PHILOMADRID

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Do we have to trust theories?

News from Miguel + Renfe in Sol + Essays from Richard and Me

Dear friends,


First the good news. Miguel has asked me to send you his thanks for your
concern and help after his very bad accident last Sunday. He tells me
that his finger is healing and that he is not pain any more. It seems
that the surgeons at La Paz did a very good job in re-constituting his
finger. He also tells me that if he is feeling well he would join us for
the meeting on Sunday. I look forward to meeting Miguel on Sunday.


Miguel and myself both agree that the moral of this unfortunate accident
is that we should keep our fingers as far away as possible from doors.
Please take note.


RENFE
Talking about doors, Isabel has sent me details about the new Renfe
service that will now pass from the new, but yet to be finished and
opened, station of Sol instead of Recoletos.

Estimada comunidad universitaria,

El próximo día 9 de Julio entra en servicio el nuevo túnel de cercanías
que conecta las estaciones de Atocha y Chamartín.

RENFE nos ha informado que a partir de esa fecha todos los trenes que
realizan la línea que llega a Cantoblanco cambian su itinerario,
concretamente el trayecto queda configurado de la siguiente forma:

- Chamartin - Nuevos Ministerios - (Sol) - Atocha –

Es importante señalar que ya no habrá paso por la estación de Recoletos.
Las personas que deseen utilizar esta estación deberán hacer trasbordo
en Atocha, Nuevos Ministerios o Chamartin.

En la nueva línea se incorpora la nueva estación de Sol, cuya entrada en
funcionamiento esta prevista para finales de año (no habrá parada por el
momento).

La nueva línea implica que se incrementa la frecuencia de paso de los
trenes en hora punta de los 10 minutos actuales a 6 minutos y en hora
valle de 20´a 10´

También se reduce en un 30% los tiempos de los trayectos entre
Cantoblanco y Atocha.

Las antiguas Líneas C-1 (San Sebastián de los Reyes), C-7 (Colmenar
Viejo) y C-10 (Tres Cantos) se fusionan en una sola línea que se
denominará C-4 y realizará el trayecto desde Parla a Colmenar o
Alcobendas-San Sebastián de los Reyes.

En las estaciones se distribuirá información de los nuevos horarios.

Para mas información teléfono gratuito 900.200.212 o en la págian web.
renfe.com
++++++++++++++

Finally, Richard has kindly written as essay for us, on this Sunday's
topic: Do we have to trust theories? I am including my essay at the end
of the email.

Take care and see you Sunday

Lawrence

IF YOU DON'T GET AN EMAIL BY FRIDAY PLEASE LET ME KNOW


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-My tel 606081813
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++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

====== Essay by Richard======

Do we have to trust theories?

Apart from commenting on two points presented here, I would like to
throw a different light on the matter. It does not mean that I argue the
whole point presented by Lawrence. On the contrary, I support it. But I
feel something else must be added here.

First and foremost I am in favour of clear distinction that must be made
between exact sciences and the so-called Humanities. The reason being
that there is a disparity between the two if one wants to compare the
practical results of a given theory, in other words testing its validity.

My impression is that exact sciences are governed by "more absolute"
terms and are less prone to the evolution of the world than the
Humanities are. But whatever the argument is, they are "much more
absolute" in their claims than the humanities.

Obviously, as Kurt Gödel has proven, not everything in exact sciences is
so crystal clear. Kurt Gödel, one of the greatest logicians of all times
by contriving his Incompleteness Theorem, proved this in the 1930s and
since then nobody has managed to contradict him successfully. The
implication of his theory is that however complex any logical system
might be, it will never be complete, because it will always contain more
true statements than it could possibly prove using its own defining set
of rules.

Therefore the character of the respective theories has a slightly
different meaning. Nevertheless this difference has been blurred for the
last couple of decades as a result of an overwhelming impact of the
exact sciences on the humanities. And what we have been observing is a
sort of retreat of the Humanities to the detriment of the advance of
technical sciences supported by the exact sciences. So the sad result is
that even today any PhD thesis in Psychology for example is widely
considered that something is lacking in it if it does not have any
vestiges of mathematics (graphs, statistics, etc). Should really
Psychology and other Humanities knuckle under to that dictatorship of
the exact sciences by compulsory using the tools that belong to the
latter? Some scientists (from technical areas consider that for a
research to be valid and scientific, there should be possibility to
measure the results. Not everything is quantifiable in that sense. Does
it mean that Emotional Intelligence does not exist, it is not scientific
because it has not been measured yet? So it probably belongs to the
sphere of beliefs. I totally disagree, because the humanities must have
a slightly different criteria to follow than those of exact sciences. I
am against the opinion of the eminent biophysicist, Candace Pert, who
states the following:

"Measurement! It is the very foundation of the modern scientific method,
the means by which the material world is admitted into existence. Unless
we can measure something, science won't concede it exists, which is why
science refuses to deal with such non-things as the emotions, the mind,
the soul or the spirit"<1

By saying so she relegates ¾ of any research in human sciences to a kind
of what-not. Obviously wherever it is possible to present such measures,
they ought to be presented but this argument should not be considered as
a sine-qua-non condition.

It is no laughing matter that even within Linguistics, which is my
hobby-horse, some scholars representing Chomsky's tradition do not
consider seriously their own colleagues working in Cognitive Linguistics
because in the syntaxisists' eyes the cognitivists just waffle about
using some mumbo-jumbo and produce very woolly statements (because the
followers of Chomsky are more "substantial", everything in their work is
visible and palpable like in mathematics, contrary to the cognitivists'
work).

Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on the point of view), we live
in today's world in which what counts more is the practical result. If
this is OK everything else is of a secondary importance. "Did they win
last night? What was the score?"

So there is no wonder that a human being in this modern world has become
more orientated towards the results, more and more pragmatically minded
than interested in theories or even beauty as such. We as human beings
(excluding those really interested in arts) are losing our abilities to
appreciate the beauty of emotions and beauty in its own right. "We have
become comfortably numb" (Pink Floyd – "The Wall" 1979) in our cushy
jobs (although for the last 15 years less cushy) and comforts of our
places we live in.

So in these circumstances, who is really interested in theories except
for a bunch of egg-headed people? Most of us have acquired a practical
approach to solving problems and usually we are interested in short-term
solutions. If any theory has no practical positive results in practice,
it is rejected in an off-hand way and discarded or at best put into a
limbo (perhaps the new times will warm it up and make it workable).

Our practical approach to life is unbelievable. If we go to a doctor we
require him/her to put the right diagnosis and treat us so that we could
be well and kicking again. We simply want him/her to solve our health
problem. Who is interested in the theories of the treatment? And this
leads us to the important point concerning all the human sciences (and
Medicine included). The world is not black and white. There are
different shades of grey, apart from black and white. It sounds truism
but do we really understand it that way? We as though under the
influence of practical-approach drugs stemming from exact sciences
demand only clear answers and have them right now. 2 + 2 = 4, is it
right or wrong? But such answers we should not expect from Medicine or
from any of the human sciences, because their theories are sometimes
contradictory not to mention the aspect of a different approach to
certain problems due to the development of a given area of human
activity and the state of knowledge we possess on that particular subject.

Which of us hasn't heard from 5 different doctors, 3 different diagnoses
and 3 different approaches to the treatment? Is it due to their
incompetence? Excluding some cases of crass errors and simple human
errors, why should we not believe our doctors?

Who does not remember the greatest invention of trans fatty acids (late
60s?). They were supposed to positively contribute to our nutrition. The
war on animal fat was proclaimed because of its saturated fat, highly
pernicious ingredient causing the clogging of our arteries. So butter
was banned from the list of products drawn by nutritionists in favour of
marge.

And in the meantime we have grown more obese. Heart attacks did not
recede. So another scapegoat or culprit was invented (20 years ago?):
high cholesterol, so no eggs, no fatty animal meat. As we experience an
extraordinary technological acceleration, the contradictions have also
accelerated in the sense that now there are scholars-practitioners
supported by the results of their research programmes that are
absolutely contradictory and done almost at the same time (so would-be
errors are not due to acquiring more knowledge of the subject over the
time). I receive regular newsletters that testify that. The majority not
all researchers are still against high cholesterol and saturated fat.
But there are more voices saying that the core problem are the carbs
especially the refined ones. Almost everyone now condemns trans fatty
acids (so marge "has fallen from grace" in favour of butter). A few
prove that high cholesterol has no bearing on heart attacks: so eat more
eggs because of the vitamins B2, B12, D and E and other important
vitamins and minerals: the ban has been lifted.

Who is right and who is wrong? Here there is no question of an
ideological bias. Political theories one should take with a pinch of
salt before discovering what the author is up to (any quiet political
supporter of a party?).

Are all those people incompetent? I don't think so. Who would risk their
career bringing themselves into ridicule considering their professional
position by being potentially accused of sowing untrue information? Only
some mentally unbalanced people might do so. To some extent there must
obviously be some lobby pressure and interests but I surmise that one
thing is sure: if there were no doubts what actually in the pipeline is
concerning health and nutrition any well known specialist can safely
divulge his/her theories without risking much because these areas have
no certainties. So what is wrong? How can we get out of this mishmash?

What is lacking in human sciences is that magic wand that could take
everything into consideration. Any research even rigorously done will
never reflect actual facts, because it is impossible to separate a human
being from all the variable factors but one (which is being scrutinized,
so that, rightly, it should be isolated) he/she is under the influence
of just to discover what the actual truth is.

So what about putting such theories into practice? Probably most of them
will be valid. One could ask: what? Contradictory theories are valid?
And here we arrive at the crux of the matter I wanted to draw your
attention to. It is called relativism.

In human sciences or even in exact sciences a preconceived idea
prevails, namely that relativism is something negative in itself and
should be banned from the scientific work. We do not understand why it
is like this. One of the extraordinary scientists in the modern age,
Einstein is an author of the matchless relativity that has turned up in
sciences. He has proven that absolute time does not exist even here on
our Earth without resorting to interplanetary trips at the speed of light.

Our lives is fraught with relativism and it has never been taken
seriously into consideration by science. It seems that "times are
a-changing".

Returning to my hobby-horse, Whorf must be mentioned. His idea is known
as Whorf / Sapir hypothesis (which in fact has become a theory in
Linguistics).

"We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages. The
categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do
not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the
contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions
which has to be organized by our minds—and this means largely by the
linguistic systems in our minds. We cut nature up, organize it into
concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are
parties to an agreement to organize it in this way — an agreement that
holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of
our language (...) ALL OBSERVERS ARE NOT LED BY THE SAME PHYSICAL
EVIDENCE TO THE SAME PICTURE OF THE UNIVERSE, UNLESS THEIR LINGUISTIC
BACKGROUNDS ARE SIMILAR, OR CAN IN SOME WAY BE CALIBRATED." <2 ( our
emphasis; I changed from bold to caps because I am sending the email as
text, Lawrence)

Our opinion is that Whorf fell into that relativism and developed it
exaggeratedly. But he is to a certain degree right when he affirms that
all our knowledge is acquired thanks to the language we use and it has a
preponderant role, because it gets hold of our way of seeing the world.
Every language is

"not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas, but rather is
itself the shaper of ideas, the program and guide for the individual's
mental activity, for his analysis of impressions, for his synthesis of
his mental stock in trade" <3

Perhaps Gumperz & Levinson <4 are right in their way of seeing things.
Their strongest argument for relativism is that there is an absolute
absence of the definitive or even accurate translation of a given text
and "let alone ludicrous failure of phrasebooks" (p.1). Humboldt in the
19th century used to call a unique Weltanschaung ( worldview) that
exists in each language (p.2)

Some years ago a new trend called functional medicine turned up (Mark
Hyman). In point of fact the idea is not new: what is at issue is
personalized medicine that goes to the root of the problem and not to
cure the symptoms only. Just to give an example: a simple headache as a
symptom may have completely different causes in different individuals.
So each person must be thoroughly examined so that the actual cause can
be found. This personalized medicine has been around for some time now,
but it has remained in the realms of theory, never or rarely practised.
The practice has been a serial treatment as it were: The other part has
been taken from the holistic medicine that gained roots in Western World
some 30 years ago.

The same trend is observed in nutrition: if you are obese you should go
on a diet like this… Obesity treatment for instance will be carried out
in a different way depending on the person concerned. Up till now a
patient has been pigeon-holed and has been part of the group with a
prescribed diet.

Esther Perel (2007) a family psychologist and therapist proves in her
extraordinary book "Mating in Captivity", (Harper) the same sexual
dysfunctions and other forms of family problems in various individuals
could be successfully treated sometimes in a completely different way.
Everything depends on a personal approach that is adapted to a
particular case. The same treatment will not work with others, whose
background is different.

To sum it all up, the best will be a proverb, but it must be understood
in a very wide sense: one's man's meat is another man's poison.

To finish with, I would like to touch briefly upon two of Lawrence's points.

What is science and what is not? I think Lawrence is a bit too harsh
with himself by saying: "a study of the nature and scope of theory is to
include any discipline that proposes to explain and understand the world
around us". So he relegates Philosophy to a non-discipline, because it
does not explain anything. A philosopher is one who knows how to look
for problems and to pose them rather than explaining them.

I don't intend to split hairs in this forum but as a linguist myself, I
cannot pass by an expression so often heard "to plan for the future". It
is pure pleonasm. Can we plan for the past? Or can we do it for the
present? I know that everyone says so.

Thank you for your attention.
Best wishes to all of you
Richard

<1 Pert, C (1997:21) "Molecules of Emotions. The Science Behind Mind –
Body Medicine", Simon & Schuster, NY.
<2 Carroll, John B. (ed.) [1956] (1999:212, 214).
<3 Whorf (1956) "Language, Thought and Reality", Cambridge, Mass.
mentioned by Hawkes, T. (1972:79)
<4 Gumperz, John & Levinson, Stephen (eds) (1996) "Rethinking Linguistic
Relativity", Cambridge University Press


======My comments on Richard's point about the status of philosophy=====

I agree that philosophy is about finding and posing problems, and once
we clarified the nature and the scope of those problems we can
subcontract them, to use Lucian Floridi's idea, to other disciplines.
For example, clarifying a metaphysical problem which is then answered by
physics as Newton and Leibnitz did. The question, as Richard points out,
is whether philosophy is a discipline or not?

We can approach this question in two ways. We can say that because
philosophy tries to find problems with our understand and explanation of
the world around us then it is a discipline since we explain and
understand by striving for better questions. Thus it is a discipline but
it does not look like one. But this might be considered as playing with
words and not defending the status of philosophy.

However, I would consider the second approach more as an argument of
the-last-resort in the same way an ICBM nuclear weapon would be a weapon
of the last resort. In my second approach, I would also invoke the power
of Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem. And therefore suggest that
philosophy is a higher level discipline because it finds, clarifies and
poses the problems of other disciplines. But there is a catch here, and
why I call this a last-resort-argument.

Of course, we must be clear here, it is not that other disciplines
cannot find, clarify and pose there own problems, but that philosophy
can take a detached and impersonal view of certain types of problems.
For example, a doctor performing an abortion is doing a medical
procedure on an other human being. However: should the doctor be
performing that medical procedure? is not a medical question but a moral
or social one. And whatever is the answer to the moral question it does
not influence nor affect the medical procedure itself, i.e. the science
part. But philosophy can consider and clarify the problem of abortion by
appealing, for example, to Levitt's conclusions on abortion and crime in
New York, as I do. Just because in our daily life we do demand from
doctors, for example, to make moral or value judgements it does not
follow that they are necessarily the ones who should be make those moral
judgements in the profession. In real life, sometimes they don't. This
would be like saying that because referees know all the rules and
legitimate techniques of football, they should also be the ones who
should play football games. (I am, of course, not suggesting that a
health carer cannot also be a philosopher. Only that we are clear about
the distinction in activities.)

So back to the catch in the second approach, this would be: if
philosophy finds, clarifies and poses the problems of all the other
disciplines than Who finds, clarifies and poses the problems of
philosophy? Ergo, Kurt can only win if we can identify that Who? And
that Who cannot be some form of deity or spiritual being since we are
concerned about the world around us. But if philosophy is the
activity/discipline of the last-resort for all other disciplines then
Kurt must be wrong. So we either find something that is higher than
philosophy or return to the dark ages because of the scepticism this
would lead us.

The activity of philosophy (but not necessarily academics or people
calling themselves philosophers) will probably never come to a halt as
long as there are thinking human beings. In the meantime we have Gödel's
theory to suggest that philosophy is not the end of the road.

===========End===========================


====== Essay by Lawrence======

Do we have to trust theories?


The epistemological status of theories is a central issue in the
philosophy of science. It is therefore not surprising that we find a
huge body of studies and research on the topic. The articles in
Wikipedia on Theory* and Scientific Method* are a good introduction to
our topic. So, I do not propose to give a historical account on the
philosophy of Theory.

An obvious answer to our question would be, it all depends on what
theories we are talking about. And if we decide not to trust theories,
we are still faced with what to do next. We can then be sceptical about
the replacement. But the obvious is not necessarily the best
philosophical investigation. One approach we can take is to analyse the
conceptual meaning of theory and then to see if this analysis is itself
sound and valid. The consequence of this analysis, I propose, would be
to consider the question, when does a belief become a theory?

The Wikipedia article on theory makes it clear that there is a big
difference between the common use of the term theory and the scientific
meaning of theory. I am particularly interested in the scientific
meaning of theory. We have more at stake in the context of science.

The question is then, what is science? Or what should we regard as
science? An other obvious answer would be to say what science
departments do in universities. A legitimate start, but a rather one
sided answer. Should we exclude politics, art history, ethics,
philosophy, business and industry? All these disciplines have their body
of theories, not to mention that every discipline has its own way of
research and investigating its subject matter.

Maybe we should broaden our definition of science, at the very least,
for our purposes. I would argue that a study of the nature and scope of
theory is to include any discipline that proposes to explain and
understand the world around us. For example, was Napoleon a
megalomaniac? Was he a short man? These are also facts about the world
not just topics in history. Maybe he was and maybe he wasn't
megalomaniac, but maybe no better or worse than those who came before
him. This is an empirical question which also depends on what we mean by
megalomaniac. As for being short, a Wikipedia article on Napoleon of
Popular Culture, suggests that this was just British propaganda at the
time and the fact is that he was of average height for the time.*

Going back to what we mean by theory, the Article on Theory suggest that
it is a formalised expression of our observation and which is also
predictive, testable and logical. One way we can understand logical here
is what the article on the Scientific Method points at: " any useful
hypothesis will enable prediction, by reasoning including deductive
reasoning." I do not propose to distinguish the difference between
theory and hypothesis, observation and experiment etc. What is relevant
for us is that logic can mean deductive logic (formal logic), inductive
reasoning based on statistical analysis, probabilistic reasoning and so on.

Ironically, the logic criteria for Theory is also the weakest criteria,
in my opinion. For example, deductive logic is silent about the veracity
of a proposition we put in an argument and deductive reasoning can be
abused by emphasising the importance of the methodology and not the
facts. Thus:

a) All martyrs go to heaven,
John is a martyr,
Therefore John has gone to heaven.
b) We should expect to see more miracles from a holy place with 67
recoded miracles over a period of 150 years.**
c)
The problem here is that by talking about John and about holy places we
are really referring to facts about the world, but concepts such as
heaven and miracles are not facts about the world, but what we mean them
to be: your heaven is not as good as my heaven. That sort of problem.
However, both arguments meet the logic criteria. Of course, this does
not tell us much about heaven and miracles, but it does tell us a lot
about logic and its limitations.

I would say that predictability is the strongest feature of Theory
because of two basic reasons (there might be others of course). The
first is that theories can help us predict the future or describe how
past events were like in reality. The second is to answer one of the
most psychological preoccupation we have about life: planning for the
future.

By being able to predict the future or how events really were, we
explicitly imply that the theory can stand on its own merits without
manipulation or fixing things. The ultimate proof of objectivity is to
verify predictions or falsify them. I do not wish to start a debate on
whether Popper was right or wrong here; and I am assuming that any one
can test a theory, but more about this later.

We are all familiar with the use of Newtonian physics to put satellites
in space. But this week there was a report*** in the New York Times
suggesting that a passage that appears in Homer's Odyssey might have
been referring to an eclipse that took place on April 16, 1178 B.C.
Scientists from the Rockefeller University were able to work backwards
in time the eclipses and celestial positions at the time of Homer. What
might have been regarded as metaphor might have been a description of a
fact in Homer. Not only can a good theory work backwards and forwards in
time, but can in this case give meaning to mythology.

Knowing that a theory does in deed work should give us a great deal of
peace of mind. Being able to predict the future also means that we have
the survival edge over most other creatures. Predictability means that
we can plan for the future, for example, our investments, pensions,
bearing children and so on.

Maybe it is because predictability is such a desirable feature that it
can easily lead us to abuse or misuse it. One of these misuses is to
assume that a theory predicts more than it actually does. For example,
Newtonian physics was once thought to be the answer to all questions
about nature from the nature of the mind to all things celestial.
However, it eventually became evident that Newtonian physics could not
explain everything especially the atomic world. But limitations do not
necessarily mean that a theory is wrong. Today, for example, Newtonian
physics and quantum mechanics can easily be employed side by side on the
same project.

If predictability is the benefit of theory, testability is the
combustion engine of theory. No matter how attractive a theory is, if it
cannot be tested it is not worth the paper it is written on. However, we
should be careful what we mean by testability. It is one thing not to
have the means or the tools to test a theory and another to have
untestable concepts. I do not need to give examples to illustrate the
first category, there are many examples easily available after a quick
search of theories that were tested years after they were proposed.

The example of martyrs going to heaven, is conceptually untestable. What
is a martyr? What is heaven? What would we have to do to test whether
martyrs do go to heaven?

However, the example about miracles taking place in holy places can
after a fashion be tested. But first we will have to disentangle the
semantic confusion from, say, medical science. Hence, it is not that in
these places there is regular divine intervention, but maybe in these
places the placebo effect is much stronger. Maybe because people go to
places because they have exhausted conventional medical care and
therefore there is a more urgent need to be cured. Maybe what the
faithful call a miracle are exceptional instances of the human body
curing itself. Something which is well know to those in science. Not to
mention the fact that the tunnelling effect in quantum mechanics is an
instance of the impossible taking place. We are therefore already
familiar with the idea of the impossible taking place in nature. In any
case it is irrelevant whether today's medical knowledge can explain such
cures. Maybe future knowledge might.

Another aspect of testability is that it does not matter who does the
testing. Anyone could have dropped the two different weights from the
tower of Pisa; it would not have mattered whether it was Galileo or not,
both would have fallen at the same speed. If, therefore, the person who
does the testing is also a key feature of the testing most likely we are
not taking about a scientific theory. One point of clarification, I do
not mean here the influence of the observer on the observed as described
by Heisenberg uncertainty principle. I am thinking more on the lines,
for example, that acts of parliament can only become laws if the monarch
gives the royal assent in constitutional monarchies. This is a
convention and not a fact about the world that can be described as a
theory. We cannot test a convention, and being able to distinguish
between the two is very relevant for out debate.

However, a serious problem with testability is that some theories cannot
be tested not because we do not have the mean or tools, but because
morality and ethics prevents us from carrying out the test. For example,
Levitt and Dubner in their book Freakonomics give details of Levitt's
study that showed that the fall in crime rates in New York during the
1990's was more the result of introducing abortion than any other crime
measures. However, we are prevented from testing this theory by having
two cities, one offering abortion services and the other not. Levitt et
al had to use historical data and it is unlikely that this could be
repeated in the form of an experiment.

Once we start analysing the aspects of theory we can find a number of
problems that might stop us from trusting theories. Theories have
limitations either at the testing process or at the prediction process;
I am assuming our observations are not flawed. However, the question "Do
we have to trust theories?" does need some philosophical
disentanglement. For example, what do we mean by trust. Does it mean not
relying on them or does it mean being prudent when using theories. In
fact the scientific method requires us a priori to be prudent when using
or testing theories. And as I have already pointed out, not trusting
theories does not put us in a better position despite their failings.

The problem for us, therefore, is not whether we should or should not
trust something that purports to be a theory, but rather:

a) Is a given theory is a scientific theory?
b) Is a given proposition a theory and or a belief?
c)
If, for example, medical science has an impressive collection of
testable and provable theories does that mean that was is practiced as
medicine is based on a valid scientific theory?

Today we have no problems accepting the claims that unsafe sex increases
the probability of transmitting AIDS to others. And the claim that
smoking can cause lung cancer. Few people would dispute these claims and
those who do might be mixing up emotion (religious beliefs, business
interest) with science (multiple studies and tests).

Dan Ariely's study.+ on pain will make the point about distinguishing
theory from belief clearer. He concludes that the commonly held belief
within the medical community that removing bandages from raw skin or
flesh is best done quickly is basically false. The patient is not better
off if the bandages are removed the traditional way. But if they are
removed slowly but steadily this limits the amount of pain felt.

Ariely argues that this is a belief and not some valid medical
hypothesis since it has never been scientifically tested. The reason why
bandages are removed quickly is because the medical staff are genuinely
concerned about the pain and discomfort felt by patients. The intentions
are beyond reproach, but according to Ariely, it is not really science.
(Ariely himself was a serious burns victim and his experiences in
hospital moved him to study the issue.)

I submit that this is the real philosophical and scientific challenge
about theories. Sorting out theories from beliefs and prejudices fro
facts. And that prudence should replace trust and open mindedness should
replace dogma.

I am therefore not about to stop believing in Newtonian physics and will
certainly keep on believing that the sun will rise tomorrow. What I am
not sure about is what to do next time I burn my hand on a hot stove
when I am preparing diner. My theory is to play safe and let others do
the cooking. Not only have my observations been that I never burn myself
when others do the cooking, but the bonus is that their cooking is
always much better than my efforts. A priori, I can therefore predict
with certainty that if I do not man handle hot pots and pans I reduce
the risk of burning myself in the kitchen. And in the spirit of the
scientific method I will let others test the theory that cooking can
cause burns to the skin.

Take care

Lawrence

*Wikipedia.com:
Theory,
Scientific Method,
Napoleon in popular culture


**Lourdes-France.Org
http://www.lourdes-france.org/index.php?goto_centre=ru&contexte=en&id=405#


***June 24, 2008
Homecoming of Odysseus May Have Been in Eclipse
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD,
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/24/science/24home.html?_r=1&ref=science&oref=slogin


+Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
By Dan Ariely
http://www.predictablyirrational.com/

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from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Do we have to trust
theories?

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