Lunatic Fringe taking over?

Discussion in 'Site Feedback' started by origin, Feb 6, 2014.

  1. Russ_Watters Not a Trump supporter... Valued Senior Member

    Fair enough, but it would be mighty cumbersome to include in every single thread a preface discussion/lesson on how science works. I don't think it is too much to ask that a person who wants to discuss a particular theory already knows what the word "theory" means.
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  3. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Sure, hence the occasional need to short-circuit that by a legitimate appeal to authority. Perhaps I should make clear that everything I have advocated applies to people coming here in good faith. In cases where we have someone striking a pose to annoy or deceive, then I wouldn't waste my time.
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  5. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    There may be flaws in my position, but I don't think that's one of them.

    A logical fallacy is basically an argument form in which it's possible for all the premises to be true, but the conclusion to nevertheless be false. If we interpret an argument from authority to be:

    (A asserts the truth of x) is T => x is T

    it would seem to be fallacious on its face. Just because it's true that somebody is saying that something is true, doesn't mean that it is. Even if we restrict the range of A to 'the mainstream scientific community', it would still seem to be fallacious. It's still logically possible for the mainstream scientific community to agree on the truth of something that in reality is false. The history of science provides plenty of examples of that happening.

    That doesn't mean that having faith in an authority's assertion is always a mistake. We do it all the time. It certainly doesn't imply that the authority's assertion can't be right. The logical point is that the mere fact that an authority asserts something doesn't guarantee that what he asserts must be true.

    My concern in the post up above was that reducing science to demands that statements from supposedly authoritative sources be believed, is equivalent to reducing science, at the layman's level at least, to demands that people believe in science by faith.

    Theological doctrines have traditionally been treated that way. It's happened in philosophy too. At one time, in the late medieval years, Aristotle was treated by many as the philosophical authority. Disputes about cosmology or metaphysics were settled by quoting 'the Philosopher', and that was that. The Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution are notable for the rise of a new skepticism that stubbornly asked, 'Ok, so why in the world should I believe that?' The rise of the modern world is associated with the replacement of traditional arguments from authority by a new emphasis on the reasons and justifications that would-be authorities had or didn't have for the things that they said.

    The choice seems to be to either:

    A. The righteous ones telling laypeople to just shut their mouths and believe by faith in what the priests in white coats are telling us. (Assuming that the righteous ones understand what that is, which isn't always the case.)

    B. Try to provide laypeople with some of the reasons and justifications that the mainstream scientific community has for saying the things that it does.

    My own view is that B is far more educational, and far more intellectually interesting for Sciforums' participants, than A. I'm just not comfortable treating science as if it was theological-style revelation from on high.
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  7. paddoboy Valued Senior Member


    I see nothing wrong in appealing to authority, as long as that authority is within the discipline being discussed.
    I also do not believe that anyone is saying to have faith in science and just believe the blokes in the white coats.....The Idea in itself is rather contradictory, when we know that any scientific theory is able to be falsified.

    And speaking as a layman, for lay people, most of the accepted knowledgable ones here, do just as you say in point B.
    Most lay people do end up accepting the reasons for science disciplines saying what they do.

    The problem arises when as the title of the thread suggests, would be's if they could be's and anti mainstream individuals, question, deride, refute and make false claims re established science.
    The majority of these trouble makers, set out just to do that...make trouble by claiming to know better then centuries [in some cases] of mainstream scientific knowledge has established.
    Nothing wrong with an alternative theory that someone may devise, whether that someone is expert in that field or not.
    But when they are asked to produce evidence supporting their hypothesis, or evidence invalidating/falsifying the incumbent model, they either cannot [and then start ranting on about "It's only a theory" solely to impress the lay people who may not be quite attuned to what a scientific theory really entails, or in some cases are able to come up with some mathematical process they claim support their hypothesis, but which in all cases is shown to be lacking, or just plain mistake riddled.

    Recently, we had an alternative Idea proposed in the "Everett's Hypothesis"thread.
    I made a comment in that it was the first alternative proposal I have seen here, where the initiator did not claim he had a theory that was unquestionably correct, and would revolutionise science with it and get rid of the years of mistaken beliefs that the mainstream had.

    In my relatively short time here, I have seen threads [and associate claims] where alternative proposals have absolutely claimed, The BB did not happen....BH's/EH's do not exist....SR/GR are wrong.....Time dilation does not happen.
    All of these claims were not from any Joe Blow layman. They were in most cases, from individuals that did seem to have some knowledge of the subject.....Some of course were obviously trolling and baiting, revelling in the replies that refuted their ridiculous claims.

    As a layman, as a person who is in awe of science and what it has achieved, as someone who does know what a scientific theory is, as someone who also has a vivid Imagination, and enjoy speculation as long as it is recognised as just that, I see every reason for scientists to be indignant to the attitude of some.
    And in my limited way, I will support them.
  8. Russ_Watters Not a Trump supporter... Valued Senior Member

    I'll not head down a hairsplitting path with you. The point is, appeal to authority, when accurately stating the position of an actual authority will much more often give correct answers than wrong answers. It is an essential component of any teaching. You implied that appeal to authority is a bad thing, but in reality if properly used it is almost always a good thing - and is a required part of the teaching process.
    But not one of those examples involves an internet crackpot being the one to demonstrate it.
    Not "in science", in scientists. You are wrongly criticizing science for something that is true of virtually every human encounter we ever have: yes, the person telling you something could be wrong or even lying. That's not an issue of religious faith, it is just human trust. And it is mitigated substantially by viewing multiple sources or proxies for multiple sources and requiring seeing the actual sources.
    This isn't a theological doctrine and the difference here is obvious: you could, if you had the desire and means, test the science for yourself. Citing an authority doesn't prevent that, it just recognizes the fact that you almost certainly will not.
    Denigrating language to make the correct choices seem unpalatable aside, you're improperly separate A and B and omit C: If you don't believe it, test it yourself.
    You're creating a strawman/non sequitur. Proper explanation of how/why a theory is favored is always required for good teaching. That's not what this issue is about. This is about improperly arguing against established science, for example, by not providing the other side of your "B": Crackpots will try to (for example) logically show why an established scientific theory is invalid without citing actual evidence or 3rd party sources to confirm the validity of their thought process.
  9. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

    Yazata, I must wholeheartedly concur with your Post #83.

    A short time back, a friend of mine sent me the following link to an article by N. David Mermin :

    It is a protected .pdf doc. It is a very interesting read. It begins :
    - the ^^above quoted^^ from :

    I am not absolutely sure that all of the Posters on this Forum are fully aware of, let alone understand and realize, what reifying abstractions actually entails and why it would be a bad habit to have.

    If you get the chance , give it a read.

    I would be interested on your thoughts about the article.
  10. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Thanks, I've read it. My reaction is that this is manufacturing a fuss about something we all understand, surely, namely that theories in science are MODELS of reality.

    I think he is introducing a false dichotomy to speak of "reifying" "abstractions". A theory is neither an "abstraction", nor is it provably "real" either. It is a model of reality, provisional in nature and to be used until better one is available. I think he is in fact confusing his false dichotomy of "real" versus " abstract" with the distinction we all acknowledge in science, between observation (=provable fact) and theory (=falsifiable, but not provable, model of reality).

    Like him, perhaps, I do recall at university wondering about the "reality" of some of the quantum chemistry I was learning. But I always dealt with it by reminding myself that these are models, nothing more. But equally, models are intended to be approximations at least of aspects of an objective, actual reality, otherwise there would be no point in developing them.

    So I think his article would have been immeasurably improved if he had referred to models - or perhaps not, as he might then have realised there was actually no need to write it!
  11. Trapped Banned Banned

    Not a surprise that those in favour of the mind set here are largely trolls themselves when they want to be.

    Nevertheless, you've all had your say and I've had mine.
  12. Russ_Watters Not a Trump supporter... Valued Senior Member

    It makes no sense to denigrate a club you want to become a member of.
  13. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

    - from :

    Seemed like a little humor, or at least some levity, might find purchase in this somewhat ambiguous Thread.

    Since wiki seems to be a recognized reputable source on this Forum, I submit the following for consideration :
    - ^^above quoted^^ from :

    - ^^above quoted^^ from :
  14. paddoboy Valued Senior Member


    Fully concur.....
    And I would also add that as yet we do not know what this reality that some like to hold in the spotlight is.

    It could be said that this is another storm in a tea cup and off topic to boot.....but what the heck!

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    I had a mate ask me a few weeks ago, about space/time curvature....His attitude was, we can't see it, we can't feel it, so, wait for it....IT'S ONLY A THEORY!!
    Hmmmm, get's one wondering though, what the hell GP-B was measuring with such accuracy....

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  15. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    I would draw your attention to the following extracts from the same Wiki entry, that you have not chosen to reproduce:


    Brandon Watson has attacked the fallacy of reification as not being an actual fallacy, but rather a piece of "philosophical folklore", which is either false or else so vague as to be useless.[7] Watson traces the origin of the "fallacy" to John Stallo's philosophy of physics, and more recently to the logical positivist Morris Raphael Cohen.

    The use of constructs in science[edit]

    Main article: Construct (philosophy of science)

    The concept of a "construct" has a long history in science; it is used in many, if not most, areas of science. A construct is a hypothetical explanatory variable that is not directly observable. For example, the concepts of motivation in psychology and center of gravity in physics are constructs—they are not directly observable. The degree to which a construct is useful and accepted in the scientific community depends on empirical research that has demonstrated that a scientific construct has construct validity (especially, predictive validity).[8] Thus, if properly understood and empirically corroborated, the "reification fallacy" applied to scientific constructs is not a fallacy at all—it is one part of theory creation and evaluation in normal science.


    This is very much the way I would see it, I think.
  16. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

    You are right, I chose not to copy/paste the entire article - that is why I supplied the Link to the whole article. There is even more to the section that you Posted your "quote" from - that you chose not to reproduce.

    - ^^above quoted^^ from : that the way you see it? that the way that you would see it? that the way that you think that you would see it?
  17. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    The way I see it is that many of what some call apparent abstractions certainly are real, even though not physical.
    Is the warping, curving, twisting of space/time real? Check out the GP-B data....
    Is the past, present, and future real,...We look at the stars every night and are looking into the past....A valid FoR, thanks to the finite speed of light....Is time real??...Is space real???Is the Universe a hologram?
    As you can see, I left the real crazy notion till last.

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    I've given my view of time and space before, we see, feel, and act on them everyday.
    They certainly are not abstract thoughts we have like anger, happiness, thoughtfullness, or just being blank.
    They are all part and parcel of the Universe, and we wouldn't be here without any of the realities I have mentioned.
    Space/time, space, time, and the Universe are all real otherwise we wouldn't be here.

    This philosophical discussion on their reality, or abstractness and our perceptions of it are just that...Philosophical thoughts.

    I once came upon a great quote....
    Science is what you know. Philosophy is what you don't know.
    Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English philosopher, mathematician.
  18. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Haha very funny. But yes your implied point, that I think there are shades of grey as to what is considered "real" and what "abstract", is exactly how I approach the issue. As a scientist I am used to dealing in things, or concepts, whose "existence" is inferred indirectly, because they are not amenable to being perceived directly by the human senses.

    Molecules are a classic example. The closest we get to direct perception of molecules is probably Brownian motion - and that is still indirect in two senses: (1) we need a microscope and (2) the jiggling of the smoke particles is suggestive of tinier things banging into them but not conclusive proof of it. I actually had a physics teacher at school who professed not to believe in molecules, or at least to be agnostic about them for this reason. He was eccentric (eventually got murdered in a gay bar, poor chap), but he was a very good teacher and his stance on molecules gave me pause for thought.

    But in my view it gets you nowhere to take the rather contorted philosophical position that molecules are just a "construct" and hence somehow qualitatively different from reality. The kinetic theory of matter is a hugely successful model of how matter is composed, so successful that we are not being complacent to assume, for most purposes, that that is how it "really" is. After all, what else do we mean by "real", when we deal with things human sense cannot directly perceive? We simply need to keep at the back of our minds that, the more indirect the observations and the more inference is required, the less certain we become. But we are still trying to perceive "reality", albeit dimly, not just playing mathematical games. "Now we see through a glass, darkly", as St. Paul says.

    It's a matter of being pragmatic, a sentiment of which Dr Johnson himself would I am sure approve.
  19. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Yes they are just philosophical thoughts, but I do feel scientists need to stand back every so often and think such thoughts. See my other post in response to DMoE for a development of this.

    I don't think they are silly questions, though in the end my view has always been that what we call "real" is what SEEMS to be real to us - what other useful definition of "real" is it possible to have? But the more indirect the evidence, the less confidence we should have that our perception of that "reality" is accurate or complete.
  20. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

    I have no idea what you found 'very funny'.

    I also did not realize that I made any implication as to your thinking. I was asking questions - not making statements.

    As far as what is physically real and what is a an abstract construct, I see no shades of gray.

    I cannot agree that molecules are in any way an abstract construct - molecules have a physical reality.

    I have not taken any "rather contorted philosophical position that molecules are just a "construct" and hence somehow qualitatively different from reality".

    I am not at all sure that it is possible to be pragmatic in dealing with abstract theories and ideas :
    - the ^^above quoted^^ from :
  21. exchemist Valued Senior Member


    It looks to me as if you may possibly be under the impression that I am arguing with you, which in fact I have no wish to do. I'm simply pointing out where I agree, or disagree, with some of the material you have posted. I don't expect everyone to resolve this question the way I have chosen to.

    Anyway, it doesn't look as if either of us has much more to say on the topic. Thanks for a good discussion.
  22. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

    I am not under the impression that you are arguing with me. Nor do I wish to engage in any arguments with you.
    Any knowledge that may possibly be attained by engaging in arguments is less about the science being argued, and more about the individuals engaged in the arguments.

    Which, I believe, is what a good discussion should involve.

    Actually, I honestly believe that that there is still much more to be said on the Topic.

    By reading Post #94, there still appears to be Posters that have yet to realize how reifying abstractions can be a bad habit - or even the difference between physical reality and abstract theoretical models, constructs or ideas.

    exchemist, for the sake of discussion, it would be nice of you to clarify your somewhat ambiguous statement from your Post #92 : that the way you see it? that the way that you would see it? that the way that you think that you would see it?

    BTW, I concur that so far my discussion with you seems to be a good discussion. I would like for it to continue as such.
  23. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Sorry, no. You seem to be just restating your previous position, with which obviously I disagree, for the reasons I have tried to explain. I believe these reasons will be clear enough to most readers of this thread and I'm content with that, even if it leaves you unsatisfied.

    If you want to move the discussion forward, that, for me will entail you explaining to me - in connected sentences written by yourself - what it is about my approach you find unpersuasive, and why.

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