Dragons: a matter of true or false

Recent posts on this blog have addressed the scientific process in different degrees. A cornerstone in science is not only how to know what is true, but also how to identify false claims.

Brian Dunning, host and producer of the Skeptoid podcast, presents invaluable tools to assess the truthfullness of different claims in his video “Here Be Dragons: An Introduction to Critical Thinking”. A video well worth the watch.

The video mainly focuses on the new age and alternative medicine phenomena, but also touches on subjects already discussed here at Truth is a Woman.

Tyson here: I also think this is a very good video (you will have to be patient though, it’s 40 mins. long), but I would also like to mention a few things that the narrator does not discuss fully or might be somewhat dismissive of.

When dealing with the issue of Alternative Medicine, we have to keep in mind the power of that we bring to the healing process. Every new clinical trial always includes a control or placebo group for a reason. When someone really believes that a remedy is going to work, depending on the person and depending on the condition — there is a significant chance that whatever the remedy is, it will work. This is and interesting and important phenomena and one that should be studied. I should also mention that even though it is not fully-understood, it is nevertheless a question of science. 

The effect of a placebo treatment is further enhanced by delivery methods. If you enter a “wellness” center — and if you have been under stress, eating poorly, emotionally disorganized — and you are set into a place and state of calm and relaxation, if you are allowed to sort your thoughts and to feel at ease… then you may very well feel better — emotionally and physically! This is not magic or “chi,” it is the effect of stress-reduction, a well-known and scientifically supported phenomenon.

So my point is this: Although the mechanisms of Alternative Therapies may be completely fallacious, the claims inaccurate, and the science just wrong… some people may benefit from them under some conditions… and that benefit is known by science. Though it is extraordinarily difficult to quantify, test, and “bottle,” it deserves study, and people are studying it. I will post later about some researchers dedicated entirely to understanding the placebo or other psycho-somatic effects, but for now — enjoy the video!

11 Responses

  1. WAIT. are you saying that Chi does not exist? Please ‘splain.

  2. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Truths, all truths, are in the eye of the beholder. If the world were color blind and one person could see color at the “appropriate” wavelengths…whose color is true? Every confrontation/discussion has as many truths as the people who participate for each persons perspective makes their truth different from the next. I don’t really have a point here other than to say that truth and God hide together in your personal faiths and beliefs. Example of false truths: Life is based on numbers in scientific experiments, calculations, our salaries…numbers are nothing more than the limits to the infinite fractionated number before it. The truth is not that 2 + 2 = 4, but that 1.999(infinite) + 1.999(infinite) = 3.999(infinite)8…and so on and so forth in such a way that your tangible numbers, your 2 apples…aren’t really 2 apples. So what’s the truth? And who’s truth is it? Yours or mine? Searching for the truth is futile…IMO, just be.

  3. you want the truth?!?!

    YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!

    kidding, of course….i had to do it

  4. Jesse, I’m sure there’s a Star Wars parallel here…and I count on you to point them out.

  5. But isn’t there use in saying that something is true for our purposes, or true for our species, or true enough that we can just call it true? Can’t we say there ARE men and women in the world knowing full well that there are people who may not fit in either category? Can’t I say that I have 2 apples even if I have only 1.9999 (repeat infinitely) apples?

  6. megan: So.. you’re in the relativism “camp”? however the case, I have to disagree with you. Some things are in the eye of the beholder. The question whether your red is the same as my red is a philosophical question which can’t be answered, but that doesn’t mean everything is up for grabs.

    Through a scientific process we are homing in on models which unambigiously describe the world. “Unambigously” include the property of being correct independent of persons subjectivity. This must be so, otherwise consider a new universe which process exactly as ours have. Is it rational to assume e = mc^2 would not hold in this mirrored universe because its intellect lifeforms might have slight cultural differences as compared to us?

    2 + 2 = 4 is as true as 1.999 + 1.999 = 3.998. While math doesn’t necessarily describe the world, one should not be surprised if refuting the axiom of equality yeilds ridicule. The axiom states that if all elements from two sets can be paired so that neither of the two sets have any remaining elements the two sets are equal.

    In other words, 2 + 2 realy is equal to 4. Also, two apples are two apples, if the word “two” and “apple” would retain the meaning we normaly give them. Of course, a philosophical approach of this is interesting, but using them in this way only serve to confuse the discussion.

    Truth is not relative. “what’s the truth?” is a useless challenge, it is simply the motivation for science. “who’s truth is it?” this is a category error. Something is true if it correspond to how the world realy is, but the world doesn’t care what we think. And while we might never know all truths it doesn’t diminish the value of the truths we do know.

  7. for you Megan:

    Luke: Why didn’t you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father.

    Obi-Wan: Your father… was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and *became* Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true… from a certain point of view.

    Luke: A certain point of view?

    Obi-Wan: Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. Anakin was a good friend. When I first knew him, your father was already a great pilot. But I was amazed how strongly the Force was with him. I took it upon myself to train him as a Jedi. I thought that I could instruct him just as well as Yoda. I was wrong.

  8. Jesse, 1 word: awesome.

    Roger, a few words: When you say, “Something is true if it corresponds to how the world really is.” Do you think we can “know” that correspondence with 100% fidelity?

    In my view, “truth” goes something like this… whenever we speak of things “out there,” stuff in the world — and our knowledge of the truth of it, that value can approach 100%, but not reach it (we can always learn more, go deeper, etc.); however, 99.999999% is for most purposes fine, it is true, true enough for us and our purposes.

    I think it is useful to talk about things being true, but if pressed i will always say there is a chance (however diminishingly small) that i could be wrong… This is the difference between possibility and probability, just because something is possible does not give it the same value as any other possible thing.

    I don’t believe John McCain will win the election, I don’t believe the economy will get so bad that I will lose my job, and I don’t believe that modern american prisons rehabilitate prisoners. I also don’t believe in god, ghosts, demons, angels, leprechauns, dragons, or the FSM. I could be wrong about all of these things, but when it comes to some of them, the odds are so in my favor, I feel free to call it “true”…

  9. Tyson Koska: I had hoped we could discuss this on a simple level, but very well, let’s look at the details.

    Yes, it is not possible to know anything to absolute certainty, but the key is how you arrive at your conclusions. There are “fields” which build on culture and history; religions. But then the question arise of how we know which religion is correct. Truth is not relative. To know what is true the evidence must be universaly valid and the best, and probably only, tool we have for this purpose is the scientific process.

  10. Jesse: I love you!

    Roger: Newton came up with 3 laws. These laws are truths that we accept as universally valid. However, Newtons theories/explanations of how these laws applied to the universe were later found to not be quite right. There were truths that as Sir Isaac knew and understood and absolutely believed to be true. His truth was wrong, partially, but none the less, it was his truth. Wasn’t it???

  11. Megan: Now you’re just unfair, especialy to Newton. Not quite right does mean wrong.

    Lets take an example of something that have clearly been found to be wrong. It were once thought that all materia were made up of combinations of four elements, earth, water, air and fire. Eventualy we discovered it were both simpler and more complex than that. Atoms is the building block of materia, which have different properties depending of their internal structure. The initial theory were simply wrong.

    Newton’s three laws are another matter. They are corrected by Einstein’s law of relativity, but this doesn’t invalidate Newton’s laws altogether. The theory is quite accurate given the restraints of the model. The law of relativity expands Newton’s laws by filling in the cases of high speeds and relative time frames. This is how theories mostly evolve, thus becoming more and more accurate.

    If we for a moment accept the idea that nothing is correct if it wouldn’t ever remain true we must follow its logical resoning through. It would mean that nothing will be true until we truly know everything, and we don’t know if that’s even possible. It would mean we can never assume anything and that is, I hope you agree, nonsense.

    And whatever Newton might have though, the idea that truth can be owned is very strange to me. Beliving something is not enough for asserting it is true. Truth is not subject to vote or preference.

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