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Nuclearspy wrote:

mercury_filter wrote:

I would disagree on this, on the grounds that science simply does not exist without observation. The entirety of the process of building models which we use to describe phenomena is something that simply cannot be done without observation. While the incorrect models came from observations, that more than likely had to do with people forcing data to fit their preconceived notions (not to mention that finding out things in science are wrong is as old as science itself....it is kind of an important part of the process, and coming up with the wrong idea rarely needs help from pitfalls such as religious zealotry or professional pride). If you say the correct models were not based on observation, I would ask where you believe the idea for planets even being there came from.

Theorists may not directly work with experiment, but they work based off the results of work experimental work that preceded them. I certainly would not say that data should never be doubted, but you can't do science without it, and it does not simply materialize out of thin air. Someone had to observe the behavior of the planets to an extent for anyone to even start the weakest of conjecture about their motions.

Look man, you seem to completely misunderstand what I'm telling you and completely misunderstand what the philosophy of science apparently is.

What you seem to not understand is that we can predict the behavior of physical objects in a world where the elementary particles and constants have entirely different values then ours.

What you also seem to be confused about is the fact that very applicability of mathematics comes BEFORE you even make an observation. The mathematical tables are axiomatic and precede science itself. Do you understand this? Otherwise, you would be reasoning in a circle

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circular_reasoning
It is entirely possible, and to be honest not really that unlikely, that I have misunderstood something you were trying to communicate. I am always happy to hear about it if I have misunderstood something.

I hope you don't think I am trying to intentionally be abrasive or anything. I initially thought you might be yourself (knee jerk reaction, and I apologize for that), but dismissed the idea, not because it was necessarily true or untrue, but because I can't know for sure, and it is very easy to misunderstand intent via text, unless it is very explicitly stated.

From what I understand, mathematics is nothing more than a language, in the end. It is much more clean, with much more definite and self-consistent rules than most natural languages, and I am vaguely aware that there are various more philosophical discussions about elements of mathematics, but more pragmatically. I currently see it as a language, albeit one that functions much differently from natural language. Since I have heard mathematicians comment that the foundations of math are much less stable than many believe, I would suspect that anything done via mathematics should be scrutinized as carefully as any observed phenomena.

Yes, we can predict the behavior of physical objects in a world that is vastly different than ours. Greg Egan did it in the Orthogonal trilogy by having a universe with space-time that had a positive-definite Riemannian metric, as opposed to a psuedo-Riemannian metric. That does not mean that it has any meaning to the real world. Such things are certainly interesting, and may some day be applicable, but just because we can change the rules does not mean anything. I suppose that it would be relevant how you were constructing the context in which you are considering these things, but I shall avoid opening that door for the time being.

You also have to consider how prevalent approximations are in physics, for example. There is a significant amount of physics that we know are not a hundred percent correct, but they are useful, at least in certain ranges. In the context of physics, mathematics is a descriptive tool. I don't know much of the philosophy side of the construction of knowledge, but I suspect you could characterize the construction of new knowledge via math and via natural language as fairly similar (please feel free to correct this if needed, I have not spent a great deal of time with philosophy). It is a sloppy comparison, but I would say that you can construct a dragon that breathes fried chicken with a language, but that does not mean it is real. It seems that the important part in the sense of understanding the world is the concepts of what mathematics is actually doing, what those underlying concepts are. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy conjecture, probably more than many, but at the end of the day, doing something like imagining and mathematically describing a universe that has completely different fundamental constants falls somewhere in the union of conjecture and fiction. While the math can be used to make predictions, and that is a big part of science, you have to consider how often the math has been wrong. Hell, if we discovered that CPT-symmetry was not in fact preserved, a good portion of the last 50 or so years of theoretical physics would be meaningless.

[Edit: I should clarify here, that the math is not wrong in many cases so much as it was applied to things incorrectly, and is therefore meaningless in the context of the ability to predict the outcome of situations. The "garbage in, garbage out" phrase applied to computers is very applicable here. I probably have misstated this, and it would be more accurate to attribute the error to observation. I would concede that correctly done math will not yield incorrect results, but that is contingent upon the observations the math is applied to being correct, and there has to be something to apply it to to begin with, and on considering "correctly done math" to include that the right math is being applied in the right place.]

Could I ask you to clarify what you mean specifically when you refer to "the mathematical tables"? There is a large variety of tables that I can imagine, and I just want to get a better idea of what you mean, in case I have misunderstood what you are saying.

I forgot when mentioning the approximations that the math involved may at its core be pure, and less subject to the issues with observation that we suffer from, the means we use to describe the action and whatnot of the various constituents of the physical world are largely entangled with the observation portion of science. The math for gravitation was built off of observation. Coulomb's law was built off of observation. I could go on, but I can't think of a part of physics off the top of my head that is not entwined in observation. If you can, by all means, correct me, as I am always appreciative of the chance to refine my knowledge. The fundamental particles you mention are understood via electromagnetism in many cases, in regards to determining mass and whatnot via the paths they take in a bubble chamber when passing though a magnetic field. I realize, of course, that a large number of subatomic particles were predicted long before they were discovered.

I have primarily focused on physics myself, but that is because that is where the bulk of my knowledge resides, and while I learn other sciences out of whimsical interest, they are not my specialty. I probably should elaborate and clarify in some places, but this message is already getting painfully long, and I tend to treat conversation as an iterative process.

Edit: If you could please clarify how my reasoning is circular, I would appreciate it as well.

Edit: Perhaps some clarification on my end would help as well. Part of my view, which I perhaps have communicated in a 'ham-handed' fashion, is based on the fact that I fail to understand how math can truly precede science in the context of science, since without observation, you have nothing to apply the math to. I am failing to understand how a person could ever hope to describe something they have never seen. Asking the most capable mathematical genius to describe something they had no knowledge of seems to be no different that asking someone born blind to describe a color.