Thursday, September 6, 2012

Supernatural: Sibling rivalry or fraternal incest?

Here are working (coherent) definitions of "supernatural:" 1.any agent of change in the world identifiable with entities revealed by previous religions and revelations 2.any change in the world violating strongly verified laws of nature 3.effects without causes 4.effects achieved by human actions or desires with no possible causal efficacy

The first definition highlights the strange ability of believers to assign supernatural effects to their favorite supernatural being, even though the work comes unsigned.

The second definition highlights the point that poorly understood or exceedingly rare phenomena cannot be assumed to be supernatural.

The third definition highlights the issues involved in defining causality. It seems to me that many supernaturalists tend to suddenly switch to a very narrowly physicalist definition of causality, playing on interpretations of probability to spread confusion.

The fourth definition highlight the need to consider the bias from wishful thinking in our studies.

I think supernaturalists also tend to share these basic definitions but commonly equivocate between the various meanings of "supernatural" while making arguments. That seems to be the problem, rather than a conceptual incoherence. Besides, an empirical approach can still make progress despite conceptual incoherence. If you consider science as a model of the universe, the existence of phenomena which are not yet understood implies that all science heretofore (and for the foreseeable future) are incoherent. Philosophy is interested in the valid instead of the incoherent, but science is concerned with the true, regardless of whether we understand it completely clearly.

Reposted from Larry Moran's Sandwalk blog. This is my diary, so I can point out that the supernaturalists also switch from supporting each other against the naturalists (fraternal incest) to fighting each other over their favorite supernatural agent. Which, by the way, also includes karma and maya and the dao and yin and yang and the qi and the five elements. Which rules out the mystifying exemption of "Oriental" religions.

But even more controversially, it does not rule out some, maybe even all, versions of Mathematical Platonism, which might include structural realism. (More anon, eventually.) Science is constantly being infiltrated!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Piglucci's Call to Arms

Steven Novella at Neurologica was so bold as to address Piglucci's attack on bad skeptics. I think he failed. My post below.

Dear Professor Novella,
You write "Massimo’s point is that, as a community, we need to constantly remind ourselves that, while we respect and aspire to reason, we are imperfect and subject to bias and motivated reasoning just like every other human being."
Prof. Pigliuccki does write "The point of this list, I hasten to say, is not that the opinions that I have expressed on these topics are necessarily correct, but rather that a good number of people in the CoR, including several leaders of the movement(s), either hold to clearly unreasonable opinions on said topics, or cannot even engage in a discussion about the opinions they do hold, dismissing any dissenting voice as crazy or irrelevant." The opinions themselves are held to be unreasonable. Perhaps he feels he personally doesn't "dimiss" unreasonable opinions, much less imply they are "crazy or irrelevant," and those who hold unreasonable opinions do. But this clearly implies that it is first of all the rationality of certain opinions he is attacking, not just bad manners. I think you misrepresent him.
In fact, I dare say that when Prof. Pigliucci is so kind as to label his targets A, B and C, we should take him at his word. Prof. Pigliucci is not reminding us to be humble and mild-mannered, he is attacking A) anti-intellectualism, B) I'm smarter than you syndrome and C) failure of leadership.
As for his assault on A, he quickly aims his fire at..."scientism." He add anti-intellectualism "proper" next. This is frankly what political writers have called an amalgam, falsely lumping together two different things to rhetorically taint the one with the other. Whatever your feelings about so-called scientism, redefining it as anti-intellectualism means excluding science from the sphere of intellect.
And looking at his list of objectionable opinions, it is by no means clear which (any, even?) are in fact attributable to "scientism." Why do you accept that scientism, whatever you conceive it to be, is anti-intellectualism and that it is responsible for these irrational opinions? And if you don't, why haven't you articulated your disagreement with Prof. Pigliucci on this key point?
Could I suggest instead that it is the undefined nature of skepticism that invites people who hold these irrational opinions? One thing skepticism notably is not, is neither simple atheism nor even scientific materialism. If skepticism were either, it wouldn't be upheld as something separate and better, after all. But, if skepticism is better than materialism, won't people who reject science's materialism sometimes become skeptics? Won't people who reject materialism's dogmatic certainty about science's ability to describe reality sometimes become skeptics?
Isn't the real cure for this kind of embarrassment being a thorough-going discussion as to what metaphysical beliefs skepticism really does hold. If it is anti-realist, or agnostic on the existence or knowability of reality, mustn't it therefore admit to its ranks those who hold what some of us would unhesitatingly affirm to be irrational?
I admit that actually defining skepticism would be a fractious business. But since Prof. Pigliucci is in so many words arguing that the skeptic movement already includes people who are irrational, he is already arguing the movement should be fractionated between the rational and nice as against the irrational and not nice. Instead of a laundry list of specific issues and complaints about people's behavior, wouldn't it be better to clarify thinking about what skepticism really means in terms of ontology, metaphysics, epistemology? It's not materialism or atheism, so what is it?
As for his assault on B, this secondary target is what he perceives as the attitude of too many skeptics. As such, the mere existence of a widespread "I'm smarter than thou" syndrome is as questionable as the use of the pronoun thou. This is a nicely invidious motive to ascribe to people. I also daresay that there are quite a few motives at work in the people whom he dislikes. After all, this is about people whom he dislikes, first for their irrational opinions and secondly for their inability to politely argue their case.
I'm not sure it is legitimate to blend these two criticisms together, but he does. In particular, the importance of the internet means that the contradictions between a public forum and a private blog creates an anarchy of standards. With the best will in the world it is not possible for the same manners to serve in a public debate and a private correspondence.
At any rate, those people who are genuinely concerned that religious fanaticism is a rising menace (to cite one common example,) are not going to be as placid as the professor wishes. To dismiss their ardor as "I'm smarter than thou" really seems to be intentionally demeaning. This is particularly striking in a supposed plea for civilized debate! I'm sure there are other emotions at work in some of the people whose opinions and manners Prof. Pigliucci. My anecdotal but vast experience of people tells me they have all sorts of reasons for their behavior, not just one.
It is also particularly striking that there is no logical connection demonstrated between the problem of anti-intellectualism and the laundry list of behavioral modifications Prof. Pigliucci proposes! There is an implicit demand for deference by others to his professional credentials, I think. That isn't actually an argument. Perhaps I'm misreading and Prof. Pigliucci really does mean to argue that believing only science provides knowledge is irrational. But that argument isn't there either.
As for his assault on C, the bad leaders of the CoR, his vade mecum of skeptical etiquette, is indeed aimed directly at certain people. By their absence we can guess Richard Dawkins (is he a "skeptic?") Jerry Coyne, P.Z. Myers et al. Now I'm sure that being part of the charmed circle  of approved leaders makes it seem ungrateful to disagree that these should be drummed out of a movement that not only isn't organized, but has no agreed upon principles. I should daresay that this list really has no meaningful role to play in combating anti-intellectualism. But it's not really a program, is it? It's really a bill of indictment. As I read your comments on this aspect of Prof. Piglucci's post, it really seems as though you wish that the bad leaders would plead guilty in return for probation/suspended sentence. Is it really reasonable to think it can work out like that?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

To Professor Roughgarden

Professor Roughgarden, the participatory experience you praise as the true meaning of religion (as opposed to superstitious faith,) includes far more than you will admit.

It includes the Sunday segregation hour.

It includes the religious schools that don't just get around segregation laws but teach creationism as science.

It includes the megachurches whose missions in Africa exorcise demons and support politicians who legislate punishment for immoral people.

It includes fraudulent Christian counseling for individuals and families, purporting to help but in fact pushing their reactionary morality.

It includes teaching parents to reject their gay children.

It includes teaching ignorant people that Palestine belongs to the Jews instead of the Palestinians.

It includes teaching that America is Chosen.

It teaches that God is not just an American Patriot but a Conservative, if not even a registered Republican.

It teaches that human nature is not just sinful but immutably sinful and that only God can change things for the better.

It teaches that the world will end at God's will and we cannot shape the future for our posterity.

And especially it teaches that if you are so depraved as to really notice what religion offers besides promises of magical rewards is the warmth of being in an in-group that is holier than the others, well, it teaches that all you have to do is use your own personal moral superiority and better taste to just pick another, better church or religion or synagogue. It teaches that it is reasonable to deny that anything other than personal preference stands as a legitimate critique of religion.

Someone I love is suffering not just from lung cancer but from the belief that God is punishing her for her sins. In despair she has missed appointments, delayed treatments, failed to comply with therapy. seeing this I'm reminded that the enemies of humanity are not just in pulpits but include people like you, who've elevated your self-regard for your own social manners to the criterion of moral principle. It is a hateful and contemptible principle.

You're not one of the good guys, you're one of the villains.

Attempted to post above at Rationally Speaking, which I keep forgetting is a fake forum.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Interview with a Naked Brain

I conducted an interview with written questions with a naked brain, this one named Massimo Piglucci, with explanatory background. This was posted previously. The replies are in! Only the questions and answers however are reprinted below.

Interviewer: Doesn't this example [of  nonscientistic objections] suggest that the attribution of the hodge podge of positions widely held by skeptics that you dislike are not attributable to scientism?

Piglucci: "     "
Translation: I don't like scientistic people but I can call anyone I don't like scientistic and I'm a professional philosopher and don't have to justify my opinion. I'm a believer in philosophical rationalism instead of realism, which puts me at odds with real scientists. Therefore I must attack scientism, a duty which far exceeds getting right piddling details about people I don't like.

I:  Is it not possible that the nature of the skeptical movement is so mixed because skepticism is undefined?

P: "     "
Translation: If I define skepticism, it would mean I couldn't criticize people for not being good skeptics on grounds they don't agree with me. Also, if I am clear about being an anti-realist, for instance, people might be able to articulate criticisms of me. If I am unclear about what I believe, I can dismiss most criticisms as misunderstandings by obtuse people.

I: Is it not possible that clarifying the metaphysical presuppositions would be more useful?
P: "     "
Translation: It would only be useful in really understanding the issues, not in supporting my position. I didn't quite understand your grammar about what is "not scientism in any ordinary sense" but I'm not interested in understanding your position. It might be reasonable criticism. It is rude to jab people with pointed questions you can't answer without admitting implicitly you might be wrong.

I: In fact, is it possible that emphasizing niceness above all else can lead to gross error?

P: "     "
Translation: Niceness is more important than truth. Niceness is what makes the world pleasant for me, and quarrelsome people who keep jabbing pointed questions at me should be ignored.

I: Since so much of this boils down to not liking people's bad manners for holding positions you disagree with, such as scientism, the final question is, why are your feelings privileged?

P: "If you think that what I have written, including links to previous posts, amount to just feelings about people I disagree with, I can only say you have missed much of the point, and I don't have the energy or time to restart from scratch."

As you should expect, none of the links in his post were relevant to the questions asked.

Obviously it is personally very aggravating to try to ask serious questions with paragraphs trying to make them perfectly clear, just to be ignored, to be insolently dismissed. It takes a lot of gall to claim I missed the point when he clearly ignored everything I asked. Particularly since his actual program did in fact boil down to attacks on people he didn't like (not naming them directly is a petty subterfuge if you ask me.) Well, I guess that's what being a philosopher is all about.

Despite the personal rudeness, naturally I still try to see what else he may be driving at that I missed. I reconsidered his point B, about "skeptics" and "atheists" and "humanists"  (not scare quotes, I have only a vague suspicion what the man could possibly mean) feeling superior. I have no doubt that this occurs, inasmuch it occurs in all voluntary groups in some degree. It seems to be a social bonding mechanism. And I am sure that a man such as himself who joins such groups regularly sees it more often. Nonetheless this is so categorical I tend to suspect projection, not even anecdotal impression. Certainly it lacks very much sensitivity to other human beings. People are so various it is on the face of it unlikely that this kind of petty judgmentalism has much chance of being right.

His phrase about a culture of insults really gives away his game I think. It's just people gettting excited, and invested in their opinions. In particular, his notion that atheists and skeptics and humanists aren't afraid of the people with the strange ideas is kind of offensive. It's like sneering at us for getting worked up over nothing. The notion that we might be angry about the crimes justified by these strange beliefs is also rather offensive. Piglucci may think this is all really sort of a game he plays as he climbs the academic ladder but some of us really have strong feelings about public affairs. Piglucci has already made it plain he considers decorum more important than reality, but honestly, the point bears repetition. Lastly, there are those of us who have a hobby of trying to put together a model of the world. As a professional philosopher, Piglucci is professionally rewarded for dissing such aspirations. No doubt it is incomprehsible to a climber whose reward is rather worldly success that the feeling of understanding is about as close to a feeling of power that many of us will ever have. We are, each of us, Gods when we play with our model of the universe. (Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator playing with the globe!) Professor Piglucci, the Public Philosopher, doesn't even want us to be permitted that much! We are to have nothing, not even dreams.

What kind of a man finds his feelings about proper decorum so important he attacks so many?

As I was saying...

The Popperazi's problem with induction keeps making them say silly stuff. Richard Dawkins posted a claim that a single fossil could refute the theory of evolution. Laurence Moran properly rebutted this. My comment follows.

Of course Prof. Moran is correct.

If, that is, you do not accept the falsificationist mantra. Dawkins' statement is scientifically wrong, grossly disrespecting the factual content of science as it really is. But it is philosophically respectable, and particularly popular with those who want to adhere to a predictivist vision of science. It seems to me that this position is held by a majority of scientists whenever they talk about science outside their professional journals.

My best judgment is that this philosophical viewpoint is so popular because of its origins in Popper's anti-Communism, which is not a dead issue. It is also adaptable to attacks on supposedly liberal viewpoints in the social sciences, as in evolutionary psychology. Consult the works of Steven Pinker for the current leader in pop science philosophizing in the US.

The thing is, errors like Dawkins' are not a simple misunderstanding of science, but outcomes of a conservative world outlook. Isn't probable that you can't make progress in refuting such nonsense without demonstrating the bias that led to it?

Prof. Moran followed up with a link to T. Ryan Gregory, which was an excellent detailed rebuttal. Being me, it seemed more could be said. My comment follows.

Pretty good article. In practice, if you look at the contemporary evidence from embryology and genetics showing common descent, the testing and exploration of the idea lead directly to writing the history of life. This is particularly true since paleontological evidence provides fossil evidence that raises a host of questions about the history of life (path, as you put it.) But, separating the fact of common descent from its history highlights the point that corrections to the science does not erase the mountain of evidence confirming the broad generalization of evolution. It is very common to talk about science as something provisional. In all everyday language something provisional is a short-term arrangement, equally liable to complete abolition as to correction. Strongly corroorated inductions like evolution are corrigible, not provisional.
Although what you say about Coyne’s version of evolution is impressively cogent and correct, might it not be possible to comment on the pattern in his recension? 1. It seems to me Coyne limits himself to microevolution rather than macroevolution because controlled experiments are possible there in a way unfeasible to macroevolution, which must rely on historical evidence. Many natural scientists (and more philosophers) deny a priori the possibility of an historical science. 2. I think he conceives gradualism as an essential component because the population genetics of natural selection requires gradual change. I think he’s making a claim that natural selection is the main driver of change, to the extent that it’s falsification would refute evolution. 3. I think that here Coyne is tacitly conceding the existence of a huge body of paleontological data demonstrating the reality of macroevolution without actually saying anything about macroevolution. Again, I think he is extremely uncomfortable about the scientificity of historical sciences, even the natural historical sciences. Certainly Popperians are, and this article is pretty explicitly Popperian. 4.What Coyne himself calls the converse of #3 is desirable because it starts from the experimentally available present instead of the suspect past. By those lights, I suppose this is not superfluous. 5. Prof. Coyne directs much of his commentary to people tempted by creationism. The real point of defining natural selection causing the appearance of design as essential to evolution is to highlight its nature as a scientific explanation.
Notably (I think) the proposed falsifications appear to imply that evolution is something even narrower than the five point list above. 1. The point about fossils may be Popperian. Occasionally, as here, I see a scientist implying that’s kind of foolish. But my powerful impression is that both the majority of scientists and the large majority of lay people adhere to predictivism and falsifiability and such Popperian folderol. If you believe this, it is in principle “reasonable” to regard evolution as a provisional hypothesis awaiting falsification by fossis etc. stuff. Hence, the importance of emphasizing the many times evolution has survived falsification, instead of simply pointing to the evidence.
2. The emphasis on the selfishness of adaptations is the selfish gene or Spencerian survival of the fittest Social Darwinism considered the essence of Darwinian theory. 3. The emphasis on genetic variety within a species is deemed essential because it is the material for intraspecific competition, key to projecting Darwinian struggle into society.Social Darwinist justifications for the social order are only as powerful as the alleged biological differences in individuals. 4.The key point for Coyne I think is the increasing fitness of adaptations. The Social Darwinist names the survivor as superior, not just lucky, not just a random variation, not just another step in a predetermined process, but inherently superior. 5. In many respects this is just #2 restatedin intraspecific rather than interspecific terms. Evidently Coyne regards selfishness as absolutely essential to his view of evolution.
#6. This restates the selfishness of genes yet again, this time in terms of behavior. This is implicitly aimed against the notion of culture, I think. All these suggest an agenda of defending evolutionary psychology’s version of evolution. I gather that Coyne would deny this. But something like this post or his absurd defense of Steven Pinker’s lame intervention against Edward O. Wilson say otherwise. His outrage at Wilson really seems to have little other ground.
7. The key term is “complete discordance” I think. This is entirely true I think. Your objection that we would rethink evolution actually concedes the point I believe. If genetic and fossil data were completely discordant, our scientific views really wouldn’t be what we would now consider “evolution.” But this is completely counterfactual. Nature has already done that experiment and the results are in. This is more or less a waste of time, unless you buy into Popperism.
Thanks for the post.

No typos were harmed in the making of this post.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Naked Brains Strutting the Catwalk

We are told that there is a problem of induction. Commonly it is held that David Hume is the one who articulated this devastating critique of empiricism most succinctly, but I gather the experts better like Pyrrho and Carneades and possibly other ancient Greeks. Basically, we cannot draw conclusions to causality by associating a sequence of events. Just because we have seen the passage of time end each night with day, we cannot conclude that time causes the end of night. We merely associate them. There might be an exception in the future. At best, the objection says, we can only regard this induction as provisional.

I rather tend to agree that Hume was aiming his fire more at philosophy. His famous comment about consigning works that were not about quantity (mathematics, in other words) or about matters of fact (what we would think of now as the sciences) powerfully suggests this to me, as to others. The ideal, abstract ego is only aware of a sequence of sense impressions. In popular but unphilosophical thought, from real organs providing real data about the real world. But philosophy only concerns itself with logically valid a priori arguments and an ideal abstract ego, the naked brain, has only subjective experiences. The technical term now I think is "qualia." We cannot establish by any logical a priori argument that qualia give us any reliable information about the real world. Indeed we cannot establish that any person's qualia are in any way similar to another person's qualia.

With a wonderful economy of effort, such notions lead us into error in not one, but two directions. Who says there has been no progress in philosophy? First, the tacit assumption of individualism rules out the data from the collective enterprise of science, beginning with the most basic observations. Every person who has fed an infant a bitter substance has seen the same faces that we ourselves might make upon tasting the same substance.

We could do formal experiments along the same lines with controls and such, but professional scientists have better things to do than waste time. For one thing, we know from such phenomena as Daltonism or phantom limb pain or synesthesia, as well as the homely optical illusions or less homely hallucinations that the senses do not provide a direct, complete or inarguably correct knowledge of the world. Nonetheless, the bulk of our daily experience only makes sense if other people do in some way sense the same things more or less as we do.

Much of the time it appears to be the same kind of sensation, qualia, as well. One may like bitter coffee and another like sweet tea, but they can reliably taste test for the other. Naturally, people generally agree with themselves as to the qualia. It is interesting to note that this is not perfect, as nothing ever seems to be. Still,  a true explanation should address the usual case as well as the falsifying exceptions. The insistence that qualia have mystical properties does not do this. Insofar as qualia, if such a nebulous concept can be held to be a coherent idea, are truly unknowable, insofar their relevance is questionable. The imperfections of the senses, both errors and limitations, are why measurement and comparison of different points of view (both geographically and temporally) are essential components of the collective verification process, science, broadly considered.

There is however the oft overlooked difficulty the supposed problem of induction presents for the naked brain. The naked brain is that peculiar entity that has no connections to the real world, whose sense organs, including even kinesthesia and balance, are stripped away. We might think the naked brain an unhappy organ, bereft of all contact with the outside world. We might think that this wrinkly mass might fail to learn to talk, like the stories of feral children. But the philosophers' naked brain, is by a literally convoluted logic, a beauty. It struts the catwalk invisibly adorned like a fairy tale emperor by the introverted Platonic forms called qualis. Throughout philosophy classes across the land, gorgeous cloud castles of logical apriori arguments spray out like glowing pixie dust.

I myself am homely: The beautiful minds of the philosophers never look back at me from my mirror. And if I look inward for my beautiful naked brain, all I see are sensuous memories and learned abstractions. I think that there is such a thing as a solid object because I associate a sequence of sensations with what I induce to be something real. When I cannot legitimately induce the existence of an outward reality by the mere association of sensations (however imperfect and need of scientific reconstruction,) or even by the shifty qualia, then my naked brain disappears with my fatuously naive empiricism. Personally, like John Locke, I can't think of a single observation of my brain, as opposed to the outside world. It must be indecently clothed. There arealso  a pititful handful of abstractions, but honestly I can't say any of them are decently philosophical intuitions. All my abstract ideas came from pages and pixels, conversations and culture. These posts sketching out a rough and ready scientific weltanschauung may like citations but that's because they aren't scholarly papers.

We can immediately conclude that  a philosopher of science, who claims to find a problem in induction, is a figment of the imagination. If they truly believed that, they should be concerned with justifying the illusion of consciousness, not attacking scientific thinkers (great, professional and amateur.) If they don't, they are imposing their figment upon the gullible. I say this because I am going to arrogantly declare that those who are gifted with superior intuition of qualia and the naked brain are citing a personal authority I cannot find any confirmatory evidence for. I can't falsify the argument, which many seem to imagine is all they need. But a reason to disbelieve is not a reason to believe. They have no reason for us to believe there is a genuine problem of induction.

The rest of you may admire the beauties strutting the catwalk, preening for the admiration of the viewers.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Massimo Piglucci attacked the supposedly scientistic and anti-illectual thinkers in the skeptical movement and the bad manners of internet posters. Skepticism historically has been associated with a certain kind of conservatism. Like Hume, often the practitioners are trying to find a middle ground between religion and materialism, that rules out religios bigotry while also ruling out any materialist nonsense about the equality of persons. (No, science has not established any superiority of persons save the rather obvious one that the young do not possess their full powers yet.) There doesn't really seem to be any difference about the modern skeptical movement. They want to be anti-leftist without being outright superstitious reactionaries. Since this is not a principled position, you get an extraordinary variety of incompatible positions in the movement. Piglucci has been distressed apparently. On the one hand he can't help but attack people for wrong thinking but on the other he can't really object to anything but manners. I'm not altogether sure whether he wants to be the philosophical pope or just the Miss Manners. It is sad to see a professional philosopher be so confused. Philosophy doesn't concern itself with truth but it is supposed to concern itself with valid arguments and clarity of thought generally!

Here's my post at Rationally Speaking, with a sentence fragment deleted (and possible paragraphing changes due to cut-and-paste.)

As near as I can tell, the belief that the social sciences are "soft" is justified by Popperism, the belief that science can only falsify predictions. Crudely put, science is doing experiments: Ergo, no social science. Popper of course had notorious problems with the historical science of evolution. Popperism of course is philosophy, one of the most non-embalmed philosophies. It seems to be quite a stretch to accuse the Popperazis of being scientistic when one of their main goals is to deny that there is such a thing as an historical science.

Doesn't this example suggest that the attribution of the hodge podge of positions widely held by skeptics that you dislike are not attributable to scientism? Is it not possible that the nature of the skeptical movement is so mixed because skepticism is undefined?  "Skepticism" is a visceral felling of anger at unwarranted certainty, a distaste for dogmatism (defined as a pomposity.) Thus a person who feels that people ranting about science showing there is no God is arrogant notes that science cannot address religion. 

But if one objects "skepticism" is also an epistemological position, it is unclear how it is different from philosophical materialism. It must be different, because its proponents set themselves up in opposition to philosophical materialism.  One thing "skepticism" seems to say, is that "science" is, variously, not knowledge in any philosophically meaningful sense; not the only path to knowledge; that agnosticism about ontological questions is is not only coherent but reasonable; the empirical component of knowledge derived from philosophy, logic and math; a (merely?) pragmatic substitute for true knowledge which is or may be unattainable, and peculiar combinations of all. Of course none of this is scientism in any ordinary sense of the word.

As used here, "scientism" appears to shrink down to the belief that the idea of free will is absurd; that the universe is deterministic; that science cannot address morals because of the is/ought distinction. The post above is careful to define free will as the power to make decisions which is not what anybody else I know of means by free will. Nor does it make a positive affirmation that the universe is undetermined. Also it concedes that science may inform moral reasoning. My best judgment is that the power to make decisions is completely irrelevant; that the prima facie case is that the notion of an undetermined universe is incoherent even in philosophy; that saying science can "inform" moral discussion is a literally meaningless concession, leaving us with the assertion that the is/ought divide is an unbridgeable chasm, a position I'm sorry to say I think is embarrassingly wrong, no matter how popular it is.

Whether you accept the counterobjections to your skeptical propositions about scientism is kind of irrelevant. Because frankly, it seems to me that skepticism, being an, ah, eclectic opposition to materialism can still admit such positions. By the definition of skepticism as taking offense at someone's arrogance of course these positions are plainly scientistic. I suppose that explains the insistence that better skepticism boils down to better manners will lead to a better skeptical movement. Is it not possible that clarifying the metaphysical presuppositions would be more useful?

In fact, is it possible that emphasizing niceness above all else can lead to gross error? Consider your insistence that it is unreasonable to label religious education as child abuse. You asked "why a secular education wouldn’t be open to the same charge, if done as indoctrination (and if it isn’t, are you really positive that there are no religious families out there who teach doubt?" The first question equates secularism with religion, which is dubious. The answer is simple, that secular education doesn't teach superstition. As for the second, "doubt" can be and often is simply anti-intellectualism. Plenty of skeptics have that, which in other contexts offends you, as you made clear in your post, and plenty of religious too. As for the hypothetical example of a family which teaches their children the scientific arguments against religous superstitions, I can only point out that is a secular education, not a religious education.

The real problem with your complaint is that you refuse to draw a conclusion because it is unpalatable. You feel it would be rude to imply so many parents are harming their children with a religious education. And this supposed rudeness is unacceptable. As I understand it, that is a gross fallacy. What you need to show is why we should accept that a religious education might be beneficial to children. Good luck with that one.

Since so much of this boils down to not liking people's bad manners for holding positions you disagree with, such as scientism, the final question is, why are your feelings privileged?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Social Science and the Critique of Morals

The sciences have established the equality of human beings, finding no inborn differences that are causal in different life outcomes, save for the case of genetic diseases. Everything else is developmental, from the womb outwards. The sciences have also established that humans essentially reproduce in groups. Despite the occasional hermit or the more common agoraphobic (overlapping groups?) therefore human nature in general must make concessions to living in groups. The individual who wishes to make normative moral arguments that should be taken seriously by others must therefore formulate them in those terms. He or she must argue as if any person could benefit by the norms proposed. As said before, he or she must argue from what must be, what cannot be and what can be as a foundation for an argument as to what ought to be.

There are of course those humans who reject the notion that they should obtain rational consent and seek to impose their personal norms by means other than persuasion, even though they themselves would not care to suffer this. Although they have no measurable superiority, they would claim it anyway. The sciences, as well as our own amour-propre, should lead us to reject this out of hand. And it should seem inevitable that we would scorn offenders for this insolence. The people who would steal moral superiority that isn't theirs are like thieves stealing property that isn't theirs. Neither party acknowledges that, if they want to have their rights, moral or property, acknowledged by others, the same obligation is on them. The others, which we generally include the reader, can imposes this obligation because it is a necessity and a truth. Most individuals confront the social incarnation of currently accepted morality as an externality, imposed upon us by an abstract collective entity. Their various subjective discontents often are due to personal desires to claim more than their objective right as equals in the social enterprise.

But the difficulty arises when the group authority to sanction (positively or negatively) those who violate the essential requirements of being part of the group is not rational. This is not a question of why a group authority must be normative. Human groups are necessary for human life. This is normative because the vast majority of people wish to live. And the few who don't wish to live can still exercise that right, despite official or informal disapproval. The question is not the normativity, but the necessity. It was once regarded as necessary that there be slavery; that democracy threatened the social order that made life possible; that women's sexuality be closely policed, and on an on in an hideous history of oppression.

Social science examining as objectively as possible the social life of humans provides the only basis for objective critique of the morality imposed by society. That is why philosophers, led by the infamous Karl Popper, seek to deny the authority of science to the social disciplines. Their demarcation problem is how to redefine science to exclude any objective basis to critical views. Ideas lost in the morass of philosophy pose no threat. (In principle, philosophy can aim to positively justify the current order, but in practice this effort ot synthesize a complete world view seems to be limited to brief, foundational epochs. In the Western tradition, ancient Greek philosophy and the Enlightenment sought the truth about reality, instead of valid arguments.)

In the natural sciences, usually there is a narrowly practical test at some point. It may be experiment but certainly the overal progress of the natural sciences interacts with technology, giving it a straightforwardly empirical bent. The historical sciences are commonly more difficult for philosophers of science seeking to muzzle its voice, but the seamless connection to experiment of some sort provides an escape hatch. The straightforwardly empirical but nonexperimental (as in controlled experiment, the default ideal in every case I know of,) sciences like taxonomy and cartography in all its many forms are simply omitted from consideration. Apparently the feeling is that these are too base, too lacking in verbal forms that can be analogized to mathematical theorems, to be worth remembering.

It is the historical sciences of course that are most likely to confront the irrational justifications for social authority, which equally of course is mostly likely religion. Geology in the US confronts Genesis. Biology confronts not just Genesis but(religious) vanity, which forbids kinship to animals rather than angels. Cosmology confronts Genesis and wishes for kindly Providence. Quantum mechanics fosters cosmic woo, as near as I can tell, precisely because the difficult foundational questions allow those so inclined to redress old ideas of Providence and/or Spirit.

The peculiar demarcations of science intended to keep out social critique often lead to complications in defending the natural sciences against such intrusions. Predictionism and falsificationism falsely frame the questions of the nature of scientific explanation and empirical verification. Practicing scientists usually bow to the nature of the academic enterprise and accept the philosophical foundations of antirealism. Then they console their consciences by surreptitiously smuggling in realist views, hoping to have the best of both worlds, the rewards of subservience to the powers that be and the rewards of the free inquirer.

The real demarcation problem, almost never addressed by philosophers of science (Bunge is an exception that I know of,) is demarcating good social science from old, exploded ideas artificially revived to support the prevailing order; incipient sciences imperfectly conceptualized and/or insufficiently empirically based; dead ends of incoherent ideas, false facts (the greatest enemy of science!) or monastic communities sealed off from the rest of science; trivia masquerading as academic credit and fraud, simple or complex. I see that this worthy goal is far beyond my means.

The greatest reason of course is that critique of false facts involves a detailed understanding. This must be done in each scientific field by and large. In the social science unfortunately, the balkanization is such that some fields, such as evolutionary psychology or parapsychology, can insulate themselves from the rest of science. Academic courtesies then cover a multitude of sins. If a David Deutsch writes a popular science book with some good physics and some deranged social science, it is impolite to say so. If a Steven Pinker writes a whole series of books, each marred by some gross error, it is impolite to say so. The regular person, with no access to the literature, is pretty helpless. No, it is not true that everything is on the internet.

There is one obvious red flag. If social science purports to explain just how human nature or cosmic nature justifies the current state of affairs, particularly an imaginary state of affairs where this is an excellent social order, take warning. Indeed, if the purported social science takes the notion of human nature too blithely, take warning. If the purported social science ascribes ideas an independent influence, take warning. If the purported social science argues that randomness is the dominant factor in humanity, take warning. If the purported social science argues that there is a muliplicity of causal factors but refuses to attempt to rank them in importance, take warning. If the purported social science emphasizes experiments over the facts of history and anthropology, take warning. If the purported social science makes claims about history and other societies and economies without trying to outline a causal sequence, take warning. Most of all, if any purported social science tries to base itself on history or economics without proper comparisons, take warning.  This is the social science equivalent of doing an uncontrolled experiment!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Natural selection for sexual selection?

Inspired by a Moran post:

What we see in nature now is that most species either move or go extinct when their environment changes. It seems that we should apply a principle of biological uniformitarianism analogous to geological uniformitarianism, which I think then puts stasis in a different light.
Doesn't natural selection act to maintain the original overal morphology in spite of the slow changes in genome? Most species would then appear in the fossil record as more or less the same, because they are more or less well adapted. Certainly natural selection cannot continue adaptation in search of a hypothetical perfect adaptation.
When a new adaptation begins to form, because of founder effects or the slower drift due to random change, wouldn't natural selection only then act as an agent of morphological change, perfecting the adaptation? Because of back breeding of temporarily separated populations or random environmental changes reversing trends toward adaptations and the physiological constraints on adaptation, this kind of speciation driven by natural selection would be relatively uncommon. But, because of the power of natural selection, the process on a geological scale would be relatively rapid. Due to the more or less random sampling in the fossil record, the transitional forms would mostly be lost (particularly in speciation events triggered by genetic drift in founder populations,) and the appearances by a new species as it spreads would appear to be geologically sudden.
Possibly, a different situation would be radiative adaptation into a relatively empty ecosystem. Because of the lack of competition the intensity of natural selection would be minimized, resulting in a wider range of morphologies. Wouldn't the more rapid emergence of variants that could serve as new adaptations then lead natural selection to propel speciation more rapidly and more often than in the ordinary course of events? Another way of phrasing it is to say that after a mass extinction, all the environments are new, because other species are a part of the environment. And adaptation to new environments changes natural selection from a stabilizing force to a speciating force.
Also, it seems to me that a relatively unpressured population that exhibits a wide range of individual traits would have increased incidence of incompatibility between widely variant members of the species, not just in gross morphology but in more subtle changes unreflected in the fossil record. In this situation, the accidental emergence of any kind of sexual marker or isolator would be selected for, leading to more offspring between more compatible variants. Sexual selection then would also be a force for speciation.
At any rate, it seems that gross morphological changes are far commoner after mass extinctions, leading to whole new orders of species.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Science and the Is/Ought Distinction...and the Titanic

The Socratic thesis that knowledge is indispensable to virtue has never really been refuted, so far as I know. The ability to do right must entail the ability to know the right and the ability to accomplish the right. Virtue, in other words, which is a synonym for good and power. Virtue and morals and ethics are normative principles about how to deal with other people, when you consider it from the ideal ego's point of view. From a non-philosophical point of view, how other people, individually and in the form of society, treat you are also part of virtue, morals and ethics. When we remember this, the question of how we as individuals deal with the moral claims on and by others demands some sort of response. We personally can use violence or claim supernatural authority, but then, so can others. In practice, in dealing with others we make some sort of objective argument, especially when dealing with greater powers. There is an individual utility in making those arguments that others can accept, and ally with us, in dealing with yet other people and society or government at large. This usefulness is the basis for debate on morals. Every individual when dealing with morals imposed on him or her would wish to appeal to objective argument for selfish reasons.

The most important contribution science makes to the debate is the discovery that no argument from religious (or speculative philosophical) authority is valid. Another connection to science of course is that science is the only form of knowledge about the real world. As such it is essential to our ability to make objective arguments on particular issues, as well as categories of argument. In practice, much of our practical knowledge is empirical, and more is from authority.  But the sources of error in our senses and the imperfecions of unaided reason makes it imprudent to consult personal experience alone. Fullest use of scientific knowledge (broadly defined) is more an ideal than a reality, sadly.

But what has science, which tells us what is true, to tell us about what should be? Hume famously claimed that you couldn't draw a conclusion about what ought to be from what is. As popular as it is to repeat this, it is decidedly misleading. Science can tell us what cannot be, and what must be, and what can be. A moral imperative than cannot be accomplished because it is against nature cannot be meaningful. Behavior in individuals and society that are inevitable because of their natures are not moral, because we have no power to do else. What can be is the area of moral choice.

A trivial example of the first is the insistence that a parent must not sleep but watch over children. Demanding an impossibility is itself immoral, obviously. A trivial example of the second is insisting that dreaming is an expression of individuality. Demanding that people dream is obviously nothing to do with morality, they have no choice. A trivial example of the third is help sick people by nursing them. The ability to help sick people raises the moral question of whether to do so.

These trivial example show the principle at work. These are obviously true, so it should be obvious the principle is correct, no? Remember, and consider:

A serious example of the first is the discovery that popular notions of free will are contradicted by the facts of neuroscience. Punishing some behaviors as immoral choices when there are no choices is itself immoral. Punishment as deterrence usually is a different kind of punishment, after all. Many people wish to deny the obvious conclusion precisely to keep to the old standard of moral responsibility, regardless of the facts.

A serious example of the second is heterosexual passion. You cannot credit a person for wanting sex with another person of the opposite sex. Obviously, if you cannot credit this, you cannot discredit a person for wanting sex with another person of the same sex, either. Although fewer people would refuse to accept that sexual desire is not a conscious choice, this too happens.

A serious example of the third is vaccination for STDs. We can do this. If we look at it from the perspective of medical science, the question is, what benefit is there from not doing this, looking at it objectively from no specific personal view? Any person might contract a disease and benefit from a cure, and any vaccine may prevent any specific person from being infected. But when we try to see how a specific person might suffer from such vaccinations we cannot even find such people, much less weigh their harms against others' benefits. No one has yet established a harm to larger, collective entities.

We are already seeing that science narrowly construed has quite a bit of relevance to "ought," no matter what Hume says. Repeating him is refusing to consider these issues seriously.

The really tricky part comes from the refusal to grant the status of science to social sciences. There will be vested interests who pervert science for personal gain. Every fraudulent report of lab results comes from this, whether the gain is fame or money. In social sciences, vested interests have powerful influence in systematically turning would-be sciences into ideologies. Economics and evolutionary psychology are of course the great offenders of the day.

For example, the New Scientist website had an article about an economist's study of survival rates of British shipwrecks. It claimed that the record of 18 shipwrecks showed that it was every man for himself, despite the movies about the wreck of the Titanic. It also cited a claim that the story of women and children first was promoted as an argument against woman suffrage. The author of the study is an economist. When asked, he explicitly said that he was testing the economists' assumption that people are "self-interested and act to maximize their their own well-being," instead of cooperating and acting at the expense of their own survival. In other words, he was aiming pretty explicitly to shore up a specific notion of human behavior. Given this agenda of course, it is likely that he found what he wanted. This article talks of survival rates but gives no indication of what the circumstances were. The faster the shipwreck of course the more likely only the crew and the more physically fit of the passengers can survive. There could be a gross systematic error in this study, ignored because it fit a preconceived thesis. I for one will put zero stock in this report because my experience is that people like this habitually do that kind of bad science.

The thing is, the article did specifically relate the study to the desire to refute a certain view of human nature. That doesn't refute the article of course. That's the genetic fallacy. It can raise a red flag, though. It can make one analyze more carefully, as I did when I asked myself if there was any reason why captain and crew, then males, might have higher survival rates. The answer to that question, yes, then justifies dismissing the report, a posteriori. The problem of course is that the article didn't report the necessary information. Another person, who favors the sociopathic ideal of humanity the economist is defending, probably wouldn't see any problem, and wouldn't ask the right question. Not asking the question means the blindingly obvious possibility of systematic error would be overlooked.

The problem of which view is correct cannot be solved by pretending there is no such thing as social science. The problem can't be evaded because moral issues depend upon the answers. The problem can't be solved by philosophical logical a prioris because human nature is a matter of fact, not logic. Well, to be precise, a matter of many, many, many such facts. This is a nice illustration of how induction and (supposedly) simple facts are a major part of scientific knowledge, incidentally. Again, part of the problem in the social sciences is the pervasive acceptance of nonmaterialist concepts. The notion of human nature as a metaphysical entity for example seems to propel this particular person's excursion into bad science.

My guess is that women and children first is in fact a sentimental myth in the sense that it is not what automatically happens, that instead, the physical circumstances, the cultural teachings for the people involved, and random variations in personalities and other idiosyncratic factors mean sometimes it is women and children first, sometimes it's devil takes the hindmost and other times you see people in the same wreck showing both behaviors. My guess is that the small sample size makes the conclusions to be drawn uncertain, even if the study were properly conducted. My judgment is that the extremity of the circumstances limit the importance of the conclusion, no matter what, to normal societies. What I know is that categorically declaring such questions impossible to answer is obscurantism.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

In Memoriam: Gore Vidal

Eminent writer and TV personality Gore Vidal is dead at the age of 86. Although not commonly considered a genre writer, Mr. Vidal, in addition to being a mystery novelist under the pseudonym Edgar Box, was indeed a SF and fantasy writer. Also, a good proportion of his works included historical fiction, including some of his most famous, such as Julian, Burr, 1876, Creation and Lincoln.

His SF works included the remarkable fifties novel Messiah, about the rise of a new religion replacing Christianity, and the SF play (originally television, then stage, then motion picture) Visit to a Small Planet, about the visit of an alien to Earth. Mr. Vidal revisited the genre with the end of the world novel Kalki, where religious fanatics genetically engineer a genocidal strain of E. coli. He also appeared as a genre actor in Gattaca.

His fantasies included Myron, Duluth, The Smithsonian Institution, The Golden Age and Live from Golgotha. They were of the absurdist or metafictional extravaganza type of fantasy. In Myron, for instance, the protagonists is trapped in a B movie. Siren of Babylon, starring Rhonda Fleming, if I remember correctly?

Despite the large number of genre works in his oeuvre, Mr. Vidal successfully avoided being typed as a genre author, due largely to his political and social engagements. His many television appearances as commentator included a notorious public quarrel with William F. Buckley during the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention. His feuds with Truman Capote and Normal Mailer were also highly publicized. His plays, the award winning The Best Man and An Evening with Richard Nixon, as well as he then contemporary political novel Washington D.C., as well as the historical novels garnered much attention. Mr. Vidal excelled as an essayist, often on political topics.

Politically Mr.Vidal came from a patrician (if personally impoverished, he always had to earn a living,) background. Coming from a more time when politics were not so narrowly constrained, Vidal harked back to old traditions that seemed in more retrograde times almost leftist. A traditional isolationism for instance carried on in an anti-imperialist politics. His militant atheism as well carried on a very old and honorable tradition in democracy dating back to the seventeenth century. The modern notion of atheism as highly antithetical to democracy is a redbaiting innovation. Very late in his life he was engaged in a notorious correspondence with Timothy McVeigh. People were somehow surprised that Mr.Vidal's old conservative politics led him to find affinities in McVeigh.

However, in his writings on sex, Mr. Vidal's homosexuality did lead him away from the old conservatism, if not entirely. His later boast of more than a thousand sexual contacts seemed to reflect more of a patrician disdain for middle class propriety, a would-be aristocratic libertinism. Still, this membership in a minority was probably what kept him from being nothing more than a Menckenesque curmudgeon from the beginning.

His novel The City and the Pillar was a milestone in gay writing. His Myra Breckinridge displayed some conservative panic at the blurring of gender identities, but Vidal's essays on sex were in the context of any time before rather progressive. It would be ungenerous to cavil at the imperfections of a pioneer, even though, as so often the advent of change left him behind. He lived with Howard Austen for some decades, mostly in Ravello, Italy, til Austen's death. He boasted once that he and Howard did not have sex. It is hard to know what would be sadder, lying about such a thing, or such a thing being true.

At the age of ten, Mr. Vidal was in the newsreels for flying a lightweight plane. His father was an aviation official in the Roosevelt administration. His grandfather was a Senator. He shared a stepfather, Hugh Auchincloss with Jacqueline Kennedy, which connection probably did more to bring him social celebrity. He ran for Congress in New York in 1960 and for the Democratic Senate nomination in California many years later as well.

As a screenwriter, Mr. Vidal argued the case for the priority of the screenplay in the movies' creative process. His line "The director is the brother-in-law" of course must be amended to "The director is the producers' man," since the decline of the studio system.

Finally, as a writer, Mr. Vidal had an unfashionable taste for dependent clauses. Even worse, Mr. Vidal had a distinct fondness for the ever contemptible adverb. Presumably these wickednesses, plus his dubious politics and damnably open sexual heterodoxy combined with the labors wasted on genre works and television placed in very low in the acceptable pantheon of literary writers. As a public novelists, he was no doubt the preeminent US writer. As such, his loss to age and the grave is a grave loss for the age.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Collective Enterprise of Science and Ethics

Thinking about such manifestly social phenomena as paradigms reminded me that the collective nature of science is far too often omitted. The middle school textbook portrayal of the scientific method as problem, hypothesis, experiment and conclusion is often modified by specifying controlled experiments or by substages, as adding library research as part of hypothesis formulation, or publication as part of conclusion. They may even make so bold as to add a feedback look from experiment to hypothesis.

What they rarely ever point out, correct as this thumbnail description of scientific process is in toto, if you imagine that one person does this, you are just wrong. Any single person may engage in any part of the process, coming in at any stage. They may engage only in asking the question/posing the problem or they may merely report result to others. The sequence is often visible only in hindsight. In addition to the implicit suggestion that the steps in the process are programmatically linear, the omission of the importance of collective analysis is extraordinarily misleading. Unlike philosophy, which is concerned with the validity of logical a priori arguments posed by an ideal ego, science is concerned with correspondence to fact (truth.) In practice, verification of facts requires repetition of measurements by others. Even qualtitative observations often require verification in multiple perspectives. What is true of supposedly simple matters of fact is often true of the explanations (theories.)

As a communal enterprise, therefore, ethics (which we could describe as the way people behave towards each other) is an inescapable part of science as it is, if not philosophy of science. Integrity in making and reporting o measurements and other observations, indeed, the obligation to report results, as well as maximum possible objectivity in the analysis are straightforward. If these things are not done, science is not done right. Science's relations to technology have been fruitful of material advantages. Simple utilitarian considerations justify making these norms. Less obvious, but still true is the obligation to advance science by fullest use of resources. This includes, trivially, not wasting material resources. Not so trivial is the wastage of human resources. This takes place notably in the de facto exclusion of women and other oppressed groups (the working class and oppressed racial/ethnic/religious parts of the population.)

An even less obvious breach of scientific ethics is importing philosophical errors into scientific work. One of the commonest is the natural scientists' collaboration in denying causality etc. in the social sciences. Natural scientists who are outraged at the covert importation of theism into biology will blithely congratulate themselves for their profound understanding of science in allowing veiled versions of the same in the social sciences.

For instance, natural scientists will join ranks with the evolutionary psychologists because there are experiments, ignoring the seemingly universal highly selective use of evidence in the theories in that field. They will accept the authority of economics couched in mathematical form without troubling to see whether the currently popular economic theories explain very much (if anything) about economic life. They don't have to, they think, because they don't really accept the notion of causality in social science. They have vague notions about overdetermination. Or about the impossibility of reduction of social events to measurable processes or conversely the necessity to reduce social events to psychology (sometimes it seems both at once!)

In practice, many scientific fields make progress by concentrating on the questions that are currently approachable by the technology and concepts at hand. Part of their training is acquiring the habit of refusing to ask certain questions. However curious a paradox this may seem it is often true, particularly of foundational questions. Despite the ultimate necessity of considering these questions, there is much useful work to be done that would simply be distracted by trying futilely to answer these questions prematurely. Although this practice certainly is not required to carried over to other fields, where most scientists are not much better than lay people themselves, it seems to be customary.

This stems from the notion that authority in the sciences is attained by thorough knowledge of the field, as certitified by established success in the collective analysis of the results of one's work. To engage in scientific critique in another field without being prepared is a waste of resources if nothing else. And it tacitly reopens settled questions. Real progress in science leaves certain old ideas permanently refuted, never to return. Opening a field of study to the uninformed critique of outsiders can seem like tacilty denying this simple fact. Obviously there is something to that. In practice, I think, the real difficulty lies in the covert return of anti-materialist notions in one disguised form another. Part of the problem scientists in one field can have with outside criticisms and questions lies in the inability to properly understand the nature of those errors. Probably the majority of scientists adhere to philosophical positions, such as the notion that science is not knowledge about reality, that reneder them impotent to spot errors or refute them easily and quickly.

Unfortunately we have already passed the point where any single individual is going to comprehend all science and show how the various effective theories interweave, where they fail and must be revised and what general priniciples can be elucidated. Therefore scientists must interact with other fields, even those where they are not entirely competent. Most scientists of course concede the need for interdisciplinary study, but that seems in practice to mean a handful of people from different disciplines having seminars. So far, the only philosophical framework that could give such work practical unity is materialism, which is explicitly rejected by (probably) most scientists. No, a natural scientist who thinks that stuff just happens in society has explicitly rejected causality.

Now, what is difficult enough with professional scientists in different fields must be even more difficult with lay people who are apt to be openly irrationalist in every branch of science. Nonetheless, it is generally these other people who pay for the scientific enterprise. There is a starkly utilitarian normativity to transmission of the results of science to those who pay for it. The commonest justification is that it pays off in technology. Commonly enough, it is the technology that makes the science possible, not the other way round. Nor, despite the bland assurance, is it a bit obvious that science somehow causes technological improvements. There's Henry's assistance to telegraphy, Einstein's proposal of the stimulated emission of radiation and I'm already running out of good examples. Perhaps it's just my ignorance. Notoriously genetic research hasn't led to astonishing technological improvements in the treatment of cancer. Further it is very possible to improve technology without doing basic research. Applied research (a distinction Bunge for one explained) is quite enough. The long run importance of science to technology is undeniable I think, but, but, the long run is always postponable for short run considerations! Or, sadly, so will someone always argue. There is no principled argument against this, save that if not now, when? (Murmurs from audience, "Later.")

If you consider that the probable majority of scientists also deny that science leads to knowledge, we see that justification of science is, as the slyly sardonic say, problematic. Further, it seems that most scientists have strong dislike for popularizing science. Certainly every standout popularizer is resented as a publicity hound. The advent of internet blogging is no help: When I criticized Sean Carroll's award to Cosma Shalizi, he posted a set of internet comment rules that made it quite clear that his blogging was really about nothing but what he wished to say. He claimed that questions were welcome but I think not all are. Beyond my personal feelings, one way communication is not actually communication. Selected two-way communication is like deliberately introducing sampling error. The difficulties of incorporating things like blogs into the task of communicating science to the population are surely difficult. But treating the exercise as a means of self-gratification just will not work.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Who dwells in paradigms? Are they happy and useful?

In thinking of late about science, and how it isn't a prediction machine correlating expermintal measurements, I keep thinking of the notion of paradigms. It isn't perfectly clear how this is different on the one hand from really basic notions typical of the scientific enterprise, both narrowly and broadly construed. For example, the notions of causality; truth is correspondence to reality; nature is lawful (or if you insist on speaking unnaturally, nature displays some regularities to which we do not find exceptions and which heuristically used can make repeated valid predictions to the outcome of experiments); nature is consistent or coherent or intelligible (yes, we all know about quantum woo, but the paradox is that despite a theory that is set in a Hilbert space nonetheless we get results always compatible with good old Einsteinian spacetime.) Although not even these notions are held to be above revision, in practice they have been incorrigible because they are more inductions than deductions from theories that have had to be revised. If these notions are part of the scientific paradigm, which seems a valid construal of the notion of paradigm, then the scientific paradigm has never successfully been replaced. Merely (a giant word!) modified. In this sense, the notion of a succession of paradigms succeeding each other willy nilly is utterly refuted.

On the other hand, if paradigms refer to specific ideas, things like atoms; the distinction between energy and momentum; the field concept; the wave concept; the ether; phlogiston; the Ptolemaic model; spontaneous generation; Newtonian absolute time, then one thing that pops out from even this cursory list is that such paradigms are often not wholly overthrown. Consider atomic and wave and field conceptions of phenomena, all still live and kicking in one context or another. The coexistence of such broad differences in how scientists view things seems incompatible with the notion of incompatible paradigms that can only replace each other. But these notions are so general it is hard to see that you could just demote them to simple concepts.

Another thing that emerges is that the dubious element in these constructs, such as the centrality of the Earth or the doubtful coherence of a notion of absolute time apart from change, were usually challenged by alternatives. Consider Aristarchus' model or the objections to Newton's absolute time (and his theory of light, as well.) A one paradigm may be as extinct as the dinosaurs, replaced by a ratty little one that had, after the eon scurrying in the undergrowth, suddenly grows, multiplies and branches out. But it didn't come from nowhere.

And it has often been observed that the empirical observations of these theories, and the predictions they led to, though not the verbal forms and pictorial analogies, were conserved. The "paradigms" if that is what you wish to call such related sets of concepts that articulate fundamental theories (scientific explanations) of the world are connected to each other. They are not arbitrary. Of the few that are wholly obliterated by induction, a bare few have seemed to reemerge, notably spontaneous generation, and in a few advanced speculative models, the ether and absolute time. Perhaps there was an inspirational aspect (but for humans, inspiration can come from religion, philosophy, play, dreams, whatever serves to propel the speculative moment of science---but it isn't science if you don't try to find out if it's true.) Closer investigation reveals that chemical biogenesis is nothing like spontaneous generation. Etc.

Lastly, if a change in paradigm can be usefully labeled a scientific revolution, then the notion of counterrevolution really should be allowed. In biology, resistance to evolutionary science has plainly been fostered by a religious paradigm trying to turn back the clock. I think it is pretty obvious how reactionary weltanschaungen contribute to economic or psychology or history. Thus it appears that the paradigm of science as a random sequence of paradigms unconnected to each other is wrong. And that appearances of retrogression can be reasonably attributed to rather literal reaction.

In short, the dwellers in paradigms may be happy, but they are not useful.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Science Broadly Defined

Many, maybe most, writers on science define science pretty much as something Europeans have done since Galileo. Some of them mention Francis Bacon occasionally. The focus is on scientific method, defined in practice as controlled experiments. In this view, there not only weren't professional scientists but there were no amateur scientists before the Italian. They are generally particularly careful to explain that the ancient Greeks didn't do science.

But is this true? Aristotle did dissections. Those are not controlled experiments and don't fit the European science model. Measuring instruments were also pioneered by the ancient Greeks, as the Tower of the Winds shows us. Nor is that a controlled experiment. Aristotle earned eternal contempt from philosophers for his insistence on making lists and categories and principles, dutifully cataloging facts, a noxiously low-minded, dull and painfully exact practice. Nor is this a controlled experiment. Some people avoid the issue by using the phrase formal science. This would be okay if it didn't avoid the issue of whether people like Aristotle et al. were doing science, formal or not. This matters because it confuses the issue of what "scientia," that is, knowledge really is.

May I suggest that science is any systematic way of organizing and acquiring new knowledge, information that is verified as corresponding to reality? As every devotee of the sweet science knows, any field can have its lore organized and verified in practice. Systematic observation, making allowances as best as possible for error and bias, including different perspectives and critical analysis of conflicting testimony, recorded for comparison and analysis; collections of specimens; mapmaking; taxonomy; generalization and such have led to major advances, for instance the discovery of the fossil record and its associated law and other principles. This kind of thing is looked down upon as lowly induction. My reading of the history of science however has been that the greatest problem in the end has been statements and beliefs falsely attributed the status of fact. The explanations can be modified or replaced, but for sheer total confusion a false impression is pretty much impossible to beat.

Closely related, obviously, is the advance of instrumentation for measurement. Creating the microscope is not a controlled experiment. Nor for that matter is examining everything you can under it. Nonetheless the advent of new instruments (and maps and other graphical aids involved in presenting the information) has been the driver of far more scientific discovery than the desire of faslfiying an hypothesis. J.D. Bernal, whose work is pretty much abandoned, documents the process much better than I could. I believe it is ignored because it is unwelcome not because it is refuted.

Phrasing this another way, induction is far, far more powerful a tool for scientific investigation than is popularly conceded. Cartography and taxonomy are not experimental sciences in the formally philosophical way, but in their engagement with experience are crucially empirical. They emphasize getting all the evidence, presenting the evidence as clearly as possible and getting the facts right. Most people do not do this. By contrast they are pragmatic; seeking only the information to hand; oftentimes consulting any authority; quitting when they get confirmation; making no argumentation at all, merely presenting conclusions as if by fiat; rarely analytical or critical. In the daily routines of life this is natural enough. Also, since science is now professionalized, many people merely consult scientific authorities.

Nonetheless, these practices are I believe a huge component of scientific investigation, and the lowly simple facts and (obvious?) inductions comprise a huge portion of the corpus of scientific knowledge. Of these inductive generalizations, some of vitally important ones include such notions as naturalism, causality and the consistency/regularity/lawfulness of nature. These hugely important concepts are justified a posteriori, not a priori. And they are the real demarcators of science, both narrowly and broadly defined. 

The importance of defining science broadly is two fold. First, it highlights the importance of inductive knowledge. Darwin did not provide experimental evidence for natural selection. Wegener did not provide any mechanism at all for continental drift. "Strata" Smith did not do experiments to
show how fossil order could have arisen. Nonetheless, despite not doing formal controlled experiments these men did good science. The failure to find any evidence of anything that acted remotely like the crystal of the celestial spheres, or signs of forces that could move said spheres, could have been (and should have been) read as a sign that the Ptolemaic model was incorrect, that the hypothesis of the spheres was an unjustified ad hoc element. Newton's incorrect notion of an absolute time was not sufficient reason to reject the empirical success of his laws of gravitation and motion. The radical changes that sometimes occur in the formulation of explanations is never accompanied by similarly radical changes in the corpus of knowledge. New ideas may be necessary, but old ideas never come back, because they've been refuted. The corrigibility of science will never, never permit the return of astrology or other religious ideas, no matter what. In that sense, the corrigibility of science is wholly irrelevant to a simple (but to some bitter) truth: Science is knowledge.

Second, the numerous tools in science broadly defined are obviously found in many social studies. It is not universally the case. Many historians for example have difficulties with the idea of causality! Others insist on attributing strange powers to nonmaterial abstractions, such as ideas or the Zeitgeist. But it is equally obvious that many social scientists are in fact scientists, even if the subject matter does not permit much in the way of formal controlled experimentation. The resistance to allowing that there may be such a thing as social science, and the insistence on narrowly redefining science to exclude it, seems almost universally to be motivated by a desire to remove any social belief from claiming the status of knowledge. Considering that social beliefs include such notions as racism, it is hard to have much respect for this stance as protecting the gullible public from scientistic blindness to the richness of social life and the complexity of moral/political questions!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Popper's Demarcation

This was not a full consideration, but was a commentary on Popper's reformulation of his German work later in Conjectures and Refutations, linked to as part of a discussion in Why Evolution Is True. My original comments (numbering added) were:

1."It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory — if we look for confirmations."

This is very close to setting up a straw man, which is not a very good way to begin.
Every statistically controlled experiment or study sets up a bar for confirmation which in my opinion is not making it easy to find confirmation. We are apparently meant to assume the crudest and simplest (most naive) kind of activities, it appears.

2."Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions; that is to say, if, unenlightened by the theory in question, we should have expected an event which was incompatible with the theory — an event which would have refuted the theory."

Unenlightened by the germ theory, we should expect people to die, perhaps from cancer, without any signs of microbes. A risky prediction that the germ theory makes is that fatal diseases will be accompanied by germs, a risky prediction promptly disconfirmed by the autopsy of a victim of lung cancer. Ergo the germ theory is scientific, but wrong. This erroneous conclusion demanded by this principle of Popper’s suggests that no theory can be stretched beyond what it’s evidential foundation and internal logic permit, whether that allows "risky" conjectures or not. The failure of risky prediction may merely mean that the theory’s limits of validity have been reached.

3."Every "good" scientific theory is a prohibition: it forbids certain things to happen. The more a theory forbids, the better it is."

It is not clear how this is very different frm saying that the more a theory predicts, the better it is. The cell theory forbids that living things be composed of anything but cells or cell products. This formulation makes the cell theory sound like it is refuted by the abiogenetic origin of life.
Worse, this formulation forgets the most basic prohibition in science, the repudiation of the supernatural. Far better to say that every good scientific theory accepts the metaphysical postulates of philosophical materialism.

4."A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific. Irrefutability is not a virtue of a theory (as people often think) but a vice."

This is just wrong. String theory or the multiverse concept may be wrong, and are as of this time immune to testing and refutation, but they are scientific in that they are deductions from well-tested scientific theories. Comparing the spectra of the Moon and green cheese to test the theory they are the same makes for a testable theory. The theory that there is however a Moon in a green cheese in another galaxy however is impossible to refute. According to this criterion, the first is a scientific
theory, but the latter is not.

5."Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute it. Testability is falsifiability; but there are degrees of testability: some theories are more testable, more exposed to refutation, than others; they take, as it were, greater risks."

The testability of theories lies partly in the phenomena they attempt to explain. This is not relevant to the scientificity of the theory. This criterion seems to be what I think they call a category mistake.

6."Confirming evidence should not count except when it is the result of a genuine test of the theory; and this means that it can be presented as a serious but unsuccessful attempt to falsify the theory. (I now speak in such cases of "corroborating evidence.")"

Again, disease germs are not found in all dead bodies. I suppose Virchow’s postulates could be rewritten as negative, disproof steps, but it is hard to see how this is useful. Worse, in complex phenomena, false negatives due to overextension of the theory will be far more likely. The real need for theories to be compatible with each other is entirely overlooked. (Incidentally, this is not really different from the insistence on the insistence on "risky" hypotheses.)

7."Some genuinely testable theories, when found to be false, are still upheld by their admirers — for example by introducing ad hoc some auxiliary assumption, or by reinterpreting the theory ad hoc in such a way that it escapes refutation. Such a procedure is always possible, but it rescues the theory from refutation only at the price of destroying, or at least lowering, its scientific status. (I later described such a rescuing operation as a "conventionalist twist" or a "conventionalist stratagem.")"

Only the simplest phenomena do not require numerous auxiliary hypotheses in theories. Further, life is ad hoc and it is not at all clear what possible criteria Popper has for labeling an auxiliary hypothesis ad hoc. Is the breaking of a natural damn an ad hoc hypothesis for the Channeled Scablands, which would otherwise refute theories of stratigraphy? A legitimate philosophy of science would be asking those questions, I thnk, not foolishly denying the necessity of auxiliary hypothese in perfectly good science.

8."We can sum up all this by saying that the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability."

There are many trivial experiments. There are many false negatives from significant experiments. Experimental results must be interpreted in light of theories of many kinds of phenomena, and the experimental evidence for them, which means that scientificity also lies in the unitarity of explanations of nature. A parapsychologist can hypothesis ESP, make a risky prediction, test it, fail to refute it, yet we can confidently assert that sending information faster than light is impossible and that parapsychology therefore is not a scienctific enterprise. No matter how much it fits Popper’s criteria.

I understand that Popper once denied the theory of natural selection scientific status, which seems to me a natural conclusion of these criteria. Any experiments that falsify natural selection a la Popper really do tend to be rather trivial, don’t they?

Second thoughts (you knew this was coming didn't you?):

1. By the same token, it is easy to obtain falsifications for any theory, if we want to look for them. Sometimes it seems that those who adhere to a falsificationist perspective do so because it makes it easy to rule out tout court whole sciences without troubling to actually refute them. Popper personally, as The Open Society and Its Enemies shows, was primarily concerned to deny any social study the dignity of science. Creationists in my observation have very commonly adhered to a falsficationist perspective because, as an historical science, evolutionary theory is particularly vulnerable to Popperian falsificationism.

2. Additionally, some theories are complex enough that it is difficult to "predict" what should happen. Economics in particular in the social sciences has very clear, very simple mathematical models that simply do not permit of easy conclusions. If you look at the basic theories of standard economics, you would not predict a boom and bust economy. Marxian economics does. Score one for Marx and kick out the academics? Popper would have been the first to scorn the idea, as evidenced by his membership in the Mont Pelerin Society with the likes of Friedrich Hayek. No, there are a panoply of ad hoc explanations, auxiliary hypotheses, etc. Marxian economics of course has its own difficulties of this kind. The theory admits of moral factors, i.e., social custom and statutory law created by the activities of labor and capital, in the level of real wages. How then do you predict whether real wages inevitably decline over the secular trend? The answer, that you have to actually study real economies, globally and long-term, is not an evasion, marking an unscientific project. It is the mark of a real science that the theory should be extended and interpreted by real world information. Popper's insistence that the barebones of any theory have to be stuck too is remarkably metaphysical and dogmatic and all sorts of bad things that are opposed to real science. This is apparently the substance of the Duhem-Quine objection to falsificationism.

3. The more specific a theory is about its limitations, the better science it is. But I don't think this is what Popper means here. Suppose you have a theory that chieftains in technologically primitive societies compel their followers to increase production for their personal consumption and their ability to reward subordinates with the produce. Then by Popper's lights you are supposed to conclude that chieftains doing neither with the produce, but giving it away, even to non-subordinates, or even destroying the produce, is thereby impossible, in order to be doing good science. Frankly I think just making a simple example (by no means an absurd one either,) shows how wacky this is. He would then conclude that potlatch refutes the theory, and presumably the whole thing needs to be approached. Nonsense!

4. It occurs to me that I need to emphasize the "conceivable" is an equivocation. On reflection it occurs to me that Popper may have been trying to overextend the notion that, if a theory has two explanatory principles and the defender can switch at will from one to the other, then the critic cannot possibly refute the theory. (Psychoanalysis was probably the main offender in mind here.) The answer of course is that you refuse to accept this equivocation by the theory's proponent. You ask, in effect, exactly when is a cigar just a cigar? Then you see what the theory does and does not explain. Confusing this issue with the practical possibility of experiments may be useful in lambasting the historical sciences, but has no legitimate use in honest discourse.

5. Definitive experiments that refute hypothesese are much adored in science for good reason. They are also remarkably hard to come by. The numerous successes in evolutionary science in explaining facts in morphology, taxonomy, embryology and biogeography made Darwinism a successful scientific theory before someone contrived a controlled experiement that could refute it. Despite some facts that argued against it. By Popper's standards, evolutionary science was falsified. Again, the primary reason for this criterion appears to be to rule out by definition the very possiblity of an historical science. The problem with erecting the falsification standard is that it puts exceptions against mountains of examples following the rule without any standards as to why this should be so.

6. Rephrasing: There is a mountain of evidence confirming that people will claim to have private revelations from mystical sources and those who believe will discount any evidence disproving it. But this evidence should not count because we need to have a serious series of experiments showing that believers really will rationalize any disproofs of the revelation. Quite aside from the likelihood that detailed studies would show that some people do in fact reject the revelation, the injunction that we need to waste time on nonsense like this is far from a useful philosophy of science. Much less science. And, again, this is not a particularly absurd example!

7. All falsificationist/testbility perspectives founder on the inability to distinguish ad hoc assumptions from others. If you can't define ad hoc, the whole thing is a prime example of a theory for which there is no conceivable refutation!

8. Theories are scientific if they are materialistic; causal; consistent; comprehensive and confirmed by experience. Materialistic means that there are no supernatural agents or means. Causal means they identify cause and effect in an explanatory narrative, which includes identifying the role of random factors. Random factors may include repeated random occurrences whose effects can be probabilistically incorporated into the theory. Consistent means the elements of the theory are used in the same ways within the theory and the elements are consistent with other parts of nature as known. Comprehensive means that the theory aims to explain as much as possible, and to predict as specifically as possible. Confirmed by experience means historical experience as well as experiments.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Natural Selection and Science as Prediction

Professor Steven Novella in his blog Neuralogica posted on a blogosphere controversy with one Egnor. Along the way he matter of factly announced that science was merely models useful for prediction, not about what's "correct," which in this context plainly meant corresponding to reality, i.e., true. This notion, in relation to natural selection, seems worthy of comment, on his comments section and here.) Post edited from the Neuralogica blog.

The principle of common descent would in another time or field of science would probably have been called a “law.” Scientific laws are commonly described as descriptions or generalizations about how things work in nature. Common descent was established on a mass of observations from morphology and embryology, and later confirmed further by genetic data. Scientific laws may be refined or possibly even wholly refuted by later observations. For instance, lateral gene transfer in bacteria seems to justify a refinement in the doctrine of common descent. There are antecedents to this principle, for instance, the cell theory, which implicitly requires that all changes in descent be physically possible for cells to carry out. And there are consequences too, such as that new species must come from old species. But is it really useful or enlightening to call these predictions?

Natural selection, on the other hand, is what some would call a theory, a scientific explanation, although I gather others would define “theory” as an algorithm(or verbal/conceptual equivalent) for generating predictions. In that case, this link [available in Prof. Novella's Neuralogica blog, July 19, 2012] says that Popper’s claim is that natural selection, equating adaptation to fitness, is non-predictive because all organisms must be adapted to their environments, else they would be extinct. The rebuttal is that 1) the unfit are extinct 2) physically impossible changes will not occur along the chain of common descent and 3) new species descend from old species.

Note that 1) is merely a restatement, not a prediction while 2) & 3) are trivial “predictions,” because they are not unique to the theory of natural selection. At this point, the link goes on to explain that fitness is defined causally, functionally, statistically a posteriori, not logically and semanticaly a priori. And besides that, fitness is not determininistic but dispositional. What is not clear is how fitness being those things makes it possible to make predictions. There have been a number of experiments that have successfully tested predictions about natural selection’s effects on gene frequencies but it seems that the difficulties in defining fitness in a way that you can predict/control makes them the exception rather than the rule in evolutionary science.

The thing worth thinking about, is that Darwin provided masses of evidence in favor of natural selection decades before experiments that teased out a prediction could be performed. Science since has provided masses more. But they weren’t predictions. [Omitted from comments to avoid pointless offense: The conclusion that Darwin wasn't doing much useful science because he didn't make many specific predictions, or propose many experiments, much less perform them, is demanded by the science as prediction perspective. Yet, it is nuts to deny Darwin was overwhelmingly right then, except for the modifications imposed later by a greater understanding of genetics. But the modern synthesis did not refute Darwin. An even greater understanding of modern genetics, as in the comprehension of the neutrality of so many mutations, is tending to modify the relative importance of natural selection in novel speciation, but is not "refuting" Darwin.]

You can use natural selection to explain vestigial organs. An organ is no longer adaptive, nature selects agains the waste of resources for it. The mechanics of genetics may not permit an easy way to simply erase the organ, but the slow increment of genetic changes diverts resources from the less fitting organ, it gets smaller and smaller, that is, vestigial. As the resources diverted become less cumbersome, however, the intensity of selection pressure becomes less and less. The vestigial organ can then survive indefintiely until the vagaries of genetic change do possibly succeed in erasing the last trace. Natural selection (particularly gene-selection) says traits are adaptive, increase fitness. We can explain fitness-decreasing vestigial organs as above, using supplementary hypotheses and contingencies that explain away the violation of this prediction.

We cannot predict which organs will become vestigial; we cannot predict which will finally disappear; we cannot predict for which a new function might be found; we can not statistically predict incidence of vestigialization, time for vestigialization, rates of vestigialization or intensity of natural selection against vestigial organs. But, rather than throw up our hands, isn’t the real clarification, not that natural selection is scientific because it is predictive, but, because it is explanatory of massive amounts of data. Charles Darwin made a convincing case for natural selection before the experiments. And the kind of evidence he presented has only been added to.

Even more to the point, if there are experiments confirming predictions of natural selection about speciation (instead of change in gene frequencies,) they are a well kept secret. I suppose it is likely that eventually science will find a way to conduct such experiments. But even if no one were ever ingeniuous enough to find the way, we already have quite a bit of evidence showing that natural selection is a major factor in novel speciation, and overwhelming evidence it is the major factor in maintaining species morphology (the forgotten aspect of speciation?) Is throwing out a lot of straw about predictions inviting the Egnors to make straw men?

[Addendum: The old canard that "natural selection is survival of the fittest" is a tautology is indeed a canard. First, technically, the whole statement is merely a definition, and definitions are themselves a kind of tautology. They are not logical arguments, but explanations. The phrase "survival of the fittest" can be interpreted as a tautology by insisting that you can't define fittest in any way other than by survival. Not true, and insofar as the link points this out, it is correct.

Second, the second problem with the capsule statement of natural selection lies in the unconscious assumption that to be a valid scientific theory, it must be predictive. And natural selection is not, repeat, not predictive in any meaningful sense. It is powerfully explanatory, as dwelt on above. Post hoc, it is in principle possible to define fitness meaningfully. An often unacknowledged consequence of this unpredictability means that there is no way to retrodict the past. All reconstructions in evolutionary history are open to the difficulties of all historical reconstructions. And all the quarrels about relative importance in principle of supplementary assumptions and ad hoc contigencies, too. As much tedious work and dispute as this enjoins on evolutionary scientists, this is far more devastating to those who would find necessity or inevitability or plan or guidance or God in evolutionary history.
All versions of theistic evolution, sophisticated or crude, are refuted by the inability of natural selection to predict. Or so I think.

Third, if you want to find a logical problem in arguments over evolutionary theory, consider the criticism that there are "gaps" in the fossil record. Defining a "gap" is as difficult as defining a "heap.
We could think of a gap as an inverted heap after all. The difficulty of defining a heap is even called a paradox! The creationists have for decades proffered a logical paradox as a criticism of legitimate science! Technically, I suppose, they could proffer simultaneously an empirical/practical definition of gap, and at least be making an honest argument. Until they do, just remember all arguments about gaps are logically flawed! (No, I am not touching the question of how useful formal logic is in doing science.)]