June 2013 Philosophy Forum Meeting

Arthur Cammers will lead the discussion:


What is science? What is not Science? Why Should we Care?

The topic is really whether science and non-science are readily distinguishable. Non-science can be difficult to recognize because science involves the study of the unknown; sometimes the only way to know is through failure. How can we discriminate between science and non-science when the line of demarcation may get a bit blurred?[1-6] Given that science interconnects phenomena, two  incisive questions to determine the merit of the subject might be: 1) which phenomena are connected to and better explained by establishing the phenomenon under study? and 2)  from what we currently know, why should we suspect the theory is correct and how will this hypothesis be subject to failure given n experiments?


Science is the collective effort to construct theories about the material world on the basis of empirical evidence. Science is done by logically connecting observation or measurement of phenomena to a narrative or to a mathematical simulation. The simulation or the narrative (a theory) explains how phenomena relate and predict other phenomena or measurements. To the extent that the theory does NOT explain relationships between phenomena or does not simulate/ predict observation, the science fails and needs revision. Science requires repeatable observations and measurements. The absence of these elements is an indicator of non-science. More[7]


Science as an epistemology has its philosophical roots in naturalism[8], physicalism[9], empiricism[10], instrumentalism[11], and falsifiability[12] which are somewhat opposed to rationalism (the bugaboo in string theory) and certainly opposed to revelation, inspiration and any per se veracity assigned to traditional ancient writings. If the practice or study in question springs from revelation and if it is not fasifiable, if it tends to appeal to authority instead of observation -> theory building -> more observation -> more theory building, it is likely not science.


Science is the logical connection between known phenomena with minimal context (Occam’s Razor) and serves as an intellectual basis to make predictions. For example, electromagnetic theory explains how the following are related 1) balloons adhering to walls after being rubbed, 2) all chemical change, 3) lightning, 4) compass needles, 5) batteries, 6) electric eels, 7) nerve signals, 8) the behavior of magnets, 9) the interaction of light and materials, 10) why material glows when hot, 11) the glow of fireflies, 12) the properties of water, 13) microwave background radiation, 14) photography, 15) how eyes work, 16) the energy in foods, 17) why the sky is blue and the sunset is red, 18) photosynthesis, 19) fire, and 20) how the gecko can crawl up a pane of glass. There are of course many more phenomena connected by electromagnetic theory. Three hundred years ago these phenomena were unrelated--imagine living in such a world![13] Disconnection from other phenomena can be a warning sign of non-science.


Consilience stabilizes scientific theory.[14] For example the general notion that life evolved on Earth over hundreds of millions of years is corroborated by comparative genetics, comparative anatomy, proteomics, plate tectonics, paleontology--fossil record, and direct observation. Scientific corroboration of a theory by studies far afield increases the probability that the theory is correct--by definition because science seeks to interrelate phenomena. Think about how you know when a jigsaw puzzle piece fits where you try it: colors match, and various structural features have to match.  If there is a problem with any one of the relationships between pieces, you have to question your conclusion that the piece actually fits. A paucity of connections to other phenomena and other theories and a lack of agreement between these can signal non-science.


The study of some phenomena such as extrasensory perception (ESP) has involved lab coats, hospitals and PhDs, but this does not mean that any links have been established between ESP and any other phenomena. Nor has any correlation been established between any brain state and privileged, non-sensory awareness of the world be it playing card telepathy, psychokinesis, parapsychology, prayer or remote viewing. These have all shriveled under the scrutiny of scientific inquiry. However these and many brands of mysticism, persist after overall failed experimentation. If a phenomenon has been subject to scientific rigor and it fails to make connections or is non-repeatable and if the proponents and practitioners do not recognize and accept these failures the study or practice of said phenomenon is likely non-science.

Video/ Audio:



Rationally Speaking: Personality intelligence testing



Rationally Speaking: When Smart People Endorse Pseudoscience



Rationally Speaking: The Scientific Study of Religion



Point of Inquiry: Michael Shermer - Science, Skepticism and Libertarianism



Point of Inquiry: Ray Hyman - The Elusive Quarry, on the scientific destruction of parapsycology



Point of Inquiry: Matthew Hutson - The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking, we can't be scientific all the time. Magical thinking keeps us healthy happy and sane



[1]  Pigliucci on the demarcation conundrum 1: http://tinyurl.com/ppg5k32

[2]  Pigliucci on the demarcation conundrum 2: http://philpapers.org/archive/PIGP

[3]  Skeptics Dictionary demarcation pseudoscience: http://www.skepdic.com/pseudosc.html

[4]  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Pseudoscience: http://tinyurl.com/awlrqx

[5]  James Randi Pseudoscience, video: http://tinyurl.com/ls4xquj

[6]  M. Shermer, Sci. Am. 2011 “What is Pseudoscience?” http://tinyurl.com/mkcc8yl

[7]   Science Definition: http://www.gly.uga.edu/railsback/1122sciencedefns.html

[8] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalism_(philosophy)

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physicalism

[10] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empiricism

[11] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instrumentalism

[12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability

[13]  Electromagnetic Force: http://tinyurl.com/yozg

[14]  Consilience: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consilience


Join or login to comment.

  • Arthur C.

    What do we mean when we say something exists? Quick answer: The something is an inextricable part of a very successful model. I tried to get this point across at the June meeting. He is a brief redux of the same message. questioning trees, atoms, the Higgs field and god. Very cogent

    1 · July 12, 2013

  • Arthur C.

    Giant cold region in the microwave background could be . . . another universe. :-/
    Observers say this volume is also devoid of dark matter. It's empty, period.
    I am pretty skeptical about the other universe theory. Exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence.

    June 20, 2013

  • Miles S.

    Lively discussion

    June 16, 2013

  • Guy

    On request, Arthur has provided us with a PDF version of his diagram that wowed us at the last meeting:


    2 · June 16, 2013

  • Guy

    For the "true-believers" at the meeting, I think this line of reasoning is the best way to think about the "flying brick" video:


    But it comes from a philosopher, not a scientist.

    4 · June 14, 2013

    • Sonya S.

      Philosophers are cool too:)

      June 16, 2013

  • donna h d.

    upon hearing that Desha's would be moving Guy had called 2b sure we could still meet there ~ todays herald says deshas is fighting termination of its lease & vacate property by dec 31 .. either way looks like we can continue to meet at our new usual place for a few more months at least

    June 15, 2013

  • Jeremy

    Regarding Hume, I thought that this podcast episode is a good conversation about Laws of Nature. They talk about flying pins, but it would be applicable to bricks too. http://philosophybites.libsyn.com/helen-beebee-on-laws-of-nature

    3 · June 15, 2013

    • Jeremy

      *pens, rather

      June 15, 2013

  • Jeff

    Gary sai it best, one of our best discussions ever with input from everyone. The graphs were classic. Well done Arthur.

    2 · June 13, 2013

  • Arthur C.

    Thanks to all, great time!

    2 · June 12, 2013

  • Sonya S.

    Great time and great conversations once again! Love this group more and more each time I come! Thanks guys!

    1 · June 12, 2013

  • Sonya S.

    You all are a hoot!

    June 1, 2013

  • Jeff

    That's an old George Carlin joke from Smothers Brothers days.

    1 · May 31, 2013

  • donna h d.

    looking forward to it !

    May 30, 2013

  • Jeff

    A recent study found that chimpanzees that don't smoke marijuana drive just as poorly as those that do. Non-science? :)

    2 · May 30, 2013

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