By far the most useful chapter in the book as far as actually evaluation claims goes. It’s a very useful overview of the scientific method, and what makes it better than less reliable methods of investigation.
One section I’m definitely mulling over, which is the one on scientific methodology. The authors claim that data collection in the absence of a hypothesis is of little or no scientific value, because it is the only way to give people a guide to where to start, and how to catalog the data. Hypotheses, according to the authors, focuses our investigation into fruitful areas. Is this true? If humans landed on an alien planet, there are definitely hypotheses worth investigating, like whether there is a source of water, whether there is life, etc. But couldn’t scientists simply go out and look around, taking pictures of the landscape, and based on what they see creating hypotheses later? Maybe this would be too preliminary to be science, or maybe there are hypotheses one could reasonable test even at this level, like whether there are mountains or not, whether there is life, etc. I feel like someone has a good counterexample somewhere.
The Criteria of Adequacy are the best part of the book, and they are similar to Dawes’ views in Theism and Explanation. Testability, fruitfulness, scope, simplicity, and conservativism all come into play when evaluating explanations, which is what the authors consider different hypotheses to be. If the hypothesis explains the data best, then it is considered to be the most likely to be correct. These criteria are useful in looking at pretty much any controversial scientific or philosophical explanation. I think Dawes shows one of the best applications, which is to theism, which tends to fail on nearly all the criteria. Of course the traditional pseudoscientific ideas also fail on most accounts as well.
A survey of personal experience and its many shortcomings. Very useful section on the idea of perception as constructive. It feels like we’re directly experiencing the world as it is, but the raw data that our senses give us is heavily processed to spit out a model of the world, which errs in systematic ways.
Colors look the same in light and shadow for example, a shadowed red may be the exact objective shade as a purple, but depending on context it’ll seem one way or another. Small things “look” far away, but our minds have to interpret that depth, which is why drawings can so easily imitate depth perception. Expectation of experiences also influences how we interpret the data, which helps explain ghost experiences in dark abandoned places.
Memory is the next thing questioned, and just like our models of the world, our memories are constructed, not reproduced like a saved computer file. What we expect or believe can affect what we remember. A scene with a white and black man together, the white man holding a knife, is likely to be remembered as the black man holding the knife.
And lastly, the authors call into question people’s own judgments about reality, pointing to confirmation bias, the tenacity of previously held beliefs, the availability and representativeness heuristic, the anthropomorphic bias, and the general weakness of anecdotal evidence.
What occurred to me while reading this chapter is how the weight of certain evidence that people accept or reject is exactly opposite of how it ought to be. Scientific or statistical evidence is much less convincing on a gut level than anecdotal evidence, which humans find especially convincing. It’s pretty disturbing to think of how powerfully the odds are stacked against humanity to figure things out, and what makes it worse is that the reasoning that can fix it is often dismissed or criticized (like that Fox news guest linking reason and the holocaust). Maddening. The world is hard enough to figure out without people actively disrupting our search for reality.
Seems to be a sort of review of the philosophy of epistemology. There’s the classic definition of knowledge as being justified true belief.
On a side note, I feel like I came up with a decent solution to the counterexamples to this definition of knowledge. Really, knowledge just needs to have some connection, some causal connection to the things it has as its object. The counter-examples seem like not knowledge because they remove that causal connection, and make it sheer coincidence that the person is right.
Anyways, there are some more good rules of thumb concerning expert opinion. Someone can be an expert in one field, and totally wrong in other fields, and expert opinion provides a good prima facie reason to believe or doubt a proposition. There is also a breakdown of the suggested “methods of knowing” like faith, reason, intuition. Of course faith is lame, but both intuition and reason get a qualified stamp of approval, at least in some situations.
A brief survey of logic. There’s deductive, inductive, even abductive arguments. There’s a nice catagorization of inductive arguments into enumerative (20 swans have been white so far- the next one will be), analogical (Jerry is a criminal, male, and poor. He’s also Christian. Mike is a criminal, male, and poor. He’s probably a Christian too.), abduction, or hypothetical induction (P happened. H explains p better than any other hypothesis, so p is probably true.)
Next comes the fallacy lists. Good review for anyone at any time. The more concrete examples, the better.
There are statistical fallacies as well, which seem to happen all the time. This procedure increases the risk of cancer 70%. Does that mean that it goes from say 2% to 72% chance of cancer, or does it mean that it goes up 2% to 3.4%? Relative and absolute risk.
They mentioned how many people confuse restating their conclusion as being an argument. This is funny, since I’ve come into contact with this so often. How the heck do people clothe themselves if they don’t know the difference between conclusions, and the reasons to believe these things? I’m thinking that guy on facebook I argued about morality with, who just restated his premises over and over. Then there’s the Atheist Experience caller who, when asked how he knows that God created the universe, simply said “Because in the beginning, God created. . . ” He didn’t say that it was true because it was in the Bible. Even that would count as a reason. Instead, he just restated his belief. How does humanity survive?
The authors argue against the claim that “nothing is impossible.” They say that “according to true believers (those who accept the reality of the paranormal), nothing is impossible” (15). This seems a little broad brush to me, but whatever. They use the counter-example of logical impossibilities, like 2+2=5 or married bachelor to falsify this. Anything that contradicts the basic laws of thought are impossible:
The law of noncontradiction: Nothing can both have a property and lack it at the same time.
The law of identity: Everything is identical to itself.
The law of excluded middle: For any particular property, everything either has it or lacks it (17).
No thought is possible if we don’t accept such rules. There’s also physical impossibility, which occurs when something violates the laws of nature, like a monkey hitting the moon with a rock. Lastly is technological impossibility, which is something beyond our current abilities to do, like set up a sustainable colony on Pluto.
These three different possibilities are new to me. I know of logical and epistemic possibility, which are a little different.
The authors attack the fallacy of appeal to ignorance, which is to argue that if something is not conclusively proven, it is false, or if it is not conclusively disproven, it is true. Basic, and embarrassingly common. They apply this to the supernatural as well (which I more or less applied today in a comment on this post on the unmoved mover argument).
Short chapter lays out the aims of the book: “how to find answers for yourself” (2).
“We give you the essential guides to weighing evidence and drawing well-founded conclusions. . . we show why these principles are so powerful. . . and why they’re good whys to begin with- why the’yre more reliable guides for discovering what’s true and real than any alternatives” (3).
There’s a good sampling of a lot of “weird things” from ESP to homeopathy. Looks like a good introduction to capital “S” Skepticism. I’m wondering if they’ll show what makes something “weird.” Low prior probability given our current publicly accessible background evidence? That’s all I can really think of.
Krauss intends to write a science book, but I think his point is primarily philosophical, which he might not want to admit. Lots of people seem to straw man his arguments by saying his view of “nothing” is naive, but he seems to be fully aware of the different definitions, and addresses each in turn.
Nothing as empty space:
This “nothing” is still infused with energy, matter is expected to come into existence (Chapter 9).
Nothing as lack of even space or time:
Because of the underlying physics of quantum gravity, a universe with characteristics like those of ours are expected to come into existence from a lack of space or time (Chapter 10).
Nothing as lacking our laws of physics:
Even these may not have been as they are. Krauss puts forward what he calls a “plausible” (p. 175) explanation for where our laws of physics came from. which is the idea of a multiverse. There may be infinite causally separate universes, each with its own laws of physics. Perhaps most have no matter, no space, no laws that can generate anything meaningful to us, but by pure odds alone, we can expect some to have what is necessary for a universe like ours (Chapter 11). In short, the idea of a multiverse lets us expect our laws of physics to come from nothing, understood as universes generated from infinitely varying laws of physics.
That’s about as far as he gets. He fully acknowledges that in a way, if our laws of physics are generated, then one might consider them to be generated according to more fundamental laws of physics, which some may consider to be “something.” This may lead to an infinite recursion of more and more fundamental laws. His view is that understanding nature one step further at a time is pretty much all we can hope for, and simply stopping the search by positing God is inserting a being for which there is no evidence whatsoever. On the contrary, each step further to more fundamental explanations in physics has been warranted by the empirical evidence.
Philosophy as the better approach:
While his point is well taken, I think he would do well to criticize the God hypothesis more on philosophical ground instead of empirical ground. Each time he posits something coming from nothing, no matter how he defines nothing, one could always say that there are fundamental physical or logical rules that are the “something” from which more things come. And so they’ll always be able to say Krauss hasn’t really answered the question of “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
That criticism is sort of fair. What makes no sense is people thinking that therefore God solves the problem. Really? Why is there something rather than nothing? Because God put that something there. Obviously this doesn’t answer the question. If the laws of physics count as a “thing” and not nothing, then of course God counts as a “thing” too.
We can rephrase the question. Why is there something, including God, instead of nothing? The answer to this more pointed question is usually something about how God is a necessary being. It is not possible for him to not exist, and then by extension, he creates the universe. Problem solved now, right?
Of course not. Now, there is an appeal to the laws of logic as being the fundamental ground of God. Again, if the laws of physics aren’t fair to use as answering the something from nothing question, then neither are the laws of logic. If theists are never, ever satisfied with the more and more fundamental answers from physics as to why there’s something rather than nothing, then the same problem will apply to any conceivable answer from theism. There’s always some fundamental law of physics or logic that are the basic grounding for everything, or there’s an infinite regress.
The question of something from nothing is a tough question to answer, but theists end up with the same fundamental problems that they accuse theists of.
Krauss also seems to think that Plato and Aquinas thought of nothing as empty space. He only mentions this in passing, so it would have been really nice to see some sort of backing to this point, which philosophers seem to dispute.
There are some interesting science facts about how we know certain things. That’s the sort of thing I find most interesting, the detective story of finding out about the universe. How do we know how fast stars are moving away from us? Their spectrums of light are red-shifted, which we know about from looking at the absorption bands of the light emitted, which are shifted depending on the speed away from us.
How do we know about how far galaxies are from us? We use supernovae, coupled with our knowledge that the larger the original stars are, the longer the supernovae last. With this, we know how bright the original stars were, and using that we know how far away they are.