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Science, Proof and Faith

1. Modern times

There used to be a time when ideas about the material and the spiritual
worlds were not clearly divided. Isaac Newton was considered to be both the
greatest scientist and the greatest theologian of his time, and Euler was
employed at the Russian court to debate against atheist philosophers using
his mathematical research. Universities used to give the same training to
people to become either lawyers or priests, and cardinals found nothing
incongruous working as the chief ministers of kings. The Pope himself
used to have his own state like an earthly prince, and the great church-
state conflicts arose not because of any material versus spiritual separation,
but because the two were not separated: the Investiture Dispute was caused
by both the Emperor and the Pope wishing to have the power to appoint
prince-bishops that ruled parts of the Holy Roman Empire. In China,
ancester worship, state ceremonies, agricultural seasons and domestic life
used to be so closely linked that Confucius and his students were
government officials, temple priests and academic scholars combined.
The Dalai Lama is traditionally both the spiritual and political leader of
Tibet.

Copernicus is usually credited as the scientist who started the process of
definitive separation of material and spiritual ideas, by proposing a model
of the solar system incompatible with church teachings. To remain a good
son of the church, Galileo had to publicly renounce the theory, despite
contrary inner convictions based on his own research. Living in a
Protestant country, Newton had an easier time, but even he had to struggle
to maintain his orthodox reputation on the Continent. Since then,
materialistic ideas have become so dominant that religions are usually
relegated to being regarded as old fashioned superstitions unable to stand
up against science, and in a form of rearguard defence, religious and other
spiritually oriented people deliberately want to establish a border between
the two worlds, so that spiritual ideas would not be subject to scientific
analysis and proof. The need to form sanctuary enclaves only serves to
underline the extent of the retreat.

But even this does not guarantee permanent security, because ideas come
into collision in rather unexpected ways. Take the following three
examples:

(a) Reincarnation: Science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of
souls, nor whether a current living animal has the same soul that
previously existed in a now dead animal. But this does not make the idea
of reincarnation immune to scientific progress. Consider evolution and
dinosaurs. If you believe that dinosaurs once existed, and also believe in
reincarnation, then logically you must believe that some of today's humans
are reincarnated dinosaurs. No doubt some would find the idea quite
acceptable, but others might find it ridiculous. In the latter case, does one
reject reincarnation, dinosaurs, or simply reject the logical connection, by
dismissing the whole issue as a silly joke from an eccentric professor?

(b) Conception: This used to be viewed in an agricultural analogy - the
man plants his "seeds" in the woman to produce a fetus in her womb that
will grow like a plant in soil. From this analogy, an easy identification
of woman with earth arises producing various versions in mythology and
literature, and sex and human fertility get linked to agricultural
productivity in various cultures. Today we know that the fetus in fact
derives half its genes from the egg contributed by the woman, and half
from the man's sperm, so that the man does not provide the whole "seed"
and the woman does not play a purely passive, soil like role. How has this
affected our view of man-woman relations?

(c) Plato's theory of forms: Plato thought every object of a type, say a
horse, captures part of an abstract entity that exists in nature, such as
"horseness", that determines the features of the type. All horses share
"horseness" and therefore are similar, and good people have captured
more goodness than bad people. Today we know that "horseness" lies in
the DNA molecules that exist within every cell of every horse, and by
passing just one copy of its DNA to the offspring, the parent horse ensures
that the offspring would be a horse. It is unknown whether a goodness
gene exists, but at least we know now there is no goodness in nature for
us to capture.

In each of the three cases, a previously accepted spiritual idea has come
into collision with scientific knowledge, resulting in some obvious or
subtle shift in our thinking.

However, the proposition that scientific ideas are better accepted than
spiritual ideas because they can be "proved" is highly dubious. We believe
in atoms and dinosaurs, but has it really been "proved" to us that atoms
exist and dinosaurs existed? None of us have ever seen an atom or a
dinosaur, nor ever will. There are some very large skeletons that are on
display in museums, but how do we know these came from animals that
lived millions of years ago? Some of us use electricity generated from
nuclear reactors, but in what way does this prove the existence of atoms?
The connection may be clear to a nuclear scientist, but not to the human
majority.

For most of us, such beliefs are merely based on faith: there are
these books from the libraries that show pictures of atoms and dinosaurs,
and there are these wise looking men who tell us that such things exist(ed);
we accept their words because they command authority. Is this so very
different from believing in the bible and the priests? Even scientists
themselves have to base much of their beliefs upon faith once they move
out of their own specialized domain into areas in which they are not
expert.

In short, despite scientific progress, faith is still required as the basis
of beliefs. What has changed is merely the way faith is established and
reaffirmed.


2. Scientific logic

Like the existence of atoms and dinosaurs, most scientific beliefs are not
verified by direct observations, but are deduced from hypotheses using a
set of agreed rules. Some of these deductions that produce observable
propositions are then verified experimentally. This allows the hypotheses
and their deduced results to be tentatively accepted as the current theory.
A theory may be rejected later if additional deductions for previously
untested situations turn out to contradict experimental observations. Both
relativity and quantum mechanics came to be developed when the
deductions of classical physics for previously untested situations (one
involving high speed movement, and the other atomic particles) failed to
match observations. Science is always subject to doubts like "Other
hypotheses could be just as good or even better"  "Why these rules of
deduction and not some other" "If we do the same experiments tomorrow
the results could be different", but generally both scientists and the non-
scientific community agree that these are not useful arguments to make,
if you want to have science at all.

Nevertheless, the proposition that scientific ideas are believed because they
are logical is also a dubious one. Most of us are not able to follow the
chain of reasoning linking electricity generation to the existence of atoms,
nor see that the dinosaur bones dug up in Mongolia show that the specis
later became birds, because such logical deductions require considerable
knowledge and methodological training to carry out correctly, and because
the reasoning process involves numerous experimental observations which
we cannot make ourselves. In both methodology and facts, we accept the
words of authoritative figures certifying them to be correct; in other
words, by faith.

For the layman, even simple hypothesis and deductions involve ready
pitfalls. Consider:

hypothesis: Pigs can fly.

deduction: There will be things with wings that are good to eat.

observation: Pigeons, which are things with wings good to eat.

conclusion: Deduction has been verified by observation so...

For this one, it is relatively easy to see that many other deductions from
the same hypothesis would be incorrect and the "theory" is not acceptable,
but most of us would not be able to figure out what is wrong with the
above argument itself. Other wrong theories may be much harder to reject,
and right and wrong arguments hard to distinguish, e.g.

(a) Socrates is a human; a human can be male or female; Socrates can be
male or female.

(b) Socrates is a human; a human can be born male or female; Socrates
can be born male or female.

The first is correct, since if we know nothing about Socrates, then we
could be talking about a male or a female; the second is incorrect, because
the first clause refers to an already existing human, while the second
refers to a possibly unborn human, so that the two clauses cannot be
combined to produce the third clause as conclusion.

Even the idea "Science is consistent" is not a simple one. Earlier this
century, the Czech mathematician Godel proved that no mathematical
theory can be both complete and consistent. To take a simple example:
supposed we have words that describe things; to be complete, things
should include words; words can be selfdescribing ("short" is a short
word) or nonselfdescribing ("long" is not a long word); is
"nonselfdescribing" a nonselfdescribing word? If so, it describes itself and
so is a selfdescribing word; but if "nonselfdescribing" is selfdescribing, it
does not describe itself, and so must be nonselfdescribing... This is in fact
the same as the paradox of king and prisoners: "A cruel king ordered all
prisoners to be brought before the court to utter one sentence; if it is true,
the prisoner will be hanged; if it is false, he would be beheaded; so one
prisoner said 'I am going to be beheaded'..." which shows how easy it is
for paradoxes to arise, since the same underlying logic can appear in many
alternative disguises.  (Another version of the same parafox: can the almighty
God commit suicide? if not, then...)

Yet, even though we have not made any scientific experiments ourselves
and do not follow the logical deductions, we believe in science. What
accounts for our faith?


3. Living faith

Beliefs that are adopted by faith must in some way meet a psychological
need. For example, most humans are afraid of death, and the idea of
having a soul is psychologically comforting, by allowing us to think that
we do not simply disappear at death, but would live on in another way.
For Christians, the prospect of salvation is "truth" because they "feel it".
It is part of their "experience", even though it is something that cannot be
verified or disproved by empirical observation.

Science meets a human need to summarize our experience. 1+1=2 applies
to the situation when we place (+) an apple (1) next to another (1), and
find two apples side by side, also when we put a potato into a bag that
already has a potato, also... The formula has captured something in
nature, an objective truth, that appears in different forms, independently
of the cultural context in which the experience was gathered and
expressed; that is, whether a society has apples and potatoes or not, and
what notation its people use to express 1+1=2, are independent of the
truth of 1+1=2 itself.

A belief based on summarized experience is regularly confirmed, like we
see examples of 1+1=2 every day; hence, our belief is strengthened on
a daily basis. Faith in science is regularly affirmed by contact with
products of science - switch on the air conditioner and the room cools
down, and logging into the computer we email to our friends in New
York. Science delivers. What makes modern times different from the age
of Newton is the prevalent presence of science and the almost constant
affirmation of our scientific beliefs.

This however does not explain why we believe in atoms and dinosaurs,
which have only a tenuous connection to airconditioning and computers.
We could say that quantum mechanics explains the movement of electrons
in semiconductors, which are used in both airconditioner circuits and
computer processors; it also explains the structure of atoms and molecules,
which are related to DNA and genes, which are related to heredity and
natural selection, which are related to dinosaurs. But almost none of us
understand all these subject areas together with the links between them.
The question is still why we do not hesitate in accepting all of them by
faith.

The answer has to be socialization: the electronic engineers, computer
scientists, atomic physicists, molecular biologists and evolution zoologists
are part of the same scientific community. We have the same basic
education, and our individual fields share much of the scientific
methodology and tools. We have faith in each other, and ackowledge the
authority of specialists of other areas which we ourselves do not
understand. This collective faith is passed on to the community at large,
who are impressed by science's ability to deliver. Ultimately, this is not
so very different from the socialization process that supports religious
faith: worshipers, who get together on sundays in a dark hall with high
ceilings and stain glass windows to sing emotional hymns accompanied by
a grand organ, have their faith strengthened by expressing their common
views together, and leaders of a community professing a faith would
usually carry their people along.

This is why people who have not been socialized in the same way can
respond to the wonders of technology quite differently. The hill tribes of
New Guinea watching aeroplanes landing to deliver wonderful things to
white men, who pay for them with cheques and credit cards, were
convinced that goods being sent to themselves by their heavenly ancesters
had been intercepted by European witchcraft. Instead of starting to learn
aerodynamics and electronic commerce so that they could participate in
this high tech world culture, they built wood aeroplanes on hilltops and
waited for their ancesters to descend and bring them cargo...

In short, while objective truths like 1+1=2 do exist in nature and
determine both experimental observations and feasible applications of
science, our faith in science is a cultural phenomenon, as is our particular
expression of it. By demolishing certain old beliefs and co-existing with
others, and forming its own cultural expressions that are used and affirmed
daily, science is an integral, indeed the driving, part of the spiritual
world of the modern man.

为什么哲学喜欢指导科学

阮宗光

最近新语丝有太刘哲科之争,很多人已在讨论,不必我来参加,想谈谈为什么不同思维地盘的两个行业之间会常有这种争议发生:我觉得是因为哲学喜欢指导科学,但科学不但不接受,还常替哲学增添麻烦

科学常需要用些抽象方法,归纳一些实验结果,理论细节,形成一个更大的框架更完整的结构;哲学的人,擅长抽象思维,觉得科学要依靠哲学;他们特别喜欢指出科学历史中走错的路线,和某些无法解决的基本问题;比如世界哪里来的,因为提出任何起点,都可以问起点以前又是什么;而哲学却可以毫不犹豫说"有无相生,世界从无而来";因而觉得哲学优越

搞科学是要花钱的,要政府,基金,大学等行政机关支持,而行政是个文人思维的区域,即使行政人员出身是理工的,操作方法是文商那边来的.今天的发达传媒环境里,科学也必须作很多宣传,这种场合里能运用些哲学言语和背景的科学人员是会大占便宜的;这又助长了哲学指导科学的趋向

抽象思想很容易自圆其说,让发明的人自得其乐,但有时科学会从意想不到的方向替他们产生麻烦,新语丝讨论这类题目很多,不过我举个远些的例子:轮回转世是个抽象的宗教哲学概念,它本身既无法用科学证明对也无法证明错,照理可以同科学并存,不过科学界偏要说,几百万年前有恐龙,那么恐龙死了是不是转世成为别的动物,我们是不是转世的恐龙呢?从哲学的观点看,科学的确可以是个高傲,麻烦的东西,不教训不行

 

论悖论


哲学界的人有些很喜欢用逻辑悖论作为攻击科学的工具,用以证明有很多科学无法解决的基本问题;这些攻击通常是错误的,有些是因为悖论本身有问题,如这几天新语丝讨论的芝诺悖论只是因为提出的人不懂得无限数的总和不一定无限而已;有些确实看到了存在的逻辑缺陷,值得看清一下它有没有更多后果

这里我分析一下三个本质基本相同的悖论:

1.理发师:"某村有一位理发师;村民分成两群:要就是自己理发,要就是让理发师理发";结果产生悖论:理发师本人属于哪一群?回答:"假设用'自己理发''让理发师理发"涵数结果0或1,分组不重叠是错误的,不包括理发师本人时才成立"但是其实问题还是存在,看下面.

2.犯人:"某国王叫每个犯人说一句话,说真话的绞死,说假话的砍头;一犯人说'我应该砍头'"分析看下面.

3.词性:"词可以是自述词,如"短"是个短词,也可以是非自述词,如"长"不是个长词;那么"非自述词"是自述词还是非自述词?"

由3.可以比较容易地看到这三个悖论其实是同一个:任何公式用在自己身上就可能产生自我矛盾.在2.里,问题产生在犯人说"我应该砍头"等于是说"我说的话是假话";如果你同意,这句话就是真话了;而1.产生问题的原因就是因为组里包括了理发师本人.

另有一个古老悖论"某克岛人说'凡是克岛人都老是说谎';这是不是说谎?"这反而容易答"是;这个克岛人这次在说谎.不过这个悖论之所以产生也是因为牵涉到自述;又如时间机器悖论"如果我能回到过去,就能阻止妈妈嫁爸爸,也阻止自己出生;但是我不出生,那么谁回去过去阻止我出生?",也是因为有了不可
能的自我影响


逻辑学和某些数学,语言学问题常有这种自述的情况,但绝大多数科学是用不着的,所以用悖论来证明"科学本身有问题"只是无的放矢


看到寻正连日在新语丝攻击庄子忽悠,忍不住插一下嘴谈谈忽悠和玄;先谈玄的古老意义:

1.丝绸:
玄字包含了半个丝字,因为中国古老的玄女族有养蚕织布的专才.

2.生殖崇拜:
月宫又称广玄宫,住着美丽女神嫦娥,月神(后来变成月下老人)主宰婚姻,生殖,现在还有少数民族民族举行跳月仪式;玄女经是房中术(素女经也是-素字也是包含了半个丝字),即玄女族的生殖崇拜步骤;后来的道教还有吕洞宾三戏白牡丹之类房中术采补修道那种故事.

3.黑色:
因为玄女族黑夜拜月亮,玄又有了黑的意思,商族的图腾是玄鸟即燕子,诗经商颂"天命玄鸟,降而生商"即是创族人简狄同姐妹参加生殖崇拜,在池洗澡吞玄鸟蛋,怀孕生玄王契的故事.喜雀七夕造桥让牛郎织女相会其实就是这古老传说演变出来的.

几千年后老子说"玄之又玄,众妙之门"时,玄字经过多代口授传述已经意义不同,只剩下一种朦胧,抽象的意思.之所以为众妙之门,是因为抽象思维可以用来总结很多具体概念.比如阴阳就代表了天地,日夜,黑白,正负,上下男女,老少,等等各种相对,而相对就能产生动态,如日夜交替产生时间的进动,男女相交制造人类延续
等等

易经中记述,"无极生太极, 太极生两仪, 两仪生四象,
四象生八卦"考古队在甘肃西坪找到陶瓶上有尾交首人面鱼,西亚有uroboros自吞尾蛇,已见有无(头尾)相生循环不息之意,可见这些思想早于老子;他的贡献是把这
些思想系统地用在政治上:政府拿了太多资源,人民就会贫困;某些人地位提高,其他人相对或绝对地会降低,所以多同少,有同无,是相连相生的;有无相生,所以有可由无产生,所以世界自动产生,无所谓来源,始终;无既然是一切的基础,我们做人做事应以无为做原则;刻意求功,会因加得减;民心朴实,容易世界太平

我们可以看到这些"玄"的思想,自圆其说,是相当有吸引力的,不过需要在闭门造车的环境里才最有效.;但老子身为周朝的官员,他的原意是入世而不是出世的,无为而治是方法,目的是安定社会.道教把老子当神仙大宗师拜,庄子拉他做出世隐士代表,其实都歪曲了他的思想.

庄子的文学水平,口才都很高超,如果他肯去游说一下,讲些王公大人爱听的话,拿个客卿相印是不成问题的,但他生性高傲,也不象是能耐心日理万机每天看几车文件的人,接触不到国家大事和有深度的社会思维,也就没什么重大的思想贡献,说来说去只是些"天下无大事,不要太认真"这类空话.而最得人欣赏的是一些狡辩,如

庄子与惠子游于濠梁之上。庄子曰:"鯈鱼出游从容,是鱼之乐也。"惠子曰:"子非鱼,安知鱼之乐?"庄子曰:"子非我,安
知我不知鱼之乐?"惠子曰:"我
非子,固不知子矣;子固非鱼也,子之不知鱼之乐全矣!"庄子曰:"请循其本。子曰'汝安知鱼乐'云者,既已知吾知之而问我,我知之濠上也。"

一会儿说惠子你不知道我,一会儿又说你已经知道我,可见庄子只不过是个拉到篮里就是菜的聊天专家,连说话严密的辩论家也算不上;比起老子来,一个是真玄(抽象思维),一个只是假玄(无所谓的空话)

但是庄子能得到后世多代的好评,倒也不是无缘无故的:在中国几千年的专制社会里,庄子的超脱人生哲学,跟竹林七贤整天喝醉酒,不穿衣服一样,形成一种消极的抗议;"圣贤,君王,都没什么了不得";"我高兴这样,你管我做什么"离开了这个社会背景,还有什么指导人生的价值,就应该疑问了.