PvM posted Entry 1116 on June 5, 2005 08:09 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/1114

People have been wondering why critics of ID consider Intelligent Design to be scientifically vacuous.

Nichols wrote:

Proponents of Intelligent Design theory seek to ground a scientific research program that appeals to teleology within the context of biological explanation. As such, Intelligent Design theory must contain principles to guide researchers. I argue for a disjunction: either Dembskiís ID theory lacks content, or it succumbs to the methodological problems associated with creation science-problems that Dembski explicitly attempts to avoid. The only concept of a designer permitted by Dembskiís Explanatory Filter is too weak to give the sorts of explanations which we are entitled to expect from those sciences, such as archeology, that use effect-to-cause reasoning. The new spin put upon ID theory-that it is best construed as a Ďmetascientific hypothesisí-fails for roughly the same reason.

  R. Nichols, Scientific content, testability, and the vacuity of Intelligent Design theory The American Catholic philosophical quarterly , 2003 , vol. 77 , no 4 , pp. 591 - 611

One need not look far to find supporting evidence as to why.

As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.

William A. Dembski Organisms using GAs vs. Organisms being built by GAs thread at ISCID 18. September 2002

On the one hand ID proponents complain that sufficiently detailed pathways are lacking when it comes to Darwinian theory but when pressed for similar details for their explanations, ID proponents suddenly seem to be very reluctant, in fact not just reluctant but unable to support their claims.

Since Intelligent Design is typically inferred based on an argument from ignorance, it is unable to provide any positive evidence or even explanation of its own beyond ‘poof’.

The scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design has become ‘the albatros around ID’s neck’. Not surprisingly, ID through the Center for the renewal of science and culture, argues that ID papers have been published. On closer scrutiny, it quickly becomes self evident that the papers, other than professing ignorance, have little to contribute to either science and intelligent design. Wells has published a paper in which he argues that because of his assumption of ‘design’ he was able to make predictions. The conflation of the usefulness of ID to formulate hypothesis (in fact the same hypotheses could have easily been formulated from a non design perspective) are conflated with the issue of Intelligent Design.

Desperate? Well, given the position in which ID has to defend itself in court, such inflation of achievements is not surprising. What it does show is how vacuous intelligent design really is when it comes to science.

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Comment #33818

Posted by Dave Cerutti on June 5, 2005 9:41 PM (e)

It’s not just from PT bloggers that I’ve heard of Dembski’s astounding arrogance. But this example is the best so far (even counting the time he based an argument about the Cambrian explosion on a directly misquote and then proceeded with his intended arguments after someone had pointed out the blunder they were based on).

But it must have just been monumental to see him talk like this! To paraphrase, “You’re a stupid wimp and you have a tiny dick. What’s that, you say? No, I don’t have to whip it out, or provide references–I have enough self esteem that I don’t need to compare my dick against anyone else’s!”

Comment #33820

Posted by Joseph O'Donnell on June 5, 2005 10:03 PM (e)

How is it that people manage to keep this idea these people are remotely scientific, when they continually make ridiculous assertions such as the quoted one in the post above? If they demand such high amounts of proof for ‘darwinian’ explanations but are unable to hold themselves to such standards, it says an incredible amount about their ‘scientific’ integrity and especially about their motivations (IE they have nothing to do with legitimate science).

Comment #33821

Posted by Dave Cerutti on June 5, 2005 10:07 PM (e)

No matter how much they all say, it IS the size of your research program that counts.

Comment #33832

Posted by SEF on June 6, 2005 2:45 AM (e)

Dembski wrote:

If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures …

… then ID is playing at Archaeology today, and archaeologists do have to say ‘when’ and ‘who’ and have a pretty good stab at ‘why’. Of course ID doesn’t even get as far as saying ‘which’ the artifacts are let alone ‘what’ the function/purpose was beyond the obvious “it’s a pump” or “unknown religious/ceremonial purposes” - the usual fall back for “not a clue”. :-D

Comment #33835

Posted by PaulP on June 6, 2005 5:46 AM (e)

when pressed for similar details for their explanations, ID proponents suddenly seem to be very reluctant, in fact not just reluctant but unable to support their claims.

Since Intelligent Design is typically inferred based on an argument from ignorance, it is unable to provide any positive evidence or even explanation of its own beyond ‘poof’.

Since ID is based on an argument from ignorance, the more ignorance the better from them, surely?

Comment #33838

Posted by SEF on June 6, 2005 6:11 AM (e)

“We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.” :-D

They’ve already done the other bit of demanding what their names are.

Comment #33847

Posted by Vroomfondel the ID Creationist on June 6, 2005 8:35 AM (e)

Nelson’s law assures us that you can’t have made all this progress! We absolutely demand that you replace thousands of books and journals and databases with the word “poof”!

Comment #33851

Posted by Les Lane on June 6, 2005 8:45 AM (e)

… it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories.

In the natural world, understanding is in the detail. I presume they argue that it’s not important for ID to lead to scientific understanding.

Comment #33853

Posted by Flint on June 6, 2005 9:07 AM (e)

I presume they argue that it’s not important for ID to lead to scientific understanding.

I’d have to agree. ID is a tactic in a larger sociological and political game. Whether this game leads to universal “correct faith” and therefore Peace On Earth, or whether it leads to a rigid theocracy with themselves calling the shots, probably depends on which ID proponent we’re talking about. Understanding isn’t the enemy, wrong (i.e. anti-doctrinal) understanding is the enemy. Descending into “pathetic detail” is partly an effort to deflect the observation that ID is scientifically hollow, and partly an effort not to lose focus on what matters, which is God’s Will (our version).

Comment #33857

Posted by Michael Roberts on June 6, 2005 9:23 AM (e)

Am I right then? God lies in the details but the Intelligent Designer does not.That makes both scientific and theological sense to me!

Comment #33862

Posted by Glen Davidson on June 6, 2005 10:06 AM (e)

“Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory,

If for argument’s sake we call ID a theory, of course it’s a mechanistic theory. Design of machines is mechanistic in the usual sense. To be sure, Dembski may have just found another way of saying that ID isn’t a theory at all.

and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories.

Actually, very much of the present explanation of evolution is not mechanistic in the sense that any “designer” would necessarily be during the design stage. Evolutionary explanations are more systems-oriented than that, plus real scientists recognize that the various “machines” that these highly reductionistic ID©ists claim “to be literal machines” (true in the broad sense, however Behe means to imply the narrow sense in his statements) do not act very mechanically in a number of their operations. The detail is there, as it is in all of honest science, but it’s not especially mechanistic, with the function being the main mechanistic aspect.

It pays for these yahoos to claim that we’re being “mechanistic” because they want there to be a designer of these tiny machines. Once pushed, though, Dembski goes into full reverse and once again remembers that he’s talking about God and miracles, not about science, and whines and cavils that we’re trying to treat his squalid production as science. He’s appalling.

If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots.

No, with design produced by an intelligence, one really ought to be able to understand the design quite well. He just can’t connect the dots, and it’s poof all over again.

True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.

How do you know this if you’re not connecting the dots to discover the discontinuities? Oh, right, it’s poof science, you just look, see a blank, and invoke your nothing-deity (I’m not saying all theist’s deities are nothing, but Dembski’s sure is) to explain the non-results.

Of course the most important aspect to this all is that Dembski isn’t going to be bothered with coming up with a science that can be applied. In the practical sense, this is why we want details, because we can use them both for explanation and for experimentation, further science, and yes, so that we can design.

The IDists occasionally make the blank statements that ID will further science, but they actually argue much more that “darwinism” doesn’t really do anything for science. As ignorant as that is, the point is that they’re not tackling any problems in science at all, rather they want to exchange one theory that they know provides no benefits for explanation and human welfare, for one that they claim has no basis in fact.

What’s the problem with “darwinism”? Obviously nothing at all if it isn’t useful, as they claim. At worst, it would then be an extraneous belief held by biologists that doesn’t get in the way. So Dembski’s unhappy with anyone who would ask for a reason to replace darwinism. They’re not interested in actually promoting knowledge, fixing any problems, or doing any human good–they’ve got their gaps, don’t bother them about details because details are only going to promote science and critical thinking.

What possible scientific reason could ID have to exist if Dembski’s paragraph is right? I think it explains Wells’ paper in Rivista well enough, but otherwise only bolsters the anti-science credentials that we all recognized Dembski to have.

Comment #33867

Posted by Glen Davidson on June 6, 2005 10:22 AM (e)

Perhaps I should explicitly state one more thing that has been alluded to by a number of posts: empirical science begins by considering details, and more crucially, all theories are tested on the details almost to the exclusion of anything else.

IDists must belittle this crucial aspect of science in order to claim to be above testing and observation. One simply has to wait around to watch ID “scientists” shooting themselves in the head scientifically.

Comment #33884

Posted by Ed Darrell on June 6, 2005 11:36 AM (e)

One sign that something is not real science is an over-reliance on jargon and cryptic acronyms. Please, if you’re going to use acronyms, have some mercy on others, use the Associated Press style and write out the words first, with the acronym in parentheses.

For example:

William A. Dembski Organisms using GAs vs. Organisms being built by GAs thread at ISCID 18. September 2002

should probably be “William A. Dembski, Organisms using [Graduate Advisors] (GAs) vs. Organisms beign built by GAs …”

Now, why and how do oranisms use graduate advisors? ;-)

Comment #33890

Posted by steve on June 6, 2005 12:00 PM (e)

some dingbat said:

it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories.

Let’s be absurdly charitable and pretend for a moment ID is a legitimate theory. If you have two competing theories, and one explains data to a better level of detail, which one do you discard?

Like Linus Torvalds said about SCO’s multiply-flawed argument, “Even if they’re right, they’re wrong.”

Besides, if our level of detail is ‘pathetic’, and they admit theirs is less,…

Comment #33891

Posted by luminous beauty on June 6, 2005 12:01 PM (e)

With the foreknowledge that my comments will likely draw the ire and wrath of those here with whom I am essentially in agreement, I nonetheless have to make the following observation:

The ghost of Jacques Derrida seems to hover over this argument like a noxious cloud. On the one hand the IDists adopt his methodology without understanding its honest utility, and on the other, the scientific community seems to cling to the notion of an external objective reality that somehow (metaphysical dualism?) exists independently of our cognition. Deconstruction of both views reveals the former as a ideologically closed system intent on rationalizing its a priori assumptions; and the latter, though admirably assuming established knowledge is amendable with new information, deifies analysis of reproducible phenomena as the only valid kind of knowledge.

This criticism is in no way intended to question the virtue of scientists, but a modest attempt to point out a blind spot that leaves them vulnerable to contrarian propaganda. Propaganda that is effective given the primal, purely subjective and emotional desire of the ordinary human being for ontological certitude.

Does anyone understand what I’m trying to say?

Comment #33896

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on June 6, 2005 12:13 PM (e)

Hi, luminous beauty.

I think I do understand the point you’re trying to make, but I see at least one problem with your description: the deliberate use of a loaded word (“deifies”) in place of a more neutral one (“acknowledges”).

Also, your point seems to rely on the meaning of “valid” knowledge. Is it “valid” = “verifiable”? Is it “valid” = “useful”? Is it “valid” = “true”?

I see knowledge as something that must be communicable and verifiable; what cannot be communicated and verified may be true, but isn’t knowledge.

Comment #33898

Posted by Glen Davidson on June 6, 2005 12:22 PM (e)

the scientific community seems to cling to the notion of an external objective reality that somehow (metaphysical dualism?) exists independently of our cognition.

Naive realism may be the working model of many scientists, but it’s hardly the belief held by a number of scientists, especially physicists. Read some physics if you think that physicists in general believe that there is necessarily “an external objective reality” existing “independently of our cognition”.

Deconstruction of a non-existent ruling model of science is about as noxious as I’d expect of a Derridean cloud. It’s as unnecessary as Derrida himself is and was.

This criticism is in no way intended to question the virtue of scientists, but a modest attempt to point out a blind spot that leaves them vulnerable to contrarian propaganda.

It isn’t modest, and it isn’t a blindspot among the more philosophically astute scientists (the ones that need to be, like some physics theorists).

Does anyone understand what I’m trying to say?

Yes, you’re trying to say that science rests on concepts upon which it does not, at least not when one gets to where philosophy matters. We only have to agree among ourselves about shared observations (even if “ourselves” are only figments in my mind, to go the extreme route)in order to do science. We don’t have to bother with “objective reality” or some other claim for which one cannot even show a meaning to exist for that sequence of words.

Anyhow, I fail to see what this has to do with ID or Dembski in the least. Dembski’s claiming to operate under the same conventions as science, except of course when he’s asked to actually conform to scientific standards. He’s not sophisticated enough to bring up deconstructionist objections, and if he were, I’d deny their soundness as much as I do in the philosophical realm.

Comment #33901

Posted by Andrea Bottaro on June 6, 2005 12:41 PM (e)

We only have to agree among ourselves about shared observations (even if “ourselves” are only figments in my mind, to go the extreme route)in order to do science. We don’t have to bother with “objective reality” or some other claim for which one cannot even show a meaning to exist for that sequence of words.

Uhm… without going to deep into epistemology, it seems to me that if there were no objective reality, correlated in a reproducible way to (though not necessarily identical or even very similar to) our perception of it, science would be meaningless.

Thus, all science does start with a few metaphysical assumptions: that “reality” exists, that our senses and rational faculties give us a limited, but reproducible and practically useful (applicable, predictive) perception of it, and that we all by and large share the same perceptions for the same corresponding external reality.

If we were all brains-in-a-vat, stimulated by some mad scientist’s electrodes, we could still go through the motions of doing science, but it would be a very sad enterprise indeed. Something that probably no one would engage in, if they were aware of their brain-in-a-vat condition.

Comment #33902

Posted by Glen Davidson on June 6, 2005 12:43 PM (e)

I see knowledge as something that must be communicable and verifiable; what cannot be communicated and verified may be true, but isn’t knowledge.

This would run into the problem that I see in Derrida’s system–it suggests that only words count as knowledge, or as he’d say, the signifier is always already in the place of the signified.

That is to say, are only words and symbols knowledge? Then how do they have any relation to something beyond the context of words and symbols?

But of course we may have knowledge that we might not be able to communicate, as anyone at a loss for words to relate an experience or a thought knows. We can’t prove it in a Derridean analysis, naturally, but we do know that we have knowledge outside of words and symbols.

In any event, though, science has never claimed that reproducible phenomena are the only kind that exist. A one of a kind phenomenon may occur and be amenable to scientific analysis, or indeed it might not be open to science. We don’t care, we just deal with reproducible phenomena as shared knowledge, as the kind of knowledge admissable in court and in science.

Science doesn’t claim to know if a skunk loves its young, or if I know something about myself that it can’t access. It’s dealing with reproducible results because these are the ones of which we may have shared knowledge.

However, science is forced to utilize knowledge that isn’t subject to scientific analysis at all (or at least was not prior to neuroscience), such as logical operations and perceptual factors. We simply use knowledge that we have incorporated into ourselves via genetics and culture in order to do science. If science denied these types of knowledge (and it doesn’t at any level of philosophical sophistication), then it would disallow its own operation and function. Rather, science systematically uses the senses and logics that humans find themselves possessing in order to produce greater quantitative precision and reliability from our evolved capabilities.

Comment #33907

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on June 6, 2005 12:54 PM (e)

Hi Greg.

As I see it, one thing is being at a loss for words (we have invented new words, new symbols, new languages even, to deal with such temporary limitations); another thing is admitting to “knowledge” status things that cannot in principle be shared.

How can we consider “knowledge” (not “valid” knowledge, mind you; just “knowledge”) something that isn’t communicable (i.e. shareable) nor verifiable?

Comment #33908

Posted by Flint on June 6, 2005 12:59 PM (e)

There seems to be a philosophical barrier here that I find it difficult to cross. What’s “naive” about a working model that external reality exists, whether or not we exist to perceive it? Isn’t this what even physicists operate by? Sure, we can always speculate that we’re imagining things. We can agree that at some point, our perceptions are all we have, and that we can never be absolutely sure we are not brains-in-a-vat. But to what purpose?

I suppose I have no particular problem with unique or non-reproducible phenomena because these are not beyond scientific investigation in principle, only in logistics. As Glen says, neurology may be bringing some of those phenomena into more practical focus.

I admit I don’t know what “deconstructionism” is. It’s perhaps just a convenience to visualize science as “investigating reality” but so long as this remains successful, it’s good enough. Isn’t it?

Comment #33910

Posted by JRQ on June 6, 2005 1:04 PM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'URL'

Comment #33911

Posted by JRQ on June 6, 2005 1:13 PM (e)

ahh…I was beaten to the above observation by a few days on the dembski thread:

http://www.pandasthumb.org/pt-archives/001108.html#c33236

Looks like I need to keep up.

Comment #33917

Posted by Glen Davidson on June 6, 2005 1:47 PM (e)

Uhm … without going to deep into epistemology, it seems to me that if there were no objective reality, correlated in a reproducible way to (though not necessarily identical or even very similar to) our perception of it, science would be meaningless.

And might science not be meaningless anyhow, at least in the cosmic sense? Neurode is arguing on another thread that the universe must be designed because otherwise it would be meaningless (to cut through the many useless words of his), and this is why the cosmos is designed, etc.

Actually, I think he’s got you there, if you insist that science is meaningful in any but the primate sensual/emotional sense. We treat observations in an “objective” way because we have finally learned how to regard the world as operating according to empirically discoverable regularities which are not directly related to our sense of what is “meaningful” and what is not. Many want life to have arisen in some “meaningful” way and not through chance and undirected selection, yet we seem to have no excuse for regarding biological phenomena in this way.

I’m with Nietzsche, we alone give meaning (no matter how much more complicated this is than Nietzsche seemed to think) to objects (a problematic word, along with “objective”), thoughts, endeavors, and beliefs. Or if one gets right down to it, I alone give meaning (or, “assume meaning” or simply consider as meaningful) to anything that I can regard as having meaning.

Thus, all science does start with a few metaphysical assumptions: that “reality” exists,

Why the quote marks around “reality”? It’s because it doesn’t actually mean anything, that we can discern, beyond the momentary consciousness of perceptions, feelings, thoughts, actions, and intentions that we “know” and report to others.

So “reality” exists? What is this “reality” that you posit? As a word in common use I of course understand and agree about this “reality”, however as scientist or philosopher I have to ask, does “reality” refer to anything more than “designer” does in ID?

It is this that becomes the philosophical problem. We find ourselves able to conceptually (even scientifically in some cases) reduce this “reality” down to parts that appear not to have any obvious reason for being reassembled into this “reality”. Perceptions occur, but not necessarily with any one-to-one relation (maybe not any relation at all) to this “reality” of which I seem to think you write. Even shared delusions occur, and as we all know, a number of people cannot agree with the reality (in the street sense) that we know, the evolution of humanity. And if I am hallucinating a Hieronymous Bosch world, what is this “objective reality” of which you speak? Can you show it to me? Can I be given a “reality” that is contrary to my own brain processes?

OK, so you might say that this is the point, that “reality exists” well apart from my hallucinations. Well maybe it does, but that’s because you seem to believe that there is something that is giving the majority of us these perceptions that most of us agree on. Berkeley agreed, and called it God. In this he was reasonably close to the Platonic position, for the shadows on Plato’s cave wall may have some “reality” of some sort, but are in fact exceedingly low in the true “reality” of the “forms”.

Anyhow, one can’t show that Berkeley was wrong. More importantly, no one can show that the “brain’s reality” is less real than the “objective reality”. This is a real problem, in fact, because the brain has a reasonable claim to conventional reality (whatever that is), while there is nothing at all to warrant the reality of the perceptions that the brain interprets. If we’re talking reality, Dembski’s reality is more of a fact to him than your reality is to him. The “objective world” is merely an interpretation (a subjective one, quite arguably), while the “mind” is in fact reality coinciding with its own existence (actually, one could question even this, but it’s as close as we come to perceiving “reality itself”), as far as we can mean anything by “reality”.

In fact this was my objection (more or less) to Berlinski’s claim against the mind as being “physical” (letters, Feb. 2005 Commentary). The conscious mind is “physical” in itself (probably information acting via electrical fields), while everything “objectively physical” is just an interpretation of information in our minds.

Obviously I’m not objecting to the possibility of a “reality” out there, or even claiming that I don’t act like there is. Yet we’ve never “touched it” except through highly mediated information conduits and data processing. As what Kant called “practical reason”, fine, it’s all “reality” and it’s what we investigate, but parsed as finely as we can, I do not feel like we have sufficient reason to speak of reality per se.

that our senses and rational faculties give us a limited, but reproducible and practically useful (applicable, predictive) perception of it, and that we all by and large share the same perceptions for the same corresponding external reality.

What we can agree on, we can correlate and call “reproducible”. The issue that some would raise is, there may be unreproducible results, and indeed in the practical sense there definitely are. Here is where the philosopher objects to what you’ve written above, at least prior to appending a long list of additions and caveats. Science cannot touch my communion with invisible spirits, should this be my experience. Others can doubt it in the absence of reproducible data (and we humans seem “programmed” to doubt most such reports), but it cannot touch it. If I see what no one else does (angels, woolly mammoths), I could be right either because I’m in spiritual connection with what you are not, or even that I happen to have senses beyond your own.

Is this important to doing science in the normal sense of what “science” is? No, but it is important to keeping an open mind about things, about the creativity that might find something that the rest did not in fact observe. One has to look where one did not see, realizing that not all of us do perceive the same things in the same way.

If we were all brains-in-a-vat, stimulated by some mad scientist’s electrodes, we could still go through the motions of doing science, but it would be a very sad enterprise indeed.

Why? Is this apparently meaningless (without life) world actually capable of making the scientific enterprise worthwhile? I’m able to make it worthwhile, yet I doubt that the dead “world” of perception makes it meaningful in the least. If it can, I’d like to know how it can.

Something that probably no one would engage in, if they were aware of their brain-in-a-vat condition.

Or if we got outside of ourselves, we might very well think the same of investigating the colorless collections of atoms that are painted only in our minds.

We happen to be organisms that have evolved to not like trickery, thus we might be unwilling to engage in science if we found out that we were only brains in vats. OTOH, we might very well be interested in this being or these machines outside of our world, for all of a sudden, theology would make sense. We’d probably try to investigate what we may or may not be capable of investigating (probably not, what with us floating in a vat).

Most of all, though, I think we might not like doing science as brains in vats because we wouldn’t be learning any really new knowledge that did not exist in our own minds, but rather would be learning meaningless variations on a mental theme. In that sense I would say that we do want to be coming into new knowledge, but I suspect that we would be happy to come into new knowledge perceptually, spiritually, or even through revelation by God. We don’t need “reality” to substitue for God now that we’ve given up the metaphysical belief in God (many of us). We simply need to investigate what we perceive and think.

The real trouble is that we once believed in reality because we thought that God vouchsafed its existence and our perceptions of it, yet we have been thrown into understanding ourselves as organisms operating according to physics. We deal with data, as do computers (in different ways, for the most part), but neither computers nor ourselves can get beyond the mechanisms feeding us the data. Without God or reality to tell us that our interpretation is adequate or in significant correspondence with the world, we have to construct a world that we appear to be born to make. That we do, but we never find out what the world “really is”, what “reality is”. So we don’t even know what we mean when we say “reality exists”, although in the common sense notion we have agreement “about this reality”.

Comment #33920

Posted by Glen Davidson on June 6, 2005 2:15 PM (e)

What’s “naive” about a working model that external reality exists, whether or not we exist to perceive it? Isn’t this what even physicists operate by? Sure, we can always speculate that we’re imagining things. We can agree that at some point, our perceptions are all we have, and that we can never be absolutely sure we are not brains-in-a-vat.

It’s not the brain in the vat problem that arises with “reality” in philosophy, and I daresay, some science. It’s the whole composition of “reality” that we vaguely refer to when we say “reality”. To say “that’s reality”, well, what can that mean?

We have this label and perhaps the “intention” that goes along with it, but how do we get such a notion in the brain? What “constitutes reality”, and could we even say that “reality corresponds with my thoughts”? To me this is important because I think that any sort of “reality” that may exist almost certainly does not “correspond” with the mind–the only thing that corresponds in the mind with “perceived reality” is the information that is causally transferred, transmitted, and “processed”. That’s why science is so great, because it can treat information the same in the brain as one may make machines to “regard” the information (paying proper attention to context, certainly), despite the fact that “the world” is astonishingly unlike us in lacking all of the qualities that we interpret it with (of course it may not be lacking in these qualities, but we don’t actually pick up the qualities that may be there).

To be sure, information may not be the same phenomena in our brains as elsewhere, yet this notion is counter what we have learned through trial and error as far as we can. In the practical sense we do know that 1LoT and 2LoT hold for us as much as for anything that appears to us, for we can cross-correlate our findings not only with each other, but also between “objective” brain scans and “subjective” experience. It’s the IDists who tell us that 1LoT and 2LoT are unreliable, and that “external agents” may be intruding into life. While that may be, this would seriously compromise our ability to know anything reliably, phenomenologically or otherwise, since information is either conserved or increased according to 2LoT.

Do physicists accept that there is a reality? More or less, sure. What is important is that the more competent ones are well aware that “we don’t know what reality is”. That’s as good as a phenomenological or highly skeptical posture for doing science, at least in my book. The only thing that matters is that “reality” not be considered a fixed Truth of the kind that Neurode wishes to impose.

Comment #33938

Posted by Man with No Personality on June 6, 2005 4:20 PM (e)

You know, this article had me checking out Dembski’s blog, where I found our buddy Carnap (who swore he wasn’t a creationist), made an appearance.

I don’t know if I’d call him a creationist per se, but he does seem to be one of those annoying fence-sitters who think they’re being open-minded when they’re actually being credulous…

Comment #33944

Posted by Flint on June 6, 2005 5:01 PM (e)

Glen:

I guess I’m seeing this from the perspective of a juror considering evidence presented at a trial. We know *something* happened; we can never know exactly what it was. Witnesses always disagree, our recollections are invariably embellished in many ways, etc. The best we can do is construct the most consistent approximation permitted by whatever evidence is available. But this doesn’t cause us to wonder if the crime “really happened”.

Anyway, I’m content to assume (as what I consider the simplest model) that there is an objective universe, and that the scientific method is our best currently known way to investigate and describe it. I’m sympathetic with the position that if we’re checking out imaginary delusions or artifacts of inscrutable brain functions rather than something that’s “really out there”, it robs our curiosity of most of its motivation.

Comment #33948

Posted by Glen Davidson on June 6, 2005 5:29 PM (e)

My primary interest is in consciousness, which is mostly why I even got into philosophy at all. Hence I am very interested in how “reality is constructed”.

Regardless of that, even when I wrote of “naive realism” it wasn’t a criticism, except that I consider naive realism to be inadequate in a few select areas. “Naive realism” is the actual name of the position that it appears that ‘luminous beauty’ was criticizing, and for the most part I don’t understand any reason to worry if one believes in any sort of realism, including naive realism–except in select areas, again, ones that have essentially nothing to do with evolutionary issues. For instance, here’s where I’m bristling at being called a “naive realist” (wholly unwarranted, but you know Piltdown…):

http://www.pandasthumb.org/pt-archives/001117.html#c33613

It’s really an issue of epistemology, and the matter of what meaning there could be in saying or writing “reality”. It is not anything of substance in dealing with (the great majority of) science, rather it is a cautious attempt at a non-prejudicial to philosophy. That is to say, if I had to testify as to the “reality” of a situation, I hope that I would simply take the concept of reality as it is intended to mean in our society and not bog down into issues of “what is is”. There might be some times when one would have to discuss problems of reality, particularly the “reality” of numbers, math, and a whole list of words (but in court and in science this is rarely so much a problem since word meanings are conventionalized as much as possible there), still on the whole I wouldn’t be arguing with people about “reality”.

It’s a little bit odd that I didn’t bring up the questions of reality and wasn’t too keen on anyone bringing it up here, and I ended arguing over the meaning of a word like “reality”. Of course it’s not a fight or anything, and I’m not even complaining really, since I do like the stuff. Just sort of odd, since I don’t care in the least about these matters in the usual course of science.

So anyway, I have no quarrel with how you use the term “reality”, and it is wholly legitimate in normal discourse. It’s just that I happen to have gotten into consciousness matters where “reality” becomes a fuzzy issue and where appeal to contingency according to known physics becomes what is important, not ideas about reality.

Comment #33949

Posted by Patrick on June 6, 2005 5:32 PM (e)

Actually, one of the most charming things about science and philosophy is that these are two disciplines that the most immune from the post-modernist nonsense that has infected much of the rest of the academy. If you look at the people who do examine our metaphysical presumptions for a living–that is, analytic philosophers–you’ll find very little or no truck with the radical relativist position being presented by Glen.

Sadly, Glen is using an antiquated reading of Nietszche, who is now read by most philosophers who aren’t in France as the quintessential naturalist, like Hume. It N’s world, scientific results are given an especially high place in terms of epistemic value. Contrary to the essentially fraudulent reading of N propagated by Derrida, N does not deny the possibility of finding truth that more or less corresponds to reality. He simply argues it is very difficult, and this difficulty does not preclude meaningful science. Quite the contrary, the difficulty in finding truth makes doing good science all the more important.

It is actually a very lively philosophical question as to whether we in fact could be brains in vats at all. The employment of certain concepts, including the ones that Glenn himself uses, seem to rely upon some kind of objective world. Shit, using language at all seems to preclude the radical solipsism that is the only real refuge of the post-modernist. Radical scepticism is almost certainly false.

Or, it isn’t reasonable. At the very least, Glenn presumes that other minds exist. And if that is the case, then what is the simply, most reasonable explanation for the intersubjective agreement of all our perceptions, experiences, and scientific advancements: that’s right folks, that we are all attempting to describe the same objective world that serves as the medium of our various experiences, perceptions, and theories.

Sorry for the rant, but the misreading of canonical philosophers by French post-modernists always gets analytic philosophers backs up. As does post-modernism. I am not necessarily defending naive realism, though I think some form of realism is true. I just think glib post-modernist scepticism should be taken out to the shed and put down for the good of us all.

Comment #33959

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on June 6, 2005 6:34 PM (e)

One simply has to wait around to watch ID “scientists” shooting themselves in the head scientifically.

Hey !!! Don’t be going around stealing my catch-phrases !!

;>

Comment #33960

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on June 6, 2005 6:36 PM (e)

Sorry for the rant, but the misreading of canonical philosophers by French post-modernists always gets analytic philosophers backs up. As does post-modernism. I am not necessarily defending naive realism, though I think some form of realism is true. I just think glib post-modernist scepticism should be taken out to the shed and put down for the good of us all.

I’ll just repeat what I said before:

“Philosophy and the study of the actual world have the same relationship to one another as masturbation and sexual intercourse.”

Comment #33963

Posted by Glen Davidson on June 6, 2005 6:47 PM (e)

Actually, one of the most charming things about science and philosophy is that these are two disciplines that the most immune from the post-modernist nonsense that has infected much of the rest of the academy.

Why don’t you show how Deleuze and Nietzsche are “post-modernist nonsense”, instead of sounding like Neurode when he’s bemoaning the practice of science? Name-calling is evidence for you? No doubt, and you simply sneer where you might learn something.

If you look at the people who do examine our metaphysical presumptions for a living—that is, analytic philosophers—you’ll find very little or no truck with the radical relativist position being presented by Glen.

Oh yeah, let’s roll out the “experts” that the insipid Patrick takes to be authorities. He doesn’t know anything about it, but he can label my position as “radical relativist” without evidence or truth, but he’s got his canon of analytic philosophers to “back him up”.

Anyhow, ignoramus, there is a considerable amount of this so-called “relativism” among even the analytic philosophers, but then I suppose you haven’t read their works with much competence. Quine holds that science is a sort of field of information, a kind of myth that isn’t especially unlike invoking the Greek gods as the forces behind what happens. He’s not as radical as Nietzsche, but he’s not all that different from his stance. Then there’s Peirce, who takes science to be little more than pragmatic dealings with what we encounter in our lives. These are both prominent figures in analytic philosophy, and they’re not especially metaphysical.

Sadly, Glen is using an antiquated reading of Nietszche,

Said the dullard.

who is now read by most philosophers who aren’t in France as the quintessential naturalist, like Hume.

Did I say he wasn’t a “naturalist, like Hume”? If Hume is considered to be a naturalist, needless to say, Nietzsche would come close. So I guess you’re just lying about me.

It N’s world, scientific results are given an especially high place in terms of epistemic value.

In the link I provided in my latest post there is this by me:

Kant was very friendly to science, and Nietzsche was for the most part as well.

I was claiming Nietzsche for science, yet I suppose the truth isn’t really your concern.

Contrary to the essentially fraudulent reading of N propagated by Derrida, N does not deny the possibility of finding truth that more or less corresponds to reality. He simply argues it is very difficult, and this difficulty does not preclude meaningful science. Quite the contrary, the difficulty in finding truth makes doing good science all the more important.

Nietzsche really sort of back and forth on the issue of “truth”, generally denying it (even in the uncapitalized sense), while clearly adhering to the general methods of discussing and discovering truth. Nevertheless, he’s hardly one who supposes that “truth” corresponds with reality, sticking with the more Kantian notions that such knowledge is beyond us. Only he goes further, by saying that Kant’s “Ding an sich” is a fraud and metaphysical nonsense.

I’m actually a bit more on the side of science than Nietzsche, I think, for I’m prone to believing that there are not really so many perspectives that are valid re phenomena as Nietzsche implied, but that usually we can pin down models that are in fact the “best fit” or nearly so. Which anyone who was fair would have discovered in my posts, but then that’s my luck….

It is actually a very lively philosophical question as to whether we in fact could be brains in vats at all.

More importantly, supposing so would be like assuming that organisms are “designed” or some such.

The employment of certain concepts, including the ones that Glenn himself uses, seem to rely upon some kind of objective world.

I didn’t bring it up, dimwit. Andrea Bottaro did, and I went along with it, while pointing out that the real issue is other than that.

Shit, using language at all seems to preclude the radical solipsism that is the only real refuge of the post-modernist. Radical scepticism is almost certainly false.

The use of language is a problem that I think is overwhelming in Kant. He seems to think that we know nothing about the “Ding an sich”, yet presumes that other minds exist and that they agree almost completely with regard to the bases of knowledge. Thus I find him to be problematic. Regardless, he didn’t find any problem with doing science, being in fact more pro-science than Nietzsche. Likewise, it appears that the quantum theorists of the early to mid 20th century were influenced by Kant and neo-Kantianism, again, highly pro-science and being barely “realist” if at all. The Copenhagen interpretation is the result of such non-realist thinking, and I’m not especially fond of anything that focused on the problem of when we might become conscious of a radioactive decay event.

It barely matters if radical skepticism is false or not, though I guess you’re labeling me one, Patrick. Yet another of your ignorant and tendentious bludgeonings of what I actually did write.

At the very least, Glenn presumes that other minds exist.

Not essentially, of course, but I have never blundered into your idiocy that you project onto me, certainly.

And if that is the case, then what is the simply, most reasonable explanation for the intersubjective agreement of all our perceptions, experiences, and scientific advancements: that’s right folks, that we are all attempting to describe the same objective world that serves as the medium of our various experiences, perceptions, and theories.

Well you’re obviously either too stupid or ignorant to understand what Nietzsche was getting at, or what I was writing. So I’ll just point out that intelligent and educated folk can’t resort to your flimsy BS, and must treat the world of phenomena with greater respect and caution than do blundering fools.

Sorry for the rant, but the misreading of canonical philosophers by French post-modernists always gets analytic philosophers backs up.

Oh, is that what you are? I’m not surprised, since most, though hardly all, analytic philosophers neither understand continental philosophy, nor do they treat the continental types fairly. Is it any wonder that I preferred to get away from such blundering nonsense and to begin with a more skeptical and discerning frame of mind, like we find in Nietzsche?

I am not necessarily defending naive realism, though I think some form of realism is true. I just think glib post-modernist scepticism should be taken out to the shed and put down for the good of us all.

I think glib idiots who can’t even read posts defending realism as a practical position, and can’t even recognize a pro-science Nietzschean no matter how hard he tries to explicate the possibilities for science following Nietzschean, and not Derridean, philosophy, should shut up. And yes, it wouldn’t hurt if you were shot in the shed, dimwitted moron. Not that I’m surprised that yet another pig-stupid analytic philosopher would attack me without any reason at all.

Comment #33964

Posted by Glen Davidson on June 6, 2005 6:57 PM (e)

I’ll just repeat what I said before:

“Philosophy and the study of the actual world have the same relationship to one another as masturbation and sexual intercourse.”

And where did I read the (purported, at least?) author of that line? In philosophy, where I also had to read Hegel and Feuerbach to understand Marx’s influences.

To his credit, though, he did move more toward analysis of economic situations instead of simply relying on “dialectic” and Romantic hopes and dreams. Unquestionably he was highly influenced by philosophy, though, and Marx is worth some consideration in a philosophy course as well.

In the more or less continental sense, however, I agree with Marx’s statement. His target was primarily the metaphysicians and no doubt the analytic philosophers as well, who cling to notions like “reality” in spite of the relative lack of meaning to such claims. True, he uses words like “actuality” frequently enough, yet he was in the European tradition (especially Kant) sufficiently to recognize that we “make reality” in the Nietzschean or Marxian sense.

Well that’s about all I have to say about Marx, other than that he’d have done better if he’d lost the influences of Hegel and Feuerbach to a greater degree than he actually did.

Comment #33969

Posted by Patrick on June 6, 2005 9:06 PM (e)

Excuse me, Glen…but I don’t remember using ad hominems against you, you silly boy. What’s with the hostility? Is “glib?” really so insulting? You distance yourself from postmodernism, so is me calling it “nonsense” so bad? Are you having some trouble at home? A little short-fused eh? Is this how you treat all people who disagree with you? Man.

For example, I didn’t call you stupid, pig-stupid. You say I lied to you because you use an antiquated reading of Nietzsche which you do. One example here, pne lower down.

You say: “Nietzsche really sort of back and forth on the issue of “truth”, generally denying it (even in the uncapitalized sense), while clearly adhering to the general methods of discussing and discovering truth.”

But this isn’t what Nietzsche says. It is what Nehemas and Derrida would like him to say. As in much philosophy, it depends on what you mean by “truth.” But Nietzsche adopts correspondence, coherence, and pragmatic accounts of truth depending on the circumstance. His discussion of truth and knowledge is complex, multilayered, and sophisticated. It is NOT him simply standing on a soapbox, like many postmodernists, and saying “THere is no truth, it is all socially constructed.”

In fact, uh shithead (see I can add gratuitous insults too little git), I think the only insult I lay down is on Derrida, who is a fraud, but okay.

Let’s take a look at some of the analytic philosophers you mention. Quine, for example, does not espouse anything like the kind of skeptcism you espouse. In fact, it is the opposite. For him, having an “objective reality” is not something that can really be questioned. It is actually a bit of nonsense question, a waste of time. He certainly wouldn’t accept the kind of radical textuality you are espousing.

Not only that, but Quine and Nietszche were both naturalists. You said they are somewhat close to one another. I agree. But even Quine, if pressed, would accept that there some kind of reality that our statements would correspond to (or cohere with, or pragmatically interact with), correctly or incorrectly (better or worse). See Davidson on this. But he wouldn’t think it a very interesting question, that’s for sure That’s true, I don’t deny it. Your reading of Pierce is tendentious as he never rejected a correspondence component to truth, but he did think that concept needed to include a pragmatic one.

Look, let’s take a look at what you actually say. Shall we? I am going to list a few quotes:

1) “Why the quote marks around “reality”? It’s because it doesn’t actually mean anything, that we can discern, beyond the momentary consciousness of perceptions, feelings, thoughts, actions, and intentions that we “know” and report to others.”

2) “Anyhow, one can’t show that Berkeley was wrong. More importantly, no one can show that the “brain’s reality” is less real than the “objective reality”. This is a real problem, in fact, because the brain has a reasonable claim to conventional reality (whatever that is), while there is nothing at all to warrant the reality of the perceptions that the brain interprets.”

3)What is important is that the more competent ones are well aware that “we don’t know what reality is”.

4)In the more or less continental sense, however, I agree with Marx’s statement. His target was primarily the metaphysicians and no doubt the analytic philosophers as well, who cling to notions like “reality” in spite of the relative lack of meaning to such claims.

AND

5)I’m with Nietzsche, we alone give meaning (no matter how much more complicated this is than Nietzsche seemed to think) to objects (a problematic word, along with “objective”), thoughts, endeavors, and beliefs. Or if one gets right down to it, I alone give meaning (or, “assume meaning” or simply consider as meaningful) to anything that I can regard as having meaning.

1-5 amounts to a radical scepticism about the external world and a post-modern claim of radical textuality. Do you disagree, cockbite? So, how far am I off?

But 4 is emphatically NOT what Nietzsche said. He certainly did not think that meaning was entirely malleable or could be altered by a whim. Nietszche was far too cognizant of our connection with the natural world and human institutions to accept that. No, the highest role of the “philosopher” is to creatively seek “alternative” systems of meaning that might be more life-affirming and closer to the little-t truth. If you are interested in his discussion of truth and knowledge, you might want to read Richard Schacht’s or Brian Leiter’s work on Nietzsche.

Anyway, I am tired of this. Like most fanciful pomo wastrels, you don’t even come close to being clear. You accept “realism” but deny that “reality” has any meaning. Then you say that reality has mere “conventional” meaning. Well? Are you part of the Derridean school where contradicting yourself and seeking obscurity is intentional? Maybe if you strove for clarity, your posts wouldn’t be “misinterpreted” so often.

Comment #33980

Posted by Glen Davidson on June 6, 2005 9:57 PM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'quote'

Comment #33985

Posted by Glen Davidson on June 6, 2005 10:18 PM (e)

Not that I owe any clarity to anyone who, totally unprovoked, wrote this in response to me:

I just think glib post-modernist scepticism should be taken out to the shed and put down for the good of us all.

(Okay, granted the wiggle room is there, that it wasn’t aimed at the “sinner” but the “sin”, but why should anyone fall for that when he’s falsely accusing the other of that “sin”?)

But maybe for others I should say that Patrick apparently confuses agnosticism regarding realism with relativism. So if I say that Nietzsche was not a realist, he counters that he wasn’t a relativist. Of course I didn’t say that he was a relativist, and neither am I a relativist in almost any sense, nonetheless Patrick evidently doesn’t understand the distinction.

And this is the cause for much of the bad blood between us. I carefully make the distinction, while it is a meaningless distinction to him. Many of the non-realists in fact are that way in part because they do carefully make the distinction, and are unwilling to claim a “realism” that becomes so relative that it becomes meaningless.

This appears to have been Nietzsche’s position, and it is mine as well. Basically I don’t claim realism because it is beyond the realm of scientific and other legitimate forms of investigation. Anyone is welcome to have their “realism”, however, I just hope they don’t get too rigid like Neurode and some others.

Comment #34042

Posted by NelC on June 7, 2005 8:57 AM (e)

Glen, Patrick, can you take it to the bathroom wall, or email?