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

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

  1. Schmelzer Valued Senior Member

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    A reference to Sokal, who in his fundamental paper has discussed them:

    and, in particular, my all times champion:

    So, see the references in this paper http://www.physics.nyu.edu/sokal/transgress_v2/transgress_v2_singlefile.html to find more details.
     
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  3. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

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    So lets see the math.
     
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  5. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

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    Oh, OK. You have no proof of anything. You just spam in hopes of appearing smart.
     
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  7. wellwisher Banned Banned

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    The best explanation, for most people, appears to be based on prestige, and not reason. Prestige is defined as the respect and admiration that someone or something gets for being successful or important. Many people may not be able to follow the data, logic and math, for a theory, so they depend on others to do this for them and define the best conclusion for them.

    However, prestige can cause problems. For example, it is not uncommon for a prestigious actor to talk about global warming. Their prestige in acting, makes their explanation count for more. If the average man says the same thing, it does not carry the same weight. Prestige is subjective, with that often being the deciding factor for what constitutes good theory, in the minds of many.

    If you look at many of the mainstream theories, there are often shortcomings, due new observations and evolving changes in related theories. If such defects appear, in a rational world, such theories would be open game for change. A flaw is a flaw. However, the prestige affect can prevent knowledge from evolving, since many people will not change, until prestige says it is OK to change. If the textbooks don't add the new observations, it can't be important, since prestige is lacking. One can see this is science forums.

    For example, I have pointed out, in the biology section of the forum, that life will not appear, unless water is present. The organics alone do not allow life to appear. Based on hard evidence, there is no proof that any other solvent will allow life to appear, except water. Yet the prestige says alternate solvents are possible and this is blindly accepted without proof. Biology is also be taught without taking into account the impact of water, even though dehydrated organics show no signs of life.

    As a more specific example, the DNA double helix, shown in textbooks is not bio-active, but rather needs a certain degree of hydration; chemically bonded water, so the water can help position the atoms of the DNA into its active 3-D structure, so it has the properties needed for life. Yet prestige teaches dehydrated nonsense, fudged with statistics, and calls this the best knowledge.

    If the decision was based on logic, argument and hard data, the best theory would need to include the bio-physical chemistry of water. However, since so many people don't know how to think without the training wheels of prestige, prestige is often used to trump hard proof in favor of an obsolete tradition.

    The impact of water on life is a good demonstration example of this topic. It shows how prestige can say nonsense without proof; others solvents can support life, while common sense logic is suspect, since the prestige of the author is not large enough, and those with bigger prestige, remain silent. The mob can't reason by itself, so the flaw remain based on prestige math.

    Scientists, in private, can be ego-centric, so prestige is not important to their thinking while i the lab. It becomes more important for career ambitions, which may require kissing a ring. In private they can think outside the box, but in public they will often need to support the chosen candidate. This can cause bad theory to linger for decades.
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2016
  8. PhysBang Valued Senior Member

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    OK, let's examine the crazy here.
    This is 100% the case. For most subjects in someone's life, they rely on the prestige given to certain theories. In many cases, the prestige is well-earned. In some cases, it is not.
    Sure, in this case, we have celebrities who realize that there are people being lead astray to and so they try to use their prestige to get people back on track to science that deserves prestige. One should note that because wellwisher will only give prestige to racist and sexist sources of information, wellwisher thinks that there is no such thing as global warming.
    Sure.
    First, that there is "no proof" is not proof that water is a requirement in general. We have never seen life on another planet, so there may be possibilities that we do not know of and cannot yet imagine. So, yes, it is reasonable to suspect that there may be other solvents out there that make life possible.
    Science textbooks may claim ignorance and thus possibility, but none of them (I strongly believe) actually say that there is life on another planet that uses any solvent whatsoever.
    One should note that there is a big difference between the simple statement that all biology on Earth uses water and the complex ideas of the semi-magical properties of water that wellwisher spread all over these forums.
    This is a strange fight for wellwisher to have: on the one side is a bunch of scientists trying to investigate possibility in the face of little data so far and on the other side is wellwisher with no attempts to study the world making grand claims about both the properties of water and the claims of scientists (claims that are likely false).
    While I can think of one theoretical commitment that stayed on far longer than it should have likely due to cult of personality, I can't think of an example of a specific scientific theory that stayed on for decades because of prestige. I know that prestige keeps certain racist and sexist hypotheses favored by wellwisher around; a prestige found in certain demographics, of course.
     
  9. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Actually that is not fair. See this, for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luce_Irigaray

    This ghastly woman seems to have devoted her academic career to preposterous attempts to show that sexism pervades culture, to the extent that E=mc² is sexually biased! A fruitcake, clearly.

    But Schmelzer is amusingly trying to throw a spanner in the works of the discussion by introducing Sokal's famous spoof paper, " Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity". This, notoriously, made it past peer review in a social sciences journal and was published, in spite of being gibberish, thus making a fools of a lot of leftwing pseuds.
     
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  10. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

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    In my defense, Schmelzer, made a statement and did not answer on it when questioned, but just posted a bunch of gibberish.

    And to addressing the OP, mentioning mathematics for truth is like flogging a dead horse that was dead centuries before me.
     
  11. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    I will need to return to this thread to reply to some of you, thank you kindly for your insightul responses! It's given me much food for thought.

    Here's one more abstract question, though - Will the ''best'' explanation only be what is best to us, or what is best in general? I may have more knowledge than another person about a particular topic, but he might have more about another. If he doesn't understand the topic to begin with very well, how will he decipher a ''good'' explanation from the ''best'' one? Maybe we need to come to the table with a foundation of knowledge to begin with, before being able to determine a ''best'' explanation, even if it's only ''best'' for us. Do you agree?
     
  12. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Yes fair enough, Schmelzer's posts here have been of only tangential relevance to the subject at hand.

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  13. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    I think the explanation that is "best" opens a debate about what we mean by "best". It is arguable that an explanation that is simplified but is thereby made easy to understand may in many contexts be "better" than one that is more accurate but too hard for the audience to take in. For example, if one were to reply to a simple question about planetary motion by invoking General Relativity and spacetime curvature, instead of explaining it in terms of Newtonian gravity, one might lose a lot of people who could understand the Newtonian explanation easily.

    This all comes back to the concept of models in the theories of science. One often has different models of something, differing in accuracy but also in complexity. Choice of the "best" model depends on the job in hand - sometimes including the degree of sophistication of one's interlocutors.

    So I think there can be a subjective element to "best", unless one qualifies it in advance by saying best in accuracy, or best in simplicity, or something.
     
  14. Schmelzer Valued Senior Member

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    I admit I should not have named Sokal's hoax "his fundamental paper" without adding some appropriate smiley. As a compensation:

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    I would not name it gibberish, but high level satirical. And, btw, Sokal himself is leftwing too.
     
  15. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    I'm not sure what 'best in general' would mean. 'Best' only seems to make sense when there are a set of alternatives. So how is the set of alternatives defined?

    We observe something. We invent a hypothesis to explain the observation. That hypothesis will just be one of a set of possible hypotheses that might also be consistent with the observation. Arguably, that set of possible hypotheses might potentially be infinitely large. That infinite set will be reduced considerably if we restrict ourselves to hypotheses that have actually been proposed, as compared to those that might have been but weren't.

    So does "best" apply to the big set of possible hypotheses, including the ones that nobody has ever thought of? That would seem to correspond to your "best in general", but how would we ever make judgements about 'best' concerning hypotheses we have never thought of and know nothing about?

    Or does "best" apply to the small set of hypotheses that we are actively considering? That would seem to correspond to your "best for us". I think that's how people typically proceed in science and in real life.

    Yes. I think that hypothesis formation and making selections among explanatory hypotheses as to which ones are best is context-sensitive. In the sciences, it takes place in the context of the history of science and the scientific education that scientists receive in universities. Scientists approach observations with a whole tool-kit of technical concepts, methods and examples of earlier explanations that they deploy in various and often creative ways when they encounter new things that they want to explain.
     
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  16. Schmelzer Valued Senior Member

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    What matters is the best in the wide sense. And this wide set is implicitly present, because scientists are thinking about hypotheses which are better than the ones actually considered.
    There are some criteria which allow objectively to distinguish better hypotheses, and which do not depend on any history or so: First of all, Popper's criterion of empirical content. Closely related, but nonetheless different is explanatory power and simplicity.

    De facto, history plays a role. But this is more an unavoidable but unfortunate thing, of type "such is life", than a good idea.
     
  17. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    No, the context would include the ability to identify "mainstream" scientists and the manner in which this is done - not a presupposition of what kinds of scientists you trust.

    Illustration:
    There are very few, if any, non-professional (i.e. politically and economically relevant) circumstances in which agenda is irrelevant in granting trust.
    You appear to be working with an aberrant notion of "ad hominem". A scientist would in many cases have a considerable advantage in evaluating credentials, say, or the status of something as accepted scientific work, or the relevance of findings to the argument being made, or the existence of an agenda hidden from the layman.
    That's circular. You are identifying the political influence in the first place by employing your "general scientific knowledge", meaning information about physical reality you happen to possess.

    Without that, you don't know what the political influence is and cannot reliably allow for it in evaluating the science - as we saw with your mistaken evaluation of the very solid climate change science, on the basis of a badly mistaken preconception of the political influences involved.

    And this is relevant in a discussion of finding "best" explanations of things, especially in a context in which deciding on one "best" explanation and then discarding the others is a mistake.
     
  18. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

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    I would really attend to your own propaganda, lies, biases, as well as adhoms, rather then stupidly nit picking other opinions and facts on the subject.
     
  19. Schmelzer Valued Senior Member

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    There are very few non-professional circumstances where I think about granting trust. I have explained you many times that I use a different approach, not based on a simple trust/no trust distinction.
    Of course. I have never said that ad hominems are somehow bad or so. Ad hominems are cheap as arguments. But they are usually easy to get. Ask about where the paper is published, and you have it. This is the same sort of logic which is behind common forms of racism, nationalism or sexism. It is very easy to find out race, nation and gender of an unknown person, and, using the prejudices about their race, nation and gender, you have, out of nothing, already some information about what to expect from this person. This can give some considerable advantages in some situations. But these prejudices are very weak as arguments.
    No, I mean here a quite general methodological background. If I know how to interpret texts about statistical observations in astronomy, this does not give me any knowledge about human psychology. But it allows me to read and understand some statistical papers in human psychology. And if, say, some non-mainstream scientists point out to, say, quite simple methodological errors of mainstream science, this is something one can evaluate. Because one has a basic background of the logic behind this, knows about rather typical statistical errors and so on.
    Sorry, no, the important political influences itself are quite obvious, and can be easily established. Because politicians are usually stupid, if they start to talk about something related with science, one can be sure that they get the content completely wrong. Similarly for journalists. Even science journalists present scientific results in quite horrible ways, but once normal journalists start to write about scientific questions (as they have to, once there is strong political pressure), they will be completely off. So, all you need is to collect such political nonsense said by politicians and written in the mainstream media and you know the direction of political influence. These are observational data independent of the whole scientific discussion.

    But this is, btw, a side issue. I found it necessary to mention it, because this is the most important exception of the general rule that one can trust scientists.
     
  20. Seattle Valued Senior Member

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    There is no "best" when what you are discussing is subjective. The "best" explanation for me...is subjective. If it is objective then there is only one answer...2+3 is 5.
     
  21. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    I posted on the village forum lol but will reply here too since the dialogue might benefit others here.

    Good thoughts to this, Yazata. ''Best'' meaning -- the chosen, final answer that the majority accepts as truth, and there are no alternatives to that ''truth.'' (if that makes sense)
     
  22. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Any alternative, from bad to best. That's how people determine what is best, yes?

    Very much agree with this, as how can something that hasn't been considered be brought into the picture? But, having said that, is it possible that any given time period has its ''best'' over another time period? Knowledge evolves over time.

    No, only those that are ''thought of'' can be considered part of the choices.

    I'm sorry, maybe I should have clarified what I meant. ''Best in general'' meaning, best that would be accepted by most/the majority.

    For the sake of the OP, this.

    Okay, then yes, this is how I intended to clarify it according to the OP.



    Earlier explanations make sense, but do they ever consider potential considerations? Wouldn't that be hard to do?
     
  23. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Agree with you, here. But suppose you are learning something for the first time? It's new to you, but not new to science, for example. How do you come to accepting scientific facts as truths? It seems to me, that we take a lot of prior explanations (or historical explanations) as facts, merely because we value the opinions of those that have come before us who have formed these opinions.

    Is that lazy thinking?

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