I read this piece (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/life-and-physics/2013/may/04/no-alternative-bayes-penalties-philosophy-thatcher-merkel) with some trepidation.
When I get to the description of Bayesian statistics which says:
“Bayesian statistics owes its name to Reverend Thomas Bayes (c 1701-1761) and considers trust, or the degree of belief, as probability. Probabilities have very simple and intuitive properties”
That last part, ‘simple and intuitive properties’ is what sticks in my craw.
I’ve read many descriptions of another theoretical branch of physics that is based on probabilities, Quantum Mechanics. And two things seem to be hammered home again and again:
- It is the most successful theory in the history or physics (or of science)
- I keep hearing words to the effect that if you ever get to the point where you feel that your understanding if it is such that it ‘makes sense’ and somehow has become ‘intuitive’ to you then you have missed the point somewhere along the line and slipped into self delusion.
So do I believe that Bayesian stats and analysis trumps Quantum Mechanics?
Um, No I do not.
What QM shows us, again and again, is that the true nature of the world is stranger than we think and something other than we know.
So I feel that a philosophy of science that says we can ‘prove mathematically’ that the ‘no alternative theory’ paradigm points to the likelihood of a theory being correct is a philosophy that leaves science in a paradigmatic dead end.
IF your paradigm assumes an Earth-centric world and you don’t even realize that you are trapped in that paradigm then you’ll never even think of, let alone consider, and theories that are based on non-earth-centric world views.
I remember the first time I encountered Karl Popper’s idea about a theory being a scientific theory only if it was falsifiable and it was strange and hard to swallow at first but the more I thought about it the more I came to realize it was worthwhile. It’s a basic difference between a dogma and a scientific theory. I can grok that. I can embrace that.
And the more we know about the world through experiment and observation the more we come to understand that it is far stranger place than our ‘common sense’ and ‘intuition’ lead us to believe. So I think that a philosophy of science that is based on ‘history’ and ‘sociology’ is automatically limited because of the ‘human centric’ nature of its basis. How can it be otherwise?
So ‘No Alternative Exists’ speaks more to us and our limited paradigms than the real world and following that thinking will leave us wondering why forward progress is so hard and how come we cannot deal with unexplainables.
But then I’m just an armchair scientist at best …