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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > Aug > Aug 23

Re: The van Gogh Fallacy

From: Cathy Reason <CathyM.nul>
Date: Wed, 22 Aug 2007 18:54:03 +0100
Archived: Thu, 23 Aug 2007 11:36:53 -0400
Subject: Re: The van Gogh Fallacy

>From: Gerald O'Connell <gac.nul>
>To: ufoupdates.nul
>Date: Tue, 21 Aug 2007 19:23:39 +0100
>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

>>As a matter of fact, the term you used was "empirical
>>rationalism". Since rationalism asserts the primacy of
>>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.

I guess I should have explained this in a little more detail,
though it speaks volumes that it should even be necessary.

When I see a phrase like "empirical rationalism", the first
thing that springs to mind is to wonder how empirical
rationalism is supposed to differ from other sorts of
rationalism, as it presumably must do if the qualifier is to be
anything other than redundant. Presumably the qualifier is
supposed to indicate some special status which empirical data is
to be assigned, but as rationalism by definition asserts the
primacy of intellect over empirical data, it's hard to see what
this special status amounts to.

Of course it's true that rationalists will usually allow the
supremacy of the empirical method in science, but that merely
begs the question of why, if the empirical method is good enough
for science, it isn't good enough for everything else. (I don't
accept mathematics as a counter-example, by the way - in
mathematics, it isn't so much that intellect is more reliable
than experience, it's rather that the two are never in conflict
to begin with.) One also has to ask how one is supposed to
define the boundaries of science, where the empirical method is
supreme, in order to differentiate science from the domain of
everything else where the empirical method is presumably to be

Once you start down this path you inevitably end up with an
increasingly convoluted and confused notion of science as some
sort of abstruse, arcane activity which has to be performed
according to special rules which don't apply in the rest of
life. And it's not far from this to the cult of authority
associated with the mystique of men in white coats and
incomprehensible mathematical alchemy.

I'm convinced the pervasiveness of this sort of rationalism is
the direct result of an arts-dominated educational
establishment. And it's pernicious, because if you don't know
how and why science works, then how are you ever going to be
equipped to tell the difference between genuine science and junk
masquerading as science? Nothing illustrates this better than
Gerald's evident belief, according to his rationalist
understanding, that the methods of literary criticism qualify as


>>>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)?

I don't have much more to say on this but there is a very good
reason why one doesn't bother too much about consistency between
hypotheses - it's a practical impossibility. One could spend a
lifetime attempting to establish the consistency of any given
hypothesis and the set of all other currently valid hypotheses
in existence and one would never get around to testing it. Real
scientists are practical people and they prefer not to squander
their time in this way.

This does sometimes have unexpected consequences, such as the
current inconsistency between QM and Relativity in physics. Here
there is a widespread expectation (or perhaps "hope" would be a
better word) that the inconsistency will be resolved at some
future date. But this is more of an aspiration than a genuine
empirical necessity. Only time will tell if this aspiration is
ever realized.

As for coherence - that is theoretically desirable, certainly,
but in now way should it predominate over evidence.


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