Re: apply to all

by cloudier

This is a reply to Jeff’s post on how science is based on a belief system. I thought it would be too long to properly explain everything in a comment (in my typically long-winded manner at least) so I decided to write a blogpost.

Science is a human construct: it is a extensive framework of explanations (or hypotheses) of natural phenomena. This natural phenomena includes things like the fact that things fall when they are lifted into the air, the fact that if you burn certain materials in a flame they’ll emit coloured light. These things can occur without science or humans existing but science cannot exist without it. As you probably know after 4 years of junior high school science, these explanations are constructed through experimentation and analysis of the results of experimentation. If subsequent experiments prove these explanations wrong, new ones are formed or current explanations are modified. It’s alright if the current ones don’t explain everything! We can make a new or modified explanation that does. (That’s why scientists still get paid. You’re taught these so that maybe you can figure out what the better explanation is.)

(Personally I think the evidence-based nature of science puts it above religious beliefs, which are often based on the inaccurately translated words of random people from thousands of years ago and are subject to much more subjectivity.)

Basically the purpose of science is to use an explanation which is as simple as possible to explain everything.

This leads to Occam’s razor. (The following information is basically pulled from Wikipedia.) Occam’s razor is merely a principle or heuristic, although it is sometimes misleadingly called the ‘law of parsimony’, etc.. Scientists use Occam’s razor when picking between different hypotheses while they are planning an experiment: you should pick the hypothesis that makes the fewest assumptions between hypotheses of equal explaining power. If one theory is more complex but explains more, Occam’s razor recommends picking this theory over another theory that is simpler but explains less. You can’t use Occam’s razor to say the atomic theory doesn’t explain something properly therefore it is wrong forever. You can, however, say that the atomic theory is very incomplete because it doesn’t adequately explain several things. Again, this is fine; scientists paid to figure out why there are holes in our understanding of the universe.

And the “laws” of physics are rather arrogant. How can we possibly prove that the laws of physics apply in outer space? Most (if not all) the experiments regarding mechanics have been conducted on Earth. And I know for sure all mechanics experiments have been conducted within our solar system. Just because it APPEARS to work for the greater universe (ie bending of light due to gravity and what not), we can’t be sure it’s true, simply because we can’t test it.
The rest of the universe could have massively messed up physics, and gravity doesn’t exist, etc etc. How could we tell?

Why isn’t the bending of light due to gravity etc. enough evidence? How else would you explain it? Is it probable that the laws of physics are wildly different to those in the solar system? How would you explain this? Additionally, /invokes Occam’s razor/ would these explanations be more complex than the current explanations while explaining the same amount of results? Right now, there’s no reason to assume that the laws of physics don’t apply in outer space (and further complicate our models – Occam’s razor again!) since we can explain our observations of outer space using current models.

Nevertheless, I think that eventually people will shoot things into space that can test this stuff more accurately.

Conventional current. Do I have to say any more? I mean everyone knows that it’s the electrons from the “negative” terminal flowing towards the positive, as you can clearly see in a CRO. Yet plenty of calculations involve seeing it as electricity flowing from positive to negative. Including freaking voltage. And the force on a wire due to electromagnetic interactions. Everything’s so counterintuitive, and you need to think twice before going “so current flows THIS way in this question…”

Yeah I agree; it’s stupid to use these historical conventions.

And in the event of aliens approaching Earth, are we going to classify them as “alive”? What if they’re not made of cells, but are capable of moving and intelligent thought? Do we just call that super-slime and refuse to give them the title of being “alive”?
Though I guess apart from cells defining life, biology seems very Earth-based, and everything is relative to our own Earth. Not like we can go classifying organisms from anywhere else anyway :L

Lots of definitions in biology are nebulous. That doesn’t mean ‘cell’ is not a useful term though – saying cells is shorthand for an idea: some kind of membrane-bound bit of cytoplasm. The study of organisms using these badly defined words gave us things that we could use, like penicillin, Strepsils and vaccines. Using ill-defined terms also won’t prevent biologists from studying aliens that don’t fit into the definition of ‘life’, so I don’t think it should matter. (Personally I like the entropy definition of life: a system which decreases its own entropy at the expense of the entropy of its surroundings. Plus it sounds and looks cool! 8D)

I realise that I am repeating a lot of what Anonymous said, (by the way, I am not that person,) but I hope that clears up some stuff. (:

Edit: ‘Bending of light’ is evidence; ‘gravity’ is a hypothesis.