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I Think That Missed Much Of My Argument

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Posted by Harvey on May 19, 2002 05:07:40 UTC


As my title suggests, I think that your reply didn't get to the gist of my points. Let me show why that is.

***H:"Your carburetor is misfiring is that metaphor helps." M: So you think my philosophy is internally inconsistent, or you think it IS consistent but unviable?***

I think it lacks punch.

***H: What is it about 'modern' views that all of a sudden become 'approximately true'? What trait do they possess that completely false ideas didn't also possess? Maybe our equipment just isn't sensitive enough to show how false are theories are." M: Lol, that struck me as quite funny. Yes, that's true. If any theory is approximately true in a given margin of error, than it's also approximately false. But that goes for every theory. Harv, I'm not trying to lend as much credence to current theory as you think I am. Ptolemic astronomy IS approximately true, but has a greater margin of error than our current models. Of course, we can never know how big that margin is. But since our current model supports more use statements and observations, it's a reasonable postulation that that margin is smaller.***

I'd like to have seen you combine this response with the 'Darwinian selection' attribute of theories. That is, it is straightforward to find theories that have less margin of error. All we have to do is reject enough hypotheses, models, theories, and laws that don't fit the facts, and we are bound to find theories and 'laws' that do fit the facts better. In fact, the longer we practice this selective process (while advancing our observation sensitivity), we should see theories keep pace with our observation sensitivity. The theories that do not keep pace, are thrown out. Theories that are not consistent with past observations are also thrown out. So, if you base your reasoning mostly on the margin of error compared to observation, then you have no way to distinguish 'Darwinean selection' attribute of theories with approximate truth. All you can say, as far as I can tell, is that theories are keeping pace with observational sensitivity (i.e., fairly so). It doesn't tell you the latest theories are more approximately true than Ptolemy or Aristotle.

***H:"So, here we are a mere 97 years since Einstein introduced his gravitational theory of relativity, and already it is not exactly the picture. Is it an approximate truth?" M: Sure it is. But a newer, MORE approximate truth is developing. :) I don't understand what problem you have with this idea.***

How can you justify that GR is an approximate truth versus more suitably selected for the current set of observations? I can do so because of my internalist views of truth, but the externalist view of truth seems lacking in that regard.

***H: We toss them aside and say that they no longer satisfy our classification of an approximate truth." M: No, any truth statement is an approximate truth, just with varying margins of error. The more observable use statements that support that truth statement, the smaller the margin of error.***

But, are you talking about truth? You are only talking about correspondence between observation sensitivity and some satisfactory result with theoretical prediction. I wouldn't call that truth, approximate truth, or approximate falsehood. You have to establish that you are referring to truth (i.e., that reality 'is' the way in which we are speaking). But, as the 'Darwinean selection' attribute of theories indicate, you cannot say you are talking about the way reality 'is', you are only talking in terms of our observational sensitivity.

To make this clearer, let me use an analogy. Let's suppose that I walk in a room where people are playing poker. Upon walking around and observing closer, I see that they are playing 5 card poker, but upon closer examination I see that it isn't 5 card poker, but a game that is very similar to 5 card poker. Upon further examination I notice that it isn't a game at all, but rather it is some way that these people are making their living (like commodity trading). Upon further examination I notice that they are not making a living because I find that they are AI machines. Upon further examination by interviewing these AI machines I find that they have some sort of program that makes them appear to participate in that 'game'. Upon further examination I see that it is not a program running them, but some sort of wireless communication, etc etc.

Now, what was approximately true about poker being played by people was my perspective of what playing poker means to me. The 'approximate truth' of poker being played was only a truth as it relates to my understanding of poker, but the whole story I concocted to myself to explain the goings on was all, in reality, approximately false. The later concepts of there being a game, or making a living, or executing an AI program, etc were no more true in reality than the poker analogy. Each step was simply based on the meaning I placed on my observations as I interpreted those events - in actuality they were myths.

What does this analogy mean for our discussion? If you adopt an externalist view of (approximate) truth (i.e., we find approximate truth by comparing predictions against background theoretical considerations), then this analogy shows that there is no basis for distinguishing truth from our own selective criteria based on the sensitivity of how we observe our surroundings. You call our observational sensitivities as approximately closer to truth, whereas I say that you have no substantiated basis for making that assertion.

***Yes, and if that current empirical evidence corresponds to the external universe (which I hold must happen) then a theory describing that evidence has some bearing in the external universe, be it almost right or glaringly wrong (but with a grain of truth)***

What is the difference between 'approximate truth' and our observations approximately matching with our best theoretical interpretation of the evidence? If they are different, how do you know you have approximate truth? If they are the same, how do you know that your theoretical interpretation is not just a pure human invention made from the millions of potential human myths that could fool us into believing that reality is approximately like the way our theory says it is?

Warm regards, Harv

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