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 ought 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.
“Science” is the Best Example of Evidence Based Believing
I think that science is an imperfect and un-easy mixture of two contradictory Epistemologies:- Rationalism and Empiricism.
says that only the mind can perceive truth whereas the senses (touch, taste etc) are misleading
says that only the senses can perceive truth whereas the mind (thoughts, reasonings etc) are misleading
I claim that Science is Rationalism moderated by Empiricism.
In matters of Science there is no clear distinction between Rationalism and Empiricism – they are more likes the two ends of a spectrum with no exact line separating them in the middle. It turns out that it is very hard for humans to dis-entangle the mind from the senses. It also turns out to be impossible to give a rational account of pure sensation.
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 that have to be designed Rationally, but whose most evidentially significant component is the Empirical observations.
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 swans are white, and would treat the assertion “All Swans are White” as having been “verified” by hundreds of thousands of observations od white swans
Most europeans accepted that assertion as “verified” until some BLACK swans were observed (ie Empirically “seen”) in New Zealand and Australia.
The upshot of The “Black Swan” example is that it forces the realisation that you can never verify 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.
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” is the proof that “All As are B”)
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.
How many swans would (s)he have to have seen before (s)he had empirically proved that “All Swans are Black?” The answer is:- (S)he would have to have seen all the swans 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 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.
The light passing the sun was bent because the space through which the light was passing had been bent by the sun. Space had been 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 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.
Prior to Einstein the two most “verified” and “proved” and indeed revered claims in Maths and Physics were from Euclidian 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, postulates and methods 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 also held to be “proven science.”
But, Eddington’s observation disproved both of those theories.
ONE empirical observation disproved TWO fundamental theories of Physics and Mathematics at the same time.
The many millions of empirical observations that had been held to “prove” or “verify” Euclid and Newton – didn’t.
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.
“It did not last; the devil howling “Ho!”
“Let Einstein Be” restored the status quo.”
And that is where evidence based believing stands today.