Science, model, fact

i got the following exposition from

Now, the link is to an archive that is full of rant and some interesting thoughts on the various building blocks of how we describe science

The exposition has a lot of abstractions, questions the way you define things, and thus, is a very good brain practice, i enjoy it, i hope u feel the same

since the internet is everchanging, i like to maintain a version of the exposition here in my blog, so i can revisit it again

Start of borrowed text


07-01-2006, 01:26 AM
How about you guys, science as one subject or many?
In high school (usually 13/14 and older in the US, 9th grade through 12th), all of academic subjects were broken up into subfields. Science, math, literature, social studies.

In law there is a “finder of fact”, either the judge or the jury. The parties do not present fact to the jury, they present evidence and ask the jury to determine what the “facts” are based upon the evidence. Once we know the “facts” we ask the jury to then determine the “ultimate fact” in the case. Isn’t that essentially what scientists do?
Sort of…

We can observe that apples fall towards the ground if dropped from a height.

We take it for granted that apples always do this. Because we assume that it always happens, we call it a “fact” that apples fall toward the ground. If someone drops an apple and we see it fall to the ground, we are unsurprised because it fits with the fact. If the apple does not fall, we suspect a trick, or a miracle, because it does not fit with the fact. I think most people would call this “common sense,” not “science.”

We can name this apple-falling-phenomenon “gravity.” But, naming this fact is also not science, it is just giving something a name.

We could observe that things fall towards the ground at different rates depending on how far away from the ground you are. So, we can observe the fact that “gravity” behaves differently in different situations, and we can choose to extend the definition of “gravity” to cover any falling of apples (and other items) toward the ground when dropped from a height, regardless of speed or whatever. This still is not really what most people would call “science” so much as just “paying attention” (although observation is necessary for science, science is not necessary for observation) and having being relaxed with the definition of “gravity.”

What people typically call “science” is the (a) development of a model that predicts how fast things fall to the ground (in the case of gravity), or (b) the predictions made from a such a model. But a model is not a fact, it is just a model built on the observations of fact. Thus, the model can be supported or refuted by evidence (observed fact). In other words, Sir Isaac Newton’s “Law of Universal Gravitation,” F[g] = G * ((M[1] * M[2]) / r^2), is not fact, it is a prediction. And, in fact, it is wrong, as it needs to be adjusted for relativity.

What is confusing is that “the law of gravity” generally refers to one of two things: it could refer to the theory of gravity which is a model that makes predictions, or it could refer to the definition of gravity. That is, the “law of gravity” meant as the “law of universal gravitation” is not a law that one must adhere to, because that is just a description of the way things seem to behave, and, like any description, it can be inaccurate. The “law of gravity” meant as “things fall when dropped” is also not a law, it is simply a confusing way of saying “gravity.” That kind of phrase is a “law” in the same way that I could say that “the law of arthur’s feet” is that when you fumikomi on my foot, it causes me pain. It is a fact that objects fall when I drop them, but that is no more scientific than I feel pain if you stomp on my foot. It is an observation.

Science creates models of things, makes predictions from those models, and then seeks to verify the model through observed fact. But, in the end, a good scientist always recognizes that what they are working with is a model and not reality. A good scientist must always understand this in the back of their head, even if they do not say it explicitly. Reality–facts–cannot change, so why test that which is known to be a true and real fact? Consider “facts” like that apples fall, or that you exist, or that 1+1 = 2. Is it even possible to seriously test something like that which is believed on so deep a level? If you truly deeply believe that your theory is actual real fact, you really cannot do science anymore. Science depends on testing claims, and a person is only open to testing that which is in doubt: that which is not believed to be a true fact.

Models (theories) can be so supported so strongly that it is inconceivable that they are fundamentally wrong. And that is where stuff like the “law of gravity” and evolution are. But, as I mentioned earlier with regard to gravity, strong support does not mean that these things are assumed to be real truth. If a stronger theory comes along, a scientist must always be ready to accept the stronger theory. That means that the scientist must always recognize that no matter how strong the evidence is that supports the formulae that predict the attraction between two masses, it is still just support of a model and are not a law of nature. They are descriptions of *observed* reality, not a description of *all* of reality, much less real in and of themselves. In other words, theories are models that account for observed fact, but they are not themselves facts.

Juries, so far that I understand, do not do this. Juries seem to decide if a model presented to them is plausible or not. But, they do not do this by testing predictions made from that model. However logical or rational their process may be, it is not “scientific.” Nevertheless, juries are similar in that they are presented with a model and a decision has to be made if that model corresponds with at least existing evidence enough to be considered plausible. But the scientific method goes a step further than asking if a theory seems plausible or not: “science” requires that we make predictions from the theory in order to put it to the test.

So what is an “ultimate fact?” In the sense you use it, it seems to be accepting a proposed scenario as a description of what occured. So an analogy would be proposing a scientific theory that accounts for everything we presently know. But science demands that we move forward from there. We must look at what facts the theory predict in order to test it. This is why I said earlier that science is a way of thinking, not simply a bundle of facts. Science seeks an “ultimate fact” while simultaneously denying the possibility of its existance.

This need to step forward through prediction and testing is not necessarily “better.” Science has its own philosophical blindspots. A theory that cannot be tested is a bad scientific theory, even though it could be 100% true and accurate, so some ideas are outside the reach of science. And, not all things in life can be tested, so many aspects of life are outside the reach of science. That said, science has obviously proved very useful, and that cannot be ignored.”

some more

09-01-2006, 12:20 AM
No need to apologize–there are no hurt feelings. I have read and reread your posts, and I feel I understand your point.

I see clearly where the problem is: you are not accepting my description of science. Instead, you say I am wrong about what science attempts to do. This does not hurt my feelings, or even bother me in the least, but it is impossible to go forward from here. The definition of science is obviously fundamental to the question of whether or not science is like something else. As long as you are simply contradicting me and offering your own definition of science in return, I have no way to advance the discussion.

This is what is going on with ID and creationism. Their complaint is based on a fundamental misconception as to what evolution is that comes from a fundamental misconception as to what science is.

If we accept your definition of science, that “science is the search for explanations and answers to the phenomena that surround us” then the IDers are right and religion (by which I mean theological inquiry, not “organized religion”) is a “science.” But, in fact, science is only a particular kind of search for particular kinds of explanations and answers to particular kind of phenomena and it is not at all so grand as your description suggests. “Science” is a particular methodology, and, therefore, a particular way of “thinking” or “framing problems” or however you might wish to put it.

But all I have really done here is reiterate my definition of science and until (unless?) we can come to some consensus on our terms, we will simply go back and forth. As do the “IDers” and the “scientists.””

and more

10-01-2006, 10:54 AM
Then look at creationism and ID in light of the fact that their central major premise cannot be tested.
I think this is absolutely correct.

My concern with similar arguments against Creationism and ID is that many other kinds of knowledge considered valid also cannot be tested. That does not make them invalid, it simply makes them not science. Math and logic, for example, cannot be tested scientifically. This does not take away from the value of these things, nor does it take away from their legitimacy. This is why I feel strongly about the question you raised. As far as my understanding goes, law is also unscientific. Law is still entirely legitimate and critical to society, and there is no reason to view such a statement as negative in any way whatsoever. And yet, I find it often the case that people get defensive if their efforts are called unscientific. I think this is a terrible state of affairs and I do not like to see it encouraged.

Unscientific methods of knowledge can be, and are, considered legitimate. The political movements associated with Creationism and ID are troubling, but to dismiss them categorically by calling their claimed topics “unscientific” also dismisses things like math, logic, law, ethics, art, physical skills, and so forth. Indeed, “science,” per se, is not scientific, as there was no scientific method involved in the adoption (or potential replacement) of the scientific method.

The reason that the Creationist and ID movements are troubling is not because Creationism and ID are not scientific. Nor is it due to any kind of irrationality. I am troubled because those movements are not really about Creationism or ID. They are like snake-oil peddlers.

I have not read the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District decision in detail, but from what I gather, Judge Jones did make that distinction very clearly. Nevertheless, I find it often the case that people critical of Creationism and ID do not.”

ranging a bit to math

12-01-2006, 05:49 PM
Although, I would be very interested in what sort of test would prove that the square root of -1 is the imaginary number i. Or that lines are infinitely long and that points occupy no space…
Easy. We define i^2=-1 <–> sqrt(-1)=i

And a line… Harder but I’ll give it a try.
Define a line in the xy-plane as y=x (or y-x=0 if you prefer that notation)
If the line is not infinite, then there must be an end point. That is, if we travel the x-axis (or y-axis) in one direction, we will find a x=a which is not part in the definition set for y=x. But y=x is defined for all real numbers x and y. So therefore there must be a point (a,a) that is on the line. An end point can therefore not exist and the line is infinite.
I know this is not the best of mathematical proof, but it at least shows something. Someone better skilled than me can happily give a better proof.

Since we came up with all the mathematical stuff, the most basic things are defined as they are, and really don’t need proving. Why is blue blue? Because we have agreed to name the color that is constructed by light at a certain wavelength “blue”.”

more on math

12-01-2006, 06:59 PM
I thiink you can test mathematics scientifically: you take two marbles and another two marbles and you put them together a hunderd times and test how many times you get four marbles. Maybe you can also test it with diffferent colours sizes, or even other things as marbles to test for interfering variables.

But you see that’s ludicrous because maths is just an abstract system system made to aply on other things. That a line has no endpoint is logic, it’s not empirically tested. Lines are tools, from a line we most of the time need only a portion of it (be it in economics, Physics, geometry). But if we restricted lines in the abstract phase it could be that a) things would be too complex, b) became unaplicable on the things we want to say something about.

And after all that you seem to have the idea that only things that are empiricallly tested are scientific. Which isn’t very true, things can be proven without empiricly testing them. for example a scientist had allready described the characteristicsof the element germanium even before germanium was discovered Afterwards when they dicovered it and ran tests on it, they concluded that the small differences between the tests and predicted results where only because of testing errors.”

i’m done 😀

End of borrowed text


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