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Re: Science, Social Science, and Empirical Inquiry
by Luke Rondinaro
29 July 2002 01:17 UTC
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This is my final installment in this particular discussion thread [Social Science, Science, and Empirical Study/Science, Social Science, and Empirical Inquiry.  In the next few weeks, I’ll chime in with some more specified postings on the topic, but for now this is it (other intellectual projects to get to and on with).  I’ll let Mike Alexander have the last word on the matter as well as give the wrap-up to it, after replying to my points in this message if he wants to.  Or, if anyone else from the List wants to give the sum-up and assess our points of view in the discussion, feel free.  I look forward to your conclusions.


Luke R.


[Luke] I agree that science is a social activity ... I’d also agree that “science does not follow some “scientific method” that if applied in isolation by a lone genius will discover the secrets of the universe.”  That’s fine.  However, sometimes it takes a generation or two for a good, workable idea to catch on and for one’s work to find acceptance with peers.  History, as in the history of knowledge, is ultimately the verifier of scientific propositions/observations, then comes the verification of predictions and demonstrations, and then follows finally the importance of more political elements of majority opinions on scientific issues for a given generation.  Without the other two elements, majority viewpoints on Science issues don’t count for much.  [Mike:]  I disagree.  Just because non-scientists have not yet "bought into" or started to apply a scientific finding in their own lives does not mean that the finding isn't verified.  History does not verify scientific findings.  It is successful predictions that verify science.  In laboratory science, this verification can be done at the experimenter's convenience, on schedule.  This is why experimental science is so far advanced and why it is so well funded.  In non-laboratory sciences (like astronomy) sufficient time must elapse for predictions to either come true or not.  Note: I am not necessarily referring to predicting the future (although in some cases that may be involved) but more so the time it will take to make the observations and collect the data needed to verify or disprove the finding.   In this second case one can say "history" validates or invalidates the findings, but this is purely because of way data is gathered in that field, no because of some special role of "history".  Finally politics is most important in pre-paradigmic sciences, like the social sciences.  It is less important in laboratory-based science and even less so in post-paradigmic non-laboratory sciences.

I agree with parts of your argument here; I most certainly do.  And, yes, successful predictions verify science … but they do so in time and over time.  It is precisely in this “second case” as you put it that history “validates (or “invalidates”) findings.”  The question is does it involve merely the logistics of empirical scientific methodology and data collection in the discipline or does it involve something else (i.e., the natural developments of human knowledge in history and an evolutionary context of epistemological change over the ages)? … What’s your view?  Might there be patterns and cycles to human intellectual forms over time, cycles that are analogous to those of World System History (in terms of K-waves, Logistics, secular trends) and/or those of Landon’s Eonic evolutionary model for world history {which might better explain what happens in the ongoing growth of the Scientific discipline besides just saying that methodology determines wh/ occurs in the field rather than a more evolutionary framework and setting in the history of knowledge}?

[Luke:]  I think the paragraph about a “real way things are” is good.  [Nash’s roommate] may be alive and perhaps fully physical in Nash’s own mental sphere, but not within his environmental surroundings.  The fact that he’s not real is not due to the political/social agreement we have about his not being real or “real to us”, but to the fact that we cannot show objectively and empirically/factually his being there in a given physical time and space.   [Mike:]  What does being real in terms of the "environmental surroundings" [mean]?  Are we to interrogate the furniture in the room as to whether or not they have seen the roommate?  The environment cannot observe and so it cannot have a point of view in the question of whether or not the room mate is there.  Suppose you see Nash talking to his roommate, which you cannot see.  None of your instrumentation detects his presence.  What do you do?  Well you bring in another observer and see if he can verify the non-existence of Nash's roommate.  Soon you have a whole crowd of observers, all of whom (except Nash) agree with you that there is no roommate, and so when the men in the little white coats come they take Nash away.  But suppose the observers you bring in see the roommate.  Suppose there is a whole crowd of observers, all of whom (except you) agree with Nash that his roommate is real, so when the men in the little white coats come they take you away.

The statement means this; that while the roommate may exist as a pattern of electro-chemical impulses (that Nash interprets as being a person & as his roommate) there is no physical roommate in the room.  According to the empirical tests we do, no physical person or other such entity (whatever this may mean) has been found to occupy the physical space of the room [whereas Nash and his furniture has been found by our experimentation and observations to occupy said room in question].  That is what is meant by Nash’s roommate “not being physical” within the “environmental surroundings.”  We could even bring in an Aristotelian philosopher and he too would confirm that the roommate is not there; and even do an epistemological proof to establish in the full, ontological sense that Nash’s roommate doesn’t exist.  My point is empirical observations, tests, and demonstrations are part of this overall equation of the roommate being determined real or not real; the other part is an existential judgment that’s made and logical proof done (within the scheme of the scientific/scientiaefically-reasoned inquiry) as to whether such information from the tests, demonstrations, and observations are universally applicable [the roommate doesn’t exist at all] or just particularly applicable [from what we can tell now from our tests and observations, we cannot confirm whether the roommate exists or not; we cannot make a definitive statement or say he exists/doesn’t exist for a certainty].

The key is agreement.  What we perceive as real are conventionalizations or models created by our brains that make sense of the raw sensory input that our brains receive via our nervous systems.  Those models that most of us can agree on are considered real.  Peoples whose brains interpret their sensory input in ways that do not agree with majority opinion are considered mentally ill.  Science is a formalized way to organize sensory input in ways that haven't been done before.  Scientists make careful observations, often using instrumentation (observation tools) that provides new sensory input for brains to make sense of.  Scientist also construct "thought tools" (rules for inference such as mathematics, theories, models or paradigms, computing machines, picture-makers such graphs, charts & 3D workstations etc.) that serve as "brain aids".  The result is the creation of new conventionalizations or brain-created models that make sense of sensory input.  If we can get agreement amonst other scientsts then we can agree that the conventionalization we have come up with is "real" or "true".  The reason why we have to consult other scientists is only they have the necessary "observation tools" and "brain aids" to do this.  It is no different that calling in others to verify (or not) the existence of Nash's roommate.  Persuasion comes in when it is hard to clearly perceive whether or not the roommate is there--which is always the case in cutting-edge science since we are on the frontier of what is "perceivable".

You speak of  “conventionalizations.”  Are you saying our perceptions/observations are being shaped, formed, or created by “social conventions?” … If so, then these become a function of the culture & politicized social activity of scientists in their practice of doing Science (or any scholars engaging in own brand of intellectual inquiry) .

[Luke:]  The politicized social activity of science is important, but it doesn’t and can’t trump the other important components of the discipline; that is, it can’t do the proofs, it can’t completely validate the real, and it can’t by itself stand the test of time and the demonstrable proof of History -> without any other of these other essential components the majority opinion of scientists in a given generation is just a passing fad.  [Mike:]  I don’t see where the politicized social activity of science has anything to do with empirical validation, which I maintain in the key element of science.  It is your contention that there exists some other route to scientific truth outside of empirical validation.

It does because the utility of the social convention itself ends up trumping even the notion of empirical validation.  If we say that our social conventions of what’s real are more important than even the tests themselves which we undertake, then this means persuasion and demonstration “to the person involved” and playing to their own experience is more important than what it is we’re trying to persuade the other person of by our tests. It’s basically to say that “REAL” is what the political or social community says it to be (which sooner or later becomes what Big Government and Big Business wish it to be in order to better influence the public and enact the kinds of policies in the society that social elites desire)(and that is susceptible to both Orwellian Newsspeak and the worst kind of behaviorist marketing determination of our human knowledge that’s possible in modern day let alone a futurist dystopia.  (Think of all the extremes of both BNW and 1984 when it comes to Knowledge and Science and information that’s accessible by the public.)  It all comes about through the problems I’ve just described involving social conventions, ‘persuasion to a person’ but not ‘of what thing’ and ‘demonstration to a person ’ but not ‘of what thing’, and playing to the notion of a person’s experience & experientialism.

Without a firm grasp of real things and REALISM then Science, empirical inquiry and demonstration, and persuasion of people to scientific notions becomes nothing more than a publicity game.  I think we can agree that Science is not a publicity game and that it’s rooted in a basis of reality that’s far more ‘solid’ and accurate of the ways things really in nature and in our human lives than the far more mutable, social conventionalist model of a pseudoscientific marketing, advertisement, and publicity exercises.  Would your agree? …

[Luke:] The “key is utility” but only to a certain fractional degree.  Yes, the idea of reality works, but it works regardless of whether we say or believe it works for us.  Reality external to us, our common visions, beliefs, and conventions may indeed be meaningless in a experiential-conceptualized, psychological sense, but only until such point when we die and our life (lives) is/are brought to a halt.  As a poem that I heard when I was a youngster has it:

Here lies the body of Jonathan Hay

Who died disputing the right-of-way

Though Jonathan was right

And the Law was strong

He’s just as dead as if he’d been wrong.  

Yes, this response of M.A.’s is a very good one and for the most part I can agree with him on much of what he says.  But ultimately “persuasion” in the scholarly sense isn’t advertisement marketing, science is more than the socio-politics of scientists and a politicized intellectual variant of faddish majority rule, there’s a world of epistemological vision beyond Utilitarianism and Pragmatism, and finally, the proof of Science’s validity lies in the History of Knowledge and empiric/empiriological demonstration of the “real way things are, not in whether we think that they are.  [Mike:]  I never said scientific persuasion was advertising/ marketing.  I said it involved empirical demonstration.  In your emphasis on "reality" you are moving toward my view of empiricism as the basis of science and away from your earlier view that science involved something beyond empirical observation, their explanation and prediction of future observations.  But reality is still a belief.  It is a model to organize our sensory perceptions.  Atoms, quarks, molecules are all models that we use to organize observations into a coherent picture that we call realityLike the (non)existence of Nash's roommate they become real when we can all agree that they "work" in our models of the world we carry around in our brains

It’s not in what we say (or in what we specifically intentionally argue) that the problem lies.  As I said in my last posting the problem is in the terminology … [and furthermore it’s oftentimes in the conceptualization and epistemological/linguistic underpinnings of such terms]  As students of the modern analytic tradition, we have the potential of being as mathematically/symbolic-logically sharp in our thinking and conceptuality as any of the other analytical schools of Western Scholarship were (from the foundations of Ancient Greece and Rome, through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, up to the beginning of the Twentieth Century).  Problem is; too often we aren’t as sharp on this as we should be and grow shabby in our conceptualization.  Without a firm basis in Realism and the solidity of real things (as demonstrated through empirical investigation) and scientiaefic reasoning, we slip into experientialism and the notion that our personalized experience is the measure of our empirical investigation and any understanding of reality is based soley on social conventions.  At that point, we pick up on the popular culture’s sets of expression, and this is we succumb largely to trends in behavioristic advertising and commericialization; our Science becomes mainly a matter of social conventions, and is reduced to being only what the society, the government, elites of a culture say it is. 

But it isn’t.  If we must have a Pragmatic basis to our Scientific understanding of things, then it should be a true pragmatic Realism grounded in the solidity of real things and not in the experientialist impulse (which subjugates all empirical investigation and all valid reasoning to its own measure); our experience is not a suitable measure for the accuracy of a scientific test; only a Realist empiriology is, and it must be steeped not only in solid empirical content but also the sharpest scientia possible.

Anything else which makes a claim to being modern "Science" and doesn’t do these things inevitably descends into Pseudo-science.


For some interesting material on behaviorism, advertising, et al, please reference the following articles by Dr. E. Michael Jones’s Culture Wars magazine at its online site.  Feel free to agree or disagree as you like. 





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