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Archive for September, 2012

Popper, Hume, Induction, Falsifiability, and Science

Posted by allzermalmer on September 30, 2012

Here are some interesting things from Karl Popper on Falsification and Induction, or Hume on Induction.

“we merely have to realize that our ‘adoption’ of scientific theories can only be tentative; that they always are and will remain guesses or conjectures or hypotheses. They are put forward, of course, in the hope of hitting upon the truth, even though they miss it more often than not. They may be true or false. They may be tested by observation (it is the main task of science to make these tests more and more severe), and rejected if they do not pass…Indeed, we can do no more with a proposed law than test it: it is no use pretending that we have established universal theories, or justified them, or made them probably, by observation. We just have not done so, and cannot do so. We cannot give any positive reasons for them. They remain guesses or conjectures- though well tested ones.” Realism and the Aim of Science

Now someone might wonder how we cannot give any positive reasons for establishing the universal theories, or justified them, or made them probable, by all the observations that confirm its predictions on tests. This comes from what Popper takes to be Hume’s problem of induction.

“[Hume] tried to show that any inductive inference- any reasoning from singular and observable cases (and their repeated occurrence) to anything like regularities or laws- must be invalid. Any such inference, he tried to show, could not een be approximately or partially valid. It could not even be a probable inference: it must, rather, be completely baseless, and must always remain so, however great the number of the observed instances might be. Thus he tried to show that we cannot validly reason from the known to the unknown, or from what has been experienced to what has not been experienced (and thus, for example, from the past to the future): no matter how often the sun has been observed regularly to rise and set, even the greatest number of observed instances does not constitute what I have called a positive reason for the regularity, or the law, of the sun’s rising and setting. Thus it can neither establish this law nor make it probable.” Realism and the Aim of Science

I think it should be pointed out, Hume did bring up that the basic idea of induction was that “we suppose, but are never able to prove, that there must be a resemblance betwixt those objects, of which we have had experience, and those which lie beyond the reach of our discovery.” Induction is also done in other ways besides going from particular statements to universal statements.

[I.] Move form particular statement to particular statement.
In 1997 the Chicago Bulls beat the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals. In 1998 the Chicago Bulls beat the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals. Thus, the Chicago Bulls will win against the Utah Jazz the next time they play in the NBA Finals.

[II.] Move from general statement to general statement.
All NFL teams made tons of money this year. Thus, all NFL teams will make tons of money next year.

[III.] Move from general statement to particular statement.
All NFL teams made tons of money this year. Thus, the Ravens will make tons of money next year.

[IV.] Move from particular statement to general statement.
This crow is black. Thus, all crows are black.

Each of these, though, follow what Hume points out for Induction. They are going from the known to the unknown, which does not have to include the future or past.Hume also says that the only thing that can take us from the known to the unknown is causality, or a necessary connection between two events to form a necessary causal relation. But Hume already pointed out that this relation is not found by experience. So Hume comes to the conclusion that since the necessary relation between cause and effect or continuation of that relationship, is not shown by experience nor demonstrative,  or that the principle of induction is not known by experience or demonstrative, but that they are creations of the human imagination that cannot be shown to be true based on experience or reason, and any justification of them will either rely on an infinite regress or circular reasoning. So they cannot be proven to be true.

This would mean that when science proposes either a causal connection, or what will happen in the future, or what happens beneath sensible qualities, cannot be proved by experience to be true , or by reason to be true, or even held to be probably true. IOW, we are not justified in proposing things beyond what is known, since they cannot be shown to be true or probably true. So scientific hypotheses are unjustified and cannot be shown to be true or probably true, or natural laws cannot be shown to be true or probably true or justified.

Popper comes along and tries to save science, in some way. But you notice where his position eventually leads as well. He admits with Hume that we cannot demonstrate the truth of a scientific hypothesis or explanation; we cannot show by experiment the truth of a scientific hypothesis or explanation; we cannot show that a scientific hypothesis or explanation is probably true. All we can do is show if they are false. We can give negative reasons to a scientific hypothesis or explanation by it failing its severe experimental/observational tests. This is because it follows the demonstrative inference of modus tollens and disjunctive syllogism, so we can demonstrate that a scientific hypothesis or explanation is false.

So falsifiability, or refutabilty, can show you only that a scientific hypothesis or explanation is false. Refutability cannot demonstrate that the hypothesis or explanation is true, or has been shown by experience to be true, or is probably true.  It can only tell you that it may be true, and it has not failed any of its tests so far. It doesn’t even appears to care if something is true, only that it can be shown to be false.

And here are Hume on what Induction is, or relies on.

“that which we have had no experience, must resemble those which we have had experience, and nature continues uniformly the same.” Treatise of Human Nature:  Book I (Of the Understanding), Part III (Of Knowledge & Probability), Sect.VI.Of the Inference from the Impression to the Idea

“probability is founded on the presumpition of a resemblances betweixt those objects, of which we have had experience, and those, of which we have had none…” Treatise of Human Nature:  Book I (Of the Understanding), Part III (Of Knowledge & Probability), Sect.VI.Of the Inference from the Impression to the Idea

“Thus not only our reason fails us in the discovery of the ultimate connexion of causes and effects, but even after experience has informed us of their constant conjunction, it is impossible for us to satisfy ourselves by our reason, why we should extend that experience beyond those particular instances, which have fallen under our observation. We suppose, but are never able to prove, that there must be a resemblance betwixt those objects, of which we have had experience, and those which lie beyond the reach of our discovery.” Treatise of Human Nature:  Book I (Of the Understanding), Part III (Of Knowledge & Probability), Sect.VI.Of the Inference from the Impression to the Idea

“we always presume, when we see like sensible qualities, that they have like secret powers, and expect that effects, similar to those which we have experienced, will follow from them.” An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: Section IV. Sceptical Doubts Concerning the Operations of the Understanding, Part II

“all arguments from experience are founded on the similarity which we discover among natural objects, and by which we are induced to expect effects similar to those which we have found to follow from such objects.” An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: Section IV. Sceptical Doubts Concerning the Operations of the Understanding, Part II

“From causes which appear similar we expect similar effects. This is the sum of all our experimental conclusions.” An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: Section IV. Sceptical Doubts Concerning the Operations of the Understanding, Part II

 

 

 

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Difference Between Verification and Falsification

Posted by allzermalmer on September 30, 2012

Karl Popper developed the idea that the demarcation between empirical statements, which was mostly taken to be scientific statements, and metaphysical statements was based on the idea of falsification. Popper was speaking out, or presenting, a different criterion to differentiate between empirical statements and metaphysical statements.

“The problem of induction arises from an apparent contradiction between the basic empiricist requirement (only experience can decide the truth or falsity of a scientific statement) and Hume’s insight into the logical impermissibility of inductive decision (there is no empirical justification of universal statements). This contradiction exists only if we assume that empirical statements must be empirically “fully decidable”, that is, that experience must be able to decide not only their falsity, but also their truth. The contradiction is resolved once “partially decidable” empirical statements are admitted: Universal empirical statements are empirically falsifiable, they can be defeated by experience.” The Two Fundamental Problems of the Theory of Knowledge

Verification meant that empirical statements, or scientific statements, are those that it is possible be decided to be true or false by experience. You can fully decide that the statement is true because experience has shown the statement is true. Like experience can show that “this apple is red in color”, so too can experience show the statement that “all apples in the refrigerator are red in color”. The refrigerator is in a specific place, at a specific time, and logically possible to see if all the apples in the refrigeration  are red in color. It can be opened and found that all the apples are red in color, or that all but one of the apples in the refrigerator are red in color, like one can be yellow. Thus, it is both logically possible to empirically verify the statement or empirically falsify the statement. It is logically possible to either show it is true or show it is false.

However, the statement that “all apples in refrigerators are red in color” is logically impossible to empirically verify. This is because this universal statement applies to all times and all places, while the previous universal statement applies to a specific time and specific place.Thus, this universal statement cannot be verified, but it can still be empirically falsified. You might not be able to check all the refrigerators that will, or have, existed in all places or all times, but those that you have observed have the empirical possibility of showing the statement to be false. You might not be able to check all refrigerators in all places and times, but finding a specific refrigerator that has a yellow apple, shows that all refrigerators, in all times and place, do not have all red apples in them. One case has been found to run counter to the universal claim. Thus, we learn that some refrigerators have only red apples in color and some refrigerators have yellow apples in color.

The point becomes that science can introduce whatever universal statement it wants, so long as it is logically possible to make one empirical observation to show it is false. We do not have to show that what it introduces is true by experience, just that it can make predictions that are logically possible to show false by experience.

Let us imagine that there is a person who walks amongst us, and this person knows all the laws of nature. Let us also assume that it is a trickster like Loki. It mixes some truth with some falsity, knowingly. It decides to come up with a falsifiable statement, which means that it is not fully decidable, i.e. it is partially decidable. It knows that this universal statement is false, but it still makes predictions that are possible to be shown false by experience. This being that is like Loki knows that all attempted experiments to show that statement is false by experience will fail, which means it passes every single experimental test that can be presented. You would be justified in accepting a false statement because you cannot show it is true but you can show it is false.

 

 

 

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Strong Inference: The Way of Science

Posted by allzermalmer on September 27, 2012

This is a copy of an article from the journal The American Biology Teacher;  Vol. 65, No. 6 (Aug., 2003), pp. 419-424. The article is called Strong Inference: The Way of Science, by Thomas B. Kinraideand R. Ford Denison. You can read the article here.

“Valentine: It may all prove to be true.
Hannah: It can’t prove to be true, it can only not prove to be false yet.
Valentine: (Pleased) Just like science.
– From “Arcadia,” a play by Tom Stoppard

Science teachers and science textbooks commonly introduce students to the scientific method in elementary and junior high school, but the study of scientific method and philosophy can be a life-long endeavor. Our essay concentrates on a particular aspect of the scientific method -the testing of hypotheses. Concepts of hypothesis testing have changed even within the relatively short period of modern science. Specifically, the concept of proof has been abandoned for reasons we shall describe. Although we can not prove hypotheses, we can almost certainly disprove some hypotheses, if they are false.

To describe the modern method of hypothesis testing, we borrow the term “strong inference” from John R. Platt’s Science (1964) essay by the same name. In brief, strong inference is the method of testing a hypothesis by deliberately attempting to demonstrate the falsity of the hypothesis. A hypothesis that repeatedly withstands attempts to demonstrate its falsity gains credibility, but remains unproven. We are confident that our essay reflects the thinking of most scientists that hypotheses are potentially disprovable but not provable. Nevertheless, we qualify these views somewhat, arguing that neither proof nor disproof is certain.

Strong inference is an avenue to knowledge that is systematically applied in cience, but some practice of strong inference has occurred in human endeavors for thousands of years. For example, courts of law in ancient civilizations occasionally used elements of strong inference – facts were assembled from physical evidence and the testimony of witnesses; hypotheses  were developed (only the grand vizier could have stolen the documents); and impossible or illogical consequences of the hypotheses were grounds for rejecting  the hypotheses (an alibi would establish the grand vizier’s innocence) Nevertheless, former and present methods of inference sometimes differ significantly- an ancient magistrate may have awaited a ghostly visitation during which the truth of a case would be revealed; the body of an accused witch may have been examined for incriminating marks; and confessions may have been extracted by torture. [This mixture of strong inference and alternative methods is described in tales of the historical Chinese magistrate, Judge Dee, by the Dutch diplomat and scholar Robert Van Gulik (1976).]

Even today, people rely upon alternative avenues to knowledge that may include intuition, revelation, and adherence to authority. We are reluctant still to use strong inference outside of enterprises that are recognizably scientific, and the application of strong inference to some beliefs may be impossible. Even when strong inference is possible, its application may be uncomfortable, and its application to the beliefs of others may be considered hostile. Challenges to authority and received wisdom may seem disloyal or arrogant. This reluctance to use strong inference follows understandably from the requirement that belief (or hypotheses) be subjected to deliberate attempts to demonstrate the falsity of the beliefs and by formulating and testing competing beliefs. Nevertheless, strong inference can be practiced with civility and can do much to offset our prejudices and natural gullibility.

A Definition of Hypothesis

Because the formulation and testing of hypotheses are at the heart of strong inference, we will present a definition of hypothesis here, however, a detailed discussion of hypotheses will be delayed until some other terms, incorporated in the definition, are considered. For the definition of hypothesis, and most other terms, we have consulted Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged (Gove, 1976)

Hypothesis: [An explanatory] proposition tentatively assumed in order to draw out its logical or empirical consequences and so test its accord with facts that are known or may be determined.

Inevitably, the burden of definition is shifted to other words. In the present case, “fact” is one of those words. Strong inference ultimately rests upon facts, and facts and hypotheses are sometimes confused with each other. Therefore, we shall consider first the concept of fact.

The Concept of Fact

Fact: An occurrence, quality, or relation the reality of which is manifest in experience or may be inferred with certainty.

Here, too, the burden of definition is shifted to other words, among them, “experience” and “reality”. To deal with these terms we must concede that science rests upon a few basic assumptions. Science assumes that nature has a reality independent of the human mind, and science assumes that the human mind can grasp the reality of nature. These epistemological issues are rarely considered in the ordinary practice of science.

Manifest Fact & Inferential Fact

The definition of fact indicates the existence of two kinds of fact- manifest fact and inferential fact. Again, some definitions may be helpful.

Manifest: Capable of being easily understood or recognized at once by the mind: not obscure: obvious.

Inference: The act of passing from one or more propositions…considered as true to another the truth of which is believed to follow from that of the former.

Manifest facts are not highly dependent upon inference. We will call a fact that is highly dependent upon inference an inferential fact. To illustrate inferential and manifest facts, consider the case of a forest fire. If the fire occurred recently, then its occurrence is likely to be a manifest fact. It may have been observed by hundreds of people, and newspaper readers and television viewers are certainly being reasonable in accepting the occurrence of the fire as a manifest fact.

What if the fire had occurred 200 years ago? Most scientist would accept as fact (inferential fact) that a fire had occurred in an area if several observations pointed, convergently, toward a fire. These observations might include the absence of any trees in the area older than 200 years (despite the presence of older trees in surrounding areas), the scarcity or absence of old wood on the forest floor, and the presence of an ash layer beneath the recent leaf and twig litter. Perhaps none of these observations was convincing by itself (the ash may have been blown in from another fire some distance away). Convergence of evidence is the clincher.

In some cases, facts and hypotheses may be confused, but confusion may be avoided by remembering that a hypothesis is a candidate explanation, not a candidate fact. The statement “The Earth is spherical” in ancient times was a candidate fact, and in the present age of satellite photographs, and other evidence, the statement may be regarded as a manifest fact. The statement was also a hypothesis in ancient times, but only when used as an explanation for some other observation. Thus the statement “vertical objects cast shadows of different length at different latitudes because the Earth is spherical” is a hypothesis (a candidate explanation) and not merely a candidate fact. If we confuse a candidate fact for a hypothesis, then we may conclude mistakenly that hypotheses are provable.

Scientific Facts are Public

Another feature of scientific facts is that they are public; that is, a fact (especially a manifest fact) is accessible to all competent observers. The issue of competence is sometimes problematical. In science, public accessibility to facts is crucial even though comprehension of the facts is not always easy. The devotees of mystery cults may be entitle to both their own private opinions and their own private facts, but science disallows private facts.

The Concept of Hypothesis

“Science” and “strong inference” are not synonymous. Science is both a method and a body of knowledge. Facts can be compiled and many questions can be answered without the formulation and testing of hypotheses. Natural history inventories (lists of birds, plants, minerals, and other items) play a role in science and in society. The answer to some questions (What is the speed of light?) may require high technical skill but can be answered without the formulation of hypotheses. In some cases, laws of nature may be formulated without the explicit testing of hypotheses. (Laws are descriptive, often quantitative, but not explanatory, statements having a value intermediate between fact and hypothesis. Examples are Ohm’s law [I=V/R], Newton’s law of motion [e.g. F=ma], and the law of conservation of charge.)

Despite the possibility of some success in science without the testing of hypotheses, science attempts to do more than just compile and describe. Science attempts to explain. This requires the formulation of hypotheses in a creative process that may require the investigator to think beyond readily available explanations. A good hypothesis must be explanatory, but it must have another feature too: It must be testable by strong inference. If it is false, it must be possible to show that it is false.

A Case Study of Hypothesis Testing

A textbook that one of us (T.B.K.) assigned years ago as a college professor was The Study of Biology, 3rd Edition (Baker & Allen, 1977). The first two chapters of that book, The Nature and Logic of Science and Testing Hypotheses and Predictions, are excellent.The following case study was taken from that book.

The Pacific salmon Oncorhyncus kisutch hatches in streams in the Northwest, swims to the sea, then eventually, returns to streams to spawn. We may ask, and answer, the question “Do individual fish return to the stream of their birth?” without formulating an explanatory hypothesis. Tagging experiments have confirmed the fact that the fish predominantly do return to their natal streams. In order to determine how the fish do this, we can proceed in one of two ways. We can continue to study the fish, compiling facts in the hope that an answer may emerge. Sometimes “fishing expeditions” such as these can lead to serendipitous results, but eventually strong inference (hypothesis formulation and testing) is usually needed.

Platt, in the Science article cited above, makes an important suggestion: Formulate more than a single hypothesis. With more than one hypothesis, the investigator is less likely to adopt a “pet” hypothesis to which he/she becomes emotionally attached, and the necessary attempt to demonstrate the falsity of the hypotheses is less worrying- perhaps one will survive. Incidentally, the negation of a significant hypothesis is a significant contribution to science.

In our case study, two hypotheses as to how salmon find their way back to their natal streams might be these:

1. Salmon find their way back by using their sense of sight.
2. Salmon find their way back using their sense of smell (detecting dissolved substances from their birth streams).

Hypotheses are formulated on the basis of prior knowledge, and we know that fish both see and smell. The hypotheses just stated were rather obvious possibilities, but the formulation of hypotheses may be very difficult. The observations for which an explanation is sought may be a very strange (divorced from ordinary experience). Sometimes a hypothesis may be formulated that seems very good because it is compatible with almost all of existing knowledge, but not all of it. In that case, we must consider that the hypothesis, however attractive, may be wrong or that some of the accepted knowledge is wrong.

The next step in strong inference is to test the hypotheses. That is done by deliberately subjecting them to jeopardy, that is, by attempting to demonstrate their falsity. In our fish story, each of the two hypotheses has logical consequences that give rise to predictions as to the outcome of certain experiments. The hypotheses and the predictions are often stated together in if…then… statements. It is very important to make these statements explicit. Such a formulation applied to our example may be “if salmon find their way back using their sense of sight, then salmon with shielded eyes (black plastic discs were used in an actual experiment) will predominantly fail to find their birth streams.” The salmon did, in fact, find their way back in experiment, and the hypothesis was thus considered to be false. The alternative was tested after formulating the statement “If salmon find their way back using their sense of smell, then salmon with a blocked sense of smell (benzocaine ointment was used) will predominately fail to find their birth streams.” This prediction came true, and the second hypothesis was regarded as supported, but not proved.

The Impossibility of Proof

The problem is that even false hypotheses may sometimes give rise to correct predictions. For example, consider the false hypothesis that salmon find their way back to their birth streams by the sense of sight. This gave rise to the prediction that sightless salmon will predominantly fail to find their birth streams. This prediction turned out to be incorrect in the experiment cited earlier, but conceivably the prediction could have been correct. Suppose blindfolded salmon were so traumatized by the blindfolding operation that they did not try to return or that they became so confused without their sight that they ignored their sense of smell and swam off randomly from their release site. In such cases the prediction would have been correctly fulfilled. Is the hypothesis in that case “proved?” Certainly not, though the investigators may claim support for their sight hypothesis if they failed to observe the trauma or the confusion.

A logical truth table presented by Baker and Allen, and others, shows the relationship.

According to the table, an incorrect prediction always corresponds to a false hypothesis, but a correct prediction can come from either true or a false hypothesis. Because of these relationships, hypotheses are often regarded as potentially disprovable (falsifiable) but rarely proveable. How then do some hypotheses come to be regarded as true?

A hypothesis is supported, but not proved, when repeated attempts to negate the hypothesis fail, when competing hypotheses are discredited, and when additional facts (not used in the initial development of the hypothesis) are successfully embraced by the hypothesis.

In the case of the fish, the smell hypothesis withstood an opportunity for disproof, and the competing sight hypothesis was disproved. Still, the smell hypothesis is not proved. Perhaps smell plays no role, and a third sense is the key. Perhaps the benzocaine treatment so traumatized the fish that they could not function properly, or perhaps the benzocaine knocked out the third sense. These worried lead to additional hypotheses, predictions, experiments, and facts.

Another way considering the general unprovability of hypotheses is that no hypothesis can be considered proved if an alternative hypothesis, that excludes the possibility of the first hypothesis and is equally compatible with the facts, is possible. Since we can never be sure that we have considered all possible hypotheses, proof remains unattainable.

Earlier, we stated that a hypothesis is a candidate explanation, not a candidate fact. The case of the salmon provides an illustration of the difference. Early on, people may have observed that the salmon in a particular stream were physically similar to each other and different from salmon in another, distant stream. A couple of hypotheses may be stated:

1. Only salmon of a particular body type are able to navigate a particular stream and that is why they look alike.
2. Salmon return to their natal streams to spawn and look alike because they are genetically similar.

The “fact” that salmon do return to their natal streams establishes the truth of the statement “Salmon return to their natal streams,” but this statement was a candidate fact, not a hypothesis, and the second hypothesis remains unproved.

The Uncertainty of Disproof

Although scientists often refer to the disprovability of hypotheses (as we have), we contend that disproof is uncertain also. The reason for this requirement for the prediction of logical consequences in the testing process, but we can never be certain that our predicted consequences are logical. As an example let’s return to one of our if…then… statements. “If salmon find their way back using their sense of smell, then the Red Sox will win the World Series.” If the Red sox failed to win, we should have concluded falsely, that the hypothesis was false.

The Red Sox example used a preposterously illogical prediction, but some illogical predictions are not so obviously illogical, and the problem is not trivial in some cases. Sometimes scientists disagree over the cogency of a predicted outcome, especially in complex situations where variables are hard to control (see The Triumph of Sociobiology by John Alcock [2001] for interesting discussions of some uncertainties and controversies). An outcome that constitutes adequate grounds for the rejection of a hypothesis for one investigator may be viewed as inadequate by another investigator. The problem of the illogical prediction can be illeviated by testing additional predictions and by the public critique of the methods and conclusions. (The initial stage of public critique is the expert “peer review” of scientific manuscripts prior to publication. See the Acknowledgement in this essay.) Despite the uncertainty of disproof, scientists accept the qualified use of terms such as “disproof”, “falsification,” and “negation,” but not the term “proof”.

The Concept of Theory

When a hypothesis has undergone very extensive testing, especially if the testing attacked the hypothesis from many different angels using independent lines of evidence, then the hypothesis may graduate to the status of theory or, together with other hypotheses and principles, become incorporated into a theory. A dictionary definition of theory is this:

Theory: The coherent set of hypothetical, conceptual, and pragmatic principles forming the general frame of reference for a field of inquiry.

The term theory implies that the component hypotheses are very likely to be true and that together are important and comprehensive. Theories, like well-supported hypotheses, give rise to predictions that are consistently correct, but in the case of theories the range of predictions is often wider than the range of predictions for hypotheses. Theories come to provide a conceptual framework for scientific thought. Some examples include The Atomic Theory, The Theory of Evolution, The Germ Theory of Disease, The Theory of Relativity, and The Quantum Theory. Despite their high status, theories are still hypothesis-like (perhaps we could call them metahypotheses), and as such they are necessarily vulnerable. That is, they must be testable, and potentially falsifiable.

Will Strong Inference Always Work?

Some issues that would seem to be accessible by strong inference remain controversial because of emotional involvement, inadequacy of definitions, or a variety of technical difficulties. For example, a few scientists and public policy makers refute to acknowledge that HIV is the causative agent of AIDS, and the causes, and even the occurrence, of global warming remain controversial.

For many people, science is not the only pathway to knowledge. For them, propositions may rest upon personal revelation or upon religious authority, to cite just two additional pathways to knowledge. For the faithful, faith propositions are considered to be truths, not hypotheses. With regard to the term hypothesis, believers and scientists are in agreement. In most cases, neither scientists (many of whom are religious) nor religious believers (some of whom are scientists) consider religious beliefs to be hypotheses; believers because they consider applying the term to religious teachings to be belittling, and scientists because the term hypothesis can be applied only to statements that their adherents are willing to subject to possible disproof.

Although not scientific, faith propositions are not necessarily in conflict with science, but they may be. A tenet of faith that cannot be accessed by strong inference because it is beyond the technical or epistemological scope of science is not in conflict with science. Examples include doctrines that claim consciousness in inanimate objects, a purpose to life, or rewards or punishments after death. Science cannot now address these propositions, although it may be able to do so in the future (formerly, only faith, not science, could address such issues as the cause of disease, the change of seasons, and the formation of stars).

Some faith propositions are clearly in conflict with science. A tenet of faith that can be accessed by strong inference may be, but is not necessarily, in conflict with science. The indigenous religion of Hawaii provides a fascinating case study. At the time of European discovery, Hawaiian society was encumbered by hundreds of taboos whose violation was though to ensure calamity for individuals and society (Malo, 1959). This religion disintegrated quickly as Hawaiians observed that Europeans (and Hawaiians influenced by Europeans) could violate the taboos and live to tell about it. The Hawaiian nobility quickly embraced the religion of the Europeans and ordered the destruction of idols and the abandonment of many taboos. The causes of this religious transition are complex, but the obvious conflict between reality and some of the faith propositions surely played a role.

A Summary of Strong Inference

1. Observed and inferred facts inspire a question.

2. The question inspires one (or preferably more) hypotheses. This is a creative process. Several hypotheses may be proposed, and they need not have a high likelihood of being supported, but a good hypothesis must be an explanatory statement that is testable.

3. The hypotheses are deliberately subjected to jeopardy (falsification) by, first, stating the logical consequences of the hypotheses. Statements in the form “if (the hypothesis), then (the consequences)” are useful.

4. Next, the accuracy of the predicted consequences are tested by the acquisition of new facts from experimentation, or observation, or from the body of known facts not already used to formulate the hypotheses.

5. Incompatibility between prediction and outcome leads to the rejection of hypotheses, and compatibility leads to tentative acceptance. In all cases, repeated incompatibility or compatibility from separate lines of testing is desirable.

6. The hypotheses, together with the facts and the record of the inferential process, are submitted to public scrutiny and may become accepted into the body of public knowledge.

7. An accepted hypothesis typically spawns the acquisition of more facts and the formulation of new hypotheses (perhaps by the critics of the old hypothesis). These ongoing exercises in strong inference may cause the revision or rejection of the accepted hypothesis.”

8. A hypothesis, or more often a collection of complementary hypotheses, may become incorporated into a theory.

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Whatever Is Conceivable Is Possible

Posted by allzermalmer on September 27, 2012

I am going to quote one little section in a book called Hume’s First Principles by Robert Fendel Anderson. This first part of the book is on Perceptions, and the first principle gone over on Perceptions is “Whatever is Conceivable is Possible”.

“The principle of the possible existence of whatever is conceivable is one which Hume finds both an evident principle and already an established maxim in metaphysics[1]. The application of the principle is frequently restricted to that which is clearly and distinctly conceivable: “…nothing of which we can form a clear and distinct idea is absurd and impossible.”[2] Again: “To form a clear idea of anything, is an undeniable argument for its possibility…”[3]. The possibility of existence, therefore, is of the essence of whatever is clearly and distinctly conceived; that is, its possibility is included or implied within it: “ ‘Tis an establish’d maxim in metaphysics, That whatever the mind clearly conceives includes the idea of possible existence…”[4] and: “Whatever can be conceiv’d by a clear and distinct idea necessarily implies the possibility of existence….”[5]

A clear and distinct idea, according to Hume’s doctrine, is one which neither contains nor implies a contradiction: “Now whatever is intelligible, and can be distinctly conceived, implies no contradiction…”[6] Again: “How any clear, and distinct idea can contain circumstances, contradictory to itself, or to any other clear, distinct idea, is absolutely incomprehensible….”[7] In saying that whatever is clearly and distinctly conceived is possible, therefore, it appears to be Hume’s intention also that whatever is self-consistent and noncontradictory is possible:

“Whatever can be conceiv’d by a clear and distinct idea necessarily implies the possibility of existence; and he who pretends to prove the impossibility of its existence by any argument deriv’d from the clear idea, in reality asserts, that we have no clear idea of it, because we have a clear idea. ‘Tis in vain to search for a contradiction in any thing that is distinctly conceiv’d by the mind.”[8]

The expression employed in the remarks thus far examined may lead the reader to suppose that there are some things clearly and distinctly conceived and some not- that some of our ideas are clear and distinct and some of them unclear and indistinct. Were this true, then it would follow that we have ideas of things the existence of which we must regard as impossible. There is evidence, however, that Hume considers all our ideas to be clear and distinct. He offers an argument to this conclusion, based on his doctrine that ideas are derived from impressions:

“…we need but reflect on that principle so oft insisted on, that all our ideas are copy’d from our impressions. For from thence we may immediately conclude, that since all impressions are clear and precise, the ideas, which are copy’d from them, must be of the same nature…”[9]

Since all perceptions are either impressions or ideas[10], we must conclude that there are no perceptions of any kind that are not clear and precise.

From the clarity and preciseness of all ideas, we may infer, moreover, that we possess no ideas of those things whose existence we must regard as impossible, but that any idea we may have is the idea of something the existence of which is possible. We find, indeed, that Hume does not always restrict the possibility of existence to that which is clearly and distinctly conceived, but extends it as well to everything that is conceived or imagined at all: “…whatever we conceive is possible.”[11] And: “…whatever we can imagine, is possible.”[12]Hume appears, indeed, to make no firm distinction between what is clearly and distinctly conceived and what is conceived or imagined merely, as is evidenced in his full statement of the metaphysical maxim: “ ‘Tis an establish’d maxim in metaphysics, That whatever the mind clearly conceives includes the idea of possible existence, or in other words, that nothing we imagine is absolutely impossible.”[13] We are thus again justified, apparently, in supposing that all our ideas are equally clear and distinct, and that all things conceived are possible. Things which are contradictory and therefore impossible, on the other hand, cannot be conceived or imagined at all: “We can form the idea of a golden mountain, and from thence conclude that such a mountain may actually exist. We can form no idea of a mountain without a valley, and therefore regard it as impossible.”[14] Again: “ ‘Tis in vain to search for a contradiction in any thing that is distinctly conceiv’d by the mind. Did it imply any contradiction, ‘tis impossible it cou’d ever be coneiv’d.”[15]

Knowing then that self-contradictory things are neither conceivable nor possible, and knowing that whatever is conceived or imagined is possible, we may next inquire what things are in fact conceived or imagined and hence possible. From certain of Hume’s remarks one might infer that we conceive only perceptions; for it is only perceptions that are “present to” the mind: “…nothing is ever really present with the mind but its perceptions or impressions and ideas…”[16] If this be true, then it is reasonable to suppose that we have clear and distinct ideas only of perceptions, as Hume sometimes appears to agree: “We have no perfect idea of any thing but of a perception.”[17] Now if we can conceive only of perceptions, then according to Hume’s principle it is only perceptions whose existence we may regard as possible. We may observe, moreover, that the remarks we have thus far examined do not imply that perceptions, as such, exist, but only that their existence is possible. Were there no further texts available to us from among Hume’s writings, we might justifiably conclude that what he calls “perceptions” are to be understood as a realm of mere essences which, taken together, comprehend all possibility, but which are not, of themselves, existence.”


[1] David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. by L.A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1888), pp. 32, 250, Hereafter cited as Treatise.

[2] Treatise, pp.19-20. Cf> David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ed. and with an introduction by Henry D. Aiken(New York: Hafner Library of Classic, Hafner Publishing Company, 1948), p. 19, Philo speaking. Hereafter cited as Dialogues.

[3] Treatise, p. 89

[4] Treatise, p.32

[5] Treatise, p. 43

[6] David Hume, “An Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding,” in An Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding and an Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, ed. and with an introduction by L.A. Selby-Bigge (2d ed.; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902), p. 35. Hereafter cited as “Understanding.” Cf. Dialogues, p. 58, Cleanthes speaking.

[7] “Understanding.” P. 157

[8] Treatise p. 43.

[9] Treatise, p. 72; cf. p. 366.

[10] Treatise, pp. 1, 96.

[11] Treatise, p. 236.

[12] Treatise, p. 250

[13] Treatise, p. 32.

[14] Treatise, p. 32.

[15] Treatise, p.43. Cf. “Understanding,” p. 164.

[16] Treatise, p. 67; cf. pp.197,212.

[17] Treatise, p. 234.

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This Is Your Brain On George Berkeley

Posted by allzermalmer on September 24, 2012

“Philonous: I would first know whether I rightly understand your hypothesis. You make certain traces in the brain to be the causes or occasions of our [sensual experiences]. Pray tell me, whether by the ‘brain’ you mean any sensible thing?

Hylas: What else think you I could mean?

Philonous: Sensible things are all immediately perceivable; and those things which are immediately perceivable are ideas; and these exist only in the mind. Thus much you have, if I mistake not, long since agreed to.

Hylas: I do not deny it.

Philonous: The brain therefore you speak of, being a sensible thing, exists only in the mind. Now, I would fain know whether you think it reasonable to suppose, that one idea or thing existing in the mind, occasions all other ideas. And if you think so, pray how do you account for the origin of that primary idea or brain itself?

Hylas: I do not explain the origin of our ideas by that brain which is perceivable by sense, this being itself only a combination of sensible ideas, but by another which I imagine.

Philonous: But are not things imagined as truly ‘in the mind’ as things perceived ?

Hylas: I must confess they are.

Philonous: It comes therefore to the same thing; and you have been all this while accounting for ideas, by certain motions or impressions in the brain, that is, by some alterations in an idea, whether sensible or imaginable it matters not.”

This is your brain…

This is your brain on MRI…

Notice those two pictures? Good, because if you did not have any senses then you could not have noticed those two pictures. Those pictures are sensible experiences. Those sensible experiences are of the brain, and we notice the brain through sensible experiences, i.e. sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound.

So, as Hylas says, the brain is the cause of our sensual experiences. But Berkeley wants to know if the brain is itself a sensible thing, which Hylas says is correct. So something that is a sensible thing is the cause of our sensual experiences, as Hylas would have us believe. In fact, the sensible thing that is the brain would be the cause of itself being a sensible experience. Sounds an awful like it is self-caused, but does that even make sense that the brain caused itself? In other words, the brain (which is sensible) causes not only itself but all other sensible experiences that someone has.

Some people hold that the mind cannot exist without a brain, while Berkeley holds that the brain cannot exist without a mind. This comes about because Berkeley holds that sensible things cannot be empirically known to exist independent of a mind, or that it is logically impossible for sensible things to exist independent of a mind, i.e. self-contradictory. Have you ever found any sensible things to exist independent of your senses? If you have not found any sensible things to exist independent of your senses, then how do you know that sensible things exist independent of your senses, let alone these sensible things that exist independent of your senses causes your sensations?

But Berkeley, basically says that if sensible thing then immediately perceivable, and if immediately perceivable then ideas. It necessarily follows by hypothetical syllogism that if sensible thing then idea. If idea then only exist in the mind. It necessarily follows by hypothetical syllogism that if sensible thing then only exist in the mind. So sensible things only exist in the mind. But holding the brain is the cause of sensible experiences usually means that the brain does not exist in the mind. So it would necessarily follow by modus tollens that the brain is not a sensible thing. But this contradicted by actual experience, (see those brains?), so it is empirically shown that the brain is a sensible thing.

For Berkeley, an Idea can have two meanings, which was common during the time of Berkeley writing. One of them was being a sensible thing, i.e. a collection of different sensory qualities found to be conjoined with one another. The other meaning for Idea was something like a thought or imagining something. Berkeley, for the most part, takes the Brain as an Idea of the sensible sort.

It comes therefore to the same thing; and you have been all this while accounting for ideas, by certain motions or impressions in the brain, that is, by some alterations in an idea, whether sensible or imaginable it matters not. In other words, Hylas has been all this while accounting for sensible things, by certain motions or impressions in the brain, that is, by some alterations in a sensible thing. Hylas is accounting for sensible things by some alterations in sensible things. But, as Berkeley pointed out and Hume followed, we do not notice any sensible thing bringing about another sensible thing. We just notice one sensible thing to follow another sensible thing. But there is one thing that we do find by experience. When our minds will to move our arm, i.e. a sensible thing, that the sensible thing moves. So we find in one case that a non-sensible thing causes the movement of a sensible thing, and do not find any cases of sensible things causing the movement of another sensible thing. Key point is based on causality here, unless one wants to accept Hume’s skepticism where causality does not exist (or at least not shown by experience).

If we do accept Hume’s skepticism in that causality does not exist (or at least not known by experience), then we cannot accept Berkeley’s position or accept the position of Hylas that the brain is the cause of our sensible experiences.

If a non-sensible mind causes the movement of a sensible thing, then a non-sensible mind causes movement of the brain. We notice that our non-sensible mind causes the movement of our sensible body, take the example of moving arm. But we also notice that sensible things that are not our body move and they are not at our will. But Berkeley has rejected matter because it is not shown to exist by experience or is itself logically impossible for matter to exist. Thus, by processes of elimination, those sensible things that move that are not part of our body are caused to move by another non-sensible mind. So the movements in the brain are either caused by our minds or caused by another mind.

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How Science is Done

Posted by allzermalmer on September 23, 2012

This comes from the book Biology 6th edition by Raven and Johnson. It is from page 7 to page 9.

“How do scientists establish which general principles are true from among the many that might be true? They do this by systematically testing alternative proposals. If these proposals prove inconsistent with experimental observations, they are rejected as untrue. After making careful observations concerning a particular area of science, scientists construct a hypothesis, which is a suggested explanation that accounts for those observations. A hypothesis is a proposition that might be true. Those hypotheses that have not yet been disproved are retained. They are useful because they fit the known facts, but they are always subject to future rejection if, in the light of new information, they are found to be incorrect.

Testing Hypothesis

We call the test of a hypothesis an experiment (figure 1.4). Suppose that a room appears dark to you. To understand why it appears dark, you propose several hypotheses. The first might be, “There is no light in the room because the light switch is turned off.” An alternative hypothesis might be, “There is no light in the room because the light bulb is burned out.” And yet another alternative hypothesis might be, “I am going blind.” To evaluate these hypotheses, you would conduct an experiment designed to eliminate one or more of the hypotheses. For example, you might test your hypotheses by reversing the position of the light switch. If you do so and the light does not come on, you have disproved the first hypothesis. Something other than the setting of the light switch must be the reason for the darkness. Note that a test such as this does not prove that any of the other hypotheses are true; it merely demonstrates that one of them is not. A successful experiment is one in which one or more of the alternative hypotheses is demonstrated to be inconsistent with the results and is thus rejected.

As you proceed through this text, you will encounter many hypotheses that have withstood the test of experiment. Many will continue to do so; others will be revised as new observations are made by biologists. Biology, like all science, is in a constant state of change, with new ideas appearing and replacing old ones.

figure 1.4

This diagram illustrates the way in which scientific investigations proceed. First, scientists make observations that raise a particular question. They develop a number of potential explanations (hypotheses) to answer the question. Next, they carry out experiments in an attempt to eliminate one or more of these hypotheses. Then, predictions are made based on the remaining hypotheses, and further experiments are carried out to test these predictions. As a result of this process, the least unlikely hypothesis is selected.

Establishing Controls

Often we are interested in learning about processes that are influenced by many factors, or variables. To evaluate alternative hypotheses about one variable, all other variables must be kept constant. This is done by carrying out two experiments in parallel: in the first experiment, one variable is altered in a specific way to test a particular hypothesis; in the second experiment, called the control experiment, that variable is left unaltered. In all other respects the two experiments are identical, so any difference in the outcomes of the two experiments must result from the influence of the variable that was changed. Much of the challenge of experimental science lies in designing control experiments that isolate a particular variable from other factors that might influence a process.

Using Predictions

A successful scientific hypothesis needs to be not only valid but useful—it needs to tell you something you want to know. A hypothesis is most useful when it makes predictions, because those predictions provide a way to test the validity of the hypothesis. If an experiment produces results inconsistent with the predictions, the hypothesis must be rejected. On the other hand, if the predictions are supported by experimental testing, the hypothesis is supported. The more experimentally supported predictions a hypothesis makes, the more valid the hypothesis is. For example, Einstein’s hypothesis of relativity was at first provisionally accepted because no one could devise an experiment that invalidated it. The hypothesis made a clear prediction: that the sun would bend the path of light passing by it. When this prediction was tested in a total eclipse, the light from background stars was indeed bent. Because this result was unknown when the hypothesis was being formulated, it provided strong support for the hypothesis, which was then accepted with more confidence.

Developing Theories

Scientists use the word theory in two main ways. A “theory” is a proposed explanation for some natural phenomenon, often based on some general principle. Thus one speaks of the principle first proposed by Newton as the “theory of gravity.” Such theories often bring together concepts that were previously thought to be unrelated, and offer unified explanations of different phenomena. Newton’s theory of gravity provided a single explanation for objects falling to the ground and the orbits of planets around the sun. “Theory” is also used to mean the body of interconnected concepts, supported by scientific reasoning and experimental evidence, that explains the facts in some area of study. Such a theory provides an indispensable framework for organizing a body of knowledge. For example, quantum theory in physics brings together a set of ideas about the nature of the universe, explains experimental facts, and serves as a guide to further questions and experiments.

To a scientist, such theories are the solid ground of science, that of which we are most certain. In contrast, to the general public, theory implies just the opposite—a lack of knowledge, or a guess. Not surprisingly, this difference often results in confusion. In this text, theory will always be used in its scientific sense, in reference to an accepted general principle or body of knowledge.

To suggest, as many critics outside of science do, that evolution is “just a theory” is misleading. The hypothesis that evolution has occurred is an accepted scientific fact; it is supported by overwhelming evidence. Modern evolutionary theory is a complex body of ideas whose importance spreads far beyond explaining evolution; its ramifications permeate all areas of biology, and it provides the conceptual framework that unifies biology as a science.

Research and the Scientific Method

It used to be fashionable to speak of the “scientific method” as consisting of an orderly sequence of logical “either/or” steps. Each step would reject one of two mutually incompatible alternatives, as if trial-and-error testing would inevitably lead one through the maze of uncertainty that always impedes scientific progress. If this were indeed so, a computer would make a good scientist. But science is not done this way. As British philosopher Karl Popper has pointed out, successful scientists without exception design their experiments with a pretty fair idea of how the results are going to come out. They have what Popper calls an “imaginative preconception” of what the truth might be. A hypothesis that a successful scientist tests is not just any hypothesis; rather, it is an educated guess or a hunch, in which the scientist integrates all that he or she knows and allows his or her imagination full play, in an attempt to get a sense of what might be true. It is because insight and imagination play such a large role in scientific progress that some scientists are so much better at science than others, just as Beethoven and Mozart stand out among most other composers.

Some scientists perform what is called basic research, which is intended to extend the boundaries of what we know. These individuals typically work at universities, and their research is usually financially supported by their institutions and by external sources, such as the government, industry, and private foundations. Basic research is as diverse as its name implies. Some basic scientists attempt to find out how certain cells take up specific chemicals, while others count the number of dents in tiger teeth. The information generated by basic research contributes to the growing body of scientific knowledge, and it provides the scientific foundation utilized by applied research. Scientists who conduct applied research are often employed in some kind of industry. Their work may involve the manufacturing of food additives, creating of new drugs, or testing the quality of the environment.

After developing a hypothesis and performing a series of experiments, a scientist writes a paper carefully describing the experiment and its results. He or she then submits the paper for publication in a scientific journal, but before it is published, it must be reviewed and accepted by other scientists who are familiar with that particular field of research. This process of careful evaluation, called peer review, lies at the heart of modern science, fostering careful work, precise description, and thoughtful analysis. When an important discovery is announced in a paper, other scientists attempt to reproduce the result, providing a check on accuracy and honesty. Nonreproducible results are not taken seriously for long.

The explosive growth in scientific research during the second half of the twentieth century is reflected in the enormous number of scientific journals now in existence. Although some, such as Science and Nature, are devoted to a wide range of scientific disciplines, most are extremely specialized: Cell Motility and the Cytoskeleton, Glycoconjugate, Journal, Mutation Research, and Synapse are just a few examples.

The scientific process involves the rejection of hypotheses that are inconsistent with experimental results or observations. Hypotheses that are consistent with available data are conditionally accepted. The formulation of the hypothesis often involves creative insight.

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Sherlock-Holmesian Reasoning

Posted by allzermalmer on September 22, 2012

Sherlock Holmes is the “[t]he only unofficial consulting detective”, and he had a certain method of reasoning in his “detecting”. This is laid out in the “The Sign of Four” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. One chapter is called “The Science of Deduction“, which goes over Holmes basic outline of reasoning. I have altered the format of The Science of Deduction reproduced here by trying to put it more into a Dialectical format.

Those portions that are italicized are not done so in the story itself. I have italicized them myself in order to show important features of Sherlock Holmes method of detection, or method of reasoning. These help to form the basic outlines, or characteristics, of his method propounded here. These are what I shall call Holmesian Reasoning, or Holmesian Thinking.

“Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantel piece, and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case. With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle and rolled back his left shirtcuff. For some little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist, all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture marks. Finally, he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet lined armchair with a long sigh of satisfaction.

Three times a day for many months Watson had witnessed this performance, but custom had not reconciled his mind to it. On the contrary, from day to day he had become more irritable at the sight, and his conscience swelled nightly within him at the thought that he had lacked the courage to protest. Again and again he had registered a vow that he should deliver his soul upon the subject; but there was that in the cool, nonchalant air of his companion which made him the last man with whom one would care to take anything approaching to a liberty. Sherlock Holmes great powers, his masterly manner, and the experience which Watson had had of his many extraordinary qualities, all made Watson diffident and backward in crossing him.

Yet upon that afternoon, whether it was the Beaune which Watson had taken with his lunch or the additional exasperation produced by the extreme deliberation of his manner, he suddenly felt that he could hold out no longer.

Watson: “Which is it today? Morphine or cocaine?”

Holes raised his eyes languidly from the old black letter volume which he had opened.

Holmes: “It is cocaine, a seven-per-cent solution. Would you care to try it?”

Watson : “No, indeed. My constitution has not got over the Afghan campaign yet. I cannot afford to throw any extra strain upon it.”

Holes smiled at Watson’s vehemence.

Holmes: “Perhaps you are right, Watson, I suppose that its influence is physically a bad one. I find it, however, so transcendently stimulating and clarifying to the mind that its secondary action is a matter of small moment.”

Watson: “But consider! Count the cost! Your brain may, as you say, be roused and excited, but it is a pathological and morbid process which involves increased tissue change and may at least leave a permanent weakness. You know, too, what a black reaction comes upon you. Surely the game is hardly worth the candle. Why should you, for a mere passing pleasure, risk the loss of those great powers with which you have been endowed? Remember that I speak not only as one comrade to another but as a medical man to one for whose constitution he is to some extent answerable.”

Holmes’s did not seem offended. On the contrary, he put his fingertips together, and leaned his elbows on the arms of his chair, like one who has a relish for conversation.

Holmes: “My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world.”

Watson: “The only unofficial detective?”  said while raising his eyebrows.

Holmes: “The only unofficial consulting detective, I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection. When Gregson, or Lestrade, or Athelney Jones are out of their depths–which, by the way, is their normal state–the matter is laid before me. I examine the data, as an expert, and pronounce a specialist’s opinion. I claim no credit in such cases. My name figures in no newspaper. The work itself, the pleasure of finding a field for my peculiar powers, is my highest reward. But you have yourself had some experience of my methods of work in the Jefferson Hope case.”

Watson: “Yes, indeed, I was never so struck by anything in my life. I even embodied it in a small brochure, with the somewhat fantastic title of ‘A Study in Scarlet.’ ”

Holmes shook his head sadly.

Holmes: “I glanced over it. Honestly, I cannot congratulate you upon it. Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid.”

Watson: “But the romance was there. I could not tamper with the facts.”

Holmes: “Some facts should be suppressed, or, at least, a just sense of proportion should be observed in treating them. The only point in the case which deserved mention was the curious analytical reasoning from effects to causes, by which I succeeded in unravelling it.

Watson  was annoyed at Holmes criticism of a work which had been specially designed to please him. Watson confess, too, that he was irritated by the egotism which seemed to demand that every line of his pamphlet should be devoted to Holmes own special doings. More than once during the years that Watson had lived with Holmes in Baker Street Watson had observed that a small vanity underlay his companion’s quiet and didactic manner. He made no remark however, but sat nursing his wounded leg. Watson had had a Jezaii bullet through it some time before, and though it did not prevent him from walking it ached wearily at every change of the weather.

Holmes: “My practice has extended recently to the Continent,” said Holmes after a while, filling up his old brier-root pipe. “I was consulted last week by Francois le Villard, who, as you probably know, has come rather to the front lately in the French detective service. He has all the Celtic power of quick intuition but he is deficient in the wide range of exact knowledge which is essential to the higher developments of his art. The case was concerned with a will and possessed some features of interest. I was able to refer him to two parallel cases, the one at Riga in 1857, and the other at St. Louis in 1871, which have suggested to him the true solution. Here is the letter which I had this morning acknowledging my assistance.”

Holmes tossed over, as he spoke, a crumpled sheet of foreign notepaper. Watson glanced his eyes down it, catching a profusion of notes of admiration, with stray magnifiques, coup-de-maitres and tours-de-force, all testifying to the ardent admiration of the Frenchman.

Watson: “He speaks as a pupil to his master.”

Holmes: “Oh, he rates my assistance too highly. He has considerable gifts himself. He possesses two out of the three qualities necessary for the ideal detective. He has the power of observation and that of deduction. He is only wanting in knowledge, and that may come in time. He is now translating my small works into French.”

Watson: “Your works?”

Holmes: “Oh, didn’t you know?” he cried, laughing. “Yes, I have been guilty of several monographs. They are all upon technical subjects. Here, for example, is one ‘Upon the Distinction between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos.’ In it I enumerate a hundred and forty forms of cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco, with coloured plates illustrating the difference in the ash. It is a point which is continually turning up in criminal trials, and which is sometimes of supreme importance as a clue. If you can say definitely, for example, that some murder had been done by a man who was smoking an Indian lunkah, it obviously narrows your field of search. To the trained eye there is as much difference between the black ash of a Trichinopoly and the white fluff of bird’s-eye as there is between a cabbage and a potato.

Watson: “You have an extraordinary genius for minutiae.”

Holmes: “I appreciate their importance. Here is my monograph upon the tracing of footsteps, with some remarks upon the uses of plaster of Paris as a preserver of impresses. Here, too, is a curious little work upon the influence of a trade upon the form of the hand, with lithotypes of the hands of slaters, sailors, cork cutters, compositors, weavers, and diamond-polishers. That is a matter of great practical

interest to the scientific detective–especially in cases of unclaimed bodies, or in discovering the antecedents of criminals. But I weary you with my hobby.”

Watson: “Not at all. It is of the greatest interest to me, especially since I have had the opportunity of observing your practical application of it. But you spoke just now of observation and deduction. Surely the one to some extent implies the other.”

Holmes: “Why, hardly,” he answered, leaning back luxuriously in his armchair and sending up thick blue wreaths from his pipe. “For example, observation shows me that you have been to the Wigmore Street Post Office this morning, but deduction lets me know that when there you dispatched a telegram.”

Watson: “Right! Right on both points! But I confess that I don’t see how you arrived at it. It was a sudden impulse upon my part, and I have mentioned it to no one.”

Holmes: “It is simplicity itself,” he remarked, chuckling at my surprise–“so absurdly simple that an explanation is superfluous; and yet it may serve to define the limits of observation and of deduction. Observation tells me that you have a little reddish mould adhering to your instep. Just opposite the Wigmore Street Office they have taken up the pavement and thrown up some earth, which lies in such a way that it is difficult to avoid treading in it in entering. The earth is of this peculiar reddish tint which is found, as far as I know, nowhere else in the neighbourhood. So much is observation. The rest is deduction.”

Watson: “How, then, did you deduce the telegram?”

Holmes: “Why, of course I knew that you had not written a letter, since I sat opposite to you all morning. I see also in your open desk there that you have a sheet of stamps and a thick bundle of postcards. What could you go into the post office for, then, but to send a wire? Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.

Watson: “In this case it certainly is so,” he replied after a little thought. “The thing, however, is, as you say, of the simplest. Would you think me impertinent if I were to put your theories to a more severe test?”

Holmes: “On the contrary,” he answered, “it would prevent me from taking a second dose of cocaine. I should be delighted to look into any problem which you might submit to me.”

Watson: “I have heard you say it is difficult for a man to have any object in daily use without leaving the impress of his individuality upon it in such a way that a trained observer might read it. Now, I have here a watch which has recently come into my possession. Would you have the kindness to let me have an opinion upon the character or habits of the late owner?”

Watson handed Holmes over the watch with some slight feeling of amusement in his heart, for the test was, as he thought, an impossible one, and he intended it as a lesson against the somewhat dogmatic tone which Holmes occasionally assumed. Holmes balanced the watch in his hand, gazed hard at the dial, opened the back, and examined the works, first with his naked eyes and then with a powerful convex lens. Watson could hardly keep from smiling at Holmes crestfallen face when he finally snapped the case to and handed it back.

Holmes: “There are hardly any data,” he remarked. “The watch has been recently cleaned, which robs me of my most suggestive facts.”

Watson: “You are right,” he answered. “It was cleaned before being sent to me.”

In Holmes heart he accused his companion of putting forward a most lame and impotent excuse to cover Watson’ s failure. What data could he expect from an uncleaned watch?

Holmes: “Though unsatisfactory, my research has not been entirely barren,” he observed, staring up at the ceiling with dreamy, lacklustre eyes. “Subject to your correction, I should judge that the watch belonged to your elder brother, who inherited it from your father.”

Watson: “That you gather, no doubt, from the H. W. upon the back?”

Holmes: “Quite so. The W. suggests your own name. The date of the watch is nearly fifty years back, and the initials are as old as the watch: so it was made for the last generation. Jewellery usually descends to the eldest son, and he is most likely to have the same name as the father. Your father has, if I remember right, been dead many years. It has, therefore, been in the hands of your eldest brother.”

Watson: “Right, so far,” said I. “Anything else?”

Holmes: “He was a man of untidy habits–very untidy and careless. He was left with good prospects, but he threw away his chances, lived for some time in poverty with occasional short intervals of prosperity, and finally, taking to drink, he died. That is all I can gather.”

Watson sprang from his chair and limped impatiently about the room with considerable bitterness in his heart.

Watson:  “This is unworthy of you, Holmes,” he said. “I could not have believed that you would have descended to this. You have made inquiries into the history of my unhappy brother, and you now pretend to deduce this knowledge in some fanciful way. You cannot expect me to believe that you have read all this from his old watch! It is unkind and, to speak plainly, has a touch of charlatanism in it.

Holmes: “My dear doctor,” said he kindly, “pray accept my apologies. Viewing the matter as an abstract problem, I had forgotten how personal and painful a thing it might be to you. I assure you, however, that I never even knew that you had a brother until you handed me the watch.”

Watson: “Then how in the name of all that is wonderful did you get these facts? They are absolutely correct in every particular.”

Holmes: “Ah, that is good luck. I could only say what was the balance of probability. I did not at all expect to be so accurate.”

Watsons: “But it was not mere guesswork?”

Holmes: “No, no: I never guess. It is a shocking habit–destructive to the logical faculty. What seems strange to you is only so because you do not follow my train of thought or observe the small facts upon which large inferences may depend. For example, I began by stating that your brother was careless. When you observe the lower part of that watch case you notice that it is not only dinted in two places but it is cut and marked all over from the habit of keeping other hard objects, such as coins or keys, in the same pocket. Surely it is no great feat to assume that a man who treats a fifty-guinea watch so cavalierly must be a careless man. Neither is it a very far fetched inference that a man who inherits one article of such value is pretty well provided for in other respects.

Watson nodded to show that he followed his reasoning.

Holmes: “It is very customary for pawnbrokers in England, when they take a watch, to scratch the numbers of the ticket with a pinpoint upon the inside of the case. It is more handy than a label as there is no risk of the number being lost or transposed. There are no less than four such numbers visible to my lens on the inside of this case. Inference–that your brother was often at low water. Secondary inference–that he had occasional bursts of prosperity, or he could not have redeemed the pledge. Finally, I ask you to look at the inner plate, which contains the keyhole. Look at the thousands of scratches all round the hole–marks where the key has slipped. What sober man’s key could have scored those grooves? But you will never see a drunkard’s watch without them. He winds it at night, and he leaves these traces of his unsteady hand. Where is the mystery in all this?”

Watson: “It is as clear as daylight,” he answered. “I regret the injustice which I did you. I should have had more faith in your marvellous faculty. May I ask whether you have any professional inquiry on foot at present?”

Holmes: “None. Hence the cocaine. I cannot live without brainwork. What else is there to live for? Stand at the window here. Was ever such a dreary, dismal, unprofitable world? See how the yellow fog swirls down the street and drifts across the dun coloured houses. What could be more hopelessly prosaic and material? What is the use of having powers, Doctor, when one has no field upon which to exert them? Crime is commonplacc, existence is commonplace, and no qualities save those which are commonplace have any function upon earth.

Watson had opened his mouth to reply to this tirade when, with a crisp knock, our landlady entered, bearing a card upon the brass salver.

Landlady Mrs. Hudson: “A young lady for you, sir,” she said, addressing Watson’s companion.

Holmes: “Miss Mary Morstan,” he read. “Hum! I have no recollection of the name. Ask the young lady to step up, Mrs. Hudson. Don’t go, Doctor Watson. I should prefer that you remain.”

1. Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner.

Sherlock Holmes does not allow for emotions to come into his method of detection, or his method of reasoning. He tries to keep feelings and emotions outside of he considers to be how detection is actually done or how detection actually ought to be done. Now Holmes is either guided by what detection actually is or what detection ought to be, or both what detection is and what detection ought to be. This appears to be open to being derived from  Is v. Ought and Descriptive v. Normative, or Is and Ought are one and the same and Descriptive and Normative are one and the same. As Joe Friday use to say, “Just the facts, ma’am.”. The Facts, for Holmes, are, or ought to be, treated in a cold and unemotional manner.

2.  Analytical reasoning from effects to causes, by which succeeded in unravelling a fact.

Sherlock will argue from an observation to a cause of that observation. From a single fact, Holmes argues to another, which is what produced the fact before him, what is the facts cause. From the fact that there is smoke, by analytical reasoning, Holmes concludes that there is fire. From the fact that there is red mud on Dr. Watson’s pants, he argues to a cause of the red mud on Dr. Watson’s pants. This fact was noticed by observation. From the facts of scratches and writing, and a certain functional characteristic on the watch that he observed, Holmes reaches a certain cause of those scratches and writing, and certain functional characteristics of the watch.

In the examples that are given in the dialogue, inductive reasoning is being used. Holmes moves from what is known to what is unknown. Holmes moves from the known to the unknown. Holmes moves from the effect, from the known, to the unknown cause. Holmes knows there is red mud on Watson’s pants, but Holmes did does not know where Watson went when Holmes was not with Watson. Holmes, also, did not see Watson walk into any red mud in the time that they were together.

3. The power of observation,  deduction, and a wide range of exact knowledge, (and intuition(?)).

You must be able to use your senses. You must be able to observe in order to notice things. You must have a wide base of exact knowledge. The example of Watson’s clock is one. Holmes notices some scratches on it, and he notices some writing on it, and he also knows the type of watch. The type of watch is based on Holmes wide range of exact knowledge. This wide range of exact knowledge also includes Holmes notices some scratches on it, and he notices some writing on it,  feels the watch in his hand, he focuses his attention to the dials of the clock, he opens the back of the watch and looks at the internal functionings of the watch with his naked eye and than with a magnifying instrument in front of his naked eye. These are the facts of observation that is shown to Holmes by observation.

Holmes have a wide range of exact knowledge, which either comes from his personal experience or from those that he has read in books or other people have said. He knows that jewelry is passed down to the eldest son, the eldest son usually has the same first name as the father, and he knows what  50 years old watches look like. From this exact knowledge he could deduce that the watch is Watson’s brothers. From that wide range of exact knowledge is previous knowledge brought to the situation when make the observations, which is how certain things can stand out to garner ones attention.

Holmes has a wide range of knowledge that is known to be true, and he has these particular observation, data, before him, and these together allow him to deduce something that is not known by the observations, or  data, itself or the wide range of knowledge itself. He does not know that the watch was owned by Watson’s brother and that Watson cleaned the watch before showing it to Holmes. But he knows a certain general principle that was established by enumeration of particular observations by himself or others, and the observations before Holmes now are consistent with those general principles themselves, and so it is another enumeration of that general principle.

All men are mortal (part of Holmes wide range of knowledge). Socrates is a man (observation made by Holmes). So Holems concludes that Socrates is mortal, even though Holmes has not made the observation itself that Socrates is mortal. Holmes concludes this through logical deduction from these known things. But the conclusion that Holmes draws is one that is not known itself by observation. He has not observed that Socrates has died, and so does not know that Socrates is mortal.

4. Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.

Holmes will eliminate other factors that can lead to different conclusions of the observations before him. Take the example of the ash that comes from different cigars. Holmes had enumerated many experiments with a hundred and forty forms of cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco. He noticed that each type of cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco, left their own distinct ash. This became a wide range of exact knowledge he obtained.If Holmes did not know all these different possible cigars, cigarettes, and pipe tobacco, and the ash they leave behind, then he would not know what else would be consistent with the ash that Holmes observes. But knowing these things, he can eliminate certain possible types of cigars, cigarettes, and pipe tobacco, because the observation eliminates those causes of the ash. The observation is not consistent with those possible causes, or source, of the ash that is left behind.

Knowing all the possible factors involved in the situation, would allow Holmes to eliminate certain possible causes for what is being observed. Holmes would eliminate what is impossible, because the observation contradicts a cause that is possible in and of itself. Like eliminating that the ash belongs to cigar type x because cigar type x ash is not similar to the ash observed. So whatever else is left would be the truth if it is the only factor left, like cigar y is the only source consistent with the observed ash, and if it is not the only factor left then at least know what is not the possible source of the ash. Cigar types a,b, and c have been eliminated. It narrows the search down further to the cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco to be the source, the cause, of the ash observed.

Holmes eliminates possible causes of the effect that is observed, and only one possible cause is correct. The murder smoked a particular type of tobacco product, and that particular tobacco product left behind a certain kind of ash. He eliminated particular tobacco products as the cause of the ash because those causes product different effects than the one observed. So the murder did not smoke those tobacco products. But Holmes himself did not observe what particular tobacco product itself that the murder smoked. He is eliminating a possible unknown cause by a known effect, and how the possible unknown cause is not consistent with the known effect.

5. Some facts ought be suppressed, or not given much attention.

Some observations ought not to be taken attention or pay much attention to. This appears to follow from Holmes saying that emotions that are found to go along with observations ought to be ignored. This is because emotions are not cold and unemotional. There are also other factors that do not play into a possible cause for the observation, which appears to come from ones wide range of exact knowledge, or intuition. The shoes that Watson has on appear to have no causal relation with the watch the Watson presented for Holmes to observe. So Holmes ought to suppress the observation of what shoes Watson has on, or Holmes emotional state in making the observation of the watch.

(This blog post will go through alteration and addition at a later date.)

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