iSoul In the beginning is reality

Tag Archives: Science

sciences in general, what they are and their methods

Inverse causes

I’ve written about Aristotle’s four causes before (such as here and here). This also continues the discussion of observers and travelers, here.

Forward kinematics refers to the use of the kinematic equations of a robot to compute the position of the end-effector (the device at the end of a robotic arm) from specified values for the joint parameters. Forward kinematics is also used computer games and animation. Inverse kinematics makes use of the kinematics equations to determine the joint parameters that provide a desired position for each of the robot’s end-effectors.

In other words, forward kinematics is for finding out what motion happens given particular inputs, whereas inverse kinematics is for determining how to move to a desired position. In terms of the four Aristotelian causes or explanatory factors, forward kinematics is concerned with the efficient and material causes, and inverse kinematics is concerned with the final and formal causes.

The surprising thing is that these two kinds of causes (higher and lower) are inverses of one another.

Causes
Higher Final Formal
Lower Efficient / Mechanism Material

From the lower perspective one begins with some material. From the higher perspective one begins with the objective. From the lower perspective forces and laws make things happen. From the higher perspective following plans gets the job done.

One can see rôles parallel to the causes:

Rôles
Traveler Set the destination Plan the trip
Observer Observe the motion See the material

And in robotics (or animation):

Kinematics
Inverse Pick the end position Plan the motions
Forward Make the motions Pick the device

One could say that forward kinematics is for scientists and inverse kinematics is for engineers since the latter incorporate objectives and designs in their work but the former are focused on observation only. To go beyond observation scientists would have to open up to formal and final causes.

Observers and travelers, continued

This post continues the topic of the previous post here. This is a post about two kinds of people. First a warning:

There may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not. – Robert Benchley

Actually, this post is about two different roles that people take, though some people get stuck in one role or the other. Consider these pairs of complementary roles:

speakers and listeners, writers and readers, artists/performers and viewers, musicians and audiences, programmers/designers and users, producers and consumers, etc.

Scientists and engineers often have complementary roles: engineers making things that work in the world and scientists observing and seeking to understand the world. In the MBTI personality types, there are judgers and perceivers. Combine all these with travelers and observers, transmitters and receivers, of the previous post.

What is the basic distinction here? It’s between an active role and a passive role, between having a goal and a way to get there vs. letting things go and seeing what happens. In terms of Aristotle’s four causes, it’s between the final and formal causes vs. the mechanistic/efficient and material causes.

Aristotle give an example of a sculptor, in which they start with a final goal in mind and develop a plan, a design, a form. Then they take some material such as marble or clay and use tools to form it into something. An observer would only see the last two steps. They would have to infer the first two steps – or else stick to empiricism and ignore the first two steps.

In terms of studying motion, the distinction is between having a destination and moving there vs. starting somewhere and observing what motion there is. These two roles lead to the two approaches to space and time: 3+1 dimensions and 1+3 dimensions.

These roles are distinct even when they’re combined. For example, scientists do experiments, which requires an active role, but the purpose is to observe, which means to watch what happens.

In ethical terms, the distinction is between givers and takers, doers and hearers (James 1:22).

These roles are different enough so that communication may be a problem. They speak different dialects and some translation may be required for them to understand one another. Knowing about personality types provides a clue as to how to approach those who prefer to take a particular role.


A few favorites of this “different kinds of people” genre:

There are three kinds of people in the world: Those who know math and those who don’t.

There are 10 kinds of people in the world: Those who understand binary and those who don’t.

There are two types of people in this world: Those who can extrapolate from incomplete data

Design illustrated

This post continues thoughts about design, last posted here.

Here is a description of how cement is made from the Portland Cement Association:

In its simplest form, concrete is a mixture of paste and aggregates, or rocks. The paste, composed of portland cement and water, coats the surface of the fine (small) and coarse (larger) aggregates. Through a chemical reaction called hydration, the paste hardens and gains strength to form the rock-like mass known as concrete.

The key to achieving a strong, durable concrete rests in the careful proportioning and mixing of the ingredients. A mixture that does not have enough paste to fill all the voids between the aggregates will be difficult to place and will produce rough surfaces and porous concrete. A mixture with an excess of cement paste will be easy to place and will produce a smooth surface; however, the resulting concrete is not cost-effective and can more easily crack.

The design in this case is the proportion of ingredients in the mixture. It might happen that the ingredients formed naturally but they would be in the correct proportion only by design. That is, the particular application entails a goal, which the design meets.

Certainly concrete can and does happen naturally in aggregate rock formations. But it does not meet a need without a design. And that doesn’t happen naturally. Roads built with concrete only happen because engineers and construction crews built them. There’s nothing natural about that.

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:

cafe wall illusion

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.

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).

Schools of thought

A school of thought is an approach to a discipline by a group of people, especially one that develops its own vocabulary and intellectual tradition. There are many schools of thought in the humanities and soft sciences, including historical sciences. There are fewer schools of thought in the hard sciences, but they exist there, too (e.g., Bayesianism and Frequentism in statistics).

Examples of major schools of thought:

Biology: Creationism, Evolutionism

Economics: Classical, Keynesian, Marxism, Monetarism, Rational Expectations

Geology: Catastrophism, Uniformitarianism

History (historiography): Cyclical, Christian, Marxism, Historicism, Progressivism, Postmodernism

Literary Criticism: Pragmatism, Formalism, Marxism, Psychoanalysis, New Criticism, Structuralism, Deconstruction, Post-modernism, Post-Structuralism, Post-colonialism, Feminist Theory, Queer Theory, New Historicism, Cultural Studies, Reader Response

Philosophy: Idealism, Materialism/Pragmatism, Postmodernism, Realism

Psychology: Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Functionalism, Humanistic/Gestalt, Psychoanalytic, Systems psychology

Sociology: Structural Functionalism, Conflict Theory, Symbolic Interactionism, Feminist Theory

Statistics: Bayesianism, Frequentism

Theology (Christian): Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism.

Schools of thought can and do co-exist. As their traditions develop over decades and centuries, it can be more difficult for inter-school dialogue because their terminology and concepts are different.

It’s often not appreciated that creationism and evolutionism are schools of thought. They have their own terms, concepts, and intellectual traditions. They deal with historical events, which makes them soft sciences. And all science is still a branch of philosophy, in which schools of thought abound.

Creationism and evolutionism have been mainstream modern science at different times: creationism up to the late 19th century, evolutionism since the late 19th century. Evolutionism began development while it was a minority view in the 18th and 19th centuries. Creationism has continued development while it is a minority view. Among the best-known evolutionists are Charles Darwin, Thomas H Huxley, and Alfred R Wallace. Among the best-known creationists are Carolus Linnaeus, Gregor Mendel, and Louis Pasteur.

Creationism and evolutionism can and should be taught as two schools of thought. Teaching them in universities should be no more controversial than teaching Marxist, feminist, or post-modernist schools of thought, which have been taught in universities for years.