Objective Direct and Indirect Evidence, and Subjective Inferences

Actually no. We have direct experience of our own minds. We do not have comparable experience of other minds. We have no evidence to disprove the theory that some or all others are philosophical zombies.

How did you type that post then?

1 Like

Ya right. And we have no evidence to disprove that everything including all of our memories was created 5 minutes ago. So let’s just believe that it’s all an illusion. If someone wants to go down that route, by all means.

But as I already pointed out in my previous post, we have no good reason that I’m aware of to doubt what our experience tells us about the past, or about the existence of other minds, so why should we believe something which is possible but based on our experience is totally unreasonable? I think I’ll stick with what’s reasonable according to my experience and let those who wish go down the unreasonable path of illusion.

But think about it, if I have an experience of my own mind, and I’m confronted with humans who I perceive are real just like me and who behave as I do, what’s the most obvious inference? To me it’s just being reasonable to infer the existence of other minds, and being unreasonable to deny their existence.

I think I would agree with this in part. Where I think the places it becomes problematic for me are the part about “what people accept as true,” and “unavoidable conclusions.” The first is a bit too loose of a criteria for me. Especially with theories I’m of the opinion that there should be some way to rate the objectivity to avoid misrepresenting a theory in a way that isn’t intellectually honest.

To make statements in a way that suggests that a particular position is beyond dispute when in fact it involves a theory with a significant degree of subjective elements to it that seem heavily biased toward a particular paradigm, as I see it, is a current problem in science. And I think the only way to address it is to have a way that gives a general assessment of the degree of subjectivity involved in any particular theory in order for informed decisions to be made about scientific claims, and for helping to facilitate and move forward discussions centered around such claims.

And if by the second part you mean deduction, as far as I can tell, that’s not always possible. I think the most difficulty occurs with things like events in the far distant past, areas that are generally empirically inaccessible, measurements of vast amounts of distance in deep space, etc. There’s generally just too much that has to be assumed to get to a point where deduction becomes possible. In most cases it seems at best the degree of probability can be determined, and even that I would think would be problematic.

Thanks for those suggestions. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to get too deep into the subject, but I will look into it as much as I can. However, I am generally looking for a framework more or less for my own use that sufficiently holds up to scrutiny from which to make judgments on degrees of both process and product objectivity in scientific claims.

I’m not interested in precision, just general indications when having discussions about any particular claim of the degree of objectivity of the claim. Somehow I get the impression that this is typically not considered in discussions and tends to create problems with things like participants talking past each other.

I am describing more of an operational definition. When a theory is so well supported that it doesn’t seem worth challenging, it is tentatively accepted as true, and then we move forward from there. This is how science operates in the real world, but it could have the epistemological drawbacks that you mention elsewhere.

Part of the problem is that theories don’t become facts. They will always be theories and will always be tentative. If we were not allowed to build on theories until they were absolutely proven then we wouldn’t get anywhere in science. This is why scientists build on top of well supported theories instead of absolutely proven theories. Additionally, if scientists use a theory as a foundation for further work and that work is fruitful then this is considered to be evidence that the underlying theories are still good.

This isn’t to say that the most widely accepted theories are immune from challenge. All theories are open to falsification and testing in science. However, people who reject these theories for no apparent reason other than their personal preference are not looked upon kindly in scientific circles.

I often hear people inject the word “assumptions” in discussions like these. In my experience, they don’t end up being assumptions, at least in the way they mean them. Events in the past produce evidence that we can empirically measure in the present, so testing the past is as scientific as anything else. In fact, it could be argued that all scientific measurements are measuring the past since light travels at a set speed. That light leaving your sample has to travel a short distance to a measuring device, so by the time it is measured you are measuring the past.

Operational, that’s a good distinction. I think that could at times be a reason for talking past someone when one person is talking in the operational sense, and the other is talking in an epistemological sense. And regarding criteria for objectivity, I think the operational sense is possibly a good indication of the degree of objectivity, but not necessarily the only indication that may need to be considered.

Yes, I understand that. However, what makes it tentative is a little hazy to me. I guess a theory is usually multidimensional, so even though there may be some aspects of it that are pretty much the only option and therefore deductively established, there are also possibly aspects that are not. I suppose even the deductive aspects could be tentative since they are based on current knowledge, and therefore new knowledge could in principle overturn premises that today based on current knowledge are considered to be true.

I can see how that would make sense.

That’s understandable.

Yes, but there is quite a difference in that events that are reoccurring in the present give us direct access for empirical study, and provide a much richer and less limited basis for gathering knowledge about them. Whereas past events that happened only once, or that are no longer happening in whole in the present leave a lot of room for assumptions about many aspects of what actually happened concerning the circumstances surrounding those events and the events themselves.

It seems to me there can be quite a significant amount of incomplete information that can result with these types of inaccessible past events as compared to reoccurring events. Not that there cannot be enough pieces of evidence from these kind of events to grasp the picture that’s unfolding. But as with a puzzle, the greater amount of pieces that are missing, the more difficult it becomes to recognize what the unfolding picture really is. And in such a case, arriving at a conclusion inevitably requires more assumptions to be made due to the lack of surrounding details.

The major point is that theories are based on inference, not deduction. We are working with a very small fraction observations compared to all possible observations, so it could be that a theory can be falsified as more observations are made. For example, Newton’s theory of gravity worked quite well for the observations made during that time, but new observations over time showed that Newton’s theory wasn’t entirely accurate.

I would agree that modern events provide richer observations, but there is no divide between past and present events with respect to the scientific method.

Most events are one-offs, even those that happen in the present. What we look for is the commonalities.

You seem to be talking about conclusions instead of assumptions. I would fully agree that some conclusions are weaker due to the paucity of evidence, but conclusions are not the same thing as assumptions.

Oh. OK. So theories are always probability inferences with varying degrees of probability. So I guess inferences based on deductive reasoning come into play when testing hypothesis?

Let me see if I get what you’re saying. A human baby being born would be considered a common event, but a particular human baby being born to particular parents would be considered a one-off?

Well I’m sort of talking about both. Conclusions often have underlying assumptions. However, assumption is a pretty broad term to begin with. I’m using it in the sense that it’s a position held that isn’t being directly addressed in a claim, but that is implicit in the underlying reasoning of the claim, and that generally isn’t able to be proven either true or false.

I’ll use the following claim as an example; “The initial event of the physical world had a cause. Therefore the cause is not physical.” The underlying assumptions that an initial event took place, and that it had a cause are not explicit in the claim, but implied.

But neither can be proven true or false. But to make the assumptions explicit it could be rephrased as, “If there was an initial event of the physical world, and it had a cause, the cause would not be physical.”

For another example, based on positivistic epistemology it was assumed that anything that couldn’t be verified scientifically couldn’t be a rationally justifiable claim. And science was done for several decades in the early 20th century based on that epistemological assumption which ultimately was shown to be untenable.

I think you are referring to the philosophical doctrine of Logical Positivism/Empiricism. You are correct to say that few support it today. (See phil of science texts for why)

But epistemological doctrines in philosophy have no bearing on how science is done. The status of scientific theories in purely a matter for the relevant community of scientists.

Upthread, you mention deduction and reasoning in science. As T_a points out, deduction is not the only type of inference in science. I believe it is mainly used to deduce consequences of theories or models in order to the theories or models empirically. When in comes to creating or assessing explanation and theories, Inference to the Best Explanation is prevalent in science. I can post a bit more if you are interested.

You have your wires crossed here. If it is an inference then it isn’t deductive reasoning. Hypotheses are always an inference and are not derived from deductive reasoning.

Exactly. Every baby that is born has a genome unique to it, except in the case of identical twins. Every conception is a one-off.

I don’t think this example works too well. We can observe that the physical world exists, so that is not assumed. Also, we have tons of evidence supporting the conclusion that the universe had a beginning, so that isn’t assumed. I don’t see how it is an assumption to ask what caused our universe to begin to exist as it does now.

I would disagree. If a claim is not backed by evidence in keeping with the positivistic epistemology then the claim is considered to be non-scientific. Science doesn’t make any claims of ultimate knowledge or claim that the scientific method is the only way of being rationally justified in your beliefs. Christian scientists are a perfect example of this, being able to do science and also hold faith based beliefs.

Actually I was thinking more specifically about verificationism. Just got mixed up a bit in my terms, although positivism and verificationism if not the same, seem to be close to the same thing.

Verificationism , also known as the verification principle or the verifiability criterion of meaning , is the philosophical doctrine that only statements that are empirically verifiable (i.e. verifiable through the senses) are cognitively meaningful, or else they are truths of logic (tautologies).

Well, I somewhat agree. And although it’s not really the main focus of what we’re discussing, nonetheless, I think for a moment it’s worth addressing the effects that assumptions have on science in general.

As far as I know, assumptions inevitably are involved in formulating theories. For example, it’s been said that both Einstein and Heisenberg applied assumptions based on verificationism to certain aspects of their theories.

And even though it seems reasonable to conclude the descriptive aspects in theories, e.g., mathematical formulas, aren’t affected by such assumptions, it seems reasonable and quite evident to conclude the interpretive aspects are.

And it seems to me since the direction of scientific research and development are both built on established theories, they can be indirectly affected in a negative way if there are built in assumptions in established theories that are wrong.

So I would think there should be a way for those built in assumptions to be identified in order to be aware of their presence and be mindful if any discrepancies arise further down the road that calls them into question.

Sure. Please do. In the meantime I’ll jot down how I think it works from what I’ve read and discussed with others. From what I can gather, deductive reasoning goes from more general to more specific.

All other types of reasoning, e.g., inductive, abductive, Bayesian, etc., go from specific to general. With deductive it’s either, or, while the rest are based on degrees of probability, which I believe would also include inferences to the best explanation.

So from trying to figure it out, it seems like from a hypotheses (the general) a testable predictions (the specific) is made, and a deductive inference is made based on whether or not the evidence shows the prediction to be true. If h, then e; e, therefore h; not e, therefore not h.

Now I’m wondering if all the hypotheses involved in a specific theory are confirmed deductively if that would entail the theory also being confirmed deductively, and if so if there are any such cases where this has happened? Maybe you know something about that?

So for the specific to general inferences, I would imagine that in the process of making an observation (the specific), and from that formulating a hypothesis (the general), that any type of inference other than deduction can be used.

And I get the impression that some form of either Bayesian inference, or inference to the best explanation are the most commonly used in science today. But that’s just a guess on my part based on a few discussions I’ve had. So as far as you know, am I generally getting the drift of things so far?

From what I’ve read inferences include any kind of reasoning, including deduction. But maybe there are different ways of defining it? However, I agree that hypothesis are not arrived at from deductive reasoning. Nonetheless, I’m not talking about arriving at an hypothesis, but testing an hypothesis. You said here:

That seems like a deductive case where it’s either, or. So in testing an hypothesis would you agree that deductive reasoning is employed?

So I guess by commonalities you mean events with common characteristics? When I refer to reoccurring events the distinction I’m trying to make isn’t about an exact event that is reoccurring, but a categorically identical event that is reoccurring.

So human life beginning and developing is a daily reoccurring categorically identical event, i.e., human conception, development, etc., that science can study and acquire information about much more easily than a past event like a universe beginning and it’s initial developing stages, for which there are no categorically identical events reoccurring in the present, and in fact no other categorically identical events that we know of having occurred at all.

Oh, I totally agree with you that there is plenty of evidence for a beginning. However, it’s not unusual when discussing the issue for someone with an opposing view, like materialism or physicalism, to push back and argue that, “it can’t be proven,” i.e., it’s just an assumption. But as you pointed out, that’s arguably a well supported assumption.

However, even though I can see what you mean when you say that it doesn’t work too well, I think the issue is that we’re defining assumption differently. I see an assumption as any position held that isn’t directly stated in a claim but underlies a claim, and that can’t be proven regardless of how well supported it is. I get the impression that you are defining it as simply a position that isn’t well supported.

Now I’m not saying we should question every assumption whether or not it’s well supported. But my concern is that there are times that assumptions are made that are not well supported, or are widely thought of at one point in time as well justified that are later found to be untenable. And it’s these types of assumptions that I’m concerned with that can, at times, go undetected.

Oh, I agree with you that science doesn’t make any claim to ultimate knowledge or that it’s the only way at all to rationally justify any claim. But it’s those, including scientists, who held–and possibly hold today–to positivism, and other similar views who did or still do make those claims. And unfortunately, as I understand it, this, along with other similar views, were majority views among scientists in the not so distant past.

A particularly strong type of verificationism is part of LE: namely, statements which cannot be verified empirically are simply meaningless (except for so-called analytic cases like math theorems). Unfortunately, that restriction makes verificationism itself meaningless! So so much for that idea.

You may hear the word used today, but often it just means we need some way to test scientific claims; it is not usually meant to give a standard for judging the worth or meaningfulness of ideas.

That may be. But the key is to separate ideas that helped create new theories by firing the imagination and assumptions used to test and theories in science. In particular, verificationism did not matter for accepting GR over Newtonian gravity; it involved the orbit of Mercury and the bending of starlight in eclipses instead.

You are right that new theories often assume the truth of existing, better confirmed scientific theories. That was part of the measuring discussion as well. The key here is to distinguish philosophy like verificationism from assumed scientific theories.

But then if a test of a new theory seems to falsify it, then some may claim the issue is really with the underlying scientific theory that was assumed. To adjudicate such claims, it’s up to the scientific community and the objective process used to assess such competing claims. There is no completely deductive decision process. Instead, Inference to the Best Explanation comes into play. I’ll put that in a separate note.

You are generally right about deduction. But I would sharpen the above. Deduction produces consequences but it does not test them. Formulating and conducting tests by real world experimentation and observation takes practical skill, developed by the apprenticeshop processes of science (eg by doing post-doc work). The quality of that process and the deductions that led to it are then assessed as part of peer review in scientific practice.

IBE is to my mind the only reasoning approach used to go from the specific to the general in science (I think enumerative induction is rare in science). It can be used to create new models or theories (eg Darwin’s evolution by NS); it can also be used to select from competing explanations (eg a specific mechanism to explain the a persisting change in population genetics, like drift, NS, etc).

What does best explanation mean? First it has to be a scientific explanation. That means methodological naturalism, which has been thrashed out elsewhere, so I’ll mention that it covers practices like consistency with fundamental physics, use of efficient causation only, and complete specification of explanatory mechanisms to the extent possible (eg being specific about the nature of a proposed designer). These practices are used because they have proven successful in producing theories meeting science’s goals.

What makes an explanation best? The relevant scientific community will use some combination of these factors, again through the scientific process.

  • should be empirically testable;
  • explains the phenomena observed in existing empirical work;
  • is consistent with other related sciences;
  • has wide scope and precision;
  • appeals to plausible mechanisms;
  • simple, smooth, elegant, and non-ad hoc;
  • makes novel predictions for a wide variety of circumstances;
  • and underwrites contrasts (why this rather than that)

Why these? Because they have proven to be successful in the scientific goals of prediction, explanation, control (some might add truth, but I don’t; I see it as a result of science).

Who judges success: the concerned scientific community first, but also scientists in nearby domains, private industry through applying science to technology, and finally societies, by deciding where to spend their money. Yes, the last process involves politics. Societies that have poor politics fall behind others (eg Stalin and Lysenko). One can recognize successful science partly by whether societies adopt it, regardless of their dominant culture.

Bayesian inference can refer to two things.
First, there is Bayesian statistics. This is a particular form of statistical analysis which includes a mathematical representation of prior knowledge, in the form of a probability distribution. The other possibility for statistical work is Fisherian inference, which avoids priors and has other technical differences. It is the home of p values and null hypotheses and confidence intervals. (You may hear Neyman-Pearson in this context as well). Statistical inference processes are part of experimenting and observing. Statistical inference results go into the judgement of best for IBE.

There is also an overall philosophy of assessing via the Bayesian mindset. This is not so much a specific idea as a view that the role of evidence is to update our knowledge. It is about confirming theories. In contrast, Fisherian approaches are generally associated with evaluating theories by falsifying them. So hypothesis testing rejects null hypotheses in the standard example. The idea here is not so about knowledge update; it is about have practices which commit the lower average error over the long term.

In practice, both approaches are used.

Last comment before I take a break.
I read you as thinking that there must be some standard criteria, some fixed rules, that anyone can review and apply as long as they have some basic knowledge. I think such an idea is wrong. Instead, science is an ongoing practice by a community of trained practitioners that not only assesses explanations, theories, and models on a case by case basis, but also adjusts the standards used to do that as experience is gained in what works .

Yes. But as I pointed out, underlying assumptions based on things like verificationism don’t affect the descriptive nor mechanical aspects. But they do affect the interpretive aspects which does matter in ways that are not always so obvious.

OK.

My understanding is that IBE is a way of reasoning, so in that sense I don’t see that it would be restricted to science only, and in fact is applied in other fields like history. So I assume you’re talking in the context of doing science that it be required to be a scientific explanation. (That contextual distinction would be the same for the other criteria mentioned as well.) And I don’t agree with “assuming naturalism”. I’ll go along with the idea behind MN though, that science is only concerned with the study of the physical aspects of reality.

OK. So it is a factor that goes into the judgment.

I’m not sure that’s exactly what I’m aiming for. I think what I’m aiming for is a way for a relatively intelligent layperson to get a better understanding of what’s going on “under the hood”, so to speak, in science enough to be able to make sufficiently informed judgments about what degree of confidence to put in any particular scientific claim.

So far I’ve been gaining helpful insight from my discussions on this forum into how science is done and how much and where the areas of subjectivity are that I think have been useful for that purpose. I’m not saying how much I will succeed, but so far it seems like I’m making steady progress.

Not sure what you’re saying here. Are you saying that truth is a result of science, or the success of the criteria are a result of science?

After reviewing some different webpages, I believe you are right.

This whole time I was thinking of “inductive reasoning”, but it kept coming out as “inference”. However, I was incorrect to think that scientific methodologies are strictly inductive. It appears that there is both deductive and inductive reasoning within science.

If that is the case, then every single theory in science is an assumption. I don’t think this usage of the word has much use. Is it just an assumption that microorganisms can cause disease since we can’t absolutely prove that they do cause disease? Is it just an assumption that matter is made of atoms since we can’t absolutely prove it is true?

In these cases, it is best to directly address the weakness of a conclusion.

What we often see in some conversations is someone trying to make inconvenient evidence go away by calling it an assumption. It is this behavior that should be avoided.

The beauty of science is that people of many different belief systems can come together and find agreement. Whatever personal beliefs a scientist might hold, be it positivism or some other, doesn’t affect the science.

There are a number here at PS that are at least in effect positivists who reject the existence of the immaterial because it cannot be scientifically demonstrated. So they are making an ultimate knowledge or ultimate truth claim, even in saying that they merely disbelieve in God.

I was trying to make a noticeable distinction in my comment. As far as I can tell all theories have built in assumptions. But the way it looks to me, like a postulate, a theory itself is a distinct type of assumption that is an attempt to explain phenomenon. And just because you can’t prove it to be true doesn’t mean it can’t be true. It’s acceptance is dependent on how well it can be shown to be the best explanation of whatever phenomenon it explains.

Generally that may be the case. I think it just depends on the circumstances. Sometimes addressing the underlying assumptions is necessary to bring to the surface an issue that can’t be demonstrated otherwise.

I think much would depend on how evidence and assumption are being defined.

I would say that’s true with the empirical aspects. But I would say it’s a difference case when it comes to the theoretical aspects.

Do you think there is a difference between a conclusion and an assumption? If a prosecutor presents fingerprint, DNA, fiber, eye witness evidence that clearly links the defendant to a murder, would the jury be assuming the defendant is guilty?

There are many, many theories in science that find consensus across many different political and religious worldviews.