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I have a question about what one might call "scientific astrology."

I have a question about what one might call "scientific astrology." "Astrology" as a predictive indicator, let's assume for discussion, has been discredited. "Astrology" as a coincident indicator, perhaps, let's not be too hasty. Imagine first an agrarian society barely above subsistence level. In the spring, everyone is out in the fields, including newborn infants in their equivalent of strollers or baby seats. In the winter, everyone is indoors all day. Recent psychological evidence seems to indicate that the development of people's personalities might be heavily influenced by their early childhood environment. So wouldn't the conjunction of these two observations provide a grounds upon which some form of astrology - not as causative, but as correlative - might actually have empirical evidence to support it?

You suggest that personality might be dependent on the time of year at which one is born, but for reasons other than the positions of the stars. That's a reasonable hypothesis with various possible mechanisms (you suggest the annual cycles of indoor and outdoor living plus some unstated human developmental mechanisms that are sensitive to external climate during specific intervals in infancy). No such mechanisms have been detected yet, but they shouldn't be ruled out a priori. But why call this theory "scientific astrology"? It has very little in common with astrology, which, at the very least, is about the influence of stars on human lives. They simply make some of the same predictions.

Would it be fair to say that philosophy is a manipulation of words, and that

Would it be fair to say that philosophy is a manipulation of words, and that scientists deal with the relationship between language and extra-language observations? Thus "truth" would primarily be a language concept according to which consistency between words would exist. In the non-language (empirical) world truth would be infrequent because be empirical observations can rarely be one hundred percent verified.

To be candid, your question seems to embody some confusions. I'll try to address them in this reply.

1. I think it's fair to regard philosophy as the analysis (if you like, the logical manipulation) of concepts, although that view of philosophy is rejected by some philosophers. In any case, concepts can be expressed in any number of languages, so I wouldn't regard philosophy as the manipulation of words as such.

2. Scientists, as far as I can tell, don't in general examine the relationship between language and extralinguistic observations. Instead they try to explain or predict patterns of observations in as unified and elegant a way as they can manage.

3. I don't see how it follows ("Thus") from your first sentence that "truth [is] primarily a language concept according to which consistency between words would exist." First, what does "consistency between words" mean? Are "red" and "colorless" mutually inconsistent words because red and colorless are mutually inconsistent concepts? Second, more than consistency between concepts is required for truth: gold and mountain are mutually consistent concepts, but that doesn't make it true that a gold mountain exists.

4. Your last sentence seems to assume that the existence of true statements requires verification by empirical observations (whether 100% verification or not). That assumption seems to be a version of verificationism (discussed here), and it seems wrong. We ordinarily think of verifying an empirical statement as ascertaining or confirming its truth, not as making the statement true in the first place. (If quantum mechanics says otherwise, it departs from our ordinary way of thinking.) Most philosophers would deny that truth must be verified in order to exist, let alone that it must be verified with certainty in order to exist.

Is computer science a "science" in the same way as the natural sciences?

Is computer science a "science" in the same way as the natural sciences? Sometimes I think it more closely resembles math, in that the kind of reasoning it is engaged in is in some sense a priori.

Parts of computer science are like other sciences, parts are certainly like mathematics, and parts are also like engineering. Some people have argued that it is a natural science, others that it is an "artificial" science, still others that it is not a science but a branch of engineering, and so on.

The answer to your question of whether computer science is a science depends, of course, on what is meant by "science" as well as what is meant by "computer science". What some people call "computer science" others call "computing science", "computer engineering", "informatics", etc., each seeming to emphasize a different aspect of the discipline.

And the question of what constitutes science (as opposed to, say, arts or humanities, on the one hand; "pseudoscience", on the other hand; and mathematics, on another hand) is a major topic in the philosophy of science.

For some readings, by computer scientists as well as philosophers, on this question, take a look at some webpages I created on it for my course on the philosophy of computer science (boldfaced readings on these webpages are the ones of central importance, I think):

What Is Computer Science?

What Is Science?

What Is Engineering?

I have a question about the entities in scientific theories and models. The

I have a question about the entities in scientific theories and models. The status of some of these objects seems intuitive. Frictionless planes, for example, though they don't exist, seem helpful enough as an abstraction for understanding how actual planes function. My question is about entities which we (non-scientists) know only through the prism of scientific theory--say, photons or electrons. I know what light and electricity are, on some immediate level, through my everyday experience of these phenomena. But I don't know what to make of the entities that physics tells me compose them. My inclination is to take them as "real", not just convenient notions of the purpose of theorizing and mathematical models. I can't help pictures these tiny, planet-like spheres whizzing around. I know there's something importantly wrong about that image, but I'm not sure what. Furthermore, scientists still talk about particles "spinning" and so forth, I am unable to see in what sense this is an analogy in the way...

The question that you are raising is a venerable and perennial one. In the trade, it is called the dispute between "scientific realism" and "scientific anti-realism." Scientific realism is the view that in science, when a theory is accepted, the unobservable entities that the theory posits are believed to exist and the theory's statements about them are believed to be (approximately) true. Scientific anti-realism is the view that in science, when a theory is accepted, the theory's claims about observable facts are believed to be true, but the theory's claims about unobservables are not believed to be true. Rather, they are believed to make accurate predictions about observables. That is all that science requires of its theories about unobservables.

In your question, you alluded to Ptolemy's epicycles. This is a perfect case in point. In the ancient world, the celestial spheres posited by astronomical theories as carrying the planets along in their orbits (around the earth) were widely regarded not as genuinely existing, but merely as geometric machinery that could "save the phenomena" - that is, that could make accurate predictions regarding planetary positions in the night sky. The ancients knew that many different combinations of celestial spheres could produce the same predictions regarding the positions of the planets as seen from earth. Therefore (they concluded), to regard any of these combinations as more likely than any other to be correct, when they make exactly the same empirical predictions, would be unjustified.

Of course, as you know, it turned out that none of these combinations of celestial spheres was real. But (you asked) what should we think about the unobservable entities posited by today's best scientific theories? Perhaps there are other theories besides the ones that we have managed to come up with that make the same empirical predictions as our best current theories. Should we then remain "agnostic" regarding the truth of those theories, and believe them only accurate regarding all actual and possible observations?

On the other hand, even if two theories agree regarding all of the actual observations that we have made so far, we are surely oftentimes justified in believing that one of these theories is much more likely than the other to be true. Suppose (to choose a notorious example from Nelson Goodman) that every emerald that we have checked so far has been green at the time that we have checked it. Then the theory that all emeralds at every moment are green fits our observations -- but so does the theory that all emeralds at every moment are "grue", which means that all emeralds at every moment are green if the moment precedes the year 3000 and are blue if the moment does not precede the year 3000. This ridiculous theory fits all of our observations (since every moment at which we have observed emeralds has been before the year 3000). Now if we are justified in favoring one of these two theories over the other, though they both agree with all of the observations that we have made so far, then why wouldn't we be justified in believing in the truth of a theory about unobservable entities even if there are (at least in principle) other theories that differ in what they say about unobservables but agree with the given theory's predictions about observables?

I'm attending a lecture on the philosophy of science, and our professor told us

I'm attending a lecture on the philosophy of science, and our professor told us yesterday that "we constantly rely on inductive reasoning all the time in our lives, such as when we assume that the floor won't suddenly collapse beneath our feet if we walk forwards." This struck me as odd. Is it accurate to say we "assume" such a thing? It seems to me that we don't even think about these things at all, much less try to justify any such assumptions - saying we're relying on some kind of argumentation seems like a stretch, but perhaps it isn't. Is everything we do, then, the result of certain processes of reasoning? Or are there things we just do without any reasoning to support them?

Hm, I wonder if you were in MY early modern class (where I use this example with Hume ....!) In any case I might only add to Stephen's reply that one small test that we are making an implicit assumption P is to imagine, for a moment, that we didn't believe the proposition P in question -- if we tell ourselves (if we assume) "the floor WILL give out if I walk forwards" then we pretty clearly wouldn't walk forwards, which suggests that the fact that we ordinarily DO walk forwards was relying on the assumption that the floor would NOT give out .... (And of course once we admit to ourselves our implicit assumptions, we might then examine the origin/source of the assumptions, such as some implicit process of inductive reasoning ....)

ap

Sigmund Freud told of a Jewish women who dreamt that a stranger handed her a

Sigmund Freud told of a Jewish women who dreamt that a stranger handed her a comb. The women desired to marry a Christian man which triggered an emotional argument with her mother on the night prior to her dream. When Freud asked her what memories she associated with the word comb the woman told him that once her mother had once told her not to use a separate comb because she would "mix the breed." Freud then revealed that the meaning of the dream was an expression of her own latent wish to "mix the breed." Examples such as this seem like very persuasive evidence of Freud's theory that dreams are a form of wish fulfilment but many scientists and philosophers of science say that Freud's theories can't be scientifically falsified or that he lacks scientific evidence. But what constitutes scientific evidence? Surely Freud is a scientist because he grounds his theories in specific empirical clinical examples that he expresses clearly in a way that even the most uneducated person can understand them? The...

I don't myself think the term 'scientific' is a scientific term, nor have philosophers, such as Grunbaum or anyone else given it a very interesting or useful interpretation. Freud had a lot of ideas. So do contemporary psychoanalysts 100 years on. Psychoanalysis is no monolith. We can ask of any of the many many claims that psychoanalysts have made (under the heading of psychoanalysis, forgetting about what they say about other things): are they well backed by evidence and argument? Do they prove clinically useful and successful. Asking those questions is useful and interesting. Asking whether psychoanalysis is scientific is not.

Why are scientists so keen on unification in their theories? Do we have reason

Why are scientists so keen on unification in their theories? Do we have reason to think that unified theories are likely to be correct? Or are they just desirable for other reasons--convenience, aesthetics, etc.?

SOME scientists are keen on unification--and some are not. Philosophers of science have generally focussed on unification, typically viewing unified theories as more deeply explanatory (e.g. Hempel, Kitcher) or just as simpler or more elegant (e.g. Van Fraassen, Quine), and many scientists--particularly physicists--have expressed similar views. More recently philosophers of science, especially those working in areas of philosophy of biology, psychology and the social sciences have argued that our best theories are, and should be, disunified (John Dupre's "The Disunity of Science" was one of the early works on disunity; a more recent work on disunity in biology is Sandra Mitchell's "Biological Complexity and Integrative Pluralism". Scientists themselves sometimes say that they are eclectic in methodology and/or theory, indicating that they work in a pluralistic and disunified framework.

Stephen Hawking, in his recent book entitled The Grand Design, states that

Stephen Hawking, in his recent book entitled The Grand Design, states that philosophy is dead. Without going into the reasons behind his thinking, I'd like to know the response of current philosophers to Hawking's statement. He has laid down a gauntlet of sorts, a challenge to philosophers to make their work relevant to the recent advances and discoveries made by cosmologists, astrophysicists, and others on the cutting edge of scientific discovery and investigation. Are present-day philosophers up to Hawking's challenge?

Scientists who write obituaries for philosophy forget that science depends on philosophical assumptions. When some lab results or observations of the visible universe confirm or disconfirm a prediction in physics, Hawking and colleagues draw conclusions about the whole universe. But does any set of observations justify conclusions about unobserved cases? Is "elegance" an objective feature of a theory, and does it make a theory having it more likely to be true? And so on. Philosophers grapple with these questions; scientists just presume answers to them. Unless we ignore such questions, philosophizing is inescapable.

Is atheism a scientific worldview? Many people who try to promote atheism seem

Is atheism a scientific worldview? Many people who try to promote atheism seem to think so.

Well much depends on what "scientific" is taken to mean (obviously), and there are plenty of philosophers who think that science strongly supports, provides evidence for, theism -- or at least that science is essentially neutral on the question of theism/atheism. But what does seem deniable is that actual scientific research, and its many applications, makes no explicit reference to God -- so that would seem to support the idea that science works in an atheist framework, on the assumption of atheism, and has managed to be pretty darn successful in so doing. That doesn't mean that various scientific results are not consistent with theism (though of course we want to recognize the difference between believing in "God" in general and believing all the numerous details of any particular religion); but it does suggest that atheism and science have a kind of natural fit, in a way in which theism -- especially when entwined with all the details of the particular religions -- does not.

IMHO, anyway!

Andrew Pessin

what is the fundamental difference between science and non-science? aware of

what is the fundamental difference between science and non-science? aware of popper's theory of falsification, i still am unsure of how a theory can only be scientific if it can be proven false? this seems rather contradictory; what about if a scientific theory had been rigourously tested so much that it is in fact true, and cannot be proven false? thanks in advance :)

I'm not sure there's a fundamental difference between science and non-science. But the point about falsifiability isn't that a true theory can be proven false. It's that scientific theories can be tested, and we know what sorts of results would count against the theory in principle

Keep in mind that even a theory that's survived a long string of rigorous tests might still be overthrown. The point of the falsifiability requirement is that we know what sorts of results would count against the theory - whether or not they ever turn up.

One more point, though. It's one thing to say we know what would count against a theory. It's another to say that some particular bit of evidence would refute a theory conclusively. Things are seldom if ever that simple.

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