20140219

Critique of "The Scientific Worldview": Part 11b The Ten Assumptions of Science: Relativism

Bill throws in a bit of absolutism to stir the pot and keep his own assumptions consupponible. Reasoning by analogy and disparity.

I am ever so grateful to Bill Westmiller, whose comments are marked "BW: ". The quotes marked TSW are from "The Scientific Worldview[1]" and my comments are marked "[GB: ".

TSW: Ninth Assumption of Science, relativism (Part 2 of 3)

“All things have characteristics that make them similar to all other things as well as characteristics that make them dissimilar to all other things.”

TSW:  "In short, the concept of a general horse is an abstraction, an idealization we use to give a class a name, to think about it, and to communicate our thoughts to others."

BW: Correct, but ask yourself what that concept must be abstracted FROM, in order to be valid. Reality. In other words, it isn't a random "idealization" of reality,  but rather a set of attributes *extracted* from reality that allow us to talk about Borchardt Things and Westmiller Things. Are some attributes "ignored"? Of course. It would be foolish to say that a "horse" is an object with mass, or even to say that it is a living thing ... since every Borchardt Thing has mass and a dead horse is just one type of horse. A proper definition doesn't alter reality, it just categorizes essential attributes.

[GB: You are correct in that abstractions are not random. Abstractions nevertheless are idealizations. Like you said, we chose the attributes most important for our purpose. While classifications usually do not alter the microcosms they describe, many are as notable for the attributes they leave out as for the attributes they leave in.]

TSW:  "Mental activity itself involves elements of both relativism and absolutism."

BW: In which case, you either have to be opposed to mental activity, or abandon your characterizations of relativism or absolutism as incompatible opposites. Some Westmiller Things are relative, others are absolute. It seems that you're committing all Borchardt Things to unthinkable solipsism.

[GB: After writing the sentence you quoted, I went on to explain that although all microcosms have infinite characteristics that place them on a similarity-dissimilarity continuum per relativism, we often find it necessary to use absolutist terms. For instance, like other animals we need to decide what is “food” and what is “non-food.” And, just to walk through a doorway, we need to think of the adjoining wall as “solid matter” and the doorway as “empty space,” even though neither is true in an absolute sense. Equalities and inequalities in math serve the same purpose. Like many folks, what you seem to have missed is the distinction between ideality and reality. We do not need to believe that there really are absolutes such as equalities or “perfectly solid matter” and “perfectly empty space.” So sorry that you must believe that “some Westmiller Things are relative, others are absolute.” I can see why that is necessary for you. Without that tiny bit of absolutism, you could not be serious about proposing yet another Finite Particle Theory. At least, your approach appears consupponible with your other marginally indeterministic interpretations of "The Ten Assumptions of Science":

1.     Early on, you mentioned that you were “95% in agreement with the ten assumptions”.
2.     You then professed a belief in causality (that there are material causes for all effects), but qualified that with an exception consupponible with your belief in free will.
3.     You professed a belief in inseparability (Just as there is no motion without matter, so there is no matter without motion), but attempted to qualify it by imagining the insides of things to be motionless or that an object in rotation without translation could be considered 
  motionless with respect to other things.
4.     You professed a belief in macrocosmic infinity, but not in microcosmic infinity.
5.     Now you profess a belief that relativism applies most of the time but that absolutism applies some of the time.

I suspect that future complaints will take the same tack: sneaking a little indeterminism into your assumptions whenever you like. I imagine you will really bust something critical when you confront the chapter on “The Myth of Exceptionalism.” While your approach is a little bit like being “95% pregnant” or “half-way to crazy town”, I suspect that many readers started out the same way. You certainly are not the only “materialist” who still believes in free will. I guess even dialectical materialists such as Friedrich Engels did not think there could be a revolution without it.

At first, when you said you were 95% in agreement with "The Ten Assumptions of Science," I could not imagine how that could be. Disagreement with one of them would amount to 90% agreement. As it turns out, you have tiny exceptions to every one of them. I should have realized that the transition from indeterminism to determinism proceeds in a series of such small steps. You are simply further along than many folks are.

I also could not understand your occasional claim that I was being solipsistic by hypothesizing things for which there is little or no evidence. I did not realize how closely you adhered to the positivist credo: “If I cannot see, smell, touch, hear, or taste something, it does not exist.” Or, to the operationalist credo: “If I cannot measure it, it does not exist.” On the contrary, it is the prevalence of such self-centered views that makes regressive physics so solipsistic. It was just such solipsism as its positivist variant that led Einstein to hypothesize “immaterial fields” that were amenable to mathematical treatment, but beyond his imagination. It was just such solipsism as its operationalist variant that led him to his equally outrageous denial of simultaneity. Just because it takes us eight minutes to provide confirmation does not mean the Sun and Earth do not exist at the same time.]

TSW:  "Obviously, no agreement can be reached about similarity-dissimilarity unless the observers agree to compare the same characteristics. Until this is accomplished for a finite set of measurable characteristics, a classification or comparison must remain subjective rather than objective."

BW: Correct, but missing the central point. It isn't that the observers agree, but that the essential characteristics being considered are consistent with reality. That is what makes a comparison "objective": any person can *identify* a horse (or swan), irrespective of its color or any other incidental characteristics. A rose by any other name...

[GB: Sorry, but the “consistency with reality” is not the problem. We may agree that two microcosms each have an infinite number of characteristics “consistent with reality,” but because no two of those characteristics are identical, we might disagree on which ones are similar and which ones are dissimilar. This is a major contention in taxonomy and classifications of every type.[1] It happens to me all the time. When I mention that two people are similar, while my wife invariably says they are not. We are each simply using different criteria.]

TSW:  "An analogy, like an assumption, must lead to understanding and accurate prediction or it will be discarded as useless."

BW: Your discussion of analogies is good, but it stretches the meaning. An analogy is a reference to the in-kind Westmiller Things about objects, not a reference to the Borchardt Things themselves. To analogize human walking to horse walking is a statement about the characteristics of walking, not about the definition of humans or horses.

[GB: Thanks, but I do not understand what you are getting at. Are you trying to say that one of the characteristics of humans and horses is not walking? Also, I do not understand your reference to “in-kind” and “themselves”.

TSW:  "Humans, for example, were not considered similar to other animals until the scientific and commercial advantages of the analogy outweighed the religious objections."

BW: I don't think that's true. Nearly all mystics considered humans to be animals ... with a soul. Many religious doctrines even assert that many or all "lower animals" also have souls. In ancient Hebrew, the word for "spirit" and "breath" are identical; both are invisible and one is intimately connected with living things (including plants). So, a cynical reading of the bible considers "soul" nothing more than a typographical error.

[GB: Well, I think that is debatable. Traditionally, humans were not considered to be animals, having been formed instead in the image of their imaginary friend. There commonly were no rules against killing animals, while the killing of certain humans was considered immoral, to say the least. You are right that ascribing “souls” to anything that moved was part of the traditional approach to the motion of matter. As you know, there still are many folks who do not believe that time is motion or who believe that souls are matterless motion. You can be as cynical as you want, but I do not think many believers consider their imagined “soul” to be a typo.]


Next: Relativism (Part 3 of 3)

cotsw 022




[1] Borchardt, Glenn, 1974, The SIMAN coefficient for similarity analysis: Bulletin of the Classification Society, v. 3, p. 2-8.

4 comments:

Westmiller said...

GB: "Like many folks, what you seem to have missed is the distinction between ideality and reality."

I understand the distinction: one is properly derived from the other, but not the inverse. That is, abstract concepts are correct only when they are consistent with and derived from reality. Otherwise, they're fantasy. On the inverse, reality doesn't care what we think.

As you explain, the word "doorway" means the absence of solid impediments ("not wall") within a structure. It doesn't mean the absence of everything (air, dust, or even a door). The abstract concept, properly defined, is absolute, not relative. That's not to deny that there are many abstractions whose parameters are relative, usually to human dimensions.

Words (abstractions) are tools that facilitate communication of ideas among humans. If the tools don't conform with reality, or are used improperly, they are not knowledge.
http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/definitions.html

GB: "Early on, you mentioned that you were '95% in agreement with the ten assumptions'."

The disagreements are mostly semantic. For example, I don't make any exceptions to causality, I simply consider free will compatible; I agree that matter moves, but don't think the existence of matter is dependent on motion; and I agree that the evidence supports macroscopic infinity, but not necessarily microscopic infinity.

GB: "You certainly are not the only 'materialist' who still believes in free will."

For an explanation of compatibilist free will with which I agree:
http://www.optimal.org/peter/freewill.htm

GB: "I also could not understand your occasional claim that I was being solipsistic by hypothesizing things for which there is little or no evidence."

Sometimes you seem fatalistic: we cannot know the particular causes for any distinct event, because causes are always infinite. Sometimes, you seem solipsistic: all conceptions of reality are useful fabrications, as long as they're internally consistent (consupponible).

I'm not a positivist, nor an operationalist, I'm a realist. We can hypothesize anything we please, but the merits of the claims are always dependent on evidence and logic. I think there are a few portions of your assumptions that are logically inconsistent with reality, even if they are internally consistent.

GB: "I do not understand what you are getting at."

Only that concepts are tools of communication. If we don't get the definitions correct, then we're just mumbling. The word "horse" is not defined as "an animal that walks", because that characteristic is not fundamental to horses alone and crippled horses are still horses.

GB: "... while my wife invariably says they are not."

Your wife is always right, even when she's wrong. ;o)

Glenn Borchardt said...

Comment 20140401 TSW 11b.docx

BW: The abstract concept, properly defined, is absolute, not relative. That's not to deny that there are many abstractions whose parameters are relative, usually to human dimensions.

[GB: Sorry, but I seldom feel the need to use the word “absolute”—it is almost always a tipoff that the language of indeterminism is being spoken. When we abstract, we select certain characteristics among the infinite number of possibilities that we feel typify the thing we are abstracting from. This selection is by no means “absolute,” because others could choose a different set of characteristics that might work just as well. I note that you used the words “properly defined.” “Properly” is an admission of the necessary subjectivity involved and the word “defined” is an admission that an abstraction can only contain a finite number of characteristics. It is the making of the finite out of the infinite.]

GB: "Early on, you mentioned that you were '95% in agreement with the ten assumptions'."

BW: The disagreements are mostly semantic. For example, I don't make any exceptions to causality, I simply consider free will compatible; I agree that matter moves, but don't think the existence of matter is dependent on motion; and I agree that the evidence supports macroscopic infinity, but not necessarily microscopic infinity.

[GB: You have summed up our disagreements well, although, in my opinion, they are anything but semantic, as I imagine we will discover as we get deeper into the analyses that the book provides in later chapters. These mentions are simply tiny exceptionalisms that allow you to pursue Finite Particle Theory. Although your attempt at logic does not make any sense, it helps me understand why others hold fast to indeterminism as well. After all, if one really thought they had free will, why would they want to give that up? If one really thought they had found something that was motionless, why would they want to give that up? If one really thought they had found a microcosm that was solid, without submicrocosms within, why would they want to give that up? Indeterminists, like regressive physicists in general, have a lot to lose, whether they deem it a job, a career, a reputation, or a chance at living after dying. As Upton Sinclair proclaimed, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

It behooves all of us to examine our motivations. What will I get out of this particular assumption? Personally, I have no desire to hypothesize effects without causes or solid matter without motion. Of course, that is easy for me to say. After all, I am not working on Finite Particle Theory.

For the latest on the interminable debate concerning compatibilist free will, see:

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/is-dennett-rethinking-free-will/ ]

Continued…

Glenn Borchardt said...

Continued…

GB: "I also could not understand your occasional claim that I was being solipsistic by hypothesizing things for which there is little or no evidence."

BW: Sometimes you seem fatalistic: we cannot know the particular causes for any distinct event, because causes are always infinite. Sometimes, you seem solipsistic: all conceptions of reality are useful fabrications, as long as they're internally consistent (consupponible).

[GB: Bill, where the heck did I say anything of the sort? The Third Assumption of Science, uncertainty (It is impossible to know everything about anything, but it is possible to know more about anything) claims no such thing. As an indeterminist, your twisting of my words betrays your yearning for the finite causality of classical mechanics. In fact, we can know some of the particular causes of a distinct event. The fact that I realize that the universe is infinite and will not allow me to discover all of the infinite causes for a particular event does not mean that I am fatalistic.

Where did you ever get the solipsistic idea that “all conceptions of reality are useful fabrications”? Usefulness is determined by tests with the external world. Consupponibility is only one of the requirements for an assumptive constellation. It does not assure success, particularly if the constellation is indeterministic. The assumptions that matter could be solid and motionless are consupponible with finity, but that does not make them correct. If they are at all useful, such fabrications may convince other indeterminists to accept your grant proposal in the same way that promises of life after dying help fill up the collection basket.]

BW: I think there are a few portions of your assumptions that are logically inconsistent with reality, even if they are internally consistent.

[GB: Your claim that some of the ten assumptions “are logically inconsistent with reality” is, of course, a matter of opinion. The infinite universe presents each of us with a unique “worldview.” What is consistent or “inconsistent with reality” depends on what kind of reality we have experienced. That is why scientists tend to consider the concept of free will to be illogical, while liberal arts students tend to consider free will to be logical.

When you say that an assumption is “logically inconsistent with reality,” you had better know what you are doing. Evidence produced by the real world is subject to interpretation. For instance, it is a fact that light bends as it passes the Sun. Eddington and Einstein interpreted this as evidence for “curved empty space” or that light was a particle subject to the pull of gravity. In actuality, the bending was due to simple refraction in the Sun’s atmosphere. I am unaware of any properly interpreted evidence contradicting any of the "The Ten Assumptions of Science."]

Glenn Borchardt said...

GB: "... while my wife invariably says they are not."

Your wife is always right, even when she's wrong. ;o)

[GB: You are wiser than most indeterminists.]

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