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I am not much familiar with the philosophy of science yet. And I have doubts about science and explanations given there for events. As I am totally inclined towards mathematics and logical reasoning I can't understand how I should treat scientific knowledge. As proofs there don't exist, there is only scientific evidence, so any concordant (non-conflicting) hypothesis as an explanation could be used to describe an event. It may be used as a correct reason for the event until something breaks the hypothesis or something better is suggested. So explanations "evolve" and it seems to me like a cheating with yourself. Because today when I read something with some kind of explanation like "atom has electrons moving around the nucleus" and find it reasonable, tomorrow it might appear that it is false. It means I deceived myself and accepted this explanation! But in logic such thing just can't happen.

Recently I started to learn electromagnetism and related things in physics. And those explanations with electrons moving from negative to positive side, etc. just don't make for me sense, because I know that one day it can be absolutely wrong and everything worked just out of coincidence or because of more general reason that contains current explanations as a partial case. And these thoughts really disturb me, so I don't even know how to approach science. What I can be sure about is a list of facts, that if do this and that, something will happen, but not about the reasons. Could you help me with this? What is the proper way to approach a science?

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    As for treating scientific claims, the right approach is neither memorizing, nor total acceptance, nor total doubt. One discriminates as in mathematics, but by a different standard. And learning that standard takes time and effort. One learns to judge which evidence is strong and which is weak, which procedure is credible and which is risky, how well a theory is supported by data. This is harder than learning the more simplistic toy standard of formal logic (which in practice does not suffice even for mathematics), but it has the advantage of being far more useful. – Conifold Jan 6 '18 at 3:27
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    This view of Euclid is a common misconception, long since discredited by historians. He did not "suppose" something without proving, this is just a quick and anachronistic "translation" of what Euclid was doing into modern language. Learning his language and how he viewed geometry is much harder. The role of diagrams in his reasoning is very different from their modern subsidiary position, his method is not the axiomatic method he allegedly used, which detects the "gaps". Look at Rodin's Doing and Showing for a more adequate view of Euclid. – Conifold Jan 6 '18 at 3:40
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    Turkhan, you should look up Correspondence principle next time you get worried "that one day [a scientific explanation] can be absolutely wrong and everything worked just out of coincidence or because of more general reason that contains current explanations as a partial case." it's the latter, not the former. and "absolutely wrong" is not the correct adjective. – robert bristow-johnson Jan 6 '18 at 3:56
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    Is there a ultimate logic? Probably not. There also is three-valued logic (yes-no-don't know). Logic and mathematics are the basis of science, but like science it's always "work in progress", since it's a human endeavor. – jjack Jan 6 '18 at 8:49
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    You can see Evolutionary Epistemology. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jan 6 '18 at 12:14
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This is basically the question of scientific realism. The type of sceptical arguments your are alluding to are well known in philosophy of science. You have Hume's scepticism about induction to start with, and more generally, problems of underdetermination: the fact that several distinct explanations are always compatible with the same evidence. Then you have the pessimistic meta-induction, which is based on the fact that most past theories were eventually replaced by better ones, so we shouldn't believe that our theories are true.

In face of that, you can be a constructive empiricist, like van Fraassen, and only assume that our theories are empirically adequate (but not strictly true). This only requires a form of induction (because empirical adequacy extends to all observable phenomena in the universe) but Hume's scepticism is very radical (would you refuse to take the plane because our theories might fail tomorrow?) so this is not so much a problem to assume empirical adequacy.

Or you can argue against these arguments. Arguments against underdetermination have it that one can use non-empirical criteria such as simplicity, in an "inference to the best explanation", and that this method is a good indicator of truth. They argue that this is the only explanation to the empirical success of theories, particularly when they're extended to new applications and still work: that would be a miracle if they were not true, or in some sense close to the truth. So our methods of theory choice must be efficient, even if not strictly empirical, and we can claim that our theories are true.

Now this does not solve the problem of theory change. For this, several options are available: one can argue that theories are not strictly, but at least approximately true, and that science progresses toward truth. The notion of approximate truth does not go without saying however, and this hinges on which theory of truth one adopts (this might be ok with a pragmatist conception where truth is practical efficiency, but some think this is insufficient. But with a stronger conception of truth, it is dubious that past theories were approximately true).

Alternatively one can restrict the relevant aspects of theories to structure : our theories might not be true, but still they approximately correspond to the structure of the world, and science progress towards more structural correspondence. The idea is that approximation makes more sense about structure. The position is called structural realism. The problem according to some is that this position is not really distinct from empiricism because all we're left with is a structure of observations...

So in short, this is an ongoing debate in philosophy, with structural realism having gained impetus in the recent decades.

You can check the entries on constructive empiricism, scientific realism, induction, underdeterminatiom and structural realism of the Stanford encyclopedia for more information: http://plato.stanford.edu

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A lot of great philosophers have asked the same question that you are asking: How do we justify scientific theories?

The answer is a bit disappointing: We can't. We can never state with complete certainty that a theory is right.

There are so many reasons for this, one of which you mentioned in your description is called the old problem of induction, the lack of justification in our believe that the future will resemble the past. To put it in Bertrand Russell's words:

“The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken.”

Now, there is no guarantee that our theories are better than that of the chicken. So yes, it is possible that future theories will show that electromagnetism is just a coincidence. It even gets worse than this, see the new riddle of induction for more detail (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_riddle_of_induction).


Fortunately, you are not deceiving yourself (or you are but in a useful way) when you are studying science because you can adopt an instrumentalist position: "I don't care about whether not a theory is true, I just care about the whether or not the theory works (gives accurate predictions)".

So far in history, science has taken mankind further that any other schools of thinking. So unless something better comes along, science is the best bet we got.

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    You are using another philosophically overladen term: right. What does it mean for a theory to be right? – jjack Jan 6 '18 at 13:56
  • @jjack I took right as meaning valid, more precisely it means "a 100% accurate description of reality". – Frank Jan 6 '18 at 14:13
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    thanks, cool. So for you it's just a model for reality at best as well? And in this sense it is true. – jjack Jan 6 '18 at 15:06
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Simulation Theory.

I am because I am...

Perception is relative.

Does a color blind person see the color red the same as you?

People are vastly similar, have mechanism like "group think" or social correction error.

Look at the Mandela effect.

The idea of "science" having "proof" is difficult to prove when we can not accurately define basic questions like:

  • what is reality?

  • where did we come from?

  • what is the meaning of life?

People have tried since the dawn of mankind to answer these questions. What use is scientific evidence when they do not even began to fully answer these questions. It's all relative information that helps us navigate our relaity.

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As I am totally inclined towards mathematics and logical reasoning I can't understand how I should treat scientific knowledge. As proofs there don't exist, there is only scientific evidence, so any concordant (non-conflicting) hypothesis as an explanation could be used to describe an event. It may be used as a correct reason for the event until something breaks the hypothesis or something better is suggested. So explanations "evolve" and it seems to me like a cheating with yourself. Because today when I read something with some kind of explanation like "atom has electrons moving around the nucleus" and find it reasonable, tomorrow it might appear that it is false. It means I deceived myself and accepted this explanation! But in logic such thing just can't happen.

You say you're totally inclined toward logical reasoning. I am sceptical of this claim. Any argument uses assumptions and rules by which those assumptions are used to get conclusions. The conclusion of an argument if the assumptions and the rules used to get that conclusion are correct. So the truth of the conclusion depends on the correctness of the rules and assumptions. At this point you have two options. (1) Try to prove the rules and assumptions, which leads to another similar problem, and so to infinite regress. (2) Give up on proving the rules and assumptions in which case your argument is a guess. Option (2) is the only one that can be implemented in reality, so all knowledge, including mathematical knowledge, consists of guesses controlled by criticism.

There is a further problem. You use physical objects to model maths, like your fingers, your brain, computers etc. So your knowledge is exactly as secure as your knowledge of physics: it is all guessing controlled by criticism.

Scientists who acknowledge that their ideas are guesses controlled by criticism, and who look for flaws in their ideas, are not cheating, they are acknowledging reality. Unless you start taking the same attitude to all of your knowledge, you are cheating and lying to yourself.

For further explanation of the problems with trying to prove knowledge see "Realism and the aim of science" by Karl Popper, Chapter I, "On the sources of knowledge and of ignorance" by Popper in "Conjectures and Refutations" and "The Fabric of Reality" and "The Beginning of Infinity" by David Deutsch.

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  1. Science is just some kind of knowledge (obtained with the scientific method). Other types of knowledge include religious knowledge (obtained from a book or tradition), family knowledge (obtained at home), etc.

  2. You are not forced to believe in science nor in any other type of knowledge. But some types of knowledge improve your survival probabilities. And not only that: they improve your quality of life.

  3. Following religious or other metaphysical types of knowledge, anything is possible if you have enough faith. That includes revival. So, if you take decisions based on religious knowledge, you risk killing your pet or yourself and not being able to come back to life again.

  4. Scientific knowledge is the one that seems the best one to increase the probabilities of survival and having a good life. It could be completely wrong, but it accepts improvements. So, if science says that the atom is made of smaller particles, and you use such knowledge, you have a great chance of success. Moreover, if you improve it following its methods, you have more chances of success.

Science accepts its weaknesses and can change. Religious knowledge don't. Science is expressed on a formal language, tribal knowledge not. Science is objective, metaphysics don't. Under all points of view, scientific knowledge is the best option for survival and improving life and well-being.

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