Facts as human artifacts

BruceS suggested that I start a thread on my ideas about human cognition.  I’m not sure how this will work out, but let’s try.  And, I’ll note that I have an earlier thread that is vaguely related.

The title of this thread is one of my non-traditional ideas about cognition.  And if I am correct, as I believe I am, then our relation to the world is very different from what is usually assumed.

The traditional view is that we pick up facts, and most of cognition has to do with reasoning about these facts.  If I am correct, then there are no facts to pick up.  So the core of cognition has to be engaged in solving the problem of having useful facts about the world.

Chicago Coordinates

I’ll start with a simple example.  I typed “Chicago Coordinates” into Google, and the top of the page returned showed:

41.8819° N, 87.6278° W

That’s an example of what we would take to be a fact.  Yet, without the activity of humans, it could not exist as a fact.  In order for that to be a fact, we had to first invent a geographic coordinate system (roughly, the latitude/longitude system).  And that coordinate system in turn depends on some human conventions.  For example, the meridian through Greenwich was established as the origin for the longitudes.

That fact also depends on the naming convention, which designates “Chicago” as the name of a particular town.  And, it depends on a convention specifying a particular location within Chicago (probably the old post office, though I’m not sure of that).

I won’t go through a lot of examples.  I think the one is sufficient to illustrate the point.  Everything that we call a fact depends, in some way, on human conventions.  So facts are artifacts, in the sense that we must first develop the conventions necessary for us to have the possibility of their being facts.

Acquiring information

A number of years ago, I made a usenet post in comp.ai.philosophy.  I couldn’t find it in a google search.  The idea of the thought experiment was that someone (an airplane pilot) dropped me off in the middle of the Nullarbor plain (in Southern Australia), with a lunch pack, pencil and note paper.  I was to record as much information as I could about that location, before I was picked up in the evening.

The thing about the Nullarbor plain, is that it is desert.  But it is not sandy desert like the Sahara.  There are many plants — desert scrub — that grow in the occasional rain, then dry out and look dead most of the time.  So perhaps I could record information about the plants, such as their density.  But, how could I do that.  Everything looked the same in every direction.

So I used the soda can from the lunch pack as a marker.  And I used a couple of other items as markers.  That enabled me to fix a particular region where I could start counting, in order to be able to write down some information.  The markers broke up the sameness, and allowed me to have a sense of direction.  In effect, those markers established conventions that I would use in counting the number of plants.

As I recall, others in the usenet discussion did not like that post.  They saw my use of the soda can as something akin to making an arbitrary choice (which it was).  There appears to be some unwritten rule of philosophy, that anything depending on arbitrary choices must be wrong.  (Oops, there goes that meridian of longitude, based on the arbitrary choice of Greenwich).

Knowledge

The traditional account, from epistemology, is that knowledge is justified true belief.  Roughly speaking, your head is full of propositions that you are said to believe, and you are good at applying logic to those propositions.

You can be a highly knowledgeable solipsist that way.  And, as a mathematician, I suppose that term “solipsist” fits some of what I know.

My sense is that acquiring knowledge is all about anchors.  We must find ways of anchoring our propositions to reality.  That’s roughly what the system of geographic coordinates does.  That’s what the soda can did in my thought experiment.  And that, anchoring ourselves to reality, is what I see our perceptual systems to be doing.

AI and autonomy

AI researchers often talk of autonomous agents.  And that’s the core of my skepticism about AI.  What makes us autonomous, is that each of us can autonomously anchor our thoughts to reality.  The typical AI system uses propositions that are anchored to reality only by the auspices of the programmer.  So the AI system has no real autonomy.  And, when boiled down, that is really what Searle’s “Chinese Room” criticism of AI is about — Searle describes it as an intentionality problem.

I’ll stop at this point, to see if any discussion develops.

240 thoughts on “Facts as human artifacts

  1. KN,

    Well, in fairness, Neil did try to capture this ambiguity in the word “fact” by distinguishing between “propositional facts” (true claims or judgments) and “metaphysical facts” (whatever it is that makes true claims truth — the truthmakers, whether regarded as objects, states of affairs, structures, etc.).

    Except that Neil thinks that the “ordinary” meaning of the word is “a true statement”:

    I’m aware that there are at least two different views of what constitutes a fact. In ordinary use, a fact is a true statement.

    It’s not, as my dictionary.com quote shows.

    He also says:

    My post was about P-facts. I’m skeptical of the notion of M-fact, though you seem to like something along those lines.

    The trouble with M-facts, is that they are useless. We have no access to them, as far as I can tell. It’s the P-facts that are useful.

    You and I know that M-facts are not only useful, they are essential. A P-fact that doesn’t express an M-fact is not a P-fact at all. Also, we access M-facts every day when we look out the window to see whether it’s raining or shake the carton to see how much milk is left. Science itself could be characterized as the process of probing M-facts in order to establish P-facts.

    All Neil has done is to take an ordinary and obvious truth (“humans make true statements”) and recast it in a form (“facts are human artifacts”) that is only true if you accept his idiosyncratic redefinition of a word — a redefinition that clashes with ordinary usage.

    At the end of all of this, you still have the ordinary and obvious truth that humans make true statements. How does that advance our understanding of cognition? What is the point of sowing confusion by redefining words idiosyncratically?

  2. Neil,

    And, worse, you have taken my attempts to address your misunderstanding as evasions.

    No, I have taken your evasions as evasions.

    Responding to me, you wrote:

    I often see what seems to me to be a circular argument or a circular definition. The person giving the circular definition uses alternate wording such as “state of affairs” or “situation” in an apparent attempt to hide the circularity. However, circular definitions fail to define.

    I have asked you five times to identify the circularity. Nothing but silence on your end.

    That’s an evasion.

    And it’s just one example.

  3. keiths: I have asked you five times to identify the circularity.

    I did not say that the circularity was in anything that you wrote. You have jumped to a wrong conclusion, and made impossible demands based on that wrong conclusion.

  4. I confess that I don’t have unambiguous intuitions about which of the following seems more ‘natural’ or ‘ordinary’:

    (1) True judgments correspond to the facts

    or

    (2) Facts correspond to objects and their relations.

    Alternatively, we could just say:

    (3) True judgments correspond to objects and their relations.

    Put otherwise, I don’t have any feeling for whether (1) or (2) is a more natural paraphrase of (3), or whether (1) or (2) is closer to the “ordinary” language that is precisely captured by (3).

    Though I share Neil’s general point that epistemology and metaphysics (and, indeed, ethics) must be done from “the organism’s point of view” rather than from “the God’s-eye point of view”, I lack all conviction as to whether that the shift in orientation from theocentrism to biocentrism tells us whether or not to accept (3), or whether (1) or (2) is a more ‘natural’ expression.

    I don’t even believe that the shift from theocentrism to biocentrism, by itself, tells us whether the correspondence theory of truth should be abandoned, since that shift could just mean that we need to “biologize” the very idea of correspondence itself. (A version of pragmatism that Dewey began, Sellars continued, and Millikan continues today.)

    I agree with Neil’s point that even our basic perceptual capacities inform how we take in our surroundings, and that those capacities are themselves shaped by our evolutionary history (among other things), and that does have to be somehow squared with the direct realism of “I see that it is raining,” where one’s perceptual access to the world takes in the fact that it is raining.

    keiths: Science itself could be characterized as the process of probing M-facts in order to establish P-facts.

    I concur. Alternatively, the P-facts at any given moment in the history of science are the best approximation currently available of the M-facts. Either way.

  5. Neil,

    I did not say that the circularity was in anything that you wrote. You have jumped to a wrong conclusion, and made impossible demands based on that wrong conclusion.

    If that were true, you would have said so immediately. Instead, you avoided the question despite being asked five times.

    Also, are you seriously asking us to believe that you weren’t referring to me in the following exchange?

    keiths:

    A fact can also be a state of affairs, as in the phrase “a statement of fact”.

    Neil:

    Talking about “states of affairs” is mostly a way of sounding as if you are saying something profound, while not actually saying anything at all.

    keiths:

    Not at all. A “state of affairs” is just how things are — a situation.

    Neil:

    I often see what seems to me to be a circular argument or a circular definition. The person giving the circular definition uses alternate wording such as “state of affairs” or “situation” in an apparent attempt to hide the circularity. However, circular definitions fail to define.

    We’re not idiots, Neil. You were obviously referring to me. Why is it so hard for you to say “I was wrong. There is no circularity”?

  6. KN,

    I confess that I don’t have unambiguous intuitions about which of the following seems more ‘natural’ or ‘ordinary’:

    (1) True judgments correspond to the facts.

    or

    (2) Facts correspond to objects and their relations.

    Alternatively, we could just say:

    (3) True judgments correspond to objects and their relations.

    None of those equates to Neil’s claim, which is that in ordinary usage, a fact is a true statement.

    If Neil were correct, people wouldn’t use phrases like “statement of fact”.

    Also, Neil’s idiosyncratic definition leads to absurdities like the following. Suppose I put a quarter into an opaque box and shake it vigorously, leaving the box closed. Did the coin land heads up or tails? By Neil’s definition, there is no fact of the matter until someone makes a statement like “the coin landed heads up” (assuming that is the case).

    In other words, neither “the coin landed heads up” nor “the coin landed tails up” is a fact until someone says so. That is not “ordinary usage” by any stretch of the imagination.

  7. keiths: If that were true, you would have said so immediately. Instead, you avoided the question despite being asked five times.

    Your general modus operandi is to accuse people of probably wrong interpretations of what they have said, and to repeatedly demand explanation. This is clearly contrary to The Principle of Charity and is harmful to good thoughtful discussion. So I usually ignore it.

  8. keiths: Also, Neil’s idiosyncratic definition leads to absurdities like the following. Suppose I put a quarter into an opaque box and shake it vigorously, leaving the box closed. Did the coin land heads up or tails? By Neil’s definition, there is no fact of the matter until someone makes a statement like “the coin landed heads up” (assuming that is the case).

    I take it that either “the coin landed heads up” or “the coin did not land heads up” is an unexpressed P-fact. Appeal to M-facts is not required for there to be unexpressed matters of fact.

    My concern is more with, say, M-facts about temperature when no concept of temperature yet existed so no corresponding P-fact was possible. When I say that facts are artifacts, I am talking about the creating of needed concepts as what we do in order to construct those artifacts. Your assertions about what I was implying are simply nonsense, are in clear violation of the principle of charity, and possibly violate Lizzie’s rules as to how we should be debating.

    keiths: Science itself could be characterized as the process of probing M-facts in order to establish P-facts.

    If you are taking M-facts to be the kind of thing suggested by that coin tossing argument, then this is a way of seriously mischaracterizing science.

  9. Neil Rickert:
    A computer does not have perceptual experience, because it just receives data. […]We have experience because of all of the work that we, via our perceptual systems, do to get that data.

    Are you more amenable to the connectionist/neural network approaches to AI because, in effect, they let the computer define the concepts based on its experience with the training set?

  10. Neil Rickert: I’m puzzled that you think I’m an anti-realist.But perhaps I don’t really understand what anti-realism is supposed to be.

    My understanding of scientific anti-realism is that it claims science has no way to make true statements about the unobservables of reality, which I understand as being analogous to making M-fact statements in your position.

    According to anti-realism, reality exists but all science can do is predict observables (which are stated in scientific language).

    So overall the analogy that I see to your position is between observables in scientific language and P-facts and between the unobservables and M-Facts.

  11. BruceS: Are you more amenable to the connectionist/neural network approaches to AI because, in effect, they let the computer define the concepts based on its experience with the training set?

    That doesn’t really help, if the artificial neurons are doing computation on data that comes via inputs. The generation of inputs from real world interactions is still missing.

  12. The quarter in the box scenario is srtikingly similar to the cat in the box scenario.

  13. Neil,

    We routinely ask commenters to defend their statements or to retract them if they cannot. Why do you think that you should be exempt?

    At a blog entitled The Skeptical Zone, no less?

  14. I think you need to calm down.

    From the perspective of an outsider this looks a lot like a fight over angels and pinheads.

    No one here is required to respond immediately or to expose their belly to the dominant poster.

    It’s interesting on occasion to see someone concede a point, but an obsession with winning in philosophy seems like a futile goal.

  15. petrushka,

    The quarter in the box scenario is srtikingly similar to the cat in the box scenario.

    You mean Schrödinger’s cat?

    They’re similar, but the key difference is that a single quantum event is being “amplified” in the Schrödinger case, whereas the quarter in the box is a purely classical scenario.

  16. petrushka,

    From the perspective of an outsider this looks a lot like a fight over angels and pinheads.

    That’s kind of a slap at Neil, considering that the topic we’ve been disputing is the central point of his OP, as reflected in the title: Facts as human artifacts.

    No one here is required to respond immediately or to expose their belly to the dominant poster.

    No one here is required to do anything other than abide by the rules. However, the purpose of this blog is to promote discussion of contentious issues, and Neil — as a moderator, no less — should know that when he refuses to address criticisms and challenges he is stifling discussion, not promoting it.

  17. Neil,

    I take it that either “the coin landed heads up” or “the coin did not land heads up” is an unexpressed P-fact.

    “Unexpressed P-fact” is an oxymoron, given that you have defined P-facts as “true statements”. What you are referring to is an M-fact — an actual state of affairs.

  18. keiths: That’s kind of a slap at Neil, considering that the topic we’ve been disputing is the central point of his OP, as reflected in the title: Facts as human artifacts.

    No. It is about your gross misinterpretation of the central point, and about your ridiculous demand that I “defend” that gross misinterpretation.

  19. keiths: “Unexpressed P-fact” is an oxymoron, given that you have defined P-facts as “true statements”. What you are referring to is an M-fact — an actual state of affairs.

    Here is how I “defined” P-fact:

    I’m aware that there are at least two different views of what constitutes a fact. In ordinary use, a fact is a true statement. So call that a P-fact (or propositional fact). Some people say that facts are metaphysical things, so call that an M-fact. My post was about P-facts. I’m skeptical of the notion of M-fact, though you seem to like something along those lines.

    I’ll grant that there is some ambiguity. However, I did use the expression “propositional fact” rather than “stated fact”. And I did use the name “P-fact” rather than “S-fact”. Generally speaking, propositions are taken to exist, whether or not they have been expressed.

    If you really want to insist that an M-fact is the same thing as an unexpressed P-fact, then I will have to insist that M-facts are also human artifacts and what constitutes an M-fact is highly dependent on human conventions.

    Even if we are generous, and allow for future changes of language (addition of more words), then the set of potentially expressible P-facts is at most countably infinite (due to the limitations of linguistic expression). The set of possible configurations of matter is uncountably infinite.

  20. Neil,

    The only things I’ve asked you to defend are your actual statements. One is your circularity claim. This is another:

    Thus people attempt to distinguish between the way the world is, and the way science describes the world. I think it’s a bogus distinction.

    Do you stand by that statement?

  21. Neil Rickert: I take it that either “the coin landed heads up” or “the coin did not land heads up” is an unexpressed P-fact. Appeal to M-facts is not required for there to be unexpressed matters of fact.

    My concern is more with, say, M-facts about temperature when no concept of temperature yet existed so no corresponding P-fact was possible. When I say that facts are artifacts, I am talking about the creating of needed concepts as what we do in order to construct those artifacts.

    I can see why keiths asked the question about the coin in the box. Maybe uncharitable, but not to the point of being in violation of site rules. There’s an interesting distinction here, so let’s see if we can flush it out.

    In the Case of the Unseen Coin, we possess the concepts necessary to describe the situation, but we haven’t made the observations necessary to determine which concepts actually apply. However, we know that there is some situation to which some concepts apply and others don’t. So if there were an observer inside the box, she would know which concepts apply and which don’t, even though we have to open the box to find out.

    In the Case of the Unmeasured Temperature, we don’t even posses the concepts necessary to describe the situation, so the situation is “indeterminate” in the sense that no one can make the judgments that we are able to make. But it is still the case that if someone with the right concepts were present, she would be able to form a true judgment about that objective property of the universe that we call “temperature”.

    In both cases, we are dealing with an objective property of the universe that would be correctly represented by a suitably situated observer. There’s a deep connection between objectivity and counterfactual observation, and I believe it was this connection that led keiths down the path he followed in linking the Case of the Unmeasured Temperature with the Case of the Unobserved Coin.

    So the question is, does it make a difference whether or not there is anyone who is able to form the correct judgment? In the case of the coin in the box, anyone who opens the box will apply the appropriate concepts and make the correct judgment. In the case of the unmeasured temperature, no one can make the correct judgment because no one has the appropriate concepts (since the concept of “temperature” has not yet been developed, techniques of accurately measuring it haven’t been developed, etc.). All we can say is that if there were a person present who did have the appropriate concepts, she would apply them as we do and form a true judgment.

    Both cases rely on unrealized but realizable possibilities, but the way in which those possibilities are realized differs. In the first case, the possibility is realized by changing the observation conditions. In the second case, the possibility is realized by changing the conceptual framework. Changing the conceptual framework allows for a new kind of observations to made, whereas in the coin-in-the-box case, we already know how to make those kinds of observations — it’s only that particular observation which hasn’t been made.

  22. Neil,

    Generally speaking, propositions are taken to exist, whether or not they have been expressed.

    Do you also believe that they can exist whether or not they have been thought?

    If your answer is yes, then they are not human artifacts, because they exist before anyone thinks or expresses them.

    If your answer is no, then your definition clashes with ordinary usage. In the coin in the box scenario, suppose no one thinks “the coin landed heads up” or “the coin landed tails up”. In that case neither statement is a fact, because no one has thought it yet. That, needless to say, clashes with the ordinary intuition that there is a fact of the matter: the coin either landed heads up or it landed tails up. Whether anyone has thought, or said so, is irrelevant.

  23. keiths: The only things I’ve asked you to defend are your actual statements. One is your circularity claim.

    It should have been clear from the wording that I used, that the statement was not about anything you posted. I mentioned “people”, not “keiths” and was talking about what I have read elsewhere. You were insisting that I defend it as a statement about what you had written.

    Thus people attempt to distinguish between the way the world is, and the way science describes the world. I think it’s a bogus distinction.

    Do you stand by that statement?

    Yes, I stand by that statement. However, you clearly did not understand the point that I was making, and I doubt that it is possible to explain it to you.

  24. Neil,

    Yes, I stand by that statement.

    Thank you for answering the question.

    However, “the way the world is” and “the way science describes the world” are clearly not the same, as I have already explained.

    If they were, then it would not be possible for science to be in error or for science to progress.

  25. Neil,

    It should have been clear from the wording that I used, that the statement was not about anything you posted.

    The “principle of charity” also requires you to assume that your readers are not hopelessly gullible.

    Read the exchange again:

    keiths:

    A fact can also be a state of affairs, as in the phrase “a statement of fact”.

    Neil:

    Talking about “states of affairs” is mostly a way of sounding as if you are saying something profound, while not actually saying anything at all.

    keiths:

    Not at all. A “state of affairs” is just how things are — a situation.

    Neil:

    I often see what seems to me to be a circular argument or a circular definition. The person giving the circular definition uses alternate wording such as “state of affairs” or “situation” in an apparent attempt to hide the circularity. However, circular definitions fail to define.

    You’d like us to believe that you were talking about other people who happen to use wording like “state of affairs” or “situation”, and not the very person who just used those terms?

    Please.

  26. The question of scientific realism and constructive empiricism turns on how we describe the goals or aims of science.

    According to scientific realism, there is a difference between how the world is and how theories describe the world, because the aim or goal of science is (according to scientific realism) accurately describing how the world is.

    According to constructive empiricism, the aim or goal of science is to make better (more useful?) predictions about future observations, and the very notion of “how the world really is” plays no role at all. I took Neil to be endorsing this view of science, which is why I attributed anti-realism to his position.

    The classical retort by scientific realists to constructive empiricism is that some theory yields better predictions than its competitors because it is a better description of how the world really is. Constructive empiricists usually respond that the “because”-clause is a bit of metaphysical speculation that has no place in philosophy of science.

    So, the debate between scientific realists and constructive empiricists turns, in part, on how one sees the relation between metaphysics and science, and whether one can understand what science is without doing any metaphysics at all.

  27. keiths: However, “the way the world is” and “the way science describes the world” are clearly not the same, as I have already explained.

    If they were, then it would not be possible for science to be in error or for science to progress.

    I am not suggesting that those are the same. Rather, I’m saying that “the way the world is” has no meaning.

  28. keiths: You’d like us to believe that you were talking about other people who happen to use wording like “state of affairs” or “situation”, and not the very person who just used those terms?

    I started with “I often see”. This was clearly referring to what I have read elsewhere.

  29. Kantian Naturalist: According to scientific realism, there is a difference between how the world is and how theories describe the world, because the aim or goal of science is (according to scientific realism) accurately describing how the world is.

    According to constructive empiricism, the aim or goal of science is to make better (more useful?) predictions about future observations, and the very notion of “how the world really is” plays no role at all. I took Neil to be endorsing this view of science, which is why I attributed anti-realism to his position.

    Thank you. You are correctly understanding my view. I did not realize that was considered a variety of anti-realism.

  30. keiths: Do you also believe that they can exist whether or not they have been thought?

    If your answer is yes, then they are not human artifacts, because they exist before anyone thinks or expresses them.

    Yes, they can exist whether they have been thought.

    I have already commented on why I am calling them artifacts. It has to do with whether they are even thinkable (whether the needed concepts are available to us).

  31. Neil,

    I started with “I often see”. This was clearly referring to what I have read elsewhere.

    You realize that people can read the thread, right?

    I am not suggesting that those are the same. Rather, I’m saying that “the way the world is” has no meaning.

    Even if that were true, your statement is wrong. Something that has no meaning differs from something that does. The distinction is not bogus.

  32. Neil Rickert,

    Good — so now we have a clear way of articulating the issues: whether the shift from theocentrism to zoocentrism in metaphysics and epistemology requires abandoning scientific realism for constructive empiricism.

    This shift is, in effect, the transition from Leibnizian rationalistic theism to Kantian anthropocentrism, which then gets naturalized and historicized by the American pragmatists (and, in somewhat different ways, by Nietzsche). And this issue — whether pragmatists can be realists? — is still a Hot Issue today (see here for a forthcoming contribution).

    I’ll come back later today with some thoughts about what kind of realism is acceptable to pragmatists, and why pragmatists ought to be what I call “weak realists”.

  33. Neil,

    Yes, they can exist whether they have been thought.

    I have already commented on why I am calling them artifacts. It has to do with whether they are even thinkable (whether the needed concepts are available to us).

    If they can exist without having been thought or expressed, why should it matter whether they are thinkable or expressible?

  34. I must have missed this from KN earlier.

    I’m on the side of a version of scientific realism called “convergent realism”, although Jay Rosenberg’s “Comparing the incommensurable: Another look at convergent realism” is the only paper on the subject I’ve read carefully.

    Roughly, his conclusion is that we have good reasons to hold that a historical succession of quantitative scientific theories asymptotically converges on how things are, meaning that each theory is a better approximation than the previous theories. (Interestingly, Rosenberg explicitly identifies this as a pragmatist view, and appeals to Peirce and to Sellars for that designation.) I can say something about his argument for this if there’s interest, but I’d start another thread for that.

    That makes a lot of sense to me, especially how scientific understanding converges on how things really are. So being convinced there is an exterior reality that we can investigate and theorise about makes me a convergent realist. The fact that Rosenberg calls this pragmatism is just icing on the cake for me.

    PS Can I ask that commenters consider that cardinal rule of Lizzie’s? You know, the one about good faith.

  35. Alan,

    That makes a lot of sense to me, especially how scientific understanding converges on how things really are.

    To me, too. Oddly, Neil contends that “how things really are” is meaningless:

    Rather, I’m saying that “the way the world is” has no meaning.

    I have no idea how he reconciles that with the ‘quarter in the box’ scenario, since he acknowledges that the fact of the coin being heads up (or tails up) exists even before anyone thinks about or expresses either possible outcome.

  36. I ,assume that a realist would believer Schrodinger’s cat is alive or dead, but not both, being a classical object.

  37. keiths: To me, too. Oddly, Neil contends that “how things really are” is meaningless

    I don’t think I ever said that.

    My comment was about “the way the world is”. If that is meaningful, then it opens the possibility that the quarter in a box isn’t really a thing.

    Meaning comes from within. In order for “the way the world is” to be meaningful, then meaning would have to be external.

  38. Neil Rickert,

    Are you trying to distinguish between “the way the world is” and “how things are”? I don’t understand this distinction — in fact, I treat those as synonymous phrases, and I’d be willing to bet that the rest of us here do, too. So if this distinction is important to you, please elucidate!!

  39. KN,

    Are you trying to distinguish between “the way the world is” and “how things are”?

    He really is, believe it or not.

    Neil,

    What were you saying earlier about “word lawyering”? It sounded like you didn’t approve of it.

  40. petrushka,

    I ,assume that a realist would believer Schrodinger’s cat is alive or dead, but not both, being a classical object.

    A realist about the wavefunction could accept the cat as being in a superposition of dead and alive states. It all depends on whether you think the wavefunction is real, and if so, what causes it to collapse.

  41. Kantian Naturalist: Are you trying to distinguish between “the way the world is” and “how things are”? I don’t understand this distinction — in fact, I treat those as synonymous phrases, and I’d be willing to bet that the rest of us here do, too. So if this distinction is important to you, please elucidate!!

    “The way the world is” should relate to how is to be divided up. I see this as a central question of cognition. But I see it as very depend on who/what is doing the dividing up. That is, its a place where strong human biases are likely to show up. Yet the expression “the way the world is” purports to avoid those human biases.

    “How things are” however, is a question that only applies after the dividing up into things. So it is a question that is within the domain of what we can talk about.

  42. Neil,

    “How things are” however, is a question that only applies after the dividing up into things.

    The world consists of things. You don’t dispute that, do you?

    If the world consists of things, then “how things are” is the same as “the way the world is”.

  43. Neil Rickert: That doesn’t really help, if the artificial neurons are doing computation on data that comes via inputs.The generation of inputs from real world interactions is still missing.

    Sure, I still agree with that.

    But as part of a research program to get to where we can build something to do that, I think that connectionist ideas offer a better approach for understanding how we solve the basic challenges of living in the world, for example how we form categories and try to categorize perceptions. The abilities needed to do these kinds of day-to-day tasks must have preceded logic and language as part of our evolutionary history and so I think must form the basis of AI implementations.

    We have some hard-coded abilities due to evolution, possibly even hard-coded concepts (eg the assumptions built-into perceptual processing that lead to illusions, such as the assumption that the light is from above when analysing shadows).

    So it is reasonable to expect that AI will need to have similar hard-coded capabilities before it starts interacting with the world. To me, the connectionist approach seems to best way to implement them.

  44. Bruce,

    Neil believes that computation isn’t very important for AI. He isn’t kidding when he says he has “non-traditional ideas about cognition.”

    See this thread for the very odd details.

  45. keiths: The world consists of things. You don’t dispute that, do you?

    We divide the world into things. That dividing is very much a pragmatic operation. Without that dividing there would be just a world, no things.

  46. Neil Rickert: “The way the world is” should relate to how is to be divided up. I see this as a central question of cognition. But I see it as very depend on who/what is doing the dividing up. That is, its a place where strong human biases are likely to show up. Yet the expression “the way the world is” purports to avoid those human biases.

    “How things are” however, is a question that only applies after the dividing up into things. So it is a question that is within the domain of what we can talk about.

    What you seem to be saying here is that the individuation of the world into things is a result of the cognitive (conceptual and perceptual) and conative capacities that are being deployed. This suggests that, if we abstain from depending on any particular set of cognitive and conative capacities, we really cannot about “things” at all — there’s just undifferentiated “world-stuff”.

    In other words, you are denying that the world consists of things! Rather, on your picture, there’s the framework-independent undifferentiated world-stuff, on the one hand, and there’s the framework-dependent, differentiated things with their various properties and relations, on the other. No framework, no things.

    (This is, interestingly, enough, quite close to Wittgenstein’s ontology in the Tractatus — the world consists of facts, a fact is a picture of a state of affairs, states of affairs are composed of “simples,” the simples comprise “the substance of the world”, and so on.)

    Two points:

    (1) I strongly disagree with the assertion that “the expression ‘the way the world is’ purports to avoid those human biases”. It certainly can be used that way, but it doesn’t need to be. A pragmatist can happily say that “the way the world is” is what we are aiming at in empirical inquiry, and empirical inquiry is successful to the extent that it approximates it.

    “How the world is” the unattainable telos of inquiry that gives inquiry its sense and purpose. Though it cannot be attained, there are still better and worse approximations of it that we can determine by comparing theories with each other.

    (2) If there weren’t real things to begin with — if there were only undifferentiated world-stuff, formless and void till our concepts impose structure on it — then it just be nonsense to say that some applications of concepts are correct, and others incorrect. And that makes nonsense of the very idea of empirical inquiry — that experience itself shows us that some theories and judgments are correct, and others not. So the world itself must have some minimal structure — a certain degree of “thingliness” — to it already that gets a vote in what we say about it, otherwise there’s no difference between theories and myths.

    The fact that what the things are depends partly on the organism’s cognitive and conative capacities doesn’t entail that there aren’t any things at all independent of those capacities. We can still know that there are things, or at least something thing-like (process, events, forces, etc.), and that these make a contribution of their own to our classification of the world into definite things.

  47. Neil Rickert: We divide the world into things. That dividing is very much a pragmatic operation. Without that dividing there would be just a world, no things.

    And that is precisely what I’m objecting to!

  48. Physics seems to be leaning toward the view that there are no things. That could just be pop technobabble, but it is in the air.

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