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Re: Social Science, Science, and Empirical Study
by francesco ranci
10 July 2002 13:05 UTC
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From my point of view Deterministic Laws and
Probabilistic Laws are different in that the former
are made of one verbal construction (examples: "men
die", "men speak", "men eat") while the latter use
more than one ("men live or die", "men speak English,
Italian, Chinese, or other languages", "men eat a
fraction of one, one, two, three, or more times every


--- Mike Alexander <malexan@net-link.net> wrote:
> [Luke:]  This is a very good description [of chaos]
> you've given here. It does raise a question though;
> doesn't Complexity, Chaos, & Heisenberg (to some
> extent) represent really a paradigm shift from the
> radically-empiricist, positivized, deterministic,
> materialistic, et al, Science of yesteryear to the
> Science of today? . 
> [Mike:]  No, I don't see one, at least not in the
> Kuhnian sense.  Quantum mechanics certainly was a
> paradigm change but that's almost 80 years ago,
> hardly recent.  Complexity and Chaos are not new in
> a fundamental sense.  What was new (about 40 years
> ago) was the realization of just how complex a
> behavior can result from extremely simple nonlinear
> equations.  Chaos refers to the seemingly random
> behavior that can result from a very deterministic
> process  (e.g. my billiard example) Complexity is
> the study of seemingly random patterns for what
> might lie underneath.
> In Chaos the process that creates the seemingly
> random pattern is not random; it is
> deterministic--but it looks random.  Could it be
> that other things, that look random might actually
> it be controlled by some underlying deterministic
> "law".  People who study complexity are trying to
> find such hypothetical laws.  So far little has come
> out of chaos or complexity, and perhaps nothing ever
> will.  But one can't know what one will find unless
> one looks, right?  So some people are looking into
> these things.
> On the other hand, there was a paradigm shift in the
> way some scientists  felt about the world.  A 19th 
> century scientist may have well believed (felt)
> that, in principle, one could "calculate" how the
> weather (and other things) would unfold into the
> future. Once the nature of the equations became
> known we saw that an exactly correct model can fail
> to produce exact predictions, or any useful
> predictions at all.  That is, even if a theory of
> everything could be found, there would still be
> uncertainty in the world.  
> For example, suppose an exact (nonlinear) law
> describing human thought was discovered that covered
> the basic synapse to synapse neural process behind
> thought.  Suppose what we are consciously aware of
> as a thought is the result of dozens of such basic
> processes.  Then, even though the basic law
> describing thought is known, the product of that
> process (after dozens of repetitions) would be
> unknowable, just as the position of the billiard
> ball is unknowable after 10-30 ricochets.  In other
> words, people still have free will because you can't
> predict what they will decide, even though you
> understand exactly, at the fundamental level, what
> their brains do while they are making their
> decision.
> So chaos has finished what quantum mechanics
> started; the destruction of the belief (or faith if
> you will) that some 19th century scientists (and
> many nonscientists) held that some day we would be
> able to understand (predict) everything and so there
> was no longer any room for religion, moral
> philosophy and other "nonscientific" ways of
> knowing.  The result of  this destruction has been
> for scientists to largely "stick to their knitting"
> and use their tools/methods on those problems for
> which useful and interesting results can be obtained
> with a reasonable expenditure of effort.
> [Luke:] It seems scientists have always recognized
> the mysteriousness and majesty of the natural world
> around us in the cosmos (indeed its
> multidimensionality); but there often seems a
> contradiction between this appreciation of Science
> and its critical methodology/ presentation as we've
> always learned to give it.  Take your discussion
> above for example.  It certainly shows the nuts and
> bolts of C,C, & H; but still Chaos and Complexity
> seem to even 'transcend' [as it were] a description
> such as this.  For some reason these models better
> capture the mystery and wonder of the universe in a
> way that Newtonian mechanics never could?  
> [Mike:]  Here you are using terms like
> "mysteriousness and majesty" and multidimensionality
> that have no clear meaning.
> [Luke:] What is it specifically about the former
> that makes this reality so? . If scientists with
> their science (in the 19th cen. & before) had just
> as much of a  sense and understanding of this
> complexity and awe-inspiring multidimensionality to
> the universe, then why couldn't their presentation
> of science better reflect that principle?  Why does
> it tend to seem like its only today that we're
> recapturing in the framework of our Science the same
> sense that early Renaissance, Medieval, and Ancient
> scholars - not just in Europe - had when it came to
> comprehending the cosmos?
> [Mike:]  It's not a return to Renaissance, Medieval
> and Ancient ways of thinking.  Its simply a
> realization that the tools of science, although
> powerful, are not all-powerful.  Scientists are
> still the empirically-focused materialists we always
> were when we are doing science.  But that doesn't
> mean we necessarily are empirical materialists when
> we are doing other things, such as loving our
> spouses, dealing with difficult people, or
> practicing our religion.
> [Luke:]  Convenience [of experimentation] is a big
> part of it; and laboratory experimentation is fast. 
> But the difference I think comes down to something
> else besides - a matter of orientation.  If science
> is a matter of better understanding the nature of
> the universe via a precise study of its phenomena
> through empirical investigation, then would it not
> be better to get at the data of natural phenomena
> through the means of "natural experiments" and
> investigating objects, systems, and processes in
> their natural states? . 
> [Mike:]  No.  Studying a phenomenon in situ will
> often not provide the information you need to
> understand what is going one in a reasonable amount
> of time.  If we can bring it into the lab to study
> it, that's great, but sometimes you can't do that. 
> For historical sciences (like what Diamond does) you
> can't.  Astronomers can't either.  Even if you can
> bring it into the lab that won't mean you will be
> successful.  You do your lab work and that gives you
> an idea of what happens.  You then have to go out
> and see if the same thing happens in the real world
> (now that you have identified an important variable
> you know what to look for).  If it doesn't happen
> the way you predict then you missed something and
> back to the lab you go.  Its iterative, and one
> doesn't always succeed.  By going to the lab one
> does simplify the system, sometimes fatally.  One
> finds this out by failing to obtain an accurate
> description even after many tries.  A good example
> is ecology.  
> Ecological systems can have too many
> interconnections to study them in labs, even very
> large ones.  Hence a lot of observation is needed. 
> Lab work can still be used to look at relatively
> independent pieces of the whole system.
> [Luke:] Wouldn't it make sense that, if we had a
> completely exact understanding of natural phenomena
> and even the ability to physically apply that
> understanding, we should be able to completely
> master the holistic and integrating dynamics of such
> natural phenomena? .
> [Mike:] No, it wouldn't in all cases.  For some yes,
> for others no.  (See discussion of chaos above).
> [Luke:]  Is there a specific difference to be had
> between the empiric methods of say "clockmakers" and
> those of "astronomers, etc." as dealt with in the
> movie Longitude about the horologist John Harrison
> who solved the problem of getting longitude at sea
> by the use of his invented sea clock/chronometer? 
> I'm not talking about generalization versus
> specialization here as much as I am talking about
> the empirical orientation of those who use an
> understanding of 'science' to do/make something
> (techne/praxis) versus those who use an
> understanding of science to discover the workings of
> the universe, its laws and principles
> (episteme/scientia/   & noesis = 'understanding')? 
> What do you think about these points?}
> [Mike:]  No.  Both scientists and engineers (like
> Harrison) are empiricists.  I have a B.S. in
> chemistry (scientia) and a Ph. D. in chemical
> engineering (techne/praxis) so I have a foot in both
> worlds.  The difference between us is in motivation,
> not our methods of knowing.  Scientists wish for
> knowledge for the sake of knowledge.  Engineers wish
> for knowledge for the sake of people.  
> [Luke:]  Yes, I like this explanation of yours also.
>  Here's my question.  I do believe a lot of times
> Science's critics among religionists, creationists,
> some ID theorists, and scholars of pre-Scientific
> Revolution Western thought - the latter tending to
> be mainly tending to be Medieval/Classics of Greece
> and Rome among whom stand philosophers, theologians,
> and literary thinkers - have an axe to grind against
> the discipline.  Besides the obvious issue of
> "religious" and immaterial "spiritual" concerns,
> what other factors stand to divide this community
> from 
=== message truncated ===

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