Monday 24 July 2017

The Qualitative Moment in Science (or: When do we know that we know?)

Science is primarily about qualities - and only when we know the qualities can we coherently quantify.

This is the reality of the situation, and may conclusively be shown by philosophical argument; but the fact is nonetheless almost universally ignored, and almost as frequently denied.

(Indeed, it is a recurrent delusion in science that qualities can be derived from quantities, and many people delusionally suppose they are doing theory-free science, based wholly on measurements and statistical analysis.)

The deep question in science is therefore how we discover true qualities - or, how do we discover the primary phenomena; because only after these are known can 'routine' science get underway. It is qualitative discovery that does the heavy-lifting in science, and it is the activity where creativity is absolutely necessary.

How can we observe primary phenomena? The key point is that we cannot know in advance where or how we will find primary phenomena, and we know we have found a primary phenomenon only in retrospect.

Specifically, the primary phenomenon is known when the situation becomes simple, clear and obvious. We recognise that what we have before us (or in mind) is a primary phenomenon because it is simple, clear and obvious.

This accounts for the strong element of surprise in scientific discovery! We do this, then that, and then the other - then suddenly we see, grasp and know what is happening, what we are dealing-with!

We have arrived at a situation of simplicity, clarity; and it is obvious. 


But how do we look-for it? Where do we look for it?

Well, there are no rules - and indeed the necessary capacity is the capacity of recognition. But science does imply purposive seeking, so what is happening? This can't be answered with precision but only by such hints as putting our minds to the matter in hand, attending to things with honesty, and observing various 'arrangements' of things (for example making structured observations or doing experiments).

We expose-ourselves to various things in a purposive manner while being alert and attentive... and then at some point we may recognise that we have before us (or in mind) exactly that situation of simplicity and clarity when the meaning is obvious. We experience the state of knowing.

It can be seen just why we cannot, in principle, know in advance what observations, what experiments will yield primary knowledge of this type - we don't know what exactly we need to do, because if we did we would already be knowing what we seek.

Yet how can we find what we seek given this; and given that the search-space would seem to be infinite? We have an infinite number of choices of what we might do - how does anybody ever discover the needle of a primary phenomenon in the infinite haystack of distracting irrelevance?

(Of course, sometimes the need is not found - but sometimes it apparently is; and even sometimes seems impossibly against the odds.)

I do not have an answer; and the point is that neither does anybody else - which is why science cannot be made into a process. There is no scientific method: there just isn't. Science - I mean real, creative, qualitative science - cannot be planned.

(Thus 99% of what calls itself science is a fake... probably more. Mostly is it merely measuring, parasitic-upon science)


How may primary phenomena be validate: in other words, how do we now that a qualitative phenomenon really is primary?

Especially considering that primary phenomena cannot be tested by measurements - because qualities are primary, quantities are structured-by the qualities. Measurements are made of and by-using the qualities - so measurements cannot evaluate their validity.

The true test of a primary phenomenon is that anybody competent and honest can, in principle, observe them - once they have been pointed-out, everybody knows where to find them. 

But how do we know if someone is competent and honest? (And when they are not!)

The answer is: by exactly the same primary knowing as leads to the identification of the primary phenomenon. That is, we may get to know a person such that we know - simply, clearly and with conviction - that they are honest and competent.

And only such persons can do science. Anyone not so-validated must simply be excluded as generators of mere noise and distortion.

Science is difficult enough without letting-in nose and distortion! And too much n&d will render real science impossible.

This is why real science is always and necessarily done in 'invisible colleges' of not many people who know and trust each others honesty and competence.

(Again this emphasises the fact that that 99%-plus of modern, professional self-styled 'science' is nothing of the kind!)


Chiu ChunLing said...

Rather than saying, "There is no scientific method:" it would be more clear to examine how the steps of the scientific method are exercises in intuitive recognition.

The first step in the scientific method is to observe a primary phenomenon. While it is possible to methodically look for primary phenomena to observe, it is certainly the case that actually recognizing that you are observing a primary phenomena is an intuitive rather than methodical mental process. This is why much of what passes for 'science' these days is so trivial, the scientists neglect or lack the capacity to make insightful observations of real phenomena, instead resorting to doing 'science' on culturally defined questions.

The second step is to separate the question of causation of the phenomenon into that which is examinable using a particular science and that which is not. This actually takes a fair amount of intuition as well. There are different answers to the question "why did the chicken cross the road?" if you are speaking of physics, bio-mechanics, general biology, or animal cognition. More specifically, there are basic differences in the kinds of answers that can be sought using each of these sciences. Here the great difficulty is for scientists trained in one discipline to fail to recognize that the interesting question is not amenable to investigation by the tools of their own discipline, and yet remain interested in thinking across disciplines. A biologist looking at a chicken crossing the road might be interested in why a chicken would do that...then recall that biology has an explanation for the biological question and fail to consider that the aspect of the phenomenon which was intuitively interesting was not the biological reason. Perhaps the situation is one in which the interesting question is how crossing the road was even physically possible for the chicken, or how the chicken's brain processed its sensory perception of the environment so as to activate the instinct to traverse the barrier. The problem is that a specialized scientist tends to effectively not be a scientist at all when it comes to recognizing the essential aspect of a phenomenon when it is outside of the specialization of the scientist.

Constructing a testable hypothesis about the cause of an interesting phenomena also requires intuition rather than being amenable to algorithmic solution. Not only is it necessary to 'leap' to a possible explanation (especially given that the whole point of the exercise is that one doesn't already know what explanation is correct), one must then try to loosely imagine the kinds of tests one could make of the hypothesis.

Chiu ChunLing said...

Designing and conducting an experiment to test a hypothesis can be relatively straightforward, in the sense that the intuitive work of outlining a possible experiment is already accomplished as part of constructing a testable hypothesis. Modern scientific technique provides a variety of methods which can be applied to obtain quantifiable results. Selecting which methods are suitable for a given experimental test can be as easy as going through a list and selecting those which obtain relevant data, once one has already intuited which types of data are relevant to the question of interest. Good experimental technique is perhaps the only saving grace left in modern science, and it is far from nothing. But it is by itself not the whole of scientific method.

Analysis of the data is one that again requires intuition...and care to recognize the intuitive leaps that have been made to reach the conclusions one draws. In the formerly mentioned example of comprehending the data resulting from an experiment in building a bridge, it can be crucial to notice structural failures less obvious than total collapse. A 'successful' prediction that the bridge wouldn't fall down immediately is less than useful if the bridge then falls down the first time it can injure/kill a large number of innocent people. A careful and detailed prediction of how the bridge should respond to initial testing is more likely to reveal deviations in the actual behavior that warn of the possibility of more pronounce failures later. But it takes intuition to recognize which deviations from prediction are important.

The actual scientific method is one in which nearly every step is dependent on the capacity to intuitively apprehend truth rather than methodically follow a defined procedure. That doesn't make it not a method, but it does highlight the danger of entrusting it to people who lack intuition and can only follow procedure.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - But that isn't what happens - there is no sequence of steps: there is no scientific method (following which yields truth; failing to follow which invalidates the conclusion).

Chiu ChunLing said...

I'm not sure what you mean. It perhaps doesn't happen often, and certainly not in all cases, and may happen less among modern 'scientists' than other groups of people. But it certainly does happen.

As to the charge that this method always yields truth, and following another approach to the same conclusion would render it false, this is not something any real scientist would assert. While the scientific method is certainly dependent on the ability to intuit truth, that does not mean that everything intuited will be true. Which is the point of actual experimentation (and replication), the part which does not rely on intuition.

Bruce Charlton said...

My position is that evetything intuited is true if:

1. It is the true self intuiting (not a flase, passive, automatic, inculcated self); and

2. If the situation has been seen in its ultimate simplicity and clarity and obviousness.

This is the primary situation, necessarily true - however, any formulation of this in language or attempt to communicate it (even to summarise it to oneself) is no longer the primary intuition - hence prone to error.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I have to say that I would reverse the first statement, the "true self" is the person in a state of intuiting that which is true, the false self is the loss or abdication of personhood by embracing falsity or rejecting truth.

For the second I have to say that the true perception of a situation (even in ultimate simplicity) has to include the history of it, in the sense that this history proceeds into the future as well. Or perhaps we should say the eternity of it, recognizing what we cannot directly perceive by intuition based on as much of it as we can know.

In that sense, I see what you mean by saying that the truth of science is not in the method, because the 'method' is not application of algorithm but of intuition.