Quora – response to Paul Lucas’s answer to When is science not science, and relatedly, is science ever settled or should we always continue to challenge current understanding? Can you give examples?

Quora – response to Paul Lucas’s answer to When is science not science, and relatedly, is science ever settled or should we always continue to challenge current understanding? Can you give examples?

While I agree with the general thrust of this argument, in my understanding there is no “absolute” proof in science, only a “beyond reasonable doubt” sort of proof. One can doubt anything, but if one takes that too far one has no structure at all. So one is left with having to trust some things more than others, and using a web of such trusts to build a “picture” that is sufficiently reliable to be useful in navigating existence.

Evolution seems to have supplied our sensory and neural network systems with sets of priors that have proved useful and reliable over evolutionary time; and our culture has similar sets of constructs that have proved useful over cultural time; all of which seem to be heuristic in a very real sense.

So it seems that we all get live in our own personal “virtual reality” which is to some significant degree kept entrained to the reality beyond by sensory experience; but we have no possibility of direct connection to that “reality beyond”.

And sure, some of the things in science have massive data-sets supporting their reliability within particular contexts and to particular degrees.

And it is that matter of degree and context that is important.

If one is only ever going to travel within 50 km of their place of birth, and if the most accurate instrument available only measures to a mm over 5m, then the hypotheses that the earth is flat is a useful enough approximation to work within the errors of measurement of every measurement one can make.

As one broadens horizons and considers wider contexts with greater measurement accuracy, then one starts to see that the earth being round is a better approximation.

As one goes further and uses circuits based in quantum mechanics in satellites in earth orbit to try and determine location, then one must use general relativity, to describe the space-time around the planet we live on, and a substantively non-spherical geoid of a largely molten rock planet with subducting surface plates in constant motion, if one wants to get accurate estimates of position within modern limits of measurement.

Does that mean that our modern mathematical descriptions of the physics of reality are in any sense absolutely accurate?

No. It doesn’t mean that.

What it does mean is that they are sufficiently accurate to be useful within the current limits of measurement.

I strongly suspect that the reality within which we live is a fundamental balance between order and chaos at base – true randomness within limits described by probability functions. Such a system, when summed over vast collections, can deliver a very close approximation to classical causality at the level of normal human perception; but is actually operating from very different principles at base. And the smallest thing that a human can perceive with the unaided eye, for the shortest interval a human can distinguish, is a collection of at least 10^50 of those fundamental units of space-time – so very predictable in practice.

In such a system, the very concept of “absolute” is pure illusion – an over simplification of something vastly more complex and uncertain.

[In a separate response to a separate reply to this same question]

Colin Wright – If fresh scientific evidence comes to light that challenges an existing scientific theory, it should always be looked at and assessed. …

I like this description, except that it does not explicitly acknowledge that individuals must have their own personal assessments of reliability that are independent of the “consensus” (in as much as consensus ever actually exists – which isn’t very often in science, majorities certainly, but consensus not so much).

Without those independent and personal assessments, no one would ever challenge “the consensus”.

Thus scientific progress is absolutely reliant on the contrarians, even if most contrarians are wrong most of the time. What is important is those few occasions where the persistence and self belief of a contrarian is able to build a sufficiently strong evidence base to start to move “the consensus”.

Once one can see that, in a multi-leveled, multidimensional evolutionary context of probability dependent models; then one starts to approach a modern understanding of consciousness and the fundamental role of uncertainty in being.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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