Crisis

Do we really understand Science?

do we really understand science?Science is not isolated from society; scientific discoveries can be an important reason for social changes. For example the discovery that earth is not flat influenced not only the scientific society but the whole world-view of the educated members of the society and helped in the separation from the Church . Philosophy was always inspired by technological innovations and scientific discoveries. Actually, someone can say, that Philosophy itself  is a by-product of the technological achievements in sea commerce; in ancient Greece trading provided people with massive new experiences that lead them to independent thought.

Philosophy and science should go hand in hand; Philosophers should decode the “true” meaning behind scientific discoveries and lead society to world-view change.  But this, of course, in not always the case or at least it doesn’t happen for the last couple of centuries. According to the humanists there is a big failure of philosophy in the latest years;

Dewey concluded that most of the problems of society during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries stemmed from the colossal failure of philosophy. He claimed that philosophers had forsaken their responsibility to explain the findings of science as they came to light, and to provide leadership in the continuous forging of a world view compatible with those findings–that they had, instead, lost themselves in the “quest for certainty.” The result was that much of the intellectual progress of the Enlightenment era stagnated and even regressed with the reemergence of a belief system that, once again, divided the world in two.

The reason for this failure is what they call “dualism”; Philosophers tried hard to reconcile science and religion by separating matter from “soul” which actually means to prevent science of studying humans as a part of nature.  If we describe thinking as another expression of Nature then there is no absolute truth and certainty any more.

Altogether, Kant provided a world view within which science was itself a quest for certainty –but a quest appropriate only for “the inherently rational and immutable domain of material substance.” As for that realm of change for which the methods of science are not applicable, humans were advised to rely on faith in metaphysical explanations, with their promise of escape from uncertainty through the soul’s ultimate connection to a realm of perfect being.

Dualism is the reason that Darwin’s theory was under attack for so long; This scientific theory treats humans and their “soul” as a part of Nature, and “dualists” cannot allow that.

For well over a century we have witnessed a battle, virtually to the death, to fence off psychological, anthropological, and sociological studies from that remarkable ordering paradigm now providing the very foundation for our understanding of all living things. This war has been fought not only by theologians but by many established academics in the humanities and so-called hard sciences. If it could be shown that evolution has no implications whatsoever for the spiritual and practical realms–that is, for human emotions, values, ideals, and actions–then the long-established reconciliation of religion and science in our culture need not be endangered.

The growing distance between dominant philosophy and the the philosophical suggestions that derive from scientific discoveries, creates a barrier to science itself;

No wonder we are producing so many mystics who throw all criteria for truth claims to the winds, while crying blithely, “All, all is mystery. We must learn to live with contradiction–to intuitively `know’ the unknowable!”. We tend to be satisfied only if a particular truth claim or value makes sense in terms of what we already believe–that is, if it fits into our current “meaning frame.”

What “dualists” refuse to abolish is certainty and  the idea of “absolute truth” behind scientific discoveries. Humanists, and evolutionary science in general, accept that we are bound to our nature and that our quest for knowledge is a gift that evolution gave to us. We are developing scientific methods because we evolved this way, yet we cannot handle the world views that Science suggests!

A very good demonstration of the problem can be the example of Relativity; Special theory of relativity is based in the assumption that there is no special system of reference in this world, there is no aether. But still people want to think that they hold a unique position in the Universe; that they are the only “intelligent” life form, even if the theory of Relativity suggests that time is bound to space which means that there are limitations on what we can learn about the universe (light cone), and that there can be parts of the vast universe that we cannot experience.

Another example is the one described in the post below; (In physics we can have two theories that describe the same world and they can be both correct)

http://www.science20.com/alpha_meme/duality_%E2%80%93_world_has_no_dimensionality_all

So let us put it yet again in another, more pointed way: There is a surface of N dimensions without general relativity, the stuff of which obeys some rules that allow for evolution and all that, only to end up with conscious systems that argue in all earnest that the world fundamentally must have N+1 dimensions and that anybody who does not pledge full allegiance to general relativity as the fundamental last answer is a total quack and has no place in science or philosophy.
This is basically the state of the world today, and the especially sad part is: we already know this for quite a number of years by now, but at least my entire generation has to first bite the grass before it is widely accepted. As always, progress goes on funeral by funeral, established philosophers are mostly windbags, and pop-science sells via time-travel and worm-holes, but fails to communicate insights.

So the question is; do we really understand science or we like to believe that Earth is still flat?

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Related questions/discussions

The Importance of Understanding Science

Why don’t Americans understand science better? Start with the scientists.

Why We Need To Understand Science

Related Books

Can we understand science?

References

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1374/is_4_61/ai_76800134/?tag=content;col1

http://www.wikipedia.org/

http://www.science20.com

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Cause and effect my darling, cause and effect.

After the latest post on the delayed choice experiment I’ve done some research on latest papers that comment on the experiment.Fortunately enough I found one recent paper http://arxiv.org/pdf/1007.3977 The paper tries to explain the delayed choice experiment and the confusion it may causes. The author is not of the opinion that the choice “changes” the past and he has a very good point; Special Relativity.

cause and effect

cause and effect

As you might know according to special relativity there is no preferred system of reference in the world. For example in the past that humans believed that the Earth is flat, and is the center of the world, they were assuming that our system of reference  (or in simple words; our seat in the the theater of the universe) is privileged and unique. We were assuming that someone that lives on the surface of the Earth has the “best” or more accurate view of the universe. Of course Galileo first talked about the principal of relativity but until Einstein, scientists never gave up the idea of the privileged system of reference. Einstein with the theory of special relativity started from the idea that light has the same velocity for all observers which lead to the result that there is no absolute time. Time depends on the system of reference.

Going back to the delayed choice experiment and introducing relativity, then we have trouble identifying the series of the events; for some observer the event of producing the photon and measuring it can be concurrent, this observer will not experience a “changing the past” effect. According to the author;

“The (well-known) point stated in the introduction was to distinguish correlation from causation. The lesson we draw here is that this very correlation between distant measurements does not feel their relative time ordering: it does not distinguish between future and past. This implies backwards correlation but still precludes backwards causation or any other tension with relativity, effectively demystifying the delayed choice experiments. the only place where something physical happens is the place of the measurement, and the implications on conditional probabilities hold for other measurements throughout the entire space time, present and past. “

So, according to our understanding, the measurement does not affect the past but there is a statistical correlation between the measurement and the choice¹. Correlation does not prove cause and effect relationship. Let’s understand this what one example;

There was a research that stated that families that have big libraries at home, tend to have children that succeed better in life . Someone can think that libraries are the cause for children performance, but in a second thought this is a naive; Families with big libraries are most likely to belong to middle and upper classes of society. It’s obvious that upper classes children succeed better in life. The cause for the success is not the libraries but social status!

Of course what correlation can mean in the context of quantum mechanics is not easy to understand, and the example above cannot help because it implies that there is a causation relationship (social status) but is hidden from us. This does not happen in quantum mechanics, but this is another story!

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¹ Please check the delayed choice experiment.

The debate on quantum reality

Kant and quantum reality

In the previous post of “quantum reality” we mentioned the so called “Copenhagen Interpretation” of Quantum Mechanics. As we mentioned, this new Physics did not evolved smoothly form the Classical Physics² (which was mainly supported by a mechanistic view of the world.) In the first years of this new Physics, the philosophy behind it, was dominated by the views of Niels Bohr³ and Heisenberg¹ which is called the Copenhagen Interpretation.

Copenhagen Interpretation

The synopsis of the view is;

The quantum world can only be examined by constructing machines that perform measurements. Quantum Mechanics is a probability calculus which can be applied to a specific combination of measuring devices and quantum system. The waveform is not “real”; it is a mathematical construction that represents the observer’s knowledge of the system. The description of the world is inherently probabilistic; at some point no deeper level of understanding is possible.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen

The term  “waveform” refers to mathematics behind quantum mechanics. The key point of the interpretation is that it accepts that  no deeper level of understanding is possible, which means that the “weirdness” of quantum mechanics is an innate characteristic of Nature. Here is where philosophy enters the picture;

Someone can ask; is it Nature that is weird or our limitations on how we experience Nature? Is there an objective view of Nature independent of humans?

For so many years scientists were used to perceive Nature (or our reflection of Nature in humans mind) in a platonic way (Nature is real and eternal like the Ideas in Plato’s world). Now some Physics doubts the basic idea for its existence;  the idea that we can understand Nature as it is in every detail. Physics makes a turn and claims that it can only meet a probabilistic view of Nature.

Bohr Einstein

Bohr Einstein

This was something that a lot of physicists did not like, among them Albert Einstein who fought hard to prove that quantum mechanics is not a complete theory and it cannot describe Nature as a whole; that there is subtle “reality” that we are missing. This missing information leads us to probabilistic solutions, but after we discover it then the weirdness will go away. For that reason we tried to disprove quantum mechanics with thought experiments made to prove the incompleteness of the theory. These experiments were addressed to Bohr the ‘Magus’ of quantum mechanics.

Bohr a subjectivist?

Bohr knew that the probabilistic behavior was the core of the theory and he tried to respond to Einstein’s challenges. The issue is that this specific ‘fight’ between Einstein and Bohr was the first open debate about the meaning of quantum mechanics and the philosophy behind it. Bohr answered to Einstein’s challenges but the heart of the most of the scientists was with Einstein. That is because for them Einstein was defending the ‘heart’ of physics and Bohr was a mysticism that was believing in a ghost-like Nature. That is the reason that Bohr was misunderstood by a lot of scientists and philosophers to be a subjectivist‡.

Bohr was not a subjectivist, he explicitly rejected the idea that the experimental outcome is due to the observer.

“It is certainly not possible for the observer to influence the events which may appear under the conditions he has arranged”

Kantian

According to Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy Bohr was undoubtedly infulenced  by Kant;

“Much of Kant’s philosophy can be seen as an attempt to provide satisfactory philosophical grounds for the objective basis of Newton’s mechanics against Humean scepticism. Kant showed that classical mechanics is in accordance with the transcendental conditions for objective knowledge.”

According to Kant, the human being is organized in such a way that, when the things make impressions on his senses, he then brings these impressions into spatial or temporal relationships. Man receives from outside only impressions, sensations. The ordering of these in space and in time, the combining of them into ideas, is his own work. The sensations are also not something that stems from the things. It is not the things that man perceives but only the impressions they make on him, the world of experience is  subjectively produced from within.

Bohr

Bohr

Bohr believed that we could have objective knowledge only if the experiential subject uses causal and spatial-temporal concepts for describing the sensorial content, placing phenomena in causal connection in space and time, since it is the causal space-time description of our perceptions that constitutes the criterion of reality for them. In short, we can only talk about an object in an objectively existing reality when we apply the physical properties of the spatial-temporal concepts to the object under experiment; that is “position,” “time,” “momentum,” and “energy”.

Correspondence principle

What is important about Bohr’s Kantian philosophy is that to this philosphy we owe the “Correspondence principle” ;

In short the correspondence principle expresses the need that quantum mechanics and classical physics will give the same results when applied to macroscopic systems.

In a first reading the principle sounds obvious; If you want to develop a theory that will be a superset of an old theory, then a prerequisite for the new theory is to give the same results with the old, when applied in the old scope. There is though a Kantian reason for the correspondence principle; The correspondence rule was based on the epistemological idea that classical concepts were indispensable for our understanding of physical reality, and it is only when classical phenomena and quantum phenomena are described in terms of the same classical concepts that we can compare different physical experiences.

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² Quantum Mechanics is actually mathematical formalism that is used to describe (initially at least) the world of subatomic particles, a field that Classical Physics failed to describe.

¹ In fact Bohr and Heisenberg never totally agreed on how to understand the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics, and none of them ever used the term “the Copenhagen interpretation” as a joint name for their ideas. In fact, Bohr once distanced himself from what he considered to be Heisenberg’s more subjective interpretation (APHK, p.51). The term is rather a label introduced by people opposing Bohr’s idea of complementarity, to identify what they saw as the common features behind the Bohr-Heisenberg interpretation as it emerged in the late 1920s. Today the Copenhagen interpretation is mostly regarded as synonymous with indeterminism, Bohr’s correspondence principle, Born’s statistical interpretation of the wave function, and Bohr’s complementarity interpretation of certain atomic phenomena. (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qm-copenhagen/)

³ Some disagree on what is called Copenhagen interpretation should be credited to Bohr. See here

† Plato holds to the world of ideas, because he believes that the true being of the world must be eternal, indestructible, unchangeable, and he can ascribe these qualities only to ideas.

‡Karl Popper in his critique on “The Copenhagen Interpretatoin” claimed that Bohr and Heisnberg are subjectivists. (Subjectivism holds that because reality is an aspect of our minds, it is affected by them). Popper has tried to defend the EPR thought experiment and show that contemporary Quantum Mechanics is not complete. Critique of Popper’s view claims that Pooper did not understand the outcome of the ERP experiment and he assumed that Bohr “won” because he was influencial.

[T]he necessity of making an extensive use … of the classical concepts, upon which depends ultimately the interpretation of all experience, gave rise to the formulation of the so-called correspondence principle which expresses our endeavours to utilize all the classical concepts by giving them a suitable quantum-theoretical re-interpretation (ATDN, p. 8)