lördag 7 mars 2015

Animals can follow rules, so rules do not define science

It is often claimed that science is defined by formally correct manipulation of (usually mathematical) symbols according to rules, and that thinking about actual content is not relevant. However, there is evidence that animals can manipulate symbols formally correctly without understanding what they mean. Baboons can distinguish correctly spelled words from misspelled ones without understanding their meaning. Keas (a type of parrot from New Zealand) and some relatives of crows can evidently learn formal syntactic structures. Apes and dolphins are known to have learned to use symbols they do not use in the wild. Comparably in a way relevant to math, some human tribes do not use numbers even though they can learn it. So there is no human/animal distinction in formal number manipulation. While animals can only meaningfully count so far, their ability to formally correctly manipulate symbols they do not understand in meaning debunks any relevance of that limitation to formally correct rule following. So if the "follow those rules and you do science" adage was correct, there would have been nonhuman animals doing science. The absence of them shows that science is about that understanding of content that is so phanatically dismissed as irrelevant by academia.

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