How do we find the ''best'' explanation?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by wegs, Oct 14, 2016.

  1. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Whenever we set out to learn something new, or we run across information that seems new to us, what makes us trust the information as being truthful? When it comes to matters that are testable through the scientific process, how can we be sure that the explanation being offered, is the best one?

    When we feel that someone is telling us the truth, is it because of confirmation biases that lead us to believing those truths?

    The best explanation should be a factual and reasonable one, but how do we trust facts and reason? Is it because the facts are accepted by the majority? How can we evaluate and trust reason to ensure that it serves us as the ''best'' explanation?

    What are your ideas on this?
     
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  3. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Most of us rely on reputation of the source of the information and whether it makes sense to us. Reputation is a judgement made by those around us that we respect. We can never know whether a given explanation is really the "best" one, but we can evaluate it just as we evaluate any information: does it seem reasonable to us, do people we trust have a problem with it or not, and so on.
     
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  5. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    That's very interesting, okay so you rely on how others view the same information you are viewing, in terms of their reputations. I wonder how these people that we've come to trust, earn these ''reputations,'' though?
     
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  7. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

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    We can always be wrong...all of us, including the professional experts in a particular field.
    Very recent estimations of the numbers of galaxies within the observable Universe, has been upgraded 10 fold, through the HDF and HUDF and even very recent processes and data that revealed this. New technologies, and new processes have lead to this upgrade....that's science/cosmology.

    The first question I believe should be asked, is does the person making any claim, have a known or obvious agenda?
    Is he credentialed, and/or an expert in the field being discussed?
    If he isn't an expert but is disputing what is generally accepted, does he have an agenda?....does he have an ego problem?
    Let me give another example, and my view on that.
    The Catholic church now sees no problem with accepting the BB theory of the evolution of the Universe, and also the theory of the Evolution of life.
    That may surprise some people, but yes, they do have an agenda of sorts.
    Neither the BB or theory of Evolution, tell us about why or how the BB banged, or how life originally started: So obviously the church can slip in a divine deity and their god of choice to explain that which so far the BB and theory of evolution does not explain.

    Let me state another and again my opinion as to why...
    An otherwise great astronomer Fred Hoyle up until the day he died, disputed the BB and pushed a "Steady State" theory in the face of evidnce that continually supported the BB.
    Why did he do that? Did he have an agenda?
    In my opinion, yes, he did: As a confirmed Atheist, he saw how the church could and ultimately did grab the BB and accept it, while still being able to claim their divine creation event.

    The big important issue with science, and what puts it head and shoulders above all others, is of course the scientific methodology and the fact that it sees nothing wrong in changing and change it does, according to the evidence available.

    Could my local garbage man come up with a theory of everything next week?
    Possibly yes, but really quite unlikely.
    But I as a lay person, prefer to put my faith with the professional experts for the reasons already stated.
    So yes, again in my opinion, sometimes faith is necessary...faith in the professionals, faith in the scientific process and methodology, but faith with good reason!.
    BTW, great question!
     
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  8. Seattle Valued Senior Member

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    Be an open book but not an empty book.

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  9. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

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    Keep an open mind, but not so much so that your brains fall out.

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  10. The God Valued Senior Member

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    Verifiability!
    In a non verifiable domain, especially in the field of cosmology, you cannot do much, you have to either believe or be sceptic.

    If you have basic science education, and if something, which you have understood qualitatively sans maths, is not appealing to you, then you must question, you should not accept on the face if it.
     
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  11. zgmc Registered Senior Member

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    Carl Sagan. One of my favorite quotes.
     
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  12. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

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    Carl Sagan, in my opinion the greatest educator of our time.

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  13. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    By being shown to be usually right and not being shown to be dickheads. Also by way of their manner of communication and argument, which will generally show that they are well-informed and think lucidly.

    And yes of course, trust in sources relies on collective judgements. It is very hard to judge a source by oneself, in total isolation from their preceding interactions with others, unless one is so proficient in the subject of interest as not to need to consult the source in the first place! This is why we need universities: findings and ideas progress to becoming part of the sum of human knowledge after being found useful or correct by more and more others.
     
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  14. wellwisher

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    This is not always easy. An interesting case study, was back in the early 1960's, during the Nixon and Kennedy debates. This is when TV was coming into its own and became a new instrument of the mass media, for the election process. Those who listened to the debate, on radio, thought Nixon won. While those who watched the debate onTV, thought Kennedy won.

    The exact same answers and the exact same words were said in both cases. The difference was TV added a visual layer that was able to impact what people thought they heard. With TV, people were not fully listening to the words, like you would with radio. Rather they were looking at the tanned and handsome Kennedy, next to average looking Nixon, who looked pale and sweaty, due to a cold. Logic went out the door.

    TV personalities can bias analysis, using factual information, because people are not fully listening. Rather many people are making choices, based on an overlay of visual cues, which are now choreographed like a science. One station and one anchor person, may be preferred, by some, even with the same information being read by all stations, since it looks more factual because of his smile.

    On FOX news, they often have info-babes in short skirts, sitting in chairs with crossed legs. The term, Fox and friends is an extrapolation of babe plus friends. This can distract men, who are looking at their legs, and only half listening to what is being said. This is true of all the TV news stations. I like talk radio, because it is just words without visual distractions. You can't biased the facts, with images in the background, that reinforce opinion. If Trump or Hillary is yucky based on the bias of an announcer on TV, they can show an unflattering image in the background, while saying the positive facts, so some people add to their bias. Radio cannot do this trick, which protects the audience.
     
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  15. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    That's an excellent question, one that's basic to the whole philosophy of science.

    The following remarks are paraphrased the chapter on 'Inference to the Best Explanation' from the Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Science. Many of the ideas and several of the examples below come from there.

    http://www.people.hps.cam.ac.uk/index/lipton/inference

    Explanations are involved somehow with the relationship between evidence and theory. Evidence is interpreted as evidence of something, but how do we decide what that should be? Both in science and in everyday life, people make use of the available evidence to somehow infer what they believe would best explain that evidence. That connection is rarely one of deductive logic. This process of 'inference to the best explanation' seems closely related to induction and was given the name abduction by Charles Peirce.

    Darwin proceeded from evidence like the beaks of his Galapagos finches to natural selection that he believed best explained the variation in beaks. Sherlock Holmes interpreted forensic evidence to conclude that the crime was committed by Moriarty. If you walk down a deserted beach and encounter a sand-castle, you will probably conclude that somebody who has now left built it earlier. The street is wet so we conclude that it rained. But despite Holmes announcing that it's all "deduction", in none of these cases does the evidence deductively imply the conclusion. Maybe there's another explanation for the variation in the birds' beaks, maybe somebody other than Moriarty committed the crime, maybe the wind or MR's space aliens are responsible for the sand castle and maybe somebody sprayed the street with a hose.

    There's an interesting circularity built into our explanations. Red shifts are taken to be evidence of stellar recession, while stellar recession is taken to be the explantion of the red shifts. This circular loop between evidence and explanation happens all the time in science.

    What makes one explanation better than another? Should we choose the explanation that is most probable? The explanation that conveys the most understanding? The most mathematically elegant or the simplest explanation? Why does opium put people to sleep? If we explain it by saying that opium has a sleep inducing power, we achieve simplicity and probability, but at the cost of informative power. Great chefs make the best meals, but that doesn't tell us how they do it.

    What features of an explanation contribute to understanding? Scope, precision, mechanism and unification are suggested in Lipton's article. Better explanations explain more, they explain with more precision, they tell us how results come about and they unify seemingly dissimilar phenomena.

    There's lots more that could be said, see the article above and the article on 'abduction' in the SEP:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/abduction/
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2016
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  16. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Agree with you. Einstein had a philosophy that basically said if people can't explain what they know easily, then they don't know it well enough. I happen to think that the more convoluted ''explanations'' out there are the least believable. This doesn't mean that we should scrap thorough examinations of things for quick summaries (or that lengthy explanations aren't true simply because they're lengthy) , but it means that one's understanding of a truth, should not require a thesis to explain. lol

    Do you think knowledge ever evolves, though? There are theories that we have grown to accept over time, but some that are being scrutinized for their validity. As we evolve in our thinking as a culture, I wonder if knowledge in general, can evolve. And is it truly evolving, for is much of one's understanding of a truth, based more on confirmation bias, and personal experience. Worth thinking about.
     
  17. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    What does this mean, exactly ''an empty book?'' (in terms of this OP)

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  18. Seattle Valued Senior Member

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    If you are an empty book then you don't know anything and you have to question everything. At the extremes it is just nave gazing (I can define that if necessary).

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    If you know a lot but aren't open to new ideas you are a closed book. It's better to be an open book.

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    The OP is asking about the "best" explanations and how do we know when someone is telling us the best answer. You have to have some level of knowledge against which to judge their answer. You have to be open to something new without being empty and gullible to nonsense.

    If a doctor is giving me an explanation he probably knows more about that subject than I do but if he tells me something that is drastically out of line with what I think I know then I will be distrustful and do more research.

    When I first read the questions in the OP a blank slate came to mind. You can't be a blank slate. You can't be basing your knowledge 100% of what someone "tells" you. You have to have something to test it against.
     
  19. river Valued Senior Member

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    One thing that I have learned from reading books on science and therefore an explanation on whatever ; is that scientist can be as conservative as they are open minded . The titile of " Scientist " does not automatically make them "open minded " .

    The best explanation on any thing should be based on both sides of the story .

    There is a psychology to science . For those of us not in the direct science lunch room , there is alot of infighting.

    And sometimes it's not about the truth ; which alot of bright minds get into it for ; beyond the intellectual curiosity. Science is a business as well .

    The best explanation is when we investigate ; as we should ; unbiasis.
     
  20. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

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    Oh for fucks sake!


    Precision or accuracy? Everyone already knows there are transcendental numbers! You just sound jealous.
     
  21. river Valued Senior Member

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    Jealous of what ?

    Its not about numbers its about attitude . It's about science being truely a science .
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2016
  22. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

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    Come to think of it, you don't understand the implications of what I just posted.

    :EDIT:

    Maybe I should feel sorry for you.
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2016
  23. river Valued Senior Member

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    Don't .

    Tell me what I missed and/or can you ?
     

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