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.

Go Back

18 Comments

momo Says:

Feb 25, 2009

Wow! I'm truly honored that an entire post was devoted to my 2+2=4 comment! For the record, I don't have a problem with science. What I -do- have a problem with is solely basing what I believe on whether or not it can be proved or explained or tested using scientific "fact" or "studies" or "experiements" or whatever. Science is not the be all and end all answer to everything.

Paul Stiverson Says:

Feb 25, 2009

If you don’t base your beliefs on that which can be observed then what do you base them on?

momo Says:

Feb 25, 2009

Your gut. Your instincts. Your intuition. Sometimes, those are a whole helluva lot more accurate than science or anything else.

Paul Stiverson Says:

Feb 25, 2009

At the risk of sounding like a pompous academic ass: have you cataloged any statistics on the frequency at which your gut is more accurate than science?

mark Says:

Feb 25, 2009

"If you don’t base your beliefs on that which can be observed then what do you base them on?"

yet you and I both, still support the constant observable let down that has been A&M's football team these past few years.

:(

*obligatory sarcasm post*

momo Says:

Feb 25, 2009

Uh...seriously? That would be an emphatic "no." Look, we're going to disagree here. You're a student of science and from what I've read, in order for you to believe in something, you have to "observe it." I don't think that way and I think it's dangerous to follow only one path. Rather, we should base our belief systems, our morality, etc. on what we observe, what we feel, what our intuition tells us, etc., not whether it can solely be proven or tested.

Paul Stiverson Says:

Feb 25, 2009

I don’t disagree with your point; that we should not base our own personal value set on what a single source tells us. This is why I think it is acceptable for kids to get their information from multiple sources—say, for instance, the scientific aspects of sex from schools, and the emotional aspects of sex from parents/church/wherever. I think this breakdown would be perfectly acceptable, since schools are geared toward teaching science, and parents/churches are equipped for teaching about the emotional and spiritual.

The point that I was trying to make earlier is that we should not teach our children things that plainly cannot be verified (not just with our current knowledge, but ever) in schools. How would you feel about math teacher saying “You know the number zero really loved the fact that it was discovered by Arabs.” (and not meant as an absurd statement)?

momo Says:

Feb 25, 2009

Ok, then. How would you propose to teach sixth graders and seventh and eighth graders (puberty-age) about the emotions they will feel when entering puberty (because this is part of sex education, correct?)? For example...How a boy might feel "aroused" when he looks at a girl or how a girl might respond to a boy saying 'hi' to her in the hallway that never noticed her before. Or would you not teach it at all? What about addressing the fact that when a girl starts menstruating, she might be a little scared or worried? Whether or not they are scientifically able to be proven (and enlighten me here, but isn't emotion able to be measured by science?), those feelings are real and a very important part of puberty. Question: Is it ok for schools to even admit that you may have emotions associated with puberty or is that taboo?

Paul Stiverson Says:

Feb 25, 2009

We need to teach girls how to return a hallway greeting? Are we talking about the same schools here? Oh, wait, are you talking about Johnny Football hero getting her all hot and bothered?

So we don’t get caught in a semantic discussion: when I said “emotional aspects of sex” I wasn’t referring to specific emotions relating to sex (arousal and the like), things of that nature should be dealt with. I was referring to the emotional repercussions (“emtpy sexual relationships void of anything other than the pure physical act tend to eat away at your soul over time”), which are largely un-cataloged (and I suspect extremely subjective). If an academic study were able to get funding for such a study, or if a researcher would even try to touch that, I would be surprised.

I was under the impression that teaching girls about menstruation was already pretty standard practice? I do remember that day in the 6th or 7th grade when all the girls were gone (I think they watched a “My Changing Body” video, but they could have all been having an ice-cream social for all I know).

Anyhow, isn’t the mother really the best person for a girl to talk to about her period? If one day I (presumably) randomly started bleeding out of some part of my body I would not want to talk about it with my teacher.

momo Says:

Feb 26, 2009

Sigh. You misunderstand me. Again. Please do not take my words out of context. I was offering an example (perhaps a poor one) of the emotional ramifications a girl experiencing "a crush" might feel. Of course we don't need to teach them how to respond to a hallway greeting! And AGAIN, yes, teaching girls about menstruation is standard practice. What I was ASKING is if the emotions involved with puberty/menstruation should also be part of the biological discussion. Look, what we are both talking about is an ideal that will never be achieved. There are simply parents that will NOT take responsibility to teach their daughters about menstruation or teach their boys about "wet dreams" or teach their children about puberty in general. So that's where the schools feel they have a responsibility to also be the "parent." Is that an ideal situation? Is that even the school's role? No, it's really not. But what are you going to do? There will probably always be parents who NEVER teach their kids about it.

Paul Stiverson Says:

Feb 26, 2009

Yes, there probably will always be crappy parents, but the answer is NOT to pass the buck to the state (that is just a treatment for the symptoms, not addressing the disease at all).

If you are seriously advocating that it is the state’s job to make up for crappy parenting then you are standing on a pretty slippery slope.

Bear in mind that I do support teaching them about all aspects of their sexuality (this neatly includes arousal, wet dreams, masturbation, etc. and the emotional responses included therein), what I don’t support is making statements along the lines of “emtpy sexual relationships void of anything other than the pure physical act tend to eat away at your soul over time” (I mean, the very concept of the “soul” alone is debatable, let alone the rest of the statement). It is fine if the parents want to send such a message, but it is not an appropriate message for a public school.

Mandating some morality training (sexual or otherwise) is inappropriate for a public institution since the specifics of an individual’s moral code can vary wildly without veering into the illegal.

momo Says:

Feb 26, 2009

This statement, "If you are seriously advocating that it is the state’s job to make up for crappy parenting then you are standing on a pretty slippery slope." NO. I am NOT advocating that AT ALL. What I am trying to say (and I thought it was clear), is that you will ALWAYS have parents who do not take the responsibility to teach their children these things.

momo Says:

Feb 26, 2009

Ok, and this statement you made, too: empty sexual relationships void of anything other than the pure physical act tend to eat away at your soul over time” (I mean, the very concept of the “soul” alone is debatable, let alone the rest of the statement). I think if you go back and read the original statement I made, I'm not advocating that schools teach this. Not at all. This was part of the original debate on how "I" believe that our society has a cavalier attitude toward sex.

Paul Stiverson Says:

Feb 26, 2009

Fair enough, sorry to mis-quote/mis-interpret your statement.

trey Says:

Feb 27, 2009

i'm confused
yall just went from talking about spiritual beliefs (or lack there-of) to talking about menstruation and erections
what's the debate again? :-/

zach Says:

Feb 28, 2009

this got gay. newsdesk: scientists aren't going to be swayed by religious people and religious people will not be swayed by science.

Steven Says:

Feb 28, 2009

Seriously though, 2+2=5

Trey Says:

Mar 2, 2009

Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime is death.

Leave a comment






If you're a link spammer you should know that no links on this page will be followed by a site indexer (go ahead, check my meta tags), so it will not improve your page ranking. . . thus it is kinda ridiculous to post here