Cosmology

Is it true that there is no scientific method, as cosmologist Lee Smolin suggests?

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Or are some fields mistakenly classified as science?

At Big Think, Lee Smolin, a cosmologist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics who has suggested cosmic Darwinism (new universes governed by Darwinian evolution sprout in cosmic black holes), also muses on the idea that there is no scientific method:

Feyerabend thought it was very important to underline that we didn’t know why science works. And so I gave a lot of thought to this problem over the years and my point of view, my proposal, is that science works because scientists form communities and traditions based not on a common set of methods, but a common set of ethical principles. And there are two ethical principles that I think underlie the success of science and I call these the Principles of the Open Future. The first one is that we agree to tell the truth and we agree to be governed by rational argument from public evidence. So when there is a disagreement it can be resolved by referring to a rational deduction from public evidence. We agree to be so swayed.

Whether we originally came to that point of view or not to that point of view, whether that was our idea or somebody else’s idea, whether it’s our research program or a rival research program, we agree to let evidence decide. Now one sees this happening all the time in science. This is the strength of science.

The second principle is that when the evidence does not decide, when the evidence is not sufficient to decide from rational argument, whether one point of view is right or another point of view is right, we agree to encourage competition and diversification amongst the professionals in the community.

The difficulty is that in many fields that is just not what we are seeing.

Incidentally, Smolin himself works largely in an area where evidence wouldn’t seem to matter much. He has espoused cosmic Darwinism, where new universes sprout from black holes:

It seemed to me that the only principle powerful enough to explain the high degree of organization of our universe—compared to a universe with the particles and forces chosen randomly—was natural selection itself. (Lee Smolin, “A Theory of the Whole Universe” in John Brockman, ed., The
Third Culture (New York: Simon and Schuster Touchstone, 1996), p. 294: http://tinyurl.com/4xr9s3u)

He and colleagues have also aimed to take relativity to a brand new level: “They say we need to forget about the home Einstein invented for us: we live instead in a place called phase space.” That, we are told, is a “curious eight-dimensional world that merges our familiar four dimensions of space and time and a four-dimensional world called momentum space.”

On the whole, if this is science, isn’t it just as well that there is no scientific method?

But wait a minute …

See also: Top notch studies commonly report contradictory genealogies today

7 Replies to “Is it true that there is no scientific method, as cosmologist Lee Smolin suggests?

  1. 1
    Barb says:

    ARRIVING AT TRUTH THE SCIENTIFIC WAY
    1. Observe what happens.
    2. Based on those observations, form a theory as to what may be true.
    3. Test the theory by further observations and by experiments.
    4. Watch to see if the predictions based on the theory come true.

    Scientific truth is not revealed; it is discovered. This necessitates a system of trial and error, with the searcher for scientific truth often finding himself in a fruitless endeavor. But by systematically following four steps, he pursues a fruitful search. Nevertheless, scientific victories are celebrated on the ruins of scientific defeats as formerly accepted views are rejected to make way for new ones viewed as more nearly correct.

    Despite this hit-and-miss method, scientists have over the centuries built up an amazing amount of scientific knowledge. Although often mistaken, they have been able to correct many inaccurate conclusions before serious damage was done. In fact, as long as faulty knowledge stays within the realm of pure science, the danger of inflicting serious harm is minimal. But when attempts are made to transform seriously flawed pure science into applied science, the results can be disastrous.

    Ironically, scientist Vincent Wigglesworth of Cambridge University observed that the scientific method itself is “a religious approach.” How so? “It rests upon an unquestioning faith that natural phenomena conform to ‘laws of nature.’”

  2. 2

    Well, the question of whether there is a “true” scientific method is a rational question and one deserving of thought.

    This, though, was a real howler:

    It seemed to me that the only principle powerful enough to explain the high degree of organization of our universe—compared to a universe with the particles and forces chosen randomly—was natural selection itself.

    Yeah, that’s it. Natural selection. You know, that convenience label that in actuality isn’t a mechanism, isn’t a force. That idea that was proposed and is propped up by “self-replication” being the source of the variation needed to drive the engine of natural selection.

    Sure. That’ll help explain the cosmos.

    Pause for laughter . . .

  3. 3
    Barry Arrington says:

    “It seemed to me that the only principle powerful enough to explain the high degree of organization of our universe—compared to a universe with the particles and forces chosen randomly—was natural selection itself.” (Lee Smolin, “A Theory of the Whole Universe” in John Brockman, ed., The
    Third Culture (New York: Simon and Schuster Touchstone, 1996), p. 294: http://tinyurl.com/4xr9s3u)

    Can it really be that he really believes that is the ONLY principle powerful enough to explain the data? Is he being willfully obtuse? Or can it be that his metaphysical commitments are so powerful that he literally cannot see the gobsmackingly obvious alternative principle that could account for the data?

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    as to this comment:

    we live instead in a place called phase space.” That, we are told, is a “curious eight-dimensional world that merges our familiar four dimensions of space and time and a four-dimensional world called momentum space.”

    The first question I asked was, “do they have any empirical evidence?”, and found,,

    Big questions still remain. For instance, how can we know if momentum space is really curved? To find the answer, the team has proposed several experiments.
    One idea is to look at light arriving at the Earth from distant gamma-ray bursts. If momentum space is curved in a particular way that mathematicians refer to as “non-metric”, then a high-energy photon in the gamma-ray burst should arrive at our telescope a little later than a lower-energy photon from the same burst, despite the two being emitted at the same time.
    Big questions still remain. For instance, how can we know if momentum space is really curved? To find the answer, the team has proposed several experiments.
    One idea is to look at light arriving at the Earth from distant gamma-ray bursts. If momentum space is curved in a particular way that mathematicians refer to as “non-metric”, then a high-energy photon in the gamma-ray burst should arrive at our telescope a little later than a lower-energy photon from the same burst, despite the two being emitted at the same time.
    Just that phenomenon has already been seen, starting with some unusual observations made by a telescope in the Canary Islands in 2005 . The effect has since been confirmed by NASA’s Fermi gamma-ray space telescope, which has been collecting light from cosmic explosions since it launched in 2008. “The Fermi data show that it is an undeniable experimental fact that there is a correlation between arrival time and energy – high-energy photons arrive later than low-energy photons,” says Amelino-Camelia.
    Still, he is not popping the champagne just yet. It is not clear whether the observed delays are true signatures of curved momentum space, or whether they are down to “unknown properties of the explosions themselves”, as Amelino-Camelia puts it. Calculations of gamma-ray bursts idealise the explosions as instantaneous, but in reality they last for several seconds. While there is no obvious reason to think so, it is possible that the bursts occur in such a way that they emit lower-energy photons a second or two before higher-energy photons, which would account for the observed delays.
    http://www.newscientist.com/ar.....tml?page=2

    But alas, it appears that the champagne will have to remain corked for them:

    Quantum Foam Paper Suggests Einstein Was Right About Space-Time Being ‘Smooth’ – January 2013
    Excerpt: It appears Albert Einstein may have been right yet again.
    A team of researchers came to this conclusion after tracing the long journey three photons took through intergalactic space. The photons were blasted out by an intense explosion known as a gamma-ray burst about 7 billion light-years from Earth. They finally barreled into the detectors of NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope in May 2009, arriving just a millisecond apart.
    Their dead-heat finish strongly supports the Einsteinian view of space-time, researchers said. The wavelengths of gamma-ray burst photons are so small that they should be able to interact with the even tinier “bubbles” in the quantum theorists’ proposed space-time foam.
    If this foam indeed exists, the three photons should have been knocked around a bit during their epic voyage. In such a scenario, the chances of all three reaching the Fermi telescope at virtually the same time are very low, researchers said.
    So the new study is a strike against the foam’s existence as currently imagined,,, “If foaminess exists at all, we think it must be at a scale far smaller than the Planck length,”
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.....49734.html

    Note as to higher dimensions that we have actual empirical evidence for:

    The ‘Top Down’ Theistic Structure Of The Universe and Of The Human Body
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1NhA4hiQnYiyCTiqG5GelcSJjy69e1DT3OHpqlx6rACs/edit

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:

    BA:

    Here is Lewontin:

    To Sagan, as to all but a few other scientists, it is self-evident [[–> actually, science and its knowledge claims are plainly not immediately and necessarily true on pain of absurdity, to one who understands them; this is another logical error, begging the question , confused for real self-evidence; whereby a claim shows itself not just true but true on pain of patent absurdity if one tries to deny it . . . ] that the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality . . . .

    It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [[–> another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated.

    There comes a time when a begged question driven by an a priori ideology is misread as a self-evident truth.

    KF

  6. 6
    Joe says:

    There is no such thing as the scientific method

    And if you have natural selection, you don’t need a scientific method…

  7. 7
    Robert Byers says:

    There is indeed no such thing as the scientific method.
    its just ordinary people thinking about things.
    Just walking down the stairs in the dark.
    All they can say is that science is a high standard of investigation that can demand a high confidence in its conclusions.
    Its just investigation and more educated people saying they do a more careful job before they draw a conclusion.
    As in evolutionism they fail because one can’t be careful about unobserved past and gone events and processes.

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