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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why I Don't "Believe" In Science... (Part III)

So having covered a lot in the last couple of posts about "belief" and "science" let's take a step back and look at the "less than hard" sciences.

At least in physics we have a mathematical model of some physical process.  For example, the old highs school favorite:

  F = m * a

Where force is derived from mass and acceleration.  I personally recall doing various experiments relative to this in high school.

Here force is modeled mathematically by multiplying mass times acceleration.  Lest anyone's eyes glaze over we will not go into any more detail than that.  In terms of many earthly activities this formula is sufficient to calculate useful results.

But as physics advanced during the twentieth century Einstein show that for very large accelerations things changed.  He invented a new mathematical model.  One which addresses both low and high speed acceleration (mass becoming infinite as its pushed toward the speed of light).

All of this has been repeatedly and accurately measure over the centuries.

Now let's compare this to, say, biology or archeology.

Biology is also a very real "science" - but not like physics.  There exist no equivalent mathematical models in biology as there are with physics.  Certainly there are various laws of genetics, statistical laws on populations and so on, but these are not exact laws.  I can do the same experiment one hundred times and get wildly varying results.  Results that might fall within a statistical limit, but it would not be an exact result.

(I can use physics and engineering to design the steel frame for a building.  But anyone who designed a building based on "live" biological laws would not be too successful.)

Archeology is also considered a "science."

But its much less precise (or "hard") than even biology.  I might find something in the ground, say a dinosaur skeleton.  Various competing "factions" then try an "explain" why the skeleton, for example, has or does not have some property, say feathers.  Here there are no mathematical models to speak of.  There might have been dinosaurs roaming the earth for millions of years but we only have one hundred skeletons to look at - a ridiculously small sample size - from which we extrapolate quite a bit.

Peer pressure, seniority, departmental and other politics and political agendas, and personality all play a role in how archeology "decides" what the best "theory" is for some discovery.  And, unlike even biology, we cannot reassemble the past and run some experiment again to "check our results."  Further, at any point its likely some new discovery may appear which completely throws prior theories out the window.

Unlike physics were known holes, e.g., "missing" particles, can be surmised or extrapolated, no one can predict what someone might find next in archeology.  For example, dinosaurs where thought to walk a certain way until movie makers pointed out that in order for them to animate them in a rational way they had to move differently (just watch old 50's and 60's dinosaur movies - even those based on "science").

Generally to me these kinds of sciences are more like "social classification projects" - at least until they reach the level of "hard science" (in terms of physic, chemistry, etc.).

(But then physicists and mathematicians take over anyway because maths (no spelling error?) are involved.)

Then, at the lowest level, are those that study "models."  This involves developing a model of something and, rather than studying the something, they study the model - apparently not considering the case were the model does not accurately represent the something.

Its not that all of this is completely useless though...

Its just not a rational basis for a belief system - at least to the degree most people take it to today.

Were there dinosaurs - of course.  What did the do, look like, how did they act, when did they live.  No one knows for sure nor can they know.  They can guess, they can extrapolate, but they cannot know - at least not to the degree we know how to predict the behavior of a steel column in a building.  Say there were a million of some small dinosaur alive at any given point over the course of ten million years sixty million years ago.  That's a population of ten million millions or some ten trillion individuals.

We have maybe twenty to study.

While we can learn much from these twenty its not so easy to accurately extrapolate what might have been actually true for the other ten trillion or so individuals.  (Imagine the ones we find have some property, for example, that made their fossilization more likely than the rest...)  Our results may be skewed and we would have no way to tell...

So I am happy to accept the facts turned up by these sciences, but not their corresponding extrapolations.

Yet wild extrapolations are exactly what people love about these topics and the conclusions they put forth.

Many also try to use "Occam's Razor" to claim that the "simplest explanation, all things considered, is usually the best."

The only problem is that this only works based on what you know - like with Newtonian physics.  It tells you nothing about what you don't know and it only works some of the time.  (Its real use is to discourage people from claiming that the "light turns on because the faeries pass through the wire with torches" in any sort of a valid way.  While its possible this is why the light turns on - so far, based on factual observation - it seems very, very unlikely.)

Not the sort of engineering I'd like under my feet if I were standing on the 40th floor of a building.

So I have to accept facts as, well, facts - facts in terms of all kinds of "science" - hard or not.

But I am very careful not to believe wild scientific or social extrapolation about these facts.

Today science has become, sadly, a business where in order to get funding you have to create some interesting reason for your research to be "necessary."  Not many people care much about the sexual proclivities of the Snail Darter fish.  But if that fish prevents some hydroelectric power system from being built suddenly your research in that area becomes relevant and necessary.

The question is - "Is this objective science you an believe in?"

Or is it a preconceived belief system looking for an anecdotal or circumstantial justification somewhere in scientific fact.

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