"Can we talk" about

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gregorach
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Re: "Can we talk" about

Post: # 257659Post gregorach »

Zech wrote:For those not familiar with parallax, Cephid variables, supernovae and red shifts, the way of knowing how far away the stars are is not based on empirical evidence, it's based on believing what someone says. The fact that the results of science are in principle knowable directly - i.e. you could take the measurements and do the calculations for yourself if you wanted to - becomes increasingly remote as science becomes more advanced.
I'm sorry, but there is a huge difference between knowledge which is "in principle knowable directly", and that which is merely based on "believing what someone says". The fact that most people don't actually do a physics degree (I did by the way) doesn't mean that physics isn't based on empirical evidence, it just means that most people get it second-hand. There is, of course, vastly more knowledge in the world than anyone could ever acquire directly in a million lifetimes, but that doesn't render it all equivalent to things taken merely on faith.

Whilst it's true that I could never come up with the equipment necessary to independently derive quantum mechanics, I have access to other evidence that it is a reasonably accurate model of reality - namely that the computer which I'm using to create this message, and all the intervening electronics, fibre-optics, and so forth which delivers it to you, actually works. If our collective understanding of quantum mechanics was significantly wrong, then we wouldn't be able to build functioning systems which rely on its principles. Similarly, I know relativity must be tolerably accurate by the simple fact that my GPS works.

I never get tired of seeing people using the internet to argue that science is just another belief system... It's like seeing the Flat Earth Society launch their own satellite. :icon_smile:
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Dunc

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Re: "Can we talk" about

Post: # 257667Post Zech »

gregorach wrote:The fact that most people don't actually do a physics degree (I did by the way) doesn't mean that physics isn't based on empirical evidence
That's not what I said. I was emphasising the experience of someone with little science education, whose only access to science is via journalists. The way that person receives information is through reports that "Scientists say..." When deciding whether to believe what scientists say, that person has only a vague understanding of how scientists reach their conclusions. Their judgement about the reliability of science might take science as a whole, in which case reasoning might go along the lines of, "Computers and sat navs work, which is pretty good evidence that science is right, so I'll generally believe what scientists say," (I'm tempted to reference an xkcd comic here, but don't want to be that confrontational. Perhaps you know the one :wink: ) or alternatively might be something like, "I can see that electronics work, but that's a very different question from how far away the stars are or how old the universe is. I cannot imagine how you could answer those questions, so I'm not sure whether to believe scientists about that kind of thing."

My point is that people who don't understand science have to make a judgement about whether to believe scientists or not.
For someone to understand that "what scientists say" is second-hand empirical evidence, it helps if they have a reasonably good understanding of how empirical evidence works, i.e. how science works, in the first place. That understanding is lacking for most people*, so they must use other information to decide whether to believe scientists or not.

*Sorry if I'm being terribly patronising here, I just don't think our education system does a very good job of conveying the basic principles of the scientific method.
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Re: "Can we talk" about

Post: # 257669Post gregorach »

Ah, I see that I was misinterpreting the initial "For those not familiar with" bit... In which case, fair enough. Yes, to someone largely ignorant of science, it is just a matter of hearsay. And yes, I'd agree that the education system does a terrible job in this regard.

However, that matter is entirely distinct from whether the knowledge itself is valid and empirically grounded, which is what my original comment was addressing. Science genuinely allows us to know stuff. The fact that most people are woefully ignorant of the details is their problem, not science's, and is no justification for questioning the validity of the science itself. As the saying goes, "Your ignorance is not evidence". :wink: Which is what we mostly seem to see in these debates - "I don't know the details, and I can't be bothered finding out, so I'm just going make stuff up and claim that it's true and that all these so-called experts don't know any better anyway." Usually with a bit of "Well, science has been wrong before" thrown in for good measure...
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Re: "Can we talk" about

Post: # 257684Post Zech »

gregorach wrote:However, that matter is entirely distinct from whether the knowledge itself is valid and empirically grounded, which is what my original comment was addressing. Science genuinely allows us to know stuff.
On that point I completely agree with you.
gregorach wrote: The fact that most people are woefully ignorant of the details is their problem, not science's, and is no justification for questioning the validity of the science itself.
This is very true, but...
gregorach wrote:"I don't know the details, and I can't be bothered finding out, so I'm just going make stuff up and claim that it's true and that all these so-called experts don't know any better anyway." Usually with a bit of "Well, science has been wrong before" thrown in for good measure...
... I think this caricature is a little harsh. "Can't be bothered" implies that it wouldn't take much effort to find out, whereas in fact some of this stuff is really difficult. We live in a culture in which every opinion is valid, which doesn't exactly encourage respect for "opinions" that rest on centuries of accumulated scientific knowledge, as distinct from those which just feel right :wink:
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Re: "Can we talk" about

Post: # 257686Post gregorach »

Zech wrote:
gregorach wrote:"I don't know the details, and I can't be bothered finding out, so I'm just going make stuff up and claim that it's true and that all these so-called experts don't know any better anyway." Usually with a bit of "Well, science has been wrong before" thrown in for good measure...
... I think this caricature is a little harsh. "Can't be bothered" implies that it wouldn't take much effort to find out, whereas in fact some of this stuff is really difficult.
"A little harsh"? Moi?

Yeah, yeah, OK... :icon_smile:

Sorry, radical epistemic relativism gets right on my nerves. I didn't learn all that bloody calculus to be dismissed by some middle-class drop-out pretending to be a shaman. :wink:

Of course, it all goes out the window the instant something breaks down... You don't see many holistic alternative plumbers out there, do you?
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Re: "Can we talk" about

Post: # 257688Post demi »

i was watching a program on discovery science a while ago which was about why some people experience 'out of body' or godly experiences.
basically there was a neuro-scientist who had pin pointed the part in the brain which is responsible for making us believe we've experienced something 'supernatural' and he was stimulating this part in the brain on some volunteers, who already had belief in god or the supernatural, and he was making them hallucinate and believe they have experienced something 'other worldly'. all of the volunteers related what they had experienced to something 'supernatural', saying things like 'i feel a presence beside me' .
so there is scientific and biological explanation as to why some people truly believe something divine had happened to them 'touched by god!' or whatever.
im completely atheist and even i have felt strange things like this sometimes, although i dont think its happened when iv been sober........
the human mind plays tricks on you, it guesses and draws conclusions on what you're experiencing without having all the information. and iv you are expecting something to happen, you're brain will make you believe it has when in fact there is a rational explanation for everything


also, have any of you read the book 'the trouble with physics' ?
especially you Dunc, seeing your a physicist, it would be good to have a knowledgeable opinion on it.
in case you havent read it, its about string theory and why its so flawed. very interesting read, although bits of it were completely over my head, im still not entirely sure what string theory is, but its my understanding neither are the physicists working on it. :lol:
still its fascinating.

im currently reading 'in search of schrodinger's cat'. im sure you'll of heard of it. iv heard lots of physics jokes referring to it.
also, does anyone watch 'the big band theory' ? i dont usually do sit-coms , but i cant help but laugh :iconbiggrin:
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Re: "Can we talk" about

Post: # 257690Post MKG »

I find myself in complete agreement with Dunc. It's taken me an hour to get over that :iconbiggrin:

I just can't see this "it's very difficult to find out what's right" nonsense. Yes, some science is hard. Yes, some modern science appears to be wandering into the realms of the esoteric. But that's no reason for anyone to jump in with both feet and claim that science is a matter of "belief" merely because they don't understand. If someone can't be bothered because the concepts are too hard, then tough - it doesn't alter the validity of the scientific method, nor does it convey some strangely-derived right to question what is not understood.

Science is not always "right". But what it certainly does is approach correctness ever more accurately. The maths went over my head a long time ago - I simply cannot imagine a 10-dimensional matrix, for instance. But I'm not about to question the existence of such a thing, even though it appears to produce concepts which look, superficially, to be the stuff of imagination. As Dunc says, that's MY problem and, if I really want to understand fully, then I'll have to put in the work on the maths. What I won't do is say "Those scientists are just making stuff up".

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Re: "Can we talk" about

Post: # 257691Post demi »

i agree.
anyone can learn about science if they want to. and its not like its an elite secret society, science is everywhere at the moment. just watch the discovery channels, and there's all those programs with the lovely Brian Cox 'wonders of the universe' and 'stargazing live' ect. and there are loads of books for the lay parson out there. it doesnt have to be like learning in school, you can pick and choose the bits that are interesting to you, the specific stuff you want to learn about. and everybody has the internet now, it only takes a couple of minuets to google something.
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Re: "Can we talk" about

Post: # 257693Post gregorach »

demi wrote:also, have any of you read the book 'the trouble with physics' ?
especially you Dunc, seeing your a physicist, it would be good to have a knowledgeable opinion on it.
in case you havent read it, its about string theory and why its so flawed. very interesting read, although bits of it were completely over my head, im still not entirely sure what string theory is, but its my understanding neither are the physicists working on it. :lol:
still its fascinating.
I haven't read it, no... And anything approaching a proper understanding of string theory is a very long way beyond my grasp. But the basic concepts don't seem entirely unreasonable... As I understand it, the problem is that we currently have a bunch of different versions of string theory with no means to test any of them, or really tell them apart. People seem to get terribly upset about that, but as far as I can tell it's just part of the whole process of developing the theory. It may turn out to provide the keys to understanding quantum gravity, thereby unifying quantum mechanics and general relativity, or it may turn out to be a load of pointless theoretical diddling that doesn't actually mean anything. Either way, I'm pretty confident it will all come out in the wash eventually.
MKG wrote:I find myself in complete agreement with Dunc. It's taken me an hour to get over that :iconbiggrin:
Sorry to discombobulate you Mike, I'll try to be more disagreeable in future. :iconbiggrin:
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Dunc

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Re: "Can we talk" about

Post: # 257697Post demi »

gregorach wrote:
demi wrote:also, have any of you read the book 'the trouble with physics' ?
especially you Dunc, seeing your a physicist, it would be good to have a knowledgeable opinion on it.
in case you havent read it, its about string theory and why its so flawed. very interesting read, although bits of it were completely over my head, im still not entirely sure what string theory is, but its my understanding neither are the physicists working on it. :lol:
still its fascinating.
I haven't read it, no... And anything approaching a proper understanding of string theory is a very long way beyond my grasp. But the basic concepts don't seem entirely unreasonable... As I understand it, the problem is that we currently have a bunch of different versions of string theory with no means to test any of them, or really tell them apart. People seem to get terribly upset about that, but as far as I can tell it's just part of the whole process of developing the theory. It may turn out to provide the keys to understanding quantum gravity, thereby unifying quantum mechanics and general relativity, or it may turn out to be a load of pointless theoretical diddling that doesn't actually mean anything. Either way, I'm pretty confident it will all come out in the wash eventually.
the author of the book used to work on string theory but gave up and moved onto other things because of the flaws in the theory. he says the physicists working on it have spent their whole life on this and cant face packing it in.
in all the different divisions in the the theory it takes up like 100 pieces of paper to write out the equations and they dont seem to get consistent answers when they work through it.

from what iv understood the strings make up the quarks, and the strings are like elastic bands which vibrate like a guitar string , snapping into strings then reforming into loops, some of which can join together into double loops. and they exist on a multi dimensional plain and there is much debate on how many dimensions there are, 9 or 11 or 12 ???depending on which equation is being used, and something about super symmetry???? if i read the book again maybe id understand it better....... but maybe not :lol:
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Re: "Can we talk" about

Post: # 257698Post gregorach »

demi wrote:the author of the book used to work on string theory but gave up and moved onto other things because of the flaws in the theory. he says the physicists working on it have spent their whole life on this and cant face packing it in.
in all the different divisions in the the theory it takes up like 100 pieces of paper to write out the equations and they dont seem to get consistent answers when they work through it.
Well, maybe he'll turn out to be right, everyone will realise that it was all a pointless dead-end, and he'll be remembered as a visionary... Or maybe he'll turn out to be wrong, the problems in string theory will be resolved, a nobody will remember him at all. Only time will tell. I certainly wouldn't want to try and call it either way at the moment.
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Re: "Can we talk" about

Post: # 257705Post KathyLauren »

Zech wrote: My point is that people who don't understand science have to make a judgement about whether to believe scientists or not.
For someone to understand that "what scientists say" is second-hand empirical evidence, it helps if they have a reasonably good understanding of how empirical evidence works, i.e. how science works, in the first place. That understanding is lacking for most people*, so they must use other information to decide whether to believe scientists or not.
gregorach wrote:"I don't know the details, and I can't be bothered finding out, so I'm just going make stuff up and claim that it's true and that all these so-called experts don't know any better anyway." Usually with a bit of "Well, science has been wrong before" thrown in for good measure...
I agree with you both.

Non-scientists have to use some means other than science to judge the validity of scientific discoveries. The reasonable way, in a world where most people were honest, was to take the scientist's word for it. A better way would, of course be to learn some science. Now, of course, you also have to separate the scientists from the charlatans.

Unfortunately, due to lack of decent education, people become used to BS-ing their way through life. The science teachers in schools, who don't know the subject themselves, BS their way through teaching the course, and the students not only learn no science, but they learn that BS-ing your way through life is normal. It is what everyone does. So, when they encouter some scientific discovery, their first reaction is to assume that the scientist is BS-ing, because that's how the world works. So, perhaps independently, or perhaps under the influence of corporate propaganda, they BS their own views. After all, if it's all BS, why should my BS be any less valid than theirs?

And that is the state of science in the general public today, unfortunately.

It is tempting to dismiss the BS-ers as ignorant and to keep them out of the discussion. The problem is that their views then become the mainstream, through the sheer contagiousness of ignorance. Those who understand science have an obligation to teach the public and to oppose ignorance.

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Re: "Can we talk" about

Post: # 257706Post demi »

KeithBC wrote: Those who understand science have an obligation to teach the public and to oppose ignorance.

and thats why i love Brian Cox! go Brain go Brain ! :love5: :love5:
Last edited by demi on Tue Apr 03, 2012 5:36 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: "Can we talk" about

Post: # 257707Post demi »

haha! have you seen this one?

wonders on the stoner system spoof:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30ruBtLI ... re=related

:lol: :lol: :lol:
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'If you just close your eyes and block your ears, to the acumulated knowlage of the last 2000 years,
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Re: "Can we talk" about

Post: # 257714Post The Riff-Raff Element »

KeithBC wrote: Those who understand science have an obligation to teach the public and to oppose ignorance.
Yes, but this doesn't get around the point as I think Zech was making (Zech - tell me to shove it if I've got this wrong). Poeple can go and learn about science and become less ignorant and that is wonderful. In my field I like my science tough & chewy, but out of it I am as fond of pop science as the next person - small, pre-chewed, mouthfuls that hit the high points à la Brian Cox.

Most people are not in position to test what they are being told by scientists either through a lack of means or of ability or of education. We can hurumph as much as we like about how marvellously scrupulous the scientific community is (though, of course, it science is no more exempt from fraud than any other profession) but it is inescapable that most of us (and I include myself) take a lot of what we are told is scientific "fact" on faith.

Scientists do make things up, but we call it "hypothesising," and if we're being good we tread very carefully until we can get some good results to back up what we think is going on.

Sometimes, of course, we get a little bit carried away with the shear elegance of an hypothesis and start to treat it a bit too much like a fact and use it to build more hypothesis which is very naughty. This seems to happen quite a lot in the more difficult-to-explore regions of the scientific spectrum like particle physics and cosmology, but I speak only as an outsider looking in rather than as a participant.

Hence, the practice of science does have aspects associated with religions, including this: only an elite few have the means to establish the "truth" empirically and everyone else must take it on faith. This is not a bad or a good thing; it just is.

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