Sunday, May 29, 2016

Jason Smith — Falsifiable statements are not philosophical disagreements

I would address this by saying that science as that which can be substantiated objectively, in contrast to philosophy as that which can't, meet as the margin. This margin is determined logically by available criteria, and also by the practicality of applying criteria.

This margin is blurring the distinction between philosophy and science and philosophers become more empirical and scientists become more speculative and what they deal with becomes less measurable.

This margin is a frontier of knowledge. It's a grey area not amenable to black and white thinking.

Basically, this debate begins with the distinction the ancient Greeks made between chaos (randomness) and cosmos (order). That which is ordered is "rational," that is, subject to logical reasoning (Greek: <i>logos</i>). Aristotle was the first to establish a theory of causality based on four causes (<i>aitia</i>) — formal, material, efficient, and final or teleological — that are both necessary and sufficient to answer the question "why" completely.

This framed the debate in metaphysics, epistemology, and natural philosophy for centuries, until the modern era when Galileo (among others) emphasized the necessity of observation.

Aristotle had also emphasized the observation against Plato's introspection, but Galileo launched the scientific age by emphasizing it and creating instruments for extending observation (telescope) and measurement (thermometer). Galileo also used the mathematics of his day to formalize knowledge.

This is key, because Aristotle based  his method primarily on first causes (aitia), which can also be rendered first principles or reasons. Observation as a rationale in justification is not essential. First principles are typically justified as self-evident or intuitional rather than observational. Now we would say "initial assumptions" rather than "first principles."

Science really took off and became differentiated from science with the advent of advanced mathematics, initially developed by "philosophers." Descartes introduced analytic geometry and Leibniz the calculus, for example.

Descartes had already posited a hard and fast distinction between mind and world. However, it was David Hume took this to its logical conclusion by further positing that reasoning is purely mental and observation deals only with sense data. There is no basis in either logic or sense data capable of justifying a metaphysical principle of causality.

For Hume, the assumption that sense data are caused by something unknown and unknowable external to them is a matter of belief. Causality is based in observation of constant correlation of sense date. Cause and effect is condition and result.

The history of philosophy since then has been largely either an acceptance of Hume or a reaction to him.

In the philosophy of science, the result was abandoning the question "why" and replacing it with "how." In science this is represented theoretically and formally in terms of mathematical functions, that is invariant relationships of inputs and outputs.

If the function is known, then it is a matter of observing and measuring independent variables and resultant dependent variables. If there is no method of arriving at a function relating measured inputs to measured outputs, then stochastic methods must be used to approximate outcomes from populations or random samples.

This is purely operational, dealing how things work rather than explanatory of why they work. We can know something of the laws of nature expressed mathematically, but not why these law actually apply other than their place in a system of invariance that is the basis of ergodicity. As result science is tentative in its conclusions owing to future uncertainty in the absence of metaphysical causality grounded in knowledge of reality instead of knowledge limited to sense data.

In the transition from philosophy to science it was assumed that there are hidden "laws" as observational regularities that can be discovered by applying a rigorous method that involves both theory based on mathematical models and observation of quantities based on measurement.

There are essentially three division of scientific inquiry based on subject matter and methodology — natural sciences, life sciences and social sciences. Psychology is a bridge science between life science and social science. Different fields lend themselves to different methods of investigation and levels of precision.

One aspect of philosophy involves attempting to elucidate how all this works in terms of a whole. This is called "consilience," that is, complementarity of knowledge in a unified and integrated system of information. While there is as yet no comprehensive unified "theory of everything," most agree that different aspects of scientific inquiry need to be compatible and that integration is self-reinforcing, acting as an attractor.

Those working in one area that are unmindful of work in other areas that contradicts their work or calls it into question, or do not addressing this issue, are working at the margin and may be marginalized or dismissed.

While this alone doesn't prove mavericks wrong, if they don't account for discrepancies, they are likely to be ignored for "magical thinking," or being "ivory-tower philosophers" in the pejorative sense of idle speculation based on unsubstantiated assumptions that do not accord with established observation and explanation.

Positivism was a simplistic solution for establishing criteria in terms of Hume's fork, the distinction between logic and observation. The criteria are tautology and contradiction formally, and empirical truth and falsity based on observation and measurement.

But this proved too rigid to account for how scientists actually proceed. There is a spectrum of thought on this from positivism to Paul Feyerabend's Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge, in which he claims that "science" is what scientists do rather than what they or others think they do. There is no "scientific method," and trying to impose one as a rule would limit creativity and innovation.

The upshot is that applying general principles is often less than satisfactory because most cover only special cases. So each instance must be approached in context to determine what procedure and which criteria apply, and then some degree of rigor has to be exercised in applying this. There is art or craftsmanship involved.

Anyway, Jason's post is interesting in this regard. It's short and not wonkish.

Information Transfer Economics
Falsifiable statements are not philosophical disagreements
Jason Smith


Matt Franko said...

"abandoning the question "why" and replacing it with "how." In science this is represented theoretically and formally in terms of mathematical functions, that is invariant relationships of inputs and outputs.

If the function is known, then it is a matter of observing and measuring independent variables and resultant dependent variables."

This is not "modeling"...

Tom Hickey said...

This is not "modeling"...

It is the basis of theoretical modeling in modern science, where theory is expressed as a formal (mathematical) model that is capable of generating testable hypotheses.

The difference between scientific models and the conceptual models of philosophy lies not so much in the characteristics of the model, but the capacity for empirical testing.

See Heinrich Herz's intro to Principles of Mechanics.

Ryan Harris said...

Science is statistical not logical. In philosophy or math, one wee piece of anecdotal data that doesn't agree and they are off to the races with argument about disproving the idea. In Science, the scientist decides how much data can be not consistent with their hypothesis or model. 1%, 5%, 10%? Or things like Climate, 45-70% is fine. Most of the real sciences keep in the 90s or better minimum, but that still means that 10% of the measurements are not explained by the theory, maybe even disprove the theory. Something like economics, they are lucky to find any enduring positive correlation with a theory over time and geography.

Tom Hickey said...

Mathematical models Wikipedia

Models in Science Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Ryan Harris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Carlo Rovelli on the soul of scientific thinking: 'do not trust your own thinking’.

A Fight for the Soul of Science - physicists and philosophers debate the boundaries of science

Anonymous said...

From the sometimes interesting comments of the above:

"Given their entanglement with knot theory, why do so few string theoreticians wear neckties?" [Russell Seitz]