Truth suffers from too much analysis

Posts Tagged ‘Causality’

The Aim is the Search for Universal Laws

Posted by allzermalmer on October 22, 2013

I would rather discover one true cause than gain the kingdom of Persia.
Read more at“I would rather discover one true cause than gain the kingdom of Persia1. There exists at least one (empirical) principle that is true at describing an invariable relationship of the empirical world. (expressed) 2. There exists at least one possible (empirical) principle that is true at describing an invariable relationship  of the empirical world.  (expressed or not express3. There exists at least one invariable relationship of the empirical world.

“I would rather discover one true cause than gain the kingdom of Persia.” Democritus

Question: “Does there exist one true cause?”

The answer to this question, is answered in the affirmative by some and answered in the negative by some.

Affirmative: There does exist at least one causal relationship between events.
Negative: There doesn’t exist at least one causal relationship between events.

Both answers to the question are logically possible. There is no self-contradiction in either proposition. So it is possible that there does exist at least one causal relationship between events & it is possible that there doesn’t exist at least one causal relationship between events.

Suppose that we have someone similar to Democritus, they would be searching for at least one true causal relationship. It is possible that they don’t find what they are searching for since it is possible that there doesn’t exist at least one causal relationship between events.

So we can have the Aim of Searching for Universal Laws, but that doesn’t mean that what we search for is true or that we will find what we search for. In both cases we would neither be able to find what we search for (since it doesn’t exist) nor search for what is true (since it isn’t true).

We can have a methodological principle that there does exist at least one causal relationship between events. All our actions would be consistent with this methodological principle, but none of this is asserting that there actually does exist at least one causal relationship between events because it is possible that there doesn’t actually exist at least one causal relationship. This implies that our assertion was false, which implies that we didn’t find at least one true causal relationship.

The whole endeavor would be predicated on a fiction, and everything produced within the endeavor would be fictional as well. Even the single processes, or plural processes, used in this endeavor would only have input of fictions and output of fictions. It would be similar to comic books, having fictional characters as input in their process and fictions as the output in their process.

Suppose that there actually does exist a causal relationship between events. It is logically possible that both there exists at least one causal relationship between events & we don’t know this one causal relationship between events. However, it is logically impossible that we know both there exists at least one causal relationship between events & we don’t know this one causal relationship between events.

Suppose we know that both there exists at least one causal relationship between events & we don’t know this one causal relationship between events. It follows that, we know there exists at least one causal relationship between events and we know we don’t know this one causal relationship between events. We know there exists at least one causal relationship between events & we don’t know this one causal relationship between events. This is a contradiction, so it is necessary we don’t know both there exists at least one causal relationship between events & we don’t know this one causal relationship between events. From all this it follows we don’t know there exists at least one causal relationship. Since we don’t know there exists at least one causal relationship, it means that we can’t know that there exists at least one causal relationship.

The very Aim of the Search for Universal Laws would be of something that you can’t possibly know, even if you did obtain what you were searching for.





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Why Science Doesn’t Invoke Metaphysics

Posted by allzermalmer on November 1, 2012

All those things in italics come from Popper, and those that are in bold & italics  are my own personal emphasis and not Popper’s.

But before I get to that, I want to start out by making one big distinction. There is the distinction between statements that are logically necessary and those that are logically contingent.

Logically Necessary: For each x, if x is logically necessary, then x’s affirmation is logically possible and x’s negation is not logically possible.
Logically Contingent: For each x, if x is logically contingent, then x’s affirmation is logically possible and x’s negation is logically possible.

Popper thinks that things that are Logically Necessary are not in the domain of empirical science. Logically Necessary statements make no claim about reality or what exists, while those things that are Logically Contingent do make claims about reality or what exists. Logically Contingent statements are what empirical science deals with. But from within this domain of Logically Contingent statements, Popper is going to make a distinction.

His distinction is basically this: Not for every statement, if statement is logically contingent, then logically possible for humans to verify that statement is actually true instead of possibly true.

This is because it relies logical distinction between singular statements and universal statements.  “The raven is black in color” or “There exists at least one x, such that x is raven and x is black in color”, are examples of “Singular statements”. They are a proposition that asserts that a particular individual has (or has not) some specified attribute. “All ravens are black in color” or “For every x, if x is raven, then x is black in color”, are examples of “Universal statements”. They are a proposition that refers to all the members of a class. The members of class could have all sorts of particular individual things contained in them, like all ravens that have existed, are existing, or will exist. This can be logically infinite domain in time and space. Singular statements are at specific times and specific places, not all times and all places. So these are logically distinct from one another.

One of the basic points is that sense experience, or observation, is of particular things or individuals. We do not have sense experience, or observation, of all times and places, or all things that have existed, are existing, or will exist. In other words, observation only gives singular statements but science, or empirical science, seeks universal statements that apply to all particular things, for all times and all places. Empirical science is seeking universal statements that apply to singular statements, like universal statements that apply to all particular ravens.

“The fact that theories are not verifiable has often been overlooked. People often say of a theory that it is verified when some of the predictions derived from it have been verified. They may perhaps admit that the verification is not completely impeccable from a logical point of view, or that a statement can never be finally established by establishing some of its consequences. But they are apt to look upon such objections as due to somewhat unnecessary scruples. It is quite true, they say, and even trivial, that we cannot know for certain whether the sun will rise tomorrow; but this uncertainty may be neglected: the fact that theories may not only be improved but that they can also be falsified by new experiments presents to the scientist a serious possibility which may at any moment become actual; but never yet has a theory had to be regarded as falsified owing to the sudden breakdown of a well confirmed law. It never happens that old experiments one day yield new results. What happens is only that new experiments decide against an old theory. The old theory, even when it is superseded, often retains its validity as a kind of limiting case of the new theory; it still applies, at least with a high degree of approximation, in those cases in which it was successful before. In short, regularities which are directly testable by experiment do not change. Admittedly it is conceivable, or logically possible, that they might change; but this possibility is disregarded by empirical science and does not affect its methods. On the contrary, scientific method presupposes the immutability of natural processes, or the ‘principle of the uniformity of nature’.

There is something to be said for the above argument, but it does not affect my thesis. It expresses the metaphysical faith in the existence of regularities in our world (a faith which I share, and without which practical action is hardly conceivable).*1 Yet the question before us— the question which makes the non-verifiability of theories significant in the present context—is on an altogether different plane. Consistently with my attitude towards other metaphysical questions, I abstain from arguing for or against faith in the existence of regularities in our world. But I shall try to show that the non-verifiability of theories is methodologically important. It is on this plane that I oppose the argument just advanced.

I shall therefore take up as relevant only one of the points of this argument—the reference to the so-called ‘principle of the uniformity of nature’. This principle, it seems to me, expresses in a very superficial way an important methodological rule, and one which might be derived, with advantage, precisely from a consideration of the non-verifiability of theories.*2 (I mean the rule that any new system of hypotheses should yield, or explain, the old, corroborated, regularities. See also section *3 (third paragraph) of my Postscript.

Let us suppose that the sun will not rise tomorrow (and that we shall nevertheless continue to live, and also to pursue our scientific interests). Should such a thing occur, science would have to try to explain it, i.e. to derive it from laws. Existing theories would presumably require to be drastically revised. But the revised theories would not merely have to account for the new state of affairs: our older experiences would also have to be derivable from them. From the methodological point of view one sees that the principle of the uniformity of nature is here replaced by the postulate of the invariance of natural laws, with respect to both space and time.  I think, therefore, that it would be a mistake to assert that natural regularities do not change. (This would be a kind of statement that can neither be argued against nor argued for.) What we should say is, rather, that it is part of our definition of natural laws if we postulate that they are to be invariant with respect to space and time; and also if we postulate that they are to have no exceptions. Thus from a methodological point of view, the possibility of falsifying a corroborated law is by no means without significance. It helps us to find out what we demand and expect from natural laws. And the ‘principle of the uniformity of nature’ can again be regarded as a metaphysical interpretation of a methodological rule—like its near relative, the ‘law of causality’.

One attempt to replace metaphysical statements of this kind by principles of method leads to the ‘principle of induction’, supposed to govern the method of induction, and hence that of the verification of theories. But this attempt fails, for the principle of induction is itself metaphysical in character. As I have pointed out in section 1, the assumption that the principle of induction is empirical leads to an infinite regress. It could therefore only be introduced as a primitive proposition (or a postulate, or an axiom). This would perhaps not matter so much, were it not that the principle of induction would have in any case to be treated as a non-falsifiable statement. For if this principle— which is supposed to validate the inference of theories—were itself falsifiable, then it would be falsified with the first falsified theory, because this theory would then be a conclusion, derived with the help of the principle of induction; and this principle, as a premise, will of course be falsified by the modus tollens whenever a theory is falsified which was derived from it. *3 (The premises of the derivation of the theory would (according to the inductivist view here discussed) consist of the principle of induction and of observation statements. But the latter are here tacitly assumed to be unshaken and reproducible, so that they cannot be made responsible for the failure of the theory.) But this means that a falsifiable principle of induction would be falsified anew with every advance made by science. It would be necessary, therefore, to introduce a principle of induction assumed not to be falsifiable. But this would amount to the misconceived notion of a synthetic statement which is a priori valid, i.e. an irrefutable statement about reality. Thus if we try to turn our metaphysical faith in the uniformity of nature and in the verifiability of theories into a theory of knowledge based on inductive logic, we are left only with the choice between an infinite regress and apriorism.” The Logic of Scientific Discovery pg. 249-252

Popper is trying to make the distinction between a metaphysical principle and a methodological principle. He is trying to point out that science is a methodology without metaphysical principles. The line of demarcation between science and metaphysics is falsifiability or refutability.  He holds that “we must choose a criterion which allows us to admit to the domain of empirical science even statements which cannot be verified.” (pg. 18) Popper’s line of demarcation for statements that are allowed into science, or more specifically universal statements allowed into empirical science. “But I shall certainly admit a system as empirical or scientific only if it is capable of being tested by experience. These considerations suggest that not the verifiability but the falsifiability of a system is to be taken as a criterion of demarcation.*3 In other words: I shall not require of a scientific system that it shall be capable of being singled out, once and for all, in a positive sense; but I shall require that its logical form shall be such that it can be singled out, by means of empirical tests, in a negative sense: it must be possible for an empirical scientific system to be refuted by experience.” (pg. 18)

We can verify singular statements, it is logically possible for us to find out if that statement is true. If we have not verified that it is actually true, we cannot infer that it is actually false. It is still logically possible that it is true. So we find out that we can, at least in principle, verify the truth of a singular statement. However, it is not logically possible for us to affirm a universal statement, like empirical claims of science. However, we can show that they are false. We cannot verify them but we can falsify them. We falsify these universal statements with one singular statement, or one observation, which the universal statement does not logically allow for, i.e. says is not logically possible to be true if the universal statement is true. This can be shown by simple modus tollens.

Universal Statement: All ravens are black.
Singular Statement: This raven is white.
Conclusion: Some ravens are not white.


Universal Statement: No ravens are not black.
Singular Statement: This raven is not black.
Conclusion: Some ravens are not black.


Universal Statement: For each x, if x is a raven, then x is black.
Singular Statement: There exists at least one x, such that x is a raven and x is not black.
Conclusion: Not each x, if x is raven, then x is black.

What needs to be kept in mind that the Universal statement has a logical equivalent as “No ravens are not black.” So it logically excludes a raven that is white, since white is the logical opposite of black, so it is not black.

Popper shows that if we do accept a metaphysical principle (i.e. a universal statement) which is logically contingent, then it means it is possibly true or possibly false. And if we choose to invoke a metaphysical principle in our science, and we derive another universal statement from it, then when that derived universal statement is refuted by observation, then the universal statement and the one it was derived from are shown to be false. For example, assume that “All ravens on Earthare black” is a metaphysical principle. We may derive that “All ravens on Earth in  in the United States are black”. When we observe that one particular raven on Earth in the United States is not black, which means that “All ravens on Earth in the United States are black” and “All ravens on Earth are black” are false.

Metaphysical Statement: All ravens on Earth are black.
Scientific Statement: All ravens on Earth in the United States are black.
Observation: This raven on Earth in the United States is not black.
Conclusion: Not all ravens on Earth in the United States are black & Not all ravens on Earth are black.

This means that if someone believes that science holds to the metaphysical principle of induction, then it was shown to be false by scientific theories that are false. Now as a methodology there is nothing wrong with holding to it, because methodology makes no truth claim itself. Also, the example of causality is an example, if we take it as a metaphysical principle that science is based on. So this would mean that science would hold to this metaphysical principle and derive other statements from this principle and test them with experience or observation. From this we find that one of our theories made a false prediction, which means that the metaphysical principle of causality has been shown to be false by experience as well, and all other theories that were derived from the metaphysical principle, but have not been shown false yet, would also by logical implication be false. The same thing would hold with naturalism, physicalism, materialism, dualism, or the world is parsimonious or simple, or determinism, or indeterminism, or presentism and eternalism, and etc.

Now science, or experience, would have never been able to verify these metaphysical principles in the first place. There would be no support for them to be derived from experience. It would still be logically possible for them to be true, but we cannot find out if they are actually true. Experience cannot help us to figure out if they are actually true or possibly true, no matter the amount of observations we make that are consistent with them. But science may use methodological principles in its activities, but holding to those methodological principles does not mean that one is logically obliged to hold to the metaphysical principles.

What is even more interesting is that if we do try to make some sort of inductive argument, we could argue that since science has used metaphysical principle x, and science continually comes up with false theories, or refuted theories, it will continue to derive false theories from that metaphysical principle. But of course, once something was refuted we have shown that it is logically impossible to be true. However, we can still use it and we may derive “true” theories, or theories that have not been shown to be false by observation, yet. This is because anything follows from a logical contradiction. This means you can derive both true statements and false statements. So it would not be surprising if the metaphysical principle also helped you to derive theories that have not been shown false by observation as of yet (even though still logically possible to be shown false with next observation).

Here is an example from basic logic which will rely on two basic rules of logical inference. These two rules are Disjunctive Addition and Disjunctive Syllogism.

Rule 1 – Disjunctive Addition: Given that a statement is true, we can infer that a disjunction comprising it and any other statement is true, because only one disjunct needs to be true for the disjunctive compound to be true.

Premise: It is snowing
Conclusion: Either it is snowing or it is raining

Rule 2 – Disjunctive Syllogism: Because at least one disjunct must be true, by knowing one is false we can infer that the other is true.

Premise: Either the New York Yankees will win the pennant or the Baltimore Orioles will.
Premise: The Yankees will not win the pennant.
Conclusion: Therefore, the Orioles will win the pennant.

For it can easily be shown that these rules permit us to deduce from a pair of contradictory sentences, for instance, from the two sentences,  ”  The sun is shining ” and “The sun is not shining “, any sentence whatsoever.  Let us take these two premisses (a) “The sun is shining”  (b) “The sun is not shining “.  We can deduce with the help of rule (1) from the first of these premisses, the following sentence:”The sun is shining or Caesar was a traitor “. But from this sentence, together with the second premiss (b), we can deduce, following rule (2), that,Caesar was a traitor. And by the same method we can deduce any other sentence. This is extremely important, for if we can deduce any sentence whatsoever, then, clearly, we can always deduce any negation of any sentence whatsoever: It is clear that instead of the sentence “Caesar was a traitor ” we can, if we wish, deduce “Caesar was not a traitor “. In other words, from two contradictory premisses, we can logically deduce anything, and its negation as well. We therefore convey with such a contradictory theory-nothing. A theory which involves a contradiction is entirely useless, because it does not convey any sort of information.”

Logically possible Affirmation: The sun is shining.
Logically possible Negation: The sun is not shining.

The sun is shining. Therefore, by rule 1, The sun is shining or Ceasar was a traitor. But now the sun is not shining. Therefore, by rule 2, Ceasar was a traitor; The sun is not shinning. Therefore, by rule 1, The sun is not shinning or Ceasar was not a traitor. But now the sun is shinning. Therefore, by rule 2, Ceasar was not a traitor. Rule 1 allows you to pull up any premise you want, and be able to affirms this premise and also negate this premise by using Rule 2. So if you affirm a logical impossibility, anything and everything you want follows. They contain no “content” or “information” for empirical science. This is because empirical science wants to eliminate theories because they said something cannot happen and it was found that it did happen. Since there is a contradiction, we know it is logically impossible for the theory to be true.

This process of elimination, though, does not tell you which theories are true. It just says what is not true. There are still many other logically possible universal statements that have not been eliminated by singular statements, or observations, as of yet.

(This will be updated at least 24 hours after posting or publication). Edits need to be done.

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Popper, Hume, Induction, Falsifiability, and Science

Posted by allzermalmer on September 30, 2012

Here are some interesting things from Karl Popper on Falsification and Induction, or Hume on Induction.

“we merely have to realize that our ‘adoption’ of scientific theories can only be tentative; that they always are and will remain guesses or conjectures or hypotheses. They are put forward, of course, in the hope of hitting upon the truth, even though they miss it more often than not. They may be true or false. They may be tested by observation (it is the main task of science to make these tests more and more severe), and rejected if they do not pass…Indeed, we can do no more with a proposed law than test it: it is no use pretending that we have established universal theories, or justified them, or made them probably, by observation. We just have not done so, and cannot do so. We cannot give any positive reasons for them. They remain guesses or conjectures- though well tested ones.” Realism and the Aim of Science

Now someone might wonder how we cannot give any positive reasons for establishing the universal theories, or justified them, or made them probable, by all the observations that confirm its predictions on tests. This comes from what Popper takes to be Hume’s problem of induction.

“[Hume] tried to show that any inductive inference- any reasoning from singular and observable cases (and their repeated occurrence) to anything like regularities or laws- must be invalid. Any such inference, he tried to show, could not een be approximately or partially valid. It could not even be a probable inference: it must, rather, be completely baseless, and must always remain so, however great the number of the observed instances might be. Thus he tried to show that we cannot validly reason from the known to the unknown, or from what has been experienced to what has not been experienced (and thus, for example, from the past to the future): no matter how often the sun has been observed regularly to rise and set, even the greatest number of observed instances does not constitute what I have called a positive reason for the regularity, or the law, of the sun’s rising and setting. Thus it can neither establish this law nor make it probable.” Realism and the Aim of Science

I think it should be pointed out, Hume did bring up that the basic idea of induction was that “we suppose, but are never able to prove, that there must be a resemblance betwixt those objects, of which we have had experience, and those which lie beyond the reach of our discovery.” Induction is also done in other ways besides going from particular statements to universal statements.

[I.] Move form particular statement to particular statement.
In 1997 the Chicago Bulls beat the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals. In 1998 the Chicago Bulls beat the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals. Thus, the Chicago Bulls will win against the Utah Jazz the next time they play in the NBA Finals.

[II.] Move from general statement to general statement.
All NFL teams made tons of money this year. Thus, all NFL teams will make tons of money next year.

[III.] Move from general statement to particular statement.
All NFL teams made tons of money this year. Thus, the Ravens will make tons of money next year.

[IV.] Move from particular statement to general statement.
This crow is black. Thus, all crows are black.

Each of these, though, follow what Hume points out for Induction. They are going from the known to the unknown, which does not have to include the future or past.Hume also says that the only thing that can take us from the known to the unknown is causality, or a necessary connection between two events to form a necessary causal relation. But Hume already pointed out that this relation is not found by experience. So Hume comes to the conclusion that since the necessary relation between cause and effect or continuation of that relationship, is not shown by experience nor demonstrative,  or that the principle of induction is not known by experience or demonstrative, but that they are creations of the human imagination that cannot be shown to be true based on experience or reason, and any justification of them will either rely on an infinite regress or circular reasoning. So they cannot be proven to be true.

This would mean that when science proposes either a causal connection, or what will happen in the future, or what happens beneath sensible qualities, cannot be proved by experience to be true , or by reason to be true, or even held to be probably true. IOW, we are not justified in proposing things beyond what is known, since they cannot be shown to be true or probably true. So scientific hypotheses are unjustified and cannot be shown to be true or probably true, or natural laws cannot be shown to be true or probably true or justified.

Popper comes along and tries to save science, in some way. But you notice where his position eventually leads as well. He admits with Hume that we cannot demonstrate the truth of a scientific hypothesis or explanation; we cannot show by experiment the truth of a scientific hypothesis or explanation; we cannot show that a scientific hypothesis or explanation is probably true. All we can do is show if they are false. We can give negative reasons to a scientific hypothesis or explanation by it failing its severe experimental/observational tests. This is because it follows the demonstrative inference of modus tollens and disjunctive syllogism, so we can demonstrate that a scientific hypothesis or explanation is false.

So falsifiability, or refutabilty, can show you only that a scientific hypothesis or explanation is false. Refutability cannot demonstrate that the hypothesis or explanation is true, or has been shown by experience to be true, or is probably true.  It can only tell you that it may be true, and it has not failed any of its tests so far. It doesn’t even appears to care if something is true, only that it can be shown to be false.

And here are Hume on what Induction is, or relies on.

“that which we have had no experience, must resemble those which we have had experience, and nature continues uniformly the same.” Treatise of Human Nature:  Book I (Of the Understanding), Part III (Of Knowledge & Probability), Sect.VI.Of the Inference from the Impression to the Idea

“probability is founded on the presumpition of a resemblances betweixt those objects, of which we have had experience, and those, of which we have had none…” Treatise of Human Nature:  Book I (Of the Understanding), Part III (Of Knowledge & Probability), Sect.VI.Of the Inference from the Impression to the Idea

“Thus not only our reason fails us in the discovery of the ultimate connexion of causes and effects, but even after experience has informed us of their constant conjunction, it is impossible for us to satisfy ourselves by our reason, why we should extend that experience beyond those particular instances, which have fallen under our observation. We suppose, but are never able to prove, that there must be a resemblance betwixt those objects, of which we have had experience, and those which lie beyond the reach of our discovery.” Treatise of Human Nature:  Book I (Of the Understanding), Part III (Of Knowledge & Probability), Sect.VI.Of the Inference from the Impression to the Idea

“we always presume, when we see like sensible qualities, that they have like secret powers, and expect that effects, similar to those which we have experienced, will follow from them.” An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: Section IV. Sceptical Doubts Concerning the Operations of the Understanding, Part II

“all arguments from experience are founded on the similarity which we discover among natural objects, and by which we are induced to expect effects similar to those which we have found to follow from such objects.” An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: Section IV. Sceptical Doubts Concerning the Operations of the Understanding, Part II

“From causes which appear similar we expect similar effects. This is the sum of all our experimental conclusions.” An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: Section IV. Sceptical Doubts Concerning the Operations of the Understanding, Part II




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This Is Your Brain On George Berkeley

Posted by allzermalmer on September 24, 2012

“Philonous: I would first know whether I rightly understand your hypothesis. You make certain traces in the brain to be the causes or occasions of our [sensual experiences]. Pray tell me, whether by the ‘brain’ you mean any sensible thing?

Hylas: What else think you I could mean?

Philonous: Sensible things are all immediately perceivable; and those things which are immediately perceivable are ideas; and these exist only in the mind. Thus much you have, if I mistake not, long since agreed to.

Hylas: I do not deny it.

Philonous: The brain therefore you speak of, being a sensible thing, exists only in the mind. Now, I would fain know whether you think it reasonable to suppose, that one idea or thing existing in the mind, occasions all other ideas. And if you think so, pray how do you account for the origin of that primary idea or brain itself?

Hylas: I do not explain the origin of our ideas by that brain which is perceivable by sense, this being itself only a combination of sensible ideas, but by another which I imagine.

Philonous: But are not things imagined as truly ‘in the mind’ as things perceived ?

Hylas: I must confess they are.

Philonous: It comes therefore to the same thing; and you have been all this while accounting for ideas, by certain motions or impressions in the brain, that is, by some alterations in an idea, whether sensible or imaginable it matters not.”

This is your brain…

This is your brain on MRI…

Notice those two pictures? Good, because if you did not have any senses then you could not have noticed those two pictures. Those pictures are sensible experiences. Those sensible experiences are of the brain, and we notice the brain through sensible experiences, i.e. sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound.

So, as Hylas says, the brain is the cause of our sensual experiences. But Berkeley wants to know if the brain is itself a sensible thing, which Hylas says is correct. So something that is a sensible thing is the cause of our sensual experiences, as Hylas would have us believe. In fact, the sensible thing that is the brain would be the cause of itself being a sensible experience. Sounds an awful like it is self-caused, but does that even make sense that the brain caused itself? In other words, the brain (which is sensible) causes not only itself but all other sensible experiences that someone has.

Some people hold that the mind cannot exist without a brain, while Berkeley holds that the brain cannot exist without a mind. This comes about because Berkeley holds that sensible things cannot be empirically known to exist independent of a mind, or that it is logically impossible for sensible things to exist independent of a mind, i.e. self-contradictory. Have you ever found any sensible things to exist independent of your senses? If you have not found any sensible things to exist independent of your senses, then how do you know that sensible things exist independent of your senses, let alone these sensible things that exist independent of your senses causes your sensations?

But Berkeley, basically says that if sensible thing then immediately perceivable, and if immediately perceivable then ideas. It necessarily follows by hypothetical syllogism that if sensible thing then idea. If idea then only exist in the mind. It necessarily follows by hypothetical syllogism that if sensible thing then only exist in the mind. So sensible things only exist in the mind. But holding the brain is the cause of sensible experiences usually means that the brain does not exist in the mind. So it would necessarily follow by modus tollens that the brain is not a sensible thing. But this contradicted by actual experience, (see those brains?), so it is empirically shown that the brain is a sensible thing.

For Berkeley, an Idea can have two meanings, which was common during the time of Berkeley writing. One of them was being a sensible thing, i.e. a collection of different sensory qualities found to be conjoined with one another. The other meaning for Idea was something like a thought or imagining something. Berkeley, for the most part, takes the Brain as an Idea of the sensible sort.

It comes therefore to the same thing; and you have been all this while accounting for ideas, by certain motions or impressions in the brain, that is, by some alterations in an idea, whether sensible or imaginable it matters not. In other words, Hylas has been all this while accounting for sensible things, by certain motions or impressions in the brain, that is, by some alterations in a sensible thing. Hylas is accounting for sensible things by some alterations in sensible things. But, as Berkeley pointed out and Hume followed, we do not notice any sensible thing bringing about another sensible thing. We just notice one sensible thing to follow another sensible thing. But there is one thing that we do find by experience. When our minds will to move our arm, i.e. a sensible thing, that the sensible thing moves. So we find in one case that a non-sensible thing causes the movement of a sensible thing, and do not find any cases of sensible things causing the movement of another sensible thing. Key point is based on causality here, unless one wants to accept Hume’s skepticism where causality does not exist (or at least not shown by experience).

If we do accept Hume’s skepticism in that causality does not exist (or at least not known by experience), then we cannot accept Berkeley’s position or accept the position of Hylas that the brain is the cause of our sensible experiences.

If a non-sensible mind causes the movement of a sensible thing, then a non-sensible mind causes movement of the brain. We notice that our non-sensible mind causes the movement of our sensible body, take the example of moving arm. But we also notice that sensible things that are not our body move and they are not at our will. But Berkeley has rejected matter because it is not shown to exist by experience or is itself logically impossible for matter to exist. Thus, by processes of elimination, those sensible things that move that are not part of our body are caused to move by another non-sensible mind. So the movements in the brain are either caused by our minds or caused by another mind.

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Sherlock-Holmesian Reasoning

Posted by allzermalmer on September 22, 2012

Sherlock Holmes is the “[t]he only unofficial consulting detective”, and he had a certain method of reasoning in his “detecting”. This is laid out in the “The Sign of Four” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. One chapter is called “The Science of Deduction“, which goes over Holmes basic outline of reasoning. I have altered the format of The Science of Deduction reproduced here by trying to put it more into a Dialectical format.

Those portions that are italicized are not done so in the story itself. I have italicized them myself in order to show important features of Sherlock Holmes method of detection, or method of reasoning. These help to form the basic outlines, or characteristics, of his method propounded here. These are what I shall call Holmesian Reasoning, or Holmesian Thinking.

“Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantel piece, and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case. With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle and rolled back his left shirtcuff. For some little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist, all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture marks. Finally, he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet lined armchair with a long sigh of satisfaction.

Three times a day for many months Watson had witnessed this performance, but custom had not reconciled his mind to it. On the contrary, from day to day he had become more irritable at the sight, and his conscience swelled nightly within him at the thought that he had lacked the courage to protest. Again and again he had registered a vow that he should deliver his soul upon the subject; but there was that in the cool, nonchalant air of his companion which made him the last man with whom one would care to take anything approaching to a liberty. Sherlock Holmes great powers, his masterly manner, and the experience which Watson had had of his many extraordinary qualities, all made Watson diffident and backward in crossing him.

Yet upon that afternoon, whether it was the Beaune which Watson had taken with his lunch or the additional exasperation produced by the extreme deliberation of his manner, he suddenly felt that he could hold out no longer.

Watson: “Which is it today? Morphine or cocaine?”

Holes raised his eyes languidly from the old black letter volume which he had opened.

Holmes: “It is cocaine, a seven-per-cent solution. Would you care to try it?”

Watson : “No, indeed. My constitution has not got over the Afghan campaign yet. I cannot afford to throw any extra strain upon it.”

Holes smiled at Watson’s vehemence.

Holmes: “Perhaps you are right, Watson, I suppose that its influence is physically a bad one. I find it, however, so transcendently stimulating and clarifying to the mind that its secondary action is a matter of small moment.”

Watson: “But consider! Count the cost! Your brain may, as you say, be roused and excited, but it is a pathological and morbid process which involves increased tissue change and may at least leave a permanent weakness. You know, too, what a black reaction comes upon you. Surely the game is hardly worth the candle. Why should you, for a mere passing pleasure, risk the loss of those great powers with which you have been endowed? Remember that I speak not only as one comrade to another but as a medical man to one for whose constitution he is to some extent answerable.”

Holmes’s did not seem offended. On the contrary, he put his fingertips together, and leaned his elbows on the arms of his chair, like one who has a relish for conversation.

Holmes: “My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world.”

Watson: “The only unofficial detective?”  said while raising his eyebrows.

Holmes: “The only unofficial consulting detective, I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection. When Gregson, or Lestrade, or Athelney Jones are out of their depths–which, by the way, is their normal state–the matter is laid before me. I examine the data, as an expert, and pronounce a specialist’s opinion. I claim no credit in such cases. My name figures in no newspaper. The work itself, the pleasure of finding a field for my peculiar powers, is my highest reward. But you have yourself had some experience of my methods of work in the Jefferson Hope case.”

Watson: “Yes, indeed, I was never so struck by anything in my life. I even embodied it in a small brochure, with the somewhat fantastic title of ‘A Study in Scarlet.’ ”

Holmes shook his head sadly.

Holmes: “I glanced over it. Honestly, I cannot congratulate you upon it. Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid.”

Watson: “But the romance was there. I could not tamper with the facts.”

Holmes: “Some facts should be suppressed, or, at least, a just sense of proportion should be observed in treating them. The only point in the case which deserved mention was the curious analytical reasoning from effects to causes, by which I succeeded in unravelling it.

Watson  was annoyed at Holmes criticism of a work which had been specially designed to please him. Watson confess, too, that he was irritated by the egotism which seemed to demand that every line of his pamphlet should be devoted to Holmes own special doings. More than once during the years that Watson had lived with Holmes in Baker Street Watson had observed that a small vanity underlay his companion’s quiet and didactic manner. He made no remark however, but sat nursing his wounded leg. Watson had had a Jezaii bullet through it some time before, and though it did not prevent him from walking it ached wearily at every change of the weather.

Holmes: “My practice has extended recently to the Continent,” said Holmes after a while, filling up his old brier-root pipe. “I was consulted last week by Francois le Villard, who, as you probably know, has come rather to the front lately in the French detective service. He has all the Celtic power of quick intuition but he is deficient in the wide range of exact knowledge which is essential to the higher developments of his art. The case was concerned with a will and possessed some features of interest. I was able to refer him to two parallel cases, the one at Riga in 1857, and the other at St. Louis in 1871, which have suggested to him the true solution. Here is the letter which I had this morning acknowledging my assistance.”

Holmes tossed over, as he spoke, a crumpled sheet of foreign notepaper. Watson glanced his eyes down it, catching a profusion of notes of admiration, with stray magnifiques, coup-de-maitres and tours-de-force, all testifying to the ardent admiration of the Frenchman.

Watson: “He speaks as a pupil to his master.”

Holmes: “Oh, he rates my assistance too highly. He has considerable gifts himself. He possesses two out of the three qualities necessary for the ideal detective. He has the power of observation and that of deduction. He is only wanting in knowledge, and that may come in time. He is now translating my small works into French.”

Watson: “Your works?”

Holmes: “Oh, didn’t you know?” he cried, laughing. “Yes, I have been guilty of several monographs. They are all upon technical subjects. Here, for example, is one ‘Upon the Distinction between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos.’ In it I enumerate a hundred and forty forms of cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco, with coloured plates illustrating the difference in the ash. It is a point which is continually turning up in criminal trials, and which is sometimes of supreme importance as a clue. If you can say definitely, for example, that some murder had been done by a man who was smoking an Indian lunkah, it obviously narrows your field of search. To the trained eye there is as much difference between the black ash of a Trichinopoly and the white fluff of bird’s-eye as there is between a cabbage and a potato.

Watson: “You have an extraordinary genius for minutiae.”

Holmes: “I appreciate their importance. Here is my monograph upon the tracing of footsteps, with some remarks upon the uses of plaster of Paris as a preserver of impresses. Here, too, is a curious little work upon the influence of a trade upon the form of the hand, with lithotypes of the hands of slaters, sailors, cork cutters, compositors, weavers, and diamond-polishers. That is a matter of great practical

interest to the scientific detective–especially in cases of unclaimed bodies, or in discovering the antecedents of criminals. But I weary you with my hobby.”

Watson: “Not at all. It is of the greatest interest to me, especially since I have had the opportunity of observing your practical application of it. But you spoke just now of observation and deduction. Surely the one to some extent implies the other.”

Holmes: “Why, hardly,” he answered, leaning back luxuriously in his armchair and sending up thick blue wreaths from his pipe. “For example, observation shows me that you have been to the Wigmore Street Post Office this morning, but deduction lets me know that when there you dispatched a telegram.”

Watson: “Right! Right on both points! But I confess that I don’t see how you arrived at it. It was a sudden impulse upon my part, and I have mentioned it to no one.”

Holmes: “It is simplicity itself,” he remarked, chuckling at my surprise–“so absurdly simple that an explanation is superfluous; and yet it may serve to define the limits of observation and of deduction. Observation tells me that you have a little reddish mould adhering to your instep. Just opposite the Wigmore Street Office they have taken up the pavement and thrown up some earth, which lies in such a way that it is difficult to avoid treading in it in entering. The earth is of this peculiar reddish tint which is found, as far as I know, nowhere else in the neighbourhood. So much is observation. The rest is deduction.”

Watson: “How, then, did you deduce the telegram?”

Holmes: “Why, of course I knew that you had not written a letter, since I sat opposite to you all morning. I see also in your open desk there that you have a sheet of stamps and a thick bundle of postcards. What could you go into the post office for, then, but to send a wire? Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.

Watson: “In this case it certainly is so,” he replied after a little thought. “The thing, however, is, as you say, of the simplest. Would you think me impertinent if I were to put your theories to a more severe test?”

Holmes: “On the contrary,” he answered, “it would prevent me from taking a second dose of cocaine. I should be delighted to look into any problem which you might submit to me.”

Watson: “I have heard you say it is difficult for a man to have any object in daily use without leaving the impress of his individuality upon it in such a way that a trained observer might read it. Now, I have here a watch which has recently come into my possession. Would you have the kindness to let me have an opinion upon the character or habits of the late owner?”

Watson handed Holmes over the watch with some slight feeling of amusement in his heart, for the test was, as he thought, an impossible one, and he intended it as a lesson against the somewhat dogmatic tone which Holmes occasionally assumed. Holmes balanced the watch in his hand, gazed hard at the dial, opened the back, and examined the works, first with his naked eyes and then with a powerful convex lens. Watson could hardly keep from smiling at Holmes crestfallen face when he finally snapped the case to and handed it back.

Holmes: “There are hardly any data,” he remarked. “The watch has been recently cleaned, which robs me of my most suggestive facts.”

Watson: “You are right,” he answered. “It was cleaned before being sent to me.”

In Holmes heart he accused his companion of putting forward a most lame and impotent excuse to cover Watson’ s failure. What data could he expect from an uncleaned watch?

Holmes: “Though unsatisfactory, my research has not been entirely barren,” he observed, staring up at the ceiling with dreamy, lacklustre eyes. “Subject to your correction, I should judge that the watch belonged to your elder brother, who inherited it from your father.”

Watson: “That you gather, no doubt, from the H. W. upon the back?”

Holmes: “Quite so. The W. suggests your own name. The date of the watch is nearly fifty years back, and the initials are as old as the watch: so it was made for the last generation. Jewellery usually descends to the eldest son, and he is most likely to have the same name as the father. Your father has, if I remember right, been dead many years. It has, therefore, been in the hands of your eldest brother.”

Watson: “Right, so far,” said I. “Anything else?”

Holmes: “He was a man of untidy habits–very untidy and careless. He was left with good prospects, but he threw away his chances, lived for some time in poverty with occasional short intervals of prosperity, and finally, taking to drink, he died. That is all I can gather.”

Watson sprang from his chair and limped impatiently about the room with considerable bitterness in his heart.

Watson:  “This is unworthy of you, Holmes,” he said. “I could not have believed that you would have descended to this. You have made inquiries into the history of my unhappy brother, and you now pretend to deduce this knowledge in some fanciful way. You cannot expect me to believe that you have read all this from his old watch! It is unkind and, to speak plainly, has a touch of charlatanism in it.

Holmes: “My dear doctor,” said he kindly, “pray accept my apologies. Viewing the matter as an abstract problem, I had forgotten how personal and painful a thing it might be to you. I assure you, however, that I never even knew that you had a brother until you handed me the watch.”

Watson: “Then how in the name of all that is wonderful did you get these facts? They are absolutely correct in every particular.”

Holmes: “Ah, that is good luck. I could only say what was the balance of probability. I did not at all expect to be so accurate.”

Watsons: “But it was not mere guesswork?”

Holmes: “No, no: I never guess. It is a shocking habit–destructive to the logical faculty. What seems strange to you is only so because you do not follow my train of thought or observe the small facts upon which large inferences may depend. For example, I began by stating that your brother was careless. When you observe the lower part of that watch case you notice that it is not only dinted in two places but it is cut and marked all over from the habit of keeping other hard objects, such as coins or keys, in the same pocket. Surely it is no great feat to assume that a man who treats a fifty-guinea watch so cavalierly must be a careless man. Neither is it a very far fetched inference that a man who inherits one article of such value is pretty well provided for in other respects.

Watson nodded to show that he followed his reasoning.

Holmes: “It is very customary for pawnbrokers in England, when they take a watch, to scratch the numbers of the ticket with a pinpoint upon the inside of the case. It is more handy than a label as there is no risk of the number being lost or transposed. There are no less than four such numbers visible to my lens on the inside of this case. Inference–that your brother was often at low water. Secondary inference–that he had occasional bursts of prosperity, or he could not have redeemed the pledge. Finally, I ask you to look at the inner plate, which contains the keyhole. Look at the thousands of scratches all round the hole–marks where the key has slipped. What sober man’s key could have scored those grooves? But you will never see a drunkard’s watch without them. He winds it at night, and he leaves these traces of his unsteady hand. Where is the mystery in all this?”

Watson: “It is as clear as daylight,” he answered. “I regret the injustice which I did you. I should have had more faith in your marvellous faculty. May I ask whether you have any professional inquiry on foot at present?”

Holmes: “None. Hence the cocaine. I cannot live without brainwork. What else is there to live for? Stand at the window here. Was ever such a dreary, dismal, unprofitable world? See how the yellow fog swirls down the street and drifts across the dun coloured houses. What could be more hopelessly prosaic and material? What is the use of having powers, Doctor, when one has no field upon which to exert them? Crime is commonplacc, existence is commonplace, and no qualities save those which are commonplace have any function upon earth.

Watson had opened his mouth to reply to this tirade when, with a crisp knock, our landlady entered, bearing a card upon the brass salver.

Landlady Mrs. Hudson: “A young lady for you, sir,” she said, addressing Watson’s companion.

Holmes: “Miss Mary Morstan,” he read. “Hum! I have no recollection of the name. Ask the young lady to step up, Mrs. Hudson. Don’t go, Doctor Watson. I should prefer that you remain.”

1. Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner.

Sherlock Holmes does not allow for emotions to come into his method of detection, or his method of reasoning. He tries to keep feelings and emotions outside of he considers to be how detection is actually done or how detection actually ought to be done. Now Holmes is either guided by what detection actually is or what detection ought to be, or both what detection is and what detection ought to be. This appears to be open to being derived from  Is v. Ought and Descriptive v. Normative, or Is and Ought are one and the same and Descriptive and Normative are one and the same. As Joe Friday use to say, “Just the facts, ma’am.”. The Facts, for Holmes, are, or ought to be, treated in a cold and unemotional manner.

2.  Analytical reasoning from effects to causes, by which succeeded in unravelling a fact.

Sherlock will argue from an observation to a cause of that observation. From a single fact, Holmes argues to another, which is what produced the fact before him, what is the facts cause. From the fact that there is smoke, by analytical reasoning, Holmes concludes that there is fire. From the fact that there is red mud on Dr. Watson’s pants, he argues to a cause of the red mud on Dr. Watson’s pants. This fact was noticed by observation. From the facts of scratches and writing, and a certain functional characteristic on the watch that he observed, Holmes reaches a certain cause of those scratches and writing, and certain functional characteristics of the watch.

In the examples that are given in the dialogue, inductive reasoning is being used. Holmes moves from what is known to what is unknown. Holmes moves from the known to the unknown. Holmes moves from the effect, from the known, to the unknown cause. Holmes knows there is red mud on Watson’s pants, but Holmes did does not know where Watson went when Holmes was not with Watson. Holmes, also, did not see Watson walk into any red mud in the time that they were together.

3. The power of observation,  deduction, and a wide range of exact knowledge, (and intuition(?)).

You must be able to use your senses. You must be able to observe in order to notice things. You must have a wide base of exact knowledge. The example of Watson’s clock is one. Holmes notices some scratches on it, and he notices some writing on it, and he also knows the type of watch. The type of watch is based on Holmes wide range of exact knowledge. This wide range of exact knowledge also includes Holmes notices some scratches on it, and he notices some writing on it,  feels the watch in his hand, he focuses his attention to the dials of the clock, he opens the back of the watch and looks at the internal functionings of the watch with his naked eye and than with a magnifying instrument in front of his naked eye. These are the facts of observation that is shown to Holmes by observation.

Holmes have a wide range of exact knowledge, which either comes from his personal experience or from those that he has read in books or other people have said. He knows that jewelry is passed down to the eldest son, the eldest son usually has the same first name as the father, and he knows what  50 years old watches look like. From this exact knowledge he could deduce that the watch is Watson’s brothers. From that wide range of exact knowledge is previous knowledge brought to the situation when make the observations, which is how certain things can stand out to garner ones attention.

Holmes has a wide range of knowledge that is known to be true, and he has these particular observation, data, before him, and these together allow him to deduce something that is not known by the observations, or  data, itself or the wide range of knowledge itself. He does not know that the watch was owned by Watson’s brother and that Watson cleaned the watch before showing it to Holmes. But he knows a certain general principle that was established by enumeration of particular observations by himself or others, and the observations before Holmes now are consistent with those general principles themselves, and so it is another enumeration of that general principle.

All men are mortal (part of Holmes wide range of knowledge). Socrates is a man (observation made by Holmes). So Holems concludes that Socrates is mortal, even though Holmes has not made the observation itself that Socrates is mortal. Holmes concludes this through logical deduction from these known things. But the conclusion that Holmes draws is one that is not known itself by observation. He has not observed that Socrates has died, and so does not know that Socrates is mortal.

4. Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.

Holmes will eliminate other factors that can lead to different conclusions of the observations before him. Take the example of the ash that comes from different cigars. Holmes had enumerated many experiments with a hundred and forty forms of cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco. He noticed that each type of cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco, left their own distinct ash. This became a wide range of exact knowledge he obtained.If Holmes did not know all these different possible cigars, cigarettes, and pipe tobacco, and the ash they leave behind, then he would not know what else would be consistent with the ash that Holmes observes. But knowing these things, he can eliminate certain possible types of cigars, cigarettes, and pipe tobacco, because the observation eliminates those causes of the ash. The observation is not consistent with those possible causes, or source, of the ash that is left behind.

Knowing all the possible factors involved in the situation, would allow Holmes to eliminate certain possible causes for what is being observed. Holmes would eliminate what is impossible, because the observation contradicts a cause that is possible in and of itself. Like eliminating that the ash belongs to cigar type x because cigar type x ash is not similar to the ash observed. So whatever else is left would be the truth if it is the only factor left, like cigar y is the only source consistent with the observed ash, and if it is not the only factor left then at least know what is not the possible source of the ash. Cigar types a,b, and c have been eliminated. It narrows the search down further to the cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco to be the source, the cause, of the ash observed.

Holmes eliminates possible causes of the effect that is observed, and only one possible cause is correct. The murder smoked a particular type of tobacco product, and that particular tobacco product left behind a certain kind of ash. He eliminated particular tobacco products as the cause of the ash because those causes product different effects than the one observed. So the murder did not smoke those tobacco products. But Holmes himself did not observe what particular tobacco product itself that the murder smoked. He is eliminating a possible unknown cause by a known effect, and how the possible unknown cause is not consistent with the known effect.

5. Some facts ought be suppressed, or not given much attention.

Some observations ought not to be taken attention or pay much attention to. This appears to follow from Holmes saying that emotions that are found to go along with observations ought to be ignored. This is because emotions are not cold and unemotional. There are also other factors that do not play into a possible cause for the observation, which appears to come from ones wide range of exact knowledge, or intuition. The shoes that Watson has on appear to have no causal relation with the watch the Watson presented for Holmes to observe. So Holmes ought to suppress the observation of what shoes Watson has on, or Holmes emotional state in making the observation of the watch.

(This blog post will go through alteration and addition at a later date.)

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Descartes Wax

Posted by allzermalmer on March 19, 2012

This blog is based on Meditation Two of Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy. This will deal specifically with Descartes analogy, or problem, with this pesky piece of wax of his.

“Let us consider the things which people commonly think they understand most distinctly of all; that is, the bodies which we touch and see. I do not mean bodies in general- for general perceptions are apt to be somewhat more confused- but one particular body. Let us take, for example, this piece of wax. It has just been taken from the honeycomb; it has not yet quite lost the taste of honey; it retains some of the scent of the flowers from which it as gathered; its colour, shape and size are plain to see; it is hard, cold and can be handled without difficulty; if you rap it with your knuckle it makes a sound. In short, it has everything which appears necessary to enable a body to be known as distinctly as possible. But even as I speak, I put the wax by the fire, and look: the residual taste is eliminated, the smell goes away, the colour changes, the shape is lost, the size increases; it becomes liquid and hot; you can hardly touch it, and if yous trike it, it no longer makes a sound. But does the same wax remain? It must be admitted that it does; no one denies it, no one thinks otherwise. So what was it in the wax that I understood with such distinctness? Evidently none of the features which I arrived at by means of the senses; for whatever came under states, smell, sight, touch or hearing has now altered- yet the wax remains.”

[As a side note, there was, supposedly, an auction of some of Descartes personal belonging. Some philosophers wanted to buy Descartes’ wax that is mentioned in this passage. And what was said was that it was a foot in height, and had been molded into a hat.]

So what is going on here in this passage? Descarte is going over what his senses presented to him, which happens to be this piece of wax. Now what is this wax that he knows by his senses? This is a particular body, as Descartes says. It has the property of  “tast[ing] of honey…the scent of the flowers…colour, shape and size…hard, cold and…handled without difficulty…it makes a sound.” All these things that were just listed “appears necessary to enable a body to be known as distinctly as possible.”Not only are these properties necessary to know them as distinctly as possible, it’s how we come to know of this body he calls wax. Remember, Descartes says “Let us consider the things which people commonly think they understand most distinctly of all; that is, the bodies which we touch and see. I do not mean bodies in general… but one particular body.”

He thinks that people typically think they understand, distinctly, bodies that they touch and see. He lists some of these properties that we think we understand, distinctly. We have one thing with all of these properties. Now he does something interesting, which is to put the piece of wax in a fire and pull it out. What do we notice about this thing that we thought we understood distinctly? Now the “taste is eliminated, the smell goes away, the colour changes, the shape is lost, the size increases; it becomes liquid and hot; you can hardly touch it, and if you strike it, it no longer makes a sound.” In other words, the piece of wax that we originally had is all of a sudden different. It no longer holds the properties that it just had, it changed. One and the same thing can be different at times.

Descartes comes to ask “[b]ut does the same wax remain?”. We notice the qualities change through time, but is there something that contains these qualities that remains through these changes in properties present to our senses?He says, ” It must be admitted that it does; no one denies it, no one thinks otherwise.” Now we seem to be in a predicament. We hold that something changes through time, yet remains the same in some sense, and that we don’t come to know of this thing from what our senses present to us. Either we have to give up the idea of things beneath what the senses present or there is something beneath what the senses present. He obviously decides to go with things beneath what the senses present. He is basically saying that experience doesn’t show us what lies beneath the appearances of the senses. He comes to ask and say,  “So what was it in the wax that I understood with such distinctness? Evidently none of the features which I arrived at by means of the senses.” This means we come up with the idea of “bodies” not through the senses, because the senses change when the bodies don’t really change, but through some other source than the senses.

“Perhaps the answer lies in the thought which now comes to my mind; namely, the wax was not after all the sweetness of the honey, or the fragrance of the flowers, or the whiteness, or shape, or the sound, but was rather a body which presented itself to me in these varies forms a little while ago, but which now exhibits different ones. But what exactly is it that I am now imagining? Let us concentrate, take away everything which does not belong to the wax, and see what is left: merely something extended, flexible and changeable. But what is meant here by ‘flexible’ and ‘changeable’? Is it what I picture in my imagination: that this piece of wax is capable of changing from a round shape to a square shape, or from a square shape to a triangular shape? Not at all; for I can grasp that the wax is capable of countless changes of this kind, yet I am unable to run through this immeasurable number of changes in my imagination, form which it follows that it is not the faculty of imagination that gives me my grasp of the wax as flexible and changeable. And what is meant by ‘extended’? Is the extension of the wax also unknown? For it increases if the wax melts, increases again if it boils, and is greater still of the heat is increased. I would not be making a correct judgement about the nature of wax unless I believed it capable of being extended in many more different ways than I will ever encompass in my imagination, I must therefore admit that the nature of this piece of wax is in no way revealed by my imagination, but is perceived by the mind alone. (I am speaking of this particular piece of wax; the point is even clearer with regard to wax in general.) But what is this wax which is perceived by the mind alone? It is of course the same wax which I see, which I touch, which I picture in my imagination, in short the same wax which I thought it to be from the start. And yet, and here is the point, the perception I have of it is a case not of vision or touch or imagination- nor has it ever been, despite previous appearances- but of purely mental scrutiny; and this can be imperfect and confused, as it was before, or clear and distinct as it is now, depending on how carefully I concentrate on what the wax consists in.”

He breaks down the piece of wax even further. He used his senses and found that the idea of the wax, this thing that is the wax, wasn’t derived from the senses. He now decides to change what else, besides these other qualities he listed before, made up this wax. He comes to find that it is based on being changeable, flexible, and extended. Now he wants to see if he derived these three main characteristics of the wax, since he discarded the senses because they don’t indicate anything to support the idea of the particular body of wax. Maybe it being changeable, flexible, and extended, can indicate anything to support the particular body of wax.

He comes to question what is meant by ‘changeable’ and ‘flexible’, because these are now the three things helps us come to the idea of this particular body known as wax. He doesn’t come to this idea based on his imagination, because he finds that there are many ways he can change or it flex it so that it takes different shapes. Yet his imagination is limited and could be changed even further than he can imagine. Thus, it doesn’t come through is imagination that he comes to the idea of this wax as changeable and flexible, nor through his senses since he just got rid of them previously.As he says, ” I am unable to run through this immeasurable number of changes in my imagination, form which it follows that it is not the faculty of imagination that gives me my grasp of the wax as flexible and changeable.”

He comes to question what is meant by ‘extension’, since this is the third idea of this particular body known as wax. He comes to think that ‘extension’ does not even help him come to the idea of this body known as wax, the particular one he has before him. He has seen the extension of the object change as well. For example, he has seen it melt and decrease, he has seen it boiled and it increases, and the extension goes even further when heated. He comes on to say, “I would not be making a correct judgement about the nature of wax unless I believed it capable of being extended in many more different ways than I will ever encompass in my imagination…” he eventually comes to say that his imagination does not give him the idea of this extension which he said was part of the three things that make up this particular body he knows as the wax. It was also not given to him by his senses.

His final conclusion comes down to, “I must therefore admit that the nature of this piece of wax is in no way revealed by my imagination, but is perceived by the mind alone. (I am speaking of this particular piece of wax; the point is even clearer with regard to wax in general.)” The conclusion is that the body of wax is something that we don’t derive from our senses or imagination. His conclusion is that ” the bodies which we touch and see…[have] none of the features  arrived at by means of the senses…[or] is in no way revealed by my imagination.” The imagination and senses don’t allow us to comprehend this thing that lies beneath what is present to our senses or imagination, but that we come to know of them through “mental scrutiny”, as Descartes says.

“But as I reach this conclusion I am amazed at how to error my mind is. For although I am thinking about these matters within myself, silently and without speaking, nonetheless the actual words bring me up short, and I am almost tricked by ordinary ways of talking. We say that we see the wax itself, if it is there before us, not that we judge it to be there from its colour or shape; and this might lead me to conclude without more ado that knowledge of the wax comes from what the eye sees, and not from the scrutiny of the mind alone. But then if I look out of the window and see men crossing the square, as I just happen to have done, I normally say that I see the men themselves, just as I say that I see the wax. Yet do I see any more than hats and coats which could conceal automatons? I judge that they are men. And so something which I thought I was seeing with my eyes is in fact grasped solely by the faculty of judgement which is in my mind.”

Descartes comes to point out that we are often lead to error by trusting what the senses and imagination present to us. This is because we believe that there is something that holds to all these qualities that we experienced with the senses. We also think that it also holds these other qualities of changeable, flexible, and extension. However, through mental scrutiny of this particular object of wax, he finds that he comes to no idea of a body beneath all of these qualities. But we have this idea of it, and he finds that we come to this conclusion based on “mental scrutiny”, which he also calls “Innate Ideas”.

He thought, as was previously pointed out, that there are some perplexing, if not out right contradictions, in holding to this idea of body based on the imagination and senses. Thus, to have this idea, it is not derived from the senses or imagination. But when we talk about these things, in our ordinary language, we come to think that there is something beneath what we experience, and that we come to know of it through the senses and imagination. We are “tricked” into ordinary ways of talking to hold this view. As he says, “We say that we see the wax itself, if it is there before us, not that we judge it to be there from its colour or shape; and this might lead me to conclude without more ado that knowledge of the wax comes from what the eye sees, and not from the scrutiny of the mind alone.”

Descartes comes to conclude that we judge there to that particular piece of wax with those properties because of the senses and imagination. He concludes that these people are wrong, if we hold to belief of some particular body known through senses and imagination. They ignore that we come to know of it through mental scrutiny, because neither the senses or imagination give us this idea. He also brings this up nicely through the example of the people he sees walking in the street. This is a clear example of the problem of other minds. The senses and imagination don’t give him the idea that there are people there, he judges them to be people and not automatons. He knows this through “Innate Ideas”, like he does about something being the body of particular wax, even though not know through senses or imaginations.


We believe there is a particular body, which is expressed by this wax Descartes has in his hand. The wax is expressed with taste, scent, color, shape, size, hard, cold, and makes sounds, by the human senses. He finds that these things change, they exist at one time and cease to exist at another. So don’t come to the idea of particular body, as expressed by this wax, through the human senses. The wax is expressed with ‘extension’, ‘changeable’, and ‘flexible’, by the imagination. He finds that these things change, and come and go as well. So don’t come to the idea of a particular body, as expressed by this wax, through the human imagination. But we believe that there is some particular body, and it doesn’t come from the senses or imagination. Thus, Descartes comes to say that we come to know of a particular body because of “mental scrutiny”.

There is someone who holds a different position than Descartes, drastically different, and that is George Berkeley. Descartes has his piece of wax and Berkeley has his apple.

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Are All Empirical Statements Merely Hypotheses?

Posted by allzermalmer on December 19, 2011

This blog will be based on an article done by W.T. Stace. It is called, Are All Empirical Statements Merely Hypotheses? It appeared in the philosophical journal known as The Journal of Philosophy Vol. 44, No. 2 (Jan. 16, 1947), pp. 29-38.

It is sometimes stated that all empirical statements are only probable. This was stated by those like, and especially by, Rudolph Carnap. One philosopher who disagreed, and said that some empirical statements are certain, was G.E. Moore. Stace shall agree with Moore, but with some qualifications. The statement that will be the exemplar of what is being talked about will be the statement of “This key is made of iron”. Now this statement is a singular statement like x is Y.

“To say that this proposition can never be more than probable means, I assume, that there must always be some doubt as to its truth. The question we have to get clear about is: what is the doubt, or what are the doubts, which those philosophers who say that such a statement can never be more than probable, have in mind?”

Some of the doubts could be as follows for what makes this empirical statement probable: the laws of nature are statistical, we could be deceived by some sort of demons or might be dreaming, or statements that we make rely on memory and our memory could be wrong. None of these things seems to be what has lead some to think that all empirical statements are probable. That is because these doubts are arising from practical doubt because of the frailty of human faculties.

The philosophers, like Carnap, seem to be relying on theoretical/logical doubt. This seems to be based on the logic at which we arrive at empirical truths, regardless of the frailties of particular human beings. They seem to be saying that we arrive at these empirical statements, like “this key is made of iron”, are arrived at by means of induction. And, through the means of induction, we never arrive at certainty by by means of probability.

Stace quotes Carnap on the basic idea of which is to lead to all empirical statements are merely probable. Take the statement that “This key is made of iron”. This proposition will be known as P1. We can test P1 by seeing if it is attracted by a magnet, if it is then we have partial verification of P1. So here is what Rudolph Carnap says, which leads him to state that all empirical statements are merely probable in his book Philosophy and Logical Syntax:

“After that, or instead of that, we may make an examination by electrical tests, or by mechanical, chemical, or optical tests, etc. If in these further investigations all instances turn out to be positive, the certainty of the proposition P1 gradually grows…but absolute certainty we can never attain. the number of instances deducible from P1 is infinite. Therefore there is always the possibility of finding in the future a negative instance.”

Now this is the logical problem that we face. Anytime we perform a new test, and the test is passed, it only adds a degree of probability to the statement that “this key is made of iron”. And the problem, further, is that we can’t completely verify the statement, or be certain of it, because we would have to complete an infinite number of observations. But this is not only practically impossible, it is also logically impossible.

But there is some ambiguity of what Carnap means, because there are two ways that this can be taken. The first thing could be about the different kinds of tests. For we noticed that he brought up the tests that could be done, like magnetic, electrical, chemical, and etc. So the it could be meant that the number of different kinds of test is infinite, which means we would have to make an infinite number of kinds of tests in order to achieve complete verification of the statements truth. But Stace has an objection to this position.

“If an infinite number of kinds of tests of the key were possible, this would imply that the key must have an infinite number of different characteristics or properties to be tested for. But even if an object can have an infinite number of characteristics, it would not be necessary to test for them all in order to identify the object as iron. All we need is to verify the defining characteristics of iron, which are certainly finite in number. and there is, of course, no logical difficulty about doing that.”

Now there is a second possible meaning for which Carnap has in mind. We could do a single test of a defining characteristic like “being attracted by a magnet”, or what other defining characteristics there might be. These tests only make the statement probable because we may find that the key is attracted one time and perform many of the same tests a thousand times in succession and find the same results as the first test. But we can never be sure that an instance will not turn up in the future in which the object will not be attracted by a magnet (problem of induction). “If the same thing happens in the same circumstances in a vast number of times, each time it happens makes it a little more probable that it will happen again, but it can never be quite certain.”

It is true that scientists perform the same experiments, this is the repeatably of the scientific tests. What one scientist is able to do in a test, it has to be reproducible by other scientists around the world. The same experiment can be repeated by the same experimenter over and over, or can be done by other experimenters around the world. But why are experiments repeated? Is it because each fresh instance of a positive result of the same test adds to the probability of the conclusion? It seems not.

Let us assume that we have an object that is to be tested. We want to test whether it is composed of a certain substance, which we can call X. Now let us suppose that there is only one defining characteristic of X which we call A. The scientist is testing for Y. If Y is found it is a sign that the substance is X. Now, is it true that A may be repeated many times. But why?

“It is not because he supposes that a barren repetition of instances of A makes it more probable that the substance is X. It is always, on the contrary, because he has doubts whether he has satisfactorily established by his observations of the presence of A. It is not the validity of the inductive inference from A to X that he is doubting, but whether A is really present…the doubt which the experimenter is trying to exclude is not any logical doubt about induction, but practical doubts arising from difficulties of observation, possible deficiencies in apparatus, difficulty in ensuring that the experiment is made in the exact conditions required, and so on. He is not doubting that the inductive premises will lead to an absolutely certain conclusion. He is doubting whether he has satisfactorily established the inductive premises.”

What is going on is that the scientist procedure is that a single observation is sufficient to establish an inductive conclusion with certainty. But this is only the case provided that the premises have been established. So it is not the inductive conclusion that is being questioned, but it is the premises that are being questioned. As Stace says, “What is implied by the scientist’s procedure is that a single observation or experiment is sufficient to establish an inductive conclusion with certainty, provided the premises have been established. I hold that the scientist is right.”

Stace locates the problem at three points. And this is the problem of how some philosophers have reached the conclusion that all empirical statements are merely probable.

(1.) One of the problems was how philosophers thought that scientists were repeating experiments to try to dispel logical doubts about the validity of induction. What the scientists were doing, in fact, was trying to dispel practical errors in observing or establishing the premises on which an induction rests. The question of probability doesn’t fall within the inductive argument, but outside of the inductive argument.

“That is to say, what is only probable is not that, if A is once associated with B, it will always be associated with B, but that A has actually been found associated with B; not that if a substance has a certain specific gravity it is gold, but that the substance now before me actually has that specific gravity…a natural mistake located the question of probability within the inductive argument instead of outside of it; have extrapolated it from the practical sphere of observation, measurement, and so on, where it actually belongs, to the logical sphere of the inductive inference in which in reality it has no place.”

So the problem is not in the inductive argument itself, but outside of the argument. What is outside of the argument is making sure that you have made an observation that meets with the premises of the argument. This is what constant testing is about, to make sure that the observations are in line with the premises. It is not the argument being questioned, but something outside of the argument that is being questioned.

(2.) Another reason that it seems that it is brought up that empirical statements are probable deals with the view of induction where an application of the inductive principle to a type of cases different from that of the Iron key. This other application is based on generalizing from observations. For example, we generalize from observations of a number from a certain class to the whole class. This means, from observing some white swans, we go on to generalize to the class of swans. From seeing a certain number of swans being white, and not observing any black swans, we go on to say that All swans are white. This will be dealt with a little later on.

(3.) This view seems to follow, as some philosophers think, from what David Hume had to say on the problem of Induction. Hume showed that we can’t “prove” a conclusion in an inductive argument. Because of this, some seem to have imagine that because we can’t prove it, we can at least make it probable. But it doesn’t seem that this follows from what Hume said on the problem of Induction. But Stace does think that something follows from what Hume said on this problem.

Imagine that we have a single instance of A being associated with B, and we’ve ruled out all practical doubts from possible errors of observation or experiment. We now have, logically, two positions that we can take up.

The first is that we can assume the validity of the principle of Induction. So, in this single instance, we can conclude that A is always associated with B, and our conclusion follows with absolute certainer from our two premises of single observed association of A with B and the principle of induction. With these two premises, the conclusion is certain to start with, and so there is no increasing probability or probability at all.

The second is that you may not assume that validity of the inductive principle. Now this means that we follow Hume, which means that there’s no logical connection between the premises and the conclusion of induction. This means, nothing follows from induction, neither certainty nor probability. No matter how many single instances that support our inductive conclusion, the probability never arises above zero. (Karl Popper would agree with this point). There is no connection to say that because the conclusion obtained, that we can say that the probability of the premises rises some more. They are disconnected. It is like having three dots on a sheet of paper. They are disconnected from each other. So when we affirm one, we can’t affirm any of the others because they’re not connected with one another.

“I have affirmed that, given the inductive principle, a single case will prove the inductive conclusion with certainty, I ought to give a formulation to the inductive principle which embodies this…”If in even a single instance, we have observed that a thing of the sort A is associated with a thing of the sort B, then on any other appearance of A, provided the other factors present along with A are the same on both occasions, it is certain that A will be associated with B.””

There is the clause of “provided the other factors present along with A are the same on both occasions.” This forms part of the principle, which comes down to “Same cause, same effect”. There is an example to help make this point clear. If the bell is struck in air then it produces sound. But it doesn’t follow that a bell struck in a vacuum will produce sound. This is because of the clause that was inserted into the principle. The factors aren’t the same, and so they’re not the same type of thing. But it does introduce a new inductive discovery.

There is one obvious objection that one could make to this principle. It could be said that this new interpretation is merely an assumption that is incapable of proof. So if this is a matter of being arbitrary choice of how to formulate it in terms of certainty and probability, then we ought not to assume more than is necessary to justify our sciences and our practice. So someone could say, “it will be quite sufficient for these purposes to assume that, if A is associated with B now, it will probably be associated with B at other times and places. On this ground the probability formulation should be preferred.”

But putting the term certainty in there is not meant to be arbitrary, but it is mean to represent a formulation of the assumption which has been the basis of science and practice. But maybe Stace should be more clear, which is what he tries to do like as follows:

“If you have one case of a set of circumstances A associated with B, and you are quite sure you have correctly established this one association, then, assuming the uniformity of nature, or the reign of law, or the principle of induction-call it what you will- a repetition of identically the same set of circumstances A is bound to be associated with B. For if not, you would have a capricious world, a world in which A sometimes produces B, and sometimes it does not, a world in which the kettle put on the fire may boil today, but freeze tomorrow. And this would clearly be a violation of the principle of induction which you have assumed.”

Now, if you assume the principle of induction, then a single case validates an induction. But now Stace will try to prove his second contention that if you don’t assume the principle of induction, your inductive conclusion aren’t probable at all and there’s no repetition of instances, so no matter how great the number, then the probability is never raised above zero.

To establish this position, Stace will assume that Hume is right. This means, between the premises and the conclusion of an inductive argument there is absolutely no logical connection at all. This means that there is nothing to establish the slightest probability because they’re is no connection between them. So if we affirm one part, it has no connection to another to raise the probability of this part that is connected to what we affirmed. They are so completely disconnected that there’s no logical connection to even bring up probability.

For example, here is what Al-Ghazali said about causality, which is the same position that David Hume took up, and this is based in some ways on the principle of induction. “The affirmation of one does not imply the affirmation of the other; nor does its denial imply the denial of the other. The existence of one is not necessitated by the existence of the other; nor its non-existence by the non-existence of the other.” So when we affirm one thing with induction, like a correct experiment, this in no way can increase any probability when the affirmation of one doesn’t imply the affirmation of the other. How can you raise the probability when what you affirm has no connection to anything else to raise the probability of this other thing? You can’t.

Stace goes on to try to examine the types of cases in which generalize a whole class from a number of instances that are smaller than the whole class. Try to generalize about a whole class of swans from observing a few of the swans that are suppose to make up the whole class. If we observe one swan and it is white,nto conclude that all swans are white, we might be accused of generalizing from one instance. But if we make 10,000 observations, we might think we have a degree of probability to support the generalization. We go on to make observe 1 billion swans and they were white. This might lead us to go on to admit that the hypothesis has become even more probable. So, someone might say to defend the probability view, that how can we deny that we probability and use the probability view of induction?

“But the inductive principle only holds with the proviso, “if the factors present along with A are the same” in subsequent repitition of A. And this case of the swans is simply a case in which it is extremely difficult to be sure that this is so. A in this case means the defining characteristics of the class swan, and B means whiteness. Now different swans will have, along with the defining characteristics A, a number of other characteristics. and these will differ with different individual swans, not to mention circumambient differences of environment. Thus the first case of A you observed was really ACDE, and this was associated with B. The second case was APQR, the third AXYZ. Now, of course, it does not follow from the principle of induction that because ACDE was associated with B, therefore APQR and AXYZ must be associated with B. For we do not have there that exact repetition of the same sets of circumstances which the inductive principle requires.”

To try to remedy the situation that we are in, we constantly repeat observations of this class of swans. Now if we keep making these observations of A, and they’re found to have B, then we think it becomes more and more likely that we have eliminated other certain possibilities, and raise the probability. We want to eliminate some of the accidental characteristics of certain swans. This would be something like they’re size. food they eat, and the climates that they live in. When we rule out sets of circumstances as irrelevant, they become more probable.

The fundamental reason why there is constant repetition of observation on new members of class is that although in theory the association of A with B, once it is observed must always hold, is because in practice we never get our cases of pure A. “We can not isolate the system. It is always mixed up with extraneous circumstances. Thus the doubt which we are trying to dispel by repeated observations has nothing at all to do with Hume’s doubt about the validity of induction…” That doubt can’t be dispelled, no matter now many numerous observations we make. But the doubt that we are trying to get rid of isn’t the logical doubt. The doubt we are trying to get rid of is the practical doubt from the enormous complexity of nature, our frailty of our intellects which are unequal with the task to disentangle the complexities, or the inadequacy of the instruments that we have at our disposal to isolate the system present.

Some, like Carnap, have divided knowledge into empirical knowledge and necessary propositions. Necessary propositions would be those like mathematics and logic. Now the empirical propositions could be considered doubtful because the practical doubts that arise from our human infirmities. But this means that we ought to have the same doubts in concern with mathematics. This is why we have people that check our work in mathematics, to make sure that we made no practical doubts in the process that we followed.

“There is one sense in which mathematical, or, in general, deductive conclusions are certain this may be called the logical or theoretical sense. And there is another sense, which may be called the practical sense, in which they are only probable, since the mathematician or the syllogizer may err in his reasoning. The mathematician may miscalculate, and the syllogizer may make any one of a hundred mistakes. And if practical doubts are not a ground for denying that, in an appropriate sense, mathematics is certain, then practical doubts can not be a ground for denying that, in an appropriate sense, empirical conclusions are uncertain.”

“As it is with mathematical truths, so precisely it is with empirical truths. There is one sense in which an inductive conclusion is certain, namely, the theoretical sense that it follows with certainity from a single observation plus the inductive principle. And there is another sense, the practical one, in which it is probable only, because there may be errors in observation, experimentation, and the like.”

“The statement that empiricial knowledge may be theoretically certain is, of course, subject to the proviso that we accept the inductive principle. If we don’t accept it, then, of course, empirical knowledge is not even probable. It has no validity at all. In no case does any question of probability enter into the matter.”

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Averroes, Al-Ghazali, and Causality

Posted by allzermalmer on December 16, 2011

During the time period between 1037 and 1198 in Muslim philosophy were there were two ideas that were prominent on the view of causality. Of that period there were two defenders of the opposing viewpoints of causality.. For the theologian side there was Al-Ghazali. For the philosopher side there was Averroes. Al-Ghazali held that things happened, by causality, contingently. For Averroes, things happened necessarily. But they both agreed that things were caused by God, but for slightly different reasons.

Al-Ghazali read up on the philosophers’ position of causality, and the philosopher that had the most influence, and was the biggest defender of necessary causation, was Avicenna. Al-Ghazali wrote a response to Avicenna’s stance of causality and the relation it shared to that of God. Avicenna talked about the necessitation of causality, and how things are to happen a certain way and could not happen otherwise. Al-Ghazali presented an argument of causality based on things happening contingently. And all these things were done by the will of God.

Being contingent affairs, things can always happen otherwise than they do, and Al-Ghazli is talking about, what it was known as during his times, as efficient causation. This means, that because the sun has risen every day in the east, this doesn’t mean that the sun won’t rise in the west tomorrow. There is nothing logically contradictory in holding to either position separately, but you can’t hold on to both positions at the same time. They are contradictory. So we know that either one of those two things will happen. Which happens, we cannot say that it can’t happen otherwise than one way, like the sun will always rise in the east.

Al-Ghazli likes to use the analogy of cotton and a fire. Imagine, in modern day way, that we have a lighter in our hand and a piece of fresh picked cotton. We can put the flame right under the cotton so that the flame from the lighter is seen to be in “contact” with the cotton. We notice that the cotton starts to catch on fire and turn black as well. We don’t notice anything necessary between them, or for one thing to follow the other. Thus, we don’t observe that the fire has to make the cotton turn black and catch fire. We just notice this correlation between these two different events. And this happens because this is the way that God willed it to happen.

God can always, the next time we put the lighter under the cotton and make contact with the cotton, for the cotton to not catch fire or turn black. God has decided that, for this instance, the cotton should not catch fire. There is nothing that prevents God from doing this, because there is no logical contradiction for it not happening. Thus, when Abraham was surrounded by fire and never caught on fire, that he was not burnt. God did not will it to happen, and broke from the way that God usually willed for things to happen, like they did in past incidents.

We can have two propositions about causality. [1.]At time T^1, a person swallows a date while hungry. [2.]At time T^2, the person’s hunger is gone. Affirming the first proposition doesn’t entail the second proposition. Nor does the non-existence of state of events entail the non-existence of another state of affairs. For God, anything can be done that is possible. Thus God can will a person to remain hunger even after they ate a date, or God can make take aways someone’s hunger when they don’t eat. Things only have those dispositions for which God wills at any instance.

The philosopher Averroes responded to Al-Ghazali’s take on causality, and tried to show the response for which the philosophers have to the theologians take on causality. He wanted to point out that the philosophers do not deny that those things that are possible, but say that there are necessary things as well. Averroes stated that because we can’t observe the cause of certain effects by the senses that we only need to search harder for those causes that brought about these effects. This is because things have certain essences in them that make them comply to do certain things and respond in certain ways. This forms the necessary connection between cause and effect.

Averroes holds that there are four causes, and not just the efficient causation that Al-Ghazali dealt with. Besides efficient causation, there is the cause of form, the cause of matter, and the cause for the end. These other causes play into effects, and the stance from which necessary causation is linked. Averroes points out that when we have two things, that one is active and the other passive. From this, we can draw one relation from infinity of things that could happen between them or come from them causing on one another. But having this one relation limits those things that could come from all the possibilities that aren’t logically contradictory.

One of the reasons for this is that certain things are a certain way. The necessity seems to be in that of the name and definition. For example, it is necessary, for fire to keep its name and definition, that it keeps its “burning power”. Thus, it is similar to “All bachelors are unmarried males”. This means that things are limited unto the meaning of things, and that they can’t deviate from them based on this. Thus, based on the definitions and name, in conjunction with the four causes, things happen necessarily. This is also related to things being one, which is based on its essence. This is what the definitions and names are supposed to capture, which is the essence of things. The very essence of things means that only certain necessary things can happen, and this helps to make cause and effect a necessary connection. There is a necessary connection between cause and effect.

So, for example, let us go back with the example of the date. . [1.]At time T^1, a person swallows a date while hungry. [2.]At time T^2, the person’s hunger is gone. Now there is a necessary connection between these two propositions. The first of them would be from the four causes. There would be the necessary connection between the forms, the matter, the efficient cause, and the final cause. But within this it comes about because of the very essence of the date and the human being. There is an active and passive connection between their essences in this situation, and this means that based on the definition of these essences, one thing follows from necessity because of the other.

One of the major themes involved is that God knows all things, and knowing them, while being omniscient, entails that things necessarily happen because of God knowing them. God knows all the essences of things, which means that God knows the active and passive relation between things at all times. This also entails that God knows the four causes, and what necessarily follows from these things. It is also based on God’s will, because only things that have knowledge can have a will. Thus, when it comes to a causal connection, when we affirm one thing, it necessarily follows the entailment of the second thing. Thus, when we affirm the cause, it necessarily follows that a certain consequent shall follow, and this is the effect.

What seems to be one of the major differences would be involved with the definition of things, or at least their very essence which is trying to be captured by the definition of something. Al-Ghazali doesn’t seem to be affirming the essence of things, while Averroes seems to be affirming. One of the other differences is that Al-Ghazali isn’t using the other three causes, and is only focusing on one of those causes. Averroes is using four causes, which means that it is using efficient cause like Al-Ghazali exclusively focuses on. What they do both agree on, though, is that God is the cause of things, in some way or form.

For Averroes, things happen out of necessity because God knows the essence of all things, and God knowing something entails that it happens out of necessity. While for Al-Ghazali, things happen because God wills them to happen. One can allow for miracles because God decides to break “habit” of usually having the cotton catch fire when it is touched by a flame, like God did with Abraham. For Averroes, there are miracles of this sort as well. God knowing that Abraham will not catch fire means that Abraham will not catch fire. Things happen out of necessity because of this. God’s knowledge of things is the cause of them.

One way to look at this deals with the “Why” question. This can be broken down into two parts. It is that something produces the item, or that something explains the need or function of something. Al-Ghazali deals with what produces the item, while Averroes deals with explaining the need or function of something. The need for an explanation based on the function is the necessity of why it happened, while dealing with the something that produces an item is one that is contingent, and has no real function for something being brought about out of necessity. Both the theological side of Al-Ghazali and the philosophical side of Averroes take different stands on these positions. One only takes the first parts of something that produces an idea, while the second take the first part and also incorporates the second.

For Averroes, the world and God are both co-eternal. And God is the sufficient cause of all things. There is the essential cause and the efficient cause. These are based on teleological cause and efficient cause. When the essential cause exists, it necessitates the efficient cause. But for Al-Ghazali, there is no real essential cause. There is the efficient cause from which it is God’s will from which things happen as they do. There is no necessity, or essential cause, for which things must follow as they do. The only thing that would come close to this would be based on God’s will for things to happen in a certain way that they do. And one of the differences for this is that Al-Ghazali held that the world has not always existed and that God created the world, which is to negate the eternal existence of the world. While for Averroes, the world has always existed alongside the world. This is where the essential cause is affirmed by Averroes and denied by Al-Ghazali.

One of the other differences between Averroes and Al-Ghazali based on their idea of causality is that God can only do things out of necessity for Averroes. While for Al-Ghazali, God can do anything that isn’t self-contradictory and doesn’t have to do things out of necessity. One way to look at this is that they both uphold causality of some sort. But for Al-Ghazali, the efficient causation holds, but it is not because those things that we attribute as the cause is what brought about the effect. There is no link, which we find through the senses, which show this link. Thus, if we hold to the causal relation of A and B, Al-Ghazali doesn’t say that it is because of A that B happened. While for Averroes, it is because of A that B happened. One of the reasons that Al-Ghazali objected to the necessarianism of causality is that it seems to reject miracles, and the miracles are attested to in the Qur’an.

One of the big differences is that one holds that there must be a cause for something, which is what Averroes holds to. While on the other hand, for Al-Ghazali, things don’t need causes in order for them to happen. Now what is understood here is that of a necessary cause, or an essential cause. These would be the four causes. Thus, Al-Ghazali objects to these four causes, and that is because they are based on the Greek philosophers, who were pagans. So Al-Ghazali objects to these ideas, and presents an idea of causality which is devoid of the pagan influences, but also consistent with the view of God in the Qur’an.

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Parmenidean Dogma

Posted by allzermalmer on December 9, 2011

This blog is based off an article done by W.T. Stace. The article is called Parmenidean Dogma, and appeared in the philosophical journal Philosophy, Vol. 24, No. 90 (Jul., 1949), pp. 195-204.

“By the Parmenidean dogma I mean the proposition that “something cannot come out of nothing.””

We usually hear of this first proposition, and also hear of the second proposition that usually follows from it, i.e. “something cannot become nothing.” But we shall be dealing with the first proposition, which is the Parmenidean dogma. It is called the Parmenidean dogma because Parmenides was the first person who made it into an explicit form of an abstract metaphysical proposition. The idea might have been part of human thinking before Parmenides, but he was the first to formalize it.

It is not hard to see that this dogma could come out of common experience. We have the examples of trying to get a rabbit out of an empty top-hat, cannot get blood out of a stone, cannot take money out of an empty wallet. These are part of some of our basic experiences, and these were taken on to become part of the Parmenidean dogma. We can find that something suddenly appears before us, and we will almost immediately wonder where it came from. We ask, “Where did it come from? It must have been somewhere all the time. It couldn’t have come out of nothing.”

“Just as the common experiences of stones which are hard and grey, or leaves which are green and soft, gave rise to the metaphysical concept of substance, so these other common experiences gave rise to the Parmenidean dogma. Thus common-sense truths are rashly erected into universal metaphysical principles of all being. They harden into dogmas. they solidify into prejudices so deep that in a little while men say that anything which contradicts them is “inconceivable”.”

These types of dogma help to fetter human advancement. The reason is that we come to hold these idea, and yet at the same time we never try to advance beyond it, because it seems inconceivable for them to be any different. Take for example Euclidean geometry. This looks to be our common-sense idea of the geometry of the world that we experience. From this position, it seemed inconceivable that two straight lines could enclose a space. But, however, this all changed with the non-Euclidean geometry, which was invented by Georg Riemannan

This dogma happens to be very influential, and can be found throughout western thinking. For example, it has been held in Western philosophy for a long time because of Parmenides. It has also become part of our thinking in science, or at least in many scientific thinking. As has already been pointed out, it is also part of our common-sense thinking as well.

Now Parmenides used his idea of in a very interesting way, and one that helped to make him famous. He would talk about substance and being, and these were to be major categories of how the world is. But it would also prohibit certain things.

“Change always involves the arising of something new, something which wasn’t there before, something therefore which has come out of nothing. If an object changes from green to red, then the red has come from nowhere, and the green has disappeared into non-existence. And as this contradicts the dogma it cannot have happened.”

But this seems to contradict the way we like to view things as well. That is because it makes change look like an illusion, and that’s even the conclusion that Parmenides stated based on the Parmenidean Dogma. For we do notice a change in colors, going from one color to another, or something change from one thing to another, or one state to another state. But this shows that there is change, which means that it contradicts the dogma. This would seem to indicate that there is something wrong with the Parmedian Dogma. This is involved with the Problem of Change, and one can read Heraclitus to see what happens with the Problem of Change and what can come from this.

This became such a problem back in the days of the ancient philosophers, that Aristotle came out with an answer to the problem of change. It seems to come out and try to answer the problem with a certain invocation of potential.

“Aristotle, as we know, believed he had “solved” the problem of change-a problem artificially created by the dogma and otherwise non-existent-by inventing the categories of potentiality and actuality. The rabbit was, by means of these categories, successfully produced out of the top-hat. This was very awkward because we had just looked into the top-hat and seen that the rabbit was not there. There is only one solution. The rabbit was in the hat all the time. But it wasn’t an actual rabbit. It was a potential rabbit. That is why we couldn’t see it when we looked. Potential rabbits are invisible.”

These ideas, which are developed by Parmenides, went on to influence how people reacted to it. Aristotles response went on to influence many generations of people with his response. This went on down through Aquinas of the Middle Ages, down to the present times that we live in. This, in some ways, goes to show the influences that the Parmenidean dogma went to have on philosophy and some reactions to it. “It was Parmenides who was responsible for potentiality”, because developed it to continue with the dogma in some form.

We can even find that it has even become a dogma of science. Alan Guth, in his book The Inflationary Universe, helps make this point when he says that, “”Being is ungenerable and imperishable,” wrote Parmenides in about 500 B.C., in a passage that helped to create the philosophical approach that today we call science.” So we can find that science does rely on this dogma as well, and forms one of the major foundations for science, and our view of the world. It comes from common sense experience, and we come to find it hard to think of a world that doesn’t follow such a principle.

“Clearly [Parmenidean Dogma] produced the scientific maxims of the conservation of matter and the conservation of energy. These ideas are not empirical generalizations. They are simply a priori deductions from the dogma…It is plain that scientists supposed that matter could neither be created nor destroyed because they supposed it inconceivable that something could come out of nothing or go into nothing.”

Now, it is true that we don’t see matter coming in and out of existence. We find the conservation of matter to be inline with our observations and with common-sense. It agrees with our observation of not finding rabbits coming out of empty top-hats, or finding money coming out of an empty wallet. This is what has helped to suggest the conservation of matter to begin with. But it is plain that these observations we have made are insufficient to base on which to found a universal principle about the nature of matter throughout the universe. But at least we can rely on experience for this one, to a certain degree.

But the conservation of energy itself is in a worse off position than that of matter. This isn’t support by common observation, but is flatly contradicted by it. Imagine that two people are throwing a baseball to each other, over a house. When one person throws it up into the air and over the house, there is a certain amount of kinetic energy being used. But now imagine that the ball gets stuck on the roof and doesn’t move from the roof in a week. What we notice through experience is that the energy was there when it was thrown, but disappeared when the ball got stuck on the roof. This energy disappeared. But, when a storm comes by and dislodges the ball and falls off the roof, we notice that the same amount of kinetic energy appears again. The energy was there, disappeared, and the same exact amount of energy reappeared. So what happened to the energy during that week of being lodged on the roof?

“If you consult experience, observation, the answer is that it had gone out of existence altogether. But this does not square with dogma. So the scientist invented the fiction of potential energy- Aristotle’s Parmenidean concept- to make it square. Not only is this concept supported by no evidence whatsoever, but it is in this case even flatly self-contradictory. For potential energy simply means no energy which is not now energizing. It is non-energetic energy.”

This is partially covered in another blog done here, by the same author.

But now, in recent physics, the two principles of conservation of matter and conservation of energy have disappeared. For, now both principles are combined together to form a new principle. This new principle is the principle of conservation of matter-energy. This means that energy and matter turn into one another. Matter can turn into energy, and energy can turn into matter. This follows the Parmenidean dogma, because two principles form the new single principle of conservation of matter-energy. Something still cannot come out of nothing. This is helps bring out the idea of form and matter, which seems to be related to the Parmenidean dogma.

“We suppose that two quite different things are really, in spite of their difference, the same thing, because one is a different form of the other or because they are both forms of something underlying. Another variant of the same idea is the notion of “aspects”. There are supposed to be different aspects of the same thing.”

Now an empiricist might agree to talk of such a way, the idea of form and matter, but they do not hold to it being true. It’s just a mode of speech that we use. For you can say that A and b are two forms of one thing, then either this one thing is an underlying substratum that’s unempirical, or you mean that one thing is A itself or B itself. Now, if you say that A is form of something which, by the very hypothesis under question, is different from it, specifically b, you are just talking nonsense. Purple cannot be a form of red, would be an example.

We find the category of form everywhere. For example, we say that diamond and charcoal are said to be forms of the same thing known as carbon. But charcoal and diamond are palpably different things. We also hear that heat, light, and electricity are different forms of energy. So, with all this in mind, how is this a result of the Parmenidean dogma? Empirically what is observed in the cases just mentioned would follow similarly to this. The charcoal disappears into nothing, and the diamond appears from nowhere. The heat disappears out of existence, and the light comes out of nothing.

Instead, what we do to try to avoid this, is to make an equivalence to be set up. This way we can say that heat is replaced with light, light replaced with the original amount of heat doesn’t affect this procedure. This just becomes a part of the regularity and orderliness in the changes that happen in the world. But all these observed facts contradict the Parmenidean dogma, but we say that heat has never gone out of existence and has exited for all time. We just say that it has existed in another form.

“The category of form in this case does the same work as the category of potentiality in the case of the [baseball] thrown up on the roof. And the one is as much a fiction as the other. And both fictions have been developed in our culture in order to square observed facts with the Parmenidean dogma.”

Now, one position in philosophy is that of causation. Certain theories have been proposed, and one of them has been based on the Parmenidean dogma. This type of idea is based on the cause and effect being identical. This is the idea of identity theory of causation. This means that all effects are completely and literally identical to their causes, which in turn means that there is no such thing as change in the world. But some cannot accept that there is no change in the world, and would thus have to say that the effect is another “form” of the cause. This helps bring out Parmenidean origin of the identity theory. This is because the effect must be identical with the cause, because if this were not the case, then something came into existence in the effect that was not in existence before. This means that something has come out of nothing.

Some try to save this theory of causation, and come to say that the cause and effect might not be identical but they’re at least alike. But this, as well, is contradicted by experience. Lighting is totally unlike its effect, that of thunder. One is a visual phenomena, and the other is an auditory phenomena. But this theory cannot even be made clear because the fact of resemblance is a matter of degree, and this makes it impossible for the theory to say how much resemblance there is between the cause and effect are required. And it is certainly possible that everything in the universe resembles everything else in some of it’s characteristics, no matter how much unlike they are.

The theory of identical causation, and it’s resemblance off-shoot, is part of the baseless objection to Cartesian dualism. For we usually consider it “inconceivable” for mind and matter to interact, or could influence one another. This, evidently, is because they’re suppose to be unlike one another. So the cause is unlike the effect, and find that the Parmenidean dogma ha a hand in the objection to Cartesian dualism.

There is another example, which is that of Absolute Idealism. One tenet of Absolute Idealism is that the higher cannot come out of the lower.This means that beaut and goodness cannot come out of nothing, and this would be involved if they came out of what is lower than themselves. Thus, they must have always been in existence in some say. They must be eternal.

“Indeed, on the Parmenidean view everything must be eternal, since nothing can ever come into existence. This is in fact the theory of absolute idealism, since it holds that if anything does come into existence it cannot be real, but is only an appearance. From this point of view absolute idealism is in all its expanse nothing but a vast elaboration of the Parmenidean dogma.”

Now some might question the absolute idealist, and one response would be that the pre-existent values in the absolute are invisible like the potential rabbit. This is what is meant by saying that they’re transcendental. And transcendental means not phenomenal, and not phenomenal means not visible. But if you give up the Parmenidean dogma, then all of this disappears.

Now it will be maintained that the Parmenidean dogma is either an empirical generalization or a necessary truth. Now it can’t be an empirical generalization when we’ve noticed that there’s contradictories of it being an empirical generalization. Thus, we’re left to come up with it as a necessary truth. And it would seem that many, especially Parmenides thought of it as a necessary truth. And Parmenides even used it to contradict experience, and yet such an idea is common and doesn’t strictly come from Parmenides himself. And it comes to be seen as “inconceivable” for something to come out of nothing, but this is like two straight lines enclosing space with Euclid’s geometry.

Now it seems that David Hume settled this issue of the Parmenidean dogma not being a necessary truth. He brought this up in “Why a cause is always necessary“. His answer to the Parmenidean dogma being a necessary truth doesn’t have to deal with necessary connection, and are independent of it. His answer of the Parmenidean dogma not being a necessary truth would still be valid even if we admit of necessary connection. What Hume argued against was that “whatever beings to exist must have a cause of existence.”, which we can call the causal proposition, was a necessary truth.

“[Hume] points out that we can easily imagine- he is using the word in the strict sense of having a mental image of- we can easily imagine something coming into existence without a cause.Thus you can easily imagine a billiard ball suddenly appearing on the table here, literally beginning to be, without any cause, or if you like, coming from nowhere…Now it is impossible to have an image of something which is self-contradictory. For instance, you cannot imagine a round square. Therefore the fact that you can imagine a thing or event proves that it is not self-contradictory. Therefore since you can imagine a thing coming into existence without a cause, this proves that it is not self-contradictory. Hence the causal proposition cannot be an analytic a priori truth.”

Now there is another type of “proof” that can be presented.

“When it is said that a thing is self-contradictory, this is of course elliptical. Only propositions can. So when it is said that a thing is self-contradictory what is meant is that two contradicting propositions follow from the assertion of its existence. Therefore if anyone says that something is self-contradictory we ought always to ask him to set out the two contradicting propositions. It follows that, if a thing or event can be completely described without remained in a set of propositions none of which contradicts another one, then the thing or event cannot be self-contradictory.”

Now let us imagine that some thing or event, X, comes into existence out of nothing, passes from non-existence to existence, at time T. We can describe this in only two propositions, (1.) that X did not exist before time T, and (2.) that X existed after time T. These propositions don’t contradict one another, because they deal with different times. Now, if it were said that X both exists and doesn’t exist at the same time, then this would be self-contradictory. Thus, X coming into existence out of nothing is not self-contradictory and not a necessary truth. Thus, it is neither an empirical generalization and a necessary truth.

This can also be applied to causal propositions. Suppose that X came into existence at time T without a cause. This can be described with 3 propositions. (1.) X did not exist before time T, (2.) X existed after time T, (3.) before time T there was no event which stood in the causal relation to X. None of these propositions contradict one another. Now this shows that it’s not an analytic (a priori) truth, and we seem to be left with a synthetic (a priori) truth.

Now it is commonly held that there are no synthetic a priori truths. But this being the case now doesn’t mean that there are no synthetic a priori truths. So if the Parmenidean dogma is a sythetic a priori truth, then it will have the character of being intuitively necessary. But this doesn’t seem to be the case at all. For example, children don’t seem to have a problem of thinking of fairies popping out of nowhere in front of them, and things of this nature. They find it intuitive that this can happen, which means it’s not intuitively necessary that the Parmenidean dogma is a synthetic a priori truth. Some propositions in mathematics seem intuitively necessary, but these are analytic truths and we can prove them step by step. But the Parmenidean dogma doesn’t look to be demonstrably step by step, and thus not intuitively necessary. So it seems that the Parmenidean dogma is like someone who says that “the Earth is flat”. It might seem intuitively necessary that the earth is flat, but there doesn’t seem to be any demonstrable way to back up this intuitive necessary truth that they hold. “But it is quite clear that what has happened is that he has mistaken a psychological feeling of certainty, such as is derived from a deep-rooted prejudice, or a logical necessity.”

“We reach the result that the Parmenidean dogma is baseless…It does not follow that some of the ideas based on it may not be useful. Perhaps potential energy may be a useful fiction. It is necessary if the principle of conservation is to be preserved. And that principle, though it cannot claim to be an absolute truth, is doubtless a valuable methodological assumption.”

“But in general our picture of the world will be changed- and changed evidently in the direct of a more empirical philosophy. We shall not invent hidden substances underlying the changes of things in order to preserve the things from going in and out of existence. We shall not invent a hidden mysterious energy which underlies heat, light, and electricity. We shall say that the principle that they are all “forms” of energy means only that when a given amount of motion disappears and is replaced by a given amount of heat, these are equivalents in the sense that the original amount of motion can be made by suitable means to appear again and displace the heat.”

Now, this also means that Newton’s infamous “action at a distance” can be accepted. Back in Newton’s day, people looked for mechanical answers, which was basically about showing one object coming into contact with another to make it move. But Newton’s formulation of gravity said that it was action at a distance, which was where one object doesn’t come into contact with another. This was a scandal in Newton’s time, but people came to accept it (reluctantly) because it worked so well with predictions. So there’s no contradiction to suppose that a cause happens here on Earth, and all of a sudden effects something on the other side of the universe with nothing intermediary between them. The rejection of the Parmenidean dogma means that the mind is perfectly open to admit action at a distance if ever the evidence should point to it.

“In general the moral is: anything whatever can happen- anything except round squares, two two making five, or other self-contradictions. It is simply a matter of evidence. I have sometimes been asked what is the value of empiricism. Sometimes I am afraid it is used to rule out possibilities. Sometimes it appears as a narrowing influence. But its true function is to free the mind from prejudices, to free us from the bondage of supposing that our prejudices are laws of the universe. Instead of narrowing our view-point, it should open our minds and our imaginations to the possibilities of new paths and hitherto undreamed progress in knowledge. It should strike off many ancient fetters from our minds.”

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Atoms and the Physical World

Posted by allzermalmer on November 5, 2011

This blog is based on Walter Terrence Stace article called Sir Arthur Eddington and The Physical World, in the journal Philosophy, Vol. 9, No. 33 (Jan., 1934), pp. 39-50. The article follows that of Refutation of Realism (which I did a blog on).

He starts out by pointing out the two distinct worlds of the familiar world and the physical world. The first, familiar world contains sticks, stones, stars, colors, sounds, and smells.  The second, physical world, contains electrons, protons, and has no colors, smells, or taste.

The familiar world is suppose to be composed of “sense-data”, and that they only exist in the mind, or are subjective. The physical world is to be composed of something that interacts with us, and gives rise to the “sense-data” that we experience. We reach to the physical world by inference from the familiar world that we experience, to the world outside of it by inference. This means we never come into direct contact with the physical world, like we never see it, touch it, smell it, or taste it. Thus, we only infer from the sense-data, which are ‘in the mind’, to the physical world of electrons and protons. But the electrons and protons aren’t hypothetical entities or fictions (as Eddington might think).

To clear up some of these things, this will not deal with common-sense division of universe of mind and universe of matter. This is to be considered false, because there is a third option. There is the third realm of neither physical nor mental, but what will be called a “neutral” realm. Part of this neutral realm is our sensory qualities, and are neither physical or mental. This is one way to get ride of this division of mind and matter (known as Neutral Monism).

We come to recognize that “Sense-data are the first and the most direct things in our experience; all else is remote inference.” It does not matter if they sense-data are mental or neutral, “in” minds or “outside” of them. What matters is that we don’t attribute these “sense-data” to atoms, because we’re told that don’t have color or anything like that, which are sensory qualities. For we’ll be stuck in a contradictions: “Electrons have color but they don’t have color.”

Let’s take a statement like, “There exists a physical world of protons and electrons which do not possess the sensory qualities. And this world is not in any way hypothetical or fictitious.” And we’ll come to think of it like saying something like the cat is real, the moon is real, the table is real. Come to understand it simply as “existent”.

Now let’s take a look at what happens if we take protons and etc are merely fictitious. We can soften the language and just call them “mental constructions”. This view doesn’t say anything about the validity of science, or the invalidity, nor does it derogates the dignity of it’s claim to teach us “truth”. There existence is more of an ontological question, one of metaphysics. As mathematician and scientist Henri Poincare once said, “It matters little whether ether really exists; that is the affair of metaphysicians. The essential thing for us is that everything happens as if it existed, and that this hypothesis is convenient for the explanation of phenomena.” And physicist Edward Andrade once said, “Whether the man of science regards his atoms as having an ultimate reality or not does not affect the validity of theory; the theory is just as useful in introducing order and promoting discovery if they are merely polite fictions as if they are desperate realities.”

Because we only experience the sense-data, this rules out the suggestion that we can know that atoms exist by perceiving them. They are outside of the sense-data, as the scientist would admit. But we can admit that we perform an experiment and notice that we see a “wavy trail”, and we call that the electron. But we haven’t seen the electron itself, but we say a “wavy trail”. The “wavy trail” was part of the sense-data, but the electron wasn’t. Instead, we come to think that the electron caused the “wavy trail” that was our sense data. This means that the electron would have to be an inference from the sense-data.

Now we could come to wonder how we infer these things from the sense-data. We seem to have the option of causality. What we observe is the effect, and we come to infer the cause from the effects. We notice certain regularities in sense-data, which provide us with the laws of physics or provide the rules of inference. Like “electron caused the wavy trail.”

This can lead us to think that the physical world is the cause of the familiar world, which is the effect of the physical world. In other words, the familiar world we all experience is the effect of the physical world, which is the cause. What we experience is the effect of something else, which we call the physical world.

It shall be assumed that there is some kind of causality, either deterministic or indeterminate, which is how we make the inference from a supposed effect to cause, or from sense-datum to atoms.  The obvious reason we have for believing in the law of causation is based on that observe certain regularities or sequences. When conditions A are met, it is always happens that B happens. This means that when condition A is the case, then B shows up. A is called the cause, and B is called the effect. This leads to the causal law of AB.

But these regularities are found among sense-data. A is a sense-datum, and B is a sense-datum, and any of our other cause and effect relationships ever observed by any human being have been sense-datum. This leads us to the conclusion that the cause of sense-datum is always another sense-datums, and all known causal laws apply solely to the world of sense-data. This means we have no, and could not have, one single piece of evidence for believing that the law of causation can be applied outside of the realm of sense-data, or sense-data can have any causes (like the physical objects) which aren’t sense-data themselves.

A diagram of what is going on here could help out:

A,B, and C are all sense-datum found in the familiar world. The person sees all these things, and sees that B follows A, and C follows B. This leads them to believe that A is the cause of B, and B is the cause of C. It comes to this conclusion of causality by the regular repetition of that order, and through experience. Sense-datum of billiard ball A is found to come into contact with sense-datum billiard ball B. This leads us to conclude that A is the cause of B moving.

But what right do we have, or what reason, to assert that the causes of A,B, and C are a’,b’,c’ (which are physical causes), when they’re never observed behind the sense-data? We have no right to this claim. The law of causation they operate on has never been observed to operate outside of the sense-data, and can therefore have no evidence that it does operate outside of the sense-data. It is sufficent to stick with A being the cause of B. We don’t have to invoke that a’ is the cause of A, when these aren’t part of sense-data, but A is the cause of B is part of the sense-data. We’d have to give two causes for each phenomena, one in the one world and the other in another world. One cause in the physical world and one in the familiar world.

It is not denied that a star causes light-waves, those waves cause retinal changes, the retinal changes cause changes in the optic nerve, which causes movements in the brain cells, and so on.

“But the observed causes and effects are all sense-data, or at least possible sense-data. And no sequences of sense-data can possibly justify going outside of the series of sense-data altogether. If you admit that we never observe anything except sense-data and their relations, regularities, and sequences, then it is obvious that we are completely shut in by sense-data, and can never get outside of them. Not only causal relations, but all other observed relations, upon which any kind of inferences might be founded, will lead only to further sense-data and their relations. No inference, therefore, can pass from what is sense-datum to what is not sense-datum.”

This, in the end, leads to there the fact that atoms aren’t inferences from sense-data. It is not to be denied that there is a vast amount of valid inferential reasoning taking place in a physical theory that contains atoms in it. But from a strict logical sense, there’s no inference from sense-datum to atoms. What does this mean?

“An hypothesis is set up, and the inferential processes are concerned with the application of the hypothesis, i.e. with the prediction by its aid of further sense-data, and with its own internal consistency.”

This means that atoms aren’t inferences from sense-data (i.e. experience), or can validly infer them from sense-data. This means we can’t have any reason to believe that they exist. Or, we at least, no one could know if they did, and means we have absolutely no evidence of their existence.

We might wonder the status the atoms have, or the hypothesis that contains them. It doesn’t mean that they’re false and worthless, merely untrue. We don’t come to think that the nautical almanac “exist” except on the pages of the book or in the brains of the people that compiled it or read it. But the natural almanac is “true” as much as it enables us to predict certain “sense-data”, like disks of light at night (i.e. stars). The atomic theory carries a similar function as that of the natural almanac. It helps us make predictions of experiences that we’ll have, and orderly amongst itself.

This view includes making predictions of future things, but it also includes the view to include retrodictions as well, which is making predictions about what happened in the past. For example, we could wonder where Mars was on 8,000 B.C.E. We use our hypothesis, say Newton’s. With this hypothesis, the theory makes a retrodiction of where Mars was around 8,000 B.C.E.

Stace suggests that hypothesis, like the theory of the atoms, are shorthand formula ingeniously worked out by the human mind. And they enable us to predict experiences. He gives us the example of Newton’s “force”.

“Newton formulated a law of gravitation in terms of “forces.” It was supposed that this law-which was nothing but a mathematical formula-governed the operation of these existent forces. Nowadays it is no longer believed that these forces exist at all. And yet the law can be applied just as well without them to the prediction of astronomical phenomena. It is a matter of no importance to the scientific man whether the forces exist or not…But that would not make the law useless or untrue (if Newton’s “force” didn’t exist). If it could still be used to predict phenomena, it would be just as true as it was.”

Instead, we’ve found that Newton’s “forces” couldn’t account for the orbit of Mercury, and a new theory was developed. It was developed based on Einstein’s theory. Einstein’s theory talks about bumps and space bending and creating hills in the space-time fabric. And this helped get ride of Newton’s “forces” in science. But this doesn’t put Einstein’s theory off any better.

“Not only may it be said that forces do not exist. It may with equal truth be said that “gravitation” does not exist. Gravitation is not a “thing,” but a mathematical formula, which exists only in the heads of mathematicians. And as a mathematical formula cannot cause a body to fall, so gravitation cannot cause a body to fall. Ordinary language misleads us here. We speak of the law “of” gravitation, and suppose that this law “applies to” the heavenly bodies. We are thereby misled into supposing that there are two things, namely, the gravitation and the heavenly bodies, and that one of these things, the gravitation, causes changes in the other. In reality nothing exists except the moving bodies, or moving sense-data. And neither Newton’s law nor Einstein’s law is, strictly speaking, a law of gravitation. They are both laws of moving sensedata, that is to say, formulae which tell us how the sense-data will move.”

We tend to think that these things exist, and that is because the human mind hasn’t broken free of the idea that science “explains” things. People weren’t just content with laws that told them planets, as a matter of fact, move in such and such ways. People wanted to know “why” planets moves these ways. Newton replied because of “Forces”. And humanity thought that explained why the planets move in such and such way. That’s because we understand forces, we feel them every time someone pushes or pulls us. This is suppose to have explained by things that are familiar to us in our own experiences. And the same happened with Einstein’s “humps and hills” of space-time.

“But scientific laws, properly formulated, never “explain” anything. They simply state, in an abbreviated and generalized form, what happens. No scientist, and in my opinion no philosopher, knows why anything happens, or can “explain” anything. Scientific laws do nothing except state the brute fact that “when A happens, B always happens too.” And laws of this kind obviously enable us to predict.”

Atoms are said to be in the same position as “Forces” of Newton’s and “Humps and Hills” of Einstein. And so too with the theory of atoms are exactly like them. They’re, in reality, mathematical formulae, and this is the scientific way of stating the atomic theory. This formulae helps to eventually lead to predictions, and these predictions are of sense-data that will appear in given conditions. It will, for example, enable a scientist to predict a “wavy trail”. And the human minds weakness for seeking explanation leads us to think that atoms exist in correspondence with the mathematical formula.

In seeking explanations, we try to come up with causes for events of our experience. And we’ve come to think of causation as a principle of explanation. But we don’t experience atoms as the cause of our sense-data, and so we can’t really say that atoms explain anything. The relation of atoms to sense-data isn’t a relation of cause to effect, but relation of mathematical formula to facts and happenings that enables the mathematician to calculate.

We come to think of these things existing because they give us a “physical” cause for the effects in the “familiar” world. And some scientists cling to the existence of atoms because they cling to explanation. But so did those during Newton’s time that “Forces” existed because they explained things. But it is the imagination that has explained things. It explains things by making them more familiar to us, and more homely. Maybe an example could help with this.

“One of the foundations of physics is, or used to be, the law of the conservation of energy. I do not know how far, if at all, this has been affected by the theory that matter sometimes turns into energy. But that does not affect the lesson it has for us. The law states, or used to state, that the amount of energy in the universe is always constant, that energy is never either created or destroyed. This was highly convenient, but it seemed to have obvious exceptions. If you throw a stone up into the air, you are told that it exerts in its fall the same amount of energy which it took to throw it up. But suppose it does not fall. Suppose it lodges on the roof of your house and stays there. What has happened to the energy which you can nowhere perceive as being exerted? It seems to have disappeared out of the universe. No, says the scientist, it still exists as potential energy. Now what does this blessed word “potential”-which is thus brought in to save the situation-mean as applied to energy? It means, of course, that the energy does not exist in any of its regular “forms,” heat, light, electricity, etc. But this is merely negative. What positive meaning has the term? Strictly speaking, none whatever. Either the energy exists or it does not exist. There is no realm of the “potential” half-way between existence and non-existence. And the existence of energy can only consist in its being exerted. If the energy is not being exerted, then it is not energy and does not exist. Energy can no more exist without energizing than heat can exist without being hot. The “potential” existence of the energy is, then, a fiction. The actual empirically verifiable facts are that if a certain quantity of energy e exists in the universe and then disappears out of the universe (as happens when the stone lodges on the roof), the same amount of energy e will always reappear, begin to exist again, in certain known conditions. That is the fact which the law of the conservation of energy actually expresses. And the fiction of potential energy is introduced simply because it is convenient and makes the equations easier to work. They could be worked quite well without it, but would be slightly more complicated. In either case the function of the law is the same. Its object is to apprise us that if in certain conditions we have certain sense-data (throwing up the stone), then in certain other conditions we shall get certain other sense-data (heat, light, stone hitting skull, or other such). But there will always be a temptation to hypostatize the potential energy as an “existence,” and to believe that it is a “cause” which “explains” the phenomena.”

If the views which I have been expressing are followed out, they will lead to the conclusion that, strictly speaking, nothing exists except sense-data (and the minds which perceive them). The hypothesis truth and value consist in their capacity for helping us to organize our experience and predict our sense-data. But we eventually have to come to the conclusion that the “real” world is the “physical world”. It is the “physical world” that is the illusion, and the familiar world that is the reality. It’s the only world that exists, or ever known to exist.

Science and Hypothesis by Henri Poincare

The Mechanism of Nature by Edward Andrade

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