Why are unfalsifiable statements unscientific

In my post about The Process it turns out that I stepped on a pedagogical minefield when using describing the Anthropic Principle (AP).  Two preeminent physicists had a very public argument a while ago in which one called the AP unscientific because it’s unfalsifiable.  I will return to that in a moment since it’s the crux of what’s wrong with Science right now, but I need to get the terminology issue out of the way first.

Lee Smolin claims that AP is bad and favors a Cosmological Natural Selection view instead (on grounds of falsifiability).  I believe this is a false dichotomy and that they are really one and the same.  Here’s why:

  1. Normally natural selection requires some form of “replication” or it’s not actually natural selection.   But replication is not needed if you start with an infinity of heterogeneous universes.  In other words replication is simulated via the anthropic lens over the life-supporting subset of all possible universes.
  2. Replication is a red herring anyway since it presupposes time (or at least well-ordered events).
  3. I conjecture that the distribution of universes is unimportant, as long as all possible universes are represented in the multiverse (i.e. the distribution can be random).

It’s worth noting that this is a purely a metaphysical/logical argument and says nothing about specific physics or cosmologies.  One of the things that makes it hard to see why this is true from reading the Smolin/Susskind debate is that they bounce between the logical argument and various proposed, unimportant details (like whether black holes are the replication mechanism in question or not).

More importantly though, we hear scientists call one another “unscientific” whenever they propose an hypothesis that is unfalsifiable.  Here’s why I think that’s problematic:

  • Ever since Popper, science has been obsessed with falsifiability, which is really about assuring consistency.
  • Godel proved that there are true statements that cannot be proved.
  • More specifically he unpacked “truth” into completeness + consistency and showed that we can’t have both simultaneously.
  • Due to extant complexity (let alone potential infinity) completeness is out the window.
  • If science is only concerned with consistency, then it’s a pointless endeavor; I can sit here all day and generate tautologies that are neither interesting nor useful.
  • If science is about truth, then there needs to be a way of expanding the set of discovered tautologies along the completeness dimension as well.
  • There are at least three formal logical systems which do that without sacrificing consistency: deduction, induction and abduction.
  • Only deduction is formally falsifiable.
  • But science relies on induction and many other forms of evidence too (statistical reasoning, clinical trials, simulation, storytelling, etc); this is the “democracy” Smolin himself referrs to in his TED talk.
  • The structure of the Anthropic Principle is abduction.  So is the structure of Occam’s Razor.  And depending on who you believe Bayesian inference is either induction or abduction.
  • Conjecture: Newton’s Calculus is a formalism based on abduction.
  • Conjecture: strong emergence (aka novel emergence) is fundamentally abduction.  This may be why science has such a hard time with it.
  • Conjecture: natural selection is fundamentally emergence/abduction.  This may be why Creationists have such a hard time with it.

There is no one true definition of what constitutes “Science.”  We hear reference to the so-called Scientific Method.  Ultimately, the holy Scientific Method is whatever scientists as a whole do; no more and no less.  To say otherwise is ad hominem.  Now I’m not claiming that ad hominem argument shouldn’t be counted as scientific evidence, but anyone who bows before Popper would.  The irony there is that ad hominem is a form of Bayesian inference.  And if you’re keeping score, that means that anyone who claims that you are being unscientific if you don’t forsake all unfalsifiable idols, is themselves committing the sin of inconsistency.  Which by their own logic means they are unscientific too.

To which I respectfully submit, their pants are on fire, hanging from a telephone wire.  And that’s a scientific fact.

Cognition, Creativity, Dualism, Epistemology, Evolution, Limits of Knowledge, Models, Science, Science 2.0