Friday, 26 June 2015

Notes (2)

(5) Epistemology & Psychology

Quine argued that traditional epistemologists ruled out psychology as the starting point for epistemology because psychology is a part of science and it is science that epistemologists attempt to justify. Thus it was circular reasoning.

This is how Quine actually puts it:

If the epistemologists goal is validation of the grounds of empirical science, he defeats his purpose by using psychology or other empirical science in the validation.” (304)

Yet, in a sense, the aprioristic epistemologist is also using psychology. Sure, he isn't using the science of psychology or its findings. Yet he is using psychology in that he's using his own mind (or the collective mind of all epistemologists). Thus the aprioristic epistemologist can rely more on psychology than the naturalist epistemologist.

Of course there's a distinction to be made here between the science of psychology and the lone epistemologist's analyses of his own mind. Yet it's still his own mind. And psychologists study minds and behaviour. Not only that: they don't rely on their own minds or their own behaviours. They study such things scientifically.

Thus, if I'm right, the aprioristic epistemologist is also “validating the grounds of empirical science” with psychology anyway.

(6) Roger Penrose & Intuitive Truth

It's clear that Roger Penrose is utterly committed to the use or existence of intuition – Platonic intuition. The way John Horgan puts his position is by saying that “[g]enuine truths exude a beauty, a rightness, a self-evident quality that gives them the power of revelation” (2). His commitment to intuitive truth - and the necessary connection between truth and beauty - is so strong that he thinks that superstring theories is false because it “did not possess these traits”.

Many things can be asked here.

One, why is there a necessary - or any - relation between truth and beauty? What is meant by beauty and to whom are these truths beautiful? To whom are these truths “self-evident” and how much must a mathematician or physicist know before they become self-evident to them?

Clearly they can't be self-evident to those who know no maths. They may not even be self-evident to those who know a lot of maths. So if they're only self-evident to experts in certain areas of higher-mathematics, then in what sense can they be said to be self-evident at all? That's like saying that once I've spent years learning about chess, then the good moves became self-evident to me.

Alternatively, perhaps the truths of superstring theory are ugly. Or is Penrose talking about the whole superstring show – the entire theory?

(7) E.O Wilson: Super-Reductionist?

If anything, E.O Wilson was once more of an intellectual imperialist or explanatory monopolist than a scientific reductionist.

In the early days of Sociobiology: The News Synthesis (1975) Wilson believed that “sociobiology would eventually subsume not only sociology, but also psychology, anthropology, and all the 'soft' social sciences” (145). He also believed that the same could be applied to philosophy, politics and ethics/moral philosophy! According to John Horgan, Wilson even wrote “about how finding from sociobiology would help resolve political and moral issues” (147). I've also read him being very dismissive of philosophy – specifically analytic philosophy.

However, when Wilson gives an example of all this (at least when it comes to religion), it all sounds fairly reasonable... to me at least.

For example, Horgan goes on to say that Wilson

intended to argue that religious tenets can and should be 'empirically tested' ad rejected if they are incompatible with scientific truths”.

He got even more specific than that. He suggested that

the Catholic church might examine whether its prohibition against abortion – a dogma that contributes to overpopulation – conflicts with the larger moral goal of preserving all the earth's biodiversity” (147).

Having said all that, there's nothing particularly sociobiological about what has just been said. Scientific, yes; though not sociobiological or even biological. Indeed such arguments have been advanced by philosophers whom Wilson probably wouldn't have much time for. And he wouldn't have much time for such philosophers (such as Peter Singer) because their arguments would no doubt contain few – if any – references to science, let alone to sociobiology. Still, the argument hold or fall regardless of their references to science.

(8) Physics is Maths

Physics is utterly dependent on mathematics. So much so that John Horgan puts it this way:

Numerical models work better in some cases than in others. They work particularly well in astronomy and particle physics, because the relevant objects and forces conform to their mathematical definitions so precisely.”

Horgan goes further than that. He says that many of the 'entities' of physics are actually mathematical entities or forces. He writes:

... mathematics helps physicists definite what is otherwise undefinable. A quark is a purely mathematical construct. It has no meaning apart from its mathematical definition. The properties of quarks – charm, colour, strangeness – are mathematical properties that have no analogue in the macroscopic world we inhabit.” (203)

This isn't to say that quarks are nothing other than maths or the numbers which express their nature (otherwise why the words “their nature”?). It's to say that we couldn't say much – or anything – about quarks without the requisite mathematics.

Though surely we can follow on from that and become quark reductionists (as it were): we can question if there really is something beyond the mathematical formulations which express the nature of quarks. In other words, what's left after we take the maths away? Nothing or just a little something “we know not what”? What can be said without the maths? And what is said without it, is it misleading and purely analogical? Indeed would we be better off without the analogies, metaphors and picture painting?

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