Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Laws of Physics: Alternatives to the Prescriptive/Descriptive Dichotomy

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Alternatives to “law” and P/D dichotomy in science<>

It seems clear that a great deal of the fuss is the result of the words, “law” vs. “description.” The prescriptive/descriptive dichotomy is probably too simplistic. Neither is it so simple to just find a new term. One of the more interesting developments in philosophy of science is the small, yet determined, group of feminist science critics. Their social project is to clean science up from it's “sexist spin” (my term) by ridding it of paradigms based upon dominance, hierarchy and linear understanding. Naturally one of the first places they have to start is in dealing with the notion of natural law. Nelson quoting Keller:

Our under standing of what constitutes a law (in nature as well as in society) is of course subject to change, and not all laws necessarily imply coercion. Certainly not all scientific laws are either causal or deterministic; they may, for example be statistical, phenomenological, or just simply the 'rules of the game.'….The extreme case of the desire to turn observed regularity into law is of course the search for the one 'unified' law of nature that embodies all other laws, and that hence will be immune to revision.[1]
Keller doubts that the P/D dichotomy distinguishes the law of nature metaphor from coersion, (Nelson's analysis of Keller). Keller wants to draw upon biology rather than physics. She moves from search for laws to a search for order. Linear hierarchy of the legal metaphor limits our relation to and understanding of nature. Keller admits that order can imply the same hierarchical relationships as does law. It also allows for other kinds of relationships. “Order is a category comprising patterns of organization that can be spontaneous, self generated, or externally imposed; it is a larger category than law precisely to the extent that law implies external constraint..”[2]

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Ruth Bleier says dominance determinism and hierarchy is in genetics, so biology is not free of it. She also uses that fact to justify using political concerns as guides to scientific paradigms, because in matters such as racism the relationship between the scientific and political was one to one. In other words the dominance and hierarchical nature of genetics was used to justify racism.[3]A Derridian might say, however, that the tension between the two implications of “order” is the point of deconstruction. Law and order go together like soup and sandwich. There's an even better answer as to way the idea of using order rather than law is not a defeat for my argument: order, and organizing principle might fit together well. Oder might be the product of organizing principle.

Mind, the best organizing principle

Mind is the best organizing principle we know. Only mind can plan, deal with complexities, and choose the best way to deal with a problem. I've dealt with self organizing systems in chapter one. “Self” organizing is a misnomer, and it is relative to the perspective of the thinker as to whether or not there is organizing or disorganizing. All of the phenomena we've been discussing are mind dependent. Deciding what is universal and what only looks like it is, is mind dependent. We can't consider the universe and not be aware that all our labeling and understanding is our attempts at forging constructs to organize our experience of the universe. Why should we think that complex organization can be free of mind? This applies to our own perceptions. It doesn't prove that mind is what makes the phenomena organized, but phenomena as we understand it is dependent upon our minds to organize the patterns in such a way as to put together a complex understanding. Such understanding usually entails a complex organization in nature. Skeptics will inveriably charge that we are just imposing our own patterns upon nature. Are we imposing them or discovering them?

Science requires that we find patterns. If the patterns we find really explain, or if they give us a plausible answer, we are on the right track. This is especially true if we can navigate in the world by the patterns we seem to find. We can't get outside our perceptions to prove reality. We cannot extricate ourselves from either the web of pattern-imposing or the “prison house of language”[4]in order to judge objectively weather or not the patterns are really there. We do not find this state of affairs debilitating, however, because, as Thomas Reid intimated, we go by our perceptions as long as they work and we stop following what does not work. But it is not merely because we perceive certain patterns that we accept those patters as real. It is because we perceive it in a particular sort of way. We accept certain patterns as real because we perceive them in a regular and consistent way. This has been stated above by Reid. The common man goes on with his lot never giving a second thought to the fact that he can no more prove the veracity of the things around him than he can the existence of God or anything else in philosophy. Yet we accept it, as does the skeptic demanding his data, while we live out our lives making these assumptions all the time.

If every time we woke up in the morning it was in a different house, with a different family, but one which made the assumption that we did nevertheless belong there and always had, and if the route to work changed every morning, if we never went to the same job twice, if our names and our looks were always different each day, we might think less of direct observation. But because these things are always the same from moment to moment and they never differ, we learn to trust them and we trust them implicitly as a matter of course. We do not try to prove to our selves each day when we get up "I am the same person today that I was yesterday," precisely because we learn very early that we always are the same person. We observe early on that we cannot penetrate physical objects without leaving holes and so we do not try to walk though walls; we know that doesn't work because it never works. As I pointed out above, Hume observed that when we see two billiard balls we do not really see the cause of one making the other one move. What we really observe is one stopping and the other one starting. But, in practical terms, we do not observe the causality of a car running over the pedestrian as causing the pedestrian to fly across the road, but we know from experience that these two factors usually go hand in hand and so we don't play in the street. In other words that our perceptions work to enable us to navigate in the world is good enough reason to think we got it right.

Our understanding of cause is based upon frequency of correlation. Thus a tight correlation is usually indicative of a cause. In making this argument on the internet many skeptics have argued "I see that the world is real with my own eyes." That's the point, why trust your eyes? You cannot prove they are seeing things properly. Everything could be an illusion everything we observe could be wrong. We cannot prove the existence of the external world, we assume it because it is always there. Some try to claim this direct observation as empirical proof. But they are confusing the notion of scientific empiricism with epistemological empiricism. Before we make the assumption that scientific data is valid we first make the epistemological assumption that perception is valid. Otherwise there would be no point in assuming the data. So epistemological empiricism is prior to scientific methods. In fact we have to simply make this assumption a priori with no proof and no way around the problem in order to be able to make the assumptions necessary to accept scientific data. We do usually make these assumptions, but they are assumptions none the less. Still others try to contend that empirical scientific evidence proves the reality of the external world. But of course if the world were an illusion than any scientific evidence we gather would be part of the illusion as well. So there is no other way to demonstrate the truth of the external world, the existence of other minds, or the reality of our own existence except through the consistency and regularity of our sense data.

We can add to consistency and regularity the concept of inter-subjective testimony. In other words do others claim, as far as we can tell, similar observations of the same phenomena? This is encapsulated in the colloquial expression, “do you see what I see?” The idea that others see it too is an important aspect of epistemic criteria. Science would have no meaning without this assumption. That's the whole point of repeating experiments. “Inter-subjective” is a better term than “shared experience” because we don't share the same experiences. All perception is subjective. This does not mean, however, that coroberative testimony is not part of the epistemic criteria for justification. We get around the subjectivity problem by not seeking absolute proof but confirmation by the coroboration of like-experiences. So our epistemic criteria, which we impose without knowing or thinking about it, we use it habitually or instinctivley consists of: regular, consistent, inter-subjective and navigational. When perceptions meet this criteria we tend to trust them.

The upshot of it all, in terms of epistemic criteria, is an understanding of what works. We can navigate in the world by our perceptions, we don't run into the wall when we walk through the door, we know our perceptions are working. If we can confirm the patterns with experiments connecting them to to nature we know we have the right patterns. If our explanations enable us to confirm our understanding we know we must be finding true patterns. Without that there would be no point to science. It is our minds discerning the pattern. We make assumptions about natural law to explain complex organization in nature. Why assume no mind is involved in laying down those “laws,” (whatever we call “laws” that produces regularity in the workings of the physical world). The epistemic criteria is very mind dependent. Those are two separate reasons to think that mind is the best organizing principal: (1) All understanding of phenomena is mind dependent (even pointing out that we are picking out patterns is mind dependent), (2) Our epistemic criteria (product of mind) enables us to understand which patterns work for navigating or explaining the world. If mind is necessary to understanding the workings of the world why should we think its not involved in whatever it is that produces the law-like regularity? There are two more reasons for understanding mind as the best organizing principle: (1) The hierarchical nature of complexity, (2) the phenomena some construe as consciousness in nature(pan-psychism).

I pointed out above that the grand unified theory posits a single simple idea at the top of the metaphysical hierarchy. As Wineglass put it “...the theory of everything will unite all aspects of physical reality in a single elegant explanation .” That is a transcendental signifier, that's its job description. The thing is having one simple and elegant idea to explain the immense complexity of the universe is very much a hierarchy. It's no simple two stage affair either, the more complex data and explanations become, the more stages or layers are needed. Going up the structure we would go from vast to simple to one final idea at the top. That idea would have to be aware, thus include mind. First in order to account for mind as part of the brick-a-brack of the universe it would have to have the same understanding that mind gives us, or it could not comprehend the idea of mind. Secondly its one thing to look at causes and posit a reduction in complexity going back to the first thing, so just in terms of causes it might make sense, like Hawking's idea of gravity to see a progression from simple to complex (excluding the weaknesses in Hawking's theory I will discuss, latter), its is quite another to take one simple idea and claim an explanation of all things. How could a simple mindless idea choose from immense complexity? It would have to make choices or the odds would vastly favor not producing life. Thirdly, the idea about gravity as final cause assumes that consciousness can be reduced to brain function alone. I have shown this to be wrong.v[5]Thus if mind is more than just a product of complex brain function then its hard to see how it could come to be from non mind. The obvious answer the skeptic will give is consciousness is emergent. That assumes the reduction I just spoke of, and has not been proved. As the noted geneticist Sewell Wright said, “Pancycism and Science” 82, “Emergence of mind from no mind at all is sheer magic.”[6]

1 E. F. Keller, quoted in Lynn Nelson, Who Knows?... op. Cit., 220. see parts 1 and 2
2 Keller, quoted by Nelson, Ibid.
3 Lynn Nelson, Analysis of the ideas of Ruth Bleier, Ibid, 221. Ruth Bleier was a neurophysiologist, Ph.D, from Johns Hopkins, she was a life long activist, summoned before the HUAAC by Joe McCarthy, for running a peace committee in Maryland. She also taught Psychiatry, was professor at University of Wisconsin at Madison, and one of the first feminist thinkers to bring a feminist critique to scientific paradigms.
4 The phrase "prison house of language" is a post modern slogan I used to hear in my Derridian days. I can't find where it originated.
5 Brad Peters"Mind does not reduce to brain" Modern Psychologist blog URL Peters is a psychologist in private practice; I have also done many blog pieces on the topic. Here 
hereand here.

6 Sewell Write, “Panpsychism and Science,” In Mind in Nature.Lanham Maryland:University press of America, ed. Cobb and Griffin 1977, 82. 


Keturah Lamb said...

You have a very unique, intellectual blog. I enjoyed reading this post.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...


Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

how did you find it?