Biocentrism and the Anthropic Principle

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sanscardinality
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Postby sanscardinality » Tue Mar 13, 2007 6:23 pm

OK - meant to keep this short, but I'm a windbag so apologies in advance...

While I partially agree with caliban and WW's statements above, I don't think science and philosophy are separable any more than science and human biology are. I do think there are degrees of separation and they are related to keeping things honest. The kinds of stretches and factual incorrectness that appear to be in Lanza's work from our expert's testimony is of a different character - a willful attempt to position personal opinion as something factual that is backed by evidence is a form of deception and has no place in any field.

For an example of the more benign and often overlooked sort, I got into a long-running debate (back before I started *trying* to live by the Wilde quote in my sig) with a full-blown-young-Earth-Creationist who believed that God was essentially constantly deceiving us and so all our measurements were measurements of fraudulent data. Of course, he described this in more positive terms of "God as storyteller." His arguments about science were remarkably similar to those expressed in this thread - that it was useful for measuring "what is" in that it can be measured, but cannot go into the "why" questions without becoming philosophy. Of course, what he meant by this is that science cannot tell us the universe is old or that there wasn't a Great Flood, or that we aren't made of taffy (ok - the last one was my addition, but it fit the model). His basic argument was that interpretation isn't science, but I disagree in that any abstraction of information is interpretation, even to the degree of putting absolute values on measured phenomena (10 watts).

Compare the deceptive God argument, which cannot be refuted with evidence any more than can the statement that Elephants fly when you aren't looking, with a likely counter argument - that things really are as they seem when measured, and tend to stay that way over time. This is based in logic, evidence, and to some degree a trust in materialism as a philosophical position.

A third argument, common among Buddhists, is that there is no "thing" to thingness and all is basically form with no matter (this is an extreme simplification.) And so their views on the age of the universe may be self-contradictory because they are only discussing "relative truth" as they call it and don't see any human knowledge as really touching on actual truths. So not only are there no flying Elephants, there aren't any normal Elephants either - there's just the form of Elephants and someday you may break out of causal reality and see what's really there.

The only thing making one argument more compelling than the others is one's personal philosophical leanings, which no matter how strongly believed in as correct, cannot be proved one way or another. The data from Hubble can be understood in any of these philosophical contexts. What is absurd and not worth considering to one person, is obviously correct to another. My reaction to the "deceptive God" hypothesis is "nonsense!" but I do recognize that this reaction is philosophical - based in this case on the idea that liars are morally corrupt, and that God by definition, if He/She/It/They exist isn't morally corrupt and if He/She/It/They is morally corrupt isn't worth listening to in any case.

In our culture, I've found this tends towards a sort of materialism-plus, where the plus is some kind of vague exception clause for miracles and whatnot. In this view, mostly science is right, but there are exceptions to the rule where God does in fact act in a deceptive manner as it relates to measured evidence. In my informal canvassing, the vast majority of Americans of all or no faith fall into this camp, with the small minorities falling to the materialist or religionists extremes.

When a scientist publishes a paper that states that electrons are negatively charged or that the Earth is billions of years old, it lies upon a foundation of philosophy. This philosophy, though not a monolith, tends towards rationalism and materialism and is thoroughly embedded in the language, processes, and from what I've seen the culture of science. For my part I happened to agree with much of it and so I don't have a problem with it, but I do think it's important to recognize it.

Science is still, to me, Natural Philosophy. And it sounds so much better too.

- SC
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Oscar Wilde

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Postby Windwalker » Tue Mar 13, 2007 8:00 pm

I'll preface my reply by saying that I consider myself a rational materialist but also a non-dualist (hence my fondness for grand unified theories and integration across scales).

I don't think that science is (or should be) barred from "why" questions, on the contrary. In fact, it is the opponents of science who would prefer it not to address "why" questions and who (literally or metaphorically) burn scientists to discourage them from intruding into the "why" domain. However, science differs from philosophy or religion because it qualifies its replies to "why" by adding "to the best of our present knowledge, based on observation and/or experiments." This is one reason why non-scientists often find scientists frustrating: they refuse to become high priests and pronounce absolutes.

If you decide that there is no objective reality, then indeed all arguments are reduced to personal predilections and become compelling solely on the basis of their aesthetic appeal. However, I think that a tree falling out of sight still falls -- and a supernova still explodes and collapses, even if we don't see it because it's thousands of light years away. We know it did, because the light and radiation from its explosion eventually reach us and we all see it, not just those who agree with the theory of star formation.

Personally, I also like the expression Natural Philosophy, since philosophy means liking of wisdom. Of course, that is a revisionist take on both terms: in my view, everything is included in the term "natural" and hence, as I said at the start of this post, nothing is beyond scientific inquiry.
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Postby caliban » Tue Mar 13, 2007 8:50 pm

sanscardinality wrote:While I partially agree with caliban and WW's statements above, I don't think science and philosophy are separable

I agree there are philosophical assumptions underlying science--the ones you point out. And it indeed can be dangerous to make the mistake of "naive realism," which many scientists, especially physicists, are prone to: that science is reality and that's that, no questions asked; an assumption of a Platonic reality that we passively discover. (It's this poor metaphysics that leads so many scientists and engineers to favor the passive voice, as it creates the illusion there is no one behind the curtain. A big mistake in my book.)

But it is critical to note that there is something above and beyond philosophy in science--the reliance on reproducible observation and experiment. Otherwise you descend into "naive rhetoricism," the idea that science is merely another discourse like philosophy, politics, ethics, and so on. Such mistaken ideas leads both postmodernist leftists and Biblical fundamentalists to dismiss science as mere argument.

It is important to remind scientists that they do have implicit philosophical assumptions in their work. It is equally important to remind philosophers that science really, truly, does work differently.
"Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work." --Thomas A. Edison

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Postby sanscardinality » Tue Mar 13, 2007 10:30 pm

Windwalker wrote:I'll preface my reply by saying that I consider myself a rational materialist but also a non-dualist (hence my fondness for grand unified theories and integration across scales).


Thanks for the reply! I'm sure these are discussions you've had before (both you and caliban) and I really do appreciate your taking time to have them again with me.

I don't think that science is (or should be) barred from "why" questions, on the contrary. In fact, it is the opponents of science who would prefer it not to address "why" questions and who (literally or metaphorically) burn scientists to discourage them from intruding into the "why" domain. However, science differs from philosophy or religion because it qualifies its replies to "why" by adding "to the best of our present knowledge, based on observation and/or experiments." This is one reason why non-scientists often find scientists frustrating: they refuse to become high priests and pronounce absolutes.


I agree wholeheartedly with your views here. However, I have met and read scientists who are exceedingly arrogant (none in the present company) and position themselves very similarly to high priests. Dawkins comes to mind. I find that they discredit themselves in so doing, and cast a poor light on science as a whole when engaging in rhetoric.

If you decide that there is no objective reality, then indeed all arguments are reduced to personal predilections and become compelling solely on the basis of their aesthetic appeal. However, I think that a tree falling out of sight still falls -- and a supernova still explodes and collapses, even if we don't see it because it's thousands of light years away. We know it did, because the light and radiation from its explosion eventually reach us and we all see it, not just those who agree with the theory of star formation.


I agree with your interpretation, but this is due to a at least partially shared philosophical perspective. I don't think the other arguments are feasible, but they cannot be disproven scientifically. The universe could be 6000 years old with a God that produced these phenomena in such a way as to appear older, and there wouldn't necessarily be any direct evidence of it, but I don't think that argument holds up philosophically thought that is where it must be countered.

Personally, I also like the expression Natural Philosophy, since philosophy means liking of wisdom. Of course, that is a revisionist take on both terms: in my view, everything is included in the term "natural" and hence, as I said at the start of this post, nothing is beyond scientific inquiry.


Agreed. But that agreement is a statement of faith of a sort - until we know everything we won't have evidence that we can know everything. It reminds me of Plato's comments about Utopia - while it appears impossible, every person of conscience must attempt it.

SC
Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.



Oscar Wilde

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Postby sanscardinality » Tue Mar 13, 2007 10:37 pm

caliban wrote:But it is critical to note that there is something above and beyond philosophy in science--the reliance on reproducible observation and experiment. Otherwise you descend into "naive rhetoricism," the idea that science is merely another discourse like philosophy, politics, ethics, and so on. Such mistaken ideas leads both postmodernist leftists and Biblical fundamentalists to dismiss science as mere argument.


I agree completely. Science is special and unique, though still a human undertaking and therefore imperfect. In a way it is similar to having laws that can be edited by the subjects of those laws as opposed to a "divine" law that cannot change despite evidence. I don't think it's a coincidence that these two movements took off in the same time and place.

It is important to remind scientists that they do have implicit philosophical assumptions in their work. It is equally important to remind philosophers that science really, truly, does work differently.


The proof is in the pudding, and I have trouble coming up with a significant contribution to human progress from philosophy in recent decades while science has made vast leaps. Science is truly different than philosophy or religion and those who equate them generally have a dogmatic ax to grind.

Thanks again for the conversation!

SC
Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.



Oscar Wilde

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Postby caliban » Tue Mar 13, 2007 11:11 pm

sanscardinality wrote: In a way it [science] is similar to having laws that can be edited by the subjects of those laws as opposed to a "divine" law that cannot change despite evidence. I don't think it's a coincidence that these two movements took off in the same time and place.

I agree. Although this is surely a simplified viewpoint, I think it no coincidence that Aristotle postulated a stratified, hierachal cosmos at a time with a stratified, hierarchal society, and that Newton's universal laws arrived during the Enlightenment and burgeoning ideas of political equality.

sanscardinality wrote: However, I have met and read scientists who are exceedingly arrogant (none in the present company) and position themselves very similarly to high priests. Dawkins comes to mind.

Yeah, well, Dawkins particularly irritates me, so you'll get no argument here.
"Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work." --Thomas A. Edison

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Postby Windwalker » Tue Mar 13, 2007 11:15 pm

caliban wrote:
sanscardinality wrote: However, I have met and read scientists who are exceedingly arrogant (none in the present company) and position themselves very similarly to high priests. Dawkins comes to mind.

Yeah, well, Dawkins particularly irritates me, so you'll get no argument here.

Me, three. I'll indulge in a lengthy rant about memes at some point!
For I come from an ardent race
That has subsisted on defiance and visions.


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