• Craig
    2
    Hi,

    I’m new here and this is my first post. I was hoping for some insight into the epistemology of the scientific method. As far as I understand Popper, whom I agree with, scientific theories are never confirmed. They are the best theory currently available which have survived falsification yet are still open to being falsified. They are never confirmed or certain.

    My problem is, how does this relate to the theory of a spherical Earth? It seems here we have a theory that survived falsification and has gone on to become fact through confirmation via observing the spherical shape of the Earth thanks to space exploration.

    Does the spherical Earth cast doubt upon Popper’s claims about scientific theories never been confirmed?
  • ernestm
    404
    Does the spherical Earth cast doubt upon Popper’s claims about scientific theories never been confirmed?Craig

    Welcome aboard. If you look it up, you will find that in current scientific thought, a theory's predictions do actually become true given sufficient substantiation, although I've not seen a statement as to what constitutes 'sufficient truth'. and the notion was probably formulated that way because philosophy teachers were fed up of apologizing for bad high school teachers.

    An example is the statement that water freezes at 0 degrees celsius. According to scientists, this statement is considered true due to widespread substantiation, even though it does not state pressure and gravitational conditions, and so has exceptions for example in deep space and in the vicinity of black holes.
  • andrewk
    1.8k
    Does the spherical Earth cast doubt upon Popper’s claims about scientific theories never been confirmed?Craig
    It could be that the Earth we see as approximately spherical is actually a 3D cross-section of an object that is actually a 4D hypersphere. We can never rule out more elaborate theories. But we don't need to. We just say 'this is the best hypothesis we have at present, and it has been working very well, so we'll keep on using that unless or until it stops working well'.
  • TheMadFool
    2.7k
    Hi andrewk

    I want to run the following by you for your criticism:

    According to the link I posted above:

    The scientific method (TSM) is the fallacy of affirming the consequent.

    1) If hypothesis A is true then predictions B, C, D, etc. are true
    2. Predictions B, C, D, etc. are true
    Therefore
    3) Hypothesis A is true

    Is the above the correct blueprint for all scientific arguments?

    If it is then the fallacy of affirming the consequent has been committed.

    One merit of this fallacious thinking is scientific hypotheses can be falsifies because if the predictions B, C, D, etc. are not true, the hypothesis A, by modus tollens, is false.

    What I think about TSM is that the actual argument is as below:

    1. Hypothesis A is true IF AND ONLY IF ALL predictions come true
    2. ALL predictions are true
    Therefore
    3. Hypothesis A ia true

    As you can see as more and more predictions of hypothesis A comes true the probability of it being correct increases. Of course we can never reach 100% because there are an infinite number of predictions that are possible from a single hypothesis.

    I think there's something wrong in my reasoning. Can you help me? Thanks.
  • Inis
    170
    It could be that the Earth we see as approximately spherical is actually a 3D cross-section of an object that is actually a 4D hypersphere. We can never rule out more elaborate theories. But we don't need to. We just say 'this is the best hypothesis we have at present, and it has been working very well, so we'll keep on using that unless or until it stops working well'.andrewk

    That the Earth is spherical is not a scientific theory, it is merely a fact of reality.

    The scientific theory consists of the explanation for this and associated facts.
  • Inis
    170
    My problem is, how does this relate to the theory of a spherical Earth? It seems here we have a theory that survived falsification and has gone on to become fact through confirmation via observing the spherical shape of the Earth thanks to space exploration.Craig

    There is no "theory of a spherical earth". The earth literally is (approximately) spherical. The theory is the explanation of that phenomenon, and there have been a couple of those.

    But sure, if you go far enough back in time, perhaps you will find the mistaken conclusion that the Earth is flat, but that misconception was the result of inadequate theory, and not itself a theory. In Popperian language, the flatness of the Earth would be a basic statement, that could be (in principle) tested.

    Does the spherical Earth cast doubt upon Popper’s claims about scientific theories never been confirmed?Craig

    You've got to be a bit careful here. Wasn't it Hume who first noticed this, and then Kant who wrestled with the problem for a large part of his career?

    You will be surprised to learn the Popper not only argued that scientific theories cannot be verified, but that they cannot be logically falsified either, before going on to solve the problems set up by Hume.
  • andrewk
    1.8k
    I think your reasoning is broadly fine, and accords with Popper, who says we can never prove a theory true. The only significant difference I would make is that I would not use probability, which implies a precision that is not possible here. I would rather say that we just become more confident in the theory as the number of fulfilled predictions increases. But as you point out, we can never have all predictions fulfilled, because there are infinitely many and we can only test a finite number.
  • andrewk
    1.8k
    There is no "theory of a spherical earth". The earth literally is (approximately) spherical. The theory is the explanation of that phenomenon, and there have been a couple of those.Inis
    We can't directly observe that a planet, or any object, is spherical because we see in 2D and spheres are 3D. We have reams of data that are consistent with the theory that the Earth is approximately spherical so we adopt that theory.

    I set the boundary between observations and theories much lower down - towards the very raw input end.
  • TheMadFool
    2.7k
    Thanks.

    I'm still not clear on the connection between given hypothesis and predictions thereof. There are 3 possibilities:

    1. Hypothesis implies predictions
    2. Predictions imply hypothesis
    3. Hypothesis implies and is implied by predictions

    Possibility 1 is what is generally accepted to be the scientific method and it makes sense because a given hypothesis should be sufficient to predict some experimental observations.

    Possibility 2 is unacceptable because a given set of predictions is explicable through many differing hypotheses.

    Possibility 3 is now unacceptable because 2 is unacceptable for aforementioned reasons. My reasoning in the previous post to you is faulty.

    There's something else that matters and compensates for the fallacious reasoning. What is it?
  • Inis
    170
    We can't directly observe that a planet, or any object, is spherical because we see in 2D and spheres are 3D. We have reams of data that are consistent with the theory that the Earth is approximately spherical so we adopt that theory.

    I set the boundary between observations and theories much lower down - towards the very raw input end.
    andrewk

    And yet Eratosthenes was able to measure the circumference of the Earth in ~200 B.C.

    The scientific method deals with universal statements, and I'm not convinced that deducing the shape and size of a particular object (albeit a large and rather important one) counts as one of those.

    But there are theories, which are undeniably scientific theories, and are undeniably true, for example plate-tectonics, the age of the earth, even dinosaurs. These theories seem to go from being a controversial hypothesis to a fact of reality, and anyone who questions them is a crackpot.

    In defence of Popper in such situations, we need to remember that Popper never claimed that scientific truth could not be achieved, rather than it could not be certified. And the logical status of these theories is that no viable criticism of them exists. Are you willing to commit to the statement that no criticism of them can ever exist?

    Evolution, or rather the "Modern Evolutionary Synthesis", does seem to be the elephant in the room in this regard, though. A core theory to our conception of reality, that, contra-Popper, is certifiably true, it seems.
  • aletheist
    984
    The scientific method (TSM) is the fallacy of affirming the consequent.
    1) If hypothesis A is true then predictions B, C, D, etc. are true
    2. Predictions B, C, D, etc. are true
    Therefore
    3) Hypothesis A is true
    Is the above the correct blueprint for all scientific arguments?
    If it is then the fallacy of affirming the consequent has been committed.
    TheMadFool
    Only if one insists that deduction is the only valid form of logic. Charles Sanders Peirce recognized that retroduction (or abduction) and induction are also valid, just not in the same way as deduction. The argument outlined above is a valid retroduction, which is the first step in any scientific inquiry, with some qualifications that Peirce included in his own formulation of it:

    • The surprising fact, C, is observed.
    • But if A were true, C would be a matter of course.
    • Therefore, we have reason to suspect that A is true.

    A is the hypothesis that would explain C. Unlike deduction, the truth of the conclusion is not guaranteed by the truth of the premises; the explanatory hypothesis is merely plausible, rather than certain. The second step in any scientific inquiry is then deduction, deriving additional necessary consequences if the hypothesis is indeed true--i.e., predictions. The third step is then induction, conducting experiments and/or performing additional observations to ascertain whether those predictions are corroborated or falsified. The validity of induction is experiential rather than formal, grounded in the nature of its method--it is self-correcting in the long run.
  • Inis
    170
    1) If hypothesis A is true then predictions B, C, D, etc. are true
    2. Predictions B, C, D, etc. are true
    Therefore
    3) Hypothesis A is true

    Is the above the correct blueprint for all scientific arguments?
    TheMadFool

    Nay, Nay, and thrice Nay!

    The Scientific Method goes like this:

    1) Problem Identification - You find a problem you are interested in or need to solve.

    2) Tentative Solutions - You conjecture solutions to your problem.

    3) Error elimination through criticism and testing of your conjectures, refutation.

    4) Further conjectures.

    5) Further refutations, and so on without end.

    Within Popper's method, it needs to be emphasised that nothing is conclusive. Falsification happens, but conclusive falsification cannot happen. Also, contrary to the Logical Positivists whose ideas were dominant at the time Popper wrote LSD, theories are not verified, and thus admitted to science. Theories are automatically admitted, but if they fail, they are rejected.

    Let's not forget that Popper also rescued metaphysics with his method.
  • Janus
    6.4k
    My problem is, how does this relate to the theory of a spherical Earth?Craig

    The Earth has been observed to be spherical, hence that the Earth is spherical is not a theory, but an observation.

    We can't directly observe that a planet, or any object, is spherical because we see in 2D and spheres are 3D. We have reams of data that are consistent with the theory that the Earth is approximately spherical so we adopt that theory.andrewk

    Ah, I see that you have contested the idea that the sphericity of objects can be observed. I think it is right that sphericity cannot be instantly observed. But small spherical objects can be rolled around, and larger ones can be walked around, to confirm that they are spherical. In the case of the Earth it must be flown around, or otherwise precisely traversed. Apparently the Earth is not perfectly spherical, but purportedly if it were reduced to the size of a billiard ball it would be closer to being spherical than the billiard ball.
  • andrewk
    1.8k
    These theories seem to go from being a controversial hypothesis to a fact of reality, and anyone who questions them is a crackpot.Inis
    Popper's position, and mine, is that when a hypothesis graduates to a higher state it becomes a theory. There is no higher state than a theory. To say that a theory is not a fact is not to question it, it is to acknowledge the proper accepted meaning of the word theory in the scientific community.

    A fact is a raw observation, such as the measurements that Eratosthenes made, of times, distances and angles, and in some cases of even lower-level observations than that. He compared his observations with those that were predicted by a theory that the Earth was round, and found that they matched pretty closely. Accordingly that theory is accepted as the best one we have available regarding the shape of the Earth, and nobody to my knowledge has suggested we abandon it since at least the time of Magellan.
  • Inis
    170
    Popper's position, and mine, is that when a hypothesis graduates to a higher state it becomes a theory. There is no higher state than a theory. To say that a theory is not a fact is not to question it, it is to acknowledge the proper accepted meaning of the word theory in the scientific community.andrewk

    Popper does not differentiate between an hypothesis and a theory. The only way conjectures can be dealt with is to admit them to the scientific method.

    A fact is a raw observationandrewk

    No such thing. All observations are theory-laden.
  • andrewk
    1.8k
    All observations are theory-laden.Inis
    I foresee this discussion heading towards Kant's CPR. While that is one of my favourite topics, it would probably be getting a bit far from the OP so I'll keep stumm.
  • TheMadFool
    2.7k
    Thanks.

    The scientific method:

    1. Identify problem (observational findings)
    2. Construct hypothesis
    3. Test hypothesis. This involves making and checking predictions
    4. Revise hypothesis if hypothesis fails to account for all observations
    5. Identify further implications

    aletheist, You're referring to stage 2 of the the scientific method. Abduction is the inference to the best explantion. When we're faced with a set of empirical observations we can construct more than one hypothesis to fit them. We still need to find out which hypothesis among them is the best fit.

    Inis you're talking about the entire process of the scientific method. I agree with you.

    However, I'm specifically talking about step 3 of the process -testing the hypothesis. In this case we do commit the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent as below:

    1. If hypothesis A is true then predictions B, C, D,...are true
    2. Predictions B, C, D,... are true
    So,
    3. Hypothesis A is true

    What are your comments on this?
  • karl stone
    284
    Does the spherical Earth cast doubt upon Popper’s claims about scientific theories never been confirmed?Craig

    The degree of confidence that a spherical earth exists is very high, but we could all be brains in jars. We could all be plugged into the matrix in an entirely different kind of reality, and when we wake up - find that the spherical earth we thought we experienced was an illusion. If that happened that would be new information that falsified the spherical earth hypothesis.

    Here's where it gets interesting. Occam's razor, basically states that the simplest adequate explanation is the best - and so the possibility that, just maybe - we are brains in jars, has to be considered in terms of how likely it is - and in those terms can be dismissed. So, while there remains a doubt - as expressed in Descartes Meditations, that some evil demon may be deceiving us in everything we seem to experience, that doubt is subject to a probability test - and all this feeds into scientific method, and empiricism.

    Empirical proof does not follow from the facts per se - but from independent confirmation of the experimental methodology, and findings. It's considered proof, but held to be contingent on the possibility of the improbable variable turning up. A variable that might be foreseeable - but considered too unlikely to factor into the hypothesis, or an entirely unforeseeable variable, in light of which the proof is falsified. So the answer is both yes and no. Can we have proof? Yes. Can we have absolute proof? No!
  • SophistiCat
    649
    Does the spherical Earth cast doubt upon Popper’s claims about scientific theories never been confirmed?Craig

    Confirmation is what happens when your confidence in a proposition or a theory increases in response to evidence. To deny that our confidence in the proposition that the Earth is round has ever changed, despite everything we have learned, is to deny reality.

    Popper goes through ridiculous contortions to deny "confirmation," but in the end he is not actually saying anything different - he just says it more obscurely.
  • TheMadFool
    2.7k
    @Inis@aletheist@andrewk

    Scientific hypotheses are causal arguments. Causal arguments are inductive.

    To say hypothesis A explains observations B, C, D, etc. is to claim that A is a sufficient account for observations B, C, D, etc.

    Hypothesis A isn't necessary for observations B, C, D, etc. because there's more than one way to skin a cat i.e. many different hypotheses can account for a given set of observations.

    So the actual argument is actually as follows:

    1. If hypothesis A explains observations B, C, D,... then A is a sufficient or adequate hypothesis
    2. Hypothesis A explains observations B, C, D,...
    Ergo,
    3. Hypothesis A is a sufficient hypothesis
  • TheMadFool
    2.7k
    @Inis@aletheist@andrewk

    Imagine making a set of observations X. We then construct hypotheses A, B, C to explain X.

    A explains X in whole means A is a sufficient hypothesis.
    B explains X in whole means B is a sufficient hypothesis.
    C explains X in part means C is an insufficient hypothesis.

    How do we then make the ''right'' choice among the competing hypotheses?

    C can be ruled out because it's a partial explanation.

    Since both A and B explain X in whole we're left to find other means to discriminate between the two.

    Simplicity?

    A is simpler than B. So, we choose B.

    So, the actual scientific argument is:

    1. If A can explain X in whole then A is a sufficient hypothesis
    2. A explains X in whole
    Therefore,
    3. A is a sufficient hypothesis

    Popper's contribution comes into play here too as follows:

    1. If hypothesis A is correct then it should explain X
    2. Hypothesis A can't explain X
    Therefore,
    3. Hypothesis A is incorrect.
  • andrewk
    1.8k
    To deny that our confidence in the proposition that the Earth is round is the same as it has always been, despite everything we have learned, is to deny reality.SophistiCat
    Just wondering, did you mean 'To claim' rather than 'To deny'? Surely most people would deny that claim, on the ground that our confidence is almost certainly greater now than it would have been in 1000 BCE.
  • SophistiCat
    649
    Yes, sorry :grimace:
  • TheMadFool
    2.7k
    Does the spherical Earth cast doubt upon Popper’s claims about scientific theories never been confirmed?Craig

    That the Earth is spherical is a scientific hypothesis. There were two competing hypotheses:

    1. Earth is flat
    2. Earth is spherical

    Hypothesis 1 is natural and explicable because the size of a human compared to the Earth is such that we perceive the Earth to be flat.

    The point to note here is that flat-earthers arrived at this conclusion through observation. It looks flat, so it must be flat.

    Round-earthers also made observations of their own - eclipses, ships on the horizon, etc. - and decided the earth is round.

    As we can see, observations were made and hypotheses generated to fit these observations. All good in terms of a scientific viewpoint.

    Then came the space age - rockets and all - providing us the opportunity to take photographs of the Earth, in color at that. What do these photographs reveal? A spherical Earth.

    Yes, the photographs confirm the Earth's sphericity but they still leave room for doubt becuase the possibility remains that we're like flat-earthers with a limited view of the actual truth of the matter. Could it be that, as @andrewk said, the Earth is just a 3-D form of a 4-D hypersphere?

    Although the photograph ''confirmed'' the spherical earth hypothesis it hasn't ruled out, if you permit me, a ''higher'' truth.
  • Inis
    170

    1. Identify problem (observational findings)
    TheMadFool

    Sometimes "observational findings", but also purely theoretical considerations. For example the huge and varied research programs to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity have nothing to do with anything observed. And where it is "observational findings" it will be due to prevailing theories being put to the test. Physicists don't just stumble across gravitational waves.

    For example, the problem that Special Relativity sought to solve, was the unification of electromagnetism and Newtonian mechanics.

    2. Construct hypothesisTheMadFool

    You make it sound so easy! It is worth noting, that prior to Popper, the Logical Positivists admitted theories to science once they were verified. For Popper, theories are automatically admitted, for only then can they be criticised, tested, and falsified.

    3. Test hypothesis. This involves making and checking predictionsTheMadFool

    You could make predictions using Newton's laws and check them all day long and you won't encounter any surprises. The crucial point is error elimination, and testing is just part of your arsenal.

    4. Revise hypothesis if hypothesis fails to account for all observationsTheMadFool

    Again, the problems discovered are often nothing to do with observation, though they can be. And you might need a whole new set of ideas.

    5. Identify further implicationsTheMadFool

    And if you're lucky, you might get to refute your cherished ideas.

    However, I'm specifically talking about step 3 of the process -testing the hypothesis. In this case we do commit the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent as below:

    1. If hypothesis A is true then predictions B, C, D,...are true
    2. Predictions B, C, D,... are true
    So,
    3. Hypothesis A is true

    What are your comments on this?
    TheMadFool

    No one is claiming A is true, or even B,C,D are true. But if you claim that B,C,D are false, and you have theories why that is the case, then prospects for A are looking bleak.
  • DiegoT
    314
    Science is the Lying Game. A good lie must mix facts with the lie; and it must really hard to expose. In Sweden they give annually the prizes to the best lies of the year. Isaac Newton invented a lie that was only exposed four centuries later, that is why we consider him one of the greatest scientists in History. When you expose a great lie, you get to try to say another whopper; and Einstein took advantage of this rule to tell his own lies. They were so damn good they gave him the Swedish trophy as the best fabrication in Chemistry. Many physicists today dream of exposing Einstein´s relativistic lie; but it´s hard because Einstein was so good a concocting falsehood. Karl Popper helped to improve the Lying Game by introducing new rules.

    The Earth is only approximately spherical, and it isn´t spherical at all if upper or lower dimensions are considered. Popper´s new rules help to make clear that there is always a greater lie, one that involves ever greater chunks of Reality; and the new horizons force us to see the old facts under new light. For example, some liars in Physics are telling us now that dimensions are not fundamental; at least not the third and upper dimensions. This would imply that the Earth is only round in our sensory experience, but not really.
  • Inis
    170
    That the Earth is spherical is a scientific hypothesis. There were two competing hypotheses:

    1. Earth is flat
    2. Earth is spherical
    TheMadFool

    They are empirical statements, but "it is raining" is also an empirical statement, and no one claims that is a scientific theory.

    Popper argued that scientific theories take the logical form of "strictly universal statements", and none of the "singular statements" above fall into that category.

    Big shout out to Eratosthenes.
  • Terrapin Station
    6k


    "Confirmation" in the sense of proof a la "Can't possibly be wrong." That's what's not available. In order to count as science, any claim has to at least in principle or hypothetically be open to revision should conflicting evidence come along. That includes claims that people feel are very well-established, such as the spheroid shape of the Earth.
  • Inis
    170
    Scientific hypotheses are causal arguments. Causal arguments are inductive.TheMadFool

    Scientific theories can't be causal arguments if they work just as well backwards in time.
  • TheMadFool
    2.7k
    They are empirical statements, but "it is raining" is also an empirical statement, and no one claims that is a scientific theory.

    Popper argued that scientific theories take the logical form of "strictly universal statements", and none of the "singular statements" above fall into that category.

    Big shout out to Eratosthenes.
    Inis

    Perhaps I'm using the term ''scientific hypothesis'' in a broader sense and you're using ''empirical statement'' in a narrower sense.:chin:
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