science



Inference and Prediction

 

 

By Lloyd Harrison Whitling
The wrong idea people share about science is that it is only about evidence and proof. Those are only results of science, that become apparent after science has been applied. Theories are hypotheses that have been sufficiently examined and verified so that most scientists regard them as true. Were evidence and proof the only features of science, much of what we regard to be reality nowadays would be necessarily deemed unreal.

Science is a process of discovery made according to a prescribed method that not too many people seem to comprehend. When done by those well enough schooled in the process to be deemed capable at a professional level, we recognize the participants by the name ‘scientists’; for the beginner level the rest of us occupy, we have no name. If we have enough interest to learn the practice, I have coined the name ‘Colligion’. I did so because I believe it to be important for the average person to be able to announce and justify interest without appearing to brag. A person like myself could be schooled in a way that enables acknowledgment of a desire to advance within the methodology while claiming only amateur status. The papers such a person might prepare would never be accepted as the final word, but as studied colligious works to be regarded separately from those who have earned the label scientist. I will leave it to others with the necessary credentials to accept the term and establish a system of grading for those Colligionists who choose to pursue it. I have written more about it here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0056PFOO6 wherein I also attempt to justify the term.

Contrary to popular opinion, scientists behaving according to the prescribed practice do not set out to prove or disprove something, but do aim to learn what is true about it, whatever it might be. To regard anything as too sacred to undergo investigation is not a scientific, but a religious statement or an unverified opinion. The same scientific criteria that applies to anything else, wherein a statement must pass through the process before we can regard it as correct, applies also to those about religion. That is equally true for any uninvestigated opinion regarded to be a sure thing, either way. That is so because it has been expressed without resorting to the established scientific method. That requires a mix of observation, prediction, math and logic that results in the making of a predictive statement for which an experiment can be designed or data gathered. Or, both.

While things may go willy-nilly at the gray edges of reality, simple math suffices for most of the world we all live in and at the level at which most of us deal with it. Logic is mainly of the “if-then” variety. There may be as many as a couple hundred logical fallacies to learn and apply, that would hopefully arm a person against those that certain people tend to invent on the fly while hoping to escape from a trap of their own contriving.

As said, not much of reality is solid or tangible. Most of it is about conditions that are invisible to the naked eyes, but whose influences can be observed in such a way as to render them predictable. 2+2 may not always equal 4, for an example, but it does so with an uncanny frequency that renders it predictable in a good, dependable manner while we await contrary evidence. If a shadow cast by an extremely fine object upon the screen of an optical comparator shows it to measure .0012″ thickness, we learn we can trust whether that can be verified by a well-calibrated set of micrometers. Have you ever met anyone who has seen an electron, other than as an image on an electronic microscope? Such submicroscopic particles are known to exist mainly as a result of inference and prediction, the results of which were refined over many decades (maybe a couple of millenniums?) to a point where dependable assumptions can be made about them.

So, how about spirits and souls? Most people insist they exist, and some insist their existence is proved. To resist such insistence gives rise to anger in response, whereas a simple statement of how an inference about them gave rise to predictable circumstances in some repeatable fashion remains completely absent. Even the apologetic statement, “You have to believe to understand,” evades the process in its failure to explain how one can believe with no presentation of anything by which to be convinced, other than with threats and induced fear. Pretending to believe, the resort of cowardice, for whatever purpose, is an act of disbelief, recognized in all times, and identified as hypocrisy. Even in these times, in some places, discovery of that can get you killed. It may otherwise offer the only way to stay alive.

The scientific process shows a great tendency, overall, to eventually refine information down so that all players arrive at one truth, whether or not they are aware of each other’s activities. What get described as exceptions to that are, in the main, incomplete scenarios still in play. New inferences may arise at any time about anything regarded as true that will give rise to new hypotheses that lead to renewed vigorous investigation and predictions needing to be tested. Through resolution of disparity, truth gets served and human knowledge increases.

Does this mean scientists are out to prove themselves right or wrong? No. It means the truth-seeking element in science is fully at play, and scientists’ strong curiosity senses a new opportunity to learn a thing or two. Does that make science weak, as some declare? No, for even the quaintest elements of religious belief are subject to scientific revision, and one more point of contention that for centuries irked the doctrinaires has become resolved among them. What stays lacking is their acceptance of facts no longer in dispute.

Like the notions about existent spirits and souls, even the enigma of existent gods gives rise to inferences that lead to negation of belief. While supporters of the various creeds turn to literature for their support, even the quantity of their differences dispels any notion of uniformity resultant from their investigations; over historical time, the evolution of the various creeds has only increased diversity in their numbers and plagued them all with absence of agreement. The kind of inference to which that gives rise can only lead the truth-seeking investigator to hypothesize the gods are and have always been absent and state that in the form of a prediction. If that does lead to any prediction, it must be that such will always be the case. The scientific process requires that such problems, and the claims that gave rise to them, must be held in abeyance until the presentation of new information warrants reconsideration, and to otherwise remain in a state of disregard as a farce. Farces do not deserve respect.

After decades of examining the growing diversity of religious beliefs, I feel safe to make my own prediction, stated in a concise form: A truly wise and all-knowing god would sooner fill Heaven forever with those who seriously disbelieved in its existence, than to admit one cowardly pretender for even the duration of an interview.

Copyright ©2010 by Lloyd H. Whitling. All rights reserved. Reposted in 2013 and 2014 with minor revisions. Permission to excerpt with proper credit, or to republish whole is granted providing this notice is included.

 

 

 

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An Ultimate Truth

 

If We Ever Discover an Ultimate Truth, How Might we Express It?

By Lloyd H. Whitling

I have heard time and again a denial I cannot believe, an atheist-originated claim that a scientific moral process cannot exist because nobody will ever agree on its basis. Since when is human agreement ever required for something to be true? Judges and juries proclaim guilt and innocence, and later judges and juries verify or reverse their decisions, only to sometimes all be shown wrong when new evidence gets found or science makes a discovery that shines a new light on matters. Those times they agreed and proclaimed something true when it was not are more important than we realize. Evidence proved them wrong, time and again. Their errors verified the value of objective evidence. Corrections are made, human knowledge advances, people complain that scientists can’t make up their minds, textbooks get updated, and the world gets that much safer.

How? DNA has lately contributed to gaining freedom for wrongly convicted inmates, and fingerprinting long before that. Bloodletting is no longer a fad. People now give blood so others can heal. Such stuff as that.

That’s all great, but what matters in this document is that science gains the final say because it applies evidence in a process that requires other, better evidence to successfully counter it by demonstrating its worth. Evidence, the main product of scientific endeavor, enables humankind to express factual information. Opinions, those seat of the pants thought programs judges and juries develop during a trial, cannot (or, should not) take precedence over science except as said: strong countering evidence shows itself as more trustworthy than the evidence about which it raises questions. Yes, the American legal does provide examples for us.

We, humans, rely on evidence gained from trusted processes to know what is true; we rely on truth to make wise decisions of all kinds. When something shows itself reliably true over time, so that we no longer question it, we crown it with the label, ‘truth’. Truth, then, is what evidence proves true until better evidence shows otherwise. Nothing else meets that high standard. Without reliable, verifiable, demonstrable and carefully documented objective evidence, nothing earns the label, Truth.

Although it too often gains that crown unearned.

In life, we arrive at truth in three ways: Trial and error, indoctrination and education, and science. The first two sets yield workable truths; that is, we learn there are other practices people use for satisfactory results, that don’t offer advantages enough to entice most people to make the change. Vested interests play a huge role in that reluctance. As a former print shop owner, I listened to and read the old-timers raves about how the new offset process would never replace their letterpresses. The new systems could not produce the sharp images, the embossing, the color alignment. The offset presses soon matched the letterpresses in every way, and surpassed them by multiples in speed. One by one the letterpress shops stopped advertising and disappeared. Technology did not favor that expensive, messy process in the long run. Now, anyone with a laser printer can set up shop and do most of the common work.

“I think if we could find a way to do this, we could use it for that.” Technology wrought the demise of letterpresses, science drives technology, and now we print with ink jets or laser beams.  In industrial settings, need drives science. In all settings, curiosity, the search for truth or a better way, or the quest to answer to a challenge drives science. The diversity of science has wrought multiple variations in its overall process as people applied it to seek solutions to bigger problems, but the one quest that does not change is the quest for irrefutable evidence—evidence of a quality high enough to induce governments, industries and banks to invest huge sums into the development of machinery, of medicine, of facilities to produce and distribute the results. That does not happen for opinions, and it should not—not without good evidence to support them.

Science, we could say, functions as trial and error at a very high level of refinement. Indoctrination and education, for the most part (and, with the possible exception of mathematics) school us by steeping us in hearsay—things we get told about but seldom ever get to experience firsthand. Hearsay gains admission in court only when good evidence can verify it. It is not, in itself, evidence, but serves as a directive in the search for evidence until it can be verified or discounted. Why?—because people lie. People are often mistaken. People rush to judgment in their haste to blame somebody. People take up their dislike for someone they hope is guilty, and, acting on their honest belief that it’s true, place an innocent person in jeopardy.hedonismNEW

While the condition of ultimate truth may never be found, evidence does exist in many forms, all of which have gained recognition from their known quality of reliability. Data gained from objective testing compares the results of one hypothesis against another. The one with a significantly higher score wins the prize unless or until those favoring the loser can show in a new test why their candidate deserved the crown. New things get learned in that process. Sometimes, in the end, neither candidate wins and an unexpected newcomer runs away with the prize. Evidence, carefully recorded step by step, shows all why one won and others lost. Such events are often duplicated by other scientists in other places so they can assure themselves about the results.

Scientists have developed other methods of generating evidence. Double Blind testing, data produced from large samples, other processes according to circumstances, serve to confirm or deny a proposition. Science widens its horizons as data confirms or denies the integrity of its processes.

Few of us, as ordinary people, can afford the time or the facilities and must consider that a luxury beyond our means, but we can look at the data and understand the conditions in which scientists gathered it. We can learn to understand the basis upon which they formed judgment, and so, know the conditions that had to be met. We can learn to understand why that set of conditions formed the most pertinent set of parameters, and why others do not apply. Data available to us is generally presented as a summary of the results, which may have required reams of paper to record. Such evidence is not considered hearsay because we have the original data from the people involved, to which we can turn to settle any disputes that may arise, including those about methodology.

Should we not require that the basis upon which we should evaluate moral standards must be that which best fits the requirements of its application and best serves that purpose? If a god named God decreed the 600+ injunctions, and more that can be found throughout whichever version of the Bible you may use, it did so for its own reasons, which cannot be verified by anything other than hearsay. If the god you favor ordered a different set of moral injunctions and cannot be made present for verification, words accredited to it must be regarded as hearsay, not evidence, for so long as that remains its status. A legal system built on that foundation remains subject to all the errors inherent to hearsay. It incorporates everything the refusal to recognize unverifiable hearsay as evidence intended to avoid.

With justifiable reasons, we find actual evidence requires science and its secular process. Only science yields trustworthy results, even if they are still several steps away. Only science, in its practice, has the integrity required to acknowledge and admit to its errors and, in fact, take pride that it discovered them. Only science regards discovery of an error as a good thing to celebrate and publicize. Only in science are practitioners rewarded for discovering errors and the resulting corrections. Only science promulgates results that are the same around the globe. Only science searches for, rather than proclaims, truths beyond those already found. Only science steers away from going beyond its limitations.

That it cannot test for nonexistence may be one of its limitations; especially so where the interested parties require absolute certainty. That, however, appears to be a problem of logic rather than science. Logic says the god named God will be made demonstrable by his presence during the End Times. The End Times have been predicted by various persons, some (such as the Mayans) from other cultures. Each of many predicted dates has come and gone with no result. Jesus made the first prediction of interest when he told his disciples they would still live when that end day arrived. Apologists attempt to counter that by tying that statement to the resurrection. In doing so, they effectively invent a ‘third coming’ wherein Judgment Day will occur.

In like manner, logic would predict what a moral statement from secular science would say. The conversation may begin with a question. “What do we want to know?”

“We wish to discover a set of natural precepts that serve to govern human behavior, so that the laws we develop are meaningful, and serve justice without condemning innocuous behavior,” provides a likely response. From that, we may infer natural processes will serve as the authority in accordance with “the way things work”, that research may have to be done to see what we already know about it, that ‘precepts’ will have to be written as governing principles to accord with that. We may already know, if you need an example, that rules of justice may be a first concern. A new Golden Rule may say, “If I love my neighbor as myself, I will treat him how (s)he wants, and (s)he will do the same for me.” Epicurus called it ‘reciprocity’ 300+ years BCE. Medical science has established that it begins internally as ‘homeostasis’ and externally as ‘homeorhesis’. We need to update our governmental systems to accord with the current state of knowledge and our current use of language.

It seems evident humanity does not need to know the ultimate truth to be our best according to this world’s terms. In science, we have found a pathway to it that we must keep building and refining so we can step forward in full confidence our way will take us to the stars, or, doom our children’s children’s children by our digression and avoidance.ahedonismNEW

Copyright ©2014 by Lloyd H. Whitling. Permission to excerpt is granted if accompanied with credit to the author. Permission to reuse unchanged is granted only if accompanied with this notice and proper credit. All other rights reserved.

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