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Hawking Goes Dawkins

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Spud McLaren
742542.  Sun Sep 12, 2010 12:58 pm Reply with quote

It does indeed. But you couldn't (still can't) see, hear, touch, smell or taste an atom, so pre-Dalton's work, there was nowt to hang your hat on - it was just speculation.

 
PDR
742574.  Sun Sep 12, 2010 3:13 pm Reply with quote

True, but there were observable effects which could not be explained (other than by reference to the will of deities) and so required that there was *something* to be found. I guess the point I'm being unusually clumbsy about explaining is that (IMHO) there are currently no observable [etc] effects which "require" the existance of a deity to explain.

Of course the original (greek?) concept of the atom was more philosophical than scientific - they postulated (as we still do) that all matter (and nowadays we include energy) must be made from the same raw material because it is philosophically elegant to assume that there is only one kind of "stuff" in the universe. I think of this as the "lego brick in legoland" approach (there are a few hundred different and impressive artifacts in legoland, but they're all based on the same unit lego brick*).

Our subsequent investigations have shown that atoms are divisible and the sub-assembly parts are still made of diffenet kinds of stuff, so we look further down into subatomic particles, quarks, strings and ultimately the fundamental polystyrene beads to find this level of dissasembly at which all mass and engery is made of the same stuff. I strongly suspect that the conjecture is indeed correct and one day we will find the fundamental particles, but at this point in time it's still just a postulation (in scientific terms).

This does illustrate another aspect of the difference between the scientific and religious approaches. It could be suggested that there was a similarity between the "one fundamental particle" type of theory and an element of religious faith. Both are things which people "believe" without evidence. But the difference is that an "article of faith" is believed to be actually true and is never tested (for proof denies faith), whereas the scientific "belief" is more like a 2suggestio9n" or "suspicion" which is subject to detailed research in order to FIND the evidence to prove or disprove it. I'd suggest the word "believe" actually means completely different things in these two contexts.

Final thought. Efros - if you're lobbing atom-sized indivisible particles into the melee can I ask how you're doing it? Are you using some kind of nanotech balista, or is it a simple microcatapault?

PDR

* of course this analogy is flawed because there are actually a couple of dozen kinds of unit lego brick, but we can ignore that because... well it's only an analogy, godamit!

 
Efros
742576.  Sun Sep 12, 2010 3:59 pm Reply with quote

CERN

 
Spud McLaren
742583.  Sun Sep 12, 2010 4:44 pm Reply with quote

PDR wrote:
I'd suggest the word "believe" actually means completely different things in these two contexts.
You know, I'd been trying in my own mind to pin down exactly what the definition of a belief* is, without resorting to the word believe, which would be begging the question.

I've got as far as being able to say that faith implies trust, and is what sustains belief rather than being synonymous with belief. But what is belief (see the above proviso)? This is one area in which I find dictionaries to be wanting.

*Or, if you prefer, what is it that one actually does when one believes something? I don't mean what one does as a consequence of believing; I mean what are the mechanics, the process of believing? What does it mean to believe?

 
Sadurian Mike
742590.  Sun Sep 12, 2010 5:01 pm Reply with quote

I don't use "believe" in the same way as I use "know". To me, "believe" is having enough faith in an idea so as to conclude that the idea is most probably correct.

"Know", on the other hand, I would use to state something that is completely incontrovertable.

I know that I can stand upright, but I believe that I will fall over if I stand up for too long.

 
npower1
742613.  Sun Sep 12, 2010 5:46 pm Reply with quote

Quote:
I know that I can stand upright, but I believe that I will fall over if I stand up for too long.


This is an example of being able to turn believe into knowing through experiment. All you have to do is stand up until you fail( or not) to stand up.

On the assumption that you fall down, other experimenters can easily reproduce the experiment. If many times your experiment reproducies the same results it is likely that your original theory was valid.

But there may be circumstances where your experiment fails to deliver the expected results. (e.g. standing up, falling asleep, in zero gravity - it still looks like standing up - have you defined 'standing up' well?

 
Posital
742617.  Sun Sep 12, 2010 6:02 pm Reply with quote

But belief can have a meaning which indicates that a particular premise is axiomatic to your self... and you will act accordingly.

Eg:

I believe in god.
I believe in freewill.
I believe it's your round...

 
Sadurian Mike
742639.  Sun Sep 12, 2010 8:54 pm Reply with quote

npower1 wrote:
Quote:
I know that I can stand upright, but I believe that I will fall over if I stand up for too long.


This is an example of being able to turn believe into knowing through experiment. All you have to do is stand up until you fail( or not) to stand up.

Exactly. Belief only becomes knowing through proof, but that only holds true until you repeat the experiment or circumstances.

I know that I fell over last time, but I cannot know that I won't be able to stand up forever this time so I can only use the experiences that I have compiled so far and make a reasonable assumption. I know that I can stand upright because I am doing so at this time.

This is the nature of facts and proof; is the most reasonable assumption based on the available data. The only thing we can know for certain is what we can sense at that time or have already experienced, thus I know that I have fallen over before, but I only believe that I will fall over again.

 
dr.bob
742690.  Mon Sep 13, 2010 6:14 am Reply with quote

PDR wrote:
Is science a "Faith"?

Interesting point. In general the scientific approach is a method and an outlook. There is one sense in which it can be described as a "faith", and that is the belief that the scientific/rationalist method of deduction and induction is a viable way of exploring the nature of reality - faith in the method rather than faith in the data it produces.


I think it's more than that. You also have to have faith in the data to a certain extent. To take one obvious example that springs to my mind for some reason, when collecting data on astronomical phenomena, you have to have faith that the laws of physics in a distant part of the universe are the same as the laws of physics here on earth. Now, currently we have no convincing evidence to show that the laws of physics change from place to place, but then neither do we have any evidence to prove that they remain the same.

Pretty much any scientific theory has to be based on some assumptions that are accepted on faith.

PDR wrote:
But there is one massive difference between this faith (if it is one) and the religious type of faith. In general (remembering that all generalisations are dangerous) the religious faith approach requires that where evidence contradicts faith it is the evidence that must be in error, whereas faith in scientific method would require that if the associated "articles of faith" are contradicted by evidence then the articles of faith can (and often are) subject to modification.


Which is why some beliefs are more sensible than others. If any scientific theory is shown to be wrong, people will go back to those aforementioned assumptions and conclude that they need to be changed.

 
RLDavies
742728.  Mon Sep 13, 2010 7:51 am Reply with quote

dr.bob wrote:
Now, currently we have no convincing evidence to show that the laws of physics change from place to place, but then neither do we have any evidence to prove that they remain the same.

Well, we do have evidence that they remain the same, insofar as we've examined a lot of different places and haven't yet found a place where they're different. Or a "seam" where they change from one set to another. This "seamlessness" was nicely described in Nigel Calder's The Key to the Universe as a major argument for the laws of nature being continuous across the universe.

I've just been re-reading my course text on behavioural analysis. Since this concentrates on the external and observable, it says nothing about belief, but it does have a definition of knowing. In behaviourist terms, knowing is the ability to take an action. For instance, if you consistently go to the fridge when hungry, this shows you know food is stored there. At any given moment you're probably not foraging in the fridge, but the probability of fridge-centred behaviour is quite high once you become hungry enough.

Not that that has a lot of bearing on the rest of this discussion, but someone might find it mildly interesting...

So far we've been discussing three types of belief about deities:
1. Traditional faith, the belief in the existence of one or more deities in more or less the same terms as laid down in religious teachings.
2. Atheism, the belief that there are no deities.
3. Agnosticism, the belief that we don't know and might never know whether deities exist or not.

This covers a lot of ground, but not all the ground there is. Western occultism includes a lot of statements about deities, including (in rough order of concreteness):
- they are true deities as claimed by their believers.
- they are real superhuman entities, but act as living personifications and directors of natural forces.
- they are real as far as they go, but are only aspects or fragments of a much greater truth or power.
- they are sort of real, but created and maintained only through the group mind of their believers.
- they are man-made symbols devised to help people understand abstract principles.

A good occultist should believe most or all of these statements, and act according to whichever one is most suitable in context.

 
bobwilson
742996.  Mon Sep 13, 2010 9:29 pm Reply with quote

Quote:
Belief only becomes knowing through proof, but that only holds true until you repeat the experiment or circumstances.


Assuming that you believe that the way to true knowledge is to use the scientific method.

Sometimes our beliefs are so fundamental that we simply don't recognise them as beliefs at all. The most famous example is Euclid's five axioms.

Put another way:

Science tells us that if you toss a perfectly balanced coin a million times it is extremely unlikely to come up heads on every one of those tosses. If anyone ever carried out this experimentally, and the coin actually turned up heads every single time, I doubt there would be too much of a clamour to overturn the theory of probability.

The first option would be to examine the coin and try to find a flaw in the experiment. The second option would be to state "well, it's possible - it just happened - toss it again and ......."

Science isn't that far away from religion in holding to a set of beliefs - a fact that is recognised by scientists themselves. It's long been acknowledged that the surest way to get a new theory accepted is to wait until the Old Guard have died off.

 
dr.bob
743081.  Tue Sep 14, 2010 5:08 am Reply with quote

RLDavies wrote:
Well, we do have evidence that they remain the same, insofar as we've examined a lot of different places and haven't yet found a place where they're different. Or a "seam" where they change from one set to another. This "seamlessness" was nicely described in Nigel Calder's The Key to the Universe as a major argument for the laws of nature being continuous across the universe.


Personally I think Nigel Calder is talking bollocks.

Why does there need to be a "seam"? Why can't the laws of physics change gradually?

Let's take a trivial example. We can measure distances of remote astronomical objects by measuring their redshift and extrapolating Hubble's law. However, this assumes that the speed of light is constant throughout the universe.

But what if the speed of light varied linearly with distance? Maybe further away from us, light travels more slowly. There would be no "seam" where we see the laws of physics changing because they simply change slowly over distance. Also it would mean that those distant objects are actually a lot closer than we think, but we can't tell since our measurement involves some erroneous assumptions.

Of course, there are other methods of measuring astronomical distances, but parallax only works well for nearby objects, and other measurements such as cepheid variables and supernovae not only have fairly large error bars, but also rely on the laws of physics not varying across the universe.

RLDavies wrote:
if you consistently go to the fridge when hungry, this shows you know food is stored there.


You don't know anything of the sort. It simply shows that, based on past experiences, you assume food is stored in the fridge. You have no idea whether or not someone else has sneaked into your kitchen and emptied your fridge while you weren't looking.

I'm not sure that science claims to know anything. If you want to get really solipsistic about things, you don't even know that you're who you are and where you are, instead of some electrons whizzing around a Matrix-style altered reality.

 
Neotenic
743084.  Tue Sep 14, 2010 5:12 am Reply with quote

Wheeeeeee!!!

 
CB27
743135.  Tue Sep 14, 2010 7:37 am Reply with quote

Did anyone else go slightly balder just then? I definitely felt something go over my head...

 
Neotenic
743141.  Tue Sep 14, 2010 7:57 am Reply with quote

Quote:
But what if the speed of light varied linearly with distance? Maybe further away from us, light travels more slowly.


I'm about as much a science bear as you are an economics monkey, but doesn't somthing similar happen gradually with time as one approaches the speed of light?

I was also thinking that changes in states of matter could be another example - there is no 'seam' between, say, water existing as a liquid and as a gas. If you apply heat, it doesn't go 'BAM' and all evaporate at once.

 

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