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  1. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by The_Liquid_Laser View Post
    That might be my personal bias, but I think that approach gives a way to reach dependable conclusions while making the most of resources.
    I have a similar mindset. It is perhaps our mathematical training


    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    Incompleteness theorems, Bell's theorem and similar may lend weight to the idea we will never take the full scope into account.
    I think people invoke these theorems without understanding what they actually say. But a discussion of these things would be a bit off-topic (although interesting).

    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    Really though, the mere fact that there appears to be no way to know whether all factors have been taken into account, suggests that one will always have to favour Empiricism over Rationalism to some degree.
    I think the number of factors being so large is an important point. But I think throwing our hands up and saying "intractable" as a knee-jerk reaction is a bit too much.

    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    That is the foundation of my point. It's the empirical evidence which acts as the foundation of the new theories. If the theory and the evidence disagree, the evidence is always considered the correct one, providing all the basic parameters of reliability have been met. In the end, scientific hypothesis, theses, theorems and such are all trying to predict the empirical, since the empirical is the reality, not just a representation (even if philosophical Idealism were true).

    So whilst a balance of both works best, given human nature, empiricism remains the foundation.
    What is a "foundational" is very much based on how you look at things. Even to make a simple empirical observation, you are inherently making a myriad of assumptions. Delving into these assumptions (like what space and time actually are) has yielded some great discoveries.

    Quote Originally Posted by spin-1/2-nuclei View Post
    Our lab collaborates with mathematicians and engineers all of the time. They often develop our custom software, instrumentation, etc.
    No custom hardware though?

    Quote Originally Posted by spin-1/2-nuclei View Post
    In regards to your comments regarding the error examples I gave, the issue really is not with the assumptions, because in a vacuum the assumptions would be correct, but when applied to the system mitigating factors produce unexpected results. Sometimes you will come across the only system ever encountered in the entire world where functional group A and B don't react.

    Imagine you have a ball of yarn, you can make assumptions about the physical and chemical properties of the yarn based on first principles, but if I ask you to stand at the top of a building and drop that ball of yarn and predict exactly what the structure of the ball of yarn will be when it hits the ground, this becomes increasingly more difficult. Especially when the weather, building, height, ground surface, and on and on keep changing. So while the ball of yarn remains the same and all of the first principle assumptions related to a ball of yarn in a vacuum remain the same, the second you place that ball of yarn into the system the variables change and it sometimes isn't even possible to identify all of the variables without empirical investigation.
    I get what you are saying, and it may be a matter of semantics, but in the case of the ball of yarn--getting the weather parameters wrong IS getting a set of assumption wrong. Just as having numerical errors build up IS getting the calculation wrong.

    Quote Originally Posted by spin-1/2-nuclei View Post
    This is why philosophy doesn't have much of a stand alone place in science. Theorizing is extremely important, but without the elusive theory of everything we still need empirical evidence to back up cause and effect associations. You must have cause and effect in science because it is essential to be sure that one thing causes another when building upon those concepts.
    I am unclear on what you mean by "stand alone place." It seems to me that nothing can have a stand alone place in science.

    Also, why does cause and effect being important (and I agree with you there) reduce the importance of philosophy in science?

    To me, the rethinking of what is meant by space and time in relativity, and what is meant by measurement in quantum physics are both extremely philosophical...and yet still shed light on cause and effect.

    Quote Originally Posted by spin-1/2-nuclei View Post
    Ab initio calculations give us the best predictions but they are time consuming and therefore not always practical so semiempirical approaches are often necessary. I've provided a link you might find useful below.

    "How long do you expect it to take? If the world were perfect, you would tell your PC (voice input of course) to give you the exact solution to the Schrödinger equation and go on with your life. However, often ab initio calculations would be so time consuming that it would take a decade to do a single calculation, if you even had a machine with enough memory and disk space." - Introduction to Computational Chemistry

    This article might also be useful - Computational chemistry - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    That was interesting reading. Thanks.

    Perhaps, I am naive about what is possible. But you yourself said that ab initio calculations tend to give the best results. I think it is important to reflect on why that is, and to know what it is you are giving up as you go further away from these sort of calculations.

    A couple of statements in the link you gave stood out to me.

    "Although most chemists avoid the true paper & pencil type of theoretical chemistry, keep in mind that this is what many Nobel prizes have been awarded for."

    "What approximations are being made? Which are significant? This is how you avoid looking like a complete fool, when you successfully perform a calculation that is complete garbage. An example would be trying to find out about vibrational motions that are very anharmonic, when the calculation uses a harmonic oscillator approximation."

    Frankly, the "How to do a computational research project" section in the link read as being fairly philosophical.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  2. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    What is a "foundational" is very much based on how you look at things. Even to make a simple empirical observation, you are inherently making a myriad of assumptions. Delving into these assumptions (like what space and time actually are) has yielded some great discoveries.
    Actually I think, in raw form, empiricism makes no assumptions. It naturally gets put together with assumptions, yes. I would classify those assumptions as anti-empiricist, since it is later empirical research that usually proves them wrong. Let us not delve into a semantic disagreement here though:

    If you mean the empiricist assumptions behind science, then I would agree. There are many assumptions science makes in its practice, that could be flawed, and many in the past which have been flawed. Locality, consistent space and time, and similar assumptions have come under fire recently, for example. They have come under fire mostly due to the empiricism as is about to be defined, however.

    If you mean the fundamental form of empiricism, simple observation, nothing more, than I disagree. As pure empiricism is straight observation. If one sees an image, than one acknowledges the perception of an image. To take it any further, is to move past this form of empiricism. This form is the closest we come to reality, it's a simple argument to suggest that it is reality. Any rationalisation, such as logical inference, which moves beyond that, is inherently more flawed than the original observation.

    An example of this difference:

    Raw empiricism: I appear to drop the stone, it appears to make circular ripples in the water.

    Scientific empiricism: I dropped the stone, it made circular ripples in the water. It will do so again. (there's probably many more assumptions in there as well)

    To address your other point, I think scientists favour their form of empiricism because it is closer to raw empiricism than anything else they wield.

  3. #13

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    What I am saying is that just as there are a myriad of variables that need to be accounted for when formulating a theory, there are a myriad of assumptions made when formulating an experiment or making an observation.

    It is not possible to make even a simple observation without the whole weight of your own world view and the assumptions behind it coloring what you observe.

    Think of the Michelson-Morely experiment, an incredibly well designed experiment, but they assumed the existence of an aether. So when they got the results they got, they could not make sense of the results. It took a philosopher-scientist to finally shed light on what was at play.

    In other words, there is no such thing as "raw empiricism."

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  4. #14
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    I agree with all but:

    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    In other words, there is no such thing as "raw empiricism."
    That's a hasty claim.

    Raw empiricism does happen, it's just extrapolated on top with assumptions, like you say. I'd be inclined to agree if you simply meant a human can't isolate raw empiricism.

    It's that raw empiricism that is the foundation of science since its early days as natural philosophy. It hasn't left that foundation, for good reason. Referring back to that raw data is the closest it gets to truth.

    The further those steps are from the raw data, the more likely human error has stepped in. Yes deduction is truth preserving, but each seemingly deductive step is an area that could be victim to human error. It can also be argued that deduction originates from raw empiricism, and that deduction rarely takes place over induction in reality.

    Humans may naturally be seperated from raw empiricism, but that does not change the fact that the less steps they are from it, the less assumptions they have made, and so the more likely that they are correct.

  5. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    It's that raw empiricism that is the foundation of science since its early days as natural philosophy. It hasn't left that foundation, for good reason. Referring back to that raw data is the closest it gets to truth.
    Let's leave it at that then.

    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    The further those steps are from the raw data, the more likely human error has stepped in. Yes deduction is truth preserving, but each seemingly deductive step is an area that could be victim to human error. It can also be argued that deduction originates from raw empiricism, and that deduction rarely takes place over induction in reality.
    Logic and mathematics is the most confident knowledge we have. They are pre-empirical. They are the "language" in which empirical results must be expressed. You measure this or that to be a certain value (mathematical statements). This or that did or did not happen (logical propositions). You can't have human empiricism without logic and math; there would be know way to write down or talk about what you observed in precise terms without them.

    I also believe that good "induction" is based off of statistical techniques, which are in turn based off of probability models, which is in turn based on set theory. In other words, accurate induction (through statistical means) is actually a deductive process in disguise.

    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    Humans may naturally be seperated from raw empiricism, but that does not change the fact that the less steps they are from it, the less assumptions they have made, and so the more likely that they are correct.
    I disagree. Geometry is quite abstracted from the real world, as are equations like those of Quantum Electrodynamics. Nevertheless, it is this that we compare experiment to, and the equations are what are used in designing experiments in the first place.

    They are many steps removed from raw data. But these are much more reliable than the "trend lines" and "supports and resistances" (taken directly off of the data from stock charts) that stock traders use.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  6. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    Logic and mathematics is the most confident knowledge we have. They are pre-empirical. They are the "language" in which empirical results must be expressed. You measure this or that to be a certain value (mathematical statements). This or that did or did not happen (logical propositions). You can't have human empiricism without logic and math; there would be know way to write down or talk about what you observed in precise terms without them.
    See now we'd have a debate that probably moves outside the scope of this thread. As I would argue that logic and mathematics are pre-rational. That it is only empirical observations that confirm and create logic and mathematics as they are.

    It's a tough debate to enter, with little in the way of intellectual rewards (I find). As I don't think there's any certainty to be had on either side.

    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    I also believe that good "induction" is based off of statistical techniques, which are in turn based off of probability models, which is in turn based on set theory. In other words, accurate induction (through statistical means) is actually a deductive process in disguise.
    I agree that deduction is happening "underneath" induction. However, there are always assumptions behind inductive reasoning.

    So dealing in pure probability may seem to eliminate assumptions, but in reality one can never get a truly accurate probability. Let alone the inherent inaccuracy of truth values lower than 1.

    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    I disagree. Geometry is quite abstracted from the real world, as are equations like those of Quantum Electrodynamics. Nevertheless, it is this that we compare experiment to, and the equations are what are used in designing experiments in the first place.
    I don't see how anything can be abstracted from the "real" world. Geometry, I would say, is a series of patterns humans have found. It is very much grounded in the "real" world in this sense.

    I tend to see the idea that abstract concepts have any sort of existence beyond the "real" world as the product of an illusion. Not to say it isn't true, merely that there is no evidence for it, so the rational position is one of ignorance on the matter.

  7. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    See now we'd have a debate that probably moves outside the scope of this thread. As I would argue that logic and mathematics are pre-rational. That it is only empirical observations that confirm and create logic and mathematics as they are.

    It's a tough debate to enter, with little in the way of intellectual rewards (I find). As I don't think there's any certainty to be had on either side.
    You should read Where Mathematics Comes From. It makes a compelling case that Mathematics basically comes from how we are wired as human beings, and through analogy.

    If you are stating that analogy to real world situations are what leads to mathematics, I would agree. But the analogy and analogies to analogies and so on, of mathematics, are quite far removed from the raw data. Nevertheless, these analogies many steps away from the raw data are more reliable than the lines you can draw directly on stock charts.


    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    I agree that deduction is happening "underneath" induction. However, there are always assumptions behind inductive reasoning.

    So dealing in pure probability may seem to eliminate assumptions, but in reality one can never get a truly accurate probability. Let alone the inherent inaccuracy of truth values lower than 1.
    We're in agreement here. I thought in the previous post you we advocating induction over deduction.

    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    I don't see how anything can be abstracted from the "real" world. Geometry, I would say, is a series of patterns humans have found. It is very much grounded in the "real" world.
    It is certainly more abstract than directly drawing lines or raw-data.

    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    I tend to see the idea that abstract concepts have any sort of existence beyond the "real" world as the product of an illusion. Not to say it isn't true, merely that there is no evidence for it, so the rational position is one of ignorance on the matter.
    Well, yeah. This discussion can go deep down a rabbit-hole. How do we even know a real world exists? We really can never have proof one way or another. Idealism vs. materialism vs. dualism, etc.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  8. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    You should read Where Mathematics Comes From. It makes a compelling case that Mathematics basically comes from how we are wired as human beings, and through analogy.

    If you are stating that analogy to real world situations are what leads to mathematics, I would agree. But the analogy and analogies to analogies and so on, of mathematics, are quite far removed from the raw data. Nevertheless, these analogies many steps away from the raw data are more reliable than the lines you can draw directly on stock charts.
    I could give reading lists of people who have argued that our own brain wiring is because of empirical observation.

    This highlights why I think this is a fruitless path. As it ultimately comes down to a basic truth, such as A=A, being confirmed both rationally (logically) and empirically. What we debate about is a real chicken or egg dilemma, where which came first is at least very hard to distinguish, if not impossible (unlike in the case of a chicken or an egg).

    It's mirrored in arguing whether logic came first, or the universe. Which one created the other, or did a third party make both?

    I was hoping to sidetrack that path by saying empiricism, in raw form, accounts for all variables, whereas rationalism does not (because it depends on humans). Like you said though, such empiricism is a long shot away from what humans are actually capable of. It ultimately leads me to suspect that there is not as much difference between Empiricism and Rationalism as we like to think. One could propose raw rationalism, much like I have proposed raw empiricism, for example (which may be what you are doing, I don't know).

  9. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    "Although most chemists avoid the true paper & pencil type of theoretical chemistry, keep in mind that this is what many Nobel prizes have been awarded for."

    "What approximations are being made? Which are significant? This is how you avoid looking like a complete fool, when you successfully perform a calculation that is complete garbage. An example would be trying to find out about vibrational motions that are very anharmonic, when the calculation uses a harmonic oscillator approximation."

    Frankly, the "How to do a computational research project" section in the link read as being fairly philosophical.
    The custom hardware is covered under instrumentation, a lot of what we do requires custom instrumentation for measuring our experiments.

    My lab isn't comprised of "most chemists" in fact many people in my lab are theoretical physicists and we have quite a few chemical engineers. We are not strictly a physics or chemistry lab, we have a very large research group, many post docs, and multiple collaborations not just at this university but with many universities. It isn't uncommon for me or one of my lab mates to be at another university's physics, math, or chemistry department for months at a time working on new software, instrumentation, chemistry or whatever, most of us have dual advisors in two different departments. There are many areas of science that are extremely interdisciplinary now, so this is not that uncommon.

    What you are confusing is unknown variables and assumptions. It isn't possible to know every variable when you attempt these things outside of the vacuum. When we place drugs etc in the human body unexpected things often occur, not because our assumptions are wrong but because these drugs do not exist in a static environment.

    You can't know what everyone's combination of health problems, diet, environment, use of personal hygiene products, weight, exercise habits, illegal drug use, etc will be. It isn't possible to theorize or philosophize every possible system a drug will encounter. You can't think your way into knowing every possible unintended dietary interaction or every possible environment that a person might live in or every disease and possible combination of disease, the processing power you would need to do this just for one individual would be incomprehensible....

    So, while logic and first principles can tell us that a certain drug treats cancer in the vacuum or even on average in vivo, we can't know that this drug will be useless if a person has diabetes and drinks grape fruit juice in the morning, but only if they're an avid runner as well.

    I can't know before I design a polymer that molecular motion will be stunted if I crosslink it with X and place it in this environment where there is a significant amount of humidity and condensation due to an improperly maintained heating/cooling system whereby hydrogen bonding occurs whenever the humidity rises above 50% but only if the temperature is also above 27C and only if there is a 60% or less mixture of the crosslinking material.

    I can't know that an imaging dye will be quenched or that interference will occur via some other random medication or enzyme in the body if a certain patient also suffers from disease X and is taking Y prescription drug at Z concentrations. Whereas when everybody else is using the dye there are no observed problems with the photophysics or biomolecular functions.

    This kind of information comes from manufacturing tests in the case of materials, clinical trials, etc. So while all of the assumptions that were based on theorizing and first principles turned out to be correct and the material, drug, imaging dye works in a vacuum - you end up with certain systems in which these products do not work, not because the assumptions about them are wrong but because it is impossible to define all of the possible permutations in all of the variables or even to define all of the variables in every possible system.

    When thinking of ab intio calculations since I use them all of the time and when compared to my semi empirical projects... this is the best way I can describe it. My one and only solely ab initio project has been mine since I started my PhD and will be some other physics or theoretical student's problem when I leave here because I will not have enough time to finish the calculations before I graduate. I have had many many many semiemprical projects that have already gone on to publication and real world application, whilst my ab initio project is still just an idea and a collection of theoretical data points. So for me what is being lost when moving away from solely ab initio based projects is nothing in comparison to the progress, understanding, and real world use that is gained from going with the more practical semiempirical approach whenever the projects permits it.

    I should also mention that it is typically the people that rely solely on theory without any experimentation to back it up that end up looking like fools. They place far too much confidence in their ability to accurately define all variables in every possible system that will be encountered, and those of us who realize our ability to do that is limited and instead test our theories via experimentation end up avoiding embarrassing retractions, loss of money, and the unenviable position of being responsible for one's ego holding back scientific progress.

    I should also note that even ab initio projects can be proven wrong, inadequate, or incomplete when placed into unintended systems. The only difference is they now get to spend another 20 or 30 years trying to revisit their predictions only to have it all foiled by yet another exception to the rule on down the line. Our first principles describe best what takes place in a static environment, when placed into real world use a lot of the theory breaks down, not because it is wrong, but because other unintended interactions (also easily explained by current first principle theories) interfere.

  10. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    I could give reading lists of people who have argued that our own brain wiring is because of empirical observation.

    This highlights why I think this is a fruitless path. As it ultimately comes down to a basic truth, such as A=A, being confirmed both rationally (logically) and empirically. What we debate about is a real chicken or egg dilemma, where which came first is at least very hard to distinguish, if not impossible (unlike in the case of a chicken or an egg).

    It's mirrored in arguing whether logic came first, or the universe. Which one created the other, or did a third party make both?

    I was hoping to sidetrack that path by saying empiricism, in raw form, accounts for all variables, whereas rationalism does not (because it depends on humans). Like you said though, such empiricism is a long shot away from what humans are actually capable of. It ultimately leads me to suspect that there is not as much difference between Empiricism and Rationalism as we like to think. One could propose raw rationalism, much like I have proposed raw empiricism, for example (which may be what you are doing, I don't know).
    I think we have come to a point of mutual understanding, then.

    I was not proposing a "raw rationalism" at all. I was simply proposing an alternate view of things.

    Quote Originally Posted by spin-1/2-nuclei View Post
    What you are confusing is unknown variables and assumptions. It isn't possible to know every variable when you attempt these things outside of the vacuum. When we place drugs etc in the human body unexpected things often occur, not because our assumptions are wrong but because these drugs do not exist in a static environment.
    I think, at this point, it is a matter of semantics. Trust me when I say I understand what you are saying.

    What I am saying, is that from a strict logic (as in formal logic) standpoint, what variables you leave as unknown (even if you leave them at some statistically accurate value), are "starting points" (call them what you want) which are wrong for the particular situation for which they are wrong. This is almost a tautology.

    In other words, you have not proven the laws of formal logic wrong by finding an example where a model fails. What you have done is proven that the model fails. Perhaps I am picking on a semantic point, but I hope you understand what I mean.

    I'll take your word on the relative intractability of ab initio projects in your field. I did not intend to imply that anyone is a fool, I was just quoting the part about assumptions which happened to contain that language.

    I still wonder, though, if there aren't other techniques which are being left unexplored, that would allow previously intractable problems, to be tackled. For instance, the techniques that come from complexity and chaos theory.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

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