 Pi ). Early civilizations, who (we are told) knew nothing about Pi did not recognize the ratio embedded into the pyramid's design. So, they interpreted the pyramid in the terms that they understood (big, rocks, slope,
huh, grunt). When Hipocrates (325 A.D.) was credited with discovering Pi then the Great Pyramid gave up an additional secret. It took on an evolved (enhanced) meaning that could cause a reinterpretation of that period. The "facts" were changed by a new observation.

Pretty much every western civilization, including the Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, were aware of Pi. The Chinese were also aware of it. It even appears in the Old Testament. And that knowledge was not lost and rediscovered like some things, it has been consistently passed on. This is because it is a fundamental principle of mathematics, any civilization with even the slightest bit of mathematical awareness would probably come across pretty quickly.

Secondly, Hippocrates died in about 380 BC (give or take 5 years or so), so there is no way he could have discovered Pi in 325 BC, not to mention 325 AD.

Enzp
2005-Oct-30, 07:38 PM
Hippocrates was probably related to Ben Franklin then.

There is quantitaive study and qualitative study. i think when you call something like history a science, you mean something fundamentally different from something like astronomy.

That lightning is electricity is the fact, whether Ben discovered that or someone else, does not alter that aspect of things.

Historical documents or text - not sure what the distinction is there - may be less than accurate, but if a pyramid is 100 feet wide, it is 100 feet wide. We may change our minds on why it is that dimension or what it might signify, but it still will be 100 feet wide until it erodes away. Measuring it in meters doesn't alter its size, just the units of measure. History is not a quantitative science.

The body of Custer on the ground is a fact. How it got there is more difficult to determine from historical records. We can measure his bones or weigh his remains and feel confident in our findings. Who shot him or exactly when might be a lot harder to determine with confidence.

Science is the measure of something, it cares not a whit for the story. History is a story and an interpretastion. You can use some of the tools of science to flesh out your history, and history might suggest some lines of study for science. For me the line is where it crosses from quantitative to qualitative.

aurora
2005-Oct-31, 03:02 AM
We only have the historical record to tell us that Franklin's experiments inspired the lightning rod. It is quite possible that someone else inspired it; we take it for granted because it is what we are told from day one of our lives. And anyway, how can you connect one man's experiment with a phenomenon that spread all over the world? It might be that Franklin's discovery and the use of the lightning rod were independent. Of course, to prove this statement wrong, you look at historical records. But historical records are products of human bias and perceptions. For instance, it is "historical truth" that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. In another reading of history, the telephone was invented by an Italian years earlier, and Bell stole the credit.

So, an ID proponent would say that the idea that lightning rods protect houses from lightning is just a theory. Since it cannot be proven, then we have to teach students alternate theories, like the theory that lightning rods are useless.

Then students grow up and build houses without lightning rods, and their houses burn down.

Edited to add: I'm reminded of a Douglas Adams paragraph about Man proving that black was white and then getting killed at a zebra crossing. Or something like that.

The Shade
2005-Oct-31, 11:33 AM
If there's one fact I've observed in this thread, it's that everyone seems to be getting their initial dates for important evens wrong. I suggest we research our material a bit more before posting significant dates.

Oh, and Khufu's Pyramid was constructed at aproximately 2600 BC, not 2800 BC. Google is your friend. :)

Ken G
2005-Oct-31, 03:46 PM
Oh, and Khufu's Pyramid was constructed at aproximately 2600 BC, not 2800 BC.
I thought these things took centuries to build, and records are poor. Perhaps this is splitting hairs?

The Shade
2005-Oct-31, 04:27 PM
I thought these things took centuries to build, and records are poor. Perhaps this is splitting hairs?

Historians and Egyptologists generally agree that the pyramid took about 20 years to build.

Perhaps you're thinking of European medieval cathedrals?

Enzp
2005-Nov-01, 06:32 AM
2600/2800, darn, missed it by less than 5%.

NEOWatcher
2008-Feb-20, 02:30 PM
Yep...very old thread bumped. But; these comments...

...But historical records are products of human bias and perceptions. For instance, it is "historical truth" that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. In another reading of history, the telephone was invented by an Italian years earlier, and Bell stole the credit.
...make me think this story is relevant.
The Bell telephone: patent nonsense? (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23241725/)
More conspiracy and bribery claims against Bell.



That kind of talk drives Ed Grosvenor up the wall. "It's just [expletive]!" he says. "What bugs me is that these things were litigated and litigated and litigated. So many courts looked at this."
He's right about that. Bell's patent was challenged in literally hundreds of legal cases in the 1800s and each time the courts ruled for Bell.

Even if the claims are true, Bell would have had to do some groundbreaking work to be able to file the patent.

Ken G
2008-Feb-20, 02:50 PM
I think the key in all this is to recognize that there really is no such thing as absolute truth, because it is hard to define and impossible to establish. But there is still a concept of "truth", which is related to the methods that arrive at it. In regard to history, if you analyze documents, you may arrive at one "truth", and if you interview people who were there, you might arrive at a different truth. Combine them, and you have a new truth again, more nuanced perhaps. So the best you can really ever do is report both the "truth" and the means you used to arrive at it. At least then people can agree "yes that is the projection of the objective truth onto that means", and one should not really hope for more. What makes science so special is that is so intentionally focused and quantified that objective truth always comes out the same even with different means or different observers, with the appropriate prescriptions for translation (like relativity).

parallaxicality
2008-Feb-20, 03:09 PM
Yep...very old thread bumped. But; these comments...

...make me think this story is relevant.
The Bell telephone: patent nonsense? (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23241725/)
More conspiracy and bribery claims against Bell.


Even if the claims are true, Bell would have had to do some groundbreaking work to be able to file the patent.

Well, in Meucci's case, which is the one I was referring to, the issue revolves around how one defines the word "telephone," and how close to the modern day contraption one has to be before it earns the title.

Disinfo Agent
2008-Feb-20, 03:39 PM
Parallaxicality, have you ever read Karl Popper's reflections on history? He had some interesting ideas. For example, he denied that there was any such thing as a "universal history". He said that, instead, there are infinite perspectives from which an author may choose to analyse the historical record, each of them just as valid as any of the others. In recent years, it seems that historians have been evolving in that sense; I see now books devoted to such topics as the History of Women, the History of Clothing, the History of Food, and so on. His argument was that each of these is just as valid and real as the more traditional history, which really comes down to the History of the Mighty and Famous (he used a harsher term).

Ken G
2008-Feb-20, 04:47 PM
I think the quote about history that was the most eloquent I've heard is when Ken Burns was asked about his "The War" research, he said that "history is our relationship with the past". I interpret that as saying history is not a list of every event that occurred and when, like if aliens who knew nothing about humans were just observing and writing down everything that happened, because that list would be both absurdly long and also completely useless all by itself. Instead, we choose our own relationship with that list, and take a "projection" onto both our modern concerns, and the techniques of inquiry we will use to address what parts of that list are accessible to that technique. This transforms the list into something else, something that actually has value to us now, and that's what Burns means history is. That also dovetails with the historian/literature professor in the OP, who seems to feel that if one concentrates on techniques that only tell you parts of the list itself, you miss out on the potential relevance of that list to us, a relevance you may learn more about by looking at transformations of that list such as literature. Will a creationist understand that? Probably not, or they wouldn't be creationists in the first place. But at least you can have that in the back of your mind to solidify your footing.

In terms of the question in the OP, if we are just "reading the text" of genomic information, I would say that we are looking for a meaningful relationship with that "text". Yes, you can read the text any way you like, but the "proper" reading is defined by the relationship that you are seeking. If we seek a scientific relationship with that text, because of the power of a scientific relationship for understanding and controlling the power that text represents, then we have to read it scientifically.

Disinfo Agent
2008-Feb-20, 05:04 PM
I suspect that Popper would agree with Ken:


"A universal history of mankind would have to be the story of all men and women “the history of all human hopes, struggles, and sufferings” because nobody is more important than anyone else [...] But that history cannot be written, it is far too rich, all narratives have to be selective and focussed. But with this we arrive at the many histories; and among them, at that history of international crime and mass murder which has been advertised as the history of mankind." K. Popper (http://www.the-rathouse.com/OpenSocietyOnLIne/Chapter-25-Has-HIstory-any-Meaning.html)

HypothesisTesting
2008-Feb-20, 05:14 PM
My degree has already made it very clear that there is no such thing as historical truth; all that occurs is the reading and interpritation of a text. But where does that leave me as far as science is concerned? After all, the genetic code and the geological record are, in their own way, texts. How do I stand up to a creationist who claims that he is merely reading the text one way, and I another?

Since you're a history student, what you say here is probably the most important thing to learn: "history is what is written by the winners".

This is why I'm a scientist. I hate human interpretation of events, whenever a subject is brought up, certain people always divert away from the main issue with side issues. In my science classes, there is usually a "right " or "wrong" answer without too much wiggle room for interpretation.

But in my view, a "fact" is something which can be measured with a scientific instrument. But even here, all instruments have a "tolerance" or maximum precision they can attain. Even the Hubble Telescope isn't infinitely precise, it has a diffraction limited resolving power.

So in my view, if somehow you can write history with the "facts" such as above, you're probably on the right track. If for instance, you have a choice between (a) a journal excerpt from a Civil War general, or (b) an artifact on the battlefield ; always choose (b) over (a) in writing your "true" history.

Ken G
2008-Feb-20, 05:19 PM
This is certainly an interesting segment from Disinfo Agent's Popper quote:
"and among them, at that history of international crime and mass murder which has been advertised as the history of mankind"
Not to get into politics here, but this echoes HypothesisTesting's complaint, that if the winners write the history, they may have a vested interest in reinterpreting "crime and mass murder" as agents of positive change. This in turn may affect our own relationship with the past, by skewing our attention to what has the most significance, rather than on what is the most important. If you see the difference.

ravens_cry
2008-Feb-20, 05:43 PM
Well history IS written by the victors. Either that or peeps who stay up all night editing wikipedia.
As for if there is any such thing as a FACT, I like the courtroom idea of 'reasonable doubt', it admits we can not know, but we can be sure enough to work with, and if new information comes up, that goes into the equation as well. In that way we can constintly refine our ideas, and never have to admit we are wrong.:lol:

Disinfo Agent
2008-Feb-20, 05:48 PM
Agreed, and (since I'm in a mood for quoting) I see your final sentence as a companion to the well-known saying:


"Insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting a different result" -- author debated, apparently. (http://www.quotationspage.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=35)
Not only do intelligent people refine their ideas to prevent from admiting that they're wrong ;), but people who never revise their ideas can best be described as foolish.

TrAI
2008-Feb-20, 06:08 PM
...and you have just made an extraordinary claim...backed up only by the idea that they "might" have been independent...

Prove it...


It's not an extraordinary claim at all, in science and technology there have been quite a few instances of several people developing the same tool or idea without interaction between them.

As for the lightning rod, IIRC, it was seperatly invented in Europe and in America at around the same time, the 1750s. In fact, I see that it is mentioned in the Wikipedia article on lightning rods (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightning_rod#History).

Larry Jacks
2008-Feb-20, 06:51 PM
As for if there is any such thing as a FACT, I like the courtroom idea of 'reasonable doubt', it admits we can not know, but we can be sure enough to work with, and if new information comes up, that goes into the equation as well. In that way we can constintly refine our ideas, and never have to admit we are wrong.

Regarding history, there are things we know and are facts. For example, shortly after midnight on June 6, 1944, thousands of British and American paratroopers parachuted into occuppied France to start the invasion (or, as the French have been known to call it, "The Embarkation."). That's a fact. To dispute it is absurd.

There are a lot of things in history that seem implausable but are none the less true. For example, about an hour after Bell submitted his patent application for the telephone, a man named Gray submitted his application. Both men had been working on the telephone independently. The same is true for Frank Whittle and Fritz von Ohan (sp) and the jet engine. Whittle began his work earlier but it was a German jet engine that first flew. This sort of thing happens quite often. Likewise, someone may invent something but is unable to capitalize on it while a later inventor becomes famous for the same idea.

Disinfo Agent
2008-Feb-20, 07:00 PM
Regarding history, there are things we know and are facts. For example, shortly after midnight on June 6, 1944, thousands of British and American paratroopers parachuted into occuppied France to start the invasion (or, as the French have been known to call it, "The Embarkation."). That's a fact. To dispute it is absurd.It's not absurd, but it would be unreasonable, given the large amount of evidence that supports it -- and I know of no evidence that counters it, and can think of no way the evidence might be defective or misinterpreted.

But often historians wish to address more complex issues, such as (a discussion I've encountered many times on the Internet): would the Allies have won World War II had the US not bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Did the bombing save a significant amount of lives overall? How many lives?... This is the sort of question which I don't think will ever have a definite answer. There's isn't even much evidence we can use to discuss it. All that historians can do is argue for/against each possible reply. (This is not an invitation for discussing it here, please. It's also far too political for this forum.)

Ken G
2008-Feb-20, 07:19 PM
It's not absurd, but it would be unreasonable, given the large amount of evidence that supports it -- and I know of no evidence that counters it, and can think of no way the evidence might be defective or misinterpreted.

That's right. I think the key point is that "facts" are really a lot "mushier" than we'd like to believe. More often than not, it isn't even the "fact" that really counts, it is our relationship with it. For example, the parachuting into France is not important to us for the "fact" that it commenced "shortly after midnight on June 6 1944", nor is it important that the exact time is not specified in that detail, and perhaps not even known, even though one is no less a "fact" than the other. If it really started at 12:55 am, someone might argue that shouldn't count as "shortly after", but what difference would that make. Or, perhaps we'd uncover evidence that the first company actually dropped at 11:55pm on the preceding day of June 5, but the vast majority followed later so it gets reported as being on June 6. Or, what about advanced agents dropped in prior to the main deployment, shouldn't they count too (they would probably consider themselves to be the start of the invasion, would they not)? It is always our relationship to the "facts" that defines what we mean by a fact, and that's why these hair-splitting details I am mentioning are not important to "history" unless we have some reason to make them important. In the meantime, a "fact" continues to be subordinated to our requirements for it. That's why I wouldn't say there's "no such thing" as a historical fact, but rather, we need a more sophisticated understanding of what we mean by a "historical fact", which in some situations will be slipperier than in others.

Gillianren
2008-Feb-20, 07:32 PM
I will just note that history isn't always written by the victors, as an examination of the state of Civil War scholarship would indicate. It's just usually written by the victors. The farther we've progressed with access to printing presses, the more chance both sides have had to write their own version of events. Heck, remember that the US lost the War of 1812, but we still write an awful lot about it.

Ilya
2008-Feb-20, 07:38 PM
But often historians wish to address more complex issues, such as (a discussion I've encountered many times on the Internet): would the Allies have won World War II had the US not bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Did the bombing save a significant amount of lives overall? How many lives?...

I would not call any of these things "facts". I suppose the answer to your original question -- yes, there ARE such things as facts, but only those which can be objectively measured (that is, without human participation or interpretation), or at least COULD in theory be objectively measured back when they happened. Thus the exact number of people killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a fact... even though it almost certainly will never be known. The number of lives saved by these bombings, i.e. what could have been, is not and never was a fact.

Disinfo Agent
2008-Feb-20, 07:42 PM
But I think the example still shows that many interesting and important questions in history cannot be fully answered just by collecting uncontroversial facts. They can only be discussed...

Joe Durnavich
2008-Feb-20, 08:15 PM
It is always our relationship to the "facts" that defines what we mean by a fact, and that's why these hair-splitting details I am mentioning are not important to "history".

Exactly. The notion of fact functions in the context of us living our lives in the world and trying to do that well as possible. The context of what you are trying to do at the moment will determine what is relevant and what is important.

To wonder if “there are facts” or if “facts really exist” or if “there are only observations and those hide facts” is to get lost in one of the many metaphors of everyday language. We say “there is such a thing as fact” not in the same sense as “there is such a thing as a shoe,” but to remind ourselves that we can do better by paying attention, taking more care, working harder, adopting successful practices, experimenting, that what you do will matter, will have consequences, etc.

Larry Jacks
2008-Feb-20, 08:16 PM
But often historians wish to address more complex issues, such as (a discussion I've encountered many times on the Internet): would the Allies have won World War II had the US not bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Did the bombing save a significant amount of lives overall? How many lives?...

It sounds like someone is confusing facts with opinion. That happens a lot, especially in modern newsrooms and at universities.

That's right. I think the key point is that "facts" are really a lot "mushier" than we'd like to believe. More often than not, it isn't even the "fact" that really counts, it is our relationship with it. For example, the parachuting into France is not important to us for the "fact" that it commenced "shortly after midnight on June 6 1944", nor is it important that the exact time is not specified in that detail, and perhaps not even known, even though one is no less a "fact" than the other. If it really started at 12:55 am, someone might argue that shouldn't count as "shortly after", but what difference would that make. Or, perhaps we'd uncover evidence that the first company actually dropped at 11:55pm on the preceding day of June 5, but the vast majority followed later so it gets reported as being on June 6. Or, what about advanced agents dropped in prior to the main deployment, shouldn't they count too (they would probably consider themselves to be the start of the invasion, would they not)? It is always our relationship to the "facts" that defines what we mean by a fact, and that's why these hair-splitting details I am mentioning are not important to "history" unless we have some reason to make them important. In the meantime, a "fact" continues to be subordinated to our requirements for it. That's why I wouldn't say there's "no such thing" as a historical fact, but rather, we need a more sophisticated understanding of what we mean by a "historical fact", which in some situations will be slipperier than in others.

If this level of quibbling is what passes for modern history scholarship, no wonder it isn't taken seriously as a subject matter. It's rather like the arguments held centuries ago about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Both the argument and those making it quickly become irrelevant. Pity. I personally believe that to understand what the future might hold, you have to first understand the present. And to understand the present, you need to understand the past. Perhaps history is too important to be left to the historians.

Disinfo Agent
2008-Feb-20, 08:20 PM
But often historians wish to address more complex issues, such as (a discussion I've encountered many times on the Internet): would the Allies have won World War II had the US not bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Did the bombing save a significant amount of lives overall? How many lives?...

It sounds like someone is confusing facts with opinion. That happens a lot, especially in modern newsrooms and at universities.How am I supposed to reply to this personal jab, Larry? By reporting your post?

Be rational, not childish. After all, you're the one who believes in objectivity, right?

TrAI
2008-Feb-20, 08:41 PM
It's not absurd, but it would be unreasonable, given the large amount of evidence that supports it -- and I know of no evidence that counters it, and can think of no way the evidence might be defective or misinterpreted.

But often historians wish to address more complex issues, such as (a discussion I've encountered many times on the Internet): would the Allies have won World War II had the US not bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Did the bombing save a significant amount of lives overall? How many lives?... This is the sort of question which I don't think will ever have a definite answer. There's isn't even much evidence we can use to discuss it. All that historians can do is argue for/against each possible reply. (This is not an invitation for discussing it here, please. It's also far too political for this forum.)

There is no truth in war, really. The German and Japaneese is remembered as the bad guys, and it is quite true that they perpetrated many terrible acts. But the Allies is far from pure, sure they may claim that it was in self defence, but still... Countless innocent civillians killed, terrible weapons causing untold suffering and who knows what after effects.

I guess it turned out for the best in the end, we have had a relatively calm time in quite a large part of the world after the war. But still, I get the image of how some ancient tribe might have sacrificed their enemies to the gods with the hope for peace... Ah well, there is little that can be done about the attrocities done that long ago, and perhaps WW2 did drive the point in a little, seeing as the following wars has been on a small scale relative to it...

Disinfo Agent
2008-Feb-20, 08:46 PM
WW2 was one of the least morally ambiguous wars in history, in my opinion, and still there are elements of it which we can legitimately question. I'm not as sure as you, by the way, that the Cold War was an exactly positive outcome of WW2. But maybe it was the necessary price many of us had to pay to get rid of the threat of fascism.

TrAI
2008-Feb-20, 09:25 PM
WW2 was one of the least morally ambiguous wars in history, in my opinion, and still there are elements of it which we can legitimately question. I'm not as sure as you, by the way, that the Cold War was an exactly positive outcome of WW2. But maybe it was the necessary price many of us had to pay to get rid of the threat of fascism.

Well, I am not questioning the allies' right to go to war, it is the things they did that is so terrible.

I guess the best defence I could think about was that the military view of the people just wasn't moraly prepaired for the weapons science had put into their hands at that time. But it is a rather feeble excuse, really.

As for the cold war, well, it was much better than some of the alternatives. Without WW2 we might never have seen nuclear weapons used for real before a significantly increased number of the weapons were around... It may not be much, but I am sure that seeing the devastation caused by such weapons did cause a few people to think twice...

The utter destruction of entire cities must have been a bit of a wakeup call(Not only by nuclear weapons, incendiaries and high explosives was quite terrible too, I would think). Sure, during the war people probably didn't think much about it, just to much to process in the fog. But afterwards...

Larry Jacks
2008-Feb-20, 09:42 PM
How am I supposed to reply to this personal jab, Larry? By reporting your post?

Perhaps you should go back and actually read (comphrehension would also be nice). I was referring to the historians in your remark:

But often historians wish to address more complex issues

But if it applies to you, so be it.

Disinfo Agent
2008-Feb-20, 09:46 PM
I was referring to the historians in your remark:

But often historians wish to address more complex issuesWhat were you trying to say about historians, then?

Joe Durnavich
2008-Feb-20, 09:49 PM
This is why I'm a scientist. I hate human interpretation of events,...

But in my view, a "fact" is...


Your view? Should we take it, then, as your interpretation of what a fact is?

(just kidding)


In my science classes, there is usually a "right " or "wrong" answer without too much wiggle room for interpretation.

I think notions like right and wrong, or truth, are mostly artifacts of the classroom environment where the student is trained to write an answer, which the teacher then marks as right or wrong, or true or false. I think that practice strengthens the metaphor of correpsondence, where we picture our thoughts as corresponding or not to facts that are said to exist in the world. It's a great metaphor and it works very, very well in practice. It causes confusion only in the hands of philosophy. Notice how this discussion will not be able to resolve whether facts exist or not.

Romanus
2008-Feb-20, 10:54 PM
I can't believe I just now found this post--and it's a good one!

My op:
"I'm studying for a masters degree in history, and recently had a rather troubling seminar with a highly talented historian/literature professor who complained at the lack of interdisciplinarity in humanities research (this is a science-related question, I promise). He claimed that historians, in their relentless pursuit of "truth" have favoured the study of "documents" over "texts"; leaving literature and its historical contexts to be studied by language majors."

As someone with a bachelor's in history, in my own studies I never really noticed a favoritism over texts versus documents; in fact, most of my classes mixed the two freely. Utopia is both a text and a document, as are The Iliad, Juvenal's Satires, and the works of Shakespeare. This was especially apparent in my American Studies classes, which were easily 50/50 split between documents and literature.

"Anyway, what he ultimately said was that many things, texts, artefacts, even pictures, could be read historically. "

I agree 100%.

It was at this point that I began to wonder, where does history end and science begin?

Ah, the philosophy of history: always a thorny problem. The only explanation that works for me is my perspective on history as a discipline consisting of two different, but related things: what happened (e.g., a nail scratching a chalkboard), and what was perceived (an annoying noise). One can value / study one or the other more--the former getting closer to science, the latter to art. History itself, I think is neither; to use a faddish term, I think it comes close to Derrida's idea of being undecidable. I know that's too "po-mo" for most people, but it works for me without detracting from my enjoyment of history.

How do I stand up to a creationist who claims that he is merely reading the text one way, and I another?

There's no need to; merely inform them that if reading the text differently is all that separates you and they, then they have no more empirical support for their POV than they (might) claim your discipline lacks same. The thing is, they're not talking about something interpretive like public and private attitudes in Frankish Gaul, they're pointing to a cliff face with an ammonite in it and calling it 6,000 years old.

Joe Durnavich
2008-Feb-20, 11:27 PM
The only explanation that works for me is my perspective on history as a discipline consisting of two different, but related things: what happened (e.g., a nail scratching a chalkboard), and what was perceived (an annoying noise).

That is the standard dichotomy: a fact or something "out there" and a proposition, claim, perception or something "in here" with people arguing that the latter prevents fully knowing the former. In history, we may feel that the evidence or the lack of it isolates us from the event.

Another way of looking it is just people doing stuff: one guy scratching the chalkboard and others cringing and hollering at him to stop. We aren't really isolated from history, except metaphorically. In a sense, we are still part of the events that have occurred.

Ken G
2008-Feb-21, 12:36 AM
Heck, remember that the US lost the War of 1812, but we still write an awful lot about it.I think it actually gets counted as a win, because of the Battle of New Orleans. Never mind the peace agreement had already been signed, and the war itself accomplished nothing...

ravens_cry
2008-Feb-21, 01:30 AM
Let's just say Canada won so we can all be happy ;)

Ken G
2008-Feb-21, 02:48 AM
Quebec or Ontario?

hhEb09'1
2008-Feb-21, 04:35 AM
Heck, remember that the US lost the War of 1812, but we still write an awful lot about it.Yeah, everything I read about it said we won. I must've been reading the loser texts that were somehow saved in the fire (along with the 19-0 jerseys :) )

Phantomimic
2010-May-22, 05:47 PM
I think the problem is we think of things as either 100% true or 100% false. What we need to understand is that many things are not false but rather "incomplete".

For example, Newton's outlook of the universe is wrong at speeds approaching the speed of light or in the vicinity of intense gravitational fields yet we use it for routine calculations to send our spacecrafts into space. Einstein's view of the universe is truer than Newton's but it is also more complicated, so for practical purposes we use Newton's. This does not mean Newton's ideas are false; they are just "incomplete".

It all depends on the level of detail that you wish to attain. A flat earth outlook served us well when we did not have to deal with very long trips and fast travel and communications, but today such outlook would be unmanageable. Similarly we are 100% certain of historical facts that do not require a great level of detail, for example, "there was a World War II", but more nuanced questions about historical facts (more detail) may begin to yield more uncertainty. The more the questions venture away from physical events and into the realm of interpretation and feelings the less certain we will be of our facts (the more incomplete they will be).

History can be considered a type of science, paleontology is essentially a historical science. Much in the same way as a scientist looks for fossils, a historian looks for notes, letters, books, maps etc.

Cookie
2010-May-23, 06:15 AM
Here is a random fact for you all that are reading this post.
You read my post.

Facts exist.

Jeff Root
2010-May-23, 08:02 AM
Cookie,

Whatever do you mean by "exist"?

Do you *really* mean to assert that facts "exist", or was that just
a spur-of-the-moment comment made with no forethought? Or can
you provide an interpretation of the meaning of the term "exist" that
will make your assertion perfectly sensible?

I favor the notion that facts are independent of what anyone believes.
Which I suspect is what you meant when you said that "facts exist".

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

Boratssister
2010-May-24, 12:11 AM
Here is a random fact for you all that are reading this post.
You read my post.

Facts exist.

can you prove that ? Can we be sure you posted the post?

DrRocket
2010-May-24, 02:13 AM
I'm studying for a masters degree in history, and recently had a rather troubling seminar with a highly talented historian/literature professor who complained at the lack of interdisciplinarity in humanities research (this is a science-related question, I promise). He claimed that historians, in their relentless pursuit of "truth" have favoured the study of "documents" over "texts"; leaving literature and its historical contexts to be studied by language majors. The valuable insights into the hopes, aspirations and ideals of a period that literature can give is not seen as the domain of objective, rational inquiry. This is, he points out, rather incongruous. After all, simply studying the documents of the Cold War will give you far less of an idea of the public mood and uncertainties of the time than watching 50s scifi movies. Watching "The Taming of the Shrew" will give you a better idea of women's behaviour in the 16th century than reading "courtesy books" which discuss an ideal, rather than an actuality.

Anyway, what he ultimately said was that many things, texts, artefacts, even pictures, could be read historically. He even went so far as to mention that archaeological and anthropological remains could be read historically. It was at this point that I began to wonder, where does history end and science begin? Of course, I am aware of the scientific method; hypothesis followed by experiment followed by repeatable result etc. However, at what point does this ideal of objectivity break down? I've often read that science and other forms of "rational" inquiry are based on fact. But it seems to me that what is really being spoken of is observations. Scientists make observations and then infer the facts from them. But how solid are these facts?

My degree has already made it very clear that there is no such thing as historical truth; all that occurs is the reading and interpritation of a text. But where does that leave me as far as science is concerned? After all, the genetic code and the geological record are, in their own way, texts. How do I stand up to a creationist who claims that he is merely reading the text one way, and I another?

Science is concerned with natural phenomena. There seems to be an order in the way that nature operates, and science exploits that order to describe nature in quantitative terms using predictive models. "Facts" in the case of science are controlled and precise observations that support or refute detailed models.

Historical "facts" are a different animal. There are different sides to current issues, and what one side regards as fact, another sees as a flight of pure fantasy. I completely agree with the notion that history is more than a collection of dates and events, and ideally includes an understanding of the attitudes of people and the context in which contemporary records are to be viewed and interpreted.

While there may be such a thing as historical truth, it is probably limited to a few well-established facts -- dates, place, etc. Motivations, reasons, etc. are unlikely to be sufficiently well known or documented to rise to the level of incontrovertible facts. History is not science. It is far too messy and requires far more individual interpretation. That makes it, in a real sense, more difficult.

How do stand up to a creationist ? What is the point ? You cannot have a rational discussion with an irrational person.

There is a point at which one must yield to science, be it in history or with respect to issues such as creationism. While science is limited to some very well-defined issues, that is also a strength in that science can offer definitive conclusions regarding certain aspects of natural behavior. A historical interpretation of an even that is physically impossible is wrong. Science cannot recreate history, but it can assuredly rule out some interpretations. It can certainly rule out any interpretation in which the Earth is only 6000 years olds.

neilzero
2010-May-24, 02:57 AM
I f you want facts that are without blemish, and true beyond unreasonable doubt, then there are few, perhaps no facts in any aspect of human activity. If the Ben Franklin example is close enough to fact then at least half of what we accept as facts, meets the definition. There is a reasonable concern that standards for mainstream are falling rather than improving due to the widely held view that it is ok to lie for a "good cause" Neil

Jeff Root
2010-May-24, 03:32 AM
There is a reasonable concern that standards for mainstream are
falling rather than improving due to the widely held view that it is
ok to lie for a "good cause"
Is that view any more widely held now than at any particular time
in the past? I imagine that it varies as much from one culture to
another as it varies over time. It certainly varies from individual
to individual, and for any individual it varies with the circumstance.

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

mugaliens
2010-May-24, 07:50 AM
Yeah, everything I read about it said we won. I must've been reading the loser texts that were somehow saved in the fire (along with the 19-0 jerseys :) )

Lol, hh...

"In the U.S., battles such as New Orleans and the earlier successful defense of Baltimore (which inspired the lyrics of the U.S. national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner) produced a sense of euphoria over a "second war of independence" against Britain. It ushered in an "Era of Good Feelings," in which the partisan animosity that had once verged on treason practically vanished. Canada also emerged from the war with a heightened sense of national feeling and solidarity. Britain, which had regarded the war as a sideshow to the Napoleonic Wars raging in Europe, was less affected by the fighting; its government and people subsequently welcomed an era of peaceful relations and trade with the U.S."

Doesn't sound like a loss. The British wanted many things, they got zero land and exceedily few concessions in the Treaty of Ghent. Indeed, the British returned 10 million acres of land held in the Northwest Territories, while we returned areas of Ontario back to British control.

Indeed, the treaty didn't settle who won or lost! Rather, it simply ended the fighting and made reparations on both sides, most of which were honored, while some were not, although some of those which were not honored, such as impressment, were no longer an issue. If anything, Canada won, as the War of 1812 began the process that lead to the Canadian Confederation in 1867.

But it was counted as a win for the U.S., by the U.S., for it helped coalesce a rag-tag band of small states into a swelling national pride punctuated by what is now our National Anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner. This began an era of expansionism which transformed our nation in the succeeding century.

So who won? We all won.

Thus concludes our history lesson for today. :)

Jens
2010-May-24, 07:54 AM
There is a reasonable concern that standards for mainstream are falling rather than improving due to the widely held view that it is ok to lie for a "good cause" Neil

Not to be cynical, but adding to what Jeff said, I doubt there is a culture on earth where that is not widely held. I seriously doubt such a culture exists.

Jens
2010-May-24, 08:06 AM
Actually, going back to the thread as a whole, I started wondering, when we say "facts," what do we mean? Because there are two issues. One is whether things actually happened in the past. The other is whether we know what happened. So going back to Ben Franklin, either he existed or he didn't. So there is a fact. But whether we understand is a completely different question. It's possible that he didn't exist but we believe he did.

Also, an interesting quote about history, by Santayana (not the more famous one): History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren't there.

Boratssister
2010-May-24, 09:34 AM
Science is concerned with natural phenomena. There seems to be an order in the way that nature operates, and science exploits that order to describe nature in quantitative terms using predictive models. "Facts" in the case of science are controlled and precise observations that support or refute detailed models.

Historical "facts" are a different animal. There are different sides to current issues, and what one side regards as fact, another sees as a flight of pure fantasy. I completely agree with the notion that history is more than a collection of dates and events, and ideally includes an understanding of the attitudes of people and the context in which contemporary records are to be viewed and interpreted.

While there may be such a thing as historical truth, it is probably limited to a few well-established facts -- dates, place, etc. Motivations, reasons, etc. are unlikely to be sufficiently well known or documented to rise to the level of incontrovertible facts. History is not science. It is far too messy and requires far more individual interpretation. That makes it, in a real sense, more difficult.

How do stand up to a creationist ? What is the point ? You cannot have a rational discussion with an irrational person.

There is a point at which one must yield to science, be it in history or with respect to issues such as creationism. While science is limited to some very well-defined issues, that is also a strength in that science can offer definitive conclusions regarding certain aspects of natural behavior. A historical interpretation of an even that is physically impossible is wrong. Science cannot recreate history, but it can assuredly rule out some interpretations. It can certainly rule out any interpretation in which the Earth is only 6000 years olds.

Science can not rule anything out! How can science prove that the whole universe is not a construct of my imagination? Scientists lie, manipulate data and generally can't be trusted any more than any other human being.
Science can only make assumptions based on interpretations of the past and hope that the past will repeat itself in any given scientific idea.......

Scientists equals the clergy of the past, only scientists see their worth to the world as a lot more important.
It is of my oppinion that scientists can be seen as apes prodding things with sticks. The problem arise's when the thing they are prodding is land mine.

neilzero
2010-May-24, 02:22 PM
I suppose the wealthy class, and ruling class were always sneaky or worse, everywhere. The middle class and lower class were much more honest, ethical, empathetic, and truthful than recently. Of course, the middle class was few in numbers until recently. I only have 78 years of personal observation, so I may be dead wrong about what happened before about 1940. My interest in science dates back to about 1940, and I think the original post was about scientists and historians, but perhaps their honesty is no better than the average population, then or now. Neil

Strange
2010-May-24, 02:40 PM
Science can not rule anything out!

Science can rule things out. It is particularly good at that. Phlogiston was ruled out when more data became available.


Scientists lie, manipulate data and generally can't be trusted any more than any other human being.

That may be true (I don't know) but it is irrelevant. Science doesn't depend on the behavior of individual scientists. It is the checking and repeating of results by others that makes science a powerful method for finding out information. Great advances have been made even when scientists didn't like the results of their research.


Science can only make assumptions based on interpretations of the past and hope that the past will repeat itself in any given scientific idea

You don't know much about how science works, do you?

Science makes hypotheses based on observed data and then checks that the hypothesis stands up to repeated tests.


Scientists equals the clergy of the past, only scientists see their worth to the world as a lot more important.

Perhaps you should give up all the trappings of our technological society, medical advances, etc if you think that they are only of value to scientists.

Boratssister
2010-May-24, 03:10 PM
Science can rule things out. It is particularly good at that. Phlogiston was ruled out when more data became available.



That may be true (I don't know) but it is irrelevant. Science doesn't depend on the behavior of individual scientists. It is the checking and repeating of results by others that makes science a powerful method for finding out information. Great advances have been made even when scientists didn't like the results of their research.



You don't know much about how science works, do you?

Science makes hypotheses based on observed data and then checks that the hypothesis stands up to repeated tests.



Perhaps you should give up all the trappings of our technological society, medical advances, etc if you think that they are only of value to scientists.

american indians did quite well without modern science. It is my oppinion that cultures without modern science would continue existing a lot longer than modern science will ever allow.
American indians did not have to worry about nuclear waste, biological weapons , damms bursting, oil blowouts, chemicals leaks, mini balckholes, deforestation , being run over by a car, taxes and so on....... The list is endless. What some call progress some call extinction / destruction.

I will ask the question again- how can science prove that the whole universe is not a construct of my immagination? I have no idea what phlogiston is, however subsequent results in the future may actually turn absolutes on there heads.

There is no such thing as a fact. And that is a fact.!!!!!

Jeff Root
2010-May-24, 10:50 PM
american indians did quite well without modern science.
It is my oppinion that cultures without modern science
would continue existing a lot longer than modern science
will ever allow.
American indians did not have to worry about nuclear waste,
biological weapons , damms bursting, oil blowouts, chemicals
leaks, mini balckholes, deforestation , being run over by a car,
taxes and so on....... The list is endless. What some call
progress some call extinction / destruction.
I guess that explains why people's lives are so much shorter
and nastier now than they were 500 years ago, before science
and technology made conditions so difficult.



I will ask the question again- how can science prove that the
whole universe is not a construct of my imagination?
Science cannot prove to *you* that the whole Universe is not
a construct of your imagination. However, it has no need to
prove it to anyone *else*, and science does not exist for the
purpose of proving things to *you*. It works great for other
people, but it doesn't work for you because you want things
from it that it isn't designed to provide.



I have no idea what phlogiston is,
Phlogiston was a scientific hypothesis about what happens
when things burn. It makes a very nice case study in how
science works, and the difference between being right and
being wrong. For one excellent and readable treatment of
the history of phlogiston, and the birth of modern chemistry,
see Isaac Asimov's essay "Slow Burn", which was included
as chapter 11 of his collection 'Adding a Dimension' (1964).

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

Boratssister
2010-May-24, 11:49 PM
I guess that explains why people's lives are so much shorter
and nastier now than they were 500 years ago, before science
and technology made conditions so difficult.


Science cannot prove to *you* that the whole Universe is not
a construct of your imagination. However, it has no need to
prove it to anyone *else*, and science does not exist for the
purpose of proving things to *you*. It works great for other
people, but it doesn't work for you because you want things
from it that it isn't designed to provide.


Phlogiston was a scientific hypothesis about what happens
when things burn. It makes a very nice case study in how
science works, and the difference between being right and
being wrong. For one excellent and readable treatment of
the history of phlogiston, and the birth of modern chemistry,
see Isaac Asimov's essay "Slow Burn", which was included
as chapter 11 of his collection 'Adding a Dimension' (1964).

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

The american indians lived longer then than they do now. They have the shortest life expectancy of any race in north america and I would ask them which age was nastier. Then or now?

Science can not prove to you that the whole universe is not a construct of my immagination as I have encompassed you into my universe. You could kill me and if the universe still exists I have it covered, as all the energy in the universe is my immagination. I know everything. And you can not disprove that in any way.if a fact is an absolute truth then we must get into probabilities and science tells us that nothing is 100 or 0 percent probable.

P.s. I do not really beleive that the whole universe is the construct of my immagination or that I know everything as its quite clear I don't. I just feel particulary argumentative. Must be the hit of vitamin d from my first sunburn. Forgive me if I annoyed any scientists as hopefully you will save and not destroy the world. Sorry.

DrRocket
2010-May-25, 02:53 AM
Science can not rule anything out! How can science prove that the whole universe is not a construct of my imagination? Scientists lie, manipulate data and generally can't be trusted any more than any other human being.
Science can only make assumptions based on interpretations of the past and hope that the past will repeat itself in any given scientific idea.......

Scientists equals the clergy of the past, only scientists see their worth to the world as a lot more important.
It is of my oppinion that scientists can be seen as apes prodding things with sticks. The problem arise's when the thing they are prodding is land mine.

Are you serious ?

1. Science rules out a host of things -- things that are physically impossible. It does that all the time. Watch CSI. Or read a physics book, whichever is easier for you.

2. Science evaluates experiments and observations (necessarily from the past) and from that information develops and validates models that predict the future. H ope is not a part of the process, although scientists of course hope to develop meaningful theories. They also hope to not be completely misunderstood, but sometimes, as apparently in your case, hopes are dashed.

2a. One thing that science rules out is use of experiments from the future to validate its models. So you see, there are things that are very easily ruled on a scientific basis.

3. Scientists have little in common with clergy of either the past or the present. The future is up for grabs, but that would likely involve a major change in the role of the clergy.

4. Your opinion regarding scientists, apes and sticks seems to be a rather uninformed opinion. Such opinions are ubiquitous, but not very useful.

5. Scientists and engineers know better than to prod a land mine with sticks. Land mines that the U.S. employs have a timed mechanism that disables them. Land mines that are destroyed using methods developed by scientists and engineers are destroyed remotely, using explosives, sometimes excess solid rocket propellant, and never with sticks. If you are thinking of prodding a land mine with a stick, I suggest that you reconsider. It is very hard to manage a stick of sufficient length to make this undertaking practical.

You might want to consider reading a no-kidding science book. Given your apparent background it would seem that almost any real science book relating to almost any discipline would be beneficial. There is a nice three-volume set with essays by many great scientists over a long period of time, The World of Physics. By reading those books you may come to realize that there are indeed facts. For instance, it is a fact that your contentions are false.

Jens
2010-May-25, 03:26 AM
What some call progress some call extinction / destruction.


I think there are also a lot of people who take a more nuanced position, that I think is correct. That it is neither pure progress not pure destruction, that there are positive and negative elements to technological progress. In fact, I would question the intelligence (or wisdom) of anybody who saw anything purely in either of those black/white positions.

Jens
2010-May-25, 03:31 AM
I will ask the question again- how can science prove that the whole universe is not a construct of my imagination?

Honestly? No, it cannot. Absolutely not. Nothing could.



There is no such thing as a fact. And that is a fact.!!!!!

You do realize that your statement is logically flawed, don't you? To say "there is no such thing as a fact" is stating that a single fact exists. So you would better word it, "There is only one fact, which is that there are no facts outside of that fact." If you mean by that that we can never know anything for certain, then I would readily agree. But in that case, how can we really know that we can't know anything for certain? We can't. So your statement seems to demonstrate to me at least that you haven't given this as much thought as you might have.

adapa
2010-May-25, 04:40 AM
Science can not rule anything out!To be honest, it can. If a theory/prediction/opinion/rumor contradicts what is happening in the real world, then it is wrong. For example, if the local weather forecaster says that it should be dry and sunny all day and you can see that there is a downpour happening outside, then that forecaster is wrong.


Scientists equals the clergy of the past, only scientists see their worth to the world as a lot more important.Actually, scientists start with questions while clerics start with answers.


american indians did quite well without modern science. It is my oppinion that cultures without modern science would continue existing a lot longer than modern science will ever allow.Just because they did better in pre-Columbian times does not invalidate modern science. The purpose of science is provide knowledge of the truth about nature. The yardstick for measuring its performance in this role is accuracy. Also, the suffering of the Native Americans was caused not by modern science, but by a hostile sociopolitical environment (expansionism, racism, etc.).


There is no such thing as a fact.This statement gives the impression that you do not believe in the accuracy of Mathematics. To put it simply, 1+1=2 (the concept not necessarily the symbols) is a true statement regardless of where in the world or universe you live. And that is a fact.:)

DrRocket
2010-May-25, 04:42 AM
Science can not prove to you that the whole universe is not a construct of my immagination as I have encompassed you into my universe. You could kill me and if the universe still exists I have it covered, as all the energy in the universe is my immagination. I know everything. And you can not disprove that in any way.if a fact is an absolute truth then we must get into probabilities and science tells us that nothing is 100 or 0 percent probable.

Wrong. Science can easily prove to me that the whole universe is not a construct of your imagination.

It cannot prove to YOU that the universe is not a construct of your imagination. But then, who would want to do that ?

Jens
2010-May-25, 05:25 AM
Wrong. Science can easily prove to me that the whole universe is not a construct of your imagination.


I don't know; I don't believe it can. Perhaps I am a figment of your imagination or of the imagination of Boratsister, and have been programmed not to understand that. I don't believe there is any way to prove that to be false. But on the other hand, it's not a sensible question, because it's not falsifiable and not important in any case. If I am a figment of your imagination but the laws of physics work, then so be it.

Jeff Root
2010-May-25, 05:26 AM
I was particularly surprised by this:


Scientists equals the clergy of the past, only scientists see their
worth to the world as a lot more important.
My expectation would be that most scientists see their worth to
the world as less important. Scientists try to discover how nature
works, while clergy try to save people's souls. Those are very
different tasks, and I think most people would agree that actually
saving people's souls would be more important than knowing how
nature works. I'm pretty sure most clergy would agree, at least.

What scientists and clergy do have in common is that they both
try to expose the Truth. They try to discover facts and explain
those facts to others. I think that is a noble undertaking.



It is of my opinion that scientists can be seen as apes prodding
things with sticks. The problem arise's when the thing they are
prodding is land mine.
I think that is reasonable. People who are not scientists can be
seen as apes that don't prod anything with sticks. When they
step on a land mine and it explodes, they have no idea what
happened, or why.

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

Strange
2010-May-25, 07:59 AM
What some call progress some call extinction / destruction.

There is no "scientific plan" to mistreat native americans or other groups. The things you dislike are more a result of wider cultural constructs like having a money-based economy, the drive to explore, human prejudices, religion, etc. They may use technology, some of which is made possible by scientific research but I don't think it is reasonable to blame science (and even less so, scientists) for these things. Groups of humans were oppressing other groups for thousands of years before modern science was developed. Often using nothing more than the sticks that you prefer as the limit of technology.

tnjrp
2010-May-25, 09:16 AM
Science can easily prove to me that the whole universe is not a construct of your imaginationWhat Boratssister is refering to there, I would think, is solipsism, only it's worded in a wrong way. Tho obviously I would say that if I was just a figment of his imagination :shifty:

The question of what "fact" means in and of itself is an interesting one tho when regarding real world phenomena outside of "definitional truisms" such as mathematics. Since all our observations of reality are to a degree subjective, the best we get is intersubjectivity, not objectivity. To achieve this in such a way that it can be assume the intersubjective world view is as close as possible to what can be assumed to be objectively true ("fact"), science counts repeatability and parsimony among its central criteria. Parsimony is, incidentally, a fairly good but not conclusive counter to solipsism too.

Jeff Root
2010-May-25, 09:39 AM
Parsimony is always fairly good but never conclusive.

I've never seen that term "intersubjectivity" before.
Where would one encounter it?

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

Jens
2010-May-25, 09:48 AM
I've never seen that term "intersubjectivity" before.
Where would one encounter it?


Between subjects, I assume. :)

tnjrp
2010-May-25, 09:53 AM
I understand the term is used mainly in "soft" sciences (such as sociology and psychology) but also more generally in philosophy of science. Sometimes one also sees the term "consensus reality" being applied.

If some other, more familiar term that can describe that which fits between fully subjective and fully objective exists, I'm OK with using that. In the spirit of achieving intersubjectivity ;)

Strange
2010-May-25, 09:58 AM
I realized this morning (bonus point to anyone who knows why) that, although the american indians suffered at the hands of invaders, they gave "us" tobacco which has caused death, disease and suffering for millions. As well as some pleasure. Things are, indeed, never black and white. Hmm, maybe that should be: things are rarely completely black and white.

DrRocket
2010-May-25, 12:55 PM
I don't know; I don't believe it can. Perhaps I am a figment of your imagination or of the imagination of Boratsister, and have been programmed not to understand that. I don't believe there is any way to prove that to be false. But on the other hand, it's not a sensible question, because it's not falsifiable and not important in any case. If I am a figment of your imagination but the laws of physics work, then so be it.

Go baack and read it again. The whole thing this time.

Science can most certainly prove to me that the universe is not a construct of Boratssister's imagiination. I don't require a lot of proof for that, and science will do very nicely.

DrRocket
2010-May-25, 01:01 PM
What Boratssister is refering to there, I would think, is solipsism, only it's worded in a wrong way. Tho obviously I would say that if I was just a figment of his imagination :shifty:



Yep. Solipsism is basically silly philosophy, even among philosophers, and Boratssister managed to mangle even that. But one can only address what he said, not what one thinks he probably intended -- which would be a rather bizarre form of a strawman argument.

Jens
2010-May-26, 05:58 AM
Go baack and read it again. The whole thing this time.

Science can most certainly prove to me that the universe is not a construct of Boratssister's imagiination. I don't require a lot of proof for that, and science will do very nicely.

The bold part seems to mean that we are using "prove" in a different way. I mean prove as in provide definite proof of, as in Pythagoras' theorem. And didn't mean "demonstrate to your satisfaction." I meant "show incontrovertibly." I don't believe it can do that.

DrRocket
2010-May-26, 07:19 AM
The bold part seems to mean that we are using "prove" in a different way. I mean prove as in provide definite proof of, as in Pythagoras' theorem. And didn't mean "demonstrate to your satisfaction." I meant "show incontrovertibly." I don't believe it can do that.

To prove, in the mathematical sense, is possible only in mathematics. It is impossible for science to prove anything in that sense. That is a major difference between science and mathematics. Mathematics is based on airtight logical reasoning using as a basis a small set of axioms that are assumed to be true without proof. Science is concerned with objective reality, which it describes only as a set of successive approximations using models that are supported by, but not proved by, experimental evidence.

Since the discussion involves science and not mathematics, proof in the sense that you are using it is out of the question. Nothing in science is incontrovertible.

Jens
2010-May-26, 10:12 AM
To prove, in the mathematical sense, is possible only in mathematics. It is impossible for science to prove anything in that sense. That is a major difference between science and mathematics. Mathematics is based on airtight logical reasoning using as a basis a small set of axioms that are assumed to be true without proof. Science is concerned with objective reality, which it describes only as a set of successive approximations using models that are supported by, but not proved by, experimental evidence.


So it turns out we agree on the point, but weren't agreeing on what we were arguing about. Ah well. In reality, the reason I believe I am not a figment of Boratsister's imagination is actually more of a philosophical issue, sort of like the cosmological principle. Kind of like, why, out of the billions of people on earth, would we be the figment of that one individual's imagination? There is no reason to believe it might be true. I suppose like Occam's razor or something.

DrRocket
2010-May-26, 02:00 PM
So it turns out we agree on the point, but weren't agreeing on what we were arguing about. Ah well. In reality, the reason I believe I am not a figment of Boratsister's imagination is actually more of a philosophical issue, sort of like the cosmological principle. Kind of like, why, out of the billions of people on earth, would we be the figment of that one individual's imagination? There is no reason to believe it might be true. I suppose like Occam's razor or something.

There is a more or less wacko branch of philosophy called soli****m (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solipsism) that is concerned with all perception being a figment of one's own imagination. This is just barely rational, but even the most extreme philosophers today giggle up their sleeves at it. But to wonder if oneself is a figment of someone else's imagination is a bit beyond the pale.

Descartes "I think therefore I am" has always struck me as being obvious but shallow, despite its notoriety. But to substitute "You think therefore I might not be" is too much. I don't need Occam's razor to reject the latter.

Science, as with mathematics, cannot proceed without assuming some things as axioms -- truths that are self-evident, that do not require proof. One's own existence is one such fact. You cannot even construct a dictionary if you assume that no words at all are understood at the outset.

This has gotten silly.

Buttercup
2010-May-26, 02:24 PM
I think TRUE facts are the minority ... mostly because we're always learning something new. A current model becomes obsolete, etc.

But there are facts, yes; gravity is one. As I was sharply reminded last year (tripped and fell on a concrete sidewalk...).

Cougar
2010-May-26, 03:31 PM
I've often read that science and other forms of "rational" inquiry are based on fact. But it seems to me that what is really being spoken of is observations.

Exactly. The way I see it, observations are the only facts. From those, logical inferences may be drawn, usually based on specific assumptions. Apparently some assumptions are more "solid" than others.

DrRocket
2010-May-26, 05:13 PM
Exactly. The way I see it, observations are the only facts. From those, logical inferences may be drawn, usually based on specific assumptions. Apparently some assumptions are more "solid" than others.

I can agree with this, so long as one also recognizes that we "know" things based on more than observational facts. From observational facts one constructs models that are intended to explain things that may not have yet been oberved. There are far too many phenomena for us to actually measure or observe them all directly, so we rely on models that are intended to explain a wide variety, in fact an infinite variety, of possible situations. Those models must be consistent with the observed facts, in order to be valid. So they are really models with a factual basis and not flights of fantasy.

But I think that most of us base our perceptions of the world on models, either formal or informal, and not solely on a data base of individual observations. We need both.

There are people who rely more on abstract models and people who rely more on specific observations. Extreme examples of either tend to be extremely limited in their capabilities and nearly impossible to reach using ordinary means of communication. The extreme side of abstraction tends toward fantasy and delusion while the extreme side of pure empiricism tends toward an inability to learn, an inability to handle novel situations and exceptionsl closed-mindedness. There is a very large middle range this is productive, sometimes one fashion and sometimes in another.

Cougar
2010-May-27, 02:20 AM
I can agree with this, so long as one also recognizes that we "know" things based on more than observational facts.

Well, I did add "logical inferences" drawn from these observations. But as you say, the idea of a model is highly instructive in this context.... [I've also appreciated other posts of yours that I've read lately. Thanks.]


But I think that most of us base our perceptions of the world on models, either formal or informal....

Our perceptions of the world (or Universe), yes. Of course, these models don't only display configurations, they should also formulate all interactions of all the members. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the "real-life" world isn't so straightforward.

DrRocket
2010-May-27, 03:14 AM
Well, I did add "logical inferences" drawn from these observations. But as you say, the idea of a model is highly instructive in this context.....

I figured that was what you meant, but logical inferences require some sort of model in addition to the raw data.. It takes the model to organize the data and use it to explain and predict.

(Models in this context include theories. E.g. the general theory of relativity is one model.)

jeviancos
2012-May-25, 09:16 PM
I am a believer in facts ... a fact is an event, which is observed, measured, and recorded by an all knowing and unbiased, monitor (or whatever word you prefer) in an infinitesimally small slice of time. We as humans passing through time with an infinite variety of filters/biases/presumptions cannot know facts; in time, we go from being relatively factual to unknowing. The best than we can do is to understand our shortfall, be conscious of events, seek out many and varying interpretations and build a collage that approximates fact. As time passes, this simply becomes impossible and facts fade from existence. You can substitute the word “truth” for fact in the above.

Cougar
2012-May-28, 11:03 AM
I am a believer in facts ... a fact is an event, which is observed, measured, and recorded by an all knowing and unbiased, monitor (or whatever word you prefer) in an infinitesimally small slice of time. We as humans passing through time with an infinite variety of filters/biases/presumptions cannot know facts; in time, we go from being relatively factual to unknowing. The best than we can do is to understand our shortfall, be conscious of events, seek out many and varying interpretations and build a collage that approximates fact. As time passes, this simply becomes impossible and facts fade from existence. You can substitute the word “truth” for fact in the above.

I disagree. You had it right for a moment, then you lost it. In my book, a fact is simply an observation, especially one that can be repeated and confirmed by anyone. You don't have to be "all-knowing" or even unbiased to observe a fact, and the time taken to make such an observation doesn't have to be "infinitesimal." When lots of observed facts imply a hypothesis, we still don't say the hypothesis is "Truth" because science abhors absolute dogma. We say the hypothesis is strongly supported. We allow that the hypothesis may change with better observations - better facts.

And I don't know how you imagine that "we go from being relatively factual to unknowing." :confused: Our species has come to understand quite a bit about the Universe we inhabit. Less than 100 years ago, we didn't know if there were any other galaxies in the Universe. Now we know that, yes, there are quite a few other galaxies. Billions, if not trillions. Certainly there are untold numbers of things we remain ignorant about, but the general trend appears to go from 'unknowing' to 'knowing'.

tnjrp
2012-May-28, 11:41 AM
I am a believer in facts ... a fact is an event, which is observed, measured, and recorded by an all knowing and unbiased, monitor (or whatever word you prefer) in an infinitesimally small slice of timeDo you believe it to be a fact that such a monitor exists?

---


And I don't know how you imagine that "we go from being relatively factual to unknowing." :confused:That statement certainly could use some clarification.

Paul Wally
2012-May-28, 01:45 PM
Facts are certain. If facts are not certain, we have to ask ourselves what we mean by the word "certain", and if facts were uncertain shouldn't we have a reference of certainty in order to say such a thing?

Buttercup
2012-May-28, 09:19 PM
Yeah, sometimes I've wondered that myself. You go with an assertion (even if rarely, such as in my case) and get a dozen people jumping on you as if it (whatever) just CANNOT be...as if that cannot possibly be known...blah blah.

Well geez, by that reactionary "logic" nothing's true; no such thing as "fact." Which is absurd.