Re: [asa] Objective vs. Subjective (and the Green Rules)

From: Nucacids <nucacids@wowway.com>
Date: Wed Jan 07 2009 - 11:33:33 EST

Good points, David. BTW, if anyone is interested, I'm trying to fire up a discussion of this topic on my new blog:

http://designmatrix.wordpress.com/

Mike

  I agree with Mike here except for the last sentence. Measurement doesn't allow us to "move beyond" subjectivity. As you note, Mike, the choice of what we choose to measure and how we interpret those measurements is not purely objective. In addition, the choice of measurement method is not purely objective. Statistical models are called "models" because they only approximate reality.

  I think Polanyi was right -- "subjective" and "objective" can't be separated. And I think Bhaskar is right -- we make contact with reality when we do science, and progressive knowledge is possible, but this realism is always infused with the critical notion that every human knowledge claim is situated and never purely objective.

  David W. Opderbeck
  Associate Professor of Law
  Seton Hall University Law School
  Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology

  On Wed, Jan 7, 2009 at 10:21 AM, Nucacids <nucacids@wowway.com> wrote:

    Don writes: "On the contrary; subjective claims are what drive progress in formulating scientific theory. We sometimes call them hypotheses. A. Einstein: "The theorist who undertakes [to flesh out a theory] should not be carped at as 'fanciful'; on the contrary, he should be encouraged to give free reign to his fancy, for there is no other way to the goal."

    Coope replies:

    "I agree with Einstein; subjectivity is not pejorative term. Supposition, hypotheses, conjecture, theory, views, ideas, insights, and other subjective claims are all part of the process found in science. The intent of the statement was to show that they do not directly alter the foundation to science. Reliable and accurate facts are not altered by any opinion (scientific or otherwise). Also, part of the intent was to claim that religion and philosophy do not alter the facts directly, but indirectly. Nevertheless, subjective ideas are essential to finding things useful from the data. That is why I followed the statement with, "[Subjectivity can indirectly greatly influence science via the scientist and supporting parties, but the foundational measurements remain objective.]""

    I agree with Don on this point, as the sentence "Subjective claims have no direct influence on science" seems to be conflating science with measurement.

    Think of the scientific method observation, hypothesis, experiment. Psychologists have shown that we don't really passively observe, we actively perceive. Thus, the foundation of the scientific method, observation, is subjective. This subjective element then gives rise to the hypothesis, an expression of the mind's eye, and thus another layer of subjectivity. It's not until we get to the experiment that measurement comes into play (unless previous measurements are incorporated into the hypothesis). Yet, as I noted before, the interpretation of the measurements is subjective. But it's more than that.

    Whether or not particular experiments are conceived and/or performed is the consequence of subjectivity. To quote Francois Jacob:

    To produce a valuable observation, one has first to have an idea

    of what to observe, a preconception of what is possible. Scientific

    advances often come from uncovering a hitherto unseen aspect of

    things as a result, not so much of using new instruments, but rather

    of looking at objects from a different angle. This look is necessarily

    guided by a certain idea of what this so-called reality might be. It

    always involves a certain conception about the unknown, that is,

    about what lies beyond that which one has logical or experimental

    reasons to believe.

    I would say that subjective claims do have direct influence on science because they *guide* science at every stage. They influence what we perceive, how we explain, what we choose to measure, and how we interpret those measurements. Yet it is the measurement that allows us to move beyond this sea of subjectivity. For subjective claims have no direct influence on measurement.

    - Mike

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: George Cooper
      To: asa@calvin.edu
      Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 10:01 AM
      Subject: RE: [asa] Objective vs. Subjective (and the Green Rules)

      Hi Don,

      Thanks for your views on the green rules.

      Subjective claims have no direct influence on science.

      On the contrary; subjective claims are what drive progress in formulating scientific theory. We sometimes call them hypotheses. A. Einstein: "The theorist who undertakes [to flesh out a theory] should not be carped at as 'fanciful'; on the contrary, he should be encouraged to give free reign to his fancy, for there is no other way to the goal."

      I agree with Einstein; subjectivity is not pejorative term. Supposition, hypotheses, conjecture, theory, views, ideas, insights, and other subjective claims are all part of the process found in science. The intent of the statement was to show that they do not directly alter the foundation to science. Reliable and accurate facts are not altered by any opinion (scientific or otherwise). Also, part of the intent was to claim that religion and philosophy do not alter the facts directly, but indirectly. Nevertheless, subjective ideas are essential to finding things useful from the data. That is why I followed the statement with, "[Subjectivity can indirectly greatly influence science via the scientist and supporting parties, but the foundational measurements remain objective.]"

      Unfortunately, my statement does seem to be an overstatement and I need to word it better. Perhaps something like, "Subjective claims can not alter the foundation to science (ie. factual evidence)." Any advice?

      objective elements of any subjective claim [are open to scientific scrutiny]

      A subjective claim once stated is an arrangement of words now divorced from the private feelings that gave rise to it. Every word of the subjective claim is an object in the public domain. So yes, both the words and their meaning can be scrutinized--but not the feelings that gave rise to them.

      The intent of this rule is to claim that any element within subjective claims that can be tested scientifically (objective measurements) is vulnerable to what science has to say about it as a result of those measurements.

      Geocentricity was not a subjective claim but a scientific theory that seemed to account for known observations (when you include the epicycles).

      All scientific theories are subjective claims but are noticeably different than other subjective claims (eg religion) since they are founded upon objective elements. Thus, theories are not cast in stone, but are models that intentionally require objective elements, allow testability, and include predictability. No better models exist for addressing natural phenomena. It was the objective elements of Geocentricity that allowed it to be shown as false since it made predictions such as both crescent and gibbous phases for Venus (Ptolemy's model, not Tycho's), and no stellar parallax, etc.

      If a theory were required to be correct before we could call it a scientific theory, there wouldn't be any such thing as a scientific theory.

      I am unclear what you are saying here. Scrutiny applies to all scientific theories and this scrutiny often presents very favorable results to theories that are the best models.

      Coope

        ----- Original Message -----

        From: George Cooper

        To: asa@calvin.edu

        Sent: Tuesday, January 06, 2009 11:07 AM

        Subject: RE: [asa] Objective vs. Subjective (and the Green Rules)

        "Could we not simply define "objective" as being that which can be measured...."

        Don said, "That's close, but I prefer "public" versus "private." Information that's public is info that people can obtain in principle if they have the resources and the motivation. Information that's private is info that in principle cannot be checked out by anyone but has come to an individual via personal experience. Science works partly because it restricts itself to public info; but that does not mean private info is necessarily any less valid: It just may not be valid to anyone other than the one who received it.

        The distinction between private and public is helpful in understanding the important differences between objectivity and subjectivity. But subjective opinions (and paintings) are usually made public and open for debate as to their merit, except in monologues, so the "public" term is easily lost in its general definition.

        I would like to present something I have had a little help with I call the "Green rules" - they seem too basic so I chose to add a little color to them.

        Relationship rules for Objective and Subjective claims.

        1) The objective elements of any subjective claim are open to scientific scrutiny.

        2) Any subjective claim, scientific or otherwise, is also affected by the manner in which the subjective claim uses the objective claim for basis/support/justification.

        3) Science has influence upon subjective claims in proportion to the weight science can bear upon the objective elements within them. This weight is a product of the strength that science has in the respective area of knowledge, and the amount of exposure within the subjective claim that the objective elements have to this "pressure" from science.

        4) Subjective claims have no direct influence on science. [Subjectivity can indirectly greatly influence science via the scientist and supporting parties, but the foundational measurements remain objective.]

        I would appreciate comment, as I feel these are a bit too green (a worse pun, sorry).

        These can be applied to almost any religious or philosophical claim. Consider the Geocentric claim that was supposedly seen as biblical. What changed the opinion of the Church? It wasn't Galileo during his house arrest for advocating the Heliocentric model. It was the fact that the religious claim that the Earth was the center of the universe, and related claims (eg. perfect celestial orbs) included objective elements within the claim that allowed scientific scrutiny, when technology improved, to influence the credibility of the Geocentric claim. The Church elected to reject the initial scrutiny that Galileo thrust upon them, but eventually they were too impacted by objective evidence to hold onto their Aristotlean/Ptolemy/Aquinas view, or the adopted Tychonic model by the Jesuit scholars.

        Coope.

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Received on Wed Jan 7 11:34:32 2009

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