Is a surprised sheep a scientist?

Avatar Image
blinkyblinky | 07:58 Tue 25th Oct 2005 | Science
31 Answers
This question came up in another thread but only got one answer, which I don't think was complete (apologies to mib). It would be nice to hear other opinions.

The idea came from the typical religion/faith v. science/reason opposition. Various posters were saying things like religion relies on faith and cannot be logically verified whereas scientists rely on logic, etc etc.

So if the sun didn't rise tomorrow morning, I think a sheep would feel surprised. Why would it be surprised? - Because the sheep has always observed the sun rising, every morning of its life. Is the sheep's surprise based on faith ("I have faith that this morning will be like other mornings") or is the sheep doing science, ie it has made observations about the world in the past (the sun rises every day) and it is using those observations to predict the future in a rational way? What's the difference?


1 to 20 of 31rss feed

1 2 Next Last

Best Answer

No best answer has yet been selected by blinkyblinky. Once a best answer has been selected, it will be shown here.

For more on marking an answer as the "Best Answer", please visit our FAQ.

Because the sheep's "faith" is based on common experience as experienced routinely by itself and other sheep.

Belief in afterlife, pixies or whatever is based on wishfull thinking.

If every morning we could all look up and see the dead waving down to us it would be like the sheep seeing the sunrise and this thread would not have been posted

Question Author
If one day the sky ripped apart and you saw the dead waving down to you (a great image by the way) would you then believe that there was an afterlife? Why would this have to happen every day for you to believe in it? Wouldn't once be enough? Does repetition make things more true in some way? If I repeatedly see pink elephants crawling over my walls, does the repetition reinforce the reality? You were only born once, there is only one Taj mahal, but presumably you still believe in these things.

Up until the 18th Century, Europeans had only ever seen white swans. Therefore they reasoned that all swans were white. Were they right to believe this? Do non-christians have reason on their side when they declare that belief in God is an irrational belief? If we had lived in the 18th Century, and you said that there was no such thing as a black swan, and I said that there was, who would have been right, rational you or irrational me? Who says God isn't a black swan?
If the sun doesn't rise to-morrow, the thoughts of a sheep will the least of ma concerns.........

The sheep has neither faith nor science, it just has habit so the sheep would just think it was still night. People in their everyday lives would not think about the sun rising unless it didn't rise, then they would ask themselves why? People given to reason would look for a reason why the sun didn't rise based on economy of explanation and a falsifiable hypothesis. They would also try to predict whether the change was permanent. People of faith would quite possibly also look for reasons and solutions using the scientific method but would also pray for some kind of inspiration or protection. Organised religion would most probably offer to give answers in return for money.


Sciense is based on observation, religion is based on... believing what people say.
So I suppose in this example sheep are doing science rather than religion.

I don't see why you ask all those questions in your other message... No, we don't need to see things several times to believe in them, but why do you ask that? it's got nothing to do with your first question or with answers... so what are you trying to say? You seem to be mixing things up a bit.

Now there is another interesting animal behaviour that I heard about:
Now, that is more religion than science, because the monkeys have no idea why they behave like that, apart from "that's the way other monkeys do it, so I do it". They don't know what they're trying to prevent, they never experienced it.

Blinkies point about black swans is a good one but it hinges on extrordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence.

The suggestion of a black swan is an ordinary claim - it doesn't involve any overturning of received wisdom. So If I were to say to you there was a new species of howler monkey discovered that had zebra stripes. I could show a few photographs or film and it would be generally accepted.

If I said a Tyranasaurus had been discovered alive in the Brazillian jungles a few 'photos wouldn't be sufficient proof. Such a discovery would overturn rules about the sort of area that such an animal would need to survive and a whole host of other knowlege.

This is why religous people tend to believe concepts of the soul, heaven and hell etc. It's because to their way of thinking these are not extraordinary claims and do not require such a high level of proof.

The important question in any issue is exactly what the level of proof should be. Personally my problem with any religion is the immortal soul. This seems to be pretty much a defining characteristic of religion. Proof of the existance of the soul would be necessary for me to take religion seriously and that would have to be a lot more compelling than weighing somebody before and after death!

now that this question has been answered properly (to my understanding at least) can i just say how amusing the thought of a surprised sheep is? just trying to picture the confused look on its wee face!
Question Author
Space - the reason for the questions was in response to Jake's post that he would believe in heaven if he saw it every day. I was wondering why repeated instances were necessary.

I've been reading up on this a bit. It seems that inductive logic always involves a leap of faith - you may see A followed by B a million times (eg morning followed by sunrise) but you can never know that there is a necessary connection between the two things. Inductive knowledge, on which science is built, is based on faith that the future will resemble the past (eg if I hit one billiard ball against another, it will behave in the same way as it has done a million times before.) David Hume thought that causality can never be observed, and Kant thought that causality is actually a concept that the mind imposes on the world, not something objectively contained in the world itself (as I understand it).

Thanks for your answers.
But surely Blinky, in your role of DA, you would admit that until A does something different there is no reason to suppose that B would be any different? Until the sun doesn't rise, why is there any reason to suppose that it won't, or it will perform cartwheels, or it will explode, or it will dance the charleston?

Why would there be any reason for Europeans to suppose black swans? My imagination runs rife - is what I think about to happen because I can envisage it? The physical world is our only reference point beyond the introspective because we experience it in common with all. Our brain instinctively seeks patterns - to deny this despite the evidence we are confronted with contains dangers all of its own.
I remember once looking into a cows eyes and wondering what were her thoughts as she chewed her cud. After a disappointing hour or so, I gave up on my quest to form some kind of intellectual exchange with this creature. I have since learned that a conceptual level of consciousness is required to grasp ideas as complex as, �So, what is on your mind?� or �How many peoples faith is required to persuade the sun to rise again tomorrow?�
I have also since learned that it is common to attribute human characteristics to both animate and inanimate objects. What interesting conversations we could have with geology, vegetation, or atomic particles if this were possible. Unfortunately, conversations with other species are very limited to impossible because of the complexity of language necessary to form the concepts needed for this level of communication; (this is not to say that our favorite pet may not be trying very hard to do this if for no other reason than to please us).
These complexities were not always known to us as we had to first develop a level of conceptual ability to arrive at these conclusions. Whether earlier forms of our species had more success with this than those of us �trapped� by this knowledge may be debatable, but I doubt that it would compete with our present methods for comprehending reality.
Nevertheless, I have found this thread interesting and thought provoking. Thanks for all the Q&A�s!

PS: Don�t believe everything every Kant, Hume, or mibn2cweus for that matter says is true, no matter how many people believe them. If I were blind, I would still trust my own eyes more than something I did not understand.
Hint 1: In order for causality to be observed one must first cause ones eyes to open long enough to look around and see what is going on out there.
Hint 2: The only causality Kant�s mind imposes upon the world is the flapping of his jaw.
Question Author
I've just done a big post in the "My dog my dog..." thread and I'm a bit intellectually knackered and pushed for time now, so just a quick post here, even though your replies are really thought-provoking and deserve more of a response...

"open your eyes and see what is going on out there"

I open my eyes and see a yellow banana. But science (no less!) tells me that yellow isn't "out there", it's in here (a subjective experience in my brain). Aaaargh

Have you noticed that the flesh of a banana is not yellow, it's some kind of light grey with a hint of yellow,
yet whenever you buy some processed food containing banana, it's loaded with bright yellow color additives, because that's what people think the banana flesh color is.
People are so weird. They prefer to beleive artificial stuff rather than what they see with their own eyes.

If I'm hungry for a banana I'm going for the yellow, (as opposed to the green, brown, red, purple), banana every time. If, (for whatever reason), you need more evidence you can get a spectral analysis to get a more precise account of what wavelengths/frequencies are contributing to this apparent colour. But in the meantime don't forget to eat something. In the final analysis it�s all about living.
How can the sheep think anything when it hasn't got a language to think in?

Everything is the way you perceive it to be. Why is a red rose red? Some will simply say because it is (naive realists). Others (sophisticated realists) will say: "photons (light rays) are absorbed the outer energy shells of the atoms of the petals of the rose, and a photon of different frequency is emitted and this goes into my eye through my pupil and it is absorbed by my retina which sends an electrical impulse to my brain, which processes this - ultimately I sense a colour with which I associate the word red".

But this isn't universal, some people are colour blind and will see different colours, even those who aren't will see different colours to each other given that their eyes are different. And what about blind people, they can't see the rose so is it still red? And what if the rose is hidden and has never been seen, touched etc. (perceived) by any - is it still red? Is it still a rose?

Everything is the way we believe it to be (usually based on perception). Even science. Scientific theories may seem logical, but if the same scrutiny is applied to each componenent, the same conclusions are reached. I suggest that anyone who is interested researches the philosospy of knowledge.

Everything we know is based on perception and belief, but these two factors can be independent of each other. If a magician performs an illusion, for example pulling a rabbit out of an apparently empty hat, that is what you will have apparently seen, but you will not believe it. This is due to your personal logic. Similarly, one can believe in God, without perceiving him; through logic. Having looked into various scientific fields like quantum physics, my personal logic dictates that the intricacies of the world can only be explained by the existence of a supreme being.


When your survival technique is eat, get some, crap, sleep, I do not think a great deal of thought is necessary. They simply carry out their evolutionary programming. Along with some help from their wool loving friends, keeping the wolves at bay, helping them across the road etc., they seem to do fairly well in this mutually beneficial relationship. We do the thinking for them as necessary and they grow the wool we need to warm our naked bodies in the winter. Symbiosis.

SarCaustic: There is a reason for us to agree upon the meanings of the words that we use to communicate ideas, knowledge, the weather, etc. This is because we find it beneficial to come together as a species to share knowledge and goods, (the products of knowledge). This is at the root of civilization and why we choose to get along with each other. This is why when we say something is red it is our hope that others will agree that indeed it is the same colour as a stoplight or a hot ember or a ruby, etc.

There are some of us who do not share the capacity to differentiate colour so they must learn other ways to make this determination, and most do quite well. Scientists sometimes need a more precise definition for red and so they agree to assign a specific wavelength to this colour.
The point is that if we are going to live together in peace we need a reason to unit us and a method for doing this. Research, invention, trade, etc., are some of the methods and the value each of us find in these (for whatever our personal interest), is the reason.
I do not believe in �God� for several reasons; here are a few. Such belief serves no valuable function, (unless you imagine control of others to be a valuable function). It is not healthy to believe in or pattern your life around ideas, which are unproven. Believing is not a shortcut to knowledge nor does it directly reshape reality. Acting on unproven beliefs is a hazard not only to the individual who holds them but to those affected by their actions as well.
Question Author
Hi mib - I've od'd on ab recently, having a little break from postinguntil the weekend, so just a quick note...

I wasn't really saying a sheep could think, I was saying it would feel surprised. It would notice the change in rhythm of the world (ie time passing but no sunshine) and I think it would feel surprise at that without needing to know the english word "surprise" or what it means. However, on the subject of thought, if I can think without language, why not a sheep? I often think without needing to have some kind of internal monologue in English.

And yes, in a way what the word "red" means is based on what we agree it to mean, but there is also the subjective perceptual wordless internal experience of red which happens inside you which we doesn't require any words for it to be felt. It doesn't matter what you call it, it won't change the thing itself. You could build a machine to measure wavelengths of light and differentiate red from green, but how would you go about building a machine to "feel" the quality of redness inside itself in the same way we do?

1 to 20 of 31rss feed

1 2 Next Last

Do you know the answer?

Is a surprised sheep a scientist?

Answer Question >>

Related Questions

Sorry, we can't find any related questions. Try using the search bar at the top of the page to search for some keywords, or choose a topic and submit your own question.