Certain Experiment Fact

Reilly Jones (70544.1227@CompuServe.COM)
24 Sep 96 20:50:14 EDT

Jeff Dee wrote 9/24/96: <But what does 'tolerance of gray areas' mean?>

Good question. I get the creeps any time I see the word "tolerance" any more.
The word has been badly abused by the holier-than-thou politically correct
brigades, who virtually always mean "intolerance" when they use it. Likewise,
when they say "inclusive," they mean "exclusive"; when they say "multicultural,"
they mean "monocultural"; when they say "open-minded," they mean
"closed-minded"; and when they say "diversity," they mean "perversity." But I
digress. Really, tolerance in practice is simply indifference. To tolerate
something is to be indifferent to it, meaning it does not threaten your person
or your way of life (which is nearly inseparable from your person) and holds no
interest to you. This indifference, when applied to other humans, can be
miserable. As Santayana pointed out: "[T]olerated people are never conciliated.
They live on, but the aroma of their life is lost." If something threatens your
person or your way of life, no reasonable argument can be made that we should
tolerate it, to roll over and let it have its way with you, without resorting to
the fiction that the group is of higher worth than the individual. Worth to

Ira Brodsky wrote 9/23/96: <Here in the People's Republic of Wilmette (Illinois)
we constantly hear about the evils of "rigid facts" and "rote memorization" from
public school teachers. Meanwhile, our kids are not being taught to spell, they
are not being taught basic math tables>

I commisserate. Gray areas may be "tolerated" when they are of no consequence
to you, but when they translate into the conceptually incoherent relativism
being pumped into school children today, it would be irrational to "tolerate"

Jeff again: <Or does it simply mean 'acknowledging that there is a degree of
uncertainty in all ideas, and dealing with that rationally'?>

It most certainly does not mean this, since many ideas are held with certainty,
that is, not a shred of doubt to them.

Jeff again: <Certainty comes in all shades of grey from black to white.>

Oh no, not this error again! This topic has been beaten to death on this list
in the past, yet here it is again! We must have reached St. Tipler's Omega
Point already. The distinction between certainty and uncertainty is digital.
You are either certain or you are uncertain. Look it up in the dictionary,
certainty means indubitable, without doubt. Now unless you propose that we all
make up the meaning of words on the fly, to have dictionaries du jour, in which
case we would be nearly unintelligible to each other, let's stick to the
clarified meaning of certainty. The instant you have a doubt about something,
you are uncertain. There are different degrees of doubt, therefore, there are
different degrees of uncertainty, but there is only one degree of certainty.

Sasha wrote 9/20/96: <The more I think, the more I feel confused about

We've suspected this about you for some time now, Sasha... <g> Your statement
above is a good example of how "degrees of uncertainty" arise. One of Vico's
axioms from his "New Science" (1744) was "...as men are naturally drawn to the
pursuit of the true, their desire of it, when they cannot attain it, causes them
to cling to the certain." He wrote: "Men who do not know what is true of things
take care to hold fast to what is certain, so that, if they cannot satisfy their
intellects by knowledge ('scienza'), their wills at least may rest on
consciousness ('coscienza')." IOW, the more you think, the more uncertain you
are, but the more you will, the more certain you are. If you'd stop thinking so
hard and start acting more, you'll be far less confused.

Dejan Vucinic wrote 9/24/96: <There are *no* fuzzy facts. Instead, fuzziness
itself may be a fact of measurement or observation. Vagueness means lack of
knowledge. Inexactness means extensive knowledge about the scope of
applicability of facts. Truthfulness is yet another attribute, the most
relevant of all mentioned to the word "fact.">

Ah, the voice of reason! It is an exceedingly common error to mix up ontology
with epistemology, with what is there, facts, with what we can know about them,
our degrees of uncertainty, if you will. Facts are facts, two things don't
happen at the same moment, only one thing does. We may see it dimly, or from
different perspectives, but only one thing happens at any given instant of time.
This applies to history, only one thing happened at each historical moment, not
two or more. Of course, I'm ignoring the solipsistic Many-Worlds nonsense.

Dejan again: <Is a rock more fundamental than number 1?>

Obviously. Rocks preceded living entities capable of inventing the number 1,
which only has existence inside the said entity's brainpan. "There is no valid
inference from mere possibility to matter of fact, or, in other words, from mere
mathematics to concrete nature." - Alfred North Whitehead, co-author of
"Principia Mathematica"

Dejan again: <So I must be out of this world since I'm spending months
studying errors of measurement in order to publish a paper about some
facts I measured in less than a week?>

On the face of it, yes. Unless its part of some strange, esoteric initiation
rite you have to pass in order to put food on your table. <g>

Robin Hanson wrote: <If there is any sensible distinction between observation
and experiment, it is in one's degree of control over a system. Observers look,
while experimenters change things (and look).>

I see there's been further discussion since this, on the nature of experiments,
so I'll just add a tidbit about it. I haven't seen the word "theory" come up
yet, so let me say that an experiment can't be an experiment without a theory
that not only predicts what will happen, but specifies what effects caused by
the experiment will count as evidence, before the experiment is conducted.
Observation, meaning no predictions are involved, still must have some theory
behind it, or else what is to be recorded as having been observed? This gets to
the difficulty that the "soft" sciences have, as opposed to the "hard" sciences
that do not deal with anything living, let alone conscious entities capable of
theorizing themselves. This difficulty is that theorizing about theorizing
entities, characterized by their unique volitional freedom, enters a
"meta-theorizing" regress, where what counts for evidence easily becomes fuzzy
depending on the shifting purposes of the experimenters and their reviewers.
Statistics are used because we are ignorant of the actual causes of the effects
we are observing (again, epistemology versus ontology). Rules for statistical
inference are set up strictly with utility in mind, which changes as the users
of the experiment's evidence change their purposes. Studies coming out of this
domain, routinely are met with the question, "who funded this study?"

Such mish-mashy characteristics of the "soft" sciences have given rise to the
common and widespread charge that none of them are really "science," they are
just political programs to varying degrees. This charge must be taken
seriously, because the "soft" sciences require funding, meaning they begin, and,
of course, end, in the political processes of whatever society is conducting
them. Some political ends are better than others, e.g, the difference between
using nonliving things as means to an end and using humans as means to an end.
When statistics are applied to unique, individual humans, a mindset of viewing
them as an aggregate object (as in the "hard" sciences), an undifferentiated
mass, often develops; such a mindset is often passed on to corporate and
political elites who then frequently use humans in a nonliving sense, as
objects, as a means to their ends. This is why the "soft" sciences have
gathered both a good reputation, as in medicine, and a bad reputation, as in

An interesting treatment of the problem of theorizing about theorizers, is in
J.A. Scott Kelso's book "Dynamic Patterns" (1995) where he devoted a chapter to
"intentional dynamics," trying to model a coupled human intentional-behavioral
system, with mathematical predictions that, IMO, moved closer to the methods of
the "hard" sciences, than many other "soft" science experiments I have come
across, because the human subjects do not need to aggregated, they are
self-contained experimental universes.

Reilly Jones | Philosophy of Technology:
70544.1227@compuserve.com | The rational, moral and political relations
| between 'How we create' and 'Why we create'