Science vs Scientism

blinded-by-sciencescientismnew-atheismby Massimo Pigliucci

Here comes another Scientia Salon video, a conversation between Dan Kaufman and myself on the difference between science and scientism. We have covered scientism at the magazine before, featuring both pro and con views [1-5], so I promise to let the issue go for a while after this video (well, until a collection of technical essays on scientism that my colleague Maarten Boudry and I are working on for Chicago Press will come out, so stay tuned). Still, I hope the chat with Dan will be both entertaining and informative.

In the video we covered topics such as quantum mechanics and understanding a dollar bill, what is the point of knowledge, going beyond the Enlightenment, the nature of science (obviously), and whether there are extra-scientific ways of knowing.

_____

Massimo Pigliucci is a biologist and philosopher at the City University of New York. His main interests are in the philosophy of science and pseudoscience. He is the editor-in-chief of Scientia Salon, and his latest book (co-edited with Maarten Boudry) is Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem (Chicago Press).

Daniel A. Kaufman is a professor of philosophy at Missouri State University and a graduate of the City University of New York. His interests include epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, and social-political philosophy.

[1] Spelling out Scientism, A to Z, by John Shook, Scientia Salon, 12 April 2014.

[2] Staking positions amongst the varieties of scientism, by Massimo Pigliucci, Scientia Salon, 28 April 2014.

[3] Scientism: ‘Yippee’ or ‘Boo-sucks’? — Part I, Part II, by Robert Nola, Scientia Salon, 18 & 19 August 2014.

[4] Defending scientism: mathematics is a part of science, by Coel Hellier, Scientia Salon, 21 August 2014.

[5] The return of radical empiricism, by Massimo Pigliucci, Scientia Salon, 28 August 2014.

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91 thoughts on “Science vs Scientism

  1. Liam Ubert: “No matter how enchanting a purely ideal concept might be, without verification, it is just another opinion or article of faith.”

    Verification, what verification? If you are talking about the Popperian type, you are just repeating the mainstream view, without anything new. Of course, there is something new on this, that is, you are wrong.

    I have showed that the methodology of Popperianism is {epistemological telescoping}, theory or law based. By all means, Popperianism has produced some wonderful RESULTS, many accepted LAWS.

    With these accepted laws, a new epistemology arises which is not discovering the laws of Nature but is designing our own and entering into a beauty contest with Nature. This design is totally arbitrary, by arbitrarily choosing some axioms. If they don’t work out, we simply find a new set of axioms. That is, this is a totally ‘a priori’ operation. Of course, in order to win the beauty-contest, we must meet two criteria.

    C1, we must produce CONTESTANTs who match with all Laws of Nature. That is, making contact with all known nature laws.

    C2, my contestants must perform BETTER than those laws of Nature. With all those KNOWN laws of Nature, we are still having many unresolved issues:
    I1, M-string theory failure: failure on string unification (describing quark/lepton with string language).

    I2, Multiverse failure: failure to calculate nature-constant of THIS universe, such as Alpha.

    I3, Failure to DERIVE the Planck data (dark energy = 69.2; dark matter = 25.8; and visible matter = 4.82).

    Of course, all this will just be talking talk if there is no solid example to support it. Yet, I have showed two solid examples for this DESIGN beauty-contest.

    Example 1, in physics: see https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/lee-smolin-and-the-status-of-modern-physics/comment-page-1/#comment-11988 .

    Example 2, on intelligence and consciousness: with DESIGN specifications and the design implementation.
    S1, external signal (ES) — window signal receiver

    S2, representation of ES — topological-neural map (t-map), membership recognition

    S3, long term memory of ES/t-map (LTM) — 2nd order t-map (reg-map)

    S4, understanding — spontaneous recalling LTM

    S5, spontaneous recalling LTM — default page construction

    S6, default page — burnt-in process

    S7, computation — embedding a Turing computer (see http://www.prequark.org/Biolife.htm ).

    Neuroscientists have placed zillion human brains in vats and performed zillions brain scans but are unable to find a place (locale) which produces intelligence and consciousness. Doing gazillions more useless procedure will not find a rabbit in a broken hat. On the other hand, this DESIGN methodology has produced both intelligence and consciousness.

    The beauty of this DESIGN epistemology has two points.

    P1, it must produce contestants matching the laws of Nature.

    P2, it must perform better than the KNOWN laws of Nature (KLN).

    With KLN, there are still many unresolved issues (I1, I2, I3, …), but all those (I1, …) are resolved in our DESIGNED universe.

    With 2 solid examples, if you are still not convinced that you are wrong, well, have a good day.

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  2. Hi Aravis,

    > sciences which admit of reductive analysis are better than those that don’t, in the sense of being more “certain” and “objective”

    Well, I certainly would resist your characterisation that implied that physics is “better” than social sciences. Physics is simpler, dealing with relatively trivial phenomena, so it can make pretty iron-clad predictions without a hint of ambiguity. If those predictions are false, it generally amounts to a new discovery and a rewriting of the rules.

    But predictions in economics or biology or other high-level sciences are much harder to quantify. That’s not a weakness of those sciences but an artifact of the very complex nature of their fields of study. The theories we develop to work with them are necessarily a lot fuzzier and more open to interpretation. As such, they are perhaps less compelling to some.

    > For one thing, physics doesn’t reduce to anything,

    Well, fair enough. In that case I think we would want to revise the claim to be that explanations which can relate things down to lower levels, ideally down to fundamental physics, are preferred. Fundamental physics is already at the base level, consisting of completely unambiguous and experimentally confirmed mathematical laws, and in the view I am describing would not need further reduction as a result.

    > I really don’t know what to make of your use of ‘subjective’, here, so I’m not going to speak to that

    Just that experts may have justified disagreements on what will happen. This is common in economics, for instance.

    > I guess I just don’t see how the sorts of things that social scientists tell us *could* contradict the sorts of things that, say, quantum theorists or chemists tell us.

    As a matter of course, they don’t. But if social scientists told us we would keep innovating and finding new sources of food and so on so that there is literally no limit to the number of humans that could live on planet earth, then the physicist might disagree.

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  3. DM wrote:

    “In that case I think we would want to revise the claim to be that explanations which can relate things down to lower levels, ideally down to fundamental physics, are preferred.”

    ————————————————————————–

    Preferred for what? As Massimo pointed out, in our conversation, oftentimes, the desired explanation is best sought at levels *higher* than the level of the phenomenon to be explained. What is preferred in explanations is entirely topic-specific. There is no general rule.

    I also noticed that you ignored much of the substance of my post. I will repeat, regarding the question of “fuzziness,” “precision,” “certainty” and the like, there are any number of things I know from the special sciences, with far greater clarity, precision, and certainty than things in string theory, quantum mechanics or what have you. Beyond the example from economics that I already gave, I would add the following from folk psychology: I know that if I give the shopkeeper the proper amount of money, he will let me take the goods I have selected from his shelves, with far greater clarity, precision, and certainty than I do anything in String Theory.

    —————————————————————————-

    Paul:

    I think our problem is that we disagree on the definition of ‘Scientism’. As far as I am concerned, “one could believe that scientific explanations / ontologies are the only real, “Kosher” ones” *is* the definition of ‘Scientism’.

    ————————————————————————————-

    Asher:

    I don’t think I understand your comment. Could you, perhaps, reformulate?

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  4. Interesting video and discussion,

    There are a few aspects that came up which I am mulling over. One is question regarding why there is such an urge to explain the gaps between the different levels of the sciences and between science and the humanities through appeal to more ‘fundamental’ levels of science. Related to that was Massimo’s statement of his preference to keeping his ontology close to his epistomolgy,

    On the first point I perceived Massimo giving two reasons:

    1) The desire for an ultimate theory of everything, &
    2) Political, ideological reasons perhaps related to professional turf

    I think both those reasons play a role especially for those who fall into the ‘scientistic’ ideological frameworks, but I also think that they represent an incomplete set of the reasons for being interested in understanding how more ‘fundamental’ levels might complement are understanding. I think the urge for unification itself can healthy for progress so long as we maintain a complementary framework and don’t fall into a trap of seeing one level of understanding as completely negating the usefulness of other levels of explanation. In fact I think if we want to keep our epistomolgy and our ontology closely engaged I think this becomes quite important.

    One interesting idea on consciousness sees us as being in a continual process of perceiving and acting in the world based on an entanglement between our continually updated model of the world and what is actually out there. The error between what our model predicts and what the world allows it to percieve forms the ongoing spotlight of what we attend to or are conscious of. This is Fristons free energy minimization idea as I understand it which incorporates thermodynamic principles, and he speculates it may follow something like a bayesian statistics prediction model. It is favored I think by some in the enactivivism philosophy of mind field (like Andy Clark) as the error between organsm perception/action models and what is actually encountered is not easliy localized in the brain but requires a brain, body, and environment interaction.I think another way to think about this error/uncertainty is as a pointer to where our individual epistomolgical models run into ontological constraints if we can be receptive to the error.

    I am with Aravis and Massimo that even if this model for example were true it would in no way replace the value of are traditional modes of understanding at higher levels like psychology let alone direct empathetic expressions of human understanding. It might possibly however complement those levels and inform various philosophical and psychological questions maybe eventually even feeding up to support the higher levels.

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  5. In light of this exchange, I really don’t understand your allergy to religion, Massimo.

    Obviously any sort of God-of-the-gaps fundamentalism is clearly out, but the stories and motifs and patterns and metaphors of various religions I think pretty clearly act as reasonably coherent metaphysical lenses about who we are as humans, who others are, how we should interact with each other and our environment, what sort of ideals and values ought to be most primary to us, etc.

    It’s not all illusion anymore than currency is, and it certainly doesn’t have to be authoritarian (though probably necessarily social), or anti-science.

    Do you mind elaborating more, or is it simply a case that you find non-religious metanarratives more intuitive or attractive?

    I hope I am not crossing boundaries here, but what I have read of yours kind of seems to approach the subject in a God-is-illusion kind of way. Given that you recognise that such an approach frequently misses the point, what’s so objectionable about God-talk?

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  6. brodix: “My point is there is no such thing as an absolute frame, the proverbial God’s eye view. That it would be an oxymoron.”

    Why are you saying this? Based on what? Physics?

    That all inertia frames (IF) are equivalent in SR (special relativity) does not rule out an absolute frame by any means. In fact, every (IF) in SR is absolute relative to all others. Although GR (general relativity) having the name of Relativity, it is really all about some absolutes {light speed, mass, and space-time sheet}. We do have some GR experts here. Don’t take my word for; asking the experts.

    Furthermore, SR plays very minor role in this universe. The fastest moving star will still not know anything about SR. GR is a beautiful framework, a very intelligent VIEW on one aspect of gravity, but it is totally useless.

    One, GR is not needed for Cosmology. The most important concept in Cosmology today is “Cosmology Constant (CC, a non-zero zero)”, coined by Einstein. But, CC is not a logic consequence of the GR but is added into it ad hoc-ly.

    Two, GR cannot be assimilated into this KNOWN quantum universe. It provides no guidance for new physics but is in fact an obstacle to that end.

    Three, GR plays ZERO role for the ROCK BOTTOM structure of this universe, the lego pieces design.

    Four, GR plays ZERO role for calculation of the nature constants of THIS universe.

    First, GR does not rule out an absolute frame. Second, GR is useless in physics. So, what is your support for your statement?

    Disagreeable Me: “… that explanations which can relate things down to lower levels, ideally down to fundamental physics, are preferred. …”

    Nonsense, this is nonsense. Aravis’ arguments that {the analysis of McCain’s failure and the decision of flight to Orlando} can by no mean be reduced to physics is correct.

    There is a “Large Complex System Principle” (LCSP) — a set principles which govern all large complex systems regardless of whatever those systems are, a number set, a physics set, a life set or a vocabulary set.

    Corollary of LCSP (CLCSP) — the laws or principles of a “large complex system x” will have their correspondent laws and principles in a “large complex system y.”

    That is, there are large complex systems with a domain-wall for each system. While no direct reduction is allowed among (between) domain-walls, each domain are totally isomorphic. That is, the structure of the laws in each domain is the same while having different variables.

    Physics variables: mass-charge, electric-charge, interactions, nature constants, structure legos (quarks/leptons), dispatches (bosons), etc.

    Politics variables: people, cultures, religions, races, geopolitics, democracy, nations, unite nations, etc.

    Politics laws are isomorphic to the laws of physics but with different variables (see http://www.chinese-word-roots.org/cwr016.htm ).

    Aravis’ arguments are comment sense, understandable by every 8th grade kid. Why keep arguing with words?

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  7. Jeb-Tween,

    I’m not saying there isn’t an absolute. Specifically the equilibrium of space(the vacuum) and as such is the basis for all action, since it is against this equilibrium which makes the speed of light a constant. If there were no such equilibrium, there would be no reason why light emitted from a moving source wouldn’t go faster than light emitted from a stationary source.

    The issue is as to what “a frame” is. Since this state of equilibrium has no bounds, or it wouldn’t be absolute, it is therefore infinite. The contradiction, the oxymoron, would be an infinite frame. As soon as you give it coordinates, bounds, points of reference, it is no longer absolute, but subjective and relational to all the multitudes of other framing devices.

    So is there an infinite, completely neutral frame? If you want to call it that, but it would be about as useful as quantum theory is to explain the result of the ’08 election.

    Science functions as a process, but it is useful to think of it as an institution. Given the successes of this process, it is deserving of respect, but it is a broad frame and the distinctions are nebulous and will remain so.

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  8. @Aravis

    I don’t think I understand your comment. Could you, perhaps, reformulate?

    I can try.

    In the simplest terms, the difference between direct and indirect realism is that in the former, there’s a claim that we have direct access to reality, while in the latter, the claim is that we only have access to a “representation” of reality.

    To many physicalists, this distinction doesn’t make a lot of sense. Imagine a person sitting on a park bench perceiving a tree through her various senses. The whole tableau is a bunch of physical processes, from which the perceiving person is not separate. The parts of those processes relevant to her perception of the tree don’t really begin or end anywhere in particular, except with respect to whatever philosophical question we’re entertaining about it. The parts of the physical processes that happen “inside” her are – to say the least – complex and transformative – optical processes transforming into electrochemical processes in her eye, for example – but, again, there’s no compelling reason for drawing a line separating those processes (any more than there is for calling the processes that take place in V1 and V4 in her brain separate processes) — except with respect to some specific question we’re answering or perspective we’re taking toward the whole situation.

    The processes taking place outside her brain are *also* transformative. Light is reflected and occluded, and sound is baffled or echoed to name a few things that are happening. You could say that the whole physical process is one causal transformation after another, on a huge, complicated scale. Whatever we’re pointing to when we say “representation” isn’t special — it’s just one of many overlapping processes.

    If you hold this kind of perspective on reality, then the question – “is she perceiving the tree directly or a representation of the tree?” – isn’t profound. And it’s only answerable with respect to some perspective you’re taking on the question. In some respects, she’s perceiving the tree directly — it’s a direct causal chain of events. In other respects, she’s perceiving the tree indirectly — the physical processes by which she perceives the tree are always causally transformative, and one part of that may include what we’d call a “representation” of the tree’s form (or color, or smell, or texture, or place within a taxonomic tree, etc.). There is no “how things *really* are” to apprehend, because there are always a bunch of ways things really are relative to some perspective.

    The question also doesn’t lead to any kind of massive skepticism. If we’re being deceived in some systematic and undetectable way, then it’s not earth-shattering, because our knowledge is really of the systematicity of things anyway. Neither perception nor theories of perception would be possible if reality were largely inconsistent.

    Aside from the sciency-sounding language and the focus on physical processes, this way of looking at things isn’t particularly radical philosophically. I first encountered a version of it when I read Merleau Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception in college.

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  9. Aravis,

    I guess I just don’t see how the sorts of things that social scientists tell us *could* contradict the sorts of things that, say, quantum theorists or chemists tell us.

    Here is a contrived example. Say I’m a social scientist who submits a paper to a respected journal about the effect of human teleportation on the transportation industry in Europe within ten years. How would a referee know that this paper is a priori nonsense (even without reading it) without at least some minimal input from physics? Personal experience and folk understanding might be a guide (e.g., teleportation doesn’t make sense to the referee, but it was important in “Star Trek”), but does that make the notion of human teleportation automatically wrong? A scholarly journal has to have a higher standard for rejection than a referee claiming “It doesn’t fit my folk understanding” — someone with a knowledge of physics needs to weigh in and explain that human teleportation is inconsistent with established physics, so the entire premise of the paper is wrong.

    As for the further notion of “affecting constraints” that Marty indicates, I don’t see how any of the constraints imposed by quantum mechanics or solid state physics would have any effect on the folk psychological explanation of my getting on a flight to Orlando. […] while the psychological and social constraints he indicates are, of course, at the social-scientific level of description and thus, pose no argument against that autonomy of the social sciences, in the sense of providing explanations of phenomena, at a certain level of description, that require no reduction to lower levels of description.

    First, to be clear, my point is not about reductionism. Reductionism only seems interesting here if the phenomena of interest are uniquely implied by the underlying foundation. But such uniqueness doesn’t exist with phenomena most people care about — the same “laws of physics and chemistry” could lead to worlds (and non-worlds) very different than our own, not necessarily in low-level composition but certainly in configuration/arrangement. There have been many “accidents” that have shaped almost everything we see. The lack of uniqueness (from underlying physics to more complex phenomena) is probably the main reason I find scientism wanting.

    Given that, I agree you can define a discipline so that lower level knowledge (e.g., physics) is absorbed into basic assumptions or parameters within which the discipline works. For example, people don’t teleport, voice communication requires personal contact or electrical/radio intermediaries, and you can’t wage war by turning on an antigravity generator. This is what I meant previously in claiming the social sciences are autonomous only in a naive sense. Nonetheless, these implicit constraints aren’t a priori true — they are informed by more elementary disciplines. I claim that the more curious among the social scientists would not be satisfied with merely taking their starting assumptions as “given by oracle,” but would find it useful (to know where an assumption might fail), or at least interesting to understand why they are true.

    [continued]

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  10. [Continuation, to Aravis]

    Even the naive sense of autonomy may break down or need augmetation in important cases. Climate change is a physical process with great implications for social science, e.g. future mass migrations, wars and economic failures. Knowing what we do about group behavior, political thinking, and so on, it’s easy to predict that humanity collectively won’t take the strong measures to reduce anthropogenic global warming soon enough for some of the most severe projections to play out. But this prediction presupposes that long term climate change is occurring and moreover that human activities are primary culprits. Social scientists can explore the implications of AGW, but the extent to which AGW exists and the path climate change takes are both crucial inputs to social scientists, and these require input from the physical sciences. How autonomous are sociologists who study future effects of AGW?

    Another example where social sciences have less autonomy is in studying the consequences of nuclear war or threat thereof. The initial blasts are hugely destructive, but the radioactivity left behind is probably scarier to most people. I’m sure social scientists have extensively studied the psychological effects of a long term threat of large scale nuclear war, and how society would likely react in the aftermath of such a war. (Certainly the movie industry has gotten a lot of mileage from it!) But radioactivity itself, including how long it lasts, is explained by quantum physics, not social science. Would radioactive isotopes be scary if they always decayed away within a few seconds instead of years? Presumably that matters to some social scientists.

    Many more examples could reinforce my claim. (How about an example from art? Color absorption and emission is a quantum phenomenon that we take for granted when we look around. But each element has its characteristic spectrum, so if an artist wants to find a paint that will change colors smoothly and continuously all by itself, that artist is going to be searching for a very, very long time. Physics would tell him/her to give it up — that isn’t the way color works.) My point isn’t that most of what social scientists do requires them to think about biochemistry or physics; it is that they implicitly make use of knowledge from “lower level” fields as part of their conceptual framework. If the “laws of physics and chemistry” were different, their conceptual framework would be different.

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  11. To Paul, actually I think there are two flavors of scientism, though both have the political goal we are talking about. One is eliminative as you suggest. The other is absorbant. In that case it doesn’t dismiss other fields, but due to their success conveniently lumps it under the title of science. Either way it grows ‘science’ in relation to its (purported) opposition.

    To Tienzen, you said that GR is useless in Physics. Not sure if that is true. People need to use GR in calculations which allow for proper GPS and satellite communication.

    To Aravis, sorry about the confusion. I know I have changed names a couple times on SS, but I am still Dwayne (who wrote the Sam Harris and Compatibilism essays). So I’m a “he”, and my name/id should remain constant from now on (dbholmes).

    I do not believe I was conflating learning with anything else. This might be opening up a larger can of worms, but I tend to disagree (as it seems Coel does as well) with the concept of a priori knowledge (not being empirical). Contra Coel, I wouldn’t say this objection is only comes from those advocating scientism.

    From my experience, which may be less than yours, cases of so-called “a priori” knowledge reduce to either tautologies (bachelor is an unmarried man) which required the experience of setting/learning the definition, or manipulation of past experiences (triangles have inner angle measurements totaling 180 degrees) based on their logical connections. Thus these all involve empirical evidence/claims plus reasoning regarding logical connections somewhere along the line.

    Let’s take all bachelors are unmarried males. Were all human males prior to the concept of marriage bachelors? Did they consider themselves living in a bachelor’s paradise? No. Once people invented the concept of marriage, they found it convenient to have a term for men that were not yet married. So, because they created a term for something they were newly experiencing, it became logically true (for them and for everyone that learned the term later) that bachelors are unmarried males. This explains why I am not just talking about learning. Prior to learning, so called a priori knowledge must be created, based on experience. No knowledge arises from pure reason/logic acting on an experiential void.

    Basically I find the categorization of a priori v a posteriori knowledge as creating “a distinction without a difference”. At least it makes little difference when one is considering whether knowledge is ultimately empirical (which I took as Coel’s point). The former is based on available empirical knowledge, and the latter (usually) requires more experience to pin something down using current concepts (or forces the creation of new concepts).

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  12. Marty:

    I understand the examples that you give, but this is not the sense in which people like Fodor claim that the social sciences — and other special sciences — are autonomous. Their point *is* about reductionism and about examples like the one I gave, in which the relevantly *complete* explanation about why I boarded a plane to Orlando, rather than, say, Chicago, is in terms of the content of my beliefs and desires concerning Disneyworld and not the neurochemical properties of my brain states. No one denies that the content of those beliefs may have something to do with the physical properties of their *objects*, as in your example of my beliefs regarding nuclear bombs, in light of their physical properties. Thus, this *cannot* be the relevant sense of consistency/inconsistency, intended by those who want to deny that the social sciences are autonomous with regard to their explanations and ontologies.

    ——————————————————————————————————————–

    dbholmes wrote:

    “From my experience, which may be less than yours, cases of so-called “a priori” knowledge reduce to either tautologies (bachelor is an unmarried man) which required the experience of setting/learning the definition, or manipulation of past experiences (triangles have inner angle measurements totaling 180 degrees) based on their logical connections. Thus these all involve empirical evidence/claims plus reasoning regarding logical connections somewhere along the line.”

    ———————————————————

    Unless the Frege/Russell logicist program worked and arithmetic can be reduced to pure logic — it didn’t — Kant has shown us that the truths of arithmetic are not analytic a priori.

    ————————————————————–

    Asher Kay:

    If a double-object view of perception is not intended, then my criticism does not apply. That said, there are other problems with representationalism, a la Wittgenstein, but my feelings on them are not entirely formed, as I am still somewhat persuaded by the classic picture of folk psychological explanation, which rests upon it.

    As for the rest, there is so much reductive talk in your description that I simply cannot identify with it. Trees are trees, insofar as I typically interact with them, and to say anything beyond, “Look at how the branches of this lovely tree stretch out above us” would be inaccurate, given my purpose in making the statement and the role the statement has in the conversation with the lovely woman I am sitting and talking with.

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  13. Hi couchloc,

    Coyne thinks that if we characterize all knowledge as empirical … then we can argue that religious beliefs aren’t really knowledge.

    Bashing religion is not the main point of scientism (it’s just a sideline). Coyne claims that all knowledge is empirical because he thinks it’s true, not (only) to bash religion.

    Hi dbholmes,

    I don’t understand the argument in favor of ‘scientism’ … why not just be an ‘empiricist’?

    Well of course the name was chosen by our opponents, and later adopted with pride. So blame them!

    I think Aravis‘s example with McCain shows why I think it is less useful to rely on ‘reductionism’.

    Again, reductionism is a doctrine about how the world *is*, it is not a demand that the best way to construct an explanation is to start at the lowest level. For any particular purpose, explanations at a particular level, and levels just above and below it, will be most useful.

    ejwinner, what a weird view of scientism you have!

    Robin, no space to reply, sorry.

    Asher, I like and agree with your analysis.

    Hi Aravis,

    … there are indefinitely many different types of physical states in which beliefs about Disneyworld could be instantiated.

    Yes, there are a billion different physical brain states that amount to “thinking Disneyland is in Orlando” and a billion such states that amount to “thinking Disneyland is in Wyoming”. But so what? (I’m really baffled that you place such store in multiple realisation.)

    The point is that, if some daemon started changing the neural-network connections in your physical brain, then your beliefs could be changed. If the daemon altered your physical wiring from one of the states that amounted to “Disneyworld is in Orlando” into one of those that amounted to “Disneyland is in Wyoming”, then your beliefs would change.

    What you cannot do is declare that the level of “beliefs” is autonomous, and thus that it would not make any difference at all what the daemon did to your neural wiring, you’d still think that Disneyworld is in Orlando.

    John McCain lost the election to Barack Obama. I collect a team of political scientists, sociologists, and psychologists, …

    Your account involves several levels, including that of the election overall, and that of individual people’s psychology. And that’s exactly my point, that good explanations link levels together consistently.

    One could not have the psychologist report that individual people overwhelmingly prefered McCain, and then have the election expert report that Obama won. That would be an inconsistency that would need resolving, since the higher “nation-wide election” level is not autonomous to the “individual preference” level.

    Now I hope that everyone reading that thinks, “well, yeah, state the bleedin’ obvious!”, but that’s really all I’m trying to do, defending a supervenience physicalism that to me seems utterly mundane and obvious (yet which is *still* a powerful statement about how the world is and a powerful tool for science).

    And, again, ontological reductionism, in which higher-level objects are patterns of lower-level entities, is a statement about how the world is, not a statement about what is the most useful level of explanation. The whole reason we develop higher-level accounts is that they are usually much more useful!

    For example, if I’m predicting solar eclipses, I treat the Moon as an ensemble with a particular mass and radius, I don’t use a molecule-by-molecule account. But, my mass/radius account would still need to be *consistent* with the molecule-by-molecule account (which one could, in principle, construct, were one perverse enough to do it) for the simple reason that the ensemble supervenes on the molecules, and if the molecules were different then the total mass would be different.

    That’s my fifth and last, but no doubt there’ll be a next time folks, 🙂

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  14. As for the rest, there is so much reductive talk in your description that I simply cannot identify with it. Trees are trees, insofar as I typically interact with them

    Of course. But as I said, the description we provide stands in relation to the perspective we’re taking on the whole tableau. If we’re out enjoying the afternoon (in a place without 3 feet of snow, presumably), then loveliness and other aesthetic and emotional descriptions are a perfectly appropriate language to use.

    If we’re trying to figure out how our access to reality works, then the type of metaphysical position I outlined above is an appropriate way of speaking.

    All descriptions – especially theoretical ones – are reductive in the sense that my descriptions were. An aesthetic description of the tree “reduces” the tree to the essential properties and structure of aesthetic discourse. It ignores, for the most part, things like photons and visual cortices.

    What I like about the sort of “process physicalism” I outlined is that it dissolves a bunch of philosophical problems, while still recognizing (and even directly implying) that different realms of discourse are autonomous. When you talk about the “cause” of going to Disneyland, it’s a different category of thing altogether than the causes of different molecular processes and whatnot. They’re in different realms of discourse.

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  15. dbholmes: “… People need to use GR in calculations which allow for proper GPS and …”

    Wow, this is a news to me. The Earth’s mass is not big enough requiring a GR correction for the GPS precision. The greatest value of GR at this moment is about its descriptions of ‘gravitation lensing’ and the ‘gravitation wave’, as both of them having some importance in Cosmology. It is useless because that both of them can be derived via other pathways.

    brodix: “… the equilibrium of space (the vacuum) and as such is the basis for all action, since it is against this equilibrium which makes the speed of light a constant. … The issue is as to what “a frame” is. Since this state of equilibrium has no bounds, or it wouldn’t be absolute, … If you want to call it that, but it would be about as useful as quantum theory is to explain the result of the ’08 election.”

    Not a single statement of yours (above) is physics, nor is physics-correct.

    Light speed as a constant (absolute) was an empirical knowledge (via induction). It was then taken as a ‘postulate (axiom)’ in SR (special relativity). From this axiom, some theorems are direct consequences. When those consequences are VERIFIED empirically, that axiom is no longer a postulate but becomes a principle. What the heck is the “equilibrium of space” (not a physics concept)? Is the ‘postulate to principle’ process having anything to do with an equilibrium? No.

    The “equivalence principle” that inertial mass and gravitational mass are indistinguishable is the essence of the GR (general relativity). This indistinguishable-ness is about absoluteness, not about relativity.

    GR defines a causal-universe (the event horizon, EH). No causal-event of any kind is able to go beyond EH, and this is a big absolute. The EH is an absolute FRAME.

    Building a house needs some measuring rulers. If these rulers vary in their values, it will be a big mess for that house. There are at least three measuring RULERS {C (light speed), e (electric charge), and ħ (Planck constant)} for building this universe. They must be absolute (although their units can be arbitrary chosen, see http://prebabel.blogspot.com/2012/04/arbitrariness-and-final-unification-in.html ). These absolutes are further assured with a LOCK (the Alpha, a pure number, not changeable by any dimensional changes). In fact, every RULER is an absolute FRAME. The CMB is an absolute FRAME, recording the entire vital signs of this universe from its beginning to now.

    There is no chance of any kind for neuroscience to discover intelligence and consciousness by putting brains in vats. Performing useless procedure gazillions times more will not crank up a different result.

    There is no chance of any kind for the Popperian physics to derive Alpha equation.

    The science based on Popperianism is at a dead-end. The scientism based on the Popperian science is just calling a pussy-cat as the ‘King of the Jungle”, totally wrong.

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  16. Coel wrote:

    The point is that, if some daemon started changing the neural-network connections in your physical brain, then your beliefs could be changed. If the daemon altered your physical wiring from one of the states that amounted to “Disneyworld is in Orlando” into one of those that amounted to “Disneyland is in Wyoming”, then your beliefs would change.

    ———————————————————————————

    Given that different neurological states can play the same role as others, this need not be true. Rosenberg observes this in his account of the multiple-realizability problem, in the video linked earlier.

    —————————————————————————-

    “Your account involves several levels, including that of the election overall, and that of individual people’s psychology. And that’s exactly my point, that good explanations link levels together consistently.”

    ————————————————————————-

    No, that hasn’t been your point. It would be tedious to go back to earlier discussions and quote you back to yourself — although I will do it, if you continue to change your positions and then claim you haven’t — but your point has never been that explanations, *within the domain of the social sciences* link together consistently, but rather that explanations *between* the levels of social science and physical science link together consistently. The problem is, you’ve never cashed out what this means, other than to wave your hands at something called “supervenience physicalism,” which, frankly, explains exactly nothing.

    Ditto with regards to your account of the McCain/Obama case. All the explanations you describe are within the domain of social sciences, which share a common ontology, have recourse to the concept of intentionality, etc.

    ———————————————————————————–

    Asher:

    I’m afraid I just don’t understand the sense of “reduce” that you are using in your example of the tree. “Reduce” has a very specific meaning in the philosophy of science, as defined by Ernest Nagel and those after him.

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  17. To Tienzen, I am surprised you have not heard about GR effects on GPS. I learned this in a GIS course, but have seen it stated elsewhere (I’ve heard Hawking mentioned it as well). Here is one of many links I found in a simple search…

    http://metaresearch.org/cosmology/gps-relativity.asp

    To Coel, ok… but you have to be fair that while the label of scientism may have been created by others, it is because their targets keep using the term ‘science’ and not ‘empirical (or evidence-based) reasoning’. 🙂

    To Aravis, I don’t see how your response challenged what I was saying. In fact I could swear my description in the quote you cite includes both analytic (tautological) and synthetic (manipulation to reach a conclusion) operations. What I was (and still am) rejecting is the category of ‘a priori’ that would somehow shield a set of knowledge from being considered ‘empirical’.

    Rather than provide an argument you dropped Kant’s name. That seems either an appeal to authority or a circular argument (since I assume you got your concept of a priori from him).

    To be brief I’ll use a Wiki description (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analytic%E2%80%93synthetic_distinction) of Kant’s use of a priori …

    “The justification of [a priori] propositions does not depend upon experience: One need not consult experience to determine whether all bachelors are unmarried, nor whether 7 + 5 = 12. (Of course, as Kant would grant, experience is required to understand the concepts “bachelor,” “unmarried,” “7”, “+” and so forth. However, the a priori/a posteriori distinction as employed here by Kant refers not to the origins of the concepts but to the justification of the propositions. Once we have the concepts, experience is no longer necessary.)

    So like I said, pure reason/logic cannot work on a void. Even Kant admits that experience is required for understanding. The problem (as I see it) is that he creates some sort of distinction between understanding necessary concepts within a proposition and its justification (or determination).

    If such a distinction can be made* it is as I said before “a distinction without a difference” regarding whether the knowledge is empirical… which means based upon evidence.

    *The idea that Kant can make such a distinction is not beyond criticism. On this particular question I happen to side with Quine (or Quine-type criticisms). I realize this opens a much larger argument. We can skip it if you want, but it should be noted that dropping Kant is not an automatic show-stopper. 🙂

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  18. @Aravis

    “Reduce” has a very specific meaning in the philosophy of science, as defined by Ernest Nagel and those after him.

    Oh — I assumed you were speaking colloquially. I would have described my comment as “speaking about perception at an appropriate level of organization” rather than “reductive”, but okay.

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  19. Tienzen Gong,

    No offense to you, but you seem to have some significant misunderstandings about some areas of physics. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, i.e., that you want to understand correctly and don’t want to mislead others. Here are a few; please study further rather than just take my word for it.

    Wow, this is a news to me. The Earth’s mass is not big enough requiring a GR correction for the GPS precision.

    Since it is news to you, it would behoove you to investigate it before claiming GPS doesn’t need GR. A quick Google search, general relativity gps, gives you lots of places to start. For example, try this link. Basically, GPS needs to account for the slowing of time in a gravitational field. Newtonian gravity doesn’t predict this since it’s an action-at-a-distance theory; only GR does.

    The greatest value of GR at this moment is about its descriptions of ‘gravitation lensing’ and the ‘gravitation wave’, as both of them having some importance in Cosmology. It is useless because that both of them can be derived via other pathways.

    Your claims make me doubt you know much about GR or why physicists and astronomers find it valuable. GR is about the dynamic nature of spacetime (space+time, not just space), i.e., how spacetime responds to changes in energy and momentum density. Black holes, evolution of the universe at very early times, and changes to planetary orbits from Newtonian expectations are just a few examples beyond the two you gave. (Mercury’s perihelion shift was an important test Einstein used when developing GR.) Your second sentence above suggests to me you think GR is unnecessary. GR is very well tested, and is one of the two main pillars of fundamental physics for good reasons, but you should explore further to understand why I might say that.

    The “equivalence principle” that inertial mass and gravitational mass are indistinguishable is the essence of the GR (general relativity).

    This is not true. The equivalence principle was a crucial physical insight of Einstein that was very helpful to him in seeing his way forward, but it does not imply GR.

    There are at least three measuring RULERS {C (light speed), e (electric charge), and ħ (Planck constant)} for building this universe. They must be absolute (although their units can be arbitrary chosen […]

    This claim about absolute-ness is unfounded. For example, from one point of view, light moves more slowly in a strong gravitational field than a weak one. (But if you’re measuring light speed in either a strong or weak gravitational field you will always measure it to be “c” because your own clock and measuring rod also change.) Moreover, it is very well established, both theoretically from quantum electrodynamics (QED) calculations and empirically from high energy experiments in particle accelerators, that alpha increases as the collision energy increases. Since alpha (which is constructed from c, e and ħ) “runs” with energy, e cannot be considered absolute.

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  20. dbholmes:

    I wasn’t dropping names. This is very well-tread territory in philosophy, and I have had to reply to a lot of people, so I am trying to be economical.

    Whether a proposition is known empirically or a priori, is a question of its warrant — how it is justified (that is, shown to be true). While I may learn that 7+5=12 by counting pebbles, no amount of pebble counting constitutes its warrant. That’s the sense in which it is know a priori.

    It was Hume’s view that anything that is known a priori must be trivial in terms of its content — what he calls “relations of ideas.” Anything substantive in its content — any matter of fact — must be known a posteriori.

    It was Kant who showed that this is not true. 7+5=12 is substantive, not trivial. It is not a mere relation of ideas (i.e. the predicate “12” is not already contained in the subject “7+5”, as “unmarried man” is already contained in “bachelor”). And yet, it is known a priori, not a posteriori, as I’ve already previously explained.

    Kant called this new category the “synthetic a priori.”

    Along come the logical empiricists.. Alarmed that the synthetic a priori might allow for — gasp — metaphysics — i.e. substantive statements that are known a priori — they tried to show that arithmetic could be deduced from pure logic. This was the logicist program of Frege, Russell, and Whitehead. Since logic was analytic a priori, if arithmetic could be reduced to pure logic, then arithmetic could be construed as analytic a priori.

    Well, Kurt Godel showed that this couldn’t work. And so we were left, so to speak, at the Kantian point.

    Now, Quine is a different matter. According to his web-of-belief metaphor, even the most apparently necessary truths are revisable, given enough changes elsewhere in the web. He is not entirely consistent on this — in the same article, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” he says that the purely logical truths — “All bachelors are bachelors” *are* analytic and thus, necessary — and so, frankly, I don’t think that merely appealing to him gets one out of trouble.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Per the wayback machine:

    @ Aravis [to DM], August 29, 2014 • 2:54 pm:

    Take any folk-psychological law: Say, FP1 –> FP2. (And yes, the causal relation is described in the notation of an “If, then” statement.

    In order to reduce this law to say, a law of biology — and therefore show that the biological law *explains* the relevant phenomenon in the relevant way — one would have to establish bridge laws, in which both FP1 and FP2 are shown to be identical with or materially equivalent to, some biological states.

    The problem is that FP1 and FP2 are multiply realizable. Thus, your bridge law will look something like this:

    FP1 = B1 or B2 or B3 or B4….
    FP2 = B20 or B30 or B40…..

    Resulting in the following reduced statement:

    B1 or B2 or B3 or B4 –> B30 or B30 or B40…..

    There are two problems:

    A. Neither the antecedent nor the consequent describe a biological type.
    B. The sentence described is not a law of biology.

    Thus, one has *not* reduced the folk psychological law to a law of biology and thus, whatever the folk psychological law *explains* has not been explained in terms of any law(s) of biology.”

    @ Coel, August 29, 2014 • 4:27 pm [Reply to David, re: knowledge of software from underlying physics]

    “I’m sticking to the idea that if I have *complete* knowledge of N then I do have knowledge of N+1, even if only by brute-force simulation.

    I am not, however, defending “bridge laws” (as Aravis defines them), and would agree that most of the time there are no bridge laws. I don’t see that as needed for the doctrine that I am defending, that from N one can deduce (= simulate) N+1.”

    @ Coel August 30, 2014 • 4:15 am:

    “Thus, to take Aravis’s example:
    B1 or B2 or B3 or B4 –> B30 or B30 or B40,
    which Aravis says: “is not a law of biology” since the antecedent and consequent are not biological types, but rather sets of biological types, then my reply would be along the lines of, fine, what’s wrong with a law in terms of sets of biological types?”

    @ Coel December 3, 2014 • 8:58 am

    “Hi Aravis,

    [Quoting Aravis] ‘In order for ontological reductionism to be true, it would have to be the case not simply that every concrete individual in the world is a physical object, but that every class, type, and kind is a class, type and kind belonging to a physical science.’

    [Coel’s reply] That, again, is a stronger version of reductionism than any physicist holds to, since it is trivially false. The reductionism-AUBP version is that the higher-level types are composed of — being a pattern of — lower-level physical types.”

    continued…

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  22. continued…

    @ jarnauga111 December 4, 2014 • 1:45 am

    Aravis-

    [Quoting Aravis] ‘This is *not* merely a Token Physicalism and is clearly false. Sea shells, gold nuggets, pieces of paper, and electronic currents may all be instances of “currency,” but its not true that currency is “composed of” a “pattern” of these distinct physical types and notice that the conjunction of these physical types is not itself a physical type.’

    Yes, precisely. Fodor himself has a humorous take on this in his paper [“Special Sciences”] when he discusses what he calls the “immortal econophysicist”:

    “…an immortal econophysicist might, when the whole show is over, find a predicate in physics that was, in brute fact, coextensive with ‘is a monetary exchange’. If physics is general – if the ontological biases of reductivism are true – then there must be such a predicate. But (a) to paraphrase a remark Donald Davidson made in a slightly different context, nothing but brute enumeration could convince us of this brute co-extensivity, and (b) there would seem to be no chance at all that the physical predicate employed in stating the coextensivity is a natural kind term, [Fodor notes that should it be the case that ‘is a monetary exchange’ matches a physical natural kind, it “would be an accident on a cosmic scale”] and (c) there is still less chance that the coextension would be lawful (i.e., that it would hold not only for the nomologically possible world that turned out to be real, but for any nomologically possible world at all).” p. 104

    @ Coel January 10, 2015 • 6:55 am

    The problem is that Ernest Nagel came along and wrote about the structure of science. Nagel was a philosopher, not a scientist, and his book wasn’t actually about science. It was rather in the long philosophical tradition of constructing utopias, which is not about understanding how things are (= science) but about constructing ideals of how one thinks things should be. Nagel’s conception, and the resulting commentary from Fodor and others, is thus not about science and not about philosophy of actual science, it’s about the “philosophy of Nagel’s Utopia”.

    Now you can, if you like, peer-review each other’s ideas about this Philosophy of Nagel’s Utopia, or other “conceptual space” ideas, and claim expertise in writings about those ideas, but that in itself is akin to a cabal of theologians “validating” each other. If you want to have wider relevance you need an anchor in reality.

    _________________

    I think it’s very clear from the above posts what kind of reductionism Coel is defending. And to me, it sounds like the robust and substantial version, hence the anger at Nagel and Fodor.

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  23. Philip,
    Programing language is out of my league(frame), though it does seem a fascinating dynamic. No telling where it is leading, though complexity does seem to overwhelm its support structures and collapse back to a more stable level, before proceeding. These collapse features come in all levels, from simple editing processes to system wide crashes. Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t some teleological function of humanity, that we are life on this planet growing itself a central nervous system and as such our increasing connectivity will both propel us onward and implode many of the current structures. Though many of them seem on the edge of collapse anyway.

    Jeh Tween,

    You are not addressing the point I raised. So we agree the speed of light in a vacuum is an absolute. Given that the clock rate in any frame slows relative to its own speed, so that using this clock, it will always measure light as the same speed. Is that accepted by you?
    If so, then would it follow that in a frame not moving at all, the clock rate would run the fastest? Why?
    If two frames with identical clocks move past each other, would we be able to figure which is actually moving faster, relative to the vacuum and which is moving slower, or not at all, by comparing their clock rates?
    We can compare clock rates between the ground and GPS satellites.

    You say; “In fact, every RULER is an absolute FRAME. The CMB is an absolute FRAME, recording the entire vital signs of this universe from its beginning to now.”

    So you agree the speed of light is the absolute measure of space?
    Then if space were to expand, the speed of light would have to increase proportionally, for it to be the absolute measure of this space. Yet current cosmological theory argues those distant galaxies are moving away, such that it will talk light longer to cross this space. They say there will be more lightyears between these points, not expanded lightyears. Either that means the speed of light is not the absolute measure of space, or that those distant galaxies are simply moving away in the stable dimension of space, as defined by the speed of light.
    Which is it?
    My last post on this thread.

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  24. Dbholmes, thanks for the GPS link.

    Is {What the Global Positioning System Tells Us about Relativity} the same as {… People need to use GR in calculations which allow for proper GPS and …}?

    I have not said that GR or SR are wrong. But, no, we do not NEED GR to run the GPS. The GPS clock can be easily synchronized with an Earth bound Master Clock all the time, with or without the GR offset clock on board.

    Again, no one (at least not me) doubts the validity of GR. But, did GPS confirm the GR? The following is the precise quote from the article;

    {The initial clock rate errors just after launch would give the best indication of the absolute accuracy of the predictions of relativity because they would be least affected by accumulated random errors in clock rates over time. Unfortunately, these have NOT YET BEEN STUDIED.

    In an actual study, most of that maximum 200 ns/day variance would almost certainly be accounted for by differences between planned and achieved orbits, and the predictions of relativity WOULD be confirmed with much better precision.}

    Marty Tysanner, I will not get into the WORD war and OPINION battle here, sorry. If you are interested in physics issues, please discuss the issues which I have discussed at https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/the-multiverse-as-a-scientific-concept-part-ii/comment-page-1/#comment-3158 and https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/lee-smolin-and-the-status-of-modern-physics/comment-page-1/#comment-11988 .

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  25. Coel,

    I believe any philosophical position claiming explanation of human behavior ought to be able to suggest and justify behavioral consequences. This is especially true for a philosophical position that calcifies into a rigid ideology. After all, ideologies tend to be totalistic, that is, they lay claim to all experience, any important or necessary experience. Therefore they need to provide us with how their ideas are to be realized in our daily lives.

    If ‘scientism’ does not form such an ideology, then all it amounts to is head-butting for academic positioning and financing. And that’s not very interesting, just a squabble among competitors in a certain market place.

    That’s why I thought inclusion of Coyne in the dialogue was a bit odd, because he’s actually a moderate, and doesn’t seem – to me – to be much interested in such totalistic explanation.

    But, to be honest, you have in the past. I don’t expect Coyne to stop weeping when he reads Joyce, and I hope he doesn’t; but I wonder how you respond to any aesthetic experience, given that you have previously (and often) explained your understanding of aesthetics has simply having to do with neurological events.

    The ideology of ‘scientism’ hasn’t entirely coalesced into a complete ideology, for two reasons. First, it hasn’t yet found its Lenin or its L. Ron Hubbard, its firebrand theorist-cum-proselytizer. Secondly, since its strongest believers have been academics experiencing the safety of the ‘ivory tower,’ it has not yet formed a political program (although the recent nascent effort to inject incompatibilism into the justice system is a good beginning).

    Right now, expectant parents have the *choice* to engage genetic screening to determine compatibility of the parents, and possible defects of the infant. But if ‘scientism’ is the real ‘total’ explanation of human behavior, than we should, at some point, as a society, require it. If that isn’t true, then scientism can not fully explain human behavior, and it’s more radical proponents should stop saying it can.

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  26. Everyone,

    Just a short note — some people actually asked me, so — my absence from this discussion was deliberate.

    The video made by Dan and Massimo is nice, interesting and insightful.

    But the discussion — the more it progressed, the more I was convinced I want to stay out of it. The breaking point for me happened already very early on, among the first few comments by Coel, saying:

    Isn’t it quite remarkable that one could construct both a cathedral and a tiger out of no more than up-quarks, down-quarks and electrons, plus two force-carrying particles, the photon and the gluon?

    Given that Coel is now out of comments, it seems inappropriate that I discuss this, so I won’t do it. But the point is that the whole discussion is full of statements like this (not only by Coel, of course), and moreover most of them went completely unchallenged, to my astonishment. Of course, I don’t really expect people to remember the details of arguments from my essay on reductionism, nor John Shook’s A-Z spelling of scientism, nor some other past essays, comments and discussions about the nature of knowledge or any other topic raised in this thread. But it seems ever more obvious that a lot of people here don’t seem to be interested to learn from each other, or at least have an open mind about stuff, but are rather only interested in forwarding their point of view, forgetting any counter-arguments if those are not restated every time and in every thread separately.

    That is the reason why I decided to stay away from this particular discussion. I see no point in trying to contribute to it.

    And sorry for the noise. 😉

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  27. Marko:

    I think it is unfortunate that you don’t want to participate in the discussion, just because one of the discussants is out of replies. This is always going to happen, when there is a reply limit. And everyone goes into a discussion knowing that. No one has ever hesitated in replying to me, when I am out of replies.

    I tried to respond to as many of the things that were thrown at me as I could. I was frustrated by Coel’s “moving goalposts” style of argumentation and said so. Jarnauga even when back and painstakingly put together a montage of Coel’s previous statements on this topic to demonstrate this. I have responded to his “everything is quarks” sort of position many times and also have been frustrated by what seems to be a lack of progress in such discussions. Indeed, I have said so, on several occasions, and even been rather huffy about it.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I regret that you don’t want to comment on the topic and hope you will reconsider.

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  28. Hi Marko,

    You wonder why no one challenged Coel on the quarks/gluons thing – well few of us here are qualified to challenge him on the nuts and bolts stuff.

    On the other hand I feel that I have just as much warrant to comment on the meta-science stuff so that is where I keep it.

    It has always seemed to me that one of the chief advantages of science as an epistemic system is it’s leanness in terms of metaphysical assumptions. It has been well demonstrated that science can do without most of these assumptions and some of the most significant physics has been done by people who eschewed physicalist/materialist assumptions.

    That is not to say one cannot draw such conclusions from science, just that it does not need the assumptions.

    Bolting these assumptions onto science, as is the fashion these days, seems a retrograde step, fitting a lead weight to a racehorse.

    One of the problems is that we will know what ‘physical’ means the day that there is no more science to do. What we mean by ‘physical’ has changed drastically over the years and is quite different to how a nineteenth century person would have understood it. Foolish to think, then, that we now have a handle on it.

    Certainly, at a time when scientists cannot decide if there is one or many universes, or if the other universes are so far away we can never have any contact with them, or so close that we can reach out and use them to help with some calculations then I think we have less of a handle than we ever thought we did on the term ‘physical’.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Hi, Aravis,

    Sorry for not getting back sooner, thought I was out of comments.

    > Preferred for what?

    I just mean some people (such as Coel) find these reductive explanations very satisfying. They take something that was once mysterious and arbitrary and explain how it must be so given some lower level description of reality.

    > there are any number of things I know from the special sciences, with far greater clarity, precision, and certainty than things in string theory, quantum mechanics or what have you.

    I know you cannot mean this, but you appear to be saying quantum mechanics is not precise because you don’t have a fantastic grasp of it. If we put aside for a moment how well you or I personally understand quantum mechanics (not terribly well in either case I imagine), then we can admit that by all accounts QM is a fantastically successful and precise (if indeterministic) theory. What you know from the special sciences does not even approach this clarity, I think. You may be very confident of the outcome of various scenarios (such as paying for and removing an item from a store), but you cannot predict precisely what will happen or how it will happen or the probability that something surprising will happen (such as the clerk saying — “actually that item is reserved”). Furthermore, all the entities (persons, stores, payment) in the examples you give are themselves fuzzily defined. If they have definitions at all it is in terms of family resemblances, which is fine but not at all the kind of clarity possible in fundamental physics.

    I say all this not to elevate physics or to denigrate the special sciences. These are distinct fields with disparate methods. I’m only pointing out that to a certain sensibility (Coel’s in particular), reductive explanations are more appealing, and that this ought to be accepted rather than fought bitterly just as I accept that it is perfectly reasonable for you to prefer non-reductive explanations.

    Again, what you and Marko and Jarnauga interpret as Coel moving goalposts and contradicting himself while ignoring your very good arguments and refusing to learn, I instead see as you interpreting him to be making stronger claims than he intends and failing to communicate his ideas effectively.

    I mean, I really don’t see anything wrong with Coel’s observation that it is remarkable that the same modest set of particles can form tigers and cathedrals. From a certain point of view, everything is made of particles — this just expresses a physicalist perspective (against supernaturalism/spiritualism/magic in particular but also arguably Platonism). It’s a perfectly tenable view. Now, of course, from another perspective, this needs to be qualified because of issues such as multiple realizability and so on, but when this is done (token physicalism) the original claim about tigers and cathedrals, though modest in one sense (most of us hold it to be self-evidently true) is nevertheless remarkable at an intuitive or emotional level — that merely recombining a short list of particles in a number of different ways we can get such a variety of high-level entities.

    Anyway, this was my last comment. Cheers.

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  30. Marko,

    I’ve felt frustrated by comments I thought shouldn’t have been posted or by comments I thought should have been called out if only for clarification.

    But sometimes that’s just the way things are, like you made a comment on another story recently (I think it was in response to ejwinner), and I didn’t say anything not because I agreed, I didn’t, but because at the time I didn’t have enough clarity on the issue as I saw it, for a reply.

    Maybe to see things repeated, the same arguments, the same bad or good points, and the same unresolved questions give us chances to consider new approaches or to support or dissolve old ones thoughtfully.

    Loose end: I think it can’t be said enough that the use of some concepts, like ‘random’ for example 🙂 can lead us seriously astray in argument if we don’t take the time to clarify they’re oft implied assumptions.

    Coel,

    “If the daemon altered your physical wiring from one of the states that amounted to “Disneyworld is in Orlando” into one of those that amounted to “Disneyland is in Wyoming”, then your beliefs would change”

    But would it. The ‘brain’s web’ could immediately repair itself and the ‘brain state’, or belief, that “Disneyland is in Wyoming” would dissolve like a forgotten dream (what’s more, where is the empirical base to the idea we can take out a belief and insert another, in the sense your arguing).

    Hopefully I’ll be able to get in on the subject earlier next time.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. @ DM:

    “…QM is a fantastically successful and precise (if indeterministic) theory.” Precise *and* indeterministic. Uh, OK.

    “Furthermore, all the entities (persons, stores, payment) in the examples you give are themselves fuzzily defined.” Really? My corner 7-11 seems pretty solid to me, as does the Slim Jim and Slurpee I just bought there. Certainly a bit more solid than quantum entanglement.

    “They take something that was once mysterious and arbitrary and explain how it must be so given some lower level description of reality.”

    “…but when this is done (token physicalism) the original claim about tigers and cathedrals, though modest in one sense (most of us hold it to be self-evidently true) is nevertheless remarkable at an intuitive or emotional level — that merely recombining a short list of particles in a number of different ways we can get such a variety of high-level entities.”

    The sense of “must” in terms of Token Physicalism is boring and unremarkable (we all believe in matter, after all). The sense of “must” in terms of things like currency happens at a higher level and cannot be reduced. Telling me all about the movement of gold and silver pieces doesn’t tell me squat about things like “currency” that are ultimately responsible for their movement and importance. Scientism, per the standard use of the term, is a clear attempt to muscle in on other disciplines and their explanatory expertise via reductionist ideology, which when challenged [by any notion of non-reducibility, whether in the humanities or the special sciences] says Wieseltier, “fills them with a profound anxiety. It throws their totalizing mentality into crisis. And so they respond with a strange mixture of defensiveness and aggression. As people used to say about the Soviet Union, they expand because they feel encircled.”

    http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114548/leon-wieseltier-responds-steven-pinkers-scientism

    Massimo himself, as both philosopher and practicing scientist, testifies to this attitude in the video and in the many comments here on his site.

    Coel, per my compilation of his greatest hits above, clearly *does not* subscribe to Token Physicalism. Anyone who hates Nagel & Fodor the way he does, denies bridge laws, and thinks you get to N+1 from N by “brute force” without notions like currency, etc. either does not understand Token Physicalism or is unwilling to concede the point.

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  32. Fields Arranged by Purity Link: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B_ho5MzUcAAnpRG.jpg:large
    The link image and reading the comments reminds me of this:

    “… those questions which are already capable of definite answers are placed in the sciences, while those only to which, at present, no definite answer can be given, remain to form the residue which is called philosophy” (Bertrand Russell, 1912, 154-55). Contemplation of this residue is not science. Philosophical speculation is its own project.

    Scientism is science where it does not belong; scientism is science hubris.

    One of the best examples of Scientism, in the derogatory sense is: “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values” by Sam Harris. Social science can describe ethics in all its human manifestations, but science does not have an objective universal nonhuman guide to prescribe how one should live as applied to: politics, economics, liberty, free speech, social justice …

    This limitation is not science, but verification with the objective, universal, nonhuman guide independent of human consciousness and language: nature, “reality,” or God.

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  33. @DM

    If I’m reading you right, you’re getting at something that I’ve been thinking about a lot when I read these threads. Earlier on I gave a fairly standard description of a physicalist way of looking at a perception scenario, and indicated how it dissolves questions about representation. This physicalist view also dissolves questions about type/token identity and multiple realization and so forth, because the patterned behavior of certain processes can simply be similar enough epistemologically speaking that we categorize them as a type.

    Aside from dissolving some philosophical problems (or at least identifying them as category issues), the explanatory power of this kind of physicalism extends to special sciences and the like. For example, understanding how brains categorize helps explain why some people feel like they’re spending “fake money” when they go to a foreign country. In a standard type/token sort of framework, this doesn’t really get explained. Same thing for moral philosophy.

    These philosophical ideas aren’t super mainstream, maybe, but professional philosophers work on them, and non-physicalists engage with them.

    Anyway, there is real philosophical excitement for me in how these approaches explain what were previously truly vexing problems (like mind-body dualism). So perhaps I’m pushing my own views instead of learning from others. But I’m also looking for good criticisms of these views. “Too reductive to identify with” and “knowing how the brain works doesn’t help explain morals” is not what I’m hoping for.

    I wonder sometimes if philosophical perspectives are mostly about personal taste. I’ve always been fascinated by complexity science, cognitive linguistics and computer science, so of course I feel that philosophical frameworks that incorporate these are cool. Maybe they only seem explanatory to me because I use them as cognitive metaphors for so many things. My reading of Merleau Ponty as prescient about complexity science definitely was a surprise to my college professor, at any rate.

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  34. To Tienzen, I guess I should have chosen a link that addressed more of the hows and whys GPS uses GR, rather than one that focused on showing that GPS provides evidence for GR. I wasn’t meaning to suggest you didn’t believe in it, rather to challenge your claim regarding its lack of utility.

    The quotes you cite simply state the best experiments for proving GR from GPS asynchrony have not been carried out, not that useful evidence has not emerged.

    Here is a better link explaining GR’s practical value:
    http://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~pogge/Ast162/Unit5/gps.html

    Its opening and closing lines give the idea GR is pretty useful…

    “It is a commonplace to think of Relativity as an abstract and highly arcane mathematical theory that has no consequences for everyday life. This is in fact far from the truth… Relativity is not just some abstract mathematical theory: understanding it is absolutely essential for our global navigation system to work properly!”

    Now I suppose it can be argued it isn’t absolutely necessary. But then neither is Newtonian mechanics, since one can just make adjustments on the fly (say raising or lowering the barrel of one’s cannon).

    To Aravis don’t worry, I appreciate your work and knew you were taking a shortcut to save time given all the questions you were handling. I thought the emoticon would suggest my charge of name-dropping was sort of tongue-in-cheek. I was just trying to get at the fact you seemed to be treating Kant’s position as definitive. While it is well-tread territory, I don’t remember anyone (particularly Kant) finding where the sidewalk ends ☺

    Your last reply gave a nice, concise review of the history on this topic. I’m not going to say you were uncharitable to the logical positivists in mentioning their motive, but then isn’t Kant open to the same form of criticism? As far as I can tell he was reasoning his way to (in this case) preserve something he wanted to keep (just like he did with morality).

    You are correct that Quine won’t work as a get out of jail card. This is why I added ‘Quine-type’. I don’t think his argument was perfect, but that doesn’t make Kant’s position bullet-proof… or left standing.

    This started with Coel arguing that knowledge traditionally conceived of as ‘experience free’ could be considered empirical. His position seems valid, particularly if knowledge is interconnected with experience in a sort of Quine-ian (or Humean) way.

    As it is I don’t agree with the idea that 7+5=12 finds its justification beyond experience. Why exactly wouldn’t bean counting establish this? I assume that sort of thing is exactly how they discovered this handy short-cut to counting everything at once when you already know what is in separate groups. Numbers are simply abstractions of real objects/events/arbitrary gradations, and mathematical operations abstract stand-ins for things that may happen/be done with them. Perhaps I should ask, where does it get its warrant that is not related back to/founded on experience?

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  35. Hi Dwayne,

    I just wanted to jump in quickly on something you said. You said,

    “As it is I don’t agree with the idea that 7+5=12 finds its justification beyond experience. Why exactly wouldn’t bean counting establish this? I assume that sort of thing is exactly how they discovered this handy short-cut to counting everything at once when you already know what is in separate groups. Numbers are simply abstractions of real objects/events/arbitrary gradations, and mathematical operations abstract stand-ins for things that may happen/be done with them. Perhaps I should ask, where does it get its warrant that is not related back to/founded on experience?”

    I think that we quickly need to distinguish between two questions whose answers we can ask justification for. The first question is, “does a system of mathematics accurately represent the way the world is?” The answer to this question *certainly is* justified by experience. So for example, doing experimental physics (the analog of bean-counting here) would justify the claim that euclidean geometry does or does not accurately represent the world. This is the kind of claim that experience does justify. Call this kind of justification “accuracy justification.”

    However, another question can still arise: even though euclidean geometry doesn’t correspond to reality, are all the claims within euclidean geometry justified by its axioms? here, we can say that even though euclidean geometry doesn’t accurately represent the way the world is, its claims are all justified by the axioms by which all claims are derived. So, mathematical claims can be accuracy unjustified, but justified in this second sense- call it “internal justification.” This second sense is one that definitely doesn’t come from experience- this is especially evident since the world isn’t such that it would tell us anything about euclidean geometry at all, yet we still think the claims of euclidean geometry are internally justified.

    Showing that there are a lot of mathematical truths that we think are justified despite the fact that they have no experiential correlates at all really motivate Aravis’s point. For example, it seems very bizarre to think that the justification for the claim that some infinite sets are bigger than others (something Cantor proved) comes from experience. When do we experience on infinite set that is bigger than another? When do we experience an infinite set at all? However, we all think that the mathematical claim “some infinities are larger than others” is justified. It seems experience could not have done this justificatory work.

    Now, I see that you said “where does it get its warranted that is not related back to/founded on experience?”

    Maybe “related back to” here indicates the accuracy justification that i was talking about before. All mathematical claims are related to experience in the sense that experience tells us whether or not the mathematical claims accurately represent the world, thereby justifying claims like “7 beans plus 5 beans equals 12 beans.”

    “Related back to” here could also mean that we must in some sense come to know about mathematical truths through the external world, but coming to know about mathematical truths via experience isn’t the same thing as acquiring internal justification through experience. Perhaps only accuracy justification.

    As for whether or not our mathematical claims are “founded on” experience, I take this to be referring to internal justification, which I think is clearly wrong by now. Since there are many mathematical claims that have absolutely no experiential correlate but are still justified (such as the ones mentioned before), clearly at least some mathematical truths aren’t “founded” on experience (in the internal justification sense). Since there is no reason to think that mathematical truths which don’t accurately represent the world and mathematical truths which do accurately represent the world have any difference in what makes them internally justified, it seems reasonable to conclude that internal justification for all mathematical truths does not come from experience.

    Let me know what you think, and Aravis please feel free to correct me if I have said something wrong here.

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  36. Just to be fair, so that others are aware, I realized that Dwayne has reached his 5 comment limit and won’t be able to respond to me, perhaps we can pick this up in another post.

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  37. marclevesque: “But would it. The ‘brain’s web’ could immediately repair itself and the ‘brain state’, or belief, that “Disneyland is in Wyoming” would dissolve like a forgotten dream”

    Physically:
    Creating a False Memory in the Hippocampus
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6144/387

    By psychological manipulation: hundreds of studies show how to do it, that find they are pretty hard to undo.

    On 26 kinds of scientism for ejwinner: the kind below seems pretty inoffensive to me:

    In addition to tacit methodological naturalism, there is what may be called
    weak, strong, and extra-strong methodological naturalism. The weak version says
    that philosophy should use methods and findings in the natural sciences. Strong
    methodological naturalism is identical with scientism, or the thesis that the scientific
    method is applicable in all research fields, the social sciences among them. This version of naturalism, often called scientistic, has been championed by the positivists, logical positivists, and Quine among many others. By contrast, Putnam, Davidson, Rorty and others have defended what may be called nonscientistic naturalism, which is little more than a perfunctory nod to ontological naturalism (see De Caro and
    Macarthur 2004).
    Finally, ultrastrong methodological naturalism is the program of reducing the
    social sciences to the natural ones. Edward O. Wilson’s sociobiology is the paradigm.

    Having done a certain amount of work in the field of behaviour genetics, I (and everybody else I know) know a “total” reduction just to actions of genes is of course impossible, but we can have a tight interpenetration of
    mechanisms acting at different “levels” eg social nature of sexual selection, or the rise of alcoholism in aldehyde deydrogenase L/L carriers with changing peer pressure, or the question as to which gene products might be involved in the genetic correlation between religiosity and existential uncertainty. I don’t regard that kind of thinking as “ultrastrong”.

    RE reductionism and currency: neuroeconomics…

    To the brain, money is like food, ornaments, and recreational drugs, and only indirectly signals utility derived from its use.

    RE “Kripke 1971” [Kripke, Saul. 1971. “Identity and Necessity”. In Identity and individuation, ed. Milton K. Munitz]

    “Kripke argues that proper identity claims must equate terms that are rigid designators…Mental
    states cannot be identical to physical states…because we can stipulate a possible world in which terms referring to mental states would not refer to the same things as terms referring to brain states, [and so] these rigid designators cannot pick out the same objects, Hence they cannot stand in an identity relation.” [Bechtel W. Philosophy of Mind: An Overview for Cognitive Science 2013]

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