[The first part of this essay was published here.]
So, we have seen that Ladyman and Ross, in their book Every Thing Must Go (ETMG) are claiming that the only metaphysics worth doing is one that takes onboard all of the sciences, both physics and the so-called special sciences (from biology to sociology). We have also seen that their discussion is framed within the background of two broad issues: the critique of non-naturalistic metaphysics (which traces back at least to Hume and his “fork,” and of course to the logical positivists of the early 20th century), and the debate in philosophy of science between realists and anti-realists (remember: realism here means that scientific theories actually track truth about the world, while antirealism is the position that scientific theorizing has the more modest aim of being empirically adequate).
We are now ready to get to the heart of the matter, which consists of two major points: the implications of physics for metaphysics (including notions such as determinism), and the “third way” out of the realism-antirealism debate. Let me start with the latter, it will soon enough nicely connect to the former in an intellectually satisfying package (for me, at least, though I’m sure I will hear otherwise from some readers).
The view that attempts to steer a way between the Scylla of realism and the Charybdis of antirealism is often referred to as structural realism. The Stanford Encyclopedia article on the subject claims that this is “considered by many realists and antirealists alike as the most defensible form of scientific realism,” and it comes in two varieties: epistemic and ontic. Let’s get our initial look at structural realism by way of a summary by John Worrall, the guy who introduced the idea into the debate back in 1989. Worrall is talking about the shift — in 19th century optics — between Fresnel’s and Maxwell’s theories:
There was an important element of continuity in the shift from Fresnel to Maxwell — and this was much more than a simple question of carrying over the successful empirical content into the new theory. At the same time it was rather less than a carrying over of the full theoretical content or full theoretical mechanisms (even in “approximate” form) … There was continuity or accumulation in the shift, but the continuity is one of form or structure, not of content.To put it in other words, realists are correct in the broad picture, but they are wrong about what carries from one successful theory to the other: new theories do not (necessarily) retain older theories’ description of unobservables (like ether), but rather their mathematical or “structural” content.
I must admit that the first time I heard about this I immediately thought about “obvious” counterexamples: seriously, the Copernican theory is structurally similar to the Ptolemaic one? Well, it turns out that it is, and S. Saunders has actually done the proper work to demonstrate it (besides, the example is likely not fair, since Ptolemaic astronomy was pretty much proto-scientific).
There are other prima facie problems with structural realism, for instance the fact that many theories in the special sciences are simply not framed mathematically (much of the theory of evolution, for instance), and it is therefore difficult to analyze their structure. Still, the work done by structural realists with physical theories quickly becomes pretty darn compelling, once one starts looking into it.
Ladyman himself, in work previous to ETMG, has helped distinguish between epistemic and ontic structural realism (note to the non-philosophically inclined: I know, it’s getting heavy; bear with me, the payoff at the end may be handsome...). The weaker form is the first one: here structural realism is interpreted as metaphysically neutral (i.e., concerned only with epistemology): it tells us that scientific theories describe the structure of the world, but it does not commit itself to the content of that world. You may remember the “shut up and calculate” brand of physicists who study quantum mechanics: they may be interpreted as antirealists, but they would also be at home within epistemic structural realism, insofar as they think that the equations describe the way the world is, but do not commit themselves to any metaphysical interpretation of what the world is made of.
The second form of structural realism, the ontic variety, is the one endorsed by Ladyman and Ross in ETMG, and it begins with the (reasonable, I think) point that one simply cannot divorce metaphysics from epistemology, and that whenever there is a conflict between the two, it is the latter that gets to occupy the driver’s seat. Ladyman and Ross explain their position by way of a Peirce-style (i.e., pragmatic) form of verificationism (distinct from the one that failed the logical positivists, though remember that L&R label their position “neo-positivism”). As they put it:
This verificationism consists in two claims. First, no hypothesis that the approximately consensual current scientific picture declares to be beyond our capacity to investigate should be taken seriously. Second, any metaphysical hypothesis that is to be taken seriously should have some identifiable bearing on the relationship between at least two relatively specific hypotheses that are either regarded as confirmed by institutionally bona fide current science or are regarded as motivated and in principle confirmable by such science.Chew on that for a moment, but it basically means that the metaphysician doesn’t get to run wild without a way for the rest of us to square what he says with the best empirical knowledge we have about the world. No metaphysics without adequate epistemology. Seems sensible enough to me.
And we now get to ontic structural realism, the position endorsed by Ladyman and Ross, and which is beginning to convince me (with some reservations here and there). This is how they themselves put it:
Ontic Structual Realism (OSR) is the view that the world has an objective modal structure that is ontologically fundamental ... According to OSR, even the identity and individuality of objects depends on the relational structure of the world. ... There are no things. Structure is all there is.Hence the title of the book: Every Thing Must Go! Now, before you go all New Agey or Buddhist on me, please note that Ladyman and Ross derive their metaphysics from the best physics available. The details are fascinating, and in themselves make the book a must read, but essentially their claim is that all currently viable theories in fundamental physics — including quantum mechanics, string theory, M-theory and their rivals — have in common principles like non-locality, entanglement and such, which point toward the surprising conclusion that “at bottom” there are no “things,” only structure.
Yes, I know, you are going to ask “structure of what?” “relations among what?” and so on. And the answer appears to be that those are the wrong questions to ask. Fundamental physics seems to do away with objects, and indeed, it does away with yet another old chestnut of metaphysical speculation: causality!
Causality has been a troubled concept since Hume’s famous deflating analysis of it, but quantum mechanics — and, again, all the other currently viable candidate physical theories — simply tell us that at the lowest level of analysis the concept breaks down, it doesn’t do any work for the physicist. Philosophers have noted for a while now that fundamental physicists talk about laws and mathematical descriptions, but they don’t talk about causes very much, if at all. And modern physics explains why: at bottom, there are no causes.
But wait a minute! Are Ladyman and Ross telling us that causes and objects are illusory? Is this yet another instance of people claiming that things that we think exist and play a crucial role in our understanding of the world do not actually exist? Are we to do away with tables and people, just like some pundits these days want to argue that free will, consciousness, morality and so on, are illusions, because none of them have a place in fundamental physics? Are Harris, Rosenberg and other modern nihilists right after all??
Nope, they are not. (Here begins the payoff of all the hard work we’ve done so far.) Let’s take causality first. According to Ladyman and Ross it is a concept that is eliminated in fundamental physics, but needs to be retained by the special sciences (from biology to economics). That’s because causality makes sense only in systems for which there is temporal asymmetry (a before and an after), and that — while not being the case for physics — is very much the case for the special sciences. L&R do not treat the concept of causality as an “illusion” to be dispelled once the special sciences are reduced to physics, because no such reduction is in the cards.
But why not? For the same reason that “things” must go at the fundamental level but need to be retained at the level(s) of analysis of the special sciences. Let’s take the standard example of a table. It is fashionable these days among the scientifically literate to shock us by saying that the “table” right in front of our noses doesn’t “really” exist (and of course, neither does our nose, or ourselves), because physics tells us that the apparently solid object is actually made of things like protons, neutrons and electrons (or quarks, or strings, you pick, it doesn’t matter). But this, according to ontic structural realism, is still a pretty limited way of looking at the issue. At bottom there are no things, and hence not even protons, quarks or strings, there are only structures. These structures generate patterns, and science is in the business of describing such patterns. At one level, the pattern can best be captured by talk of protons and electrons; at another level (i.e., for material science, and of course for our everyday experience) they are captured by objects like tables. Tables, then, are not illusions at all, at least no more than protons and electrons are illusions; rather, they are the most appropriate way to describe a certain stable pattern.
The same goes for causality: when historians, economists, biologists and so on talk about “X causing Y” they are simply deploying a concept that is useful for capturing patterns that are affected by time asymmetry, and that are no more or less illusory than patterns at any other level of analysis of reality. The only difference between physics and the special sciences, according to Ladyman and Ross, is that the former is concerned with patterns that have for all effective purposes a very very large domain of stability (both in space and time). Biologists, instead, are concerned with patterns that have local stability both in space (earth-bound, for now) and time (the duration of the life of an individual, or of a species).
The surprising upshot of all of this is that physicalist reductionism — the idea that all the special sciences and their objects of study will eventually reduce to physics and its objects of study — is out of the question. And it is out of the question because of a metaphysics (ontic structural realism) that is based on the best physics available! If you are not blown away by this you may not have caught the thing in its entirety and may want to go back and re-read this post (or, if your philosophical and physical chops are adequate, ETMG).
This has all sorts of implication for those increasingly popular (and, I think, annoying) statements about determinism and reductionism that we keep hearing. Turns out that they are based on bad physics and worse metaphysics. There is no fundamental determinism for the simple reason that there is no fundamental causality, and that “cause” is a conceptual tool deployed by the special sciences that has no counterpart in fundamental physics, and so it cannot be reduced to or eliminated by the latter.
This doesn’t mean that all is fine and clear in ETMG or with ontic structural realism in general. There are still plenty of open questions to be worked out (I hinted at one above: what are we to make of scientific theories that do not deploy math? Which structures are conserved there?). But the satisfying picture emerging from all of the above is this: a) metaphysics has to be based on epistemology, and it cannot do without taking physics very very seriously; b) the special sciences — while obviously compatible with physics (which sets their universal boundaries) — retain an enormous amount of independence from it and cannot be reduced to it; c) we still have a lot of work to do, both within philosophy and within the special sciences, to make sense of the world.
One last parting shot, about a topic that the astute reader may have noticed I have bypassed so far: if every thing is gone and we only have mathematical structures and relations, what is the ontological status of mathematical objects themselves? Here are the only relevant quotes from Ladyman and Ross that I could find:
OSR as we develop it is in principle friendly to a naturalized version of Platonism. ... One distinct, and very interesting, possibility is that as we become truly used to thinking of the stuff of the physical universe as being patterns rather than little things, the traditional gulf between Platonistic realism about mathematics and naturalistic realism about physics will shrink or even vanish. ... [Bertrand Russell] was first and foremost a Platonist. But as we pointed out there are versions of Platonism that are compatible with naturalism; and Russell’s Platonism was motivated by facts about mathematics and its relationship to science, so was PNC [Principle of Naturalistic Closure] -compatible.Wild stuff, no? Now I don’t feel too badly about having written in sympathetic terms about mathematical Platonism...
Perhaps I am misunderstanding this, but the claim is made that, "no hypothesis that the approximately consensual current scientific picture declares to be beyond our capacity to investigate should be taken seriously."ReplyDelete
Wouldn't that include much of the work of Einstein, which for years was beyond our technical ability to confirm? Or include theories about dark matter/dark energy or string theory?
I thinking here of things that are hypothesized because they fit in nicely with verifiable theories, but nonetheless are themselves (currently) unverifiable.
When a famous experiment performed during an eclipse confirmed Einstein's theory about mass bending space locally, Einstein was asked what his reactions would be if the theory was NOT confirmed.
He said, "Then I would have been sorry for the dear Lord as my theory is correct."
Isn't that an example of ignoring empirical evidence (or lack thereof), based solely on the "feel" that the new theory has got to be right based upon its elegance and the fit into what is previously known?
Tom, its not about whether we are able to conduct experiments we know would disprove some hypothesis, but about whether our best science leaves us in a position to determine any experiment that could possibly disprove that hypothesis.Delete
Very refreshing and reassuring to see this view stated so clearly and comprehensively (except for a wrinkle or two.)ReplyDelete
People tend to dismiss this as denying science, unable to see that this is where you arrive when you fully embrace science.
Remaining wrinkles (at least in this article; I just today received the book) have to do with a Platonic view that in the end "mathematical structure" somehow "exists" whereas this is simply and coherently resolved by recognizing the pragmatics of the embedded observer.
I expect I would enjoy reading a similar article, if you were so inclined, on the "scientific perspectivalism" of Ronald Giere.
I admit that I'm somewhat of Buddha-phile (albeit, mostly for the contemplative & ethical strains in Buddhist tradition), so when I saw this:
...before you go all New Agey or Buddhist on me, please note that Ladyman and Ross derive their metaphysics from the best physics available.
and then this:
Now I don’t feel too badly about having written in sympathetic terms about mathematical Platonism...
I thought: Why should I feel any worse about my sympathy for Buddhism? Neither Plato nor the Buddha (nor Hume, for that matter) had modern physics to work from. Nonetheless, ontic structural realism seems to well with all of them.
And just to quickly illustrate how this view sits well with Buddhism, here's a little sample from Owen Flanagan's The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized:
...everything is in flux and everything including myself is impermanent because every state of affairs has its coming to be and its ceasing to be in the overarching process of dependent origination [a.k.a. arising]
all things are empty (sunyata) in the sense that everything is lacking in an intrinsic or immutable essence...
...the doctrine of dependent arising-the idea that everything participates in the flux-undermines a substantialist metaphysic of the relata in the flux. They are not themselves things or processes with instrinsic (read "nonrelational") essences...There are no such things as things or processes.
I found the first part more interesting. The second favors structure. This appears to mean patterns of things rather than things. However, things may come in patterns because each thing is particles and fields at root, and they are the laws of physics. Yes, those things ARE the laws, because the laws governing their behaviors ARE their behaviors. They are descriptions of their behaviors, in various fundamental patterns known as 'electromagnetism' or 'gravitation' for example, involving both particles and fields, and their interactions & distributions. There is, at root, a set of fundamental particles & fields and their constants (numbering only twenty).ReplyDelete
Patterns, structure, mathematical systems as reality? Yes, they are real, but only the real means of measuring and describing the behavior of particles & fields that are, at root, the realities. I could provide a more satisfying set of Metaphysical First Principles, based on material "substances" and their measureable "forms", but not in 3 paragraps, so you will need to refer to my free book mentioned in various earlier threads(http://home.iprimus.com.au/marcus60/1.pdf).
What the theorists here seem to have done is to expand out into Ontology to open a debate about what is true and get into abstracts about the truth of patterns of things as opposed to the things of which they are patterns. What is true, or truly exists? Well, now you are just back to the First Principles of Metaphysics, which are the ultimate definitions of the root realities and their measurements (patterns) in terms that make sense of both. The Principles must allow for interaction & distribution to the patterns, as root behavior.
I often read about Hume's inevitable recognition of the fact that we cannot foretell the future. It would be fun to be Mandrake or Gandalf or someone like that, but not in this universe. Instead we work for rational satisfaction that cause and effect rules particles & fields, which it does as it is enshrined in their laws as certainties to their interactions, just as they have certainties to the spatial & temporal distributions. I tend to think that splitting using Ontology is a red herring to give an appearance of justification. In fact, in definitional slittings here and generally, the truth is in how it all hangs together under First Principles that allow for all of it and enlighten (including biology & psychology).
If everything reduces to "mathematical structures" (immaterial abstractions), then your metaphysical position qualifies either as a form of "mathematical monism" or as a form "immaterialism."
At any rate, there is no rational justification for the belief that mathematical abstractions can exist independently of a mind that abstracts.
> the claim is made that, "no hypothesis that the approximately consensual current scientific picture declares to be beyond our capacity to investigate should be taken seriously." Wouldn't that include much of the work of Einstein, which for years was beyond our technical ability to confirm? Or include theories about dark matter/dark energy or string theory? <
No. All those theories were/are within the realm of reasonable discussion that the scientific community accepts. Nobody is accusing string theorists of doing pseudoscience, nor was anyone accusing Einstein of the same before his theory was confirmed. We are talking about metaphysical notions that have no connection to empirical verifiability, like the existence of gods.
I have read and found much of interest in Giere's book. However:
> a Platonic view that in the end "mathematical structure" somehow "exists" whereas this is simply and coherently resolved by recognizing the pragmatics of the embedded observer. <
I am not sure where you are getting with this. Could you elaborate?
> Why should I feel any worse about my sympathy for Buddhism? Neither Plato nor the Buddha (nor Hume, for that matter) had modern physics to work from. Nonetheless, ontic structural realism seems to well with all of them. <
No, because OSR is the result of the best physics and philosophy of science we've got, while both Plato and Buddha had mystical insights, which I do not count as reliable knowledge. Incidentally, much of the trouble here is caused by the unfortunate use of the term "Platonism," even though what Ladyman and Ross (and Bertrand Russell, and plenty of others) are referring to has precious little to do with Plato.
> things may come in patterns because each thing is particles and fields at root <
Ontic Structural Realism is based on the idea - from physics - that there are no micro-things and micro-bangings at the bottom of reality, only patterns. Fields are a good examples, they are not "made of" stuff, so they are more akin to patterns than to anything like our standard conception of matter.
you seem overly fond of "isms" and labels, I am not.
> At any rate, there is no rational justification for the belief that mathematical abstractions can exist independently of a mind that abstracts <
You have been given reasons and resources in the previous thread, you just ignored them.
Massimo: I agree that neither Plato nor the Buddha (nor Hume) possessed reliable knowledge. But the relativist/anti-substance doctrine at the core of OSR seems a very old one, such that it's only natural that any adherents to that doctrine should feel some vindication or relief from the news that it's now also "the result of the best physics and philosophy of science we've got."ReplyDelete
> the relativist/anti-substance doctrine at the core of OSR seems a very old one, such that it's only natural that any adherents to that doctrine should feel some vindication <
Yes, I know, but I'm largely unmoved. This to me is like arguing that the ancient Greek atomists "got it right." No, they didn't. First because they actually got it wrong (as far as we know, there are no ultimately indivisible particles in the universe), and second because their hunch is only superficially similar to modern physical theories. But yes, I can see the temptation...
Massimo: Just to be clear, I'm not saying that "OSR is right." I'm agnostic on that question.Delete
I am saying, however, that OSR (as I understand it from your portrayal above) is quite compatible (i.e. "sits well") with certain ancient Buddhist metaphysical doctrines (e.g. dependent arising) - at least as far as Owen Flanagan interprets them (he being a naturalist peer of yours, Ladyman and Ross).
PS: On the other hand, I'm also aware of a more pragmatic Buddhist strain that discourages metaphysical speculation.
> OSR (as I understand it from your portrayal above) is quite compatible (i.e. "sits well") with certain ancient Buddhist metaphysical doctrines <
Well, yes, but as I said, "compatibility" here may mean nothing above a (too) generic similarity, as in the case of the Greek atomists and modern physics.
Just to be clear, I don't accept the OSR (or mathematical Platonism, pace Alastair) wholesale either. I just find it an intriguing position, and the best / most coherent account of the philosophy of science and mathematics available so far.
I'm not sure what qualifies as a "(too) generic similarity." I just know that the similarity was strong enough that I instantly recognized it - and presumably you did, as well, given your disclaimer.
Anyway, I recommend Flanagan's book to you. I think you'd find that it's more in line with your way of thinking (particularly re: ethics) than you might guess from the title.
When this "Dancing Wu Li Master" or "Tao of Physics" type of equivocation rears its head, I get frustrated. Mufi, check out the introduction to Ken Wilbur's "Quantum Questions" for a fascinating historically based look at where the founders of QM stood visa vis Eastern Mysticism. Wilbur who is himself a mystic, admits that while these physicists were conversant with Eastern Mysticism and were, per Wilbur, personally mystics, none of them thought their physics were related to mysticism.Delete
Massimo, the fact that you are having to argue this point is a little frustrating for me. I'm still reading ETMG, but I guess I was hoping for more from L&R's promised "neo Positivism." Specifically, I'd like there to be clear criteria by which to draw a distinction between why Democritus and Leucippus were not engaging in physics (nor was the Buddha) and yet (apparently) Plato was engaging in Philosophy of Science.
OneDayMore: I've never read either of those books, so perhaps this is another one of Massimo's "too generic similarity" examples. :-)Delete
But, seriously, why should I care if the founders of QM "thought their physics were related to mysticism"? I recognize a similarity between OSR and Buddhist metaphysics, regardless (particularly the "everything must go" part).
Whether that similarity is "too generic" or not (as Massimo suggests), I'll leave for you and others to decide.
The generic similarity perhaps is more obvious when you consider that theistic God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster are equally consistent, with anything. Or if you want to get a better feel for how pretty much anything can be made to sound consistent with anything else try this: http://www.cbc.ca/books/2012/05/after-atheism-ideas-explores-new-perspectives-on-god-and-religion.html
In the case of Greek atomism its almost inevitable that some form of atomism or some alternative continuism would apply - logically and simplistically what other options are there? One of them had to be right. So that any ancient philosophy or theology happens to have some similarity to anything that modern science reveals is pure coincidence. If you're simply pointing out that coincidence then fair enough. If you are suggesting that the Buddha deserves some kudos for coming up with a neat perspective on reality, then fair enough. I would hope though that you're not attributing so prescience to him though. :)
I would hope though that you're not attributing so prescience to him though. :)
I had hoped that my agreement with Massimo above that "neither Plato nor the Buddha (nor Hume) possessed reliable knowledge" would have been enough to discourage that interpretation.
[Also, as was later pointed out, it's Nagarjuna, rather than Gautama ("the Buddha"), who deserves more of the credit for the emptiness doctrine.]
That said, I'm not sure that I agree that it's "pure coincidence" that certain ideas (or variations thereupon) recur throughout history - unless perhaps you mean to suggest that the coincidence in this case is bounded by certain constraints (e.g. of a human/psychological nature).
> you seem overly fond of "isms" and labels, I am not. <
I believe my assessment of your metaphysical position was spot on.
"The theory can be considered a form of Pythagoreanism or Platonism in that it posits the existence of mathematical entities; a form of MATHEMATICAL MONISM in that it denies that anything exists except mathematical objects; and a formal expression of ontic structural realism." (emphasis mine)
(source: Wikipedia: Mathematical universe hypothesis)
> You have been given reasons and resources in the previous thread, you just ignored them. <
We both know that you can't furnish me with a rational explanation how mathematical abstractions can exist independently of a mind that abstracts.
At any rate, your position necessarily implies that consciousness is immaterial by virtue of the fact you believe everything reduces to immaterial, mathematical abstractions.
As soon as there is some sort of mathematical structure to the emergence of time asymmetry, then this approach can integrate the "special" sciences into its metaphysics. Until, this approach doesn't apply to them either, not just the mathematically unformalized ones. If the temporal asymmetry is defined as undescribable or ineffable or whatever, it is not clear in what sense this metaphysics can be said to relate to the special sciences.ReplyDelete
Even in physics it is not quite clear to me why the particular range of values given by a probability distribution is any less deterministic... except by insisting on observing one particular instance. Insisting that since you can't predict whether one toss comes up heads means coin-tossing is indeterminate while ignoring the fact that coin-tossing is fifty percent heads and fifty percent tails. The interminacy vanishes with the scale. Probability assigns rather definite values to outcomes en masse. Assigning a value, especially a numerical value, seems like determinism. If you don't want to call it that though, what would you call it?
Lastly, certainly you can limit the notion of causality to a demonstrated temporal sequence of agents acting upon "things."
If you do, then it is very doubtful that things like structure or geography or (dread word) contingency can be assigned causal status. What term would you use for these things?
Is it possible that overly restrictive definitions of determinism and causality are creating more confusion than clarity? Rephrasing, is it possible that the lack of a properly precise vocabulary is creating the illusion of more problems than actually exists?
Maybe the reality of the issue depends on the answer to this question: Is there really any intelligible notion of an empirical adequacy that is a happy coincidence, rather than successful in finding what corresponds to reality, that is, is true?
Interesting. I need to re-read. I shared Jeff's interest in where this leaves Giere in your opinion. Giere claims we can rebuild the boat at sea (which is required if we take Russell's failure at Foundationalism seriously.). Aren't Ladyman & Ross doubling down on Foundationalism? I mean, if there is no single coherent logical underpinning to Mathematics, how can L&R hope to peg the world there? And won't those relationships be perspectival? To the extent that L&R want to defend everyday notions of causality and other emergent properties, mustn't there be a necessary perspectival aspect to those relationships (to allow for something to emerge?).ReplyDelete
'There are no micro-things and micro-bangings at the bottom of reality, only patterns' yes, I agree that's how they see things, but the distinction between patterns and root particles & fields would be a return to the realist and anti-realist distinction. I can't see that they have done anything more, except try to make Metaphysics accountable to Physics and hopefully all branches of science, and live in hope that anbalyses of objects at that level do not debunk them.ReplyDelete
As I mentioned, electromagnetism, for example, involves protons & electron particles, and photon fields, in complex regular interactions and distributions. They have a pattern, undeniably, and along with their gravitational properties, it literally shapes the particles and fields that have them into structures. However, it would be a property of those particles & fields in my view, rather than those objects being a property of those patterns. I suspect the theorists are just trying to make progress in the absence of observation, and going too far to achieve something.
At the bottom of reality we are back to problems of a lack of observation and measurement. Strings & Q.M. work in their absence to theorize with concepts / patterns rather than objects. It would be interesting if the banging about we observe coming from a level of photon emission & absorbtion and particle collisions does do not involve banging about at a reductive level, but we will need to wait and see. The theorists can only hide in the reeds until we can see into them.
So, in all, I would say it's just the usual problem of concepts to fill a void of explanation using objects, as it is easier to see the patterns that are made by particles, fields, sub-particles, and unstable particles & fields in aggregation. The descriptions would remain those about objects (identified properties of objects). What is interesting is in how incredibly precise, regular, and integrated they are (four forces as regularities with extreme differences reconciling in bizarre patterns because they are so different and yet work together). Part 2 shows the theorists frustrations, rather than saying something new.
Where I could offer some solace to the idea of banging about, is that reconciliation into settled patterns might, by definition, be the opposite of ill-fitting interactions & distributions that 'bang about' by comparison. By definition, the idea of reconciliation into patterns would involve 'smoothness' rather than 'roughness', so there could be some value to that. That's my only concession, but it would remain 'banging about' smoothly, nevertheless, accompanying the more rough varieties, or settling within the rough patterns.ReplyDelete
> I'm not sure what qualifies as a "(too) generic similarity." I just know that the similarity was strong enough that I instantly recognized it - and presumably you did, as well, given your disclaimer. <
Yes, similarity is inherently a quantitative and therefore fuzzy concept. But my example of the Greek atomists should make it clear enough for the purpose of this discussion.
> I shared Jeff's interest in where this leaves Giere in your opinion. <
L&R write positively about Giere's perspectivist account, though they reframe it within the general context of ontic structural realism. Note that Giere is a scientific realist.
> the distinction between patterns and root particles & fields would be a return to the realist and anti-realist distinction <
I don't see why. For a structural realist of L&R's type patterns is all there is (fields, particles etc. are particular types of patterns). So they rightly present their position as a type of realism. The anti-realists would still say that all of the above are simply convenient ways to talk about empirical results.
Philosophic newbie here, so forgive any ignorant statements I might make. I have a question about physicalist reductionism...why does OSR render such reduction untenable? Is it because there simply is no use for framing phenomena that way? Because concepts like "objects" and "causality," while not "real" on the micro level, still accurately describe patterns on the macro level?
OSR undermines physical reductionism for a number of reasons. One is indeed that concepts like objects and causality have limited epistemic application: they are useful in the special sciences to help make sense of the (spatio-temporally, time-asymmetric) patterns that those sciences are concerned with. Fundamental physics does not make use of those concepts because it deals with universal, time-symmetric patterns where objects and causality don't do any useful work. So it is hard to imagine in what sense the special sciences can be reduced to physics.
What I like about L&R's ideas is that they manage to retain a type of primacy for physics (it's the only science that deals with universally stable patterns) while at the same time also keep the special sciences independent / non-reducible and yet compatible with physics. It's a third way between physical reductionism and Dupre-style "disunity" of science.
> I'd like there to be clear criteria by which to draw a distinction between why Democritus and Leucippus were not engaging in physics (nor was the Buddha) and yet (apparently) Plato was engaging in Philosophy of Science. <
Well, one distinction would be that science is not philosophy (and Democritus and Leucippus were trying to do something that pertains to science). But more broadly, I keep thinking that it is misleading to talk about mathematical Platonism, as the idea - in its naturalistic interpretation - is as far removed from Plato as modern physics is removed from Democritus and Leucippus.
>mathematical Platonism, as the idea - in its naturalistic interpretation - is as far removed from Plato as modern physics is removed from Democritus and Leucippus.<Delete
Yes, I think this is a very important point, and I'm glad you are making it.
I'm still wondering though, about Foundationalism. Isn't there an Incompleteness Theorem problem for OSR?
"There is no fundamental determinism for the simple reason that there is no fundamental causality, and that 'cause' is a conceptual tool deployed by the special sciences that has no counterpart in fundamental physics, and so it cannot be reduced to or eliminated by the latter."ReplyDelete
But just as there are still causes and objects at higher levels (e.g., "for material science, and of course for our everyday experience"), there's arguably a *for-all-practical-purposes* determinism, right? Determinism needn't be *fundamental* to matter to us and to inform our conception of human agency, http://www.naturalism.org/determinism.htm
> Determinism needn't be *fundamental* to matter to us and to inform our conception of human agency <
I don't know, really. The point is that if causality is re-interpreted as a convenient tool for human minds to keep track of patterns at certain levels, then the concept of causality loses the metaphysical strength to carry reductive determinism. For instance, the way is open for naturalistic interpretations of emergent properties. Indeed, L&R mention emergence several times in the book, saying, among other things: "what physics has taught us is that matter in the sense of extended stuff is an emergent phenomenon that has no counterpart in fundamental ontology." If that's true for matter, it may be true for thought processes as well. Just raising the possibility.
> I'm still wondering though, about Foundationalism. Isn't there an Incompleteness Theorem problem for OSR? <
Not sure, in what sense? I don't see OSR depending in any way on a type of foundationalism. Indeed, the metaphysics proposed by L&R is very compatible with Quine-type ideas about a web (as opposed to an edifice) of knowledge.
If OSR ("Ontic Structual Realism") holds that mathematical structures (something that is clearly immaterial) are ontologically fundamental, then this necessarily implies that everything on the macro-scale REDUCES to immaterial, mathematical abstractions. As such, OSR not only qualifies as a form of "mathematical monism," but also as a form of "immaterialism."ReplyDelete
However, this is not textbook "immaterialism" because immaterialism (as it generally understood) is associated with "idealism."
Merriam-Webster defines "immaterialism" as "a philosophical theory that material things have no reality except as mental perceptions."
"Subjective idealism, or empirical idealism, is the monistic metaphysical doctrine that only minds and mental contents exist. It entails and is generally identified or associated with immaterialism, the doctrine that material things do not exist." (emphasis mine)
(source: Wikipedia: "Subjective idealism")
The idea that mathemathical abtractions have ontological status independent of a mind that abstracts cannot be rationally justified.
well, you seem to have gotten all your "isms" right this time, though I still don't see what work this taxonomy does for you.
> The idea that mathemathical abtractions have ontological status independent of a mind that abstracts cannot be rationally justified. <
You keep saying that, but you have been given reasons. You may disagree, and even be right about it, but to claim irrationality is a tall order, which you have not even come close to justify.
> well, you seem to have gotten all your "isms" right this time, though I still don't see what work this taxonomy does for you. <
It has helped me to craft a new term to describe you worldview - namely, "atheistic immaterialism."
> You keep saying that, but you have been given reasons. You may disagree, and even be right about it, but to claim irrationality is a tall order, which you have not even come close to justify. <
That contemporary physics describes a world that reduces to mathematical abstractions is a compelling argument. But it is irrational (or intellectually dishonest) to argue that mathematical abstractions can exist independently of a mind that abstracts.
If you're going to posit an eternal realm of mathematical abstractions, then intellectual honesty demands that you posit an eternal mind.
I sympathize with some of what Alastair is saying. If OSR theory posits the nature of the world to be nothing more than mathematical structures, then surely these mathematical structures, as such, must be mental abstractions; hence a kind of immaterialism follows where, say, what "idea" is to Berkeley, "mathematical structure" is to OSR theorists.Delete
It's not so much a refutation as a clarification of what company OSR keeps. After all, it seems strange that one should compare it to Berkeley of all people, and yet it makes sense.
Alastair starts with his conclusion. He asserts (as do many who can't accept physicalism) that if there are abstractions there must be minds. But any coherent description of the universe as a place of stuff, would have to account for how information and ideas can be made out of stuff. If a mind, which is made out of stuff, is able to arrive at an abstraction, why on earth wouldn't you expect "abstraction" to be something that stuff can do? Minds are the most rich arrangement of stuff for information and abstraction, but that doesn't mean only mind can do it. I mean, what does "logic circuit" mean? It means that a non-mind can manifest logic. What does "calculator" mean? It means many logic circuits can manifest mathematical abstraction. What does lens mean? It means that a piece of glass can have a perspective.Delete
By analogy, consider mass. Physicists claim that the Higgs Field creates mass. This is the ultimate abstraction of mass. A "particle" that contains the property of mass. There isn't a mind doing it, there is a Higgs Field. This is a form of abstraction that doesn't seem at all mind dependent. Sure, a description of it needs a mind, but it itself doesn't need the description to exist.
Or, to be a little less out of my depth, let's look at electrons. Electrons appear to be as integral to a mind as abstraction. But Alastair, for some reason, doesn't want to claim that there can't be electrons without minds. Why does Alastair feel so confident in deciding for himself what parts of "mind" are indispensable and essential?
Minds have mass. Minds have electrons. Minds have abstraction. If you can conceive of mass and electrons as existing without a mind, why not abstraction (or to use the more parsimonious term of L&R structure)?
If by mind, you mean "that which is always necessary if there is ever any abstraction" then, yes, you have created a definition that is itself an assertion. Deck stacked.
So L&R claim that stuff itself is made out of structure. OK. I think I can accept that. Especially if someday it results in some interesting experiments.
"Atheistic Immaterialism" as you describe it is nothing particularly new. It's simply an acknowledged facet of empiricism that it has a tendency towards idealism (Berkeley isn't actually that big a stretch I'm afraid CookieLemons). It's also an acknowledge feature of the kind of metaphysics that Massimo is highlighting here. For an example just look at Bertrand Russell's On the Notion of Cause from the early 20th century which argues that because causation is a tricky thing, mostly to do with the idea of a necessary connection between cause and effect, we must do away with causation and necessity and instead just talk in terms of mathematical descriptions. (There's a slight fudge in his argument in that because these kinds of mathematical descriptions need general properties you can abstract across a large number of entities and laws of nature he ultimately tries to declare these as merely statistical, but the overall view is still the same one.)Delete
None of this of this however requires a world of mathematical abstractions, it just means you need to be satisfied with not being able to say that any of your claims hold necessarily, that they're just really really complete descriptions of the world as you've experienced it.
One example of an argument that does make metaphysical commitments here comes from Frege who claims that we need to explain why it is that you and I can share ways of describing the world. For Frege at least the only way something like a mathematical description could be shared between you and me is if it really exists. This isn't a complicated argument, just think about what you would do if you saw an alien invasion. I'm pretty damn sure your first respone would be to turn to your friend and ask "Did you see that?" just in case you happened to be hallucinating. If he did, barring mass hysteria and practical jokes, you've got good grounds to assume you're going to die in a fiery laser apocalypse. It is however important to note that there's a big difference between claiming that the description as an entity exists, which is all that Frege wants from the argument and what establishes the kind of Mathematical Platonism you're trying to accuse Massimo of, and whether or not the things described exist.
> If OSR theory posits the nature of the world to be nothing more than mathematical structures, then surely these mathematical structures, as such, must be mental abstractions; hence a kind of immaterialism follows where, say, what "idea" is to Berkeley, "mathematical structure" is to OSR theorists.
It's not so much a refutation as a clarification of what company OSR keeps. <
> Alastair starts with his conclusion. He asserts (as do many who can't accept physicalism) that if there are abstractions there must be minds. <
You start with the premise that minds are physical and conclude that "abstractions" must also be physical. What you are failing to understand here is that Massimo himself freely acknowledges that abstractions are nonphysical. (Massimo identifies himself as a "naturalist," not a "physicalist.")
@ That Guy MontagDelete
> "Atheistic Immaterialism" as you describe it is nothing particularly new. It's simply an acknowledged facet of empiricism that it has a tendency towards idealism (Berkeley isn't actually that big a stretch I'm afraid CookieLemons) <
Berkeley was a theologian.
I really like Massimo. I think he's a lot smarter and well read than I am. All my favorite philosophy books of late were recommended by him or Julia. But, I don't accept him as an ultimate authority.
Massimo, I am not suggesting L&R would say they take an ideal view by imposing a theory onto realities and somehow defining realities only as a theoretical or ideal construct (denying objects exist), but a rose by any other name may smell as sweet. I think they are trying to take a middle ground between using theory as an ideal, and using realities to construct theories about them. Their patterns would be ideals, although based in objects. The identity of objects becomes subsumed into a "pattern".ReplyDelete
I don't think they are properly constructing patterns from objects as they should. They are just theorizing that objects constitute those patterns somehow. They may be deadening the concept of an object as identified by physicists (listed as fundamental particles and fields with exact properties) by lumping them together as patterns. I would say interactions and distributions making up patterns are many & varied and greatly unknown (as is evident in the parts of the universe we observe).
It is fine in theory (not idealist) to say that objects make patterns. What might not be fine is to say a pattern is an object, which is where they might be heading. That would be an ideal view of the individual objects, or lumping them together to an ideal principle that they are "one" as a pattern. I would say they remain "one" as their individual selves, and we must explain how they might fit together in many ways from their diverse root properties (rather than being "a pattern"). Otherwise, L&R are just replacing the word pattern for the word property (which goes nowhere new, as every object should be known by the sum of its properties, whatever they may be).
So they have a nice smell in being associated with objects, but without an explanation of how those objects lump into "patterns". In all, I see it as realism glued together by invisible idealism to constitute a pattern, without taking the overall false step of saying it is all an ideal pattern to which objects conform and in which they lose their idenities as objects. They lose their identities anyway under L&R, who should respect more the individual root particles & fields from physics, and their properties.
I have used the term "idealism" for believing concepts can exist without underlying objects to them (referring also back to Plato's view explained in one of my posts in part 1), rather than "anti-realism", to no harm. The upshot of it all would be frustration again, which the likes of Freud completely crashed through with subjectivity. It's our lack of observation and theories about them, particularly unifying physics and biology via chemistry, with psychology as a peak product (maybe). I have written a book about it, so I may be more optimistic than anyone here that it can be done, complete with causality traced to physical interactions. That confidence might belay frustration and sharpen criticism of L&R's rearrangment of concepts. I have a preference for continuing with obeservation and theory, as normal.ReplyDelete
Actually, I would reverse that definition (and talk some more about "isms"). Idealism, epistemically, claims that objects do not exist independently of a subject; metaphysically, that the world is bifurcated into appearance and reality. The reverse of this is realism, which asserts, epistemically, that objects do exist independently of a subject; metaphysically, that appearances alone are real. Hence materialism (matter alone) and immaterialism (mind alone) are really two sides of the same coin, that coin being realism. (OSR appears to be a realist position.)Delete
I realize my definition of idealism might not jive with what many people define it as, but a great disservice has been done to philosophy, starting with Kant, in redefining what "idealism" actually is. In the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant is an unabashed idealist, but his critics soon falsely labeled him a Berkeleyan idealist. Berkeley was not an idealist, but rather, by his own admission, an immaterialist, for he claimed that appearances alone (in his case, ideas in the mind of God) are all that exists. Kant then reacted in the second edition by providing a "refutation of idealism," but this was merely a refutation of immaterialism. Transcendental idealism, Kant's own term for his philosophy, is merely idealism properly defined, whereas the "idealism" of such thinkers as Berkeley and the German idealists is in fact realism.
As such, Plato is metaphysically an idealist in that he maintains the bifurcation of the world into appearance and reality. The OSR theorists are realists in that they do not, so far as I can tell, make such a dichotomy.
> Berkeley was not an idealist, but rather, by his own admission, an immaterialist, for he claimed that appearances alone (in his case, ideas in the mind of God) are all that exists. <
But wouldn't Berkeley's God be transcendent relative to the ideas appearing in his mind?
Well, it has been a while since I've read him. He might indeed claim something like that. The answer would depend on whether Berkeley defines God and something other than the sum total of his ideas. To be honest, I rarely pay much attention to his claims about God, preferring to focus on his empiricism (and nor do I think I'm alone in this practice!). At any rate, regardless of whether he is a good example, I think I got my point across and I would still say that the German "idealists" are definitely realists.Delete
> At any rate, regardless of whether he is a good example, I think I got my point across and I would still say that the German "idealists" are definitely realists. <
Okay. I'm somewhat confused here. Do you consider Kant's "transcendental idealism" to be realistic or anti-realistic?
I consider Kant's transcendental idealism to be idealistic in the sense that I defined "idealism" in the post above. The realism-idealism dichotomy I'm talking about above is an epistemic and metaphysical one, which is NOT the same as the realism-anti-realism split in the philosophy of science.Delete
So Kant is an idealist but Hegel a realist, as per my definitions. Also, "transcendental" simply accounts for Kant's position that knowledge is in part conditioned a priori.
I have just caught up with this continuation of the post, and I'm not sure if Kant was as strictly bifurcated as you say. No doubt he says we cannot know objects except as our own construct in our own mind, but that limits our understanding of objects rather than our recognition that they may exist outside of our construct of them (in themslves - but unknowable).Delete
In this, he may be correct, but that should not prevent us delving into properties of objects on the assumption that they reflect reality, as a working assumption despite that limitation. The answer would be in the evolution of capacities to construct reality that correspond well to reality (eyes to see the real world, ears to hear it etc), giving us confidence to go beyond Kant's restrictions, to form our working hypotheses about existence.
Kant can be obviated by simply saying that I only know things as my coinstruct, but my construct informs me that there is close correlation between detection of light waves by my eyes and the properties of objects refecting those waves, for example. We can return quite comfortably to the old context of Platonic ideals (universals in their own world) and realities (particulars as imperfect examples of bundled universals) and relegate Kant to a footnote, like I do Hume, in saying "nothing can be known for certain". It is a construct of our mind at the end of the day.
I remember many of these arguments about the nature of stuff a couple of years ago on this blog. The comments contain a common thread. There is not much denial that at base level, we have no stuff, only patterns. Just as the reality of coffee cups can be saved by dealing with them at a number of levels but certainly not the base level of physics, same for the sciences that deal with stuff. All well and good, and a refreshing change of tone from Massimo, who used to posit all stuff as matter or energy/fields. And hats off the Ladyman and Ross for getting this far, and also Ladyman for some great videos at Rutgers U explaining his stances.ReplyDelete
But Alastair and others are making a point about those underlying patterns being a product of the mind, and not part of an ontology. One can argue this all day and get nowhere, and I think the reason is that our language is so loaded in favor of an objective reality that it is hard to describe the ideas. Starting off with the first post, we quickly come to an impasse in point 2 describing the difference between realism and anti-realism:|
...a realist is someone who thinks that scientific theories aim at describing the world as it is (of course, within the limits of human epistemic access to reality),
Oh, do those parentheses tell a tale. Why does someone living in a box by which all sensory information goes through some sort of process, arrives through some holes in the box and transformed some more get to call what's going on outside the box reality? I think it is only because box-dweller 1's info is 'confirmed' by box-dweller 2 and 3 and so on. I do not understand how we can talk about 'human epistemic access' and go on about reality. Like talking about the intrinsic blurriness of all objects when I'm wearing somebody else's glasses. I think not only haven't we a clue about the ontological nature of anything, but it does not even make sense to discuss. Now if we would redefine reality to stuff that a large majority of us agree upon, that is a different story, but then what was this real/anti-real argument about again?
But small steps satisfy, and if this moves the debate away from malleable things, that can only be a good thing. We can tackle information (as opposed to patterns) again in a couple of years.
> It has helped me to craft a new term to describe you worldview - namely, "atheistic immaterialism." <
Yahoo! I got my own term!!
> surely these mathematical structures, as such, must be mental abstractions <
Why "surely"? Says who? Just because we have minds that can think of abstract objects it follows that abstract objects must be thought by minds? Seems like a non sequitur to me.
> I think they are trying to take a middle ground between using theory as an ideal, and using realities to construct theories about them. Their patterns would be ideals, although based in objects. <
No, that's not what they are doing. There is nothing "ideal" in the concept that patterns / relations is all there is. They get that simply from physics.
> They are just theorizing that objects constitute those patterns somehow <
According to L&R there are *no* objects, only patterns, so there is no construction of anything.
> I have used the term "idealism" for believing concepts can exist without underlying objects to them (referring also back to Plato's view explained in one of my posts in part 1), rather than "anti-realism", to no harm. <
You may need to reconsider, as anti-realism has nothing to do with realism.
> I do not understand how we can talk about 'human epistemic access' and go on about reality. <
In the same way we can talk of color perception being both the result of physical properties external to the brain *and* of the way the brain perceive things. This, in philosophy of science, is called - appropriately enough - perspectivism, and it is the position taken for example by Ronal Giere, mentioned a few times in these threads and by L&R.
> Yahoo! I got my own term!! <
It would appear that you are now conceding the point that OSR does indeed qualify as a form of "immaterialism" as made evident by your post cited below:
"However, one could indeed interpret OSR as a form of "immaterialism" in the very specific sense in which L&R claim that there are no objects and microbangings, only patterns and mathematical relations."
did you miss the "in the very specific sense" part? I'm beginning to doubt your intellectual honesty, or alternatively your ability to see past your own ideological blinders.
> did you miss the "in the very specific sense" part? I'm beginning to doubt your intellectual honesty, or alternatively your ability to see past your own ideological blinders. <
OSR qualifies as "atheistic immaterialism."
Just curious. Does George Berkeley qualify as a serious philosopher?
Massimo "No, that's not what they are doing. There is nothing "ideal" in the concept that patterns / relations is all there is. They get that simply from physics."ReplyDelete
Yes, that's what they are doing. Physics does not say patterns is all there is, physics says particle & fields with properties is all there is. To deny the existence of that reductive level (the aim of physics) in preference for the myriad ways those objects create patterns just expands the definition of reality to "everything" (its all different myriad patterns). Identify the pattern. You cannot, and nor can they, because it their idealized construct based on objects without attribution.
"According to L&R there are *no* objects, only patterns, so there is no construction of anything".
Exactly, they get a free lunch. They do not bother constructing a pattern from objects that have properties (as above), they just theorize that a pattern, or the myriad patterns in the universe (expanding physics from objects goiverned by twenty constant to infinity minus one ways they might make patterns - useless). No free lunches, sorry, it's just slippery avoidance of certainty at the reductive level.
"You may need to reconsider, as anti-realism has nothing to do with realism."
Perhaps you mean anti-realism has nothing to do with idealism (I assume so). I explained it well. Anti-realism says concepts exist even though objects underlying them do not, thus anti-realism is by definiton giving an ideal status to concepts, which is presumputous. You can have a concept about something that does not exist, but it would be just abstract. You can have a concept about things that exist to theorize their patterns, which is fine, but it becomes ideal when you deny the objects constituing the patterns. Good luck to you if you value it, but I don't in the slightest, in fact I see it as yet an unnecessary obfuscation.
re: "Anti-realism says concepts exist even though objects underlying them do not."
This is not what any form of anti-realism that I know of asserts. Anti-realism in crude fashion says this: Hypothesized entities (micro-physical particles, e.g.) may or may not exist, but that they exist is immaterial: scientific theories may posit such things if and only if in so doing they are empirical adequate.
> Physics does not say patterns is all there is, physics says particle & fields with properties is all there is <
Well, that's not L&R's (and others') understanding of what the best physics says.
> they get a free lunch. They do not bother constructing a pattern from objects that have properties <
It's not a question of free lunching. It's just a different type of ontology which, again, they derive from (do not impose on) physics. You may need to just go to the source here and read the book, or this good article that summarizes the positions pro and against structural realism:
> Anti-realism says concepts exist even though objects underlying them do not, thus anti-realism is by definiton giving an ideal status to concepts, which is presumputous <
As Eamon pointed out, that is not what anti-realism says.
Interesting analysis but:
> materialism (matter alone) and immaterialism (mind alone) are really two sides of the same coin, that coin being realism. (OSR appears to be a realist position.) <
Not exactly. First of all, OSR is indeed a type of realism, but it is based on a naturalistic approach to metaphysics, which doesn't sit well with the idea that the universe exists because a mind is thinking of it. However, one could indeed interpret OSR as a form of "immaterialism" in the very specific sense in which L&R claim that there are no objects and microbangings, only patterns and mathematical relations.
Yes, well put, and you'll notice I didn't say whether OSR fell into materialism or immaterialism. Truth be told it probably doesn't fall into either camp, so it could be a third category of realism.Delete
I would just clarify my last post (pending approval as of writing this) that there are two different "realisms" being talked about here. In my last post, I'm claiming that OSR may be a third type of realism in the metaphysical sense (the other two types being materialism and immaterialism). Structured realism, in the philosophy of science, appears to be a second type of scientific realism. Metaphysical and scientific realism are not the same, but structured realism occupies a certain position within both. I hope this makes sense.Delete
As an aside, the word "realism" has got to be one of the most loaded words in the history of thought. I can see why Voltaire remarked that, "If you wish to converse with me, define your terms." Never is that more true in conversations like these!
From Part 1 "So, for instance, for a realist there truly are electrons out there, while for an anti-realist “electrons” are a convenient theoretical construct to make sense of certain kinds of data from fundamental physics, but the term need not refer to actual “particles.”ReplyDelete
I think the above quote is consistent with what I said. It's fine to use strict requirements for "empirical adequacy" to deny that physical objects exist, but that still leaves the concepts about them standing. I would simply say any conceptual basis on which they stand for analysis without reference to real objects is an idealized basis - not a real one, by definition. In other words, concepts cannot stand, except as concepts alone, without real objects to refer to. I think you confuse my criticism of it with what they say it is. I say its an idealization, but they would say its an inevitable consequence of lack of emnpirical adequacy that leaves them with concepts. It's just fraught from the outset, in my view, and not worth considering.
As for physics, I would be happy to read accounts of patterns without objects, but they don't exist. L&R are not extending physics, they are ignoring the objects that have been the aim of reductive discovery. Once again, like anti-realism, it is fraught from the outset - an extreme view that tries to be clever, I guess, to make progress, but does not follow the path of physics. There are no mainstream physicists I can think of who who deny objects exists, but I would be happy to read about them if you can give an indication. If they exist, they might be on the fringe, like L&R
A good example of where physics is at, or at least where all the money in physics is at, is the reductive task of discovering an object and its properties, the Higgs Boson. I mentioned in earlier posts my view of Strings (& Q.M. in some aspects), which might genuinely fail the test of empirical adequacy and should therefore be consigned to an abstract until greater adequacy (but not something without reference to real objects and their properties).Delete
I also mentioned earlier the L&R could escape their lack of reliance on objects and reliance on their petterns instead, by reducing patterns to the "shape" or "features" of an objects, as it properties. That's fine, as a redefinition of properties, but obviously achieves nothing as physicists are already engaged in that exercise. For both anti-realism & L&R, it's like jumping an entire track on a vinyl record in logic, rather than the usual groove jumping every analysis involves.
I had hoped L&R would go down the road of differentiating Universals (properties of objects) and Particulars (real objects that have properties), which I mentioned in the 1st Part comes from Plato - or specifically, refuting Plato's universals existing other than in application to particulars. Some comments have already been made in this thread about science & philosophy being human contructs and therefore subject to our sorting of universals & particulars in our reasoning (with a neuro-physical basis to that distinction, relying on particulars having properties rather than Plato's view, discussed in my book). Philosophy is not so much a footnote to Plato as an exercise in reversing his emphasis on universals in this issue, and clarifying his famous epistemological statement elsewhere.ReplyDelete
> Just curious. Does George Berkeley qualify as a serious philosopher? <
As a historical figure, yes. If he were a contemporary philosopher, it would be more questionable. Standards of scholarship change through time, you know. For instance, pre-Darwin, Paley-style natural theology was intellectually cutting edge. Now you get laughed out of court if you espouse intelligent design as a serious scientific theory.
> As for physics, I would be happy to read accounts of patterns without objects, but they don't exist <
They do. Check the extensive references in ETMG.
> A good example of where physics is at, or at least where all the money in physics is at, is the reductive task of discovering an object and its properties, the Higgs Boson <
Except that bosons too are better described as patterns rather than objects. Pretty much every "object" in quantum mechanics falls under this.
> I had hoped L&R would go down the road of differentiating Universals (properties of objects) and Particulars (real objects that have properties) <
For them that distinction collapses, since there are no particulars (i.e., no objects).
I guess that the problem here - in simple lay terms - is that, in normal everyday (sensory-motor) experience, when someone refers to a "pattern", it's commonly assumed that some "thing" (e.g. solid, liquid, or gas), or combination of things, makes that pattern.Delete
Of course, it's linguistically possible to say "Nope, in this case, there's only a pattern, no thing(s)", and I don't doubt that many theoretical physicists (who trade in mathematical abstractions) would go along with that.
But that strikes me as more than just an unconventional use of the word "pattern." It also strikes me as baffling, if not mystical.
> that strikes me as more than just an unconventional use of the word "pattern." It also strikes me as baffling, if not mystical. <
No, there are actually very technical, mathematically based meanings of the word "pattern" in this case, for instance when physicists refer to electrons are clouds of probabilities.
I'm aware of that, Massimo. In the context of my post, I thought it would be clear that I was not referring to "very technical" people. Guess not.Delete
You could say that elementary math teaches patterns of numbers, and numbers aren't really "things", but I suspect that many folks assume that numbers are mental abstractions from things (i.e. based on objects of sensory-motor experience, which is compatible with an hereditary trait for "subitizing"), such that indirectly numbers are deemed "things."
I'm not saying that this folk assumption is true. (Like I said, I'm agnostic about this "ontic" business.) But it might explain some of the psychological resistance to OSR and the like.
Yes, sorry I misunderstood your point. Your suggestion does provide a possible explanation for the psychological resistance to OSR.Delete
> As a historical figure, yes. If he were a contemporary philosopher, it would be more questionable. Standards of scholarship change through time, you know. For instance, pre-Darwin, Paley-style natural theology was intellectually cutting edge. Now you get laughed out of court if you espouse intelligent design as a serious scientific theory. <
What about "Nicholas Rescher" ("philosopher at the University of Pittsburgh, former chair of the University of Pittsburgh Department of Philosophy and currently co-chairs the Center for Philosophy of Science with the status of Distinguished University Professor of Philosopher")?
"Rescher has written on a wide range of topics, including logic, epistemology, the philosophy of science, metaphysics, and the philosophy of value. He is best known as an advocate of pragmatism and, more recently, of process philosophy." (emphasis mine)
"One of the first among the increasing number of contemporary exponents of philosophical idealism, Rescher has been active in the rehabilitation of the coherence theory of truth and in the reconstruction of philosophical pragmatism in line with the idealistic tradition" (emphasis mine)
"Rescher serves on the editorial board of some dozen academic professional publications, including Process Studies, the principal academic journal for process philosophy and theology." (emphasis mine)
(source: Wikipedia: Nicholas Rescher)
It should be noted that Pitt's philosophy department is world renowned.
"Many of university's individual schools, departments, and programs are highly regarded in their particular field as evidenced by the number of Pitt programs that were ranked in the latest National Research Council rankings. Particularly well regarded programs include Pitt's Department of Philosophy, which has long been renowned in the U.S. and worldwide, and is especially strong in the areas of mathematical and philosophical logic, metaphysics, history and philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of mind and psychology, and semantics." (emphasis mine)
(source: Wikipedia: University of Pittsburgh)
Massimo: Just for full disclosure, my point is also influenced by Lakoff & Núñez's work on the cognitive science of mathematics, but (this time) without a wholesale endorsement of their theory of embodied mathematics. [As one critic of their theory put it: "Perhaps the math that brains invent takes the form it does because math had a hand in forming the brains in the first place (through the operation of natural laws in constraining the evolution of life)."]Delete
is there a point to this exercise? Because it seems pretty silly to me...
This structural realism reminded me of physicist Max Tegmark's paper "The Mathematical Universe" ( http://arxiv.org/pdf/0704.0646v2.pdf ), where he suggests that reality is a mathematical structure. A mathematical structure is defined as a set of abstract entities and relations between them.ReplyDelete
But Tegmark also suggests that the "special sciences" (chemistry, biology, sociology...) are reducible to physics and physics is reducible to mathematical structures. Massimo, I don't understand why you reject this reductionism. Of course, for practical purposes it is useful that every science has its names for patterns that exist at its level of description while ignoring the more basic elements that constitute these patterns, but reductionism seems possible in principle. For example, time asymmetry can be derived from the more fundamental, time-symmetric situation with the concept of entropy, which is irrelevant on microscopic scale but becomes relevant on macroscopic scale (in bodies composed of many particles).
> is there a point to this exercise? Because it seems pretty silly to me... <
The point of this exercise is to demonstrate to you (and to anyone else here who may be interested) that your smug assertion that no serious philosopher/metaphysician today would ever invoke God is patently false. Moreover, the reason why Whitehead (a world-renowned mathematician) invoked God in his process metaphysics (which Nicholas Rescher currently advocates) is directly relevant to the subject matter at hand. Whitehead (a Platonist...most mathematicians are) considered it intellectually dishonest for one to posit an eternal realm of mathematical abstractions unless one was also willing to posit an eternal mind.
Massimo, I agree with you about the way they see their work, but I see it quite differently, as explained. If I have time, I will read the book, but I have other leads to follow up in my research (L&R don't even have a prima facie case in my view). As for bosons, they are clearly objects with properties such as spatio-temnporailty, interactivity, and so on. Their properties can be relabelled as patterns if you like, but that is just a relabelling of what physicists are already pursing, the analysis of the properties of objects. If that was all L&R do, no problem, but they remove the objects that have them from relevance. It's just silliness dressed up as an argument.ReplyDelete
I don't think you have grasped the fundamental distinction between what is real and what is universal or common amongst them. I recommend my book to learn the importance of it, as word limit does not allow me to explain here. It's better to come to grips with fundamentals rather than continue splitting concepts, or substituting one concept for another and badly repackaging it as something new (if patterns are properties). All they have done is allow properties without allowing the objects that have them, as I have explained.
Reading my book would be a much better recommendation for anyone interested in the fundamentals, from which they might properly analyze work like L&R. I would certainly promote it well above their work, for the reasons I have mentioned. I think, from reading your replies, that the penny might not have dropped. Of course, it didn't drop for Plato, who also believed in a world of universals independent of, or preferable to, that of objects. L&R's approach is abstract, not real, unless it applies to real objects.
Science & philosophy has a long way to go to obviate (was it Wittgenstein who said obviation should be your aim - others also favor it). It won't happen until fundamentals such as those set out in my book are undestood, so people can make more informed analyses. Don't be concerned that obviation of the kind I propose would downsize your faculties, as the principles I propose point the way to exciting new discoveries in future. Do take the time to read it, free at my website www.thehumandesign.net. I use plain English, with no obfuscations or twists to try to make impossible arguments.
However, I have just read your page on Platonic Idealism and I appreciate your disclosure of a liking for it, to put any bias to your account of L&R in context, so I appreciate knowing that. A perfect circle, or right angle, does not exist in nature as far as we know, and probably not at all in my view (100% perfect). We see things roll, we smooth them to roll better, it is a circle, we draw it, and give it measuremnts.Delete
It's not in our mind prior, but we have the tools to abstract it as an ideal. We abstract it, in our mind, as an ideal concept useful to real things and interesting in itself as an abstract. A bit like a lots of posts here. It is not real, or a real object with those spatial, lined, numeric dimensions. It's fine to abstract, but sanity might actually require that we distinguish between them in our thoughts and continually ask if something is abstract or real.
@ Marcus MorganDelete
> A perfect circle, or right angle, does not exist in nature as far as we know, and probably not at all in my view (100% perfect). We see things roll, we smooth them to roll better, it is a circle, we draw it, and give it measuremnts.
It's not in our mind prior, but we have the tools to abstract it as an ideal. We abstract it, in our mind, as an ideal concept useful to real things and interesting in itself as an abstract. <
The concept of a perfect circle does not exist as an image in your mind; it exists only as a abstraction. Recognizing that distinction is paramount.
I don't think it exists at all except in potential from tools we inherit, until we conceive of it as an abstract that is interesting in itself and useful as an aim if we seek a perfect rolling thing, for example. I'm not sure what you mean by an "Image" - I cannot have an Image of a perfect circle in my thoughts any more than I can draw one on paper, but I can abstract it as an ideal. I wouldn't worry about "Images", they would be straw men in this argument, or another argument for another day about what is constituted by thought (off topic).Delete
> I don't understand why you reject this reductionism. Of course, for practical purposes it is useful that every science has its names for patterns that exist at its level of description while ignoring the more basic elements that constitute these patterns, but reductionism seems possible in principle. <
Not if causality is not a primary property of the world, but simply a convenient concept to keep track of certain locally stable patterns. And not if there are no things and microbangings (only structures) to reduce the macroscopic world to.
first off, it would be really helpful if you dropped talk of "intellectual dishonesty. That's a serious charge, and it is justified only in cases in which one is in fact being dishonest, which means (look it up on Webster or Wikipedia) deceitful. I am simply trying to learn and communicate here.
> The point of this exercise is to demonstrate to you (and to anyone else here who may be interested) that your smug assertion that no serious philosopher/metaphysician today would ever invoke God is patently false. <
Ah, I see. Ok, then let me try something else. Consider Newton. Definitely a genius, one of the most important scientists of all time. Yet, he spent more time studying the Bible and alchemy than physics. Anything Newton said about alchemy can safely be discarded as crackpottery, which doesn't invalidate his physics. I have the same attitude toward theologians. Whatever they say that doesn't begin with the god axiom I'll listen, the rest is alchemy.
> We see things roll, we smooth them to roll better, it is a circle, we draw it, and give it measuremnts. <
That explanation certainly accounts for the origin of simple geometry and math. But we've never seen highly dimensional topographies, sets, imaginary numbers, or anything of the like. Math (and even more so logic) simply don't come from the world of experience, though of course they apply to it in a fascinating and surprising way (which is one of the arguments in favor of mathematical Platonism).
> I really like Massimo. I think he's a lot smarter and well read than I am. All my favorite philosophy books of late were recommended by him or Julia. But, I don't accept him as an ultimate authority. <
Nor should you! But the kind words are very much appreciated.
> irst off, it would be really helpful if you dropped talk of "intellectual dishonesty. That's a serious charge, and it is justified only in cases in which one is in fact being dishonest, which means (look it up on Webster or Wikipedia) deceitful. I am simply trying to learn and communicate here. <
Okay. I stand corrected. Employing the phrase "intellectual dishonesty" in my last post was not the best choice of words. Let me rephrase: "Positing an eternal realm of mathematical abstractions can be rationally justified only if one is willing to also posit an eternal mind as the locus for these mathematical abstractions." (Plato's mistake was to posit his realm of forms outside the divine mind.)
> Ah, I see. Ok, then let me try something else. Consider Newton. Definitely a genius, one of the most important scientists of all time. Yet, he spent more time studying the Bible and alchemy than physics. Anything Newton said about alchemy can safely be discarded as crackpottery, which doesn't invalidate his physics. I have the same attitude toward theologians. Whatever they say that doesn't begin with the god axiom I'll listen, the rest is alchemy. <
I will take your "evasive tactic" as your way of conceding the point.
In your previous blog, you made the following comment:
"My point is that no serious contemporary metaphysician would bring god into his discussions."
You're wrong. A.N. Whitehead was a serious metaphysician. And Nicholas Rescher is a contemporary philosopher who advocates Whitehead's theistic, process metaphysics.
"Not if causality is not a primary property of the world, but simply a convenient concept to keep track of certain locally stable patterns. And not if there are no things and microbangings (only structures) to reduce the macroscopic world to."
Causality emerges on the macroscopic scale due to the fact that on this scale entropy becomes relevant. It seems to be like wetness emerging on the macroscopic scale, it is explainable in terms of interactions of many particles. The particles themselves are reducible to smaller particles and ultimately to structures.
> Causality emerges on the macroscopic scale due to the fact that on this scale entropy becomes relevant. <
Well, I'm not sure what that means. Both the concepts of emergence and of causality are fraught with problems, so I doubt that either one of them lends itself easily to any reductionist program. I should note that L&R claim that reductionism is now a minority position in philosophy of science, though I guess that's debatable.
> I will take your "evasive tactic" as your way of conceding the point. <
No, you should take it for what it was meant to be, a clarification or elaboration of my position.
> A.N. Whitehead was a serious metaphysician. And Nicholas Rescher is a contemporary philosopher who advocates Whitehead's theistic, process metaphysics. <
Any theistic X is, in my view, a non starter, regardless of who posits it and how well established that person is. Again, it's like defending alchemy by citing Newton.
> Any theistic X is, in my view, a non starter, regardless of who posits it and how well established that person is. Again, it's like defending alchemy by citing Newton. <
It's like defending the theistic view by citing atheistic "naturalists" like yourself who feel that it is necessary to posit the existence of a transcendent and eternal realm of immaterial, mathematical abstractions and forms.
"Well, I'm not sure what that means. Both the concepts of emergence and of causality are fraught with problems, so I doubt that either one of them lends itself easily to any reductionist program."
From what I read, it seems widely acknowledged that the arrow of time (unidirectional time) is the result of rising entropy, a phenomenon that occurs on the macroscopic (many-particle) level. Therefore it is also known as the thermodynamic arrow of time. See e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrow_of_time
(the wiki article also mentions some other arrows of time, like cosmological, radiative etc. but these are just different guises of the thermodynamic arrow of time)
For example, if I drop a cup and it shatters on the floor, it is obvious that the whole cup in my hand is at an earlier point in time than the shattered cup on the floor, and not the other way round. In principle it IS possible that a shattered cup assembles itself together and jumps up into my hand (because physical laws are the same in both time directions), but it is very unlikely because the configuration of particles of a whole cup is much rarer (has much lower entropy) than the configuration of particles of a shattered cup. So in this sense the arrow of time "emerges" on the macroscopic scale (and together with it the concept of causality) but it is just a bunch of interacting particles that can move in both time directions, so the macroscopic process can be derived from the microscopic events.
That may very well be, but the whole thing does not amount to an account of either causality or emergence. Since there are no "microbangings," as L&R put it, then there cannot be a reduction to a bottom level of reality - because that bottom level isn't made of stuff. At least, that's my best understanding of what they are saying (recently confirmed by Ladyman via email). At any rate, tomorrow Julia and I are taping an episode of the RS podcast on this, with James as our guest. Stay tuned.
"Since there are no "microbangings," as L&R put it, then there cannot be a reduction to a bottom level of reality - because that bottom level isn't made of stuff."
Well, the bottom is abstract structures but some structures are simpler, corresponding to things like for example particles in our empirical experience, and other structures are more complicated, made up of simpler structures and corresponding to things like many-particle bodies (cups, tables etc.) in our empirical experience.
Massimo, referencing your replies to Mufti, it seems to me that Nagarjuna demonstrated that these conclusions can be reached by rational analysis without reference to "mystical insight", though I would accept that modern experimental physics trumps any philosophical analysis.ReplyDelete
Acitta, thanks for that qualifier.Delete
The fact is that not everything said in the name of the Buddha (i.e. Siddharta Gautama) was actually said by the Buddha, or (whether it was or wasn't) was arrived at while in some mystical state (as opposed to via rational reflection and dialogue).
And the doctrine of emptiness (sunyata) - which (to my mind) most closely resembles the "everything must go" message - was indeed expressed by Nagarjuna (not Gautama, or at least not so explicitly).
"Tables, then, are not illusions at all, at least no more than protons and electrons are illusions; rather, they are the most appropriate way to describe a certain stable pattern."
Not necessarily even stable patterns. Think "tsunami," "forest fire," or even "forest." "Certain spatio-temporal pattern" should do. (Yes, it needs to be temporal. The human visual system does not take snapshots the way a digital camera does, the eyes have to actually scan around a lot to make a "static" image.)
"what are we to make of scientific theories that do not deploy math? Which structures are conserved there?"
Scientific theories that do not deploy math must still be described in some language. Language is itself a sort of mathematical theory -- it describes relationships between patterns just as mathematics does. The problem is that we don't quite understand the nature of the patterns or relationships. The word "cause" might furnish an example in which we actually do somewhat understand the nature of the relationship implied -- order in time and necessity. The real problem here is a lack of a theory of meaning. I think that's a neuroscientific problem, though, and I think it's on its way to being solved -- see "On Intelligence" by Jeff Hawkins for some ideas of how that could be.
My paper "Abstract data types and constructive emergence" Newsletter on Philosophy and Computers of the American Philosophical Society, v9-n2, Spring 2010, pp 48-56 deals with many of these issues from a Computer Science perspective. I'd be interested in any comments.ReplyDelete
Your explanation of OSR is superb in that even this non-philosopher "gets it" reasonably well. I just don't get the different treatment of mathematically-based sciences and biology, though. It seems like an artificial distinction. Why should the world be "wired" (structured/patterned) such that biological "reality" is different, at the most fundamental level), from the rest of "reality?"