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It was perhaps fall  of 2004.  I relocated from New Jersey to California in a new job. I don’t remember exactly how but  I found a Yahoo group called Mukto-mona [https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/mukto-mona/info]. The group immediately pulled my attention and time. Keep it mind, in those days, Yahoo group was the most vibrant of all social media forums for debate and discussion. MM group was a great place for debating on topics like philosophy, religion, science and politics with like minded rationalists  from South Asia.

This was our first personal exchange after a few months of debate in MM forums on myriad of topics like “whether religion is the true cause of misery in South Asia “, ” Ethics and Darwinism”, “Communism as Religion” , ” Is Capitalism the end solution ? ”

To
  • me

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I started writing in Bengali in 2005. Initially with low pace and then it become my passion.

I was working in a job where everyone would have been happy if I become less productive as thanks to corporate politics, being productive would have been counterproductive for my job security and position.  I was expected to do pretty trivial work, not worth challenging my intellect or qualification.  In fact, giving two hours a day in the job was more than what I needed!

Rest of the time, I have utilized in MM platform. I had a strong passion for literature. But due to lack of proper association, never I got a chance before to cultivate it.

Avijit and me both had a strong obsession with Tagore but with a different outlook. First time we seriously debated with each other is on “Feminism and Tagore”.  There was no doubt in personal life Tagore was parochially conservative. But I differed on his view that Tagore’s write-up does not reflect feminist movement of his time. We exchanged several posts and sometimes with bit of personal attack but we always talked to understand each other.

This is one of his post on Tagore rebutting my position on Tagore:

https://www.mukto-mona.com/Articles/avijit/biplab_rabindra_puja.pdf

And then followed my rebuttal  available in the link.

The discussion and debate turned nasty. So Bonya came into both of our rescue calling both of us in a conference call and dissolved the debate for time being. She has played referee times and again for our debates and we had a great faith on her neutrality.

 

Matter of fact, year of 2005  has been the most productive for me on Mukto-mona Yahoo group and the website. I started reading mostly on Marx and his critics. And I discovered Sir Karl Popper, greatest known philosopher of science. Learning the basis of Poperian falsification changed much of my thinking.

It is on that year, we got engaged in largest philosophical debate in MM platform- on scope of science in defining our philosophy.  In general, academically, this is known as naturalism. Debate started with one of my article on “Bigganbad” which is lose translation of naturalism. Link to the

article:

And debate is here:

Most of the celebrated members of the forums participated. Avijit, Bonya and Jahed opposed my view. I had a long debate and discussion with Bonya on the forum. Jahed got nasty and wrote a piece linking me to my background in RKM for writing such a piece but later on he retracted understanding nowhere, I meant any theology at all.

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WRT: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mukto-mona/message/28355

Following science means, freeing your mind from any dogma, rationally. 

You have failed to do so in this posting and become dogmatic as a logical consequence as predicted by Popper. Which is actually the warning from Sir Popper. Let analyze who is becoming dogmatic based on same method of science. I am glad, you provided me with this opportunity.

AV:”I dont think “voting” by common people can give any “scientific 

criterion” in any subject whatever it is (1a). What is popular may not be 

true, and what is true may not be popular always (1b). Science does not 

allow taking a stand just because it is politically correct or 

popular to majority (1c).” 

BP: Let again analyze your view on this point. My point was:

Because 70% people thought Aiswaria is the most beautiful woman, I can used this as a counter evidence against what we believe as purely subjective choice of beauty being guided by our chemistry. If we have 10 beauties to vote and 70% of large sample size voted for Aisharia , can be taken as a clear counter proof that our choice of beauty is not purely subjective unless you have different definition for subjectivity. Subjectivity is the word under hypothesis and the example served is an evidence against the hypothesis.

Besides if your (1a) is true, you have just made all the statisticians jobless! Do you know, testing of tea, smelling of perfumes, liking of advertisements, rating of the movies are all done on statistical liking? Remember, we are looking for statistical hypothesis testing based on a hypothesis. I suggest you take a course of hypothesis testing to understand what is scientific evidence and method. Your statement is a proof of your ignorance in statistical method. 

And turn to (1b),”What is popular may not be 

true, and what is true may not be popular always (1b). “

I am surprised a logical person like you is bringing this point. Because the hypothesis was on ‘popularity’ in the beauty. The hypothesis is not about finding any other ‘truth’ other that subjectivity of beauty which is being tested trough the popularity of beauty. In this case ‘popularity’ is a direct “parametric measure’ of truth and not the truth is an inductive one based on the popularity.

Now to your confusion of (1c):

“Science does not allow taking a stand just because it is politically correct or 

popular to majority (1c).” 

How is this related to our hypothesis of subjectivity? You made a completely uncorrelated statement. We are not taking stand. We are looking for evidence of failure which is the basic method that separates science from non-science. In this case ‘popularity’ itself is the parameter we are looking for and not that we are taking a popular or politically correct decision on popularity number. Please do not confuse popularity as a statistical measure versus, popular choice of popularity. Again, I suggest you to read measure theory in Mathematics.

AV”Science solely depend on scientific proof. 

There should not be any confusion on this.”

BP: What is scientific proof for the null hypothesis, i.e, some artistic views can be objectively perceived or viewed! I gave you (3) counter evidences-1. Algorithmic evolution of subjective prose 2. Study of cyber-pschycology 3. Popular choice of beauty of Aiswaria. which in a way to show that people does have a pattern in selecting beauty.

Explain to me why these can not be accepted as evidences for null hypothesis?

What are the scientific proofs for null hypothesis? Ofcouse it can be how human brain image or human brain radiation behaves while evaluating beauty and such research is being carried out!

As said before, you need to take a course on statistical hypothesis testing and experimental design to understand what is the definition of scientific proof. Problem is, now a days because of advanced software we always do research using software and tend to forget the basics. That’s what happened to you in this case.

AV” Love, fear, altruism, conscience (sense of right 

and wrong), admiration for beauty – these are biologically rooted instincts.”

BP>> How do you know it is only intrinsic? You mean to say love, fear has nothing to do with the society and upbringing? Why Muslims hate non-muslims and love their brotherhood? Biologically intrinsic? kidding me! Poor you!

Would you behave same as a postune (pathan) when you have to fire a AK47 against your enemy? This is not true and if true, in this case, after statisticians you have made all the practicing psychiatrists out of their jobs.

AV”Instincts are not controllable or influenced by “scienticsm”.”

BP>> If instincts would not have been controllable or influenced by our knowledge or acquired knowledge, we would have been raping all the beautiful women now and then! We do control our instincts based on learned ( cognitive) behavior). I am disappointed that you made this statement.

AV”Science does not decide to control or the tastes or 

flavor of pupulation such as : favourite poet, favourite 

acctress, “greatest Bangalee”, “greatest beauty” ..etc (to be frank 

these sort of listing greatest beings gives emotional hype, not 

logical/scietific. :”

BP: Though you have written a book on science and also wrote that science means its method and not the laws, it is clear, deep down in your mind, you also understand a set of a laws as science! Which is common among students of subcontinents, for the very reason, the way they are trained in science.

The statement is the clear example. If science is a method to understand love, fair and rage in this case, how will you make a meaning out of the above? Clearly you are viewing a set of laws as science and then only above statement does bear a meaning. If science is a method, we can come out with answer

(1) The hypothesis is unscientific (2) It is scientific but rejected under testing (3) accepted under testing. We can have a lot of hypothesis on this, few of them will be unscientific, few will be accepted, few negated!

AV”Science doe not deal with those short listing 

unless you dogmatically try to promote as a “ism”, which I dont 

support).”

BP>> Your statement is dogmatic because you are declaring ‘rigidly’ such things can not deal with such things ( though pretty much we do in behavioral science ). The statement is a dogma. Because, my statement ” Science can deal with it’ is viewed and analyzed as falsifiable hypothesis. Which means, I assume ” Science can deal with such things wrong’ and then look for counter evidence to find out whether it can!

AV”But of course science can certainly help explain the 

BIOLOGICAL ORIGIN of love, affection, admiration for beauty, 

morality, altruuism and/or other human values and attributes. “

BP: Again if you are right, I am afraid so many psychiatrists are out of job at this moment! There is learned behavior added to it.

AV”Once again I repeat: To understand or to seek the biological roots 

of love, or admiration of beauty is scientific, but to take decision 

on some emotional criterion thru popular vote is purely unscientific.”

BP: Prove your statement by method of science, because unscientific is a well defined word. But I can prove your statement is unscientific.

“to take decision 

on some emotional criterion thru popular vote is purely unscientific”

Because of the word ‘some’, one will not find a counter evidence! Therefore the statement is unscientific.

Summery:

Method of science has been discovered to end dogma and if you oppose it, by rules, you will become dogmatic and irrational as happened in this posting. There is a beautiful writing by Sir Popper, Rational scrutiny of man. You will realize, if you do not follow prescribed method of science, you will produce more and more irrational and dogmatic statements as you did in this case.

In any case, I suggest you to do some serious reading on Statistical methods, hypothesis testing and experimental design. Then you will realize power of null hypothesis to end dogma. 

But I am glad, you did so many mistakes. Otherwise I would not have get this chance to show, how a rationalist can slip into irrationalism if fails to follow the method of science!

Anyhow, do not take it otherwise. If you would have taken some courses on Statistical measures,measure theory etc., I am sure you would not have posted this.

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 In fact, Avi wrote a complete rebuttal to my position on science and its efficacy. It can be found in

Bigganbad and Falsification: Few comments Avijit Roy

Biplab, 

I don’t want to take our debate to typical cyber “Bangali Jhogra” that is very much evident in all typical Bengali forums. Normally most of the cases, a thread starts with innocent disagreement but ultimately ends with personal attack. I thought ours will be different. But, unfortunately, after reading your last response I had to think whether it’s really worthy to continue the debate. I seriously do not want to take our discussion in a heated nasty clash as we both know each others’ position pretty well. Your last response shows perhaps you’ve become frustrated dealing with the issue over and over, hence to much irrelevant comment was made. For example: 

a) Though you have written a book on science … it is clear, deep down in your mind, you also understand a set of a laws as science! Which is common among students of subcontinents,..

b) I am surprised a logical person like you is bringing this point….

c) Why Muslims hate non-muslims and love their brotherhood? Biologically intrinsic? kidding me! Poor you!

d) Your statement is a proof of your ignorance in statistical method. Etc..

This kind of Ad Hominem attack is a general category of fallacy because irrelevant attack against the character of person making the claim, his/her circumstances, or his/her actions cannot give any lift logically, in any debate. If you think making personal attack will lead you to winning situation, then I have nothing much to say. However, I will try one more time (may be this is the last time) to clarify my position.  

I gave enough evidences in my previous write-ups that beauty is a relative thing. My idea of beauty may differ from another person’s concept of beauty. This does not mean that the concept of beauty changes at all, just my perspective of it is different. In a nutshell, relative truths (there is a scientific definition of this term; for ref. see sokal’s book) change with time and perspective. They are useful in experiencing the world around us, but are different for each individual. Some criterion like beauty, poetic artwork, literary values are sometimes impossible to define, and must be understood largely on the basis of personal experience, not by any strict scientific laws. It seems you do not want to agree, even though you are aware of the facts. You used “statistical methods” to calculate majority people’s taste and called the process scientific. I agree that you maintained a scientific process here. However, just following a scientific process in any matter does not necessarily lead to scientific reality. Astrologers also sometimes uses statistics or mathematics to calculate individual’s fate (I have seen some astrologers even uses computer to generate the result), but that undoubtedly does not make astrology scientific. Willium Dembski is also using lot of statistical theory for formulating thesis on ID (he even claims that his mathematics have replaced Darwinism), which also does not make it ‘scientific’ to the scientific community. Just Scientific Language or some statistics does not Make a topic Scientific (For details please check How thinking goes wrong by Michael Shermer). This is a danger that Sokal and Bricmont pointed in their “Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science” explaining why they feel that each is misusing specific scientific concepts without understanding their scientific meaning. Even if we want to use “statistics” here we should not debate anymore; as all of the members (at least 4 out of 5) responded to the thread disagreed with your view. So will you accept that your theory was wrong based on this statistical result?

You said, “Your statement is a proof of your ignorance in statistical method.” I am afraid it’s you who are not aware how scientific method works. Science is no politics, it’s rarely any matter how much vote one can obtain like a political leader in a competition. Also please think that if Aishwaria did not appear in world beauty contest  (he could have made that decision) and did not come to the world of hindi movies, only few people would be aware of her “beauty”. Certainly she would not be in the top list in such popularity vote. However, not attaining a competition does not mean that the beauty of Aishwaria can be changed at all, only truth is people would not be aware of her “beauty”. You so called “scientific” analysis completely missed this point. And you are suggesting me to learn statistics!  Same goes to your citation of “Algorithmic evolution of subjective prose” or kind of “poetic software” which cannot produce a Lalon, Tagore or Shakespeare (or Picasso in the world of art) . Artistic/poetic genius is more than your stated poor algorithm, and of course still in the area of subjective judgment.  

Again, arguing with you it gave me impression that you are also not aware of the logical fallacies like – “Argumentum ad numerum” and “Argumentum ad populum” while you propose majority vote as a criterion in a scientific analysis.  

You have some other important flaws in your analogy. Let me remind you from where the main conflict started.  

[1] You used a term “scientism” in one of your messages (message # 27919) and wrote a Bangla piece on “bigganbad”. However some members showed the definition (dogmatic form) of scientism and you shifted your position saying, you did not mean it rather you meant scientific methodology (which is already an established term, why we need Biggan baad then, is still beyond my understanding!).Scientism is a century old term which has already been rejected by many sociologists, economists and even the scientists again and again for it’s own self-annihilating view. And any ‘ism’, I clarified many times, represents just a specific doctrine, cannot be a representative of complete  science. You are somehow overlooking the important aspect, Biplab. Let’s see who you fell in your own loop-hole while preaching ‘scientism’. You criticized Marxism for being dogmatic/unscientific for using it in political aspect (check your Marxism ki biggan?), however it is you who argued that you want to make use of science politically (scientism) to fight against Mullahs. How much different is this approach? Please check :This is what you wrote in “Bigganbad ekti purnango dorshon” : 

“.. Birodhider kono rajnoitik Dorshon nei, Nana Munir nana Mot. Nanan Dol. Moulobadider biruddhe ebhabe ki lorai shombhob? …chai shoktishali dorshon. Ekmatro Bigganei pawa shombhob” 

This is purely self-contradictory. Again, you accused Marx and Lenin for not to be skeptical about their own theories or conclusions, however, I also find the same attitude in your writing too :)  

[2] Your Bangla article started defining scientism by formulating hypothesis. However conclusions you drawn many times are oversimplified and self contradictory. For example, to formulate the root cause of Islamic terrorism you have pointed two mutually exclusive factors – Islam’s teaching vs US policy; this is a typical example of “black and white” / “false dichotomy” or bifurcation as it presents a situation as having only two alternatives, where in fact other alternatives exist or can exist (For example, socio-political reasons for raising of Islamism basically in ‘80s: example : decolonization such as Ba’athism, Arab Nationalism, vigor in the Iran-Iraq War, conflict against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Zia-ul-Haq’s exploitation Islamist sentiments, Khomeini’s revolution etc. ). Your “Bigganbaadi” conclusion (especially for mukto-mona) came from a wrong hypothesis, which I think, is inevitable if one follows the philosophy of scientism dogmatically. See, this is what you argued : 

“Abar Keo Keo bolchen Koran ebong America ubhoyi shoman dayee” [Mukto-Mona]  

Mukto-Mona did not preach Koran and/or US – such silly bifurcation, let alone be it “equally” (another intentional mistake of yours) responsible. I wonder what let you take such silly conclusion. Scientism?  

[3] Your “Bigganbaadi” conclusion on divorce is also a classic example how Bigganbad can be promoted as a dogma.  This is what you exactly argued : 

“Shontan Dharoner por Divorce kono motei kammyo noy. Shontan na thakle oboshho ekta lok kota divorce korche tate kichu jay ashe  na” 

See how desperate you are in preaching your own biased conclusion in the name of “Bigganbaad”. It can be argued that divorce is very closely associated with women’s liberation and women’s rights issue. All these centuries, religion and society did not let us fight against the oppression on women; they were forced to stay in a marriage because they had no other choice. It is really interesting and entertaining to see that you are also coming to the same conclusion with your ‘bigganbaad’. So, an abused woman has to stay in an abusive marriage only because of bigganbaad; at least your theory suggests so. If it’s not dogmatic, what it is! 

In the same respect I wish to remind you how by implementing Darwin’s theory of evolution in social context with a hidden agenda, some “scientists” tried to associate in the public mind with racism, imperialism, eugenics etc. Hope your enthusiasm for scientism would not be of this kind. 

[4] In general I agree the method of falsifiability in the case of strict scientific (experimental) research at least; however we must also know even in those scientific realm many “real” physicists, including Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg (in case of string theory he rejected Popper) and Alan Sokal, have criticized falsifiability on the grounds that it does not accurately describe the way science really works. For e.g, Sokal writes, 

 “When a theory successfully withstands an attempt at falsification, a scientist will, quite naturally, consider the theory to be partially confirmed and will accord it a greater likelihood or a higher subjective probability. … But Popper will have none of this: throughout his life he was a stubborn opponent of any idea of ‘confirmation’ of a theory, or even of its ‘probability’. … [but] the history of science teaches us that scientific theories come to be accepted above all because of their successes.” [Ref : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability  ] 

Let me give some precise examples to show the limitation of falsifiability:  

a) Astrology is an example which most rational people would agree is not science. However, if we follow Popper’s theory, it has to be a part of science, cause, astrology constantly makes falsifiable predictions — a new set is printed every day in the newspapers — yet only few dogmatics would argue this makes it scientific. 

b) The proposition that the patient is homosexual is not falsifiable as according to Popper’s theory, there is no way the patient could convincingly demonstrate his heterosexuality to the analyst ( checkhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closed_circle  for details). This eventfully can lead to another dangerous proposition; some may argue supporting homosexuality right is not scientific (your “scientism” would surely lead to this conclusion). Now check your very simplified conclusion on divorce etc, you will get your answer where you were wrong. I do not consider that your wrong conclusion is just a lack of hypothesis, rather inevitable loop of holes for following “scientism” dogmatically.  

c) Another good example can be cited from laws of physics: remember – Isaac Newton’s laws of motion in their original form were falsified by experiments in the twentieth century (eg, the anomaly of the motion of Mercury, the behavior of light passing sufficiently close to a star, the behavior of particle being accelerated in a cyclotron, etc), and replaced by a theory which predicted those phenomena, General Relativity, though Newton’s account of motion is still a good enough approximation for most human needs. It’s not still “entirely” rejected. Now I give exactly opposite examples in the following passages: 

Consider “Super String” theory where string is considered as one dimensional object which is yet to be verified experimentally. Many scientists think it’s really impossible to experimentally verify this theory, even though they accept the theory as scientific. But, it is not a falsifiable theory in the sense of Popper. Now please let me know your opinion – whether it’s really a scientific theory (Please do not argue that String models have mathematical formulations etc. Astrology or Ptolemy’s geocentric models also had mathematical formulations).  

Another good example in physics is Higgs field, which has not experimentally verified (Check the book The Fabric of Cosmos by Brian Green, pp 269) in a sense that observations do not prove that Higgs field exist. It’s kind a like (but not exactly) a concept of Eather. Obviously, these concepts are not falsifiable in the strict sense of Popper, but still considered as scientific to almost all physicists.  

d) Thomas Kuhn’s influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions argued that scientists work in a series of paradigms, and found little evidence of scientists actually following a falsificationist methodology. His argument was totally opposite of what popper’s theory. Personally I think scientific research proceeds accepting delicate balance of both Khun and Popper.  

Perhaps you know that  Popper’s student Imre Lakatos (later an influential philosopher) attempted to reconcile Kuhn’s work with falsificationism by arguing that science  progresses by the falsification of research programs rather than the more specific universal statements of naïve falsificationism (this is where I argue). Another of Popper’s students Paul Feyerabend (another influential philosopher) ultimately rejected any prescriptive methodology, and argued that the only universal method characterizing scientific progress was anything goes. 

e) Popper himself argued that Marxism was not science. Again, this does not mean, that any of these types of theories are necessarily invalid or unacceptable (just as gay rights/divorce rights etc.) in the society. Popper considered falsifiability a test of whether theories are scientific, not of whether theories are valid. Many sociologist today argue that social theory does not needed to be falsifiable always (I am not arguing for Marxism here, just giving a thought whether falsifiability can be taken seriously as a sole criterion for social/political/cultural acceptance).  

f) Many argues that falsificationism in its various forms is an interesting idea but insufficient either to characterize science or solve the demarcation problem. It suffers from a series of logical and philosophical difficulties that should perhaps give us pause if hoping to find a single answer to what makes good science and what does not. Please check : http://www.galilean-library.org/falsificationism.html  


Again Biplab, my intention is not to make you frustrated and put you in an attacking or defensive mode. I thought we can both learn and grow from our friendly interchange. If you keep on attacking me on silly issue without understanding my points, then please consider this as my last response in this thread.


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