Realism

Some of the discussion on the “Edward Feser and Vincent Torley” thread seems to have drifted way off topic.  So I’m starting a new thread for further discussion on realism.

I’ll just quote part of a recent comment by BruceS:

1. A complete description of the world is a scientific description (or has a large component that is a scientific description).

2. Science is in principle reducible to physics.

3. Physics requires mathematics.

4. Mathematics is “unreasonably effective” when used in physics, which is saying that somehow the world is describable by mathematical concepts.

5. The (parts of the) any two separate complete description of the world (eg by us and some alien species) in mathematical physics will hence involve the same (or at least mathematically equivalent) concepts.

I realize all of these statements are quite questionable, although I would have thought that #3, the need for mathematics in physics, would have been among the least questionable premises!

My own contribution to the thread will be in the comments.

For reference — HERE is a link to an earlier comment by walto that started the discussion of realism

 

106 thoughts on “Realism

  1. On the contrary, I think Walt is being very patient with you.

    No one would mistake you for an objective observer, Alan.

  2. Alan,

    So what do you want to achieve in these exchanges?

    To discuss ideas, among other things. Unfortunately, that tends to work well only when all parties involved take responsibility for their statements, which includes owning up to their mistakes. Walt has sometimes found that difficult, as have you.

    This is The Skeptical Zone. Everyone’s comments are fair game for discussion and criticism, no one is exempt, and the responsibility for comments rests with the people who make them, and no one else.

  3. keiths:

    To discuss ideas, among other things.

    I learn a lot from exchanges here, follow links and read articles that I would never come across without someone posting a link or mentioning something that piques my interest. I’ve learned a lot from links you’ve posted and appreciate the time you invest here. I’ve even learned enough philosophy grâce à other contributors to regret a remark I posted a while ago at UD, saying “philosophy is bunk!”.

    Unfortunately, that tends to work well only when all parties involved take responsibility for their statements, which includes owning up to their mistakes. Walt has sometimes found that difficult, as have you.

    Well, we can get into who killed who if you like. I treat it as a plus for me if I get a new insight, learn something, make a new acquaintance, get someone to see my point of view on some issue. Winning an argument? Never really seen that succeed. There’s something to language fomenting cultural prejudice. The US way of talking in terms of debate, critical thinking etc seems deeply flawed as a way of communicating ideas.

    This is The Skeptical Zone.

    And it is evolving. Without input from our dear leader it has become rather a rudderless ship.

    Everyone’s comments are fair game for discussion and criticism, no one is exempt, and the responsibility for comments rests with the people who make them, and no one else.

    There is a shared responsibility, and I would hope a shared goal, that ideas are communicated effectively. This involves the reader in making an effort to clarify a point before declaring it a mistake

    Sorry for off-topic.

  4. In spite of keiths’ quite prudent advice that

    “Contradicting yourself is not a formula for success in debate.”

    I want to acknowledge that my

    “if terms aren’t theory dependent, then a term from theory 1 can be defined by stipulations of new terms in theory 2 in such a way that there cannot be translation problems.”

    now strikes me as using so broad an understanding of “theory dependent” and so narrow an understanding of “translation problems” that it’s probably better to just retract it. I THINK it’s true given those broad and narrow constraints, but I’m also pretty sure it wouldn’t be otherwise.

    What I was trying to say was something along the lines of KN’s

    explanations bear on objective reality in ways that understanding doesn’t, but that hardly undermines the practical and existential significance of understanding.

    and Alan’s

    I question whether it is possible to have understanding without any knowledge.

    The point is, probably, that just as it’s best to agree on what “reduction” means before arguing about it, it’s also important to agree on what “theory”, “theory-dependence” and “translation” mean before arguing about them. I take it that in keiths’ remark (There’s no guarantee that we’re “talking about the same thing” even if the terms aren’t theory-dependent. “theory” was intended to be restricted to scientific theories only. The use in my response was not. I think he was probably also using “dependence” in a more restrictive way than I was. So, again we were at cross purposes. I’m not entirely sure what a language not being theory-dependent would mean, given broad enough understandings of both “theory” and “dependence,” but I can understand what it would mean for a language not to be dependent on QM in the sense that lots of statements in the language could be true without most statements (or likely even any statement) in QM being true.

    In addition, as indicated above, no field linguist would likely be comforted by the proposition that “no translation problems” could arise given the sort of useless stipulations I was referring to in spite of it being in possible to concoct a stipulation that would prevent the denotations from ever differing (given the assumption of no intra-verbal “dependence” of the terms in our respective languages). We might have a “non-problematic translation” but we still might have no idea what “bleb” means.

    Anyhow, that is a long, convoluted way of saying why I’ve come to think it’d probably be better to retract my paragraph than try to defend it. I don’t think it’s exactly false, but…..

    I promise, however, to redouble my efforts in the future not to contradict myself in this fashion. It is indeed very damaging to my debating scores, which, of course, is why I am here. (Only 8 points shy of Junior Scholar II as of 5 AM this morning!!!!)

  5. Oh, one other thing. I repeated the slice of my quotation that keiths liked a few times above
    (“I’ve mentioned the world of minds and chairs. (Several times, actually.)”) But since neither of us has bothered to include the sentences immediately following that sentence, I thought I’d do, it now. (I mean, I know it was just an oversight on keiths’ part to cut them out. Especially since they’re so relevent to our argument, which is: Was I asserting a certain position or just mentioning it?). So here those sentences are a few times too:

    Can it be translated into Hopi? Into modern physics? It’s controversial.

    Can it be translated into Hopi? Into modern physics? It’s controversial.

    Can it be translated into Hopi? Into modern physics? It’s controversial.

    Can it be translated into Hopi? Into modern physics? It’s controversial.

    Can it be translated into Hopi? Into modern physics? It’s controversial.

    I’d think that anyone interested in “converging on the truth” of this (terribly important) matter (Was Walto asserting a position or merely mentioning it?) would think those sentences are relevant. But as keiths (he of the unfaltering search for truth, a guy who is known far and wide to enjoy admitting his own errors) has seen fit to rip these explanatory sentences out of my remarks each time he has excerpted them (just as he has ignored all my other statements to the effect that I wasn’t taking a position on the matter), it must be that, contrary to appearances, those sentences actually AREN’T relevant at all!

    Positively weird how this stuff works! At least to me, it is.

  6. Neil Rickert:
    The expression “complete description” seems to require specifics and not just generalities.

    So does that mean you avoid using calculators in favor of CRC tables?

  7. walto: I’ll have to think about this.I think I’m still not grokking the implications of QM for the stuff I wrote.

    I want to be clear that I am not saying there is anything wrong with what you wrote. I was trying to explain why I had the gut reaction that there should be some math in it if it was talking about a complete description of the world. But it may very well be that the logic of your position is unaffected by the quantum stuff. I have not worked my way through the details of it.

    I’ll go back and try to work through it detail and see if I have anything specific in the logic that I don;t understand.

    On the other hand, there is the possibility that L&R would call it a form of scholasticism!

  8. Kantian Naturalist: Perhaps you were remembering reading about Verstehen, the German word for “understanding”.For more, here’s “Empathy as the Unique Method of the Human Sciences“.

    No need to thank me; I’ll put it on your tab.

    I was mainly joking when I wrote that was some German word starting with “v”, so that is a great catch, and yes, you are right, that was the word. I did think it was the philosophical position Walt might have had in mind when he said that you need to experience a theory to understand its terms (caveat: going by memory on that characterization of Walt’s post).

  9. BruceS: So does that mean you avoid using calculators in favor of CRC tables?

    No, of course not. However the CRC tables better fit the term “description”. In order to use a calculator, I need knowledge.

    And now we are back to my old bug bear, that knowledge is not the same as justified true belief. The CRC tables better exemplify “justified true belief” (except that perhaps you would have to memorize them). Proper use of a calculator requires method and ability, which come closer to what I take to be knowledge.

  10. Neil Rickert: No, of course not.However the CRC tables better fit the term “description”.In order to use a calculator, I need knowledge.

    I was trying to make a somewhat facetious comparison of having the output of an algorithm versus having that algorithm itself as an analogy for my preferring a math model to a snapshot of what is being modeled.

    I did not really think you kept using only the CRCs.

    But I would guess HP, not Texas Instruments, for that first calculator.

    ETA: Possibly necessary hint for obscure humor: who was the star of The Untouchables?

  11. BruceS: But I would guess HP, not Texas Instruments, for that first calculator.

    First: an abacus, of course.

    I was probably using that mechanical monstrosity known as the “square root Friden” before either HP or TI existed.

  12. Neil Rickert: First: an abacus, of course.

    I was probably using that mechanical monstrosity known as the “square root Friden” before either HP or TI existed.

    OK, but surely you preferred the HP RPN to TI’s pedestrian standard infix notations (maybe with parenthesis). I know I did initially. That is, until I started to use the thing.

  13. walto:
    Someone just posted this 1999 Ray Monk homage to Wittgenstein on the Analytic (yahoo) list.I think it’s kind of relevant to our discussion.

    I saw that when it came out, but I have to say that Roger Penrose’s theory of consciousness is not a leading contender as claimed in the article (even in 1999) . Very few cognitive scientists even take it seriously, I suspect. So that made me a bit suspicious of the author.

    I mainly read philosophy of science and philosophy of mind at the undergrad level. There, Wittgenstein seems to come up more as in “here is some offbeat idea of Wittgenstein that at least made us clarify how to think about the issue”. He does not come across as someone who was a source for the core ideas of the field of study.

    Granted I don’t read much philosophy of language, but in the sophomore Berkeley course I watched on the topic, he also came across that way.

    How unfair is that?

  14. BruceS: OK, but surely you preferred the HP RPN to TI’s pedestrian standard infix notations (maybe with parenthesis).

    The first calculator I actually purchased was a TI, because that was within my budget while the HP was not.

  15. Kantian Naturalist:
    Cognitive pluralism tells us that there isn’t any such thing as a single, comprehensive description of the world — there are only various different domain-specific strategies of representation.

    Does cognitive pluralism allow for preferring a specific conceptual strategy for a domain based on achieving some purposes? If so, one could argue that science is the best description for the purpose of achieving certain material aspects of human flourishing.

    If that line of thought is right, then I am inclined to abandon naturalism

    What do you mean by naturalism, given the range of definitions you posted about a while back. Or are you tempted by some form of (shudder)…. dualism?

    You posted a while back about concerns with naturalizing i intentionality. Are you familiar with the work of Anne Jaap Jacobson on that topic?

    As I understand it, her solution for naturalizing intentionality is to deny it exists. Rather, she claims that neuroscience better supports the idea that neuron configurations and the world have a similarity relationship; they both are different realizations of the same thing. (Reminds me of Churchland’s views, FWIW).

    I don’t have access to her book, but here is a podcast here. (Warning: poor audio quality)

    She claims her approach has antecedents in Aristotle and aligns with embodied cognition, both of which might be pluses for you.

  16. BruceS: I mainly read philosophy of science and philosophy of mind at the undergrad level. There, Wittgenstein seems to come up more as in “here is some offbeat idea of Wittgenstein that at least made us clarify how to think about the issue”. He does not come across as someone who was a source for the core ideas of the field of study.

    Granted I don’t read much philosophy of language, but in the sophomore Berkeley course I watched on the topic, he also came across that way.

    How unfair is that?

    I don’t think it’s unfair. Wittgenstein can arouse strong passions in people. I was a committed Wittgensteinian for many years. But he was never the guru of American philosophy that he was in the U.K..

    The problem with taking Wittgenstein too seriously is this: Wittgenstein’s entire project (both early and late) consists of showing that philosophy itself is a kind of an intellectual mistake — though one from which we must be cured over and over again. It’s not only a pessimistic view of philosophy, but it’s utterly at odds with the driving idea of “professional philosophy”: that we are doing “research” and “producing” new knowledge. The genuine Wittgensteinian can be a professional philosopher only with extreme difficulty.

    I decided to work in Nietzsche (and, much more recently, Dewey) because of my conviction (which I still maintain, truth be told) that Nietzsche and Dewey begin where Wittgenstein ends. And my more recent work in Sellars, McDowell, and Rorty all takes place in this nebulous space between Wittgenstein and Dewey — whether philosophy is about the problems of language or about the problems of humanity.

    However, most Anglophone — esp. American — philosophers are implicitly anti-Wittgensteinian, because they want to build theories and explanations of things, and see it as part of the job of philosophy to do just that. Whereas Wittgenstein would say that it is the proper job of scientists to construct theories that explain phenomena, and that the proper job of philosophers is to describe. American philosophers tend to be a bit skeptical of the idea that there’s any bright line we can draw between science and philosophy, owing to the legacy of a certain interpretation of Quine.

  17. BruceS,

    Her book — Keeping the World In Mind — does indeed look fascinating. And links to her papers are here.

    I would abandon naturalism (as a one-size-fits-all picture of What There Is) in favor of pluralism, not dualism. As I see the main difference, dualism says that there are two kinds of things within the total single picture of What There Is, and pluralism says that there is no total single picture of What There Is.

  18. BruceS: but I have to say that Roger Penrose’s theory of consciousness is not a leading contender as claimed in the article (even in 1999) . Very few cognitive scientists even take it seriously, I suspect.

    Penrose is likely wrong in detail, but I think it is a mistake not to take him seriously.

    I am betting that chemistry is not computable. By which I mean we will not be able to anticipate or model the attributes and behavior of novel molecules by computation. Not in the level of detail necessary to mimic biological evolution or to mimic consciousness.

    I have a white flag ready for my capitulation when proved wrong, but it is gathering dust. Next to the one reserved for the day fusion power becomes practical. And the one reserved for the day aliens land on the White House lawn.

    I do believe that computers will replace people in many areas we currently think of as intellectual. Managing complex systems in real time, for example. But I don’t think they will be conscious, and I don’t think we want them to be. I suspect we desire slaves to be mindless.

  19. petrushka: Penrose is likely wrong in detail, but I think it is a mistake not to take him seriously.

    It was the author of the article I meant that I had trouble taking seriously, given that he said Penrose’s theory was a leading contender, when there does not seem to be any reason to believe that.

    Penrose himself is a brilliant man and should always be taken seriously. That is one reason, I think, that so different experts in mathematics, physics, and neuroscience have written about why they think his ideas on consciousness and the nature of human intelligence are wrong, or at least unproven by the reasoning he uses.

    I am betting that chemistry is not computable. By which I mean we will not be able to anticipate or model the attributes and behavior of novel molecules by computation. Not in the level of detail necessary to mimic biological evolution or to mimic consciousness.

    I agree with that limit on computing and chemistry, unless we can build large-scale quantum computers, and quote possibly even then. That type of limit is what I understand “weak” emergence to result from.

    And I certainly agree that we would not try to explain or model consciousness using only chemistry, although of course neuroscientists use chemistry all of the time to help them understand and model the brain.

  20. Kantian Naturalist:

    .And links to her papers are here.

    Thanks. Unfortunately, PhilPapers does not help someone like me with no access to university collections!

    Sometimes I can find preprints on author web pages, but hers seems to be just a blog page which is under construction. She was also interviewed in 3AM a couple of years ago, but not too much on this aspect of her work there.

    I’m still not sure about whether pluralism allows for pragmatic selection of a means of representation for a particular domain, or whether even that kind of approach would be ruled out by a pluralism about how to decide what is useful.

  21. BruceS: I agree with that limit on computing and chemistry, unless we can build large-scale quantum computers, and quote possibly even then. That type of limit is what I understand “weak” emergence to result from.

    I find that interesting. I don’t know what conclusion to draw, but it’s interesting.

  22. FWIW, I like Wittgenstein– I think the Tractatus is deep. Don’t care for too many Wittgensteinians, though.

  23. BruceS: I’m still not sure about whether pluralism allows for pragmatic selection of a means of representation for a particular domain, or whether even that kind of approach would be ruled out by a pluralism about how to decide what is useful.

    Actually, I do think there are real constraints on what kinds of representational models are used at different spatio-temporal scales and at different energies — cognitive pluralism, in Horst’s sense, might be consistent with L&R’s scale relativity of ontology even if we lack cognitive access to universal real patterns. I’m going to write to Horst in a few days, after I’ve read more of his recent stuff.

    walto: FWIW, I like Wittgenstein– I think the Tractatus is deep. Don’t care for too many Wittgensteinians, though.

    What’s your view of Philosophical Investigations and the later stuff?

    I like the philosophers who are doing something interesting with Wittgenstein — like Stanley Cavell, Cora Diamond, and Alice Crary. I don’t care for the Wittgenstein cult, but that’s got nothing to do with Wittgenstein — it’s because I despise cults.

  24. I think there are some interesting and important things in PI (like the private language argument), but I also think he seems to forget that to be a language a game has to be intentional. What he said couldn’t (correctly) be said in the Tractatus, he seems to say in PI CAN be said if we treat everything as a game. His nominalism in that book is too radical for me. (I think Peirce would agree.)

  25. walto,

    I think there are problems with taking games as a picture of what norms are. As Lance and Kukla put it in their “Intersubjectivity and Receptive Experience” (2014):

    At one end of the spectrum, we have games; here there is little or no intersubjective holding of one another to commitment to the norms. Indeed,
    we might define a (mere) game as a practice such that participation in its normative structure is voluntary. If I decide to play chess with you, then I am bound by — and you can and will hold me to — the rules of chess. I do not get to move the bishop horizontally if I am playing chess. But it is completely up to me whether or not to play chess, and if I decide not to, then the rules of chess have literally no grip on my practices. It is not a norm for me at all to defend my queen if I am not playing chess. It is in the nature of games that commitment to playing them is optional, whereas what is allowed within them is intersubjectively constrained.

    In other words, many social practices are not games because our being beholden to the relevant norms is non-optional and non-voluntary. Lance and Kukla also insist that in many kinds of normatively governed social practice — science being but one example — there are objectively real features of objects, properties, and relations that enable us to endow them with normative significance.

  26. Interesting point.

    BTW, Re Cavell, I just wrote something (on aesthetics) in which I talk about some of his stuff.

  27. KN,

    In other words, many social practices are not games because our being beholden to the relevant norms is non-optional and non-voluntary.

    Is that ever the case? Don’t we always have the option of defying the norms as long as we are willing to accept the (sometimes quite severe) consequences?

    Lance and Kukla also insist that in many kinds of normatively governed social practice — science being but one example — there are objectively real features of objects, properties, and relations that enable us to endow them with normative significance.

    But the normativity doesn’t originate in those objective truths. It always derives from some prior norm or moral premise.

    In other words, Hume was right.

  28. keiths: Is that ever the case? Don’t we always have the option of defying the norms as long as we are willing to accept the (sometimes quite severe) consequences?

    Yes, that’s true. Lance and Kukla put the correct point as follows: that every norm is transgressable. It is in the very nature of a norm to be transgressable — a norm that cannot be transgressed is not really a norm at all. What I should have said is that some norms are non-optional or non-voluntary from the point of view of the people on whom those norms are binding. (Think, perhaps, of norms in a society with rigid gender roles.)

    But the normativity doesn’t originate in those objective truths. It always derives from some prior norm or moral premise.

    In other words, Hume was right.

    I don’t know if I’d want to endorse Hume’s own version of the story, but certainly he was right that norms cannot be justified by appealing to any facts, however those facts are ascertained (by observation, by ‘pure reason,’ by divine revelation). Normative and non-normative discourse are different “dimensions” or “frameworks,” and conflating them in an attempt to “ground” the norms in anything non-normative is going to lead right back to the Myth of the Given.

    Or, as Lee Braver nicely puts it in his book on Heidegger and Wittgenstein, the grounds are groundless. The very desire for a ground for the grounds — something deeper than the contingent and mutable norms themselves — is the desire for the Myth of the Given, the Quest for Certainty, or God.

    (That Sellars’s criticism of the Myth of the Given, Dewey’s criticism of the Quest for Certainty, and Nietzsche’s thought that ‘God is dead’ are all roughly the same thing is a perennial theme of my work.)

  29. walto:
    So thanks.If you have any further thoughts on this stuff that you think might clarify the issue further more me, please send them along.

    I have taken a look at the your except and here are my more specific concerns on the arguments in the paper.

    The first is with the argument to provide a compromise between Fields and Putnam on complete descriptions of reality given the existence of different conceptual schemes (CS).

    then we could simply conjoin the truths from CS1, to those of CS2 and all other possible schemes allowing for truths that are untranslatable into CS1. That process should get us all the truths about the universe.

    I believe you are trying to show there could be no more than one complete description of reality. I don’t think that our description of the world in physics can be expressible as a list of true statements for the reasons I gave in my post on the consequences of QM. Instead, we need mathematics to provide that description. Perhaps some aliens would have a completely different formalism. But it could not be integrated with ours by forming a list by conjunction. So I don’t agree with an argument which appeals to the ability to conjoin lists of truths as a way to form a more complete description of reality.

    The other area of concern is where you are dealing with whether there could be a complete scheme-independent description of the ultimate constituents of reality. You think Hall would have to accept that there could be no such thing, and you want to make that acceptance logically consistent with his metaphysical realism, which means accepting all the tenets of a metaphysical realism, including that there is at most one complete description of reality.

    For the purposes of argument, you assume we can compare descriptions from different conceptual schemes in some CS-independent way. You want to show we still could not find a scheme-independent best description.

    The “uber-scheme,” our conjunction of all the CSs, would seem to be the winner in this type of contest, simply because we have stipulated that more is better.

    Here I understand you to be saying that there can be no such description which is the best at describing ultimate reality because we can always do better with the conjuct. Hence no single scheme would ever be best. I’m not sure I follow the whole argument, but it does seem to depend crucially on the conjuct, so I’d have the same concerns.

    Just to finish: it seems to me that if you want to be a metaphysical realist AND if you want to believe in the possibility of a complete description of the ultimate constituents of reality, then you have to be a scientific realist. So we don’t have to worry about aliens to worry about how scientific realism can be true in the light of changing conceptual schemes. But if we agree on a solution for human physics, perhaps we can argue that approach to overcoming conceptual scheme limitations can be universalized (eg if it involves math and we argue that math is embedded somehow in reality or in any possible descriptions of reality).

  30. BruceS: I believe you are trying to show there could be no more than one complete description of reality. I don’t think that our description of the world in physics can be expressible as a list of true statements for the reasons I gave in my post on the consequences of QM. Instead, we need mathematics to provide that description. Perhaps some aliens would have a completely different formalism. But it could not be integrated with ours by forming a list by conjunction. So I don’t agree with an argument which appeals to the ability to conjoin lists of truths as a way to form a more complete description of reality.

    I’m not sure I follow this, but to the extent I do understand it, I take it to be a denial of metaphysical realism–since I think metaphysical realism requires something like (M4)–no more than one complete and true description–after redundancies are eliminated. If you’re right that QM is inconsistent with (M4), then if QM is true, I think metaphysical realism must be false. That would mean that what you call “scientific realism” cannot be a species of metaphysical realism (as I understand the term).

    Your remarks get harder for me to understand after that point. What I was saying in that section was no more than “ultimateness” seems to me scheme-specific. Each of two theories, both true, might take their basic elements to be more “ultimate” than the other. I’m not sure what your critique alleges about that claim.

  31. BruceS: Here I understand you to be saying that there can be no such description which is the best at describing ultimate reality because we can always do better with the conjuct.

    At one time, there were atoms. And people probably considered those to be ultimate reality.

    But then atoms were found to have subatomic parts (neutrons, electons, protons). So presumably those subatomic parts were taken to be ultimate reality.

    And then there was QM, showing that the subatomic parts can be further analyzed into quarks, etc. So one supposes that QM is taken to be an account of ultimate reality.

    But maybe, just maybe, those QM entities are composed of finer constituents. And, maybe, in turn, those are composed of still finer constituents.

    So maybe there is no ultimate reality. Maybe no matter how far we go, there is still further. Perhaps it really is “turtles all the way down”?

    Why should we assume that there is an ultimate reality?

  32. Neil Rickert: Why should we assume that there is an ultimate reality?

    The assumption that there is an ultimate “level” of reality, with well-defined “constituents” identifiable at that level out of which everything else is “composed,” is a metaphysical article of faith that has little (if any) support in our best physical theories. The truth is that the transition from classical mechanics to quantum mechanics strongly suggests that there are no such constituents as our “folk physics” imagines there to be.

  33. Not only that–I think the view that what is smaller must be more “ultimate” is a bias stemming from not listening to enough Randy Newman.

  34. walto,

    I’ve heard that Ian Hacking somewhere comes out strongly against “smallism,” but I haven’t found a source.

  35. Just looked around the ‘net. Couldn’t find anything on that by Hacking, but there’s a lot on “smallism” in Robert Wilson’s _Boundaries of the Mind_.

    I’d never heard the term before.

  36. Neil Rickert:
    Why should we assume that there is an ultimate reality?

    As I understand, Walt was simply trying to make an argument about why Hall could be both a metaphysical realist and agree with M1-M4 and still believe in some form of conceptual scheme relativism in the sense of N1 and N2. He wants to show that N2, properly read, is compatible with M4* (and M3 properly understood).

    I don’t think there is an attempt to argue about the truth or falsity of M1-M4 and N1-N2, just their consistency.

    ETA: correction: Walt does argue for the truth of M4*, which I believe is his compromise between Putnam saying metaphysical realists must believe there is exactly one set of truths and Field’s view that Putnam’s tenet is not needed for metaphysical realism.

  37. walto: I’m not sure I follow this, but to the extent I do understand it, I take it to be a denial of metaphysical realism

    What I am doing is something much less ambitious.

    I am just expressing essentially technical concerns with how you use conjunctions of truths from different conceptual schemes as part of the argument.

    Stay with the first argument about trying to show there can be at most one complete scheme.

    As I understand it, you argue that if two schemes are both claimed to be complete, then when can go back to having a single scheme by conjoining them.

    But if the schemes involve mathematical structures, which they must for ours at least, then I would think you cannot do that. Instead, you have to prove them isomorphic to each other or isomorphic to some scheme which includes elements of both.

    But can you do that? It seems much harder than conjoining or conjoining and eliminating duplicates.

    That us really all I am saying.

    (The QM part is based on concerns with the phrase “compilation of truths” which I took to mean some kind of simple list out sentences of formal logic. That understanding was based on the use conjunction to integrate the sets of truths from different schemes. I don’t this a list of truth sentences form formal logic can work as a complete set of truths in a QM world).

  38. Kantian Naturalist: The assumption that there is an ultimate “level” of reality, with well-defined “constituents” identifiable at that level out of which everything else is “composed,” is a metaphysical article of faith that has little (if any) support in our best physical theories. The truth is that the transition from classical mechanics to quantum mechanics strongly suggests that there are no such constituents as our “folk physics” imagines there to be.

    I assume that is one of the ideas in L&R’s book.

    I understand they are scientific realists in the sense of the structural realism variant. I think being a scientific realist of any sort implies you have to be a metaphysical realist.

    Does the book get into discussion any of the tenets of metaphysical realism and how scientific theories relate to them?

    If so, do they ever get into the issues of conceptual schemes for describing metaphysical reality? Can complete schemes exist? If so, is there necessarily no more than one of them. Or exactly one of them?

    Or would that type of discussion fall into their “scholasticism” category.

  39. BruceS: As I understand it, you argue that if two schemes are both claimed to be complete, then when can go back to having a single scheme by conjoining them.

    If each scheme is itself complete, I don’t see why I would conjoin them. So let’s say each is incomplete, but together they’d give a “complete description of the world” (whatever that means, exactly). Now you say

    : But if the schemes involve mathematical structures, which have to (at least for us), then I would think you cannot do that, you have to prove them isomorphic to each other or isomorphic to some scheme which includes elements of both.

    But can you do that? It seems much harder than conjoining or conjoining and eliminating duplicates.

    I’m not sure about this. Can you explain why if I have two sets of (exclusively) true propositions it’s not always the case that if I conjoin them I have one larger set of true propositions. That seems like a necessary truth to me–it’s just a definition of conjunction.

    I mean, I’ll concede that if the laws of logic are false, all bets are off. I can’t argue about anything where I can’t depend on those, I don’t think. But if we assume that if P is true and Q is true then P & Q is true, are you still finding a problem with my statement?

  40. BruceS,

    They don’t talk about conceptual schemes at all, actually. It’s not one of their words. The whole discourse about conceptual schemes gets invented by C. I. Lewis and Carnap (independently), and gets further refined by Davidson, Putnam and Dummett in the mid-70s. Then you’ve got mild infusions of Kuhn on paradigms and sometimes a bit of Foucault on epistemes.

    Point is, none of this discourse about “conceptual schemes” is connected with empirical research about how humans (and other animals) use concepts, or the role of concepts in thought. It’s all armchair theorizing. I think that L&R would be deeply suspicious of the whole enterprise.

    For a theory of concepts that might be consistent with their vision of naturalized metaphysics, perhaps Wandering Significance is a place to start. I haven’t read it but I mention it here because Wilson has two essays in the Scientific Metaphysics anthology that Ross, Ladyman, and Kincaid edited. I’m reading them now.

  41. Walt: This is getting pretty arcane so feel free to be beg off with “pressing social concerns” at any time.

    walto:
    If each scheme is itself complete, I don’t see why I would conjoin them.

    Poor wording on my part. The argument you make that I am concerned with comes up in the discussion of M4* which is about true and complete descriptions of the world and how to show there can never be more than one.

    So I should have said “claimed to be complete” and not “complete”.

    Can you explain why if I have two sets of (exclusively) true propositions it’s not always the case that if I conjoin them
    My argument is not the this is wrong, just unhelpful to what you are trying to show. That is, I think that it is not helpful to try to complete a single description of the world by appealing to the possibility of conjoining propositions.

    Let me give this analogy. It is not exact but I hope it helps illustrate my point.

    Our current physics description of the world includes General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Now we also know our current description is not complete and that both of these theories are likely involved in completing it.

    But no one would claim that conjoining “It is the case that {list of GR equations}” with “It is the case that {list of QM equations}” would take us any closer to a more complete description

    It is because the mathematics inside the theories imposes certain structures on reality, and you have to understand how to combine those structures as part of forming a complete description. That understanding requires more than conjoining propositions.

    “complete description of the world” (whatever that means, exactly)
    Giving a meaning to “complete description of reality” is quite possibly a question that needs to be answered before even having this discussion.

  42. Thanks, Bruce. That’s an interesting point–if true. But is it?

    But no one would claim that conjoining “It is the case that {list of GR equations}” with “It is the case that {list of QM equations}” would take us any closer to a more complete description

    Would no one claim that? Do we really not know more with both of them than with either of them alone? I’d think that each adds to the stock of our knowledge of truths. You’re right that we don’t get much by slopping them together if we already know each separately, but I’m not sure that’s necessary to my claim.

  43. walto:
    Would no one claim that?Do we really not know more with both of them than with either of them alone?I’d think that each adds to the stock of our knowledge of truths.You’re right that we don’t get much by slopping them together if we already know each separately, but I’m not sure that’s necessary to my claim.

    Sure we know more by knowing each of them.

    But the problem with simply conjoining them is that they conflict when you consider what they imply about reality when taken together. (*) So taken together and at the same time, they are not a viable description of reality. At least not in the way I would want to define “description”.

    What I mean is that I think that you need to show not only that we know more from Description 3 = { Description 1 AND Description 2} but also that Description 3 is a valid description, ie it does not contain contradictions.

    ———————–
    (*) This is more “faking it” in olegt’s absence. I am fairly certain about the claim that GR and QM conflict in some of the things they claim are true. But another example would be if description 1 was Einsteins physics and description 2 was Newtons physics.

  44. walto:
    Not only that–I think the view that what is smaller must be more “ultimate” is a bias stemming from not listening to enough Randy Newman.

    Or maybe the concepts big and small are simply not part of a complete description of reality?

    Though galaxies look larger than atoms and elephants appear to outweigh ants, some physicists have begun to suspect that size differences are illusory. Perhaps the fundamental description of the universe does not include the concepts of “mass” and “length,” implying that at its core, nature lacks a sense of scale.

    More here.

  45. BruceS,

    As I mentioned, I don’t really understand how it could be the case that every proposition in set P and set Q could be true but the set containing all the propositions in both P and Q could contain false propositions. I realize that you don’t actually say that this superset CONTAINS false propositions, but that they “they imply [something false] about reality when taken together.” That conflicts with what I understand about entailment. I would think that such false entailments indicate that there’s some stuff that’s only apparently (or not quite exactly true) in P or Q or both. Some Newtonian claims, I take it, are now known to require amendments here and there for any modern physicist to call them precisely true.

  46. Bruce, walto,

    I think the problem in your discussion is that the topic keeps shifting. Sometimes you’re talking about complete descriptions, other times about incomplete descriptions. Sometimes you’re talking about pairs of contradictory descriptions, other times about pairs of compatible descriptions.

    Bruce’s point is that merely conjoining two conflicting descriptions of reality (such as general relativity and quantum mechanics) doesn’t really count as progress, because the conflict between the two renders the conjoined description self-contradictory.

    Walto’s point is that conjoining any two true but incomplete descriptions of reality yields a third true description of reality (which might or might not be complete).

    Assuming that I’ve characterized them correctly, I doubt that either of you actually disagrees with the other’s point.

  47. keiths,

    Comments above provoked me to have a glance at Hawking and Mlodinow (as they argue for overlapping theories which are scale-dependent but together give an overall whole) and on a quick read through chapter three (page45 of the hardback) I find an account of Johnson’s refutation of Berkeley.

    Of course the pain Dr. Johnson experienced in his foot was also an idea in his mind, so he wasn’t really refuting Berkeley’s ideas.

    I suggest thoughts are no less physical than broken toes but they go on to say:

    But his act did illustrate the view of philosopher David Hume, who wrote that although we have no rational grounds for believing in an objective reality, we also have no choice but to act as if it is true.

    Pragmatism, anyone?

    They then develop the idea of “model-dependent realism” saying

    …it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation.

  48. keiths
    I think the problem in your discussion is that the topic keeps shifting.

    Hey, that seems like the type of comment I would post!

    I agree that that what is likely happening is that Walt and I are likely talking past each other somehow, but I am not sure exactly where.

    To be explicit, I am saying that Walt’s argument that there can be at most one complete description does not work.

    It still may be true that there can be at most one complete description. But I don’t think the argument Walt gives shows that.

    Now I suspect you are right that we have not agreed on what a description is or on how one goes about putting two of them together and that is what I will try to clarify with him.

  49. walto:

    As I mentioned, I don’t really understand how it could be the case that every proposition in set P and set Q could be true but the set containing all the propositions in both P and Q could contain false propositions

    Let me try starting with what I take by description.

    1. The descriptions do not have to be complete for this discussion. I am interested in the physics portion of a complete description. Maybe a complete description would also need to cover all the emergent entities under some conceptual scheme. I am ignoring that consideration to concentrate on the physics part.

    But I am saying that physics must be part of any complete description.

    This point has not come up, but I wanted to make my understanding clear.

    2. When you say description is a set of propositions, do you have any constraints in mind for the nature of those propositions?

    My rant about QM was trying to make the point that such propositions could not be like the ones Laplace assumed for determinism. That is, they cannot be a list statements about entities and their properties such as position and momentum. Two reasons for this from QM:
    a. QM says any description of all of reality must be holistic since all of reality can be influenced in some way by any other part instantaneously.
    b. QM says that certain pairs of properties cannot both be known exactly and at the same time. (That is what underlies the breakdown of the distributive law of traditional propositional logic I believe)

    3. So based on 2, I claim that the “propositions” of the physics part of a description would have to include complex mathematics, at least for the human form of the description. Maybe other things, like the initial state of the universe, but definitely complex mathematics.

    4. Now what I think you are saying is that is will always be possible to join the mathematics together from two descriptions and show that they were either both one description all along, or that they were actually both incomplete descriptions with some things that in one of them not true. But by joining and eliminating falsities sourced from one description of the other, you now you have a single descirption That is how I understand your statement:
    I would think that such false entailments indicate that there’s some stuff that’s only apparently (or not quite exactly true) in P or Q or both

    My concern is that showing you can do this not obvious to me at all. Maybe it is the case that they are two separate explanations and that they cannot be considered one? Sure, taken together they may have false entailments, but maybe all that means is they cannot be taken together, not that there is something false in either or both.

    Now it is true that this is not the situation for either Newton and Einstein physics or for GR and QM. In both cases, we know the source of the incompatibilities (and how to resolve them for the first pair).

    But what if we did have what we thought was a complete physics and some aliens came forward with a another one with a different conceptual scheme for the formalism. How do we know they could be combined to create one in advance. Maybe they work fine separately but there is no way to combine them, as Field in effect claimed.

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