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Social Epistemology and Steve Fuller

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Mar 23 2007 15:35
Social Epistemology and Steve Fuller

Any geeks interested in the history and philosphy of science know anything about him?

I've seen him talk, read a few interview, and heard a few radio discussion of him, mainly in connection with his support for intelligent design in sience education.

He describes himself as a "secular humanist" but I don't really think that's important, I'm curious what people, if anybody knows owt, think his motivations are - many have suggested he just wants to increase his public profile by spouting postmodern anti science crap.

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Apr 9 2007 13:36

Fuller is just complicated and very much his own man. I've read his 'Social Epistemology' and he actually argues against relativism and postmodernism. He's clearly against the scientific establishment but not against science as such. You shouldn't trust what others say about him since the intelligent design issue is so controversial nowadays. I've yet to run across a reasoned criticism of Fuller's views that has centred on the intelligent design issue. All of the criticisms seem to take quotes out of context, lump him with all sorts of other people, and never refer to his own voluminous writings. His book on 'Kuhn vs Popper' is a good introduction to his views. One thing you learn immediately is that he's a philosopher, not a sociologist, by training.

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Apr 9 2007 17:27

I'd say a reasoned criticism of his stance on ID being taught in science is that his idea that "design" or the idea of a "designer" is somehow a useful framework under which to pursue science, regardless of it's actual truth-value is simply a rediculous waste of time.

His reasons for use a design framework in science are that lots of great scientists, Keplar, Newton etc were believers in design and made they're breaktroughs from that standpoint. I'd say they made their finding DESPITE approaching it from a design standpoint and if we're to use falsifiability as a benchmark in science, finding something out that contradicts your previous framework (e.g. a natural cause for a phenomenon rather than design) then you reject the one that's useless, in this instance, design.
I'm basing this on interviews and articles of his and several TV and radio appearances he's done on it.

Plus he admitted in the Dover case that accepting ID as science would be to change the fundamental ground-rules of science and allow room for supernatural causation.

I honestly don't see why he supported the ID-advocates in Dover. It certainly increased his public profile no end. Tv appearances, mainstream newspaper interviews etc.

As far as the rest of his stuff I've not read much but read a critique of Social Epistemology by Norman Levitt, one of Sokal's mates. I've got Kuhn vs Popper, must give it a go.

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Apr 10 2007 14:14
xConorx wrote:
I'd say a reasoned criticism of his stance on ID being taught in science is that his idea that "design" or the idea of a "designer" is somehow a useful framework under which to pursue science, regardless of it's actual truth-value is simply a rediculous waste of time.

His reasons for use a design framework in science are that lots of great scientists, Keplar, Newton etc were believers in design and made they're breaktroughs from that standpoint. I'd say they made their finding DESPITE approaching it from a design standpoint and if we're to use falsifiability as a benchmark in science, finding something out that contradicts your previous framework (e.g. a natural cause for a phenomenon rather than design) then you reject the one that's useless, in this instance, design.

I'm sorry, but falsifiability is simply not used by scientists in practice. They set up (or mostly accept and adapt) theses, and stick to them even after they've been "falsified" many times, because a lot of falsifications could be a result of improper use of equipment, various glitches or pure bad luck. If a thesis fails leads nowhere for too long, it's eventually abandoned, but not without a fight by those who have a vested interest in it.

Also, falsification is purely negative; it does not allow one to expand, it can only cause limitation and contraction. Even if it were used, it could not be used alone, otherwise how would you generate theses for falsification in the first place?

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Apr 11 2007 10:03

I know falsification isn't followed exactly by scientists - see the big long "radicals and a science fetish" thread.

Who said you'd use falsification alone? I know I certainly didn't and I think that'd be rediculous - I'm much more interested in POSITIVE evidence being accumulated to explain phenomenon. Falsification only came into it because you can't prove anything 100% and but you can find evidence that outright contradicts certains ideas, and as you say, after a long fight, the more something becomes contradicted the more likely it is to be abandoned,

I actually agree with you.

john
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Apr 11 2007 10:17

I saw Fuller speak - giving an attack on geneticists, specifically people like E.O. Wilson, and the entry they've made into the social sciences - he claims it represents a fundamental lack of confidence by social scientists in social science, and in particular in social explanations.

I didn't think he was anti-science, just anti-genetic-determinism. Actually, apparently, in Popper vs. Kuhn, he ends up supporting Popper, which suggests he certainly isn't a post-modern relativist.

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Apr 11 2007 10:59

yeah that's what i heard, he comes out on the side of Popper and sees Kuhn as ultimately being in support of science's place in the Cold War or something.

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Apr 11 2007 11:21

Finished the book and he skewers Kuhn, more or less implies he is an elitist and a technocrat and pretty much supports Popper on all accounts. I actually didn't know the guy was famous for anything else and really just read the book because at the time I was reading lots of Popper and Kuhn and saw it ona bookshelf at Chapters, interesting thread guys thanks.

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Apr 11 2007 13:00

I saw him talk at an education thing to do with ID and I found his contributions irritating for two reasons:

1 - his talking style was loud and obnoxious for no real reason, it wasn't a hostile audience in fact, ID-advocates were in the majority there. Talking really loud doesn't make your points any more salient
2 - his unwillingness to actually address issues directly - he seemed to delibrately go off-topic from the beginning.

I did agree with him on one thing though, in an interview he did with Teachers TV he said people should learn more about the history and philosophy of science in science, I reckon that seems reasonable.

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Apr 11 2007 21:34
xConorx wrote:
I actually agree with you.

You can't just agree with me, you have to call me a cunt, or a cock, or some other kind of reproductive organ, then non-sequitor the fuck out of me, then ignore me. wink

Sometimes ideas aren't abandoned, they are scaffolded and patched up, and if done right, that will make a better and better theory, up to a point, but nothing may be resolved. For example, as I see it, modern physics is no better than the ptolemaic system in that regard, they haven't resolved the main contradictions involved in the interpretation of the theory, but they keep on calculating better and better approximations to the "real" theory.

Hardly anyone really understands what the problems are with the interpretation of the theory. Most of them are taught that Einstein and Bohr had an argument, and Bohr won. But that's just not true. Einstein made a valid point, and Bohr just obfuscated the fuck out of it, as was his wont, and the applications were so much more important to everyone than an understanding of nature that they just pushed forward and ignored it. Few people these days understand how ridiculous quantum mechanics is. Of those who do, you have two main camps: the ones who actually want to understand what it's about, which have little funding and have gotten nowhere (one of these was JS Bell, of the famed Bell Inequality, who sadly passed away), and the ones who say outright that QM makes no sense, and that that doesn't matter, because as long as you get something that reproduces the statistics that are the results of your experiments, as a function of your initial conditions, it doesn't matter if there's no understanding of what happens in the interim. In fact, in a way, they claim that nothing happens in the interim, which is absurd, but who cares, eh, as long as the experiments work out, and as long as you can publish.

A lot of physics today is about learning how to apply solutions to problems without actually understanding the underlying system, which is useful, since nobody really understands the underlying system. That's one of the things that eventually pushed me to drop out of graduate school; to be honest; seems like the only advancement I could hope for in physics had nothing to do with understanding nature, and everything to do with conducting experiments regarding theories that nobody really seems to understand and publishing papers about them, or developing various mathematical results regarding such theories, then publishing papers about them. Oh, and if I happened to be successful, I could look forward to a career of managing labs and students. Hurray.

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Apr 12 2007 12:49

“If you think you understand quantum theory, you don’t understand quantum theory” wink

nosos
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Apr 12 2007 14:33

Shit I had no idea the Steve Fuller in my department was *this* Steve Fuller

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Apr 12 2007 17:44

so you're in Warwick?

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Apr 12 2007 17:55
xConorx wrote:
“If you think you understand quantum theory, you don’t understand quantum theory” ;)

That's not funny. That's sad. I mean, seriously, so much published, so little understood. Well, as long as the applications work, and as long as capitalism can develop, right?

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Apr 12 2007 22:02
revol68 wrote:
tojiah wrote:
xConorx wrote:
“If you think you understand quantum theory, you don’t understand quantum theory” ;)

That's not funny. That's sad. I mean, seriously, so much published, so little understood. Well, as long as the applications work, and as long as capitalism can develop, right?

yes because clearly only a capitalist society would have uses for it's applications.

fuck i'm getting realy tired of this pseudo radical reductionism.

Jesus you should have heard the conversation I had with an american friend of ours (you know who I mean) last week. He's against stem-cell research and nanotechnology "because the elites control them". So i was like "that's not really an argument against the technologies themselves, that just means you don't like the power relationships, I can envisage uses for them outside of a capitalist society". This went on ad-nauseum.

john
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Apr 12 2007 22:20

Marx and Luddites springs to mind

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Apr 13 2007 13:52
revol68 wrote:
tojiah wrote:
xConorx wrote:
“If you think you understand quantum theory, you don’t understand quantum theory” ;)

That's not funny. That's sad. I mean, seriously, so much published, so little understood. Well, as long as the applications work, and as long as capitalism can develop, right?

yes because clearly only a capitalist society would have uses for it's applications.

fuck i'm getting realy tired of this pseudo radical reductionism.

Revol, unlike you, I've actually done some scientific research, so I know what the fuck I'm talking about. With your blind obedience to scientific authority, you should now bow down and shut your gob. roll eyes

I think a communist society could have waited a few decades with all the nuclear weapons program so that we'd know what the fuck's actually going on, as opposed to just building bigger and bigger ziggurats for High Energy, Blessed be It, meanwhile complementarity is just as much a pile of shit as it was when Bohr diarrhead it from his pen.

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Apr 13 2007 22:29

Fine, I guess my position isn't clear enough for you, revol, so I'm going to put it bluntly:

Scientists, or the scientific establishment, are just as guilty of these New Age/Creationist/Intelligent Design/Kabbalah trends, if not moreso, than those who profit by them, and definitely a lot more than those who fall victim to them..

They are guilty of them because they have been thriving on a mystification of science, exemplified by the pride the most exact of scientists take in not understanding their own fucking theory. Strangely enough, this started at around when left-communists say that decadence began.

Blaming the vast majority of the population as just being ornery and stupid about things, and taking the "side of reason" against them, is senseless in this context, because the "side of reason" is exactly that establishment that is the root cause of this problem in the first place.

None of your abuse, none of your wit and none of your ad hominems is going to change that fact.

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Apr 13 2007 22:47
tojiah wrote:
Fine, I guess my position isn't clear enough for you, revol, so I'm going to put it bluntly:

Scientists, or the scientific establishment, are just as guilty of these New Age/Creationist/Intelligent Design/Kabbalah trends, if not moreso, than those who profit by them, and definitely a lot more than those who fall victim to them..

except that science, for all of its faults and socially constructed nature (discussed at length in radicals and science fetish thread), actually can be used to increase human hapiness and well-being, were to it be socially-controlled in a non-capitalist society. Where New Age, Kaballah etc, is actually pretty useless mystical balls. Placing science in the same boat as superstitious nonsense is silly.

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Apr 13 2007 23:33
xConorx wrote:
tojiah wrote:
Fine, I guess my position isn't clear enough for you, revol, so I'm going to put it bluntly:

Scientists, or the scientific establishment, are just as guilty of these New Age/Creationist/Intelligent Design/Kabbalah trends, if not moreso, than those who profit by them, and definitely a lot more than those who fall victim to them..

except that science, for all of its faults and socially constructed nature (discussed at length in radicals and science fetish thread), actually can be used to increase human hapiness and well-being, were to it be socially-controlled in a non-capitalist society. Where New Age, Kaballah etc, is actually pretty useless mystical balls. Placing science in the same boat as superstitious nonsense is silly.

Could you show me where exactly I put science in the same boat as superstitious nonsense, please? Obviously, the reason the scientific establishment has so much power is because science actually happens to work well, unlike the rest of that hodgepodge. But the way it acts, the way it educates, the way it handles itself fosters the same kind of mystification which results in poor rehashes of neoplatonism being served as a new enlightenment.

I've read some texts written by these dime-a-dozen mystics, and I see exactly why they are so popular: they bother talking to ordinary people. They give them the feeling that they can get in touch with what's running the world. Modern science, on the other hand, builds great ziggurats to High Energy and is comprised of an elite priesthood that only a few can hope to ever join, and much of their training involves getting rid of the notion that anyone can really understand anything so that they can get on with publishing and experimenting and getting more and more useful results.

I hope that a post-capitalist society will have experimentation where people actually understand what they are doing and why, and are not just thinking of how to finish that Master's project or getting that great paper published in order to more quickly ascend the next academic tier; I hope that peer review will involve a high degree of cooperation and collaboration, rather than anonymized blithe criticism and competition; I hope that no Philosopher's Stones like Quantum Computing and Nanotechnology will be upheld just to get that next research grant; moreover, I hope that science becomes a field of action for all who are interested in it, all to whom it is relevant, which is each and every one of us, rather than just for a select academic elite.

I think that science has reached the point of saturation that is indicative of the end of Capitalism, and it is a shame that alleged communists simply ignore that fact and idolize the scientific establishment as a progressive institution, when it has long since become reactionary.

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Apr 18 2007 19:03

Fair enough, you said "scientists and the scientific establishment", not science. But to be honest if you take the view of science as socially-constructed anywway, as an inherently human activity, then you could say scientists and the scientific establishment pretty much are science today - or by science do you mean the abstract ideal of it? I'm just looking a bit of clarification.
To me it seems like you're sayin, "capitalism and power releations fucks-up science", and I think most would agree.

As for Steve Fuller, in a Teachers TV debate:
"Well in so far as by science we mean the most authoritative form of knowledge in society, that legitimates everything else that we do in society, then you need to have a cross-section of the public involved, it’s not just something that should be left to expert."

Sounds alright, and I'd agree people should be critical of "experts" but with something that should be evidence-based and does require some degree of specialist knowledge how far to you go? Do you want general consensus? i mean what the fuck. Science isn't democratic - you don't vote for the best answers or the ones people liekthe most. The best answers/explanation/theories whatever arte those best-supported by observed evidence. And while realising the abuses of science by those in power I think you can go a bit too far.
If you want to have shitloads of people involved then they should be well-informed.
Would you have a cross-section of the public involved in what gets taught in surgical schools or dentistry?
Fuller says the difference is between teaching general science and specialist

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Apr 18 2007 19:56
tojiah wrote:

They are guilty of them because they have been thriving on a mystification of science, exemplified by the pride the most exact of scientists take in not understanding their own fucking theory.

Yeah,this is certainly true. Positivism has definitely triumphed in physics. You don't need to have a physical explanation, you just need to be able to make testable predictions. ( Before somebody takes this as an attack on making testable predictions, I'll emphasise that the point I'm making is just that explanation is deemed unnecessary, and often even undesirable).

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Strangely enough, this started at around when left-communists say that decadence began.

You seem to see quantum physics as the watershed moment for the victory of this tendency. What do you think about relativity theory? I'd see it as really the breakthrough for positivism.

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Apr 18 2007 20:25
Cardinal Tourettes wrote:
You seem to see quantum physics as the watershed moment for the victory of this tendency. What do you think about relativity theory? I'd see it as really the breakthrough for positivism.

Why would you say that?

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Apr 18 2007 20:26
xConorx wrote:
Fair enough, you said "scientists and the scientific establishment", not science. But to be honest if you take the view of science as socially-constructed anywway, as an inherently human activity, then you could say scientists and the scientific establishment pretty much are science today - or by science do you mean the abstract ideal of it? I'm just looking a bit of clarification.
To me it seems like you're sayin, "capitalism and power releations fucks-up science", and I think most would agree.

Seems like it will take people some convincing that science is fucked up to begin with.

xConorx wrote:
As for Steve Fuller, in a Teachers TV debate:
"Well in so far as by science we mean the most authoritative form of knowledge in society, that legitimates everything else that we do in society, then you need to have a cross-section of the public involved, it’s not just something that should be left to expert."

Sounds alright, and I'd agree people should be critical of "experts" but with something that should be evidence-based and does require some degree of specialist knowledge how far to you go? Do you want general consensus? i mean what the fuck. Science isn't democratic - you don't vote for the best answers or the ones people liekthe most. The best answers/explanation/theories whatever arte those best-supported by observed evidence. And while realising the abuses of science by those in power I think you can go a bit too far.
If you want to have shitloads of people involved then they should be well-informed.
Would you have a cross-section of the public involved in what gets taught in surgical schools or dentistry?
Fuller says the difference is between teaching general science and specialist

The main problem here is that you're taking experts to be some magical alienated creatures, with which we must interact from afar, or which we must become through some kind of esoteric transition, mostly involving a piece of paper that says "Ph.D." on it.

I want a science that isn't alienating. I want a science that is relevant to people's lives, and that speaks in a language that allows people to use it when they need it, as they need it. As things stand, scientific knowledge is just a type of capital, being administered by a particular kind of management. A radical change is needed to break this knowledge out of the banks of Academia.

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Apr 18 2007 21:43
tojiah wrote:
Cardinal Tourettes wrote:
You seem to see quantum physics as the watershed moment for the victory of this tendency. What do you think about relativity theory? I'd see it as really the breakthrough for positivism.

Why would you say that?

Cos it doesn't provide a physical explanation.
It fetishises the mathematical, and in particular the geometrical, representation of physical reality and declares a physical explanation unnecessary. ( Occam's razor usually getting cited in justification - physical explanation being an over-complication of a theory that can make accurate predictions without it.)
Of course Einstein himself was very ambiguous on this question, but thats where relativity theory has gone, and been true to itself in doing so, in my opinion.

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Apr 19 2007 15:46
Cardinal Tourettes wrote:
tojiah wrote:
Cardinal Tourettes wrote:
You seem to see quantum physics as the watershed moment for the victory of this tendency. What do you think about relativity theory? I'd see it as really the breakthrough for positivism.

Why would you say that?

Cos it doesn't provide a physical explanation.
It fetishises the mathematical, and in particular the geometrical, representation of physical reality and declares a physical explanation unnecessary. ( Occam's razor usually getting cited in justification - physical explanation being an over-complication of a theory that can make accurate predictions without it.)
Of course Einstein himself was very ambiguous on this question, but thats where relativity theory has gone, and been true to itself in doing so, in my opinion.

I'm not sure I'm following you. Relativity still allows you to describe an object going from place X to place Y, and things happening in between, etc. Quantum mechanics, taken rigorously, doesn't allow you to say anything intelligible about what happens between initial conditions and experimental results, and when not taken rigorously, allows you to say things that rigor would show are just plain wrong. The obscurantism comes from people just accepting that as a given, because the initial conditions and the results are the only things that matter. Einstein really took offense at this, but hardly anyone has tried going beyond his criticism of it, except for the late J.S. Bell.

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Apr 19 2007 20:17

Oh aye, I'm agreeing with you about quantum mechanics, at the theoretical level, avoiding physical explanations.
I just think relativity is where this tendency really got a grip on physics first.
What do you think about explaining gravity as curvature in space-time?
Space-time is not physical, its just geometry. The geometrical representation of the effect of a physical force is taken as the cause of the physical force. Topsy-turvy, innit.

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Apr 19 2007 21:52
Cardinal Tourettes wrote:
Oh aye, I'm agreeing with you about quantum mechanics, at the theoretical level, avoiding physical explanations.
I just think relativity is where this tendency really got a grip on physics first.

At least chronologically, QM was there first, kinda, with Planck's formula for black body energy.

Cardinal Tourettes wrote:
What do you think about explaining gravity as curvature in space-time?
Space-time is not physical, its just geometry. The geometrical representation of the effect of a physical force is taken as the cause of the physical force. Topsy-turvy, innit.

Well, you had things like that in classical mechanics, too, with "geometrical forces" like the centrifugal force being introduced simply because of your relative system of co-ordinates. Geometry is so too physical, let me throw a triangle at you, heathen!

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Apr 23 2007 20:40

You say you like John Bell.
have you read his essay "How to teach special relativity"?

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Apr 24 2007 08:24
Cardinal Tourettes wrote:
You say you like John Bell.
have you read his essay "How to teach special relativity"?

It's been a while, but yeah, I did. Don't remember much, though. Wasn't what I was focusing on at the time. Why?

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Apr 24 2007 21:43
tojiah wrote:
Cardinal Tourettes wrote:
You say you like John Bell.
have you read his essay "How to teach special relativity"?

It's been a while, but yeah, I did. Don't remember much, though. Wasn't what I was focusing on at the time. Why?

Well he's a materialist critic, albeit quite ironic and understated, of the dominant positivist interpretation of quantum mechanics, as you know. The above essay is him being similarly critical of the dominant positivist version of relativity.
He basically advocates a Lorentzian interpretation. ( Albeit again he couches it quite subtly, even obliquely. The thought experiment example that he focuses the essay around is excellent, and brings out the superiority of a materialist understanding against the geometrist mentality of the standard relativists very nicely. If you havent got the essay handy I could go into it here - actually maybe I should start a thread along the lines of ' positivism in physics' or whatever, and go into it there - but I'm a bit pissed just now and can't be arsed. Let me know if you require further pontification.)