bootslack

Pure signal.

With Regard to Science

And in saying this I am not advocating a return to medievalist metaphysics, or leaving a door open so that I can whip out my own bizarre theories and try to convert you

But it needs to be said: Things are not so straightforward as all of the rationalists are walking around pretending.

Things look very clear cut in the text books — but that is not science, that is dogma — and dogma always has the fat trimmed off. If you have ever actually engaged in scientific experimentation then what I am saying now will be immediately obvious to you — there is no such thing as a clean experiment.

It almost never works out in practice like it does in the first year physics book — with all the sig figs being where they are supposed to be, and the law being obvious and apparent. Where it does — like in the Millikan Oil Drop experiment (which is an astoundingly beautiful experiment) the environment has been highly contrived to produce the desired results. That doesn’t at all mean that the result is invalid — but it does mean that narrative has a central place in the process.

Life as it comes to us is messy — and anyone who tells you that science does not posses narrative is lying. As soon as you construct an experiment — and I don’t mean quantum interaction with consciousness or any foofy shit like that — just a simple pendulum experiment, you are no longer observing — you are creating a situation which does not exist by itself in nature. You are imposing a narrative — and the order of your results partially reflects order in nature, and partially the order of the experiment.

Science education does us a great dis-service when it presents the ideas of inertia and force and acceleration as if they are self evident and clear. People argued about those concepts for almost 2000 years before getting a satisfactory formal representation. When you go and memorize that, and then hold yourself up like you thought of it yourself you are just being a buffoon. And it is assuredly not the case that one can tell from the outset, from a priori reasoning how much narrative, and what the narrative should be that will make sense of the columns of numbers. Or even which columns you should use.

Study your science history — it doesn’t matter what field you are looking into — there are 25 blind alleys to every well traveled thoroughfare that is used today, and a lot of what we use today is going to end up getting tossed out.

George Santayana says that we are born “in play” — life is already going when we get here — and it is important to remember that we will simply never get back to the beginning to see how it all came together. What we have is a whole mess of instincts, feelings, ideas, and words — and we are surrounded by complex and constantly changing phenomena that have deep symmetrical patterns — some of which appear to be more objective and some of which appear to be more subjective.

We take for granted that the life of a plant can be reduced to it’s chemistry — and I for one believe that there are good reasons to think this is the case. But it is important to acknowledge that you yourself have never actually seen that this is the case. You have never taken a plant apart on the molecular level, and put it back together, and observed the transition from a non-living set of chemical equations to a biological organism. You can take reductionism on faith, or you can accept it by way of an inductive argument, but you don’t get it through deduction, and you don’t get it through empiricism. You are accepting it based on the preponderance of the evidence, and a couple of value judgments besides. You are accepting a whole collection of abstractions, which you have likewise constructed partly from data, and partly from narrative. It all pulls together and makes a pretty coherent picture — which happens to leave out most of reality, and is filled with errors.

If you forget this, especially when you are arguing for a reason based life, then you fall into the same trap as every other faith on the planet — of assuming greater support for your own position than is actually warranted. The only reason to do that is to buoy up your ego. Put it aside man — you aren’t that important — the plant is important. AND YOU DON’T REALLY KNOW WHAT THE PLANT IS.

And that is OK — lets look together…

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April 8, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

4 Comments »

  1. We don’t see the real world at all, because raw sense data makes no sense on it’s own. We have to process it first. Interpret meaning and connections into everything.

    I’m convinced that the best metaphor for what we do when we process the world in order to perceive and understand etc. is virtual reality: We are continuously creating a virtual reality interface with the world.

    You write: “It all pulls together and makes a pretty coherent picture — which happens to leave out most of reality, and is filled with errors.”

    I prefer to say that none of reality comes through, and that errors are very practical proximations. This is my nihilism, but it also opens up for all kinds of joyful “superstition”: If one acknowledges that everyday perception is in my sense virtual, then stranger kinds of fiction can be justified. Even religion.

    I wonder what your reaction to this theoretical framework is. — It seems to me that we agree on the conclusions, but I’d like to translate the intuition into an epistemological theory, because I think that may open up far more and stranger conclusions. Do you have any thoughts on this project in general, or on my “virtualism” in particular?

    [I hope this made sense. I’m at work, and had to rush it.]

    Comment by Gorm | April 9, 2008 | Reply

  2. Hi Gorm,

    I think our positions are pretty close — but I am opting for a more conservative language.

    I would encourage you to read “Skepticism and Animal Faith” — as it explains and resolves (as much as possible) the epistemological conflict that both you and I are referring to.

    My conservatism comes from an important realization, which I cannot convincingly force upon you, but which I think you can duplicate within your own experience. I understand that it makes no sense to refer to what a signal is, without referring to the context of the receiver. But isn’t it true (this is where you have to look to your own experience) — that things just don’t seem to get that strange?

    There are patterns and norms to all of my experiance — and if I take the scientific realist perspective that says I evolved here on this planet, with the development of my senses being in some way conditioned by the simultanious development of the birds and bees — then it makes sense that should be the case.

    I can form the words “I have no real information about my environment.” — but I make life or death decisions every day as if I do, and if I wanted to try to walk through a wall or jump off a building, I would quickly find out that my expectations about outcomes, which hamper me as much as they do any naive realist, actually convey a great deal of information.

    So my question is this — does it make sense to define reality such that I am unable to account for the consistency of my experience? The world “reality” is something that I am abstracting from my experience — how is it sensible for me to choose to define that word to cover a domain that I have no experience of?

    And it is wrong to say that my senses completely constrain my reality, because I can build partial accelerators and other tools that can record patterns of regularity outside of my immediate capacity for experience.

    For that reason, while the subject/object divide is as complex as it is now — I prefer to think of my relationship to reality as being “problematic” at worse — as Santayana says — it’s true that you have to take a gamble to believe in the world (as against solipsism or nihilism) but that gamble is immediately and consistently rewarded ever after.

    Philosophy comes from a theological root, which is where the absolutist language about realism came from. If we just acknowledge that we are animals who find ourselves here, then the “theological perspective” or God’s eye view is no longer the ultimate measure. Accepting that point — it is possible that arguments by probability are as good as it gets.

    And probability holds that it is very likely that my perceptions of the external world are valid within the constraints that they have evolved.

    James

    Comment by bootslack | April 10, 2008 | Reply

  3. “It almost never works out in practice like it does in the first year physics book — with all the sig figs being where they are supposed to be, and the law being obvious and apparent”

    God, as much of a pain in the ass this is, I love this about science and research. I laugh in psychotic pleasure!!

    Comment by teaphorone | April 11, 2008 | Reply

  4. My god, that book looks absolutely brilliant! I’m putting it on top of my list of things to buy! Thanks so much for the tip — I’ve never even heard of Santayana before.

    I can’t argue with your conservatism when situated in reality (with a body that needs to react to danger or go get food or money etc), but I don’t want such a conservatism to limit my though (which is not situated in reality, but in virtuality). That which is deemed realistic by our animal instincts is an unnecessary constraint on thought.

    So my question is this — does it make sense to define reality such that I am unable to account for the consistency of my experience? The world “reality” is something that I am abstracting from my experience — how is it sensible for me to choose to define that word to cover a domain that I have no experience of?

    It does make a lot of sense from a theoretical point of view, but not from a practical one. Accordingly, you should use the word in two different ways, one strict and the other loose enough to look similar to naive realism (which I understand as the intuitive animal perspective, more or less). In everyday life, the best guess of how reality works (roughly) is what you should be dealing with. But when out on on some theoretical frontier, you should be more concerned with the more absolute concept of truth and reality, because this is the confines within which you can allow yourself to work. The supposition that reality is unreachable, gives the theoretician maximal freedom, because he understands himself as merely manipulating virtuality to model a reality which can never be declared as fully grasped. “You’re only speculating” won’t choke the will of someone who holds the “virtualistic” understanding of epistemology.

    Philosophy comes from a theological root, which is where the absolutist language about realism came from. If we just acknowledge that we are animals who find ourselves here, then the “theological perspective” or God’s eye view is no longer the ultimate measure.

    I do of course agree that the theological perspective isn’t the ultimate measure of things. That would be getting things upside down. However, even though theory should admit that it can’t actually reach absolute truth, and that animal instincts do a far better job of dealing with reality than it does (yet), I hope you’ll agree with me that the theological perspective is of ultimate importance. (If it could only restrain itself from becoming pathological!)

    Comment by Gorm | April 21, 2008 | Reply


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