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Thread: Scientific method and beliefs

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    Scientific method and beliefs

    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I certainly know many scientists who exhibit an unexamined core of faith-based certainty - I see it both in high profile scientists and science communicators and in people I used to work with.
    The structure of scientific enquiry encourages a certain amount of "formal doubt" - hypotheses and theories and statistical methods and "more research required" sort of stuff. But under all that one does frequently runs up against a solid core of unexamined philosophical stances, combined with a denial that such unexamined philosophical stances even exist.
    I think it's human nature.

    Grant Hutchison
    I decided to respond to this in a new thread because it seems it would be taken as a derailment to continue the discussion in the other thread. I think it has been quite interesting. But I just wanted to mention (I agree it's human nature) that sometime a while back on this forum, somebody made an interesting observation.

    Someone said: "Muslim people don't like alcohol."

    To which somebody else said: "Well if they don't, how come they need a rule against it?"

    And I kind of see the scientific method that way. It's because our natural human tendency is to work based on preconceived notions (and why not, it is generally advantageous to do so, evolution-wise), so we have the scientific method to try to minimize that. If scientists followed the scientific method by nature, rather than by training, then there wouldn't really be any need to train people in it.
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    They say that humans used a flint hand axe for a million years before modifying it to have a handle and whole civilisations rose and fell without prime movers. Experimental science predates the Popper view of failing to falsify and that, I suppose, is when our thinking became clearer about the difference between a hypothesis and a belief. To challenge your belief you have to reach the intellectual stage of asking questions about whether an aspect of A belief makes sense in the light of observations. We know that when that happens in a society, the Challenger can face serious even life-threatening opposition from her companions. Beliefs are very much central to our personalities and we don’t like having those challenged. That is why the famous figures in science have the kudos they have because they had the intellectual courage to take a stand. That is still the way it is today,
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Someone once asked me, "do you believe in dark energy?" The question took me aback for a second because I didn't know quite what they were asking. Did they mean, as a scientist, in your judgement is dark energy our best current theory? Then the answer is yes. Did they mean, when I go to bed at night in the comfort and privacy of my own home, do I choose to hold it as true that there is such a thing as dark energy? Then the answer is no, not because I disbelieve it, but because I simply see no reason to choose to either believe or disbelieve it. The scientist doesn't believe, they judge. When someone chooses to believe, in anything, they have taken off their scientist hat and put on their human nature hat. But as profloater said, those two hats can sometimes coexist, and other times can be in a shooting war. So yes, we have to be trained to think the scientific way, even in regard to science itself.

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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    They say that humans used a flint hand axe for a million years before modifying it to have a handle and whole civilisations rose and fell without prime movers. Experimental science predates the Popper view of failing to falsify and that, I suppose, is when our thinking became clearer about the difference between a hypothesis and a belief. To challenge your belief you have to reach the intellectual stage of asking questions about whether an aspect of A belief makes sense in the light of observations. We know that when that happens in a society, the Challenger can face serious even life-threatening opposition from her companions. Beliefs are very much central to our personalities and we don’t like having those challenged. That is why the famous figures in science have the kudos they have because they had the intellectual courage to take a stand. That is still the way it is today,
    Yes, a person can take the stance that they "believe" in something until proved otherwise to be true. For example I believe that the Earth is round not flat. I believe it because its been proved to be true by observation, measurement and been navigated around by many people many times using many methods. It's never likely to be unproven, in this case my faith is based on seemingly undeniable evidence. But much like in Ken's (dark energy) example one could choose to "believe" because the best current evidence supports that belief. That evidence may arise from using an unbiased scientific method but it may well be disproved as more accurate evidence comes along and the "believer" may well change their stance
    The problem arises when, like Grant mentions, you have people who portray a certain amount of unexamined faith based certainty. As an example, I know there is the famous story of the geologist/scientist (can't recall his name) who was an expert in studying, testing and proving the age of rocks etc. Yet with faith based certainty, he still held the "belief" that the world was no more than a few thousand years old.

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    Just to clarify usage, as I did on the original thread from which the quote comes - while in US English the word "faith" seems to trigger thoughts of religion, that was not my intention. Some scientists do have religious beliefs, of course. But what I was talking about was a core of beliefs about the world that are simply taken as "givens" - they're unexamined and often unacknowledged. And they're often held in that unexamined state because of something I also mentioned on that other thread - George Bernard Shaw's observation that people can mistake the customs of their tribe for laws of nature. (Shaw felt this was an attribute of barbarians, but that was Shaw for you.)

    Grant Hutchison

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    I suppose a classic example of this conflict is in the placebo or nocebo effect. This reaches the level of paradox when no scientific rationale can be found and yet a subject’s belief in the efficacy of a treatment like homoeopathy can be shown to be a crucial factor. This shows that belief in another can be manipulated.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison
    .. combined with a denial that such unexamined philosophical stances even exist.
    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Just to clarify usage, as I did on the original thread from which the quote comes - while in US English the word "faith" seems to trigger thoughts of religion, that was not my intention. Some scientists do have religious beliefs, of course. But what I was talking about was a core of beliefs about the world that are simply taken as "givens" - they're unexamined and often unacknowledged. And they're often held in that unexamined state because of something I also mentioned on that other thread - George Bernard Shaw's observation that people can mistake the customs of their tribe for laws of nature. (Shaw felt this was an attribute of barbarians, but that was Shaw for you.)
    Beliefs and faith surely make life more efficient. That they go undistinguished as beliefs due to a lack of active inquiry is a real issue. That the origin of some belief remains enshrouded in a 'virtual fog', is due to a lack in the skills (and tools) of retracability (or regression) back to the circumstances of the original adoption of the belief.

    I was involved in a minor case of road-rage the other day. Some very angry woman pursued me. After I parked my car, I was then accosted (verbally, aggresively) and accused of speeding. I politely (cough .. cough) asked for her evidence:

    .. "Do ya have any evidence? ... Ya know .. do ya like have a radar gun in there or somethin? .. Where's ya evidence?"

    She then started filming my parked car as her 'evidence' .. as I walked away chuckling about her standard of 'evidence'.

    She believed I was speeding. Frankly, I had no idea whether I was or I wasn't, but I was quicker in abandoning my belief that I wasn't .. as was demonstrated by asking for her (testable) evidence. I felt sorry for the local cops having to process her unevidenced complaint.

    All my mind 'tools' (outlined in my first paragraph) were working efficiently that day. (Hers however, were apparently absent).

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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    I suppose a classic example of this conflict is in the placebo or nocebo effect. This reaches the level of paradox when no scientific rationale can be found and yet a subjectís belief in the efficacy of a treatment like homoeopathy can be shown to be a crucial factor. This shows that belief in another can be manipulated.
    Iím not exactly sure what you mean. Are you talking about the subjectís reaction to a placebo? If so, then yes, I think that is an example of how our perceptions are untrue. And I think there are many, many other similar situations.


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    As above, so below

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    I’m not exactly sure what you mean. Are you talking about the subject’s reaction to a placebo? If so, then yes, I think that is an example of how our perceptions are untrue. And I think there are many, many other similar situations.
    But in the placebo case, the perception there is the 'truth' .. because that's why it works.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Selfsim View Post
    But in the placebo case, the perception there is the 'truth' .. because that's why it works.
    Really? I thought that it was merely that the perception influences the truth.


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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmocrazy View Post
    For example I believe that the Earth is round not flat. I believe it because its been proved to be true by observation, measurement and been navigated around by many people many times using many methods.
    Indeed, that's why I don't like using the word "believe" to mean "anything I hold to be true for any reason at all." Many people can mean that by that word, but I think it's important to recognize that we hold many things to be true for many different reasons, and if we use the same word for all those different things (I believe in some religion, I believe the Earth is flat, I believe it is wrong to commit murder, I believe 12 squared is 144, etc.), then we tend to lose track of the extreme differences there. Basically, what I see as crucial is the connection between that which is held to be true, and the process by which it has come to be held as true. It is losing track of that connection that leads to all kinds of problems from evolution, to climate change, to alternative medicine, to vaccinations. People have a right to their chosen beliefs, but they do not have the right to lump all their chosen beliefs into the same box as if they were all true in the same way, for the same purpose, and for the same reason. So I only use "believe" to mean "hold to be true without being able to test it." Hence, I would never say I believe the entire Earth is not flat, I would say I know the entire Earth is not flat, where by "know" I simply mean "have knowledge that has passed so many tests already I see diminished returns in continuing to test it."

    As an example, I know there is the famous story...
    Do you know it, or do you believe it?
    ... of the geologist/scientist (can't recall his name) who was an expert in studying, testing and proving the age of rocks etc. Yet with faith based certainty, he still held the "belief" that the world was no more than a few thousand years old.
    Yes, this is a classic example of the different ways we can hold to truths. Some people have a chosen belief they hold so strongly that no amount of evidence could shake it, they are simply not interested in testing it. But the key is, it is not that they are not interested in testing it because it has passed so many tests, it is because testing is simply not their interest, they will automatically interpret any test in whatever way is required to maintain the belief. So that's where I would use the word belief, to make that distinction.

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    So now we have at least two sets of beliefs, those that can be tested , given imagination, and those that cannot. But it is not so easy. Suppose i believe my bow and arrow is the best tool for killing animals that my family eats and i also believe a god provides the animals. At some point a clever person devises a better method of hunting and i am forced to challenge my belief by testing but I continue to believe in a provider god. This second belief is pernicious because it survives increased knowledge of animal biology.
    Both beliefs are culturally learned and habitual, and they are mixed up. I probably believe using a kind of logic that god not only provides animals but wants me to hunt them. This is very hard to test even if i start to think scientifically. It is a belief in a superior agency and that remains impossible to test since a superior agency can be defined as unpredictable by an inferior agency.
    Viz. superior technology is undistinguishable from magic.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    So now we have at least two sets of beliefs, those that can be tested , given imagination, and those that cannot. But it is not so easy. Suppose i believe my bow and arrow is the best tool for killing animals that my family eats and i also believe a god provides the animals. At some point a clever person devises a better method of hunting and i am forced to challenge my belief by testing but I continue to believe in a provider god. This second belief is pernicious because it survives increased knowledge of animal biology.
    Both beliefs are culturally learned and habitual, and they are mixed up. I probably believe using a kind of logic that god not only provides animals but wants me to hunt them. This is very hard to test even if i start to think scientifically. It is a belief in a superior agency and that remains impossible to test since a superior agency can be defined as unpredictable by an inferior agency.
    Viz. superior technology is undistinguishable from magic.
    Yes, there are many scenarios where the word belief is used or inferred, its a broad term and like Ken said above "Anything I hold true for any reason at all". Grant had mentioned those that believe based on "an unexamined core of faith based certainty" In my experience a lot of these people tend to be over confident.

    Jens talks about "preconceived notions" again many people base their belief on this also, sometimes coming from naivety. We are all guilty of it to some degree, which I don't think is a bad thing if you are also prepared to change your belief upon the discovery of more reliable evidence. Then you have beliefs that cannot be tested, or at least using the scientific method. These beliefs are certainly based on "blind faith" or if you like an un-testable core of faith based certainty.

    Jens "And I kind of see the scientific method that way. It's because our natural human tendency is to work based on preconceived notions (and why not, it is generally advantageous to do so, evolution-wise), so we have the scientific method to try to minimise that. If scientists followed the scientific method by nature, rather than by training, then there wouldn't really be any need to train people in it."

    I think there is a need for both, the scientific method is there to try and reliably test consistently and objectively hopefully producing a result which is as conclusive and consistent as possible with the observations/theories. But I still think there has to be a certain amount of belief and/or faith if you like, in the testing. For example if I asked a computer to choose the best method of doing something would that choice be based on what the computer knows, learns or believes or what it has been programmed to do? if the computer is not conscious then it cannot believe in anything. Its either been told, or has learned. We as humans place a certain amount of belief/faith on our emotions, some as they call it a "a gut feeling". As you mentioned this is certainly not a bad thing from an evolution perspective. To be able to challenge beliefs is an advantageous strategy and I think we need that in science also.

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    If we learn the difference between belief, faith and knowledge we are trained to avoid dogma and hopefully to think clearly about our experiences. Indeed this becomes a short way to define wisdom and explains why wisdom is not necessarily age related.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Anything other than solipsism is Religion. Including MDR and Scientific Realism.


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    regarding the story of the religious geologist.....

    we atheists tiptoe around criticisms of organised religion... perhaps even to the extent that this post may be moderated..... yet these same religions have no problems burning atheists at the stake... or more likely burning each other.

    yes otherwise intelligent people can have faith in their chosen religion.... it is just an example of compartmentalised stupidity. Unfortunately, unlike an abscess, they often infect their children.

    i think in the future, indoctrination of children will be a crime...
    "It's only a model....?" :-)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3dZl3yfGpc

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    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    ... perhaps even to the extent that this post may be moderated.....

    Gee, ya think? Thread closed pending moderator discussion.
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    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    regarding the story of the religious geologist.....

    we atheists tiptoe around criticisms of organised religion... perhaps even to the extent that this post may be moderated..... yet these same religions have no problems burning atheists at the stake... or more likely burning each other.

    yes otherwise intelligent people can have faith in their chosen religion.... it is just an example of compartmentalised stupidity. Unfortunately, unlike an abscess, they often infect their children.

    i think in the future, indoctrination of children will be a crime...
    After moderator discussion...

    The comments by themselves would have probably only resulted in a point or two. But knowingly posting something you think is trouble ("this post may be moderated") is asking for a suspension. As we often say, if you are typing any version of "this might get me infracted", you should not hit the Post button.

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