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Re: [ontolog-forum] Philosophy of science / ontology (was Dennett... )

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 10 May 2013 09:11:36 -0400
Message-id: <518CF208.6040005@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Tara,    (01)

On these issues, we have no disagreement whatever.    (02)

That point is absolutely essential:    (03)

> Ignoring or underestimating the uncertainty of observations is a pet
> peeve of mine - Start of rant.    (04)

You certainly don't have to convince me of the importance of that issue.
My comment was about the term 'falsifiability', as Popper used it.
But I am extremely concerned about the limits.    (05)

For "routine science", the example from Mars was a good illustration:    (06)

  1. The cameras on the rover showed a field of sediments that looked
     very similar to what would be deposited in a lakebed on earth.
     That was the "obvious" hypothesis (or theory).    (07)

  2. But there were competing hypotheses:  sediments deposited by
     the wind or by a volcano.    (08)

  3. The scientists expect further observations to falsify the two
     competing hypotheses and leave the hypothesis about water-based
     sediments as "the last theory standing".    (09)

  4. But that kind of "proof" can never rule out alternatives that
     might occur on Mars, but have never been seen on earth.    (010)

> In some cases, the uncertainty is so small that we consider it
> "negligible" - not worthy of even estimating the magnitude.
> But it is never zero.    (011)

You're preaching to the choir.  I frequently quote C. S. Peirce,
who emphasized that *every* empirical theory of any kind is
"fallible".  But he also emphasized that some theories are so
well confirmed that we're willing to bet our lives on them.    (012)

For example, every time we fly in a plane we are betting our
lives on the theories that the engineers used in its design.    (013)

> The point I would like to emphasize is that there is no sharp boundary
> between the negligible uncertainties and those that are not negligible...    (014)

Yes.  Continuity is the norm.    (015)

> Further, scientists (in general) tend to underestimate the uncertainty
> of their own observations. In one phase of my career...    (016)

I certainly agree that it's a very human tendency for *everybody*
to overestimate the importance of observations that support their
pet theories and to underestimate those that don't.    (017)

That's why I don't want to bet my life on any new airplane design
or on version 1.0 of anybody's software.    (018)

John    (019)

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