iSoul In the beginning is reality

Category Archives: Science

Science particularly as related to creation and the creation-evolution controversy

Design and entropy

A carrier is the baseline transmission (such as a wave) that is modulated for a signal. Carriers have minimum entropy. Their opposite, noise, has maximum entropy. A signal conveys a message between a sender and a receiver. The entropy of signals is between that of the carrier and noise.

Carriers are the canvas for the artist. The canvas starts out blank. Then paint is added, which is the signal for the viewer. Noise would be like splotches of paint that somehow got put on the canvas. If the canvas were all noise, the signal would be completely covered with random bits of paint. The signal is designed to be between these extremes.

The closer a signal is to looking like the carrier, the lower the entropy and the simpler the message. The closer a signal is to looking like noise, the higher the entropy and the less the complexity of a message that can be transmitted. With the carrier alone or noise alone there is no message.

Design works the same way. A carrier alone or noise alone exhibit no design. A simple design would be similar to a carrier or to noise. A more complex design would be between the extremes of all carrier and all noise.

Entropy is a way to determine the presence of design. The more that entropy is in-between zero and the maximum, the more likely it is a result of design. A simple measure of design may be constructed from entropy as follows:

Ξ := (HHmin) / (HmaxHmin),

which ranges from zero if H = Hmin to one if H = Hmax. If the design index is one-half, then H is the mid entropy. The closer the value of Ξ is to one-half, the more likely the distribution is the result of design.

2015, updated

Knowledge and repetition

Consider the distinction between repeatable events from unrepeatable events. Repeatable events includes events that have repeated or may be repeated at will (as in a laboratory) or may possibly repeat in the future. Unrepeatable events are events that are very unlikely to repeat or are impossible to repeat. It is said that science only studies repeatable events, and it can be argued that history is the study (science) of unrepeatable events – not that it excludes repeatable events but that it focuses on unrepeatable events.

“Nature” could be defined as the realm of repeatable events. Then natural science would be the study of nature or repeatable events. Those events that are unrepeatable would be left to historians but ignored by natural scientists. But could such scientists rightly study the past while ignoring unrepeatable events? Ignorance of unrepeatable events would be a limitation and a defect. We would not expect historians to ignore repeatable events, so why expect scientists to ignore unrepeatable events?

We may well expect events that only involve inanimate nature are repeatable in some way. But are all events with living beings repeatable? The position of naturalism says, Yes. But at some point we need to say, No, at least some living beings have free will (or whatever you want to call it) so that their actions may be unrepeatable, and thus beyond the purview of a science of repeatable events.

Knowledge of repeatable and unrepeatable events may need different methodologies to address both kinds of events but it could not ignore either kind without bias. We need both the study of history, with its unrepeatable events, and the study of science, and its repeatable events, as independent disciplines. The synthesis of science and history would require a different discipline, perhaps called “scihistory” or “histence”, that would balance the input of each discipline with the other.

Science in the center

There are many different musical temperaments that have been used to tune musical instruments over the centuries. They all have their advantages and disadvantages. But there is one musical temperament that is optimally acceptable: the equal temperament method in which the frequency interval between every pair of adjacent notes has the same ratio. This produces a temperament that is a compromise between what is possible and what is agreeable to hear.

Science faces many situations such as the challenge of musical temperament. Conventions and methods need to be adopted and there are multiple options, each with their advantages and disadvantages. There are those who promote one method and those who promote another method, often the opposite method. Should science pick one and force everyone to conform? Or should science find a compromise of some sort?

There is a way in the middle that is a compromise between extremes and alternatives. It is a conscious attempt to avoid extremes and biases, and seek a solution that is the most acceptable to all. This is science in the center, a science that minimizes bias. Although it might be called “objective,” that obscures the fact that it is a conscious choice.

I previously wrote about the need for a convention on the one-way speed of light. Science of the center would avoid the bias toward one direction of light and choose a one-way speed that is in the middle between all the possible speed conventions. This is the Einstein convention, which is part of his synchronization method.

Science in the center includes not biasing classifications either toward “lumping” or “splitting.” Nor should explanations of behavior be biased toward “nature” or “nurture.” The particulars of each case should determine the outcome, not a preference for one side or the other. If there’s any default answer, it’s in the center between such extremes.

Occam’s razor is understood to prescribe qualitative parsimony but allow quantitative excess. This is as biased as its opposite would be: to prescribe quantitative parsimony but allow qualitative excess. Science in the center would avoid the bias that each of these has by prescribing a compromise: there should be a balance between the qualitative and the quantitative. Neither should be made more parsimonious than the other. All explanatory resources should be treated alike; none should be more abundant or parsimonious than any other. I’ve called this the New Occam’s Razor, and it is an example of science in the center.

Reality and conventions #4

This post continues a series of posts. The previous one is here.

Modern natural science attempts a systematic account of the causes of change in the physical world, and is willing to go against the appearance of the physical world if that will further its goals. This differs from the ancient Platonic attempt to “save the appearances” at all costs by placing appearances within an ad-hoc but meaningful system.

In one sense, philosophy is the helpmeet of science. It aids in the task of putting our conceptual household in order: tidying up arguments, discarding unjustified claims. But in another sense, philosophy peeks over the shoulder of science to a world that science in principle cannot countenance. As Professor Scruton put it elsewhere, “The search for meaning and the search for explanation are two different enterprises.” Science offers us an explanation of the world; it may start out as an attempt to explain appearances, “but it rapidly begins to replace them.” Philosophy seen as the search for meaning must in the end endorse the world of appearance. The New Criterion, vol. 12, no. 10

Saving the appearances famously led to tweaking Ptolemaic astronomy despite its inability to explain why celestial bodies should move in epicycles. The Newtonian system didn’t give ultimate explanations but at least it gave laws that applied on Earth and skyward.

Yet there is nothing “wrong” with saving appearances such as the motion of the Sun relative to the Earth. In that sense, geocentrism was never wrong despite generations of people being taught so. Whether saving the appearances or saving the system is a goal, both must accept some conventions that include things such as the celestial body of reference – or lack thereof.

One may legitimately pursue a phenomenal science that saves appearances by sacrificing some consistency in conventions. For example, the Moon is in orbit relative to the Earth and the Sun is in a different kind of orbit relative to the Earth. In order to save both of these appearances, one would have to use a gravitational dynamics for the Earth-Moon system and a levitational dynamics for the Earth-Sun system. Awkward, perhaps, but legitimate.

Reality and conventions #2

This post continues the topic of the previous post here.

Every pair of contrary opposites may have one or more conventions associated with it. That is because there is a symmetry between the two that can be reversed. Note this is not the case with contradictory opposites: they are not symmetric. Note also that terms may be symmetric without the references of the terms being exactly symmetric.

I’ll start with the latter point. A common example is the terms for male and female. In some respects they are symmetric opposites but in other respects they are not. The language can mislead on this point. Males and females have some similarities, some contrary (or complementary) differences, as well as differences that are not contraries, just different. Some aspects of male-female relations are conventions but not every aspect is.

The deconstructionists associated binary opposites with power structures (not unlike Hegel). They would reverse the meaning in order to undermine them. That assumes pairs are complete contraries, which is not as common as they thought. Deconstructionism works mostly on texts, in which the language of contrary opposites is deconstructed. The conventions associated with contrary opposites can be reversed but not all binary opposites are genuine contraries.

Contradictory opposites such as good and evil or true and false are not symmetric, contrary to the language that is often used. Not-evil is not necessarily good and not-false is not necessarily true. What is a matter of goodness or truth are not mere conventions.

There is a reality independent of us (or of our minds) but some things are conventions that are dependent on us. Motion is real but all motion is relative so it is a convention as to what motion is relative to. Galileo and the Scholastic philosophers (and their supporters) were wrong to think of the Earth as either only at rest or only in motion. Whether or not the Earth moves is a convention.

Reality and conventions #1

This post relates to the previous post here, as well as posts on light conventions here and here.

There comes a point in science in which a convention needs to be adopted in order to avoid confusion and ensure consistency. The tendency, however, is to think that the convention adopted is real, that is, that reality uniquely matches the convention. But that is an illusion since a different convention can legitimately be adopted.

This happens more often that we might realize. I have not tried to catalog all the conventions of science but here are some:

1. Units of measure. These are all conventions, and there are variations such as the inch-pound units.
2. Statistical significance. A p-value of 0.05 is often used, but it is a convention, not statistics.
3. Negative charge of the electron. The current and the flow of electrons are in opposite directions.
4. “A rod is undergoing tension. Is this negative or positive? In steel and concrete studies, tension is positive. In soil studies, tension is negative.”

Some of these conventions are a matter of choosing a value as the standard, others involve selecting a positive and a negative type (direction, charge). The positive type would seem to be the main or default one, as with arithmetic, but this may not be the case.

The conventions on the one-way speed of light show that the question relates to the status of the observer. Is the observer always right? That leads to one convention, in which the incoming speed of light is instantaneous. Is there an average that is right? That leads to Einstein’s convention, in which light travels at the average of the two-way speed of light.

Scientifically the latter is more straightforward but the problem is that it entails that some observations need to be corrected. The former may be more awkward but it has the advantage that “the observer is always right.” This accords with a common-sense realism and empiricism.

Consider optical illusions. They are something that appears one way but under further investigation are another way, such as the horizontal lines in this cafe wall illusion that appear to be sloped:

But what about refraction? When we see a stick in water, it appears to bend but when we put our hand in the water, there is no bend. Yet we do not call this an illusion. We call it refraction. That is, it is an optical phenomenon and the appearance of a bend is real.

So it is a matter of classification. Yet all classifications are a matter of convention. We cannot get away from convention. In that sense reality is ambiguous or (à la Heisenberg) uncertain.

Since Plato and Aristotle science has included an attempt to “save the phenomena”. Although they meant different things by this phrase, it does indicate the primacy of phenomena. After all, there is no science (except perhaps for mathematics) without appearances. If all appearances are illusory, then appearance is not something to be explained but to be explained away.

A common-sense realist takes appearance as reality, with the understanding that some reflection is needed to avoid mistakes.

The knowledge the realist is talking about is the lived and experienced unity of an intellect with an apprehended reality. This is why a realist philosophy has to do with the thing itself that is apprehended, and without which there would be no knowledge. (#5 in A Handbook for Beginning Realists by Étienne Gilson)

Properly apprehended, the world of appearances is the real world. The observer is always right.

Classical Model of Science

Another paper that should get wider exposure: “The Classical Model of Science: a millennia-old model of scientific rationality” by Willem R. de Jong and Arianna Betti. Synthese (2010) 174:185-203. Excerpts:

Throughout more than two millennia philosophers adhered massively to ideal standards of scientific rationality going back ultimately to Aristotle’s Analytica posteriora. These standards got progressively shaped by and adapted to new scientific needs and tendencies. Nevertheless, a core of conditions capturing the fundamentals of what a proper science should look like remained remarkably constant all along. Call this cluster of conditions the Classical Model of Science. p.185

The Classical Model of Science as an ideal of scientific explanation

In the following we will speak of a science according to the Classical Model of Science as a system S of propositions and concepts (or terms) which satisfies the following conditions:

(1) All propositions and all concepts (or terms) of S concern a specific set of objects or are about a certain domain of being(s).

(2a) There are in S a number of so-called fundamental concepts (or terms).

(2b) All other concepts (or terms) occurring in S are composed of (or are definable from) these fundamental concepts (or terms).

(3a) There are in S a number of so-called fundamental propositions.

(3b) All other propositions of S follow from or are grounded in (or are provable or demonstrable from) these fundamental propositions.

(4) All propositions of S are true.

(5) All propositions of S are universal and necessary in some sense or another.

(6) All propositions of S are known to be true. A non-fundamental proposition is known to be true through its proof in S.

(7) All concepts or terms of S are adequately known. A non-fundamental concept is adequately known through its composition (or definition). p.186

The Classical Model of Science is a recent reconstruction a posteriori of the way in which philosophers have traditionally thought about what a proper science and its methodology should be, and which is largely set up, as it were, by abduction. The cluster (1)-(7) is intended, thus, to sum up in a fairly precise way the ideal of scientific explanation philosophers must have had in mind for a very long time when thinking about science. p.186

A proper science according to this Model has the structure of a more or less strictly axiomatized system with a distinction between fundamental and non-fundamental elements. p.186

The history of the conceptualization Science knows three milestones: first of all, Aristotle’s Analytica posteriora, especially book 1; secondly, the very influential so-called Logic of Port-Royal (1662), especially part IV: ‘De la méthode’, written mainly by Antoine Arnaud and relying in many respects on Pascal and Descartes; and finally Bernard Bolzano’s Wissenschaftslehre (1837). p.187

The formulation coming closest to a systematization of the ideal of science we codify in the Model is perhaps the description of scientific method given in the Logic of Port-Royal, ‘The scientific method reduced to eight main rules’:

Eight rules of science

1. Two rules concerning definitions

1 . Leave no term even slightly obscure or equivocal without defining it.
2. In definitions use only terms that are perfectly known or have already been explained.

2. Two rules for axioms

3. In axioms require everything to be perfectly evident.
4. Accept as evident what needs only a little attention to be recognized as true.

3 . Two rules for demonstrations

5 . Prove all propositions that are even slightly obscure, using in their proofs only definitions that have preceded, axioms that have been granted, or propositions that have already been demonstrated.
6. Never exploit the equivocation in terms by failing to substitute mentally the definitions that restrict and explain them.

4. Two rules for method

7. Treat things as much as possible in their natural order, beginning with the most general and the simplest, and explaining everything belonging to the nature of the genus before proceeding to particular species.
8. Divide each genus as much as possible into all its species, each whole into all its parts, and each difficulty into all its cases. pp.187-188

… the Model is a fruitful analytical tool. Its influence lasted until recently; having persisted at least to Lesniewski, it in fact extended far beyond what one might expect at first glance. It is certain, however, that at a some point the Model was abandoned without being replaced by anything comparable. p. 196

8000 dissident scientists

The worldwide list of dissident scientists: Critics and alternative theories by Jean de Climont (Assailly Publishing, 2016) compiles 40 lists of dissident scientists from around the world and finds 8000 of them. This is a remarkable challenge to the assertion that scientists are in agreement about scientific theories.

Synopsis : This directory, available exclusively in English, includes scientists who disagree on generally accepted positions exclusively in the field of physics (natural philosophy), referenced to on the Internet and in particular those who propose alternative solutions.

The list includes more than 8000 names of scientists, doctors or engineers for more than 50%. Their position is shortly presented  together with their proposed alternative theory when applicable. There are more than 1000  theories, all amazingly very different from one another.

In the Soviet era, the term dissident could refer to a political dissident but then as now it mainly has to do with differences about the status of leading theories. Every major scientific theory has its dissidents. And many dissidents have lost jobs or research funding for speaking out. See, for example, Jerry Bergman and Kevin Wirth’s Slaughter of the Dissidents (2011).

Observability of the rotation of the earth

This interesting paper deserves to be known more widely: “And Yet It Moves: The Observability of the Rotation of the Earth” by Peter Kosso, Northern Arizona University, published in Foundations of Science, (2010) 15:213–225. Excerpts:

Abstract A central point of controversy in the time of the Copernican Revolution was the motion, or not, of the earth. We now take it for granted that Copernicus and Galileo were right; the earth really does move. But to what extent is this conclusion based on observation? This paper explores the meaning and observability of the rotation of the earth and shows that the phenomenon was not observable at the time of Galileo, and it is not observable now.

In our own time there are lots of outstanding scientific questions regarding objects and events that cannot be observed, but few rise to the intensity of genuine controversy. One that does is the issue of evolution. We cannot observe the origins of life – here it is, after all, well along – and we cannot observe the long process described by evolutionary biology. The controversy, the run-in with creationism and intelligent design, arises from the combination of this inability to observe and the challenges the theory presents to significant cultural ideals. It is exactly this pairing of unobservablity and cultural challenge that made the movement of the earth more than merely an academic detail. p.214

We could use the starry background as the reference system, and say that the earth rotates relative to the stars. That is a precise concept and a determinate claim, but it encounters no disagreement. The x-moves-relative-to-y relation is symmetric; it could just as easily, and just as accurately, be put as y moves relative to x. Had Galileo emphasized, All I’m saying is that the earth rotates relative to the stars, Aristotelians and the Church would most likely have responded, Oh, well, when you put it that way, there’s no problem. p.217

Consider the possible perspectives from which to do the observing. There are three, terrestrial, celestial, and external, that is, observing things on the earth from the earth, observing things in space from the earth, and observing the earth from space. p.217

The key difference between observation and evidence is the necessary role of inference in the latter. It is usually a causal inference, from effect to cause. The effect is observed, and we infer what must have, or is likely to have, been the cause. p.217

To summarize the analysis of the terrestrial perspective, the rotation of the earth is not observable, neither directly nor indirectly. That was clear from the start, and the work has been to determine whether there could be evidence of the rotation. That depends on our understanding of the dynamic connection between what is observed, the tides or the bulge of the equator, and its cause. Using the interpretive framework of Newtonian dynamics, the bulge is good evidence of rotation, and it provides some justification for that aspect of the Copernican model. Using Machian dynamics, the data provide no such evidence. p.220

The important point here is that the celestial data amount to evidence of the earth’s rotation only with the interpretive help of some theoretical understanding of motion. Whatever is being observed, it is not the rotation of the earth. Whatever is being observed is, by way of some interpretive principles, evidence of rotation. The celestial perspective does not make the rotation observable. p.221

The point is that the splendid video of the rotating earth, as filmed by the Galileo spacecraft, requires some understanding of forces and the causes of motion in order to count as evidence that it is indeed the earth that is rotating. It is, in other words, evidence but not observation. There is no perspective from which the rotation of the earth is observable. p.222

The underlying reason that the rotation of the earth is unobservable can be clarified using the modern physicists’ distinction between kinematics and dynamics. p.222

This distinction allows for a very clear summary of the difference and dispute between the two chief world systems. They are kinematically equivalent. p.223

The difference between Tycho and Copernicus is in the dynamics. Once we understand the dynamics of the situation, in particular the real nature of gravity, there is simply no way the Tychonic system could work. It violates laws of physics, that is, laws of dynamics. Following Newton, the laws of dynamics single out a group of reference frames, the inertial reference frames, as being those in which the laws such as F = ma are true. In a spinning reference frame, or an accelerating frame, fictitious forces show up. On a carousel or in a fast car rounding a bend you feel a force to the outside. But this is no force; there is no F causing any a. It is the result of being in a noninertial reference frame. This dynamical principle can be used to specify the appropriate reference frames for measuring properties of nature, appropriate in the sense of avoiding fictitious causes and effects. These are the inertial reference frames, those in which Newtonian dynamics work. p.223

Before we celebrate, full disclosure requires noting that there are alternatives to the Newtonian laws of dynamics, and since the dynamics direct the inference, there are alternative conclusions regarding the rotation of the earth. Mach, again. Mach’s Principle claims that the determination of inertial reference frames is fundamentally in reference to the aggregate masses of the universe, all the stars and galaxies. This restores the relativity of rotation. That force you feel on the carousel is not fictitious at all; it is a real force caused by the relative motion between you and the distant stars. There are two aspects of gravity, by Mach’s dynamics, the normal force of attraction described by Newton and an additional force that arises when there is relative acceleration between the masses. … Under the influence of Machian dynamics, the rotation of the earth is not only not observable, it is not properly defined. The property is only determinate with respect to some other actual object. p.223

Observing the motions of things on the earth or in the sky is an act of kinematics, and it cannot uniquely determine the nature of the cause of the motion. Kinematics does not determine dynamics. On the other hand, once the dynamics is known, the kinematics can be inferred. If you know the forces, you can predict the motion. But from the motion you cannot infer the forces. The observable details of rotation are matters of kinematics. They indicate what is happening but not why. Observation tells us how things move but not what moves them. p.224

Back to the Copernican Revolution, then, there is no observable difference between the two chief world systems. It takes a dynamical theory to interpret the data. Aristotle, whose dynamics described natural motion as earthen matter seeking its natural place at the center of the universe, would naturally put the earth at the center of all things, though this does not secure its being motionless. Galileo, who participated when the Revolution was a work in progress, contributed an early version of the concept of inertia that led to Newton’s first law of dynamics. But it was not until Newton himself put the dynamics in order that the difference between the world systems was determined, both conceptually and empirically. This means that belief in the Copernican system before Newton was somewhat premature, since the dynamics needed to interpret the evidence as supporting the rotation of the earth was yet to be written. p.224

Event-structure metaphors

This continues the posts here and here and here based on George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s book Philosophy in the Flesh (Basic Books, 1999).

The Location Event-Structure Metaphor
Locations → States
Movements → Changes
Forces → Causes
Forced Movement → Causation
Self-propelled Movements → Actions
Destinations → Purposes
Paths (to destinations) → Means
Impediments to Motion → Difficulties
Lack of Impediments to Motion → Freedom of Action
Large, Moving Objects (that exert force) → External Events
Journeys → Long-term, Purposeful Activities

The States are Locations metaphor has a dual, the Attributes are Possessions metaphor, in which attributes are seen as objects one possesses. The difference is a figure-ground shift. Grounds are stationary and figures are moveable relative to them. The Attributes are Possessions metaphor combines with Changes are Movements and Causes are Forces to form a dual Event-Structure system.

The Object Event-Structure Metaphor
Possessions → Attributes
Movements of Possessions (gains or losses) → Changes
Transfer of Possessions (giving or taking) → Causation
Desired Objects → Purposes
Acquiring a Desired Object → Achieving a Purpose

Perception requires a figure-ground choice. Necker cubes show that figure-ground organization is a separable dimension of cognition.

Necker cube

Figure and ground are aspects of human cognition. They are not features of objective, mind-independent reality. [p.198]

Location metaphor: Causation is the Forced Movement of an (Affected) Entity to a New Location (the Effect. Causation as Forced Movement of an Affected Entity to an Effect.

Object metaphor: Causation is the Transfer of a Possible Object (the Effect) to or from an (Affected) Entity. Causation as Transfer of an Effect to an Affected Entity.

In the Location metaphor, the affected entity is the figure; it moves to a new location (ground). In the Object metaphor, the effect is the figure; it moves to the affected party (ground).

What this means is that there is no conceptualization of causation that is neutral between these two! [p.199]

The Moving-Activity Metaphor
Things That Move → Activities
Reaching a Destination → Completion of the Activity
Locations → States
Forces → Causes
Forced Movement (or Prevention of Movement) → Causation
Impediments to Motion → Difficulties

The Action-Location Metaphor
Being in a Location → An Action
Forces → Causes
Destinations → Purposes
Closeness to a Location → “Closeness” to an Action
Forcing Movement to a Location → Causing an Action
Stopping a Traveler from Reaching a Location → Preventing an Action

The Existence (or Life) as Location Metaphor
Coming Here → Becoming
Going Away → Ceasing to Exist
Forced Movement Here → Causing to Exist
Forced Movement Away → Causing to Cease to Exist

The Causal Path Metaphor
Self-Propelled Motion → Action
Traveler → Actor
Locations → States
A Lone Path → A Natural Course of Action
Being on the Path → Natural Causation