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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1998 > Jun > Jun 11

Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs

From: Geoff Price <Geoff@CalibanMW.com>
Date: Wed, 10 Jun 1998 18:00:56 -0700
Fwd Date: Thu, 11 Jun 1998 20:39:42 -0400
Subject: Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs


>Date: Mon, 8 Jun 1998 11:47:57 +0100
>To: UFO UpDates - Toronto <updates@globalserve.net>
>From: John Rimmer <johnr@magonia.demon.co.uk>
>Subject: Re: UFO UpDate: Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs

[...]

>Quite right. The problem with the ETH is that it is impossible
>to formulate a testable hypothesis and make predictions about
>it, for two reasons. Firstly, it is not really a hypothesis at
>all. To be able to test it we would need at least some idea of
>what the aliens are, and what they can and cannot do. And
>secondly there is no way of *disproving* it, which is essential
>for any scientific prediction.

If we cannot test it, says the critic, why even raise the
question?  (It will just get the little people excited.)

There is a grain of fairness here, of course.  We don't have any
means of specifically and unambiguously testing the ETH given
the data at hand and the non-repeatability of the phenomenon,
therefore we have no practical reason to adopt ET as an
assumption for purposes of immediate experiment (i.e. make it a
scientific hypothesis.)

It is _in principle_ testable, however, and in that sense there
isn't a damn thing wrong with it, despite all the goofy
chortling and tut-tutting that comes out of critics on this
point.

At the moment, the ETH is a broad epistemological question
provoked by the UFO experience.  It gives us a sense of what is
potentially at stake here. And it provides a broader framework
for investigation for its supporters. Clearly, impressive
documentation of an objective and physical new phenomenon would
move us quite a ways down the path.  Not unambiguously in the
direction of ETH, of course.  Still, on a strictly logical
level, it can be easily and reasonably argued that the ETH is
the most parsimonious explanation for the UFO problem given what
we know, if you do accept the existence of a new phenomenon or
class of phenomena with some of the observed behaviors (i.e.
Unidentified in the sense of Unidentifiable).

Of course this is a totally intractible question; someone else
may argue that the "secret technology hypothesis" is more
parsimonious (including less complete unknowns, but forcing
other assumptions which we know we don't find palatable) and
still someone else may say that, in the wake of this or that psi
experiment, psi-shared hallucinations and manifestations are now
"more parsimonious" etc.  As I think all understand, only better
data would resolve such competing speculation.

The implicit political point -- that the act of forming the ETH
provokes public hysteria and is therefore bad -- is
understandable but just plain wrongheaded.  The fact is, the
public has been perfectly capable of jumping to "wild"
speculation about these objects entirely on its own.  The core
experiences tend to have a pretty pointed effect on witnesses.
Certainly it did on me (and I assure you, there isn't a
conventional explanation I can screw my head around that could
touch it, or else I wouldn't be here.)

If you want a real culprit in the whole UFO hysteria problem, a
real villain to burn, I respectfully suggest cursing the things
themselves, directly.

>Saying of the UFO phenomenon "it's aliens", is no more
>scientific than saying "it's demons" or "it's magic" or "it's
>the tooth-fairy"

"No more scientific" in the sense of being a specific, testable
hypothesis for experimental purposes, yes sure ho hum.  But of
course, you're trying to leverage the term to create a broader
sense of being "unscientific" in the sense of irrational or
impractical.  In fact, "aliens" are obviously considerably more
parsimonious (in a quite practical scientific sense) than demons
or the tooth-fairy, despite widespread and curious confusion on
this point.

[...]

>If the PH is valid it implies that the UFO is most widespread in
>countries which share social and economic conditions, and have
>similar cultural values. As the UFO phenomenon seems most
>widespread in the USA we would expect it to be experienced most
>often in similar societies. This does seem to be the case. The
>countries with the greatest number of UFO reports, and public
>interest in ufology, besides the USA are either those which
>share its cultural and social background, e.g. the UK, Western
>Europe, Canada; or those which have wide exposure to US cultural
>and social values, e.g. Central and South America (and no,
>Jerry, this isn't some sort of Ameriphobia, I actually quite
>*like* most American social and cultural values).

>We would expect the UFO phenomena to be least widespread in
>those societies which either do not share this social
>background, or are actually hostile to it, e.g. the Islamic
>countries, most of Africa, Asia (except Japan), and this is
>indeed the case. This is not, of course, to say that no UFO
>reports at all come from those countries.

Quick lesson in real science:  to test a hypothesis, you must be
able to provide evidence which _unambiguously_ isolates your
proposed explanation. For example, the radically different
cultures in some societies might act to suppress the reporting
of UFO-type events, thereby _alternatively_ explaining your
reported frequency distinction.  Or there may be other
explanations entirely, correlated with geography for some
unknown reason, for example.

This _specific_ testability is what really distinguishes a
scientific hypothesis from a lot of hokey armwaving.

Ah well, just trying to be helpful... for all the appreciation
it gets me. (sigh)


Geoff Price
Software Engineer
Caliban Mindwear
Geoff@CalibanMW.com
http://www.CalibanMW.com




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