john42t

Scientific Certainty?

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Any natural phenomenon, like a flood occuring in uninhabited land, is physical in its origin. Why call it 'meta'-physical?
Our word physics and physical come from the Greek φυσικό which means natural Ba'al Chatzaf

Both of you need to apply a little empathy... imagine a time when EVERYTHING was a mystery, from the machinations of Nature, the inner working of one's body, to emotions and thoughts. A very scary time for men.The philosopher-scientist then, could not do anything else but believe in good, nasty or mischievous deities, formations of stars, and "humors" of the body.

All that was known (real) was the physical manifestation of man's body and actions - his face and muscular physicality.

Everything outside, or within that, therefore was *meta*physical.

Ari refined all that to the study of nature of existence and of man's consciousness.

Xray, really - you're the empathist here.

:cool:

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I am always concerned about context and compartmentalization in such discussions which is why it is helpful to have a specific topic at hand to illustrate how it is possible to go metaphysically astray when discussing almost anything. The context of when it is appropropriate and not appropriate to compartmentalize a discussion is also very important in the logical outcome.

Dennis,

I agree with this.

So here is my context. As this is a philosophy board, I have some very specific things in mind when I argue such things, starting with epistemological principles that apply to all human beings in their normal everyday living.

When I look at a dog and call it a dog, I have established (or formed or caused to come into existence) a very clear concept that can never be right or wrong. It can only be. Just like you. Is your existence right or wrong? It only is. I say ditto for abstract existents like concepts.

Once the concept is established, I can observe whether observations fit into it or not and the idea of right and wrong stems from that.

I can check whether my observations are the same as those of other people, but I premise this on an axiom that I hold--that human beings are made out of the same stuff as the rest of the universe. Thus normal healthy human beings will observe the same things in the same manner--including the fact that differences arise from the different experiences of each person and not from innate differences, like say our eyes processing light in different manners. Also, out mental equipment is 100% appropriate for abstracting what exists since it is made out of the same stuff.

I hold that when science-minded people use something like Popper's falsification process as grounds for making broad philosophical statements to the effect that we can never be certain of anything, they are preaching a new gospel of faith and not doing science any favor.

I am absolutely 100% certain of what a dog is on a normal level of observation when I am reasonably healthy. Even if you dress up a cat to look like a dog and I mistakenly call it a dog, once I detect the deception, I have something 100% correct in my mind that refers to a group of animals that 100% exist (past, present and future). This allows me to correct the error and say, "Oh, that's not a dog. It's a cat."

I am against science trying to undermine this kind of thing. Claiming that you can be 100% wrong, but only degrees of right does just that.

I am not against science trying to probe stuff that apparently does not make sense. I believe that is when you need clarity of what fits an idea and what does not more than anywhere else.

Michael

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I believe this formulation from science that you can be 100% wrong, but never 100% right is an intellectual con game.

In fact, this con makes science into a religion since the only way to accept such a standard is by faith and blank-out.

I don't think that the formulation on the part of (honorable) scientists is "an intellectual con game." Instead, I think it's a failure to see the implications of what they're saying. But it does provide ready amunition for people who want to argue that science is just another faith. (I included the modifier "honorable," since there are increasing numbers of scientists who I think are engaged in intellectual con gaming. Discriminating the decent scientists from the fake or semi-fake becomes increasingly difficult.)

Popper himself had to do away with definitions (playing word games that go into infinite regress) so he could entertain such a faith.

I think that's not a correct characterization of Popper. As I mentioned, I've been heavy into reading Popper lately. He strongly believed in a realist metaphysics, but (1) he didn't see a way categorically to rule out non-realist metaphysics; he was trapped on that one by his own "falsification" theory misapplied; and (2) his claim that *all* knowledge is "conjectural" except (maybe) laws of logic and math left him vulnerable to just the sorts of questions you're asking.

I agree with you that if we can't be certain of anything, we can't do science.

On the other hand, I don't understand your point in posts such as #36. You've written similar posts before. Are you claiming that because humans are conscious, therefore the universe must be conscious? That's what you seem to me to be saying.

--

Question to Bob Kolker, a mischievous question which I posed on ARCHN blog (producing an outraged response from Daniel, who called it a cheap Objectivist "gottcha"):

Can I not even be sure that I'm not a tree frog?

Ellen

PS: I hope to get around to posting some quotes from Popper in the new year, illustrating where he traps himself in an unfortunate bind which has had insidiously corrosive effects on prevailing scientific epistemology.

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Dennis,

btw - In your post No. 48, you quoted me, but I was making an addition and our posts crossed. So the following phrase was left out: "Popper himself had to do away with definitions (playing word games that go into infinite regress) so he could entertain such a faith."

I could have altered your post to include it, but I prefer to mention it here.

I don't like to mess in other people's posts unless there is a really good reason to (like posting guidelines or being requested to or something like that).

Michael

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Would Rand say Quantum Mechanics is the man-made?

Peter,

I don't know what Rand would say. I do know what I say.

I claim that we are made out of the same stuff as the rest of the universe.

We are not freaks of nature (to repeat what Nathaniel Branden often wrote).

We have a top-down "form-making" nature and we have a bottom-up "emerging" nature.

People with Bob's view (that there is an "in here" and an "out there" and that they are fundamentally different) deny the top-down part and put doubt in its place--as they have to since they are denying half of reality.

I say QM (at least my understanding of it) confirms my view.

I'm not sure Ayn Rand would have agreed with my formulation as I state it, but she did affirm that the human mind is a causal agent, which perfectly reflects my view. QM merely shows the possibility that its causation capability is not strictly limited to what its host human body does.

Michael

Like Ellen Stuttle I would be very cautious of using QM as any sort of springboard towards the human mind as a causal agent or opening up the possibility of causation capabilities outside of the human body. While a popular view there is no supporting science and certainly no reason to suspect QM could ever provide such support. Such beliefs are part of the popularity behind indeterministic QM - since its founding - but entirely without merit.

Dennis May

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I don't think that the formulation on the part of (honorable) scientists is "an intellectual con game." Instead, I think it's a failure to see the implications of what they're saying.

Ellen,

I'm happy to say there are honorable scientists. But I also add that they are taken in by the con.

Popper himself had to do away with definitions (playing word games that go into infinite regress) so he could entertain such a faith.

I think that's not a correct characterization of Popper.

Sure it is. Here is a direct quote from "Two Kinds of Definitions." (Unfortunately, I can only find this essay online here.)

Since Aristotle, it has become widely known that one cannot prove all statements, and that an attempt to do so would break down because it would lead only to an infinite regression of proofs. But neither he nor, apparently, a great many modern writers seems to realize that the analogous attempt to define the meaning of all our terms must, in the same way, lead to an infinite regression of definitions.

Oh, he did say that his non-definition kind of definition is useful, but he's basically talking about arbitrary tags you slap on things so you can muck around without pointing all the time.

In my understanding, definitions include hierarchy of importance according to similarities and differences to other things. Thus, for example, I would not consider toenails to be hierarchically important in defining puppies.

On the other hand, I don't understand your point in posts such as #36. You've written similar posts before. Are you claiming that because humans are conscious, therefore the universe must be conscious?

Nope.

That would be putting causality for the universe on human beings. And that would be stupid.

I am saying that consciousness is part of the universe. Otherwise consciousness would be impossible to exist. My premise, of course, is that the universe contains everything that exists. In other words, it is a synonym for reality.

I do not hold that "emergence" creates a new universe or fundamentally alters the universe on an existence level.

How this operates outside of animals (including humans), I don't know. I only know that I don't believe in miracles--like a form of existence that is not part of the universe suddenly cropping up in the universe from some miraculous process called "emergence."

I believe that consciousness has a lot more in common with inanimate stuff than is presently known, but that is only my speculation.

Michael

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Can I not even be sure that I'm not a tree frog?

Ribbit! Ribbit!

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Like Ellen Stuttle I would be very cautious of using QM as any sort of springboard towards the human mind as a causal agent or opening up the possibility of causation capabilities outside of the human body.

Dennis,

Why like Ellen Stuttle? Did she mention that? I must have missed it.

Anyway, I wouldn't dream of debating QM with you at my current level of knowledge. I am totally outclassed on that score.

That's one of the reasons I qualify my statements.

Michael

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Any natural phenomenon, like a flood occuring in uninhabited land, is physical in its origin. Why call it 'meta'-physical?

Our word physics and physical come from the Greek φυσικό which means natural

Ba'al Chatzaf

That was my point. The "meta" in metaphysical is not needed (Occam's razor applied) when it comes to natural phenomena (like the flood in Rand's example).

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Like Ellen Stuttle I would be very cautious of using QM as any sort of springboard towards the human mind as a causal agent or opening up the possibility of causation capabilities outside of the human body.

Dennis,

Why like Ellen Stuttle? Did she mention that? I must have missed it.

Anyway, I wouldn't dream of debating QM with you at my current level of knowledge. I am totally outclassed on that score.

That's one of the reasons I qualify my statements.

Michael

But maybe they too are out-classed either relative to the subject itself or people who know more than they do. Dunno. All I know--I think I know--is QM is verified to some extent by technology that works.

--Brant

and I've just completely exhausted myself on this

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I believe this formulation from science that you can be 100% wrong, but never 100% right is an intellectual con game.

What science is doing is keeping room for continuous improvement to its ‘theories’. New information and evidence always comes up. This btw is not a justification for cynicism regarding science but realizing we can always learn more, work more - more thinking to do.

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I believe this formulation from science that you can be 100% wrong, but never 100% right is an intellectual con game.

What science is doing is keeping room for continuous improvement to its ‘theories’. New information and evidence always comes up. This btw is not a justification for cynicism regarding science but realizing we can always learn more, work more - more thinking to do.

Ameen. The Last Fact is not known and the Last Word has not been uttered.]

Ba'al Chatzaf

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I believe this formulation from science that you can be 100% wrong, but never 100% right is an intellectual con game.

What science is doing is keeping room for continuous improvement to its ‘theories’. New information and evidence always comes up. This btw is not a justification for cynicism regarding science but realizing we can always learn more, work more - more thinking to do.

Nero,

This begs the question. And it's no excuse to justify the statement that we can know nothing with certainty.

Who's against new information, anyway? In Objectivist epistemology, there is a mental device to add knowledge for new experiences and information, just as in science. Even a device to correct it. By definition, concepts are open-ended precisely to be able to include it.

That doesn't mean that the core identification of the existent to which the concept refers is open-ended or cannot be known with certainty. A new breed of dog that becomes discovered does not invalidate or alter the concept "dog" in any meaningful way.

Going back to basics, if a tiger or other large carnivorous predator starts running at you licking its chops, you better not have any doubts as to what it is. And I'm talking in terms of the Aristotelian essence that Popper dislikes so much. You better be certain it is a killing and eating humans animal f you want to have a chance to survive.

Of course, if you are truly in doubt, you could always stop and run some experiments just to see if you can improve the quality of your information...

:smile:

A dog is a dog is a dog. 100% certainty on that score, even with Popper's circular reasoning puppies wagging their happy tails.

The formulation as given by many in science implies that we can't even form concepts with certainty. And that's just plain wrong.

That's intellectual overreach--basically a bait-and switch word game--to sell a toxic agenda.

The truth is that some parts of knowledge are certain and some are not. I have yet to understand why people want to frame this topic in either-or terms for the whole enchilada, but they do.

And they like to add "as good as it gets, which is pretty darn good" syrup on it to help the poison go down without gagging.

Michael

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This begs the question. And it's no excuse to justify the statement that we can know nothing with certainty.

The Law of non-Contradiction is a slam dunk. We are certain it is true, because if it isn't there is no knowing or certainty. Non-contradiction is absolutely necessary for the kind of activity that our kind of brain does.

The things of which are are not certain have to do with basic -physical- facts. If quantum theory is correct then there is a set of tiny tiny quantities - Planck Length, Planck Time. With our best and most expensive equipment we are about fifteen orders of magnitude removed from this scale. In short our best most precise knowledge of the physical world is fuzzy. And that is why we cannot be absolutely certain of the underlying physical laws and processes.

Look at the history of physics. In the 1930's and 1940's three sub atomic particles were known: the proton, the neutron and the electron. Then technology improved and we found we need neutrinos (later actually found in the 1950's) anti-particles and by the 1950's we stumble into the "particle zoo" brought about by the increase of energy in our particle accelerators.

Now we have the quarks. We -think- quarks are rock bottom but if we get another two orders of magnitude increase in the energy of particle accelerators we may very easily be "surprised" again. I would not make a bet that we have struck bottom yet. It it is not completely clear that there IS a bottom.

Do you see the pattern? Just when we think we have it figured and grounded our technology bores deeper into reality and reveals totally New Stuff we had no idea about. That is the uncertainty and incompleteness that is being referred to.

The Last Fact is not known and the Last Word has not been uttered.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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This begs the question. And it's no excuse to justify the statement that we can know nothing with certainty.

The Law of non-Contradiction is a slam dunk. We are certain it is true, because if it isn't there is no knowing or certainty. Non-contradiction is absolutely necessary for the kind of activity that our kind of brain does.

The things of which are are not certain have to do with basic -physical- facts. If quantum theory is correct then there is a set of tiny tiny quantities - Planck Length, Planck Time. With our best and most expensive equipment we are about fifteen orders of magnitude removed from this scale. In short our best most precise knowledge of the physical world is fuzzy. And that is why we cannot be absolutely certain of the underlying physical laws and processes.

Look at the history of physics. In the 1930's and 1940's three sub atomic particles were known: the proton, the neutron and the electron. Then technology improved and we found we need neutrinos (later actually found in the 1950's) anti-particles and by the 1950's we stumble into the "particle zoo" brought about by the increase of energy in our particle accelerators.

Now we have the quarks. We -think- quarks are rock bottom but if we get another two orders of magnitude increase in the energy of particle accelerators we may very easily be "surprised" again. I would not make a bet that we have struck bottom yet. It it is not completely clear that there IS a bottom.

Do you see the pattern? Just when we think we have it figured and grounded our technology bores deeper into reality and reveals totally New Stuff we had no idea about. That is the uncertainty and incompleteness that is being referred to.

The Last Fact is not known and the Last Word has not been uttered.

Ba'al Chatzaf

http://iopscience.iop.org/1538-4357/585/2/L77

Richard Lieu has written on this topic several times - the concept of Planck Length and Planck Time have no experimental support and observations indicate they do not exist.

Dennis

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The Law of non-Contradiction is a slam dunk. We are certain it is true, because if it isn't there is no knowing or certainty. Non-contradiction is absolutely necessary for the kind of activity that our kind of brain does.

Bob,

That is not what you have said before. You have said that "in here" essentially means uncertain by definition.

Anyway, your reasoning in the quote is odd. Are you saying that logic comes with certainty because we need certainty? That's the only reason it works? We need it to work?

How about using this standard for other kinds of knowledge? Why is logic certain and other stuff cannot be? We need that, too.

Your standard sounds arbitrary to me.

Back to logic and your former formulations. Can you think of anywhere but "in here" where logic can be found? If not, then "in here" does not mean uncertain.

Michael

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Anyway, your reasoning in the quote is odd. Are you saying that logic comes with certainty because we need certainty? That's the only reason it works? We need it to work?

Try working without the law of non-contradiction.

One of two things happens: The so-called "logical explosion" in which every well formed formula is true. In short no distinction between true and false. ex contradictione sequitur quodlibet . The other possibility is the one used in para-consistent logic where inference is weakened considerable to prevent the explosion. One path leads to utter chaos and confusion and the other path leads to limited ability to infer conclusions from premises. That is the cost of inconsistency.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraconsistent_logic for a quick introduction to the subject.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Bob,

When I talk premises, you always try to throw a bunch of details as a smokescreen and change the subject.

You're my friend, so I'm not going to keep harping on your pontifications where you want it both ways. I didn't let you off the hook this time, but ultimately I have better things to do and I am sure you do, too.

I wouldn't have even done that had I not been pretty sure that my observations are reflected by many readers as they read your stuff.

Michael

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Bob,

When I talk premises, you always try to throw a bunch of details as a smokescreen and change the subject.

I don't do smokescreen. I introduce details because they are relevant to the point I am making. I am sorry that facts bother you, but for me Facts Rule.

Piece of advice: do not assume you know my intentions or motives. You just know what I write and that is all. Our link in the physical world is the internet through this Forum.

I do not read minds and neither do you. Perhaps you think you can (I don't know, do you?). But if you think this you are wrong.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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I am sorry that facts bother you, but for me Facts Rule.

Bob,

Facts don't bother me.

What bothers me is when a person (like you) says repeatedly that Facts Rule, but also says repeatedly that we cannot really know facts if "out there" is involved.

Sorry, but that is inconsistent.

And it bothers me that when I point this out, instead of dealing with the issue, you always provide a butt-load of technical details that are beside the point while you ignore the point. I call that a smokescreen. It has happened often enough that I am comfortable saying it accuracy-wise.

Anyway, I already know that we disagree on the interface between "in here" and "out there." I give a lot more credibility to it for concept formation than you do. I claim we can form concepts from perception with certainty. You claim that only "in here" systems of rules (like logic), ones divorced from "out there," are the only certainty we will ever get.

That's how I have understood our differences so far.

Michael

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Ba'al Chatzaf wrote:

Consider the Stern-Gerlach Experiment. At the subatomic level things are chancy. Fortunately the probabilities can be accurately calculated. Just look at the eignvalues of the applicable Hermite Operators and square them.

end quote

I thought Ba'al Chatzaf was just making stuff up. So what Bob said was about something real? That reminds me of a recent cartoon.

A Dilbert cartoon featured an engineer named Wally who is always fooling his stupid boss into thinking he is working when he is really doing little to nothing.

In panel one Wally says to the boss, “I successfully installed a software patch to the Zeberpupin System.”

In panel two he says to the clueless boss, “I’d show you, but it’s a bunch of zeroes and ones.”

In panel three, Wally tries to boost his reputation by saying to the boss who does not know what a Zeberpupin is, but does not wish to appear clueless, so he pretends to know what it is, “The word you are trying to think of is “indispensable,” says Wally.

Peter

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I thought Ba'al Chatzaf was just making stuff up. So what Bob said was about something real? That reminds me of a recent cartoon.

I take physics seriously. I don't make stuff up. I might be mistaken but I do not make stuff up. Physics and mathematics are the best things the humans do or can do. Everything else pales in comparison.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Physics and mathematics are the best things the humans do or can do. Everything else pales in comparison.

I take it that you've never had sex or a good steak.

J

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Physics and mathematics are the best things the humans do or can do. Everything else pales in comparison.

I take it that you've never had sex or a good steak.

J

Oh but I have. 4 children 5 grandchildren and a lot of fun and fond memories. Works of the intellect exceed the crudities of copulation. Not that there is anything wrong with copulation, mind you.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Popper himself had to do away with definitions (playing word games that go into infinite regress) so he could entertain such a faith.

I think that's not a correct characterization of Popper.

Sure it is. Here is a direct quote from "Two Kinds of Definitions." [....]

Michael, what I object to in your characterization of Popper is your statement that he was attempting to entertain a faith. As I said, in fact Popper was strongly committed to realist metaphysics. I think that emphasizing that "Two Kinds of Definitions" essay in interpreting Popper is a mistake for several reasons: Of the works of his I've thus far read, it's his least well-reasoned. He says things modifying it in his autobiography. I think that where he went off about definitions was in not grasping the difference between *words* and *concepts*. He was thinking of them as equivalent. Objectivism of course doesn't think of them as equivalent, but instead of the word as a label for the concept. Popper's complete system brings in by a different route what Objectivists call "concepts," the route of his idea of a Third World of objective knowledge. I'm still in process of trying to sort all this out. I just want to warn against what seems to be your belief that Popper was *attempting* a con.

Ellen

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