Re: Polanyi on science (was Re: [asa] C.S. Lewis on ID)

From: Don Winterstein <dfwinterstein@msn.com>
Date: Mon Dec 01 2008 - 01:49:11 EST

explain why social science, and, for that matter, political science, is science in the same sense as the experimental sciences like physics, chemistry, biology, etc.

Let's leave out political science, as I'm not sure what it is even though one of my brothers majored in it; I suspect it's about as much of a science as history, which is close to but not exactly a science.

Every science differs in important ways from every other science, so one should not expect social sciences to be closely comparable to physics. But psychology, a social science, is experimental, and branches of it are very close to certain branches of physiology; so if you're going to include all experimental sciences, you must include psychology.

What distinguishes a science from other ways of organizing knowledge is that it draws its conclusions from quantitative data and only quantitative data, data that are reproducible at least in principle.

The way sociologists and anthropologists get their data (at least, back when I studied such stuff) is largely through interviews supplemented by other kinds of observations. Data from interviews per se are subjective, but you can make quantitative statements on the basis of subjective responses by saying such things as, "85% of the people said they saw the ghost." The quantitative part has nothing to do with whether anybody actually saw a ghost but that 85% said they did. (Anthropology literature I've read usually doesn't quote hard percentages but makes its points with words. Results are still quantitative in that the words encapsulate lots of study, results of which can be reproducible. The use of hard percentages would often suggest a precision that's not meaningful.)

Psychologists can study hallucinations by recording responses of people who have hallucinations. The hallucinations don't correspond to any outside reality, and the responses are subjective; but when the psychologist interviews hundreds of people suffering from hallucinations, he can nevertheless say something quantitative about hallucinations and how people experience them. Similar experiments can be and have been done on color perception and and just about any other kind of perception imaginable.

The use of NMR in brain mapping often requires subjective responses of persons being monitored. A single such response would be of little scientific value, but when you do the experiment on dozens and get a similar subjective response under the same conditions, then you have quantitative data based on subjective responses.

Early in the last century physics was the model science, and the softer sciences wanted to remake themselves in the image of physics. Most never came close. This doesn't mean they aren't still sciences (by my definition).

Don

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Alexanian, Moorad<mailto:alexanian@uncw.edu>
  To: Don Winterstein<mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com> ; asa<mailto:asa@calvin.edu>
  Sent: Sunday, November 30, 2008 10:25 AM
  Subject: RE: Polanyi on science (was Re: [asa] C.S. Lewis on ID)

  Don,

  You would have to explain why social science, and, for that matter, political science, is science in the same sense as the experimental sciences like physics, chemistry, biology, etc. What I am saying is that yellow is subjective rather than objective. Note that if that were not so, then a psychologist would also consider hallucinations as objective. Geology is descriptive of physical objects very much as astronomy is based on observation, rather than experiments, of objects that lie beyond our earth. Obviously, geology and cosmology are sciences but not experimental sciences.

  “Pin-pricks” or NMR collects physical data, which qualifies them as scientific. As Schrödinger says, “we may be sure there is no nervous process whose objective description includes the characteristic ‘yellow color’ or ‘sweet taste,’ just as little as the objective description of an electro-magnetic wave includes either of these characteristics.”

  Let us face it; many disciples attach the word science to their title to give it the respectability and objectivity of the hard sciences. Notice that terms like “yellow” require a mind to comprehend much as language, communication, and abstract concepts. This by no means demeans all the kinds of knowledge that would not be characterized as science. Metaphysics and theology are all important but they are not, by any means, science.

  Moorad

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

  From: Don Winterstein [mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com]
  Sent: Sunday, November 30, 2008 12:31 AM
  To: asa; Alexanian, Moorad
  Subject: Re: Polanyi on science (was Re: [asa] C.S. Lewis on ID)

  I have defined science by its subject matter, which is data that can be collected, in principle, by purely physical devices. Accordingly, science studies the physical aspect of Nature.

  Such a narrow definition would seem to exclude social sciences and descriptive sciences such as a big part of geology. "Yellow" would be a valid scientific term for psychologists, for example.

  Do you really want research such as brain-mapping, whether by "pin-pricks" or NMR, to lie outside what you call science? These studies often depend on subjective responses, and the results are among the more fascinating--and potentially useful--in (what I call) science.

  Don

    ----- Original Message -----

    From: Alexanian, Moorad<mailto:alexanian@uncw.edu>

    To: Don Winterstein<mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com> ; asa<mailto:asa@calvin.edu>

    Sent: Saturday, November 29, 2008 7:13 AM

    Subject: RE: Polanyi on science (was Re: [asa] C.S. Lewis on ID)

    It is clear that by, "The color yellow in that sense is nonphysical," the meaning is that it is a subjective rather than an objective description. I am sure that even a scientific description in terms of physiological processes ends up, just as the physicist's, with the word yellow not being amongst the terms used to describe the objective character of the color yellow.

     

    I personally find no use for jargons like "methodological naturalism." I have defined science by its subject matter, which is data that can be collected, in principle, by purely physical devices. Accordingly, science studies the physical aspect of Nature. I have written extensively on this subject, which agrees with what you are assaying, and can be found at http://originsswau.edu/who/moorad/cmoorad98.html<http://origins.swau.edu/who/moorad/cmoorad98.html> <http://originsswau.edu/who/moorad/cmoorad98.html<http://origins.swau.edu/who/moorad/cmoorad98.html>> I know many disagree "violently" with this definition but I believe it is a good start, which is quite consistent with all that I know of the experimental and observational sciences.

     

    Moorad

     
     

    ________________________________

    From: Don Winterstein [mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com]
    Sent: Sat 11/29/2008 9:30 AM
    To: asa; Alexanian, Moorad
    Subject: Re: Polanyi on science (was Re: [asa] C.S. Lewis on ID)

    The color yellow ... is nonphysical.
     
    How do I know that your yellow is the same as mine? Only by doing tests, preferably ones that measure wavelengths. So it is physical, and it can be a subject for scientific study.
     
    Describe purely scientifically the relationship between my first cousin and myself.
     
    You seem to think that I'm saying that everything that's not science isn't real. That's far from what I'm saying or what I believe.
     
    Psychologists would, of course, be able to describe your relationship scientifically, but such description would probably leave out what you consider to be essential elements. Such essential elements, while real, can't be quantified and thus can't be incorporated into the realm of science.
     
    Surely, you must have loved someone. Is that not communicating subjective kind of knowledge successfully?
     
    Of course love can be and is "communicated" successfully, but it can't be communicated precisely. Witness the innumerable gross misunderstandings between lovers. The misunderstandings diminish only with long-term closeness, which gives lovers some ability to predict one another's behavior.
     
    Love can be and is studied scientifically, but such studies leave out much of what people consider essential to it.
     
    Consider the science of parapsychology. It studies such things as nonphysical thought transference, probably as spooky a thing as any science gets involved with. How does it do this? It doesn't study possible nonphysical mechanisms but just the superficial artifacts: It does statistical studies of such things as how often the "source" and "receiver" agree.
     
    the deduction of laws of Nature and the construction of scientific models and theories are all in the realm of the nonphysical, made up of mental constructs and memories.
     
    You're right, but fortunately these nonphysical elements that go into the creation of science can all be shoved aside when considering the final formulation. The science itself is the quantitative formulation. The personal agonies that go into it are of great interest and fascinating to many, but they're not part of the science, which is quantitative and stands independently of the nonphysical stuff that went into it.
     
    In writing on this topic I'm coming to believe the term "methodological naturalism," which offends some people, might be adequately replaced by a statement to the effect that science deals exclusively with aspects of the world that can be treated quantitatively. Such formulation would remove gods and spirits from the picture and shouldn't offend anyone: We'd just be defining what the limited scope of science is. The fact that we can understand so much of the world without making reference to God or spirits is of surpassing interest in itself.
     
    Don
     
     

    ----- Original Message -----
    From: Alexanian, Moorad <mailto:alexanian@uncw.edu<mailto:alexanian@uncw.edu>>
    To: Don Winterstein <mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com<mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com>> ; gregoryarago@yahoo.ca<mailto:gregoryarago@yahoo.ca> ; asa <mailto:asa@calvin.edu<mailto:asa@calvin.edu>>
    Sent: Friday, November 28, 2008 7:44 AM
    Subject: RE: Polanyi on science (was Re: [asa] C.S. Lewis on ID)

    The idea of the color yellow is associated with electromagnetic wavelength of 590 nanometers. However, the latter is the physical description of the human perception but yellow does not appear anywhere in Maxwell's equations. The color yellow in that sense is nonphysical.

    Describe purely scientifically the relationship between my first cousin and myself. Certainly, DNA will not help. Do you mean therefore that when I say Olga is my first cousin that this is a meaningless kind of knowledge?

    Moorad

    ________________________________

    From: asa-owner@lists.calvin.edu<mailto:asa-owner@lists.calvin.edu> on behalf of Don Winterstein
    Sent: Fri 11/28/2008 9:08 AM
    To: gregoryarago@yahoo.ca<mailto:gregoryarago@yahoo.ca>; asa
    Subject: Re: Polanyi on science (was Re: [asa] C.S. Lewis on ID)

    qualities are also shareable

    Give me an example of a quality that's shareable, and I'll show how it's shareable only because it can be described in terms of its measurable properties. No one can go inside another's psyche to find out how that person is experiencing something. Science does as well as it does because scientists do not need to know others' thought processes or what flaky misconceptions they may have entertained along the way or what their ethnic heritage was but only what the quantified and hopefully reproducible conclusions actually are.

    The notion that information is purely quantitative as an aspect of communication has been decisively overturned

    Almost all "communication" is not quantitative, so this is no surprise. But such "communication" needs to be in quotes, because given any interpersonal interaction, no one knows what was actually exchanged. Only if what was exchanged can be quantified can one get a handle on what was communicated. Scientists communicate things like numbers, equations, shapes, etc., all of which are quantities, deal with quantities, or can be quantified. Scientists include quantifiable descriptions of how they obtained their results so that others can test their conclusions.

    I can count the number of ideas I present in a paper, which is a quantity of something non-physical.

    Wrong. Once your ideas are in papers and you can count them, they are quantifiable physical entities. But as for any particular idea, you can't be sure your reader grasped it in the way you intended.

    I'm worried, Don, that you're using the term 'subjective' pejoratively

    No way, so please stop worrying. But I'm beginning to wonder if anything at all is subjective to you. : )

    Don

    ----- Original Message -----
    From: Gregory Arago <mailto:gregoryarago@yahoo.ca<mailto:gregoryarago@yahoo.ca>>
    To: asa <mailto:asa@calvin.edu<mailto:asa@calvin.edu>> ; Murray Hogg <mailto:muzhogg@netspace.net.au<mailto:muzhogg@netspace.net.au>> ; Don Winterstein <mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com<mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com>>
    Sent: Thursday, November 27, 2008 5:19 AM
    Subject: Re: Polanyi on science (was Re: [asa] C.S. Lewis on ID)

    Hi Don,

    If you'll please forgive me for saying it, I find your perspective one of the past, that is not consistent with how 'science' is generally viewed today. First, there are many sciences and many different scientific methods; there is not a single monolith of 'Science.' Thus, to say "sciences deal only with quantifiable entities" is rather an speculative opinion than a view that holds any sort of consensus. For example, qualities are also shareable, which is antonymous to the notion of quantities. And there are even non-natural things that are studied using scientific approaches.

    Second, with a more positive and supportive message, 'shareable' is primarily a matter or concern of communication. The 20th century saw a raft of scholarly activity in the realm of how communication is important in the conveyance of scientific (and other important forms of) knowledge. The notion that information is purely quantitative as an aspect of communication has been decisively overturned as simplistic and unsupportable. It is the same with logical positivism, empiricism and quantificationism (Sorokin coined the term 'quantophrenia' in this sense); they each must be understood as limited within the contexts that they arose and related to the problems they attempt(ed) to solve.

    In the sense suggested above, you might consider allowing non-physical things to be involved in scientific processes (even if that suggestion leaves an initial bad taste in your mouth, I suggest the taste is palateable and even to be appreciated in the long run!). You write: "If it's non-physical it can't be quantified." Yet this doesn't mean it is communicatively unimportant or that what is communicated cannot be addressed using scientific methods. For example, I can count the number of ideas I present in a paper, which is a quantity of something non-physical.

    It is after the 'hermeneutic turn' and the 'linguistic turn' (i.e. important contributions in philosophical thought of the 20th century) that natural scientists are called to pay more attention to how they communicate and the importance of communication to what is 'scientifically current' or what counts as 'scientific currency.' This seems to be part of both Murray's and Polayni's message, the latter which said:

    "The scientist must be granted independence, because only his [sic] personal vision can achieve essential progress in science...No man can know more than a tiny fragment of science...I think we are overestimating the factor of the absolute confirmation, because that is not the kind of thing which exists in science - certainly it is not found by backroom boys." (In Man and the Science of Man, 1968: 22, 26, 142)

    "I woudn't worry about whether this is science or not. It seems to me not a substantial question." (163)

    I'm worried, Don, that you're using the term 'subjective' pejoratively, when it needn't be seen or understood that way (e.g. as anti-science).

    Gregory

    --- On Thu, 11/27/08, Don Winterstein <dfwinterstein@msn.com<mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com>> wrote:

    From: Don Winterstein <dfwinterstein@msn.com<mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com>>
    Subject: Re: Polanyi on science (was Re: [asa] C.S. Lewis on ID)
    To: "asa" <asa@calvin.edu<mailto:asa@calvin.edu>>, "Murray Hogg" <muzhogg@netspace.net.au<mailto:muzhogg@netspace.net.au>>
    Received: Thursday, November 27, 2008, 3:24 PM

    just because one's experience of God is personal it doesn't follow that such knowledge is "subjective"

    Sciences deal only with quantifiable entities and testable relationships among quantities. Quantities in principle are accessible to everyone, and that's a major reason why sciences make progress. Scientists don't know how other scientists perceive quantities, just that the quantities turn out to be the same for everyone. IOW, quantities are shareable.

    Christians commonly "share" experiences of God and other non-quantifiables, but "share" is in quotes because as they "share" they don't have any sure way of knowing whether anyone grasps what they are talking about. We believe God is real and exists independently of ourselves, but any experience of him is fundamentally unshareable. Any attempt to share the experience amounts only to making suggestions, dropping hints. Our "sharing" may stimulate others to seek such experience, but even if they succeed, they won't know whether their experience is the same as ours. For these reasons knowledge from such experience is subjective.

    Don

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