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Old 20th February 2007, 07:46 PM   #1
Dustin Kesselberg
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Is parapsychology a 'field of science'?

For those of you who don't know, Parapsychology is the study of things 'supernatural'. Be it Bigfoot, UFOs, Psychics, etc. Parapsychology is the study of all of that. There are many parapsychology organizations including the 'Parapsychological Association' who also happens to be an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science(AAAS). Parapsychology even has it's own journal called the Journal of Scientific Exploration who publishes exclusively paranormal 'studies' relating to ghosts and goblins.

So my question is this...Does parapsychology fit the definition of a "field of science"? Does the fact that it has no credible positive results negate it's claim to be a field of science?

I myself believe it's pseudo science and not a field of science. Simply because if it actually followed the scientific method then it's studies would not always have methodological flaws in them and the people who study parapsychology would not so often believe in the supernatural. Sure, It has all of the trappings of science but is it really a field of science?

James Randi apparently said he didn't believe it was pseudo science. He said "I would differ with Professor Stanovich's designation of "ESP" as a pseudoscience. It is, rather, a postulated phenomenon of parapsychology. If Stanovich is referring to parapsychology as a pseudoscience, I disagree. It has all the structure and appearance of any other science, and must be respected as such. The fact that differentiates it from other sciences is largely that it has no history of successful experiments upon which to base conclusions.". I don't know exactly if Randi meant to imply it's not pseudo science or not.

Anyone have any ideas on whether parapsychology fits the definition of a 'field of science'?
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Old 20th February 2007, 08:28 PM   #2
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Depends on the methodology, and if they insert "personal belief" moreso than study to the subject.

However, if Parapsychology is a pseudoscience because they haven't had any positive results, then SETI is a pseudoscience as well.
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Old 20th February 2007, 08:33 PM   #3
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I think that, to put it delicately, parapsychologists work very hard to maintain the appearance of it being a science.

The problem is, of course, that much of what it purports to investigate is not particularly testable. Combine that with the fact that it doesn't take any real credentials to establish yourself as a parapsychologist, and the field's consistent failure to produce any kind of replicable results, and the questionable ethics of some parapsychologists, and I think the question becomes moot.

Certainly, even if everyone were to agree that it is a bona fide field of scientific inquiry (which, under the proper investigative conditions, I wholeheartedly believe it could be), its utter failure to produce any sort of results to date certainly points toward it being, at the current time, a useless kind of science.

Will it remain that way? Only time will tell.
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Old 20th February 2007, 08:43 PM   #4
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I'd say that it's not a science because it studies something that's not real. No results, no science.
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Old 20th February 2007, 08:48 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by EeneyMinnieMoe View Post
I'd say that it's not a science because it studies something that's not real. No results, no science.
I would totally disagree with that statement. It's fine to study something that is not real, many things are proven false by study.

When I think if pseudoscience I think of people either playing fast and loose with the results or using really poor methodology or, more common, claiming things are real, "and science backs this up", as the guy on Oprah said the other day, without any study at all.

I'm with Randi, if it is studied in a scientific manner then it is valid science.
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Old 20th February 2007, 08:58 PM   #6
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Does parapsychology fit Robert L Park's “Warning Signs of Bogus Science”? If the shoe fits...

1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.
2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.
3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.
4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal
5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.
6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.
7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.
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Old 20th February 2007, 09:10 PM   #7
Dustin Kesselberg
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Don't some colleges offer accreditation in "parapsychology"?
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Old 20th February 2007, 09:51 PM   #8
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My personal opinion is that, if the investigation follows the scientific method, the result is science. A negative result is not falsification and, from what you've written, the investigators are being truthful in reporting their results. As long as the investigations and reports are unbiased, I would not call them pseudo-anything.

Personally, I don't believe this enterprise will amount to anything but I've been wrong before. DNA was discovered because some scientists knew that, if Darwin was right, there must be a chemical messenger in them dar cells. I wonder how many failed to isolate it and identify it before its discovery was achieved?
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Old 20th February 2007, 10:12 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Dustin View Post
Don't some colleges offer accreditation in "parapsychology"?
I think those are colleges that advertise in the back of Fate magazine.
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Old 20th February 2007, 10:46 PM   #10
Dustin Kesselberg
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Doesn't Cornell and Cambridge offer degrees in parapsychology?
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Old 20th February 2007, 11:46 PM   #11
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Cornell Psychology Professor Daryl Bem says that Cornell doesn't offer parapsychology classes. According to Bem, the only place that really has a full department of parapsychology is the University of Edinburgh in Scotland (a fitting place, close to those castles!). You can phone Professor Bem at 255-6352 if you'd like to talk more about what's available.

Cornell's "Ask Ezra" Feature
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Old 21st February 2007, 12:35 AM   #12
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Disciplines in science build on the finds of those who came earlier. Once a field of knowledge has been established and is agreed to have theories which can predict phenomena, one can call it a discipline. For instance, neurology is a field in which theories concerning the operation of the nervous system have been tested and are said to be predictable. I can call neurology a discipline. Prior to having established knowledge and theories on the subject, the studies of the brain and its functions was not a discipline.

There are no theories which make satisfactory predictions on the existence of fairies. The same for aliens. Therefore SETI cannot be said to be exploring the discipline of xenobiology. Xenobiology, again, is not a discipline (at least not yet).

Parapsychology, therefore, is not a discipline in that there is no estabished field of knowledge or theories which it can be based on. This is not to say one cannot look for ghosts; it must do so, however, within an established field. No discipline is isolated from the rest, afterall. They bud and divide from related disciplines when theories and knowledge accumulates and is evidentially different enough to require its own field.

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Old 21st February 2007, 01:41 AM   #13
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I believe there are parapsychology courses in Edinburgh, Northampton, Liverpool, Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Gothenburg. Whether these are full courses in themselves or part of a psychology course (which it appears to be with Gothenburg) I couldn't say for sure.
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Old 21st February 2007, 01:58 AM   #14
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I would say that the majority of people who call themselves parapsychologists are not scientists, however I would say there is a field of science called parapsychology. As long as the scientific method is being applied correctly to alleged paranormal phenomena, then that is a science. For instance some parapsychological research is done by skeptics like Wiseman and Blackmore; they wouldn't call themselves parapsychologists, but the work they have done is in parapsychology.
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Old 21st February 2007, 02:40 AM   #15
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Parapsychology is at best, a failed science.

There is a subtle point about science that is often overlooked by parapsychologists and pseudo-scientists, that in a real (successful) science, one should observe a "convergence of data".

This is due to the fact that science is rooted in philosophy, and one of those founding philosophies is the notion that the known universe is consistent, that there is but one set of rules governing everything, and that set of rules does not (can not) conflict with itself.

That is why we have convergence of data, and also, as it happens, why you can't just make stuff up and call it science.
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Old 21st February 2007, 02:48 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by osmosis View Post
That is why we have convergence of data, and also, as it happens, why you can't just make stuff up and call it science.
Well, but the point of parapsychology is to investigate into claims of the paranormal and investigate scientifically. It's not "making stuff up".

Like, let's say that you and a group of friends report seeing a ghost in a mansion. Well, okay, I run in and try to repeat the discovery. I cannot.

So I set up equipment to try to find something, and find nothing.

I investigated a claim, followed what they did to get the finding, and found nothing. In the end, it's not a failed science, but a "failed" experiment.

Now, I'm not saying that all parapsychologists do this, and I wouldn't be surprised if only a few did. But the idea of investigating the paranormal, by itself, doesn't seem quite outlandish if there are plenty of claims of the paranormal swarming around. It's about the same as, say, the Mythbusters busting myths, and verifying them as well. The only difference is that you have very few to no actual "hits".
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Old 21st February 2007, 03:24 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Lonewulf View Post
I investigated a claim, followed what they did to get the finding, and found nothing. In the end, it's not a failed science, but a "failed" experiment.
The point of a scientific experiment is to collect and analyse data in order to test an hypothesis.

Good science is about rigorously testing hypotheses. The "success" or "failure" or an experiment should never be defined by whether or not evidence supporting the experimental hypothesis is actually found. Evidence for the null hypothesis is just as important.

Good or bad science is defined by the methods employed, not by the subject matter of study.
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Old 21st February 2007, 03:28 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by Fengirl View Post
The point of a scientific experiment is to collect and analyse data in order to test an hypothesis.

Good science is about rigorously testing hypotheses. The "success" or "failure" or an experiment should never be defined by whether or not evidence supporting the experimental hypothesis is actually found. Evidence for the null hypothesis is just as important.

Good or bad science is defined by the methods employed, not by the subject matter of study.
Which was what I was generally saying, from what I see?
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Old 21st February 2007, 04:17 AM   #19
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With regards to the orginal post - I closely agree with Randi's cited comments.

The thing that differentiates parapsychology from all other sciences is that it does not have replicable effects (that support a PSI hypothesis) for many, if not all, of its claims. That makes it unique.

My take on parapsychology would be as follows. For me I have always divided those areas where people are making 'claims' of special ability (i.e., mediumship / spoon bending / PK / ESP, and so on) and those areas where people make no specific claim of ability, but recount experiences that were odd to them at the time they had them (i.e., OBEs / NDEs / apparitions).

These days I personally am only interested in the latter - and these areas can and should be studied by the mainstream sciences like psychology, neuroscience, etc. So I see what was a big part of the parapsychological landscape being claimed back by science. This leaves only the psychic claimants really as the main thing unique to parapsychology - it is also by far the most controversial.

I also have often seen parapsychology as a kind of pressure-group like say Greenpeace, getting topics on the scientific agenda. I am sure OBE / NDE / apparitional research has been developed sooner, rather than later, due to the efforts of the parapsychologists, even though the most influential theories now are not parapsychological ones.

While I am glad that parapsychology exists, I do not see much merit in any parapsychological hypothesis this field has provided (which supports a paranormal interpretation). Nonetheless, as a philosophical enterprise it has been worthwhile - if only to show why bad ideas dont work
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Old 21st February 2007, 04:30 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by Lonewulf View Post
However, if Parapsychology is a pseudoscience because they haven't had any positive results, then SETI is a pseudoscience as well.
You cannot compare a field of study to a single experiment. SETI is not science or pseudoscience and does not pretend to be. Astrophysics is a science. SETI is just one experiment in the field of astrophysics that may or may not get a positive result. Parapsychology is a pseudoscience because they are unable to show that there is even anything to study. We know there are signals coming to Earth and are able to study them. SETI is simply testing one hypothesis for the possible origin of some of these signals.
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Old 21st February 2007, 05:13 PM   #21
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Lack of results are a drop in the bucket.
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Old 21st February 2007, 07:20 PM   #22
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Could be a pathological science.
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Old 21st February 2007, 07:23 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by Dustin View Post
For those of you who don't know, Parapsychology is the study of things 'supernatural'. Be it Bigfoot, UFOs, Psychics, etc. Parapsychology is the study of all of that.
No it's not! At least I have never found it to be so, unless you are using the very loosest definition in the popular sense. Academic parapsychology tends to be restricted to investigation of the psi hypothesis, survival, GESP etc - the wikipedia article defines it's accepted scope well

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parapsychology

Bigfoot and UFOs??? Nah, someone elses field.

Originally Posted by Dustin View Post
There are many parapsychology organizations including the 'Parapsychological Association' who also happens to be an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science(AAAS). Parapsychology even has it's own journal called the Journal of Scientific Exploration who publishes exclusively paranormal 'studies' relating to ghosts and goblins.
And many more peer reviewed journals - The European Journal of Parapsychology, ( http://ejp.org.uk/ ) and the JSPR and JASPR spring immediately to mind. Just google "Parapsychology Journals" for many more.

British Universities with active postgrad parapsychology research or courses include Edinburgh, Cambridge, Bristol, Coventry, Northampton, Liverpool Hope, and parapsychology is covered in the psychology courses at several more. The information mentioned in the thread about Edinburgh was true in 1981 - they closes there undergraduate course in 1985, all UK parapsychology courses are now postgrad. I can think of two MSc courses running this year off the top of my head.

In the US I have no idea. A list of current research centres can be found here...

http://moebius.psy.ed.ac.uk/~info/ResearchCentres.php3

Hope that helps. I'm not actively involved, but I am aware of the parapsychological community at least in the UK.
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Old 21st February 2007, 08:05 PM   #24
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Peer reviewed journals by a confederation of dunces.
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Old 21st February 2007, 11:55 PM   #25
Dustin Kesselberg
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I see it like this. "ESP", "Telekinesis" and other paranormal phenomenon CAN be studied scientifically. The studies that do study it scientifically and follow the scientific method come to the conclusion ESP and Telekinesis don't exist. The studies that show evidence for their existence are methodologically flawed and thus didn't follow the scientific method. Considering the study of these paranormal phenomenon have yielded no positive results then so called 'parapsychology' can't be called a "field of science" anymore than lamarckism can be called a field of science.

The term "parapsychology" itself does not even make any sense. "Para" is greek for "along side" and then "psychology" is science that deals with mental processes and behavior. Studying the origins of "near death experiences" or purported "psychic phenomenon" etc would fall into the area of neuroscience or neuropsychology. Leaving what for "parapsychology"? Nothing. Parapsychology simply does not fit the definition of a "field of science" by any means. Can paranormal psychological phenomenon be studied scientifically? Sure. Does that mean there can be a whole field of science dedicated to it even though it has produced zero positive results? Definitely not.
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Old 22nd February 2007, 02:15 AM   #26
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Originally Posted by Dustin View Post
The studies that do study it scientifically and follow the scientific method come to the conclusion ESP and Telekinesis don't exist ...Considering the study of these paranormal phenomenon have yielded no positive results then so called 'parapsychology' can't be called a "field of science"
I disagree, slightly. The methods employed determine if it's a science, so it's a science insofar as the players are honest and follow the rules. The lack of results, to my way of thinking, is the clear mark of a failed science, much like string theory.

Originally Posted by Dustin View Post
Can paranormal psychological phenomenon be studied scientifically? Sure. Does that mean there can be a whole field of science dedicated to it even though it has produced zero positive results? Definitely not.
Actually, yes, although I personally wouldn't mind at all if the size of this particular field shrunk to zero.
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Old 22nd February 2007, 04:05 AM   #27
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Originally Posted by osmosis View Post
it's a science insofar as the players are honest and follow the rules.
Pffft.

Maybe a few of them do. Juts look at PEAR to see how the vast majority of them behave. Honesty and science are not a big part of it.

Originally Posted by cj.23 View Post
Bigfoot and UFOs??? Nah, someone elses field.
Technically bigfoot and similar things are cryptozoology, although if they actually existed they would just be regular zoology. Not sure where UFOs come into it, but I suppose they would be part astrophysics and part biology. The fact that people pretending to study them refuse to acknowledge this says an awful lot about how scientific they are.
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Old 22nd February 2007, 08:46 PM   #28
Dustin Kesselberg
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Originally Posted by osmosis View Post
I disagree, slightly. The methods employed determine if it's a science, so it's a science insofar as the players are honest and follow the rules.
You're telling me that parapsychologists are honest?

Originally Posted by osmosis View Post
The lack of results, to my way of thinking, is the clear mark of a failed science, much like string theory.
Now you're comparing Parapsychology to string theory?
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Old 22nd February 2007, 08:56 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by Cuddles View Post
Juts look at PEAR to see how the vast majority of them behave. Honesty and science are not a big part of it.
Can you clarify exactly what you mean by this? What part of PEAR was not honest? (this isn't a loaded question, I am genuinely interested).
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Old 22nd February 2007, 10:55 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by Cuddles View Post
Pffft.

Maybe a few of them do. Juts look at PEAR to see how the vast majority of them behave. Honesty and science are not a big part of it.



Technically bigfoot and similar things are cryptozoology, although if they actually existed they would just be regular zoology. Not sure where UFOs come into it, but I suppose they would be part astrophysics and part biology. The fact that people pretending to study them refuse to acknowledge this says an awful lot about how scientific they are.
I actually spent some time thinking about categorization, and have concluded that the categorization has to focus on the claim being made, rather than the general description of the field.

This is an unconventional approach that I would like to hear feedback about, so lemmiesplain:

If you think Bigfoot is a spiritual being, representing nature's attempt to communicate, then you're making a spiritual claim. If you believe Bigfoot is the result of human collective unconscious, then you are probably making a paranormal claim. If you think it's a primitive hominid, then you're making a cryptozoological claim.

Please see my Skeptical Taxonomy

In any case, if it's refutable (falsifiable) - at least in theory - then its scientific. I'm a bit of a Popperian in this respect.

"What is scientific?" is known as the demarkation question, and making good progress toward resolving this issue is Popper's claim to fame within the Skeptical community.
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Old 22nd February 2007, 10:58 PM   #31
Dustin Kesselberg
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Originally Posted by blutoski View Post

"What is scientific?" is known as the demarkation question, and making good progress toward resolving this issue is Popper's claim to fame within the Skeptical community.
Is it actually falsifiable? How can you falsify the claims that cryptozoologists or parapsychologists make?
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Old 23rd February 2007, 01:10 AM   #32
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Originally Posted by Dustin View Post
You're telling me that parapsychologists are honest?
Er, no. I most definitely did not, and would not, say that.

Originally Posted by Dustin View Post
Now you're comparing Parapsychology to string theory?
Both are failed sciences. So yes, I just compared them.

Last edited by osmosis; 23rd February 2007 at 01:12 AM.
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Old 23rd February 2007, 01:25 AM   #33
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Just echoing alot of sentiments:

It's not what you study, it's how you study it.
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Old 23rd February 2007, 04:01 AM   #34
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Originally Posted by osmosis View Post
Both are failed sciences. So yes, I just compared them.
For goodness sake, what is it people have with string theory. String theory is not a failed science. It hasn't even had the chance to fail yet. String theory makes perfectly good falsifiable predictions. Most of these cannot be tested yet becaues they require higher energies than we can currently produce, but it can and will be tested. This does not mean it is not a science, and it is certainly cannot have failed in any way because it hasn't been tested yet. I think we need to ban people from mentioning strings unless they have, at minimum, a degree in physics.
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Old 23rd February 2007, 04:22 AM   #35
osmosis
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Originally Posted by Cuddles View Post
I think we need to ban people from mentioning strings unless they have, at minimum, a degree in physics.
I disagree. My personal philosophy is to focus on what is being said, rather than who is saying it.

You said that there will be experiments in the future. Just curious, how would you propose we test theories involving more than four dimensions?
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Old 23rd February 2007, 04:30 AM   #36
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Originally Posted by osmosis View Post
...snip...

You said that there will be experiments in the future. Just curious, how would you propose we test theories involving more than four dimensions?
Good article from a couple of years ago - http://www.discover.com/issues/aug-05/cover/
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Old 23rd February 2007, 04:54 AM   #37
Cuddles
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Originally Posted by osmosis View Post
I disagree. My personal philosophy is to focus on what is being said, rather than who is saying it.
I meant that mainly as a joke, but there is some truth in it. Most people's understanding of particle, quantum and high-energy physics comes from reading articles in newspapers and popular magazines, usually written by people who don't really understand it themselves. The reasons it takes a degree, and more, to understand these things is because they are hard to understand. I see people dismissing theories they know virtually nothing about far too often to just let it slide.

Quote:
You said that there will be experiments in the future. Just curious, how would you propose we test theories involving more than four dimensions?
Tevatron, LHC, ILC, LISA and LIGO are the obvious ones that spring to mind. It doesn't matter how many dimensions are proposed, all that matters are the predictions and how we can test them. String theory predicts particular particles with particular properties. If we don't find them, it will be proven wrong, if we do find them it will at least be a strong theory, if we find them but they are not quite right it may still work with some modification.

The important thing to remember is that there is a very big difference between not being able to test something and not be able to test it yet.
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Old 23rd February 2007, 07:04 AM   #38
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Originally Posted by Cuddles View Post
I see people dismissing theories they know virtually nothing about far too often to just let it slide.

Yes I see that as well - happens all the time with reference to parapsychology. The overwhelming majority of parapsychologists are completely honest, and I find the claim they are not bizarre - sure there have been fraudulent biologists, and fraudulent chemists, so what? Mendel cheated - does that discredit genetics? Creationists are not usually used to disparage Biology? This "guilt by association" tactic really does scepticism no favours - neither do juvenile slurs. Where positive results are claimed - respond sceptically - but address the peer reviewed research, as Hyman, FLS and others do, intelligently and with decent critiques, or shut up. Making snide comments is infantile and adds nothing to the debate, and just gives paranormal believers ammunition. I strongly suspect many critics have never actually subscribed to a decent parapsychology journal or even read any of the mainstream research (and I am not talking about PEAR)? I don't think the parapsychologists have proven much, but I don't doubt their integrity in the search.


As to String Theory - I agree. It's speculative, but it can theoretically be tested in the future. It is therefore as valid as say Theology as a discipline.


EDIT: (and that last line was a joke, but as Theology appeals to me, quite high praise really!)
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Old 23rd February 2007, 10:46 AM   #39
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LOL, what cannot be theoretically tested in the future?

"theoretically tested in the future". I'm gonna start using that one.
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Old 23rd February 2007, 07:35 PM   #40
Dustin Kesselberg
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Originally Posted by osmosis View Post


Both are failed sciences. So yes, I just compared them.
String theory is anything but a "failed science".
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