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Axioms: Meta-Nature's Candy

Feb 24, 2009, 11:16 pm by Paul Stiverson

The following is a guest post made by my roommate, Tim.

Sometimes in philosophy and math, it becomes requisite to acknowledge that certain "facts" are unverifiable. Assumptions are made, and arguments use these assumptions as a starting point. There's not a question of them being right or wrong, as they're either "self-evident" or just light from the proverbial void. I point this out in reference to a statement that "2+2=4" is "always completely verifiable". It's not that it's a bad assumption to make, but it's being somewhat abused to make a point about morality or birth control... or something.

Let's start with what doesn't have anything to do with scientific fact (in this case, because it isn't scientific). Firstly, the afore-mentioned "2+2=4" is a special instance of what is called the law of identity (e.g. a = a). For certain arguments, this so-called law has been used as the assumption upon which various blitheringly stupid arguments have been made (see: Ayn Rand). Basically, science doesn't enter into it. Science is all about figuring things out based on empirical observation (called "a posteriori" knowledge), and the law of identity is self-asserting, not based on experience (called "a priori" knowledge), but draws its truth value from the claim itself. 2+2=4 is neither a scientific claim nor a scientific fact.

That being said, let's talk about another thing that doesn't have anything to do with scientific fact (in this case, because it isn't fact). It's true that scientists of a sort became aware of a possible health danger exists in the consumption of eggs. Researchers (people who experiment and analyze results) discovered a link between the amount and type of cholesterol in egg yolks and a dangerous increase in LDL cholesterol levels in the human blood stream. The researchers in question work in biomedical science, which at this point is far softer science than something like chemistry, making it particularly difficult to verify the veracity of claims made. At very best, there was fairly compelling evidence that the assertion could be true. The link was popularized, and many people did accept as "gospel truth" that "eggs gon' kill us". This speaks more to the fickleness of the general populus and less to the claims made by "science". As happens with things that may or may not be true, studies have been done that suggest the exact opposite; that eggs in fact lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. The absolute truth of the matter is arguably difficult to pin down, and as long as people keep immediately believing anything published on paper, people will continue to scapegoat "science" for giving us lowly commoners "facts" that later end up not being true. To clarify, the Houston Chronicle's "health" section doesn't count as science, as far as any vaguely accurate definition is concerned.

Now, let's change things up completely and talk about why scientific fact doesn't have anything to do with what was said (in this case, because the term "scientific fact" doesn't make a damned bit of sense). The "facts" (I'm just going to discuss the laws of thermodynamics as the strongest possible objection to my own argument) that science currently possesses are very strong, but no matter how strong they contend to be, there's an implicit assumption that they are correct and that they are just so compelling that they're almost certainly true. I'm not going to disagree, as they are very, very compelling. Despite that opinion/fact, there are various contingencies in which science's strongest facts manage to be actively false (e.g. our context isn't as clear as it seems, there are forces at work we just flatly can't currently see... There are more. But don't take my word for it!).

I've managed to pretty bluntly avoid my real problem with the obviously referent argument. The morality/ethics/religion/science battle royale being waged earlier was convoluted enough that I'm not sure that any of the parties involved were necessarily sure what was even being argued. But I suppose that's content for another headache.

I suppose it's pointless to mention that THIS MATTERS.

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