Sat 20 November 2010
Method and Falsification”
Led by David
1. Catching Up & Introductions
2. GS Diary Reports
- "Our GS Experiences"
3. David's “Scuentific
Method and Falsification" presentation.
4. AGS Business
allow a little time for review of our lives and activities.
2. GS Diary
Reports - "Our GS Experiences"
Some of us experienced
events in the month past, which demonstrated the value, and perhaps
some limitations, in the applications of GS principles. Sharing
of these is a valuable part of our time together.
presentation “Scientific Method and Falsification"
How does scientific method
work and what is falsification?
The seminar was about
scientific method, falsification and belief revision. I.e. how
we find out information about the world, what's knowable about reality
with science and how to review our beliefs/knowledge in the light
of new evidence.
to make check out our beliefs. Example of Tom, Dick and Harry
who each claim to be able to run the 400m the fastest.
observation: Line them up on a 400 m track and watch them run
the whole race. Dick comes first. Problems with this approach
are that there are a lot of things we can’t directly observe and
the cost of observing everything ourselves.
observation where something is inferred from what you observe.
E.g. No 400m track is available but there’s an old railway tunnel
that’s 400m, so you use that. You stand at the top of the hill
above the tunnel and after you fire the starters gun you see them
run into the tunnel. You then walk over the top of the hill and
look down at the tunnel’s exit and see Tom come out first. You
go down to congratulate him. Problems with this approach: Alternative
hypotheses. E.g. The other’s say that Tom cheated as he had a
bicycle just inside the tunnel and he rode that most of the way.
I.e. this approach is plagued with alternative reasons that can
also explain the observation. Solution? GS uses the formulation
of converging inferences to help eliminate alternative hypotheses.
iii) By authority.
You ask a sports doctor to check Tom, Dick and Harry and tell
you which one can run the fastest. He says that Dick will run
the fastest. Problems with this: Which authority to choose when
you have more than one. And what if the authorities statements
conflict. E.g. Another authority, the coach, claims that Tom
is faster as he has better technique. So which one (if any) do
iv) By assumption.
Harry looks the fittest so you assume he can run the fastest.
Or Dick is your friend, so you support him and assume he will
win because you like him.
v) By logical
inference. This can extend any of the above methods. I.e. inference
based on observation forms method 2. And Economists like inferences
based on assumptions. In our running example: At last year’s event
Harry won so you infer he’s the fastest athlete and will win again
this year. Or Harry is a fit 57 year old whereas Tom has sprained
his ankle and is on crutches and Dick is over 90 and not doing
much walking let alone running these days. Hence you infer that
Harry will win.
of “truth” . E.g. “Correct symbolism to factual observation”.
And we differentiated this from validity, which we defined as
The act of disproving a proposition, hypothesis, or theory.
or refutability: the logical possibility that an assertion could
be shown false by a particular observation or physical experiment.
That something is "falsifiable" does not mean it is
false; rather, it means that IF the statement were false, then
its falsehood could be demonstrated. The claim "No human
lives forever" is not falsifiable since it does not seem
possible to prove wrong. In theory, one would have to observe
a human living forever to falsify that claim. On the other hand,
"All humans live forever" is falsifiable since the presentation
of just one dead human could prove the statement wrong. Moreover,
a claim may be true and still be falsifiable; if "All humans
live forever" were true, we would never actually find a dead
human, and yet that claim would still be falsifiable because we
can at least imagine the observation that would prove it wrong.
truth values for statements from Operation Philosophy:
True (falsifiable and
supported with evidence, so it’s taken as tentatively true)
Indeterminate (falsifiable in principle but one can't
test it yet. I.e. the truth value is dated) and
Meaningless (not falsifiable
v) The scientific
method uses induction to help develop theories and deduction to
test them. Science using induction can generate many theories
from a set of data. Which do you choose? Occam's razor says
choose the simplest.
covered four Types of Science from a paper written by Bob Pula
and Stuart Mayper.
Accepted Science: Theories
that are not yet refuted, after rigorous tests.
Erroneous Science: Theories
that are not yet refuted, but are tested by false data.
inconsistent with accepted science, attempts to refute them
avoided or ignored: E.g. Astrology, Numerology, Tarot Cards,
Fringe Science: Theories
inconsistent with accepted science, not yet refuted, but attempts
to do so invited.
of knowledge about generalisations.
Asymmetry of knowledge. When testing generalities, we
treat the statement as tentatively true when supported but
false with a single false result. e.g. the group tested y=2
+ sin(PI*x) which gave y=2 for all the integers the group tested
it with, until after about 5 minutes Gavan mentioned x=.1 where
y=1.69, so the supported theory of y=2 for all x was disproved.
Albert Einstein quote:
"No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right;
a single experiment can prove me wrong."
For example, Aristotelian mechanics explained observations
of everyday situations (he had an earth centred universe because
everything seemed to revolve around the earth.), but these ideas
were falsified by Galileo’s experiments (Galileo observed that
the phases of Venus matched up with a sun centred rather than
earth centred model. He also saw the moons of Jupiter circling
Jupiter rather than the Earth. So Aristotelian mechanics were
replaced by Newtonian mechanics, which accounted for the phenomena
noted by Galileo (and others like Kepler). Newtonian theory
covered the observed motion of all the planets. However, astronomers
then noticed the size of the precession of the orbit of Mercury,
which was not predicted by Newtonian mechanics, but was by Einstein's
viii) So science
tries to disprove theories. An example of disproof in real life:
Stress cause ulcers.
Disproved when someone found a bacterium that caused
So the stress theory
was tossed out.
But more research showed that stress reduced the immune
system’s ability to fix the stomach wall/lining ulcer that the
ulcer bacteria caused. I.e. both bacteria and stress are related
to the ulcer. One promotes it and the other reduces the body’s
ability to counter it.
ix) Despite popular
impressions of science, scientific method does not answer all
questions. Scientific method answers only those that pertain
to perceived reality. To those theories that we can categorise
as scientifically meaningless, general semantics suggests using
the formulation of “agreeing to disagree” where appropriate.
falsifiability relates to: Knowledge, Information, Clarity and
Precision. Generally speaking the more falsifiable a theory is,
the better a theory it is. This is because the more a theory claims,
the more opportunities exist to find observations that are inconsistent
with it. Theories that make wide-ranging claims are considered
to be epistemologically more desirable than those that do not
(assuming they have not been falsified). So scientists are best
to produce theories with large information content. Example:
Theory 1: Mercury moves
in an ellipse around the sun.
Theory 2: All planets
move in ellipses around their star.
Theory 2 would appear to have higher status as a piece of scientific
knowledge because it explains a generality in celestial mechanics.
Consequently the second law is more falsifiable. Further any falsification
of the first law will be a falsification of the second, however
the reverse is not true.
Which is better:
If I let an object go,
it will fall to the table by lunchtime.
If I let an object go,
it will fall to the table within one second.
another example of precision. Which is better?
If I rain dance for over
30 seconds, it will rain at least 5mm by midnight.
If I rain dance hard
enough, for long enough, it will rain eventually.
of hypotheses that are falsifiable.
A heavier than air object,
that is let go in still air, in Earth's atmosphere, will drop.
It is never rains in
All substances expand
of hypotheses that are not falsifiable
Either it is raining
or not raining (this covers all options).
All points on a Euclidean
circle are equidistant from the centre (this is covered by validity
and not truth).
The people I work with
all have an inner subjective experience (no way to directly
observe the subjective experience).
Laurie will succeed at one of his future GS promotional
projects. (no criteria to judge by. It needs a date and observed
level. E.g. Laurie will recruit 100 new members by Xmas 2011.)
I.e. the original is too vague. Also, if Laurie’s expectations
are too high and if he values it too highly as well, then he
runs the risk of getting IFD.
We are all just part of a huge giant’s dream. And when
the giant wakes up we will all vanish.
reviewed a paper by Gabriella Pigozzi -University of Luxembourg
(with modifications made by the presenter.)
Introduction to belief
Belief is a doxastic
notion (pertaining to or depending on opinion; e.g. speculative
or theoretical); knowledge is an epistemic notion (about
what is true or false, and what constitutes valid information
for making such evaluations).
Knowledge is justified true belief. I.e. a subset
of someone’s beliefs, as knowledge requires some evidence.
So knowledge is more likely to be true than belief without
evidence. E.g. Eric could believe that man never landed
on the moon.
If beliefs can be false, it is usually assumed that
a person’s belief set is at least consistent. Although
in real life this is not always the case. We had a challenge,
to try to find some inconsistency in GS. If you are not
able to, then try to find something false. Or at least
find something where two or more high profile GS people
disagree. The group could not find an inconsistency but
they did mention “colloids related to life” as an example
of something false. They also gave Korzybski’s disclaimer
about this claim (“The reader should not ascribe any uniqueness
of the 'cause-effect' character to the statements which
follow[about colloids], as they may not be true when generalized.”).
The group also mentioned the conflict between Hayakawa and
Korzybski over the structural differential.
b) What is belief
revision? Belief revision studies how a person should change
her beliefs in face of a new information. Suppose a person
believes in a set of beliefs: B1, . . . ,Bn. She then learns
(or observes) event E, which contradicts one of the beliefs
Bi . What should she do?
An example: Suppose
that a person believes this information:
All European swans
The bird caught in
the trap is a swan
bird caught in the trap was trapped in Sweden.
Sweden is part of
From a-d above you
can derive: The bird caught in the trap is white.
suppose that the bird caught is black. What should you do?
We agreed that its best to eliminate belief a)
It is not obvious how to restore consistency in the
example above as logic alone just says its inconsistent
but not which ones to get rid of. An additional complication
is that more beliefs can be derived from the ones explicitly
stated. What do we do with the derived beliefs, do we keep
them or do they go?
c) We noted
that observed facts are more reliable than inferences. E.g.
a pile of money on a book one can see is more reliable information
than a pile under a handkerchief. It turned out in our example
that there where blocks under the handkerchief.
d) So to restore
consistency, an idea is that the information lost when giving
up beliefs should be kept to a minimum. Another is that some
beliefs are considered more important or well-established
than others and the beliefs that should be retracted are the
least important ones. So this leads to: The principle of minimal
change. When someone revises her beliefs in light of learning/observing
facts, only the minimal change necessary to incorporate the
new information should be made. The idea is that for a scientific
theory change, a theory tends to accommodate new observations
by making the smallest necessary changes. The author gave
the following rationality criteria on performing a belief
The set of beliefs
should be kept as consistent as possible.
The belief set should
include logically inferred knowledge.
The amount of information
lost in a belief change should be kept minimal.
If some beliefs are
considered more important or well-established (with evidence)
than others, one should retract the least important ones.
(I gave the analogy of removing blocks at the top of a block
tower which does not affect the overall structure versus
removing the ones at the bottom which makes the whole tower
attitudes an agent can have with respect to a sentence and
Believe that is true
Believe that is false
Neither believe that is true nor that it is false
(suspension of belief). From operational philosophy, this
can be subdivided into:
Meaningless, therefore never determined. So you
forever suspend your belief.
ii) Three kinds
of belief changes. Expansion, contraction, and revision of
a belief set K (i.e. a knowledge based belief set.):
New evidence E is added to K, together with the logical consequences
of the evidence E.
Some belief Ki in a belief set K is retracted without
adding any new facts. This is done for the set to be logically
consistent, so some beliefs from K must be given up. (And
it may also occur so as to simplify the belief set. I.e. an
application of Occam’s Razor.)
New information E that is inconsistent with some beliefs in
K is added and to maintain consistency, some of the old beliefs
in K are deleted.
a) All Korzybski’s
statements are true. Hence you can trust GS formulations.
stated in S&S p 111-122 that colloidal chemistry is possibly
the basis for life.
years after Korzybski’s death, Crick and Watson discovered
=> RNA => proteins, are found to be the basis of life.
e) Hence AK
was wrong here. A contradiction. What should you do? Should
one toss out all of GS?
group decided to modify statement a) getting rid of the “All”
and replacing it with “most”. I.e. “Most of Korzybski’s statements
are true (i.e. supported by current day evidence.)”
2011 Programme etc.
December Christmas Party - Call for details!