As the whirlwind of TAM8 died down on Monday, I was left with warm fuzzies toward all the Rationally Speaking readers and listeners who came up to me throughout the conference. Thanks, everyone - it was delightful to meet you. I was impressed by how nice you are, and how articulate; and not least of all by what excellent taste you have in blogs and podcasts!
I was also left with lingering ruminations about a few of the TAM8 talks, including Massimo's. While I agreed with the main thrust of Massimo's argument, I also disagreed in a way that I felt was important and interesting enough to merit a blog post of its own. You can read the talk here, but in a nutshell, Massimo was admonishing skeptics who reject the scientific consensus in fields in which they have no technical expertise - the most notable recent example of this being anthropogenic climate change, about which venerable skeptics like James Randi and Michael Shermer have publicly expressed doubts (though Shermer has since changed his mind).
Now, I'm totally with Massimo that it seems quite likely that anthropogenic climate change is really happening. But I'm not sure I can get behind Massimo's broader argument that non-experts should defer to the expert consensus in a field. The main problem, as I see it, is that while we can usually count on the process of peer criticism to check the research within a field for validity, I'm not sure we can count on it to check the validity of the field itself. I'm talking here about the methodology and the philosophical assumptions that underlie a field, the usually-unstated pillars on which all its findings rest.
Why? First of all, while there are strong incentives for a researcher to find errors in other work in the field, there are strong disincentives for her to challenge the field's foundational assumptions. It will be extremely difficult for her to get other people to agree with her if she tries, and if she succeeds, she'll still be taking herself down along with the rest of the field. Second of all, fields naturally select for people who accept their foundational assumptions. People who don't accept those assumptions are likely not to have gone into that field in the first place, or to have left it already.
Sometimes those foundational assumptions are simple enough that an outsider can evaluate them - for instance, I may not be an expert in astrology or theology, but I can understand their starting premises (stars affect human fates; we should accept the Bible as the truth) well enough to confidently dismiss them, and the fields that rest on them. But when the foundational assumptions get more complex - like the assumption that we can reliably model future temperatures - it becomes much harder for an outsider to judge their soundness.
So we almost seem to be stuck in a Catch-22: The only people who are qualified to evaluate the validity of a complex field are the ones who have studied that field in depth - in other words, experts. Yet the experts are also the people who have the strongest incentives not to reject the foundational assumptions of the field, and the ones who have self-selected for believing those assumptions. So the closer you are to a field, the more biased you are, which makes you a poor judge of it; the farther away you are, the less relevant knowledge you have, which makes you a poor judge of it. What to do?
I've run into this problem before with, for example, postmodernism. No matter what else the experts in that field disagree on, they would at least agree that they are all more or less talking sense. I'm dubious of that consensus, and so are plenty of other people who are at least as smart as me. But when we outsiders object that postmodernism is bunk, postmodernists retort that we don't know what we're talking about because we're not experts in the field.
(Incidentally, it was in recognition of that Catch-22 that I began my tenure on this blog with a couple of posts trying to find some objective, external criterion to evaluate whether the postmodernists really are talking sense. But that was admittedly more of a mental exercise than a serious proposal, since, as many of you pointed out in comments, my criteria had some major flaws in them!)
Here's a trickier case study: economics. Plenty of smart non-economists have objected that the fundamental assumptions of economics - for example, that theoretical models can usefully represent the complex behavior of societies - are so flawed as to make the discipline worthless. Just one example, from philosopher Brian Leiter: "[Economics] parlays a set of implausible and utterly unrealistic assumptions into tidy, mathematically-expressible theories that have little or no connection to reality." Economists, on the other hand, will counter that economics is just too complicated for non-experts to have any hope of commenting intelligently on. As a case in point, this much-discussed op-ed by Virginia Fed economist Kartik Athreya, titled "Economics is Hard. Don’t Let Bloggers Tell You Otherwise." Athreya insists that the models are sound, they're just too complex to be understood except by people who have taken PhD-level economics, and that anyone who hasn't should refrain from judging the field.
So how should we deal with our Catch-22? Well, I don't pretend to have any definitive answers here, but I have a few preliminary thoughts. First, luckily, the Catch-22 isn't quite as stark as I made it sound. For example, you can often find people who are experts in the particular methodology used by a field without actually being a member of the field, so they can be much more unbiased judges of whether that field is applying the methodology soundly. So for example, a foundational principle underlying a lot of empirical social science research is that linear regression is a valid tool for modeling most phenomena. I strongly recommend asking a statistics professor about that.
I also think there are some general criteria that outsiders can use to evaluate the validity of a technical field, even without “technical scientific expertise” in that field. For example, can the field make testable predictions, and does it have a good track record of predicting things correctly? This seems like a good criterion by which an outsider can judge the field of climate modeling (and "predictions" here includes using your model to predict past data accurately). I don't need to know how the insanely-complicated models work to know that successful prediction is a good sign. And there are other more field-specific criteria outsiders can often use. For example, I've barely studied postmodernism at all, but I don't have to know much about the field to recognize that the fact that they borrow concepts from complex disciplines which they themselves haven't studied is a red flag.
Again, let me be clear that my point is not that I’m skeptical of anthropogenic climate change. My point is that I don't think it's as simple as saying that skeptics should automatically accept the expert consensus in fields in which they have no technical expertise. I think we can, and indeed we should, pass judgment on fields we're not experts in. The tricky part is just figuring out what criteria to judge them by.
nicely put, but allow me to make a few comments, since the inspiration for the post was my talk at TAM.
First off, I never said that skeptics should accept expert opinions without question, but rather that if they want to question it they have to do the hard work of actually understand it, which as you point out is no easy task in some fields.
Second, you are right that insiders rarely question the assumptions or practices of their own field. But this is not quite as monolithic as you make it sound. Science has a long history of insiders overturning accepted paradigms, the reason being that there is a high premium on novel discoveries.
Related to the point above, science as a field (i.e., its practices and assumptions) is constantly monitored and questioned by experts in other fields, primarily history of science, philosophy of science and sociology.
Of course in some fields there really is no internal expertise (ufos, parapsychology, astrology), which is why skeptics really *are* the experts there, in fact better qualified than most scientists.
As for postmodernism and economics, the first one is internally criticized in its excesses (it's not all nonsense) by other philosophers, and the second one both by philosophers of economics and by economists who subscribe to a different approach, known as behavioral economics.
Lastly, your suggestions for how non experts can make up their mind are good. As you know, the last chapter of Nonsense on Stilts is entirely dedicated precisely to that problem, and lists five ways for non experts to judge the reliability of experts. Interested readers can find the short version of it on slides 18 and 20 of my talk here: http://bit.ly/bOeA5f (second entry under "For the general public").
You seem to be objecting to "Massimo was admonishing skeptics who reject the scientific consensus in fields in which they have no technical expertise"ReplyDelete
Your solution appears to be "get technical expertise".
Many disciplines/studies are actually combinations of 'fields'. As you so rightly point out, if you are concerned with a paper in social science, you can use expertise in statistics to check it as the paper probably used/referenced/is based on some statistics or statistical assumptions.
This is simply a demarcation problem: there are no clearly delineated 'fields' of research, they are all (to an extent) interdisciplinary.
As such, you seem to be echoing, rather than disagreeing.
I recently read up on the slides from Massimo Pigliucci's talk at TAM8 and other slides he has available on the website. To say someone's questioning or skeptical approach to a concept/theory/study/paper is invalid because they are not an expert/member of the field isn't fighting anti-intellectualism, but rather, as I see it, promoting elitism. This is where skeptics get upset. It seems as though we should be skeptical of everything except science and skeptics. It's similar to the notion Richard Dawkins brings up early on in 'God Delusion' that we as a societal whole are not allowed to question religion. Skeptics expect to question, educate, and sometimes even sling mud...and be untouchable.ReplyDelete
I think the bigger problem here isn't that non-scientists are questioning science, I think it's that the general populous gives too much automatic credibility to the skeptics, and perhaps don't hold them accountable to the same level of burden of proof they would hold believers to.
Yet...I think if more than one person got the same general idea from Massimo's talk, then perhaps something got lost.
First off, I'd like to thank both Massimo and Julia (and all the writers really) for a wonderful blog, one that I should have found before.ReplyDelete
I've always thought that the issue with AGW is less the science and all about the political solutions. Most every solution we hear in the public conversation requires some level of sacrifice and uncertainty in the future.
Politicians, neither experts in climatology nor economics, craft legislation to solve the problem through the lens of their own political ideology. At TAM8, this was pretty apparent. My honest opinion is that people who are AGW skeptics are mainly skeptics of the political solutions. If AGW was said to increase the GDP of the country by two to three times, I'm guessing you'd see a lot less climate change skeptics.
This might be a little off topic, but I think it's important to know who is truly being doubted in something like this.
In the case of usual vox populi there is more broad question. Is common sense appropriate tool for making judgment in any scientific area? Sure not. Only sceptic philosophers have priveleges and rights to use this universal tool. Why? Sceptic philosophers are hard subjects for any mental manipulation which currently is the essence of human civilization. So in the practial area the question of big importance is - which common sense win at the end. Maybe this is the question of humankind existence.ReplyDelete
Legitimate scientific fields usually get along with each other. For example, the Theory of Evolution is consistent with Geology (stratigraphy), Physics (radiocarbon dating), Genetics, etc. Creationism, therefore, goes against most legitimate science. Likewise, Astrology, Parapsychology, and Homeopathy go against what we know of physics, chemistry, etc. But at least they're all proven by Quantum Mechanics, LOL.ReplyDelete
You're right about checking the track record. The fact that my computer, GPS receiver, and prescription drugs work tells me that the science behind them works. The weather forecast is less reliable, but it sure beats the horoscope.
I don't think the catch-22 that you make reference to several times exists, and it's because I strongly disagree with the observation that "the experts are the ones with the greatest incentives not to reject the foundational assumptions of the field." History has often showed that it was those very experts so deeply steeped in the accepted facts who led internal movements to counter those facts which didn't turn out hold up to scrutiny. It was social scientists who led the charge against eugenics and racial classifications, it was theologians who have led every religious schism in history, and it was astronomers who rebelled against the earlier astronomers who accepted the geocentric model. But no such insurrection exists for AGW, whose skeptics draw 100% from the ranks of outsiders. The incentive does not run against insiders; rather, it runs towards those who can back bold counterclaims with both expertise and with facts that can convince other experts. There's huge incentive in being a successful iconoclast-expert because you end up on "the right side of history."ReplyDelete
(Sorry to everyone reading this twice-- I gave it a bit of thought and decided it was worth posting here.)
Hello Julia. Hello Massimo. I had the pleasure of meeting both of you at TAM and I am a huge devotee of your podcast. This is my first time posting.ReplyDelete
Though I agree that outsider opinion is important because outsiders have nothing to gain or lose from scientific outcomes, I still tend to side more with Massimo because radical change does occur and that change usually is dependent upon experts from within a field ( sometimes borrowing from experts not within that given field ).
I defer to Thomas Kuhn, who I studied in cognitive psychology a million years ago, to elaborate that point.
As per the Skeptics Dictionary, "T.S. Kuhn in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) used the term 'paradigm' to refer to the conceptual frameworks and/or worldviews of various scientific communities. For Kuhn, a scientific paradigm includes models—like the planetary model of atoms—and theories, concepts, knowledge, assumptions, and values. The concept of a scientific paradigm was essential to Kuhn's argument that the history of science is characterized by conceptual frameworks giving way to new ones during what he called scientific revolutions.
Kuhn believed that during periods of "normal science" scientists work within the same paradigm. Scientific communication and work proceeds relatively smoothly until anomalies occur or a new theory or model is proposed which requires understanding traditional scientific concepts in new ways, and which rejects old assumptions and replaces them with new ones.
A paradigm of a scientific revolution in Kuhn's sense would be the Copernican revolution."
Not being a phiosopher I feel like a fish out of water with this post, so am I off base, or am I relevant?
When Massimo has made this point in the past, I had similar thoughts that Julia has expressed, but ultimately I don't think there is a real disagreement here. In fact when Massimo was on skeptico he came across a version of his own argument when the host commented how near-death-experience researchers are in consensus about NDEs, and Massimo countered with the analogy that astrologers are also in agreement that astrology works (that doesn't make it so).ReplyDelete
My take is that a nonspecialist can criticize certain methodolgies and logical inconsistencies if they really do their "homework." This is particularly true for individual studies, and less so for consensus science.
It is important to keep intellectual humility in mind, which is almost always overlooked when people refuse to believe a consensus view. I think that this is what Massimo is reacting against when he discusses the topic (in addition to anti-intellectualism more broadly), and this is sometimes interpreted as being more dogmatic than he intends to be.
The truth is that we would be much better off if the public (therefore politicians) had more reverence for consensus science, even if it is wrong on occasion. Not perfect, but better than everything else.
Is syntropy of Luigi Fantappiè scientific conception?
Spontaneous selfconcentration of energy doesn't contradict second law, information backpropagation in time also.
@HJC: I'm guessing Massimo (if not also his co-bloggers) probably doesn't care much for Kuhn. I get the feeling that he was popular in his day, and maybe still is among anti-science postmodern-types, but I don't think he is at all integral to philosophy of science today. I admit that I could have the wrong impression of the field, and, haha, defer to the expertise of Massimo here.ReplyDelete
Random, I have no idea what you arevreferring to, sorry.ReplyDelete
Camus, I have mixed feelings about Kuhn. I just wrote a paper on the lack of paradigm shifts in biology, so I have used his framework, but to show that in some cases it doesn't apply...
Following Andrew Levine's point. Usually within disciplines there are researchers fighting with each other over something. I imagine there is within climate research as well.ReplyDelete
And in economics, although there is a dominant paradigm in the field, there are important dissenting theoretical schools such as Marxist, Keynesian etc. that give lay skeptics legs to stand on.
And Max makes an important point also. It seems there are other legitimate scientific fields that give support to AGW. (but I guess it is the modeling that is the controversy?)
I don't think any simple rule will do. The best any of us can do is judge by all the information we have. That includes not only our knowledge of the specific subject matter, but all sorts of secondary knowledge about the people involved, the procedures they employ, the degree of consensus, and perhaps most importantly their past success. People who are aware of how enormously successful science has been (and I think that's most reasonably well-educated people) have reason to generally trust the scientific consensus. There is no similar reason to trust the consensus of postmodernists. What visible achievements can we attribute to postmodernism? Other fields (like economics) tend to lie somewhere between those two extremes.ReplyDelete
Even within science some fields are more solid than others. And even within one scientific field, a higher level of confidence is appropriate to some conclusions than to others. Unfortunately, it's not easy to communicate an appropriate confidence level, and the media are particularly poor at doing so. The more we know about science and scientists generally, the better able we are to make our own judgements of relative reliability. But for the less scientifically-literate this can be a big problem.
It's unlikely I could acquire sufficient expertise about climate change to make a better primary judgement than the experts, and the effort for me to get anywhere close is more than I'm willing to undertake. Nevertheless, it's possible I could make a secondary judgement with relatively modest effort. If I read the arguments of the critics together with responses from leading experts, and found that the criticisms had been very poorly addressed, that would reduce my trust in the experts. I haven't done that, though, and so have no reason to seriously doubt that the consensus view represents the appropriate conclusion given the evidence. That's not to say it's certainly correct. This seems like a difficult and uncertain area of science. I think the IPCC only claims a 90% level of confidence in their main conclusion. But given the dire consequences of ignoring it if it's correct, I'm inclined to provisionally accept it.
I was disppointed by James Randi's original statement on the subject because he appeared to have no adequate reason for his scepticism. Scepticism (in the good sense) doesn't mean doubting everything. It means having a level of doubt that is appropriate given the information available.
Massimo, maybe it would be interesting for you and others:ReplyDelete
Massimo said: "First off, I never said that skeptics should accept expert opinions without question, but rather that if they want to question it they have to do the hard work of actually understand it, which as you point out is no easy task in some fields."ReplyDelete
This gets right to the heart of (what I perceived to be) our disagreement: the question of what counts as the "hard work of actually understanding" a subject. The question is whether you need to actually become an expert in a subject, i.e., through years of study, or whether a smart layperson can acquire enough understanding to reject a consensus just by doing some reading on his own.
In your lecture you talked about how it takes years and years to be a scientist, and your slides say, "Most skeptics do not have technical scientific expertise" and "To reject a scientific notion w/out proper expertise is a form of anti-intellectualism"... which I interpreted to mean that you felt extensive training is necessary to qualify someone to reject a scientific notion.
But if all you were saying is that people should read up on a subject before rejecting it, then we really don't disagree. (Of course, it still leaves us with the tricky and interesting questions of what criteria we laypersons should be using to evaluate a field, and how much confidence we should have in consensus.)
Also, Massimo, you said: "Science has a long history of insiders overturning accepted paradigms, the reason being that there is a high premium on novel discoveries."ReplyDelete
But I'm not talking about the kind of paradigm that can be overturned with a new discovery. I'm really talking about epistemological outlooks. Could a "new discovery" resolve the dispute over whether evolutionary psychology or string theory are legitimate sciences? Could a new discovery force economists to admit that their models are unconnected to reality? Could a new discovery convince postmodernists that they're not making meaningful claims? Could a new discovery convince social scientists that their results obtained using linear regression are worthless?
"You seem to be objecting to "Massimo was admonishing skeptics who reject the scientific consensus in fields in which they have no technical expertise". Your solution appears to be "get technical expertise"."
Well, I sort of explained this in my comment to Massimo above, but I'm rejecting the notion that technical expertise is necessary -- or even sufficient! -- to judge the validity of a field. I'm arguing instead that smart laypeople can, without technical expertise, do a bit of homework and then apply some meta-criteria to determine whether the alleged experts in that field are reliable.
with regard to your first question: I do think that people who wish to substantially criticize scientific consensus need to develop expertise. Getting a PhD is not mandatory, but most people who criticize climate change research wouldn't know how to read a technical paper in atmospheric physics, or how to read (let alone improve upon) a computer model predicting climate change.
Look, we make fun of creationists for rejecting evolution (a scientific consensus) on the basis of their own quick readings and bizarre counter-theories (including, interestingly, conspiracy theories). Why would we hold our own community to a lesser standard?
As for the second question, I already mentioned that the sort of external criticism you are advocating is done regularly by other experts: philosophers of science (in the case of evolutionary psychology and string theory), different currents within economics (in the case of econometric models), analytical philosophers (in the case of postmodernism), and statisticians in the case of social science models (btw, many social scientists actually use very sophisticated statistical analyses, chiefly path analysis and structural equation modeling, not simple regressions).
Skeptics are supposed to be critical of anti-intellectualism. When they choose the lazy route and say that they don't believe in X because they are "not convinced," or because one needs to "follow the money," and so on, they are making exactly the same mistakes as pseudoscientists, and they should be called upon.
> I'm arguing instead that smart laypeople can, without technical expertise, do a bit of homework and then apply some meta-criteria to determine whether the alleged experts in that field are reliable. <
Can you point to a case in the history of science where that has worked?
Massimo said: "Can you point to a case in the history of science where that has worked?"ReplyDelete
What do you mean by "worked"? I'm not talking about overturning a field, I'm talking about deciding for oneself whether the field is reliable. If you judge string theory for its lack of testable predictions, or if I judge social science for its use of inappropriate statistical tools, that's the kind of thing I'm talking about. Those are criteria that smart laypeople can apply to judge an expert consensus -- without needing a PhD, just some moderate effort reading about a field and some critical thinking about what is necessary to deem it reliable.
Julia, be careful not to move the goal post (too far, at least). As you know from reading Nonsense on Stilts, of course I agree that there are criteria that lay people can use to judge consensus in a given field. By those criteria there should be *no discussion whatsoever* about climate change, because there is a strong consensus in the relevant community. (I should add, of course, that even when the relevant community agrees they can still be wrong.)ReplyDelete
As far as your specific examples go: the status of string theory as a science can be understood by the lay public, as long as they know enough elementary philosophy of science and fundamental physics, which they can read in popular books and articles. But string theory per se cannot be criticized by anyone who doesn't understand the math, which is very few people in the world, I'm afraid (though, thankfully, not all of these people are string theorists!).
Statistics in social science: nope, unless you have a fair amount of training in statistics (which you personally happen to have) I really don't think lay people can seriously engage in that discussion. What they can do is to point to dissenting expert opinion - as it was the case, for instance, for the (in)famous Bell Curve book by Herrnstein and Murray.
Massimo / Julia,ReplyDelete
I am curious how the skeptics and scientific community feel about the politicizing of climate change science? I mirror Shanes point about politicians reactons to the science.
Zero pollution would be very bad for obvious reasons. To achieve it every car, truck, power plant, etc. would have to cease to exsist to achieve it, and inevidably cause massive famine to the globe. So logically there is some level of pollution that is beneficial to mankind. Yet the politicians see fit to attempt to legislate polution based on AGW science. This obviously creates motivation for people outside the scientific field to look into its legitimacy.
I did not hear Massimos talk on the subject, but it sounds like he has issue with the non-experts that want to debunk the field of AGW (which I can understand his frustration). I guess my question is: do you automatically blame the people motivated to debunk AGW science or do you blame the politicians for really doing the opposite (that is taking the science to mean far more than it actually means).
As I see it (as the non expert reviewing the data to the best of my ability) yes there is evidence to CC. But actually predicting what CC means to people and their standard of living is quite undefined. To try and define it, would hardly be an accurate science in itself because the amount of assumptions stacked on top of each other would be far from an accurate science. So when poiticians use CC science as a means to legislate or we will have catastrophy, I hope you place more blame on the politician for the intrusivness to AGW science.
You always need an emergency to pass legislation that the people dont want. they are using your science for that emergency. you can blame the non-expert for sticking his nose where it doesnt belong. But the problem is that unlike Physics and Quantum Mechanics, in AGW or CC science, the average person has a lot at stake. You cant expect him to sit on the sidelines while scientists are indirectly deciding his fate.
I think that your skepticism is well-placed and that you will find rich illustrations to support your concerns once you turn your canons onto the theory of evolution.
Jeeze man, in my estimation (and others) politicians aren't coming close taking the possible catastrophe of global warming serious enough.
Andrew said: "I don't think the catch-22 that you make reference to several times exists... The incentive does not run against insiders; rather, it runs towards those who can back bold counterclaims with both expertise and with facts that can convince other experts."ReplyDelete
Andrew, I sort of addressed your point in one of my comments to Massimo -- but I think there's a difference between being the one to make a new discovery that overturns the field, and being the one who's simply saying, "Guys, we're not being rigorous enough!" or "Guys, our hypotheses aren't even testable!" The latter dude doesn't get heralded as a visionary, he's just considered a thorn in the discipline's side.
Spouting out a bit of a non-sequedor into this fray, what is a good book, that doesn't have a tendency to overstate things, that focuses on defending climate change science by meticulously debunking the arguments made by skeptics of the field?ReplyDelete
I recently got a kindle and in searching for such a book I was unable to find anything that fit the profile. Pretty much every book, except for one which focused on following the money trail and not on the science itself, either took climate change for granted and attempted to explain it without focusing primarily on debunking critics or else was written by said critics and claimed, in highly colorful langauge, the whole thing is a farce.
My acting assumption is that global warming is a legit theory, and that although scientists sometimes get big things wrong, it represents our best guess and what should be our acting assumption so long as the concensus among climatologists remains. However, my father, a Cooper Union Engineering graduate, isn't sure about the theory and on the basis of his limited experience in advanced numerical analysis at said school leans towards the belief that climate change science is fundamentally flawed because he thinks it dwelves into the mathetical realm of chaos theory. His very rudimentory knowledge of the atmosphere (such as for instance the far greater abundance of H2O relative to CO2) also leads him to put forth other contensions that critics tend to employ to try to make the theory of global warming look manifestly wrongheaded.
Although I, as I said, think global warming is a legit theory, I suspect that its portrayal in the media is horribly polluted with people with people on both sides overstating their cases.
It on the one hand forms something of a religion of passionate environmentalists who are intoxicated with the, perhaps accurate, idea that the world as know we know it will come end unless other people do what they tell them to. As a result of this intoxication, these environmentalists are all too frequently loose enough with the facts that they leave themselves highly vulnerable to honest and/or bribed skeptics. And on the other big business, do-nothings, and skepticists like my father see this and for honest or cynical reasons push forward a movement critical of climate change theory that is gaining ever more momentum and is shifting the polls in the general populace towards disbelief.
Obviously, climatologists have done a horrible job overall in selling their theory to the masses. But, the world is a pretty big place, and so i'm hoping this non-partisan but concensus defending book exists. It is one thing to loose to Glenn Beck when it comes to the greater population, it is another thing to loose people like my father who could probably be persuaded by clear headed logical analysis of the details.
Yeah, what Manns Word says is right, though not in the way he meant it. That's precisely the kind of company that anti-intellectualism gains you...ReplyDelete
If you have not done so already, you might want to check "realclimate.org", a site is maintained by climate scientists. I don't know about a book reference but you will certainly find a lot of the stuff you're looking for. Try the "Start Here" menu option at the top.
Julia: "But I'm not sure I can get behind Massimo's broader argument that non-experts should defer to the expert consensus in a field. The main problem, as I see it, is that while we can usually count on the process of peer criticism to check the research within a field for validity, I'm not sure we can count on it to check the validity of the field itself. I'm talking here about the methodology and the philosophical assumptions that underlie a field, the usually-unstated pillars on which all its findings rest."ReplyDelete
Agreed. So, I trust that you do not have any problem with non-experts questioning the assumptions of evolutionary biology.
I trust that you will defer to the expert consensus in the field of parapsychology and use your influence to sway the skeptic community to do the same.
My personal means of whether it's important to understand is looking at the relevance of understanding in terms of the belief itself. For example I don't think it's relevant to look into astrology as the reasons for accepting or rejecting astrology aren't part of the discipline itself. Just as looking at homoeopathy or theology to name but two disciplines.ReplyDelete
But when it comes to science, the acceptance or dismissal of a scientific theory is tied to the empirical evidence. If I were to make an argument against anthropogenic global warming, I'd really have to make a scientific case. As someone who isn't a climatologist, I simply don't have the capacity to do that.
The only means I see of making an argument against it as a non-expert is to reject the mode of inquiry altogether, or work towards becoming an expert (then I'd run the risk of doing a Jonathan Wells and getting qualifications with the goal of destroying science I dismiss for non-scientific reasons).
but in fact skeptics *are* experts in parapsychology. Parapsychology is not an academic discipline, and is rarely touched by scientists. That's one area (together with ufology, astrology, psychic readings etc.) where skeptics both have expertise and have contributed original research. Not so in evolutionary biology.
One difference I see between Massimo and Julia is that Massimo is talking only about science, while Julia wants to extend the discussion to other fields of enquiry. But what's true for science isn't necessarily true for other fields. Science has features which make the scientific consensus more trustworthy than the consensus in most other fields. The problem is that many people don't recognise this sufficiently, and therefore don't give enough weight to scientific authority.ReplyDelete
It's probably sensible to adopt a rule-of-thumb like "don't reject the scientific consensus on a subject if you don't have a high level of expertise in that particular field". The trouble is that, if you're addressing people who don't have a realistic assessment of their own judgement relative to that of the scientific community, they probably won't accept this rule, or be too inclined to judge that a particular set of circumstances overrides the rule.
What's really needed is better education about science so people can make better judgements about when it's appropriate to trust the scientific consensus. In the meantime the rule-of-thumb may help a bit.
With regard to parapsychology and other pseudosciences... The experts in a new scientific field gain authority from recognition of their field by the wider scientific community. Until then the relevant authorities are those in related recognised scientific fields, not self-appointed experts in the new would-be science.ReplyDelete
This raises another point, that when we talk about an expert consensus it's worth asking how wide a circle of experts to consider. For example, in the case of climate change we might just look at the consensus of climate change experts. But if we have reservations about the reliability of this relatively narrow group we can also look at the consensus of scientists more generally (assuming that information is available). Scientists generally are in a better position than non-scientists to judge the reliability of climate change experts. As far as I can tell, the scientific community generally accepts the consensus of climate change experts, and to me that's strong support. If the majority of scientists with opinions on the subject opposed that consensus I would be a lot more doubtful about it.
Massimo: "but in fact skeptics *are* experts in parapsychology."ReplyDelete
Well, that may be true, but it is irrelevant. You argued previously that we should go with the general consensus of the field, not with the skeptical minority. (There are skeptical experts in climatology who disagree with the general consensus in that field concerning anthropogenic global warming.)
Massimo: "Parapsychology is not an academic discipline, and is rarely touched by scientists."
Parapsychology is recognized as a science by the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science).
"Under the direction of anthropologist Margaret Mead, the Parapsychological Association took a large step in advancing the field of parapsychology in 1969 when it became affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the largest general scientific society in the world."
(source: Wikipedia: "Parapsychology")
>It seems there are other legitimate scientific fields that give support to AGW.
It brings together many Earth science disciplines: Glaciologists study shrinking glaciers, Oceanographers study ocean temperatures and effects on coral reefs, Atmospheric scientists study CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, Astronomers study solar activity and the greehouse effect on Venus, and so on.
Massimo: "Not so in evolutionary biology."ReplyDelete
Just for the sake of clarity. Are you suggesting that there are no skeptical experts in the field who question the modern synthesis?
My rule of thumb is that skeptics should learn enough about a field to criticize it without resorting to straw man arguments, and check if the criticism has already been adequately addressed.ReplyDelete
If Mead really tried that, shame on her. There is no sign of anything parapsychological on the AAAS site, and there ought not to be.
Skeptics are experts in parapsychology because they have investigated it. It is a pseudoscience, so there is no internal binding expertise.
I don't know of experts in climatology who reject AGW, though of course even if you did find one or two that wouldn't negate the existence of a broad consensus within the discipline.
As for the Modern Synthesis, you are kidding, yes? As you probably know, I'm one of the most vocal critics of it, but that's part of normal internal discussions within science (just like there are critics of the standard model in physics), no serius biologist rejects evolution.
Something else perhaps worth mentioning is that in the field of AGW research there has to be a strong bias to the current consensus. Could it be that perhaps this slightly seperates AGW from other disiplines such as physics or biology? The expected outcome is right in the title of the disipline. Its not the study of the globe, or the study of the atmosphere, or the study of climate (although it does study all of these things). Its the study of anthropogenic global climate change. What would its purpose serve if the results were that the climate is not changing or that the 26% of the atmospheres CO2 that is attributed to man had no effect in changing the climate. Scientists recieve their funding in large part from governments utilizing the data for legislation. If the field does not supply that data it is certainly not going to have the funding that it currently gets (which is perhaps currently more than any other field). I am not saying that GCC is not real. I am just saying that to discuss this subject of non-expert intrusion without acknowledging these issues is to just stir more distrust from the non-experts. It is also a field where predictions have vast amounts of time to be fulfilled. Also a field where the predictions of 30 years ago are failed and are the complete opposite of todays predictions (and thus have failed Julias easy test for the layman).ReplyDelete
Massimo, I am still quite curious on my previous question. Perhaps you refrain for not wanting to open that debate. You point to the need for the layman to refrain from questioning a field they are not experts in without becomming proficient in the field itself, and yet you dont have this issue in most fields. You are not acknowledging the reason why people have an interest in this peticular field. Root cause, the only way you turn a problem off or on is by discovering the root cause of it. Although I am not a scientist, I am proficient with problem solving and root cause analysis. You dont solve problems by just acknowledging you have one. I am very curious to your thoughts.
The "field" is climate science, or atmospheric physics, not AGW per se, so there is no built-in bias.
Yes, you rare right that this is a discussion fraught with political aspects, just like another controversy, the evolution-creation "debate," is underscored by religious ideology.
But just like not all evolutionary biologists are atheists, so not all climate scientists are flaming liberals. The same kind of ideological pluralism is hard to claim for the other side in either debate...
Massimo wrote: "As for the Modern Synthesis, you are kidding, yes? As you probably know, I'm one of the most vocal critics of it, but that's part of normal internal discussions within science (just like there are critics of the standard model in physics), no serius biologist rejects evolution."ReplyDelete
That's a dodge, because you've never given any credence to the views of evolutionary biologists who in various and sundry ways recognize the role that an organism's purposes play in natural selection.
Massimo: "If Mead really tried that, shame on her. There is no sign of anything parapsychological on the AAAS site, and there ought not to be."ReplyDelete
The PA (i.e."Parapsychological Association") is listed as an affiliate on AAAS's (i.e. "American Association for the Advancement of Science) website. See link below...
"AAAS List of Affiliates"
Massimo: "Skeptics are experts in parapsychology because they have investigated it. It is a pseudoscience, so there is no internal binding expertise."
Who are these skeptical experts who have actually studied the experimental results of parapsychology and found it to be a pseudoscience?
Massimo: "I don't know of experts in climatology who reject AGW, though of course even if you did find one or two that wouldn't negate the existence of a broad consensus within the discipline."
Okay, but I could make the same argument for parapsychology. The experts in the field have a broad consensus that psi phenomena are real.
Massimo: "As for the Modern Synthesis, you are kidding, yes? As you probably know, I'm one of the most vocal critics of it, but that's part of normal internal discussions within science (just like there are critics of the standard model in physics), no serius biologist rejects evolution."
Just for the sake of clarity. Are you suggesting that the neo-Darwinian theory (genetic variation/mutations/natural selection) is insufficient to explain evolution? (I am not questioning whether evolution has occurred as a historical fact; I am simply asking if we have a theory that reasonably explains the fact.)
you just gave me an idea for a blog post blasting AAAS for having a parapsychology affiliate. As a Fellow of AAAS I will also write to the President about it.
As for expert debunking of parapsychology, just pick up any issue of Skeptical Inquirer or Skeptic, or read the many books written by skeptics about it. Or look at the abysmal failures of the Rhine and PEAR labs over decades.
Yes, I am saying that neo-Darwinism is necessary but not sufficient to explain evolution, just like any serious theoretical physicist will tell you that the standard model is not complete.
Artie, I don't see what I'm dodging. Tome phrases like "the role that an organism's purposes play in natural selection" are meaningless. Organisms don't have purpose. Natural selection imparts the appearance of purpose, as it has been well understood by biologists since Darwin.ReplyDelete
excellent discussion. i would just like to add my 2 cents as an interested layperson.
i think that the problem of evaluating a field of study not only exist for the smart layman but for other scientists in related fields who have some Germaine technical expertise but not the deep understand of an expert.that is there is a huge gap between an interested outsider who gathers information from popular science books,magazine articles,intro text and the occasional paper and a expert who understands the methods of a field - their strengths and weaknesses and how to compenstate for them; knows the literature - which results are landmark, those that are confirmatory, those that pose a problem to a theory, those results that can be ignored because they invalidated by other studies or contain misunderstandings; know the history of a field - understand fail ideas & successes and why they have failed or succeeded.
i think that this gap needs to be filled by historians, philosopher, expert scientist and science writers where they write about the intellectual history of a field - failure and successes of ideas especially if the field has been around for a while, examine experimetal results and the theories that generate and support them and those that they invalidate, methodological critiques and survey articles by the leaders of the field where they routinely summarise what they think are the significant development in the field with heavy reference to the literature.
now all of writing should be done with heavy emphasis on concept clarification,linking of ideas to related ideas in the field and other field as well historically older ideas, and empirical support of the ideas.
in short what i think an interested outsider needs are synthesis works that unite ideas, empirical results, methodology
across a field and forums in which to discuss them.
Jared Croft in addition to the recommendation of realclimate above also try http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php as john cook has done an excellent job of addressing specific arguments of climate skeptics with heavy reference to the peer review science literature and a lot of those references are downloadable.it is a very nice, detailed site.
Foundations of Biology: On the Problem of “Purpose” in Biology in Relation to Our Acceptance of the Darwinian Theory of Natural Selection
Paul S. Agutter and Denys N. Wheatley
IS THERE PURPOSE IN NATURE
Prospects and Perils of the New Brain Sciences Steven P R Rose
Artie, we've gone through all of this already. If by "purpose" one means some sort of conscious agency (i.e., the everyday meaning of the term), then it's mumbo jumbo. But most of these authors redefine purpose to mean something that most biologists already know and is rather uncontroversial.ReplyDelete
Have you gone through the relationship between autopoietic systems and purpose? Not to my knowledge. Or discussed those systems in relation to the alleged blindness of natural selection? Again, I've not seen it.ReplyDelete
Except perhaps to say there is none, without ever saying why so may others seem to disagree.
Massimo: "you just gave me an idea for a blog post blasting AAAS for having a parapsychology affiliate. As a Fellow of AAAS I will also write to the President about it."ReplyDelete
Good luck with that. Perhaps you will succeed where physicist John Wheeler failed.
Massimo: "As for expert debunking of parapsychology, just pick up any issue of Skeptical Inquirer or Skeptic, or read the many books written by skeptics about it. Or look at the abysmal failures of the Rhine and PEAR labs over decades."
Ray Hyman (noted skeptic and CSI fellow) investigated the CIA's "Stargate Project" data (which were replicated by the PEAR lab) and said they were "free of methodological weakenesses...effect sizes...are too large to be dismissed as statistical flukes."(source: "Science and the Taboo of Psi" with Dean Radin)
Massimo: "Yes, I am saying that neo-Darwinism is necessary but not sufficient to explain evolution, just like any serious theoretical physicist will tell you that the standard model is not complete. "
But is this the consensus or a minority viewpoint?
Massimo: "Organisms don't have purpose. Natural selection imparts the appearance of purpose, as it has been well understood by biologists since Darwin."ReplyDelete
This implies that our entire mental life is purely illusory.
Concerning Ray Hyman and the Stargate project, please read his Skeptical Inquirer report published back in 1996.ReplyDelete
Here is a link to a more detailed review by Hyman (the source seems reliable but I can't be sure). See also here for a skeptical overview of the PEAR program. Dean Radin is clearly quoting out of context a - Hyman's skeptical views are quite clear.
I'll try my luck with the AAAS anyway. As for Hayman, see JP's comment above. Concerning evolutionary theory, it doesn't matter what view is the consensus, because those are legitimate discussions within an established science, a completely different case from people with no technical background casually questioning scientific notions. And your comment about our mental life being illusory is a complete non sequitur, I'm afraid.
While I appreciate Paisley's support for what should be the obvious connection between intelligence and purpose in biology, and can support there being a form of awareness in nature outside of biological systems, I can't support the psi conceptions, at least as far as evidence to date has demonstrated. Nature's laws are nothing if not strategic and a strategy for taking such determinate advantage of the indeterminacy of nature doesn't seem to be extant for many reasons. I'll keep an open mind, as Paisley clearly is no amateur when it comes to either science or philosophy and attention must be paid accordingly. But Dean Radin as a study in sophisticated gullibility doesn't help the cause.ReplyDelete
Nor does Massimo's blind spot when it comes to considerations of purpose as an elemental factor of intelligence help his all that much. Non sequitur or no, there are no strategies without an element of purpose, I'm afraid.
Sometimes external critiques are sufficient to overturn claims in another field, either where the external critique comes from an overlapping field or from someone with expertise in a cross-disciplinary set of tools like mathematics or logic. Sometimes, however, apparent refutations even from such fields are illusory (e.g., the 1966 Wistar Symposium, where some mathematicians thought they were refuting evolution; or more recently the Wegman Report on Mann's 1998 hockey stick paper, which, despite finding errors in the paper and methodology, didn't actually undermine the results).ReplyDelete
HJC: Massimo is right to have mixed feelings about Kuhn (and Popper), for the same reasons. Popper is still widely regarded among scientists as having been the last word in philosophy of science, while Kuhn is seen by many in the social sciences as having overturned rationalist philosophy of science, and neither is the case. Kuhn's historicism is a useful corrective to the excessive rationalism of Popper, but philosophy of science has moved on from both. A good, if somewhat difficult read is historian John H. Zammito's _A Nice Derangement of Epistemes: Post-Positivism in the Study of Science from Quine to Latour_, which describes how exaggerated versions of the Duhem-Quine thesis and radical interpretations of Kuhn led to the "science wars."
Jared Croft, RealClimate's Start Here page is excellent, but for rebuttals to specific AGW-denier talking points, complete with citations to peer-reviewed literature, you can't beat SkepticalScience. It's even available as an iPhone app.ReplyDelete
JP: "Concerning Ray Hyman and the Stargate project, please read his Skeptical Inquirer report published back in 1996.ReplyDelete
Here is a link to a more detailed review by Hyman (the source seems reliable but I can't be sure). See also here for a skeptical overview of the PEAR program. Dean Radin is clearly quoting out of context a - Hyman's skeptical views are quite clear."
Here's Jessica Utts' rebuttal to Ray Hyman's report.
"Response to Ray Hyman's Report" by Jessica Utts
There is no point in responding to the "skeptical" overview of the experimental results of parapsychology (it is about as fair and balanced as FOX News). Besides, the "PA website" responds to the criticisms. So, I see no reason to get in what will amount to nothing more than a "tit-for-tat" exchange. Statistics are subject to interpretation. Closed-minded "skeptics" will not find the statistics to be very compelling; open-minded "believers" will.
What I will discuss is the real reason why Ray Hyman (and skeptics in general) will not accept the parapsychological data.
At the beginning of the article, he states...
"Neither relativity theory nor quantum mechanics in their present versions can cope with a world that harbors the psychic phenomena so boldly proclaimed by Utts and her parapsychological colleagues"
(source: "The Evidence for Psychic Functioning: Claims vs. Reality" by Ray Hyman)
And at the end of the article, he basically reiterates the same sentiment...
"What seems clear is that the scientific community is not going to abandon its fundamental ideas about causality, time, and other principles on the basis of a handful of experiments whose findings have yet to be shown to be replicable and lawful."
(source: "The Evidence for Psychic Functiong: Claims vs. Reality" by Ray Hyman)
Now, this would be a compelling argument if it were true, but it isn't. Psi phenomena do not violate any known law of physics. (The laws of physics are time symmetrical). More to point, quantum entanglement/nonlocality is already suggestive of psi phenomena. That's why Einstein called it "spooky action at a distance."
Massimo: "I'll try my luck with the AAAS anyway."ReplyDelete
You will have to convince Jessica Utts (the statistician who analyzed and validated the parapsychological experimental data of the CIA's "Stargate Project") because she is on the executive council of the AAAS.
Massimo: "Concerning evolutionary theory, it doesn't matter what view is the consensus, because those are legitimate discussions within an established science, a completely different case from people with no technical background casually questioning scientific notions."
Based on your previous post, it would appear that you hold the view we do not have a scientific (you can read that as "materialistic") theory that is sufficient to explain evolution. Am I ( as a non-expert) permitted to cite you (as an expert) that we do not have a scientific theory that is sufficient to explain evolution? (It seems to me that some prominent evolutionary biologists - e.g. Richard Dawkins - disagree with you on this point. )
Massimo: "And your comment about our mental life being illusory is a complete non sequitur, I'm afraid."
Why is it a non sequitur?
1) "Organisms don't have purpose. Natural selection imparts the appearance of purpose " (you previously stated this).
2) Human beings are organisms with only the appearance of purpose. IOW, that human beings act with purposive-behavior is purely illusory.
3) Volition, intention, creativity, etc. presuppose purpose.
4) Therefore, all mental phenomena (to the extent that they presuppose purpose) are purely illusory.
That is the logical conclusion to be drawn from the premise that purpose is purely illusory.
Thank you Jim Lippard for the additional reference. As I said, I'm a fish out of water here for I am simply a physician , but this is one of my favorite podcasts, so I wanted to contribute. This is my first time coming to the blog and I think it fascinating that the two hosts are not afraid to express challenge each other. This makes for a dynamic discussion and only reinforces my taste in podcasts, the people who host this podcast, and now the commenters on the blog as well.ReplyDelete
Artie: "I can't support the psi conceptions, at least as far as evidence to date has demonstrated...But Dean Radin as a study in sophisticated gullibility doesn't help the cause."ReplyDelete
What is your undertanding of the term "prehensive unification" (a Whiteheadian term which Mae-Wan Ho invokes in her writing)?
Why the need to put purpose into the process to begin with?ReplyDelete
"4) Therefore, all mental phenomena (to the extent that they presuppose purpose) are purely illusory."
I'm not sure how this follows. You've listed some mental phenomena, and even if you can move that those are illusory, how can you go from some being illusory to all mental phenomena being illusory? I don't see how you can extrapolate. It's like saying "there's a white swan, and another. Therefore all swans are white". Or am I missing something?
I'll be happy to take on Jessica Utts. As for evolutionary theory being incomplete, this is no different from any other science, where theories are always incomplete and changing, again take the standard model in physics. I mean, if we knew everything what the hell would be the point of having professional scientists? The fact that Dawkins disagrees is, again, part of the normal process of science.
As for the non sequitur, just because natural selection is not a conscious process it doesn't follow that evolution cannot originate conscious organisms. It obviously did.
My point about Hyman was that he was apparently quoted out of context by Radin to make it appear that he supported Radin's point of view while in fact he didn't. However I may misinterpret what Rudin actually said (I am relying only on Paisley's comment). That others (Utts) have different views is not disputed.
The larger question here is what would it take for science (or skeptics) to accept the existence of psi? This seems quite straightforward: we must apply to claims of paranormal the same rigorous standards science applies to any other claim. However paranormal claims are not up to par here. In fact, as far as I know, there is not a single effect that can be repeatedly demonstrated using rigorous experimental setups. This is not a question of Hyman versus Utts (in fact, their disagreement about a single experiment is largely irrelevant) or generally of skeptics against believers. This state of affair is recognized within the psi community itself: see for instance The capricious, actively evasive, unsustainable nature of psi published in the The Journal of Parapsychology.
It is no good to say because psi effects are elusive and cannot be reliably reproduced, let's use lower standards of evidence so we can accept them (some in the psi community apparently say this). In fact, if effects really exist and are that elusive, what we need, if anything, are higher standards.
Given the state of the evidence the most a skeptic can do is to suspend judgment. But, in all fairness, the fact that more than a century of research has failed to produce a reliably reproducible effect does not look good at all.
Massimo: Do those conscious organisms acquire purposes? Because some seem to think they do. And did natural selection unconsciously proceed for eons to adapt those organisms with an almost perfect correlation to the consciousness those organisms historically experienced?ReplyDelete
And will you say it obviously did and continue to ignore the implications?
Paisley asks, "What is your undertanding of the term "prehensive unification" (a Whiteheadian term which Mae-Wan Ho invokes in her writing)?"ReplyDelete
My short answer would be it means in part that the universe acquires memory and experience, which serves the purpose of anticipating its future and "lawfully" regulating natures forces accordingly.
But even so, the future cannot be anticipated to the certainty that various versions of time travel would require. Dean Radin's versions in particular.
You mentioned that: "Psi phenomena do not violate any known law of physics. (The laws of physics are time symmetrical)"
I would have to disagree that this is certain, as not all physicists concur that the arrow of time can be reversed symmetrically.
And the problem again involves the purposes served by natures regulatory forces. In short, the forces can be reversed with symmetry, but particular purposes that they serve cannot.
Kel: "Why the need to put purpose into the process to begin with?"ReplyDelete
I'm merely asking the question what are the implications if you don't.
Kel: "I'm not sure how this follows. You've listed some mental phenomena, and even if you can move that those are illusory, how can you go from some being illusory to all mental phenomena being illusory? I don't see how you can extrapolate. It's like saying "there's a white swan, and another. Therefore all swans are white". Or am I missing something?"
I qualified my statement in order to provide more clarity. Evidently, I was not successful.
I am not saying that denying the reality of purpose as a premise leads to the logical conclusion that consciousness (i.e. "awareness") itself is illusory. I am simply saying that the idea that we are intelligent agents presupposes that purpose is real. And if purpose is only illusory, then our entire mental life (to the extent that it presupposes purpose) is completely illusory. That's the logical conclusion to be drawn.
> Do those conscious organisms acquire purposes? <
If by "those" you mean us, yes, we make up our own purpose in life.
> did natural selection unconsciously proceed for eons to adapt those organisms with an almost perfect correlation to the consciousness those organisms historically experienced? <
I have no idea what this means.
> will you say it obviously did and continue to ignore the implications? <
Same as above.
Massimo answers: "If by "those" you mean us, yes, we make up our own purpose in life."ReplyDelete
Have any of our ancestral kin had that capacity, and if so, which and when? And if you're up to it, how and why?
Or can we anticipate the usual less than honest dodge that "I have no idea what this means." Because if you really don't, you truly have a blind spot when it comes to the rationality of purpose.
I'm getting a bit tired of being accused of dishonesty by whoever disagree with what I say. Please stop it, it's not conducive to dialog. If I ask for clarifications it really is because I DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS. Sorry for yelling.
And of course the answer to your additional question is: how am I supposed to know? And why does it matter to my point?
What I object to is the implication that since you have "no idea" then there's nothing there idea-wise to clarify.ReplyDelete
And as to how you are supposed to know when or where purposive considerations kicked in, you're supposed to know the basis for saying earlier that "Organisms don't have purpose."
I see no evidence whatsoever that purpose ever existed in nature before the evolution of consciousness. If you think otherwise, seems to me that the burden of proof is squarely on you.ReplyDelete
As for having no idea, once again, if I don't understand what you are saying, what else am I supposed to say? You can derive any implication you'd like, but I really have no idea of what it could possibly mean, say to "have an almost perfect correlation to the consciousness those organisms historically experienced." No clue.
Clue: Natural selection correlates with an organism's experience. Yes, no, or maybe?ReplyDelete
I did not argue that purpose existed before the evolution of consciousness.
Therefor I have no burden to prove anything of the sort. Rather the burden stays with you to clarify the dissonance between "organisms don't have purpose" and "we make up our own purposes in life."
Which organisms, for example, make up their own, and which, if any, don't?
"I'm merely asking the question what are the implications if you don't."
Fair enough, though that line of inquiry surely can be followed without needing to ask such questions. It makes purpose an implicit default, as if it's something that's meant to be there.
"I am not saying that denying the reality of purpose as a premise leads to the logical conclusion that consciousness (i.e. "awareness") itself is illusory. I am simply saying that the idea that we are intelligent agents presupposes that purpose is real."
Honestly I don't see how you can presuppose that. Why does awareness need purpose? Why does consciousness need purpose? They might be purposeful (i.e. serve a use to the organism), but I don't see how they need to presuppose purpose.
I honestly think we must be speaking two different languages, even though they both sound like English:
> Natural selection correlates with an organism's experience. Yes, no, or maybe? <
What do you mean when you say that natural selection "correlates" with an organism's experience? That sentence is literally unintelligible for me, and I'm not trying to be funny.
> the burden stays with you to clarify the dissonance between "organisms don't have purpose" and "we make up our own purposes in life" <
Okay, let me clarify: organisms with no consciousness do not have purpose. Organisms with consciousness usually make up their purpose as they go. Better?
Better, but I'll just state from my perspective that organisms with a higher level of consciousness are aware of purposes already extant, but have acquired the intelligence to devise a better methodology for improving their effectiveness.ReplyDelete
As to my asking (not saying) whether natural selection "correlates" with an organism's experience, perhaps asking the reverse will help. Does an organism's experience correspond, in any way that you would find significant, with its adaption via natural selection?
Massimo: "As for evolutionary theory being incomplete, this is no different from any other science, where theories are always incomplete and changing, again take the standard model in physics. I mean, if we knew everything what the hell would be the point of having professional scientists? The fact that Dawkins disagrees is, again, part of the normal process of science."ReplyDelete
I understand that scientists disagree. But what I am trying to determine here is whether this "disagreement" is a minor one or a major one.
Massimo: "As for the non sequitur, just because natural selection is not a conscious process it doesn't follow that evolution cannot originate conscious organisms. It obviously did."
This is not what I said, and you're really missing the point here. So, let me rephrase it. If natural processes are nonteleological and natural processes are the only processes that exist, then it logically follows there are no teleological processes in the universe. If there are, then naturalism (materialism) is false.
> Does an organism's experience correspond, in any way that you would find significant, with its adaption via natural selection? <
You know, I don't want to be dense here, but the problem is with the word "correspond." What do you mean by that?
> But what I am trying to determine here is whether this "disagreement" is a minor one or a major one. <
That depends who you ask, I'd say it's a medium size disagreement. Proponents of the Extended Synthesis, such as myself, see it as a significant advance, but not a revolution.
> If natural processes are nonteleological and natural processes are the only processes that exist, then it logically follows there are no teleological processes in the universe. If there are, then naturalism (materialism) is false. <
It depends on what you mean by teleological. Natural selection clearly gives the impression of teleology. Human conscious thought is clearly teleological, but I don't see what on earth that has to do with a refutation of naturalism.
"Correspond" in the context of interdependence. Less than coincidental.
Suggestive of proximate causation. "Significant" as an ontogenetic process perhaps.
But if the tactic is to ask for explanation to the nth degree, I agree we speak a different dialectic.
No, we truly speak a different language. Correspond in the English I studied does not mean causes. And the answer is no, an organism does not cause (corresponds to) its adaptation via natural selection. It's the other way around.ReplyDelete
Correspondence can be "suggestive" of causation, dependent on the context. If you don't understand the subtlety involved, you truly won't begin to understand or comprehend the intricacies of evolution.
But at least we have a clearer picture of your stance, which seems to be that individuals can make up purposes, but none that are effectively adaptive.
And I'll say again, to pretend that I defined "correspond" as meaning causative is a dodge, whether intentionally done or not.
it was *you* who defined corresponding to mean causative, not me. Scroll up and check what you wrote.
To say that I can't comprehend the intricacies of evolution is pretty darn rich. You do know that I had been a practicing evolutionary biologist for more than 25 years before switching to philosophy, yes?
Massimo: "That depends who you ask, I'd say it's a medium size disagreement. Proponents of the Extended Synthesis, such as myself, see it as a significant advance, but not a revolution."ReplyDelete
Okay, fair enough. I'm not familiar with the "extended sysnthesis," but I'll research it to learn more about it.
"It depends on what you mean by teleological. Natural selection clearly gives the impression of teleology. Human conscious thought is clearly teleological, but I don't see what on earth that has to do with a refutation of naturalism."
"teleology: 1 a: the study of evidences of design in nature b: a doctrine (as in vitalism) that ends are immanent in nature c: a doctrine explaining phenomena by final causes
2 : the fact or character attributed to nature or natural processes of being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose
3 : the use of design or purpose as an explanation of natural phenomena"
(source: Merriam-Webster: "teleology")
"telonomy: the quality of apparent purposefulness of structure or function in living organisms due to evolutionary adaptation"
(source: Merriam-Webster: "teleonomy")
Teleological explanations are anathema to scientific materialism. The evolutionary biologist (at least to the extent that he or she is given to methodological and philosophical naturalism) is really not permitted to give teleological explanations to biological phenomena, only teleonomic (apparent purposefulness) explanations. Therefore, while you may think that human thought is clearly teleological (and I would agree), the fact remains that your commitment to methodological and philosophical naturalism precludes this possibility. On the materialist view, human beings are nothing more than "organic robots with consciousness." They do not have free will and they are not capable of purposive-behavior. Volition, intentional acts, and creative thought are completely predetermined and could not have been otherwise. Any purposive-behavior that we or any other living organisms appear to display must be deemed purely illusory. Logical consistency demands this.
absolutely not. Science includes teleological explanations at two levels: non-intelligent (natural selection is teleological though not the result of intelligent design), and intelligent (in the case of human beings). If the latter were not the case, all the cognitive sciences would go down the drain. They don't, and they don't represent any threat whatsoever for naturalism.
Yes, I had followed your progress as a biologist, which is why I took an interest in your philosophy. But where as a biologist you learned quite well how things work, as a philosopher, you have not discovered at all well the whys of the matter. Your failure to grasp that to ask for the why without an eye to the purpose is to search in a darkness of your own making.ReplyDelete
And one meaning of correspond is to be analogous or equivalent in character, form, or function. Function implies purpose. If as a scientist, you discover an equivalency of purpose, you would do well to look for some equivalency in their operational results or successes.
it is an elementary notion in philosophy that function most certainly is NOT equivalent to purpose (in the same of conscious purpose). Read up, and you will discover a darkness of your own making.
Aha, you said conscious purpose. All functions have a purpose, consciously so or not. That's elemental. Read up indeed.
Dude, what on earth are you talking about? Right, all functions have a purpose. My point (and all naturalists' point) is that only some of those (as far as we know, the ones originating with human consciousness) are, well, conscious. No problem for naturalism, no mystery. What the hell have we been disagreeing about?ReplyDelete
The "field" is climate science, or atmospheric physics, not AGW per se, so there is no built-in bias.
So it does not matter that massive amounts of funding in these fields come from the political agenda's that use the fields results as a means for legislation?
For example: the cap and trade bill. It is obvious that just a tax on emissions will cut emissions. And will do so while allowing congress to find out exactly what it costs to cut emissions. For example: If you tax 1 dollar for each unit of CO2 emission. Then the company doing the emitting cuts its emission by 25%. then you know it cost the company less than 1 dollar per unit to cut the emission for up to its first 25% of reduction. Anything over that 25% of reduction would obviously cost the company more than 1 dollar (or they would do it). Then you change the tax to 2 dollars per unit the company would cut its emissions by another 8% achieving an overall reduction of 33%. then you know the 2nd 8%reduction cost the company less than 2 dollars a unit and the first 25% less than 1 dollar a unit. I am over simplifying, but you get my drift. Since there is really no such thing as a tax to a company (it is the consumers of energy that actually pay the tax), we can figure out a compromise of what the people can safely pay without damaging the economy to the point that suffering would be more than ACC would cause. As I said earlier, any rational person has to agree that zero pollution would be very bad to the well being of the planets population. This system of variable tax to discover the true cost of CO2 reduction would be the obvious common sense approach.
Yet the funders of most of this research are not looking to find out what the true cost of CO2 reduction is and take steps to reduce it. They want Cap and Trade, which is basically a means for redistribution of wealth while reduction of emission will take place right up to the tipping point of where it is cheaper for the company to pass the tax along to its consumers than it is to reduce further. But then using that consumer of energy tax to redistribute wealth from the energy consumers to the non-energy consumers, thus eventually making more energy consumers and more need for energy. A theoretical net increase of CO2 production. Of course in the mean time it will be such a burden of regulation and economics that it will bring us to a less wealthy state over all and porhaps reduce CO2 emission through depression.
And even though this Science has failed Julia's simple test, even though it recieves massive funding from government wanting to use it as political weapon. We are all supposed to sit idly by without comment as to its legitimacy.
I dissagree with you Massimo. I dont see how there cannot be a bias to something that if the main stream scientists pull away from, it will loose most of its funding. You dont think that the fact that many scientist livelyhood depends on the outcome puts in a bias?
Although the data supports climate change. It is also a science of extreem complexity, where building more and more complex models has the less likelyhood of being accurate (as we have seen from previous predictions). And even assuming it is accurate. Prediction of what that actually means to humans and animals is even less accurate.
My take is that you dont have any right telling the lay man not to get involved. You have failed his simple test "Science was wrong" and you want him to keep his nose out. This is much different than evolution. the study of science generally brings out new and great inventions for man. This science reaches out and grabs us from the neck and threatens to pull us backwards into depression.
About whether the organism's experience is fundamental to the selective process. And apparently about whether consciousness in humans is fundamentally different from awareness in other forms of life. And about whether all forms of life, with their acquired purposes, have or have not effectively contributed to the process of their evolution. And about the purposes served by all and sundry - more apparently than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Dude.
I think we have reached the end of productive discourse and are going in circles. Not my favorite way to spend an afternoon.ReplyDelete
But just like not all evolutionary biologists are atheists, so not all climate scientists are flaming liberals. The same kind of ideological pluralism is hard to claim for the other side in either debate...ReplyDelete
Your missing my point, I am not claiming the bias comes from scientist being "flaming Liberals". That is not in fact what I believe. I am saying the bias comes from the funding itself (which comes comes from flaming liberals)-i am partially joking there, partially.
Oganizations like IPCC have interwoven science and government into a religion onto itself. Lets say for instance that a new discovery or type of data stream that flies in the face of CC is discovered. I believe they have purpose and bias enough to intentionally travel down a different path.
Science should be to let the chips fall where they may. I am not sure organizations like the IPCC have that option. I am sure you feel differently. Lucky for me, the people that share my sentiment are growing rather than shrinking. People are aware this has reached the level of religion over science.
Massimo: "absolutely not. Science includes teleological explanations at two levels: non-intelligent (natural selection is teleological though not the result of intelligent design), and intelligent (in the case of human beings). If the latter were not the case, all the cognitive sciences would go down the drain. They don't, and they don't represent any threat whatsoever for naturalism."ReplyDelete
What scientists employ as an explanation or don't employ is actually irrelevant. The only thing that is relevant is whether the explanation as such is compatible with "scientific materialism" - a term which is not interchangeable with the term "science". Teleological explanations are incompatible with scientific materialism.
You are conflating "teleonomy" with "teleology." Teleonomic (pseudo-purpose) explanations are compatible with the scientific materialism; teleological (true-purpose) explanations are not. I defined both terms in my previous post (partially, because you requested it.) You apparently choose to ignore these definitions.
"Teleonomy is the quality of APPARENT purposefulness and of goal-directedness of structures and functions in living organisms that derive from their evolutionary history, adaptation for reproductive success, or generally, due to the operation of a program.
The term was coined to stand in contrast with teleology, which applies to ends that are planned by an agent which can internally model/imagine various alternative futures, which enables intention, purpose and foresight. A teleonomic process, such as evolution, produces complex products without the benefit of such a guiding foresight." (emphasis mine)
(source: Wikipedia: "Teleonomy")
see my parallel discussion with Artie about meaning, purpose, etc. I'm not conflating anything, I think pseudo-purpose (teleonomy) is compatible with natural selection; teleology (actual purpose) comes about where consciousness appears in the universe (humans). And no, I don't think that the origin of actual purpose in humans creates any problem at all for naturalism.
Teleonomy is the false version of teleology when true push comes to false pull.ReplyDelete
Paisley, had I stayed in the parallel discussion, it would have been my position that consciousness in humans is NOT fundamentally different from awareness in other forms of life.ReplyDelete
And that pseudo-purpose is a neo-Darwinian dodge.
I have had these nonsense discussions with Artie and Paisley before on the Neurologica website. I'm glad to see Massimo learned pretty quickly that it is a fruitless endeavour. Using vague terminology incorrectly, and inserting their own ideology while trying to hide that fact.ReplyDelete
Massimo: "see my parallel discussion with Artie about meaning, purpose, etc. I'm not conflating anything, I think pseudo-purpose (teleonomy) is compatible with natural selection; teleology (actual purpose) comes about where consciousness appears in the universe (humans). And no, I don't think that the origin of actual purpose in humans creates any problem at all for naturalism."ReplyDelete
But simply saying that "there isn't any problem" really doesn't qualify as an argument. You are obligated to give a rational justification why this is so. Hitherto, you haven't.
On the materialist view, human beings (as well as all living organisms) are biological machines - or more specifically, "organic robots." There is no final causation, only efficient causation. There is no teleology, only teleonomy. We do not have free will, only the illusion of it. Indeed, we are nothing more than a conglomeration of electrochemical reactions blindly playing themselves out according to the laws of physics and chemistry. Mental states are simply epiphenomenal. They are incapable of exerting any causal efficacy; and therefore, they must be deemed purely illusory.
You are what Daniel Dennett calls a "Cartesian materialist." You presuppose the dualist worldview (the one you profess to hold with utter contempt and disdain) while masquerading around as a materialist. You imagine yourself capable of creating a "purpose" when your worldview precludes the very possibility. On the materialist view, you are not an active participant in life, only a passive observer.
JP: "My point about Hyman was that he was apparently quoted out of context by Radin to make it appear that he supported Radin's point of view while in fact he didn't. However I may misinterpret what Rudin actually said (I am relying only on Paisley's comment). That others (Utts) have different views is not disputed."ReplyDelete
This is typical of skeptics. You didn't bother to watch the video presentation - to actually investigate the data and give it a fair hearing; and yet, you feel that you are qualified to speak on the matter.
Radin simply stated the Hyman admitted that something other than chance was going on. He did not say that Hyman believes that ESP had been established. Here is the full quote...
"4. The statistical departures from chance appear to be too large and consistent to attribute to statistical flukes of any sort. Although I cannot dismiss the possibility that these rejections of the null hypothesis might reflect limitations in the statistical model as an approximation of the experimental situation, I tend to agree with Professor Utts that real effects are occurring in these experiments. Something other than chance departures from the null hypothesis has occurred in these experiments."
(source: "Evaluation of Program on Anomalous Mental Phenomena" by Ray Hyman)
Also, CIA itself concluded that a "statistically significant effect had been demonstrated in the laboratory." (source: "The American Institutes for Research Review of the Department of Defense's Star Gate Programs: A Commentary" by Edwin C. May)
JP: "The larger question here is what would it take for science (or skeptics) to accept the existence of psi?"
It really doesn't matter what skeptics think. Parapsychology is acccepted as a science by the "American Association for the Advancement of Science" - the largest scientific society in the world.
JP: "This is not a question of Hyman versus Utts (in fact, their disagreement about a single experiment is largely irrelevant) or generally of skeptics against believers. This state of affair is recognized within the psi community itself: see for instance The capricious, actively evasive, unsustainable nature of psi published in the The Journal of Parapsychology."
This has everything to do with "skeptics vs. believers" for the reason I have already stated. Scientific data (especially statistical data) is subject to personal interpretation. And each respective group will interpret the data according to their own tendentious views. If you had actually read the article (like I have), you would have learned this. Also, you would have learned that, because of the nature of the subject matter, we cannot dismiss "skepticism" and "belief" as factors possibly influencing the outcome. Parapyschology is one of the social science - a.k.a. the "soft" sciences. And the soft sciences are held to a different standard than the hard ones. The very fact that this distinction is made testifies to the fact that different standards are held.
Massimo wrote: "teleology (actual purpose) comes about where consciousness appears in the universe (humans). And no, I don't think that the origin of actual purpose in humans creates any problem at all for naturalism."ReplyDelete
Richard Dawkins wrote: "Neo-purpose is true, deliberate, intentional purpose, which is a product of brains. My thesis is that neo-purpose, or the capacity to set up deliberate purposes or goals, is itself a Darwinian adaptation with an archi-purpose.
Neo-purpose really comes into its own in the human brain, but brains capable of neo-purposes have been evolving for a long time. Rudiments of neo-purpose can even be seen in insects. In humans, the capacity to set up neo-purposes has evolved to such an extent that the original archi-purpose can be eclipsed and even reversed."
Even Dawkins finds the rudiments of actual purpose in the no-brainers among us.
Artie: "My short answer would be it means in part that the universe acquires memory and experience, which serves the purpose of anticipating its future and "lawfully" regulating natures forces accordingly."ReplyDelete
I basically agree. However, I would hasten to add that Whiteheadian process metaphysics is a theistic one. So, this "universal memory and universal experience" would be attributes ascribed to the "World Soul" or "God." Moreover, the concept "prehensive unification" in the Whitehead scheme serves as the basis for psi phenomena (as well as a form of Lamarckian evolution).
Artie: "But even so, the future cannot be anticipated to the certainty that various versions of time travel would require. Dean Radin's versions in particular."
Who is talking about "time travel?"
Artie: "You mentioned that: "Psi phenomena do not violate any known law of physics. (The laws of physics are time symmetrical)"
Yes, this is true. According to the theory of relativity, time is relative to the reference frame of the observer. But more importantly, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle holds that the past is as uncertain as is the future.
"There is nothing in the laws of physics that singles out one direction of time over another. The laws of physics work forward in time and backward in time equally well...[The] uncertainty principle works both ways in time. There's no doubt about this. If we make an observation of an atom in a certain state now, then its past is uncertain just as its future is uncertain."
(source: "We Are Meant to be Here" by Steve Paulson of Salon.com - interview with physicist Paul Davies)
Artie: "I would have to disagree that this is certain, as not all physicists concur that the arrow of time can be reversed symmetrically.
And the problem again involves the purposes served by natures regulatory forces. In short, the forces can be reversed with symmetry, but particular purposes that they serve cannot."
I think you are having a problem with one particular psi pheonomenon - "precognition." And I would readily admit that precognition is paradoxical. However, Radin addresses this issue in an article which I have listed below. Moreover, he employs the concept of teleology or final causation to resolve this apparent contradiction. (Keep in mind, teleological or final causation implies causation emanating from the future. So, time-reversed causation does not threaten teleology. It actually provides a basis for it.)
"FINAL CAUSE is dismissed entirely [by modern science] because TELEOLOGY is thought...to suspiciously resemble theology...But here, of course, I mean
more than goals created by our capability to inferentially forecast the future. I
mean GOALS that actually COME FROM THE FUTURE, through TIME-REVERSED processes." (emphasis mine)
(source: "Time-reversed Human Experience: Experimental Evidence and Implications" by Dean Radin)
Paisley, I can't buy into what to me is a logical perversion of the doctrine of "final cause," which has inferred causation as entwined with predestination. The telos, or "reason for which," was thus a universal purpose to be met, or to, as some would say, achieve a final goal. Final cause in that sense meant first purpose, and as far as I'm aware, still does. Or if it doesn't it still should. Because I can't believe that in an indeterminate universe, our future nevertheless exerts some predeterminate force upon the present.ReplyDelete
Final cause/first purpose may still have meaning as a metaphor, but as a basis for some scientific hanging of the hat, the hook just isn't there.
And here's what the physicist David Albert has to say in a Big Think interview as to t-symmetry:
“Once again, it appears as if although the theory does an extremely good job of predicting the motions of elementary particles and so on and so forth, there’s got to be something wrong with it, okay, because we have — although we have very good, clear quantitative experience in the laboratory which bears out these fully time-reversal symmetric laws, at some point there’s got to be something wrong with them, because the world that we live in manifestly not even close to being time-reversal symmetric.”
And that's because, as one example, you can't reverse the sequential order in nature that these laws were universally self-designed to regulate. The lawfully acquired purposes of a self-designed universe, if you will.
Try reversing the purposes served by a nuclear explosion, for example, if not the sequential order of the phenomena itself.
In any case, the only person who in my view, could be rationally excused for taking Dean Radin seriously would be Dean Radin himself. And as far as I've observed from your otherwise superior grasp of logical analysis that can't be you.
"I have had these nonsense discussions with Artie and Paisley before on the Neurologica website. I'm glad to see Massimo learned pretty quickly that it is a fruitless endeavour. Using vague terminology incorrectly, and inserting their own ideology while trying to hide that fact.
July 20, 2010 1:40 AM"
I would like Mr.Bowers to explain how this was a nonsensical or deceitful discussion, and to show us the extent to which he determined that any discussions with us on another site related to the discussion here, and more importantly, have contributed to it. Otherwise, this remark has no apparent purpose except to slander those made reference to.
Mr.Bowers has since been vocal on that other site, in aid of another poster, BillyJoe7, about how after they "defeated" us on that blog, we have similarly been using those defective arguments here. In effect, the slander here has become a vehicle for further slander there.
These tactics, to me, are reprehensible, and I request that Bowers either apologize or offer credible evidence that either I or Paisley have made nonsensical and deceitful arguments either here or there, and/or that theirs, his in particular, by contrast had somehow won the day..
It's probably been said dozens of times already in the comments (sorry I'm late) but the problem with "expert opinion" is that you can find any number of academically qualified experts who disagree. Economics is a perfect example. Economists can analyze the same data, but each has a slightly (or grossly) different model by which the analyze the data, leading to different interpretations and recommendations. Moreover, economic models draw from other disciplines, such as sociology and psychology, to which few economists are experts (and even if they were, we again must enter realms of differing interpretations among experts).ReplyDelete
Perhaps the best objectivity we can possibly hope for in the "soft sciences" is some sort of bell curve consensus, but that's often a moving target as well.
Or... to let the variability of "economic experts" speak for themselves, recall Nobel winner Von Hayek's 1974 acceptance speech - a speech that could just as easily been given today,ReplyDelete
"[this economic condition] has been brought about by policies which the majority of economists recommended and even urged governments to pursue. We have indeed at the moment little cause for pride: as a profession we have made a mess of things."
The Catch-22 of expert culture, indeed.
Congratulations for this blog! I found here a clear and accurate analysis of relevant problems. I have quoted and translated some of your posts in my blog.ReplyDelete
But I must say I’m deceived about Julia’s arguments on this subject. I think you are not being honest. When you say: But when the foundational assumptions get more complex - like the assumption that we can reliably model future temperatures - it becomes much harder for an outsider to judge their soundness
This statement is common to all the sciences, not the foundational assumption of any particular science. Your phrase can be translated as: climatology is a science, i. e., the climate variables are quantifiable, and it is possible to establish causal relationships between them. We call it equations, and with equations, we have predictions.
I think the problem is related with the word "model". To model just means "put the equations together" to obtain predictions between certain limits. We can quantify how reliable models are in terms of uncertainty and predictability. Climatologists are used to manage with the limits of prediction, because is also possible to quantify how predictable a system is. If you look for "climate models predictability" in Google Scholar there are 63.000 scientific papers about.
I’m not expert on social sciences, so I must agree with you about misuse of statistics in this area, but there is, precisely, the lack of expertise knowledge which produces misunderstandings.
Julia, you must not fly on planes nor visit the doctor: Aeronautical engineers and doctors have been educated in a paradigm and have been trained for not to question it (or perhaps they prefer don't do it because they are coward and accommodative). But you fly in planes and go to the doctor, because you know that to become an expert does not betray your objectivity. Objectivity is related with honesty and with to keep an open mind, not with the level of your knowledge. You believe in atoms and evolution like I do just because the same reason: because scientific consensus.