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Brian_Jaress2 comments on No Safe Defense, Not Even Science - Less Wrong

14 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 May 2008 05:19AM

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Comment author: Brian_Jaress2 18 May 2008 09:07:00AM 2 points [-]

When they taught me about the scientific method in high school, the last step was "go back to the beginning and repeat." There was also a lot about theories replacing other theories and then being replaced later, new technologies leading to new measurements, and new ideas leading to big debates.

I don't remember if they explicitly said, "You can do science right and still get the wrong answer," but it was very strongly (and logically) implied.

I don't know what you were taught, but I expect it was something similar.

All this "emotional understanding" stuff sounds like your personal problem. I don't mean that it isn't important or that I don't have sympathy for any pain you suffered. I just think it's an emotion issue, not a science issue.

Comment author: neuromancer92 18 April 2012 06:42:42PM 0 points [-]

I understand the point you're raising, because it caught me for a while, but I think I also see the remaining downfall of science. Its not that science leads you to the wrong thing, but that it cannot lead you to the right one. You never know if your experiments actually brought you to the right conclusion - it is entirely possible to be utterly wrong, and complete scientific, for generations and centuries.

Not only this, but you can be obviously wrong. We look at people trusting in spontaneous generation, or a spirit theory of disease, and mock them - rightfully. They took "reasonable" explanations of ideas, tested them as best they could, and ended up with unreasonable confidence in utterly illogical ideas. Science has no step in which you say "and is this idea logically reasonable", and that step is unattainable even if you add it. Science offers two things - gradual improvement, and safety from being wrong with certainty. The first is a weak reward - there is no schedule to science, and by practicing it there's a reasonable chance that you'll go your entire life with major problems with your worldview. The second is hollow - you are defended from taking a wrong idea and saying "this is true" only inasmuch as science deprives you of any certainty. You are offered a qualifier to say, not a change in your ideas.

Comment author: Hul-Gil 18 April 2012 07:21:41PM *  1 point [-]

Not only this, but you can be obviously wrong. We look at people trusting in spontaneous generation, or a spirit theory of disease, and mock them - rightfully. They took "reasonable" explanations of ideas, tested them as best they could, and ended up with unreasonable confidence in utterly illogical ideas.

I don't believe most of the old "obviously wrong" beliefs, like a spirit theory of disease, were ever actually systematically tested. Experimentation doesn't prevent you from coming to silly conclusions, but it can throw out a lot of them.

(A nitpick: Either these things are only obviously wrong in retrospect, or they did not start with reasonable explanations. That is, either we cannot rightfully mock them, or the ideas were ridiculous from the beginning.)

As for the rest, I don't disagree with your assertions - only the (implied) view we should take of them. It is certainly true that science can be slow, and true that you can't ever really know if your explanation is the right one. But I think that emphasis on knowing "the real truth", the really right explanation, is missing the point a little; or, in fact, the idea of the One True Explanation itself is unproductive at best and incoherent at worst. After all, even if we eventually have such an understanding of the universe that we can predict the future in its entirety to the finest level of detail theoretically possible, our understanding could still be totally wrong as to what is "actually" happening. Think of Descartes' Evil Genius, for example. We could be very, very confident we had it right... but not totally sure.

But - once you are at this point, does it matter? The power of science and rationality lies in their predictive ability. Whether our understanding is the real deal or simply an "[apparently] perfect model" becomes immaterial. So I think yes, science can lead you to the right conclusion, if by "right" we mean "applicable to the observed world" and not The Undoubtable Truth. No such thing exists, after all.

The slowness is a disappointment, though. But it's accelerating!

Comment author: Jakeness 22 February 2013 01:34:51AM 2 points [-]

I don't see how what you have said necessitates the "downfall" of science. It seems to me that it only suggests scientists should look at their theories as "the best possible explanation at the current time, which will likely be altered or proven incorrect in the future," rather than the usual "this is right, everything else is wrong." But we already know that this is an improvement everyone should be making to their thought-processes; here scientists are being singled out.

It would be appreciated if someone pointed out flaws in what I have said.