Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Illinois Federation of Teachers: Resolution #11

The Illinois Federation of Teachers has passed Resolution #11: KEEP SUPERNATURALISM OUT OF THE SCIENCE CURRICULUM. It represents a certain point of view that I don't agree with so I'll make a few comments in order to provoke discussion.
WHEREAS, science is a systematic method for investigating natural phenomena through experimentation, observation and measurement leading to falsifiable explanations that are open to continuous testing; and ...
I think of science as a way of knowing ... everything. It is not limited to "natural phenomena" in the sense that's normally attributed to that phrase. The scientific way of knowing applies rational thinking, evidence, and skepticism to any problem we encounter and this includes history and English literature. Thus, by my definition, "experimentation" isn't a requirement and "measurement" is far too restrictive. I also don't accept "falsifiability" as an important criterion for science.

What the Illinois Federation of Teachers should have said was "There are many different definitions of science. We adopt the following definition, recognizing that many scientists and philosophers disagree."

Right from the start, the teachers have created a situation where they can keep religion out of the science class but not out of art, history, and geography classes.
WHEREAS, science proceeds on the basis of methodological naturalism and assumes observed phenomena of the universe are real, nature is consistent and understandable, and nature is explainable in terms of laws and theories; and ...
The teachers should have said the following, "Whereas many philosophers and scientists restrict science to the practice of methodological naturalism while others disagree, we adopt the methodological naturalism position for the purposes of this resolution."

Then they should have gone on to say, "We believe that nature can eventually be fully explained by laws and theories because so far there's no evidence to suggest otherwise."
WHEREAS, a scientific theory is consistent with evidence from multiple and independent sources of evidence, explains many different facts and allows predictions of subsequent discoveries; and

WHEREAS, the theory of evolution satisfies these criteria fully, is the foundation of biological science, is supported by a coherent body of integrated evidence from other disciplines in science and is consistent with theories from other scientific disciplines including anthropology, geology, physics, astronomy and chemistry; and ...
Evolution is much more than a theory [Evolution Is a Fact, Evolution Is a Fact and a Theory]. Most of what's taught in public school is not evolutionary theory but evolution fact and the history of life. It's a fact that humans and chimpanzees share a recent common ancestor, for example. It's a fact that natural selection leads to antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

We should not be referring to these fact as "the theory of evolution."
WHEREAS, there have been attempts in some states to include supernaturalism in the science curriculum as an alternative to scientific explanations of nature, particularly as an alternative to evolutionary theory; and

WHEREAS, arguments that invoke supernaturalism are grounded in religious or philosophical considerations outside the realm of science; and ...
I do not agree that supernaturalism is outside the realm of science. Supernatural explanations have been investigated by scientists and have been shown to be false or unnecessary. They are excluded from the classroom because they are bad science, not because they are "not science."

Statements like this imply that supernaturalism is a separate way of knowing. A supernatural explanation may even be correct but you can't teach it in science class because we say so. This is a very puzzling situation. What if there really is a God and He guides evolution? How would we be justified in keeping that from our children?

We need to teach critical thinking and this means addressing all claims—including the supernatural—to see if they are right or wrong.
WHEREAS, attempts to subvert the validity or teaching of evolutionary theory are also attacks on all scientific inquiry and, therefore, also attacks on the validity of using reason and experimentation to understand the universe; and ...
This is correct. Attacks on evolution are attacks on science. That's why we need to teach children why those attacks are unjustified and wrong. Ignoring them or banning them from the classroom won't demonstrate why they subvert the validity of science.
WHEREAS, legislation that conflates supernaturalism, or limits, or prohibits the teaching of any scientific theory negatively impacts our ability to make informed decisions; and

WHEREAS, it is the responsibility of the Illinois Federation of Teachers to preserve the integrity of science in the classroom; therefore be it

resolved, that the Illinois Federation of Teachers affirm, through a positional statement on its website, the validity of science as a methodology for understanding the nature of the universe, and affirm the validity and foundational importance of organic evolution to science as a whole and biology, specifically; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the IFT affirm, through a positional statement on its website, that supernaturalism is not a scientific endeavor and, therefore, is inappropriate for inclusion in the science curriculum; and be it further

RESOLVED, that this resolution does not make it the official position of the IFT that there is no God and should not be interpreted as a statement either for or against religion or belief in God; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the IFT call upon its members to assist those engaged in overseeing science education policy to understand the nature of science, the content of contemporary evolutionary theory and the inappropriateness of including non-science subjects (e.g., intelligent design and creationism) in our science curriculum; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the IFT communicate to the local, regional and national public media, to educational authorities and to appropriate legislators its opposition to the inclusion of non-science approaches and subjects (e.g., creationism and intelligent design) into the science education curricula of our public school system; and be it finally

RESOLVED, that the IFT members also promote these concerns and help resolve these issues in their home communities among educators, parents, school boards and students in appropriate public forums.
I hope that Illinois teachers are going to make a strong effort to teach evolution and critical thinking in their classrooms in spite of any opposition they may encounter from local schools boards and parents.

This is one of 27 resolutions that they passed.


[Hat Tip: Panda's Thumb]

34 comments :

  1. I also don't accept "falsifiability" as an important criterion for science.

    You should. In the broadest sense, falsifiability just means that if a statement is wrong, there must be some way of knowing it's wrong. If a statement is not falsifiable, it's not truth-apt, not capable of being true or false.

    We need falsifiability because confirmability is both too narrow and too broad. Too narrow in that some statements cannot be confirmed, but could in principle be falsified; that they are not falsified means that we have good reason to consider them true. Too broad in the sense that a statement such as "if god exists, this rock will fall when I drop it" is confirmed by the rock falling when I drop it. Falsifiability in its broadest sense conveniently handles both types of situations.

    Of course, like "experiment" and "measurement", falsifiability can be defined too narrowly to have universal or even any practical applicability.

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  2. That you wish it were true that:

    "They are excluded from the classroom because they are bad science, not because they are "not science." "

    does not make it so. In the USA (where Illinois was last I looked), in the particularly apt case of Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District, it wasn't that a particular supernatural 'explanation' (IDC) was bad science that got it excluded but that it wasn't science at all that got it excluded. It is notable that the decision includes "... we have addressed the
    seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not ..." but the phrase "bad science" doesn't appear.

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  3. Barefoot Larry,

    Agreed: there needs to be a way of knowing when you are wrong, otherwise it is not "knowledge". We could perhaps say that not only hypothesis falsification is science, but also model selection, inference to the explanation best fitting all available evidence, etc. That is probably what was meant...

    May I ask what all these WHEREASses are doing there? Is that supposed to sound all impressive or traditional or what? Can they not write normal sentences? Is that perhaps some kind of US American fad, or do other English speaking countries like Canada or Britain do the same?

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  4. Not sure whether I said this on here once, but:

    How about replacing "theory of evolution" with "theory for evolution"? This way, evolution as testable fact is separated from the theories used to explain its patterns (which are also testable, and can be attested fact-status)?

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. Lots of good ideas in the article; science is too frequently thought of as a course in school rather than a school of thought. That is something that should be taught.

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  7. Falsifiability = explanatory/predictive power, and therefore is mandatory for hypotheses.

    This is exactly why Carl Sagan called non-falsifiable hypotheses worthless and why PZ Myers won't accept evidence for any particular brand of (unfalsifiable) theism.

    On the rest you are right. Neil DeGrasse Tyson recently proposed calling Science "Reality". I'd call the modern scientific method the "universal truth-finder", simply because given very basic axioms it follows that it is the best predictor. See for example chapter 5 of "An Introduction to Kolmogorov Complexity and Its Applications"

    Also, since it's my first post: Thanks for your blog, Prof. Moran.

    D. Reckhard

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  8. @BB:

    ISTM that it is a matter of English grammar. "Of" can be used in many ways, among others:

    Appositive as in "city of New York", meaning "the city which is New York".

    Objective as in "storming of the Bastille", meaning "the act in which people stormed the Bastille".

    Subjective as in "the arrival of the train", meaning the act in which the train arrived.

    In many cases, "the theory of X" is an objective - the theory explains X. Such as "the theory of flight", "the theory of antennas", or even "the theory of everything."

    Creationists like to confuse "the theory of evolution" with an appositive - evolution is "only a theory".

    Usually, though, "the theory of evolution" is like other uses of "the theory of X", it is a theory which explains evolution. How evolution happens.

    And it can also be a subjective: "the theory of evolution" is a theory in which evolution explains something about the world of life.

    ISTM that the often repeated slogan "evolution is both a theory and a fact" is a statement that the expression "the theory of evolution" can have either an objective or a subjective "of".

    TomS

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  9. The scientific way of knowing applies rational thinking, evidence, and skepticism to any problem we encounter and this includes history and English literature.

    History, OK, to an extent. Gathering data about what actually happened is just as characteristic of history as it is of "hard" science. Making causal connections (or ruling them out) is more difficult in historical analysis than it may be in a bench experiment, where potential confounders can be minimized. And of course human beings have that pesky free will, so they react less predictably (or in comparison to quantum mechanics, with a less quantifiable species of uncertainty) than do billiard balls, subatomic particles, biological systems, etc.

    Re literature, I think of it for the most part as something to be enjoyed (or not) rather than a "problem," and believe de gustibus non disputandum est ought to be the rule, though admitting of exceptions.

    (I admit that in a book report on Moby Dick, I opined that all this symbolism stuff the critics were on about was mostly nonsense, and the titular whale was white for the good and sufficient reason of easy identification. After all, Thar she blows! is considerably more dramatic than Can ye bring 'er in a bit closer, Cap'n, can't quite tell yet if 'e's the one.)

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  10. "I'd call the modern scientific method the "universal truth-finder", simply because given very basic axioms it follows that it is the best predictor."

    But why choose words that are patently false like "universal truth-finder" when used of science?

    There are truths that are outside the realm of science, that can be established to a degree of certainty that science cannot hope to achieve and cannot be produced or demonstrated by science.

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  11. Mike from Ottawa says,

    There are truths that are outside the realm of science, that can be established to a degree of certainty that science cannot hope to achieve and cannot be produced or demonstrated by science.

    Can you name some of these truths?

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  12. "Can you name some of these truths"

    I can! How about the Mean Value Theorem? Any proven theorem in math will do for our purposes here, so I'm sure I don't need to name some others.

    I'll admit it a bit of a cheap trick to have laid that particular trap, but I like a bit of drama some times.

    BTW, the NdGT suggestion D. Reckhard referred to, calling science "Reality" mistakes science for its subject, but calling the subject of science "reality" is fine by me, as long as one realizes that "reality" does not encompass all of "truth".

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  13. Mike from Ottawa says,

    I can! How about the Mean Value Theorem? Any proven theorem in math will do for our purposes here, so I'm sure I don't need to name some others.

    First, that's not the kind of "truth" or "knowledge" that we're talking about. I thought you knew that.

    Second, I don't consider a mathematical approach to be outside the realm of science as a way of knowing. If I'm including history and English literature what makes you think I would exclude math?

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  14. First, that's not the kind of "truth" or "knowledge" that we're talking about. I thought you knew that.

    Move the goalposts much?

    Second, I don't consider a mathematical approach to be outside the realm of science as a way of knowing.

    How is mathematical proof akin to scientific "proof"?

    Can you empirically prove the Riemann hypothesis?

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  15. @Mike
    I will make a brief (this is the comments section of a blog!) and simplified argument that mathematics are a special case of (rigorous) science. And that therefore your thoughtful objection does not apply.

    Part 1, premises of maths vs science
    1.1 Maths
    Axiomatic method := Looking for the smallest necessary prior A for theory B

    1.2 Science
    Universal prior M := Universal prior weighted to minimum description length

    Part 2, reasoning of maths vs science
    Inference := moving from a set of beliefs in premises A to a set of beliefs in conclusions B. (sets don't have to be countable)

    2.1 Maths
    Deductive inference := Not adding data while moving from A to B.

    2.2 Science
    Inductive inference := Adding data while moving from A to B.

    [Note that inductive inference is not inductive logic.]

    End of argument

    I won't go into further detail here and now. But at least I'm currently trying to write some easy-to-understand prose on the whole topic. Mostly because I think more people should know about the fairly recently developed theoretical underpinnings of the scientific method. So don't flame me for chickening out. ;)

    Cheers, DR

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  16. Mike from Ottawa writes:

    How is mathematical proof akin to scientific "proof"?

    Can you empirically prove the Riemann hypothesis?

    Guess I'm having trouble understanding how what you are saying is germane to what Larry argued in his post:

    The scientific way of knowing applies rational thinking, evidence, and skepticism to any problem we encounter and this includes history and English literature.

    Is there something in there that argues scientific and mathematical proofs are the same, or that empirical evidence is relevant to the traditional standard for a mathematical proof? (I say traditional standard because in the era of computers, some hypotheses have been shown to be extremely likely to be true by brute-force computer attack prior to being established as "proofs" in the traditional sense.)

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  17. "Is there something in there that argues scientific and mathematical proofs are the same?"

    Yes -- it's right there. "[...]to any problem we encounter." And "I think of science as a way of knowing ... everything."

    The only possible way that could mean anything else is if he thinks math isn't a problem we can encounter. And that's a tendentious definition.

    I'd also exclude some problems addressed by non-scientific disciplines such as philosophy, systemization, and literature; but with the addendum that I actually agree with Dr. Moran, that what these disciplines discover through their methods is not "knowledge", but merely guesswork and/or terminology. Important, but not knowledge.

    -Wm

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  18. I wrote: "Is there something in there that argues scientific and mathematical proofs are the same?"

    To which wtanksley replied:

    Yes -- it's right there. "[...]to any problem we encounter." And "I think of science as a way of knowing ... everything."

    The only possible way that could mean anything else is if he thinks math isn't a problem we can encounter.

    I disagree, and let me be a bit more precise. One can certainly apply rationality and perhaps skepticism to mathematical proofs, but "evidence," in the sense of external facts, is seldom relevant (see the 4-color map problem for an example of the rare case where it might be relevant, as well as arguments that the candidate solution is not a true proof).

    That was the basis of my response that Mike from Ottawa's statement, "Can you empirically prove the Riemann hypothesis?", was an invalid objection. I don't take Larry's description of scientific inquiry to require use of empirical evidence in mathematical proofs. Therefore, though I do not conceive of proof of scientific propositions as being identical to proofs of solutions to mathematical problems, it seems to me it's not incorrect to use the term "science" as a way to approach both.

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  19. Alright, since I keep hearing how different mathematics and science are while in fact the former is a subset of the latter, I'll give this another shot.

    1.1 Every correct proof in mathematics deduces from the mathematical axioms (e.g. ZFC).
    1.2 Therefore the soundness of anything proven mathematically is the soundness of the axioms. (or of a subset thereof)
    2.1 Every axiomatizable, sound theory extending at least Peano arithmetics is incomplete.
    2.2 Therefore no set of mathematical axioms can proove itself.
    3.1 Therefore the soundness of mathematics is an empirical claim, which hinges on not having found contradictions so far.

    Of course the empirical evidence is very strong. In fact since the soundness of mathematics is semicomputable there is no limit to the robust evidence we can gather.

    Also mathematical axioms excel at the principle of parsimony. The description of ZFC fits on a postcard (despite ZFC being infinite).

    This makes mathematics excellent science.

    But stating that brute force approximizations to the correctness of mathematical theorems are so inferior to a deductive proof is misleading. The margin of error from plain axioms versus the error of axioms 'plus' approximation error is not that different.

    Obviously building a theory upon approximizations will multiply their error, so deductive proofs remain important.

    But please stop waving around those pre-1931 utopian ideas of the perfectness of mathematics. Mathematics is the best science we have, not more.

    --
    DR

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  20. But please stop waving around those pre-1931 utopian ideas of the perfectness of mathematics.

    That's not what's happening though. What I was saying was that mathematics generates knowledge in a completely different way than does science. In mathematics, you can prove statements about infinite sets without having to enumerate each member of the empirically individually. Therefore, you can prove, as Euclid did, that there are infinitely many primes without having to generate infinitely many primes empirically.

    That was my (not necessarily Mike in Ottawa's) point about the Riemann Hypothesis: the first 10^13 non-trivial zeros of the Riemann zeta function have all been found, as of 2004, to lie on the critical line. Does that necessarily entail that we are any closer to proving the Riemann Hypothesis simply by virtue of the fact that we have calculate so many zeros of the Riemann zeta function? Most definitely not, because a single non-trivial zero that does not lie on the critical line would prove the Riemann hypothesis wrong. Thus, because empirical generation of an arbitrarily large number of confirmatory cases does not change the truth of the proposition, science differs fundamentally from mathematics in the type of knowledge it can generate.

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  21. Here's my problem with your argument:
    You Said
    "What if there really is a God and He guides evolution? How would we be justified in keeping that from our children?"

    The moment you start talking about God in school you open a can of worms that will not benefit our children. Nobody agrees on what or who God is. There's not even a clear definition of God that people agree on. Allowing the teachings would allow for religious zealots to push thier agendas and begin brainwashing our children. If you want to teach your child that God guides evolution, great. Do that at home.

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  22. "Alright, since I keep hearing how different mathematics and science are while in fact the former is a subset of the latter, I'll give this another shot."

    I simply can't imagine what definition of "subset" works with that sentence.

    But aside from that: the problem with your claim is the context. The original post has a very clear definition of science that involves evidence, rational thinking, and skepticism. Math is a way of thinking that involves rational thinking. Therefore, it's not identical with science.

    And what it's missing isn't a minor thing; rationality is more important, but "science" without evidence is nothing more than good philosophy. That's not bad, but it's not science.

    -Wm

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  23. MM: "science differs fundamentally from mathematics in the type of knowledge it can generate"

    You are talking about the difference between inductive inference and deductive inference (also see 2nd post of mine). The difference there is that science adds data, which in practice compose a finite sample introducing sample error.

    (If there is no sample error I would call it "logic" or "mathematics" rather than merely "science", just as I would call a square "a square" rather than "a polygon".)

    My point is that all deduction does is equate the correctness of a hypothesis (then called theorem) with the correctness of the axioms (which is the correctness of the entire mathematical theory).

    But lets use your terminology. For the sake of argument let's assume three things: The Riemann hypothesis (RH) is undecidable (1), which can (2) and will (3) be shown in the very near future.

    What would the consequences be?

    Not much different from now I think. Most mathematicians would avoid RH and any research resting upon its truth or falsehood (the "denialists"). Some would try to box in this undecidability of RH, i.e. look for ways to get around RH (the "boxers"). Perfect example: The AKS primality test (published in 2002) beats the Miller test, since the latter depends on RH.

    And some crazy heretics ;) will research "riemathics+", i.e. the mathematics resulting from the basic axioms plus the assumption that the Riemann hypothesis is true.

    ("riemathics-" would be the opposing camp, mostly a satirical movement to mock riemathicians, pirate garb and all)

    But if the results of riemathics were highly relevant to any other field of science (say "sandwalkism"), it would certainly be researched. Some "boxers" would try to find a way to arrive at the same results with pure mathematics. Meanwhile the sandwalkists would rely on the semicomputable approximations to the correctness of RH.

    Conclusion: I read too much Stanislav Lem. :)

    Also mathematics is science, just like a square is a quadrilateral. We just don't call mathematics science because that is imprecise and therefore misleading.

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  24. Mathematics is not science by the only metric that matters in this context: it doesn't rely on evidence, while according to the original post science does rely on evidence.

    If we allow "science" that doesn't rely on evidence, we thereby allow the same perversions that the original post is trying to combat.

    Unfortunately, the OP has one of its claims false about science: specifically, that it's the only way of knowing anything.

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  25. wtanksley writes:

    The original post has a very clear definition of science that involves evidence, rational thinking, and skepticism. Math is a way of thinking that involves rational thinking. Therefore, it's not identical with science.

    I wonder if that's not a little more doctrinaire than Larry intended to be, i.e., are you certain Larry meant anything called "science" must have empirical support? Or that a mathematical proof would not constitute sufficient "evidence"?

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  26. "Evidence" is not restricted to something that has "empirical support." (Whatever that means.)

    Mathematics is based on evidence. One person plus one other person really do add up to two people.

    Mathematics is not completely theoretical and it is not detached from reality. It has to work.

    Mathematical exercises fall completely within the realm of science as a way of knowing and some mathematical conclusions actually do count as true knowledge.

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  27. @LM
    Yes, we often forget that. Mathematics are concepts. They differ from delusions by the merit that a human (or computer) can very successfully concrete those ideas into the real world.

    It's the same with physics. They are human descriptions of phenomena emerging from a universe without energy and (initially) stucture. The merit of physics is that is can be concreted by humans to explain/predict those phenomena.

    At least that's what Victor Stenger writes in "GOD, the failed hypothesis", page 131.

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  28. "I wonder if that's not a little more doctrinaire than Larry intended to be, i.e., are you certain Larry meant anything called "science" must have empirical support? Or that a mathematical proof would not constitute sufficient "evidence"?"

    I'm certain that anything called "science" must be based on evidence; but I think you've got a good point about a mathematical proof constituting evidence (even though it's not empirical). I honestly didn't think of that. On the other hand, if you allow non-empirical evidence, you've then got to accept less reliable "evidence", such as philosophical arguments; and the definition balloons past all recognition.

    (Actually, the definition reduces to the pre-Enlightenment definition in which "science" simply meant "knowledge", but if you accept that kind of definition the original post's claims are simply tautologies.)

    "They differ from delusions by the merit that a human (or computer) can very successfully concrete those ideas into the real world."

    I haven't done a lot of math (only a BA in Math), but I've done enough to know that abstract math is still knowledge, even if it's totally non-applicable to the empirical world.

    -Wm

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  29. "There is no branch of mathematics, however abstract, which may not some day be applied to phenomena of the real world."
    --Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky

    One of my mathematics professors used to say that while there is merit in abstract research, the main obligation of mathematicians is finding applications - in fact he would provide a lot of those. I vividly remember him playing his saxophone and then jumping deep into the general algebra describing what he just did. :)

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  30. Hi Dr. Moran (and all): First, I want to thank you again for taking the time to discuss methodological naturalism with me at AAI-HC. If I'm getting it right, you are saying that all knowledge claims should be subject to scientific investigation, which you define as the application of reason and skepticism with a requirement for evidential support. I am getting out of this discussion that you would accept logic as well by the references to mathematics.

    My question is, how do you define knowledge? I understand how supernatural claims such as those presented by "intelligent design" advocates can be subject to scientific investigation, and how it can be applied to historical claims. And I can also understand how one can interpret literature in this way. But I submit that in order to "know" a literary work frequently requires the reader to suspend their disbelief. One might derive from this process a deeper understanding of the human condition, for example. Would you consider that knowledge?

    Do you accept the distinction between the contexts of discovery and justification? It seems to me that there might be something similar going on when scientific discoveries arise from non-rational contexts, and when a reader allows themselves to be persuaded by false knowledge claims to appreciate (know?) a work of literature. In other words, I'm paralleling reading the work with the context of discovery, and analysis of the work with the context of justification.

    Forgive me if I am misunderstanding you, or if my argument is naive. I study communication, not science (although I have some background in the philosophy of science). So please speak slowly and use little words. ;-)

    Love your blog, thank you.

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  31. Shellska asks,

    My question is, how do you define knowledge?

    It's not easy.

    I think of true "knowledge" as something much more that just facts or information. To me, knowledge is equivalent to deep understanding or explanation. Knowledge is something you use to build a worldview that hopefully reflects reality.

    But I submit that in order to "know" a literary work frequently requires the reader to suspend their disbelief. One might derive from this process a deeper understanding of the human condition, for example. Would you consider that knowledge?

    You can read a novel and reflect on the meaning of what's happening to the characters. Sometimes this can provide additional insight leading to true knowledge of the human condition but you would be foolish to rely on this source as your primary evidence for how humans behave.

    When you read "Through the Looking Glass," "Brave New World," or "Moby Dick" you are not acquiring knowledge. You are acquiring evidence.

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  32. Shellska, excellent question and I'm pleased you got your reply.

    It seems LM can think about the problem, mumble some "hmm, not easy" and then give answers lining up with formal results from information theory. Cute. :)

    Should you ever decide to spend some serious effort on a deeper understanding of the difference between "literature knowledge" and "technical knowledge", please read:
    http://yudkowsky.net/rational/technical
    (note that the author is an expert on bayesian model comparison, not information theory, but the results are universal so it doesn't matter which road you go down)
    You will then appreciate why scientists who have tasted the explanatory power of scientific theories never want to return to non-explanations like allegorical tales.


    What I can try to do is give the perspective of information theory. I promise to simplify and relate to your field of study.

    (continued in next comment)

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  33. In information theory "knowledge" is defined as information which you can use to compress other information. So knowledge is any pattern you can recognize in the data. For example if I ask you to remember a very long sequence

    2, 5, 8, 11, ..., 305.

    , you may recognize the pattern and memorize it easily by "2, and then always 3 more, up to 305".

    Also, if I told you I got the data from some kind of experiment and would ask you to predict the next 1000 numbers, you could do so. In fact of all possible predictions your prediction would be the best. Your knowledge is "true" (pending falsification, as everything).

    (Very) basically this is how science works. As noted, I made up the example for simplicity's sake, the "knowledge" is as shallow as it can get. If you want to be blown away by amazing knowledge just pick up a best-selling popular science book. As an appetizer watch:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuRxRGR3VpM

    Now let's compare that true knowledge with "knowing literature".

    Since you're studying communication you will be familiar with communication layers, such as the OSI model, "syntax, semantics, and pragmatics", or meta layers. "Knowing literature" is a process taking place on a high abstraction level. The basics of literature are very sophisticated by nature. Therefore you will be able to understand incredibly complex "flowers of literature" by an insightful poem. That also is a wonderful experience.

    But, and this is the big difference: The only direction you will go with literature is upward. Your knowledge will not apply to lower layers. If you try to make it fit to lower layers you might end up with Dan Dennett's "deepities". I.e. knowledge that is true merely where it is trivial and wrong where it is deep (since on lower layers there is a hard distinction between "right" and "wrong").

    The courtier's reply deals with all of those.

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  34. Hello again (and sorry for the delayed response):

    DR, I thought LM addressed my question quite clearly by taking up my example to describe what he identifies as a relationship between evidence and knowledge (thank you). If the answer seemed short to you, that is because he and I already had a fairly in-depth conversation about this and I am now interrogating him about details.

    Thank you for introducing me to Bayesian reasoning; it has given me plenty to think about.

    A couple of questions, if you don’t mind indulging me:

    “LM... give[s] answers lining up with formal results from information theory.” Referring to the scientific method (specifically methodological naturalism), upon which points do you disagree?

    “You will then appreciate why scientists who have tasted the explanatory power of scientific theories never want to return to non-explanations like allegorical tales.” Allegory: “1. the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence... 2. a symbolic representation” (from Merriam-Webster online). The history of science demonstrates that things that started off as “allegorical tales” have evolved into settled science. Metaphors and models also play an important role in facilitating scientific understanding. Taking it even further, mathematics is a system of symbols that represents but is not reality. Where to demarcate “allegory”? Need we reject allegory altogether?

    I loved the video! No courtier’s reply from me; I am accused of being a post-positivist ;-) http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/positvsm.php. Just interested in ways to defend science from a communications perspective, and exploring areas where there is disagreement among members of the scientific community, so I can hopefully address these issues long before I defend my work.

    Shellska

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