The following concerns the tendency of an otherwise useful word’s meaning to be semantically hijacked when neglected, in this case, a word often used by believers as a catch-all justification for their claims, and a form of ‘evidence’ often subject to misconstrual as unerring in it’s accuracy, unaware of the many ways it may mislead us if we are without care in assessing what it tells us.
In the revolt against idealism, the ambiguities of the word “experience” have been perceived, with the result that realists have more and more avoided the word. It is to be feared, however, that if the word is avoided the confusions of thought with which it has been associated may persist.
Russell and I would probably get along splendidly seeing that his views of science, despite the failure of the Unity of Science program, very much match my own in some important respects. Then again, the Logical Positivists, though ultimately unsuccessful, did provide some very important ground rules for modern science, and that’s something to bear in mind.
It seems to me that science has a much greater likelihood of being true in the main than any philosophy hitherto advanced (I do not, of course, except my own). In science there are many matters about which people are agreed; in philosophy there are none. Therefore, although each proposition in a science may be false, and it is practically certain that there are some that are false, yet we shall be wise to build our philosophy upon science, because the risk of error in philosophy is pretty sure to be greater than in science. If we could hope for certainty in philosophy, the matter would be otherwise, but so far as I can see such a hope would be chimerical.
This last deals with a common theme (trope?) on this blog, the eternal struggle waged by those who wish reality to support their presuppositions, rather than to base their suppositions on reality, very much putting ‘Descartes before de horse…’
We all have a tendency to think that the world must conform to our prejudices. The opposite view involves some effort of thought, and most people would die sooner than think — in fact they do so.
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell (1872-05-18 – 1970-02-02) was a British mathematician, philosopher and logician.
The early days of psychology were interesting to say the least, and one of its leading figures, Carl Gustav Jung, a man not ordinarily noted for a skeptical view — indeed, a lot of his statements and more mystical ideas, such as synchronicity and the collective unconscious, have been widely adopted by the New Age movement — had some rather scientifically spot-on things to say about UFOs as a thing more of the inner world of the unconscious mind and human culture, not the outer world of the universe, and was rather sensible in his views on regression and what we refer to now as channeling. On that, Jung said this:
“One can very well…take it simply as a report of psychological facts or a continuous series of communications from the unconscious…They have this in common with dreams; for dreams, too, are statements about the unconscious…The present state of affairs gives us reason enough to wait quietly until more impressive physical phenomena put in an appearance. If, after making allowance for conscious and unconscious falsification, self-deception, prejudice, etc., we should still find something positive behind them, then the exact sciences will surely conquer this field by experiment and verification, as has happened in every other realm of human experience.”
A note on falsification in the sense of deceit: While elsewhere I’ve expressed a reluctance to invoke deliberate fraud as a factor in paranormal claims, I’m forced to concede that fraud, in both cynically willful and piously motivated forms, is much more common than I’ve given it credit for in the past.
While various sources of human error, not deliberate deceit, are still top on my list of hypotheses to consider, I keep the possibility of intentional trickery in reserve for those occasions when I’m given reason to suspect it.
We humans, after all, have a long history of fooling each other as well as ourselves, and this needs to at least be considered.
What of the pious fraud? Do such strange beasts actually exist? Yes…It is the sincere believer in some claim or other who is clever enough at rationalizing justifications, or otherwise self-beguiled, and thus often doing so with a clear conscience, to fudge things just a wee bit here and there, to protect and promote her conviction in the truth of the claim, and also to successfully convince others.
Thus not all deception by others is knowing or malicious, and often first involves the trickster tricking herself.
But Jung’s last sentence above runs rather closely with an idea I’ve had for a while:
There exists no real dichotomy of Western science vs postmodern parascience; there is only science…
…and then there is non-science — everything else in this great big wonderful universe that isn’t science — for we should consider that complements are not opposites.
The complement of ‘light’ is not ‘dark,’ but ‘non-light,’ after all.
Either we use science, or methods very similar to it, to figure out the world around us, or we do not.
Shall we use reason alone? Pure sense-data? I argue no to both.
I think that a much truer picture of the world is seen when we use reason and experience together, along with such things as our abilities to invent and test hypotheses, to associate concepts, to find and learn from patterns we note, when those exist, and maybe some occasional *aha!* moments, to see us toward getting answers to our questions when all of these are working reliably and used skeptically.
And let’s not forget memory, which allows us to keep things in our head from one instant to the next, despite its constructive nature and other fallibilities…
But all these things are fallible to a degree, though they can be very useful if we hone them and employ them carefully and wisely.
That’s what science does so well, better than any other idea we’ve come up with yet, only requiring that what we are looking for be real in a meaningfully knowable way and observable by whatever means is possible at the time, and finally, capable of independent verification no matter the attitude, worldview or beliefs of the questioner.
I await the day that someone, making an honest and careful effort to abide by the process and rules of science, not the denial or rejection of same, convincingly demonstrates at least one paranormal claim true.
Whether or not pigs learn to fly.
Here’s a fellow I don’t post on much, but he’s prone to some interesting quotes nonetheless, and I first heard of him on episode #124 of the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe and in the Skeptical Inquirer magazine with his article on the Electric Universe claims.
He’s a theoretical physicist, doing much of the pondering that then gets implemented and tested by the experimentalists.
It’s a physicist thing, so it’s all cool.
Here he discusses the idea we often have that events are somehow out of the ordinary, or special when given enough time to happen, no possible event, however remote is special or significant at all, just rare, but no matter how rare WILL happen.
Richard Feynman used to go up to people all the time and he’d say “You won’t believe what happened to me today… you won’t believe what happened to me” and people would say “What?” and he’d say “Absolutely nothing”. Because we humans believe that everything that happens to us is special and significant. And that — and Carl Sagan wrote beautifully about that in The Demon-Haunted World — that is much of the source of religion. Everything that happens is unusual and I expect that the likelihood that Richard and I ever would’ve met. If you think about all the variables: the probability that we were in the same place at the same time, ate breakfast the same. Whatever. It’s zero. Every event that happens has small probability… but it happens and then when it happens; if it’s weird, if you dream one million nights and it’s nonsense but one night you dream that your friend is gonna break his leg and the next day he breaks his arm… *sound of revelation* So the really thing that physics tell us about the universe is that it’s big, rare event happens all the time — including life — and that doesn’t mean it’s special.
Lawrence M. Krauss (born May 27, 1954) is an American Theoretical Physicist who is Professor of Physics, Foundation Professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Director of the Origins Project at the Arizona State University. He is the author of several bestselling books, including The Physics of Star Trek.
- Symphony of Science – The Poetry of Reality [Reposted] (kestalusrealm.wordpress.com)
- Lawrence Krauss: Students Need To Learn Effective Failure (scientificamerican.com)
- Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science by Lawrence M Krauss – review (guardian.co.uk)
- Quantum Man by Lawrence Krauss [Uncertain Principles] (scienceblogs.com)
- Quantum Man – Richard Feynman’s Life in Science (nytimes.com)
- Limits of logic (openparachute.wordpress.com)
- New Point of Inquiry: Lawrence Krauss – Quantum Man | The Intersection (blogs.discovermagazine.com)
- Lawrence Krauss’s Feynman Biography Now Available | The Intersection (blogs.discovermagazine.com)
- Lawrence M. Krauss: The Beginning & End of the Universe (ritholtz.com)
I’m currently reading Alan Sokal‘s book “Beyond the Hoax,” and noting therein the unholy alliance of some in the academic humanities on the Left with the current obscurantist assault on science in the U.S. by pundits, corporations, and politicians on the far Right, and it seems to bear out a suspicion that I’ve held for awhile, the striking similarity in the arguments of prominent Postmodernists and those of the Right in denying, and in denying that they are denying, findings of science that do not set well with them politically, religiously, ideologically, nor economically.
Though the Right has often been characterized as absolutist and authoritarian in worldview, their arguments against science sounded suspiciously relativist to me, and that got me thinking about one of their tactics, which I discovered to be brilliantly purloined from Postmodernist discourse: Conflating facts, truth, and knowledge, with mere assertions, claims, and pretensions of the same, and dismissing any science they disagree with by invoking suspicion of bias and vested interest on the part of researchers.
In short, in dismissing science by denying its objectivity, by claiming, by facile but fallacious argumentation, that it’s not only scientists themselves who are prone to ideological leanings, but that these are built into the very process of the scientific enterprise itself.
That’s a tall order of nonsense indeed, and offered with no proof to boot. While It’s legitimate to bring up the possibility of researcher bias in a study, mere suspicion of motives without evidence does not constitute a valid argument.
What needs to be done by those advancing these arguments is to point out the specific errors in a study through which the bias and vested interests of those conducting it can be shown to have compromised the results of the study.
If that cannot be done, or won’t be done out of intellectual laziness, then I’m sorry, that’s just not a valid argument.
Proof speaks more clearly than mere assertion without proof, which may be dismissed without proof, to paraphrase Christopher Hitchens.
This post’s quote spells out perfectly my view that science as a whole is neither masculine nor feminine in character, neither Western nor Eastern in nature, neither Capitalist nor Socialist, and neither good nor evil in moral standing, but the best means we have to date of gaining objective knowledge of reality.
As Carl Sagan put it, it is a way of skeptically interrogating the universe, more than a body of knowledge, and along with the various human faculties of Reason, one of our best ways of not just knowing facts, but of finding them out.
Science as a whole knows no ideology, and the facts it lets us find are facts whether we like them or not, for better or worse for our precious conceits and wishes.
Fortunately science, like that nature to which it belongs, is neither limited by time nor by space. It belongs to the world, and is of no country and of no age. The more we know, the more we feel our ignorance; the more we feel how much remains unknown; and in philosophy, the sentiment of the Macedonian hero can never apply, — there are always new worlds to conquer.
Here’s something once said by twentieth century philosopher Bertrand Russell, a fellow with some interesting ideas whom I’ve not posted on enough on this site for my taste.
I never heard of him prior to getting involved as a skeptic, but he rather seems to me to have had his proverbial act together, and in any event, was someone I can learn from.
Here he puts forth his views of the proper goals of a good educational system, and what sort of understanding it should instill, very far indeed from mere indoctrination, I’d say.
Considering the date for this quote, his usage of the terms skepticism and dogma are contemporary for the period and may not be as applicable in the modern sense…
…so anyhoo here’s Bert’s 25 cents worth…
…and no, Ernie is not available for comment!
Neither acquiescence in skepticism nor acquiescence in dogma is what education should produce. What it should produce is a belief that knowledge is attainable in a measure, though with difficulty; that much of what passes for knowledge at any given time is likely to be more or less mistaken, but that the mistakes can be rectified by care and industry. In acting upon our beliefs, we should be very cautious where a small error would mean disaster; nevertheless it is upon our beliefs that we must act. This state of mind is rather difficult: it requires a high degree of intellectual culture without emotional atrophy. But though difficult, it is not impossible; it is in fact the scientific temper. Knowledge, like other good things, is difficult, but not impossible; the dogmatist forgets the difficulty, the skeptic denies the possibility. Both are mistaken, and their errors, when widespread, produce social disaster.
- Bertrand Russell on God (1959) (new.exchristian.net)
- Can philosophy be our main source of ethics and morality? (or ‘Some musings on Musonius Rufus’) (beinghuman.blogs.fi)
- Symphony of Science: A Wave of Reason (guardian.co.uk)
- Are non-skeptical atheists really atheists? (redux) (barefootbum.blogspot.com)
- Symphony of Science: A Wave of Reason (kestalusrealm.wordpress.com)
- Philosophy Word of the Day – Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem (greatcloud.wordpress.com)
- Is Philosophy Dead? (psychologytoday.com)