Anti-Scientism

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Anti-Scientism

Postby Lausten » Thu Jun 27, 2013 5:44 pm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKHUaNAxsTg
TED decided not to put this on their main site, and provided extensive explanation of what they didn't like about it. I won't rehash it here, just wanted to bring to your attention. His 10 points are pretty random, he doesn't understand the difference between a premise and a dogma, several of things he suggests are already what science does. Certainly you can find a teenager on a forum who thinks in the ways that he is speaking against, but they just need education, they don't need this guy. He wants to cash in on people who can't quite accept Deepak Chopra, but aren't happy with unanswered questions about consciousness. It's hard to tell if he is gaining traction, hopefully he has hit his high point and is on the way down.
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Re: Anti-Scientism

Postby lucas11 » Thu Jun 27, 2013 9:07 pm

I don't think any of his points are axioms/dogmas of science, but many of them have been demonstrated to the extent that they are now assumed to be true, and science currently advances using these assumptions. Should any of them be proven false, science would adjust accordingly. I agree with him that all the points are questionable (i.e. can be questioned), and if they are questioned then it could open up new lines of inquiry, but none of these things was assumed without cause and I see no reason to challenge them without cause either.

I found the discussion pages in the link rather confusing, so have listed his 10 points below along with my own comments for anyone casually interested who doesn't want to look them up. (Basically his 10 points are things he accuses science of assuming and says need to be re-examined).

1) Nature is mechanical / machine like

This is true in nature except when it isn't. Processes like photosynthesis or the water cycle are mechanical but the process that determines the sex of a child is probabilistic. There are probably thermostatic processes in nature as well (processes which are self regulating within a range of outcomes) but I can't think of any right now.

2) Matter is unconscious

This is correct, consciousness is an emergent property. In the same way that the heart pumping blood is an emergent property which is not shared by its consituent matter.

3) Laws of nature are fixed

This is generally assumed to be true because it has been demonstrated by experimentation. My virtually nonexistent understanding of quantum physics indicates that this may not always be true, but when it isn't then science doesn't assume it is. I can also think of a number of factors (e.g. relative position of the moon) which could cause delicate measurements of gravitational force to be different. I'd also be quite interested to learn how they measured the speed of light in 1928 before they could get into space (as the speed of light changes depending on the medium if travels through).

His morphic resonance hypothesis sounds like a bad cross between the laws of nature being fixed (once something crystalises a certain way then repeating the process shows that this happens the same way again) and the idea that once something has been done somewhere it becomes easier to do anywhere because we know it can be done.

4) Total amount of matter/energy is fixed except at the big bang

I think he undermines his own point here of this being dogma. Before the big bang theory science thought the total amount of energy/matter was fixed. After the big bang theory we make an exception. If another scientific discovery comes along which challenges this again we will make another exception or maybe change the theory.

5) Nature is purposeless

Generally true, but lack of purpose does not mean completely random. Having said that, it could be argued that plants have a determination/purpose to survive despite having no mind or the concept of purpose.

6) Biological heredity is material (e.g. in the genes)

Hereditary traits have been shown to be passed down via genes but never in some immaterial fashion. Hence a reasonable assumption to make.

7 & 8) Memories are stored in your brain / the mind is inside your head

Impairment or damage to the brain has been shown to damage memory storage or mental processes, but this does not happen when any other body part is damaged. There are well known tricks to fool our senses which show that we do not always see objective reality but our mind sometimes fills in the blanks. Once again, these are reasonable assumptions to make given the evidence we have.

9) Psychic phenomena such as telepathy are impossible

Plently of experimentation has been done to try and show these things are possible, and all has failed.

10) Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that works (alternative medicine only has a placebo effect)

To slightly misquote Dara O'Briain: alternative medicine has been around for thousands of years, and then we tested it all and the stuff that worked became mechanistic medicine.
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Re: Anti-Scientism

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Thu Jun 27, 2013 9:38 pm

I agree very much with that reply. I want to add one little bit right now to:
5) Nature is purposeless

Generally true, but lack of purpose does not mean completely random. Having said that, it could be argued that plants have a determination/purpose to survive despite having no mind or the concept of purpose.

What is purpose? I don't understand the word purpose except in the eyes of a beholder. Dawkins had a very long talk on this that divided purpose into two different kinds, the purpose of a designer, creator, builder, etc., and the purpose of someone who finds something which already exists and describes a utility of that already-existing object. Those are the only meanings of "purpose" which I understand. So, there probably isn't a designer to nature, so there is no purpose under that meaning. Under the second meaning, we are free to assign whatever meaning we want.

However, I think there's a central defect of the kind of religious thought. That defect is platonic reasoning. Closely related to "realism". It's this weird idea of equating material reality with mathematical "reality", with "moral reality", with "purpose reality", and so on. I don't understand this kind of thought at all. They think that purpose and morality and math is some sort of "real" property of nature, just like mass and velocity. I do not understand this kind of thought at all. It's bullshit. It's worse than bullshit. It's meaningless. Here I subscribe to logical positivist thought. If you are going to claim that something is "real" and equate that to "real" in the material reality sense, then you better be able to describe its realness in terms of sensory experience. A table is real. I can touch it. Atoms are real. I can conduct experiments in a lab and see readouts on the instruments. "Purpose" isn't real in the same sense. I can't measure it, taste it, see it, touch it. "Purpose" is something that exists in our minds, just like the number 1 exists in our minds.
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Re: Anti-Scientism

Postby lucas11 » Thu Jul 04, 2013 10:40 pm

I generally agree, but I'm not entirely sure what you mean by purpose not being real.

Love is real, despite the fact that it is only in the mind. We know it is real both from personal experience and from seeing the effects that love has on couples who are in love. Love can't be measured, touched etc but I would say that its effects interact with sensory experience.

Isn't it therefore possible for something to be real even if it only exists in our minds? (Obviously I'm not trying to imply that thinking of unicorns makes them real or anything like that). Wouldn't the same apply to purpose?

Admittedly, we can misread situations and attribute love to be the cause of certain effects when this is not the case, but I don't think this invalidates what I said.
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Re: Anti-Scientism

Postby Lausten » Sat Jul 06, 2013 9:31 pm

If things are real only if they can be described with sensory experience, then we're in big trouble. How do you describe space, time, energy? When you start saying things like "1" only exists in your mind, you're entering a world of philosophy. Most people would just dismiss you as weird. You're also correct, but that doesn't really matter. It just doesn't work as a comment on "purpose" to say it is only a concept, or only exists in your mind, or whatever it is you're saying. Why does that make it not "real". For something not real, people sure do spend a lot of time talking about, searching for it, questioning others about it. Call it bullshit all you want, it won't make you popular at parties.
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Re: Anti-Scientism

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Sat Jul 06, 2013 9:52 pm

Lausten wrote:If things are real only if they can be described with sensory experience, then we're in big trouble. How do you describe space, time, energy? When you start saying things like "1" only exists in your mind, you're entering a world of philosophy. Most people would just dismiss you as weird. You're also correct, but that doesn't really matter. It just doesn't work as a comment on "purpose" to say it is only a concept, or only exists in your mind, or whatever it is you're saying. Why does that make it not "real". For something not real, people sure do spend a lot of time talking about, searching for it, questioning others about it. Call it bullshit all you want, it won't make you popular at parties.

What does popularity have to do with truth? Do you have an argument against my points that we can focus on?
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Re: Anti-Scientism

Postby lucas11 » Sat Jul 06, 2013 10:45 pm

If things are real only if they can be described with sensory experience, then we're in big trouble. How do you describe space, time, energy?


Space, time and energy can be measured in units such as volume, hours and joules respectively, and measured objectively by different groups unlike attempting to measure love.

Do you have an argument against my points that we can focus on?


I have, but it's not been responded to yet.
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Re: Anti-Scientism

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Sun Jul 07, 2013 3:34 am

You're also correct, but that doesn't really matter.
See, you lost me here. I'm not even sure if we're disagreeing.
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Re: Anti-Scientism

Postby Lausten » Mon Jul 08, 2013 1:26 pm

Enlightened Liberal wrote:What does popularity have to do with truth? Do you have an argument against my points that we can focus on?

I was worried you would focus on the word “popularity”. My points are made earlier, but I’ll try rephrasing. The distinction that Sheldrake dances around is the difference between the work of science and the philosophy of science. Most of us deal with the results of the work, that is, we own a smart phone, we don’t care how it works or how it was developed. Maybe you care, but most don’t. Same with numbers, someone told us when we were little that one finger was the same as “1” and that’s all we need to know. It doesn’t affect my daily life much to know that is an Arabic symbol, or who came up with the idea of “0” or what the definition of infinity is.

Consequently, some idiot can do a TED talk and say “scientism is the belief that nature is purposeless” and get everyone laughing about it and accepting his brilliant insights, then say “scientism says telepathy is impossible” and he’s developed enough of a sound argument that a few people will believe he is on to something. Never mind that his initial premises are flawed and have nothing to do with the real work of science.

You’re doing the same thing with the words “purpose” and “real”. You can’t invalidate my sense of purpose simply by saying you can’t measure it. Maybe you can't measure it with an instrument, but you can measure it over a very long period. You can compare someone who has a sense of purpose to someone who doesn't and see what they accomplish.
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Re: Anti-Scientism

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Mon Jul 08, 2013 7:29 pm

Most of us deal with the results of the work, that is, we own a smart phone, we don’t care how it works or how it was developed. Maybe you care, but most don’t.
Yes, and I fail to see what this has to do with the conversation. Are we going to have a discussion about what is true, or what people think is true?

Lausten wrote:... then say “scientism says telepathy is impossible” and he’s developed enough of a sound argument that a few people will believe he is on to something.
Under the known evidence, telepathy is just as impossible as it is for me to jump out of a window and fly under my own power. If you mean to quibble over "impossible" as "absolutely impossible and no further evidence can change my mind" as opposed to a more colloquial impossible as "highly unlikely under the known evidence", then you are correct.

Lausten wrote:
Enlightened Liberal wrote:What does popularity have to do with truth? Do you have an argument against my points that we can focus on?
You’re doing the same thing with the words “purpose” and “real”. You can’t invalidate my sense of purpose simply by saying you can’t measure it. Maybe you can't measure it with an instrument, but you can measure it over a very long period. You can compare someone who has a sense of purpose to someone who doesn't and see what they accomplish.

But I can measure that. You just said that you can measure it - over long periods of time. You just defined "purpose" as a mental state, and I fully agree. Mental states are clearly measurable, unless you think you can have a mental state that does not affect your behavior in any way.

But to say "purpose" "exists" apart from any mind that has the purpose in mind is just silly. It's worse than silly. It's untestable and unfalsifiable on the one hand, but it may have implications on the other. It's too confused to be intelligible. I reject Platonicism out of hand as meaningless, and worse than meaningless, for the exact same reason, because this is a form of Platonicism. I'm still not sure if you're adopting this approach, because your "purpose as a mental state" is not what I'm addressing in this paragraph.
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Re: Anti-Scientism

Postby Lausten » Tue Jul 09, 2013 12:26 am

“Are we going to have a discussion about what is true, or what people think is true? “

You and I seem to agree on truth, but disagree on how to communicate it.

“worse than silly, untestable and unfalsifiable, too confused to be intelligible, worse than meaningless”

This is what I take issue with, and it contradicts measurability, which you agree to, so I’m the one who is confused. Pretty much everyone has some sense of purpose and can come to some agreement on the meaning of the word, so calling it silly is, well, silly.
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Re: Anti-Scientism

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Tue Jul 09, 2013 1:04 am

Lausten wrote:
“worse than silly, untestable and unfalsifiable, too confused to be intelligible, worse than meaningless”

This is what I take issue with, and it contradicts measurability, which you agree to, so I’m the one who is confused. Pretty much everyone has some sense of purpose and can come to some agreement on the meaning of the word, so calling it silly is, well, silly.


You snipped needed context. The context was Platonic realism. To say that "purpose" may "exist" apart from a mind, and that purpose is just as real as this physical book, or just as real as gravity, is unintelligible. Example: one might say that the purpose of a bed is to sleep on, but this is just descriptions of mental states. This has absolutely no relation to our shared reality except as a description of people's beliefs and of cultural convention. There is no quality intrinsic to the bed like its mass, color, dimensions, material composition, etc., which we can label "purpose". Any objective or real purpose of the bed is to be found only in human minds and not in the bed. Thus, the purpose of the bed can change merely by changing people's beliefs about the bed while leaving the bed entirely unchanged. That's all I'm saying.
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Re: Anti-Scientism

Postby Lausten » Tue Jul 09, 2013 1:59 pm

The context didn't matter. I understand what you are saying. It reminds me of a Bill Cosby joke. He had a girlfriend who would ask things like "Why is there air?", his brother would say, "to blow up basketballs." Which one of those two sounds silly is simply a matter of perspective. Just like when you say defining purpose as real is silly and I can say that you claiming a word has no meaning is silly.

I think what your central point is, is that purpose requires a mind. You just have a really round about way of saying it, with plenty of hyperbole. By definition, I agree. Purpose is an intention of a being with a mind. Now we have to define mind, and we don't enough science to be completely rigorous about that.

The original point from Sheldrake was that nature has a purpose. Animals have minds, even lower functioning creatures and plants have intentions, although they are instinctual, so it's a matter of where you draw the line. It's just such a slippery term. Sheldrake is probably headed toward assigning a consciousness to the universe, which I'm definitely against. However, even without minds to observe it, to a plant, the sun has a purpose. But I'm getting into hair splitting, and I'd rather not do that.
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Re: Anti-Scientism

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Tue Jul 09, 2013 8:26 pm

Lausten wrote:The original point from Sheldrake was that nature has a purpose. Animals have minds, even lower functioning creatures and plants have intentions, although they are instinctual, so it's a matter of where you draw the line. It's just such a slippery term. Sheldrake is probably headed toward assigning a consciousness to the universe, which I'm definitely against.


Then we had an accidental disagreement over semantics. My apologies.

I think to most reasonable readers, "nature has a purpose" means that the whole of nature has a singular purpose that exists apart from any natural minds, which may be created by a god, or a pantheist god, or whatever.

I do not think to most reasonable readers that "nature has a purpose" is equivalent to saying "many animals in nature believe in purposes of the things around them".

However, even without minds to observe it, to a plant, the sun has a purpose. But I'm getting into hair splitting, and I'd rather not do that.

Maybe. I think we're agreeing though that this is a mere description of the universe, and not a "real" quality of the universe like mass, velocity, position, color, intention (of minds), desires (of minds), etc.

So, I think we agree to the main points, but I strongly dislike the way you phrase it, because it is easily misunderstood to be supporting the christian notion that purpose, and especially morality, is a "real" "objective" property of the universe or things in the universe, in the same way that mass, velocity, etc., are - which is of course wrong. It's worse than wrong. Its not even wrong.
http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Not_even_wrong
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Re: Anti-Scientism

Postby Lausten » Tue Jul 09, 2013 11:22 pm

EL wrote:I do not think to most reasonable readers that "nature has a purpose" is equivalent to saying "many animals in nature believe in purposes of the things around them".

Yeah, this is probably right. I get a little gun shy of people slipping in wacky arguments, so sorry if I got nit picky.
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