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wittgenst3in
8th July 2004, 05:53 AM
I was wondering, many people say unfalsifiable ideas/theories are useless (and I'm inclined to agree), so does anyone have any ideas that would be considered useful , but are still unfalsifiable?

Also, I'd like to see if there is a simple qualifier you can put on common ideas to make them falsifiable. I'll start:

E.g.
"There is extraterrestrial intelligent life in the universe" --- Unfalsifiable

"There is extraterrestrial intelligent life within a 1000 light-year radius that has measurable EM radiation output. " ---Falsifiable

Rob Lister
8th July 2004, 06:05 AM
Originally posted by wittgenst3in
"There is extraterrestrial intelligent life within a 1000 light-year radius that has measurable EM radiation output. " ---Falsifiable

Is it falsifiable? I'm not trying to quibble. I'm just trying to get an idea of where the goalposts are. I could look in many directions and not find any ET-EM but is it possible to look in all directions? Is it possible to to look in all directions over the entire EM spectrum? Isn't the number of directions in which I could look infinite?

C.J.
8th July 2004, 06:23 AM
I wonder not about the falsifiable part, but the "useful" part. What makes a theory/idea useful? One could argue that the idea of an eternal afterlife in some type of paradise is quite useful. Example: it may make it easier for individuals to deal with grief over the death of a loved one, as well as any fear over their own impending deaths.

I can't come up with any qualifier that would make this idea falsifiable, however (indeed, I'd contend it's inherently non-falsifiable).

So, then, would helping people deal with grief or fear be useful? Or were you asking the question in a more...technical sense?

C.J.

wittgenst3in
8th July 2004, 06:29 AM
Originally posted by Rob Lister


Is it falsifiable? I'm not trying to quibble. I'm just trying to get an idea of where the goalposts are. I could look in many directions and not find any ET-EM but is it possible to look in all directions? Is it possible to to look in all directions over the entire EM spectrum? Isn't the number of directions in which I could look infinite?

It'd be a big task, but I don't think there's anything stopping you from looking at every star in a 1000lyr radius.

Every frequency is a biggy though. That's a lot of space, so I think most SETI projects focus on 1.4 ghz, which is the emission freq of simple hydrogen. Since any scientifically oriented culture would have to examine the distribution of hydrogen to learn info about basic cosmology, there's a good chance that it'll be observed.

Okay, so we'll ad specific frequency's to the hypothesis.

From memory I think the locations of dishes like Goldstone, Ariceibo and Parkes, etc. mean the entire 'celestial sphere' is covered, so you probably wouldn't even have to get new infrastructure.

I did a semester under a guy who's really big in SETI in the southern hemisphere. It was just a first year subject, but very interesting.

He mentioned a 1000lyr limit in passing. I remember being dissapointed, because we (humans) blasted a message to M31 which is 2 million light years away. So obviously either we're hoping they have much better technology than us or it was a publicity stunt.

wittgenst3in
8th July 2004, 06:38 AM
Originally posted by C.J.

So, then, would helping people deal with grief or fear be useful? Or were you asking the question in a more...technical sense?

C.J.

I was asking in a semi-technical sense.

If the position is that no matter what the truth of the matter is the idea is useful, then there's no point in even asking the question, since you've already decided the truth is irrelevant.

Not trying to start a flame war, and in fact would enoy if one didn't erupt. I just want to know if there are any ideas that are unfalsifiable that we hold useful.

In fact I'm really really hoping there is one or two we all have, and just haven't even thought of as being unfalsifable, and thus can examine more closely. :D

Gestahl
8th July 2004, 08:30 AM
Just a little philosophical nitpick here, but the existence of an external reality is neither falsifiable nor verifiable. I find the assumption that there is extremely useful.

C.J.
8th July 2004, 08:36 AM
Maybe you can clarify some things for me, because I've been thinking about this and can't come up with anything.

Based on your question:
does anyone have any ideas that would be considered useful , but are still unfalsifiable?
1) What is meant by useful? You clarified this a bit with the "semi-technical" caveat, but I'm still unclear. In your example that intelligent extraterrestrial life exists in the universe, how is that a useful idea?
2) Something unfalsifiable is by definition outside the parameters of the scientific method, and so any theory or idea that your question applies to can't be a scientific one, correct?

Or are you looking for ideas that really are scientific, but most people don't refer to/phrase as/think about in properly falsifiable terms?

C.J.

wittgenst3in
8th July 2004, 08:49 AM
Originally posted by C.J.
Maybe you can clarify some things for me, because I've been thinking about this and can't come up with anything.

Based on your question:

1) What is meant by useful? You clarified this a bit with the "semi-technical" caveat, but I'm still unclear. In your example that intelligent extraterrestrial life exists in the universe, how is that a useful idea?

The unqualified one isn't useful. Tell someone that life may exist, well somewhere, very far away, maybe outside our hubble volume, etc. and their reply is likely to be 'whoopee s**t'.

The proposition that there is there is life (within a radius of ...) is however useful, because it can affect us, we can potentially detect it, etc.

Not meaning useful in a practical sense, but useful as in 'this theory is more useful than that theory, because it explains X better'.




2) Something unfalsifiable is by definition outside the parameters of the scientific method, and so any theory or idea that your question applies to can't be a scientific one, correct?

Or are you looking for ideas that really are scientific, but most people don't refer to/phrase as/think about in properly falsifiable terms?

C.J.
Basically yes,
I'm hoping for an idea with scientific merit, that could potentially explain something, and that has some impact in terms of the laws of the universe.

Maybe even discover something core to science and say 'Hey, we can't even prove if that is wrong! Why do we have it'

wittgenst3in
8th July 2004, 08:55 AM
Originally posted by Gestahl
Just a little philosophical nitpick here, but the existence of an external reality is neither falsifiable nor verifiable. I find the assumption that there is extremely useful.

True.

However the existance of another level of reality on top of the standard external reality is verifiable, but not falsifiable. (I really wish I was going to use the allegory of the cave but instead I'm going to use ...) Say the proposition of the 'matrix'. I could wake up from it, so it is verifiable. But I could never prove I'm not in it, so it's not falsifiable.

Hence I'm not going to loose any sleep over the notion that I'm potentially in the matrix.

c0rbin
8th July 2004, 09:24 AM
I think that the unfalsifiable thing is only really pertinent in science due to the strict method of discovery.

For example, some would claim the entire field (and industry) of psychology is unfalsifyable bunk--with Jung at one end of the spectrum and John Edward at the other.

But I have heard from people who enter into counciling that it is useful to them.

wittgenst3in
8th July 2004, 09:38 AM
Originally posted by c0rbin
I think that the unfalsifiable thing is only really pertinent in science due to the strict method of discovery.

For example, some would claim the entire field (and industry) of psychology is unfalsifyable bunk--with Jung at one end of the spectrum and John Edward at the other.

But I have heard from people who enter into counciling that it is useful to them.


True, but many people find comfort in their horoscopes too. :D

I certainly see how psychological counciling can help people, but I can also see how it can create a dependence on the psychologist.

It would be useful to know exactly how much therapy is based on good principles, and how much is 'Cargo Cult Science'.

I suppose though that psychological studies could be falsified through anthropological studies. Either that or raising people in a Skinner Box :D

Yahweh
8th July 2004, 10:01 AM
Originally posted by Gestahl
Just a little philosophical nitpick here, but the existence of an external reality is neither falsifiable nor verifiable. I find the assumption that there is extremely useful.
*waving arms about wildly, jumping up and down, juggling colorful beanbags*

Mercutio
8th July 2004, 10:56 AM
Originally posted by c0rbin

For example, some would claim the entire field (and industry) of psychology is unfalsifyable bunk--with Jung at one end of the spectrum and John Edward at the other.

But I have heard from people who enter into counciling that it is useful to them. Speaking as a psychologist, I find your spectrum (Jung to JE) to be (sadly) a not atypical representation of the public view of psychology, but (happily) not terribly representative of the actual field of psychology, especially experimental psychology. I think you would find it hard to gather together more than a handful of experimental psychologists (from cognitive to behavioral, from social to psychobiological) who think Jung is worth the powder to blow him up. And JE? Not even a blip on the radar screen.

Within experimental psychology, we do try to do good science, with falsifiability, parsimony (well, apart from the cognitive psychologists), and all the other aspects of good theories applying here as well as in any other science.

Now....in clinical/counseling psychology, on the other hand...
It would be useful to know exactly how much therapy is based on good principles, and how much is 'Cargo Cult Science'. ...there is a lot of useless garbage. The Forer effect (or Barnum effect) was originally found in personality studies, not in astrology or palmistry, after all. I am horrified to see the stuff that gets taught in counseling classes. Yes, some people who go to X counselors end up feeling better...and people who go to Y counselors feel better...and the fact that X and Y theories are fundamentally at odds with one another (indeed, mutually incompatible, in some cases--say, Rogerian client-centered therapy and Behavior Modification) is therefore deemed irrelevant.

My office-mate teaches personality and counseling...he has often told his students that these are the most important classes they can take, because they help them learn about themselves. I will then tell them (immediately, if I am in the room at the time) that I disagree; that research methods and statistics will help them more. I point out that there are personality theories that disagree, and ask them to tell me which one is the right one. ("each might be right for a different person" -- "Well, then, why do each of them claim that they describe human nature and not some subset?") How do we determine which theory is better? We must test them empirically.

C.J.
8th July 2004, 12:27 PM
Originally posted by Mercutio
Speaking as a psychologist, I find your spectrum (Jung to JE) to be (sadly) a not atypical representation of the public view of psychology, but (happily) not terribly representative of the actual field of psychology, especially experimental psychology.
I, too, am an experimental psychologist and I second this.

Now....in clinical/counseling psychology, on the other hand...
...there is a lot of useless garbage.
Now now. Don't play into my wife's ill-conceived notions that experimental psychologists think clinical psychologists aren't really scientists. Clinical psychology has come a long way since unfalsifiable psychodynamics, and most clinicians (in my experience) prefer to use empirically validated treatments for disorders where such exist. Additionally, the growing popularity of imaging technologies has made neuropsychological approaches to identifying, understanding, and treating disorders much more popular, and this is hardly garbage.
Yes, some people who go to X counselors end up feeling better...and people who go to Y counselors feel better...and the fact that X and Y theories are fundamentally at odds with one another (indeed, mutually incompatible, in some cases--say, Rogerian client-centered therapy and Behavior Modification) is therefore deemed irrelevant.
Being a bit harsh here, I think. Different (or even incompatible) theories about the same phenomenon that have empirical support are not unique to clinical psych. And clinical psychologists who engage in research are just as likely to attempt to resolve those differences as any experimental psychologist.
I will then tell them (immediately, if I am in the room at the time) that I disagree; that research methods and statistics will help them more. Hear hear!
Also,
*snip*parsimony (well, apart from the cognitive psychologists)
Word.

C.J.

p.s.: Sorry for the derail, y'all.
edited to correct my stupidity