Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for March 29th, 2015

The fog of science

leave a comment »

Elliott Sober

A science may fall short of perfect clarity in different ways. One is relatively benign. A science may move forward, sideways, and backward as if in a fog that sometimes lifts a little and then resettles. The lack of visible landmarks makes progress difficult to gauge. Theories proliferate; models come and go. Whether theory replacement means theoretical improvement is often hard to determine. But a science enveloped in fog has at least one consolation. A fog does not foster the illusion of clarity; the lack of visibility is patent.

More insidious than the fog is the mirage. Fogs are seen for what they are. Mirages are trickier, engendering the mistaken conviction that things are as they seem. On the other side of the horizon there are some palm trees. Light reflected off a layer of clouds makes them seem to be where they are not. In “seeing” the mirage, one sees something real. One sees the trees, but they are not where they seem to be.

Mirages, unlike hallucinations, are produced by things outside ourselves; they are not sheer fabrications arising from within. This explains why mirages can be jointly experienced by sensible people. Walking together in the desert, we share the same illusion, and this gives further credence to the idea that we are not making a mistake. Vision is a reliable guide to the location of objects; intersubjective agreement is an additional check against error. Mirages can be doubly hard to detect because they exploit this twofold assurance.

Elliott Sober, The Nature of Selection

Written by nevalalee

March 29, 2015 at 7:30 am

%d bloggers like this: