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Thread: critiques of science

  1. #31

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    if you are a Popperian, which you clearly are, then the method of science is clawing you ever onwards towards an un-obtainable "truth", better and better approximations produced over time as science refines itself.
    I think I am in a lot of ways but not 100%... I'll have to do more reading but I agree with the rest of the quote.

    "lots of hand waving to try and convince us that induction an a negative direction (i.e. falsification) isn't really induction at all. See Lakatos' critiques for starters..."
    I don't think Popper quite understood what he had come up with or didn't express it that well. There is a lot of hand-waving as you say, but I think he was basically right.
    I think the "negative direction" as you put it is what we can use to test our theories, and that we rely on the best theories we have, that have passed the most tests so far (in fact have not failed any experimental tests so far). In my reading of Popper, it is wrong to say "the theories have passed many tests so they are probably true" (ie induction)... it is right to say "the fact that they have not failed tests that means they are our best guess so far." I think this is a fundamental difference that goes beyond accusations of hand-waving.

    And Thomas Kuhn's theories about paradigm change are a load of nonsense.
    And I can say the same about Popper's theories... which gets us nowhere
    Fair dos but I don't want to go into a lengthy critique of Kuhn unless you really want me to! It's a bit of a sidetrack....
    Popper is not beyond criticism but I think he on the right track.

    me: Science is not a philosophy.
    you: This is self contradictory
    yes I suppose you're right. if I think the scientific method is valid then it follows I have an underlying philosophical reason or reasons for doing so.

    - if you want to take a position on whether science is valid or not, you must agree or disagree with its fundamental philosophical claims.
    yes, kind of.... but it's not universally agreed on what those claims are.

    Being a scientist, or a supporter of science, means you tacitly agree to certain commitments - i.e. materialism, induction (or falsifcationalism), reductionism etc.
    Materialism, yes.
    I absolutely do not believe in induction, i don't think anyone has for a very long time! I'm not exactly sure how to define falsificationism so I won't comment.

    Reductionism is a moot point as well. Personally I think that there are useful theories that emerge at higher levels that cannot be deduced from first principles, or if they can then it's not simple... and it's certainly worth using these theories even though they were not arrived at "from the bottom up".
    eg. Darwin's evolution as propounded by Dawkins. I think that evolution does follow from the laws of physics (certain substances are good at getting themselves copied in certain environments) but I don't think anyone would've come up with such a successful theory without studying animals and plants and so on.


    Science is only the best thing for creating certain kinds of knowledge - it's pretty useless for giving you any knowledge about literature, music and so on...
    There's a key difference between "creating knowledge" and "giving you any knowledge" - science aims to find out things nobody already knew. Knowledge about literature for example is created when the literature is written, not when you learn about it. Learning about it at college or whatever is just moving knowledge from one person's brain to another's.


    Science is not just the methodology, but the system of academia, peer review, and all the human aspects that go along with it. Science as practice doesn't always (and radically, never) follow its idealised objectivity, and how can it, when it takes place in the minds of subjective agents?
    Well, we can agree to disagree on our definitions of "science". The thing I am defending is science done right. All along I have said to Zhao that I fully support justified criticism of individual scientists, the industrial/pharmacological complex etc etc.

    I think science is the method and not the surrounding crap.
    Just like the truly religious don't confuse God with priests and churches (could be a dodgy example )


    Which is were you get back into this age old argument about whether an objective "view-from-nowhere" is possible or if if you can never escape the confines of your own subjectivity
    yes of course but the science I have been defending is demonstrably a useful way to get beyond subjectivity and generate usable knowledge about the universe that actually works.
    you can't stop being an individual but by inventing a theory and then using the real world to test it in various ways you can find things out that are more reliable than any other method of finding things out that we know of.

    Collins & Pinch's The Golem: what everyone should know about science is a very readable introduction instances of science's failure to live up to its standards "in the field"
    I haven't read it but I am quite sure there are myriad examples of people calling themsleves scientists who are unworthy of the name.
    I don't want to defend them.
    I just want to make a distinction between them and science.

    Actually I think the religious analogy I used above is OK.
    Clergy often do bad things, child abuse etc. but it doesn't follow that God is bad or corrupt.

    The same goes for those who claim to represent science but use its name for dishonest ends and misrepresent what they are really doing. They are bad, not science.

  2. #32
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    "I absolutely do not believe in induction, i don't think anyone has for a very long time!"
    I'm not sure about that. I remember a few years ago that my girlfriend was studying this and told me about David Papineau (and others I guess) who constructed an inductive argument for induction that he argued is not circular.
    I couldn't remember it myself but from a quick google, the gist of it seems to be that, for an argument that you can use induction in the future the steps are as follows

    1. Induction has worked in the past
    2. So induction will work in the future

    Apparently it's not circular because it does not have its conclusion as a premise.

    I got that from here, there is a fair bit about it

    http://www.ling.rochester.edu/~feldm...-induction.htm

  3. #33

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    My first thought:
    Underlying assumption = the future will be the same as the past.
    On what basis can you make this assumption?

    Now I will go and look at the article.

  4. #34

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    Didn't get much from that article I'm afraid, no mention of this Rosineau chap....

    By the way, if you're not sure about why it's not cool to say the future will be the same as the past, go and read about Russells Chicken!

    a quick google found me this:
    http://www.noogenesis.com/pineapple/...l/chicken.html

    not the best rendition but you'll get the gist.
    Last edited by Edward; 24-04-2007 at 01:00 PM.

  5. #35
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    "Didn't get much from that article I'm afraid, no mention of this Rosineau chap...."
    No, I'm not sure that I did really either to be honest (though it's Papineau I was talking about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Papineau)

    "By the way, if you're not sure about why it's not cool to say the future will be the same as the past, go and read about Russells Chicken!"
    Yes, seen that before.

    I'm not totally sure exactly what he (Papineau) is arguing, presumably not that induction is always valid because anyone can produce countless counter-examples. I mean, we can probably guess that the sun will rise tomorrow but we can also guess that one day the sun won't rise. Maybe his formulation is supposed to provide some justification for the first bit, I'll ask my girlfriend to explain it to me again.

  6. #36

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    Oops don't know where I got Rosineau from instead of Papineau.

    Eau dear.

  7. #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by Edward View Post
    I absolutely do not believe in induction, i don't think anyone has for a very long time!
    So are you (inductively?) arguing that:

    1) People have not believed in using induction for a very long time.
    2) There is something wrong with using induction.

    Seriously though, don't we all think inductively all the time, including scientists?

  8. #38

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    Lol ^

    Seriously though, don't we all think inductively all the time, including scientists?
    I suppose so but it's just a lazy short cut and if you find yourself needing a better explanation for your beliefs, the explanation is (hopefully) there.

    For example, yes I think the sun will rise tomorrow because it rose yesterday and the day before.
    But in my heart of hearts I know that is not an explanation, and the real explanation is that we have theories about the motion of the sun and the earth and so on which have not yet failed any experimental tests so we choose to act as if they are true until they are falsified.

  9. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by Edward View Post
    For example, yes I think the sun will rise tomorrow because it rose yesterday and the day before.
    But in my heart of hearts I know that is not an explanation, and the real explanation is that we have theories about the motion of the sun and the earth and so on which have not yet failed any experimental tests so we choose to act as if they are true until they are falsified.
    So perhaps induction - as someone once said about quantum mechanics - is 'FFAPP': Fine For All Practical Purposes, even if it isn't logically watertight? Or perhaps it's best viewed as a useful pointer to theories or models which can later be proven by more rigorous means, such as deduction?

  10. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by Edward View Post

    I don't think Popper quite understood what he had come up with or didn't express it that well. There is a lot of hand-waving as you say, but I think he was basically right.
    I think the "negative direction" as you put it is what we can use to test our theories, and that we rely on the best theories we have, that have passed the most tests so far (in fact have not failed any experimental tests so far). In my reading of Popper, it is wrong to say "the theories have passed many tests so they are probably true" (ie induction)... it is right to say "the fact that they have not failed tests that means they are our best guess so far." I think this is a fundamental difference that goes beyond accusations of hand-waving.
    This is really dredging my memory, but.. as I remember, Popper tries to argue that falsification is like deduction. But I don't see why saying "a theory has failed x tests, so it should not be our best guess" is any different from saying a theory has passed x tests, so it should be our best guess" - i.e. they're both forms of induction.

    Lakatos' critique/re-construction of Popper is to say that "falsifiying" a theory is not always a reason to get rid of it. Sometimes the theory is too poweful, too useful etc and other factors come into play - basically social ones, where he leans towards Kuhn.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakatos gives an OK overview... how much of a critic of Popper he was later on in his career is i think debatable though.

    Fair dos but I don't want to go into a lengthy critique of Kuhn unless you really want me to! It's a bit of a sidetrack....
    Popper is not beyond criticism but I think he on the right track.
    I don't think it's much of a sidetrack - after all, at the time Popper and Kuhn were directly pitched against each other as offering alternative views of what science is. Kuhn is not beyond criticisim but I think he was on the right track.



    yes, kind of.... but it's not universally agreed on what those claims are.


    Materialism, yes.
    I absolutely do not believe in induction, i don't think anyone has for a very long time! I'm not exactly sure how to define falsificationism so I won't comment.
    I think you'll find you do believe in induction - otherwise what rational reason do you have for not stepping out of a 10th floor window? (the classic example).

    Reductionism is a moot point as well. Personally I think that there are useful theories that emerge at higher levels that cannot be deduced from first principles, or if they can then it's not simple... and it's certainly worth using these theories even though they were not arrived at "from the bottom up".
    eg. Darwin's evolution as propounded by Dawkins. I think that evolution does follow from the laws of physics (certain substances are good at getting themselves copied in certain environments) but I don't think anyone would've come up with such a successful theory without studying animals and plants and so on.
    Non-reductive materialism (Davidson?) and other non reductive philosophies, like emergent/enactive theories that Mr. Tea makes reference too, are very much on the fringes of mainstream science (and interestingly, in the latter case draw quite heavily on continental philosophy).

    Refering back to what Slothrop and Mr Tea said, of course one can be a non-materialist scientist. There are lots of scientists who are religious, and hold some form of dualism, whereby their science investigates one realm, but has no meaing or use in the other, the "spiritual". Again, this is fringe stuff, and generally frowned upon by the mainstream.. more on this later as I must leave work now!

    There's a key difference between "creating knowledge" and "giving you any knowledge" - science aims to find out things nobody already knew. Knowledge about literature for example is created when the literature is written, not when you learn about it. Learning about it at college or whatever is just moving knowledge from one person's brain to another's.
    Huh? I don't understand - knowledge about science is created only on the very cutting edge of experimental science, not when you learn about it either. What's the difference? No one gets to practice "science" in college either, it's just learning about experiments and theories already created. You admit that literature can create knowledge also...

    Well, we can agree to disagree on our definitions of "science". The thing I am defending is science done right. All along I have said to Zhao that I fully support justified criticism of individual scientists, the industrial/pharmacological complex etc etc.

    I think science is the method and not the surrounding crap.
    Just like the truly religious don't confuse God with priests and churches (could be a dodgy example )
    Now we get down to it... there is no such thing as "science done right", and science is precisely the "surrounding crap" - without that surrounding crap there would be no science.


    yes of course but the science I have been defending is demonstrably a useful way to get beyond subjectivity and generate usable knowledge about the universe that actually works.
    you can't stop being an individual but by inventing a theory and then using the real world to test it in various ways you can find things out that are more reliable than any other method of finding things out that we know of.



    I haven't read it but I am quite sure there are myriad examples of people calling themsleves scientists who are unworthy of the name.
    I don't want to defend them.
    I just want to make a distinction between them and science.

    Actually I think the religious analogy I used above is OK.
    Clergy often do bad things, child abuse etc. but it doesn't follow that God is bad or corrupt.

    The same goes for those who claim to represent science but use its name for dishonest ends and misrepresent what they are really doing. They are bad, not science.

    The whole point of The Golem is that it is about fundamental lynchpin experiments and theories, exemplars of "proper science" and how, in fact, they are not, including Pasteur, the Michelson-Morley experiment etc. This is of course Kuhn's point too. Science at the cutting edge is determined not by appeals to "proper" objective science, but subjective factors.

    more later...
    Last edited by tryptych; 24-04-2007 at 11:16 PM.

  11. #41
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    But in my heart of hearts I know that is not an explanation, and the real explanation is that we have theories about the motion of the sun and the earth and so on which have not yet failed any experimental tests so we choose to act as if they are true until they are falsified.
    No. That's just shifting the problem back one, it's still inductive reasoning to say that the theories of motion which worked yesterday will work the same way tomorrow - what reason do you have to believe that except induction?
    You're in the same situation as the chickens, you have only observed the laws of physics up until now, if they are going to change tomorrow then how can you predict it?
    That's why the validity of inductive reasoning is so important.

  12. #42

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    Been away for a few days... reading all this makes me feel a bit snowed under, the target of aggression.
    I'm not trying to set myself up as the arbiter of all knowledge on these things, just trying to have a discussion. I'm just a bloke who likes reading books, yunno.....

    But I'll try and reply on some of these points....


    For now here are some more thoughts on induction and epistemology for now, which hopefully are of interest to Mr Tea and IdleRich, and address part of what Tryptych has to say as well:

    Nobody's come up with irrefutable answers to the basic problems of how we can know things. In my opinion, the way to choose between two theories which both pass experimental tests is to go for the one that offers the best explanation of what is going on. If one of the rival theories can be experimentally falsified then we can safely choose the other one as closer to representing reality.


    In choosing between two rival theories neither of which have been experimentally falsified, it makes more sense to me to have a concise theory that explains the things we observe than a different theory that is the same in all respects as the prevailing one, except it adds another unexplained complication or complications.

    In the "will the sun rise?" example, the prevailing theory is "the sun will rise tomorrow because the planets will continue to orbit the sun in the way Einstein's laws predict" and the rival theory would be "everything Einsteins says is true but after time x all this will change" - without any reason given for the sudden change. This is throwing away a simple explanation and replacing it with a more complicated one with no reason given for the extra complication. The new theory is the same in all respects as the original apart from an added unexplained exceptional case.
    If someone had a good explanation such as "after x billion years the sun will be a red giant and the earth will be destroyed so there will be no sunrise" then that is not an unexplained extra complication, it is possibly a good explanation and as such the theory about the sun rising ought to be modified if we find there is good evidence for the sun expanding and swallowing up the earth.
    there is no induction here, nobody is saying "the sun will rise tomorrow because it rose yesterday".


    In Tryptych's "jumping off a building" example, the prevailing theory is "gravity will make you fall to towards the centre of the earth" and the competing theory would be "gravity will make anyone except me fall" or "gravity will make anyone fall except for this moment" without any reason given for why I or this moment are exceptional. So again the new theory is identical to the old but with an added complication or exception to the prevailing theory without any explanation.
    It is not that I believe I won't fall because I believe in induction, it is that nobody has given me a better explanation than the simple one that explains very well why I will fall.


    Galileo said "the stars move around the sky in that way because the earth is going around the sun" whilst the Inquisition said "the stars move around the sun exactly as if Galileo was right but actually it's angels or god causing them to move in that way and the earth is fixed" without any reason given for this deception on the part of god or huge extra complication (the existence of an all powerful god who does this strange thing with the stars every night when he could have just set it up in the way Galileo describes and chilled out with the angels).
    (this example doesn't involve induction but it's a good illustration of how simple and full explanations are more powerful than complicated holey ones).



    Russell's Chicken's theory is "the farmer feeds me every day because he loves me and therefore he will continue to feed me". The rival theory is "the farmer is feeding you to fatten you up and then he will kill you and sell you for profit". This theory is also more complicated than the Chicken's own theory but the crucial difference between this example and the ones above is that it contains a good explanation for why it is more complicated, so it should at least be entertained, just as the "expanding sun" theory contains good explanation of why the sun won't rise over earth in the distant future.



    So in part I suppose I am appealing to "Occam's Razor" - the idea that unnecessarily complicated explanations are less likely to be true than simple ones. Emphasis on the word "unnecessarily".


    "Russell's Chicken" and many other examples show that you can't rely on "the past being like the future" but when it is different in some respect, there will be an underlying explanation for why it is different and that explanation must be part of any theory that predicts changes over time.


    I'm sure there are still problems with this model of theory-selection but I think it's a small step on from Popper and I find it more convincing and satisfying than anything else I have read.



    We have strayed a long way from Zhao's initial thread but it's quite interesting to think about isn't it?

  13. #43
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    "Been away for a few days... reading all this makes me feel a bit snowed under, the target of aggression."
    Oh, I'm very sorry if you felt like that, not intentional at all.
    I'm glad you replied anyway because I felt that it was left hanging somewhat.

    In the "will the sun rise?" example, the prevailing theory is "the sun will rise tomorrow because the planets will continue to orbit the sun in the way Einstein's laws predict" and the rival theory would be "everything Einsteins says is true but after time x all this will change"
    I take your point but isn't that exactly what the chicken would say?
    What I mean is, what reason is there to think that the prevailing theory will prevail tomorrow? I think the answer is induction isn't it?

  14. #44

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    Some more thoughts on Tryptych's post:

    I don't see why saying "a theory has failed x tests, so it should not be our best guess" is any different from saying a theory has passed x tests, so it should be our best guess" - i.e. they're both forms of induction.
    As soon the theory fails ONE test, then it is falsified.
    It may still be used for practical calculations in the absence of a better (in purely instrumentalist terms) theory but nobody believes the theory is true any longer. How can a theory about the real world be true if it is shown to be not true even once?

    A falsified theory may be "our best guess" from an instrumentalist point of view but as soon as a prevailing theory is falsified, you would hope scientists would be falling over themselves to propose replacement theories and test them out.

    In fact it is almost unheard of nowadays for a theory about physics to be falsified in the absence of a "challenging" rival theory. What happens is: someone comes up with a new theory which passes all the experimental tests performed on the old theory (otherwise you can discard it straight away) and then invents a new experimental test to choose between the two rivals. At this point one of the theories will be falsified and the other will become or remain the prevailing theory.


    +_+_+_

    What Wikipedia has to say about Lakatos is interesting and makes me think I may have misuderstood Popper a bit! I'll have to do some more reading. I wish my local library had any books about philosophy..... you can't buy them in the airport either

    It doesn't seem like he is supporting Kuhn but rather trying to represent Popper in a different way to how the majority had perceived/portrayed his writings in order to refute Kuhn. But let's not argue about that because I haven't read any Lakatos! I'm interested to read it but not so we can argue about who knows the most about this guy or that guy, just if it makes me understand more stuff.

    As to whether Kuhn was on the right track or not, I think in some respects he was and in others we was unfair. I have never been to university or spent time among academics so I don't know the truth of what goes on, only how it is represented in the writings of scientists. So I could've been hoodwinked....
    It seems to me that scientists are ready to embrace paradigm change if they are given a good reason for it - look how quantum mechanics swept through the scientific establishment and before that, special and general relativity. They were successful because they gave better explanations of observed phenomena and more accurate predictions, they were big changes to the established view but they were accepted because they came with good explanations.

    I'm sure there were those who didn't go along with paradigm change (Einstein famously wasn't an easy convert to quantum mechanics, mainly due to the extremely shaky interpretations given it by its originators) but QM & relativity are both striking counterexamples to Kuhn's portrayal of the scientific establishment as set hard against change, and of new ideas basically having to wait for older established scientists to die before they could be seriously entertained.

    Or am I misrepresenting/misunderstanding Kuhn here? Happy to be put straight if so...

    ++_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_

    Non-reductive materialism (Davidson?) and other non reductive philosophies, like emergent/enactive theories that Mr. Tea makes reference too, are very much on the fringes of mainstream science
    yes you're right but I feel like we've moved on to me defending what I think rather than trying to stick up for the whole scientific establishment, which I've already conceded has numerous failings when compared to the ideal.
    I'm quite enjoying the debate as it goes, do stop me if I'm too self-centred.

    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_++

    me - There's a key difference between "creating knowledge" and "giving you any knowledge" - science aims to find out things nobody already knew. Knowledge about literature for example is created when the literature is written, not when you learn about it. Learning about it at college or whatever is just moving knowledge from one person's brain to another's.
    you - Huh? I don't understand - knowledge about science is created only on the very cutting edge of experimental science, not when you learn about it either. What's the difference? No one gets to practice "science" in college either, it's just learning about experiments and theories already created. You admit that literature can create knowledge also...
    Yes you are correct in your first sentence. The difference between cutting edge science and writing literature is that science creates knowledge about the real world and that knowledge previously did not exist in any human mind. Writing literature is an act of creating something, which I will label "information" in the sense of a work of literature being a set of symbols wherein the order of the symbols matters. Something is created but it is not knowledge about the world, it is a new pattern made from the information (some of which is in the form of knowledge) already present in the brain of the author. No new truth about the world is discovered, although truth may be made more obvious or clear through literary interpretation.

    This is not to belittle the creative process in anyway, it's deeply important in my opinion. But creating information/art/literature/music is clearly different to creating knowledge about the world.

    Also I think you are being a little disingenuous here as you initally were saying science is not useful for "giving you any knowledge about art/literature" which really implied something along the lines of "you can't learn about Shakespeare from doing experiments" - which is what I was replying to in the post I quoted above.

    (by "the world" I mean "what there is" or "reality")

    _+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+


    Now we get down to it... there is no such thing as "science done right", and science is precisely the "surrounding crap" - without that surrounding crap there would be no science.
    I'm not sure what axe you have to grind here. Why do you claim there is no distinction between, say, somebody trying to find out truth about some physical phenomenon, and somebody trying to find a way to show their brand of deodorant is better than brand x or trying to get a Nobel prize at the expense of their research partners? There is clearly a difference.

    Like I said before, we can agree to differ in how we define our terms. If you want you can say "science" includes all the the crap, I can say it doesn't.

    But I can't understand how you can say there is nothing there APART from marketing, political infighting etc. If you really think that, why are you bothering to discuss Popper with me?

    I seriously want to ask, are you just arguing this for the sake of a lively discussion or do you really not see the distinction?

    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+


    The whole point of The Golem is that it is about fundamental lynchpin experiments and theories, exemplars of "proper science" and how, in fact, they are not, including Pasteur, the Michelson-Morley experiment etc. This is of course Kuhn's point too. Science at the cutting edge is determined not by appeals to "proper" objective science, but subjective factors.
    Once again, I haven't read it, but once again, I have conceded many times that there are many examples of failure on the part of scientists to live up to the standards we expect of them, and I agree that they ought to be exposed.
    You have to pay attention because dodgy individuals are out there, they are likely the ones in charge in a lot of cases too.
    But this doesn't detract in any way from the value of pursuing knowledge in a scientific manner.

    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+


    more later...

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

  15. #45
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    Quote Originally Posted by IdleRich View Post
    O
    I take your point but isn't that exactly what the chicken would say?
    What I mean is, what reason is there to think that the prevailing theory will prevail tomorrow? I think the answer is induction isn't it?
    I'm not sure how this applies to the chicken Gedankenexperiment (yes, I did just use that word for the sheer hell of it), but with regards to things like the Sun failing to rise, you can actually make statements a bit stronger than induction about it. For example, lots of ways in which the Sun could fail to rise - by simply ceasing to exist, for example - would violate physical law, in this case conservation of mass-energy. If the Earth fell into the Sun for no reason this would violate conservation of momentum. These laws follow from a very general mathematical result (Noether's Theorem) which can be proven analytically. So in no Universe with physics we can understand - to the extent that we do understand at least some of the physics in our Universe - would the Sun simply fail to rise without good reason, e.g. its having undergone a nova and ceased to be a sun.

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