• Landru Guide Us
    245
    Unless I am greatly mistaken, QM interpretations are absolutely not science. If they were, they would be falsifiable. Rather, each interpretation is equally consistent with all the given evidence, and each will in principle remain consistent with future evidence if any of them does. There is no theoretical scientific manner by which to choose preference between one and the other. So far as I can tell, the only reason they are considered science in any way is that their origins are from scientists working in the field of QM.

    If I am incorrect on this, please cite a source for further reading, because so far as I have read, this is the case.
    Reformed Nihilist

    You have to make a distinction between what is falsifiable in practice versus in principle.

    The obvious example is the multiverse interpretation of Everette against the Copenhagen interpretation. They can't be tested in practice. But David Deutsch has proposed various ways of testing them in principle. We simply lack the technology at this time. Several other physicists have proposed additional experiments (again outside of our practical range, but not in principle impossible). There is no reason to believe that in the future we won't be able to test these interpretations and eliminate one or both of them.
  • Moliere
    1.8k
    Then according to that formulation, I'm not referring to ontological beliefs, but to beliefs about ontology, which there is no indication that either of these people had, or that beliefs about ontology had any effect on their work. That's what I'm saying. One needn't have any particularly well thought out stance on the matter to have a motivation to make scientific discoveries, and I can't imagine a single reason why adopting a (to once again misappropriate Kant) deontological position should in any way effect those motivations.Reformed Nihilist

    That's true. But on the latter I think that you're equivocating. Because at the beginning of this paragraph you're talking about beliefs about ontology -- so beliefs about the study of what exists. But then when you say adopting a de-ontological position should not effect motivations to make scientific discoveries -- which seems, to my ears at least, denote beliefs about what is, rather than beliefs about the study of what is.

    Or not?

    I'm just saying how I hear it here. I'd like clarification.

    To be fair, what sometimes passes for philosophy rightly gives philosophy a bad name, and I can't fault anyone who only has a passing knowledge of philosophy to believe it is all sophistry, mental masturbation and an attempt to get easy credits.Reformed Nihilist

    Yeah, but what passes for science, in that same vein, is also really bad science. But we don't judge the discipline of science based off of what is bad. Why would it be fair to judge the discipline of philosophy on what is bad?

    I think it's more hubris than anything. Philosophers give more credence to science than scientists (tend to) give credence to philosophers -- especially in the physical sciences. This is sad, because it's usually an unfounded assumption . . . which, if they were stricter empiricists, would be overturned.


    EDIT

    I'm not sure what this could possibly mean except the category error I stated.

    QM is science. It isn't philosophy. How could philosophy possibly sort out which interpretation of a scientific theory is the best scientific interpretation? The only possible way to sort that out is more hypotheses and more empirical testing.
    Landru Guide Us

    Unless I am greatly mistaken, QM interpretations are absolutely not science. If they were, they would be falsifiable.Reformed Nihilist


    I think this is the source of much of my disagreement. It's our philosophy of science, not on the topic itself. Because this exchange:


    But anyway, quantum mechanics, as far as I can tell, is one of those areas of science that is filled with very smart scientists making very stupid metaphysical assumptions.darthbarracuda

    That is what I was saying, in a nutshell.Reformed Nihilist


    I wholeheartedly agree with.




    That may take the thread a bit too far astray. But the long and short of it is this -- "falsifiability" is an outdated and (I would say, and most phil-o-sci today would agree) wrong theory proposed by Popper to differentiate science from metaphysics. It's interesting, but it's far too simplistic.
  • Marchesk
    4.3k
    I just read a philosophical article on QM in the magazine Scientific American. It was interesting because it discussed universals, materialism, and tropes. The author put forward an argument that the classical notion of particles and fields leads to QM weirdness. But if we abandon those ontological commitments in favor of properties and relations, then we can dispense with the weirdness.

    For example, a detector can register a particle in a vacuum, which is definitely weird. Particle ontology leads to thinking that particles can somehow pop into and out of existence. But if rather we think of the vacuum itself having properties, then a detector can register a particle when those properties are in the right arrangement. So we don't need to think the particle popped into existence. Rather, properties of the vacuum were related in just the right way to make the detector go off. Conceptually, we call that a particle of some kind.

    Similarly, you can dispense with the weirdness from particle/wave duality, if it's just bundles of properties, rather than thinking somehow the electron is particle when you measure it one way, and a wave when you mesure it a different way.

    That was rather enlightening, and I think a way forward. It's a good example of how philosophy can help scientists clarify their concepts when they run into baffling results. You can't put tropes to the test. They are a metaphysical concept. But what they do is make QM a bit less baffling.
  • Marchesk
    4.3k
    And the author of that SA article did mention instrumentalism, but thought that most scientists believed that science was about reality, otherwise why do it? As such, particles and fields were to be considered ontological commitments by physicists, not just useful models. Change the ontological commitments, and some of the problems with QM dissipate.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    That may take the thread a bit too far astray. But the long and short of it is this -- "falsifiability" is an outdated and (I would say, and most phil-o-sci today would agree) wrong theory proposed by Popper to differentiate science from metaphysics. It's interesting, but it's far too simplistic.Moliere

    Science doesn't have to differentiate itself from philosophy since its starting point has already done so.

    Methodological naturalism does not ask metaphysical questions, nor does it seek metaphysical explanations of facts at issue (or supernatural ones or ones from speculative philosophy).

    The sine qua non of science is whether it makes useful predictions (or more precisely predictions about things that are more useful than the alternatives). The explanations are judged as valid or not by their predictive power, not the other way round.

    So philosophy can (and should) argue whether science should do this, or what a fact really is, or what constitutes causation, etc. But it doesn't affect science at all, which is a social practice that has a rather defined domain and purpose. Nobody is going to do science (or pay for it) the minute we find better ways to make useful predictions - say by asking a prophet who installs himself in the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, who will provide better cures for cancer or whatever.

    I'm not holding my breath for that.

    Anyway, the experiments to test the Copenhagen versus the Everette Interpretation, such as they are, constitute another way of saying which one has more predictive power (if any). The one that does, "wins". That's always relative to an alternative, not to an absolute. More predictive power than the alternative . . .
  • Marchesk
    4.3k

    Edit: I see your reply was to Moliere. Jumped the gun a bit.

    And naturally you missed the point of the article, which as that changing from viewing the fundamental constituents of physics as fields and particles to properties and their relations, gets rid of many of the problems with QM leading to various interpretations. That's what philosophy can offer science.
  • Moliere
    1.8k
    I gather that this is your opinion. But from whence does it derive?
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    Edit: I see your reply was to Moliere. Jumped the gun a bit.

    And naturally you missed the point of the article, which as that changing from viewing the fundamental constituents of physics as fields and particles to properties and their relations, gets rid of many of the problems with QM leading to various interpretations. That's what philosophy can offer science.
    Marchesk

    The "problems" are good things, not bad things, for science.

    But in any case, whether particles popped into existence or didn't isn't a philosophical issue; it's an empirical one.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    Lots of difference sources from Heidegger to Marcuse to Connolly to Foucault to Popper to Kuhn to Marx to Polanyi to Kitcher to Fleck to Solomon to Gould. Does it matter?
  • Marchesk
    4.3k
    The "problems" are good things, not bad things, for science.Landru Guide Us

    The problems suggests that QM has foundational issues. When you can't make heads or tails over something behaving like a wave in one experiment, but behaving like a particle in another, then maybe things need to be rethought to make better sense of the experimental results.

    But in any case, whether particles popped into existence or didn't isn't a philosophical issue; it's an empirical one.Landru Guide Us

    But what does it mean for something to pop into existence? Is that an adequate explanation for what's going on when a detector goes off in a vacuum? Perhaps there is a better one that doesn't lead to paradoxical notions.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    The problems suggests that QM has foundational issues. When you can't make heads or tails over something behaving like a wave in one experiment, but behaving like a particle in another, then maybe things need to be rethought to make better sense of the experimental results.Marchesk

    This doesn't follow at all.

    Those observations are the observations. They are empirical. They don't accord with our everyday experience, but why should the quantum world do so? Trying to resolve the quantum in terms of the everyday sounds like a mistake to me, but even if it's not, what would be the purpose of the resolution?

    The purpose of science is to provide explanations that provide useful predictions. QM does that extremely well. even if the explanations often don't accord with the everyday. I'm not sure what predictions would or could flow out of your interpretation but I do know that if they are superior, then people will deem the explanation as superior to others. And if they don't result in superior prediction, people will not deem the explanations as superior (valid). But they don't sound like they would have predictive power - they sound like a way to "make sense" rather than to make predictions. The former is irrelevant to a scientific explanation.

    In short, the evaluation of explanatory value is the result of the ultimate predictive power of the explanation, not whether it "makes sense" in our everyday way of understanding things.
  • Moliere
    1.8k
    Of course it does. But I didn't mean who did you read, but rather what your reasoning is.

    I disagree with your assertion. Prediction is just a part of the social practice of science. Other parts of science include explanation, understanding, and knowing -- not just prediction.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245


    We disagree. The explanation only matters to the extent that it provides useful predictions. It's a backformed validation.

    It's easy to show that. If an oracle started to provide better predictions on how to cure cancer than medical science, every cancer patient on the planet would flock to him. They'd be crazy not to. Damn the oncologist and his explanation. We only privilege the explanation because it works (better than the alternative)

    The Enlightenment properly concluded that methodological naturalism results in better predictions than the old alternatives (supernaturalism, speculative philosophy). We don't know why. We don't have to. That's a philosophical question bracketed off by science. Maybe it's God. Doesn't matter. Science can't inquire into its own method, since it is limited to that method.

    As to the other aspects of science (knowledge, understanding, discovery, whatever) - they would all go out the door the minute we found a better engine of prediction. I doubt that we will, but it's not far fetched. If Big Data results in better predictions than methodological naturalism in the future, for reasons unknown, we'll do Big Data mining, not MN. We'd be crazy not to.
  • Moliere
    1.8k
    People may flock to whatever it is they're drawn to -- but what people flock do isn't a criteria of science anymore than prediction is. Why would that matter?

    Also, "prediction" isn't something which all humans are drawn to for all time. I would say people want their desires satisfied, and that a desire present today is a cure for cancer, but I wouldn't say that this has a bearing on what science is. Again, why would it? What do people's desires have to do with the practice of science?

    I agree with you that science is a social practice. In specific I would say that science is the social practice which scientists do -- not the social practice that is popularly understood, but the actual one which scientists perform.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    People may flock to whatever it is they're drawn to -- but what people flock do isn't a criteria of science anymore than prediction is. Why would that matter?Moliere

    Because science is a social practice. It requires social institutions, social sanctions, social approval, and funding, to happen.

    If nobody wants scientists (i.e., nobody wants to pay them because Big Data or the Anti-Christ makes better predictions), there won't be any more science. We'll have the National Institutes of Big Data or Haruspicy instead of Health.

    Surely you don't disagree with the fact that scientists are the result of schools, jobs, funding, publishing, transmission and archiving of knowledge, etc. Science isn't in people's heads and isn't the result of the quirks of individuals.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    Also, "prediction" isn't something which all humans are drawn to for all time. I would say people want their desires satisfied, and that a desire present today is a cure for cancer, but I wouldn't say that this has a bearing on what science is. Again, why would it? What do people's desires have to do with the practice of science?Moliere

    Of course people do other things beside practical prediction. We have literature, art, love, sports, religion. They have no predictive value. But we already have those. If science doesn't provide predictive power, why would anybody do it? It can't compete with those domains for humanistic values, and if it can't cure cancer but a prophet can, everybody's going to go to the prophet, not to the oncologist.

    Only a fool would go to an oncologist who's is inferior at treating cancer than a oracle. And so oncology will die out (as it should).

    I'm not quite sure why you would deny that. Why would people study oncology if oracles are better at what oncologists do? You seem to be suggesting that scientists do science because they love science. You're missing the point. They love science because it works. If it stopped working (i.e., if other domains worked better), their explanations would be nugatory and so why would scientists love pursuing a domain that other domains are better at? The explanation satisfy our curiosity because they work, not the other way around.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    I agree with you that science is a social practice. In specific I would say that science is the social practice which scientists do -- not the social practice that is popularly understood, but the actual one which scientists perform.Moliere

    Yeah but they perform it because people want it and we build schools, publish text books about it, offer jobs, and fund it. They would stop performing it if nobody cared. It would dwindle into a hobby for cranks, like people who pursue alchemy.

    This would happen not only because nobody would pay for their services, but bright people would no longer want to be scientists. Why would anybody want to pursue a domain of knowledge that has been surpassed by other domains that performs what it does only better? They'd not only not get paid, they'd be wasting their talents on an obsolete practice.
  • Janus
    9.9k


    But, whether we should think that particles pop into existence or not is a philosophical issue.
  • Janus
    9.9k


    Before science became as institutionalized in the academy and integrally linked with technology as it is today many of the great paradigmatic scientific discoveries were made by 'backyard tinkerers'. The difference between science and alchemy is that science delivers real knowledge even in the 'backyard tinkerer' context. Can you cite even one great discovery of alchemy or astrology?
  • Moliere
    1.8k
    (part 1) I think we must mean different things by social practice, then. I don't think that because something is a social practice that it depends on what people flock to, per se. The status which scientists enjoy in today's world would depend on this, but not scientific practice itself. Scientific practice is what scientists do, not what people who are not scientists like about science.

    I disagree that scientists are only the result of institutionalization. I agree that it being widespread and that it's status in our world relies upon this, but a social practice is not an institution. One can have a social practice without institutionalization. Philosophy, I would say, can also be practiced without institutionalization.

    But these things are not wed to institutions as much as they are to social practices. And social practices just require people to act collectively.

    I wouldn't speculate on why every scientist does science. I think the motivations are many. Some do it for money. Some do it out of curiosity. Some do it out of a love for knowledge and a desire to understand nature. Some do it because it's fun. But if science is not defined by prediction, which if the previous point is granted then the history of science easily shows that it is not, then the motivations of particular scientists aren't as important as the social practice of science -- which is where we can glean an understanding of what scientists do.

    "Why would anyone want to do philosophy!" :D

    Have you read much on Lavoisier? Of particular note to this conversation --

    Lavoisier was a powerful member of a number of aristocratic councils, and an administrator of the Ferme Générale. The Ferme générale was one of the most hated components of the Ancien Régime because of the profits it took at the expense of the state, the secrecy of the terms of its contracts, and the violence of its armed agents.[7] All of these political and economic activities enabled him to fund his scientific research. At the height of the French Revolution, he was accused by Jean-Paul Marat of selling adulterated tobacco and of other crimes, and was eventually guillotined a year after Marat's death.

    Lavoisier funded his own experiments. Mostly out of interest.


    Before the enlightenment, too, there were always people interested in nature. As long as we are not attached to the notion that modern scientific institutions are not the defining feature of science, it goes back to ancient philosophy, so I would claim. This is the result of looking at science as a social practice.


    Now, one of the advantages of funding scientific research through the state is that it broadens who gets to study and do science. Usually, before the state funded science, Aristocrats and the rich were the only ones who could pursue these ends. Much like philosophy.

    But, then, I would say philosophy ought to also be funded. These things are valuable unto themselves. They don't need state interests or popular appeal for that to be the case.
  • Marchesk
    4.3k
    The explanation only matters to the extent that it provides useful predictions. It's a backformed validation.Landru Guide Us

    Predictions are about validation. Usefulness is a matter of technological application. And not all scientific theories are useful in the everyday sense of building bridges and practicing dentistry, which aren't scientific endeavors, btw, although they utilize the results from biology, chemistry and physics.

    How practical do you suppose the inflationary model of the Big Bang is?

    Anyway, the reason prediction is an important part of science is not because it's useful, first and foremost, but because it provides empirical support. Useful results are about applying science. That's in the realm of engineering or medicine.

    The primary motivation for doing science is to understand the world, and then secondly, to make use of that understanding when possible (which isn't always). As usual, you conflate technology with science.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    How practical do you suppose the inflationary model of the Big Bang is?Marchesk

    Potentially extremely useful since any understanding of fundamental states of matter may have tremendous predictive value.

    But in any case, this goes to nothing. Not every scientific theory has to be useful - science has to be. In the context of the useful predictions of science (is that really in doubt?), there may be all sorts of explanations with minimal value which arise for all sorts of reasons. The domain of science has a huge archive of explanations that may have no value now, but which may have value in the future as they are correlated with other theories. Hence sciences fixation with the archive.

    Point is, if science weren't a useful social practice they wouldn't arise at all. There wouldn't even be the material culture to come up with the inflationary model of the Big Bang unless science provided useful predictions about dentistry and computers.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    Lavoisier funded his own experiments. Mostly out of interest.Moliere

    That's a hobby, not science. Without the Enlightenment and the ultimate institutionalization of science, Lavoisier's work would be an historical curiosity. Moreover, early science was relatively inexpensive. Not any more.

    In any case I never said all scientists had to be funded socially, just that it was the sine qua non of science. Unless people want to pay for science, it just won't happen, like everything else in a society.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    Why would anyone want to do philosophy!"Moliere

    Hardly anybody does. And even less so as social funding for it dries up. Most philosophers nowadays teach (for minimal pay) while writing books as public intellectuals.

    If there were only as many scientists as there were philosophers, there would be no modern science. There are probably less than a 100 "full time" philosophers in the world, if that even makes sense. Imagine the state of science of there were only 100 scientists.

    But this of course makes my point in another way. Philosophy makes no predictions. It's like literature. We don't expect it to produce results. And we don't require a level of continued production of philosophy at an institutional level. Indeed we'd distrust that. We all recognize there are very few great novels or philosophers, and institutions can't produce them. And that's OK. Our physical health and welfare doesn't rely on the production of great novels or great philosophical texts.

    In contrast, our health and welfare does depend on the continued production of scientific knowledge that makes good predictions. So if science stopped doing that, we'd stop thinking about science altogether. It wouldn't be producing what we want form it at the levels that we require. Philosophy does, more or less, because we don't ask for useful predictions, and it doesn't provide any.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    Before the enlightenment, too, there were always people interested in nature. As long as we are not attached to the notion that modern scientific institutions are not the defining feature of science, it goes back to ancient philosophy, so I would claim. This is the result of looking at science as a social practice.Moliere

    We're going to have to disagree on this historically. An interest in nature has nothing to do with science. Neanderthals were interested in nature, and had very good trial and error skills. Do do creationists. That's not what makes science.

    Science is methodological naturalism, which we do because it provides better predictions than trial and error, the bible, oracles, haruspicy, or rain dances. It just does. The minute it doesn't we won't do science. That has nothing do with being interested in nature.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    By the way, three cheers for science. It makes modern life possible. I love science. Nobody is attacking it here.

    It just has nothing to offer philosophically. I've had this discussion many times, even with some people here, but honestly, the idea that curiosity or personal motives are what make science science is simply naïve. It's a social practice embedded in social goals - in this case, useful predictions. Once it stops promoting those goals better than the alternatives, science will cease.

    The scenario of the really good cancer-curing oracle shows that.
  • Moliere
    1.8k


    These aren't even in the same category. One can do philosophy as a hobby, just like literature, art, and science. If something is a hobby that doesn't exclude it from these categories.

    So far it seems to me that you're attached to the notion that science must be institutionalized, and institutionalized in one particular way.



    Our health and welfare depends on far more than good predictions. But, all the same, the number of practitioners, or the status of a discipline, doesn't specify what philosophy is. The same holds for science. This is why I mentioned philosophy -- philosophy is still philosophy even if it's not the most popular practice in the world.



    Insofar that you grant my first premise -- that science is what scientists do -- then I'd say you are in error when you state that science has nothing to do with an interest in nature. My position follows easily enough from this. At that point it's just a matter of reading the history of science -- which surely precedes the enlightenment.

    It's noteworthy to say that an interest in nature is not the defining feature of science. Pagans also have an interest in nature, but pagan rites are religious and not scientific.

    Even so it is not predictive power alone that makes science what it is.



    I'm not so sure. It sounds to me that you would just call the cancer-curing oracle science, if it happened to make good predictions.

    And, I don't share your rosy view of science. It's fun and interesting, but I'm not about to give it three cheers.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    These aren't even in the same category. One can do philosophy as a hobby, just like literature, art, and science. If something is a hobby that doesn't exclude it from these categories.

    So far it seems to me that you're attached to the notion that science must be institutionalized, and institutionalized in one particular way.
    Moliere

    Yes, knowledge that isn't institutionalized isn't science. It's trial and error. Something people have always done. It has less predictive value than methodological naturalism, which requires archives, publication, peer review, funding, etc.

    Guys doing desultory experiments without any standards or means to publish and review their results aren't doing science. You're just confusing the fact that we in fact do currently have science, so those guys can do it in their garage. Take away the institutions that support the publication and preservation of the domain of knowledge garnered by methodological naturalism, and all you have is cranks.
  • Landru Guide Us
    245
    Our health and welfare depends on far more than good predictions. But, all the same, the number of practitioners, or the status of a discipline, doesn't specify what philosophy is. The same holds for science. This is why I mentioned philosophy -- philosophy is still philosophy even if it's not the most popular practice in the world.Moliere

    Of course it does, but that's neither the claim nor the issue. The fact is philosophy can't do dentistry. So it matters if we have science or not. And that costs money and requires the institutions I have mentioned.

    Insofar that you grant my first premise -- that science is what scientists do -- then I'd say you are in error when you state that science has nothing to do with an interest in nature. My position follows easily enough from this. At that point it's just a matter of reading the history of science -- which surely precedes the enlightenment.

    It's noteworthy to say that an interest in nature is not the defining feature of science. Pagans also have an interest in nature, but pagan rites are religious and not scientific.

    Even so it is not predictive power alone that makes science what it is.
    Moliere

    We're repeating ourselves. Guys in garages can't do science (unless there exists institutions of science), for the reasons I noted - without archives of knowledge, standards, peer review, publication and funding to keep all this afloat, there is no science, just hobbyist engaged in trial and error on desultory matters that happen to interest them.

    I'm not so sure. It sounds to me that you would just call the cancer-curing oracle science, if it happened to make good predictions.

    And, I don't share your rosy view of science. It's fun and interesting, but I'm not about to give it three cheers.
    Moliere

    Nope, the premise is there is no methodological naturalism at work. It's an oracle who gets supernatural information from God or Cthulu or the ectoplasmic continuum or whatever, outside of any possible verification or any input from methodological naturalism.

    Now, would you go to that guy if he was better at predicting what would cure cancer, if you had cancer? You'd be a fool not to. Saying that is science is just self-serving definition.

    Nor is this too far fetched. Like I say Big Data mining may result in us discerning correlations without causation that result in better predictions than methodological naturalism. If so, we'd be fools not to use Big Data even is we don't understand why.

    If Big Data determined that doing heart surgery on the same day the Japanese yen varied in value more than 1% resulted in less lethality, and we found that correlation over and over again, we'd be fools not to schedule heart surgery on those days, even if there is no causal explanation. We probably assume a causal nexus but if Big Data kept providing such powerful predictive outcomes, we probably ultimately wouldn't care and the whole notion of causality would dwindle.

    I doubt that will happen since I'm a modern man who lives in this dispensation of the Enlightenment. But it wouldn't utterly floor me if it did happen.
  • Moliere
    1.8k
    Your theory of institutionalization has some peculiar drawbacks. It can be self-consistent, but this would mean that the theory of relativity only became science after it was taken up by Bohr and promoted by him, for instance. It would also mean that a sizeable portion of what currently counts in the history of science would not actually be science. This is incredibly off the wall, and is an odd way to look at what is a human practice. One which is shared cross-culturally and throughout time. It would be like saying philosophy didn't exist until it became professionalized and set into an industrial setting.

    I'll repeat what my criteria of science is again: science is what scientists do. I say this because your characterization of my position -- "guys in garages" -- is quite off the mark. Just because the current institutions of science haven't always existed that doesn't mean scientists didn't publish, didn't archive, and didn't utilize standards.
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