TED Conversations

Sagar Sen

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!The very first statements of Sam Harris are questionable! Science is about facts?

The process of scientific discovery involves observation in the physical world, followed by hypothesis formation, measurement of observations using one or more instruments, and ultimately verifying the hypothesis within limited conditions of experiments. Then the hypothesis apparently becomes a fact!

Any act of measurement is imperfect and the best relative accuracy is of the order of 0.5 x 10^-6. Besides all experiments are conducted in controlled conditions where an infinite number of factors are ignored.

The classic example of this are the discrepancies in classical and eventually quantum physics where so called accurate models of behavior of the physical world are touted as laws. These models are not perfect even to explain the physical world in its entirety leave alone the spiritual world.

The reason we tend to believe in Science is because the results in science lead to creation of engineering artifacts such as the IPhone, or a fighter jet that enhance our experiences. We in general tend to believe in something when it helps relate to our real-life experiences.

Science = truth? I think its just an approximation of observations in the physical world. Incidentally, these approximations tend to cater to the intellectual and material needs of the society. This makes them more believable. Thats all!

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    Apr 23 2011: I think your concept of science is quite accurate Sagar

    Science is not truth as you argue... but Science is way to find truth, or, as you say, to find an approximation of what truth might be.

    (I define science as: "Science is the set of methods that can reduce uncertainty about truth"
    in this discussion http://www.ted.com/conversations/72/can_people_who_deny_science_be.html)

    The set of knowledge considered to be "quite true" is also often called science...

    I don't think Sam makes an error...
    I think he refers to facts as the clear observations we need to do science.

    So I can't see the conflict...
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    Apr 24 2011: Sam Harris' idea of morality is not just questionable, it's straight out wrong. You can't measure values or morals they are not physical objects, also not every human being is inclined to thrive.

    At least he is better than Ayn Rand though. He is a scientist as oppossed to a hollywood housewife, also I'm not into men but he is better looking than Ayn Rand.
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      Apr 25 2011: I think moral values can be measured the same way other things get measured in Psychology.

      actually, there are already a lot of moral measurement tools out there (for decades, at least since Kohlberg). Their validity and reliability are discussed and documented.

      See for example: http://faculty.plts.edu/gpence/html/kohlberg.htm

      So Sam's Ideas are not wrong because of that argument.
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        Apr 25 2011: I am talking about measurments done using distinct units, there are no physical units or combination of units distinct for morality. So measuring morality cannot really be fully "objective" there is always a judgement of value on behalf of the psychologist who evaluates the moral behaviour.
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          Apr 26 2011: Well, if you really get philosophical, there is always a measurement problem... only the degree of error in physics tends to be smaller than in chemistry and smaller still than Biology and Psychology...

          You might want to do some research on factor analysis, and validity and reliability research...

          An instrument that is 80% measuring what you want to know and 20% measuring some confounding variable... then so be it if that is the best measure there is...
          this 20% is not the 0.000001% in physics, but it is a measurable (again!) difference and from a mathematical or logical point of view not much different (the difference arises when people think 0.000001% is thought of as being 0... not such a bad approximation, but it's qualitatively different, as you go from inductive to deductive logic if you do that)

          Also, ranking measures and relative measures are also measures... as are uniform scaled ones...

          If you disagree with the evaluator, you can always construct your own scale and try to debate why your instrument is the better. If that is based on sound reasoning and data-fitting and predictability, chances are that your instrument will get adopted.

          If you define morality in terms of social harm and benefit, add intention &c &c, you might find measures that are really physical (classes of hormones and neurotransmitters released by N people rendering them X more advantaged or Y disadvantaged,...).
          That might be possible in principle, but would take us a lot of time and energy, data processing and advanced brain-sensors. I doubt those measures will be better than the current observation or question based ones...
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        Apr 26 2011: Well all measurment ultimately relies on perception, the fine line between objective and subjective is not black and white. The only reason why I seperated the terms was for the sake of convenience, more to highlight the differences between one kind of measurement and the other kind. Measuring morals does require a preconcieved notion (bias) of morality but then again measuring force or acceleration also requires a preconcieved notion (bias) of Newtonian principles for instance.

        Chemistry and physics measures very simple systems relative to biology and psychology which attempts to measure the behaviour of very complex systems.

        Where do we draw the line between people and objects? Sure both can be measured but are they both the same thing? And even if they were can we really do what Sam Harris does and get on the soap box and tell others, your morality is deviating from our measurment, you "should" start acting properly. Seems absurd.
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          Apr 26 2011: I agree with the first two paragraphs you write Budimir,

          well, I don't want to go so far as to say people are the same as rocks, but if you insist, I would say both can be seen as objects. But that doesn't mean we have to treat them the same...

          As Sam explains that there are local highs and lows (in an N-dimensional landscape), one might find a local maximum deviating from one that is considered the norm... Implying one should change depends on a case to case basis.

          Treating morality with scientific tools does not mean "reducing it to something simpler than it is" thàt would seem absurd
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    Apr 23 2011: Sam is ignoring the theory-ladenness of observation, however, and that is an important oversight when talking about trying to reconcile competing points of view.
  • May 8 2011: Science vs morality has been succinctly put by a Philosopher and a scientist.

    GK Chesterton : " I want my private physician to tell me whether this or that food will kill me. It is for my private philosopher to tell me whether I ought to be killed. "

    R. Feynman : "The typical human problem, and one whose answer religion aims to supply, is always of the following form: Should I do this? Should we do this? Should the government do this? To answer this question we can resolve it into two parts: First — If I do this, what will happen? – and second – Do I want that to happen? What would come of it of value – of good?"

    RF's answer is that the first question is in the realms of Science. "The technique of it, fundamentally, is: Try it and see." By this, we accumulate information. " And as you develop more information in the sciences, it is not that you are finding out the truth, but that you are finding out that this or that is more or less likely." And empiricism is always likely to result only in such conclusions of what is more likely. So, i concur with Sagar's original observation that Science = truth is a wrong assumption. The problem with Sam's assumptions is the one Feynman points out. How do we measure the value of a certain outcome ?

    @Christophe, It is not accurate to say "Science is THE set of methods that can reduce uncertainity about truth". It is A set of methods and pertains only to truth that can be perceived by the external senses. There is a question of the best tool to perceive the truth - external senses, mind or something beyond ? The former is chosen because it is easy to get to a conensus on that. Sometimes this consensus is misunderstood to be objectivity. As Budimir puts, the line between objectivity and subjectivity is thin and i go further in saying that it is blurred.

    GKC : "To mix science up with philosophy is only to produce a philosophy that has lost all its ideal value and a science that has lost all its practical value."
  • Apr 25 2011: Scientific models do not include spiritual world because not only there is not common understanding of it but it cannot be measured or observed?

    Science is not equal to truth but rather it is the best approximation of truth at the moment based on our accumulated knowledge. Scientific knowledge is constantly improving and increasing in scope and it will continuously describe the Universe in increasing accuracy. It might not ever be accurate 100% but we are getting better at it.