Watcha think? #5

Posted on September 12, 2011

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How does science work if what’s ‘real’ or ‘true’ depends on the models or theories used to construct it???

One answer is that science works if  – right or wrong – it helps us manage uncertainty, it helps us make timely decisions that aren’t immediately followed by disaster. For example it can take years before a popular and trusted drug is pulled off the market but before that happens that drug helps those who take it manage their uncertainty since they typically feel confident that they are doing the right thing. It also helps the drug company manage their financial uncertainty – they increase their profits year after year.

A more traditional answer is that it works if the model or theory is supported by empirical evidence, by trusted observations. But notice, according to Hawking , empirical evidence is constructed by the particular model and sensors used by the observer. For example we came to trust observations about penicillin and antibiotics, about combustion and jet engines, about nuclear power. According to Hawking we don’t have direct access to REALITY. The reality we get over time is always strained through our senses and packaged and edited by our brains. Or as Herb Simon said – no conclusions without assumptions… without trusted models or theories or biases. Notice that our models and observation didn’t include the warning that over prescribing antibiotics would lead the emergence of super-bugs, that reliance on gasoline engines would lead to global warming, and that nuclear power and waste could threaten our planet.

So, if we buy the ideas  proposed by Simon and Hawking – that we construct our realities out of fallible sensory inputs and brain biases (models) – then reality is defined as relatively stable constructions, such as rocks and drugs that ‘work’, that is that don’t lead to immediate disasters.

A marriage is ‘real’, til you find out he’s cheating.

Was it ‘real’  when you didn’t know he was cheating even though he was?

Watcha think?

Uncertainty: flickr.com/photos/nicubunuphotos/5262645427

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Posted in: Sciencing