Comments on: Double Twit Experiment – What Brian Cox Gets Wrong The writings of James Sheils Fri, 06 Jan 2012 00:50:38 +0000 hourly 1 By: URL Thu, 05 Jan 2012 07:10:51 +0000 … [Trackback]…

[...] Read More here: [...]…

By: Tony Roberts Wed, 28 Dec 2011 17:35:24 +0000 Sorry bout misplacing my earlier comment – I had each essay open in a separate tab and tend to draft my remarks in a wp (easier to work with) for pasting into a reply box but appears I opened the wrong tab. But as we’re here….

1) Let me clarify what I meant by 1) above about use of reason. I am not referring to or implying a requirement for any universal theory of physics (or any universal theory of anything else for that matter). Rather I am simply asserting that premises used for arguments about the world must be grounded in by what is found to be in the world (‘unequivocal’ communal empirical). This means that evaluation of such arguments is then based on a level playing field without anyone, anything or any group being granted special or unique privilege. Therefore it does not follow that such evidence assures anything but rather makes the case that conclusions are only drawn from assessment of that which is publicly found to be in the world. Of course all such evidence-based conclusions are provisional (certainly for now, probably forever…) but nevertheless they serve as a platform for pointing us in a direction that has proven its worth as the most efficacious method for acquiring understanding about the world even if that direction subsequently turns out to be a dead end. Furthermore and equally important such evidence-based conclusions also serve as grounds for not affording legitimacy to other directions that previously had been followed with unquestioning certainty but lacked credible supporting evidence. I am not shackled by the constraints of Popper’s theory as you appear to be although I agree that the search for any kind of ultimate or fundamental truth is (highly likely to be) futile. Truth is just an invented abstraction from which many people get confused by flattering themselves into thinking they have found it. But ultimate truth or impossibility thereof is wholly irrelevant in terms of using reason as I stated above since my position only requires that we take what is available on a best there is at present’ basis and build on that without concern or quibbling about it necessarily being truth .

2) By ‘human-neutral objective assessment’ I mean an extension of 1) above, namely only taking what is available in the world as above in its raw form without interpreting it through the lens of an anthropocentric human-friendly veneer. Our limitation about knowledge of the actual world (or ultimate truth about it) is irrelevant since this limitation applies as the common constraint for all of us in the world. Therefore as long as we do not deceive ourselves about our ability to find truth it is not a determining factor but just the stage on which our intellectual quest plays out. Theories about the world based on invented abstractions consisting of arbitrary properties manipulated by invented rules or based on mythologies devoid of credible evidence are of no value in acquiring understanding about the world since they offer no decisive criteria for discriminating relevance. However ‘unequivocal’ communal empirical confirmation by its nature does provide a decisive criterion for discriminating relevance for theories about the world as it is not distorted by entailing any special or privileged position for humans beyond that which is found to be in the world. This eliminates the psychological proclivity for pandering to theories predicated on human-comforting bias. While I don’t disagree with data being used to falsify theory and I do not view data as confirming a theory but rather data as providing a platform for acquiring a measure of confidence about the theory’s ability to effectively model the world, but this confidence is always on a provisional basis.

The ‘universe out of nothing’ is an unfortunate phrasing since it provides ammunition to believers in asserting the impossibility (in their minds) of that happening absent the agency of a creator. My objection to that phrasing is that it contravenes consistency with a logically coherent language semantics since the ‘nothing’ would by definition have (had) to entail a potential and/or trigger to spawn the something (universe) and hence ‘nothing’ cannot be an appropriate descriptor. I don’t see the conservation laws as particularly relevant in this regard but even if they were they would have to be exactly zero, not ‘close to zero’ by however many decimal points you care stipulate. As I said before, there is much work now going on about pre-Big Bang scenarios and I expect (at least hope…) that one will gain ground and the concept of the ‘universe from nothing’ will go the way of phlogiston. Of course a pre-Big Bang theory doesn’t answer the ultimate question but may well afford greater scope for answers or explanations (or relegate the question to either the universe/multiverse is eternal or assign it to the ‘too hard’ category for a period of time). At any rate the development of a pre-Big Bang theory into mainstream should help undermine the credibility that we are God’s creatures in a universe created by God .

The historical veracity of the bible is indeed a rich area for both ‘‘unequivocal’ communal empirical confirmation’ and especially ‘human-neutral objective assessment’. Of course actual empirical confirmation of biblical tales per se is not possible but what is possible is the evaluation of empirical evidence gathered from and about the eras spawning the genesis of the bible. By this I mean evaluation the bible’s historical credibility in a context that incorporates a perspective factoring in prevailing cultural, intellectual, political and social conditions of the various times of its composition as well as considering those factors in relation to the timeline of its historical evolution. That same context also applies to an even greater extent to the criterion of ‘human-neutral objective assessment’ in that consideration of those factors now enable us to understand the invention of anthropocentric mythologies about anthropomorphic deities as natural products of primitive geocentric eras. So as above I do not see data as being used to confirm but rather to provide a platform for deciding which theories are most deserving to merit confidence in belief.

I am too busy (ok, lazy) at the moment to look up the video lecture. However from what sense I can make of your final comment I don’t see the point on my part as being philosophical. I am not committed to nor enslaved by particular philosophical dogma as you seem to be about the ability of data to confirm or only falsify. Rather I opt for a pragmatic approach in working towards a pragmatic understanding of the pragmatic world we inhabit and I contend the criteria as I’ve stated above are useful (foundation for) guidelines in this matter. While philosophical debates can be interesting, stimilating and often amusing (I have a degree in philosophy) they are essentially nothing but word games predicated on various assemblages of arbitrary definitions, abstractions, assumptions, interpretations, extrapolations, inferences and the like that in and of themselves provide no justification absent supporting data to serve as arbiters as to what can and cannot be known about the world.

By: Tony Roberts Wed, 28 Dec 2011 15:33:13 +0000 On some physics boards Cox’s assertion about the PEP seems to be open to question or at least different approaches to interpretation. Notwithstanding the wholly counter-intuitive nature of QM I do tend to wonder how accurately our conceptualizations of projected ultimate implications of QM theory map to the real world, as I tend to wonder about the accuracy of the claim of BH singularity infinite density. Does the nature of reality correspond with our math and theoretical models as they point towards their extremes?

No doubt teaching QM to the unacquainted is challenging if for no other reason than the difficulty penetrating the initial barrier of having to accept its shatteringly counter-intuitive nature as we have been culturally and psychologically groomed over millennia to expect that conceptualizations generated by our macro-world evolved thought processes accurately reflect the structure of reality.

I think an assessment of the value of the Cox program must be formed in the light of an attempt to promote scientific understanding to a very broad audience within the framework of a commercial (competitive in the case of the BBC) context. As such it required a degree subservience of academic rigor to accommodate demands of being entertaining which resulted in the quite ludicrous involvement of ‘stars’ (albeit one of them a bona fide scientist). While Cox didn’t really address the nature and implication of scientific investigation I didn’t find his presentation to be unduly authoritative for the intended audience who would not be interested in a detailed appreciation of the skills and methodology required for scientific investigation but rather would be more focused on the outcomes arising when these are brought to bear.

By: jfsebastian Wed, 28 Dec 2011 04:21:19 +0000 Must say that Feynman and Sagan (perhaps along with Messrs Miller, Sacks, Haldane, Clark and Bronowski) continue to be regarded as being among the finest communicators of the last 100 years. No stretch of the imagination can place Cox alongside them.

By: jamesthenabignumber Tue, 27 Dec 2011 22:41:16 +0000 In reply to your comments about “The Two Euphemisms of ‘Reason’ and ‘Evidence’”:

(1) You say: “Rather, reason requires that the premises used to construct arguments are valid in that they are supported by ‘unequivocal’ communal empirical confirmation.”

I think this is incorrect. In the article, I try to explain why the universal theories of physics can never by supported by (I won’t say ‘evidence’) experimental results.

This idea was first voiced by David Hume. He called it ‘The Problem of Induction’. I recognise this as a real problem, and one that many people reject. Most people view knowledge as having ‘probability’ or ‘support’ or ‘confirmation’ from ‘evidence’.

Rather, I (and a few others) think that Karl Popper has provided a solution to Hume’s problem. It is a negative solution, because it reject the idea that physical theories can be confirmed. In Popper’s philosophy of science, there is no logical connection between the formulation of a universal hypothesis and a experimental data, other than that the data discourages one from proposing a theory that contradicts it.

So, we guess theories and then keep testing them until we show them to be false. They are never shown to be true.

(2) I don’t know what you can mean by ‘human-neutral objective assessment’. We have our sense faculties – the kaleidoscopes with which we view the world. Kant and Schopenhauer took great pains to show us we can’t assume to know the actual world. Then there are the theories we accept that shape the interpretation of our experiments. We can’t cut humanity out of the process entirely. Rather, we try to reduce the influence of personal bias in our scientific work, up until the bias of humanity.

On a point of physics, the ‘Universe from Nothing’ idea seems fine to me. From what I understand, the theory suggests that the conservation laws had value zero at the moment of the Big Bang. And, if these conservation laws are correct, they still have the a value of zero, or close to zero. So, this is what ‘nothing’ is to mean.

Anyway, despite our disagreement about the relationship between theory and data, I agree that a theory needs to have the possibility of relevant data for it to be called a ‘theory’. Whereas you think data can be used to ‘confirm’ a theory, I would argue that the data is used to falsify them.

Regardless, I think you miss my point. When a Christian says “Jesus walked on water”, what would you say about their truth-claims? Can you appeal to your criterion for testing? Sure, they’ll start telling you about how many witness there were, and the fidelity of the Bible…

Refer to the video of my lecture above “The Scientific Impossibility of Miracles”, and skip to the question section for an idea of what these discussion often involve.

No, I think it is the standards of evidence that causes the main divide, and this is a philosophical point.

By: jamesthenabignumber Tue, 27 Dec 2011 22:07:45 +0000 In response to you comments about this article:

My brief mentioning of the PEP was because I decided not to turn this article into an attempt at teaching it. Cox is correct that it follows from the assumptions of QM (and he links to a very good article by his co-authors, Jeff Forshaw).

I think this might be something that a person with a more-than-casual interest in physics might have questioned, since they are likely to have encountered the other material already. For the newcomer, it would be just another isolated assertion in a bewildering lecture of counter-intuitive ideas.

It is interesting to figure out how to teach this formulation of the EPR paradox. In my opinion, it would take an hour just to get to there directly – without mentioning the double slit experiment, or QED, or ‘wave-particle duality’, or standing waves, or any of that.

As for what you say about the promoting of ‘science awareness’, I tried to write what I thought about this in the article. I think Cox’s lecture encouraged an authoritarian approach to knowledge. and so presented none of the skills for scientific thinking.

By: jamesthenabignumber Tue, 27 Dec 2011 21:04:50 +0000 Tony – thank you for your comments. Did you mean for the second comment to be a reply to “The Two Euphemisms of ‘Reason’ and ‘Evidence’”?

By: Tony Roberts Tue, 27 Dec 2011 18:03:50 +0000 You said:
Here is perhaps what the majority of non-believers mean when they employ these terms:

‘the use of reason’ is a declaration of the value of logical consistency and logically valid arguments.
‘the use of evidence’ is a declaration that questions concerning the world can only be answered once ‘evidence’ has been acquired.

While I share the thrust and sentiment underlying your argument, I am not sure about validity of the premise used as a platform (as above) although I note the qualifier ‘perhaps’. It is of course not possible in practice to gauge what the majority of non-believers mean when employing these terms and it therefore rather ironically enjoys the same immunity from refutation as the claims themselves are meant to challenge.

1) Logical consistency and logically valid arguments are necessary but not sufficient conditions for use of reason about the world. Believers can easily muster logically consistent and logically valid arguments since these have no dependency or bearing on the validity of the premises. Rather, reason requires that the premises used to construct arguments are valid in that they are supported by ‘unequivocal’ communal empirical confirmation. This requires extrication from the suffocating psychological bunker of anthropocentrism by rejecting any premise assuming some human-oriented interpretation not warranted by human-neutral objective assessment.

2) Use of evidence is a declaration that questions concerning the world can only be answered by what has been and is found in and of the world when evaluated by human-neutral objective assessment. In this context the world can be understood in terms of the growing body of evidence supporting current scientific theory (notwithstanding that current theory will certainly be changed/reformulated over time and can offer no assurance of providing absolute or final understanding due to either our practical limitations or the fundamental nature of Nature). It would be helpful if cosmologists ceased talking about the Big Bang coming from ‘nothing’ which many are now doing as the various pre-Big Bang theories come to the fore (something coming from nothing is an impossible description within the context of logically coherent language semantics regardless of whatever actually occurred).

Furthermore the origin of religious belief can be understood as the initial blossoming of intellectual awakening in primitive geocentric times by knowledge-deficient minds that could only conceive of explanations formulated as superstition-based anthropocentric mythology. The propagation of such mythology can be seen as the spread of (competing) power structures that arose from developing the cultural institutionalizing of these belief platforms.

In summary rejection of postulated or revealed deities can and should be based on an objective examination of the world in all its aspects. Then the results of such examination used as the empirically validated premises from which logical arguments can be formulated to reach conclusions that do not stray beyond them.

By: Tony Roberts Tue, 27 Dec 2011 16:51:12 +0000 Interesting and curious critique, ranging from incessantly petty to sporadically pertinent and occasionally flirting with the profound. I am still unable to decide whether your core criticism represents valid commentary on the program’s content or sublimated jealously fueled frustration that Cox fails to match your implied superior teaching skills. I was somewhat amused by your bland confirmation of Cox’s claims about the alleged implication of the alleged universal scope of the Pauli EP ‘The assertion is true, but is practically untestable’ since it is the validity of his interpretation of the PEP that has sparked all the debate. Notwithstanding your concerns, however, there is a desperate need to promote science awareness and understanding to counter various the mythology based and pseudo-science alternatives that continue to infect society and hence all contributions to that effort should be welcomed, including Cox’s.