New view of truth and science…

Posted on February 18, 2011

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Jenny: “I know it’s not really ‘new’ – I know about Plato’s cave and all that – but it’s getting  more popular. The standard view – even among most scientists used to be that they’d go into the laboratory and produce neat packages of truth. But as scholars examined the history of science they gradually noticed that scientists disagreed with each other and  kept changing their minds, they kept having to unwrap or throw out the old packages and wrap up new ones. Pretty soon they’ll be putting a ‘best before date” on their scientific ‘truths’. Pretty soon they’ll be printing on the package: ” This truth will be believed for about 3 years… or so.”

Peter:” It’s looking like all science is political science. What  scientists says is true at any given time depends on his or her scientific politics. Depends on what particular theory or model of reality that they happen to believe at the time. It’s like politics – if you know someone is a Republican, or Democrat, you can predict what their going to trot out as ‘the truth’ …. That’s what Stephen Hawking means when he talks about ‘model dependent realism’… what’s real for a given scientist  depends on his or her  pet theory or bias… depends on what scientific club or party they belong to at the time.”

Professor Wiggly: “Hawking is saying that we have no direct access to ‘reality’ – what we ‘see’ is filtered and distorted by our sense  and by the instrucments or probes we use, and shaped by our trusted theory, beliefs and biases – it depends on your point of view. From one point of view a rock is a hard object, from another it’s mainly empty space, from another it contains enough energy to blow up New York City. So in that sense what’s true depends on your viewpoint and what you use to try to lasso that ‘truth’ – microscopes, telescopes, lasers, eyes, ears, touch, etc . The current pet theory or model in physics is that everything is made of invisible vibrating strings, and that our universe may be one of many – it all depends! And what we believe to be the laws of physics my not work in other universes. People on other universes may be able to be three places at once.”

Jenny: ” So when someone claims they’ve caught a bit of reality, you should ask them what they caught it with: their eyes, their ears, their memory,  another persons’ eyes, ears or memory, an electron microscope, a popular theory, a hope and a prayer. It sounds like there are no stand alone things anymore. Whatver ‘truths’ someone  finds depend on what net they use – and my nets, your nets, and scientist’s nets are constructed of a complex combination of theories, models, biases, assumptions and fallible probes or detectors (eyes, ears, lasers, microscopes, etc. and recorders (memories, tapes, scribbles, etc.) “

Peter: “So it all comes back to trust: whether you believe some one of not, a citizen or a scientist, depends on how much you trust their point of view (their politics or theories or models) and their truth collecting tools, and their talent in using them. I don’t trust Willy – his point of view is that all poor people are lazy, furthermore he wears dirty glasses so he doesn’t see too well. He sure doesn’t see what I do… I may be poor but I’m sure as hell  not lazy!”

Jenny: ” I get the idea that a scientific ‘truth’ is an invention constructed of  selected fallible sensations held together by a bias ( a theory, model, or bias).”

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Posted in: Sciencing