Zeteticism - a (possibly) scientists perspective

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Zeteticism - a (possibly) scientists perspective
« on: December 14, 2012, 10:06:26 AM »
I sat down the other day and had a look at what exactly zeteticism is. The precise definition seems to vary but generally seems to refer to a method of inquiry not dissimilar to the scientific method with with a slightly higher level of skeptisicm (although this depends on what website you use for your definition). I will use the definition from the wiki for this site, not because it's better or worse but simply because it's quite well written and gives a fairly clear definition. I'm not attempting to attack zeteticism, I'm not sure a form of inquiry is right or wrong but may be more or less applicable to a given situation.

As someone who has a passing interest in science and the scientific method I had two general thoughts. The first is; how different are zeteticism an scientific method in practice? Only occasionally does science progress anything like hypothesis-experiment->results->conclusion except in school coursework. Its not unusual for a theory to be tested but there's rarely just one or two theories and they are usually there to explain a currently unexplained result at any rate. Karl Popper (and to some extent Thomas Khun) has written extensively on this with some rigor both mathematically and philosophically. The most important part of the scientific method philosophically and practically is falsification. Philosophically because it takes an infinite number of experiments to prove a theory correct and only one to prove it wrong. As such a theory is never proven. Practically falsification is important because formally one can only test against a hypothesis not really against a general idea. Therefore when analyzing data one needs a hypothesis to test against, or more usually a number of hypotheses. All hypotheses will be rejected but some more strongly than others. If I perform an experiment as a zeitetic I may not develop my explanation until after my experiment (this seems rather unlikely in reality but I can see how it's possible) but I still need to test to see how well my explanation agrees with my experiment. At which point both ideas will do much the same thing I would assume to formally express the level to which their experiment disproves their theory. Of course in reality it's usually more complicated with a raft of conflicting results, some right, some subtly misinterpreted, some wrong and others borderline fraudulent.

Case in point, a while ago I dreamed I was a scientist and I was getting a strange result from some kit. I could either publish the result as was (effective making quite a notable discovery) or find the error in my kit. I strongly suspected the later but the former was not impossible. In some ways this dream was zetetic in that I genuinely had no explanation when I started looking. Fortunately I had a very good computer simulation of my apparatus so I could have a guess at possible faults and see what effect this would have. After many attempts I eventually had two hypotheses that were not particularly strongly rejected both suggested the same component which I replaced, the problem went away, no nobel prize and I woke up. The power of the method was not in the order of the experiment and the hypothesis (in this case it more more or less simultaneous) but in the detailed analysis of how consistent a theory is with experiment.

My other discussion point relates to the formalization of science, physics in particular. This point is perhaps more significant to the aspect of zeteticism which I think of broadly as 'seeing is believing' but it really concerns the lower status of the theoretical side. Historically physics has been quite intuitive. The second most famous equation ever, F=ma, broadly says 'the harder you kick it the faster it goes'. The maths is intuitive and really just provides numerical answers to intuitive situations. This was more or less the case into the nineteeth century. But, even back in Newton's days there were problems, light could be a particle or a wave depending on how you measured it. this turned out to be the first crack in physics using maths as a purely descriptive tool. In the first half of the century the walls came tumbling down and we saw physics for what it was. Firstly Lagrange and Hamilton re-wrote newtons laws of mechanics. The answers were the same but the formalism was far more powerful very difficult problems could be expressed as a single equation while in Newton's formulation one would be left with a horrific mess. At first this seemed ok but hidden in Lagrange's formalism was the 'principal of least action' this it would transpire was the true basis of mechanics. The real death knell for descriptive physics was electromagnetism. For 50 years people pictured electric and magnetic phenomenon and being powered by invisible cogs and wheels and this was reflected in the maths. When James Clerk Maxwell formulated his equations of electromagnetism there was no conceptual aid, the theory was purely mathematical. The results however were spectacular light, electricity and all the technology that followed. Relativity and, in particular, quantum theory have taken this abstraction to a new level. The theories are more predictive than ever, quantum theory in particular. However this has come at cost, we can no longer picture in our mind's eye what is happening and to try just makes comprehension harder. This would be my concern about using zeteticism in modern science all the power of modern science, and increasingly technology as well, comes from this very abstract theory that we can't ignore it. There's nothing wrong with it per se, but it's the theories that separate the 18th century from the 21st.



Saddam Hussein

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Re: Zeteticism - a (possibly) scientists perspective
« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2012, 07:50:36 PM »
Have you read this?  It might be the explanation you're looking for: