Australian General Semantics Society Inc.



Saturday 12th June 2021

"Alternative Hypotheses ...
Learning to apply the extensional device of ETC
to alternative hypotheses,
as used in scientific method."

Facilitator: Mr David Hewson

We applied this to how people make up theories on: life, the universe and everything. And we worked out why the answer is not 42 :-).

We experienced a challenging discussion as we apply “etc” to our barbeque-stopping hot topics of politics, sex and religion, etc.

The meeting was online using Zoom.

Our Seminar

on-line - missing the customary hospitality of Gavan and Pauline at Bonnet Bay,
but enabling us to reach out to include our GS friends in Canada and USA :-(.

Catching Up

Sharing of triumphs and tragedies and miscellaneous yarns.

GS Diary

In the spirit of "applying general semantics principles" to our lives, as opposed to dwelling in theory, we considered members' accounts of observations and applications relating to the principles and formulations of our discipline.


David skillfully led us through some warm-up exercises, eg:

  * What do these word-pairs have in common
      - lock and piano?
      - ship and card?
      - tree and car?
      - school and eye?
      - exam and private?

  * A little work-out on the Structural Differential (never goes astray),

  * Revision of the Extensional Devices,

  * etc ... (Some participants appeared to be starting to lose focus, so we moved on).

Discussion on "Alternative Hypotheses"

This seminar applied the extensional device of ETC to alternative hypotheses, as used in science.

Scientific method

Checking correct symbolism to fact, we find easy for some things but hard to check for others. If people want to check out the accuracy of the Sydney street directory then all they have to do is go out the front gate and walk down the road and see how the map matches their view of the territory.

But if they want to check out the existence of electrons (which no one has seen because they are too small) things are more complicated. Scientists use the following method as abstracted from the book “Understanding Scientific Reasoning” by R Giere. (A recommended read!) As shown in the diagram below.

Scientists infer predictions based on their model of the real world. They then experiment on and observe the real world. The data is then compared to the predictions.

The resulting match or no match can then potentially imply how well the model matches the real world.

If the predictions are valid and the observations correct, i.e. no errors in each, then the following steps in reasoning apply.

If the data do not match the predictions then the model is wrong, e.g. the book mentions Crick and Watson’s early 3 chain model of DNA which had more water predicted than observed. Hence the 3 chain model was abandoned.

If the data do match the predictions then you still have one more question to answer. Are there any alternative hypotheses that might also explain the data?
If there are none known, then the one can tentatively support the model of the real world. Tentatively because one may have missed out some alternative hypothesis that can also explain the real world as well as the model under consideration.


The group talked about Alternative hypotheses to various theories (below), such as:

  * "Men are stronger than women",

  * "Girls are better are multi-tasking than boys",

  * "Pay inequality between sexes in Australia, means that Australia is sexist",

  * "Political leaders are hopeless at coping with the Covid-19 virus,
     as shown in the world wide statistics of deaths per million,
     varying from thousands (poorly handled) down to just a handful (well handled)",

  * "Hotel quarantine is effective in Australia",

  * "Australia is doing among the best in the world in dealing with Covid-19,
    as proved by an Australian politician showing ten countries statistics on TV
    and Australia had the best Covid-19 stats of the ten",

  * "Medieval cure for battle field sword wounds was to put a poultice of cow dung
    and animal fat on the wound. When someone chose to put this poultice on the
    wounded soldier's sword instead of the wound, death rates dropped dramatically.
    Isn’t the magic of putting it on the sword great?".

We played with Winston Churchill's quote re "truth",

and considered how "Knowledge is not directly transmitted - only data",

and the danger of cognitive dissonance, especially for one of our autistic participants,

and the exhilaration of moving from Aristotelian to non-Aristotelian paradigms!

Some references:
Barry Kauffman: "Happiness is a Choice (re RET etc)
  * Ed Mc
Neil: "Master Atlas of Decision-Making"

*** * ***

Where was this seminar:

    On-line, by Zoom.

    Saturday 12th June, 10:00 am (Sydney time zone) for a catch up.
    The seminar started at 10:30 am. We break briefly for lunch around 12 noon.
    Finishing around 1 pm.

    Please note that this is now a Sydney Saturday,
    so for those in North America, it will be a Friday.
    10am Sydney time is 8pm New York, Ohio etc. (Beware Daylight Saving times!)


Next meeting:
   10am (Sydney time) Saturday 14th. August 2021.
   "The Brave New World of Aldus Huxley - a Champion of General Semantics"
Facilitated by Robert James.

This "summary" is a collection of notes derived from our discussion by a number of means.  It is by no means a scholarly dissertation on the subject as presented.  It does not purport to be the "policy of AGS".  Comment and criticism (constructive or otherwise) is welcome.  If anyone has been misquoted, copyrights infringed or confidences betrayed, please Contact us.

Updated by Robert James
15th June 2021