Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Interpretations And Data

Right way to analyse a phenomenon:
Here's some data, how shall we interpret it?

Wrong way to analyse a phenomenon:
Here's my interpretation, why do you deny the data?

Too often I see people taking the data and interpretation as if one implied the other. Take near death experiences, for example. If someone thinks that near-death experiences mean that the mind and body are literally separated, then all they've done is taken their interpretation of near-death experiences as being proof of something that's not so. Near-death experiences may well fit into a physical model, after all the experiences don't show that the physical wasn't involved.

Another example is fine-tuning. If there is only a certain range of parameters in the universe that allow for our existence, does that mean that the laws of physics were made for our existence? Of course not. But the interpretation of the extreme improbability is so often put alongside the data as if one implied the other. And again, those who are sceptical are put into a false dichotomy of either denying the phenomenon or accepting the interpretation of it.

Standing back and thinking whether or not the interpretation holds or if its the only interpretation is what's needed. Near-death experiences for example might mean dualism, but that has further implications for mind and body and need to be explored elsewhere. Fine-tuning for us also holds for ants and asteroids, so perhaps the interpretation that it means the universe was created for us isn't so tightly coupled as some make fine-tuning out to be.

The mistake is best highlighted by thinking that the tooth fairy as visited because one's tooth has gone and money has been left in its place. Just because people say that's what tooth fairies do...

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