Dialog on list

Daniel Aronson (dacce@world.std.com)
Sun, 20 Nov 1994 16:41:06 +0001 (EST)

I haven't said much to this point, but I felt the need to say that I am
uncomfortable with the tone of a few messages posted to this board. Some of
the comments about Tony Robbins seem to me to be important points being
phrased in ways that produce defensive reactions rather than thoughtful
consideration of what we can learn from them. It seems to me that asking
for evidence in support of Mr. Robbins' claims is a perfectly valid
request (I too am familiar with Mr. Robbins' work and am not fully
convinced that its value is equal to his claims for it), but the absence
of complete, direct evidence for a theory is not, in itself, a valid
reason to not analyze it (and perhaps learn from it) further. Even if
the theory is not correct, it might contain something of use, or prompt a
useful change in direction for other theories. Thus the lack of initial
experimental utility for imaginary numbers did not lead to their being
discarded (precluding later discovery of uses for them in aeronautics); and,
in the same vein, although the controlled studies we have show
no significant curative value for Freudian psychoanalysis (compared
with control groups), its propagation of the notion of unconscious
activity has proved useful in the development of schema theory in
cognitive psychology (the explanatory power of which has been
experimentally verified over the past 20 years).
Thus the notion of an unconscious has been useful scientifically, even if
its original Freudian form has not been experimentally supported.
I would therefore hope that we can search for value in positions that
are different from our own, because, I believe, there is often value
there to find if we look. In this search, asking for experimental
evidence can be of great utility, and so can considering propositions
that are unsupported by evidence (either temporarily or permanently) but
might produce thoughts that can be of value.
In my class on epistemology & critical thinking skills, I taught
my students that one learns more from considering opinions different from
one's own as *allies* in helping to generate an improved understanding of
reality. Theoretical physicists and experimental physicists often
consider themselves adversaries - experimental physicists often try to
conduct experiments that disprove the theories of theoretical physicists -
but from the perspective of science *as a whole* they are allies in
developing, refining, and challenging our understanding of the universe.
I think we can benefit from responding to differing opinions in that vein.

Daniel Aronson

P.S.: It seems questions of utility and evidence are not restricted to
the "soft" sciences: Recent observations from the repaired Hubble
telescope seem to provide data that would make the oldest stars older
than the accepted age of the universe, according to the accepted methods
for determining those ages. Some think this means that it is time for a new
theory, and others that the data is wrong or incomplete.