Tag Archives: science

Statistical Fallacy List, Part Two

If you have worked with data, then I bet you have been guilty of one or more of some kind of statistical fallacy at some point. I know I have!

In this series, we will be looking at fallacies that often come up when analysing data or, allegedly, academic sources.

This is part two. You can find part one here.

Simpson’s Paradox

A paradox? How is this a fallacy? I thought that we were talking about fallacies?

We are, but we must introduce this paradox first.

Simpson’s Paradox is a phenomenon where a trend appears in different groups of data but vanishes or reverses when those groups are combined.

The classic example of this is a study performed in Berkley University in the 1970s over the following data.

Note that the last row shows the total application success rates for both genders. If you look at this data alone, it might seem to suggest that the application success rate for men is higher than that of women.

This led to Berkeley being accused of sexism. But is it as simple as this suggests?

If we look at the data, we notice that 1,800 women applied for subject A. Only 168 men applied for that same subject.

Of those 1,800 women that applied for subject A, 15% of them were approved. While 14% of the men that applied for subject A were approved.

This is a slightly better result for women. When it comes to applications for subject A it seems that Berkeley was not being sexist.

Let us look at subject B now. For this subject, 50% of men that applied were approved and 51% of women were approved. Again, this is a slightly better result for women and it is hard to argue that Berkeley was sexist.

How then, to explain the fact that women seemed to have a lower overall success rate?

Let us consider that subject A seems to have a lower approval rate for both genders. It seems Subject A is a competitive subject with very low approval rates for both genders.

Now, out of 2,000 applications for women, 1800 of those were to subject A but only 270 of these were approved. That is, 13% of these applications were applications for subject A.

For men, out of 2,000 applications for men, 1200 of these were to subject A but only 168 of those were approved. That is, 8.4% of these applications were applications for subject A.

Note that 1800 out of 2,000 applications made by women were for subject A. That is 90% of applications. Whereas for men, only 60% of those applications were for subject A.

A significantly higher proportion of women were applying for subject A, the subject with a much lower approval rating. And most of those applications were going to be rejected.

So, it stands to reason that a higher number of women would have their applications rejected.

math
Maybe subject A was a hard class like advanced math of physics??

So, far from Berkeley being sexist, the real reason women had a lower application success rate is that they tended to make more applications to subjects with a lower application success rate.

Let us see what happened here. If we look at the data for subject A and B, we see that men and women have about the same chance of being rejected for each subject. With subject A having a much higher chance of rejection for both genders.

But if you combine the subject rejection rates for the genders, you get a 28% rejection rating for men and 19% for women.

This seems to suggest that women are rejected more often than men, even before you did this, this trend did not show itself.

This is Simpson’s Paradox at play. It is the statistical phenomenon where trends disappear or reverse when you combine data.

In this case, women had a slight advantage in application rates if you do not account for the proportions of women applying for subject A and add the acceptance rates per subject together for each gender.

If you do this, the trend reverses and women have a lower application success rate!

The fallacy would be failing to recognize why the trend seems to reverse and assigning some erroneous cause.

The reason we observe the lower application success rate for women is not sexism, but the fact that a higher proportion of women are applying for a more difficult subject.

When you see Simpson’s Paradox you should study the data and try to identify the cause for this paradoxical disappearance or reversal of trends. Not simply assume some erroneous cause.

Try to avoid the fallacy of misinterpreting trends in the data.

headache
Yes, it can be hard to see the patterns in data.

Let us take one more example before we move on.

Suppose we have two baseball players, Joe and Martin. During the years 2019 and 2020 we have the following data:

Note that in both 2019 and 2020, Martin had higher batting averages. However, when you combine these years, Joe has a higher batting average.

What gives? This is caused by the fact that Joe had a lower batting average for both of these years but a lot more time at-bat, meaning that when you combine the data he has a slightly higher batting average.

You could assume that the data was rigged or that maybe Martin was a better batter after all. But that would be a fallacy.

The real cause of the fact that the combined totals being better for Joe is more to do with the fact he spent more time at-bat.

If you see trends vanish or reverse when data is combined, always look more carefully at the data and see why this might be the case. You are likely to find that there is a perfectly logical reason this happens that has more to do with the data than anything else you might erroneously assume.

Post-Reality Physics: Evidence, Who Needs It?

Today we are going to examine this article on the physics of string theory, “Philosophers Want to Know Why Physicists Believe Theories They Can’t Prove”.

As we discussed in one of our earlier articles, “Physicists vs Reality”, it starts in a rather refreshing way:

It’s often assumed that physics and philosophy are at opposite ends of the academic spectrum. In fact, they’re close—so close that they can overlap…”

Interesting, it is not that often you get to see people admitting that philosophy might be of any relevance at all to physics. Not a lot of physicists would admit this.

I suppose that it should not too be too surprising that philosophers might know better. And even less surprising that a philosopher of science might think this.

We will be hearing from one such, Richard Dawid, in this article.

Here is something he has to say:

The criteria for establishing a theory, he discovered, is not in itself subject to scientific enquiry. “They’re considered background assumptions,” says Dawid. “It’s a question that’s driven by physics but it’s a philosophical question.”

There are criteria for establishing a theory. At least there is if you want to do it rationally.

First, your theory should have a rational foundation. It should start with known facts, be it direct observational results. Or with something else we know to be true based on observation. Then we attempt to build up from there.

One should study the facts of reality and identify some implications of those facts. One should then focus in on one or more implications of reality and attempt to see what new facts one might be able to identify.

These form the basis of one’s hypothesis, some proposed fact of reality one wants to prove to be true. One then needs to validate this in some way.

In the physical sciences, this involves experimentation. One needs to perform experiments that validate that hypothesis and then show that it is indeed true.

In more abstract subjects, such as mathematics, one might need to perform a mathematical proof, based on logic. Such proof shows that given some established premise, that a given conclusion is true or false.

Of course, math proofs can be very hard and abstract. But they are not totally disconnected from reality …

In any case, one needs some valid way to prove their hypothesis and show that they have indeed identified some fact of reality.

So, yes, there are criteria for establishing a theory. And the philosophy of science helps establish what these criteria are.

And guess what Mr Dawid, philosophy is a science.

To quote Ayn Rand:

Philosophy is the science that studies the fundamental aspects of the nature of existence. The task of philosophy is to provide man with a comprehensive view of life. This view serves as a base, a frame of reference, for all his actions, mental or physical, psychological or existential. This view tells him the nature of the universe with which he has to deal (metaphysics); the means by which he is to deal with it, i.e., the means of acquiring knowledge (epistemology) …

Ayn Rand, “The Chickens’ Homecoming”, Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, 45

That is right, philosophy includes metaphysics, that is, our view of the fundamental view of existence. Which, ideally, one would approach scientifically.

It also includes epistemology, the science of how one goes about gaining knowledge. And this would include how we would go about performing science. Which, again, ideally, we would approach scientifically.

Despite what many philosophers might believe, philosophy is not a bunch of subjective thoughts where one argues whatever one wants.

At least, it does not have to be approached this way.

Ayn Rand, the great rational and founder of the philosophy of Objectivism.

To the contrary! Ayn Rand shows that philosophy can and should be approached as a systematic study of reality, of mankind’s nature and his relationship to the world around him. It should start with observation and work its way up from that.

Observation is something that scientists themselves often implicitly dismiss. What with Kant trying to argue that we cannot trust our senses and a lot of philosophers agreeing with him.

So, it is little wonder many of them can find no basis for their philosophical ranting.

[M]any serious physicists seem to have abandoned this model. String theory, for example, is one of the most exciting ideas in modern physics. But it’s not testable—so how can physicists be confident that it’s sound?

They cannot be. Anyone can come up with any kind of theory that they like. I could come up with a system that tries to explain physics as the product of little meta-puffballs (credit to Leonard Peikoff for this amusing idea or at least one like it).

Let us suppose that it is consistent and that if the universe is made up of meta-puffballs, that this would explain everything we see in physics. Does this make the theory true? Does this make this a good theory or good physics?

No, it does not. A theory is not true simply because it is self-consistent. It is not true because it might explain how things work.

What if meta-puffballs do not exist? Or if they have no bearing to anything we can observe? What if the theory does not explain anything?

We need to test theories against the facts of reality. And not simply come up with a purely mathematical hypothesis that may or may not describe the nature of real objects.

We do not want these hypotheses to fail to describe the interactions of real entities.

There is a need to verify that our theories describe actual fundamental entities and their actions. And not a simply self-consistent mathematical theory that may not describe how reality works!

Not that string theory is internally consistent anyway.

quantum, Schrodinger's Cat

Vodcast Episode Two: Quantum Absurdities, Part One

Play

Today we are going over quantum absurdities and showing how quantum physics is in fact highly absurd. This is part one of a two part series.

Click here to download the PDF transcript or read below the video.

You may also listen to or download an audio only version above.

[Note: Please note that this transcript may not exactly match the audio. However, there should be no significant differences.]

Intro

Metaphysics of Physics is the crucial voice of reason in the philosophy of science, rarely found anywhere else in the world today.

We are equipped with the fundamental principles of a rational philosophy that gives us the edge, may make us misfits in the mainstream sciences but also attracts rational minds.

With this show, we are fighting for a more rational world, mostly by looking through the lens of the philosophy of science.

We raise awareness of issues within the philosophy of science and present alternative and rational approaches.

The irrationality of modern physics is the focus of this channel. We have covered topics such as:

The irrationality of Stephen Hawking. The universe and the Big Bang. The philosophy of Niels Bohr. The achievements of Isaac Newton.Optical illusions and the validity of the senses.

If you think that science is about explaining a knowable reality, then this is the channel for you.

If you want to learn more about the irrationality of modern physics, then you are in the right place.

I am your host Ashna. My husband, Dwayne Davies is the primary content creator and your guide through the hallowed halls of the philosophy of science.

We will discuss the problems in modern physics and more and how we can live in a more rational world!

Check out our website at metaphysicsofphysics.com.

The Show Itself

Hi everyone! Welcome to the second episode of the Metaphysics of Physics video podcast. Today we are going over quantum absurdities and showing how quantum physics is in fact highly absurd.

While this is not an exhaustive list, it covers many of the essential absurdities.

What is the purpose of this? Yes, the mathematics of quantum theory is incredibly useful and impressive. But we want to show that the physical interpretations of quantum mechanics make no sense.

This is part one of a two-part series.

Particle Wave Duality

Quantum physics asserts that particles can be described as both a wave and a particle.

Albert Einstein had this to say about particle-wave duality:

It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.

Albert Einstein

Until the early twentieth century, light was widely considered to be a wave, as demonstrated by Thomas Young.

Thomas Young
Thomas Young

But then Einstein showed that light seemed to have particle behavior! And Planck showed that light seemed to come in discrete packets.

So, was light a particle or a wave? Which was it? Later physicists alleged to show that light sometimes shows particle behavior and sometimes wave behavior.

This led them to conclude that light is somehow both a particle and a wave at the same time. And that it, somehow, sometimes behaves as a wave and sometimes behaves as a particle.

Does this make any sense? Well, of course not.

A wave is an abstract description. It describes the motion of something. It describes various relationships.

Take a sound wave. It is an abstract description of the movement of air that can be mathematically represented as a wave.

Or take a water wave. When we say “wave” in this context, we are describing water arranged in a certain pattern.

The pattern of rise and fall with peaks and troughs.

The concept of a water wave describes the relationship of positions between water molecules that makes this pattern.

In common speech, it is often said that a “water wave” or the like refers to the water molecules. This is the noun form of “wave” that describes something arranged like this (something that is waving).

We are using wave in its verb form, as a description of motion or behavior, or a description of some kind of relationship.

A wave is a behavior that a physical entity does. Water may move in a wave motion. Air molecules move in a wave pattern and we experience this as sound.

A wave is the behavior of physical entities. It is not a form of physical entity.

Saying that light is a wave is saying “Light is the movement or behavior of something”. It does not tell us what it is that is waving.

It is like if I held up a ball and asked what it is and you said “That is a bounce”.

You have told me something that the ball does but not what the ball actually is. Bouncing is what the ball does, it is not what the ball is.

Physics is the science of explaining the nature of the fundamental physical constituents of the universe. You want to explain what those things are and how they interact.

Saying “light is a wave, an abstract description of behavior” does not further that in any way and evades the question of what is doing the waving.

We do not even have to get into the issue that something cannot be a wave and a particle at the same time. Because a wave is a description of behavior while a particle is a description of what something is, its form.

The idea of particle-wave duality reifies an abstraction and attempts to reduce physical entities to an abstraction.

It also evades the Law of Identity that says that things are what they are. Something is either a particle or not. It is not a particle, a form of matter and also a wave, an abstraction.

Contradictions do not exist. If you think you see a contradiction in reality then check your premises, because one or more of them are wrong.

quantum, Schrodinger's Cat
That means no dead and alive zombie cats…

Indeterminacy

It is said that until they are observed, particles do not have a definite state. Instead, they exist in a state of “superposition”.

That is, they exist in multiple different, mutually exclusive states all at once. And then when an observation takes place, they take on definite values for their properties.

A property is merely an aspect of somethings existence. But any property of any particle can only exist in one state at a time. That particle’s property can only take one value at a time.

That is just another way of saying something is what it is and that it has a nature and its properties are determined by its nature. Its properties are simply an aspect of its nature and cannot be any different than what they are.

This implies that properties must have single, definite values, as determined by the nature of the entities in question.

Saying that particles exist in a superposition of states is equivalent to saying that those properties have no values and do not exist.

It is denying that a particle is what it is and instead treats it as some kind of Platonic combination of possibilities.

This reifies the idea that a particle can have different possible states and pretends that these possible states are all somehow real, independent of the particle and its nature.

Biblical Absurdities: Animal “Kinds” – Follow Up.

This is a follow up to this article on the absurdities of Biblical “kinds”. We are presenting some objections to it given on the Metaphysics of Physics Facebook page.

This is a heavily edited version of that exchange where I expand upon the brief arguments I made in the original thread.

I am not going to name the person I am quoting. Here, I am going to call him Antagonist.

What was Antagonist attempting to argue? Essentially, that it is obvious what the Bible meant by the anti-concept of “kinds”. We shall see that is not the case.

Let us get started with his objections.

Isn’t “kind” just another word for “species”?

Antagonist

What gives you that idea? How could it be? The authors of the Bible had no idea of the concept of species as used today.

Until 1686, the term “species” was simply used as a term for a kind of organism. That is, it had little more meaning that used in the Bible.

In 1686, John Ray introduced the biological concept of species as distinguished by always producing members of the same species.

Carolus Linnaeus then formalized the taxonomic rank of species.

So, again, how could the authors of the Bible have the modern concept of species in mind? They did not know about that concept when the Old Testament was compiled over 2,500 years ago!

If it were a known concept back then, why would the Creationists not point this out, instead of refusing to define the term?

They would not talk about their “cat” kinds or “bear” kinds, since “cat” and “bear” kinds are not species.

If by “kind” the Bible meant species, then why does it talk about the “fowl” kind?

Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.

Bible, King James, Genesis, 1:25

What is the fowl kind? Who knows what a fowl kind is, whatever the authors of the Bible considered fowls to be?

More importantly, is there a “fowl” species? No there is not. There is no single species that we could logically call a fowl.

Instead, in modern taxonomy, “fowl” is a group consisting of two orders, the Galliformes (gamefowl) and Anseriformes (waterfowl). Each consisting of several species.

So, it seems that the “fowl kind” does not correspond to a “fowl” species.

kinds
Whups, looks like these might be two different species of fowl. So, maybe “fowl” is not a species…

Let us go into a deep dive of the King James Bible and find every time it mentions kinds.

Keep in mind that later, our Antagonist is going to assert that perhaps the Bible authors meant family or genus. Let us see if we can find any use of the word kind that implies species, family or genus.

And Noah went forth, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him: Every beast, every creeping thing, and every fowl, and whatsoever creepeth upon the earth, after their kinds, went forth out of the ark.

Genesis, 8-18-8:19

Nothing about species, family or genus here. Just vague descriptions of “kinds” which could mean almost anything.

And it shall come to pass, that the fishers shall stand upon it from Engedi even unto Eneglaim; they shall be a place to spread forth nets; their fish shall be according to their kinds, as the fish of the great sea, exceeding many.

Ezekiel, 47:10

Again, nothing about species of family or any genus of fish.

15:39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.

Corinthians, 15:39

Here we are talking about kinds of flesh. It is not clear this is the same … um … kind of kinds. But there are certainly more than one “kind” of best, fish or birds.

In any case, nothing about the concepts of species, family or genus.

For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

James, 3:7-3:8

Yet again, no mention of the concept of species, family or genus. What a surprise!

So, how does any of this suggest that by “kind” that the Bible mean species? Or family? Or genus?

Nothing in the Bible indicates this. So, why would we assume this?

Or what we call “family”. Or “genus”. Using a different word for the same concept doesn’t invalidate the concept.

Antagonist

How could it be referring to either the concept of family or genus? Those concepts, as used in modern taxonomy, did not exist back then.

As used today, we can trace the concept to the late 18th century. The first person to use the modern concept of genus was the French biology Joseph Pitton de Tourefort in 1753.

Joseph Pitton de Tourefort, the first person to use the modern concept of “genus”.

So, again, how could the Bible have had these concepts in mind when they were not known to exist then?

So, no this is not a matter of using a different word for the same concept. There is no indication that the Bible is talking about species, family or genus. It gives no indication it is talking about any of these.

Nor did these concepts exist then, as far as we know!

It seems Antagonist is giving the Bible authors credit for taxonomic concepts that were not known to have existed for almost 2,000 years.

I somehow doubt we should attribute a bunch of goat-herders such advanced knowledge.

You say that but give no evidence as to why it couldn’t mean that other than a semantically irrelevant argument.

Antagonist

It is not my place to show that it could not mean that. It is your place to that is what the Bible meant. Which you have failed to do. Which everyone that has ever tried to pin down what the Bible meant has failed to do!

Having said that, I managed to show that what the Bible means is not a species.

Please show me any evidence that the Bible authors meant any such thing.

I’m not saying Creationism is right, I’m saying making a semantical argument and acting incredulous towards a plausible explanation is not an argument.

Antagonist

You have yet to provide me with a plausible explanation. I have pointed out that your “plausible explanations” are not relevant.

You have yet to show that they are plausible explanations for what the Bible meant. Since there is no evidence at all to support that is what was meant.

It is not my place to prove that it does mean that. It is the Creationists place to define what they think the concept of “kind” means. Which they seem unable to do.

Instead, they use the word without giving any definition.

It does not mean species, family or genus. The Bible does not use it in a way consistent with species. Creationists do not use it in a sense consistent with any of these concepts.

Creationists decide things that look or act similar are “the same kind”. And this seems to be how the Bible authors were thinking. But whether they were thinking has nothing to do with “species” or “family” or “genus”.

I’m not saying creationism is right, I’m saying making a semantical argument and acting incredulous towards a plausible explanation is not an argument.

Antagonist

Why are you defending the Bible’s use of the word “kind”? This is a lot like trying to argue with a Creationist. Which is funny because I am reasonable sure that you are not one.

And where is this plausible argument you claim to have presented?

Why don’t they define what they mean by a kind? You would think that if you had a point, you would be able to show this.

You are right though, acting incredulous is not an argument. Good thing I presented arguments then and even better arguments now!

Karl Popper, falsifiability

Thoughts on Falsifiability and Popper

(Editorial: Please note that in this article on falsifiability, I use the phrases “science”, “sciences” and the like. Unless otherwise noted, I am talking about the “empirical” or “physical” sciences such as physics, chemistry and biology.

And not sciences such as mathematics and philosophy.

However, much of the same logic applies to those other sciences as well.

Also, I am not attacking the idea of falsifying a theory as such. I am discussing Popper’s philosophy of how falsification is the essence of science.)

Falsifiability is a problem to a “central problem” in the philosophy of science developed by Karl Popper. Popper was a philosopher of science and closely associated with the influential Vienna Circle.

According to Popper, the central problem in the philosophy of science is demarcation. The problem of demarcation is that of distinguishing between science and non-science.

In Popper’s own words:

The problem of finding a criterion which would enable us to distinguish between the empirical sciences on the one hand, and mathematics and logic as well as ‘metaphysical’ systems on the other, I call the problem of demarcation.

Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery

In other words, the problem of demarcation is how to distinguish between science and what Popper considered to be non-scientific. Things such a metaphysics and logic.

Karl Popper proposed falsifiability as the solution to this problem.

It can be summed up as:

[S]tatements or systems of statements, in order to be ranked as scientific, must be capable of conflicting with possible, or conceivable observations.

Hansson, Sven Ove (2008). Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). “Science and Pseudo-Science”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 ed.). 4.2 Falsificationism.

Popper accepted the Humean critique of induction and goes further.

We can briefly sum up Hume’s critique of induction with this quote:

From causes which appear similar we expect similar effects. This is the sum of all our experimental conclusions. Now it seems evident that, if this conclusion were formed by reason, it would be as perfect at first, and upon one instance, as after ever so long a course of experience. But the case is far otherwise. Nothing so like as eggs; yet no one, on account of this appearing similarity, expects the same taste and relish in all of them.

It is only after a long course of uniform experiments in any kind, that we attain a firm reliance and security with regard to a particular event. Now where is that process of reasoning which, from one instance, draws a conclusion, so different from that which it infers from a hundred instances that are nowise different from that single one? This question I propose as much for the sake of information, as with an intention of raising difficulties. I cannot find, I cannot imagine any such reasoning.

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 4. Sceptical doubts concerning the operations of the understanding

Popper agreed with Hume that it is logically impossible to conclusively verify a universal proposition by reference to experience.

After all, in his view, it is easy to say that all swans are white. But you have no way to know this simply by observation.

All it would take, according to Popper, is a single counter-example to falsify the induction.

Of course, it would be baseless to assume that all swans are white and call that a valid induction. Why would we assume that? That is not how valid inductions works…

…The answer to this problem is: as implied by Hume, we certainly are not justified in reasoning from an instance to the truth of the corresponding law. But to this negative result a second result, equally negative, may be added: we are justified in reasoning from a counter-instance to the falsity of the corresponding universal law (that is, of any law of which it is a counter-instance). Or in other words, from a purely logical point of view, the acceptance of one counter-instance to ‘All swans are white’ implies the falsity of the law ‘All swans are white’ – that law, that is, whose counter-instance we accepted. Induction is logically invalid…

Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Ch. 1 “A Survey of Some Fundamental Problems”, Section I: The Problem of Induction p. 27

He, therefore, rejects the validity of induction and insists that science does not use it. Instead, he argues that science consists of problem-solving.

But, in practice, as we shall see, this consists of producing theoretical bowling pins which you then spend your time trying to knock over.

Popper did not understand the importance of induction.

He seemed to equate induction with making an arbitrary generalization from observation and thus making unsupported universal statements.

It is therefore consistent that Popper insisted that you cannot prove a theory true by showing that it agrees with observation.

If you cannot make inductions in science, then you cannot generalize from experimental observation and form conclusions about the phenomena you are studying.

For instance, suppose you are Newton and you have the hypothesis that there is some force which attracts objects towards one another. How might you prove that this is the case?

You might observe the way Mars moves around the Sun. And the way the Moon moves around the Earth. And induce that they have similar behaviours which can be explained by the same inverse square law.

But, according to Popper science does not work by induction.

So, you are not meant to generalize from observations and form generalizations about instances/things you have not observed.

How then are you meant to show that your hypothesis about attractive forces is valid? If you cannot reason from the observed and generalize from observations to general principles, how do you validate your theories?

Well, this indeed means that you have no way to do so. So, yes, if Popper was right about science not using induction, then it would seem reasonable to believe that science cannot show anything to be true.

Induction is not how science works huh? Tell the classical physicists that then. Because Newton and others were masters of induction …

You can, however, according to Popper, disprove a theory by showing that it contradicts with observation. He believed that you can never prove a theory to be true since you might disprove it tomorrow!

So, if you take all this to its logical conclusion, then according to Popper you can never be sure that any given theory is right.

A conclusion Popper seems to have agreed with:

What we should do, I suggest, is to give up the idea of ultimate sources of knowledge, and admit that all knowledge is human; that it is mixed with our errors, our prejudices, our dreams, and our hopes; that all we can do is to grope for truth even though it be beyond our reach.

Karl, Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge

Indeed, according to Popper, the quest for any particular nugget of scientific truth is never-ending, further implying we can never hope to find it:

The game of science is, in principle, without end. He who decides one day that scientific statements do not call for any further test, and that they can be regarded as finally verified, retires from the game.

Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 11 Methodological Rules as Conventions

So much for certainty in science then. Or knowing anything.

If we cannot be certain that a theory is true, then how are we to assess the worth of a theory?

Is Falsifiability the Main Criteria to Assess a Theory?

According to the philosopher of science, Richard Dawe, it certainly is an important one.

“Physicists have long relied on a notion advanced by philosopher Karl Popper, that a theory is scientifically valid if it is falsifiable.”

Richard Dawe, “Philosophers Want to Know Why Physicists Believe Theories They Can’t Prove”

Indeed, it is widely accepted that for a theory to be accepted as true, it must be possible to test the theory and show that the theory is falsifiable.

Generally, I do not consider the issue of falsification to be the essential issue when it comes to testing a theory. And this is not widely considered the central issue, not to the extent Popper advocated.

Let us further explore why I do not think this is the central issue Popper makes it out to be.

Yes, a theory needs to be tested. It should be possible to show that the observable facts of reality are consistent with the theory. One needs to demonstrate that the observable facts lead one inexorably to that theory.

One should try to prove that the theory in question and only that theory is the logical implication of the observable facts of reality.

If the theory is not consistent with the facts, it should be possible to show that the theory is false.

It is important to be able to show that a given theory is false. But if a theory is false, then it would be nice if the experiment was designed so that this could be determined.

Take the Michelson-Morley experiment. This was intended to detect the presence of a luminiferous aether. It was so designed that if there was not one, then the experiment would indicate this.

In other words, this experiment was designed so that the existence of the aether could be falsified.

Generally, the focus of science is not on trying to show a theory to be false. Generally, the point is rigorously making observation and seeing what they imply about the validity of the theory.

Is “Settled Science” Scientific?

Is there any such thing as settled science? Yes, there is.

But, first, what do I mean by “settled” science? A scientific claim that any rational person would accept as true and established beyond any reasonable doubt. And which they consider will never be replaced by an alternate theory.

You might object that this is not very scientific! We must always keep in mind that we might be wrong. We need to be ready to adjust what we know to accommodate new information that might cast what we know today into doubt!

Yes, that is partially true. We should keep in mind that we are fallible and that we might come to invalid conclusions.

Science, as with any other body of knowledge, is contextual. We study reality and based on what we observe, we form logical conclusions. But we can only account for that which we know about.

For instance, take Newtonian gravity. In the context of not knowing what happens near the speed of light, it was entirely reasonable to accept Newton’s laws of gravity as settled science.

We did not know what happened at extremely high velocities so we had no reason to doubt Newtonian gravity. Newtonian gravity is valid, within the context of things not moving near the speed of light.

Then, we expanded our context to be able to account for things near light speed. We realized that in that context, Einstein’s relativity provides better mathematics for what happens with gravity at near light speed.

Does that mean that we had no reason to be certain about Newtonian gravity?

No, it does not. We knew that it was an extremely accurate description of gravity at speeds much lower than the speed of light.

That is why NASA uses Newtonian gravity for most purposes, even though relativistic equations would be more accurate. Newtonian gravity is easier to deal with and is extremely accurate at the speeds NASA tends to work with.

You may have noticed rockets do not go at anything near the speed of light. So, Newton’s gravity equations will work just fine thanks.

Certainty is contextual. Suppose in the context of our knowledge, the available evidence supports a theory. We are therefore entitled to some certainty about that theory.

But what if it turns out that we are wrong? After all, we used to believe some strange things.

We used to think things burned because of phlogiston. Phlogiston was a mysterious substance that was thought to exist in all combustible bodies.

We used to think that dinosaurs were all sluggish, scaly critters that probably lived in swamps to support their massive weight.

Well, yes. Sometimes we are wrong. Our theories are sometimes not supported by facts. We have no business accepting some theories as anything more than a plausible hypothesis.

These are the theories which do not make up the body of settled science. These are the theories we should not consider settled.

However, it would be dishonest to consider a theory settled in the absence of evidence. It would also be dishonest to consider a theory settled if we did not understand it well enough to be sure it was consistent with all the available evidence.

Having said that, some theories are entirely reasonable within the context of the available evidence. Sometimes all the known evidence points to these theories being true.

Sometimes we understand the theory well enough to reasonably conclude it is entirely consistent with the facts. Therefore, we can be certain about these theories.

We should not entertain serious doubt of theories that have substantial evidence behind them.

We can always imagine that some theories might be disproven. However, we should be certain about a theory if all the available evidence points to it being true.

Certainty does not require us to magically account for the possibility of a context of knowledge we do not currently possess. We can be certain that something is true even if there is something we do not know about now that may later show that it is not true.

Certainty is contextual, it is valid to be certain based on the context of available evidence. As long as we are willing to address any evidence that arises should the context of our knowledge change.

In other words, we can be certain something is true. And yet adjust our theories when the context of our knowledge expands.

However, there are theories that we can consider completely and forever settled. These are theories we know with certainty and can prove without any shadow of a doubt to be true.

We know these will never be shown to be false.

It would contradict known facts of reality if they were not true. Things would have to not be what we know that they are.

Examples of these would be that atoms exist. We know atoms exist; we have seen them. If they did not exist, almost everything we know about chemistry and atomic physics would not be true.

We know evolution happens. We might not know everything about how it happens, but we know that it does. To disprove evolution, we would have to invalidate almost everything we know about biology and the known facts of biology would have to be other than what they are.

We know that the Earth is round and that it orbits the Sun. To invalidate this, the direct evidence of our senses would have to be wrong! The fact that we can see that the Earth is round would have to be fake. And how would we explain the observed behaviour of Earth if it does not orbit the Sun?

Yes, because it is much more scientific to think this might be real, right?

We can say without a shadow of a doubt that theories like this are absolutely and forever settled and that we will never find anything that contradicts them. We know that no such evidence is even possible.

Such science is completely settled. It would be nonsensical to pretend otherwise!

So yes, there is such a thing as settled science. It is baseless to pretend otherwise. And it would be intellectually dishonest and non-scientific to pretend that it is not settled!

It is unscientific to question that the Earth might not be round. Or that evolution does not happen. Or that atoms do not exist. Why?

Because we have seen that the Earth is round! Are we to question the evidence of our senses so that we can become a Flattard?

It would contradict the obvious implications of the evidence of our senses to believe atoms do not exist. Additionally, we have seen atoms!

It would go against observable facts and their logical implications to question that evolution happens.

It would be unscientific to question that light exhibits wave behaviour. This would go against the evidence of our senses and the logical implications of that evidence.

To question theories which we can show are irrefutable facts based on the evidence of our senses and the logical implications of such, is unscientific.

Your belief that the irrefutable facts of reality might be wrong is completely nonsensical and unscientific.

The ability to entertain alternatives to the way reality works is not indicative of science, it is closer to the mindset of the religious person that must evade reality to maintain the possibility of his delusions.

The questioning of everything, even things we can prove beyond any reasonable doubt is little better than those that deny science outright.

To deny the absolute certainty of that which we can show beyond any reasonable doubt, is to either partially deny the veracity of the evidence or fail to understand that science is about the study of an objective reality, not blind guesswork.

Statistical Fallacy List, Part One

If you have worked with data, then I bet you have been guilty of one or more of some kind of statistical fallacy at some point. I know I have!

In this series, we will be looking at fallacies that often come up when analyzing data or, allegedly, academic sources.

Biased Sample

This fallacy arises when you do not take a representative sample from a population.

What does this mean? What is a sample and what do I mean by a population?

In statistics, a population is a set of all the things one is gathering statistics on. It is the collection of all the things you are interested in studying and getting data on.

For instance, if you are getting statistics on the height of males in the US, then the population is all the males in the US. If you are studying the lifespan of fruit flies, then your population is all fruit flies.

A sample is a subset of a population that is chosen as representative of the population in general.

Usually one cannot get data on the entire population. One is not able to measure the height of every male in the US or the lifespan of every fruit fly in existence.

If one is doing a poll on political views, then one is unlikely to be able to ask everyone in the population what their political views are.

So, one must take a sample of the population. They have to select a subset that is assumed to be an accurate representation of the population.

So, if one is interested in the height of men in the US, one picks a bunch of men and infers things about the height of men in the US from this subset of men.

Or, if you are interested in studying political views, you pick a sample of people in the population and ask them about their views.

The sample must be a fairly accurate representation of the population. The sample must be chosen so that it is valid to analyze the sample and use information about the sample to form conclusions about the population as a whole.

The subject of sample selection is complex and we will not go into it here.

Suffice to say that a proper sample must be taken so that the sample is sufficiently representative of the population.

What this fallacy deals with is the situation when the chosen sample is biased and does not accurately represent the population.

This often happens intentionally when people choose a sample so that it seems to prove their assertions about the population.

For instance, suppose I want to show that Scientology is a growing religion. However, I mostly survey people with known associations with Scientology. This creates a bias in my results that does not accurately represent the population as a whole.

Let us suppose I wanted to do a study on global religious views. But I took my sample mostly from the Vatican. Yeah, my sample might be more than a little biased…

Suppose that I want to sample the height of men in the US. Then I probably do not want to sample only men that are over 7 feet tall. This will not give me an accurate picture of the average height of men in the US!

If I want to get an idea of the attitude towards Communism in the US, then I probably do not want to sample only Communists or only those opposed to Communism!

In other words, I do not want to choose my sample so that it misrepresents conclusions about the population.

The problem is that I run the risk of results that are not representative of the population. My results indicate trends that are a result of the way I selected my sample and are not truly indicative of the population.

I need to select my samples to accurately represent the population and not cherry-pick a sample that seems to make the point I want to make.

Gamblers’ Fallacy

This is named after the fallacy typically held by gamblers. As well as many other people engaging in games of chance and the like.

Suppose that you are betting on the roll of two six-sided dice. You notice that the dealer has rolled 10 a lot in the last few rounds. You, therefore, assume that he is less likely to roll a ten the next time he rolls the dice.

This is however not the case. For statistically independent events, it does not matter what happens in that past, any outcome always has the same probability of occurring.

Events are statistically independent when every possible event has a certain probability that is not affected by what has happened before.

That is to say, the outcome is not affected by previous outcomes.

Dice do not care what you rolled before, the chances of rolling a given number are exactly the same every time.

Therefore, it does not matter if you roll ten on a dice ten times in a row. The chances of rolling ten on two six-sided dice are always 1/12, even if you just rolled ten one hundred times in a row.

Past events, good or bad do not affect the odds of statistically independent events.

A typical example would be when you assume that because you have had a streak of bad luck, that you are due for some good luck. Say you play Lotto and you fail to win anything for ten years but assume that after all this time that you are bound to win something one day soon!

This is not the case; you are no more likely to win Lotto now than ever before.

Or suppose you believe that since you had three girls in a row, this time you will most likely get a boy. No, you are just as likely to get a fourth girl as you are your first boy. The odds of getting a boy or girl are still 50/50.

Or you assume that because you have been rejected for five jobs in a row that today you are more likely to get one. No, you are just as likely to get it as you were as if the five rejections had never happened. All else being the same of course. And assuming you leave everything to dumb luck instead of improving your chances by upskilling.

Streaks of good or bad luck are meaningless and do not affect the outcomes of future events.

The Primitive Non-Argument Against Reality, Part One

Today we are looking at this article, “The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality”.

In the words of the article:

The cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman uses evolutionary game theory to show that our perceptions of an independent reality must be illusions.

We shall see this is impossible. This is a gross misuse of mathematics. And is based on distorted view of natural selection.

We will get started with the first paragraph of the article.

As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions — sights, sounds, textures, tastes — are an accurate portrayal of the real world.

We do not need to “assume” that. Our sensory organs passively perceive reality as it is. They have no means of distorting reality and showing us things as they are not.

Our visual cortex and other parts of our brain process the input of the senses. But they do not distort that input. They simply present the input of our senses to our consciousness. They do not fabricate or distort their inputs.

Everything we experience is an accurate portrayal of the real world, according to our mode of perception. There are different modes of perception. But that does not mean our senses are subjective or that we do not see reality as it is.

For example, we see things in color. Other organisms do not. Does that mean the senses of those organisms are invalid? Or that they do not see reality as it is?

No. It simply means that those other organisms have a different mode of perception. They observe the same facts of reality. But their senses present those facts differently.

Different modes of perception are not an argument for the subjectivity of those modes of perception. They simply mean that different organisms perceive the same facts of reality in different ways.

Do black and white photos invalidate our senses? No more than the fact that some organisms do not see color. Which is to say, not at all.

Nor does it prove that there is any distortion occurring. Different modes of perception are not kinds of sensory distortion.

Sure, when we stop and think about it — or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion — we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality.

No. Our senses are not some kind of distorting lens that gives us a false view of reality.

Nor is what we perceive “our brain’s best guess at what the world is like”. It is an accurate representation of reality according to our mode of perception.

Indeed, we do not perceive everything that exists. We only perceive those things that are detectable by our senses. We will return to this a little later.

Episode sixteen of the podcast covers the topic of optical illusions.

In short, optical illusions are not an argument against the validity of the senses. When we observe an optical illusion, our senses are giving us valid data.

Neither our senses nor our brains are distorting the data. We are seeing things as they are. When we see bent straws in water, that is not our senses tricking us. That is how we observe light rays bent by water.

But if we want to better understand what we are observing, we must think and “see past” the illusion. We must understand that we need to process what we are seeing, which is real.

We need to more closely understand how it is consistent with reality. And then abstract away that optical illusion so that we can understand things better.

This does not invalidate our senses either.

The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality. What’s more, he says, we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction.

This obviously cannot be true. As we have seen, there is no false dichotomy between the world as we see it and as it is. We see what is. There is no alternative. We cannot see things as they are not.

Furthermore, evolution could not make any of this true. Evolution is a process whereby the gene pools of populations change. According to changes in the environment and other factors.

Living organisms undergo countless genetic changes in every generation. You have several such genetic mutations. Although most of them do not impact your life in any noticeable way.

Those mutations that are harmful to the survival of an organism tend to be less likely to be passed down to future generations.  Survival can be  tough enough as it is. Those with a genetic disadvantage are less likely to survive to have offspring.

Natural selection is the process by which genetic changes that are beneficial to survival tend to be passed on. It favors those changes which help increase the chances of survival. While tending to weed out many of the changes that would negatively impact survival chances.

Suppose an organism was less able to perceive the world as it is. That would make it harder for that organism to deal with reality. And thus, seriously impact its chances of survival.

Such unfortunate specimens are very unlikely to have offspring. Let alone offspring that survive to have offspring.

There is no way that being unable to see reality as it is could maximize evolutionary fitness. Only those with the greatest chances of survival maximize their evolutionary fitness. Not those with pathetic to zero chances of survival.

As for evolution driving truth to extinction, that is utter nonsense. The truth is what the facts are.

Natural selection is an extremely brutal and merciless process. Those changes which objectively enhance an organism’s chances of survival are likely to be passed on.

Those which are not in line with the brutal reality of nature tend not to be passed on. Life in the wild is hard and those changes which are not in accordance with the objective needs of the organism are less likely to be passed on.

In a sense, this makes natural selection and evolution itself, heavily subservient to the truth. To the objective requirements of an organism’s survival. Not something which somehow obliterates truth.

faith

Biblical Absurdities: Faith

Before we too far into our series on biblical absurdities, we should take a look at the most central issue here; faith itself. We should ask ourselves what faith is and why it is so unreasonable.

What is Faith?

I define faith as:

The blind acceptance of assertions in the absence of any evidence or proof, on the basis of emotion or wishing that claim to be true.

Dwayne Davies

So, it is the blind acceptance of empty assertions, for no reason.

The only claims which have any value are those which can be shown to have some relation to observable facts, those which can be said to have some truth to them. Those with some evidence or proof behind them. Any assertion accepted for no reason at all has no value at all.

But that is exactly what faith is, the acceptance of things for which there is no evidence or proof.

What is Wrong with Faith?

The truth typically does not matter to the devoutly religious. If it mattered to them, they would not be devoutly religious. They would not have faith in anything at all!

Faith is the belief in something for no reason whatsoever. Faith is typically defended against all reason. It is the acceptance of assertions without any attempt to find out what the facts are.

The most dishonest is position is knowing what the facts are and choosing to pretend that they are not so. But as we shall see, many faithful also do this. Making the devoutly faithful some of the most dishonest people that you are likely to meet.

As with any form of dishonesty, there are consequences for holding faith in anything.

Why? Because faith and reality are always in conflict. As is every claim of consequence that is assumed for no reason and against all reason.

Knowing the truth on any matter of consequence is not a trivial task. It takes observing reality, thought and understanding the facts for what they are.

Faith is the refusal to do any of that. Faith is the attempt to bypass thought and proceed directly to truth by the process of wishing empty assertions to be fact. As though wanting them to be true makes them true.

Assertions accepted on faith are wrong. They must be since since empty assertions accepted for no reason have no basis and blind assumptions are always wrong.

Once you have rejected reality and embraced faith, what does that leave you to believe? Whatever you want to believe in, as long as it is assumed blindly.

Most often this takes the form of whatever is emotionally satisfying or which seems easy to superficially grasp. Or which provides moral guidance with no actual connection to how man should act in order to be happy and thrive.

faith
Yes, Heaven may be an emotionally satisfying idea, but it just encourages people to waste their life.

The religions of every culture posit some kind of spiritual existence after death where the spirit can endure the death of the body. Why? Not because there is any reason to believe this. No, but because this is emotionally satisfying for some.

Every religion seems to offer some form of spiritual existence after bodily death usually by obeying the moral teachings of the religion and doing the bidding of the clergy.

Every religion tries to offer its followers moral teachings. This makes sense. We all need moral guidance in order to help choose which actions to take in life. Once you have rejected reality, you must get that moral guidance from somewhere and religions are all happy to offer that.

Often with plenty of threats and other forms of emotional manipulation.

The most devoutly religious people emotionally invest in their religion. They believe that their religion is the only means of moral guidance they have and more importantly, the only means by which they can achieve some kind of immortality.

It should come as little surprise that many of these people desperately cling to the teachings of their religion. Reality has little interest to them, unlike their religion. They are strongly incentivized to defend their religion against the facts of reality.

So, it should come as little surprise that since reality conflicts with religion, the truly devout have little interest in reality.

Their faith invariably clashes with science. Faith says one thing. But science says another. It is science that they discard.

When reality invariably clashes with their religion, they have two fundamental choices: to reject their faith as dishonest or to accept reality. But in embracing faith they have already rejected reality so they almost invariably continue to reject reality.

Many religious people know what the facts are. But they still refuse to abandon their faith. Reality is rejected for clashing with their delusions.

That is the harm in religion. It is the refusal to know reality and to accept whatever one wishes to believe. Assertions accepted on faith are always wrong about anything of consequence.

Faith is the epistemological equivalent of choosing to walk around blindfolded while declaring that you can see. But you cannot see. Reality is what it is despite you trying to make it whatever you want it to be.

faith
This is your brain on faith.

Is Biblical Faith “Justified Trust”?

There are those that might think that by “faith” the Bible means “justified trust”. I am about to present several several Biblical verses to disprove this notion.

The Bible never uses faith in that sense. By faith it means blindly believing things for no good reason and against all reason. It openly tells you to not to see reality but to just believe anyway.

Why? Because of the empty assertion of promises beyond the observable world. That is the only thing religions can offer anyone to have faith, empty assertions that have nothing to do with reality.

That is why every religion widely recognized as such always offers immaterial, unearthly rewards. Because they cannot offer anything real that relates to reality. All it can do is appeal to emotion and irrational, baseless desires that have nothing to do with reality.

Spacetime is NOT Swirling around a Dead Star

Today we are going to examine an article which claims that spacetime is swirling around a dead star. The article can be found here.

As many long-time followers of Metaphysics of Physics will know, we take issue with certain aspects of modern physics (for instance we talk about that here). That includes many of the central assertions of General Relativity(GR).

Key among these is the assertion that space and time are mathematical dimensions which are also somehow an aspect of physical reality. That they are somehow unified into some mathematical abstraction known as “spacetime”.

But space and time or spacetime are not things. Which is how GR and this article treats them. If it did not the whole premise and conclusion of this “thing” called spacetime swirling around a dead star falls apart. And this is exactly what happens when we define space and time as valid concepts.

Space and time are abstractions. And abstractions do not swirl or twist or dance around anything!

And spacetime is an invalid abstraction in as far as it is treated as anything other than a mathematical technique.

See, spacetime is apparently physical that is why it bends.

What is Space?

Space is a concept which indicates relationships between positions. Meaning?

Suppose that we consider one of the rooms in our house, say the living room. The living room is that part of the house between the four walls of the living room and between those four walls is some “space”.

The “space” within that room simply indicates relationships between the positions of those four walls. One wall is over here, another wall is over there and the other two are other there and there. In between is all this space. The space essentially refers to the separation between objects. This “space” then forms some area or volume in which you can find things.

The space in this room is simply a sum of places. Space is simply the relationships between boundaries of some kind of container or some otherwise defined set of bounding objects.

So, for instance, you can walk into the living room and say “Well, we have these walls. They are in different positions. There are other positions in between them.” And the sum of those other positions is the “space” inside the room.

(You can find more in episode twenty-one of the podcast, where this section was derived from).

What is Time?

Time measures motion or change. For instance, it takes two motions or changes and identifies a relationship between them.

For instance, suppose we are talking about how old I am. What fact of reality does my age refer to?

Well, we take two events, my birth and the writing of this article. And identify the fact that there is a certain relationship between these two. My birth happened during a particular revolution of the Earth around the Sun. This moment is occurring within a different revolution of the Earth around the Sun.

While I write this, 37 such revolutions have happened. And so I have thus identified a relationship between my birth and the writing of this article.

I could do something similar with myself starting a race and ending it. Except, presumably I would use a second to measure the relationship between the start and end of this event; a second as measured by the motion of a second hand around a clock or by a digital equivalent.

Or suppose I wish to measure how long it takes me for me to grow larger muscles and be able to work my way from bench pressing 100  to 125 pounds. And suppose I track the time using the date on my phone.

What am I measuring here? Relationships between my strength levels, a change in such over time.

(You can find out more about time in this subscription article).

We will go into what space and time are only far enough to see that they are abstractions. They are measurements of relationships.

What are Dimensions?

A dimension is a mathematical concept that indicates mathematical relationships. It is a technical concept that indicates how many independent parameters there are. In geometry, it indicates a set of coordinate axes required to specify any point.

The details are not important for this discussion. What is important is that dimensions are a mathematical concept that establishes mathematical relationships.

But physics treats dimensions as physical aspects of the universe. They treat the universe as if it was a thing that was somehow built up out of the dimensions. But space and time are not physical things, they are not aspects of the universe. They are relational concepts, they deal with abstractions.

space
Here is a representation of the mathematical concept of dimensions.

But relativity supposedly proves that space is a set of dimensions!

Does it? Show me the proof that shows this. Space is an abstraction, nothing in physics justifies treating it as though it is a physical thing that is somehow subject to bending or distortions as a physical object might be. The same is true about time.

The reason modern physicists do this is that they are reifying mathematical abstractions. They do not understand that mathematics is a science of method for measuring reality. They do not understand that the equations of Relativity do not describe physical objects.

What the equations describe are relationships. The equations need to be given a reasonable physical interpretation. Which is where rational metaphysics comes in. However  they refuse to engage in rational philosophy, instead choosing to interpret it in any way which is mathematically consistent. Without regard to logic, reason, that is, rational metaphysics.

What then to make of things getting shorter or longer based on relative speed? That objects get longer or shorter for other reasons. It does not justify the reification of  space.