Critique of "The Scientific Worldview": Part 5b The Ten Assumptions of Science: Uncertainty

Teleology, purpose, predetermination, Bohm, and the Copenhagen mess.

I am ever so grateful to Bill Westmiller, whose comments are in bold:

Third Assumption: Uncertainty

BW: Long chapter, long commentary. [Second half]

TSW: "Although there always have been some who saw natural law in a teleological sense, there were others who saw it in a strictly objective sense. Whatever those objects did to each other occurred because there were no other possibilities under the conditions, and not because the objects were following a predetermined script."

BW: Odd phrasing. Teleology doesn't advocate a "predetermined script" dictating present effects from past causes, but rather that some future effect ("God's Will"?) dictates present causes.

 (Teleology: The use of ultimate purpose or design as a means of explaining phenomena; belief in or the perception of purposeful development toward an end, as in nature or history.)

[GB: Teleology ascribes purpose (a desire that formulates a "predetermined script") for particular actions. It is most blatant when it is used to describe non-cognizant microcosms: The rock wanted to roll down the hill. The rock achieved its equilibrium, etc. I got caught doing that once by my major prof. Now I don’t do it for anything—even the cognizant microcosms.]

TSW: "... As Bohm pointed out, 'there is no real case known of a set of perfect one-to-one causal relationships that could in principle make possible predictions of unlimited precision.'

BW: True, but there's an even simpler case: we cannot determine *with unlimited precision" the diameter of any circle from it's radius, because PI is a transcendental ratio. In my Unimid Theory, there is no such thing as a perfect circle (or a straight line) in nature: it isn't possible. I won't expand on the proposition here.

[GB: Right, that is because the universe is infinite. PI theoretically can be considered to have an infinite number of decimal places. Similarly, Bohm is simply stating his belief that all relationships involve infinite causality. This is shown by the fact that all are actually “nonlinear,” always yielding correlation coefficients less than 1, and never yielding exactly the same result twice.]

TSW: "Finally, 'we do not expect that any causal relationships will represent absolute truths; for to do this, they would have to apply without approximation, and unconditionally.'"

BW: What I think Bohm misses and you don't address is that "certainty" is a state of mind, not a state of nature. That is - assuming determinism in the objective sense - Nature can only do what it must do, whether or not we know the causes of Her effects. That we do not - and cannot - know every cause (we're not omniscient) is not an impediment to arriving at an "unmitigated truth" about what Nature causes.

The error Bohm makes is epistemological: what we call "certainty" is not omniscience, but rather a psychological state of confidence that we have overwhelming evidence in favor of a particular cause-and-effect relationship, with no evident contradictions. The proposition is logically and evidently true *today*. That confidence is the essential characteristic of all scientific knowledge, even if we are amused by fantasies and respectful of authorities for other reasons.

[GB: There is another word for that kind of certainty:

Hubris /ˈhjuːbrɪs/, also hybris, from ancient Greek ὕβρις, means extreme pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power. (From Wikipedia)

In science, we must ever be on guard against hubris. It is more suited to indeterminists who typically assume immaterialism, lose contact with reality, overestimate their own competence, and display other elements of solipsism (e.g., see regressive physics).]

TSW: "This subjective view of causality is really acausality in disguise."

BW: I agree: the Copenhagen Interpretation is pure nonsense. That we cannot acquire "perfect knowledge" of nature does not mean that nature is not perfectly causal. There is no evidence whatever (beyond hypothetical musings) that any effect is uncaused or that anything is caused by our knowledge - or ignorance - of it.

TSW: "Like other primitive ideas, the belief that chance is acausal is destroyed by knowledge."

BW: Agreed, but I disagree that Aristotle is the "greatest of all sinners" in this regard (above). Aristotle, in spite of his flaws, was a "saint"; an intellectual hero astride the gloom of mystical cowards.

[GB: Let me repeat this quote from TSW p. 36:

“As Aristotle saw it, events come about in three ways: 1) by external compulsion, 2) by internal compulsion, or 3) without definite causes but by absolute chance. C. S. Peirce considered the doctrine of absolute chance to be the “utmost essence of Aristotelianism.” Indeed, it deserves to be called the essence of twentieth century philosophy and science as well. Wherever the doctrine of absolute chance is invoked, the association of causality with motion is severed cleanly.”

BTW: Despite this one major error, I am a fan of Aristotle as well. Someone who assumes microcosmic infinity can’t be all bad!]

TSW: "... acausality ... satisfied the demand for completeness and was consistent with the atomistic idea that the quantum was indivisible and that all quanta were identical.”

BW: Ooooo ... requires a long dissertation, which I won't attempt here. In a nutshell: Planck's quanta isn't even a quantity, it's just a conversion ratio of frequency to energy. The Unimid Theory explains why it is convertible.

However, I don't think the "atomistic idea" is invalid as a punctuated state of nature, nor that it is necessarily acausal. I won't reiterate my opposition to the idea of "microcosmic infinity" here.

TSW: "Mathematics, promoted as the language of mature science, could never develop a dialect of infinite length. Rather than adopt an assumption that defied mathematical treatment ..."

BW: On the contrary, mathematics (particularly Einstein's) inherently advocate infinities. Dividing velocity by the speed of light *requires* that light, moving at light speed, has an infinitely small length and mass ... explicitly *none*. Fodder for a longer discussion.

[GB: Maybe you need to read something else. I don’t believe that light is anything more than wave motion in the aether, so I don’t have to believe in things with no length or mass. You might want to discuss that with someone else with a lot of time on his hands. You are right that it will be a really long discussion, because there are a lot of contradictions in Einstein’s stuff.]

TSW: "Construed as a singular cause, the concept of chance did what indeterminists had always wanted to do: call a halt to scientific activity - the establishment of cause and effect."

BW: Agreed. Very sad. So much intellectual power lost over so many decades.

TSW: "'Practice' in modern physics increasingly became mathematical practice rather than experimental practice."

BW: Yes, and developed to a state that computer modeling is considered "evidence". Nothing delights a lazy "scientist" more than translating unsupported speculation into hard computer code.

TSW: "the Uncertainty Principle claimed to do what the classical mechanists had always wanted to do but could not: eliminate the admission of ignorance from explanation."

BW: Touche' ... groin kick! If we're looking for cause and effect, most "scientific investigations" are solely for the purpose of making politicians feel confident of their capacity to control the world. Butters their bread.

TSW: "The result is a bell-shaped curve that tells us that dogs weigh about fifteen kg ..."

BW: I've made similar points about pharmaceutical studies. The average response doesn't apply to 98% of people, who have worse or better outcomes. If a study of 100 people finds that a drug causes 12 deaths and 24 cures, it is considered "efficacious" on average. Since 64% experience no effects whatever, it is considered "safe" on average. I'm persistently amused by the commercial disclaimers on medicines: "This drug will make your joints feel better, but you'll want to kill yourself."

TSW: "Knowledge and ignorance must be seen as relatives; knowledge is nothing without ignorance."

BW: In another sense, knowledge is the antithesis of ignorance. We're all born knowing nothing, so it's a life-long struggle to replace our natural ignorance with acquired knowledge.

TSW: "According to uncertainty, there can be no system - macroscopic or microscopic - that does not necessitate a continual updating of our knowledge about it."

BW: While that seems intuitively true, I think you're on the verge of anthropomorphizing nature. That is, "uncertainty" is not a state of nature or any natural system, it is a state of consciousness (see above). I think the actual principle that you're trying to assert is that human beings cannot be omniscient. That doesn't mean that we are doomed to stupidity or ignorance, only that we can't know everything. Focus is a virtue.

TSW: "The Aristotelian belief in chance as singular cause only gives one a false sense of certainty."

BW: Again with demonizing Aristotle! He never talked about "singular cause", but rather four senses of causation:

"Aristotle argued that the most important and decisive cause was the formal cause ... thought to explain the stability of the world by explaining the structure of things, [whereas] the laws of nature were thought to explain ... the relations between things." - Hulswit


TSW: "In all of science, a special effort must be made to avoid using words such as chance, accident, random, or luck as indications of anything other than observer ignorance."

BW: Totally agree. A good posture for the end of your chapter.

Next: Inseparability (in 5 parts)

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