Sunday, April 1, 2012

Occam's Razor May Still Be Relevant

James Carlson recently posted a reply to Robert Hastings assertions that skeptics will use Occam's Razor as the default argument to the UFO phenomenon.

Learn the Rules Before Playing the Game by James Carlson

While I'm sure that Robert Hastings' take on Occam's Razor is little more than a tool that allows him to suggest alien aircraft from adjacent galaxies cannot be dismissed as a complete impossibility, his defense of such a point of view is simply more embellishment of notions he doesn't understand. You can't compare the possibility of galactic navigation to perceived differences between Newtonian physics and quantum assessments, including Einstein's theory of relativity. After all, when it comes down to physics, the point of view can be discussed, assessed, and in most cases proven as a result of applied mathematics. Physics can be discussed in universal terms that invariably lead to new theories that can in turn be discussed as applied mathematics. His meanderings about UFOs and alien species, however, are based on nothing. They cannot be discussed by the use of scientific and mathematical building blocks, one on top of the other. Hastings is merely suggesting that "anything goes" in this universe of ours, including galactic travel. It's a trick of language that has no meaning outside of blatant guesses. Modern physics may not initially seem "simple or straightforward", but it can be addressed under terms common to science and mathematics. Flying saucers from other galaxies or star systems cannot.

Suggesting that inter-galactic UFOs should be considered "possible" is , of course, a tenet of hypothetical positivism, but establishing any form of measured probabilities can't be applied, because we have no data to assess. Hastings is trying to apply scientific reasoning and logic to a phenomenon that he can't describe. We can describe modern physics under terms common to Newtonian physics, by we can't apply anything at all to the possibility of galactic travel in flying saucers in order to fool around with the natives on our little, blue planet. There are no such common building blocks to establish -- there's only a bunch of guesses that have yet to be applied or properly described. It's an intellectually dishonest argument to make (no surprises here, considering the source). You can't use the relative differences between apples and oranges to describe a duck-billed platypus.

His assessment that "the vast majority of UFO skeptics have yet to consider the possibility that alien visitation might also occur in a counter-intuitive manner, for example, by the utilization of higher-dimensional space - hyperspace - to effectively by-pass Einstein's light-speed limitation" is also meaningless. Hyperspace is a theory that hasn't been proven or measured or discussed in terms applied to both Newtonian and quantum physics, making this whole discussion a waste of time and effort. The possibility of hyperspace travel is insufficient to establish UFOs on our planet -- even the possibility of UFOs originating from different stars. The fact that physics may at times seem "bizarre" is an equally meaningless argument. Physical immortality is also "possible", but that doesn't mean we should all cut our throats tomorrow simply because the "possibility" exists. Robert Hastings is trying to apply rules of complex science to establish the "possibility" of UFOs; fine, that's easy to accept. But it still isn't useful and it can't be used to predict the probability of an event that has yet to be measured.

Robert Hastings' insistence that "UFO skeptics and debunkers ironically resort to quoting Occam's Law as if it were an unassailable pillar of wisdom, applicable to all questions involving UFOs" is a silly conclusion to reach for anybody. Occam's Law was never intended to describe possibility. At best, it can only recommend a very limited and base assessment of probability. Given that his questions regarding galactic travel as used by UFO astronauts can't possibly be assessed and therefore described under scientific terms common to our knowledge of mathematics and physics and quantum theory, it's perfectly reasonable to use Occam's Law to describe such ideas. After all, Occam is simply a tool that attempts to describe probability where no discernible measurements, facts, or mathematical characteristics can be properly applied. It has nothing to do with possibility, making his very generalized discussion about as meaningless as his collection of UFO folk-tales.

In addition, his notion that observed phenomenon provides more usefulness than estimates of probability is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of "observation", which represents a psychological determination -- not one based on physics or mathematical assessments. This is a puerile attempt to link associations that that have nothing to do with each other. You cannot measure "observation" -- you can only attempt to describe it. Human observations are notoriously inexact and are quite often affected far more by the psychological structures of the observer then by any inherent objective qualities of whatever is being observed. To claim that the "preconceived notions" of skeptics tend to be more applicable to their analysis of UFOs than the observations of UFOs by witnesses is equally meaningless. All observations are dependent on preconceived notions -- it's a psychological dependency common to all humans, not just skeptics, and it's an aspect of human character and will that Hastings applies only to those men and women expressing ideas and reaching conclusions different from his own. And that, too, represents a stillborn analysis poorly conceived, another example of intellectual dishonesty.

It's obvious that what Hastings is attempting to suggest in order to denigrate the opinions of skeptics has not been properly applied. It's a word game in which he fails to recognize or even define objectivity in relation to phenomena he can't define on the basis of psychological tenets he fails to apply equally. Apparently it's okay for UFO witnesses to describe an incident in terms that carry no weight, the recognition of elements that can't be objectively analyzed, and the failure to recognize that the actual qualities of observation stem from the psychological character of the observer, but it isn't okay for skeptics to consider the probability that an incident actually occurred in the only terms available. If he was an honest man attempting to discuss an event that he couldn't possibly describe in terms suitable for scientific analysis, and not a dishonest researcher attempting to use irrelevant elements poorly suited to his position in order to posit the assumed superiority of ideas he has repeatedly failed to establish in the first place, he would admit that the argument he has presented is a patently ridiculous one derived entirely from his own prejudices and his obsessional desire to damage the character of any reasonable assessments that reach conclusions contrary to his own. Since he is NOT an honest man, I'm not a bit surprised that he would apply the dishonesty characterizing most of his efforts in this field in order to attack those who at least try to use accepted standards of science to approach a perception-based phenomenon of this sort. People who lack the ability to properly apply known science to a field of study that has only rarely presented data that remains consistent should refrain from reaching conclusions on the basis of their ignorance. When they do, that ignorance becomes immediately obvious.

If Robert Hastings wants to convince the world that UFOs should be considered "possible" in our universe, because 21st century science is more complicated than science was in the 18th century, he's welcome to do so. But using that "possibility" to attempt some silly little attack on those who have decided to look at "probability" instead is little more than the arrogant posturing of a man who clearly has no real understanding of the issues presented.

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