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General Epistemology        Chapter II-1       

 

SECOND PART

EPISTEMOLOGY

 

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This part, after a reminder of the classical epistemology, introduces the basis of General Epistemology, which allows to exactly apprehend the inner experience, or consciousness, in more of the classical physical and material observation. For this we must explain the error of classical materialistic science, in its principles, in its language, and into numerous concrete examples.

 

II-1 Reminder: Epistemology

 

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Epistemology is the science of knowledge: How to acquire knowledge on the world. Of course, if somebody just wants that others accept his opinions whatever they are, then he doesn't need epistemology. Epistemology is to discover things as they are, independently of our personal desires.

An epistemology is a method to explore and know reality, generally based on the notion of evidence. We have today only one generally recognized epistemology:

The scientific method, appeared in the 17th Century in Europe, developped in the 19th Century, and then spread in the world.

For the moment we shall, like the scientistists do, play at believing that only this exists, although some surprises will appear further.

But let us first recall the generally recognized basis of the «scientific method», without involving into complex or specialised details.

Theory of the scientific method

(Permalink) It seems that we did not yet found better, to know the reality, than to observe it. However, as many errors and falsifications being likely to occur at the time of this observation, we had to develop a whole set of methodologies.

The basic concept of scientific epistemology is that of experimental proof. Any statement about physical reality must be proven by the observation of this reality. A statement which does not match physical reality is false. A statement which is not checked is uncertain, and thus unusable.

Generally, we prepare a theory, which is an axiomatic system (see the chapter I-9 on Logic). It takes as axioms some already observed facts, thus known and safe facts, in order to predict other facts, by means of reasoning. Ideally we look for reasoning which would be rules, to which the considered physical phenomenon would obey in a constant way. When we think we have found such a rule, then we prepare an experiment to test if the physical reality actually behaves according to the rule. If so, then our theory is true, and the rule is a «law of physics», which can be used to discover other laws, or to design useful objects or machines. If not, then the theory is not true, it cannot lead to other theories, and we cannot build working machines with it.

Thus we discover natural laws, which make possible to make other predictions, leading to other experiments, other laws... This is the very process of scientific search. Sometimes already known laws happen to be no longer valid into new unexpected situations; then other more general theories come to replace them (This was the case of the Einsteinian Relativity replacing the Newtonian gravitation).

This evolution process of science is normal, and it should not be confused with the groty-punk theory about scientific theories that clash or are replaced according to balances of power or play of social influences. (This does not exclude that sometimes it is necessary to have to resort to drastic means to impose the truth or to fight false theories... see evolution or climate change) The theories that science rejected were rejected because some further researches showed a previously unnoticed mistake.

It is also worth knowing that science can do mistakes. However the present state of knowledge always remains the best choice, by default of a better choice. So if we want to question a scientific result, then we can do so only with facts, and not with suppositions or unchecked hypothesis. If we succeed, then we did not «showed that science is false», but we made it advance.

This has important consequences, sometimes complex or painful. For instance, modern medicine, from its extraordinary efficiency, has become a fundamental right of which nobody can be deprived. So the fancy theories which refuse it commit an ill treatment by deprival of appropriate care. But there also exist numerous real disputes, such as iatrogenic effects, hygiene in some hospitals, vaccines, useless and painful treatments to terminally ill persons, genetic fiddling, etc. which then can no longer be opposed to the person, and regive him the right to choose his medicine, for him or for his children. This will be studied with more details in chapter II-7 and chapter II-8.

The scientific method in practice

(Permalink) We tend to correct material or observational errors with using increasingly complex and varied methodologies, depending on the considered domain. But this is a topic which is largely covered into scientific studies and literature, and we don't need to elaborate on this for the continuation. The Psychological bias (already seen in chapter I-8) is also accounted for in experimental methodologies, in order to eliminate its effects, with the use of different means. All these verification methodologies revolve around the same basis:

 

- The notion of proof. A proof is an observable object, or the observable course of a phenomenon, which behaves as a theory predicts. We need evidence to affirm a theory, and if possible several. Historically the discovery in 1610 by Galileo of the Jupiter satellites was the first scientific proof of a theory (heliocentrism). An observable proof cannot be «psychologized»: it efficiently fights the psychological bias.

- The notion of observation. A proof, to be receivable, must be observable. If not, thus it cannot be shown nor shared. Observation is indispensable to build science (to observe the results of experiences) but it is also its very basement: we can do science only with what is observable.

-The reproducibility of the experiments. If an experiment made by a scientist cannot be reproduced by other scientists, under the same experimental conditions, we can suspect an error or a fraud. Many recent polemics were settled by the impossibility to reproduce the litigious experiments (Cold fusion note 61, memory of water note 62...)

- Collective testimony. As the whole humanity cannot attend an experiment, we have to be confident with the person who did it, and that he actually obtained the result which he claims. But we can suspect a lone person of error or fraud, especially if what he affirms appears extraordinary or polemical. Therefore we do admit as proven only a thing that several persons saw, and preferably persons having different interests. The notion of collective testimony is thus very efficient against the psychological bias, and this makes that it is also used in law.

- The concept of testability. This recent concept is due to the epistemologist Karl Popper. An assertion is testable when there is a mean to check it. A non-testable assertion does not have any interest, because we do not know anyway if it is true, and so we are unable to draw any practical conclusion or use. «God is fair-haired» is not testable and will undoubtedly never be. «The inhabitants of the Pleiades are very wise peoples» is not testable... but could be one day, if we become able to travel toward the Pleiades. «The Higgs boson exists» is testable, even if it still may prove false today (2010)

Concerning this concept of Popper, there is a problem of vocabulary: In common language, to «falsify» means «to make a fraud», while «irrefutable» means «absolutely true». To avoid the appearance of a jargon understandable only to a few, and misleading to the majority, I invite my scientific colleagues to say quite simply like my caretaker says: «checkable», or better testable», as integrated circuits manufacturers say.

Another bad interpretation of the Popperian concept would be to think that a non-testable assertion or theory is surely false. Some go as far as invoking the «falsifiability» against science researches that they judge heretic. For instance, the scientistists often call the SETI project «unfalsifiable» (Added 2017: this is no longer the case, happily). But what is precisely doing this project, if not precisely doing observations which may lead to check the truth or falseness of an hypothesis?

At last, Popper was not a god, and his view can fall short. For instance «all the human beings are mortal» proceeds from the big good common sense; but if today an immortal human takes birth, we shall never know this, as we shall all be dead far before being able to check it. So a statement that everybody holds as true is not testable after Popper's method. Sorry I imagine Popper would not like to be refuted... Yet we shall do this speveral times in this book.

We shall speak again of testability in chapter III-5 and in chapter V-5.

- Specific Experimental protocols allow to eliminate some mistakes. The most well known is the «double blind» protocol, massively used in medicine (and in parapsychology): Nor the patient, neither the nurse, know who received the medicine or who is in the control group. This allows to eliminate the influence of the famous placebo effect out of the results. Each field has its own adapted protocols.

- At last institutions and in particular peers referee play a foolproof role: any supposed discovery is subjected, before publication, to a criticism and a control by the persons who are already qualified in the relevant field. Ideas are retained only if they pass this examination. If there is a doubt, then experiments must settle it. This system works very well, but it has a notorious disadvantage: to slow down unexpected or original discoveries. For this only reason I even not attempted to submit my book to peers referee, as I should normally do. Most scientists, even good and honest, may even not acknowledge receipt for ideas so strange to them. Not to speak of the scientistists, whom we can expect only attempts to torpedo my book. However, ten years after the first version, we note the appearance of some private non-profit organisations dedicated to the topics in my book. With these new peers, scientific debate begins to be possible.

 

This science at this end of 20th century is certainly not perfect, but thanks to these protective mechanisms and to this methodical rigour, neither fraud nor error was ever able to settle here durably. Except for the one we shall see further.

 

 

 

 

 

 

General Epistemology        Chapter II-1       

 

 

 

 

 

 

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