Critique of TSW Part 24c The Mind-Brain Muddle

Blog 20141126 

Bill has trouble with truth, knowledge, information and the differences between reasoning via analogy, disparity, deduction, and induction.

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

The Mind-Brain Muddle (Part 3 of 7)

TSW:  "In practice, truth is the relation between the microcosm of knowledge, and the macrocosm of information. Thus the 'truth' varies from person to person."

BW: This is the "subjective reality" view, but I wouldn't call it "truth", even as an aphorism. It puts hallucinations on a par with validated, logical assertions based on objective evidence. For the mystic, the Bible contains information about supreme beings, never warranted by any evidence or logic, so they assert it as 'true'. That assertion is mitigated by everything we know "for certain" about reality.

[GB: I stand by the quote. “Truth” is necessarily a subjective term. It is true that water runs downhill, but neither the water, nor the hill care whether that claim is true or false. Thus the appellation “true” or “false” is not a characteristic of the external world without perceptive beings. As you can see from Wikipedia, the subject of truth is infinitely complicated and a fundamental part of the philosophical struggle:

I prefer my dialectic between knowledge and information. It fits the univironmental concept and explains a lot about why folks have such great disagreements about the truth. Each person necessarily has limited knowledge and limited information about the world. Characteristically, you cherry-pick what you call “evidence” in asserting what you call your “unmitigated” “for certain” knowledge about reality. You deny the priest his bible as evidence for his “truth” claims, but accept your own claims for free will without any evidence at all. Of course, I otherwise agree with you that truth is the closest correspondence between what we think of reality and what it actually is. Obviously, in science, we discover truth via observation and experiment, with the best theory (“what we think of reality”) being the one that predicts the results of the next observation or experiment.]

TSW:  "The mere addition of another book to the shelf may increase one’s store of information, but without an interaction with the human microcosm, the information in the book never becomes knowledge."

BW: This strikes me as an error of definition. The book couldn't exist if the author had no knowledge of the topic. That the mode of communication is a physical object (book) doesn't make it simple "matter". Of course, if no other person ever reads the book, then it is fruitless as a means of communicating knowledge, whether it contains objectively factual information or not.

[GB: Huh? I think you just argued yourself out of that one. Knowledge involves the process of knowing, which involves the motions of electrons within the brain. The book does not have that no matter how it got here. The book may be infinitely complicated matter, but it is still matter. As we say, it is an “instrument” (i.e., a “thing”) of communication.]

TSW:  "We may speculate that disparate facts, like other kinds of matter, eventually produce chemical reactions within the brain that we experience as mental conflict."

BW: The brain mechanism may be chemical, but the "disparity" is a matter of logic, which may mitigate the truth of any assertion. The "mental conflict" isn't a chemical necessity, since the chemicals (or neurons) have no means of determining whether any abstract assertion is true or false. It is only the *process* of logical analysis that recognizes inconsistencies between two alleged facts ... or a discontinuity with objective evidence.

[GB: And what is “the *process* of logical analysis”? You seem to be implying that somehow, this process does not occur in the brain—sort of like your “free will” that apparently is matterless motion floating around in the air. Sorry, but all logical analysis occurs inside the brain as an infinitely complicated physical/chemical process. We will never completely understand how this works, but recent work has been taking the first baby steps in that direction, and none of it involves any processes outside the brain.]

TSW:  "... new combinations - ideas - result when the contradictions between facts or theories are reconciled."

BW: Again, trying to squeeze a process into a dialectic analysis, which is flimsy, subjective, and unenlightening. New ideas don't result from contradictions, but from concurrences. That is, we observe patterns of events that share common characteristics with patterns we already know, suggesting a similar cause ... not a contradiction. The previous example of a falling ball and a falling brick apply. A recent invention is another good example: a young student [Andraka] who was concurrently studying antibodies and nanotubes realized that the properties of one could affect the properties of the other, inventing a cheap, fast, highly accurate cancer detector. See his TEDx presentation:

[GB: Remember that we think in two fundamentally different ways: 1) by analogy and 2) by disparity. In science we do this all the time, of course, as you just did by stressing analogy, which is the way in which much of “ordinary” science is done a la Kuhn. The greatest breakthroughs involving “revolutionary” science, however, often come about when we discover disparities, contradictions that are not solved via the smooth processes you described. My toughest scientific problems tend to be of this nature. They present a big headache, often keeping me awake at night continually rehearsing the conflicting data. Being somewhat persistent, however, I tend to keep at it, going outside the field in the attempt to discover new information. My little brain finally settles down only after I find the reasons for the contradiction at hand.]  

TSW:  "There are two basic approaches to problem solving: the microcosmic (deductive) and the macrocosmic (inductive)."

BW: There's nothing "micro or macro" about the two. Both are pattern recognition techniques, which have different characteristics. Deduction takes two or more assumptions about reality, applies sequential logic, and arrives at a conclusion. Generally speaking, it doesn't "solve problems" or "create new ideas", it just describes the logical consequence of the premises. Induction takes the same assumptions and identifies logical relationships between one or more of their properties, which can identify novel causes or produce new effects. The two techniques aren't opposites and are usually applied in series to discover new facts or create new effects. Without induction, Andraka would never have consolidated the properties of antibodies, nanotubes, and electrical resistance. Without deduction, he couldn't have found an effective means of combining them to produce a useful result.

[GB: You missed half of it. You are right about deduction being micro, a logical consequence of the information at hand. What you consider induction is really deduction, which “takes the same assumptions and identifies logical relationships between one or more of their properties.” Deduction occurs in a closed system (that is why I call it microcosmic); induction obtains information from outside the system (that is why I call it macrocosmic). You implied this yourself when you mentioned how Andraka brought information about antibodes, nanotubes and electrical resistance to the problem at hand. Induction always requires convergence from outside the microcosm. You recognized this with your word “consolidated.” Once brought to the table, the data, theories, or ideas can be used to discover their logical consequences. After all, that is how we get new ideas. We combine old idea A with old idea B to form new idea C. That is why those with experience in many disciplines and those who travel widely come up with so many innovations. That is why the solution to many a puzzle involves induction (macrocosmic thinking). We often need to “think outside the box” or travel far to bring back the missing piece that will complete the puzzle.]

TSW:  "With macrocosmic thinking (induction), we search for materials normally not considered within the confines of the microcosm of the problem. This approach, although often inefficient, is potentially the most creative."

BW: I agree, but there's nothing macroscopic about it. Here's an interesting article on analytical induction and deduction, titled "Predicting the Future is Hard":

[GB: Huh? The word is “macrocosmic.” It has little in common with the word “macroscopic.” Macrocosmic things are outside the microcosm (any particular xyz portion of the universe, large or small). Sorry, but neither induction nor deduction was in the article. Of course, Bayesian reasoning, which was mentioned, requires sporadic induction in the form of updated information from outside the analysis at hand. This is in contrast to frequentist reasoning, a deductive approach that does not.]

TSW:  "We also may speculate that new ideas appear as new brain states - actual physicochemical combinations or material interconnections that have never occurred before."

BW: Everything we commit to memory is a "new physio-chemical combination" in the brain. Every fact we acquire from reality, or the communication of other peoples observations, forms a novel connection in our brain. However, it isn't necessarily the case that those material configurations of neurons have "never occurred before". Abstract concepts, whether new or not, probably are the same in every individual that acquires them. It's called learning and is the foundation of language.

[GB: Sorry, you missed the point: “new ideas” require “new brain states.” That is why, unless we already have the old ideas and thus their correlative old brain states, we neither understand the new ideas or formulate the new brain states. You are right that all memories are new physio-chemical combinations. And like other microcosms, these combinations may be similar in some respects and dissimilar in others, per relativism.

TSW:  "It is only through success in predicting the future that the brain, knowledge, information, and ideas are of any use."

BW: Rather vague. Knowledge identifies truthful assertions about causes and effects, which are just as true in the past - before the evidence was acquired - as it will be in the future. Nor are valid ideas necessarily good predictors of what will happen in the future. For example, Darwin's theory didn't predict *what* changes would occur in future species evolution, only *how* those changes would occur and had occurred in the past. Moreover, as you noted earlier, knowledge is contextual. When contexts change, the knowledge fails to predict ... even if it was absolutely true in another context. That water boils at 212°F is a fact, but only at sea level, not on a mountain.

PS: An engaging article on "causal completeness" that you might find interesting:

On The Causal Completeness Of Physics, Part I

Massimo Pigliucci

“I could quit here and declare victory over Weinberg: the CCP that he invoked does not do the work that he thinks he does (specifically, eliminating the possibility of emergent properties), although it does do the job we both want it to do (eliminate dualism, vitalism and supernaturalism).” -Pigiucci

[GB: Thanks Bill. I also declare victory over Weinberg (and Pigliucci). The article shows that both of them are still stuck in their belief in finite causality, with the implication that most scientists are no different. Weinberg is completely wrong in supporting classical mechanics at this late date. That remains a clear violation of the Second Assumption of Science, causality (All effects have an infinite number of material causes). Pigliucci is correct that the indeterminist’s finite causality could never produce emergent properties. In fact, if classical mechanics were absolutely true, the universe would not even exist. On the other hand, Pigliucci has his own problems (see  https://newhumanist.org.uk/2843/science-needs-philosophy). You may remember that in "The Scientific Worldview" I mentioned that in all of science we are always necessarily working with reductions (e.g., neomechanics) or expansions (e.g., univironmental determinism). Pigliucci, like the religious folks, has taken it upon himself to claim that reductions, no matter how successful, inevitably miss the stuff that philosophers and humanists like himself can supply. He claims that “humanism is about taking seriously the complexity of the human condition and the limits of human knowledge.” If you do not grant this opening afforded by the Eighth Assumption of Science, infinity (The universe is infinite, both in the microcosmic and macrocosmic directions) and the Second Assumption of Science, causality (All effects have an infinite number of material causes), he will slander you with the epithet called “scientism.” Like other indeterminists, he cannot get over “the idea that science is the ultimate arbiter of any question, or indeed even of what counts as a meaningful question.” Like the religious folks, he is implying that there are other ways of knowing that do not involve logic and the interpretation of evidence. A pox on both their houses!]
Next: Ethics (Part 4 of 7)

cotsw 052

1 comment:

Westmiller said...

[GB: And what is “the *process* of logical analysis”? You seem to be implying that somehow, this process does not occur in the brain ...]

Not at all: it is a brain function. I just completed reading John Stuart Mill's "System of Logic" which is exceptional and provides the best description I've seen of the process, differentiating the elements of deduction and induction. It's a FREE book on Amazon Kindle:

[GB: ... Like the religious folks, [Pigliucci] is implying that there are other ways of knowing that do not involve logic and the interpretation of evidence. A pox on both their houses!]

Aside from my semantic quibbles, I think we generally agree on the topic.