[pcp-discuss:] [Fwd: Scientific Modeling]

From: Norman K. McPhail (norm@SOCAL.WANET.COM)
Date: Fri Oct 06 2000 - 19:17:07 BST

  • Next message: Francis Heylighen: "[pcp-discuss:] Fwd: SCI'2001"

    Oops!!! The last posting was one of Elaine's responses in our e-mail
    exchange, not the summary of Bruce's paper. Here is the e-mail I meant
    to send:

    I thought some on this list might like to see an e-mail that was
    originally addressed to Elaine Morgan and Marc Verhaegen who are the
    leading proponents of a revolutionary hypothesis in the field of
    paleoanthropology that some call the Aquatic Ape Theory. They are
    clearly outsiders in this field and have experienced first hand many of
    the things that Bruce Edmonds was describing in the paper he posted here

    a few days ago for our comments and suggestions.

    You may also be interested to learn that both Elaine and Marc say that
    my summary of Bruce's thesis generally reflects their experience and
    perception of the process of change that is now taking place with the
    models of human evolution that scientists have traditionally used in the



    attached mail follows:

    Marc, Elaine and Bruce:

    In response to the difficulty Marc said he had in interpreting the abstract
    notions in Bruce's paper, I offered to try to summarize it in the context of
    the gradual acceptance, over the past 40 years, of the aquatic ape theory.
    I'm sending this e-mail to Bruce because he may wish to expand, correct or
    modify my attempt to summarize and simplify his ideas.

    In his paper, Bruce is talking about what Robert Rosen called the "modeling
    relation." It has to do with the mental and symbolic models we create to
    help us understand the world around us. He calls these "formal systems."
    They differ from the phenomena they attempt to replicate in that they are
    non physical representations of the mostly physical things and events that
    make up the macro and micro universe.

    Formal systems also depend on underlying assumptions and rules that come
    from various forms of logic and mathematics. Again, these assumptions and
    rules are suppose to be in sync with the ways that various physical
    phenomena behave. Thus they should help us construct models of the real
    world we need to understand and deal with.

    Formal systems are used by scientists in quantum and macro physics,
    chemistry, biology, etc. in what we sometimes call the "hard" sciences.
    Bruce points out that we can come to these models in two fundamental ways.
    First, a scientist can dream up a model that he thinks describes the
    phenomena he is interested in and then he and/or others can test it in the
    real physical world to see if it is accurate and successfully predicts
    behavior or outcomes.

    The second way to build these non physical models is to gather empirical
    data and then build up a formal description from this data. In reality,
    most scientists use both methods in a circular feedback process to develop
    their models.

    Bruce then offers some thoughts about the evolution of models in the
    scientific context. He states that most scientists are engaged in working
    within the context of generally accepted models. And he says that most
    scientists depend on others to provide related information and sub-models
    that they use to validate existing theoretical models and/or extend them in
    the area of their specialty. He refers to this as "normal science."

    On the other hand, what he calls "revolutionary science" usually transcends
    the existing models. He says it can come from two general sources: first,
    a new model can come from scientists doing normal science. In this
    scenario, usually the revolutionary ideas are tolerated by the community of
    scientists doing normal science. Science communities that tolerate new
    ideas are generally very confident of themselves and their work. They find
    it easy to admit the limits and uncertainties of their theories and

    However, in those fields where the community lacks confidence and tolerance
    of new ideas, more often than not the revolutionary ideas must come from
    outsiders. Generally, the individuals in these scientific communities build
    their models more on hypothetical assumptions rather than empirical

    Relatively speaking, fields like economics, cultural anthropology and
    paleontology might be classified as being more dependent on a priori
    assumptions as opposed to physical testing and verification. Thus,
    according to Bruce's thesis, we might expect them to be less tolerant of
    revolutionary ideas. As a consequence, we would expect to see the
    revolutionary science in these fields come from outsiders.

    Paleoanthropology is a classic case in point. As we have seen, in the
    course of normal science within this community, work has for years ignored
    or misinterpreted an ever expanding array of evidence that points to the
    weaknesses of the established savanna assumptions and models. Hence,
    according to Bruce's observations, any revolutionary changes in these
    assumptions and models are more likely to come from outsiders.

    By the same token, you and Elaine have experienced first hand that until
    recently within the paleoanthropology community there has been almost no
    tolerance of the aquatic ape theory. What's more, if Bruce's ideas are on
    target, it should be no surprise at all that there has been great resistance
    from within this particular scientific community to any such revolutionary

    Finally, I think it is remarkable that you and Elaine have stuck to a number
    of principals in your exchanges with others interested in human evolution.
    These principals closely parallel the list of signs that Bruce sets forth at
    the end of his paper to help us distinguish between a formal system that is
    justified in terms of its usefulness and one that may not be justified. I
    repeat his list of signs here:

        The lack of empirically verified foundations – the fact that its basis
    could have been invented in a “philosophers armchair” without detailed
    justification in terms of observations or known facts from the problem
    domain or phenomena;

         The fact that it is verified only against highly abstract and
    artificial “toy” problems, rather than against real data or a real problem;

        That the application to real problem domains (i.e. the final
    verification of a model chain as described above) are left for “future
    research” or simply dismissed as “scaling problems”;

        The emphasis on purely descriptive formal virtues and the lack of any
    pragmatic justification of formalism systems or substantial theories;

        The conflation of an idealized problem domain with a real one, without
    explicit recognition of the difficulties of bridging the gap;

        The lack of explicit exhibition of the disadvantages of a system to
    balance its claimed advantages, especially when the key advantage is


    Marc Verhaegen wrote:

    > Hi Norm, nice to hear from you? how are you?
    > Norm, I'm afraid this stuff is much too abstract for me. Very difficult!
    > Marc

    Posting to pcp-discuss@lanl.gov from "Norman K. McPhail" <norm@socal.wanet.com>

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