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Cosmology, Quantum Mechanics & Consciousness Message Board › The methodology of physics and the (other) natural sciences

The methodology of physics and the (other) natural sciences

lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 131

Andrew wrote:

>"Maybe I assumed I would retain my authority as supreme dictator over the spin-off thread, but instead this thread has been liberated."

Yes: by the Physicalist Popular Liberation Front.

I don't know if it will really help to discuss philosophy of science here, it wasn't my intention and I really do agree with Einstein's approach.

My understanding is that it wasn’t exactly eclectic. When in 1905 Zur Elektrodynamik bewegen Körper was published, Einstein was in full-flood positivistic phase. The emphasis is entirely on measurements. He only began to adopt a “substantial” view of this new – and hitherto entirely unsuspected even by himself until Minkowski’s intervention – stuff, "spacetime"with the development of GR, for obvious reasons.

Speaking of quasi religious scientists, isn't there some sort of faith associated with believing in reductionism, emergence or whatever?

Einstein certainly wasn’t religious! One wonders how this kind of mendacious, populist calumny comes about. (Alright, I appreciate that you qualified “religious” by prefixing it with “quasi”!) Einstein was – on AJ Ayer’s testimonial authority, and they knew each other well for several months during the 1930s – a pantheist, after the manner of Baruch Spinoza, 17th century Portuguese-Jewish/Dutch philosopher. Nowadays, “pantheism” is regarded as a species of atheism, not religious belief, and Spinoza was repeatedly condemned for atheism -- particularly as one might suspect by the Catholics! -- throughout his life.! Spinoza’s version was of an infinitely faceted reality, only 2 of which are known to humankind: the “mental” and the “physical”. Thus in his view neither "realm" is reducible to the other, but the old Cartesian “twin peak”, dualist conception of reality had been effectively marginalised, suburbanised into 2 insignificantly small villages within an incomprehensibly vast totality. Spinoza used the word “God” to label this totality, but he certainly didn’t personalise this “entity”, this mental-but-so-much-unimaginably-else-as-­well aggregate, any more than did Einstein.

In fact, this is Einstein’s view of religion (from The Guardian):

James Randerson, science correspondent
• The Guardian, Tuesday 13 May 2008

"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." So said Albert Einstein, and his famous aphorism has been the source of endless debate between believers and non-believers wanting to claim the greatest scientist of the 20th century as their own.

A little known letter written by him, however, may help to settle the argument - or at least provoke further controversy about his views.

Due to be auctioned this week in London after being in a private collection for more than 50 years, the document leaves no doubt that the theoretical physicist was no supporter of religious beliefs, which he regarded as "childish superstitions".

Einstein penned the letter on January 3 1954 to the philosopher Eric Gutkind who had sent him a copy of his book Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt. The letter went on public sale a year later and has remained in private hands ever since.

In the letter, Einstein states:

"The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this."

Einstein, who was Jewish and who declined an offer to be the state of Israel's second president, also rejected the idea that the Jews are God's favoured people.

"For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them."

[Andrew again]: Isn't it slightly unscientific to limit one's world view to only one approach? ( but I'm not going to discuss this!)

Yes, but one doesn't believe in the methodology of science for ideological/"psychological"­ reasons. One follows procedure in the realisation that it is the only profitable way to proceed if one is involved in the enterprise of gathering and theoretically consolidating reliable knowledge!

(Flabbergasted once more!)

lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 132

Peter wrote:

>”Finally, fear not: I am 100% content with the description of myself as a SeaSlug with an extra neurone and a slightly terraformed body.”

The way you’ve written the species name as 2 conjoined proper nouns makes it appear as though you’re referring to the United kingdom’s top secret, Brave New Naval Initiative Defence Missile. (Like the Brit economy. Geddit? tongue )

For the record, I have absolutely nothing against sea slugs. Just consider: they’ve been around for a few hundred million years which makes them incredibly fit from an evolutionary perspective! .. and they haven’t been parading around every conceivable ecological niche for a mere few tens of thousands of years, provoking species mass-extinction, desertification, and the spawning of endless vistas beyond of primitively superstitious, tribally obsessed, grasping, truth-distorting progeny.

OK, so philanthropy may not be one of my more prominent characteristics. I’m with Einstein in being an anthropological realist. (There has to be something of the Martian in you to get that far!)

[In fact, if I had got something against sea slugs, that would in philosophical parlance render me some species of type materialist, wouldn’t it?


A former member
Post #: 83
Secret Experimental Androgynous Skeptic Lampoon Underwater Gun

It sinks enemy ships by making then laugh so much that the stress induced by the vibration causes their hulls to crack.

Specifically designed to work in both male and female vessels. This requires a dual track sense of humour (patent applied for).

Sorry... don't get B.N.N.I.D.M

lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 133

From Peter. (Admittedly somewhat tongue-in-cheekly.)


I know this is exactly the sort of formal set of definitions that Camilla says she is not comfortable with.

But it seems so neat:

1. Scientists are seekers after Pure Truth in the domain of Science.

I doubt that Camilla would be prepared to subscribe to any doctrine of PT any more than myself. Beware of hymn book capitalisation!

As you might expect, Peter – and as Andrew might shudder – there are competing schools of philosophical thought as to what “truth” is. Along with a noble lineage including logician Alfred Tarski I proclaim the correspondence theory of truth. This asserts that “truth” is a simple common-or-garden notion – as indeed it is, before philosophers muddy the waters. Truth is not “holy”. It is not profound. It not the stuff of hymn-book capital lettering. It is instead that property of some sentence or coherent body of sentences which express some assertion – sometimes about the sentence itself, but essentially about any subject whatsoever – which actually corresponds to the specific-for-the-moment description of the intended, referred-to state.

2. The Methodology of Science is the principles, procedures or techniques that guide, or are employed by, Scientists in their search for Pure Truth.

The methodology of science is self-evident common sense ..

.. which is precisely why I found myself compelled to start up a thread on the subject!

3. The Domain of Science is the set of all a-conscious events taken together with the systems exhibiting those events and the causal networks that determine the behaviour of those systems.

Science isn’t really concerned with the tediously pettifogging minutiae of everyday life. It seeks to uncover and formulate generalities of behaviour, under specified circumstances. Thus for instance the by-now well-corroborated experimental feedback from the QM decoherence interpretation research program at various places around the world but particularly offshoots of Anton Zeilinger’s Austrian teams in addition to various Israeli researchers distinguishes between different physical regimes in which different classes of behaviour are to be expected. At “very low” temperatures down to as far as 6K to 3K condensed matter systems are said to occupy the oscillator bath regime, and at temperatures below about 3K no energy levels are left which would be able to accommodate the relatively large increments of energy which characterise oscillator bath behaviour, and so at “extremely low” temperatures researchers are working instead in the spin bath regime, and there are experimental protocols which can easily show which regime is which. Obviously such generic claims require first to be validated by the results of individual testing and measurement runs made by experimentalists, and these individual results – or rather, lists of reruns and their statistical analyses – are the actual episodes as published within the journals of the interested research community, but what survives as far as the textbooks are summaries of the kind of phenomenology to be expected as the result of following such-and-such procedure with such-and-such apparatus, or, more abstractly, as one sees by reading any popular science book, that this general law holds in situations like the one described.

So to summarise: within science, individual events, no. Thus-far exceptionless regularities of correlated measurables, yes.

(Obviously, one-offs such as the terrestrial impacts of very large meteorites and ancient sightings of supernovae before the invention of the telescope are included in an attempt to gain some semblance of by-the-seat-of-the-pants, Ian Fleming-like narrative flair.)

4. A-conscious events are anything that can be objectively measured, or whose effects can be objectively measured, yielding repeatable, sharable results.

Or (more generally!) a-conscious events are the domain of the thinkable!

5. The Truth is any explanation or procedure that at any given point in time yields better (i.e. diverging less from the actual observed behaviour of the system) results than any other available explanation or procedure.

Substitute “currently accepted best interpretation” – i.e. the best-fit model – for “truth” and you’d not be far wrong. Truth, generally speaking – as in the predicate calculuscannot be known on the basis of any finite list of singular observation-statements.

It can only be conjectured! (Inductively! Sorry, Popper!)

Most reliable is What You See Is What You Get.

6. Pure Truth is any Truth better than that which preceded it.

I.e. science is progressive, unlike philosophy which does sort-of eliminate poor ideas, but usually only after the question has long been hived off to the tender attentions of some relevant scientific discipline, such that empirical either corroboration or falsification of some longstanding claim has finally become available.

A former member
Post #: 84
Hi Ian,

I think you may not have noticed that my offering was a set of axioms defining the meanings of defined terms. You can replace "truth" with "obscene wealth" and "pure truth" with "sacrilege" and the meaning will technically be unchanged.

The words used for the defined terms are chosen to convey, on a totally different level from the formal axiomatic definitions, the typical mindset of a scientist, and the feeling of searching for the Pure Truth.

On a more technical point, I would still contend that "The Domain of Science is the set of all a-conscious events taken together with the systems exhibiting those events and the causal networks that determine the behaviour of those systems." What science chooses to focus on in the search for Pure Truth is another matter entirely. Your points are 100% valid w.r.t. where the attention goes.

I was trying to capture the idea of the constant search bor better/more knowledge and the fudamantal pragmatic objectivity of the scientific method.


PS: my tongue does not unzipp and is quite small. I cannot extract it from my cheek.
A former member
Post #: 92
You guys sure can talk. The point of this separate thread was, as far as I am concerned, merely for Ian to respond to my specific point about invoking dimensional analysis, a point which I restated in a hopefully better way on 14 April. Still waiting to hear from you Ian!
A former member
Post #: 87
That's interesting Andrew...

I am responding based on the thread's title, and Ian's opening post.

Neither mention dimensional analysis.

I developed a proper system of dimensional analysis to shut my (somewhat retarded) physics teachers up, during the first A-level year at school. At least it didn't claim that torque and power were the same thing.

But even this enhanced version was a weak tool. I cannot imagine what relevance it has here.

A former member
Post #: 94
Ian opened up this new thread to fire all his intercontinental ballistic missiles towards the comment that I later retracted. The comment that I did not retract, about dimensional analysis, remains on the table. At least that's my take. I don't mind if Ian lets it go now, we are way off the consciousness theme and I've just tried to finish with my position on 'my own thread'.
A former member
Post #: 88
I can only participate in this thread based on the contents of this thread
lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 149


Incidentally anyone who as a result of our occasionally heated exchanges has acquired an interest in the "freewill" non-issue could do worse than to attend the following philosophical talk (with ensuing debate). I would strongly advise downloading and reading the text first, otherwise you will almost certainly find the discussion to be completely incomprehensible! You can find "Aristotelian Society" on Google and when at the site click on Current Programme in order to download:

30 April 2012 | 16.15 - 18.00

Choice and Voluntary Action

Maria Alvarez

(Kings College London)

The Woburn Suite
Senate House
University of London

Malet Street, London WC1 (5 mins walk from Goodge Street Underground station on the Northern Line, Tottenham Court Road)

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