Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Elle Eye Vee Eye Inn

I grew up on the wisdom of David Wooderson, so maybe that explains much of my Weltanschauung.  But I've also read a bit of Descartes, Locke, Kant, and Wittgenstein (my personal favorite), as well as King, Asimov, Dickens, and Blatty.  Oh, and I can't forget Stevenson, Fleming, Crichton, and Fitzgerald.  I have even read an essay or two by Russell and Lewis.  And here is my conclusion: We are all at least a little bit wrong.  The guy who knows he's wrong is a little closer to being right than the guy who doesn't.  But the guy who thinks he's right about knowing that he's wrong, well, maybe he's wrong about being right about being wrong, and that makes him a little less right and a little more wrong.*

*Now you see the Wooderson coming out.

Science, like law, works best in an adversarial system.  Holmes called it "the marketplace of ideas."  The foundation of the scientific method is the systematic observation of reproducible phenomena.  If it ain't reproducible, it ain't science.  You hypothesize an explanation, experiment, observe, and adjust.  Then you write up a lab report and get it published.  If I don't like your explanation, I can repeat your procedure and see what happens. No matter how much I hate using your explanation to connect the observable cause with the observable result, it's hard to argue with my own observations.

But what if your explanation covers something that's not reproducible?  What if you refer to an unobservable cause, for example?  How can I dispute your explanation?  Since I can't reproduce it, my best bet is an ad hominem attack.  I'll call you stupid or biased or incompetent, and you'll call me lazy or backward or illegitimate, and we'll be three steps closer to Truth.*

*After all, under the Masten Theory of the Universe, 
you are in fact stupid, biased, and incompetent, and I
am in fact lazy, backward, and illegitimate.

When you step out of the realm of reproducibility, you step into the realm of logical (or illogical) conclusions.  And the rules of logic may yet, like the laws of physics, prove not entirely dependable.

What's the point of all this rant?  Simply this: reproducibility and truthiness are not synonyms, nor should passionate belief be confused with knowledge.  Too many unthinking, close-minded scientists make the first blunder, and too many unthinking, close-minded religious zealots make the second.


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