An important concept

Discussion in 'Science and Nature' started by seculardave, Mar 11, 2012.

  1. I've posted this in both the science and the philosophy forums because I believe it has a place in both.

    This is just my opinion, I could certainly be wrong.

    There's a concept I've learned while studying at university, and I think it's probably the most important concept a person can learn. Without an understanding of this concept we run the risk of becoming intellectually stagnant and taking false information as true without ever knowing it. It's a concept that underpins scientific progress, and in-fact in academia as a whole. Without it the sciences would not exist in the form that they do today, and this profoundly meaningful concept can be summarized in four simple words: I could be wrong.

    Unfortunately too many people are completely oblivious to the idea that they could be wrong and this lamentable fact likely fosters much of the misinformation that people have to deal with every day. People have preconceptions about certain topics and they tend to select the information that fits their preconceived worldview, as opposed to constructing ones worldview around the strongest arguments available. Moreover, people tend to be skeptical of claims that may threaten their worldview instead of considering the potential truth of said claims and the potential falsehood of those claims that support their worldview. Which, to be fair, is entirely intuitive (everybody does it) and it certainly has its benefits-where would we be if we were to accept every claim that comes by without being selective-but it can get us in to trouble. Which is exactly why “I could be wrong” is a good concept to have running through your head when considering claims that have the potential to alter your worldview.

    Rather than examining claims people have the tendency to examine the claimant, which to some extent is a good thing since not all sources are trustworthy. However if you accept claims based on your feelings about the claimant you may be appealing to an inappropriate authority, and if you deny claims based on your feelings about the claimant you may be committing an ad hominem; claims stand and fall on their own merits.

    Do animals really evolve?
    Is our climate really changing?
    Is reading in the dark really bad for your eyes?
    Do Homeopathic remedies really have benefits?
    Are the Illuminati really trying to take over the world?

    What do you believe? Could you be wrong?

    Clearly it isn't as simple as this, it isn't always easy to tell which claims are true and which claims are not. And there's a lot more that can be said about this idea, but I think humility is an important place to start when accepting or denying claims.

    Any thoughts?
  2. Critical thinking?
  3. question what your told and keep a open mind...

    thats what your essentially getting at right?
  4. lol i do agree that not everybody thinks like this, i for one have my entire life. I don't believe anything a person tells me, till i figure it out in my own head first
  5. Critical thinking has to be fundamental to the genesis of any idea. However, once the idea has been substantiated by experimental evidence and proofs then the idea should be consider as a truth. If all ideas are considered to be equally wrong as well as correct then the steady incline of discovery will plateau with nobody knowing where to cement their trust. By your logic we should still say the earth is equally possible to be flat as it is spherical - as there is just as much evidence in support of evolution (which you have questioned) as there is for the geometric formation of the planet Earth.
  6. In a sense, yeah. More specifically, we should all be aware of the fact that we are limited beings. In this case I'm talking about epistemological limitations. I realize some people will read my post and find my point fairly banal, but in my experience there are too many people who have never considered the idea that they may have taken false information as absolute truth. And far too many people who refuse to even consider the possibility when it's put to them.
  7. Critical thinking is a very important part of marijuana legislation, as well as, many other aspects of our lives. It should be a skill used whenever forming a new opinion (or revising an old one.)
  8. #8 beelz, Mar 11, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 11, 2012
    i always think with an open mind. the people i interact with easily mold me, everyday. some people are just ignorant and have a hard time understanding things that harms their way of thinking.

    religion for example: everyone who believes in it has always thought like that. only the rare few that feel there is something is wrong, can change. now im not saying there is a god or is no god im just saying it makes no sense.

    ignorance is a great quality of humans. few people can see through it.
  9. #9 seculardave, Mar 11, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 11, 2012
    "By your logic we should still say the earth is equally possible to be flat as it is spherical"

    Not sure how you came to this conclusion. Try not to jump to any conclusions just yet, I did say that there is a lot more to say on this topic.

    "If all ideas are considered to be equally wrong as well as correct"

    Not what I'm saying. I guess I could have been more clear but I didn't want to write a ridiculously massive post. I figure you will understand my position better as we talk more. :)

    I just want to make it clear that I'm not a science denier. I'm simply trying to make a philosophical point that ought to be important to everyone. I understand evolution well and I know that it is well supported by scientific evidence.

    "However, once the idea has been substantiated by experimental evidence and proofs then the idea should be consider as a truth"

    This I disagree with based on a philosophical technicality. Science does not offer absolute truth. If you've read Karl Popper you'll know that science attempts to falsify hypothesis, as opposed to proving hypothesis true. When a hypothesis is falsified we gain knowledge, since we now know what the answer is not. When a hypothesis fails to be falsified it is then supported by evidence, but it is never absolutely true. Wouldn't you have to be omniscient in order to have absolute truth?

    I wanted to write a neutral post which is why I didn't take a stance on any of the examples that I used, but that doesn't mean I deny evolution. All I wanted to point out is that we are all fallible and that we should all be open to the idea that we have taken false information as truth, at some point.

    I remember listening to an episode of the Thinking Atheist, and the topic was "what woo claims did you once take as truth", the point being that we have all taken false information as truth at some point and through the use of critical thinking skills we have overcome them. My point is similar, and to be completely honest I was hoping for a response from an anti vaxer or a climate change denier. So far it looks like you are all reasonable people who understand your limits well. But this isn't the case for everyone.

  10. 'Did animals really evolve' Was what you stated in your first post. I was using the reference of a flat earth to juxtapose your point. Basically, there is a very very substantial amount of evidence in favour of Evolution, why would we still be questioning it? In fact, if you are still questioning it, i'd have the deserved audacity to say that you merely don't know enough about it. I'm sure you do however, it was just my point.

    Falsifying is the same as determining a truth, they are synonymous. It's similar to the conservation of energy. By attempting to disprove a certain theory we will, as a result, find out a truth. Either the theory is a law of the universe or it isn't. Why do you have to be omniscient? You're just suggesting that we are not intelligent enough to understand the workings of fundamental forces... Why? Seems religion and philosophy has constrained your capacity to discover. We may not have the power to change these laws but to contemplate them, clearly we do.

    I think you are confusing hope with trust in concise evidence. It takes hope to believe in a deity and put your trust into those ideals, and there really isn't any evidence to support your believes. Ergo you could be wrong. Whereas with Science there is evidence, there are studies. The purpose of which are to falsify as you say... However, once the limits of testing have be strained then the only logical conclusion is that we must deem it as a truth. This way we can then use the results on further more complex experiments. Until it is dis-proven it should remain a truth, otherwise we will never progress.
  11. #11 Shamallama, Mar 11, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 11, 2012
    Schrödinger's Cat
    Is it alive? Is it dead?
    It's both! :eek:

    Edit: I couldn't agree more with the concept of, "I could be wrong."

    What do you suppose Einstein would be thinking while theoretical and particle physicists at C.E.R.N. attempt to prove or disprove the existence of the Higgs?
    A discovery of the Higgs Boson will either confirm or deny the standard model of physics and much of Al's work would then be stated as either scientific fact, or remain theory.

    Like you said, scientists learn by falsifying a hypothesis to obtain more information.
    It's human nature, but refined and structured to increase efficiency of producing specific results.
    I bet, were he still alive today, Einstein would've relentlessly worked to falsify his many, infamous hypotheses in an attempt to better understand the things he was passionate about.

    The G.I. Joes said it best...
    "Knowing is half the battle!"
  12. nope..
  13. #13 seculardave, Mar 12, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 12, 2012
    "Falsifying is the same as determining a truth"

    I would love to see a philosopher of science saying this. I have to disagree. 'Truth' and 'falsification' are very different concepts, and although falsification gets us closer to truth it is not the same thing as determining truth. As we chip away at human ignorance by falsifying claims we get a better approximation of what truth looks like, but that doesn't mean we can call our knowledge, thus far, truth. At least, not in any absolute sense. I guess you could make a distinction between a philosophical truth and the common vernacular use of truth.

    We have scientific facts which are treated as though they are truth when we attempt to make practical use of them, but scientific facts are not the same thing as truth. Truth, in a philosophical sense, does not change. It's an ideal. Scientific facts do change, and they should. When new evidence comes along, facts change in order to reflect the best possible evidence at the time. Which is why John Maynard Keynes could say “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”. If you learn about the process of science from a historical context you will see that science and its knowledge are quite dynamic. Unlike religion which has remained intellectually stagnant for thousands of years.
    Science is not perfect (it has limits), it's just better than anything else we have. There is no certainty in science, just confidence. When we have a great deal of empirical evidence for a claim we can be confident that it is not entirely wrong but we are never certain that it is true.

    "Either the theory is a law of the universe or it isn't"

    A theory is never a law of the universe. Theories and laws are separate and both have their place in science.

    "You're just suggesting that we are not intelligent enough to understand the workings of fundamental forces"

    No, I'm saying we are limited beings. We don't have all of the information, how can you say that we do? We may have lots of information but there are always new things to learn about a given topic, right? We aren't all knowing and we make mistakes. That's all I was really saying in my first post.

    “The more we learn about the world, and the deeper our learning, the more conscious, specific, and articulate will be our knowledge of what we do not know; our knowledge of our ignorance. For this indeed, is the main source of our ignorance - the fact that our knowledge can be only finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite.” - Karl Popper

    "Seems religion and philosophy has constrained your capacity to discover."

    I'm an atheist. And I'm very much open to discovery :)

    "I think you are confusing hope with trust in concise evidence"

    Where did you get hope and trust from?

    I think you are confusing truth with scientific knowledge.

    ":However, once the limits of testing have be strained then the only logical conclusion is that we must deem it as a truth"

    No, we deem it very well supported by empirical evidence. We never deem it truth. Bertrand Russell said “When a man tells you that he knows the exact truth about anything, you are safe in inferring that he is an inexact man”.

    I think you're making assumptions about me because you don't fully understand what I'm talking about. You might read these distinctions between truth,fact and knowledge, and think that it's all crap, which is fine. However, these are academic distinctions that you will find in almost any text book that explains the epistemological underpinnings of science.

    Now, I could be wrong about all of this and I'm happy to admit that. However, I base my perspective on academic literature. David Hume, Karl Popper, E. H Carr, Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, Immanuel Kant; all academics who helped bring about our contemporary understanding of science and what it does. If you read any text books on research methods you will find the exact same distinction and explanations that I've attempted to explain here.

    I recommend Carla Willig. She wrote a book about qualitative research methods in psychology but in the first chapter she describes a lot of these philosophical concepts in a really simple way.
  14. #14 DaChemist, Mar 12, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 12, 2012
    I have to agree with seculardave here. Favoring a certain hypothesis over another hypothesis is not the same as a truth. When we use statistics or reasoning to favor a certain hypothesis, we still do not exclude the opposing hypothesis with 100% certainty. This is because in essence we can not say that we are 100% correct ever. We can say we are 95% certain or 99% certain.. this is simple statistics and how we deduct which hypothesis to favor when conducting an experiment!

    Science is all about looking at the evidence and suggesting an explanation. "Suggestion" does not make the explanation any less valid. Suggesting an absolute truth in science, is a mistake, if we could suggest an absolute truth in science then there will be no further developments in science! to disprove an hypothesis of a currently valid explanation is how science progresses.

    Seculardavid posed a question in an open mind. it seems to me he was trying to invoke our critical thinking skills. Once i read your posts it seems that you had a predetermined misconception of where he was going and ran with it. I think that was what seculardavid was trying to make us aware of. Thinking before you write is a great idea and so is reading everything that was written.

    Put some critical thought to what seculardave was writing about and you might just understand what he was hoping to do.

  15. "I would love to see a philosopher of science saying this"- He he! Philosopher of science!! LOL!
  16. #16 HookedonPhonics, Mar 17, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 17, 2012
    So here clearly, is the crux of your hypothesis within this debate. You are proclaiming now that, scientific facts are separate from 'philosophical' truths because scientific facts are only true until new evidence suggests overwise. Well to you i say... Bullshit.. :D .. In what age are you perceiving science? we are no longer in the dark ages where our truths were determined by simple testing that could fit our needs rather than match our interpreted reasoning. Newton's 3 laws of motion will be true now...forever. Just because we cannot predict our future with science does not mean that the probability of a theory/law (as i will explain in a minute... are not mutually exclusive) being less credibility given a long timescale. They are not all destined to be falsified just because others in the past have. Laws like the conservation of energy, conservation of angular motions, maxwell's laws, newton's laws, equivalence principle, special relativity, planck's law, ohm's law, snell's law, huygen's principle etc etc are now fact. They have been tested for hundreds of years in some cases rigorously.

    This is what's great about our universe, and when people ask me what i think is the greatest discovery in our current understanding of science i tell them; 'That everything in our universe is defined by symmetry' .. We don't live in abstract isolation on the planet Earth. The reason we can have such a capable ability to reason and contemplate the universe is because of it's symmetry. Laws that define, manipulate and hold true on Earth are true throughout the universe. These laws manifest in different varieties under different conditions and over different time periods but fundamentally they remain the same.

    With semantics and logic then yes, the two contain different connotations. However, my use of the word theory was to express how, a theory is the basis for our discovery of a law. Thus the theory ~ law. I am sure you have also heard of an Axiom before, where something is considered self-evidently true without proof; such as the axiom of infinity. Would you deny this to be true?

    Yes we do have a lot of new topics that we aren't capable of fully understanding. Yet, i am unsure of any new theories, ideas or hypothesis that are cemented as truths before they are proved? No one is suggesting that M theory is an absolute law of the universe and that it is incapable of being proven wrong.

    Firstly, i don't believe it to be all crap. I am fully aware of the philosophical grounds rooted in science. I am also aware that for the last 200 years philosophy has been gnawing at the scraps theoretical scientists throw to them.
    My argument to you is this, Why must we fear our progress and holster it behind contempt for our aptitude for cognitive reasoning? Why must philosophers deem the universe to grand an idea to even begin dealing with. Plato was one of the most detrimental minds in relations to science, as he deemed it futile to even begin to comprehend past our own lives... Well fuck him. We have the capabilities to discover what is true about the universe because like our brains and our experiments and logic, the universe is based of laws, patterns and symmetry and with understanding of the interactions between these geometric and mathematical patterns we can begin to piece together the processes of a universe that is very much cosmos rather than chaos (To paraphrase the great Carl Sagan)
    This is what is wonderful about science and deflating about philosophy... I still remember to this day a young minded and 'wet-behind-the-ears' philosophy undergraduate that came for a drink in the pub; hitting me with the existential 'Is this reality', 'Do your sense deceive you', 'Is that ash tray really there??' .. and i also wondered if he would be so smug in his unwrapping of my conception of matter and reality if i slammed the ash tray into is pompous and pretentious face. Would he question his senses or it's position then? but this digression is a fine example of one being stubborn :smoke:

    I must also say, a very well written, concise and interesting riposte.

  17. I don't believe i am misinterpreting anything in his intentions, please excuse me if i am and just evade me from the debate. However, i agree that you are correct, statistically no theory we ever conclude with can ever be 100% logically correct in our estimations by definition. My argument was merely with why i think we must have the audacity to consider it 100%
  18. I've had similar experiences, from both sides of this encounter (time being the great deliverer of changed perspective).

    The trick with this reasoning is to make sure you don't exclude whimsy when it helps drive insight. Without whimsy would we even have the splat theory or the bubble theory?

    I guess my point leans towards the balancing act we all play. Don't discount whimsey for inexperience all while not substituting fanciful hope with actual fact.

    .. but sometimes it is really hard not to show someone the reality of where the fuckin ashtray really is.

    Weed, keeping ashtrays where they are since forever.
  19. Yea, people dont like to be wrong. People believe what they want to believe. The endless amount of opinions and "facts" available on the internet and news makes it easy for the people to have that confirmation bias.

    Great quote from Socrates

    ~To know that you know what you know, and that you do not know what you do not know, that is true knowledge.

  20. Don't get me wrong, i have had my endeavors into philosophy when trying to battle the subjectivity of our existence within this universe. My real gripe is that i feel philosophy is becoming more and more redundant as a discovery tool, rather than as a guide.

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