Mocking religion

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Millennie Al
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Re: Mocking religion

Post by Millennie Al » Mon Apr 19, 2021 12:41 am

secret squirrel wrote:
Fri Apr 16, 2021 4:34 pm
The basic error in the quote is the idea that there is a thing called science that can be reasonably demarked from what scientists do.
If science is what scientists do, we have a problem. Sir Isaac Newton famously worked on his theory of gravity while sitting under an apple tree. Therefore, if science is what scientists do, sitting under an apple tree is science. It's important that it's an apple tree, because we know also that Buddha achieved enlightenment while sitting under the Bo tree, and that was clearly religion rather than science.

And then you have the issue that a scientist is not always doing science. If a person who is definitely a scientist insists that vitamin C prevents colds, is that science?

And there's a much bigger problem: how do you know who is a scientist?

And of you don't have a reasonable idea of what science is and what religion is, then there's no basis for concluding anything about whether they're in conflict or their relative merits.
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Millennie Al
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Re: Mocking religion

Post by Millennie Al » Mon Apr 19, 2021 12:50 am

secret squirrel wrote:
Sat Apr 17, 2021 2:48 am
I often joke to myself that the problem with philosophy is you can win a philosophical argument just by refusing to understand what the other person is talking about.
Well, then have a new one along those lines. If a philosopher explains philosophy to you and you understand it, they've explained it badly. If another philosopher understands it, they've explained it very badly.

As always, there's a grain of truth in it. Of his "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", Kuhn expressed the opinion that his critics' readings of his book were so inconsistent with his own understanding of it that he was "...tempted to posit the existence of two Thomas Kuhns," one the author of his book, the other the individual who had been criticized in the symposium by "Professors Popper, Feyerabend, Lakatos, Toulmin and Watkins."
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Re: Mocking religion

Post by secret squirrel » Mon Apr 19, 2021 3:31 am

Allo V Psycho wrote:
Sun Apr 18, 2021 3:22 pm
OK, I'll bite!

Logical positivism is a philosophical viewpoint, and to be honest, I don't really mind if philosophers debunk it.

I suspect my view may be similar to Shpalman's. I suspect that there is an observable universe out there, and under the same conditions, it will perform consistently. This makes it worth experimenting on. I'm comforted by the fact that the process of 'women and men working in science' makes demonstrable progress, and when philosophical theories change, all planes don't fall out the sky. Hell, even when theories of aerodynamics change, planes don't fall out the sky - each new theory can nest old ones within it.

I've already said I don't think 'truth' is a phenomenon I can usefully work with - I aim to make "conditional statements of probability that are useful'. I further think these CSoPtaUs have what I call 'Zones of Applicability'. I think these can be extended by positive verifications.

( I have a slightly odd personal history which may influence my views - a degree in physics, followed by a switch to biology and 25 years in the lab, followed by a switch to social sciences).
I don't want to generalize, but I think scientists are quite keen on the idea of Truth being a useful concept, even if modulated by probability (which is hardly straightforward itself). For example, they want to say things like 'it is not true that Jesus came back from the dead', or maybe, 'it is extremely unlikely that Jesus came back from the dead'. They also want to say complicated things like 'observation causes the wave function to collapse' and have them be meaningful in a way that saying something like 'the nothing annihilates itself' is not. Positivism provides a justification for this by asserting that abstract claims in e.g. quantum mechanics are founded, distantly but firmly, in sense experience, and can be rationally understood on that basis. Logical Positivism went further by actually trying to carry this reduction out, using the tools of the then new methods of mathematical logic. So, they start with basic statements whose truth or falsity is uncontroversial, and they declare the meaningful sentences to be those that can be built up from these using the formal machinery of what we now call propositional logic. The problem is that none of this works. The logical positivists themselves could not agree what kind of things the 'basic statements' (which they called 'protocol sentences') should be, it turned out to be tremendously difficult to form anything except a trivial theory with this method (Rudolph Carnap made a lot of effort in this area), and, to cap it all, the methods of formal logic are just not powerful enough. The logic problems come from the fact that propositional logic uses the 'material implication', where 'A implies B' is equivalent to 'not A or B', which is not appropriate in science where you don't want statements like 'if you build it, they will come' to be true just because you haven't built it yet.

So why does it matter that Logical Positivism is not correct? Well, on the one hand it obviously doesn't. As you point out, a lot of scientists 'believe it' in some more or less vague way, and yet science continues. Tangible advances are made that manifest as new and better technology, and so on. I have three responses to this line of thought.

First, maybe it will matter in the future. When calculus was invented by Newton and Leibnitz in the 17th century it was fundamentally incoherent. Nevertheless, it was an extremely powerful tool for solving technical problems. It was only after science had significantly advanced that the fundamental incoherence started causing big problems, and then the subject had to be rebuilt from its foundations. It is not hard to imagine that at some point in the future our understanding of the universe will have advanced to a point where the question of what it means to ‘understand the universe’ will have to be taken more seriously for more progress to be made. I believe something like this is already happening in high energy physics. I see an ongoing controversy on issues such as string theory, and the multiverse. Some commentators (e.g. Peter Woit) argue that the claims of e.g. string theory are not real science, while obviously their proponents think otherwise. Presumably it matters who is right.

Second, maybe it actually does matter even now. Yes, most working scientists can happily ignore the details of logical positivism, because the 'science industry' as it currently exists allows a lot of scope for ‘cookie cutter’ careers. Every professional understands the publishing standards of their field. It can be like a game, and the idea of Truth doesn’t have to enter into it at all. I.e. chain together statements and methods that reviewers accept, make sure p < 0.05 (or whatever) at the end, profit. Theorists have a version of this too. If anything, the administrative culture of modern academia actively encourages this approach. Many if not most working scientists happily ignore the mathematical details of the statistical methods they use. This works fine until it doesn’t, e.g. the replication crisis in psychology, significant problems in the medical literature, and so on. Now obviously, science and technology are advancing, despite these setbacks, but if there is an underlying reality, and if technological advance roughly correlates with better understanding this reality (i.e. the Realist justification of science, which has problems of its own), then presumably methods that are better equipped to understand this reality will lead to better tangible results. So the philosophical question of how scientific theories map to reality should, presumably, have some practical importance.

Finally, if these philosophical issues are unimportant because most scientists can do their jobs while ignoring them, and nothing broke down in the real world when philosophers realized logical positivism was untenable, then surely the same holds for belief in e.g. the resurrection. Religious people are just as capable of compartmentalizing their belief in miracles as scientists are of compartmentalizing their belief in logical positivism, as the actual history of religious scientists amply demonstrates. Indeed, the resurrection is only highly improbable, while logical positivism is definitely false. No cathedrals collapsed when people switched to deism either.

To head off any ‘what about pedophile priests?’ type comments, yes the power of the Church as an institution is a problem, but not one I’m talking about here.

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Re: Mocking religion

Post by secret squirrel » Mon Apr 19, 2021 4:06 am

Millennie Al wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 12:41 am
secret squirrel wrote:
Fri Apr 16, 2021 4:34 pm
The basic error in the quote is the idea that there is a thing called science that can be reasonably demarked from what scientists do.
If science is what scientists do, we have a problem...
Fortunately, nobody believes that. Science and 'what scientists do' have a complicated relationship.

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Re: Mocking religion

Post by Allo V Psycho » Mon Apr 19, 2021 8:05 am

secret squirrel wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 3:31 am


Second, maybe it actually does matter even now. Yes, most working scientists can happily ignore the details of logical positivism, because the 'science industry' as it currently exists allows a lot of scope for ‘cookie cutter’ careers. Every professional understands the publishing standards of their field. It can be like a game, and the idea of Truth doesn’t have to enter into it at all. I.e. chain together statements and methods that reviewers accept, make sure p < 0.05 (or whatever) at the end, profit.
I'm sufficiently baffled by this profoundly contemptuous view of 'most working scientists' do, that I don't really know how to respond.

Mods, perhaps it should be split off to another thread? perhaps other working scientists might like to comment.

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Re: Mocking religion

Post by secret squirrel » Mon Apr 19, 2021 8:20 am

Allo V Psycho wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 8:05 am
secret squirrel wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 3:31 am


Second, maybe it actually does matter even now. Yes, most working scientists can happily ignore the details of logical positivism, because the 'science industry' as it currently exists allows a lot of scope for ‘cookie cutter’ careers. Every professional understands the publishing standards of their field. It can be like a game, and the idea of Truth doesn’t have to enter into it at all. I.e. chain together statements and methods that reviewers accept, make sure p < 0.05 (or whatever) at the end, profit.
I'm sufficiently baffled by this profoundly contemptuous view of 'most working scientists' do, that I don't really know how to respond.

Mods, perhaps it should be split off to another thread? perhaps other working scientists might like to comment.
I think in the spirit of fairness you could try reading what I'm writing first.

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Re: Mocking religion

Post by shpalman » Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:02 am

secret squirrel wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 3:31 am
Allo V Psycho wrote:
Sun Apr 18, 2021 3:22 pm
OK, I'll bite!

Logical positivism is a philosophical viewpoint, and to be honest, I don't really mind if philosophers debunk it.

I suspect my view may be similar to Shpalman's. I suspect that there is an observable universe out there, and under the same conditions, it will perform consistently. This makes it worth experimenting on. I'm comforted by the fact that the process of 'women and men working in science' makes demonstrable progress, and when philosophical theories change, all planes don't fall out the sky. Hell, even when theories of aerodynamics change, planes don't fall out the sky - each new theory can nest old ones within it.

I've already said I don't think 'truth' is a phenomenon I can usefully work with - I aim to make "conditional statements of probability that are useful'. I further think these CSoPtaUs have what I call 'Zones of Applicability'. I think these can be extended by positive verifications.

( I have a slightly odd personal history which may influence my views - a degree in physics, followed by a switch to biology and 25 years in the lab, followed by a switch to social sciences).
I don't want to generalize, but I think scientists are quite keen on the idea of Truth being a useful concept, even if modulated by probability (which is hardly straightforward itself). For example, they want to say things like 'it is not true that Jesus came back from the dead', or maybe, 'it is extremely unlikely that Jesus came back from the dead'. They also want to say complicated things like 'observation causes the wave function to collapse' and have them be meaningful in a way that saying something like 'the nothing annihilates itself' is not. Positivism provides a justification for this by asserting that abstract claims in e.g. quantum mechanics are founded, distantly but firmly, in sense experience, and can be rationally understood on that basis. Logical Positivism went further by actually trying to carry this reduction out, using the tools of the then new methods of mathematical logic. So, they start with basic statements whose truth or falsity is uncontroversial, and they declare the meaningful sentences to be those that can be built up from these using the formal machinery of what we now call propositional logic. The problem is that none of this works. The logical positivists themselves could not agree what kind of things the 'basic statements' (which they called 'protocol sentences') should be, it turned out to be tremendously difficult to form anything except a trivial theory with this method (Rudolph Carnap made a lot of effort in this area), and, to cap it all, the methods of formal logic are just not powerful enough. The logic problems come from the fact that propositional logic uses the 'material implication', where 'A implies B' is equivalent to 'not A or B', which is not appropriate in science where you don't want statements like 'if you build it, they will come' to be true just because you haven't built it yet.
Well, that's a detailed summary of why logical positivism isn't "correct" as a way of building philosophy, but it doesn't mean it's completely useless as a way of describing science. It just demonstrates that philosophy isn't science.
secret squirrel wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 3:31 am
So why does it matter that Logical Positivism is not correct? Well, on the one hand it obviously doesn't. As you point out, a lot of scientists 'believe it' in some more or less vague way, and yet science continues. Tangible advances are made that manifest as new and better technology, and so on. I have three responses to this line of thought.

First, maybe it will matter in the future. When calculus was invented by Newton and Leibnitz in the 17th century it was fundamentally incoherent. Nevertheless, it was an extremely powerful tool for solving technical problems. It was only after science had significantly advanced that the fundamental incoherence started causing big problems, and then the subject had to be rebuilt from its foundations. It is not hard to imagine that at some point in the future our understanding of the universe will have advanced to a point where the question of what it means to ‘understand the universe’ will have to be taken more seriously for more progress to be made. I believe something like this is already happening in high energy physics.
I think it might already be happening, or indeed have happened, in the way that experiments have actually been designed and performed which rule out certain interpretations of quantum mechanics (i.e. certain kinds of hidden-variable theory) which were previously considered equally compatible with experimental behaviour as described by theory.
secret squirrel wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 3:31 am
I see an ongoing controversy on issues such as string theory, and the multiverse. Some commentators (e.g. Peter Woit) argue that the claims of e.g. string theory are not real science, while obviously their proponents think otherwise. Presumably it matters who is right.
Still waiting for them to make testable predictions, or even post-dictions, i.e. derive the properties of real particles from simpler principles in the case of string theory. (What I mean is, the Standard Model currently has a whole load of parameters which you just have to put into it, like the particle masses and coupling strengths and that... string theory wouldn't be helpful if it said that the masses and couplings came from the shapes of higher-dimensional spaces and you just have to put in the same number of parameters to describe those spaces.) What do you mean, "multiverse"? The Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics? (In the sense that this is an interpretation, it needs to be set up in such a way as to fit the theory we already have and not do anything differently, which would stick out as being wrong, i.e. it "hides" in a manner which is no better than God-of-the-gaps.) Or the idea of lots of universes with different fundamental parameters and ours is the "working" one? Again, it's hard to imagine how you would go about testing that hypothesis. And the scientific attitude is that if it makes literally no difference to anything we do, then, meh.
secret squirrel wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 3:31 am
Second, maybe it actually does matter even now. Yes, most working scientists can happily ignore the details of logical positivism, because the 'science industry' as it currently exists allows a lot of scope for ‘cookie cutter’ careers. Every professional understands the publishing standards of their field. It can be like a game, and the idea of Truth doesn’t have to enter into it at all. I.e. chain together statements and methods that reviewers accept, make sure p < 0.05 (or whatever) at the end, profit. Theorists have a version of this too. If anything, the administrative culture of modern academia actively encourages this approach. Many if not most working scientists happily ignore the mathematical details of the statistical methods they use. This works fine until it doesn’t, e.g. the replication crisis in psychology, significant problems in the medical literature, and so on. Now obviously, science and technology are advancing, despite these setbacks, but if there is an underlying reality, and if technological advance roughly correlates with better understanding this reality (i.e. the Realist justification of science, which has problems of its own), then presumably methods that are better equipped to understand this reality will lead to better tangible results. So the philosophical question of how scientific theories map to reality should, presumably, have some practical importance.


There's a lot of things thrown together in there. Trying to get "hard" results out of "soft" sciences, the problems of theorists getting carried away with their theories...

In contrast to philosophers trying and failing to figure out what 'basic statements' to start with, trying to figure out what postulates to build a physical theory on is the whole point. Ideally you want the simplest ones which let you build an interesting enough model that simulates and predicts some aspect of reality. The idea of staying simple isn't just an aesthetic choice: a model built up with lots of very specific postulates is more vulnerable to any one of them being invalidated by new data (or alternatively, postulates which literally make no difference to the outcome are just unnecessary). But of course a very simple one just won't be able to reproduce the experimental data you want to understand. We like to then imagine that the postulates and parameters of this more-or-less working model then give us Insight into what's going on in our experimental system.
secret squirrel wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 3:31 am
Finally, if these philosophical issues are unimportant because most scientists can do their jobs while ignoring them, and nothing broke down in the real world when philosophers realized logical positivism was untenable, then surely the same holds for belief in e.g. the resurrection. Religious people are just as capable of compartmentalizing their belief in miracles as scientists are of compartmentalizing their belief in logical positivism, as the actual history of religious scientists amply demonstrates. Indeed, the resurrection is only highly improbable, while logical positivism is definitely false. No cathedrals collapsed when people switched to deism either.
Yes, most people compartmentalise, or alternatively are free to choose any interpretation as long as it has no bearing on any observable consequences. They might believe in god and the power of prayer but go to the doctor anyway. Religion may have once been a way of explaining the world but now we have better ways, and religion is left to fill in the bits which literally don't matter. Of course, as soon as science arrives to fill in one of those gaps, god has to retreat from it.
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Re: Mocking religion

Post by shpalman » Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:07 am

Allo V Psycho wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 8:05 am
secret squirrel wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 3:31 am
Second, maybe it actually does matter even now. Yes, most working scientists can happily ignore the details of logical positivism, because the 'science industry' as it currently exists allows a lot of scope for ‘cookie cutter’ careers. Every professional understands the publishing standards of their field. It can be like a game, and the idea of Truth doesn’t have to enter into it at all. I.e. chain together statements and methods that reviewers accept, make sure p < 0.05 (or whatever) at the end, profit.
I'm sufficiently baffled by this profoundly contemptuous view of 'most working scientists' do, that I don't really know how to respond.

Mods, perhaps it should be split off to another thread? perhaps other working scientists might like to comment.
Split what off from what? I'm annoyed that a thread about whether it's unhelpful to communicate a true statement to a religious person is now almost entirely about science trying to philosophically justify itself, but it's an interesting discussion none the less.
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Re: Mocking religion

Post by Woodchopper » Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:16 am

shpalman wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:07 am
Allo V Psycho wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 8:05 am
secret squirrel wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 3:31 am
Second, maybe it actually does matter even now. Yes, most working scientists can happily ignore the details of logical positivism, because the 'science industry' as it currently exists allows a lot of scope for ‘cookie cutter’ careers. Every professional understands the publishing standards of their field. It can be like a game, and the idea of Truth doesn’t have to enter into it at all. I.e. chain together statements and methods that reviewers accept, make sure p < 0.05 (or whatever) at the end, profit.
I'm sufficiently baffled by this profoundly contemptuous view of 'most working scientists' do, that I don't really know how to respond.

Mods, perhaps it should be split off to another thread? perhaps other working scientists might like to comment.
Split what off from what? I'm annoyed that a thread about whether it's unhelpful to communicate a true statement to a religious person is now almost entirely about science trying to philosophically justify itself, but it's an interesting discussion none the less.
If someone wants to attract the Mods attention the best way would be to make a report. No problem reporting a thread that might need to be split.

It does seem like the subject matter of the thread has drifted. There's two of you who would like the thread split. Any objections from anyone who'd rather not?

Also, would you be able to suggest where in the previous discussion the new thread should start from? It seems to me that the discussion has slowly drifted rather than take an abrupt turn.

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Re: Mocking religion

Post by shpalman » Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:19 am

Millennie Al wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 12:50 am
secret squirrel wrote:
Sat Apr 17, 2021 2:48 am
I often joke to myself that the problem with philosophy is you can win a philosophical argument just by refusing to understand what the other person is talking about.
Well, then have a new one along those lines. If a philosopher explains philosophy to you and you understand it, they've explained it badly. If another philosopher understands it, they've explained it very badly.

As always, there's a grain of truth in it. Of his "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", Kuhn expressed the opinion that his critics' readings of his book were so inconsistent with his own understanding of it that he was "...tempted to posit the existence of two Thomas Kuhns," one the author of his book, the other the individual who had been criticized in the symposium by "Professors Popper, Feyerabend, Lakatos, Toulmin and Watkins."
Well, when the science is good, you can explain difficult ideas simply. Philosophy seems to be trying to make simple ideas incomprehensible.

Peter Harrison says he doesn't like Logical Positivism because it rules out a whole load of discourse as being meaningless, but that's part of the point of it. Russell's Teapot has no bearing whatsoever on anything so it might as well not be there, and if modern religious viewpoints are "yes it's whatever you scientists says but also God is there" then God might as well not be there either.

The "sophisticated position laid out by Ludwig Wittgenstein" which he summarises as "the forms of language are forms of life" and the meaning of propositions is to do with how we live our lives. This does not appear to be a helpful insight into the philosophy of science but I'm willing to have it explained to me.
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Re: Mocking religion

Post by shpalman » Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:23 am

Woodchopper wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:16 am
shpalman wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:07 am
Allo V Psycho wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 8:05 am


I'm sufficiently baffled by this profoundly contemptuous view of 'most working scientists' do, that I don't really know how to respond.

Mods, perhaps it should be split off to another thread? perhaps other working scientists might like to comment.
Split what off from what? I'm annoyed that a thread about whether it's unhelpful to communicate a true statement to a religious person is now almost entirely about science trying to philosophically justify itself, but it's an interesting discussion none the less.
If someone wants to attract the Mods attention the best way would be to make a report. No problem reporting a thread that might need to be split.

It does seem like the subject matter of the thread has drifted. There's two of you who would like the thread split. Any objections from anyone who'd rather not?

Also, would you be able to suggest where in the previous discussion the new thread should start from? It seems to me that the discussion has slowly drifted rather than take an abrupt turn.
Well this is the issue, I think the threads might need to be unpicked all the way back to page 2 with Warumich's post pointing out that religion sometimes changes and science sometimes doesn't.
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Re: Mocking religion

Post by lpm » Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:33 am

The thread went wrong from the start, so impossible to separate out.

It began with an attack by a humanist on religion, but was seen as a public engagement in science comment, which led to people going badly wrong in their responses. Atheism/humanism was equated with science, and science was equated with atheism/humanism. Which is self-evidently incorrect.

This founding mistake has resulted in 13 pages of muddle. I'm not sure why some got so confused; maybe because they live and breathe in the public understanding of science realm they instinctively see it wherever they look. Hence all the posts about whether "science", whatever that is, isn't in conflict with religion, while forgetting that atheism/humanism most definitely is. And the misunderstandings from not grasping that humanists attack religious institutions, leading to surprise from one person on finding out it's religious institutions being attacked...

You're not going to be able to separate out the posts and replies that are talking at cross-purposes. Including mine. Deeper down, though, it's a bit of a worry that people immediately assume attacks on religion are coming from "science". Isn't that insulting to both?
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Re: Mocking religion

Post by Woodchopper » Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:39 am

If its going to be difficult to unpick the points, perhaps people could start a new thread?

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Re: Mocking religion

Post by secret squirrel » Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:39 am

I don't see why the thread should be split. There are a few different strands to the conversation, but they all evolved naturally and are all somewhat related. It's not like a bunch of people spun it off into bum jokes or some such. I'm sure we can all handle the possibility that not literally every comment in the thread is directly relevant to every other one. I don't see why the presence of posts about philosophy prevents people from posting about science communication, or the status of the modern church in society, if they do indeed want to do that.

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Re: Mocking religion

Post by warumich » Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:56 am

shpalman wrote:
Sat Apr 17, 2021 12:40 pm

It does go both ways, though. If a philosopher of science tells me something about how scientists do science which just doesn't fit in with my experience as a scientist doing science, it can feel like "you scientists don't actually know what you are doing, let me explain it to you".
For sure, I hope that I didn't give you the impression that I've been doing that. In part that is what the whole naturalistic turn in the philosophy of science was all about, i.e. that philosophy needs to be attentive to what scientists are actually doing. Clearly not all scientists all the time (or maybe even not most of the time) are resistant to change - and thanks for the insight into your work (btw what is Roger Penrose doing these days??). But it has happened often enough for blanket statements like "science is this, religion is that" to be wrong, or at least very unhelpful oversimplifications.

Partly my original point for the purposes of this thread was that you can say the same about religion - i.e. if someone tells a religious person what religion is but which doesn't fit with their experience of religion, then they'll also feel aggrieved. And that's what it looks like some people on here have been doing.
Millennie Al wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 12:30 am
I can't claim too much credit for that - I just assumed you must have been referring to something other than the book since the date didn't match, looked at wikipedia to se what other important works it might me, rejected "The Function of Measurement..." as unlikely, so wsas forced to pick "Dogma" as it was from a symposium in 1961 (and, as you say, published in 1963).
lol, ok fair enough, sorry
Millennie Al wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 12:24 am
But we can condemn religion, even if there are some good or harmless religions. We con condemn a process as defective even when its result happens occasionally to be good.
But then what is it about the process that is condemnable? Every time an example comes up, it appears to be an individual belief / person matter. That's why I wanted to have a side discussion on what religion is - if we can isolate what makes something religious, then maybe we can isolate what exactly we're objecting to. I'm not averse to this, and despite appearances maybe, I carry no can for either any individual religion nor religion in general. However as I have looked into this professionally it appears that the people who study religion, either empirically or theoretically, have not been able to come to an agreement on what defines religion - the best they have come up with is to see it as a Wittgensteinian family relationship. (And incidentally similar things can be said about science, though I didn't really want to make this a thread about science).
Millennie Al wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 12:24 am
I was under the impression that anti-abortion religions were unlikely to be pacifist or oppose the death penalty. Not very consistent. And the reality is that there is no single point where a human starts, so we have to accept a level of arbitrariness. Refusal to accept that is one of the characteristics of religion - failure to accept reality.
Well, morally consistent on that particular point I meant, though I'm sure there's also many pacifist anti death penalty anti-abortionists out there. I agree it's arbitrary and that we'll have to muddle through this, I'm not against abortion myself, but from their point of view it would appear me who has an issue with accepting reality.

Finally,
Millennie Al wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 12:41 am
And of you don't have a reasonable idea of what science is and what religion is, then there's no basis for concluding anything about whether they're in conflict or their relative merits.
is pretty close to what I've been trying to argue!
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Re: Mocking religion

Post by Woodchopper » Mon Apr 19, 2021 10:05 am

On the thread splitting, it seems like the people who are actively participating in the thread don't have a consensus on whether splitting they'd like the thread to be split. I can see the reasons for splitting but I'm at a loss as to where the split would need to be. And splitting up circa 12 pages would take a long time. So I won't split for now.

Anyone is of course welcome to start a new thread whenever you like.

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Re: Mocking religion

Post by warumich » Mon Apr 19, 2021 10:17 am

Woodchopper wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 10:05 am
On the thread splitting, it seems like the people who are actively participating in the thread don't have a consensus on whether splitting they'd like the thread to be split. I can see the reasons for splitting but I'm at a loss as to where the split would need to be. And splitting up circa 12 pages would take a long time. So I won't split for now.

Anyone is of course welcome to start a new thread whenever you like.
Sorry, while I was posting I made a cup of coffee, had a discussion with a colleague and generally did other stuff, so I missed out on the whole thread splitting discussion. I don't care either way.
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Re: Mocking religion

Post by Millennie Al » Tue Apr 20, 2021 12:49 am

warumich wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:56 am
Millennie Al wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 12:24 am
But we can condemn religion, even if there are some good or harmless religions. We con condemn a process as defective even when its result happens occasionally to be good.
But then what is it about the process that is condemnable? Every time an example comes up, it appears to be an individual belief / person matter. That's why I wanted to have a side discussion on what religion is - if we can isolate what makes something religious, then maybe we can isolate what exactly we're objecting to.
Well, I know what I mean by religion. It means a primacy of belief. A way of deciding what is true based on looking inwardly to ones feelings, following what others say, and things like visions which are supposed to be communications from something divine (see Joseph Smith of the Mormons for quite a lot of this in relatively modern times). Religious beliefs are generally seen as conclusive and unchanging.

And by science I mean a way of deciding what is true by observing the world and drawing conclusions from it. Nothing is certain, though things which are well established need more evidence to overturn. While science is obviously very keen on learing from others, it's not the same as for religion as in principle anyone can test anything they read to check it, while in religion it is either considered unnecessary to check or positively blasphemous. A scientific belief is only considered worthwhile if it has been tested after being formulated from the initial observations to check that it is reliable.

Consequently, from time to time a religious belief comes in conflict with science, and loses. Probably the most famous being the Earth being fixed versus the Earth orbiting the Sun. Insofar as religious beliefs are based on observations, they are leaps to a conclusion which is then very difficult to change as further observations are not considered important, whereas science does not particularly privilege older observations over newer ones. Having decided that the geocentric universe was wrong in favour of a heliocentic one, science had no problem as it gradually decided that even that was wrong and the Sun is just a star.

An example of belief versus truth in science is Einstein's belief that there shouldn't be randomness in quantum mechanics. The religious approach would have been to merely take a stand on the belief or look back to older traditions or scriptures, but he took the science-base approach of trying to show an inconsistency in the theory or how it must deviate from reality.
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Re: Mocking religion

Post by Martin_B » Tue Apr 20, 2021 4:36 am

I try to distinguish between religious belief and religion.

I have no problem with someone who wants or needs to believe in God (or gods) if it helps them cope with life, the universe and everything. As long as they don't try to make me believe in their invisible friend(s) I'm happy for them to continue.

To me, religion is the binding together of people with similar beliefs into a bigger unit. That unit can be used for good (religions often perform charity work more effectively than a similar number of individuals could) or for bad (when that unit decides that people with different, or no, beliefs are lesser and need to be punished).

So condemning religion isn't something which I would ever give a blanket yay or nay to, unless it's someone like the Westboro Baptists who don't appear to have any redeeming qualities that I can see.
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Re: Mocking religion

Post by secret squirrel » Tue Apr 20, 2021 6:40 am

shpalman wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:02 am
Well, that's a detailed summary of why logical positivism isn't "correct" as a way of building philosophy, but it doesn't mean it's completely useless as a way of describing science. It just demonstrates that philosophy isn't science.
I’m not sure what you mean by this. The logical positivists were scientists. For example, Moritz Schlick’s phd was supervised by Max Planck. He communicated with Einstein about relativity. They had the same basic attitude as you, which I see as being something like ‘we scientists basically understand each other and are, in general, talking sense, while those philosophers are clearly generally talking nonsense’. What distinguished the logical positivists was that they set out to prove this, but in doing so ended up proving instead that the attitude was incoherent. Now you can ignore this and maintain it anyway. Nobody can force you to follow an argument if you don't want to. But it does seem a bit, lets say, dogmatic.

shpalman wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:02 am
I think it might already be happening, or indeed have happened, in the way that experiments have actually been designed and performed which rule out certain interpretations of quantum mechanics (i.e. certain kinds of hidden-variable theory) which were previously considered equally compatible with experimental behaviour as described by theory.
It sometimes happens that the background theory changes so that what experiment had previously ruled out becomes ruled in again. I'm not saying this will happen here, but the point is that individual claims are not decided by experiments, but claims, experiments and theories interact with each other in a complex way. But yes of course the fact that 'science' as broadly understood tries to test and refine itself with experiment is obviously significant.

shpalman wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:02 am
Still waiting for them to make testable predictions, or even post-dictions, i.e. derive the properties of real particles from simpler principles in the case of string theory. (What I mean is, the Standard Model currently has a whole load of parameters which you just have to put into it, like the particle masses and coupling strengths and that... string theory wouldn't be helpful if it said that the masses and couplings came from the shapes of higher-dimensional spaces and you just have to put in the same number of parameters to describe those spaces.) What do you mean, "multiverse"? The Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics? (In the sense that this is an interpretation, it needs to be set up in such a way as to fit the theory we already have and not do anything differently, which would stick out as being wrong, i.e. it "hides" in a manner which is no better than God-of-the-gaps.) Or the idea of lots of universes with different fundamental parameters and ours is the "working" one? Again, it's hard to imagine how you would go about testing that hypothesis. And the scientific attitude is that if it makes literally no difference to anything we do, then, meh.
By the multiverse I mean this. It seems like here your argument is to deny that people like Ed Witten, Sean Carroll etc. can possibly have a point. But to do this you're asserting some philosophical positions which are, far from being universally accepted, precisely the ones that are under debate. I mean, I'm not saying you're wrong, but there are some big problems with trying to found science on 'testability', and the string theorists believe they are 'doing science' despite not producing much in the way of testable hypotheses, as you say.

Is the scientific attitude really that 'if it makes no difference to anything we do, then meh'? What about research into the earliest moments of the universe and the like? What about biological research into classifying species? I'm not a physicist, or a biologist, so please excuse me if my examples are not quite right, but it does seem to me that many scientists are motivated by a desire to know, to paraphrase Aristotle, irrespective of whether it produces some tangible result in the world or not.

shpalman wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:02 am
There's a lot of things thrown together in there. Trying to get "hard" results out of "soft" sciences, the problems of theorists getting carried away with their theories...

In contrast to philosophers trying and failing to figure out what 'basic statements' to start with, trying to figure out what postulates to build a physical theory on is the whole point. Ideally you want the simplest ones which let you build an interesting enough model that simulates and predicts some aspect of reality. The idea of staying simple isn't just an aesthetic choice: a model built up with lots of very specific postulates is more vulnerable to any one of them being invalidated by new data (or alternatively, postulates which literally make no difference to the outcome are just unnecessary). But of course a very simple one just won't be able to reproduce the experimental data you want to understand. We like to then imagine that the postulates and parameters of this more-or-less working model then give us Insight into what's going on in our experimental system.
I'm not sure exactly what you mean by contrasting the physicists approach to postulates with that of the philosophers. We're talking philosophy of science here, not German idealism. Contrary to your reply to someone else a bit earlier, philosophers of science aren't going out of their way to make things more complicated. Just like physicists in the early 20th century didn't set out to confuse everyone's notions of time and space out of perversity. It turns out that when you think about things hard enough, you realize they are more complicated then they originally appeared.
shpalman wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:02 am
Yes, most people compartmentalise, or alternatively are free to choose any interpretation as long as it has no bearing on any observable consequences. They might believe in god and the power of prayer but go to the doctor anyway. Religion may have once been a way of explaining the world but now we have better ways, and religion is left to fill in the bits which literally don't matter. Of course, as soon as science arrives to fill in one of those gaps, god has to retreat from it.
Our best physical theories are pretty bizarre though. I mean, there are still a hell of a lot of gaps. A lot of parameters and initial conditions had to be 'just so' or close to it for any of this to work out. This isn't really an argument for the rationality of religion as such, but to me it's completely understandable that a person could feel that something important is missing from our understanding. Religion seems to offer a way to make sense of the universe, while science, though offering better and better explanations of how it works, gets further away from sense on a human scale.

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Re: Mocking religion

Post by shpalman » Tue Apr 20, 2021 8:38 am

secret squirrel wrote:
Tue Apr 20, 2021 6:40 am
shpalman wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:02 am
Well, that's a detailed summary of why logical positivism isn't "correct" as a way of building philosophy, but it doesn't mean it's completely useless as a way of describing science. It just demonstrates that philosophy isn't science.
I’m not sure what you mean by this. The logical positivists were scientists. For example, Moritz Schlick’s phd was supervised by Max Planck. He communicated with Einstein about relativity. They had the same basic attitude as you, which I see as being something like ‘we scientists basically understand each other and are, in general, talking sense, while those philosophers are clearly generally talking nonsense’. What distinguished the logical positivists was that they set out to prove this, but in doing so ended up proving instead that the attitude was incoherent. Now you can ignore this and maintain it anyway. Nobody can force you to follow an argument if you don't want to. But it does seem a bit, lets say, dogmatic.
Yes, Moritz Schlick had science training, but he then seemed to want to apply that to "fix" philosophy itself, rather than developing a philosophy of science. I contend that logical positivism isn't useless as a philosophy of science. If philosophy can't be fixed, well, that's philosophy's problem.
secret squirrel wrote:
Tue Apr 20, 2021 6:40 am
shpalman wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:02 am
I think it might already be happening, or indeed have happened, in the way that experiments have actually been designed and performed which rule out certain interpretations of quantum mechanics (i.e. certain kinds of hidden-variable theory) which were previously considered equally compatible with experimental behaviour as described by theory.
It sometimes happens that the background theory changes so that what experiment had previously ruled out becomes ruled in again. I'm not saying this will happen here, but the point is that individual claims are not decided by experiments, but claims, experiments and theories interact with each other in a complex way. But yes of course the fact that 'science' as broadly understood tries to test and refine itself with experiment is obviously significant.

Here I'm just saying that the line between verifiable science and "metaphysics" may shift with time, and ideas which were previously considered metaphysical can become testable.
secret squirrel wrote:
Tue Apr 20, 2021 6:40 am
shpalman wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:02 am
Still waiting for them to make testable predictions, or even post-dictions, i.e. derive the properties of real particles from simpler principles in the case of string theory. (What I mean is, the Standard Model currently has a whole load of parameters which you just have to put into it, like the particle masses and coupling strengths and that... string theory wouldn't be helpful if it said that the masses and couplings came from the shapes of higher-dimensional spaces and you just have to put in the same number of parameters to describe those spaces.) What do you mean, "multiverse"? The Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics? (In the sense that this is an interpretation, it needs to be set up in such a way as to fit the theory we already have and not do anything differently, which would stick out as being wrong, i.e. it "hides" in a manner which is no better than God-of-the-gaps.) Or the idea of lots of universes with different fundamental parameters and ours is the "working" one? Again, it's hard to imagine how you would go about testing that hypothesis. And the scientific attitude is that if it makes literally no difference to anything we do, then, meh.
By the multiverse I mean this.
Well it doesn't seem to me that there's anything to argue against. That blog already explains the problems with string theory and the multiverse.
secret squirrel wrote:
Tue Apr 20, 2021 6:40 am
It seems like here your argument is to deny that people like Ed Witten, Sean Carroll etc. can possibly have a point.
It's generally better if you post the point that the people could have, and not the names of the people who possibly have a point.
secret squirrel wrote:
Tue Apr 20, 2021 6:40 am
But to do this you're asserting some philosophical positions which are, far from being universally accepted, precisely the ones that are under debate. I mean, I'm not saying you're wrong, but there are some big problems with trying to found science on 'testability', and the string theorists believe they are 'doing science' despite not producing much in the way of testable hypotheses, as you say.
Well, sure that they started with a sincere desire to "explain" existing data with a "simpler" model (i.e. fewer free parameters) which could hopefully lead to testable predictions allowing it to be ruled in or out. (Like kind of what happened when all the different hadrons became understood in terms of bound states of just three quarks and three anti-quarks.) But now it seems that all the work done in string theory is self-referential and unlikely to ever make it back to reality. Doesn't mean it's wrong mathematically. Just means it's very hard to justify as a valid and useful description of what's behind particle physics.
secret squirrel wrote:
Tue Apr 20, 2021 6:40 am
Is the scientific attitude really that 'if it makes no difference to anything we do, then meh'? What about research into the earliest moments of the universe and the like? What about biological research into classifying species? I'm not a physicist, or a biologist, so please excuse me if my examples are not quite right, but it does seem to me that many scientists are motivated by a desire to know, to paraphrase Aristotle, irrespective of whether it produces some tangible result in the world or not.
I'm not saying that if it makes no difference to human experience then it's useless. "Research into the earliest moments of the universe" involves gathering data from cosmology or particle physics experiments because it's that experimental data which allows the scientists to develop and/or choose between and/or refine the theories. If a theory is completely indifferent to any experimental data which might show up, then what does the theory actually tell you?

Sure, we want to know, and as I've tried to explain we try to develop the simplest model we can so that we can try to understand, but in the end that model has to meaningfully interact with experimental data. I do believe, call it a dogma if you like, that the way to tell which theory is correct lies in getting more data about reality.
secret squirrel wrote:
Tue Apr 20, 2021 6:40 am
shpalman wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:02 am
There's a lot of things thrown together in there. Trying to get "hard" results out of "soft" sciences, the problems of theorists getting carried away with their theories...

In contrast to philosophers trying and failing to figure out what 'basic statements' to start with, trying to figure out what postulates to build a physical theory on is the whole point. Ideally you want the simplest ones which let you build an interesting enough model that simulates and predicts some aspect of reality. The idea of staying simple isn't just an aesthetic choice: a model built up with lots of very specific postulates is more vulnerable to any one of them being invalidated by new data (or alternatively, postulates which literally make no difference to the outcome are just unnecessary). But of course a very simple one just won't be able to reproduce the experimental data you want to understand. We like to then imagine that the postulates and parameters of this more-or-less working model then give us Insight into what's going on in our experimental system.
I'm not sure exactly what you mean by contrasting the physicists approach to postulates with that of the philosophers. We're talking philosophy of science here, not German idealism. Contrary to your reply to someone else a bit earlier, philosophers of science aren't going out of their way to make things more complicated. Just like physicists in the early 20th century didn't set out to confuse everyone's notions of time and space out of perversity. It turns out that when you think about things hard enough, you realize they are more complicated then they originally appeared.
We're talking about philosophy of science now, but wasn't logical positivism an attempt to apply scientific principles to philosophy itself?
secret squirrel wrote:
Tue Apr 20, 2021 6:40 am
shpalman wrote:
Mon Apr 19, 2021 9:02 am
Yes, most people compartmentalise, or alternatively are free to choose any interpretation as long as it has no bearing on any observable consequences. They might believe in god and the power of prayer but go to the doctor anyway. Religion may have once been a way of explaining the world but now we have better ways, and religion is left to fill in the bits which literally don't matter. Of course, as soon as science arrives to fill in one of those gaps, god has to retreat from it.
Our best physical theories are pretty bizarre though. I mean, there are still a hell of a lot of gaps. A lot of parameters and initial conditions had to be 'just so' or close to it for any of this to work out. This isn't really an argument for the rationality of religion as such, but to me it's completely understandable that a person could feel that something important is missing from our understanding. Religion seems to offer a way to make sense of the universe, while science, though offering better and better explanations of how it works, gets further away from sense on a human scale.
Sure they're bizarre, but whenever anyone has said "that can't be right because it would lead to <counter-intuitive result> and that's counter-intuitive" someone else has found a way to do the experiment and demonstrate that it really is right, and it really is counter-intuitive (until you spend enough time with the theory that you get better intuition, at least). That also shows that those theories aren't particularly relevant to the everyday human experience, or else we'd have developed intuitions for them by now.

Some of the 'just so' stuff does maybe hint that there ought to be a theory behind it which avoids any need for "fine tuning" but postulating a whole load of super-symmetrical partners for the Standard Model which are always visible in the next experiment at CERN but never the current one, isn't very satisfying either. But that's not the direction to go in if you want to make sense of things on a human scale. Like I said, most of us don't even need most of the Standard Model.
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Re: Mocking religion

Post by shpalman » Tue Apr 20, 2021 8:53 am

secret squirrel wrote:
Tue Apr 20, 2021 6:40 am
Our best physical theories are pretty bizarre though. I mean, there are still a hell of a lot of gaps. A lot of parameters and initial conditions had to be 'just so' or close to it for any of this to work out. This isn't really an argument for the rationality of religion as such, but to me it's completely understandable that a person could feel that something important is missing from our understanding. Religion seems to offer a way to make sense of the universe, while science, though offering better and better explanations of how it works, gets further away from sense on a human scale.
God of the gaps?

You could imagine that god set up the initial parameters of the universe such that it would "work" - allowing the formation of atoms and molecules for example - but didn't do anything else. Or you could imagine god choosing which eigenstate every wavefunction is going to collapse to (as if wavefunction collapse is even a thing) but still carefully making sure that the overall probability distribution is maintained. And there's your issue, since any god-intervenes position has to somehow build in a safeguard against being discovered by science (only happens when we're not looking, mysterious ways, only happens in complicated systems which we don't understand or can't follow) while any non-interventionist position doesn't actually make any difference.
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Re: Mocking religion

Post by warumich » Tue Apr 20, 2021 1:52 pm

I think it's pretty reasonable to start out with the assumption that people are more or less similar; you'll get individual differences but they'll average out in large groups. So in that sense I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that people, by and large, are interested in the truth (setting aside some interesting philosophical discussions maybe on what the f.ck truth is in the first place).

How do we best find out about the truth though? Science is the result of a long process of trying to work this out, by trial and error very often, and it's a process that is still in development (e.g. in statistical reasoning I believe people are still arguing about fundamental epistemological questions, s squirrel will know better). But how do we know a particular process is any good? We'd need to check this with the evidence, however how can we trust the evidence if the validity of the process isn't confirmed yet? It's chicken and egg - sociologists call this the "experimenter's regress", the philosopher/historian Hasok Chang called it "bootstrapping". Chang's book may serve as a useful example here. How did we figure out that water always boils at 100 degrees? By checking the thermometer. But thermometers were calibrated using the boiling temperature of water! It was actually quite a vexed problem, ultimately solved, but it was a long and these days quite forgotten process (Chang's book is called "inventing temperature" & highly recommended).

So, there are good and bad ways of getting at the truth, but the problem is that what is a good process is not apparent immediately. We can go by our senses, but how do we know our senses are reliable? What exactly are our senses? The evidence I perceive with my eyes is strongly felt as real, but then so is the evidence people get from visions or "feeling". We now know that visual evidence is reliable and feeling isn't, but that was a result of 400 years of bootstrapping; cast your mind back to how a perfectly reasonable person might have felt 500 years ago who would need to evaluate the evidence from a vision vs the evidence from their eyes. It is only with a considerable amount of hindsight that we can now dismiss vision as laughable evidence.

Now things have clearly changed, I wouldn't trust feeling or visions either, and we have more psychological knowledge of what the underlying processes are of having a vision vs seeing with your own actual eyes (knowledge that we have only eventually arrived at by prioritising visual evidence, so again we bootstrapped our way into this). That's fine, but then not every epistemic community will have shared in our 400 years worth of bootstrapping, and therefore while I think we can make good arguments for why our view is right and theirs is wrong, we cannot dismiss theirs as laughable or obviously deficient. Which to be fair you (Millennie) may not be doing, but my argument is that believing things because of a feeling, a vision or the word of a person you trust is just as much part of an earnest endeavour of getting at the truth as science is. Science just does it better, because it's become institutionalised as a formal process. But it is still the same kind of thing than other, less successful, attempts at getting at the truth.

Hope this all makes sense, typed in a hurry a bit as I'll have to go back into the 2021 zoom meeting hell.
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Re: Mocking religion

Post by secret squirrel » Tue Apr 20, 2021 2:02 pm

I'm going to reply to shpalman tomorrow, when I have time for a considered post. But in the meantime, in reference to warumich's post above, I took a short course on philosophy of science taught by Hasok Chang when I was doing my PhD. It was good. I remember he went into temperature.

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Re: Mocking religion

Post by shpalman » Tue Apr 20, 2021 2:16 pm

I'd welcome a deeper explanation of it, but the temperature issue seems both much simpler than that and much more complicated than that. It's simpler in that any experimentalist can obtain reasonably pure water and both freeze it* and boil it and use these as reference points which should match up with what any other experimentalist has done, assuming your water isn't contaminated and you're close enough to sea level (depending on how accurate you need to be). So you know you're using the same temperature reference points as someone else without having to meet and measure the same thing.

You could of course now decide that you have the problem of how do you know your water behaves like someone else's water, or indeed if thermodynamics behaves the same where you are compared to somewhere else, but then we do assume that physical laws don't depend on where you are (or whether you are moving with constant velocity with respect to someone else for that matter).

(It's more complicated because of what temperature actually is and how it relates to macroscopic and microscopic physical behaviour but statistical mechanics did a lot to sort that out.)

(* - the triple-point is now used.)
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