Mathematics News

If math is not real, BS stats are okay. Right?

Spread the love

Why do people who think math is just something humans evolved to relate to our world (and has only an accidental relationship with correctness) think it is important if statistics are just made up?

Clearly they do care (language warning), as is evident from an interview with stats critic Tim Harford More or Less at Vice:

All of this is more relevant now than ever before, because most news operations are 24-hour rolling cycles, where press releases, particularly those from official-sounding bodies, may be posted unchecked. The shared parental-leave story ended up being analyzed by politicians and comment writers, and everything they were saying was based on utter, utter bullshit. And that’s just traditional news sources. Increasingly, we are getting our information from Facebook memes and social media, and those statistics are even less verified. More.

Generally speaking, naturalism is bad for science, and that conundrum demonstrates the fact.

See also: Barry Arrington: How did mathematics come to be woven into the fabric of reality?

Also: The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (the human mind)

Follow UD News at Twitter!

24 Replies to “If math is not real, BS stats are okay. Right?

  1. 1
    daveS says:

    Why do people who think math is just something humans evolved to relate to our world (and has only an accidental relationship with correctness) think it is important if statistics are just made up?

    I don’t believe anyone here has stated that the “relationship with correctness” is only accidental.

    Even if mathematics is wholly “designed” by humans, it would stand to reason that it would correctly model certain aspects of reality. That’s (partly) what it was designed to do.

  2. 2
    ziggy lorenc says:

    78% of stats are just made up.

  3. 3
    Aleta says:

    I’ll note that on the “Either science or naturalism” thread I responded to this, and I will use words I don’t often use, silly and stupid idea that if math is something humans have developed it “has only an accidental relationship with correctness” because people “just made it up.”

    I’ll also note that News didn’t respond to my comments.

    There are lots of problems with statistics, not because statistics itself as a tool is deficient, but because often the data it is analyzing is suspect because of bad modeling. If someone does a poll with with simplistic, loaded questions, for instance, or assigns a scale of 1 to 5 on things that have no real numerical qualities, then further analysis of that data will be junk: garbage in, garbage out.

  4. 4
    Querius says:

    Yes, indeed.

    Mathematics is a symbolic language used as a tool to describe logical relationships, and has logical rules to transform or simplify statements without altering the logical relationships.

    However, as in any language, one can make statements that are silly, incorrect, or misapplied. Statistical data is of course notorious for being misapplied, misconstrued, and misused. For example, San Francisco Bay is only 14 feet deep on the average. This doesn’t mean that only shallow-draft shipping has access, but rather that it has wide mudflats.

    As to whether mathematics is a human invention, I’d say that it’s partly true. The logic (aka properties) behind mathematics transcends its articulation. One can also suggest that were we sufficiently intelligent, we could instantly visualize relationships without having to resort to mathematics.

    That mathematics and science can and has been enthusiastically misused to promote an agenda—environmental, educational, political, economic, social, and philosophical–is antithetical to science and truth, and results only in the personal enrichment of a few and the widespread misery of their duped constituents.

    -Q

  5. 5
    News says:

    Naturalism fails to ground any reason for believing that we could know whether our perceptions are accurate, while providing plenty of claims that undermine the idea.

  6. 6
    Aleta says:

    That’s sophomoric. Yes, my perceptions may be totally fooling me, and I might be a brain in a vat, and the world may have been created last Thursday and just made to look like there is a past, but those are all speculations that aren’t worth spending a bit of time taking seriously.

    We are able to test whether our conclusions about the world are accurate. Both naturalists and theists would agree with a great deal of what I’ve written about the nature of mathematics. You are, to use a common phrase around here, setting up and knocking down a ridiculous strawman when you claim that naturalism precludes any reason for thinking our perceptions and conceptions can find contingent truths about the world.

  7. 7
    goodusername says:

    News,

    Why do people who think math is just something humans evolved to relate to our world (and ha only an accidental relationship with correctness) think it is important if statistics are just made up?

    Is that question in response to something you actually saw someone say? Or is this “just made up”?

    Naturalism fails to ground any reason for believing that we could know whether our perceptions are accurate, while providing plenty of claims that undermine the idea.

    Does super-naturalism ground any reason for believing that we could know perceptions are accurate? Can you know that an all-powerful supernatural being isn’t tricking you right now? We’re all in the same boat.

  8. 8
    Aleta says:

    Thank you, goodusername. I had especially been thinking about your second thought, and you said it well.

  9. 9
    Andre says:

    So Aleta is saying we can trust the convictions of a monkey’s mind…. I see

  10. 10
    Andre says:

    Goodusername

    Because if there was some supernatural creator that was fooling us he’d firstly be an a- hole and secondly he would not be worth our time to worship.

  11. 11
    Aleta says:

    That also is silly. We’re talking about math created by human beings, not monkeys, and there is a difference, you know.

    The straw is flying thick around here.

  12. 12
    Andre says:

    So Darwin’s horrid doubt is false then? You obviously disagree with him?

  13. 13
    Andre says:

    Aleta what exactly is the difference aren’t we 99% the same? Are we not just another animal?

  14. 14
    Aleta says:

    I really doubt you are interested in a serious discussion about this, Andre.

    1. I don’t know what horrid doubt you are talking about, but Darwin lived 150 years ago, so I don’t really care very much about what he thought.

    2. We are an animal, but we are not “just another animal.” We have the ability to use language and other symbol systems, including math, and my primary interest in recent discussions is the nature and use of math. Monkeys don’t have anything to do with this discussion.

  15. 15
    bornagain77 says:

    Why Evolutionary Theory Cannot Survive Itself – Nancy Pearcey – March 8, 2015
    Excerpt: Darwin’s Selective Skepticism
    People are sometimes under the impression that Darwin himself recognized the problem. They typically cite Darwin’s famous “horrid doubt” passage where he questions whether the human mind can be trustworthy if it is a product of evolution: “With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.”
    But, of course, Darwin’s theory itself was a “conviction of man’s mind.” So why should it be “at all trustworthy”?
    Surprisingly, however, Darwin never confronted this internal contradiction in his theory. Why not? Because he expressed his “horrid doubt” selectively — only when considering the case for a Creator.
    From time to time, Darwin admitted that he still found the idea of God persuasive. He once confessed his “inward conviction … that the Universe is not the result of chance.” It was in the next sentence that he expressed his “horrid doubt.” So the “conviction” he mistrusted was his lingering conviction that the universe is not the result of chance.
    In another passage Darwin admitted, “I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man.” Again, however, he immediately veered off into skepticism: “But then arises the doubt — can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions?”
    That is, can it be trusted when it draws “grand conclusions” about a First Cause? Perhaps the concept of God is merely an instinct programmed into us by natural selection, Darwin added, like a monkey’s “instinctive fear and hatred of a snake.”
    In short, it was on occasions when Darwin’s mind led him to a theistic conclusion that he dismissed the mind as untrustworthy. He failed to recognize that, to be logically consistent, he needed to apply the same skepticism to his own theory.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....94171.html

    Nancy Pearcey – How Darwin’s Theory Undercuts Itself – audio/video
    https://www.facebook.com/philip.cunningham.73/videos/vb.100000088262100/1125689630777302/

    “The impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God.”
    Charles Darwin to Doedes, N. D. – Letter – 2 Apr 1873

    a few notes:

    “Geometry is unique and eternal, a reflection from the mind of God. That mankind shares in it is because man is an image of God.”
    – Johannes Kepler

    The Fundamental Difference Between Humans and Nonhuman Animals – Michael Egnor – November 5, 2015
    Excerpt: Human beings have mental powers that include the material mental powers of animals but in addition entail a profoundly different kind of thinking. Human beings think abstractly, and nonhuman animals do not. Human beings have the power to contemplate universals, which are concepts that have no material instantiation. Human beings think about mathematics, literature, art, language, justice, mercy, and an endless library of abstract concepts. Human beings are rational animals.
    Human rationality is not merely a highly evolved kind of animal perception. Human rationality is qualitatively different — ontologically different — from animal perception. Human rationality is different because it is immaterial. Contemplation of universals cannot have material instantiation, because universals themselves are not material and cannot be instantiated in matter.,,,
    It is a radical difference — an immeasurable qualitative difference, not a quantitative difference.
    We are more different from apes than apes are from viruses.,,,
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....00661.html

    Calvin and Hobbes – cartoon – The Mathematical Atheist
    http://s3.hubimg.com/u/270622_f520.jpg

  16. 16
    goodusername says:

    Because if there was some supernatural creator that was fooling us he’d firstly be an a- hole and secondly he would not be worth our time to worship.

    Is there a point there somewhere?

  17. 17
    daveS says:

    Because if there was some supernatural creator that was fooling us he’d firstly be an a- hole and secondly he would not be worth our time to worship.

    There is a being called the “Great Deceiver”, according to some theists.

  18. 18
    Querius says:

    The topic was about math. What does any of this have to do with God??

    -Q

  19. 19
    Aleta says:

    This thread is sort of a spin-off from an earlier one. Here’s a pertinent post from that thread: http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-604333

  20. 20
    bornagain77 says:

    as to:

    The topic was about math. What does any of this have to do with God??

    Well,,,

    Mathematics and Physics – A Happy Coincidence? – William Lane Craig – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BF25AA4dgGg

    1. If God did not exist the applicability of mathematics would be a happy coincidence.
    2. The applicability of mathematics is not a happy coincidence.
    3. Therefore, God exists.

    An Interview with David Berlinski – Jonathan Witt
    Berlinski: There is no argument against religion that is not also an argument against mathematics. Mathematicians are capable of grasping a world of objects that lies beyond space and time ….
    Interviewer:… Come again(?) …
    Berlinski: No need to come again: I got to where I was going the first time. The number four, after all, did not come into existence at a particular time, and it is not going to go out of existence at another time. It is neither here nor there. Nonetheless we are in some sense able to grasp the number by a faculty of our minds. Mathematical intuition is utterly mysterious. So for that matter is the fact that mathematical objects such as a Lie Group or a differentiable manifold have the power to interact with elementary particles or accelerating forces. But these are precisely the claims that theologians have always made as well – that human beings are capable by an exercise of their devotional abilities to come to some understanding of the deity; and the deity, although beyond space and time, is capable of interacting with material objects.
    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/20.....-here.html

    As to ‘top down’ interaction with elementary particles

    Recognising Top-Down Causation – George Ellis, University of Cape Town
    Excerpt page 3 and 4: Quantum Physics
    Top down effects occur in the context of quantum physics too[5].
    Here are some examples:
    Band Structure
    : The periodic crystal structure in a metal leads (via Bloch’s theorem)to lattice waves, and an electronic band structure depending on the particular solid involved, resulting in all the associated phenomena resulting from the band structure[11]. The entire machinery for describing the lattice periodicity refers to a scale much larger than that of the electron, and hence is not describable in terms appropriate to that scale. Thus these effects all exist because of the macro level properties of the solid -the crystal structure -and hence represent top-down causation from that structure to the electron states. This can lead to existence of quasiparticles such as phonons that result from vibrations of the lattice structure; it also leads to Cooper pairs and hence to superconductivity. Because these are all based in top-down action, they are emergent phenomena in the sense that they simply would not exist if the macro-structure did not exist, and hence cannot be understood by a purely bottom-up analysis, as emphasized strongly by Laughlin [12].
    Caldeira-Leggett model:
    The Caldeira-Leggett model is a model for a system plus heat reservoir, used for the description of dissipation phenomena in solid state physics [13]. Here the Lagrangian of the composite system T consisting of the system S of interest and a heat reservoir B takes the form
    LT = LS + LB + LI + LCT, (8)4
    where LS is the Lagrangian for the system of interest, LB that for the reservoir (a set of non-interacting harmonic oscillators), and LI that for the interaction between them. The last term LCT is a `counter term’, introduced to cancel an extra harmonic contribution that would come from the coupling to the environmental oscillators. This term represents a top-down effect from the environment to the system, because LI completely represents the lower-level interactions between the system and the environment. The effect of the heat bath is more than the sum of its parts when LCT not equal to 0, because the summed effect of the parts is given by LI.
    State vector preparation:
    State vector preparation is key to experimental set-ups, and is a non-unitary process because it can produce particles in a specific eigenstate from a stream of particles that are not in such a state. Indeed it acts rather like state vector reduction, being a transition that maps a mixed state to a pure state. How can this non-unitary process happen in a way compatible with standard unitary quantum dynamics? The crucial feature is pointed out by Isham [14]: the outcome states are drawn from some collection Ei of initial states by being selected by some suitable apparatus, being chosen to have some specific spin state in the Stern-Gerlach experiment; the other states are discarded. This happens in two basic ways: separation and selection (as in the Stern Gerlach experiment), which is unitary up to the moment of selection when it is not, or selective absorption (as in the case of wire polarisers), which continuously absorbs energy.
    This top-down effect from the apparatus to the particles causes an effective non-unitary dynamics at the lower levels, which therefore cannot be described by the Schrodinger or Dirac equations.
    In such situations, selection takes place from a (statistical) ensemble of initial states according to some higher level selection criterion, which is a form of top-down causation from the apparatus to the particles. This is a generic way one can create order out of a disordered set of states, and so generate useful information by throwing away what is meaningless [5]. The apparatus is specifically designed to have this non-unitary effect on the lower level. This example is important in its own right, but also because it points the way to considering similar top-down effects in photon detectors[5]. This may be a crucial part of why actual measurements in a realistic context are non-unitary in character.
    http://fqxi.org/data/essay-con.....s_2012.pdf

  21. 21
    Aleta says:

    1. If God did not exist the applicability of mathematics would be a happy coincidence.
    2. The applicability of mathematics is not a happy coincidence.
    3. Therefore, God exists.

    That’s about the emptiest syllogism I’ve ever seem.

    1) is not all true – it’s a false dichotomy that assumes a whole bunch of stuff we don’t know.

  22. 22
    bornagain77 says:

    About as empty as arguing with an atheist?

    A DEFENSE OF THE (Divine) REVELATION AGAINST THE OBJECTIONS OF FREETHINKERS, BY MR. EULER
    Excerpt: “The freethinkers (atheists) have yet to produce any objections that have not long been refuted most thoroughly. But since they are not motivated by the love of truth, and since they have an entirely different point of view, we should not be surprised that the best refutations count for nothing and that the weakest and most ridiculous reasoning, which has so often been shown to be baseless, is continuously repeated. If these people maintained the slightest rigor, the slightest taste for the truth, it would be quite easy to steer them away from their errors; but their tendency towards stubbornness makes this completely impossible.”
    http://www.math.dartmouth.edu/.....2trans.pdf

  23. 23
    ppolish says:

    There is a chance that “BS stats are OK”. A certain probability sure. You’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

  24. 24
    Querius says:

    So for example, how much statistical data would be required to unambiguously characterize the surface of an elephant?

    Could it be that all statistical data is BS until you reach some “critical amount” depending on the complexity of a surface?

    -Q

Leave a Reply