Advanced search  
Pages: [1]   Go Down

Author Topic: The role of belief in the practice of science  (Read 12940 times)

Tom Swearengen

  • T5
  • *****
  • Posts: 818
  • earhart monument, Hawaii
The role of belief in the practice of science
« on: May 21, 2012, 05:33:39 AM »

Gee I thought scientists dealt with theories, data, and facts. Beliefs, feelings, or voices from beyond were notions that they didnt let enter the equation. Even archaeologists. I'm confused. Dr. Malcolm--what scientific disposition do you adhere to: Theory, data, and facts, or feelings, voices from beyond, or chrystal balls?
You seem to flip flop about every other day. Most of us have looked at the Niku Hypothesis, and after reviewing the possiblilites, found it warranted further study. That, my friend, is what is taking place. A study of possibe clues to eliminate facts from fiction. Right or wrong as I've stated here many times, TIGHAR is going to find the artifacts, and analyze them. Whether the things we see on the reef is the Electra or not, is ok. Its a means to a conclusion. Eliminating theories by collecting data, and reviewing the results. Finding bones at the seven site and doing the scientific analysis to determine their origin is fascinating. I guess in your line of work, they could be AE bones, or the excavation may have miised them by 6 inches, 6 feet, or 600 miles.
Thats the way it goes in archaeology.
Now----I havent been in school for a while, but unless there has been a huge change, I still think that you analyze the facts of the discovery without personal beliefs, voices from beyond, etc, and see if it matches the theory.

I admit I do need to get educated some more---that is whay I'm going to DC----to learn.
Tom
Tom Swearengen TIGHAR # 3297
 
Logged

Malcolm McKay

  • Read-only
  • *
  • Posts: 551
Re: The role of belief in the practice of science
« Reply #1 on: May 21, 2012, 05:45:45 AM »

Strength of convictions and belief are wonderful things, except that they have no place in examination of data.

That's a bit simplistic - lest we have the line blurred between data analysis and search elements -

It certainly takes "strength of convictions and belief" to even undertake the examination of data - if not for that one would have no borders by which to appropriately judge the data.  Malcolm applies his own set of "convictions and belief" based on his training in his own analysis - none of us is cabable of universal wisdom. 

What is more at stake perhaps is objectivity - a willingness to examine without prejudice as to outcomes, and to accept a finding that one did not expect or hope for  should that be the case.

etc.


The only thing that I see your argument is putting forward is that you need strength of convictions and belief to carry a hypothesis forward. Fine words that catch the prevailing ethos of the Forum but I beg to differ -  that really isn't the case. All you need is data and you allow the strength of the data to dictate what eventually will be the result. 

Emily Sikuli's claims may or may not relate to "Nessie", however at this point the identity of "Nessie" itself has not been identified so in what way can you therefore argue or even suggest that what Emily saw was in fact "Nessie". For all we know "Nessie" could be some washed up driftwood or a piece of the Norwich City - the very doctored image that Richie has offered doesn't change that in any way. I have already set out why I find the claims of Emily and the other two informants to be less than reliable - I won't repeat them.

If the data emerges that shows that the Electra did indeed land on Nikumaroro then I will quite happily accept it. To date however that data has not emerged and this is why TIGHAR is still looking.  For a short time when I was a child I believed in Santa Claus but rather early on the data emerged that Santa Claus was in fact my parents. In arguments belief and commitment is usually reserved for the last ditch defence of some theory by someone too stubborn to admit that they are wrong - usually because they have an emotional or financial stake in the idea and to change would cause them embarrassment. If someone is so wedded to an idea that they find it embarrassing to admit that it is wrong then that is a sign of poorly developed intellectual processes and a willingness to disregard data for the sake of personal vanity - botox for the brain.

It isn't belief that carries a hypothesis through its tests it's is plain old curiosity. You gather data and then you find that the data opens up something else for consideration and so on. I am completely open-minded about the Nikumaroro hypothesis and I will be as happy to accept evidence that proves it as I will to accept evidence that it is not correct, something I have consistently maintained. So far, as I have said repeatedly, the evidence has been either circumstantial or in some cases just plain clutching at enticing straws - those vivid imaginary accounts built around Betty's notebook for instance. All good fun but let us not confuse them with reality.

Perhaps there is also another question one must ask, which is if the data does not emerge to  prove the hypothesis either way what then does TIGHAR do? Will we see the results of all the eggs being put in one basket or is there room to consider other options. 
Logged

Malcolm McKay

  • Read-only
  • *
  • Posts: 551
Re: The role of belief in the practice of science
« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2012, 05:53:52 AM »

Gee I thought scientists dealt with theories, data, and facts. Beliefs, feelings, or voices from beyond were notions that they didnt let enter the equation. Even archaeologists. I'm confused. Dr. Malcolm--what scientific disposition do you adhere to: Theory, data, and facts, or feelings, voices from beyond, or chrystal balls?
You seem to flip flop about every other day.

Well I may be in a minority here but I deal with plain old data - and I haven't flip flopped at all. Show me the data that proves the hypothesis and I'll accept it. So far there has been no proof just some enticing circumstantial evidence. In any case, that also must be TIGHAR's views because they keep searching.
Logged

Martin X. Moleski, SJ

  • Administrator
  • *
  • Posts: 2934
Re: The role of belief in the practice of science
« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2012, 06:47:36 AM »

Gee I thought scientists dealt with theories, data, and facts.

Please note that your thought is not from mathematics, logic, physics, chemistry, biology, archaeology, or the like.

It is a philosophical view that may be questioned or qualified on philosophical grounds.

Quote
Beliefs, feelings, or voices from beyond were notions that they didn't let enter the equation.

These three things are not from the same kettle of fish.  Let me define some terms:
  • Belief: assent to a proposition that has not been formally established.
  • Inference: conditional assent to a proposition as a logical consequence of the truth of premises.  "If A is true, then B is true."
  • Feelings: may mean intuitions, hunches, surmises, inklings, irritation at discrepancies, and the like; may mean motivation to pursue a question until it is resolved; may be the sense of satisfaction anticipated in advance or experienced after the fact of making a discovery that solves a problem or answers a question; may reflect adherence to ideals such as truth, justice, beauty, simplicity, objectivity, and the like.
  • Voices from beyond: the realm of the supernatural (if there is a supernatural dimension to reality) or the realm of self-delusion.
Star Trek and Carl Sagan's popular writings about science, among other forms of science fiction, have suggested that the scientist is a thinking machine, as cold, emotionless, and rigorously logical as our computers.  Our computers need no emotions because they have no choice in the matter.  They are completely deterministic.  We turn them on, feed them data, and interpret the results.  If the computer does not do what we command, it is a bad computer.  We fix the software, if that is where the problem is, or replace the hardware, until the machine performs predictably.

I have been reading the works of Michael Polanyi for 40 years now.  I used his philosophy of science in all of my college studies (BA in English, MA in Philosophy, MDiv in theology, and PhD in systematic theology).  Polanyi was a medical doctor who became a PhD in physical chemistry, doing groundbreaking work in adsorption of gases, molecular bonds, and chemical reactions.  Later in life, he did interesting work in economics, sociology, philosophy, theology, and aesthetics.  Based on his experience as a laboratory scientist, he denied the objectivist philosophy of science partially expressed in your assertion.

"I have said that intellectual passions have an affirmative content; in science they affirm the scientific interest and value of certain facts, as against any lack of such interest and value in others.  This selective function--in the absence of which science could not be defined at all--is closely linked to another function of the same passions in which their cognitive content is supplemented by a conative component.  This is their heuristic function.  The heuristic impulse links our appreciation of scientific value to a vision of reality, which serves as a guide to inquiry.  Heuristic passion is also the mainspring of originality--the force which impels us to abandon an accepted framework of interpretation and commit ourselves, by the crossing of a logical gap, to the use of a new framework.  Finally, heuristic passion will often turn (and have to turn) into persuasive passion, the mainspring of all fundamental controversy" (Personal Knowledge, 159).

Scientists are human.  Their accomplishments are human, as well as their failures.  Scientists ought to tell the truth--that is a fundamental ideal of science to which they should be passionately committed--but some scientists lie, cheat, and steal.  Like the rest of us human beings, there are times when the good they ought to do they do not do and the evil they ought to avoid they do not avoid.

It is not possible for any human being to think without relying on some beliefs.  This is a philosophical claim, but it has some backing from the field of logic and mathematics.  We cannot prove the basic premises of logic on which all rational discourse depends: the principle of identity, the principle of non-contradiction, and the principle of Excluded Middle.  These first principles of logic cannot be proven to be true the way that other things can be if these principles are taken on faith.  To engage in the physical sciences, one must also take for granted, without proof, that our powers of sense knowledge, abstraction, and memory are generally reliable.  If they are not, then we cannot observe the physical world, form theories about it, test them with experiments that depend on the operation of our intellectual powers, and conclude that there are certain truths that all reasonable human beings ought to accept.

I've highlighted "ought" and "should" several times.  The concept of truth sets an ethical standard.  We should seek the truth and reject error; we should believe others when they tell the truth; we should be willing to change our minds when our reasoning has been shown to be in error.  We cannot adhere to this ideal of truth, nor require it of others, without a passionate intellectual commitment (conviction, belief) that what is true is good and what is false is not good. 

Scientists can operate with these convictions without even realizing that they hold them because the structure of the mind is not at the focus of most fields in science.  Physicists, chemists, and the vast majority of biologists are focused on things outside of the mind, not on the mind that they are using to focus on things.  They think about things, not about thinking.

Quote
... what is taking place [is a] study of possible clues to eliminate facts from fiction.

Not so much to "eliminate facts" but to separate them--or, better, perhaps, to distinguish between what is known, what is not known.

Quote
Eliminating theories by collecting data, and reviewing the results.

Agreed, pretty much.  Notice that feelings--"intellectual passions"--are necessary for theory-formation and theory-selection.  "About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorise; and I well remember some one saying that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe the colours. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!" (Charles Darwin).

Quote
Now----I haven't been in school for a while, but unless there has been a huge change, I still think that you analyze the facts of the discovery without personal beliefs, voices from beyond, etc, and see if it matches the theory.

No.  There can be no analysis, no collection of facts, no sense of making a discovery, and no evaluation of what "matches" a theory without the intervention of "personal beliefs."  This is precisely the philosophy of science that Polanyi intended to deny in writing his book Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy.  It is a cardinal rule of all thought that we ought to be objective, but we can adhere to that rule only by a subjective willingness to adhere to that ideal.  "I start by rejecting the ideal of scientific detachment.  In the exact sciences, this false ideal is perhaps harmless, for it is in fact disregarded there by scientists.  But we shall see that it exercises a destructive influence in biology, psychology, and sociology, and falsifies our whole outlook far beyond the domain of science.  I want to establish an alternative ideal of knowledge, quite generally.  Hence the wide scope of this book and hence also the coining of the new term I have used for my title: Personal Knowledge.  The two words may seem to contradict each other: for true knowledge is deemed impersonal, universally established, objective.  But the seeming contradiction is resolved by modifying the conception of knowing" (PK, vii).

I don't object to people expressing their philosophy of science.  I object to them speaking as if their philosophy of science is a finding of science rather than a freely-chosen philosophical orientation toward reality.  I endorse the ideal of objectivity, but, with Polanyi, I reject the philosophy of objectivism.
LTM,

           Marty
           TIGHAR #2359A
 
Logged

Martin X. Moleski, SJ

  • Administrator
  • *
  • Posts: 2934
Re: The role of belief in the practice of science
« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2012, 07:00:30 AM »

The only thing that I see your argument is putting forward is that you need strength of convictions and belief to carry a hypothesis forward. Fine words that catch the prevailing ethos of the Forum but I beg to differ -  that really isn't the case. All you need is data and you allow the strength of the data to dictate what eventually will be the result.


First you deny the role of convictions in the conduct of science, then you smuggle them back in under the cover of your expression, "you allow the strength of the data to dictate what eventually will be the result."

Evaluating "the strength of the data" is a personal judgment for which you must take responsibility.  It represents a whole vision of reality.

Quote
In arguments belief and commitment is usually reserved for the last ditch defense of some theory by someone too stubborn to admit that they are wrong - usually because they have an emotional or financial stake in the idea and to change would cause them embarrassment. If someone is so wedded to an idea that they find it embarrassing to admit that it is wrong then that is a sign of poorly developed intellectual processes and a willingness to disregard data for the sake of personal vanity - botox for the brain.

Here you express the non-scientific convictions about science that guide your evaluation of arguments. 

Your theory about why people persist in error may account for some facts in the history of science.  Galileo rejected Kepler's work on the laws of planetary motion, adhered to the Greek view that the planets moved in perfect circles with uniform motion, and clung to his belief that the movement of the tides proved heliocentrism.  He was demonstrably wrong to do so, and it may well be that it was his personal vanity that motivated him not to credit Kepler's discoveries.  Newton accepted Kepler's laws, applied Galileo's studies on motion to the planets, and derived his law of gravitation as a consequence.  But he was not necessarily less vain than Galileo.

Quote
It isn't belief that carries a hypothesis through its tests it is plain old curiosity.

"A rose by any other name smells just as sweet."

Quote
All good fun but let us not confuse them with reality.

We agree that contact with reality is what counts.

But the belief that we can tell the difference between reality and illusion, which is fundamental to the progress of all thought, including scientific research, is a belief that cannot be established by logic or observation.  It is a necessary philosophical presumption.  It is not self-evidently true through the meaning of the words.  Any effort to gather proof in favor of the proposition would beg the question and be a vicious circle, for the collection of evidence would require belief that one can tell the difference between reality and illusion, which is the very thought that is in need of evidence.
LTM,

           Marty
           TIGHAR #2359A
 
Logged

Martin X. Moleski, SJ

  • Administrator
  • *
  • Posts: 2934
Re: The role of belief in the practice of science
« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2012, 07:06:27 AM »

Well I may be in a minority here but I deal with plain old data - and I haven't flip flopped at all. Show me the data that proves the hypothesis and I'll accept it.

You assert that there is such a thing as "plain old data." 

Classifying an observation as "plain" is an act of personal judgment, both on the part of those who submit the observation in support of a theory and those who reject that submission.

In both cases, the judgment represents personal convictions about what is and is not possible, what is and is not real, what is and is not persuasive. 
LTM,

           Marty
           TIGHAR #2359A
 
Logged

Irvine John Donald

  • T5
  • *****
  • Posts: 597
Re: The role of belief in the practice of science
« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2012, 09:32:39 AM »

Marty. I have to say that your posts 3, 4 and 5 were, to me, incredibly thought provoking and insightful.  Your eloquence shines through and makes me wish I could take a course or two of your classes.

Let me say I have a new found deep respect for you.  Thank you for sharing those thoughts with us.
Respectfully Submitted;

Irv
 
Logged

Martin X. Moleski, SJ

  • Administrator
  • *
  • Posts: 2934
Re: The role of belief in the practice of science
« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2012, 10:21:44 AM »

Marty. I have to say that your posts 3, 4 and 5 were, to me, incredibly thought provoking and insightful.  Your eloquence shines through and makes me wish I could take a course or two of your classes.

Thanks for the kind words, Irv.  Credit for the thought and the eloquence goes to Polanyi; I did the typing.   :D

Quote
Let me say I have a new found deep respect for you.  Thank you for sharing those thoughts with us.

It's my pleasure.

My apologies to those who do not enjoy philosophy.  I should have opened a thread like this last week, but just didn't have the time and energy to do so.  Grades were due, along with some contract deadlines for a conference on Polanyi's thought that I am helping coordinate in Chicago on the second weekend of June.
LTM,

           Marty
           TIGHAR #2359A
 
Logged

Malcolm McKay

  • Read-only
  • *
  • Posts: 551
Re: The role of belief in the practice of science
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2012, 06:49:28 PM »

Well I may be in a minority here but I deal with plain old data - and I haven't flip flopped at all. Show me the data that proves the hypothesis and I'll accept it.

You assert that there is such a thing as "plain old data." 

Classifying an observation as "plain" is an act of personal judgment, both on the part of those who submit the observation in support of a theory and those who reject that submission.

In both cases, the judgment represents personal convictions about what is and is not possible, what is and is not real, what is and is not persuasive.

Philosophising is fun and can divert us for hours - unfortunately a matter of data analysis is usually resolved by what that data combined with other data leads us to. That has been my experience, YMMV. 
Logged

Martin X. Moleski, SJ

  • Administrator
  • *
  • Posts: 2934
Re: The role of belief in the practice of science
« Reply #9 on: May 21, 2012, 07:41:20 PM »

Philosophising is fun and can divert us for hours - unfortunately a matter of data analysis is usually resolved by what that data combined with other data leads us to. That has been my experience, YMMV.

"A matter of data analysis is usually resolved by what that data combined with other data leads us to" is a data-free generalization. 

In other words, it is a philosophical standpoint, not an instance of what it recommends.

"Combining data" is an act of judgment.

Being "lead" by data requires an interpretation of the data.

Belief in the value and meaning of the data reflects a whole set of commitments about what the data is.

Data does not weigh itself.

Data does not interpret itself.

Data does not collect itself.

All of those activities are guided by presuppositions about what counts and does not count as "data."

You illustrate my point exactly in a post in another thread:

My only interest has been in examining the individual bits of evidence put forward to support the hypothesis. Others have also done so and for the small group of us here, not completely swayed by the miraculous vision being offered, some of those bits of evidence are less than satisfactory.

"Intellectual satisfaction" is one of the passions that Polanyi says are necessary for doing science.  Here you exhibit those passions.

You are also evaluating "bits of evidence" and deciding which bits are "satisfactory" and which are not.  I don't object at all to that process.  I object to the philosophy that none of your passions or beliefs are involved in that process of evaluation.

Quote
I sometimes wonder about the capacity of people to confuse discussion of evidence with heresy. Is it because people want to believe rather than be led to an understanding by what the data reveals?

Treating the data as revelation is your language for what you are doing.  "What the data reveals" depends on how you choose to look at it.  That choice is a personal judgment for which you are responsible.  Just like your adversaries, real and imagined, you, too, are operating on a belief system.
LTM,

           Marty
           TIGHAR #2359A
 
« Last Edit: May 21, 2012, 07:49:08 PM by Martin X. Moleski, SJ »
Logged

Malcolm McKay

  • Read-only
  • *
  • Posts: 551
Re: The role of belief in the practice of science
« Reply #10 on: May 21, 2012, 09:14:16 PM »

Martin I think we are drifting off into paralysis through analysis territory  :) . You have your opinion, I have mine and we can debate until the cows come home. I'll stick with mine thank you for at least mine leads to an objective analysis of the data. 
Logged

Martin X. Moleski, SJ

  • Administrator
  • *
  • Posts: 2934
Re: The role of belief in the practice of science
« Reply #11 on: May 21, 2012, 10:06:45 PM »

I'll stick with mine thank you for at least mine leads to an objective analysis of the data.

Yes, that is clearly your passionately held belief about yourself.

I don't mind you holding yourself in such high esteem.

I mind your speaking as if everyone else operates from belief and you do not.

You say, "Mine [i.e., your opinion] leads to an objective analysis of the data."

But that matter of opinion about your skills is subjective.

The fact that you assert your opinion about how objective you are, in contrast with everyone else who disagrees with your opinion, shows that you are doing philosophy, not archaeology or any other brand of science in forming that assertion.
LTM,

           Marty
           TIGHAR #2359A
 
Logged

Martin X. Moleski, SJ

  • Administrator
  • *
  • Posts: 2934
Re: The role of belief in the practice of science
« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2012, 08:08:39 AM »

Bravo, Marty - outstanding!  My own thoughts - and then much more - laid utterly bare.

"My own thoughts" provide the data I need to think about thinking, understand understanding, and judge judgment (B.J.F. Lonergan, SJ).

The facts of how we know what we know, which is the domain of epistemology, are not "right before our eyes."  They are behind our eyes.  We can't see ourselves seeing or hear ourselves hearing.  We can only get at the data we need by developing a different power of self-awareness and introspection.

Quote
No time is wasted in this analysis - it is as much well spent as the effort to place a mirror before Don Quixote, I believe; let us gaze at the truth and be refreshed.  If one would be paralyzed by that vision then one should perhaps gaze more deeply and find the convicition to move toward belief.

Perhaps some find philosophy to be a waste of time; I find time and life to be wasted without it.

Everyone who thinks has a philosophy, whether they know it or not.

Not everyone is equally interested in or capable of thinking philosophically, though they may be highly skilled in other areas of life.  In fact, as all golfers know, too much thinking can ruin a good swing.

There is a time for everything.  A time to think about thinking, and a time not to think about thinking.

Philosophy can't take the place of investigation.  There are no abstract principles on which we can decide what is on or near the reef near Niku.

Investigation can't take the place of philosophy.  No ROV can retrieve the structure of the mind for us.  The mind is within us; the remnants of NR 16020, if they still exist, are outside of us, somewhere.
LTM,

           Marty
           TIGHAR #2359A
 
Logged
Pages: [1]   Go Up
 

Copyright 2018 by TIGHAR, a non-profit foundation. No portion of the TIGHAR Website may be reproduced by xerographic, photographic, digital or any other means for any purpose. No portion of the TIGHAR Website may be stored in a retrieval system, copied, transmitted or transferred in any form or by any means, whether electronic, mechanical, digital, photographic, magnetic or otherwise, for any purpose without the express, written permission of TIGHAR. All rights reserved.

Contact us at: info@tighar.org • Phone: 610-467-1937 • Membership formwebmaster@tighar.org

Powered by MySQL SMF 2.0.15 | SMF © 2017, Simple Machines Powered by PHP