UFO UpDates
A mailing list for the study of UFO-related phenomena
'Its All Here In Black & White'
Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > Aug > Aug 22

Re: The van Gogh Fallacy

From: Gerald O'Connell <gac.nul>
Date: Tue, 21 Aug 2007 19:23:39 +0100
Archived: Wed, 22 Aug 2007 10:57:06 -0400
Subject: Re: The van Gogh Fallacy

>From: Cathy Reason <CathyM.nul>
>To: <ufoupdates.nul>
>Date: Mon, 20 Aug 2007 23:14:58 +0100
>Subject: Re: The van Gogh Fallacy

>>From: Gerald O'Connell <gac.nul>
>>To: ufoupdates.nul
>>Date: Mon, 20 Aug 2007 02:42:37 +0100
>>Subject: Re: The van Gogh Fallacy

>>>From: Cathy Reason <CathyM.nul>
>>>To: <ufoupdates.nul>
>>>Date: Sat, 18 Aug 2007 01:36:04 +0100
>>>Subject: Re: The van Gogh Fallacy

>>>No, it has everything to do with using words to mean what they
>>>in fact mean.

>>A worthy aim, so why don't you stick to it? I was originally
>> using the term 'empirical', not 'empiricism'


>As a matter of fact, the term you used was "empirical
>rationalism". Since rationalism asserts the primacy of intellect
>over experience, that term is meaningless.

I have demonstrated otherwise previously in this thread and my
argument went unanswered save by repetition of versions of your
original assertion. I have also stated quite clearly what I
meant by the term 'empirical rationalism', and you have,
effectively, ignored that explanation.

>By the way, since you brought the subject up, I might note that
>rationalists themselves are prone to conflate rationalism with
>rationality.  This is quite wrong. Empiricists are entirely
>rational - we just deny that intellect can ever take precedence
>over evidence.

So you are an empiricist - an empiricist who believes that 'In
science, one starts with hypotheses.' And, moreover, an
empiricist who believes herself to be 'entirely rational.' I
really don't believe that your position stands up, Cathy. Think
about it.

>>>Empiricism asserts the primacy of experience,
>>>rationalism asserts the primacy of intellect. Those positions
>>>are just inconsistent.

>>Except of course, that, as you characterise them, they are not:

>I won't argue with you, Gerald. I'll just let you read that
>bizarre statement over until the illogic of it finally sinks in.

>>how do we arrive at experience except through exercise of the
>>intellect? How could the intellect function without experience
>>as the ground upon which it achieves traction? Reflection upon
>>these questions should lead you to see that our mental processes
>>are far more complex and subtle, and that the idea of 'primacy'
>>in connection with 'experience and 'intellect' is naively

>This is just waffle, Gerald, and completely irrelevant.

As it happens, it is an academically well-established and
respectable line of argument. I must say, however, that I have
never previously come across an attempt to refute it by
reference to a cake made of pancake batter in a latticed iron.

>it might be interesting to know how you square these sentiments
>with your previous description of rational thought as some kind
>of mechanical formalism.

Your characterisation, I believe, and not my definition.

>>>Literary criticism starts with the text as axiomatic and
>>>proceeds to derive inferences from it.

>>Sounds fairly scientific to me.

>Yes, to you I imagine it probably does.

Guilty as charged ma'am! I cannot rid myself of the belief that science
should move, in the first instance, from evidence to inference and not
vice versa. If that makes literary criticism, as you choose to
characterise it, scientific, then so be it.

>>>In science, one starts with
>>>hypotheses and then proceeds to test them against evidence.

>>A most extraordinary statement. So where do these hypotheses
>>come from that science 'starts with'? Religious authority?
>>Textbooks? Divine inspiration? Thin air? The Discovery Channel?
>>The backs of cereal packets?

>Yes, as a matter of fact, any of those will do.

I fear that you have painted yourself into a rather difficult
corner here. Once again, I can only urge you to think about it.

(This is, of course, the point at which an unscrupulous lawyer
would turn to the jury with a knowing look, remind them of what
you have just said, and rest his case. Never mind, it's a
fantasy, because if you were going to make statements like that,
your own unscrupulous lawyer would move heaven and earth to
prevent you giving evidence...)

>In science, it
>doesn't matter where a hypothesis comes from - it's what you do
>with it that counts.

Sounds more like astrology (or just about any other
pseudoscience, because that's what you are describing - oh, and
while we're on that square, n.b. all those who have dubbed
Ufology a 'pseudoscience': conducted in the right way, starting
from empirical data, qualifying it intelligently, creating
explanatory hypotheses and then trying to find ways of testing
them, Ufology ought to be regarded as a perfectly respectable
scientific activity) than science. I know that astrology can be
done in an apparently scientific way, but, of course, that
doesn't make it a science. The trouble starts with believing
that 'it doesn't matter where a hypothesis comes from.' See what
I mean about painting yourself into a difficult corner?

>>Doesn't science, in general (by which I mean to include the
>>activity at large, while excluding that of individual scientific
>>operatives who perform only part of the overall process), start
>>with hard data about the world (empirical data, please note),
>>then form hypotheses that attempt to explain this data
>>(according to rationalist criteria of logical consistency and
>>coherence, please note), and then proceed to validate (or
>>otherwise) these explanations through comparison with further
>>data (much of it specially generated through experiment or
>>prediction for the express purpose of rigorous testing)?

>No. In science you generate hypotheses and then you test them.
>All this verbiage about "rationalist criteria of logical
>consistency and coherence" is completely superfluous (please

>>Perhaps, in my exasperation, I am being unfair.

>I don't think so, I think you're now starting to waffle in order
>to cover up the fact - which is becoming increasingly obvious -
>that you don't really have much idea what you're talking about.

Cathy, if the best you can do is to denigrate reasoned argument
and honest discussion as 'waffle' and 'verbiage', and if your
answer to points made is to accuse me, on grounds unclear, of
not having much idea what I'm talking about, then I withdraw.

I wish you the very best of luck in your pursuit of cereal
packet pseudoscience.

Gerald O'Connell

Listen to 'Strange Days... Indeed' - The PodCast