Saturday, July 17, 2010

Improving the scientific method

Dear Friends,

'Improving the scientific method' is a subject I had posted on, in a Discussion Forum. Finding this subject of great relevance for the subject of posture corrections (which is a difficult task indeed), I am posting the same in this blog, for your reading pleasure.

Selvaraj

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PART I

Improving the scientific method


The scientific method is a powerful tool which scientists use to understand a phenomenon. In its simplest and truest form all but one of the variables are kept constant, and the phenomenon is analyzed for changes in this one variable. Unfortunately the scientific method also happens to be the Achilles heel of science.

The weakness with this method is that in a problem having many variables it may not always be possible to fully isolate a particular variable for study. In a complex system it may also prove difficult to identify all the variables.

In general, the scientific method works well in understanding our physical and non-living world; it works poorly when applied to our living world, which by its very nature is very complex. Scientists have worked around this problem by convincing themselves that it is the nonliving world which is important, and by treating the living world as if it were non-living.

The moral dilemma .....

Because the scientific method is not very good in putting things together to create systems which really benefit our environment and humans, our scientists have washed their hands of the whole problem by claiming that moral and ethical issues are not covered by the pursuit and advancement of science. Moral and ethical issues must be handled separately.

We cannot improve the scientific method unless we tackle the moral dilemma first.

Hence we need to first redefine the purpose of science:

Present Definition:

1. Aims to advances knowledge of natural phenomenon.
2. Aims to advance application of science in all its forms - minus any moral and ethical issues that are thrown up by these applications.
3. Aims not to directly involve itself in moral and ethical issues.

Desired Definition:

1. Science is for the benefit of our environment and for the benefit of humans.
2. Aims to advance application of science in all its forms - unless the application is likely to prove detrimental to the interest of our environment and that of humans.
3. Aims to tackle moral and ethical issues concurrently with the advancement of science.


Once we are past this moral dilemma we can try to improve the scientific method. The improvement desired is in creating a methodology to solve complex problems, which lie beyond the pale of current scientific methodology.

PROBLEM SPACE AND SOLUTION SPACE:

This methodology is quite intuitive, but it is desirable that we formalize the method so that all of us can use it as readily as we use the existing scientific method. This method has five steps.

1. Clearly identify the problem we wish to solve.
2. Create a PROBLEM SPACE in a Wen diagram and populate it.
3. Create a SOLUTION SPACE in a Wen diagram.
4. Without delay, start solving the problem by transferring as many issues as possible from the PROBLEM SPACE to the SOLUTION SPACE.
5. Hopefully, as items are transferred from the PROBLEM SPACE to the SOLUTION SPACE, at some point the problem should get solved.

Let's try out this method to solve a problem .......

Problem: A person's expenses greatly exceeds his income.

PROBLEM SPACE:
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*....Job is low paying ........ Drinks too much ..........*
*.........................................................................*
*.........................low level of qualification ..............*
*.......... Inadequate sleep .....................................*
*...........................................Poor budgeting ........*
*............To much eating out (expensive) ................*
*.... Too many children (no family planning) ............*
*..........................................................................*
*.......Too many loans ...........................................*
*..........................................................................*
*************************************************************

SOLUTION SPACE

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*..........................................................................*
*..........................................................................*
*..........................................................................*
*..........................(Empty at start).........................*
*..........................................................................*
*..........................................................................*
*..........................................................................*
*..........................................................................*
*..........................................................................*
*..........................................................................*
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The advantages with this method:

1. It does not depend on genius insight.
2. The more the number of items in PROBLEM SPACE, the more difficult it is to solve the problem. So it is important to depopulate it as soon as possible. Problems will interact with one another; for instance if the person drinks too much or sleep too little, it may have a bearing on other problems too.

No of problems .................... Degree of interaction
One ...........................................Nil
Two .......................................... Two ( Problem A can interact with B and B with A)
Three ....................................... Six

Even removal of one problem decreases the overall problem geometrically!! So one should not wait for genius insight before beginning to solve problems.
3. In the process of solving the problem one is likely to get more insight, and one may add a problem in PROBLEM SPACE that he may have overlooked.
4. All the problems are visible at all times (very important). One does not underplay a problem just because it is convenient to do so.

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The above example is a simple one, we will examine two, more complex examples:

1. Solving the problem of Global Warming.
2. My experience in solving the problem of 'Posture' over a period of 35 years - a case study.

Selvaraj

To be continued

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PART I .... Problem Space - Solution Space
PART II ... Elements linked in series
PART III ... The Yin and Yang approach
PART IV ... Knowledge Economy - Market Economy
PART V ... Reductionism / Holism
PART VI ... Untying the Gordion Knot
PART VII .... Starting with a blank sheet of paper
PART VIII ..... Change is difficult
PART IX .... Simultaneous equations
PART X .... A Story
PART XI ... The Word that frightens Humanity

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PART II (Posted on 14/7/2013)
Elements linked in series:

Dear All,

A method to improve the scientific method was posted by me in this group and later incorporated as a blog: http://www.improvingthescientificmethod.blogspot.com/

The above method calls for identifying a 'Problem Space' (where problems are identified) and then systematically progressing to populating a 'Solution Space'. The assumption made in this model is that as we make more number of issues less-critical we will stabilise the system and make it stronger.

A refinement to the above model will be to assume that all the elements are linked in series. When such an assumption is made it becomes obvious that the system as a whole will be no stronger than the weakest link.

 LINK-link-LINK-link-LINK-LINK

The weakness with the earlier model is that we could become complacent and end up delaying acting on individual issues, which as we can observe from the 'chain model' will compromise the system.

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The chain model I am certain is applicable to the problem of 'posture'. The weakness exposed by this model could explain why we have not been able to solve this problem in many thousands of years.

(I would urge the public in this connection to play close attention of the attire of young children - belts, elastic, nappies, shoes. It is worth keeping in mind that this is also the stage in which rapid development of the brain takes place. Do we wish to put children under this unnatural stress during this critical phase?)

Clearly this method will also be invaluable in making us less complacent about our environmental issues. 

Regards,
Selvaraj

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PART III (Posted on 02/10/10)
The Yin and Yang approach:

Improving the scientific method - continued 2 (The yin and the yang approach)

In the earlier post we looked at the limitations of equations in defining a phenomenon in terms of its dependent variables, and suggested a method of characterising a problem (phenomenon) in terms of 'problem space' and 'solution space'.

Here we suggest one more tool to improve the scientific method, which once again goes against the grains of the 'equation method' of solving problems - let's call this the yin and the yang approach.

As scientists most of us may think that there is a unique way of defining and characterizing a problem, and then coming to an exact solution for the problem. Strangely enough this is not true even in 'hard' science, much less in sciences related to our natural environment and human nature.

The clearest example of this duality is in characterizing the property of light, which is visualized as both having the nature of a wave and that of a particle.....

The Wave-Particle Duality


A particle on the classical view is a concentration of energy and other properties in space and time, whereas a wave is spread out over a larger region of space and time. The question whether light are streams of particles (corpuscles) or waves is a very old one. This "either - or"formulation was classically natural and alien to the advanced "both - and" even the "neither - nor" solution of today.

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When we see the intellectual climate today, it is very clear that our leaders have walked into a thought trap. This applies to our scientific, engineering, religious, political and educational leadership. And they are so tightly locked in a wedge that there is little likelihood that they will be able to work themselves loose in the immediate future. We are missing out on the great strides we could be making in all the sciences by examining all the dualities.
Some of the duality we should be looking at are:
- Science from the view point of a mechanist approach (our Nobel Prizes basically support this viewpoint) / Science from the viewpoint of a greater intelligence embedded in Nature.
- The search of humans for greater comfort / The basic needs of humans that are very similar to that of animals.
- A market economy based on the mass production of goods (ignoring the need for endless amounts of raw material and energy) / An economy, an engineering and a social approach, where we economize on the use of raw materials, emphasizing reuse and recycling.
- The quest for efficiency to improve productivity / The basic need of humans to do jobs that are mentally and physically stimulating.
- An environment where Nature is excluded / an environment built around Nature
etc.
One of the big problems is, how do we implement this duality? Does the yin and yang concept attempt to harmonize differences? My suggestion would be, at least in the conceptualization phase to draw a sharp line and treat the two separately. For example business magazines should split their presentation in half. In one half let them discuss the market economy as is, in the other half present an economic model which is driven by a deep concern for the environment. This is better than shedding copious amount of crocodile tears expressing concern for the environment when there is no basic change in anything.
Selvaraj


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PART IV (Posted on 29/4/11)
Knowledge economy / Market economy


KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY


IDEALS ----> knowledge generation -----> well informed media ------> well informed populace ------> Market economy







MARKET ECONOMY:



MARKET ECONOMY -----> knowledge generation ------> information filtered by media ------> poorly informed public (enslaved by market economy)





Following the 'wisdom' of The Market Economy blindly explains how the situation on our planet has spun out of control, in terms of degradation of our natural environment, excess human population, meaningless consumption, very poor and dubious advancement of the life sciences etc.





Selvaraj

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PART V (Posted on 31/12/2013)
REDUCTIONISM / HOLISM 


(Reply to a comment made in another forum)

.. Some phenomena can be reduced to other phenomena and some can’t. If science is the search for truth, it has to recognise that, and many scientists do...

It would be interesting to know of a complex phenomenon that can't be reduced to simpler phenomenon. True, when discussing something like Life we find that the whole is more (much more) than the sum of its parts. Even a motor car can be said to be more than the sum of its parts, since a car will take you places, a gear box by itself will not take you anywhere. 

From a practical point of view however it is better to view reductionism and holism as being complimentary.

Part 1 + Part 2 + Part 3 ... <===> THE ASSEMBLED COMPONENT

It is easy to see how this is so in a mechanical device. We may wax poetic on the beauty of a car and most people need not know what is inside a car, but if the car refuses to budge we will have no option but to deal with the parts.

Perhaps the lack of progress in understanding postural issues is entirely due to the belief that reductionist approach will not work. (I have long been puzzled that people do not care to break the overall problem into simpler parts).


Science I am afraid is not simply the search for truth (I too believed this once upon a time). Science is practised by humans and is subject to all human frailties. Modern science is also heavily manipulated by our economic system. Those who control the flow of money also control the kind of science that is done. (For instance the lack of progress in the field of human psychology since Sigmund Freud is surprising; it is however not surprising when you realise that any advance in the understanding of human psychology would have been counterproductive for our market based economy).
Regards,
Selvaraj

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PART VI (Posted on 23/4/2015)
Untying the Gordion Knot:


Many problems we face as a society are very complex. They have a number of variables, and cannot be solved easily. In a chain the weakest link will define the strength of the whole system:

 LINK - link - LINK - LINK - link - LINK

It may not be easy however to identify the weakest link, so how do we proceed? I have two important problems in mind in entering this discussion:

1. The problem of good posture, which I have been trying to understand for a long time, which obviously, humans have been trying to understand for tens of thousands of years - with very limited success.

2. The issues we face in terms of our environment, the issues of sustainability, diminishing resources, Global Warming, population growth, etc., for which as yet we do not have a viable plan of action; indeed as a society, to a large extent, we are in denial that these problems even exist.

The first step in solving any problem is to acknowledge that a problem exists. Yet, it appears to be human nature that we deny that a problem exists unless we see light at the  end of the tunnel. Yet how do we see the light at the end of the tunnel unless we move in a direction that will at least ameliorate the problem?

A simple and straightforward strategy to untangle a problem is to follow the same procedure we would follow in untangling a complex knot. The knotting of a rope will occur in layers and we will intuitively untangle at the top most, most visible layer first; once the top most layer is disentangled we will get better insight into what lies underneath, which we will proceed to deal with. In other words, we should not shy away from implementing obvious solutions to problems.

We can make substantial progress by implementing the most obvious solutions first. Without disentangling the topmost layer of a knot we cannot hope to deal with the problems hidden underneath. The solution gets simplified and we move into action fast; without endless debate to understand a problem fully, when we can only understand it fully when we start to act.

Regards,
Selvaraj

To be continued ... Starting with a blank sheet of paper.

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 PART VII (Posted on 14/5/2015)
Starting with a blank sheet of paper:


Scientists believe that humans and Chimpanzees evolved into their present form from common ancestors who lived five million years back. It is true that we must respect our ancestors, but we would not turn to our five million old ancestors for advise on say environmental issues or how to launch a  rocket to the Moon.  
We inherit from our ancestors our genetic makeup (over which we have no control), we also inherit from them our customs, traditions, attitudes and scientific (or nonscientific) knowledge, etc., which potentially could be altered in the cold light of reason.
To what extent are we shackled because it is very difficult for us to question or debate our heritage?
A few examples:
1. Our religious heritage appears more to divide us than to unite. While  religion has been a strong glue which has held societies together in their unique environmental, economic and cultural settings, they seem at times to come in violent  conflict when people of different religious groups get mixed together. Even denominations of the same religion have fought or are fighting tooth and nail against one another, like the Catholic/Protestant rivalry earlier and the deadly Sunni/Shia conflict that is in progress.
When human societies worldwide have enough problems to contend with, our inability to rethink our religious differences, in a world which if it survives, is likely to be unipolar in say 200 years time, is a serious hangover.
2. One would think that with the advancement of science we would jettison some of our archaic ideas and move to a more enlightened future. Yet this does not appear to be the case. Even educated people appear to be disinterested in scientific issues. Science itself appears no less parochial than Religions. The most 'scientific' nation on Earth, appears to think that it is on a separate planet and largely makes use of science to promote its own interests.
3. We also have science without thought. Even as we carry out massive industrialisation we do not wish to discuss or take action on concomitant environmental and sustainability issues, just because such concern were not there in the past.

4. Finally coming to the postural problem that I am trying to make sense of, which our forefathers were not able to solve, modern science is still to even acknowledge that there is a problem. Even to acknowledge that there is huge distortion of the body due to this problem. (When I point out in casual discussion that footwear and tying things around the waist will distort the system, I am  asked to prove that such distortion is problematic. (There is no necessity for them to prove that the same will not be problematic - after all they have the weight of numbers behind them). 

In solving serious problems it is necessary to start with a blank sheet of paper and discuss issues without preconceived ideas and prejudices, which will likely send us on a wild goose chase. The claims of 'traditional knowledge' must be supported by reasoned logic.
Regards,
Selvaraj

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PART VIII (Posted on 29/8/2015)
Change is difficult:


Many people  assume that if there are major problems in a design, there is no need to review the whole system, a few minor tweaks should solve the problem. This assumption is untrue.
Those of us who have got involved in design activities might have discovered this already, how sensitive designs are to specific design inputs. A small change in one parameter may require complete redesign of the system! The inputs to a design don't stand on separate legs, together they form an ecosystem, enmeshed and twisted together. It may be difficult to remove critical strands without affecting the entire ecosystem.
Hence major changes in system design will require complete change of ecosystems. Crossing over from one ecosystem to another will also require leaping across a CHASM (in space - time) as the two ecosystems are likely to be incompatible with one another.


************........CHASM.....*************
**Eco******..........................***Eco****
**System**..........................**System*
***One*****..........................**Two*****
*************..........................************
*************..........................************
****************************************

Where designers are not alert they may have to pay many years later with design goals not being achieved and waste of money, time and opportunities. A good example that comes to mind is the design of the Space Shuttle, which failed to meet its design objectives and is now scrapped.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_the_Space_Shuttle_program
Working within closed boundaries, with highly qualified professionals, NASA and similar professional organisations have the capacity to recover. What if, however, design is on a global scale, where usage has developed over decades, where there are many power centres, is it possible to stop wrong moves in time before problems balloon to gargantuan proportions, going beyond anyone's ability to control or ameliorate. Some of the problems we now face, like Global Warming, species extinction, environment degradation and resources depletion appear to fall in this category. Is there a practical approach to solving these problems? A practical way to leap across the CHASM from one ecosystem to another?
... I have a special interest in problems of this nature since I see the Postural Problem that I am interested in falling in this categorie.
In my website 'Improving the scientific method' I have tried to visualise possible approaches to solving such problems. Here I would like to add that solving problems on a global scale also requires that we are able to convince everyone that a solution exists. Quoting Ayn Rand:

"Ideas cannot be fought except by means of better ideas. The battle consists, not of opposing, but of exposing; not of denouncing, but of disproving; not of evading, but of boldly proclaiming a full, consistent, and radical alternative." —Ayn Rand
Regards,
Selvaraj

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PART IX (Posted on 25/6/2016)
Simultaneous equations, a tool to plan our future.

As we see from the below mentioned example, maths is not just science, it is also philosophy.

Another example would be, the use of simultaneous equations. Take as an example the problem of defining a circle that passes through the co-ordinates (A) x1,y1; (B) x2,y2; (C) x3,y3 in a two dimensional plane. The solution to this problem is obtained by finding the equations of the perpendicular bisectors of lines joining points A and B; and points B and C, and finding out where these two lines intersect, which will give us the centre of the circle we are looking for.
With the help of simultaneous equations we find the optimum values that parameters should have in order to achieve a certain ideal. What is indispensable in using this powerful tool is to first acknowledge that the ideal we seek is dependent on the variables x, y, z (however painful it may be to acknowledge the same). Unfortunately it is human nature to play down variables that we would not like to acknowledge in order to protect our short term interests.
A very simple model which highlights the human dilemma is to represent the three points in the above example as:
A - Human welfare
B - Science and Technology
C - Nature
There is evident link between the three. Yet we find highly educated economists turning a blind eye to this fact. There is a huge hullabaloo about STEM education in USA (and worldwide), does STEM education take into account this fact?
Selvaraj

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IIT Global Current Affairs : Limit analysis, a tool to plan our future (Improving the scientific method - continued)

On 22 May 2016 at 11:55, sraj sraj99@gmail.com [IIT-Global] <IIT-Global@yahoogroups.com> wrote:
 
Dear All,
With the advent of robots, smart machines and artificial intelligence on the one hand and the prospect of humans being snuffed out completely due to environmental issues such as resource depletion, global warming, (and technology related sedentary lifestyles), etc., we are forced to wonder what the future will be like. Do we have to accept whatever fate may have in store for us, or can we actively fashion a brighter future for ourselves.
We need proper tools to visualise the options available to us, so that we can consciously decide where on the graph we should position ourselves.
A powerful tool is available to us from Calculus which we can utilise for this purpose - the tool of limit analysis. In Calculus the two limits that are usually calculated for a function y, dependent on the  variable x, is the values y can take as x is taken from the limit zero at one end of the scale to the limit infinity at the other end.
In planning our collective future we will consider y to represent outcomes and x to represent technological advances:
I-----------------------------*--------------I
0...............(x)Technology-->........Infinity
(Back to ................................... (No need
the caves)...................................for humans?)
At one end of the scale when use of technology is reduced, we end up back in the caves. At the other end of the scale with extensive automation, humans need not move or think; do humans then remain viable entities?
Evidently we need to find a sweet spot, keeping in mind the fact that human intelligence probably peaked in the hunter gatherer stage and no matter how technologically smart we become, we are in no position to replicate Nature with our technology.
.... to be continued.
Selvaraj

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PART X (Posted on 13/10/ 2016)
A Story


​..
Moral of the story: we may be dangerously off track, people (including experts) may not be prepared to acknowledge it.
Selvaraj​

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PART XI (Posted on 15/3/ 2017)
The word that frightens humanity

Dear All,

There is a word that frightens the whole of humanity (can you guess which word it is?)
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A word that brings beads of sweat on the brows of our scientists.
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A word that our engineers hate.
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Yes, even our religions hate this word.
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A word that strangely enough has been hated by humans since antiquity. So this hate is not really the outcome of modern science.
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Why does this word send cold shivers down the spine of our scientists and engineers? Because our scientists and engineers have to do endless research, attend endless conferences to produce the simplest gadget, yet this entity has produced much more complex systems without writing a single equation.
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Why this hate? When you see a  source of knowledge, you adopt it. You make it a part of your knowledge base. Yet this is not the course adopted by our scientists and engineers! This is strange because if this entity were not there we would all be dead.
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Our religions have very smartly substituted this entity for something else, so that they do not have to confront this issue.
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Yet we could make tremendous social and scientific progress (and even improve human health) if we could respect this knowledge base, which should probably be given a weightage of 95% as compared with 5% for human knowledge base.
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Have you now guessed what that word (entity) is?
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Yes, Nature. It is wrong to think that our forebears were 'Nature Centered'. They were not. The attitude of our forebears can be summarised by what is written in the Genesis section of the Christian Bible, this will roughly reflect the attitude of other religions too:
1.28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Unfortunately our scientists and engineers have made a serious blunder, a hundred years back we should have changed our developmental paradigms and made it Nature centred. We must realise that such a change in the thinking of humans will be an 'evolutionary change', change brought about by better understanding of science.
Scientists and Engineers, I know are going to protest and point to the 'great' scientific progress we have made so far. I beg to disagree. If our Science and Engineering had been Nature centered we would have made greater progress, we might even have had humans living on The Moon and Mars by now.
The big question now is how do we shift to a Nature centered paradigm after five million years of human evolution, any overt move in this direction will evidently be shot down by all human institutions, working in tandem.
Regards,
Selvaraj

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