Posted by: Dan | August 12, 2007

Open Thread: Positivism and Philosophy of Science

In last week’s ‘cells weekly’, I made a reference to MikeGene’s disingenuous search for anything science-looking that could support his preconceived worldview, calling him a crank. This apparently drew some attention from a couple of like-minded individuals (Doug and BrianJ) – interestingly, they didn’t want to discuss any empirical evidence on the ‘evolution gene’ (RecA) or homologous recombination, or any other empirical science. They were instead more interested in the philosophy of science, than the practice of science, in my view. While I humored Doug for a few comments, I really was not interested in turning that forum into a philosophical discussion, because that’s not what it was about in the first place.

But I hardly want to stifle discussion or open inquiry – so, to make amends, here’s a separate thread for discussing the philosophy of science, and especially positivism vs. empiricism.

I confess, I’m not familiar with the details of modern positivism, nor what concepts are thought to be related to positivism, nor what the fate of its philosophical proponents are. I am only under the impression that the list which I had enumerated is representative of positivism. That list looks quite the same as the outcomes of the scientific method itself, so I’d imagine that the adherents of such beliefs would have favorable fates as scientists.

So there it is – have at it guys. Some starter questions:

  • Why do members of the ‘intelligent design’ breed of religious apologetics prefer to discuss the philosophy of science, instead of the practice of science?
  • What is positivism? Who were the positivists? What were their fates?
  • What does positivism have to do with referring to teleology as a ‘crank’ presupposition?
  • How does positivism compare with empiricism? How are they similar or different?
  • Why were these individuals unwilling (unable?) to prove me wrong with empirical data showing purposefulness to be an objective presupposition?

And, my own starting presupposition (for full disclosure) is that teleology is based upon empirically-unfounded assertions.

(Incidentally, Doug – let’s try it without the ban again)


Responses

  1. Dan, have you read much of Karl Popper’s work? In my opinion his critical rationalism is a more complete framework for viewing science than positivism in general.

  2. No, unfortunately I’m more familiar with Kuhns than Popper, whom I’ve only read brief summaries on (e.g. falsifiability).

    To wit: how are we defining positivism? I’m under the impression that Comte, Hume, Kant, and Popper all took it to mean different things; how can we discuss these philosophical concepts if they mean different things to different people?

    Same goes for critical rationalism (i.e. Wikipedia has long, drawn-out and nuanced definitions for both positivism and critical rationalism).

    I’m going on the Kuhnsian perspective that I am more familiar with – that scientific theories construct frameworks or paradigms, which in turn generate testable hypotheses with which to differentiate between theories and paradigms. This concept works explicitly according to the refining mechanisms of the scientific method, is cumulative, and empirical.

    In this case, telic ideas are explicitly intuitive (therefore empirical in a sense) but not testable, often contradictory to known empirical evidence, and conceptually founded upon unsupported assertions (e.g. purposefulness). I say unsupported, because no documentation of purpose has ever been observed in any on-going physical, chemical, or biological process. Yet this is what MikeGene, Doug, et al., suggest.

    In contrast, non-telic ideas are also intuitive in origin (how we formulate hypotheses from guesswork), but have been testable (and either retained or discarded accordingly). They are empirical, and their conceptual foundations are themselves verifiable (or falsifiable, as the case may be). This is the foundation for science as a practical endeavor.

    In the end, ideas wax and wane in science based upon their merits: are they demonstratable – can their principles be reproduced, scrutinized, corroborated, measured, and criticized openly… and still be found agreeable?

    Teleology has not done this – except in the eyes of a portion of non-scientists and religious apologetics in society at large, who do not operate upon the same high standards of evidence as scientists.

  3. Hi Dan,

    “Incidentally, Doug – let’s try it without the ban again”

    You banned me. I wasn’t even being rude. You didn’t want me to bring philosophy into the mix (which I can understand), however, you were making epistemological claims about science. When anyone starts doing that (considering that such claims can’t be proven empirically – and wouldn’t pass the positivists Verifiability Criterion of Meaning) I think it’s certainly justified to being addressing the topic of philosophy of science.

    But, it is your blog and it is your rules. I appreciate you starting this thread and allowing me to post again. I do believe that I can learn alot from you (hopefully I have something to teach as well).

    1st question:

    “Why do members of the ‘intelligent design’ breed of religious apologetics prefer to discuss the philosophy of science, instead of the practice of science?”

    Dan, it didn’t appear that you were interested in addressing the points that Mike Gene was making when he was focusing on ‘the practice of science’. The link you added was nice, but still…. you didn’t so much as focus on his claims as you called him names and put words into his mouth. Is that practicing science? Even stating “breed of religious apologetics”, so it might be, does any point a Stegner or a Dawkins make become null because it could be conceived that they are engaging in a breed of atheistic apologetics?

    I’ve got to rush for now (my ride is leaving).
    Again, thanks for letting me post again.

    Take care, Dan.

  4. When anyone starts doing that (considering that such claims can’t be proven empirically – and wouldn’t pass the positivists Verifiability Criterion of Meaning) I think it’s certainly justified to being addressing the topic of philosophy of science.

    Please elaborate.

    it didn’t appear that you were interested in addressing the points that Mike Gene was making when he was focusing on ‘the practice of science’.

    Where was he focusing on the practice of science? As I’ve been saying, MikeGene is basing everything on an unfounded presupposition which he passes off as scientifically founded. This is the whole natural-theology-presented-as-science motif that intelligent design is known for. (hence the crank theme, completely justifying the ‘name-calling’) In fact, from the work that MikeGene has presented in support of his pet theory, I wouldn’t even go so far as to call him a scientist at all without being sarcastic. But if you or him would like to back up that presupposition, then be my guest.

    does any point a Stegner or a Dawkins make become null because it could be conceived that they are engaging in a breed of atheistic apologetics

    Sorry, but ‘atheistic apologetics?’ I do believe you’re pulling nonsense out of your nether regions.

  5. Incidentally, MikeGene has addressed intelligent creation/design/tinkering from a scientific point of view:
    Detecting the Designer Among Flagellar Componentry.

    Funny though, even he can’t discuss such an entity without turning it into a farce that is akin to the FSM. The mere fact that his pet theory relies upon an unknowable, invisible, undetectable, omniscient and omnipotent entity (i.e., God) rather solidifies the whole “crank” point that I’ve been making.

  6. Hi Dan,

    “As I’ve been saying, MikeGene is basing everything on an unfounded presupposition which he passes off as scientifically founded.”

    What presuppositions are ‘founded’? Dan, you work under the presupposition of a uniformity of nature – is that presupposition founded? It certainly isn’t proved, and all of the particular bits of empirical data could never be generalized to the conclusion that nature is uniform.
    So, you’ve got your own unfounded presupposition. One that is much more fundamental than the one you are erring Mike for.
    Also, you are wrong that Mike is basing ‘everything’ on this presupposition. Read through his posts on front-loading and it should be clear that he is basing his position on evidential support. Along the way he’s even provided insight as to how this position could be falsified (“rather than being accomplished by a simple processes requiring no more than tweaks to already existing genes and developmental plans as had long been thought, instead require many new mutations and many new genes”). Dan, this is Popperian falsificationism. What distinguishes science from non-science? It is science only if the position is empirically testable and empirically falsifiable. If in principle, the data could conceivably contradict the position. Mike’s gone that extra step to show how it is conceivable that data could have been contrary to his position. He spelled it out for us.
    You might not like it, but you haven’t shown that his position isn’t scientific. In contrast, I’ve shown you how it is scientific.

    If you’d like to invoke a strong form of the traditional conception of science (enveloping the positivist view) with the implication of a huge epistemological reduction for the sole purpose of ruling out teleological explanations please note that this doesn’t do you any better.
    Because, then how do you justify the theories you adhere to? How do you square the strong support you have for your theories? By pointing to the data? If so, how do you make that bold leap from the data (which could conceivably support any other number of competing theories) to your theory?
    You can’t. Popper showed why we can’t even accept some theories as more probable (over the other competing theories) by simply pointing to an isolated successful prediction (or two or three or four or thousands).

    You can’t empirically account for your presuppositions, yet you fault Mike because you believe that he is working off of presuppositions. You seem to have this desire to invoke some form of the traditional conception of science, because of your personal disliking of teleological explanations/causes/whatever – with the hope of limiting epistemological explanations to the observable/ empirical (limiting teleology from having anything to say) yet seemingly unaware of the problems that come with this position. Reasons that lead Popper, Kant and Kuhn to start developing their own conception of science. One consequence of this being an epistemological increase.

    Take care, Dan.

  7. Dan, you work under the presupposition of a uniformity of nature – is that presupposition founded?

    Uniformity of nature? No, what I said was more pragmatic – that gods are not needed to explain physical, chemical and biological phenomena. I see nothing unfounded there. Apparently you and MikeGene disagree – that’s fine, I don’t expect any different, and perhaps we can agree to disagree in the interest of moving on to clarifying other points. The alternative is to keep re-wording my bad opinions of MikeGene, and your defense of him, ad infinitum.

    So, on to a more interesting topics:

    You mention the positivist view again, without meeting my simple request to define what that is, as you’re using that term. There’s really no way I can discuss this with you if you don’t clarify what that means.

  8. Doug–the hypothesis that an omniscient, invisible, and undetectable Designer is responsible for any of our observations in nature does not satisfy Popper’s criterion of falsifiability.

    If you are interested at all, Philip Kitcher’s Abusing Science outlines how Popper’s work leads to the rejection of the creationist/ID claim.

  9. “Doug–the hypothesis that an omniscient, invisible, and undetectable Designer is responsible for any of our observations in nature does not satisfy Popper’s criterion of falsifiability.”

    Let’s see. I didn’t mention omniscient. I wonder why that came into the conversation? Oh, could it be that you are making assumptions off of my comment as to what I was refering to? You know, reading it over, I didn’t even mention Designer.
    Also, invisibility wouldn’t be an issue unless you are a positivist. Certainly quarks, valence electrons, leptons aren’t empirical in the positivistic sense – they aren’t visible and they wouldn’t pass the Verifiability Criterion of Meaning. However, they are detectable.
    On to your ‘undetectable’ claim. Assuming I did mention the nature of a Designer (omniscient) and explicitly said “Designer” in the post of mine that you are refering, how do you hop to the conclusion that the Designer wouldn’t be detectable? Isn’t that the point? Detecting the effects of It?

    “If you are interested at all”

    If I would be interested? I’m not the one putting words into your mouth. If anyone would be interested in actually learning something and wishing to avoid the misrepresentation of anothers position (putting words into others’ mouths) I think it’s a safe bet that I would be more interested in critically examining my position than you would be towards yours.

  10. “Uniformity of nature? No, what I said was more pragmatic – that gods are not needed to explain physical, chemical and biological phenomena.”

    I know what YOU were refering to. I was refering to the fact that you work under presuppositions too. My point should be clear, Dan.

    “I see nothing unfounded there.”

    Well, since you seemed to have misunderstood my point I’m not terribly surprised.

    “Apparently you and MikeGene disagree – that’s fine”

    I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that it might not be “fine” for you.

    “I don’t expect any different, and perhaps we can agree to disagree in the interest of moving on to clarifying other points.”

    Dan, we’re not done with this issue though. We can certainly move on – but it isn’t agreeing to disagree, I really feel that you have misunderstood my point (not saying it’s your fault, I might not have been too clear).

    “The alternative is to keep re-wording my bad opinions of MikeGene, and your defense of him, ad infinitum.”

    Well, I appreciate that you stated it was an opinion.

    “You mention the positivist view again, without meeting my simple request to define what that is, as you’re using that term. There’s really no way I can discuss this with you if you don’t clarify what that means.”

    Dan, I’ve explained the positivist position throughout this exchange. You even posted some of their “ideals” on the other thread. I’m not certain where the confusion is.

    Take care.

  11. Let’s see. I didn’t mention omniscient.

    What do you think a ‘front-loading designer’ is, that millions of years ago presumably forecasted natural history up until today, if not omniscient?

    Also, invisibility wouldn’t be an issue unless you are a positivist. Certainly quarks, valence electrons, leptons aren’t empirical in the positivistic sense – they aren’t visible and they wouldn’t pass the Verifiability Criterion of Meaning.

    (1) Please, you idiot, DEFINE POSITIVISM IF YOU’RE GOING TO USE THE TERM – I grow tired of repeating myself; and (2) if the designer is visible or detectable (even indirectly), then please show him to us.

    how do you hop to the conclusion that the Designer wouldn’t be detectable?

    Gee, maybe because gods/designers/etc are undetectable, delusions aside?

  12. Dan, we’re not done with this issue though. We can certainly move on – but it isn’t agreeing to disagree, I really feel that you have misunderstood my point (not saying it’s your fault, I might not have been too clear).

    Fine, but please do not ignore my other questions. It’s disrespectful at the very least. You have NOT explained the positivist position. Please do so.

  13. Doug,
    Questions that you have NOT answered:

    What is positivism? Who were the positivists? What were their fates?
    What does positivism have to do with referring to teleology as a ‘crank’ presupposition?
    How does positivism compare with empiricism? How are they similar or different?

  14. …how do you hop to the conclusion that the Designer wouldn’t be detectable? Isn’t that the point? Detecting the effects of It?

    Note that I did not say a Designer must be undetectable. The designation of an idea as detectable is different from falsifiable.

    In fact, using this argument of detectability for the presence of a Designer is to make the same positivist (i.e. verificationist) claim you have been arguing against.

  15. Hi Jacob,
    Is that (dependence on verification) the sense that Doug is using the term positivism? How is that different from empiricism, or dependence on the scientific method? – it sounds like the same thing to me.

    And, how would you interpret the “fate of the positivists?”

  16. One of Karl Popper’s essays on this issue (the name of which escapes me at the moment) begins, “The scientific method does not exist.” He then points out that the classical formulation of the scientific method is based on inductive reasoning; and as David Hume had shown earlier, induction is not a logical process.

    For example, given the hypothesis “water boils at 100 degrees Celsius”, the classical scientific method would lead to testing the hypothesis empirically and ascertaining the the truth of the hypothesis. This is the positivists’ (or at least the logical positivists–I don’t know if there is a difference) view of how we obtain knowledge: verification. And as you point out above, this is basically similar to empiricism (with the added limitation of empiricism to just the physical or natural world).

    But verification, Popper points out, is inductive and therefore not logical. Scientists do not learn things by verification but by falsification.

    In the example above, suppose my first experiment supported the hypothesis that water boils at 100 degrees. I could then proceed to repeat the same experiment ten, one hundred, or one thousand times again, but each repeated success would not make my hypothesis any more true or false–verification does not provide any information. If I try to falsify my hypothesis, though–perhaps by using a closed container–something can be learned. My experiment results will falsify the hypothesis, allowing us to learn that water boils at 100 degrees in an open container. And experiments could keep proceeding to learn more about this system.

    So an idea is a valid scientific hypothesis, then, not by being verifiable/provable (which cannot logically be done) but instead by being falsifiable. The caloric theory of heat was a valid scientific hypothesis because its claims were falsifiable, as was eventually demonstrated. Relativity is also falsifiable, although it has not been demonstrated false yet. Intelligent Design, however, is not falsifiable, and therefore not valid science.

    So that’s a very long-winded answer to a short question. :) The “fate of the positivists” I assume is in reference to Hume’s problem of induction, which collapses the positivist notion of verification.

  17. Thanks Jacob for the explanation!

    I think that I do have a slight problem with the complete dismissal of verification, and total reliance upon falsification – doesn’t science rely on both?

    Either way, the concept of an unknowable, invisible, undetectable, omniscient and omnipotent god/designer/tinkerer/etc. does fail the test, yes I agree.

    Also, I don’t know that the physical sciences depend all that strongly on induction as Hume apparently argued: the use of experimental controls, I think, negates the induction problem with deductive reasoning. For instance, the elaborate proofs required to prove the identity of the pathogen causing an unknown disease, or the function of a novel protein in vivo.

    In short, my impression is that if Hume’s problem of induction were an actual problem, then how could we explain scientific progress at all?

  18. Hello Dan,

    I’ll reply in more detail later to this and Jacob’s posts.

    But quick:

    “What do you think a ‘front-loading designer’ is, that millions of years ago presumably forecasted natural history up until today, if not omniscient?”

    This is an ignorant comment on two levels. 1st, it assumes that the Designer in this scenario knows exactly what the the future will look like, from the point in the distant past when the front-loaded potential was introduced into the 1st replicating organism. This is NOT the idea that Mike Gene is developing. Blame yourself, not me/ not Mike, for the fact that you haven’t been able to grasp Mike’s idea without assuming, “oh, he must be refering to the God of Christianity”.

    2nd, even if this was the case – that the Design did know what the future (millions and millions years removed) was going to look like how do you make the conclusion of omniscience?
    Dan, you do understand the difference between making this kind of ‘forecast’ and having COMPLETE and UNLIMITED knowledge, do you?

    “(1) Please, you idiot, DEFINE POSITIVISM IF YOU’RE GOING TO USE THE TERM – I grow tired of repeating myself”

    I’m an idiot? Dan, please keep your emotions in check. Maybe you can put alittle link up there under your Spagetti Monster for Kleenex – if your consistent readers are as emotional as you I’m certain Kleenex would appreciate the traffic. I think it’s just http://www.kleenex.com.
    Also, you’ve got the internet right in front of you. I’m not using my own unique little definition of ‘positivism’, look it up yourself if you have been unable to grasp it this far, doctor. Based off of your inability to even have a modest understanding of Mike Gene’s ideas that he’s developing for front-loading (all of the explanations easily accessible at TT or DM – which is clear as day that you have already visited) I am skeptical that even upon your reading of the definition of positivism that you would have a strong understanding of it.
    Not because you aren’t intelligent enough (you clearly are), but because you cloud up your understanding with so many assumptions of what you think the point is going to be.

    “and (2) if the designer is visible or detectable (even indirectly), then please show him to us.”

    Dan, first we were addressing front-loading and it’s very modest claims. Can’t it just be that the evidence for it serves as a materialism defeater and not a positive case for a Designer? I’ll answer that myself, of course. But for some reason you’re not able to see it that way.
    Regarding the detectability of the God (different topic from the 1st, and certainly not deducible from the premises of the 1st), can I show you a lepton? No, you are inferring its existence indirectly. We could get on another topic and I could point to other reasons why the existence of God is much more rational than the belief that the universe is inherently meaningless, random…. and the whole cascade of events that spawned from the inception of the universe are also inherently meaningless. The existence of morality. The use of reason in our bickering.

    “Gee, maybe because gods/designers/etc are undetectable, delusions aside?”

    I knew it.
    Dan, you read front-loading and you see “designer” (I think this conclusion is warranted) , but do you see “designer” or do you see “Designer”, but is it really “Designer” or is it “God” for you?

  19. “Fine, but please do not ignore my other questions. It’s disrespectful at the very least. You have NOT explained the positivist position. Please do so.”

    Dan, you’ve called me an idiot. You said, indirectly, that I am delusional and now you say that I am disrespectful. Your confused actions must be a reflection of the confusion in your mind right now. Don’t take that so much as an insult but as a note of something you might want to address. Seriously, don’t even do it for me – it’s important in its own respect.

  20. Hi Jacob,

    “In fact, using this argument of detectability for the presence of a Designer is to make the same positivist (i.e. verificationist) claim you have been arguing against.”

    1st, I am not using this to argue for a Designer. Did you read the full development of this discussion? It was Dan that brought the Designer into this discussion – not me.

    Also, you are wrong about it being a positivistic claim. The argument that the detectability of design points to a Designer would never be admitted by a positivist, even if there were no other explanations of what could be the cause of that design that the person was detecting. Do you think a positivist would believe hydrogen bonding existed (or that he believed that one would be epistemically justified in believing it) based off of the inference of the cohesiveness of water and its high boiling point? No, because it couldn’t be directly observed.

  21. “Is that (dependence on verification) the sense that Doug is using the term positivism?”

    Dan, the Verifiability Criterion of Meaning is not at all the same as “dependence on verification”, because it doesn’t even explain what constitutes as verification…. and Jacob is incorrect in that even being a positivist claim. No positivist would infer the existence of a Designer or any unobservable off of some direct or indirect observable effect. As far as they would go would just to be to acknowledge that which was observable. Many positivists also started to deny that science was explanatory, because in being explanatory science makes claims about the substructure of reality (the unobservable substructure of reality – hydrogen bonding, valence electrons, carbocations, electron shielding, resonance structures, etc).

    Positivism brought forth the modern notion of empiricism, the idea that all ideas, concepts, notions and knowledge must ultimately rest on sensory experience/ observation.

  22. 1. Designer Omniscience – so you’re saying that this supposed frontloader exercised no foresight when ‘loading’ or ‘priming’ the subsequent evolution to happen? Seriously Doug, how can a purposeful designer be purposeful without foresight?

    2. Omniscience – ‘even if the designer did know the future, how do you make the conclusion of omniscience?’ I’m sorry, but you do realize that omniscient means “all-knowing,” don’t you? The designer is omniscient by definition, if it is purposeful to such a predictive capacity.

    3. Complete vs. Unlimited Knowledge – You do realize that that is a subtle distinction, and regardless of which better describes god, you have a omniscient god/designer/etc. So I fail to see the point in this distinction – both are silly.

    4. “I’m an idiot?” – Yes. I’m sure that wittle Dougie wuggie will get over it though.

    5. If you’re not interested in discussing the merits of positivism, the varying ways in which Comte, Hume, Kant and Popper used the term, and which way you’re using, then why are you here?

    6. “Based off of your inability to even have a modest understanding of Mike Gene’s ideas that he’s developing for front-loading” – No, I understand. I also think he’s a crank who doesn’t understand the absurdity of front-loading or teleology himself, as I’ve told you. So perhaps it is you who do not understand me…

    7. “first we were addressing front-loading and it’s very modest bogus claims. Can’t it just be that the lack of evidence for it serves as a materialism defeater and not a positivenegative case for a Designer?” – There we go, I’ve corrected that for you so that it is a valid question in line with reality, and an answer becomes possible (i.e., yes).

    8. designer vs. Designer – Seriously Doug, if you want to pretend that your designer is not a theistic concept, then you’re dishonest. Hopefully you’re not pretending that to yourself, because that’d be deluded.

    So, once again, I don’t expect to persuade you, but this is my blog, and I’m not going anywhere. If you would like to continue being an insipid fool, well, you don’t have to be here if you don’t like it.

  23. “Positivism brought forth the modern notion of empiricism, the idea that all ideas, concepts, notions and knowledge must ultimately rest on sensory experience/ observation.”

    Ah, so you’re using positivism in the “methodological naturalism”-sense then?

  24. Hi Dan,

    I’m not quite certain what to say.
    I’m trying my best to ignore your name calling (idiot, insipid fool, delusional, wittle duggie wuggie) but it’s kind of getting to me.
    I think it might be best for me to stop responding back. I wish I could just ignore it and respond back respectfully towards you…. mark it up to a short-coming on my behalf.

    Take care and God bless.

  25. Hi Doug,
    That’s okay – in case you haven’t noticed, you’ve been getting to me since about your third post on the previous thread, with variously unsupportable claims. I’ll get over it, and so will you (and I’ve been trying to point this out as subtlely as I could, but it appeared that you needed it put more bluntly). Life goes on. I hope you come to a more rational point of view however, or could have responded with less ideological apologia too – but even if you don’t or couldn’t (respectively), best of luck.

  26. I think that I do have a slight problem with the complete dismissal of verification, and total reliance upon falsification – doesn’t science rely on both?

    Also, I don’t know that the physical sciences depend all that strongly on induction as Hume apparently argued: the use of experimental controls, I think, negates the induction problem with deductive reasoning. For instance, the elaborate proofs required to prove the identity of the pathogen causing an unknown disease, or the function of a novel protein in vivo.

    In short, my impression is that if Hume’s problem of induction were an actual problem, then how could we explain scientific progress at all?

    With regard to the last question you pose: this is exactly what Popper is after! I am by no means an expert on his philosophy (still reading through his stuff–maybe I’ll eventually be an expert), but I can refer you to his essay “On the Non-Existence of the Scientific Method” or his book Conjectures and Refutations.

    But in short, you’ve stumbled across the basic problem philosophers often have with the “scientific method”; if science is based on induction, and induction is logically invalid, then how can we account for scientific progress? Popper’s theories (as well as other post-Hume philosophers of science) are efforts to explain how scientists are able to make progress. That is, whatever process we are using, it seems to be working. Induction cannot adequately describe this process (verification is not logically possible), but falsification can serve as the mechanism scientists use–and also lays the groundwork for the demarcation of what is and is not science.

  27. “That’s okay – in case you haven’t noticed, you’ve been getting to me since about your third post on the previous thread, with variously unsupportable claims. I’ll get over it, and so will you (and I’ve been trying to point this out as subtlely as I could, but it appeared that you needed it put more bluntly). Life goes on. I hope you come to a more rational point of view however, or could have responded with less ideological apologia too – but even if you don’t or couldn’t (respectively), best of luck.”

    Thanks Dan.
    Maybe I will learn and ditch these hooky views. ;)
    If you don’t mind I’d like to still talk more at least on just the philosophy of science. I’ll keep my unsupported claims in check.

    Take care.

  28. Whoops. “Hokey” views.
    I was confusing “kooky” with “hokey” and berthed “hooky”.

  29. Hi Jacob,

    “but falsification can serve as the mechanism scientists use–and also lays the groundwork for the demarcation of what is and is not science.”

    Popper stated that along with the theory having the possibility of being falsified, so did the empirical data. Empirical data also had to be subject to possible falsification and rejection by scientists. And this is where one of the more significant deviations from the traditional conception came into play: if theories were to be open to the possibility of falsification by the empirical data, and the empirical data also left open to the same possibility of falsification then on what basis did one determine the fate of the empirical data (data that was in earlier times assumed to be the essential bedrock of the scientific method)…. the element of human choice plays the role of arbiter.

    Jacob, one big problem for the claim of falsification being used to demarcate what is and is not science is that if a scientific theory can be shown to be logically consistent one will never be able to show conclusively that the theory is false.

  30. You shouldn’t apologize to Dan, Doug.
    I do not agree on ID with you but I am not the type to insult you either. Honestly I do not know much about front loading and I’m not terribly interested. I am about philosophy and especially philosophy of science.
    Dan dropped me into a group of folks that he disagrees with because I thought he handled the earlier discussion terribly. He did not seem to have the faintest idea what he was talking about but that did not stop him from speaking forcefully on the top.
    I have no respect for you Dan. You do not have an understanding on philosophy or the phil of science and for that matter SCIENCE. But you puff your chest out and just start yapping making yourself look the fool.
    Your comments about me speak more of you than of me.

  31. Hi Dan,

    Please excuse me for showing up late to the party. I will also ask for leeway on being topical for this thread.

    Quick summary – Most people would call me an Atheist. Doug thinks I am arrogent. MikeGene and I have long winded arguments over the ID Movement. I like Doug (though I think he could have handled himself better here). I like MikeGene and I think he is earnestly presenting some thought provoking ideas. I have been a contributer to Telic Thoughts for nearly a year.

    If any ID proponent will stumble onto something scientificly signficant for the wrong reasons, I think it will be MikeGene. He is astute enough to realise that he is not going to find the killer piece of evidence to make his case once and for all. Mike is looking for “a consilience of clues” (his book’s secondary title). Interlaced within the strongly worded responses to his critics, Mike provides some interesting bits of science articles and studies on Telic Thoughts.

    Yes, MikeGene is an ID proponent that uses scientific studies for something other than quote-mining.

    I am not sure why you chose to link to MikeGene’s RecA post, and I am very confused as to Doug’s reaction. I hope you will choose to continue you interest in Mike’s posts.

    I’m from the school of there is no such thing as bad publicity. And you can call out the crank alert on me anytime you wish. I added “Quantum Quack” to my name just so people wouldn’t be too surprised.

    I am not a scientist, but I can sympothise with the frustration scientists must experience with having to attempt to politely deal with psuedoscientific whims presented as science. Unfortunately, a possible outcome of this is a tendency towards a circle-the-wagon group think. Consider this my humble contribution to the efforts of combating group think.

    The old promise of Newtonian physics was that if the position and velocity of every partical was known for a given time, then the entire future (and past) could, theoretically, be known.

    Quantum mechanics changed all that. Not only was it impossible to know the position and velocity of all particles, it turned out the single particles could be in multiple places at the same time (superposition).

    Quantum effects are non-deterministic, but are they random? Things like quantum GHZ states suggest otherwise.

    While cellular biologists might think they are safe from all this quantum weirdness, the quantum effects have been found in larger and larger objects. This year, it was discovered that photosynthesis is directly dependent on quantum effects. DNA strands are being used to build man-made quantum computers.

    Physicist Sir Rodger Penrose and consciousness researcher Dr. Hameroff teamed up in 1996 to present the Orch OR model of consciousness. It turns out the dimers in microtubules are small enough and have states that can be in quantum superposition. The hollow structure and makeup of the microtubules provide for operation as quantum computers.

    RecA act like microtubules.

    Part of the weirdness of the quantum world is non-locality. Quantum effects provide a mechanism for self organization.

    Now dispassionate scientists might have a different view, but I don’t see how anyone can look at microtubules dynamics and NOT consider the idea of some kind of self organization.

    Here is a link showing microtubules in action in a cell…
    http://dfcord.blogspot.com/2007/07/cellular-division_5025.html

    If you would like me to explain more, please ask.

  32. Hi Thought Provoker,
    As to why I linked to MikeGene’s RecA posts, I linked because I think RecA and homologous recombination are interesting topics, but the appropriation of this as some form of support for ‘frontloading’ is pseudoscience and poor scholarship. Apparently MikeGene has some ardent sycophants however, such as Doug. Doug and BrianJ won’t deter me from pointing out that MikeGene is a crank for passing off his assumption that a designer exists as science, instead of theology. (there are much worse things to be, of course, and there are many cranks out there, so I really don’t see what the fuss is about).

    Fair enough on countering ‘combative groupthink’ – a noble and worthy objective. Unfortunately though, I will not pretend to understand quantum mechanics in any more than a superficial sense. I do understand and agree that microtubules are self-organizing and that this can be expressed as quantum mechanics, but I’m not so familiar with how a protein such as RecA would fit into that scheme, or where you are going with the RecA as an example of self-organization. So yes, please do elaborate!

    BrianJ – Got it, you don’t like my style. Tough luck.

  33. Hi Dan,

    Thank you for responding. You wrote…

    I do understand and agree that microtubules are self-organizing and that this can be expressed as quantum mechanics, but I’m not so familiar with how a protein such as RecA would fit into that scheme, or where you are going with the RecA as an example of self-organization.

    Drat! – I was hoping could tell me. ;)

    As an engineer, I am better able to grasp on quantum mechanics than wiggly squiggly things (I have been told that is a fairly accurate description of actin filaments, not microtubules).

    You seem to be accepting of the possibility of quantum mechanical influence on living things. Let me make sure you know what you are getting into when you do that.

    Special Relativity attempts to deal with resolving the issue that the speed of light is the same for all observers with their independent and relative frames of reference. I said “attempts” because is Special Relativity is incomplete. General Relativity makes it complete by combining everything into a single inertial frame of reference. To accomplish this, they had to discard the familiar Euclidian Geometry and, instead, employ Minkowskian Geometry (Minkowski was one of Einstein’s teachers). Minkowskian Geometry is what is often referred to as space-time. However, I suspect most people think of space-time as time slices of Euclidian Geometry. That is incorrect. For example, in Minkowskian Geometry the shortest distance between two points is NOT a straight line. The Twins Paradox (space traveling twin is younger than planet-side twin) results from one of the twins taking the shorter path in Minkowskian Geometry.

    The reason this is relevant to this discussion is because Penrose’s Orch OR model is based on the obvious premise that cosmological reality and quantum reality are the same reality. Our everyday reality is sitting in the middle of these two extremes (lucky us). Therefore, when quantum effects are seen to be interconnected over significant distances, they are interconnected in both space and time. Understanding this makes it obvious that reality is one large wavefunction in Minkowskian space-time (think of a Mandelbrot Set). With all quantum effects being interconnected in both space and time.

    This means there are no “particles”, just interference patterns in the universal wavefunction.

    I will admit to feeling a little less substantial when learning this stuff for the first time, but don’t worry; you aren’t going to suddenly cease to exist. By the way, there is an exit door out of this madness; it is called the Many World quantum interpretation. They let you be more substantial. The down side, you need to deal with the thought of an infinite number of versions of yourself.

    The Penrose-Hameroff Orch OR model of consciousness suggests consciousness is a direct artifact of quantum effects being orchestrated in microtubules across both space and time. Libet’s experimental results suggest a 500 millisecond (half a second) period of activity prior to conscious decisions. This is too long of a time for activities like hitting a fast ball or playing professional tennis. Quantum delayed choice experiments have long demonstrated the appearance of quantum effects being interconnected across time delays of this magnitude and longer. Orch OR suggests we start reacting to events before they occur.

    Hameroff suggests microtubule consciousness isn’t limited to just brains. Even single-celled organisms can use microtubules to be aware of their soundings. Consciousness is a pretty handy function for living organisms to have. Therefore, Hameroff has suggested that the Cambrian Evolutionary explosion was an artifact of microtubule consciousness becoming prevalent in life on Earth.

    MikeGene is known as a moderate ID proponent with a general concept he calls Front Loading. I happen to think Mike is inappropriately biased in an interest in human-like intelligence and have told him so in no uncertain terms. Mike has responded by telling me that I am a victim of the inappropriate stereotyping of ID proponents, in no uncertain term. Be that as it may, Mike accepts practically all of mainstream evolutionary thinking as accurate and is open to various front loading mechanisms. Mike also allows me to guest host on Telic Thoughts even though I am a vocal critic of the ID Movement.

    What if quantum mechanics is the front loaded property/mechanism MikeGene is looking for?

    If you haven’t already sounded the crank alert, now would be a good time.

    The “woo” sounding part of all of this is that in a predetermined wavefunction in Minkowskian Geometry, the cause does not have to follow effect, especially at the quantum level. Consistency is the primary driver. No causal paradoxes allowed (e.g. killing your ancestors). The story of the universe is already written and it must be internally consistent from beginning to end, otherwise it wouldn’t have even started.

    Plenty of more intelligent people than I have pondered why time appears to go in only one direction at the macro level. Often, it evolves entropy, others have suggested the flow of time is only in our mind. At any rate, this isn’t a question at the quantum level. Quantum effects are timeless.

    Life started on Earth extremely early. Was the OOL event the result of future quantum causations?

    How fortunate do things have to get before we suspect the dice are loaded?

    While this may sound like a Bible-thumping IDer, I am not suggesting anything to do with good and evil or attempting to carve out a special status for humans. At best, the only purpose a “teleological” universe has is to be constant. So I join MikeGene in looking for clues of what I refer to as retrocausality (reversed cause and effect).

    So, when MikeGene starts talking about something that is fundamental to practically all life on Earth that acts in the same manner as microtubules, I suspect the direct involvements of quantum effects. It starts getting even more interesting if this quantum effect driven function is capable of guiding evolution.

    To that end, would you agree that RecA acts like microtubules?

    And, whether or not you agree with the implications, is MikeGene correct that RecA functions would be capable steering long term evolution?

    You might have noticed I said “tubulin-like.” Is this simply because RecA forms a semi-hollow protein tube? No. There are several other features that have led one reviewer, for example, to note:
    The dynamic behavior protein under conditions of ATP hydrolysis is thus conceptually similar to that of other NTP-hydrolyzing, self-assembling proteins, such as actin and tubulin. [2]
    Like tubulin, RecA formation starts slowing with a nucleation step, where a small number of monomers must form a seed that can then be extended. Once formed, like tubulin, RecA then grows at one end by the incorporation of RecA monomers bound to ATP (tubulin dimers add to one end and must be bound to GTP). Like tubulin, the NTP hydrolysis is not needed for assembly, but instead is needed for disassembly. This means that RecA, like tubulin, assembles at one end and disassembles at the other end, forming something like a treadmill.

    Thank you for your time and I hope you found this interesting. Barring that, I hope you found it entertaining.

  34. Whew! – that’s a lot to respond to! I’ll do my best, however, but it will take a little while for me to mentally digest the quantum mechanics lesson.

    My admittedly superficial understanding of quantum mechanics focuses on the role of discrete molecular states, which are interchangeable on nearly instantaneous timescales. With that in mind, proteins and their conformational changes potentially constitute quantum bits, or ‘on/off’ states. The reality is a bit more convoluted than that though, I think. But for the sake of conversation, I think it reasonable to describe cytoskeletal filaments as stabilized or destabilized in the quantum sense.

    The problem that I see with the Orch-OR model, however, is that it doesn’t seem as though Penrose and Hameroff are describing ‘consciousness’ in the way that we usually think of the term. Afterall, are microtubules conscious in the way that we are? No, of course not – my impression, instead, is that Penrose and Hameroff used the term ‘consciousness’ for lack of a better word.

    Another phrasing of the question of Intelligence and Purposefulness might be to ask whether microtubules had ‘agency.’ Just food for thought.

    As you noted, self-organization are also powerful explanations for chemical evolution leading up to the first cells and OOL, despite many potential fortunate events, with which we might suspect agency. For instance, has the Orch-OR model been applied to self-ordering and -organizing chemistries?

    So yes, describing RecA in this sense may be at least partly correct, certainly influencing or biasing evolution. ‘Guiding’ evolution, however? Again, that presupposes a conscious-agency of the sort that requires an actual brain, does it not?

    Thanks TP, and feel free to continuing to educate me in quantum computing!

  35. Brian,
    Please don’t tell me if I should or should not apologize, I can handle my self.

    Also, you say that you don’t agree with my ID position; I haven’t stated any position. I was simply commenting on Mike Gene’s frontloading.
    Blaming Dan for making assumptions off of your beliefs, but you’re doing the same thing.

  36. TP,
    You’ve mentioned that I think you’re arrogant more often than I’ve actually stated it now; get off it already. If your feelings are hurt over it, I apologize (sorry Brian…whoops, there I go again) now let’s move past it.

    “am not sure why you chose to link to MikeGene’s RecA post, and I am very confused as to Doug’s reaction.”

    Please expound on what you mean by my reaction and what confused you about it.

  37. Hi Doug,

    LOL.

    Of course my feelings aren’t hurt over you thinking that I am arrogant.

    That is why I like you, above average ethics.

    There is no need to apologize, you think I am arrogant because I AM arrogant. You didn’t even actually accuse me of it. I believe your exact words were “Wow, that sounded arrogant!”.

    As far as your reaction to Dan. I thought Dan was doing MikeGene a favor by exposing Mike’s scientific ideas to more people. Dan’s desire to distance himself is his choice. Calling a crank alert was a pretty mild way of doing that. But instead of seizing on the opportunaty to argue the science, you argued the politics. At TT you tend to show more of a willingness to be balanced about that.

    To Dan – Thank you for your indulgence for this side conversation. Fortunately, this is an open thread. I will try to get back to arguing science and answer your comments soon.

  38. No problem TP, and don’t sweat it Doug. If it’s any consolation, I’m sorry I called you an idiot – you’re clearly not, I just think that your theistic bias is not rational in the scientific or skeptical sense. But heck, that’s my opinion.

    FYI though, I just started a new job today, and I’ll be less able to follow along and respond to comments during the work day than I had been.

  39. Thanks for the explanation, TP. I didn’t view my initial response as politicking – but after reading it over, I can see how it might have been interpreted that way.

    Dan, congrats and good luck with the new job.
    I’m a theist and I like reading your blog entries. I’d also like to remain a contributor in the discussion forum of your site. Along with that, I have to respect your requests (it’s your site).

  40. Hi everybody,

    I realise this discussion is long finished, but I came across it when I was looking for discussions on confirmation and empirical evidence.

    I’m a post graduate student of Philosophy of Science, so naturally, I found your conversation particularly interesting. Don’t take this the wrong way, but it was like time travelling back to the 1960s.

    Philosophy of Science has come a long way since the days of Popper and Kuhn, and I suggest that you read ‘What is this Thing Called Science?’ by Alan Chalmers (I’m not sure what edition the book is up to, but read the latest one – he keeps the book up-to-date). This is a very good book, clear and well written, and provides an excellent overview of philosophy of science (including all the major players: Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, Laudan…) and the problem of demarcation between science and non-science.

    In particular, Dan, you may like to read the chapters on Bayesianism and New Experimentalism. Most philosophers of science shared your concerns about falsificationism versus verificationism (or deduction versus induction) – and Bayesiansm and Experimentalism provide some sort of response to these concerns.

    Be sure to read the earlier chapters first – that way you will understand how philosophers have arrived at these later views.

    I hope this helps!

    Cheers,

    Kirsten

  41. Thanks Kirsten!

    I’ll look into that book, and especially the bit on Bayesiansm and Experimentalism, which I am admittedly not so well-read on.

  42. Its absolutely sad that everyone is trying to be on one anothers back and we are not even learning, hence defeating the whole purpose of why we are here.

    Please can we move on and someone diffrentiate extensively between empiricism and positivism for green horns in public health like me!


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