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  •  well (1+ / 0-)
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    for now let's just side step whether empiricism is a philosophy (I'd say it isn't it is just the a priori assumption science makes)

    You're right science is founded on empiricism but that again goes back to the problem with the gaia theory, it can not be empirically tested. In a way it's like string theory, brilliant and interesting but utterly untestable.

    I'm not against philosophy but I am against confusing philosophy or personal belief as science be it the gaia theory or creationalism.

    •  a-priori assumptions are by definition.... (1+ / 0-)
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      .... philosophical.

      I'm highly skeptical of string theory precisely because it's untestable in its entirety.  Ditto the various "many worlds" theories (where does the energy come from to split universes at every wave-function collapse?), even though one of them appears to solve a couple of thorny issues in QM.  

      But as for Gaia, we're already doing the experiment in the form of anthropogenic climate change (in pharmacology this would be considered a "pre/post design" showing a dose-response curve), and the results so far demonstrate that the ecosystems on which we depend are remarkably resilient: consistent with being homeostatic at a global level.

      Here we run into an ethical limit on the experiment: we could attempt to falsify global Gaia by continuing to increase the atmospheric dosage of CO2, to see where the point comes that homeostatic mechanisms break and the system shifts radically into a state that is untenable to human life.  This would be roughly equivalent to a medical experiment that gradually removed chunks of subjects' brains to ascertain the point at which one or another behavioral capability ceased to function.  

      What we can reasonably say is that within the boundaries of scientific ethics, it appears that global ecosystems do have built-in homeostatic mechanisms, and that attempting to disprove that point conclusively would entail the risk of human extinction, so we will not go there.

      "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

      by G2geek on Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 09:10:37 PM PDT

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      •  sorry I can't agree with that (1+ / 0-)
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        because then you're essentially saying EVERYTHING is philosophical which makes the term philosophical rather usefuless.

        That the sun will rise in about 8 hours is an a priori assumption, do you really want to argue that's philosophy?

        There are actually a number of tests going on and being designed right now precisely to test string theory (I'm unsure where many worlds is right now) but until they are done and until the gaia theory is tested (or whatever you'd have it called) they both are simply not science right now.

         Lastly I also am highly skeptical that humanity can alter the climate enough to completely wipe humanity off the map. Humanity is adaptable and advanced enough that as a whole we'll survive it's just the hundreds of thousands if not millions that would suffer and/or perish in hte process.

        •  predictions != assumptions (0+ / 0-)

          "The sun will rise in 8 hours" is a prediction based on thousands of years of observation and well-supported hypotheses & theories about star systems and planets.  In fact it's nothing more than the belief 1) that the Sun, as with other stars, uses hydrogen fusion, and 2) that the Earth, as with other planets that revolve while in orbit around stars, will continue to do so.

          A prediction is not the same thing as an assumption.  Asserting that they are is "not even wrong."  A prediction starts from a hypothesis and is testable: either it comes true or it does not.  An assumption precedes a hypothesis or underpins it and is usually not tested directly (else it would become part of the hypothesis).  Confusing or conflating the two leads to a high risk of doing bad science.  

          String theory: wonderful!, thanks for the info and I'll have to look into that further.   IF there are testable hypotheses arising out of string theory, THEN it's within the realm of science.  It may have started out as unfalsifiable thus not within the realm of science, but if that situation has changed, then the status of the theory has changed as a result (and the status of my beliefs about it will also change as a result, as soon as I can look this up and find that you're correct about this; got any links?).

          Philosophy provides paradigms that guide human decision making and other behaviors with respect to various subject matter.   Scientific method is one of the ramifications of the philosophical paradigm that reality is objective and measurable and lawful.  If we want to trace that back to its origins, they are theological: that deities create reality, and that deities are lawful rather than capricious and self-contradictory.  This idea arose at similar times in Western thinking and in Asian thinking.  It was explicated fully by various schools of thought notably in the Enlightenment period and by the Deists: that science could succeed precisely because it operated within a lawful and consistent universe created by a lawful and consistent deity.  Contrast to societies whose deities were viewed as arbitrary and capricious, which view tends to correlate with the absence of development of science.  

          The preceding paragraph in no way constitutes an endorsement of theism, just to get that issue off the table.

          As it happens, nature really is consistent and lawful, so empirical science succeeds, and in consequence science also endorses the philosophical views that follow from that ontology.  Those philosophical views coincided with reality, whereas others did not and have more or less died out as a result (or are on their way to doing so, the religious right notwithstanding).

          But make no mistake, there are side-chains from the main thread, that are less well-supported or that have been directly falsified.  See also the example about the assumption that only behavior, and not consciousness, is a fit subject for research: that was eventually thrown out as a result of the development of electroencephalography as a research tool.

          One necessarily has to be careful about how much "baggage" one carries to the airport.  

          As for climate change and the risk of extinction or a near-extinction event, do you really want to do that experiment?  Nature works on longer timelines than human societies and their decision making apparatus.  

          And oddly enough it does seem that those who do not believe that ecosystems are homeostatic, also tend to be  "skeptics" about the impacts of climate change.  But the answer to that, the thing that attempts to bridge the contradiction, is exactly what you said: the belief that "humanity is adaptable and advanced enough..."

          Know what that belief is?

          It's faith.

          "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

          by G2geek on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 12:35:49 AM PDT

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          •  I don't think we'll agree here (1+ / 0-)
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            That the sun will rise again is an a priori assumption because it is assumed to be true without actually proving it. That's not a prediction it's just a plain assumption that something will happen

            Just like it is a priori  assumption to say that everything in the universe is not only explainable but quantifiable.

            A priori assumptions are not inherently philosophy though you can of course make a priori assumptions about philosophy

            In regards to string theory, the researchers involved have been working hard at being able to actually test it because they know that's the current weakness of string theory. Frankly in a way those that advocate this gaia theory (or again what ever you would call it) would not be remiss in modeling on that situation because I think the biggest problem is you simply can not test it.

            And sure operational basis is always a huge risk but then again as I said my philosophy, my belief is in favor of this being true. But I don't think as presented it's science.

            Lastly, because this has so far been genial though contested I am going to ignore the inference there that I am a climate denier. Of course no sane rational person wants to take that risk. That's like saying you want to crash into a wall a 80 mph just because your car has the latest in safety tech and can take it. My point is simply I don't think even the most disastrous change in climate will kill humanity or even all life on the planet. Life is far too resilient and humanity far too clever. Which is as I understand it exactly the opposite of what the gaia theory would predict.

            •  we probably won't but it's interesting anyway. (0+ / 0-)

              One can "assume" that the sun will rise, but as soon as one takes it to the level of an explicit statement, it becomes a "prediction" because it follows from so much empirical evidence.

              The statement that everything in the universe is explainable and quantifiable is an assumption since it attempts to reach into areas about which we truly have no empirical knowledge.


              In any case it's also questionable for things that are clearly within the range of our empirical knowledge:

              How do you quantify the experience of seeing the color orange?  And how do we compare my experience of seeing the orange print on this page, with yours?  

              What we're discovering about visual perception is that if you tap into the optic nerves you get a stream of "stuff" that bears very little resemblance to the images that people actually perceive: a very large element of visual perception is the set of operations performed on those inputs by the brain.

              Now as it turns out, there has been some research on this issue of "quantifying qualia," at least as far as visual perception of color goes:  Siegel at UCLA trained a bunch of research subjects to identify colors with angstrom units and thereby describe subjective visual imagery in a more objective manner.

              But try doing that for smell & taste, and you'll rapidly run into the "wine review syndrome" where the language used is so subjective that the best anyone can do is say "when I see these people using these words, that roughly translates to something I'd like (or dislike)."   In fact it would be most interesting to "do the experiment," and seek to have different people attempt to identify which wines (or other foods etc.) are being described by which review language.  I'm going to guess that the correlation coefficient would be just a tad above chance for anything more complex than "sweet/sour/bitter/(etc.)."  

              So here we run right into the philosophical problem of qualia, which despite the best efforts of many over time, has not gone away.   Qualia, by definition, are those phenomena of experience that do not lend themselves to quantification: and the fact that some of them have been quantified does not make the bigger question go away.  "What is it like to be you?"  


              One can make a-priori assumptions in the course of doing philosophy.  Obvious example: someone who is focused on ethical philosophy may not feel any need to explicate their ontology: they just assume the world is a certain way, and proceed from there.  

              Here I should mention that I'm a pretty ferocious empiricist, and highly skeptical of most a-priori statements, with a few notable exceptions that I mark clearly for contrast.


              String theory: got any leads I can follow on that?  Names of persons, institutions, key concepts that I can concatenate into searches to get right down to this stuff (rather than pull in a million hits for string theory in general)?  


              Gaia has been supported by a range of findings in regards to smaller ecosystems, to the point where ecosystem homeostasis is now an accepted part of biology & ecology.  

              That does not translate into supporting the extrapolation to whole-planet ecosystems, but there doesn't seem to be a good way to experiment on the latter without incurring high risks of system disruption if the hypothesis is false.  

              In a way, we might be up against a kind of Godelian problem here, in that one element of a system (humans) is attempting to devise tests for the whole system: something that might end up being possible only from outside the system, which is not possible for the planet on which we actually live.  But the existence of a Godelian problem does not by itself render the problem impossible to solve, it just sets boundaries and conditions.  

              This leads to an interesting science fiction plot whereby space aliens attempt to invade Earth to use it as a lab to test their own version of the Gaia hypothesis by breaking Earth's homeostatic network.  This of course would have the effect of killing off all the humans.  

              Toward the end of the story, a human scientist convinces the aliens that humans already know about their hypothesis, and that we call it the Gaia hypothesis.  The aliens, upon learning that humans already know the hypothesis, conclude that this situation fatally confounds the experiment.  So they abort the experiment and make peace with the humans.  The story ends with the humans and the aliens sitting down to collaborate on seeking a planet that can be used as a test case.  


              I didn't say you were a climate denier.   I used the word "skeptic" in quotes to refer directly to your statement "Lastly I also am highly skeptical that humanity can alter the climate enough to completely wipe humanity off the map" (emphasis added).  Climate denialists deny that anthropogenic climate change is occurring at all.  

              However I also disagree with the statement in full, and with the one that follows it, because both are based essentially in faith.  The first part (we will not go extinct) is the collective extension of the belief in the continuity of existence, essentially the same thing as the belief in a hereafter (once again, human brains have a tough time representing negatives, the prospect of their own cessation into "nothingness" being the supreme example).  The second part is the psychologically lawful consequence of the first: IF we will continue to exist, THEN there will be a means of doing so, QED we will solve the climate crisis short of our own extinction.  

              What if I'm wrong?, and what if you're wrong?  I'm choosing to err on the side of caution: to assume that there is a risk of extinction, and that we cannot count on "someone somewhere in the future" to save our descendants from that risk, but instead we have to do so ourselves in the present, using existing technologies.

              This is an extension of the "no miracles" principle, that I also use for interstellar travel (and a range of other issues): how can we accomplish that goal within the limits of present physics and the engineering that is consistent with present physics?  

              If we assume a risk of extinction, and assume that we can only use present tech (one step back from "present science," because although we know certain things are "possible," we don't yet know how to actually do them) to bail ourselves out, then what we get is:  renewables, fission, efficiency, birth control, etc., a difficult road to travel but none the less can be done if there is the will.  If I'm wrong, we end up with a smaller population using sustainable technologies to provide itself with a sustainable standard of living.  Not bad.  

              But if one assumes that we can't totally screw the pooch, and that someone will think of something before it's too late, we run the serious risk of continuing on the present path waiting for the "someone, somewhere, something."  And if that's wrong, we end up with at best, a major human dieoff and the remnants reverting to a cave-man existence.

              "Mars and the stars?, or graves and the caves?"

              "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

              by G2geek on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 03:27:41 AM PDT

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              •  in regards to a priori (0+ / 0-)

                I'm just going to leave it there we don't agree and it's impossible to argue definition really.


                that's the most recent thing I could find on string theory


                And course there are things that are difficult in our current level to quantify which is why science continues to push outward and advance. Even 100 years ago the science of emotions was murky and yet our understanding has increased 100 fold.


                I don't know what to say about testing this theory I've never really thought about it too much. It is something that needs to be addressed though in order to be considered science. I will say that only after a decade of trying is anything of string theory actually being addressed so this might not be a quick fix on this.


                Fair enough, I took some issue with what you seemed to be implying but if that was the wrong interpretation then that was the wrong interpretation.

                I will say that my statement has nothing to do with faith. Humanity surivived a massive ice age, Younger-Dravis, the little ice age and warming and cooling. Even the most dramatic current predictions are frankly nothing that the earth in it's geological history has encountered. Thus life will go on even if it is without us and I remain scientifically skeptical that humanity will end that way.

      •  What you're describing as "homestasis" (0+ / 0-)

        is just the heat capacity of water.

        Everything there is to know about the GOP: They're the Bad Guys.

        by Troubadour on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 09:03:11 AM PDT

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