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Science, Doubt, and Certainty

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By Robin Craig

October 29, 2014

 

Uncertainty

Science is a derivative of the more general method of induction, characterized by its specific approach and methodology. As such it is subject to all the rules and considerations pertaining to inductive reasoning in general.

As inductive reasoning results in certainty, so too does science.

Of particular note is the contextual certainty achievable by induction. As inductive reasoning results in certainty, so too does science. For example, the existence of atoms is not some kind of probabilistic estimate that might be overturned by new findings tomorrow, but a proven, certain, objective fact.

The definition and methodology of science derive from and reveal its philosophical basis: that reality (the subject of science) exists, that we can know it (the purpose of science), and we know it by objective means (the methodology of science). The success of science is (and can only be) a consequence of its ability to achieve truth, which itself is a consequence and demonstration of the truth of these philosophical underpinnings.

Yet modern philosophy is dominated by a pretense that we can know nothing

Yet modern philosophy is dominated by a pretense that we can know nothing, reveling in doubt as its alternative to understanding and explanation, and one symptom is the state of the philosophy of science. While science has been progressing at a staggering rate—from the Wright brothers to supersonic jets, from rockets to men on the moon, from the discovery of DNA to sequencing the human genome, each in a matter of decades—mainstream philosophies of science see only doubt. Rather than explain the success of science, they attempt to undermine it with claims that nothing is certain and that all science is tentative, if not imaginary. We now examine such claims.

Falsifying Paradigms

The most popularized and widely known philosophies of science are those of Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn. We will briefly analyze these in the forms in which they are generally understood and promulgated.

The essence of Popper’s philosophy of science is that a valid scientific hypothesis or theory is necessarily falsifiable but inherently unverifiable. This is because if theory A makes a prediction B (If A then B), then the rules of deductive reasoning mean that if B is false, A must be false; while in contrast B being true does not prove A (a true conclusion does not imply true assumptions). Popperianism concludes that science can never be certain of anything, and a valid scientific theory is one that is open to disproof—not one that has been proven, because that is impossible. The potential for disproof is the best we can do to link our theories to reality, leading to the strangely inverted notion that what defines a good scientific theory is the capacity to be false.

The essence of Kuhn’s philosophy of science is that science consists of a series of paradigm shifts. That is, there is a progression of accepted theories (paradigms), each of which has its heyday before facing increasing data to the contrary, finally crumbling—generally when its adherents leave the field by death or retirement. It is then replaced by a new paradigm fitting the new data—until it too is superseded in the same manner. For example, the geocentric model of the solar system was replaced by the heliocentric model, which was refined to a heliocentric system with elliptical orbits; and the ‘static’ paradigm of the cosmos was replaced by the ‘steady state’ paradigm of an eternally expanding universe, which was replaced by the ‘big bang’ paradigm, which will be replaced by something else.

Both the Popperian and Kuhnian philosophies of science suffer from internal contradictions.

Thus Popperianism recognizes that science must be tied to reality, but starting from the primacy of deduction, and finding no certainty of proof there, it consoles itself with the certainty of disproof: exalting falsifiability above knowledge and sacrificing truth on the altar of doubt. Meanwhile, Kuhnianism sets science adrift in a sea of ignorance, with ‘truth’ an elusive and illusory construct that fits the facts of today but not the facts of tomorrow: just a fashion of the day , depending more on the subjective bias of scientists than on objective facts.

In contrast, a philosophy of science based on an objective epistemology—itself a consequence of the manifest hardness of reality (see Philosophical Reflections 1–3)—starts from the primacy of induction and ends in the achievement of certainty.

The Kernel of Truth

Induction and contextual certainty were detailed in Philosophical Reflections 24-27, and we don’t need to repeat the proofs in detail here. But basically, because things in reality have a nature that affects the things around them, and different things in reality share all or some aspects of their natures: all we know and can know comes ultimately from inductive reasoning, and within the context of our observations inductive reasoning gives us certain knowledge of the nature of things. That is, while we don’t know everything, what we know, we know—and the rules of inductive reasoning enable us to know the limits of our knowledge, so that we can know that we know it and why we know it.

Robotic probes do not escape Earth and investigate Jupiter by luck, and smallpox was not eradicated by chance or wishful thinking. In the face of such eloquent proofs of the efficacy of science, how do philosophies of doubt remain standing? Like all good lies, both the Popperian and Kuhnian philosophies of science are partly true. But what is true about them is true not because their premises or arguments are true, but as consequences of the wider principles of induction.

A theory that makes no predictions about what will happen is cut off from the realm of evidence and therefore is essentially arbitrary, hence without value. Conversely, any theory that does make predictions is by definition testable. If such a theory is correct, it will pass the tests; if not, eventually it will fail. Thus the primary feature of valid scientific theories is testability, of which falsifiability of incorrect ideas is a corollary not the primary. And for the reasons explained when discussing inductive reasoning, the result is not perpetual uncertainty but increasing certainty.

For example, ordinary matter is composed of atoms, which do consist of small, dense positively charged nuclei surrounded by electrons in orbital ‘clouds’: clouds whose structure determines the chemical properties of atoms, which in turn determine the properties of matter. As science progresses, we will learn more about this and why it is so: but the knowledge we have now is certain. We will find out more about the fine details of what atoms are, and why atomic nuclei are what they are and electrons do what they do: but we will never find that ordinary atoms don’t after all have that structure.

Similarly, the history of atomic theory could indeed be described as a series of ‘paradigm shifts’—from pre-atomic theories, to atoms as little balls, to atoms as little puddings of positive and negative charges, to atoms as tiny central nuclei with orbiting electrons, to the modern understanding of electron ‘shells’ and quantum mechanics. But these are not random jumps through a sea of ignorance, but the proof of the existence of atoms at the expense of other ideas, then proof that they contained positive and negative components, then further refinements in the light of observed reality toward a theory of increasing detail, accuracy, and precision. Such a process, in basic form, is echoed in all branches of science, and is a consequence of the fact that we learn about reality by observing it, generating hypotheses, and testing them.

As a result, we have progressed from guesses and speculations about the fundamental nature of matter, to the ability to see and move individual atoms (e.g. with atomic force microscopes), and even to create designer atoms to improve our lives (such as certain medical isotopes).

Contradictions

In addition, it is worth noting that both the Popperian and Kuhnian philosophies of science suffer from internal contradictions.

Regarding the former, as all knowledge of the world ultimately must come from induction (reason applied to sensory evidence), the very data that is used to ‘falsify’ a theory is itself derived from induction. So if one claims that induction is never certain, no theory can be disproved either! Falsifiability is only possible as the flip side of inductive certainty: thus Popperianism in fact rests on an assumption of inductive certainty, which it then evades.

The crucial question on paradigm shifts is why, in fact, do they shift? The answer is: because while earlier observations were consistent with the theory, further ones were not. But then the next paradigm must account for both the former set of observations and the latter. And so on. Thus, each paradigm is a better explanation of more facts of reality than the previous—which is a finite progression. Eventually we must settle on a complete and confirmed paradigm, or at worst, one in which the areas of ignorance are clearly defined.

The less we know about something, the wilder our guesses to explain it and the bigger the ‘paradigm shifts’ that result. Examples of that are what give Kuhnianism a veneer of plausibility. But by the nature of facts and truth, no fact can ever falsify a true theory: which can therefore never be caused to ‘shift’. Eternally shifting paradigms are only possible if there are no true theories, which is only possible if there are no facts of reality to describe—but there are. Which is why science works, and works so well.

It’s Just a Theory!

Scientific knowledge is dynamic, and the changing landscape of facts and theories mirrors the valid aspects of falsification and ‘paradigm shifting’. It is worth a closer look at the elements that comprise scientific knowledge, to illustrate the boundary between knowledge and doubt, and to dispel misunderstandings that have been used to attack science. For example, creationists often say that “evolution is just a theory,” as if theories are some kind of inferior, dubious alternative to facts. Such an attitude to theories is common, but it is a critical misunderstanding of science, of which theories are a crucial component (see Philosophical Reflections 30, on the nature and process of science).

Scientific statements can be divided into facts, laws, theories, and hypotheses.

A fact is some proven item of knowledge, such as “water is a compound of hydrogen and oxygen” or “Earth is a planet orbiting the Sun.”

A law is a general descriptive principle that applies to all relevant existents. Thus a law describes a fundamental quality of a broad range of things. For example, the law of universal gravitation applies to all mass, and the laws of thermodynamics apply to all systems of matter and energy.

A theory is a causal description that explains facts. For example, the atomic theory explains the chemical qualities of elements and compounds, and the theory of evolution explains the origin of the multitude of kinds of living things. A theory is not some weaker second cousin of a fact, but an explanation of facts.

A hypothesis is a proposed explanation of facts, essentially a provisional theory. A ‘good’ hypothesis is one that explains some facts, does not absolutely contradict any other facts (though it might not be able to explain everything), and makes testable predictions. Hypotheses abound at the interface between what we know and what we don’t know, like expendable scouts probing a wilderness.

It is plain from the above that whereas hypotheses are never facts (though they might become facts), both laws and theories can also be facts, indeed wider-ranging and more fundamental facts than the specific facts they encompass. For example, the atomic theory is also a fact, as it is a fact that elements and compounds are made of atoms. In contrast, hypotheses by their nature never have enough evidence to be called ‘true’: but the generation of hypotheses is how theoretical science progresses. Many hypotheses fall by the wayside, but by spotlighting where further observations should be made, even the wrong ones can contribute to the growth of knowledge. It is out of the melting pot of facts, hypotheses, and experiment that validated laws and theories are refined.

Thus we can see how science grows by objectively looking at reality, and as it grows, we see ignorance give way to knowledge by the primary process of induction—which entails the secondary effects of falsification and paradigm shifts of wrong or incomplete ideas. In a way, science is like a city growing in a wilderness. The edges are in great flux as knowledge extends in fits and starts into the unknown, while the established center grows in height and maturity of understanding, filling in details and rebuilding where required.

Einstein once said in a similar vein:

“Creating a new theory is not like destroying an old barn and erecting a skyscraper in its place. It is rather like climbing a mountain, gaining new and wider views, discovering unexpected connections between our starting point and its rich environment. But the point from which we started out still exists and can be seen, although it appears smaller and forms a tiny part of our broad view gained by the mastery of the obstacles on our adventurous way up.”

Criticisms

We have looked at philosophies of science that focus on uncertainty and seen how both certainty and uncertainty fit into the scientific process. Now we turn to more severe criticisms of science, which claim the scientific process is fundamentally flawed.

The Whole and Parts

‘Holists’ argue that science is too ‘reductionist’, while true understanding requires a holistic approach that looks at the whole instead of the parts. Consider this excerpt from Technological or Media Determinism:

“The philosophers Democritus (6th century B.C.) and Rene Descartes (1596-1650) had both taught that the way to knowledge was through separating things into component parts. It is a feature of reductionist explanation that parts are assumed to affect other parts in a linear or one-way manner, and interpretation proceeds from the parts to the whole.

“Reductionism contrasts with ‘holism’, which is broadly concerned with the whole phenomenon and with complex interactions within it rather than with the study of isolated parts. In holistic interpretations there are no single, independent causes. Holistic interpretation proceeds from the whole and relationships are presented as non-directional or non-linear. It is holistic to assert that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, a proposition with which it is difficult to disagree when you think of a working motor compared with the stacked parts.”

Such views represent both a misrepresentation of science and a flawed view of cause and effect.

In terms of what science actually is, firstly, many scientific disciplines are explicitly interested in whole systems (e.g. ecology and even physiology). Secondly, there is no logical equivalence of ‘reductionism’ with ‘linear or one-way’ effects. Attempts to understand individual causes do not imply that those causes have linear effects, and most definitely do not imply an absence of multiple interacting effects or feedback (an effect directly or indirectly affecting its own cause). Indeed, both are well known in science, as in the regulation of cell growth and even such commonplace phenomena as temperature regulation in our own bodies.

While it might be ‘holistic’ to assert that the whole is more than the sum of the parts, that is not unique to holism: it is where holism and science overlap. The question is not whether the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, but whether the whole can be understood by studying the parts, or without studying the parts. Ironically, the holist’s own example, a working motor, proves the former: for the working of a motor can be understood completely by reductionist science—motors having been invented using the principles of such science in the first place. One wonders exactly how a holist could achieve the same end.

Even when the whole is more than the sum of its parts, it remains caused by simpler things. Nothing is causeless, and no whole can cause itself nor can it be more than the sum of its parts and their interactions. Unless you tease out specific causes, you can in fact learn nothing about causality, hence, you cannot explain what you are studying. Hence the attraction ‘holism’ holds for mystics, who replace objective understanding with subjective, arbitrary assertions.

It is only through reductionism that the whole can be understood. Isolating simple causes, then finding out where they are insufficient to understand the whole, is how one ultimately discovers how the various parts interact individually and as systems in order to generate the whole. One finds the easiest causes first, then the more subtle or complex ones, until complete understanding is achieved.

Cultural Activities

Science bases its pursuit of and claim to truth on objective enquiry. Denials of the possibility of objectivity therefore attack science at its root.

Such denial lies at the base of diverse but related criticisms of science, from post-modernism’s “everything, including science, is just a text,” to multiculturalist claims that science is a subjective social construct no more valid than the beliefs of non-scientific cultures, to radical feminist theories of science as specifically ‘male’.

The basic assumption behind such arguments is that science cannot be objective because it is a human activity. That is, objectivity is impossible to human beings, therefore science’s claim to it is false: all human discourse is subjective and culturally (or racially, or sexually) defined.

Such collective–subjectivist claims are in essence racist or sexist, ignoring the many excellent scientists of both sexes from all over the world. But that is not their worst feature. There is no honest attempt to avoid objectivity (as any honest attempt can result only in silence): only an attempt to disparage evidence in order to enthrone arbitrary claims in its place. A person who has evidence does not seek to deride objectivity, but to appeal to it. Only someone who knows their views cannot stand objective scrutiny attempts to drag the objective down to their own level. Thus the spectacle of such claims being made by people who wish to avoid the rigors of science being applied to their own beliefs, while insisting that you should believe what they are saying, despite their avowed subjectivity and lack of proof!

Arguments for the cultural subjectivity of science that are not outright attacks on objectivity as such amount to the obvious but irrelevant—“Scientists study what interests them, and what interests them depends on where they live.” What else should scientists study, than what interests them or those who pay them, and what should interest people, besides what is relevant to their lives? But the whole meaning and validation of objectivity is not that you don’t care or choose what you study, but that the answers you get depend on the nature of reality, not on your prior beliefs, prejudices, or desires. The many serendipitous discoveries in science (from nylon to conductive polymers, from penicillin to recombinant DNA), where an important new fact or principle has been discovered while studying something else, are a consequence and validation of this.

Indeed, whatever plausibility such claims might have is similar in nature to that of the ‘paradigm shift’ theory of science. That is, in the absence of good evidence, all sorts of theories are possible. A few poorly understood facts can support any number of wild ideas and, as a consequence, they can also be shoehorned to fit baseless prejudices. But in the long run, false theories will fail. The presence of good evidence (as determined by the rules of inductive reasoning) severely limits the possible theories one can validly propose to explain the facts.

Thus, while one could argue that anthropological ‘proofs’ of European superiority in the 19th Century were ‘culturally determined’ by the prejudices of Europeans—the evidence adduced was never sufficient for such claims, even at the time. On the other side, one cannot argue that modern aeroplanes do not fly, whatever prevailing prejudices existed before powered flight was made a reality.

The Passion…

The history of science is filled with debates, some vicious. Yet scientists are meant to be objective. Thus people often have a picture of the ‘ideal scientist’ as a person who is disinterested in the results of their experiments, has no emotional commitment to a particular theory, and will change theories to fit the best current evidence: and any deviation from this ideal is proof that science isn’t objective.

This is a misunderstanding of objectivity—a misunderstanding whose ultimate root lies in the ancient reason-emotion dichotomy. But there is no necessary dichotomy between reason and emotion or between facts and values. Rather, values should follow from facts, and emotions rooted in rational values serve reason. Yes, a passion that overrides or replaces reason is irrational: but passion flowing from rationally chosen values is not.

A scientist should care—about what is true, and what can be achieved by knowing the truth. For the purpose of science is to learn the truth, and the proper purpose of knowledge is the improvement of human life. It is literally, if long-range, a life or death activity. As witness the improvements to human life from modern agriculture, genetics, electronics, and medicine.

Scientists should be passionate about the truth, and such passion is more rather than less likely to make them strong defenders of their favored theories. This is a good thing. It is an important part of scientific progress that theories have partisans, who don’t accept contrary evidence at face value and are motivated to find weaknesses and alternative explanations.

However a passion for the truth must be just that: a passion for the truth. Thus any such passion has to be subservient to rationality and the rules of inductive reasoning, as our only means to know the truth. Science derives from an objective epistemology, and has no place for subjectivism or any other irrationality. Scientists must place nothing above the facts, not even their own or favorite theory. Thomas Huxley called it:

“The great tragedy of science, the slaying of a beautiful theory by an ugly fact.”

But it is not a tragedy, it is the virtue and strength of science.

… And The Power

Whatever the basis of fundamental criticisms of science, they come up against one stubborn fact of reality: science works. Indeed, science is so successful that its opponents all use its results daily even while attacking it. Whether you look at nutrition, medicine, agriculture, metallurgy, transport, computers, clothing, engineering, water supply or waste disposal, science is pervasive in its benefits. Science has mapped the moving of continents and the motion of galaxies, measured events lasting femtoseconds to billions of years, sequenced the genomes of many organisms including man, enabled machines of metal to fly hundreds of people around the world in a matter of hours, and sent spacecraft to other planets and beyond the solar system. And all that in the few hundred years that science has existed, out of the hundreds of millennia humans have walked the earth eking out a living by spear and plough.

The questions to ask any critic of science as a tool for discovering truth are simple: “How do you explain what it has achieved?”, and “Why do you use so many of its results in your own life?” There is no explanation, except that science does what it claims.

Judgement Day

Individual scientists are individuals, and are not always rational or objective. But while such irrationality is bad for them and can slow the progress of science, fundamentally it doesn’t matter for the integrity of science itself, just as the fact that some scientists commit fraud doesn’t matter in the long run. As discussed in Philosophical Reflections 30, science is a process designed for objective enquiry, designed to catch and correct errors and, whatever the errors that might happen along the way, the truth will eventually out. This is another example of where the principles underlying paradigm shifts apply: conflicting opinions, whether justified or unjustified, will eventually triumph or fail according to, and only according to, the evidence found in reality.

Because science is based on objectivity, it should never be treated as dogma: and thus a scientist should never expect to be taken on faith, but rather to prove what they say by reference to facts. Conversely, their audience needs to be able to evaluate that evidence. That topic is discussed in another essay, When Science Meets Philosophy.
 

 

This article is modified from an essay first published in TableAus, the journal of Australian Mensa (2005).

 

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  • varadananda

    Very good article about the inductive method and science. The theories of Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn explained and their
    basic contradictions identified by the author well. I now have a general outline of a theory of
    science from objectivist perspective from this article.

  • Manfred

    Like this article and in particular the focus it provides for the use/misuse of “Theory” – I feel a little like the “It’s just a theory” section is succinct enough that it should be included in the broader educational framework so as to inhibit the misdirection that flows from the denegation of theories.

  • wildsky

    Victorian scientists thought that they’d pretty much got reality under wraps. Then came the 20th century. Chaos theory ,etc opened our eyes to a universe functioning on probabilities, at some level, probably. The concept of ‘atom’ is a good example, since it started as a theory in ancient Greece, then when something was identified, it was labelled thus – done deal , but then it wasn’t – it turned out that the proof of the theory of fundamental particles at the basis of (physical) reality was no such thing. Now our fundamental particle contains a probability based electron cloud. I suggest that the identification with thought’s need to label ,and thus define as ‘existing’ something, however complex the label ( description) is tantamount to the Greeks’ and Victorian outlook, which is a useful tool, but which is only incompatible with a less final definition based sense of reality in the eyes of those same definers. Ie: the uncertainty is a useful tool in exploration and freedom, and using deductions as if they were certain is a useful tool in applications.
    I actually suspect that the idea that science uncovers facts- but next year they are shown to be ‘wrong’ in the popular press, does more to undermine science than an understanding of the nature of uncertainty. Indeed as the insights of the last 100 years or so ,and the mental expansion and outlook they might engender filter more into mainstream culture , the issue of whether a theory is ‘fact’ or ‘guesswork’ will seem rather unsubtle and last century ( which may not help with those still 2000 years behind, of course).

    • Robin Craig

      Not at all. Reason applied to the evidence of the senses gives true knowledge of the world, that is never overturned. Whatever further details we learn about the structure of atoms, we will never discover that atoms don’t actually exist and don’t consist of a core surrounded by electron clouds, or that the structure of those electron clouds don’t give the atom its chemical characteristics.

      • wildsky

        Interesting choice of words . Just to check my own understanding I’ve checked, and it’s impossible to see an electron or it’s cloud, so the evidence of our senses is no longer the benchmark. The electron cloud is really a conceptual description of a phenomenon not readily approachable with the sensory-psychological apparatus humans are equipped with. I did find ‘the first picture’ of a hydrogen atom, created by superimposing numerous images obtained from the distinctly intrusive method of firing a laser ,exciting the electron ,etc. The concept of the observer’s unavoidable influence on the observed ,being a key part of the concept of an electron cloud.
        It’s the reason bit though which is the true weak link. It works well with mathematics, but is totally dependent on the quality of the inputs. Again and again, science has come up with conclusions ( which are value judgements) that are later found to be not quite right, or even wrong, and continues to do so. Sometimes it’s due to natural variation, whilst logic tends to generalise inappropriately when looking at biological systems, especially.
        It’s fair to say, that we’ll probably never discover that ,say apples don’t fall downwards, but we may discover that down is not an absolute direction, but ,on Earth it’s a convergent direction globally speaking, and in deep space it doesn’t exist at all. Our understanding opens into wider perspectives, that may leave elements of older concepts intact ( as with the changing concepts around atoms) ,but radically changes the details. Sub-atomic particles are still being discovered, an ironic comment on the unchanging truth of the atom, which literally means ‘an indivisible particle’.

        • Robin Craig

          You have been reduced to playing with words.

          Come back when you calculate the odds that the amazing computer you are typing on works in the world of shadow understanding you like to believe in. And after you have considered that the success of science follows naturally and inexorably from what I’ve said, whereas you have to evade it, shrugging along the lines of “hey, who can say?”

          I suggest you also read my Savvy Street article “I Think Inductively, Therefore I Know” to better understand why objectivity (reason applied to experience) does indeed give us true knowledge.

          • wildsky

            I actually tried to relate the topic to real examples, and explore it through that, as opposed to the word play offered before. it could be that you’ve misunderstood my point. It is not that nothing arising from science can be relied on to work. It is that a blanket faith in logical deduction and the accuracy of deductions is not appropriate. Uncertainty persists, but many things are dependable enough to consider ‘as if certain’. The fact that this computer sometimes does strange things ,even on rare occasions shuts itself down under apparently the exact same conditions under which it works well, imply that we do not have everything down pat .
            It is a matter of conjecture whether Uncertainty is effectively removed from the equation by the time we are looking at the level of computer design and human thought. If so then free will is an illusion in a purely determinist realm and everything can be known if only enough observation and logical computing power can be brought to bear . If not ,or if systems like the brain or weather have too many possibilities to process, then certainty is not possible beyond a point. So the basic flaw in your argument is the over confidence with which it is presented. A confidence based on belief. As I say ,it is the blanket assertion of knowability which i question, based primarily on ‘knowledge’ (or more accurately ‘limited but careful observation over many decades’) of the human conceptual ( and non-conceptual) mind, and it’s apparent limitations.

            But the latter is the gnostic limitation of conceptual knowledge, which most people who don’t know any mental space without verbal chatter are unlikely to understand or conceive of. ie : knowing of facts is a bit like the computer’s ‘knowing’ what to answer, rather than the intimate meaning imagined. The intimacy illusion is created by the identification with the emotional response to something, giving a sense of a self, that is rarely questioned. This is perhaps especially true with many scientifically orientated people, as they are naturally very involved with objectifying the world around them ,which subjectifies themselves as an undefined ‘me’. Due to a high intellectual intelligence ,and thus investment in conceptual thought, this is a very hard illusion to see through. Essentially ,when considering knowledge ( conceptual thinking ) , most people’s only tool is the same conceptual knowledge, which is no better than trying to listen to your own ear.

          • Robin Craig

            That uncertainty persists means we don’t know everything, not that what we do know is uncertain. As long as our certainty is based on following the rules of objective reasoning, not wishful thinking. For example, we can be certain that genetic information is encoded in DNA; but we cannot be certain, and could never have been certain, that it is the only way it can be encoded.

            Beyond that, all you are saying is that we can never be certain because you assert we have limitations that prevent it, and that anyone who cannot see this is suffering under an illusion. All I can say is speak for yourself. Oh, but you can’t can you? You are making assertions that such notions are true.

          • wildsky

            I agree ,uncertainty can be due to lack of knowledge. At other times it is recognition that the results are not conclusive, yet might still qualify as effective knowledge , or be believed to be ‘true knowledge’ until another view supercedes it. This latter seems to be the norm in much health science. But we’ve been over all that !

            On DNA, logical derivation from observations have led some biologists to say that there could indeed be perfectly adequate alternatives. Whether that is true ,we don’t know yet.

            I certainly make assertions and defend your right to do the same. It was your apparently dismissive response to disagreement that implied an emotionally attached belief , as found in the religious. Something that I feel is totally unnecessary ,and even inhibiting in trying to establish ‘the truth’. Belief is just confidence ( or hope) in an idea , and ,like other emotions ( I propose) is made rigid by secondary emotions or attached thoughts.

            I know that you’re much more experienced in the field of science than I ( as are the scientific establishment that you are disagreeing with ) , and I have no formal credentials to lend weight to my views, as after over 20 years of gnostic experiment, i too find myself ,essentially rejecting some of the values of the gnostic establishment. However, on the basics ,I feel that my views are in accord with Abhidhamma ( Budhist psychology) . This is a carefully constructed, and questioned view of the mind, evolved over more than 2000 years ,by people who devoted their lives to it ,making many apparent sacrifices to develop the necessary levels of clarity , objectiveness, and mental calm to really cut deeply into normally hidden corners and experiences. As you may know the result is ,at least in Zen or Daoist terms, a normal human being- nothing special.

            Anyway. I do speak for myself. And as you probably recognise ,from your own insights, when you are clear about something for yourself, it seems quite clear that many such things also apply to others. But I’m open to be convinced otherwise.

  • http://paradigm-shift-21st-century.nl/ Henkt Tuten

    As mathematician I worked with so many logics (formal languages) that I saw I could prove almost anything, when using the appropriate logic.

    It’s always about the basic propositions. So the terms ‘inductive’ or ‘deductive’ don’t impress me anymore.

    Inventors are seldom scientists, just humans with vivid imagination and the guts to try out impossible ideas.

    I learned to use ‘rationality’ as inventor, and then discovered a very effective tool in technology, but also an awfully poor tool in social affairs.

    Popper believed in the continuity of science (creationism disguised)

    Kuhn also believed that between shifts there is ‘continuity’, but focused on the shifts.

    Popper’s ideas are demasked so many times, that I can’t add anything

    Kuhn didn’t have the guts to use his brilliant idea ‘paradigm shift’ consistently. Because he didn’t aim at decloaking western science as cultural affair.

    And Kuhn didn’t want a fight within science, he liked his position as famous professor

    you might have a look at:

    http://paradigm-shift-21st-century.nl/kuhn-thomas-biography.html

    or

    http://paradigm-shift-21st-century.nl/western-scientific-paradigm.html

  • Jim Austin

    Certain scientists seem to have adopted the methodology of Stalin’s pet scientist Trofim Denisovich Lysenko that evaluates scientific conclusions by its conformance to a political ideology and suppresses dissent.