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Cosmology, Quantum Mechanics & Consciousness Message Board › The methodology of physics and the (other) natural sciences

The methodology of physics and the (other) natural sciences

lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 165

(From Will):

As I previously noted, philosophers generally agree that there are three elements to most scientific theories, there are the facts, the maths and the philosophy. What does the universe do, can we recognize and describe any patterns, what does it mean? Thales, Pythagoras and Parmenides.
Isaac Newton set a precedent by dispensing with the philosophy, he realized that it doesn’t make any difference. The important bit about his law of universal gravitation is that the maths works rather well, but as he says in the Principia:

‘I have not been able to discover the cause of those properties of gravity from phenomena, and I frame no hypotheses; for whatever is not deduced from the phenomena is to be called an hypothesis; and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy.’

In other words, ‘I don’t know what gravity is and I don’t care’. To me this is the source and essence of instrumentalism and positivism. I think Newton would approve of the Copenhagen interpretation of QM, known to philosophers, and doubtless others, as ‘shut up and calculate’.

Probably not, Will. His “hypotheses non fingo” was (IMV!) missing the point. Newton evidently believed that in order for causation – in this case the exertion of a force by an invisible “connection” – to operate, there needed to be some sort of clockworkish, string-n’-sealing wax mechanism, and if none were apparent no matter how conscientiously we search, then the situation remains “a mystery”. In contrast, no matter how strenuous the search, positivists advocate that we simply look instead for mathematically consistent correlation between different behavioral measurables belonging to the system.

Newton missed the point because the later positivists were both more parsimonious and absolutely empirical:

What you see is what you get. The correlation between the variables is what’s happening. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we have no warrant to assume anything else. The putative explanation of such correlation is a theory – such as Newton’s own mathematical formulation of the inverse square law – but it is to be considered in itself as an “abstract machine”.

Just to clear up impending misunderstandings which I can see loom inevitably:

There is no conceptual incoherence in juxtaposing words such as “physical” and “abstract” in mutual support. There is no reason why physical systems must always be concrete, as if feeling obliged to conform to the expectations of some late-Pleistocene savannah-wanderer. Admittedly, abstraction is something that we do, but there is no further obligation to suppose that causation must always be carried via the vehicle of surface contact, is there? At best, this is mere Palaeozoic superstition.

“Science” consists both of (effectively unrevisable) empirical facts – such as the distance from the Earth and rate of recession of the Moon – as well as the over-arching theories which “claim responsibility” for those facts being true empirical statements.

Any successor theory to GR will have to spring off from the solidly verified empirical scaffolding of GR itself, just as that theory had to stand on the shoulders of Newtonian gravity.

The solidly verified empirical scaffolding of GR is the fact that Einstein’s Field Equations agree with the observed phenomena better than Newton’s Law.

Indeed: just as Uncle Karl would have approved!

The (effectively unrevisable) empirical facts are the same whether there is an over-arching theory or not, and irrespective of what that theory is.

I disagree: the kinds of observational facts that we seek – given that there is a literal infinity of true observation-statements that we could make – are dictated in advance by the theory. Pertinent facts come to light only because of the theory. It is the systematic pursuit of Kuhn’s so-called normal science (research programmes) which inadvertently (but oh so fortuitously) turns up counter-examples which provide fodder for the accession of the successor paradigm. The first cloud on the horizon for Newtonian gravitation was the failure to detect any planets sunward of Mercury which would have provided an acceptably “conventional” explanation for the perihelion advance of Mercury itself, first observed as the result of routinely repetitive astronomical work in 1859.

The maths is indifferent to ones beliefs, it makes no difference whether you think gravity works because there is some stuff called spacetime that is warped by matter, or that God sends angels to pull everything together.

The latter would of course be unacceptably lacking in considerations of parsimony. Other matters aside, it is simply aesthetically repugnant.

I believe that the most plausible explanation for the experiences of ‘me’ in a ‘world’ is that both I and the world exist pretty much as those experiences suggest, but I can’t prove it. That’s what I mean by being a metaphysician.

Years ago, I used to vilify former Professor of Logic & Metaphysics Ted Honderich of UCL. His stridently repeated dictum during the '90s -- which became a mocking cliche on the lips of many -- was:

"For me to be conscious is for there to be a world .. for me."

.. And l used to shake my head repeatedly, thinking: "Why on Earth can't a philosopher be bothered to make the effort to make himself clear?"

Years later l now appreciate that he was in essence (l think!) making an epistemological statement. You and l Will have both accepted that the bottom line in certain knowledge at least as far as the aspirations of positivism extend is sensation. However, conceivably even that claim is over-ambitious. Presumably, very young children -- and young mammals and birds at least also -- find themselves in the world. They don't know anything about "sensation". That's a scientific abstraction. (lronically, for present discursive purposes!) l now think that the bottom-up nesting of successively more specialised, ambitious hypotheses based on the self/nonself model -- so-called by Nobel prizewinner Gerald Edelman but coincidentally l thought of the same name for the same concept sometime during the '80s -- can only begin to be built within each of us after as it were "being hit by the reality of the world". (Uninterpreted, that is. Interpretation is the job both of common sense hypotheses and of science itself.)

lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 166

(From Will. l'm back to expressing myself in bright orangered, as that "firebrick" shade is almost unreadable. Matches my prose in general l guess):

Wotcher Andrew
In another thread, addressing my good buddy Ian, you say:

‘Modern science is about discovering features in the world (facts)in the form of hidden patterns, often indeed symmetrical patterns(maths), that explain observed phenomena and can be rationalised in some way(you call it logic, I call it philosophy)’.

My parentheses. If I am taking this out of context or misinterpreting it, then I am very sorry, but I don’t think our positions are all that different. I think a lot of our differences would be resolved if we spoke the same language. If you isolate any group of individuals they will start communicating in terms that are incomprehensible to outsiders; they will develop another language. It has happened in most fields of study, I sometimes joke that undergraduates spend their first term learning to speak like whatever it is they are training to be. It almost happened in another thread.

To my mind philosophy and science are just curiosity, when done well they reduce to two simple questions: What can you see? What do you make of it? The degree to which you answer the second question in mathematics or logic depends on the branch of science or philosophy you are talking about, but also on the sort of person you are.

I completely agree.

With that in mind, the answer I would give to your rhetorical question is that we have always been in a situation where science is unprovable, it’s the curse of induction that Ian has spoken about.

But then (of course!) I cannot even prove my own existence, so that true observation about science should come as absolutely no surprise!

Too often not only post-modernists – whose agenda is in any case clearly to undermine the Enlightenment programme – but also social constructivists since the late ‘60s have (for entirely unanalysed reasons!) sought to place the sciences on some ostensibly completely different footing from the rest of our empirically derived knowledge – including all the tacit, background theories which we harbour simply in order to conduct our everyday, unscientifically considered lives!

(l am not of course suggesting that these everyday theories about everyday-experienced reality of people, places, objects and situations evince the degree of critically reflective self-awareness which characterises scientific and, indeed, philosophical activity, but this consideration is irrelevant to the viewpoint which l am developing.)

No knowledge whose ultimate source is sensation can ever be “proven” with logical certainty! The mistake made by those who allow themselves to acknowledge this “awful” truth is to think that it really matters. It doesn’t. If one reconsiders the distinction first perhaps drawn by Hobbes (but named by Kant) between synthetic and analytic propositions, this fact should scarcely come as any sort of surprise.

(Now perhaps you can see Will what l am getting at in asserting that, essentially, scientific method extends “all the way down" even to before our very first infantile memories. We are fundamentally modeling systems, as is any conscious animal, and as will be the artificially engineered conscious systems which we will begin to produce within the next few decades.)

ln fact -- and only a slightly tangential comment in this context -- l firmly believe that were the positivists' Verification Principle not true (l believe that it is, but only as an empirically true accident, rather than the article of logic which the logical positivists clearly wished it to be) -- then the acquisition of language by each of us would have been a complete impossibility.

Karl Popper is one of the few 20th century philosophers that scientists pay much heed to. His contribution was to say that instead of trying to prove things right, scientists should try to prove them wrong.

In practice what it means is that in physics at least, there is some ‘science’ you can do, some experiment that will result in something physical happening, lights flashing, horns beeping, etc, etc. This has the merit of eliminating fruitless arguments about why, despite being a libra you didn’t meet a tall dark stranger, or whether you really want to sleep with your mother, astrology and psychoanalysis being the usual whipping boys of philosophers of science. It’s also why talk about gods is unscientific, it don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that ping.

(l’ll ignore such flippancy as long as it’s in a spirit of fun.)
lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 167

(From Will):

Wotcher Ian.

Can I run this by you to check whether I understand you?

‘We are not in epistemology "allowed" to avail ourseves of "everyday knowledge", to be imported into the premissory structure of any putative attempt to "solve" any particular fundamnetal epistemological issue, such as "self" and "world", because to do that is to beg the question.’

I take this to mean that you can’t use "everyday knowledge" in the premises of arguments about things like self and world, because it is a series of assumptions.

Yes. Precisely. One can’t use assumptions in order to justify conclusions in any sense remotely resembling logical certainty. At best – as within a Court of Law – one can only adduce supporting evidence (and trust that one’s opposition has been less successful than oneself in pursuing their own opposed goals).

If by everyday knowledge you mean things like ‘I am a person’, ‘I live on the world’, then I think you are right.

Good. Same hymn sheet, etc., apparently. (So far!)

“It is my view that "scientific method" extends within each of us right the way down to our primitive -- indeed our pre-linguistic -- experience.”

Because even these most basic beliefs are hypotheses?

Yes. They’re clearly unprovable. How could matters conceivably be otherwise?

“As 1930s molecular biologist J.B.S. Haldane famously said: "Science is self-conscious common sense". Our understanding of reality and our position within it is a continuum. It consists of tiers of models standing upon lower tiers of more primitive models each embodying successively more parsimonious assumptions,”

Are the higher tiers the more parsimonious?

They’re more precise, because they’ve already “gone down one particular road rather than another”, and because the explicitly philosophical and physical science modeling processes are reflectively aware of the assumptions which they either build in or reject, then efforts to prevent conflict within the postulatory structure, and to use as few postulates as one can get away with (after the manner of mathematics) are obviously successfully, whereas “below” this level, the process is entirely either animal or social, and therefore completely haphazard.


“ terminating”

At the top or the bottom?

Well it can never terminate in the “upward” or “future” direction because there’s always another tomorrow! (Unless as Andrew has observed our research technology ultimately fails the task due to the structural and other performance-related features of, ultimately, solid matter – i.e. research equipment, no matter what it is, and even if we succeed, which l agree with Andrew is very unlikely long-term, then we’d ultimately have the Heat Death/Big Freeze to contend with, beginning in serious vein in, ooh, roughly 10^15 years or so.)


“ in an item of (presumed) knowledge without which (I claim) thinking anything whatsoever would be impossible, and this (I say) is:


I think what you said to Peter regarding (admittedly ‘hymn book’) capitalization is good advice. If your words in lower case don’t have the impact you wish, perhaps the thing to change is the words. So far, unless by indicates you mean something like suggests, this looks very like the Cogito,

.. in what way? My approach is fundamentally different. It’s more parsimonious, for a start! ..

including the leap you, and I, say ‘simply does not follow’.


It seems to mean there is stuff that thinks and stuff that doesn’t.

That appears to be the case. (Of course, l could be wrong, but in any case:

Thinking is not fundamental – we can simulate that to any desired degree of accuracy using existing Turing machines – no, it’s sensation – i.e. consciousness – which is epistemologically speaking absolutely fundamental.

Without stuff that doesn’t think, there wouldn’t be any stuff that does.

I’m not saying that. I’m simply noting that there are 2 distinct domains.

“Self” doesn’t necessarily imply “thinking”. Nor, indeed, the converse. (Just consider once more software and the chunks of chemically modified silicon which run it!)

Without stuff that thinks, there is no such thing as meaning.

I agree.

I don't mean to trivialise, I think the best philosophy starts with simple ideas, but if you have provoked something here, we might as well agree what it is.

Interesting, then!

A former member
Post #: 116
Dear Camilla:

From me


This is a Discussion Board. The legitimacy in promoting Thermodynamics is not in dispute...

The case you quote uses statistical mechanics to form the bridge. There is a serious question of whether anything involving statistics can legitimately be included in Basic Physics; or, if it is permitted, does that in effect allow Strong Emergence in via the back door. I shall return to this point in my next post


Events have overtaken me, and this is not my next post, lol.

And in the mean time I have read up about statistical mechanics and slightly changed my views about what can and what cannot legitimately be included in "Basic Physics".

At issue is the fact that emergent phenomenon usually (maybe always) arise by virtue of repeated application of some process to (often) a large number of instances of similar constituents of some system.

Statistics is a mathematical process for addressing the behaviour arising out of this large number of events.

Any attempt to incorporate into the laws of physics the statistical processes by which (according to some people) Strong Emergent Phenomena arise, clearly runs some risk of both eliminating Strong Emergence by allowing these emergent phenomena to be derived while simultaneously embedding Strong Emergence within Physics by incorporating the mechanism by which it arises.

It gets worse...

Looking in particular at statistical mechanics which is being promoted as the bridge by which Thermodynamics is derived from Basic Physics, we immediately see that statistical mechanics is itself an emergent phenomenon applying to collections of particles and having its own unique laws which are quite different from the underlying description of the constituent particles each with its own location and velocity.


And it is far from obvious how you would set about deriving the laws of statistical mechanics from the locations and velocity form, plus associated laws of motion, of the constituent particles.

In other words:

statistical mechanics itself is a candidate for a Strong Emergent phenomenon.


It is clear to me that the problem is in fact semantic. What has happened is that we have chosen convenient and intuitive definitions for Strong Emergence and Strong Reduction which (unintentionally) permit this pathological entanglement.

Part of the problem, clearly, is that nowhere is it proscribed precisely which laws of Basic Physics may be employed in the derivation of other emergent laws. Equally, we may need to find a more rigorous formulation for Strong Emergence possibly more firmly rooted in mathematics.

So maybe a return to the formal definitions of Analytic and non-Analytic systems and of predictability is needed. I hear the groan ... but right now I see no other approach that looks as if it has the power to untangle this mess.

But talk of predictability brings to mind yet another problem. If Strong Emergence is false, then (unless I am mistaken) everything is predictable and in a deterministic Universe no randomness can exist either. In such a Universe where could statistical mechanics or even statistics itself come from? Oops!

Terminological Meltdown, lol.

tbc (after doing some thinking)


Camilla M.
user 7151822
London, GB
Post #: 30
..I haven't time, I've got to go out but you need to look at this again, it's not right.

But talk of predictability brings to mind yet another problem. If Strong Emergence is false, then (unless I am mistaken) everything is predictable and in a deterministic Universe no randomness can exist either. In such a Universe where could statistical mechanics or even statistics itself come from? Oops!

See my most recent response to Andrew.
Or somewhere in the original What IS Consc thread. I listed the logic of knowledge vs ontological outcome wrt to prediction.

In a nutshell, prediction is not the same kind of attribute as the phenomena being predicted.
There can be unpredictability and unpredictability but nevertheless known phenomena once they've occurred.
There may be unknown composite phenomena, as you want to claim whilst I would deny but their behaviour would not necessarily have to be called new laws of physics either.
There may be new arrangements still leaning on existing lower laws.
The laws of physics are by convention regarding lower classical levels.
[If every combination of existing behaviour were to be called a new law we would have a combinatorial explosion.]
Camilla M.
user 7151822
London, GB
Post #: 31
Further, what you're really hitting up against is the difference between epistemology and ontology. I was struggling not to use those words just now but they're incisive.

Determinism is an ontological thesis, about causality, whether it exists for all things in motion.

Statistical mechanics is an epistemic or knowledge based enterprise.
It involves as you know very well approximating information towards averages. That information would be about those molecules in an ideal gas for instance but as a non zeroed in attempt to cover all degrees of freedom, momentum etc. as averages themselves taken from some notional sample.
The point is the loss of exactitude, uncertainty for any individual molecule.

As we go up the levels you talk about in emergence, we lose information as we move towards approximation. These 'new' consolidated averages of various forces and phenomena, such as pressure and temperature in Boyle's Law, ARE the new descriptions with information loss of the previous statistics, which we call (not new laws) but behaviours. Their difference is principly just that they are new descriptions with a little less precision from old forces & materials etc. seen from a broader perspective so to speak.

So, statistical mechanics can come from molecules' movements.
The uncertainty is Shannon Entropy and takes the place of your search for indeterminism; it is an epistemic i.e. knowledge based uncertainty or apparent bit of randomness yet (can be) contained within a deterministic in the ontolgical 'actual-furniture' sense universe.
One is a limited horizon knowledge view, our embedded view, the other is LaPlacian, the universal view where everything can be deterministic. [Technically, LaPlace was making an epistemic knowledge based point but since he was talking about all the furniture of the universe ontological determinism is covered too.] Whether those deterministic processes can be fully known is then a separate epistemic matter.
We do not need indeterminism for statistical mechanics and the rest, as they are of different kinds of attributes. I am not stating that the universe has not one instance of indeterminism - it does look so far deterministic at the classical level.

Also, please note that since indeterminism also means unpredictability in itself, causality would fall, ALL patterns that we need for islands of stability as atoms etc. in the universe would either not form or be chaotic in the conventional sense, certainly ALL would be non-analytic by the definition of indeterminate.

We need determinism to have a utilisable universe.

lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 168

(From Peter):

So maybe a return to the formal definitions of Analytic and non-Analytic systems and of predictability is needed. I hear the groan ... but right now I see no other approach that looks as if it has the power to untangle this mess.

But talk of predictability brings to mind yet another problem. If Strong Emergence is false, then (unless I am mistaken) everything is predictable and in a deterministic Universe no randomness can exist either. In such a Universe where could statistical mechanics or even statistics itself come from? Oops!

Terminological Meltdown, lol.

Without actively shouting from the sidelines, I have been a close adherent of most of the stuff that Camilla has said during the past month or so. (I’d need to go through it with a fine tooth-comb, and it is voluminous, but if I can manage to get a spare, uninterrupted 4-hour session sometime, set up 4 distinct Word Documents for Matters Arising within each thread, post each of the exchanges into the right category in chronological order and only then excise superfluous text and then comment on the interesting, substantive nub – such an enormous nub! – which remains .. well .. )

I think maybe she was mistaken in challenging Peter too closely in the sense of perhaps repeatedly attributing to him opinions which he has in fact never held, but I earlier on had the suspicion that Peter himself was being slippery in the sense of wanting to have his cake and eat it definitionally speaking, which is one of the reasons for me letting Camilla and Peter slog it out more-or-less single-handedly, but now I think that Peter may have made some genuine initial oversights in regard to establishing foundational terminology, leading to accurate perceptions of inconsistency which were in fact simply unintentional. (How many centuries did it take mathematicians to agree that Euclid’s Parallel Postulate could not be derived from any of the other axioms of geometry?) There was also the fact that – like Andrew who in his rejection of the term secondary qualities because he thinks that the sheer as-yet jungle-like complexity of the brain (even bees’ brains, thus far!) means that “as far as I’m concerned it’s all secondary” – Peter eschewed the use of already perfectly adequate, long-established academics’ terminology for his own prescription, and this move – exactly as with Andrew’s own attitude toward the term (if not, I understand, the substance) "secondary qualities" – sows unintended confusion because then Camilla and I have become obliged (separately; “no conferring”, remember? Honest, Guv!) to convert ourselves into some sort of interpreters’ bureau, at the expense of time which might have been better spent turning over substantive observations instead.

I realise that all that sounds insufferably pompous, for the causation of which superficial impression I apologise.

So, I may well recap on some of the backlog should time and inclination favour me, but for now let me respond to what Peter has just written:

MY POSITION: The universe is not strictly predictable, because QM as far as we know it is true, and not classical physics. I’m not even halfway mathematically competent to enter into the quantum gravity/superstring industry, and am in any case not interested in guessing-games. As soon as some theoretical avenue – no matter how initially bizarre-seeming and unexpected – is pursued which evinces indisputable predictive success over either/both QM and GR and over its putative rival contenders (exactly as QM and GR themselves were obliged to do during their early days) then I will begin to show some interest. I sincerely doubt that that there will be any such significant development during the lifetime of anyone reading this, BTW.

As regular readers know, I favour the Decoherence Interpretation because of its objective, observer-independent, worldly parsimonious, physical realism, and as said it seems at least to be the experimentalist community’s favourite tipple, and increasingly so, no doubt because they’re more “hands-on” than the more purely mathematical professionals.

As Andrew says, decoherence itself – an indisputably measurable effect – is not a done deal, in the sense that there are theoretical objections to its being regarded as the complete answer, but I have addressed those and l don’t think l’ve managed to avoid seeing any objections to what l have already said, so if the Decoherence Interpretation is true, then only QM is true, and at least from the viewpoint of both kinematics and dynamics, GR is only an approximation. (Penrose, for instance, disagrees with this.)

This solution would leave us with the sneaking suspicion that we are nevertheless entertaining some sort of hybrid interpretation; the “stuff” and its behaviour can be explained according to QM, but the spacetime is still continuous! Could we not go further? .. And then of course various attempts to make consistent, background-free, fully spacetime-quantised theories have been made, none of them with sufficient success to displace the current conventional preference for the twin dominion of QM and of GR considered separately.

A former member
Post #: 113
Absolutely Ian, on your last para. I do expect the future explanation of our world to be based on some background-free theory like loop quantum gravity. I could make an argument that individual photons do not actually travel along any path, they merely participate in the dual behaviours of emission at one spacetime event and absorption at another. Spacetime could well be an emergent feature - a tapestry woven by myriad quantum dual events like that.

Wow, this thread is getting complicated. I wanted to reply to Camilla.

So, Camilla, I see from your latest two messages addressed to me that you find my use of plain English, not using terms from the Stanford Enc, not clear enough and that my views and comments are maybe a little odd or perplexing or irritating. Good, so the Message Board is working well as a meeting place for people with different backgrounds and different views. Surely more fun than your other pasture?

You say in your latest to me: “In this instance, falsifying antireductionism, whichever type we are after, is not the approach.” To which I say: really? So a fundamental principle picked up and promoted by the good philosopher Popper, the foundation of rigour in the scientific method, “is not the approach” when it comes to showing that reductionism is true. I see. So in forming a position on some idea in philosophy, such as reductionism purely by way of example, you don’t think it worth trying to falsify the converse hypothesis? Yes of course: in philosophy there is no general way to falsify an idea. No equivalent to scientific falsification. So why even bother thinking about it? How refreshing to be so free from the rigours imposed upon the scientific process!

Moreover you seem to think that it’s good enough to generalise from instances to universal truth. How tight is that logic? And you say: “......there is then at least one general case standing, therefore anti-reductionists have the work to do refuting it.” More strange logic. Very strange indeed. Or shall I just say it – wrong.

I see that people argue for reductionism but also that a few argue against it. Clearly there are arguments that can be used by both sides. We have noted a few. Fair enough, all good stuff for a debate which I will not enter. But where I part company with you, or perhaps more precisely with any person who has really firmly pinned their flag to one mast, is in any refusal to countenance that the opposing view might possibly be the correct one. I submit that such thinking is unjustified and wrong. It runs the risk of being proved wrong by future discoveries. You have not proved that reductionism is right, you have merely stated that which has been known and obvious for a long time. Hence my surprise at your original posting on this, which purported to justify your thesis but manifestly failed to face any possible objection.

To me, belief in reductionism can and should be taken only so far. If that belief morphs into certainty, and if that certainty is used for screening new scientific hypotheses, then that would amount to over-reach, an unwarranted intrusion into the work of science which is to seek the truth about the world unfettered by preconceptions. The proper approach, surely, is to say that reduction to ever more basic explanatory phenomena seems to be the way of science but we cannot rule out the possibility that one day a very different and surprising view of the world might await us. (Especially when we get near the theory of everything!)

I want to say that your mention of a “trap” reveals something of your thinking but absolutely nothing of mine. I prefer the straight-dealing type of conversation and do not deal in conspiracy theories or the like. You will find that I like to be brief, usually briefer than this message, and to the point. I do not normally engage in discussion of personality or motivation of other people. I would appreciate the same from you. There are other comments with which I could engage but unlike Ian and Peter I am not inclined to chase down every point. I would rather keep the focus on this one issue on which I have challenged you, especially as this forum is getting really busy with five active contributors now!

Camilla M.
user 7151822
London, GB
Post #: 32
The thing is Andrew you misunderstand me.
You have misunderstood 95% of what I've said, though gawd knows how.

I write something in hope, pretty much as concisely as I can with a leettle expansion to make sure it's in plain English now.... and back comes something like gibberish. The latest being that I'm a conspiracy theorist (as if!) for mention of the word "trap" as shorthand for repeating your own fallacy about my motives. I can't remember what had been suggested I'd been up to analytically, in that last message since I read wild swinging beween so many poles of broad accusations. But I expect my sentence with the dread word "trap" was reflecting that you were about to fall into the same, well, I want to say .... but now daren't say "trap", so choose the word, of your own making. Hoist by your own petard, whatever expression is preferable. It's not an insult, it's a rational point. Does that explain its use on that occasion?

I wouldn't get het up about these common debating expressions like "trap", "vacuous", "either, or and it had better be..", they are not personal, I'm not interested in motives per sé, I am interested in people's arguments, where they are heading. In this context those words have specific meanings mostly understood as objectively applied. Can I be plainer? I'm not pursuing your psychology.

Now, hearing from Ian that he has been talking about Popper I realise you are sold on Critical Realism as it's called. But the tradition of empirical inductivism is at least as important, why weren't those issues of inference and the problem of induction addressed from my message? Logic and truth are still being demanded as if they're some kind of badge of scientific credentials, yet as I explained, I thought, they don't take precedence in the scientific method, strictly speaking do not exist in the same form in that discourse. Nomic vs nomological frameworks. I did briefly remind you to compare necessity with sufficiency so that contingency plays its role to some degree.

So instead of trying to insist that we must falsify every notion another person suggests and treating anything left standing as automatically correct, in which case how to choose between them(?) how about allowing the rest of us to call on the reasonable project of reliabilism, as it is part of the scientific method? The hypothesis has to get into the equation somehow before the testing to destruction commences.
[If not, how would suggested anti-reductionist theories get off the ground either?]

Here's one view:

Scientific method
1 Characterization from experience and observation
2 Hypothesis: a proposed explanation
3 Deduction: prediction from the hypothesis
4 Test and experiment

I suggested not merely on my own account but on the above that explanatory reductionism had survived otiose rival theories to date, citing thermodynamics as a general example widely used in practice, hence continually being put to the test if you like. On these inductive grounds logical entailment isn't the question, balance of probabilities with reasoning is. Honest gov.
Aren't we going to hear a probabilistic account spoken of in the other thread?

No mention has been made that I had said that I did not subscribe to metaphysical reductionism on the basis that at least chemistry and biology obviously require ontologically structural composite explanations at their level.

Frankly, to repudiate explanatory reductionism, or if keen to aid Peter in doing so, it would be more productive putting effort into showing how non reductive explanations would precisely fit some phenomena in better ways. Since it has not been accepted in the scientific community that there is even one instance of a non reductive classical explanation of phenomena,* I haven't a target that I could falsify.

I take it that from my last message on this thread we are straight about the difference between unpredictability, non analytic systems and whether their chain of real-world system events need be totally novel phenomena? The second claim does not follow from the former.

There might be unworldly unexpected phenomena but not automatically from the fact of their system being unpredictable.

And that I think was the central point both of you felt pushed on explanatory reductionism.

*superconductance as before = open question.

A former member
Post #: 117
Dear Camilla,

explanatory reductionism ? has no entry for this under either "explanatory" or "reductionism" but Google turned up one reference at the University of David:

Explanatory Reductionism: the idea that all genuine explanations must be couched in the terms of physics, and that other explanations, while pragmatically useful, can or should be discarded as knowledge develops.

Is this what you meant, and in your view does this include Strong Reduction?

The thing is Andrew


I suggested not merely on my own account but on the above that explanatory reductionism had survived otiose rival theories to date, citing thermodynamics as a general example widely used in practice, hence continually being put to the test if you like.


Frankly, to repudiate explanatory reductionism, or if keen to aid Peter in doing so, it would be more productive


I see nothing in the definition supplied to indicate that explanatory reductionism includes or implies Strong Reduction, nor does anything you have written imply or suggest this either.

Given this (i.e the above definition and observations):

1. Whether or not Explanatory Reductionism is is "true" is a purely semantic question. If you are happy to regard scientific laws in (say) biology, medicine or sociology as part of Physics once they become sufficiently well defined and robust, then the answer is "yes"; but if you think that this, while logically valid, is not helpful, then the answer is "no". Either way, nothing substantive about Science or about the Universe has be said.

2. With the sole exception of Strong Reduction, Reduction is general is not a theory, but a totally innocuous description of a common, useful, intellectual process. I have not, and I do not think Andrew has (though I cannot be certain) ever sought to attack or refute it. Indeed, it is a description; there is nothing there to attack or refute.

3. Andrew's post seems to me to be talking about Strong Reduction when he uses the term "reduction". This is not surprising, since that is also how you seem to use it.

I created the defined term Strong Reduction quite recently in order to properly target the key Assertion embedded in your use of the term "reduction" which both makes it a meaningful theory (i.e it says something significant about the way the Universe works) and makes it contentious. Put simply, because Strong Reduction actually says something, it is capable of being right or wrong. Because it specifically asserts that something cannot happen, and something moreover that many people believe can and does happen, it is contentious.

4. You imply I am trying to repudiate explanatory reductionism. This is untrue, and you know it is untrue. Why do you persist in making such statements? I have made it abundantly clear that my only objection lies with the above mentioned key Assertion, namely:
"Strong Emergent Phenomena cannot exist"
and by your responses in earlier posts you have made it clear that you understand this.

5. Because of the Absolute and Negative nature of this assertion it is indeed subject to disproof by a single instance of a proven Strong Emergent Phenomena. Such a disproof would not, of course, have any impact in reductionism in general.

6. You appear to me to be attempting to defend Strong Reduction by claiming that such a disproof would in some way undermine reductionism in general (which is clearly not the case); you seem reluctant to concede that there is anything to discuss and that Strong Reduction might prove to be wrong; and you seek to promote the many successful instances of reductionist explanations as evidence that nothing else can ever exist. These are the arguments that, to my reading, Andrew's post targets: and if that is indeed what you are seeking to say, his comments are 100% valid. Otherwise we have yet another misunderstanding occasioned by poor attention to terminology.

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