You can easily look at sectors of the consumer electronics market right now and see long standing assumptions about how the market factors dictating consumer purchasing that were thought to be very well understood in some cases are flat out wrong. This isn’t due to the observations being wrong, but rather there being underlying factors that analysts couldn’t see before.
This is precisely the point I was making. History, in the sense you are indicating, is the collection of data without a sufficient theory to make reliable predictions in cases where no observations exist. Business forecasts are not reliable; this is why economics is known (as burt reminds us) as the “dismal science”.
tavishhill2003 - 03 January 2008 06:54 AM
You keep claiming that history can’t make predictions, but it does all the time. And very successfully I might add. You may not think so, but you’d be completely wrong. The fact we even have an internet to communicate with is proof of how strong humans have become at studying past events and using them to make successful predictions.
Pardon me if I scoff mildly at the notion that internet technology was developed by “historians”. Perhaps you can provide us with a few insights about the way that the telecom hardware manufacturers blossomed into a fabulous investment bubble in the late 90’s and then suddenly crashed because their balance sheets were soaked with red ink from unprofitable investments. Predictions of exponential growth of internet infrastructure worldwide were not borne out by subsequent events. History is not a science. Business forecasts are not made scientifically.
tavishhill2003 - 03 January 2008 06:54 AM
MIT is hardly a “B-school” of science.
The abbreviation “B-school” refers to “Business School”, which is the program I think you are enrolled in.
I think you may have a friend who is an astrophysics major. Possibly an imaginary friend. MIT has a very nice program in “open courseware”. Perhaps you can make use of it to learn some astrophysics.
tavishhill2003 - 03 January 2008 06:54 AM
you have narrowed hsitory down too far. I don’t see why things like the entertainment or electronics industries or the motor vehicle industries or economics in general or architecture or major segments of the art world etc aren’t welcome in your version of what “history” is.
You don’t see why? Well, then, everybody else must be wrong about it. The reason is that universities make artificial divisions among fields of knowledge in order to have focused academic programs and faculties. I don’t like this situation any better than you do, but there it is. You can blur the distinctions between fields of knowledge until studying purchasing behavior in the consumer electronics industry becomes a subfield of astrophysics, for all I care, but you will not be able to publish your results in the Journal of Astrophysics.
E, what exactly do you mean by “readily available” subjects? And what is an “active state”? For example, would cosmology be an active subject to explore? Is the scientific study of the WMAP image to be counted towards presenting the Big Bang as something readily available and active under that definition of yours? Please elaborate.
Salty, you again are heavy with asserting that I must be lying, despite ignoring my invitation to discuss astrophysics. I can discuss the consumer electronics industries with you as well, particularly the gaming industry, as I follow it very closely as a hobby. I’m no business major, but I know a good deal about that particular sector of business and know it is based on historical trends.
And you still are trying to narrow history down to only some field you keep refusing to define. All the definitions I have seen of it suggest it is ‘the rigorous study of past events’. You don’t find this any more aptly placed than in the industry research spending of companies like Microsoft or Matsushita etc. How come when businesses study past events and use that information to form hypotheses about certain market demographics and make billion-dollar predictions, how come those can’t be allowed to be counted as studying history in your eyes? You will find economic notes in EVERY history textbook out there. You also find cultural influences, like the various consumer electronics items shaping how the world communicates today. Why is the history of technology not a valid field of historical analysis to you?
Entertainment industries make billion dollar predictions all the time and they sure as shit aren’t doing it on faith. They do it by studying partnerships incredibly rigorously and their research is every bit as scientific as any other field of study. What is the strict definition of ‘history’ that you are using? That seems to be the source of our disagreement…other than you acting like an idiot and mindlessly asserting that I’m not in the major I say I am in, even after I tell you I’m open to discuss the topic further with you. So let’s start with a definition outlining what “history” means to you.
All the definitions I have seen of it suggest it is ‘the rigorous study of past events’.
...absent any coherent theory for interpreting them, so stop splitting hairs over the matter of business forecasts. Business forecasts are often in error. Others here have observed that your critical faculties are occasionally, er, weak:
rwahrens - 07 January 2008 01:33 PM
Andrew - 07 January 2008 10:54 AM
[quote author=“tavishhill2003”]An example is the recent understanding of the plagues of Egypt. We now pretty much know for afact that they happened the way described in the Bible…
(Andrew): Eh? How do we know that? Can you cite a source for your information?
Oooo, the Naked Archaeologist Strikes again!
Just a shot in the dark - I saw on the Discovery Channel a while back in a show that examined those plagues and expounded as to how they could have occurred naturally, but I don’t see how anybody could have proved they actually did. To my knowledge, there is no evidence to date that the Eqyptions ever held the Hebrews captive, nor experienced a seried of plagues as described in the bible. The show (it WAS the Naked Archeologist…) also examined some cave drawings in the desert and claimed they were by the escaping Hebrews - but I have read since that other experts have disputed his claims. He doesn’t have a real good reputation in the world of real archeologists.
After all, he was one of those to claim the James Ossuary as legit…
It is difficult to gauge the degree of commitment you have to the idea that history is a “science”. It is evident that you committed yourself to taking as fact something that you may have seen presented only on a single (and not very “rigorous”) television program. Regardless, you provide no documentation for your assertion; your assertions about astrophysics are similarly unsupported. We pray that you have not learned your astrophysics from Erich von Daniken.
Consider the historical technique of contemporaneous corroboration. According to the wikipedia article, it is a technique used to establish a historical “fact”. Regardless of whether you are studying history within a framework of science or within its traditional place in the fields of humanities, you might wish to apply some of this technique before reporting that the plagues in Bible-era Egypt are historical “facts”.
Your reputation as a scholar is established by your record of publications. In your career at this forum so far, you have published a fair amount of idiocy (and documented very few “facts”) Tavish, and your reputation (among anyone who should care) is consequently diminished. If you are to mean anything useful by “rigorous study of past events”, Tavish, now is the time to start.
Perhaps another’s point of view will be helpful here. From Per Bak’s interesting little book, How Nature Works: The science of self-organizing complexity:
Storytelling Versus Science
The reductionist methods of physics - detailed predictions followed by comparison with reproducible experiments - are impossible in vast areas of scientific interest. The question of how to deal with this problem has been clearly formulated by the eminent paleontologist and science writer Stephen Jay Gould in his book Wonderful Life:
How should scientists operate when they must try to explain the result of history, those inordinately complex events that can occur but once in detailed glory? Many large domains of nature - cosmology, geology, and evolution among them - must be studied with the tools of history. The appropriate methods focus on narrative, not experiments as usually conceived.
Gould throws up his hands and argues that only “storytelling” can be used in many sciences because particular outcomes are contingent on many single and unpredictable events. Experiments are irrelevant in evolution or paleontology, because nothing is reproducible. History, including that of evolution, is just “one damned thing after another”. We can explain in hindsight what has happened, but we cannot predict what will happen in the future. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard expressed the same view in his famous phrase “Life is understood backwards, but must be lived forwards”.
Sciences have traditionally been grouped into two categories: hard sciences, in which repeatable events can be predicted from a mathematical formalism expressing the laws of nature, and soft sciences, in which, because of their inherent variability, only a narrative account of distinguishable events post mortem is possible. Physics, chemistry, and molecular biology belong to the first category; history, biological evolution, and economics belong to the second.
So there’s your vindication, Tavish. Per Bak (a brilliant physicist who died far too young) is willing to grant history the status of a “soft science”. Now that you have the label you want for that subject, where do you wish to take it? What do you want to make of history? Don’t be too impatient, especially if you tend to pay too much attention to poorly-vetted programming on the Discovery Channel.
Bak concludes his remarks on storytelling versus science with the following:
In the soft sciences, where contingency is pervasive, detailed long-term prediction becomes impossible. A science of evolutionary biology, for example, cannot explain why there are humans and elephants. Life as we see it today is just one very unlikely outcome among myriad other equally unlikely possibilities. For example, life on earth would be totally different if the dinosaurs had not become extinct, perhaps as a consequence of a meteor hitting the earth instead of continuing in its benign orbit. An unlikely event is likely to happen because there are so many unlikely events that could happen.
Now let’s say that human history is a scientific discipline. So far, we can distinguish it from, say, mythology. We already have a slew of benighted folks visiting this forum unable to distinguish between history and mythology. Why don’t you try to assist them in being more discriminating, rather than muddying the waters by entertaining weird ideas about the story of the Egyptian plagues told in the Bible. There is so much confusion between history and mythology in the Bible that its value as a resource for historical analysis has vanished.
Yes i truly agree with you. science is something which can be tested at any moment. if something is wrong that theory will be rejected and will look for a new theory. and that is why science is accurate and dependable. read this below article about What is Science.
You have summed her overall argument well. But in the process of making this argument, she makes the point that these methods are also used by other fields of study. My conclusion is thus that there is something other than methodology which distinguishes science from other fields of study.
That’s not the most natural conclusion. It seems to me that Science is the study of subjects using the scientific method exclusively. When science is brought to bear on a question the answer may be I don’t know, more study is needed.
In some areas like Law a definite answer is required. The court will make use of facts (evidence) and logic (methods shared by science) to attempt to derive conclusions, but in many cases it will not be possible to know for sure the answer to the question the court is being asked to decide. A result is obtained nonetheless often using specialized techniques such as judicial precedent, legal technicalities and plea bargaining.
In science we would return a “verdict” of “I don’t know"in these cases. But in the law cases have to be settled or unresolved issues would clog up the workings of society until it could no longer function. A wrong answer is considered better than no answer. Thus, Law can never be Science because you cannot do it exclusively using the scientific method.
Medicine in another example, closer to science, but still distinct. In Medicine, when the practitioner reaches the “I don’t know” result he does not throw up his hands and send the patient away. He presents a series of options to help his patients choose how to proceed. The patient has no more basis on which to make a correct assessment than the doctor, what they choose amounts to a coin flip—-but they get to flip it themselves and that makes it *fair*.
No. I assert that to make historical analysis into a science, you must have multiple histories beginning from identical starting conditions.
You have it backwards. Historical analysis is a tool that can be used by scientists (and other people). A data recorder is history. One can then analyze this history. If one uses analytical tools developed from well-established theory this historical analysis can be considered scientific work. I collect concentration data for a chemical reaction and then fit it to a proposed kinetic scheme. I get excellent fits for each experiment, but the parameters that define the model are different. Do I now understand the process? No. Do I understand more about this reaction than I did before? Yes. Was what I was doing scientific work? I think so, my employer thinks so.
Now the poster might object and say well you did multiple experiments from identical starting points. The starting points were intended to be the same, but since the parameters were different, obviously they were not. Is the poster saying that because I don’t know the answer before I set out to study it (and so could not set up the conditions specified) what I am doing is not science? Hell in that case, nobody ever does any science, because once you know the answer there is no need to study it anymore.
Just wanted to throw the definition out there once more to see if there is any specific thoughts about it and if it can be improved:
“Science is the study of a subject which is readily available, in an active state, for repeatable observation and experimentation.”
I would say “Science is the study of a subject which is amenable to the scientific method as evidenced by increasing power/utility of applications deriving from study of the subject”.
For example economics is not a science since economic predictions have not improved signficantly over the last 60 years. This demonstrates that economists do not effectively employ the scientific method in their work. Thus, the old term “social study” is really more appropriate thatnthe term social science.
On the other hand weather forecasting is based on science because it has improved even though it is a chaotic phenomenon, placing fundamental limitations on what kind of predictions can ever be made. Note that controlled experiments cannot be done with weather, nor are there alternate histories of weather starting from the same point for comparison.
For some fields universally acknowledged as sciences (e.g. physics, chemistry. biology), our society has been radically transformed by the sheer *power* of their applications. It is this power that has endowed upon science a special status as a particularly effective “way of knowing” since the 19th century.
To me science is the technology of empirical true belief. In my epistemology knowledge it TJB (true justified belief) where J is skill, and skill is inversely proportional to luck. Over the years we have accumulated knowledge, and science developed as we applied knowledge to form a theory of knowledge, and then applied the results of the theory technologically to discover new knowledge and develop our knowledge forming skills.
So for instance we have empiticism, logic, logic of discovery or instrumental attitude, propositional attitude (belief), assessed in a feedback loop where empirical verification and theoretical utility are the feedback to application of our epistemic attitudes. So we verify the utility of the attitude, theorise about it, and then try to develop the attitude again. Trial, error and differential success, sort the wheat from the chaff, sow again, repeat process. We are applying science to science to develop “science!!!”.
So it is like a reflexive (self reflecting) process, whereby the gaze on knowledge magnifies the elements, which we can take, analyse and utilise further throgh selective “breeding” (dymamic intelligent control of epistemic-technical meme pool over tiime) of a model fit for purpose.
So over time skill has developed form low skill high luck, to high skill low luck, via the identification of J-skill and the development of it. So epistemically we have more certainty(relating to B) , truth (T) and ability (to know, J). All linked together in a 3d ( and I am being casual here), a three dimensional metaphysical domain.
‘ender!krum, why the FUCK do you let Susana Haack make the point for you instead of making it yourself?
Is it that you are incapable of the effort, and think that it is sufficient to cite a commentary on
scientific methodology obviously written in prejudice (or you would not be citing it)?
Come off it, asshole! Aren’t you sore yet?’
If your point is that this is a bad book, I haven’t read it, maybe it is.
At least it seems like an interesting subject. Apparently, you’re on the lookout for bitter critics, and, sure, if
the book refuses to get pissy, I commend it.
A good book on this subject might not turn out to be an easy read.
Apparently, the author is a professor of philosophy and law at the University of Miami.
I might agree, in the end, that there is no ‘one thing’ that is the scientific method, though it seems
like an argument that science is not definitely a discipline worth pursuing (and I would not agree with this).
My suspicion, as I’ve had some exposure to philosophy of science, is that the idea being presented here, is that
one may attempt a complex explanation of science, that there are pitfalls, there are burning issues.
Science is perhaps not, at least, a branch of logic. Sound judgement is not necessarily the hard and fast judgements
of extremists, I know that there are widely varying position that have been espoused on this hot topic, that’s
the current state of thinking about science.