What is proof? What does it mean to 'prove' something?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by spinner981, Jan 7, 2016.

  1. spinner981 Registered Member

    Messages:
    57
    Just found this forum, wanted to ask a question.

    What does it mean to 'prove' something to somebody? Or what does it mean to call something 'proven'? Most often one would say that 'proof' refers to something that is undeniably true, but the term 'proven' has been used to refer to many things that later were said to not be 'proven'. Furthermore, two people can hold the belief that two mutually exclusive ideas or worldviews are both somehow 'proven' to be true.

    How do we make sense of this though? What determines what is really 'proven' and what is being falsely called 'proven'? If 'proof' is undeniable, we should start there, asking what it means for something to be 'undeniable'. Simply, it means that you can't deny it. What does that mean for a human? There is nothing that humans can't deny, ranging from the existence of God, to the truth value of evolution, to the existence of the universe, even to the existence of the self. But in that case, nothing would technically be provable because everything would be deniable.

    I think the key is our interpretation of an event or a belief/worldview. Something can be proven to one person, but not to another, so the 'proof' exists within the individual in their acceptance of a particular belief/worldview. To have something 'proven' to you it to simply be convinced that something is true. This is why whether or not somebody believes something wholly depends on who they are, and not what the evidence or reasoning is, since the evidence/reasoning can stay the same while still being rejected by some and supported by others.

    People talk about things being 'proven' all the time, and when I ask for the proof they give me reasoning or alleged evidence, but I still don't believe it. Then they say I am ignorant of the 'facts' or am being willfully obtuse. I have experienced this from worldviews that are both contrary to mine and an amplification of mine.

    It is my belief that to 'prove' something to someone merely means to convince someone of something. Apart from that 'proof' seems to just be a term people throw around to give justification to their own beliefs and to discredit beliefs contrary to their own. When people say 'proof' is something that is definitely true whether you believe it or not, I believe the correct term there is 'truth'. I believe any proof for any given worldview/belief exists within our minds, not outside of them. That doesn't mean we can't be right about things we think are proven though, just that our personal reasoning (ie: our 'proof') for our beliefs aren't some form of magic spells that forces people to believe things, and to go against something that some or many claim is 'proven' isn't inherently an act of anti-intellectualism.

    So, does this make sense?
     
    Waiter_2001 likes this.
  2. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  3. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,805
    In everyday circumstances, the folk or informal measurements for what constitutes "casual proof" can vacillate in range between arbitrary and stricter regulated criterion (either locally based or grounded in a broader community slash culture).

    Whereas literal proof belongs to whatever self-contained, axiomatic system that allows evaluating processes / capacities which can yield such results. The formal system's rules, procedures, and relations / properties are recruited to demonstrate that a submitted offering qualifies for truth status within its context; or is consistent with those standards of the overall complex (deserves recognition as a member, innovation, functional adjunct, etc).

    In terms of other enterprises that can adjust themselves with regard to empirical input from the world (i.e., don't float abstractly on their own): Their references to "proof" may use the word as mere ornament for meeting a conditional level of factual evidence or warranted conclusion, convincing argument or rhetoric, etc. As assessed by proper authority, critical group, etc according to their domain-specific standards, canon, methods, or template for operation. In (hopefully) rare cases, fickle passion and popularity might approve a proposal / accusation as true, acceptable, etc.
     
  4. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  5. spinner981 Registered Member

    Messages:
    57
    So basically, people or groups decide what qualifies as 'proven' to them, and determines whether something has or has not met that criteria?
     
  6. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  7. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,805
    People invent formal systems, descriptions, categories, concepts, methods, etc to handle and understand the representations and discriminations of their sensory content (originally for survival, now maybe for other pursuits). The universe itself "just is" in its non-conscious oblivion and thereby globally lacks interest in manifesting, understanding, and garnering evidence for itself as anything. The cosmos does feature the particular, local phenomenon of tiny, cognitive agencies like ourselves which fell non-teleologically out of evolutionary processes on Earth. But it did not concoct objective programs and agendas for humans antecedent to their emergence; those developments are artificial, not "prior in rank" to biological products. Those affairs work themselves out as the bipedal primates work out their survival over time.
     
  8. spinner981 Registered Member

    Messages:
    57
    Sounds awfully vague for also sounding so complex. From what I understand though, you're basically saying "Yes"? That proof is a construct of our minds, that we refer to our reasoning as 'proof', while 'proof' itself doesn't exist in any objective form? That having something proven to you is the same as being convinced of something?
     
  9. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,805
    If a comet whacks the Moon, it whacks the Moon. It's an ontological event in the original form, not a fact or tested description reported in a respected science journal. The Moon simply lacks the capacity to sense / represent such encounters as anything in a perceptual mode (visual, aural, tactile, etc). Accordingly it has no content to target thoughts, feelings, and interpretations / theories "about what's going on" upon (as if it could have those intellectual activities anymore than the sensory manifestations). So why / how could matter at large be concerned about evidence, proof, etc?

    It's infrequently astonishing how contemporary people can conclude that the universe is "non-conscious slash non-sapient"; and then inconsistent with that output then proceed to populate said cosmos with the abstract furniture that the brain manufactures, as if it was indulging in such abroad before our arrival or anything equivalent to us.

    Our interpretations have consequences, that often proceed far further than where we conveniently decide to stop following them. Consequences that can be dissonant with other traditional ones. There can be a pragmatic dichotomy between the two according to their usefulness in varying contexts -- but to declare literally "I believe this to be the case independent of relation to anything else" and then complement that with what conflicts with it (that is also believed just as ardently) presents an eventual crisis in reasoning for those of us in that segment of the population.
     
  10. spinner981 Registered Member

    Messages:
    57
    I think you're over-complicating this a bit.
     
  11. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,805
    Ah, not that again. Choose something different than what was turned into a multi-purpose platitude by a viral email anecdote circulating among distant church members. How did part of that thing go? Something along the line of...

    Creationist: "God created the various species 6,000 years ago."

    Biologist: "Evolution. Millions of years."

    Creationist: "You're over-complicating things."
     
    Daecon likes this.
  12. spinner981 Registered Member

    Messages:
    57
    You just don't seem to be answering the question directly, just sort of theorizing around the subject. If you don't think it can be answered directly, just say that. I also have no idea what you are talking about, concerning some email.
     
  13. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Messages:
    30,505
    spinner981:

    The word "proof", used in the strictest sense, only really applies to formal systems of logic or mathematics, in which conclusions can be derived by a finite series of steps from axioms taken to be true from the start. A formal "proof" in this sense starts with the accepted axioms and deduces the result to be proved via a series of steps that are accepted to be valid by those using the formal system.

    In everyday life, on the other hand, people often use the word "proof" in a much looser sense. When they say "It has been proven that X" they may mean only that "I am satisfied that X is true based on the evidence and arguments in X's favour that I am aware of". The standard of evidence or argument required for something to be considered "a proven fact" varies from individual to individual. Since "proof" always relies on some prior assumptions taken as "obvious", this accounts for the fact that two mutually-contradictory statements might be considered as "proven". Presumably, the prior assumptions are taken to be different in the two cases (by different people).

    Correct. A famous example is provided by Descartes, who started by doubted everything. He asked whether anything could be known beyond doubt, and concluded "I think, therefore I am". That is, if somebody is thinking about things, then the thinker must exist, and this is not deniable (he argued).

    What a person will accept as "enough argument" to establish the truth of a statement will vary depending on the person and the statement.

    Presumably, you are not working with the same initial assumptions that these other people are working with.

    This is a problem that people of a scientific mindset often encounter when dealing with believers in pseudoscience and superstition, to take one example. The pseudoscientists don't respect the scientific method and rational reasoning processes, so they can refuse to accept arguments that any rational person trained in the scientific method would regard as conclusive.

    That's a fair assessment.

    Of course, you probably need to look beyond the individual. Some individuals can never be convinced, and yet consensus exists about many things among people in general. It is always possible for an obtuse individual to refuse to accept "proof" that virtually everybody else accepts as valid.
     
  14. spinner981 Registered Member

    Messages:
    57
    That's the thing. I ask for their 'proof', for how they arrive at these conclusions by scientific method. But what I get is raw theory, with no observations nor empirical testing, but they claim that it's still proven. That's the problem really. The claim that something is what is just because it is, and the refusal to accept, or even consider, ideas or worldviews contrary to that claim. Of course it could work both ways, but more often than not I am faced with people citing the same 'reasoning' for their belief over and over, and saying I am in the wrong for simply believing differently, for simply not accepting their claims of 'proof' as proof and immediately folding to their worldview.

    There have also been many theories in the past that the majority of people accepted (ie: geocentric model of the solar system as one example). Simply being a popular 'proven' belief doesn't necessarily make it true. We should feel obligated to search for problems with that which we already believe, to strengthen our own beliefs in what we believe, than to attack alternative models or worldviews in the hope of making ours look 'relatively' more credible. Going against the crowd doesn't necessarily make you obtuse. Many of the greatest philosophical minds in history behaved in that way after all. Of course, we aren't all going to be great philosophical geniuses, but that doesn't mean that unpopular thought is to be inherently considered dubious just because it is unpopular.
     
  15. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Messages:
    30,505
    spinner981:

    Arguably, in science (as opposed to mathematics, say) nothing is ever proven. Science is about making theoretical models that can predict and match observations in the real world. The worth of any scientific theory is ultimately judged by how well it matches what is observed in experiments or observations of the real world.

    If anybody claims that a scientific theory somehow proves something about the real world without real-world evidence to back up that claim, then they are making an unjustified claim.

    To be consistent, the same standard of proof should apply to people claiming proof of a theory that is accepted by mainstream science and to people claiming proof of a theory that is not accepted by mainstream science. There are lots of "alternative", unproven hypotheses out there, just as there are lots of unproven mainstream hypotheses. Having said that, many "alternative" hypotheses can safely be ruled out on the grounds that they are inconsistent with many other "proven" facts or theories.

    Yes, and it is examples like these that should tell us to be cautious in claiming that we have "proven" something. I think it is better to think about scientific ideas as working models. If a new model of nature comes along that explains the observations better than the old one does, then the old model has to be appropriately modified or thrown away. In that sense, all currently-accepted scientific theories are provisional - even the ones that we are most confident are correct.

    Having said that, of course, it should be stated that there are a lot of scientific theories that have so much evidence supporting them that it is very unlikely that they are entirely mistaken.

    We need to do both: (a) be careful that we aren't fooling ourselves, and (b) make sure that others aren't fooling themselves.

    When the crowd is judging you it does. It doesn't necessarily mean you're wrong, though. I agree that just because an idea is unpopular doesn't mean that it's wrong. Similarly, just because an idea is popular doesn't mean it is right.
     
  16. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    2,955
    But being obtuse often makes you go against the crowd.

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!



    I know the sciencey types like to say that nothing is ever "proven" in science but I think of it in terms of distilling: 80-proof liquor has been tested for alcohol content and "proven" to contain 40%. That is what "proof" means in science: tested and confirmed. Gravity has been tested and confirmed. Evolution has been tested and confirmed.
     
  17. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,805
    My answer was in the first post. Since you seemed to need a touch of elaboration, the rest was on the distinction between a non-conscious, non-sapient, disinterested in human affairs universe and how the limitations of our perceptual & knowledge-gathering capacities eventually force us into devising standards related to whether a proposal is true or a submitted item is consistent with the systematic framework it is offered to, etc.

    If you, OTOH, consider it eccentric "theorizing" that the cosmos globally lacks awareness and qualitative presentations, globally lacks intelligence and investigative capacities, globally lacks prescriptions for humans both now and before they evolved... Then your view is the tree for others in here to hang you on in a science forum. That potential drama is of little interest to me even as a spectator, just another of scores of reruns. Good luck.
     
  18. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    10,820
    I see your point. I posted already on my suspicion that there is no "objective evidence." That evidence is an interpretation of facts towards some conclusion we are already assuming. That physical states and data must be framed into a theoretical context to become evidentiary, and this theoretical context is something we construct with our minds. This accounts for your dilemma of the same proof presented to two different people and being convincing in one case but not the other. I watched the gun control debate last night on CNN, and it boggles my mind how both sides cite stats that seem to as much prove their points as the other. It's an insidious effect of strong belief that you take things to be more proving than they may really be. Errors occur in sampling, in correlation equaling causation, and in overgeneralizing specific situations. There is a huge subjective element in what is presented as proof, even in the most scientific of discourses. It's something we must be on guard against if we are ever to arrive at something like "the truth" on a matter, even if that in itself is often settled as mere peer consensus..
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2016
  19. spinner981 Registered Member

    Messages:
    57
    I agree with pretty much everything you say. I think 'proof' relates similarly to evidence though. Evidence is merely something that, to someone, makes them consider something more likely to be true, and is ultimately personal as well (defining evidence as the combination of stimuli such as an observation, with the interpretation of said observation, not necessarily one without the other). While proof exists after a person has accepted something to be true, to refer to that reasoning which they believe sealed the deal for them personally.

    Concerning evolution, do you refer to natural selection, non-mutation genetic changes within organisms, or genetic mutations producing new functions and/or structures within organisms by a change in allele frequency? If you want to refer to them all as the same thing, then you would be stating that all of those things individually have been 'tested and confirmed'?

    I thought I got what you were saying, so I asked if I understood if properly. I didn't know you were going into something unrelated after that. Also, isn't this the philosophy forum? I know it's kind of a branch of science, but one that operates off of fundamentally different rules.

    Yes, I don't think we can know the truth with 100% certainty. But that doesn't mean we can't know it at all, even if we don't know that we know. I've been in enough discussions to see this false view of 'proof' shut down said discussions, simply because one side presented the 'proof' and the other side didn't consider it proof. It is dangerous, intellectually speaking, to think that labeling ideas make them more or less true, and that some theories or ideas or more or less true simply because of what or who they are associated with.
     
  20. river Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    9,465
    It means an absolute.
     
  21. wellwisher Banned Banned

    Messages:
    5,160
    One source of confusion in terms of the truth is created by statistics. Statistic allows what is not 100% true, to be accepted as true. Statistics allows for a margin of error so even half baked theory will get two thumbs up, if you have the resources to run statistical experiments.

    I tend to believe this approach is used to get more manpower, to suit the needs of industry. If you needed to be 100% ; all the data has to work, this eliminates most of your work force. This higher standard requires deeper knowledge and insight.

    If you look at the debate for guns, both sides will use statistics, since guns can be good today but bad tomorrow, with a statistical approach. It almost appears as if con artists were running the show. If con artists was my profession, I would institute statistics over reason, for the creative liberty it offers in terms of partial truth.

    The irony is the age of reason shifted people away from a random universe POV, where lead can turn to gold; it has odds. The goal was reality had to have reasons that could be modeled by math and make accurate predictions. In the 20th century, there was a movement to go back to alchemy times where dice are used to decide which of the two path one needs to follow.
     
  22. river Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    9,465
    The statistics of things , how so true.

    Mean while the abberations ......manifest.
     
  23. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    2,955
    When I say "evolution" I refer to the Theory of Evolution as accepted by virtually every scientist on earth. It has been thoroughly tested and confirmed.
     

Share This Page