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Science and Philosophy    

Skepticism in its true sense originated in ancient Greece, and represents the position that absolute certainty of knowledge is impossible. In other words, conceptions of both absolute doubt and absolute certainty are refuted.

In more simple terms, skepticism is about doubting certainty. Too many people who claim to be skeptics remain certain of their world view, however, and focus their 'skepticism' exclusively on alternative views. This is pseudo-skepticism, and is clearly a corruption of the true philosophical definition of skepticism. This excellent link focuses on exposing pseudo-skepticism in its many guises: Skeptical About Skeptics

When the term is used today we generally think of skepticism of the critical thinking variety, where empirical evidence is demanded to support new ideas or theories. While this modern variety, often termed scientific skepticism, has practical advantages, it is also open to criticism, and can lead to problems.

  "Progress is made by answering questions. Discoveries are made by questioning answers." Bernard Haisch
Skepticism as Inertia    

The history of science reflects that numerous scientists have been denigrated by peers unwilling to accept new ideas that would require a change in their world view, even when evidence was at hand.

In perhaps the most famous example, Scientific American magazine ran an article ridiculing the 'alleged' flights of Wilbur and Orville Wright ... some years after they had been flying successfully. This pseudo-skepticism was based on the inertia of prior belief (that heavier than air flight was impossible), and supported by many scientists and the US Army. Ironically, a lack of media coverage was also considered strong evidence against their claims.

Of particular relevance to this site is the case of Michael Faraday. He was called a charlatan when he announced that he could generate an electric current merely by moving a magnet in a coil of wire!

  "Today's scientists have substituted mathematics for experiments, and they wander off through equation after equation, and eventually build a structure which has no relation to reality." Nikola Tesla
Famous Philosophers of Science    
The following philosophers were fond of discussing such problems, and the implications of their work should be clear. No scientific theory is invulnerable, and if anyone thinks they are, then it probably isn't science, but ideology that is being touted.   Fiction has to be plausible. Reality is under no such constraint." Anon

Karl Popper (1902-1994) gave us Falsificationism, a relatively simple but often misunderstood philosophical tool for demarcating between science and non-science. He laid down this methodology in his magnum opus, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959).

His aim was to overcome the Problem of Induction, where only confirming instances are noted. Turning this on its head, Popper said that just one contrary result should be enough to falsify a theory, although any contrary results should of course be repeatable.

To Popper, the terms Testable, Falsifiable, and Scientific were synonymous. For a theory to be scientific it should be testable, and those tests should be vulnerable to being proved false, ie., falsified. Popper was critical of so-called theories that leave room for ambiguity; where the results of a test, in other words, can be interpreted to fit the theory. Such theories are meaningless, as they fail to add to our knowledge.

A theory, therefore, can be conclusivley falsified, but never conclusively verified, as falsification is its anticipated fate. "Our knowledge can only be finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite," Popper summed up.

Science, according to Popper, thus proceeeds by a process of 'Conjecture and Refutation'. He was keen to promote bold theories, and pointed out that the falsification of a theory was not necessarily a bad thing. In fact he suggested that falsification might be celebrated as, ultimately, it marks progress.

Popper, however, recognised problems with Falsificationism. It is very often possible to immunise a theory against falsification with ad-hoc hypotheses. Most scientists, after all, are only human, and sometimes reluctant to see their cherished theories undermined. Many anomalies are still ignored or dismissed while the scientific community pay lip service to Falsifiability. For example, is there any aspect of the Big Bang that is not ridden with anomalies and inconsistencies? Most of these would no doubt be falsifying instances were they to be seriously investigated!

  Karl Popper
Paradigm Shifts    

Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) was also well aware of human fallibilty, and favoured a different method by which our knowledge progresses, that of the Paradigm Shift. In his famous book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962, he proposed the idea that science does not evolve gradually toward truth, but instead undergoes periodic revolutions -- paradigm shifts.

For Kuhn, therefore, conjecture and refutation were inadequate. He argued that scientific theories are gradually undermined by new theories which eventually replace them. His ideas echo the famous words of Max Planck, right.

Paradigm paralysis is psycho-pathological in many cases, with the victims unwilling to see beyond the comfort-zone of their own field of expertise. Unfortunately, intelligence is apparently not the key factor as some intelligent people are unable to grasp concepts which oppose the paradigms they've fortified themselves in. This may explain how someone as smart as Stephen Hawking, for example, is unable to grasp the fact that there is something wrong with math-only physics.

The cooked frog analogy seems appropriate here. Put a frog in boiling water and it will jump out. Put it in cold water and heat it gradually and it will die cooking, seemingly unaware of its perilous plight.

  "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." Max Planck
Distinctions Between Intellectuals And Pseudo-Intellectuals    
From suppressedscience.net, by Sydney Harris, Detroit Free Press, 11/20/81

* The intellectual is looking for the right questions to ask; the pseudo is giving what he claims to be the right answers.

* The intellectual is evidently motivated by a disinterested love of truth; the pseudo is interested in being right, or being thought to be right, whether he is or not.

* The intellectual is willing to admit that what he does not know is far greater than what he knows; the pseudo claims to know as much as can be known about the subject under consideration.

* The intellectual states as good a case for his adversary as can be made out; the pseudo sets up a straw man and beats it to death for the sake of seeming superior.

* The intellectual is deeply and constantly aware of the limitations of human reason; the pseudo makes a deity of reason and tries to force it into realms it cannot penetrate.

* The intellectual seeks light from whatever source, realizing that ideas are no respecters of persons and turn up in the most unexpected places from the most improbable people; the pseudo accepts ideas, when he does, only from experts and specialists and certified authorities.

* The intellectual advances an hypothesis that he hopes may be true; the pseudo propounds a dogma that he insists is true.

* The intellectual recognizes that opposites are not always contradictory, and may indeed reinforce each other; the pseudo paints a picture in black and white, right or wrong, leaving no room for a contrary viewpoint.

* The intellectual knows there are no final answers to human questions; the pseudo makes each tentative and provisional answer sound like a finality.

* The intellectual is courageous in opposing majority opinion, even when it jeopardizes his position; the pseudo slavishly follows "the most reliable authorities" in his field sneering at heresies.

* The intellectual never talks down to his audience, but tries to be as clear as possible; the pseudo talks above his audience to mystify and impress them."


Clouds of Interstellar Plasma



"In the sciences, the authority of thousands of opinions is not worth as much as one tiny spark of reason in an individual man." Galileo Galilei