Robert Campbell

The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics

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There are lots of inflated balloons and I have lots of pins.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Good one!

Well, I guess I sort of understand you now.

Shayne

So he admits he's a little prick.

Popping bubbles is what I like to do. I am what every bloviating philosopher fears the most, the man with the counter-examples to their nonsense. My ancestor Abraham smashed idols. I carry on the tradition by smashing false or faulty ideas.

I am a critical thinker, one who is mistakenly called a skeptic. I believe in knowledge. Especially knowing bullshit when I see, smell and hear it.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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But the deeper issue is the value of philosophy vs physics, and in that regard there is no question who the winner is.

What I think there's no question of is that what you demonstrate with that statement is your persistence in having a dumb view of what philosophy is. Try doing physics in a culture that doesn't value freedom of inquiry and the advancement of knowledge and without the scientific methodology which is a *philosophical* viewpoint on the universe, and see how far you get.

Ellen

I don't know what you are talking about.

GS, What sorts of questions do you think are the domain of "philosophy"?

What category of thought are you talking about when you say "philosophy"?

Ellen

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There are lots of inflated balloons and I have lots of pins.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Good one!

Well, I guess I sort of understand you now.

Shayne

So he admits he's a little prick.

Popping bubbles is what I like to do. I am what every bloviating philosopher fears the most, the man with the counter-examples to their nonsense. My ancestor Abraham smashed idols. I carry on the tradition by smashing false or faulty ideas.

I am a critical thinker, one who is mistakenly called a skeptic. I believe in knowledge. Especially knowing bullshit when I see, smell and hear it.

Ba'al Chatzaf

That's fine so far as it goes, but it is second hand and derivative and makes you dependent upon bubble blowers for your enjoyment. Would you be miserable if everyone were rational?

Do you have no original theories of your own? Given your intelligence and advanced age, it would be sad if you don't.

Edited by Ted Keer

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Not since the Middle Ages have philosophers claimed that we can understand the world from an armchair. Philosophers such as Bacon, Locke, and Voltaire were the shock troops of the Scientific Revolution. Moreover, a number of philosophers, such as Descartes and Leibniz, made substantial contributions to mathematics. And if you read Rand's comments on science in ITOE, you will see that she steered clear of presuming that philosophers should dictate to scientists. Like other empiricists, she had a very modest metaphysics, because she well knew that much of what has traditionally been called "metaphysics" is properly the domain of science.

George,

I'm going to have to disagree here.

First, Rand didn't consistently adhere to her rejection of cosmology, even with regard to the physical sciences. Otherwise, she wouldn't have articulated a priori philosophical positions on the nature of space and time.

Whereas with regard to psychology, she never seems to have noticed that there was any cosmology to reject. The Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology is loaded with assertions about human cognition and its development. Occasionally one of these is very weakly sourced (as in her assertion about crows' ability to recognize only small numbers of objects). Normally they are not sourced at all; Rand writes as though she just knows a whole bunch about the mental processes of young children, even of babies. The tradition of developmental psychology done from the armchair has been continued by Leonard Peikoff and David Harriman.

Second, Rand became more inclined to legislate for scientists after the expulsions from her circle of Nathaniel Branden and Robert Efron. In her 1971 piece on "psychologizing," she tried and failed to demarcate between philosophy and psychology in a way that she wouldn't have a few years earlier. She now insisted on the absolute priority of philosophy over all of the sciences and claimed that the traffic between them could go only one way (from philosophy to science, never in the opposite direction). As Leonard Peikoff assumed primary responsibility for any further elaborations of Objectivist epistemology, she signed on various of his peeves and crotchets (such as the supposed philosophical corruption of all physics post 1900).

Third, Rand was ambivalent about biological evolution throughout her career. On the one hand, she was rather taken with the crank theorizing of people like Ralph Adams Cram (a likely source for her late-1940s speculations and early-1970s essay to the effect that we fully evolved human beings live surrounded by specimens of subhmanity, who might look just like us, but will never be able to think properly). On the other she wanted to maintain her "philosophical" distance from any biological theory of evolution.

I have hardly any sympathy for Harry Binswanger. But I do kind of feel for him on one issue. His single discernible positive contribution, as a latter day member of her circle, was to try to teach her about evolution. He succeeded, but only to point that Rand was willing to acknowledge that there was a lot of evidence in favor of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory—which she still refused to endorse, though she roundly condemned creationism.

Hence her final stated view of evolution, in her 1981 Ford Hall Forum address, would on official Objectivist grounds have to be excoriated as grossly agnostic and, as a consequence, cravenly irrational. Except that it was Ayn Rand's position, so the Peikovians pass over it in silence.

Rand never did adequately work out the relationship between philosophy and science.

Robert Campbell

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First, Rand didn't consistently adhere to her rejection of cosmology, even with regard to the physical sciences. Otherwise, she wouldn't have articulated a priori philosophical positions on the nature of space and time.

Can you be concretely specific as to what you are calling her a priori positions? A quote and a citation would help, if possible.

Whereas with regard to psychology, she never seems to have noticed that there was any cosmology to reject. The Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology is loaded with assertions about human cognition and its development. Occasionally one of these is very weakly sourced (as in her assertion about crows' ability to recognize only small numbers of objects). Normally they are not sourced at all; Rand writes as though she just knows a whole bunch about the mental processes of young children, even of babies. The tradition of developmental psychology done from the armchair has been continued by Leonard Peikoff and David Harriman.

This may be true, but her sources are introspection and anecdote. She admits the crow epistemology is something she heard somewhere, and it is to illustrate, not to prove a point. That humans can only hold about seven items in working memory is a commonplace. I am unaware of any serious contradictions between her and Piaget, Damasio, Sacks, Merlin Donald, Jff Hawkins, or others. The objections you give are are procedural. Do you have factual objections?

Second, Rand became more inclined to legislate for scientists after the expulsions from her circle of Nathaniel Branden and Robert Efron. In her 1971 piece on "psychologizing," she tried and failed to demarcate between philosophy and psychology in a way that she wouldn't have a few years earlier. She now insisted on the absolute priority of philosophy over all of the sciences and claimed that the traffic between them could go only one way (from philosophy to science, never in the opposite direction). As Leonard Peikoff assumed primary responsibility for any further elaborations of Objectivist epistemology, she signed on various of his peeves and crotchets (such as the supposed philosophical corruption of all physics post 1900).

Again, can you give specific, and preferably cited examples?

Third, Rand was ambivalent about biological evolution throughout her career. On the one hand, she was rather taken with the crank theorizing of people like Ralph Adams Cram (a likely source for her late-1940s speculations and early-1970s essay to the effect that we fully evolved human beings live surrounded by specimens of subhmanity, who might look just like us, but will never be able to think properly). On the other she wanted to maintain her "philosophical" distance from any biological theory of evolution.

Interesting. Can you provide more information about this Cram character, an explain the reasons for your speculation?

I have hardly any sympathy for Harry Binswanger. But i kind of feel for him on one issue. His single discernible positive contribution, as a latter day member of her circle, was to try to teach her about evolution. He succeeded, but only to point that Rand was willing to acknowledge that there was a lot of evidence in favor of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory—which she still refused to endorse, though she roundly condemned creationism.

Hence her final stated view of evolution, in her 1981 Ford Hall Forum address, would on official Objectivist grounds have to be excoriated as grossly agnostic and, as a consequence, cravenly irrational. Except that it was Ayn Rand's position, so the Peikovians pass over it in silence.

While I personally find her lack of biological knowledge problematic, especially for her theory of human nature, and its implications for the origin of individual values, I cannot fault her for failing to take a stand on a technical matter which she admitted she did not understand well enough to pronounce upon.

Agnosticism in the matter of religion is a sin because religious claims are arbitrary. No evidence is offered in their favor. Evolution is a omplex technical matter for which all sorts of evidence is provided, evience which most layman fin it very difficult to weigh. Most laymen I know who say they accept evolution actually hold some sort of confused Lamarckian ideas. They accept the fact of evolution, given the presence of fossils, an so forth. As for the theory of how it works, most woul o better to take Rand's stance.

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Thanks, Shayne.

I would hope Rand would have distinguished Nock and Cram's literary pretenses from the actual biology. Unfortunately the Noe-Darwinian synthesis was late, and Social Darwinism and Eugenics were seen as scientifically legitimate, and worse, legitimately scientific during her formative years in the early part of last century. I hope reading Cram would have struck her as it did me, like listening to a speech given by Robert Douglas.

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Nevertheless, I have managed to read many dozens of books on the philosophy of science (many written by physicists and other scientists) over the years. How many have you read?

It is not the quantity of books that you've read that is important, but what books you've read. The examples you give are telling:

If you wish to see some of the nutty things that even eminent physicists have said about philosophy, see L. Susan Stebbing, Philosophy and the Physicists. This contains an especially good critique of the metaphysical nonsense espoused by the astrophysicist Arthur Eddington. See also Philipp Frank, Philosophy of Science, The Link Between Science and Philosophy. Frank, Einstein's successor at the German Charles-Ferdinand University of Prague, deals effectively with the supposed metaphysical indeterminism of QM. He also deals with a number of other metaphysical claims about QM, pointing out that QM doesn't have many of the metaphysical implications that are often attributed to it. His understanding of the operational definitions used in physics is the key to much of this.

Susan Stebbing's book is from 1958. Eddington died in 1944. Philip Frank's book dates from 1962.

That means that those books may be interesting for a historical view, but that they are useless if you want to know what the philosophical implications of modern physics are, because since 1962 a lot has happened in that field. If you want to read a modern and very informed book, I'd suggest you read Bernard d'Espagnat, On Physics and Philosophy, Princeton University Press, 2002. I don't agree with all his conclusions, but he gives a good and fair overview of the current theories and their philosophical consequences, without ridiculing dissenting opinions, and he knows his stuff.

Until reading your post I had not realized that fallacious philosophical arguments, like milk cartons, carry an expiration date. But at least I won't have to pay attention to any claims made by physicists prior to 1962. That will narrow the field considerably.

Your grasp of essentials is quite remarkable. I haven't encountered anything quite like it for over forty years, when I was a college student and an econ major told me that we shouldn't take arguments for free trade seriously, since they were first formulated in the 18th century by David Hume, Adam Smith, and others.

Of course, the relevance of your reply to my point, which I have stated repeatedly, is anyone's guess. I have said that when a physicist leaves his sphere of expertise and argues about the philosophical implications of physics, his expertise counts for nothing, and he argues on a par with everyone else. Some physicists have been competent philosophers, whereas some have not. But in no case can the physicist say, in effect, "Even if my philosophical arguments appear to be invalid, I am an expert in physics, so nonphysicists have no epistemological right to criticize me."

I am curious how far this special privilege extends. If a physicist makes ethical, political, and aesthetic judgments, are we also required to defer to his expertise? If not, then why are the realms of metaphysics and epistemology any different? For example, if a physicist, following Eddington's "two tables" argument, maintains that our perception of a "solid" table is an illusion of sorts, because physics has revealed that what we call "solid" objects are mostly empty space, how does this claim depend on an expertise in physics? One can easily accept the premise without embracing the conclusion.

Oh, but I almost forgot! Eddington's argument (which I have encountered many times) and Stebbing's demolition of it occurred prior to 1962, so we needn't pay any attention to that controversy. Physicists didn't get their credentials as experts in philosophy until 1962. I must have missed that ceremony.

As a physicist who automatically qualifies as a philosopher extraordinaire, perhaps you will be so kind as to give us -- the sweaty, ignorant masses -- the benefit of your wisdom by presenting one significant metaphysical conclusion that you believe is entailed by QM. Care to give it a try? We will see how far you get.

Ghs

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Rather, I have been stressing the difference between physics and philosophy. DF is something of a dimwit when it comes to this distinction.

I think he thinks you're "something of a dimwit" when it comes to understanding the relevance of experimental results for philosophy.

Here we go again....

I have freely admitted that the experimental results of physics may be relevant to philosophy. Got it?

My point is, and always has been, that an expertise in physics does not confer upon the physicist special qualifications to determine what those philosophical implications are. He may reason correctly, or he may reason incorrectly, but in any case his arguments are subject to the same canons of philosophical criticism that we apply to everyone else.

How many times do I need to say this?

Ghs

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George,

I don't know where your infinite well of patience springs from. Fantastic posts.

Shayne

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George,

I don't know where your infinite well of patience springs from. Fantastic posts.

Shayne

I think you mean sarcastic posts.

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George,

I don't know where your infinite well of patience springs from. Fantastic posts.

Shayne

I think you mean sarcastic posts.

"'Always' and 'Never' are two words you should always remember never to use. :-)"

Hmmmm, he doesn't take his own advice... George's latest posts weren't ALL sarcasm, there was plenty of other good stuff too.

Shayne

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As Leonard Peikoff assumed primary responsibility for any further elaborations of Objectivist epistemology, she signed on various of his peeves and crotchets (such as the supposed philosophical corruption of all physics post 1900).

My impression back in '69-'70 was that the signing on was going in the other direction, although maybe it was mutual reinforcement. I'd like to know what Peikoff might have been saying in his 1965 course at the University of Denver, if he commented in that course, on the supposed philosophical corruption of post-1900 physics.

In 1969 Larry and I had lunch two or three times with Leonard Peikoff at Brooklyn Poly. A prominent part of the conversation was Larry's trying to explain special relativity to Leonard. Leonard wasn't getting it; he didn't have a mind for physics, couldn't "see" it. I think the inability is still noticeable in his "Induction in Physics and Philosophy" taped course from years later, a couple segments of which I heard. In one of those segments he was trying to explain the progression of physics from Galileo to Newton, and he seemed to me still to be trying to grasp something he didn't understand, something that was words to him but not images of physical processes.

Back in '69 I got the sense that Leonard hoped that Larry was going to provide ammunition about the corruption of physics. There were mentions of Kant, and the "feeler" that Kantian corruption must be extending to physics too. Larry wasn't biting.

At the first epistemology workshop Larry attended, Rand asserted, in a private exchange, that physics had been corrupted.

Here's a misleading description of the scene from Goddess of the Market:

pp. 234-35

[Rand's] interest in her students seemed directly proportional to their agreement with her ideas. An NBI student remembered, "When she learned that I was a physicist, she made a comment about how physics has been corrupted by bad philosophy. She was apparently expecting my agreement. But I couldn't agree, because I didn't think that physics was corrupt. I could see the interest in me dying down in her eyes." [footnote] 49 Rand could turn her charisma on and off at will, charming those who paid her proper homage while freezing out those who did not.

[footnote] 49, pg. 334: Karen Reedstrom, "Interview with Laurence I. Gould," Full Context, November 1991, 3.

Contra the description, Larry wasn't frozen out. Instead, he was allowed to ask questions as the workshops progressed -- originally, he'd been invited, at Leonard Peikoff's request, only as an observer.

I recount the incident because it's indicative that Rand, then, back in '69, was already of the opinion that physics had been corrupted. There's also something she said in one of her articles -- I don't remember which -- about the technological advances in 20th-century physics being the remnants of a fading impulse.

Ellen

PS. Note 52, pg. 334 of Goddess incorrectly gives the source of material quoted on pg. 236 as Larry's Full Context interview. The actual interviewee was Eric Mack. Burns has been alerted to the error.

Edited by Ellen Stuttle

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Until reading your post I had not realized that fallacious philosophical arguments, like milk cartons, carry an expiration date. But at least I won't have to pay attention to any claims made by physicists prior to 1962. That will narrow the field considerably.

Your grasp of essentials is quite remarkable. I haven't encountered anything quite like it for over forty years, when I was a college student and an econ major told me that we shouldn't take arguments for free trade seriously, since they were first formulated in the 18th century by David Hume, Adam Smith, and others.

The fallacy in your argument is that there are hardly revolutionary new facts discovered with regard to the arguments for free trade that would completely overthrow the old arguments. In fundamental physics however the discoveries in the last century have been ground-breaking, but perhaps you've missed that.

Of course, the relevance of your reply to my point, which I have stated repeatedly, is anyone's guess. I have said that when a physicist leaves his sphere of expertise and argues about the philosophical implications of physics, his expertise counts for nothing, and he argues on a par with everyone else. Some physicists have been competent philosophers, whereas some have not. But in no case can the physicist say, in effect, "Even if my philosophical arguments appear to be invalid, I am an expert in physics, so nonphysicists have no epistemological right to criticize me."

It's of course the other way around. You seem to think that there is some sharp dividing line between physics and philosophy and that as soon as a physicist steps one centimeter over that line he's suddenly an ignorant layman. In fact it is the philosopher who is the layman as soon as he starts to argue about the relevance of experimental results to philosophy, as he doesn't have the knowledge for a real understanding of that relevance of those results. He can perhaps find a work by some scientist for the general reader that seems to be in line with his own ideas and consider that as a vindication of his ideas. But that is only a rationalization supported by confirmation bias, as he doesn't understand all the aspects of those experiments, as that requires specialized knowledge that he doesn't have. You can see the same pretension of the philosopher in Robert's example of Rand's epistemology when she ventures into the field of developmental psychology as if she were a specialist in that field. Or are we to believe that this is also the domain of philosophy instead of that of psychologists and biologists who are just amateurs in that regard?

Oh, but I almost forgot! Eddington's argument (which I have encountered many times) and Stebbing's demolition of it occurred prior to 1962, so we needn't pay any attention to that controversy. Physicists didn't get their credentials as experts in philosophy until 1962. I must have missed that ceremony.

Demolition? Eddington was right that the common perception of solidity is an illusion from a scientific viewpoint. Although the more or less educated population now knows that solid matter is composed by atoms that are not at all solid themselves, most of them would still be surprised to know that you could in principle compress the total human population into the size of a sugar cube or that every second billions of neutrinos fly unhindered through every square centimeter of the earth surface, emerging at the other side. Now you can of course say that what we in daily life call "solid" is just that and that it works fine in everyday life, but it does entail an intuition that is definitely incorrect for a deeper understanding of what matter is and what the consequences may be.

As a physicist who automatically qualifies as a philosopher extraordinaire, perhaps you will be so kind as to give us -- the sweaty, ignorant masses -- the benefit of your wisdom by presenting one significant metaphysical conclusion that you believe is entailed by QM. Care to give it a try? We will see how far you get.

QM has demolished the classical notion of a reality in which objects are perfectly localized and where every event has a cause. That many philosophers still cling to their Newtonian billiard ball concept of reality is because they still don't understand the evidence. They still think that QM just has some measurement problems but that in "reality" everything is still precisely defined. Alas for them, it has now definitely been shown that local realistic theories with hidden variables are ruled out, it is reality itself that is inconsistent with their intuitive vision. But I'm afraid that checking their own premises isn't their strong suit.

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Rather, I have been stressing the difference between physics and philosophy. DF is something of a dimwit when it comes to this distinction.

I think he thinks you're "something of a dimwit" when it comes to understanding the relevance of experimental results for philosophy.

Here we go again....

I have freely admitted that the experimental results of physics may be relevant to philosophy. Got it?

My point is, and always has been, that an expertise in physics does not confer upon the physicist special qualifications to determine what those philosophical implications are. He may reason correctly, or he may reason incorrectly, but in any case his arguments are subject to the same canons of philosophical criticism that we apply to everyone else.

How many times do I need to say this?

Ghs

Yes, I've got it, re the first question. However, understanding the relevance of experimental results for philosophy requires sufficient understanding of the physics. Although I agree with you that expertise in physics doesn't exempt the physicist from being "subject to the same canons of philosophical criticism that we apply to everyone else," enough expertise in the subject matter is required in order to be qualified to philosophize about the findings. I.e., any old layman philosopher is not qualified to judge the relevance to philosophy of the findings of physics. Only a philosopher informed about the physics. I'm not sure if you're acknowledging that.

Ellen

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George,

I don't know where your infinite well of patience springs from. Fantastic posts.

Shayne

I think you mean sarcastic posts.

"'Always' and 'Never' are two words you should always remember never to use. :-)"

Hmmmm, he doesn't take his own advice... George's latest posts weren't ALL sarcasm, there was plenty of other good stuff too.

Shayne

There are times when sarcasm is appropriate.

It mystifies me in a way why my very simple point -- and a fairly noncontroversial point to boot, one that has been acknowledged by many physicists and other scientists (Einstein comes readily to mind) -- raises the hackles of some of the science wonks on OL. I say "in a way," because in another way I am not mystified. I have seen this attitude -- the "stay off my turf" mentality --displayed many times in other disciplines, as specialists in everything from sociology to economics to history to education frequently spray their territory in order to mark it as their own and keep intruders away.

One of my favorite books in social theory is Stanislav Andreski's Social Sciences as Sorcery (1972). Although the following passage (pp. 198-99) doesn't make exactly the same point as I have been making, it illustrates it in a general way:

Unquestionably, as judged from hindsight, mistakes made by the giants of the natural sciences are utterly insignificant in comparison with the fundamental errors into which the great figures of social and economic studies have fallen, but the former started from a much firmer ground, free from the abysmal pitfalls which surround mankind's study of itself.

Therefore, if he is honest, intelligent and has a wide range of knowledge, a sociologist or political scientist need suffer from no feelings of inferiority in regard to his colleagues in the natural sciences: and if they sneer at the shakiness of his edifice he can always answer: all right, if you are so much cleverer, whey don't you try to say something about my subject that is new and can be backed by good arguments. This kind of challenge need not be purely hypothetical, because a number of distinguished natural scientists have ventured into the field of sociology, politics and economics without being able to make any contributions to them and sometimes voicing utter inanities: although their jejune pronouncements often received undue attention in virtue of the halo effect of a fame well deserved in their own disciplines. Without going back as far as Newton's discourses on witches, we can draw at random from a large number of recent examples, such as that of a prominent crystallographer and author of a serious work on the history of science, J.D. Bernal, whose writings on politics exhibit the mentality of a marxist backwoodsman who refuses to use his common sense. Einstein's statements about politics consisted of pious platitudes, while P.W. Bridgman's were as ill-conceived as they were presumptuous. Robert J. Oppenheimer's pronouncements were in the nature of banal sermons....

Many eminent men of science genuinely believed all kinds of absurd dogmas, and were ready to accept the infallibility of the Pope or the General Secretary or Der Fuehrer. But when we move from the discovers to the run-of-the-mill scientists who uncritically memorize and then routinely apply the formulae, without thinking about their nature or realizing their limitations, we often find troglodyte boffins, full of narrow prejudices and irrational personal enmities, in comparison with those views on politics, ethics or aesthetics an average grocer appears as a fount of enlightenment....

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Until reading your post I had not realized that fallacious philosophical arguments, like milk cartons, carry an expiration date. But at least I won't have to pay attention to any claims made by physicists prior to 1962. That will narrow the field considerably.

Your grasp of essentials is quite remarkable. I haven't encountered anything quite like it for over forty years, when I was a college student and an econ major told me that we shouldn't take arguments for free trade seriously, since they were first formulated in the 18th century by David Hume, Adam Smith, and others.

The fallacy in your argument is that there are hardly revolutionary new facts discovered with regard to the arguments for free trade that would completely overthrow the old arguments. In fundamental physics however the discoveries in the last century have been ground-breaking, but perhaps you've missed that.

You mentioned not the last century but 1962 as the dividing line, stating that controversies before then may have historical interest but little else. Perhaps you forgot about that.

Ghs: Of course, the relevance of your reply to my point, which I have stated repeatedly, is anyone's guess. I have said that when a physicist leaves his sphere of expertise and argues about the philosophical implications of physics, his expertise counts for nothing, and he argues on a par with everyone else. Some physicists have been competent philosophers, whereas some have not. But in no case can the physicist say, in effect, "Even if my philosophical arguments appear to be invalid, I am an expert in physics, so nonphysicists have no epistemological right to criticize me."

It's of course the other way around. You seem to think that there is some sharp dividing line between physics and philosophy and that as soon as a physicist steps one centimeter over that line he's suddenly an ignorant layman.

The dividing line isn't always sharp, but in many cases it is.

In fact it is the philosopher who is the layman as soon as he starts to argue about the relevance of experimental results to philosophy, as he doesn't have the knowledge for a real understanding of that relevance of those results.

First, many physicists have little or no knowledge of philosophy, so they are in the same boat.

Second, the physicist should explain his strictly scientific conclusions. These can be accepted for the sake of argument and the discussion can proceed from there. If the physicist is unable to explain himself, then he should keep his mouth shut. If he doesn't understand his own theories well enough to explain them, then he certainly won't produce anything of value in philosophy. Muddled thinking in, muddled thinking out.

He can perhaps find a work by some scientist for the general reader that seems to be in line with his own ideas and consider that as a vindication of his ideas. But that is only a rationalization supported by confirmation bias, as he doesn't understand all the aspects of those experiments, as that requires specialized knowledge that he doesn't have. You can see the same pretension of the philosopher in Robert's example of Rand's epistemology when she ventures into the field of developmental psychology as if she were a specialist in that field. Or are we to believe that this is also the domain of philosophy instead of that of psychologists and biologists who are just amateurs in that regard?

You are quite the kiss-ass when it comes to "experts." I doubt if you have given the philosophical issues involved here more than a few minutes of thought, if that much.

Rand doesn't delve all that much into developmental psychology. How about you? You are not a psychologist, so does this mean that you never render psychological judgments? You certainly are not an economist, so how can you possibly reject, say, the labor theory of value or Keynesian macroeconomics or econometrics, without a certificate from a state institution that dubs you qualified? You are not an economic historian, so how can you possibly judge between socialists who claim that the Industrial Revolution lowered the standard of living for the "working classes" and those free-market historians who claim the opposite? It must be a nightmare not to reason for yourself but instead take a poll of the experts in a given field and then march in lockstep to the majority opinion.

Btw, have you consulted the majority of theologians about the existence of God? Of course, you cannot reject theology out of hand, since you are not yourself a theologian and therefore lack the specialized knowledge. I guess you will just have to believe in God. Don't you dare think for yourself.

Eddington was right that the common perception of solidity is an illusion from a scientific viewpoint. Although the more or less educated population now knows that solid matter is composed by atoms that are not at all solid themselves, most of them would still be surprised to know that you could in principle compress the total human population into the size of a sugar cube or that every second billions of neutrinos fly unhindered through every square centimeter of the earth surface, emerging at the other side. Now you can of course say that what we in daily life call "solid" is just that and that it works fine in everyday life, but it does entail an intuition that is definitely incorrect for a deeper understanding of what matter is and what the consequences may be.

What pretentious drivel this is. I don't have the patience to deal with this Philosophy 101 nonsense.

QM has demolished the classical notion of a reality in which objects are perfectly localized and where every event has a cause.

And just how did QM prove that not every event has a cause? I assume you know that an inability to identify the cause of a given event is not the same as claiming that no such cause exists, so I presume your highly sophisticated argument will avoid this elementary fallacy. But I have my doubts.... In any case, you should start by defining what you mean by a "cause."

That many philosophers still cling to their Newtonian billiard ball concept of reality is because they still don't understand the evidence. They still think that QM just has some measurement problems but that in "reality" everything is still precisely defined. Alas for them, it has now definitely been shown that local realistic theories with hidden variables are ruled out, it is reality itself that is inconsistent with their intuitive vision. But I'm afraid that checking their own premises isn't their strong suit.

And making sense is not your strong suit. I don't know which philosophers you are supposedly referring to, but few if any would say something so vague and misleading as "everything is still precisely defined." (For one thing, we define words and concepts, not things.) As for "their intuitive vision," I can't think of any philosopher offhand who would defend such a thing. It takes a physicist to utter gibberish like this.

Ghs

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Yes, I've got it, re the first question. However, understanding the relevance of experimental results for philosophy requires sufficient understanding of the physics. Although I agree with you that expertise in physics doesn't exempt the physicist from being "subject to the same canons of philosophical criticism that we apply to everyone else," enough expertise in the subject matter is required in order to be qualified to philosophize about the findings. I.e., any old layman philosopher is not qualified to judge the relevance to philosophy of the findings of physics. Only a philosopher informed about the physics. I'm not sure if you're acknowledging that.

Ellen

What is an example of physics informing philosophy (where philosophy wasn't already in some kind of an *avoidable* error)?

Shayne

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And just how did QM prove that not every event has a cause? I assume you know that an inability to identify the cause of a given event is not the same as claiming that no such cause exists, so I presume your highly sophisticated argument will avoid this elementary fallacy. But I have my doubts.... In any case, you should start by defining what you mean by a "cause."

Nothing will come of this, because nothing caused him to know anything on this subject, because nothing could cause him to know. Ask him what event didn't have a cause. All he'll be able to testify is that *he* doesn't know what caused it. Then like any fool, he uses his ignorance as proof that there is no answer. Why does he do this? Because he worships QM like it was a religion. QM (his God) doesn't tell him there is a cause, therefore there isn't one. Einstein was a far better physicist than these pompous fools.

In principle, one can never know that an event doesn't have a cause. That would require a God-like omniscience, a full knowledge of reality, of every interaction known and unknown to man. This is precisely what DF implicitly claims to have with his religion of QM. Which is sheer megalomaniacal insanity.

His strawman characterization of philosophers thinking in terms of billiard balls is laughable.

Shayne

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And another point: it is curiosity about what the cause of a given event is that drives science. This is fundamental and essential to new scientific discoveries. And yet DF and his ilk want to cut off that engine that drives discovery, right at QM. If this is sounding a lot like the Catholic Church stopping Galileo from upending their dogmas you know precisely what motivates DF.

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Rather, I have been stressing the difference between physics and philosophy. DF is something of a dimwit when it comes to this distinction.

I think he thinks you're "something of a dimwit" when it comes to understanding the relevance of experimental results for philosophy.

Here we go again....

I have freely admitted that the experimental results of physics may be relevant to philosophy. Got it?

My point is, and always has been, that an expertise in physics does not confer upon the physicist special qualifications to determine what those philosophical implications are. He may reason correctly, or he may reason incorrectly, but in any case his arguments are subject to the same canons of philosophical criticism that we apply to everyone else.

How many times do I need to say this?

Ghs

Yes, I've got it, re the first question. However, understanding the relevance of experimental results for philosophy requires sufficient understanding of the physics. Although I agree with you that expertise in physics doesn't exempt the physicist from being "subject to the same canons of philosophical criticism that we apply to everyone else," enough expertise in the subject matter is required in order to be qualified to philosophize about the findings. I.e., any old layman philosopher is not qualified to judge the relevance to philosophy of the findings of physics. Only a philosopher informed about the physics. I'm not sure if you're acknowledging that.

Ellen

Yes, of course a layperson needs to know what the physicist is claiming, and it is primarily the responsibility of the physicist to explain the scientific basis of his philosophical conclusions. What we don't need to know are all the theoretical details of a given scientific claim. Why? Because, at least when I argue with physicists, I accept their scientific findings -- if only for the sake of argument, since I am not qualified to criticize them. All I ask is that the physicist has given sufficient thought to his own beliefs so as to be able to articulate them clearly. What I don't buy for a second is the excuse, "Well, I understand this stuff, but I cannot possibly explain it to you." To this I reply, "Okay, if you cannot possibly explain the scientific basis for your philosophical reasoning, then there is no reason why I or anyone else should take you seriously. If you should ever think clearly enough to communicate what you believe, then get back to me. Until then, I can have no idea what you are talking about, by your own admission."

Some physicists, including DF, have employed this maneuver, and it is a thoroughly dishonest one. In essence it is identical to the arguments used by theologians for centuries. For example, when early freethinkers, who were frequently amateur scholars, criticized the Bible for its inaccuracies and contradictions, they were told by Biblical scholars (e.g., from Cambridge and Oxford) that they had no business delving into such matters without a knowledge of the original languages in which the Bible was written. To this freethinkers often pointed out that this requirement didn't stop those selfsame scholars from criticizing and rejecting the Koran, and that a flagrant contradiction is a contradiction in any language.

For centuries laypersons were forbidden to read the Bible for fear that, in their simplistic, uneducated manner, they would not correctly understand its teachings. This was the province of the "experts" -- the Pope and the ecclesiastical hierarchy whose function was to explain arcane and technical matters of theology to laypersons.

Freethinkers insisted that the first responsibility of every reasonable person who wishes to persuade us of something is to speak intelligibly and clearly. They had nothing but contempt for those theologians who claimed that they could not possibly explain the subtleties of their discipline to laypersons, so many theological claims must be accepted on faith, i.e., on the authority of the person who makes the claim.

Do you want to know why I am so hostile and contemptuous to the same tactic when used by physicists? This has little or nothing to do with my interest in Objectivism. Instead, it dates back to my early interest in freethought, which preceded my interest in Rand by several years. And I am telling you that there is essentially no difference between how theologians have used this type of argument and how (some) physicists use it. And this style of argument was something that freethinkers (including many scientists) spent many years combating.

Does a physicist claim that I don't know enough about physics to fully comprehend the details of his theory? Fine, that may be true, but all the physicist need do is state his scientific conclusions in a coherent manner. If he cannot do this, then he has defaulted on a basic requirement for a productive discussion, and all of his ramblings about philosophical implications don't mean a goddamned thing. He is a pretentious twit who doesn't even understand his own area of supposed expertise. The physicist should tend to his own garden before telling others how to tend to theirs.

Ghs

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[...] it has now definitely been shown that local realistic theories with hidden variables are ruled out, [...].

But not non-local (i.e., superluminal) theories with hidden variables.

Ellen

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Until reading your post I had not realized that fallacious philosophical arguments, like milk cartons, carry an expiration date. But at least I won't have to pay attention to any claims made by physicists prior to 1962. That will narrow the field considerably.

Your grasp of essentials is quite remarkable. I haven't encountered anything quite like it for over forty years, when I was a college student and an econ major told me that we shouldn't take arguments for free trade seriously, since they were first formulated in the 18th century by David Hume, Adam Smith, and others.

The fallacy in your argument is that there are hardly revolutionary new facts discovered with regard to the arguments for free trade that would completely overthrow the old arguments. In fundamental physics however the discoveries in the last century have been ground-breaking, but perhaps you've missed that.

Of course, the relevance of your reply to my point, which I have stated repeatedly, is anyone's guess. I have said that when a physicist leaves his sphere of expertise and argues about the philosophical implications of physics, his expertise counts for nothing, and he argues on a par with everyone else. Some physicists have been competent philosophers, whereas some have not. But in no case can the physicist say, in effect, "Even if my philosophical arguments appear to be invalid, I am an expert in physics, so nonphysicists have no epistemological right to criticize me."

It's of course the other way around. You seem to think that there is some sharp dividing line between physics and philosophy and that as soon as a physicist steps one centimeter over that line he's suddenly an ignorant layman. In fact it is the philosopher who is the layman as soon as he starts to argue about the relevance of experimental results to philosophy, as he doesn't have the knowledge for a real understanding of that relevance of those results. He can perhaps find a work by some scientist for the general reader that seems to be in line with his own ideas and consider that as a vindication of his ideas. But that is only a rationalization supported by confirmation bias, as he doesn't understand all the aspects of those experiments, as that requires specialized knowledge that he doesn't have. You can see the same pretension of the philosopher in Robert's example of Rand's epistemology when she ventures into the field of developmental psychology as if she were a specialist in that field. Or are we to believe that this is also the domain of philosophy instead of that of psychologists and biologists who are just amateurs in that regard?

Oh, but I almost forgot! Eddington's argument (which I have encountered many times) and Stebbing's demolition of it occurred prior to 1962, so we needn't pay any attention to that controversy. Physicists didn't get their credentials as experts in philosophy until 1962. I must have missed that ceremony.

Demolition? Eddington was right that the common perception of solidity is an illusion from a scientific viewpoint. Although the more or less educated population now knows that solid matter is composed by atoms that are not at all solid themselves, most of them would still be surprised to know that you could in principle compress the total human population into the size of a sugar cube or that every second billions of neutrinos fly unhindered through every square centimeter of the earth surface, emerging at the other side. Now you can of course say that what we in daily life call "solid" is just that and that it works fine in everyday life, but it does entail an intuition that is definitely incorrect for a deeper understanding of what matter is and what the consequences may be.

As a physicist who automatically qualifies as a philosopher extraordinaire, perhaps you will be so kind as to give us -- the sweaty, ignorant masses -- the benefit of your wisdom by presenting one significant metaphysical conclusion that you believe is entailed by QM. Care to give it a try? We will see how far you get.

QM has demolished the classical notion of a reality in which objects are perfectly localized and where every event has a cause. That many philosophers still cling to their Newtonian billiard ball concept of reality is because they still don't understand the evidence. They still think that QM just has some measurement problems but that in "reality" everything is still precisely defined. Alas for them, it has now definitely been shown that local realistic theories with hidden variables are ruled out, it is reality itself that is inconsistent with their intuitive vision. But I'm afraid that checking their own premises isn't their strong suit.

In addition to George's spot on analogy of the dishonesty of adopting the theologian's method of inscrutable authority, there are other errors here.

The notion that somehow physics is THE model for scientific discovery against which advances in any field of knowledge must be measured is a parochial prejudice. If philosophical discoveries cannot be granted validity, because they don't match the methodology of advances in physics, then neither can advances in mathematics, or evolutionary biology, or cognitive psychology or historical linguistics. Each has its own proper subject matter and outside such broad outlines as the methods of similarity and difference, and the hypothetico-deductive method, one cannot place a priori expectations on what sort of evidence will be found to be probative and what methodology fertile. Do we castigate paleontologists for not performing experiments? Do we criticize mathematicians for not performing observations?

The same fallacy is being committed when one speaks of the timing of groundbreaking discoveries, as if a field in which current discoveries aren't being made is somehow of no value. The discovery of the Socratic method, the rules of definition, logic, and the nature of axioms are all groundbreaking discoveries, even if, due to their having occurred a hundred generations ago, they seem as commonplace as sliced bread - itself a miracle in its day. Consider the discovery of perspective in painting. Can we deny that no breakthroughs occur in painting because it happened once–in the fifteenth century? Indeed, intellectual fields can can mined out, and it is only where we are most fruitfully semi-ignorant that current slope of the progress curve seems most steep. Its a form of ahistorical blindness to judge progress as important only if it happens now.

Then, of course, there is this: "QM has demolished the classical notion of a reality in which objects are perfectly localized and where every event has a cause." This is simply a form of skepticism based upon the frozen concept fallacy. The alternative is not between an old conception of the universe and utter contradiction. We form new conceptions. The alternative is to accept that a thing is what it is - even if that means what it is is not what we had thought - or to stop thinking.

What exactly is being claimed? Bell's theorem doesn't imply that there is no such thing as location. It simply requires us to update our notion of what sort of action at a distance is possible. No one was alarmed when, according to Newton, it was believed that gravity propagated instantaneously. Why should we be alarmed now if it appears that entangled particles communicate instantaneously? If you claim that two particles are entangled, you still have to be able to measure and identify those particles in order to make the claim. All that is done away with is a false preconception. The concept of identity, that "to be is to be something" is not overthrown. If it is the nature of an entity to be both wavelike and particlelike then that is its identity. If it is the nature of a particle to exist in a cloudlike distribution that is not a denial of identity–that is an assertion of its identity.

Edited by Ted Keer

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No one was alarmed when, according to Newton, it was believed that gravity propagated instantaneously. Why should we be alarmed now if it appears that entangled particles communicate instantaneously?

First of all, it's irrelevant whether none or few are alarmed, what's relevant is if something IS in fact alarming. A dozen morons not being alarmed by something alarming is not an argument.

The fact is that it is impossible in principle to know whether particles communicate instantaneously -- such a condition is physically impossible to measure. And that is precisely the reason to be alarmed at the concept -- there is in principle no way for human beings to know that this is actually going on. And so we have physicists running ever more expensive tests to put upper bounds on the speed of this alleged "spooky action at a distance" -- but unless they bump into some non-instantaneous speed of communication, something that everyone thinks is unlikely, including me, there is no principle that will stop them from consuming ever greater volumes of tax revenues for this activity, which is very probably completely worthless.

Shayne

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No one was alarmed when, according to Newton, it was believed that gravity propagated instantaneously. Why should we be alarmed now if it appears that entangled particles communicate instantaneously?

First of all, it's irrelevant whether none or few are alarmed, what's relevant is if something IS in fact alarming. A dozen morons not being alarmed by something alarming is not an argument.

The fact is that it is impossible in principle to know whether particles communicate instantaneously -- such a condition is physically impossible to measure. And that is precisely the reason to be alarmed at the concept -- there is in principle no way for human beings to know that this is actually going on. And so we have physicists running ever more expensive tests to put upper bounds on the speed of this alleged "spooky action at a distance" -- but unless they bump into some non-instantaneous speed of communication, something that everyone thinks is unlikely, including me, there is no principle that will stop them from consuming ever greater volumes of tax revenues for this activity, which is very probably completely worthless.

Shayne

Oh, so you noticed I selected that word.

Unfortunately I can't answer you, or it might prove I am not a moron.

Homey don't play that.

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