Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Philosophers deny scientific method

Philosophy of Pseudoscience professor Massimo Pigliucci writes:
Another factor that conjures in hiding the role of human judgment in science is the fiction that there is such thing as a quasi algorithm-like thing called “the scientific method.” While philosophers of the early part of the 20th century kept searching for it, the consensus nowadays is that it doesn’t exist. Yet scientists themselves help perpetuate the myth, both in references to the phantomatic method in introductory textbooks, and also by creating “the false impression of a regular, orderly method by writing up their findings in ways which gloss over the real messiness of discovery.” ...

Here is one gem from the chapter: “Another of Einstein’s remarks is extremely revealing. He once said, ‘I find the idea quite intolerable that an electron exposed to radiation should choose of its own free will, not only its moment to jump off, but also its direction. In that case, I would rather be a cobbler, or even an employee in a gaming-house, than a physicist.'” This is an expression of a strongly emotionally held aesthetic judgment. Nothing to do with physics or mathematics as ordinarily understood, or the quest for truth, for that matter.
I post this to show how anti-science modern philosophers are. They have a consensus that there is no scientific method!

The Einstein example is particularly revealing. Einstein is famous for allowing his quasi-religious prejudices to reject quantum mechanics. Mainstream physicists all accepted quantum mechanics, and considered Einstein to be intellectually senile.

Yes, Einstein used emotional and aesthetic opinions to reject a perfectly good. How does this disprove the scientific method? The quantum theory was accepted on the merits, and Einstein's unscientific objections were not.

Here is another silly argument:
My favorite example among those cited by Julian is Boyle, who was “persistent in holding to his theory when observation refused to confirm it. On 49 occasions he tested his hypothesis that smooth bodies that stuck together in air would come apart in a vacuum, without success, yet succeeded on the 50th attempt.”
I would assume that he had some good reasons for his persistance. Pigliucci assumes that he was unscientific, or not following a scientific method.

I might attempt to run a marathon 49 times, and finally succeed on my 50th attempt. Does that mean that I am stupid, or unscientific, or failing to learn from my experience? Of course not.

If there is a common thread in philosophy today, it is that they do everything they can to deny truth, to deny knowledge, and to deny science.
As in the case of a poll Baggini cites from 1999: when 90 leading physicists were asked which interpretation of quantum mechanics they thought was best, 4 voted for Copenhagen, 30 for Many Worlds, and 50 said either none of the above or undecided. ...

Scientists — below the surface, mostly in private or informal exchanges — even disagree on major issues of epistemology and metaphysics. For instance, “Bohr … completely rejected scientific realism. ‘There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum mechanical description,’ he said. ‘It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.'” Needless to say, a number of his colleagues disagreed vehemently, thus unwittingly engaging in philosophical debates about the nature and scope of their discipline.
It is embarrassing that so many physicists subscribe to Many Worlds, as that is an unscientific idea. But Bohr was simply being a logical positivist, and his view is what was adopted by the textbooks. It was only rejected by a few cranks like Einstein, Bohm, Bell, and a bunch of modern philosophers.

Modern philosophers hate positivism because they hate the idea of scientific truth.
And of course beauty and aesthetics are not, in fact, guarantors of truth: “As George Ellis and Joe Silk point out, ‘Experiments have proved many beautiful and simple theories wrong, from the steady-state theory of cosmology to the SU(5) Grand Unified Theory of particle physics, which aimed to unify the electroweak force and the strong force.'”
No, those theories are not beautiful or simple. A steady-state cosmology requires strange forces for counteracting gravity, something for making an equilibrium, some way of creating stars, etc. It is a mess. The SU(5) theory is much more complicated than the Standard Model, as it requires about twice as many bosons, and many more free parameters that would have to be determined by experiment.

For all this, philosophers reject the scientific method? Weird.

1 comment:

  1. Roger,
    In all honesty, there actually isn't a definitive definition of the scientific method. I've looked. I have six or seven physics and chemistry texts about the house and they all have variations on a theme. There are many general descriptions of it, but even the wording among them varies depending upon who is trying to do what with it: i.e. Karl Popper was stressing falsification, others had differing motives in their definitions.

    Interesting to note that some in the HEP field (Sean Carroll for instance) are now claiming evidence is passé because of ...basically atheistic platonic math mysticism. Platonism is the philosophy that things (in this case reality) is informed by some other worldly dimension of ideas. Many mathematicians subscribe to variations of this idea.
    While I commend you for seeking truth, I need to remind you that truth can often be elusive and/or fickle, as your known information you base it from is often subject to change. In this case I think Popper was right, scientific truth is the best we can do at the given time with the given information, and falsification is an excellent tool for discerning it. Sean Carroll hates falsification like the plague while espousing how very scientific he is, which is the definitive signature of a charlatan on the payroll.