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The Intentional Stance

Jeanette M. N.
wickedatheist
Denver, CO
Post #: 3,215
Ken Roberts:

Well, then, what is the nature of the question, exactly? Perhaps, if we can get clear about that, uDave will also understand why the reductionists don't have an answer to the question -- or one that works, anyway. (I say this with a sigh, because I was afraid from the very outset that we'd eventually need to back up to the beginning, and such has turned out to be the case.)

Onward, then, however reluctantly.
Sorry to make you sigh.

At the most fundamental level, the question underlying the "debates" between reductionists and emergentists concerns the nature of scientific explanation. ("Debates" is in quotes in the last sentence because, like flat-earthers, the reductionists still think that there's something left to debate, and seem to have a compulsive need to keep talking even when there's nothing left to say.)
Are you saying most scientists have rejected reductionism, and are now emergentists?

The modern era in scientific explanation began with Galileo...

...nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes."
Yes, I "get" all of that.

This line of reasoning certainly seemed logical enough; and since scientists had already gotten a lot of mileage out of analysis, they weren't about to hear that it wouldn't do as the one and only approach to the understanding of everything in the physical universe.
Yes, it has a pretty good track record. How does emergentism compare?

So they overlooked the fact that they had baked into "science" any number of unexamined, and purely philosophical, presuppositions. (Call this "scientific Popism," if you think the shoe fits; but whatever you call them, these presuppositions are religious in nature.)

What sort of presuppositions, you ask?

Well, if we stick with Laplace for a moment, for the purposes of illustration, there's the problem of just what counts as the "simple" phenomena in terms of which we're (supposedly) going to account for the "complex" phenomenon. We can readily see why this is important in the case of Laplace, because it turns out that his "atoms" weren't so simple after all, and their "motions" certainly weren't to be thought of on analogy with billiard balls. Hence, the entire analytical (reductionistic) project of his "intellect" working at "a certain moment" (which one was that, exactly, and why just that one?) foundered. There are, in fact, both chemical and subatomic phenomena at work that he never dreamed of. The "simple" turned out not to be simple. Indeed, as I hope was apparent in one of the two science articles I reproduced here earlier, nothing yet has turned out to be "simple."

A similar problem surfaces when we look in the opposite direction: what is the ultimate "complex" object? Laplace speaks of "the universe" -- but what, exactly, is that? What if there's a multiverse? Or if there are physical dimensions beyond those we know? If such is the case, then "the complex" that we thought we were going to explain in terms of "the simple" isn't what we thought it was, either. The other article I reproduced here should make it clear that "the complex" isn't looking much like what Laplace thought of it as being, either.
Are you pulling my leg with all of this? "Simple" and "complex" are of course relative terms. An individual creature is more complex than the molecules of which it is made, but more simple than a group of individuals. So there is "more simple" and "more complex."

But, even worse, indeed far worse, than either of these issues is this: what if some, or a great many, phenomena turn out not to be analyzable into "simples" at all? What if they turn out to be irreducibly complex, so that there's nothing simpler in terms of which we can explain them?

It turns out that this is actually the case: for example, we can't account for the chemical properties of molecules of different chirality in terms of the properties of their component atoms.

Lastly, what if the "simples" of our analysis turn out to be mutually influencing? If this turned out to be the case, then we couldn't isolate them from one another, and we wouldn't be able to build our account up from completely independent and separable items of physical furniture.

And it looks like that's the case, too. (Here's where all this stuff about the very act of observing phenomena affecting what it is that we observe comes in.)

So reductionism just doesn't work as an explanation for everything. In particular, to get back to the issue at hand (philosophy of mind), it won't do as an account of consciousness.
In other words, we don't have an omniscient viewpoint that might be needed to figure out how every bit of the universe works together, so therefore you conclude that even if we did have such an omniscient viewpoint, we wouldn't be able to see how it all fits together. I don't think you've demonstrated that we can conclude that. All we can conclude is that we don't know everything, that there are gaps in our knowledge.

When superstitious wishful thinkers find a gap in their knowledge, they invent something to wedge in that gap, such as gods, ghosts, and ESP. But to those who insist on evidence, those gaps don't prove anything.

I think it's possible that there are random elements in physical matter, so that even knowing everything about every bit of matter and how it all pulls together might not give us perfect predictive abilities. I also think it's possible that there are simpler and simpler levels for all infinity, with no bottom, and that there are more and more complex levels, for all infinity.

But I don't know if that is the case, I don't think that anyone has proven that it is the case, and I don't see what the Earth-shattering implications would be even if that were the case.

Reductionism does work pretty well for some stuff, of course, and a lot of the progress in science, up to now, has to do with the phenomena for which is does work. (Though, much of the time, scientists have actually proceeded from induction from observed emergent phenomena rather than deduction from the properties of little bits of stuff -- and then ignored the fact that that was what they were doing.)
They've made discoveries by working their way downward from the macro to the micro level, as well as those they've made working up in the other direction, is that what you're saying? Because why would the premise of reductionism mean that science has to be done by studying "the properties of little bits of stuff?" Again, I can't tell when you're being serious and when you're kidding. Throw in an "LOL" here and there, will you?
A former member
Post #: 1,021
Ken Roberts: I think there may be some sort of misconception lurking in the background here.

No misconception lurking, just my conception shared.

Get a new storyline, Ken, the old one has been reduced.

Regards,
iDave.
A former member
Post #: 69
Well, I didn't much want to return to this stuff, Jeanette; but a few quick responses, for the sake of courtesy and of tying things off in orderly fashion, would seem to be in order.

You asked:

Are you saying most scientists have rejected reductionism, and are now emergentists?

No, far from it: only the ones paying attention, and there aren't very many of those, just yet anyway.

Concerning the reductionistic approach in the sciences, I commented:

This line of reasoning certainly seemed logical enough; and since scientists had already gotten a lot of mileage out of analysis, they weren't about to hear that it wouldn't do as the one and only approach to the understanding of everything in the physical universe.

And you asked:

Yes, it has a pretty good track record. How does emergentism compare?

Well, as I observed earlier, the record here is rather muddled. A lot of what has passed for reductionism has actually had some element of emergentist thought in it. Moreover, as a conscious research paradigm emergentism has been slow to get off the ground. (Keep in mind that it took the reductionistic program a good couple of centuries to get underway. There were many unresolved issues, and it was -- and still is -- resisted all the way by the Catholic Church and others.) Moreover, it represents something of a new intellectual frontier.

However, having said that, the recent research concerning "chaos," and much of what's exciting in biology today (such as that concerning self-organizing systems) is part of the developing trend and compares well. Too, some physicists (like David Bohm) and the people who have worked on emergentist mathematics (such as that worked on by von Bertalanffy), information theorists, some philosophers of mind, and those working in the systems sciences have all done very good, very fruitful, and even Nobel-prize winning work (such as that of Ilya Prigogine on what he calls far-from-equilibrium systems).

On the other hand, conventional science has been almost completely stalled on the big questions for half a century now. Much of the technology around us is derived from old science. And that's partly because the reductionistic research paradigm works best with physical phenomena that are mediascopic and comparatively simple.

Speaking of which, I then went on to discuss the concepts of "simple" and "complex" a bit:

. . .if we stick with Laplace for a moment, for the purposes of illustration, there's the problem of just what counts as the "simple" phenomena in terms of which we're (supposedly) going to account for the "complex" phenomenon. We can readily see why this is important in the case of Laplace, because it turns out that his "atoms" weren't so simple after all, and their "motions" certainly weren't to be thought of on analogy with billiard balls. Hence, the entire analytical (reductionistic) project of his "intellect" working at "a certain moment" (which one was that, exactly, and why just that one?) foundered. There are, in fact, both chemical and subatomic phenomena at work that he never dreamed of. The "simple" turned out not to be simple. Indeed, as I hope was apparent in one of the two science articles I reproduced here earlier, nothing yet has turned out to be "simple."

A similar problem surfaces when we look in the opposite direction: what is the ultimate "complex" object? Laplace speaks of "the universe" -- but what, exactly, is that? What if there's a multiverse? Or if there are physical dimensions beyond those we know? If such is the case, then "the complex" that we thought we were going to explain in terms of "the simple" isn't what we thought it was, either. The other article I reproduced here should make it clear that "the complex" isn't looking much like what Laplace thought of it as being, either.

And you asked:

Are you pulling my leg with all of this? "Simple" and "complex" are of course relative terms. An individual creature is more complex than the molecules of which it is made, but more simple than a group of individuals. So there is "more simple" and "more complex."

Right -- in fact, that's an insight right out of emergentist theory. So, nope, no leg-pulling at all.

The relevance of questions concerning complexity should have been obvious from early on, and should indeed have suggested that something might be missing from the reductionistic research program -- however, even now, there's a tremendous struggle underway to determine just what these terms actually mean. Unlike, say, weight, "simple" and "complex" don't seem to be physical properties at all. Whatever we mean by them, the terms don't wholly equate to "few" and "many."

Next up, you slightly misconstrued the relevance of the "omniscient intelligence" of Laplace, remarking:

In other words, we don't have an omniscient viewpoint that might be needed to figure out how every bit of the universe works together, so therefore you conclude that even if we did have such an omniscient viewpoint, we wouldn't be able to see how it all fits together.

Well, although that paraphrase is on the right track, you're not quite there yet. The point is that, even if there was such an intellect, the research program of Laplacean reductionism still wouldn't work -- if we thought we could explain everything in terms of the "motions" of billiard-ball like "atoms."

Just why is that, exactly?

Laplace thought that matter was, in some sense, uniform. At the low end there were tiny little atoms that were a lot like tiny little billiard balls, and at the other end there were great big things like stars and planets that were a lot like really big billiard balls. So everything that happened was supposed to be just a matter of the interactions of the "motions" of all of these differently-sized, but fundamentally similar, billiard balls. That is, he saw the task before science as being something like predicting what would happen on a pool table once the cue ball was set in motion.

Today, however, we know that nature isn't at all uniform in the Laplacean sense. Rather, it has what emergentists think of as being "levels" -- and the physical properties that we find at these levels aren't those of the lower levels at all (or the upper levels either, for that matter). That being the case, the Laplacean research program can't work (and, in fact, doesn't, as all subsequent science has shown). There's just no pool table.

You then commented:

I don't think you've demonstrated that we can conclude that. All we can conclude is that we don't know everything, that there are gaps in our knowledge.

Well, there are certainly gaps in our knowledge; but, again, here's the real point: we can't fill those gaps using Laplace's reductionistic research program, because he misconceived the "uniformity" of nature. Science subsequent to Laplace has indeed demonstrated, without any residue of doubt, that we can conclude that.

A little more later.

--K.
A former member
Post #: 1
First off, I haven't yet figured out how to quote other posts in a reply -- Information on this would be useful, and I apologize in advance that, due to me not being super familiar with the message board functions, my reply may be a little choppy.

I've been following some of the discussion here for awhile, and haven't been sure what a good place to jump in might be. I think it's probably simplest if I just start with the last post or two and addressing the undersandings (or lack thereoff, as the case may be!) communicated in those.

Ken -- I find it, er, interesting, that you state that it's not that *all*philosophers have abandoned reductionism as a viable option -- Just the *good* philosophers, or those that actually know what's going on. :P

You also mention frequently that it's a bit laborious to explain these concepts on the message board, or distasteful to come back to answer questions on what you're saying -- You've even proposed that those of us who haven't read all the books you claim integral to an understanding of this topic are pretty much disqualified from understanding just how very unreasonable reductionism is.

So, rather than jumping in here and talking about the merits of one theory over another, I'm finding it important to state, first, that the manner in which you advocate your viewpoint may be making it actually harder to comprehend. It seems like there are some fallacies present in the logic you present with why the argument is A. already figured out by the "smart" ones, and B. impossible to really explain here.

So I have to wonder here if your purpose is to actually engage in discussion over merits of either theory or whether it's more to communicate that your knowledge is simply too advanced for us mere mortals to understand. :P

Okay, moving on to one of the things being discussed here -- An analogy of a billiard table is being discussed and whether all things can be explained in logical rules that one might see played out on such a billiard table. Ken, you state that the billiard table simply doesn't exist and hence, reductionism is disproved. In my view, I would think that learning of information that surpasses the rules of a "billiard" table has more possible explanations than simply throwing up one's hands and saying, "well, that disqualifies *that*." Is it possible that we are still learning about all kinds of different analogous "tables" and still finding more complex explanations for different experiences?

Saying that explanations aren't contained in one body of scientific theory and that this hence repudiates the idea that there are rationalistic explanations seems a bit to me like saying that, since Edison's first hundred attempts to make a lightbulb weren't effective, we now know that electricity doesn''t actually exist.

That doesn't follow and neither does the idea that we haven't found one consistent way to find all explanations any kind of debunking of reductionism at all.

Am I misunderstanding some piece of your argument here, or perhaps of the arguments on both sides?

I'm interested in hearing more on all this, and ask only that the arguments be logical arguments and questions rather than simple refutations of other arguments based on some superior knowledge that can't be articulated here. Fair?

Thanks!

Jeanette M. N.
wickedatheist
Denver, CO
Post #: 3,219
Michaela:

First off, I haven't yet figured out how to quote other posts in a reply -- Information on this would be useful, and I apologize in advance that, due to me not being super familiar with the message board functions, my reply may be a little choppy.

One way is to click the "quote in reply" link at the top of the post you want to quote. Then the entire post pops up, with the word quote between square brackets at the beginning and /quote between square brackets at the other end.

Another way is to copy and paste the part you want to quote, and put the brackets with quote and /quote at the ends. (Testing how it works the other way will show you what the brackets look like at each end.)

Use the "Preview" button to see if your post looks the way you want it to before you hit "Submit."


I'm interested in hearing more on all this, and ask only that the arguments be logical arguments and questions rather than simple refutations of other arguments based on some superior knowledge that can't be articulated here. Fair?

Yes, iDave has made the same complaint I don't know how many times in this thread. But Ken is only doing us the favor of entertaining this topic with great reluctance, since he doesn't much want to return to this stuff, he keeps hoping he's done with it, and it makes him sigh, don't you know. laughing

But seriously, I think that he thinks that he has explained himself. I'm not at all a scientist myself, but Ken's comment about how scientists were really doing emergentist science rather than reductionist science whenever they made discoveries in ways other than studying little bits of stuff (in other words, from the bottom up) gives me the uneasy sense that he may be even more confused than I am. Tragic, if that is the case. confused
A former member
Post #: 1,022
Michaela: I'm interested in hearing more on all this, and ask only that the arguments be logical arguments and questions rather than simple refutations of other arguments based on some superior knowledge that can't be articulated here. Fair?

Michaela! Welcome to the Denver Philosophy Group. It is nice to see someone noticing the obvious.

Our Ken's only references (here as on Wikipedia) have been to 1) speculations made in 1920 and 2) complexity theorists like those at Santa Fe Institute and 3) his own brilliance. I leave (1) and (3) to the reader. For (2), it turns out that complexity theory is thoroughly compatible with reductionism: the fascinating (and often beautiful) patterns that "emerge" from various studies in chaos and complexity theory, like the famous Mandelbrot set shown below, may be difficult to predict but, once observed, are fully explainable (reducible) in simple terms.



Jeanette: But seriously, I think that he thinks that he has explained himself. I'm not at all a scientist myself ...

(Neither is Ken.)

Jeanette: ... but Ken's comment about how scientists were really doing emergentist science rather than reductionist science whenever they made discoveries in ways other than studying little bits of stuff (in other words, from the bottom up) gives me the uneasy sense that he may be even more confused than I am. Tragic, if that is the case.

I believe it is called snow job.

Regards,
iDave.
Jeanette M. N.
wickedatheist
Denver, CO
Post #: 3,221
iDave:
but, once observed, are fully explainable (reducible) in simple terms.


Oh, my! Am I the only one seeing a naughty (simple, I dunno about reducible) image in that picture?

A former member
Post #: 3
Heh --
So I wrote a lengthy post and tried to get all the quote attributions to work. In the process, I somehow managed to delete everything I had written. I'll have to come back and work with quote attribution later (and thanks Jeanette for cleaning it up for me on another group.).

For now, I'll just put my thoughts out without trying to directly quote anyone.

Thanks for the welcome, iDave. I continue to be impressed by your ability to quickly produce examples of different phenomena and to use links to further the discussion and illuminate the point.

Jeanette, I'm afraid that you're right -- Ken does seem to think that he is explaining everything to us as best he can. I don't think the logical fallacies inherent in his arguments are clear to him at all, and any efforts to engage in dialogue and challenge his "facts" is, well, sighworthy. (What gall people have to try discussing philosophy on a board for the discussion of philosophy, right?) --
We mere mortals are all merely deluded objects of the charity he chooses to extend by even trying to explain to us.

Paradoxically, I think he ends up making a great case for reductionism just by responding with such distortions on the view when he makes his counterpoints. He builds straw man arguments for reductionism and then attacks these straw men, but seems not to have such an easy time refuting the actual points, or even necessarily understanding them. I think plenty of emergentists might be dismayed at his representation of it here, especially as espoused in such "explanations" as that it's already been proven, we just haven't read the proper books or aren't paying attention, and that it is far too difficult to explain in any concise way how emergentism is supposed to prevail over reductionism. Frankly, it really impairs any clarity that could be gained on the merits of emergentism.




A former member
Post #: 70
Hi, Michaela. Welcome to DPMG.

In your previous email you commented:

. . . . Ken does seem to think that he is explaining everything to us as best he can. I don't think the logical fallacies inherent in his arguments are clear to him at all, and any efforts to engage in dialogue and challenge his "facts" is, well, sighworthy. (What gall people have to try discussing philosophy on a board for the discussion of philosophy, right?) --
We mere mortals are all merely deluded objects of the charity he chooses to extend by even trying to explain to us.

Like any technical subject without exception -- and particularly one that has both deep conceptual roots (going back a couple of hundred years now) as well as areas of ongoing controversy -- getting a handle on the emergentism/reductionism controversy requires some technical background. I can't provide very much of that here, and, of course, that's not my responsibility.

The good news, however, is that any person of normal intelligence can acquire that background. Plenty of resources are available (offline) as I've said often enough, and I've detailed exactly where. If you'd like to discuss the subject in a more meaningful way, then it's your job (and everyone else's here) to make the intellectual effort required to get that background (and not mine to supply it, though I've tried within the confines of this medium).

You probably wouldn't expect to debate issues in, say, colloidal chemistry, without knowing anything about it. And, presumably, you might hesitate to speak vaguely of "logical fallacies" in a discussion of collidal chemistry. You might also hesitate to accuse somebody of a high and mighty attitude when every comment from the opposition made it clear that the individual in question didn't know much about colloidal chemistry (apart from what might be gleaned from a Wikipedia article).

I regret having to point out that you have had such expectations in your remarks to date here, and you haven't hesitated here, either, to make hasty accusations.

I've responded to every single substantive objection here, which I think is all anybody can really reasonably ask, and I've noted any number of actual logical fallacies; but virtually every follow-on to those responses shows how unrewarding discussing a technical subject can be with folks who haven't yet done their journeyman work. If that suggests that I have some sort of superior attitude, I'm sorry, but it's not the case.

As if the foregoing wasn't enough, there's a lot of "nanner-nanner-boo-boo" and "let's all hate on Ken" going on here, too. (Which, together with insults and snide remarks, I find tends to happen most often when people don't have much success in stating their case.)

Setting all of that foolishness aside, I suggest (yet again) that if this subject holds some interest, that all concerned go out and do some reading -- as in the reading of books, not as in the hasty gulping of internet snippets. I've already said that I'd be happy to suggest a couple of books for the next book discussion group.

Sadly, there were no takers the last time I made this suggestion. (iDave said he'd be interested -- but then didn't enquire which books those might be, and instead went back to cutting and pasting internet snippets.)

In any case, Michaela, welcome, once again, to the fray. (And do keep in mind, as I try to, not always with success, that it's only human to get in a huff once in a while, and say things one wouldn't necessarily say face to face, or in a more reflective moment.)

Best,
Ken



A former member
Post #: 1,023
Jeanette: Oh, my! Am I the only one seeing a naughty (simple, I dunno about reducible) image in that picture?

You have a healthy Rorschach, Jeanette. I thought snow job was questionable too but, hey, let's clean things up before someone calls Human Resources. wink

Michaela: Thanks for the welcome, iDave. I continue to be impressed by your ability to quickly produce examples of different phenomena and to use links to further the discussion and illuminate the point.

Thank you. It is fun, you can bolster an argument, increase reading interest, and provide additional resources for anyone inclined to dig deeper. When I see a post I like, I click "Quote in reply" to include the markup text of their message in my response. Then I can see how they did it and press Back on the browser to cancel my reply.

You might also copy/paste this markup text into a text editor if it is more than a one-liner. Then you can relax and dot the i's before pasting it back into your actual reply.

Ken Roberts: Sadly, there were no takers [for my favorite books] last time I made this suggestion. (iDave said he'd be interested -- but then didn't enquire which books those might be, and instead went back to cutting and pasting internet snippets.)

Ken, dude, I think we need to work on your image. Maybe like Oprah Winfrey has those image-makeover shows. I'm thinking 50's beatnik or Nascar Race Driver. I think if we lose the snooty, your ideas will fare better. As long as we don't debate them.

Sorry, I got carried away in that last sentence.

Also, we need to drop the bit about how there's "just nothing out there on the internet these days." I mean, come on, it's 2010 now, and even Blanchards is out there if you wanted to quote a particular passage that you like. Can you even show us a quote from one living scientist who believes that chemistry is irreducible? No? Then we need to work on your story.

Regards,
iDave.
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