Question about unconditional predictions

Reply Fri 16 May, 2008 12:56 pm
I was reading the Stanford Encyclopedia entry on Karl Popper. Coming to Section 7 (Scientific Knowledge, History, and Prediction)

Karl Popper (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

one is introduced to conditional and unconditional predictions. I thought I understood the distinction, but the given explanation confused me.

A conditional prediction is: If X happens, then Y will happen.

An unconditional prediction is: Y will happen.

The statement is that unconditional scientific predictions can occur by connecting preconditions to an existential statement. In many ways, that seems like going back to "if x, then y", so I don't see the difference.

I could speculate on the addition of the "existential" qualifier - that unconditional predictions are resorting to induction or anecdote, i.e., non-falsifiable preconditions.

But then the example of eclipses and comets are used as an unconditional prediction. How are they unconditional? If the orbit of a comet has x elliptical orbit, it will pass earth at y time.

Or do they mean the superstitious predictions of doom associated with comets? But then that wouldn't be scientific.

Help. I'm confused.
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Reply Fri 16 May, 2008 04:53 pm
@Resha Caner,
Hi Resha, Smile

I think you had the right idea at first. You just do not understand the idea of reality Karl Popper uses. The examples given are examples Immanuel kant uses in his "Kritik der reinen Vernunft". Kant's ontological model is one consisting of three "levels". The ontological levels are empiricism, metaphysics and transcendentality. The way humans percieve things is not what in reality takes place. That is why empiricsim is not equal to transcendentality. Our metaphysical reasonings are part of the reason why what we percieve differs from the thing-in-itself.

In our reason causality exists so Kant raises the question if causality exists in reality or just in our reason. Is it not true that a comet flies by all on its own? Kant's model of actuality is one that simnply exists and needs no cause. Only human reason needs cause.

So x-->y is a conditional formula and P (the comet flying) is unconditional. That you would think F-->P (on time F P flies by) is merely in your head. The reality is that it flies.

I hope this clarifies something.

Resha Caner
Reply Sat 17 May, 2008 12:24 pm
I have a vague idea of what you're saying, but I'm still struggling.

If the example of the comet is just that - an example - are there any scientific predictions that are properly conditional? Or, does it follow that all are, in fact, unconditional?

I can see that in the extremities, but don't feel it's necessary to press the point too hard. I've always held that all human systems (whether scientific or not) begin with an assumption, which is akin to an unconditional prediction. But that must be coupled with some common sense for specific problems or it leads to paralysis.

It means, technically, no purely conditional predictions can ever be made. It boils down to the same old "we can't know anything." I think that's one of the accusations leveled against Popper, isn't it? That his philosophy ends up saying science cannot create knowledge.

IMO Popper's ideas are very appealing, and the polemics against him are a bit anal.

But, I don't think I could make anything stand in a debate because I have yet to grasp certain nuances.

Thanks for the help. I'll keep mulling this over.
Reply Sat 17 May, 2008 05:24 pm
@Resha Caner,
Resha Caner, Smile

Before you ponder further:

If the example of the comet is just that - an example - are there any scientific predictions that are properly conditional? Or, does it follow that all are, in fact, unconditional?

Scientific conditionals are usually conditional because they are derived from our minds. The theory states (as does Popper) that things that exist need no cause. Causae merely exist in our reasonings. It basically comes down to the same point that you are making about human systems starting with assumptions.

If you have any questions: shoot; I'll do my best to answer them. Smile
Resha Caner
Reply Sat 17 May, 2008 07:54 pm
Thanks. I think I'm good for now. I need to go back and finish the Stanford article on Popper before I move on.

I will say this one thing. As a practicing engineer (been at it for almost 19 years) I alternate between amazement at what gray beard empiricists can accomplish and despair over the total lack of appreciation for the philosophy that underlies our methods. In reading Popper I can recall instances where our failures seem to reinforce his philosophy of science.

Reply Sun 18 May, 2008 02:43 am
@Resha Caner,
If you are referring to the differences between empiricism and rationalism I completely agree. Empiricists seem to be lost in more ways then I can begin to describe. The funniest thing is that the same difference occurs everywhere: ethics, ontology, math, etc, etc. Smile
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