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"The great truths of science" 
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Post "The great truths of science"
What is true from a scientific perspective?

That is what needs to be asked when it is claimed that truths espoused by science are “great,” for it smacks of a claim that such truths are universal.

The claim that science espouses great Truths (with a capital “T”) is to say that they are universal, necessary, and certain, as opposed to particular, contingent, and probable truths (small “t”).

Science derives knowledge from empirical experience.
But experience is strictly particular. To define experience as particular while claiming knowledge derived from experience to be universal is problematic.

The lessons of the historicity of science are that the theories we hold to be True today are as falsifiable as the theories they replaced. The historical record is replete with exemplars that attest to this claim.

It is highly probable that as the instruments and tools of science become more powerful and sophisticated they will enhance our sensory experience of the natural realm. Hence, we will experience the natural world differently than we do today.

As there have been, and perhaps always will be, limits to the way scientists experience nature, it is unavoidable that scientific theories will continue to employ assumptions that cannot be deduced from experience. Such assumptions will allow us to construe what it is we extract from experience (however particular it may and always will be!) and interpret the data for a presentation of evidence for true (small "t") explanations and theories.

As science moves forward, it will continue to be an evolutionary process, the end of which can neither be predicted, nor necessarily arrives at the greatest of Truths. Unless of course one is willing to take the leap of faith that is necessary to state with confidence that one day we will have no more theories to falsify, experience will cease to be particular, our methods will have reached perfection, and our machines will have the omnipotence necessary to examine the whole of reality. That certainly is not the case today.

Are the truths of science great because one day they will be falsified, or are they great because it has been determined the truths of today cannot, nor will not be falsified tomorrow? The former would simply be the truth of today which would not be true in the Truest sense, the latter would be a Great Truth for today, tomorrow, and eternity, true in the Truest of senses.

The truth of today may not be so great after all.



Mon Apr 15, 2013 1:13 pm
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Post Re: "The great truths of science"
Perhaps we can say about science as an approach to discovering how the world works, what Churchill said about democracy:

«No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time»



Mon Apr 15, 2013 2:45 pm
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Post Re: "The great truths of science"
I agree that no man made institution is flawless.

It's disconcerting when proponents of an institution promote it with a jingoistic tone.
Don't you agree?

Many scientists take an approach that reflects humility.

I think the person who said scientific truths are "great truths" was being dramatic and a bit quixotic.
:)



Mon Apr 15, 2013 3:12 pm
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Post Re: "The great truths of science"
ant wrote:
The lessons of the historicity of science are that the theories we hold to be True today are as falsifiable as the theories they replaced. The historical record is replete with exemplars that attest to this claim.


The disclaimer on the Truth of scientific claims is one that everyone should understand. But most people lack the subtlety of understanding to hold this disclaimer in perspective.

Consider the current equations regarding the motion of light. Einstein's equations. We could say they are as falsifiable today as Newtons equations were. But that statement is rife with misunderstanding. How light behaves will not suddenly change. Einsteins equations predict with great accuracy how light behaves, and these equations will not suddenly have a greater margin for error if a new theory with new equations arises to take their place.

This is what is meant by verisimillitude. The approximation to the truth. If Newton's equations were (just to pick an arbitrary number) 90% true, then Einstein's are 99% true. To say that Einstein's theory is falsifiable is to ignore the fact that anything that replaces it will only improve by a single percent, or less. For all intents and purposes, the theory is true. Even the 90% accuracy of Newton's equations make it close enough to being true that they are still in use today.

What this means is that most of the truths we see in science have high enough verisimillitude that only more precise versions can ever replace them. Any paradigm shift must maintain or improve upon the exactness of current theories(how accurately they predict experimental results). Which is a difficult precedent. Two centuries ago, our theories had far more inconsistency and inaccuracy than they do today.

Comparing the current status of scientific knowledge with the status as it was a century or more ago is comparing apples to oranges. We can no longer say that many of our theories will be "falsified". They are too close to the truth for that word to apply any longer.


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Mon Apr 15, 2013 3:20 pm
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Post Re: "The great truths of science"
Quote:
this is what is meant by verisimillitude. The approximation to the truth


Oh, excuse me. Thanks for clarifying.

The great verisimilar truths of science!



Thanks again. That was brilliant.



Definition of VERISIMILAR
1
: having the appearance of truth



Mon Apr 15, 2013 3:29 pm
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Post Re: "The great truths of science"
Quote:
They are too close to the truth for that word to apply any longer.


Evidence, please?

Let me save you some keystrokes:

You have no evidence for a claim like that. No one has and the scientific community wouldn't come near a claim like that.

Only someone like you would.



Last edited by ant on Mon Apr 15, 2013 3:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Mon Apr 15, 2013 3:38 pm
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Post Re: "The great truths of science"
Quote:
Thanks again. That was brilliant.


You’re welcome. Karl Popper used the term often in his works. It’s thrown around quite a bit in the philosophy of science. The conceptual definition is different from the dictionary definition of the root term that you posted. Take a look: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verisimilitude


Quote:
Evidence, please?

Let me save you some keystrokes:

You have no evidence for a claim like that. No one has and the scientific community wouldn't come near a claim like that.


Thanks, but the reason no one in the scientific community would make such a claim is because it’s philosophical. Since we’re discussing the philosophy of science, the demand for evidence is quite silly. In philosophy, the “evidence” is the presentation of the argument. I’ve given full support for my argument in my previous post. See the part regarding Einstein vs. Newton.

A proper rebuttal would be refuting the points of my argument. I'd be more than happy to have that debate.

Though you’ll find that the deeper we go into whether or not falsification applies in science, the tougher the argument becomes. Popper’s work on falsification has fallen into disrepute in recent decades. The primary reason isn’t due to verisimilitude, however. It’s due to the ambiguity of how phrase-based theories correlate to objective reality. A slight shift in wording in many cases can save a hypothesis from falsification. What’s difficult is establishing whether the phrase captures the intent of the theory.
See here for a few references: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiabi ... ilosophers


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Mon Apr 15, 2013 5:50 pm
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Post Re: "The great truths of science"
This is what Richard Feynman has to say about science and certainty.

For anyone who would like to hear it in Feynman’s voice, you can find it at the 14 minute mark in the YouTube clip titled The Great Debate: “The Storytelling of Science (Official) Part 1 of 2, at the following site:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_J4QPz52Sfo


“I can live with doubt and uncertainty. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here and what the question might mean.
I might think about it, but if I can’t figure it out then I go with something else. But, I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose – which is how it really is as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.”



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Mon Apr 15, 2013 10:12 pm
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Post Re: "The great truths of science"
"The size of a proton, long thought to be well-understood, may remain a mystery for a while longer, according to physicists."

http://www.livescience.com/28707-shrink ... ments.html


Nature continues to challenge and baffle us.
Scientists who practice humility know this. They are apostles of Nature, taking nothing for granted.
Truth is near? Again, what evidence is there for that proposition?
Based on our ever changing understanding of Nature, is that a reasonable inference to make?



Mon Apr 15, 2013 10:31 pm
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Post Re: "The great truths of science"
ant wrote:
Truth is near? Again, what evidence is there for that proposition?
Based on our ever changing understanding of Nature, is that a reasonable inference to make?


What are you referring to when you mention the Truth? Are you generalizing to mean science as a whole? Or are you referring to a field within science. Generalizations gloss over the details that would make your questions meaningful.

Are you speaking of quantum mechanics? If so, then I would say we have a ways to go before we can claim with enough confidence that we’re “near” the Truth. In quantum mechanics, nearly all our knowledge is extrapolated mathematically. We need better systems, bigger particle generators, more gifted mathematicians and smarter theorists.

Or are you speaking of geography? In that field of science, we have a comprehensive understanding of our planet. We can say with confidence we are near the Truth. We haven’t arrived there yet, of course. There are details in the vast fabric of our understanding that have yet to be revealed.

Or are you speaking of Cosmology? How reliable is our method of gauging the characteristics of distant stars using “standard candles”. Until we travel a significant distance from Earth to triangulate our observations, the status of our knowledge isn’t as near the Truth as we’d like to think.

Generalizing doesn’t do justice to the status of our knowledge. For the very macro and very micro, our confidence level is low. Those are the frontiers of science. But for many fields of study in between, we have a high level of confidence. The more complex fields still elude high confidence, such as neurophysiology, but how many subjects of study can be comparable to the complexity of the human brain?

We are near the Truth in many fields, but still distant from the Truth in other fields.


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Tue Apr 16, 2013 11:49 am
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