Questions About What Cannot Be Empirically Tested


#1

This is yet another thread where I’d like to see different opinions on a subject. This is a big topic, so forgive me if this is too much for one thread (I’m still learning about the correct format here), but I believe this all falls under a central theme so I will try to be succinct.

The main thing I want to ask is what right now cannot be empirically tested, how long will those things remain that way, and what do those things mean to you?

These are some side inquiries that fall under the same umbrella: I’ve been looking through this forum for a while and more questions regarding this topic pop up in my head as I go through it. One thing I’ve been starting to think about is that over time, things that can’t currently be empirically tested may eventually become verifiable in this manner. How far would this extend? Could we one day be able to numerically judge the quality of ideals and values of a human being? Maybe it’s an error on my part to assume it would be done by numbers, but if I were to say that wouldn’t become an eventual reality, would I be limiting concept of the potential of science? So if these things became true, would subjectivity disappear? I like to think that different opinions coexisting provides a tangible benefit for us, but if we can one day measure such things, we would theoretically be able to determine what’s ideal and that might cease. Would future generations even be able to relate to us on emotional matters?

I feel as though my wording here was a bit impractical, but I’ve had these questions so I figured it’d be better to ask so that I might gain some understanding.


#2

Hypothetically, technology could advance to the point where we could construct computer simulations of a person’s brain. Barring that, we could possibly track the activity of each neuron in the brain.

Of course, this gets into all sorts of philosophical and metaphysical questions about the relationship between the material world and the human soul which are all great questions, but putting that aside just for the moment it would seem that we could at least measure brain activity and its relationship to emotion. This could be one source of empirical evidence. However, objectively judging the quality or worth of specific values and ideals is going to be pretty tough since they are very subjective.

I think we could tangentially test some ideals and values right now, although it may not be exactly what you are looking for. For example, if we are aiming for the ideal of economic fairness in society we could measure the distribution of wealth, percentage of income needed to gain a secondary degree, demographic distribution of wealth, and other objective measures. However, that doesn’t really answer the question of whether economic fairness is an ideal worth having.

If we dive into the world of science, the first thing that would come to mind would be String Theory and M theory. These are little more than mathematical models at this point and we lack the ability to really test these theories. However, 20 years ago we were not able to test for the Higgs Boson, and now we can, and have. As our experiments gather more data and our instruments improve there may be ways of testing String Theory in the future.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #3

As you have probably gathered by now from many discussions in this forum, there are different levels of investment in the notion of empirical testing. Some, like @T_aquaticus, put all of their eggs in that basket and, in fact, claim that they don’t see any other baskets around --or at least none that do as good a job holding eggs as the empirical one seems to. Others (I include myself here) see high value in empirical testing, but also recognize things (important things) that don’t seem (to us) to yield to empirical analysis. Some will insist that maybe someday they will --with the confidence that science has succeeded in explaining so much all through history, that surely any so-called “barriers” we imagine now will follow suit with everything else, as science marches inexorably on. Others of us, though, haven’t erected any barriers at all and indeed want to continue following science as far as it can go. What we see about some things, though, is not a wall or a barrier, but a yawning chasm. Science as we have come to define and love and use it so effectively in one area (our observable universe) is not well-defined or well-stocked with methods to investigate other areas: the spiritual / philosophical aspects of the cosmos or of our humanity. All the advances of science have been within our physically accessible domain, so we have no historical reason (or inertia) to think that science will make a philosophical leap using its existing methodologies to make headway into realms of ontology, ethics, beauty, evil and free will. All it can do so far is ignore them. But meanwhile these are important and age-old questions that engage us and for which we unavoidably adopt certain answers to live by here an now. Will any of these prove to be “gaps” that get filled? Perhaps. – who can say for sure, but I haven’t seen any sign that science is that malleable or un-tethered yet. For it to begin to chase after some of that would mean unhinging it from the very anchor methodologies that help it be so useful in the first place. Since the only “insights” we have seen from materialists regarding these non-empirical events is to deny their very existence or to try to pretend that the essence of these things begins to be captured in a brain scan showing lit areas of a brain, it doesn’t seem there is much promise that science can actually go into such subjects. It is a bit like the man looking for his lost keys at night insisting that if the keys can’t be found within the circle of light under the street lamp, then they keys must not exist. Sure we want to use the street lamp (science) for all it’s worth, and even broaden its scope as much as we can. But meanwhile we won’t insist that things not illuminated by it must not then exist at all.


#4

I lean towards the latter, that subjective and personal evidence is not reliable when it comes to discerning how the universe operates. [quote=“Mervin_Bitikofer, post:3, topic:36826”]
Some will insist that maybe someday they will --with the confidence that science has succeeded in explaining so much all through history, that surely any so-called “barriers” we imagine now will follow suit with everything else, as science marches inexorably on.
[/quote]

I am just fine with the idea that there are some things we will never know or figure out.[quote=“Mervin_Bitikofer, post:3, topic:36826”]
Science as we have come to define and love and use it so effectively in one area (our observable universe) is not well-defined or well-stocked with methods to investigate another area: the spiritual / philosophical aspects of the cosmos or of our humanity. All the advances of science have been within our physically accessible domain, so we have no historical reason (or inertia) to think that science will make a philosophical leap using its existing methodologies to make headway into realms of ontology, ethics, beauty, evil and free will.
[/quote]

I would say that science is looking at all of those things. Evolutionary psychology is looking at possible traits that are responsible for our views on beauty, ethics, and free will. How much of what we do is instinct or free will? That is another topic that Evolutionary psychology looks at.

One interesting trait I learned about was our ability to catch a ball or Frisbee over our head, Willy Mays style. It turns out that we instinctively match our running speed to the object flying over our head so that we can coordinate our senses to catch the ball. Dogs do the very same thing when catching Frisbees which means that this is something hardwired into the mammalian brain. We just automatically do it, without knowing we are doing it. So do we lose free will in that moment? It is an interesting question. Are there social interactions where we also run on instinct without know it? How much of our decision making is hardwired?[quote=“Mervin_Bitikofer, post:3, topic:36826”]
Since the only “insights” we have seen from materialists regarding these non-empirical events is to deny their very existence or to try to pretend that the essence of these things begins to be captured in a brain scan showing lit areas of a brain, it doesn’t seem there is much promise that science can actually go into such subjects.
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The basic question is how can you claim there was an event? Do we just accept everything that people say as being true? How do we differentiate between mistaken observations and true ones?


(Mervin Bitikofer) #5

Thanks for that correction. That’s good to know!

Those are good questions! We shine light where we can. And where life compels us to make choices (even just ‘default’ ones) beyond where science can shine, we do the best we can to make those discernments based on a lot of other non-scientific things as well. While those can be trickier, I’m probably not quite as bleak as you might be on our prospects for correctly discerning some truths beyond where science goes. You are correct that the certainty is a different kind – perhaps a lesser kind according to you [and I may even agree on that]; but we are not left in total darkness in all these areas beyond science.


#6

I can be a bit salty at times, but I don’t have as bleak a view as you might think. I am not trying to reject as many things as I can, but rather setting a high bar for things I will accept. I am also trying my best not to make this into a “God does/doesn’t exist” debate because I don’t think that helps anyone in this thread.

I have mentioned this in other threads, and it probably applies here as well. Think of something that you currently don’t believe in and then ask yourself if personal testimony involving non-empirical evidence would convince you to change your beliefs on that subject. I think that gets us as close as possible to common ground.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #7

Agreed on the common ground, I think. On the testimony of just one or two persons, I probably wouldn’t change a belief that I thought was otherwise established. But if I began to hear from hoards of earnest people and witnessed their transformed lives --and their willingness to devote and even give their lives because of personal experience with the spaghetti monster, then I would re-visit my current skepticism regarding its existence.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #8

I think that it is better to go back to the issue that began the long dialogue between myself and T.

That is, Is there only one kind of truth, empirical scientific truth? Or is there also theological truth whereby we can objectively discuss the things of God and ethics? Is there also philosophical truth, by which I mean the things of the mind and how we know and understand Reality?

The problem involves the fact that Science studies the physical world, which is composed of Metter/energy, while philosophy studies the world of the rational and theology studies the spiritual world which is spiritual, none of which is material, although they are connected to the physical.

The simple answer would be to say that the empirical evidence does not apply to the other two worlds, but does that mean that they do not exist or have no meaning/?

Human being live in the world, but are not of the world. We live by bread and food, but we do not live by food alone.

I see no reason why we should try to make the spiritual like the physical when it is not physical. We need to communicate with people with different spiritual values, so se need a common spiritual and philosophical language, rather than reduce everything to science, which is not spiritual.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #9

I think you and I are in agreement that truth exists at all these different levels.

I’m glad you included your last caveat that the “other worlds” are at least connected to the physical. Because (even with that caveat) it seems to me that you are imagining more partition between these worlds than is realistic IMO. Your first sentence (science studies the physical world), I’m 100% on board with. In fact that does seem to be a fairly tidy partition because of the set of tools we choose to see as scientific. But the philosophical and spiritual worlds very much include our physical world --and yet you say of those worlds: “none of which is material.” That assertion, I dispute. I think it much more biblical to see our physical world as a subset of wider rational and spiritual realities; if those things are viewed as disjoint sets, then it seems we may be off toward gnosticism or some other heresy.

I agree that it is not wise (or possible) to reduce everything to science. But your last paragraph here I think has much that could be fruitful for discussion. Jesus didn’t seem to have any problem using physical, “common observation” situations to draw spiritual lessons, and he furthermore taught that what we do in this physical world has a lot of spiritual significance. So I don’t follow you (yet) in your apparent need to try to partition off spiritual from physical. But perhaps I don’t yet fully understand your position.

@AndrewF, can perhaps weigh in here too to update us on whether or not this is going in any directions helpful to him, since he started this thread and has more [prerogative] than you or I do to say what directions it ought to go.


#10

That’s good to hear. I’m glad that such things may not be considered obtrusive for the future. Of course we can never know how much we may change.

I also like this idea. Do you personally feel as though they will only be temporarily?

Yes thank you, this has been helpful. I also quite like what you guys said about the commonality here is how much we weigh personal testimonies such as the events of Jesus.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #11

@Mervin_Bitikofer,

Thank you for your comments. It is good to dialogue with someone who does not deny the reality of spiritual and rational truth.

It seems to me that saying that the physical world is a subset, which seems to make it inferior, of wider rational and spiritual realities is not Biblical. That is a Platonic Greek view. The Bible indicates that Creation took place when God gave order to the material chaos (that God had created.) The fact that God created ex nihilo is perhaps an interpretation of the story, but a justified one.

In no way to I regard these as disjointed sets, but to the contrary, it is the coordination of the three realities that makes God God. God is Trinity and humans are created in the Image of the Trinity (God.)

Humans are physical, rational, and spirit. They are ruled dead when the body is dead. They are dead when the mind is dead, even if the body is alive. They are not considered dead when the spirit is dead, because this can be reversed by the Spirit of God.

The physical, rational, and spiritual are very much related, and indeed all are related that everything is relational.

I don’t think that you full understand my position. I do not have a need or desire to partition the spiritual from the physical. Others might, but not me. Indeed above I suggested that the three aspects of physical, rational. and spiritual were similar to the primary colors of light: red, yellow. and blue, which together produce the “color” white or the presence of color when talking about light, and the “color” black or the presence of color when talking about pigment.

The three primary colors are not partitioned, but are a continuum. They are separate because they are different as are the secondary colors.

Let me try this example. A rock is a physical reality, but it is also rational in that it is created by rational natural laws, and spiritual in that it is part of God’s plan of salvation. 2 + 2 = 4 is rational, but it is also physical in that it works in the physical world, and spiritual in that it help demonstration the relational nature of Reality. Love (see Paul’s definition of love, 1 Cor 13) is spiritual, because it is God’s character, which underlies all of Reality, physical, rational, and spiritual.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #12

I like some of your examples, here, Roger --and may need to percolate a bit more on this too. Just an aside (tangential corrective) for you: the primary colors of light are actually red, green, and blue which are what really mix to make white. And the primary pigments (or secondary or ‘subtractive’ colors) – Magenta, Cyan, and Yellow (which come close to the red, yellow, and blue you speak of) are what we find in print media.

But all that is irrelevant to your example which still stands on its own. I like the thought of different colors complementing each other. If illumination has only red light, then all things will appear various shades of red. Your example (I think) has considerable depth to it.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #13

I certainly agree that the model of color is important because here is a model where we clearly see a triune model of reality. One color has unity, but no diversity. Three primary colors is what nature has provided for us, and that produces white and black in addition.

For those who claim that a triune model of Reality does not work, this is strong evidence that Nature and God gives us that it does work very well.


#14

@Mervin_Bitikofer what is your theological perspective on the notion of time travel? I know that’s random, but I feel like that relates to this subject. If we one day have time travel (considering the potential of science), wouldn’t the notion of empirically testing actions be doable at Jesus’ time? I wonder what to think of that idea in terms of desiring scientific progression. At the same time, I doubt that this is something outside of God’s consideration.

What do you think of that? Thank you


(Mervin Bitikofer) #15

I don’t think my perspective on that is so much “theological” as it is just a general perspective, since we don’t find it addressed in the Bible (at least not as it is conceived of in modern science fiction.) If God wants to reveal things to people, they may be granted visions, of course. I do believe that has happened. Somebody repeated a quote in another thread that Scriptures never reveal to us something we could discover for ourselves. It seems to me that the past is one of those things that we are given adequate testimony about for the purposes of trust and faith. I doubt that we would ever be given the privilege to go back to witness for ourselves the resurrection or anything else that may invoke much skepticism. It would be sort of like telling your spouse, I’m going to travel back to your earlier years to witness whether or not you really were faithful to me as you promised when we married. Would your spouse be impressed by your resourcefulness in checking up? They gave you their word and promise, and if that wasn’t enough, then your relationship, which is supposed to have trust, is already in trouble.

Just in general, time-travel (beyond the sort we already do, just by moving “forward” in it, or by looking back by glancing at the sky) will never be possible I don’t think. It only exists in sci-fi plots as a convenient excuse to create “alternate history” lines for writers to explore parallel universes and all sorts of “what-if” questions that are off-limits in real life. I think I’m with Lewis’ Aslan who at one point told one of the children that it is not permitted to know “what would have happened”. Our imaginations notwithstanding, we are stubbornly stuck in one universe and one forward-going timeline. We had best learn the make good use of the one we’ve got. That’s my two cents, anyway.

Besides, all the mess that would be created by someone going back interactively into time would just all be too complicated. I know that isn’t an argument that it couldn’t happen, but it is something I can’t imagine God allowing us to do for real. “Alternate time-lines” are in science fiction only, and a messed-up single time line would be, well … messed up.


#16

I would rather keep that discussion in the other thread so we don’t push this thread off topic.

The question here is what we can or potentially could test using empiricism.


#17

Then I would suspect that you have a lot of religions and deities to check out.


#18

The analogy falls apart because photons of any wavelength, from gamma rays to radio waves, can be detected empirically.[quote=“Relates, post:11, topic:36826”]
Let me try this example. A rock is a physical reality, but it is also rational in that it is created by rational natural laws, and spiritual in that it is part of God’s plan of salvation.
[/quote]

How is spiritual rational?


#19

The Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is similar to what you are describing. It says that all possible outcomes of a quantum interaction do occur in parallel universes. Personally, I don’t like the Many-Worlds interpretation at all, but we are given no guarantees that we will end up liking the way nature works. If memory serves, the Many-Worlds interpretation does open the door to moving back in time, changing an event, and then moving into one of those parallel universes. But I do agree with your sentiment that time travel is more in the realm of fiction and story telling than modern science.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #20

Indeed there are gloriously many! And probably many of them right about many things they teach and about some aspects of God. They may have different names for those truths or for deity than I am used to using, but truth is truth regardless of the language used to describe it, and likewise for falsehood. No single religion (including Christianity) has a monopoly on all truth. Nor do I think any religion has any monopoly on falsehood (since nobody is brilliant enough to be wrong about everything.)