On Thu, 19 Dec 2002 13:10:00 -0500, Jerry Avins <jya at ieee.org>
>Jonathan Kirwan wrote:
>>>> Faith connotes Truth of the capital-T variety which affects
>> one's state of mind or outlook on the world. And it seems (as
>> you mention, too), faith isn't falsifiable, even in principle.
>> So there is no need to examine evidence or look for support, or
>> disconfirmation, since it is True no matter what. Evidencial
>> reasoning doesn't matter to faith.
>>Whatever it may connote, faith is a sufficiently strong belief on an
>assertion's or view's correctness to warrant using it as a basis for
>judgment and action. I believe that the systematic examination of
>observable things, formulation of hypotheses about them, making
>predictions based upon those hypotheses, verifying or disproving those
>hypotheses and thereby gaining firm grounds for modifying them -- in
>short, the process of science -- will lead to an understanding of
>reality. But it's only a belief: acting on it is an act of faith.
I'm going to accept your broadening of the subject,
incorporating hypotheses and expanding into 'science' and run
A difference for science is that theory is independent of
result. The theory of general relativity stands apart from
experimental result, an insight striven for because of prior
result of course, but built out of a fabric which is completely
separate from result. Myriad result from various rigorous
deductions then either validates (through congruence) or dispels
(though important disconfirmation) that independent theory.
It's a very long discussion, Jerry, to elucidate and tease out
the totality of what science is and then to begin to see the
full reasons for it's strength and what separates it most
clearly from philosophy before it. But I'll give my sense of a
taste of it:
We start with sense impressions of 'objects', most likely a
result of successful evolution and little else. It's biological
and complex. There are myriad corruscating sensory impressions
which allow us to successfully navigate and survive for a time.
This is biological.
Primitively, this is all there is and it lacks logical unity.
There are no unifying concepts which makes a rabbit of a kind
with mice, for example. We may not even realize that there
might be two different rabbits which look the same, unless we
see both of them at the same time.
At the next stage, we can invent a system of ideas which is
poorer in the sheer number of basic elements, objects in sets
and operations on those objects for example, but which has
greater logical unity. This new system pays for its unity by
having elementary concepts which are no longer as directly
connected with knots of sensory stimuli.
Further unity can be gained by inventing systems still poorer in
concepts and relations and even less directly connected with our
Mathematics provides just such an excellent system of study and
it provides for quantification which is required for discerning
and testing result with theoretical deduction.
What creates the logical unity in science, what underlies the
great strength of the arches of knowledge it builds, is that
it's underlying axioms are very small indeed and it's theories
are quite independent today from result.
While inference and medieval philosophy labored to extract
boulders of knowledge from the dirt, they only succeeded in
building low farm walls of knowledge from them -- loosely
connected and no one part of that wall gaining any strength from
any distant part of it. A bit of disconfirmation in one part,
had almost no effect on any other. There was no underlying
unity in it.
Modern science, by comparison, has an internal unity among each
stone, like an arch where each stone lends it's strength to the
whole and upon which the whole of our experience can be carried.
Today's science may use inference from time to time to suggest
ideas or approaches, used like ramparts to put together elements
of the arch, and thrown away once used. But it's the
independence of theory from result and the use of deduction and
result to validate or dispel them, not to distort or bend them
to a need, which has meant such a rapid change in science in a
few hundreds of years.
It isn't 'belief' and it isn't 'faith'. Perhaps, if you want an
interesting way to view faith (I'm only suggesting you consider
it, not promising you that it's the better view), then it is
what exists where science practices haven't yet been well
applied or cannot be. It is the shadow not lit.
Science takes a set of arbitrary rules, whose rigidity alone
makes science possible, but where their fixation will never be
final. It's an open process -- in other words, there are no
'final categories' in the sense of Kant. This is what leads to
its great success.
And described in human process term, science uses theory and
quantitative result, objective language sufficient for rigorous
deduction, respect for the critical opinions of others skilled
in the field, a willingness to deal honestly and sincerely with
objections which arise from them, repeatability and validation
of result to help eliminate unintended bias and intentional
deceit, a process for developing a consensus, and finally the
patience to wait for that consensus to arrive.
But one only need look at the progress in predictive knowledge
made once science practices were understood better and took
hold, to realize it's power.
Science isn't faith. Not even close. Even to a casual observer
that fact is manifest.
And as I said, there are no final categories in the sense of
Kant. Science is open and evolves, while pure philosophy is a
closed statement. That's part of what makes it exciting.