Evidence Based Believing

In a previous blog article I put the case that the education system deliberately produces Evidence FREE believers.  After long study of ex-teacher John Taylor Gatto and others I have come to believe that politicians have twisted the education system such that most educated people (and especially Medical Doctors and Scientists) have been kept deliberately ignorant of Evidence BASED believing (EBM) .

So, I thought I’d explain what I think that Evidence BASED Believing is.

I have to start by saying that because Evidence BASED Believing is literally un-orthodox you won’t be able to find one particular book that specifies simply and plainly what it is.  I personally think that the nearest single book would be “The Logic Of Scientific Discovery” by Karl Popper which I discovered while doing decades of (amateur) research on the topic of “The Scientific Method.” (I also dutifully read my Feyerabend, Kuhn and Lakatos. Also my Kant, Hume and J S Mill).

I think that “Science” is the Best Example of Evidence Based Believing

I think that science is an uneasy alliance of two contradictory Epistemologies:- Rationalism and Empiricism.

Rationalism
says that only the mind can perceive truth whereas the senses (sight, touch, taste etc) are misleading
Empiricism
says that only the senses can perceive truth whereas the mind (thoughts, reasonings etc) are misleading

I claim that Science is Rationalism tested by Empiricism.

In matters of Science Rationalism and Empiricism are like the two ends of a spectrum with no exact line separating them in the middle.

There is no exact line of separation because it is very hard for humans to give a rational account of pure sensation.  It turns out to be impossible for humans to completely dis-entangle the mind from the senses.

The Experimental Method

There is a special kind of event in Science called an “Experiment.”

In a scientific experiment the Rationalism occurs first (in terms of time-sequence) because it requires a fair bit of thought to design a good experiment.  However, once the experiment has started it is the Empirical part – (the Seeing, Hearing, Touching, Tasting, or Smelling) that is the most important part.  In science the Empirical outranks the Rational.  The thought may occur first – timewise – but the Sensation is considered to be stronger evidence than the thought.

An experiment IS a comparison between:-

★ what the theory says should be being sensed (Empirically) and
★ what is actually sensed.

In a proper scientific experiment no matter how much you believed you would see something, if you didn’t actually see it then that negative experience should outweigh your rational belief that you should have.  The most evidentially significant part of an experiment is where the experimenter notices a difference between what the theory says they should be seeing and what they are actually seeing.

In short, Science is:-

Rational beliefs that have been tested Empirically
Experiments have to be designed Rationally, but their most evidentially significant component is the Empirical part.

Richard Feynman states the Essence Of Science In 61 Seconds :=
If it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong

The Empirical beats the Theoretical

 THE BLACK SWAN

The clearest example of Empiricism “outranking” Rationalism (Experiment “outranking” Theory) is “The Black Swan” example from Karl Popper.

Most people think that all swans are white, and would treat the assertion “All Swans are White” as having been “verified” by hundreds of thousands of observations of white swans

Most europeans accepted “All Swans are White” as “verified and proven” until some BLACK swans were observed in New Zealand.

A Black Swan may be observed with your own eyes

The upshot of the “Black Swan” example is that it forces the realisation that you can never prove a generalisation by empirical observation.   No matter how many white swans you observe it is not practically possible to empirically prove the generalisation “All Swans are White.”

However, you can disprove it by empirical observation.  You only have to observe one black swan to dis-prove the generalisation that “All swans are white”.

Numerically speaking, you only have to observe one black swan once to outweigh millions of observations of white swans.  Yet today most scientists would take “All the swans that we have seen so far have been white” as proof of the generalisation that “ALL Swans are White.”

(To most scientists the fact that “Some As is B” seems to be the proof that “All As are B.” A technique often called “Induction”)

However, to Empirically prove that all swans are white would require the empirical observation of every swan that ever was, is or ever will be.  And that is practically impossible.  Empirical proofs take forever and are staggeringly expensive.

Consider the view of the Maori naturalist in New Zealand who empirically observed only black swans.

Maori Naturalist looking for swans and – seeing only black ones – feeling more and more subjectively certain that all swans are BLACK

How many swans would he have to have seen before he had empirically PROVED that “All Swans are Black?” The answer is:- He would have to have seen all the swans that ever were, are or will be.

An empirical proof requires an empirical inspection of ALL of the things in question.

The Empirical proof of “All A’s are B” requires the visual inspection of ALL of the A’s that ever were, are or will be.

So, my version of Karl Popper’s assertion is:-

You can’t empirically prove a generalisation although you can empirically DISPROVE one.

Experiments don’t prove a theory – They fail to disprove it.

The English biologist Thomas Huxley commented on this problem over a century ago:
“The great tragedy of science — the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.”

A “black swan event” is “an ugly fact” that slays a beautiful hypothesis

THE MOST IMPORTANT ►BLACK SWAN◄ EVENT IN THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE

The most important “Black Swan” observation in science occurred on May 29, 1919 when Eddington conducted an empirical observation of a solar eclipse to compare Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity against two other fundamental theories of Western science and mathematics:-

1. Newton’s Law of Gravity and
2. The Geometry of Euclid.

That ONE empirical observation disproved TWO fundamental theories of Physics and Mathematics.

EUCLID’s Geometry

Eddington’s observation showed that space was NOT as defined in Euclid’s geometry.  It showed that space could be curved, warped and bent in ways forbidden by Euclidian geometry.

The light passing the sun was bent because the space through which the light was passing had been bent by the sun.  Eddington’s experiment involved space being empirically observed to be bent and therefore not Euclidian.

NEWTON’s Law of Gravity

Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity  held that gravity was not a force that “forced” objects into circular orbits.  Gravity was not a kind of invisible elastic band that applied a pulling force to the Earth and Moon thus causing a circular orbit.  Relativity held that objects were orbiting one another because they were bending the space through which they were moving.  Orbits were circular because space was being bent not because there were forces being caused by masses which is what Newton’s theory claimed.

Newton’s Law of Gravity held that gravity was a force that pulled planets into circular orbits. This pulling force was caused by the masses involved, but space was not affected by these masses.  Space remained inert and aloof to anything that it contained.

Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity held that the orbit of the Moon around the Earth was circular because their masses were causing space to bend. The changes in direction of motion of the Earth and Moon were not being caused by a force. Orbits were circular because masses caused space to bend not because masses induced forces.

There was no “force” of gravity.

Prior to Einstein the two most “verified,” “proved” (and indeed revered) claims in Maths and Physics were from Euclid and Newton.

For mathematicians the Geometry of Euclid was the most perfect piece of reasoning that humans had ever produced. For thousands of years it was the gold standard of “Rationality.”  For mathematicians its combination of axioms and postulates completely PROVED its theorems.

For scientists, Newton’s theory of Gravity had been successfully used to predict the location of previously unknown planets such as Neptune and Uranus.  Since the observations matched the theory, this theory was held to be “proven science.”

But, Eddington’s (empirical) observation disproved both of those two theories.

ONE empirical observation disproved TWO fundamental theories of Physics and Mathematics at the same time.

The Eddington observation was a “black swan event” that killed TWO beautiful hypotheses at the same time!.

The many millions of empirical observations that had been held to “prove” or “verify” Euclid and Newton – didn’t.

Experiments don’t PROVE anything, they just CORROBORATE.
Well, more exactly, experiments don’t prove generalizations such as “All A’s are B”.
An experiment can prove “One A is B”, or perhaps “Some A is B.” but it can’t prove “All A’s are B”.

I think that the following comic poem expresses it well:-

“Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night
God said “Let Newton Be” and all was light.
“Not so fast – the devil howling “Ho!”
“Let Einstein Be” restored the status quo.”

And that is where evidence based believing stands today.

You cannot PROVE a scientific theory – neither by pure reasoning nor by accurate observation.
You can TEST a theory by observation but the best that that test can provide is CORROBORATION, not proof.
It is always possible that some future observation may dis-prove your theory.

A consideration of these facts should make people much less certain of their claims about science and what “scientists say.”

Scientific theories are just Hypotheses and suppositions.

DEFINITION OF EVIDENCE

My definition for evidence is:-
The result of an empirical test of a theory

I further contend that it is not “proper” science until you have tested your theory with an empirical experiment.

We should be able to say to anyone making a claim about the physical world.
“Show us the result of the empirical test of your claim.”

EVIDENCE BASED MEDECINE

Evidence Based Medicine (EBM) has a special case of Evidence Based Believing.

EBM’s version of an empirical trial (or “experiment”) is called a “clinical trial.”
And the “evidence” in “Evidence Based Medicine” IS the results of the relevant clinical trials.

Doctors who practice Evidence Based Medicine are aware of the clinical trials that have (and have NOT) been done.

However, most doctors practice “Evidence Free Medicine”.
Most doctors:-

  • don’t know what the relevant evidence is
  • don’t care what the relevant evidence is
  • If you gave them the relevant evidence they wouldn’t know what to do with it.

They have been kept deliberately ignorant of Evidence Based Believing by the Education system. (See my blog article on “The Education System“)

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