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Pabitra Mukhopadhyay


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Truths and Facts. Does Science prove anything?

There is a great deal of interest of us in examining claims of ‘truths’ and ‘facts’. In such examination there is a noticeable stress on scientifically proven facts which can be taken as fundamentally true. This is possibly because mathematics is the language of Science and we make mistake thinking mathematical proofs to be reflecting the essence of scientifically proven facts.

Does science necessarily prove anything? The way mathematics proves a proposition?

It is surprising that such a basic debate cannot be laid to rest and a conclusion arrived at even after 1934 book by Karl Popper: The Logic of Scientific Discovery.

Alan Moghissi, Matthew Amin and Connor McNulty of Institute for Regulatory Science, Alexandria, Va wrote to the editor of Science (the magazine) disagreeing with Peter Gleick and 250 members of the (US) National Academy of Sciences writing to the editor of Science : All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything.


Is there an absolutely proven scientific fact?


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    May 24 2013: This debate has completed almost half of its allotted time. I think there is a substantial majority towards the idea that science does NOT after all prove anything with absolute certainty.
    I think it may be necessary here to clarify that this debate does not seek to under value science, it's achievements and its contribution to human society. At best, it may seek to place science at a practical and functional basis and remove some dogma that it may gather in the process.
    It is useless to project technology and its success as any point of argument in this debate, it will be like projecting missionary schools, nursing/care giving, art and architecture as points of argument in favor of faith based religion's relevance in life.
    Let us focus on the key question : Does science prove anything as absolute truth? Or is it the real goal of science?
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      May 24 2013: First - we are limited to humanity standards of knowledge
      Second - researchers and theorists and writers, in a collective community of academics, make the standards
      Third - we cannot know absolutes without first objectives. Objectivity comes from the second clause.
      Fourth - an absolute truth, is true within itself, therefore there must be various ways to find that truth
      Fifth - science should be regarded no differently as any other field of study, therefore SCIENCE is not unitary in any conceptualization - especially since we have HARD and SOFT sciences.
      Fifth additional - just like math, art, history, social studies, etc. There are MANY ways to practice and view these fields of study, to believe that one field is better at answering questions than the next misses the mark on first and second clause.

      The real goal of "science" (I am so tired of overstating this word for argument sakes) is no different than any other field of study - we all want to KNOW, and do so in our unique methods, this does not make any method better than others but different. This whole debate comes underway with the scientist who believe that physicist and biology are the perfect sciences to build off of... Well those thinkers are holding us back collectively. People like the neo-atheist who CLEARLY are biased with their beliefs in their writings, but are still championed because of peer approval, which allows the review to pass.

      So much is not understood for "what is science?" as far as the philosophy of science... All these conversations seem to miss a lot of marks when it comes to community and consensus. Even those things are corrupted by ideas of human nature and the REAL FACT of how corrupt politics are... and who funds developments and research?!?!!? Department of Defense? Military? National budgets? These are just as important to note as what is the output of the research and development. How and why they were developed and researched... in light of what?!?! Profit? Maybe
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        • May 25 2013: Science is "organized knowledge" who's knowledge? GODS knowledge, we have the power over it by understanding it. without the "understanding" we would not have power over it. GOD gave us the understanding in birth for a reason. so we may be at play. think of the universe full of LEGO"S that are smaller than one another and bigger For GOD has gave his children the understanding of them to be at play so his children may put these LEGO"S together to discover and claim. For mankind does not create only discover and claim, "But i speak Thy TRUTH, unless it is written nothing can be created, so be it thy discovery who may claim" Amen
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        Jun 2 2013: Nicholas, I think what you say is almost totally wrong and beside the question Pabitra is asking. (but maybe it's semantics)

        1) I don't agree that there is such a thing as "human standards of knowledge". there are limits to human understanding. Knowledge already has claims pertaining the outer reality and is not bound by humans.
        2) It does not matter who makes which standards unless you think authority is a valid argument for acceptance. If you happen to make standards that are better, it might be proven and might become accepted by a broader range of people.
        3) what are "first objectives"? I think you mean that certainty can only come form certain things? While this appears to be true intuitively, you might want to check Shannon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Mathematical_Theory_of_Communication (I don't know, as I don't get the meaning of what you are trying to say)
        4) I think that what you claim here is not necessary true. It might. I can assume that a particle is measure-able in more than one way (Higgs bosons are inferred through a whole variety of observations, as are neutrino's, and those are about the hardest to measure)
        5) I completely reject that there is a difference between all sciences other than the measurement tools and the validity and reliability of those tools. Furthermore, a field of study, in order to be proper, needs to be scientific. Unless you refer to study of a book, an art or a law in "as-is" method: just acquiring the literal information that is given.
        5b) I still claim that science is the best way, and the best documented way to approximate certainty or knowledge about this universe we live in. It is verifiable and transparent (if not, it can be challenged as not sufficiently documented or proven claim) , as any other method is not (otherwise, it would be incorporated as a scientific tool).
        It is clearly way better than revelation, intuition, learning something written or agreed by authority by heat.
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          Jun 2 2013: As usual I'd just like to say the I agree with you Christophe, for all the reasons listen above.
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          Jun 2 2013: My arguments are in the attempt to be truly objective, which requires making humans part of the equation, not apart.

          1. How can that statement be true if we do not have another species of humanoids in which to compare our research and development to? We have standards to knowledge bound to each culture of science that must be followed in order to progress. These standards are made by tradition of men (mostly) and therefore are our limitations in respected fields of study. Knowledge doesn't exist without first a human or series of humans looking for that knowledge, and although it may exist before we discover it, it still must go through human filters of already knowledge to be categorized and built upon... A process in which knowledge never stands without a human being. A human has standards, whether social or instinctual, we cannot go beyond that level of understanding (of ourselves in relation to the universe) and believe we can be practical with such knowledge.
          2. Authority is a valid argument - expertise should be respected, but by no means the only source of knowledge
          3. "We cannot know absolutes without first objective [truths]" - my bad // But, the link you shared is part of cognitive science in respects to A.I and brain-mapping! Which in a recent paper I read (I'll have to find it) the argument for A.I research was to figure advance theories for computers to communicate, not just one with itself, but many with others. The premise was based off of the fact humans solve problems better in groups than by themselves (looking at a website like twitter with hashtags). So,for computers to talk: first step creating a language for us to share, goals or project to work on, attempt to complete until done.
          3.a. I do not see objectivity and absolutes as being the same concept, like most do. Objectivity is limited to humanity, as it requires consensuses, communities, and/or consistencies in order to be true. Absolutes are true within themselves.
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          Jun 2 2013: 4. Excellent counter-example Chris! But wasn't the Higgs Boson always just theorized to be true until recently? Before that historic day, the Boson existed in phy sicformulas which NEEDED this symbol for development. So the objective truth we believed was just an assumed particle, is then justified by advanced machinery and visuals to be seen as more and become more so objectively true. We came to the truth in more ways than one, but what is the absolute nature of this particle, is still under scrutiny - there is little to be done with objective knowledge as of now, for we only know part of the absolute truth.

          5. So you reject there are differences while there are differences in method of research? Indeed, all sciences want to do the same thing, but how they do so is not universal, it can't be. Even historians of literature or geologist have to abide by similar codes that a physicist does for academic sakes (peer review), but this in no ways suggest their methods are similar in anyway. The difference between SOFT and HARD science exist for good reason - social and brain sciences are still figuring out what terminology/conceptuals to identify the problems with, while math and bio-sciences have figured out terminology/conceptuals for decades and are now able to worry more about the expansion of theory on hard numbers and facts. By these ideas of soft and hard science alone, makes for the methods to be vastly different. Two sides of the same coin, yes, but different attitudes.
          5b. I clearly do not want to dismiss science as important, but I am attempting to put that truth into a different perspective. The overstatement of the word "science" goes too far, too commonly, today. Without realizing that "science" is dependent on 3.a. and the idea of community being more influential than truth. Kuhn should beat Popper in the final say, always. If science is to be the best, than science should still be understand no differently than any other field of study!
    • MR T

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      May 24 2013: Fair point! my comments have veered away a bit.

      Does science prove anything as absolute truth? Close as your gonna get without being religious.

      Is it the real goal of science? ... The goal is the answer to whatever question the scientist poses. Whether its food security or medicine, the two don't necessarily have to be linked in some greater whole that is 'the struggle to find absolute truth'. Its just practical.

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