Author Topic: The faith involved in the fields of knowledge  (Read 742 times)

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Offline worlder

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The faith involved in the fields of knowledge
« on: May 16, 2013, 10:15:26 pm »
Has anyone watched that Extra Credits episodes about how faith does play role in science and reasoning despite how the stereotype goes that it is free of faith?

If not do so now
http://youtu.be/gDnK4sB181s

Postulates, axioms, primitive notions. Things that can't be broken down further. If those things are somehow "false" then a lot of things need revising. It would quite disconcerting if "A does not equal to A".

Offline Yaezakura

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Re: The faith involved in the fields of knowledge
« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2013, 10:42:53 pm »
The conflict discussed in the video is basically about people confusing two very different ideas of what "faith" can mean.

On the one hand, you have religious faith, which generally is not only blind, but stubborn. Observations that conflict with such faith must be rejected, for the faith is paramount. This kind of faith leads to stagnation, for it is already set at a very specific point, and actively seeks to destroy any progress away from that point. The people talked of in the video, who were blasting the idea of faith, were rather obviously talking about this version of faith.

On the other hand, you have a very different kind of faith. It's the kind of faith that goes "I believe what I observe to be true... until evidence exists that proves that it is not." This kind is faith is, indeed, integral to science, because to build anything, you must have a foundation, even if that foundation later turns out to be flawed. If people never accepted any of the basic ideas of science, even the ones that turned out to be completely wrong (like the Theory of Gravity), then there is little to build from to reach more informed answers. To fix a faulty foundation, the foundation has to exist in the first place, which is hard to do if no one believes the foundation ever existed at all.

Looking at this, it's kind of easy to see where the conflict arises. "Faith" in these contexts is one word describing two incredibly different frames of mind.

Offline Witchyjoshy

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Re: The faith involved in the fields of knowledge
« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2013, 12:55:33 am »
Isn't the meaning of the scientific method basically distilled into "I believe this to be true, now I am going to spend the next several years trying to disprove this belief."?
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Re: The faith involved in the fields of knowledge
« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2013, 09:22:40 am »
Isn't the meaning of the scientific method basically distilled into "I believe this to be true, now I am going to spend the next several years trying to disprove this belief."?
Not really, it typically takes a case that doesn't work before anyone takes a real swing at a theory, that or a personal vendetta. Science has progressed a few times due to the sheer hatred between two otherwise intelligent people.

That said, when you've managed to create rules that actually work for the majority of your known cases you aren't really operating off of faith, but reason. You've got a reasonable chance that your rules are going to work so try them so long as they're relevant to the situtation. If faith comes into any aspect it's that the person teaching you these rules isn't lying their ass off and they really do work. Which is where the method comes in, test the rules, make sure they work, or call the teacher an asshole and point out where they don't.

The scientific method isn't built on mindless acceptance after all.

Offline Sigmaleph

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Re: The faith involved in the fields of knowledge
« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2013, 04:04:30 pm »
Isn't the meaning of the scientific method basically distilled into "I believe this to be true, now I am going to spend the next several years trying to disprove this belief."?
Ish. Popper said that's how it should work, but you'll notice we'd been doing science for a while before Popper came along. I suspect for most scientists, what they're actually doing is "I believe this to be true, now to find some experiment that supports my hypothesis over the competition"*. Which is not a bad way to go about it, really. The ideal falsificationist that will abandon the most cherished belief at the first experimental result that goes the other way exists only in the minds of some philosophers of science.

Quote
Postulates, axioms, primitive notions. Things that can't be broken down further. If those things are somehow "false" then a lot of things need revising. It would quite disconcerting if "A does not equal to A".
I don't know that there's any meaningful sense in which "A=A" can be false. A belief about the physical world can be said to be false if it doesn't match against reality. What can I contrast "A=A" with, to show it to be false?

A logical statement can only be said to be "false" if it does not follow from the axioms of a certain logical system. If someone says that 1+1=3, I can use the Peano axioms to prove that 1+1=2 and derive a contradiction. I cannot do the same for "A=A", because that's one of the Peano axioms itself. If I derive "~(A=A)" then Peano arithmetic is inconsistent, so "A=A" and "~(A=A)" are equally meaningless results.

I'll comment more after watching the video.


*The cynic in me would alternatively suggest "This is true, but I won't get published without some sort of experimental result", which I don't think covers most scientists but certainly some.

EDIT
After watching the video:

Mostly, I think Yaezakura covered it. They meant one thing, the people arguing with them thought they meant another.

While I do think they spelled out what they meant pretty well, I can understand the reaction. "Science takes faith too!" is one of those stock phrases that is used to imply "...and therefore any piece of bullshit I come up with is equally or more valid".

Other than that, expanding on my point about axioms above:
The video brings up Euclid's fifth postulate as an example of an axiom that was later rejected, which is a valid point with some subtleties. Euclidean geometry doesn't fully correspond to the geometry of space-time, but that is not the same as saying that Euclidean geometry is false. It does mean that the theory that space-time can be described as an Euclidean space is false.

The math is the math. To shamelessly steal an example, if you try to use addition to count apples, it will work out great, because if you have one apple in a basket and put another apple in the basket, the basket will now contain two apples. If you try to use for clouds, though, you may run into trouble, because if one cloud collides with another cloud, the result is one bigger cloud. This doesn't mean 1+1=1, it means that cloud-counting isn't modelled properly by addition. Similarly, space-time isn't modelled properly by Euclidean geometry (thought it works well enough for many purposes), but all that implies is that the mathematical object Euclid's postulates talk about is a model of other things.
« Last Edit: May 17, 2013, 06:22:16 pm by Sigmaleph »
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