Author Topic: Scientific Dogma  (Read 2079 times)

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Scientific Dogma
« on: April 26, 2012, 11:46:35 pm »
A piece is missing from an unclassified circular being that is also the narrator, who goes on a merry adventure looking for its missing piece.

Last Friday I happened into a university colloquium with Rupert Sheldrake (uhuh yeah, I couldn't not go, you understand) and a local Philosophy of Science prof. He asked the question whether the sun might be conscious. Though during the question-round he did admit that it was probably a bad career move as a research topic for a starting PHD. (The general topic was "dogmas in Science", it was very interesting) (He also told us that his new book "The Science Delusion", was not his intended title, but insisted upon by his publisher)
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Re: Scientific Dogma
« Reply #1 on: April 26, 2012, 11:49:47 pm »
A piece is missing from an unclassified circular being that is also the narrator, who goes on a merry adventure looking for its missing piece.

Last Friday I happened into a university colloquium with Rupert Sheldrake (uhuh yeah, I couldn't not go, you understand) and a local Philosophy of Science prof. He asked the question whether the sun might be conscious. Though during the question-round he did admit that it was probably a bad career move as a research topic for a starting PHD. (The general topic was "dogmas in Science", it was very interesting) (He also told us that his new book "The Science Delusion", was not his intended title, but insisted upon by his publisher)

WHAT????????????
 
Just looked for it on amazon, and I feel tempted to track it down and read it. Simply because it seems so wacky and outlandish, but at the same time may be worth reading.

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Re: Scientific Dogma
« Reply #2 on: April 27, 2012, 02:20:11 am »
Well, it started with a part about one of the Science dogmas that "matter does not have consciousness". Which poses a bit of a problem with you know, Cartesian Duality and all that. Consciousness exists because we're conscious and we can tell it's definitely a real phenomenon. But either matter can has consciousness, or consciousness is a property outside matter. Neither does Science like very much. So what Science has done, sort of, is to denounce both options and ignore consciousness altogether. The justification being that we can't measure consciousness, we can't define it and we don't know what it is made of, really. Problem turns out to be, we kind of got the same problems with matter as we look really close at it, it's just that there were more things to discover about matter before we got to that point.

Anyway, the thing about the sun and consciousness is a bit like Gaia theory (see Wikipedia). Seeing it's an enormous ball of matter with all sorts of really complex processes going on in it (and we see only the surface with the flares and the spots and the currents), there could be whole "ecosystems" of waves and flows going on inside. Calling such things "consciousness" would require a bit of a broadening of the term, but then, right now the term is awfully specific as there's only one specific type of consciousness that we know exists and it's ours. And there's nothing particularly special about our body's matter.
ANYWAY it's not very important, because even if [we decided that] the sun had consciousness AND we could prove it, it's not like it would change anything (except perhaps ethical concerns about shooting our nuclear waste there).

He's got quite outlandish and eccentric scientific ideas. You may have heard about his "morphogenic field resonance" theory. But from his talk I got the idea that he's toned them down quite a bit.

Another really nice thing was that the Philosophy of Science professor actually turned out to be quite on the same line as him, concerning Dogma's in Science--a lot of it was also related to the "what's wrong with academics" subjects we've been discussing in Techmology&Scientism. He said it's harder to research outlandish theories in "softer" sciences like Biology and Medicine than it is in Physics. Because after all, even in academic circles, Physics professors are not ridiculed for posing all sorts of crazy ideas regarding Quantum Physics. Which is true, because, come on, many-universes theory is pretty out-there, if you consider it. On the other hand in astronomy there was this guy that felt like he had some evidence discrediting the theory of red/blue shift for distance estimation (pretty much the foundations of all modern astronomy), and he was forbidden access to certain major observatories so he couldn't test his theories (Sheldrake didn't mention that example, but it's a perfect one for demonstrating Dogma in Science).

He also mentioned one particular thing that I still want to check out if it's correct. This was in response to the Dogma that "laws of physics are always the same everywhere and every time". He said, that between the years 1920-1945 measurements concerning the speed of light C, showed a significant dip, relative to measurements before and after that period. If this is true I can imagine Science not really wanting to look at it very much if they really have no idea of how or why this was so and with no way to go back in time and doublecheck the experiments. I wonder though if it's true and how significant that dip is, and how many measurements we are talking about, etc etc. Sheldrake posed the (possible) explanation that maybe we were flying through a cloud of dark matter or something. Oh and that's another thing. Dark Matter. It just stinks. If there's so much of it (like 80% of all mass?!) then either I shall manage to understand why it's perfectly reasonable to assume its existence or I shall really question the fundamental nature of really big things in the universe and what we pretend to know about them. Maybe Dimo can explain :)
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Cain

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Re: Scientific Dogma
« Reply #3 on: April 27, 2012, 07:32:54 am »
There have been questions about if universal constants have always been the same.  There was...something....I'll look it up and get back to you on that.  But yeah.

And yeah, Dark Matter is a complete fudge.  "Our equations don't work...lets invent something undetectable to fix them!"  I've seen a lot of legitimate queries about dark matter's power of explanation, quite a few from respected physicists.

But seriously?  The sun is conscious?  :argh!:

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Re: Scientific Dogma
« Reply #4 on: April 28, 2012, 02:32:59 am »
No no, he did not argue that it is. He argued that it is a question that Science would not dare to ask, for fear of ridicule. Yet Science should be able to ask any question it pleases, even if such research is bound for failure because we have no idea how to test such a hypothesis. Especially if Science does get to pose hypotheses about Dark Matter, for instance.

BTW, another problem with the Dark Matter is that it's not only undetectable, but that when they "invented" the idea, they were able to pick the amount, the mass and a bunch of properties (such as being undetectable) so that it exactly fits the current formulas. It's really not very scientific.
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Re: Scientific Dogma
« Reply #5 on: April 28, 2012, 10:41:18 am »
Ah, good.  I did kinda jump over your larger post.

And yes, that bothers me too.  Dark matter is entirely invented for the purpose of making sums work.  It's slightly more scientific than Phlogiston, but not by much.  I'll get that book open once I've had my coffee and find the passages I was talking about.

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Re: Scientific Dogma
« Reply #6 on: April 28, 2012, 11:23:35 am »
Both from 13 Things That Just Don't Make Sense by Michael Brooks.

Quote
No one knows what the dark matter actually is. When the Cambridge professor Malcolm Longair wrote his cosmology primer Our Evolving Universe, he listed some of the things it might turn out to be. At the top of the list were things like interstellar planets and low mass stars. Toward the bottom of the list were house bricks and copies of the Astrophysical Journal. This last candidate seems most appropriate; if it were discovered to be the answer, it would add a pleasing irony to the dark matter story.

Quote
SEARCHING  for dark matter is not for the fainthearted; the stuff has eluded detection for thirty years for good reason. Nevertheless, scientists do have some ideas of how to look. Physicists have models for what kind of particles might have been created in the big bang that could still be hanging around in the cosmos to act as dark matter. Their best guess is something called weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs. If this is right, there’s no shortage of dark matter to hunt for. According to the particle physicists, the Earth is drifting through a mist of dark matter right now; something like a billion WIMPs are washing through your head every second. Among the WIMPs, there is one outstanding candidate: the neutralino.

It is stable enough to still be filling the cosmos 13 billion years after the big bang. It would be suitably difficult to see or feel; it doesn’t interact via the strong force that holds nuclei together, and it ignores and is ignored by electromagnetic fields. Crucially, it has enough mass—about one hundred times the mass of a proton—to have the necessary effect on galaxies. The only drawback is that no one knows whether the neutralino really exists.

Quote
Earth is continually bombarded by high-speed particles from space, and these cosmic rays produce exactly the same signature as WIMPs in a WIMP detector. So the searches have to take place deep underground, beyond the reach of the rays. It is a complication that makes the dark matter hunters the inhabitants of some of the most inaccessible laboratories on Earth. An Italian group have put their detector under a mountain. The neutralino search in the United Kingdom takes place 1,100 meters underground, in a potash mine whose tunnels reach out under the seafloor. U.S. researchers have set up a dark matter hunt seven hundred meters underground, in an abandoned iron mine in northern Minnesota.

When you understand the working conditions, you know these people must be serious. And yet, so far, they have found precisely nothing. The searches have been going on for more than a decade; indeed, many of the researchers have dedicated more than two decades of their lives to the quest for dark matter. Upgrades are making the equipment more sensitive all the time, but we still have no defensible idea of what is causing that strange pull in the heavens.

It seems somehow impossible that, when this stuff makes up a quarter of the universe, we don’t know yet what it is. But we should perhaps take comfort in the fact that we at least noticed it was missing.

As for non-constant constants...

Quote
What is known as the standard model of physics inserts something like twenty-six numbers in its equations in order to accurately describe the strengths of the various forces in nature. The values we have for those numbers come from experiments done on Earth, and mostly in the twentieth century. Who’s to say whether the same experiments done on Alpha Centauri, or 10 billion years ago, would give the same result?

If you want to check whether something has been the same for a long time, you need a sample that’s as old as possible. Webb and Barrow quickly realized they had access to a perfect sample: the light emitted, 12 billion years ago, by quasars, the hearts of young galaxies. The emission of light from a star involves a constant that is officially known as the fine structure constant, but is more often referred to as alpha. The quasar light would depend on alpha as it was 12 billion years ago, so analyzing that light would provide the best possible chance of answering Paul Dirac’s question. By 1999 John Webb had what looked like an answer.

The photons of light that carried his answer had traveled 12 billion light-years across the cosmos and landed on Earth in Hawaii, at the Keck Observatory that sits on the summit of Mauna Kea. But what was most interesting about the light arriving at the Keck telescope was the light that didn’t arrive. Just as Vesto Slipher had done at the Lowell Observatory eight decades earlier, Webb and his team spread the light out into a spectrum.

There were gaps in Webb’s spectrum: his rainbow had missing colors. That wasn’t interesting in itself; on a 12-billion-year journey through space, you’d expect the light to encounter some matter—clouds of gas are the usual culprits—that absorbs light of particular wavelengths. This leaves breaks in certain parts of the spectrum, as if a decorator has left a few vertical white stripes in the middle of your orange bedroom wall.

The interesting part of Webb’s discovery was that the breaks were in the wrong place. Every atom, whether it is in an interstellar gas cloud or on the sole of your foot, will only absorb photons of particular energies. The energies in question differ for each atom; it is something like the atomic version of a fingerprint. As a result, by looking at the spectrum of light—and what is missing from it—you can fairly easily work out what atoms the light encountered.

The fingerprints in Webb’s spectrum corresponded to two atomic encounters. One involved absorption by magnesium atoms; the other, by iron.

It was clear from Webb’s spectrum that the quasar’s light had passed through clouds of magnesium and iron on its trip to Earth. But there was a problem. Although it was unmistakable which of the well-known absorptions the gaps in the spectrum were meant to correspond to, they were slightly out of place, as if someone had nudged the spectrum. For some, the absorption lines were nudged slightly to the left. For others, they were shifted a little to the right.

Webb sat down and redid the calculation. All the shifted lines made sense if he made one little adjustment. All he had to do was allow that when the light was racing through the interstellar dust clouds, the fine-structure constant was very slightly different from what it is today.

Quote
Alpha’s significance is due to the fact that it is the most important constant in one of our most important theories of physics: quantum electrodynamics,or  QED.  This governs any and every interaction between the charged subatomic particles: the protons and electrons. QED brings together quantum theory, relativity, electricity, and magnetism to describe the origins of electromagnetism. Alpha is also linked, via the “electroweak theory” that gained Steven Weinberg, Abdus Salam, and Sheldon Glashow the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics, to the “weak force” that gives rise to phenomena such as radioactive decay in atomic nuclei. Since electromagnetism and the weak force are two of the four fundamental forces of nature, it is fair to say that alpha plays a pivotal role in the universe.

Not that the theory provides a value for alpha; scientists have had to do intricate experiments with electrons to work out what number they should plug into the QED formulas. Just as experiments gave us the gravitational constant that tells us how much the Earth and the Sun pull on each other in Newton’s theory, the experimentally sourced alpha tells us how strongly charged particles affect each other. And it is not allowed to change by much.

Tweak alpha too far, and small atomic nuclei—those of helium, for example—would blow apart as the protons repelled each other. Stars  wouldn’t shine. Grow alpha by 4 percent, and the stars wouldn’t have ever produced carbon—and thus we wouldn’t exist.

Not that John Webb wants to change alpha by quite that much. Webb’s absorption lines all makes sense if you allow it to have been smaller by just a millionth of its present value 12 billion years ago.

It seems, on the face of it, an almost inconsequential correction. A constant of physics, one that hardly anyone outside the subject has heard of, may have had a slightly different value in the past. It’s put on a little weight, got one-millionth bigger in 12 billion years. Big deal.

But it is a big deal. If it is true—and ten years later Webb still prefaces all his statements with this cautionary clause—if it is true, it opens a door to all kinds of unsettling ideas. We have built our story of the universe, and our explanations of how everything behaves within it, on the premise that the constants are, and always have been, constant. And, as we have seen, if the constants change, so  do the laws. John Webb’s observations are threatening to unleash a lawless universe.

Webb knows this; he is not rushing in to make any claims. He is an astonishingly careful man. He has already spent nigh on a decade trying to find the fault with his own results. His research team have dissected every result, carried out ruthless and rigorous statistical analyses, checked everything for some casual error. They have found nothing wrong. In fact, their analyses have taken them to the point where the varying alpha result has much more credibility than is generally required in any other area of physics. You don’t even need Webb’s level of certainty to claim a Nobel Prize for the discovery of an entirely new particle

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Re: Scientific Dogma
« Reply #7 on: April 28, 2012, 06:24:38 pm »
Hey Cain cool thanks for the quotes.

Quote
No one knows what the dark matter actually is. When the Cambridge professor Malcolm Longair wrote his cosmology primer Our Evolving Universe, he listed some of the things it might turn out to be. At the top of the list were things like interstellar planets and low mass stars. Toward the bottom of the list were house bricks and copies of the Astrophysical Journal. This last candidate seems most appropriate; if it were discovered to be the answer, it would add a pleasing irony to the dark matter story.

I also still really like Douglas Adams' explanation that Dark Matter is simply made up of all the styrofoam packing peanuts the expensive equipment to detect Dark Matter came shipped in.

Quote from: 13 Things That Just Don't Make Sense
the searches have to take place deep underground, beyond the reach of the rays. It is a complication that makes the dark matter hunters the inhabitants of some of the most inaccessible laboratories on Earth. An Italian group have put their detector under a mountain. The neutralino search in the United Kingdom takes place 1,100 meters underground, in a potash mine whose tunnels reach out under the seafloor. U.S. researchers have set up a dark matter hunt seven hundred meters underground, in an abandoned iron mine in northern Minnesota.

When you understand the working conditions, you know these people must be serious. And yet, so far, they have found precisely nothing. The searches have been going on for more than a decade; indeed, many of the researchers have dedicated more than two decades of their lives to the quest for dark matter. Upgrades are making the equipment more sensitive all the time, but we still have no defensible idea of what is causing that strange pull in the heavens.

On the one hand it's comforting to know that they're really putting serious effort into figuring this out.

But on the other hand, it is staunchly dogmatic behaviour. Dedicating more than 20 years of your life in harsh subterranean working conditions, searching for a questionable unknown type of matter with no more proof to its existence except "it really ties the room together".

Which fortunately is not nearly as dangerous as dogmatism in other kinds of belief. Assuming they'll keep using proper scientific methods, they'll either find something or not.

However there is (arguably) a flip side danger, that of spending scientific energy and resources on wild goose chases. Or rather, there is a kind of "unfairness" about it all. Why can scientists build gigantic underground basins and detection systems to hunt for hypothetical dark matter without any evidence whether it even exists? Aren't there alternative theories that also balance the formulas? And if there aren't, shouldn't you, after 20 years of no results, maybe focus on coming up with alternative ideas instead of building a bigger detector? (Ok granted, they might be doing just that, I'm not following their research).

And even more fun, if it's okay to spend 20 years casting Scientific Missile to attack the Darkness, can we please spend some serious scientific effort on other controversial topics? Who knows what we'll find, I'm sure there's some low-hanging fruits to be picked, and if not we could at least disprove some crackpot theories.

Like, I dunno, the placebo effect in medicine. Just like how apparently we're so bothered that we can't account for all the gravitational effects given the observable mass in the universe, shouldn't we be similarly bothered that we can't account for all the healing effects given some measurable amount of chemical/drug treatment in the human body?

Or precognition. Sure the CIA did loads of research but that shit is classified--isn't it? Were the results inconclusive or did they actually prove there are no measurable effects? If they can go hunt dark matter, we can at least try prove such things right or wrong?

Or one thing Sheldrake suggested that makes a bit of a problem with the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Apparently there's something wrong with conservation of energy in living beings. Measuring energy input and output on human subjects yielded discrepancies of up to +/- 25%. But on the whole it all averaged out and was attributed to measuring error. Possible, but Sheldrake claims (I got no citation, nor an idea what research this is about--perhaps it's in his book) that there was a difference between sedentary subjects who just too much energy, while both physically active and meditating subjects generally used too little. Now I understand it is probably quite hard to measure energy I/O of a human being to high precision, but it can't be harder than building gigantic underground particle detectors.

Quote from: Cain
As for non-constant constants...
Quote from: 13 Things That Just Don't Make Sense
(snip) Webb knows this; he is not rushing in to make any claims. He is an astonishingly careful man. He has already spent nigh on a decade trying to find the fault with his own results. His research team have dissected every result, carried out ruthless and rigorous statistical analyses, checked everything for some casual error. They have found nothing wrong. In fact, their analyses have taken them to the point where the varying alpha result has much more credibility than is generally required in any other area of physics. You don’t even need Webb’s level of certainty to claim a Nobel Prize for the discovery of an entirely new particle

Again, on the one hand it's admirable that he's checked his own results so rigorously that they now carry a much higher certainty than would be reasonably required. But on the other hand, it's clear that he dogmatically wishes that his results turn out to have been wrong because he really does not like the conclusion if they aren't.

Fortunately, unless you're faking your data, Science won't let you get away with that. Whether you try to find something that doesn't really exist, or whether you try to find an error with something that really does.
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Re: Scientific Dogma
« Reply #8 on: April 28, 2012, 10:58:43 pm »
No no, he did not argue that it is. He argued that it is a question that Science would not dare to ask, for fear of ridicule. Yet Science should be able to ask any question it pleases, even if such research is bound for failure because we have no idea how to test such a hypothesis. Especially if Science does get to pose hypotheses about Dark Matter, for instance.

BTW, another problem with the Dark Matter is that it's not only undetectable, but that when they "invented" the idea, they were able to pick the amount, the mass and a bunch of properties (such as being undetectable) so that it exactly fits the current formulas. It's really not very scientific.

We might ask it, but we would immediately dismiss it because there's no more reason or evidence to ask it than there is to ask "Is there a god". Parsimony works in our favor.
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Re: Scientific Dogma
« Reply #9 on: April 29, 2012, 01:33:23 am »
I looked up "parsimony" on Wikipedia, got redirected to "Occam's Razor" (and Wiktionary seems to confirm).

Is there more to the word "parsimony" than "Occam's Razor", in the sense that you're using it?

Because you can't strictly use Occam's Razor to dismiss inquiries. It's merely a heuristic, useful to guide your path if you require guidance in where to look first. It can't prove anything, nor can Occam's Razor alone dismiss a hypothesis in the way that evidence or reasoning can. To say "we" (assuming you mean the "scientific community") could dismiss such a question based on Occam's razor is one of the things Sheldrake argued against. And would I agree with him on that.

I understand that it is a very powerful tool in the biology research you do, but even there, do you not use statistical evidence to justify the choices you made by Occam's Razor?

I do agree that the first step in such a hypothetical scientific inquiry would indeed be to present an argument as to why there is even a reason to ask the question. But you can't really start working on that if you dismiss it beforehand by stating there is no reason to get started. This may sound circular, but only if the reason is relatively straightforward. But instead formulating that would form a large part of the initial stage of such a project.

One reason to ask the question would be the obvious parallels to Gaia Theory (which interestingly was even cited as an example of pseudo-science in a philosophy class I took ~10 years ago, but nowadays is again subject of multidisciplinary scientific research).

Another reason, is what I mentioned earlier ITT, the question whether matter can have consciousness. And I wonder whether you consider that question "parsimonious" or not? Because there's some very good reasons for asking that question, IMO. Of course it leaves one to wonder "but why the sun?" and in that case I completely agree that it would probably be wise to start out with something simpler. And that can be viewed as an application of Occam's Razor.



Oh and one other thing, about the question "is there a god". Science has asked that question, many times, and answered it (often negatively) for many different meanings of the term "god". It's not like they haven't been trying, and asking, and looking. Sure, religious folks might disagree, but they're not playing the same game. Nor are we required to prove or disprove every redefinition of "god" they come up with, but we certainly got quite a few of them. And while the term "consciousness" might be real hard to define, it is nowhere near as slippery as "god". For that matter, you might dismiss all kinds of AI research, because we tend to move the goalposts every time we reach them (beating chess-masters, passing the Turing test, winning Jeopardy).
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Re: Scientific Dogma
« Reply #10 on: April 29, 2012, 02:39:38 am »
I looked up "parsimony" on Wikipedia, got redirected to "Occam's Razor" (and Wiktionary seems to confirm).

Is there more to the word "parsimony" than "Occam's Razor", in the sense that you're using it?

Because you can't strictly use Occam's Razor to dismiss inquiries. It's merely a heuristic, useful to guide your path if you require guidance in where to look first. It can't prove anything, nor can Occam's Razor alone dismiss a hypothesis in the way that evidence or reasoning can. To say "we" (assuming you mean the "scientific community") could dismiss such a question based on Occam's razor is one of the things Sheldrake argued against. And would I agree with him on that.

I understand that it is a very powerful tool in the biology research you do, but even there, do you not use statistical evidence to justify the choices you made by Occam's Razor?

I do agree that the first step in such a hypothetical scientific inquiry would indeed be to present an argument as to why there is even a reason to ask the question. But you can't really start working on that if you dismiss it beforehand by stating there is no reason to get started. This may sound circular, but only if the reason is relatively straightforward. But instead formulating that would form a large part of the initial stage of such a project.

One reason to ask the question would be the obvious parallels to Gaia Theory (which interestingly was even cited as an example of pseudo-science in a philosophy class I took ~10 years ago, but nowadays is again subject of multidisciplinary scientific research).

Another reason, is what I mentioned earlier ITT, the question whether matter can have consciousness. And I wonder whether you consider that question "parsimonious" or not? Because there's some very good reasons for asking that question, IMO. Of course it leaves one to wonder "but why the sun?" and in that case I completely agree that it would probably be wise to start out with something simpler. And that can be viewed as an application of Occam's Razor.



Oh and one other thing, about the question "is there a god". Science has asked that question, many times, and answered it (often negatively) for many different meanings of the term "god". It's not like they haven't been trying, and asking, and looking. Sure, religious folks might disagree, but they're not playing the same game. Nor are we required to prove or disprove every redefinition of "god" they come up with, but we certainly got quite a few of them. And while the term "consciousness" might be real hard to define, it is nowhere near as slippery as "god". For that matter, you might dismiss all kinds of AI research, because we tend to move the goalposts every time we reach them (beating chess-masters, passing the Turing test, winning Jeopardy).

Actually, you can use parsimony to dismiss inquiries. Scientists do it all the time. Sure, the sun might be conscious, but that would require so many extra assumptions about the universe that it's not even worth my time to consider. Thus I dismiss it. It doesn't mean I'm right. It just means that there is no evidence for the large number of assumptions required to make it worth pursuing, therefore, until I have any evidence that might support those assumptions, I am better off continuing my life as if the sun is not conscious. Or I could spend my whole life chasing pots of gold at the end of rainbows. Absence of evidence is not proof of absence, but it is evidence of absence, always. Then it just becomes an issue of "At what level of lack of evidence versus presence of evidence do I dismiss this?"

I mean, practical Bayesian reasoning runs on parsimony, at least in part.
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Re: Scientific Dogma
« Reply #11 on: April 29, 2012, 10:30:58 pm »
Actually, you can use parsimony to dismiss inquiries. Scientists do it all the time. Sure, the sun might be conscious, but that would require so many extra assumptions about the universe that it's not even worth my time to consider. Thus I dismiss it.

It doesn't mean I'm right. It just means that there is no evidence for the large number of assumptions required to make it worth pursuing, therefore, until I have any evidence that might support those assumptions, I am better off continuing my life as if the sun is not conscious. Or I could spend my whole life chasing pots of gold at the end of rainbows.

This is probably the core of our confusion. You started making that argument for "we (the scientific community)", I'm glad to see you have toned it down a notch to "I" :-) My point however, was that you can't make it for someone else.

I agree that you don't have to pursue that question. But only in regard to that second paragraph, because it's not in your scientific field of research. The same argument can be made for Dark Matter or chasing the Higgs Boson, if you're not a theoretical physicist.

I disagree with the first part though. Maybe in a lot of cases "requires too many assumptions to even consider" is a good reason to dismiss something (I don't know, I'd have to think about it), but in this particular case it (IMO) definitely is not.

Of course it is going to require a great many extra assumptions about the universe. We hardly know anything at all about the nature of consciousness, except that it exists! So unless consciousness is a strictly constructive property of matter, in the sense that we can discover it bit by bit via a Reductionist approach, we can't get a single step further because there are no questions or considerations that will not require a whole lot of extra assumptions about the universe. Still there is a growing body of evidence (but not proof) that the Reductionist approach may not work very well in consciousness research (which is why I disagree with Yudkowsky's dislike of the word "emergence"--in fact I'm going to re-read that essay and see if I can pick it apart).

(and I'll repeat my previous post's conclusion: There would be more merit in researching what it takes and means for a chunk of matter to "be conscious" in general than starting out with the sun. But as soon as someone is actually doing that more general research, the question about the sun becomes a lot less silly)

Sorry for bringing up the perhaps trite example of the discovery of Quantum Mechanics again: How many extra assumptions about the universe did that require? Before anyone even started working out the formulas to see if it could potentially work. Before that, the only assumptions about the universe were classical mechanics. From that perspective, it would not have been worth anyone's time to even consider such crazy fuzzy non-local stuff (or what electron orbitals really look like--recommended/excellent article). Sure it may not seem such a leap of faith now because we know that it is true and we know that physics at the atomic level is really unintuitive compared to how matter, time and space are perceives on our own scale. But they didn't know that yet, the universe was believed to be very mechanistic.

And maybe that's another point of confusion. Parsimonious reasoning has some very good guidelines for everyday life decisions. Definitely much better than our broken intuitive understanding of chance and probability. But applying it rigidly to scientific research is going to get us stuck in local optima, you can't always get from here to there with small steps.

(btw that makes me wonder, Yudkowsky has a whole sequence on QM, I haven't read it myself, but does he touch upon this subject? Whether it was a reasonable, parsimonious assumption, before it had been worked out?)

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Absence of evidence is not proof of absence, but it is evidence of absence, always. Then it just becomes an issue of "At what level of lack of evidence versus presence of evidence do I dismiss this?"

I carefully read that article (and spotted a minor error in one of his formulas :) he should also use a JS LaTeX renderer), and I'm not really sure what it has to do with the discussion, except for being a nice quote (which reminds me of something ... j/k ;-) ).

The only section that seems relevant is near the end and rather seems to confirm my own position:

Quote from: absence of evidence
The absence of an observation may be strong evidence of absence or very weak evidence of absence, depending on how likely the cause is to produce the observation.  The absence of an observation that is only weakly permitted (even if the alternative hypothesis does not allow it at all), is very weak evidence of absence (though it is evidence nonetheless).

So there is absence of evidence concerning the question whether the sun is conscious. Given that performing research into such questions on consciousness is controversial, do you suppose that the absence of evidence is strong or weak evidence of absence?

Interestingly, as I've been looking up all sorts of things while writing this reply, turns out there is actually quite a lot of research on consciousness. That's one thing that Sheldrake turned out to be wrong about, quite a bit, in his talk. Lots of controversial but very reasonable examples have (all quite recently) gotten more research attention. Not the worst thing to be wrong about :)

Anyway, recent research specifically on how it relates to the physical world seems to fall in three categories: 1 "It's neural events in the brain", the inevitable reductionist approach. I'll investigate how that's working out so far. I wonder what they have to say about things without neurons, too. 2 "Quantum mind" explanations, which I don't buy. You won't mind if I leave it at that? ;-) 3 More holistic approaches, which I find most interesting because they don't necessarily contradict category 1 yet I expect are much more likely to actually learn something about the nature of consciousness.

There's also a really relevant quote in another section:

Quote from: why do people believe that other people are conscious?
But if consciousness is subjective and not visible from the outside, why do the vast majority of people believe that other people are conscious, but rocks and trees are not?[39] This is called the problem of other minds.[40] It is particularly acute for people who believe in the possibility of philosophical zombies, that is, people who think it is possible in principle to have an entity that is physically indistinguishable from a human being and behaves like a human being in every way but nevertheless lacks consciousness.[41]

The most commonly given answer is that we attribute consciousness to other people because we see that they resemble us in appearance and behavior: we reason that if they look like us and act like us, they must be like us in other ways, including having experiences of the sort that we do.[42] There are, however, a variety of problems with that explanation. For one thing, it seems to violate the principle of parsimony, by postulating an invisible entity that is not necessary to explain what we observe.[42] Some philosophers, such as Daniel Dennett in an essay titled The Unimagined Preposterousness of Zombies, argue that people who give this explanation do not really understand what they are saying.

So indeed, as I suspected, the assumption that consciousness actually exists (in some things that are not "you", and not in certain other things) already violates the principle of parsimony.

No wonder we are getting nowhere :)

Also, didn't Yudkowsky argue vehemently against the idea of philosophical zombies? I'm also going to have to re-read that particular essay, with "but what about parsimony?" in mind ... crap it's an entire sequence. And he's got one about Reductionism as well. I'm going to be busy for a while.

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I mean, practical Bayesian reasoning runs on parsimony, at least in part.

I don't mean to pick your reply apart sentence by sentence, but I really have to correct this assertion:

You got it the wrong way around. Bayesian reasoning runs on nothing but the Bayes' Theorem. And in certain practical situations, parsimony is a result of this. But not in all situations. Because I am not arguing with Bayes (I cannot. It's math.), but I am absolutely certain that Occam's Razor is not always right.



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Re: Scientific Dogma
« Reply #12 on: April 30, 2012, 03:38:38 am »
Actually, you can use parsimony to dismiss inquiries. Scientists do it all the time. Sure, the sun might be conscious, but that would require so many extra assumptions about the universe that it's not even worth my time to consider. Thus I dismiss it.

It doesn't mean I'm right. It just means that there is no evidence for the large number of assumptions required to make it worth pursuing, therefore, until I have any evidence that might support those assumptions, I am better off continuing my life as if the sun is not conscious. Or I could spend my whole life chasing pots of gold at the end of rainbows.

This is probably the core of our confusion. You started making that argument for "we (the scientific community)", I'm glad to see you have toned it down a notch to "I" :-) My point however, was that you can't make it for someone else.

I agree that you don't have to pursue that question. But only in regard to that second paragraph, because it's not in your scientific field of research. The same argument can be made for Dark Matter or chasing the Higgs Boson, if you're not a theoretical physicist.

No, it really had to do with scientists in general. Observations suggest "dark matter" and Higgs bosons. There are no observations to suggest the sun may be conscious. By all means, if you want to waste your time pursuing questions like "Is the sun conscious?" and "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?", go ahead. Just don't waste my time as well. And I mean that in the most sincere way I could possibly mean it.

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I disagree with the first part though. Maybe in a lot of cases "requires too many assumptions to even consider" is a good reason to dismiss something (I don't know, I'd have to think about it), but in this particular case it (IMO) definitely is not.


Every assumption should be covered with evidence, even if only slight, even if only indirectly. Assumptions without evidence should be dismissed. If you end up dismissing all the assumptions, then you are left with nothing.

Quote
Of course it is going to require a great many extra assumptions about the universe. We hardly know anything at all about the nature of consciousness, except that it exists! So unless consciousness is a strictly constructive property of matter, in the sense that we can discover it bit by bit via a Reductionist approach, we can't get a single step further because there are no questions or considerations that will not require a whole lot of extra assumptions about the universe. Still there is a growing body of evidence (but not proof) that the Reductionist approach may not work very well in consciousness research (which is why I disagree with Yudkowsky's dislike of the word "emergence"--in fact I'm going to re-read that essay and see if I can pick it apart).

If there is a such thing as consciousness, it is fundamentally (in humans at least) a product of neural networks. And Yudowsky's dislike of "emergence" is the reason I threw it out. Specifically, because it's another damn phlogiston. It wraps things up in mystery rather than explaining them. So I got rid of it. I could point at a neural network all day long and talk about emergence and at the end of the day I wouldn't know a damn thing about it. Any property of consciousness (if such a reified quality even exists (now /there's/ an assumption for you!)) is going to be tied to neural networks, which are ultimately organic chemistry, which is ultimately physics. So that's where we should start. Just as Darwin, gentleman king of induction, started by actually /observing/ organisms to come upon his weighty conclusion, rather than posing assumptions and working from there.

(and I'll repeat my previous post's conclusion: There would be more merit in researching what it takes and means for a chunk of matter to "be conscious" in general than starting out with the sun. But as soon as someone is actually doing that more general research, the question about the sun becomes a lot less silly)

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Sorry for bringing up the perhaps trite example of the discovery of Quantum Mechanics again: How many extra assumptions about the universe did that require? Before anyone even started working out the formulas to see if it could potentially work. Before that, the only assumptions about the universe were classical mechanics. From that perspective, it would not have been worth anyone's time to even consider such crazy fuzzy non-local stuff (or what electron orbitals really look like--recommended/excellent article). Sure it may not seem such a leap of faith now because we know that it is true and we know that physics at the atomic level is really unintuitive compared to how matter, time and space are perceives on our own scale. But they didn't know that yet, the universe was believed to be very mechanistic.

In every case, it was working from evidence in reality. People investigated a phenomenon they called electricity and found a particle that carried that charge. Then of course the question became, in what manner did it move? That and all the following questions that lead to the orbital configuration discoveries /followed/ from the observations. People didn't pull out of thin air "Hm, I think there could be a charged particle that moves between and within matter in a certain way", they had good reason to ask questions.

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And maybe that's another point of confusion. Parsimonious reasoning has some very good guidelines for everyday life decisions. Definitely much better than our broken intuitive understanding of chance and probability. But applying it rigidly to scientific research is going to get us stuck in local optima, you can't always get from here to there with small steps.

(btw that makes me wonder, Yudkowsky has a whole sequence on QM, I haven't read it myself, but does he touch upon this subject? Whether it was a reasonable, parsimonious assumption, before it had been worked out?)

Quote
Absence of evidence is not proof of absence, but it is evidence of absence, always. Then it just becomes an issue of "At what level of lack of evidence versus presence of evidence do I dismiss this?"

I carefully read that article (and spotted a minor error in one of his formulas :) he should also use a JS LaTeX renderer), and I'm not really sure what it has to do with the discussion, except for being a nice quote (which reminds me of something ... j/k ;-) ).

The only section that seems relevant is near the end and rather seems to confirm my own position:

Quote from: absence of evidence
The absence of an observation may be strong evidence of absence or very weak evidence of absence, depending on how likely the cause is to produce the observation.  The absence of an observation that is only weakly permitted (even if the alternative hypothesis does not allow it at all), is very weak evidence of absence (though it is evidence nonetheless).

So there is absence of evidence concerning the question whether the sun is conscious. Given that performing research into such questions on consciousness is controversial, do you suppose that the absence of evidence is strong or weak evidence of absence?[/quote]

Strong. Why the hell wouldn't it be? We know the sun is composed of mostly hydrogen and helium. We know the properties of hydrogen and helium, what they can do and can't do, chemically, under different heats and pressures. When we study these reactions, they lack any character of what we have deemed consciousness in ourselves or any other organism that may be considered conscious on this planet. There is not one iota of evidence for that argument, and considering the giant stellar fusion reactor which our planet revolves around is freely observed constantly, that's a hell of a lot of absence. I am literally wasting precious moments of my life typing this out.


Quote
Interestingly, as I've been looking up all sorts of things while writing this reply, turns out there is actually quite a lot of research on consciousness. That's one thing that Sheldrake turned out to be wrong about, quite a bit, in his talk. Lots of controversial but very reasonable examples have (all quite recently) gotten more research attention. Not the worst thing to be wrong about :)

Anyway, recent research specifically on how it relates to the physical world seems to fall in three categories: 1 "It's neural events in the brain", the inevitable reductionist approach. I'll investigate how that's working out so far. I wonder what they have to say about things without neurons, too. 2 "Quantum mind" explanations, which I don't buy. You won't mind if I leave it at that? ;-) 3 More holistic approaches, which I find most interesting because they don't necessarily contradict category 1 yet I expect are much more likely to actually learn something about the nature of consciousness.

There's also a really relevant quote in another section:

Quote from: why do people believe that other people are conscious?
But if consciousness is subjective and not visible from the outside, why do the vast majority of people believe that other people are conscious, but rocks and trees are not?[39] This is called the problem of other minds.[40] It is particularly acute for people who believe in the possibility of philosophical zombies, that is, people who think it is possible in principle to have an entity that is physically indistinguishable from a human being and behaves like a human being in every way but nevertheless lacks consciousness.[41]

The most commonly given answer is that we attribute consciousness to other people because we see that they resemble us in appearance and behavior: we reason that if they look like us and act like us, they must be like us in other ways, including having experiences of the sort that we do.[42] There are, however, a variety of problems with that explanation. For one thing, it seems to violate the principle of parsimony, by postulating an invisible entity that is not necessary to explain what we observe.[42] Some philosophers, such as Daniel Dennett in an essay titled The Unimagined Preposterousness of Zombies, argue that people who give this explanation do not really understand what they are saying.

So indeed, as I suspected, the assumption that consciousness actually exists (in some things that are not "you", and not in certain other things) already violates the principle of parsimony.

You're right. We don't even know if this consciousness thing exists, so why the HELL are we talking about whether the sun has it or not?

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No wonder we are getting nowhere :)

Also, didn't Yudkowsky argue vehemently against the idea of philosophical zombies? I'm also going to have to re-read that particular essay, with "but what about parsimony?" in mind ... crap it's an entire sequence. And he's got one about Reductionism as well. I'm going to be busy for a while.

He did, particularly because philosophical zombiism poses that consciousness is not a product of neural networks, i.e., that of two neural networks exactly the same, one could have consciousness and the other couldn't. Which of course means that consciousness would have to be a non physical qualia. Which is about like posing that Rowling style magic exists without evidence.

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I mean, practical Bayesian reasoning runs on parsimony, at least in part.

I don't mean to pick your reply apart sentence by sentence, but I really have to correct this assertion:

You got it the wrong way around. Bayesian reasoning runs on nothing but the Bayes' Theorem. And in certain practical situations, parsimony is a result of this. But not in all situations. Because I am not arguing with Bayes (I cannot. It's math.), but I am absolutely certain that Occam's Razor is not always right.
[/quote]

Of course it's not always right, I already said that. Output of Bayesian reasoning isn't always right either (because where do those priors come from, huh?). I mean, if you've got a better heuristic, one that isn't based on letting evidence and reality dictate what scientific questions are worth pursuing, then please, by all means, TELL me. But I won't be waiting up because there isn't one. I observe phenomenon, and I investigate it. The investigation leads me to ask questions or conjure up ideas, which follow from the observations. Ad infinitum. If a hypothesis doesn't rest on anything I throw it out. Why? Because I only have so many minutes in a day. Because investigation takes time, and I don't want to waste it. That's my particular reason, and I'm sure it's not much different for any other scientist. I'm sure it's not different for you, either, if you get anything done in your life.


In closing, it was really hard for me to write all the above without simply stating how bloody stupid this is. How the hell are we defining consciousness, anyway, and who gave you the idea that, if it exists, scientists have dismissed it as a topic of research? Or, furthermore, that the idea that amplitudes in a particular configuration could, if it exists, possess a quality we're calling consciousness? It just makes my head hurt.
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