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Thread: Science vs. pseudoscience, what makes science superior?

  1. #1 Science vs. pseudoscience, what makes science superior? 
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    It seems like an easy one at first but I have been confused by a couple of particular examples.

    Now science is about finding what we hope to be objective knowledge. I'm not interested here in whether objective knowledge is possible just that science is our best guess so far (if you doubt this turn off your computer immediately and promptly destroy it).

    Now why does it have to be so that others must also validate one's hypotheses to make it 'more objective'?

    For instance I know buddhists always say they don't need anyone else to validate their thoughts on reincarnation and 'clear light of consciousness' being what holds the world together. They say that if you appeal to outside sources for validation it means you don't really find the truth and the only real truth is that beyond which can be 'proven' empirically by any outside source and must instead come from within. Does this not equate to the same 'faith' as ALLAH OUR GREAT ONE or any of the other 'faith heads' that Dawkins rallies against? Buddhism is almost worse in that it is has a pseudoscientific air about it saying that their methods are about empirically verifying the states through meditation.

    Thing is though, although these higher states they talk about may be good feelings and also have value in themselves I doubt the accuracy of their assertions that everything is consciousness or that it's karma or reincarnation. So the brain states might be good in themselves, learning to be disinterested and such, but their explanations of what is going on I think are probably false. It's like they found out a legitimately good trick and just made a sloppy explanation as to its cause. Is this what is known as pseudoscience? I'm guessing it is.

    So how do these fail under the scientific method and indeed what makes the scientific method superior to this?

    Trouble is, with subjective experience you can't so easily prove it. But then again my point is why do you need to prove it? Do you need to prove it to someone else for it to be true for you? I think in a sense yes. Not in the sense that you need their validation in order to have that approval but more that having soemone else verify your findings shows it isn't delusion on your part. Most of the eastern spiritual transcendence talk seems indiscernible from schizophrenia. The trouble is how does one go about 'proving' the 'enlightened state' the buddhists talk about? I think there are certain states they tap into but like I say their explanations of what caused these states I'd say are likely false.

    It's like when I studied tai chi for a bit. I certainly thought it was elegant and graceful and had many benefits for that reason- just in that it was like an art. What I thought was unnecessary baggage was how my teacher really believed that tai chi was better that rational empiricism saying things like- 'they can't explain it, they are only now doing tests and saying tai chi is better than anything they've come across' (paraphrased but that was basically what he was saying; tai chi's hidden 'super powers' were only now revealing themselves to the 'paupers of reason').

    This is what I think discredits most of these 'spiritual' traditions. They seem to think their practice is above and beyond reason and that relying on reason is precisely why us 'squares' will never get it. Only by casting off the shackles of reason and diving into blind faith do you 'get it'. The classical Kierkegaardian leap of faith.

    See then again I also think, as Nietzsche pointed out, what makes science superior to any other belief system? Thing is though Nietzsche was a relativist and I bought this story for a while but don't any more. I actually think he didn't understand the scientific method properly if he was trying to say that it isn't any more 'true' than anything else. I recall he would say the instruments are in error and science tries to assert abolsute truth just like relgiions but this isn't the case at all. Science is always about incrimental improvements and revision of it's belief systems in attempts for more acurate stabs at objectivity. Just in terms of practical function and the results it has yielded in the real world (again if you hadn't already smashed your computer and read this far now go and smash it if you don't agree) it is wildly superior to blind faith alone.

    I agree that science as well doesn't yield absolute objectivity but skeptical inquiry, central to the scientific method, is what yields our BEST GUESSES. It routes out the wives tales and superstition from these said spiritual practices. It is able to find the diamond in the dirt turning it from a spiritual doctrine into a part of the body of science. I think this is most spiritual discipline's problem. They had one ace in the deck, a particular trick such as meditation or tai chi or medicine which works on perfectly rational grounds yet they base a whole supernatural belief system upon this one deservedly effective technique (agreed often there is not even one but often there is a bit). So rather than lose all the belief system and only keep a little bit they wanna keep all the fluff too which is ineffective other than a relgious opiate.

    Dawkins notes that in shamanism there is nothing supernatural about what they did. He comments that with shamanic medicine the shamans would have tested through trial and error, ie standard scientific method, every substance in their environment, ie plants roots whatever in different combinations, and also suffering many many casualties through many ERRORS. The things that worked get written down as their lore, which only the shamans are savvy to, and the errors are not spoken of. So the 'layman' then attributes supernatural powers to the shaman as he is able to heal people. The layman doesn't know how he did it so he makes up some super story for the shaman and that is then propagated around the tribe when the case is just that the shaman found out some good tricks through trial and error.

    So what say you fellow philosophers/skeptics? I think that these appeals to caste off reason are mainly just a cover up for the gaps in their methods. I don't deny there are good things to be had from these traditions such as meditation and the benefits of tai chi but my issue is that rather than accept that their system is limited like anything- effective to a point, they want to give it ABSOLUTE authority rather than reasonably saying it has it's specific uses. Instead they make up fairy tales about why it is 'supernaturally' good and us 'logic heads' just don't get it cos we aren't hip to the 'faith state' yo.

    what say you?


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  3. #2  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard SkinWalker's Avatar
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    I think this will be better served in our Pseudoscience subforum. Definitely not as a "punishment" or anything (too often it seems we banish threads to this forum), but as a potentially interesting topic of discussion that directly relates to the forum.

    Being at work, I'm not really in a position to reply yet, but I find it an interesting topic.


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  4. #3  
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    I think reasonable doubt and reasonable assumption is the pith of the issue here.
    A far as i understand relativism, any value of 'reasonableness' or 'plausibility' or however it's worded, can't be considered superior to any other. But in order to adopt the relativist position it seems neccesary to elevate relativism above anything else, so it sort of disappears up it's own arse in a puff of circular logic.

    Any attempt to address whether or not science is a superior way of explaining stuff than pseudoscience seems to involve a consideration of what constitutes reasonable doubt and assumption, and if relativism is the complete bollocks it appears to be, you're forced to take up some position.

    I think in the end it's just boils down to persuasion, what you're persuaded by, which is little different to faith. Hence Dawkin's disdain for 'philosophical poodling', i suppose. I enjoy a spot of philosophical poodling as much as the next person, but for all practical purposes it is just completly futile.
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    Define philosophical poodling for me. I haven't come across him use that term yet (only part way through reading selfish gene, the 1st book I've read by him).

    I think in the end it's just boils down to persuasion, what you're persuaded by, which is little different to faith.
    I don't agree with this one. From this sentence you're essentially agreeing with relativism and putting science on the same level as pseudoscience by saying 'it's all just persuasion'. I think that would be doing science a gross disservice.

    Science is precisely NOT about faith. It's about rational inquiry, and building a wealth of 'corroborating evidence' as I've heard Dawkins term it.

    Relativism is just nihilism really, and of course that is no surprise seeing as Nietzsche was a proponent of nihilism. I was well into him during my philosophy degree (did my dissertation on him) but I certainly feel I have grown out of many of his ideas now. I find it irritating talking to a guy on msn who I used to have alot in common with but now 2 years after finishing my course his ideas have changed very little, and mine substantially, and he still spouts this stale Nietzschean relativistic rhetoric.

    Relativism I've found is just the same as burying your head in the sand and saying 'why bother do one thing over another as nothing has any more meaning than anything else'. Now I agree with this tack in terms of shrugging of shallow materialism but that is where it stops. Following rational inquiry can improve life while I am alive and so that is all the reason I should want to follow that line. [/quote]
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  6. #5  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Synergy
    Define philosophical poodling for me. I haven't come across him use that term yet (only part way through reading selfish gene, the 1st book I've read by him)..
    I think he used it in Devil's Chaplain, and if memory serves he was talking about postmodernist/deconstructionist stuff. TBH, i just find it frustrating that it seems possible to argue five sides of any issue in philosophy without ever really establishing anything much.

    Quote Originally Posted by Synergy

    I don't agree with this one. From this sentence you're essentially agreeing with relativism and putting science on the same level as pseudoscience by saying 'it's all just persuasion'.
    Yeah, I probably should have thought that through :? . Even so, it still seems to me that when you say science is superior to pseudoscience, the basis on which you say this comes from self-evident truth, so you're essentially saying it's reasonable because it's reasonable, but what is to stop a proponent of pseudoscience from saying exactly the same thing, from taking a different set of self-evident truths? So it bloody well does boil down to persuasion, even if relativism is completely incoherent.
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    Well as Dawkins says, the difference between pseudoscience and science is that science proper is backed by a 'massive body of evidence' as he likes to put it.

    So anyone who is rational would not disagree with the line of thought presented by the scientist however advocates of pseudoscience are not rational which is the problem.

    Problem you ask? Yes it's a problem for instance when a Muslim wants to wage a JIHAD on his neighbour just cos they don't share the same faith. That is the extreme end of the spectrum with extreme threat from irrationality and you get everything else in between with a corresponding threat level to human decency. You damage yourself just the same form irrational thinking, holding yourself back with faulty belief systems for instance.
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  8. #7  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Synergy
    Well as Dawkins says, the difference between pseudoscience and science is that science proper is backed by a 'massive body of evidence' as he likes to put it.

    So anyone who is rational would not disagree with the line of thought presented by the scientist however advocates of pseudoscience are not rational which is the problem.
    You're basically just stamping your foot here and saying it's more reasonable because it is, and essentially that all right thinking people should agree with that.

    It could equally be argued that anyone who is rational would not disagree that the massive body of evidence and the line of thought presented by the scientist should be treated seperately.
    The massive body of evidence is simply observation, and as such is a departure from rational inquiry into a common sense approach.
    If you're defining superiority in terms of rationality and irrationality science fails completely on one level because it abandons logic altogether and looks instead to self-evident truth; to common sense.
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    If you're defining superiority in terms of rationality and irrationality science fails completely on one level because it abandons logic altogether and looks instead to self-evident truth; to common sense.
    That sir is absolute hogwash. Logic reveals what appears to be approximations at truth (i.e. I make no assertions that anything reveals ABSOLUTE truth but better and better models which approximate it through predictive accuracy), which when revealed as such become common sense. Through rational inquiry (whether it be hard rational inquiry or 'easy' aka 'common sense' it is still rational) common sense becomes 'common' only after the rational part, not before.

    Your quote is a royal fail if I say so myself.
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  10. #9  
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    The basic difference between science and pseudo-science is testing. Science is about testing. Even test methods get tested.

    Imagine the following two conversations.

    Conversation one.
    "I just heard. Obama has been assassinated!"
    " Oh, man! That's terrible. I must go and tell my wife."

    Conversation Two.
    " I just heard. Obama has been assassinated!"
    "Oh man! That's terrible. Let me just go and google that and find out what happened."

    In conversation one, we have a pseudo-science type person being told, and accepting it at face value. In conversation two, the person being told is a scientist at heart, and immediately checks what he has been told to verify it.
    Which of the two people is most likely to arrive at the truth?

    Science does not simply accept anything. Everything gets tested. The testing is designed to disprove that which is not true.

    As a result, science makes progress, by dumping the crap, after testing, and accepting that which passes the tests. Pseudo-science never makes progress, because it retains the crap. Buddhist belief was suggested as an example of pseudo-science. Buddhism has been around for a long time, and has hardly changed (except, in some cases, to take on new superstitions). It has made no progress, because it does not dump old and disproved ideas.

    Of course, scientists are still human, and pseudo-science has a habit of sneaking in when the scientist's back is (metaphorically) turned. For example : super-string theory is still pseudo-science, and will remain as such until someone can find a good way to test it. Pseudo-science can, of course, become mainstream science as a result of the testing process. Continental drift was pseudo-science until oceanographers discovered the geothermal activity under the Atlantic.
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  11. #10  
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    Interesting points.

    Are you saying though that any philosophical conjecture which isn't yet proven is pseudo science?

    I don't think I'd agree with this.

    Pseudo science to me is that which is accepted as truth without testing.

    Philosophy on the other hand (of which I would place string theory in this category) never makes claims that this hypothesis is true, just that it may be true. A compelling idea which will be rendered true or false by testing.

    Pseudo science is usually bunk though never gets tested and is accepted as fact precisely because it evades scientific testing.

    This is clearly different to philosophy imo.
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  12. #11  
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    Synergy

    Scientists are coming up with ideas all the time. This is part of the process of science. However, the second step is to test those ideas (hypotheses) with intent to disprove them if they are wrong.

    Pseudoscience is when the second step does not happen. When a novel idea is accepted as true without testing. If a person works with super-string theory, and believes it, that is pseudo-science. If a person works with super-string theory, but freely admits it is unproven, we could perhaps call it mathematical philosophy? Certainly not science.

    You ask about philosophical conjectures which are not yet proven. The term 'proven' is inappropriate in science. Scientists will, instead, describe a theory as a poor, good, or superior model of reality. It would be better to ask about a conjecture that has not yet been tested.

    If such an idea is presented, falsely, as science, we would call it pseudo-science. If it presented as philosophical speculation, the scientist would not even be involved, and would not call it pseudo-science. Note, though. Pseudo-science can always become science if it is tested thoroughly and not disproved. The idea then gets accepted as a scientific model.

    However, if something is testable, but not tested, that is pseudo-science. If it is tested and found to be wrong, but still believed, that is superstition. For example : ideas in astrology are eminently testable, and have been tested literally thousands of times. They have been as thoroughly disproved as any idea can ever be. Therefore continuing to believe in astrology is superstition.
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    You pretty much repeated what I said but disagree that what I am saying is what you are saying!

    However, you say scientific hypothesis is different than philosophy. You come to a hypothesis precisely by philosophizing- making thought experiments till you get to a plausible hypothesis then, yes, after, testing the hypothesis.

    The wiki article on the scientific method goes:

    1. Define the question
    2. Gather information and resources (observe)
    3. Form hypothesis
    4. Perform experiment and collect data
    5. Analyze data
    6. Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis
    7. Publish results
    8. Retest (frequently done by other scientists)

    Step 3 is philosophy imo. The trouble I found with ONLY doing philosophy (which I actually did my degree in and why I have since steered away from pure philosophy) is that it is rather impotent, cos you end up just hypothesizing the hypothesis etc. etc. etc.

    I suppose pseudoscience is the same in the sense that they also stay on the hypothesis part or rather they jump to conclusions without having even done any testing. Philosophy alone doesn't jump to conclusions but it just says 'maybe it's like this I am not saying it is and I am not gonna bother testing it, I'll leave that to the scientists while I make a hypothesis about something else'. Pseudoscience would go: 'We have this hypothesis, we conclude it is fact, because X person said so, so it must be' (or whatever other similar circular argument they wish to use).
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    I like the Wiki scientific method you reported. A nice summary.

    Your statement "step 3 is philosophy'. I am not sure. You might be right. I would prefer to just call it hypothesis formation, but what the heck!

    And pseudoscience, as you said, is just skipping the rest. Form a hypothesis and claim it to be true without the testing.
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  15. #14  
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    Synergy,
    you don't appear to understand either philosophy or hypothesis formation. Perhaps you can get a refund on your philosophy course fees.
    Regards
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    Synergy,
    you don't appear to understand either philosophy or hypothesis formation. Perhaps you can get a refund on your philosophy course fees.
    Regards
    O.
    By which I assume you mean that hypothesis formation must be based on prior evidence and contain only those new assertions, be they mundane or speculative, which are empirically testable?

    Philosophy, in the very broad sense, doesn't have such requirements. Pseudoscience often fails on the hypothesis formation stage and indeed on the stages before it. The only real demand of pseudoscience is that it must look, or strive to look, superficially like science.
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheBiologista
    By which I assume you mean that hypothesis formation must be based on prior evidence and contain only those new assertions, be they mundane or speculative, which are empirically testable?
    Broadly yes. Synergy comes across as believing that a hypothesis is not much more than a wild -assed guess. It is clearly very far removed from that. It is very much based upon observation and is a unifying concept that seeks to explain many observations in a consistent manner. The testing you rightly refer to involves extending the range and number of those observations so that the hypothesis may be verified, modified, or rejected.

    His notion of philosophy appears equally flawed. Again, he seems to think that philospophers may propose almost any notion, without any controls. Once more this is far from the truth. Premises must be precisely defined and arguments must be constructed logically. Philosophy is not random chat in a bar.

    Perhaps synergy was simply using hyperbole in his statement, but if so the application was misjudged and the result non-productive.
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    Ophiolite, I find your pedantic replies non productive so please desist from replying to my posts if these fineckety replies is all you have to offer.

    I'm not going to do an back and forth with you so don't bother replying if that is all you want to do.

    Feel free to reply but I will swiftly skip your replies now given your preoccupation to chastise any honest inquiries I make focusing only on the negatives.

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  19. #18  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Synergy
    Ophiolite, I find your pedantic replies non productive so please desist from replying to my posts if these fineckety replies is all you have to offer.

    I'm not going to do an back and forth with you so don't bother replying if that is all you want to do.

    Feel free to reply but I will swiftly skip your replies now given your preoccupation to chastise any honest inquiries I make focusing only on the negatives.

    Ophiolite can at times be rather terse, but he was making a valid point which he and I have now elaborated upon. That being that you have made some unwarranted assumptions about both hypothesis formation and philosophy, underestimating both whilst also strangely equating two very different processes. So clearly "fineckety replies" is not all that he has to offer. It would be a terrible shame to ignore that point, since I assume you're here to have a discussion. If you're merely here to preach and dismiss counter arguments, then you and I are not going to get along.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Synergy
    Ophiolite, I find your pedantic replies non productive so please desist from replying to my posts if these fineckety replies is all you have to offer.

    I'm not going to do an back and forth with you so don't bother replying if that is all you want to do.

    Feel free to reply but I will swiftly skip your replies now given your preoccupation to chastise any honest inquiries I make focusing only on the negatives.
    I am confused. You ask a question and then complain when someone tries to give an accurate answer? A scientific hypothesis is NOT a simple philosophical guess. The hypothesis is guided by pre-existing data and theories and are goal driven as opposed to willy nilly guesswork.
    Disclaimer: I do not declare myself to be an expert on ANY subject. If I state something as fact that is obviously wrong, please don't hesitate to correct me. I welcome such corrections in an attempt to be as truthful and accurate as possible.

    "Gullibility kills" - Carl Sagan
    "All people know the same truth. Our lives consist of how we chose to distort it." - Harry Block
    "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." - Aristotle
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  21. #20  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Synergy
    You pretty much repeated what I said but disagree that what I am saying is what you are saying!

    However, you say scientific hypothesis is different than philosophy. You come to a hypothesis precisely by philosophizing- making thought experiments till you get to a plausible hypothesis then, yes, after, testing the hypothesis.

    The wiki article on the scientific method goes:

    1. Define the question
    2. Gather information and resources (observe)
    3. Form hypothesis
    4. Perform experiment and collect data
    5. Analyze data
    6. Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis
    7. Publish results
    8. Retest (frequently done by other scientists)

    Step 3 is philosophy imo. The trouble I found with ONLY doing philosophy (which I actually did my degree in and why I have since steered away from pure philosophy) is that it is rather impotent, cos you end up just hypothesizing the hypothesis etc. etc. etc.
    Pure philosophy stops at step 1.

    As a philosopher, once you've successfully defined the question, it is time to move on and find some other topic to examine. Let scientists and other professionals do the rest. But, it is no small task. Questions are constantly being defined, and then re-defined. If you can out-define a predecessor in the field, you will probably become famous, or at least published.



    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    The basic difference between science and pseudo-science is testing. Science is about testing. Even test methods get tested.

    Imagine the following two conversations.

    Conversation one.
    "I just heard. Obama has been assassinated!"
    " Oh, man! That's terrible. I must go and tell my wife."

    Conversation Two.
    " I just heard. Obama has been assassinated!"
    "Oh man! That's terrible. Let me just go and google that and find out what happened."
    Now, the guy in the first case will take action immediately. The guy in the second case will wait until later to take action.

    The fundamental flaw of science as a way of approaching reality is that, while its conclusions have a lot of certainty (at least a high probability of accuracy), you never know how long it will take to arrive at those conclusions. For example: to determine with scientific accuracy whether a person committed a crime, they might have to be on trial longer than their natural life. Maybe three centuries from now, someone will finally find a way to test and prove their guilt, and then publish their findings and get published for it (after a lot of peer review, of course). So, if trials were kept short, and we held the burden of evidence to scientific standards, nearly every criminal would go free.

    For real life practicality, some times you need to be able to make a decision right now, and start acting on it immediately. Otherwise opportunities pass you by while you're still busy determining. It's a great approach to determining natural laws, because these are never going to change, but if you're trying to decide whether to accept a promotion at work, or break up with your girl friend, or vote to increase spending on alternative energy sources in the upcoming election, pseudo-science, or maybe even superstition, might be better alternatives. They're more likely to give you the answers you need when you need them. (Or even flipping a coin might be better.)
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