Sunday, July 21, 2013

Lars P. Syll — How to understand science

My subsidiary aim is thus to show once-and-for-all why no return to positivism is possible. This of course depends upon my primary aim.For any adequate answer to the critical metaquestion ‘what are the conditions of the plausibility of an account of science ?’ presupposes an account which is capable of thinking of those conditions as special cases. That is to say, to adapt an image of Wittgenstein’s, one can only see the fly in the fly-bottle if one’s perspective is different from that of the fly. And the sting is only removed from a system of thought when the particular conditions under which it makes sense are described. In practice this task is simplified for us by the fact that the conditions under which positivism is plausible as an account of science are largely co-extensive with the conditions under which experience is significant in science. This is of course an important and substantive question which we could say, echoing Kant, no account of science can decline, but positivism cannot ask, because (it will be seen) the idea of insignificant experiences transcends the very bounds of its thought.
Lars P. Syll
How to understand science
quoting Roy Bhaskar

309. "What is your aim in philosophy?-To shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle." — Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations 
Bhaskar apparently misunderstands Wittgenstein's fly bottle analogy, or uses it for his own purposes. In Wittgenstein's use the analogy serves to reinforce his fundamental "elucidation" in Philosophical Investigations (PI) that uncritical use of language runs up against the boundaries of language, e.g, by attempting to use logic to describe itself. The fly that continues to bang up against the sides of the bottle, unable to see the mouth as the only path to free itself, represents speculative thought attempting to do some that the logic of the language prevents it from doing — and doing this over and over again obsessive-compulsively.

Wittgenstein regarded his logical investigation of the logic of language as therapy rather than theory (PI 133, 254). The correct approach to speculative questions that are inherently undecidable based on the way they are cast is to show the fly the way out of the bottle through logical elucidation rather than explanation, which is impossible owing to the limitations of language. PI is a logical work rather than a metaphysical or epistemological one.

LW's objective in the later works was showing how "philosophical" problems are pseudo-problems resulting from failure to grasp the logic of the language being used to solve them, rather than being theoretical or empirical issues subject to argumentation.

A reason that questions are undecidable is for lack of criteria. Criteria do not exist independently, as many suppose, but within an information system. The norms and boundaries, testing inclusion and exclusion, for instance, provide the fundamental criteria in that information system and other information systems with the same assumptions.

Overarching information systems dealing with the same data are different possible ways of viewing of the data. These delineate different points of view having the scope of worldviews that determine a way of seeing in the sense of organizing information, evaluating it, and acting in terms of it.

The history of philosophy and speculative thought in general, much of which is also expressed in terms of literature and mythology, can be interpreted as the history of the articulation and rationalizing of different worldviews, often in terms of the conflicts among them. Scientism that materialistic and reductionist is also a POV, for example, and extreme positivism can be viewed in this light.

The question then becomes, Is there an overarching information system based on a universal POV to provide final decision criteria? If there is, what would guarantee it's criteria. Are we faced with either circular reasoning or infinite regress in the search for absolute criteria, as skeptics assert. Isn't this the abyss of nihilism and relativism that risks moral relativism as well? Was Protagoras correct  that man is the measure of all things?

As a grad student in a philosophy program that emphasized the historical approach, I soon came to realize that one had to be able to see from the perspective of the various worldviews being elaborated instead of trying to decide how to rank them, which, of course, is necessarily in terms of one's own preferred worldview.

It was not until I studied Wittgenstein that I comprehended what philosophy was about from the logical vantage, and that lacking absolute criteria no position can be justified as certainly true and others certainly false. That would have to take place in an absolute information system, which would require absolute consciousness.

Absolute consciousness is a possible "information system," and some assert it with respect to the universal ground, which is called by different names in the different religions and wisdom traditions. Some claim that this is realized as human perfection.

Those that reputedly have realized this state have claimed that the absolute ground is the only reality and all relative states are "illusory," "imaginative," "contingent," or "dependent" manifestations of this unchanging reality that appear for a time in finite and changing states of awareness. What one takes to be reality is a resultant of the relationship of subject and object in which the nature and state of subjects is contributive and cannot be entirely isolated or eliminated.

Realization should not, however, be confused with Western philosophical idealism, which is speculative rather than the realization that is reported. Realization is sometimes set forth in terms of a model for understanding, but it is made clear that a model is not the reality, just as the map is not the territory.

This is somewhat analogous to the difference between understanding theoretically that the earth orbits the sun or hearing reports of astronauts and actually going into space oneself. That experience is rare at this stage of scaling up technology, just as are reports of realization are rare historically.

Absolute knowledge is not available to most people, even if they assume it is possible. So for all practical purposes, there is no absolute context to provide publicly available criteria. Humans are part of nature and cannot stand outside it to observe it, any more than they can stand outside themselves to view themselves. As Wittgenstein sought to show, humans cannot stand outside of their language either, language being the tool of thought. We use mirrors in which to see ourselves. So too, elucidation enables us to clarify the logical dynamics of language.

In LW's terms, seeing is seeing as, which he elucidates using a Gestalt figure that can be seen as a duck or rabbit. Speculative argument can be thought of as arguing over whether the figure is a duck or a rabbit. The way out is through realizing that the figure can be seen as both depending on the perspective taken.

We can be aware of multiple perspectives, and even use multiples perspectives within wider perspective, but just as we cannot see without perspective, so too we cannot communicate with ourselves (think) or with others outside the perspective of an information system. In this sense, what we call "reality" is ambiguous, in that different information systems exist that are applicable to the same data.

The difference between the duck-rabbit analogy and POVs is that it is much more difficult to shift between worldviews than perspectives on Gestalt figures, if it is even possible in many cases. For example, Western people often say they find Asians to be inscrutable. Studies have shown that a reason for this is likely that Westerners emphasize the foreground more than the background and elements over relationship, where Asians see in terms of the background, which calls attention to relationship and connectedness. Westerners tend to be more attentive to structure and Asians to function. Consequently, the Western POV is more analytic and the Asian perspective is more synthetic. An interesting contrast is presented by those raised bi-culturally and speak a Western and Asians language natively.

Another distinction in ways of seeing is reflected in William Blake's "The Everlasting Gospel."
"Both read the Bible day and night, But thou read'st black where I read white" (13-14) 
"This life’s five windows of the soul Distorts the Heavens from pole to pole, 
And leads you to believe a lie, 
When you see with, not thro’, the eye 
That [which] was born in a night, to perish in a night, 
When the soul slept in the beams of light" (172-175).
What Blake is asserting is that not only are there different perspectives on the same thing but some are more comprehensive than others. This is the assertion of a criterion that those holding the other point of view reject. It has been the bone of contention between mystics and normative religions, for instance, which Blake is addressing.

Blake is attacking the POV of normative religions that holds the bible is a literal narrative (black letters) albeit "inspired." Blake is contending that mystics see things differently.

Mystics see the white background against which the black letters show up, that is, unity underlying diversity, eternity underlying time, and infinity underlying space. The white background is what Blake calls elsewhere "infinity" as in, "If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite." (Marriage of Heaven and Hell), and, "To see a World in a grain of sand/And a Heaven in a wild flower/Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/And Eternity in an hour.… (Auguries of Innocence). So the "other POV" here is that of the priests and pulpit, which views mysticism as heresy. Blake was a "dangerous" poet in his day.

This insight about POV is especially important in light of the pragmatic use of language, e.g., in persuasion. Different views may have different normative and performative consequences following from assumptions such as norms and criteria that are particular to the structure of the information system, for example. Philosophers often begin with ontology and epistemology, and then an ethical system follows from that, and from the ethical system a social and political system, as well. Most rationales can be quite convincing if one accepts the assumptions, norms and criteria that build the framework.

Everyone operates from an individual perspective, usually culturally and institutionally organized but also influenced by the person's disposition and habit structure. These are naive worldviews that those who hold them take "intuitively" as reality. Philosophers attempt to construct sophisticated worldviews that avoid the issues that riddle naive perspectives. Propagandists attempt to shape worldviews, or to convert people from one to another.

There are obvious comparisons between economic approaches and philosophical approaches, too, based on different POVs. I'll leave that for another time.


Anonymous said...

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland:

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.”

“I knew who I was this morning, but I've changed a few times since then.”

“Where should I go?" -Alice.
That depends on where you want to end up". - The Cheshire Cat.

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?”

“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

“... Why it's simply impassible!"
Alice: "Why, don't you mean impossible?"
Door: "No, I do mean impassible. (chuckles) Nothing's impossible!”

“If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does.”

“Only a few find the way, some don't recognize it when they do - some... don't ever want to.” ― The Cheshire Cat

The walls of the bottle are mind. The mouth of the bottle is feeling.

"Absolute knowledge is not available to most people, even if they assume it is possible". - TomH

And yet the SELF resides in everyone .... and we are all feeling machines.

Peter Pan said...

As usual, lovers of sophistry are forever creating imaginary problems which they then fail to solve.

Standards of measurement and calibration are used everyday by engineers and technicians to maintain the built environment. The limitations to this approach are mainly physical.

What else is there? What other problems are there to solve besides managing the material world?

Manipulating others to get what you want seems to be a popular approach. Adopting the correct perspectives to accomplish this comes naturally for most people. Perhaps this is because most people are just as susceptible to being manipulated.

And so we live in a world where individuals and groups continually strive to fashion it to better suit their needs. Whether through alliances or conflict, the politics of persuasion never cease.

From philosophy to economics to predicting the future, it's as if the only purpose of social life is persuasion.

Tom Hickey said...

Bob, that, of course, is a POV that contends with many others. It's even got a name — technocracy.

Peter Pan said...

No Tom, it's the physical manifestation of human knowledge. Roads, buildings, machines, manufacturing processes, you name it. Maintaining and improving it requires both skills and knowledge. And of course, standards.

Technocracy, like MMT, is in desperate need of propagandists. I'm not one of them.

Tom Hickey said...

Standards of measurement and calibration are used everyday by engineers and technicians to maintain the built environment. The limitations to this approach are mainly physical.

What else is there? What other problems are there to solve besides managing the material world?

M-W Definition of technocracy:
"government by technicians; specifically : management of society by technical experts"

Tom Hickey said...

Mises on economic liberalism as political liberalism presents Classical liberalism as technocracy:

Liberalism is a doctrine directed entirely towards the conduct of men in this world. In the last analysis, it has nothing else in view than the advancement of their outward, material welfare and does not concern itself directly with their inner, spiritual and metaphysical needs. It does not promise men happiness and contentment, but only the most abundant possible satisfaction of all those desires that can be satisfied by the things of the outer world.

— Ludwig von Mises, Liberalism in the Classical Tradition, p. 4.

Tom Hickey said...

Primary assumptions lead toward system-wide conclusions.

Materialism leads toward technocracy.

Humanism leads toward democracy.

Theism leads toward theocracy.

Tom Hickey said...

"Absolute knowledge is not available to most people, even if they assume it is possible". - TomH

And yet the SELF resides in everyone .... and we are all feeling machines.

Yes, and very few people are even aware of the possibility; fewer people take advantage of it; still fewer gain access to non-ordinary states, a very very few realize their true nature fully, and of these a smaller number report on it than realize it.

Peter Pan said...

We don't have government by technicians, energy accounting, or policies that focus on providing material needs. We do have a price system dominated by financiers.

Mises would be horrified by the North American technocracy movement. It advocated a gift economy based on energy quotas.

Tom Hickey said...

I didn't say anything about the government we have or should have. This is about particular POV's and focusing on the material only in economics and governance leads in the direction of technocracy, i.e., governance by experts. Governance doesn't necessarily mean a state or a government. A group of people in which resources are controlled by successful entrepreneurs woud be an example, i.e., a LIbertarian "aggregate."

That has consequences beyond the material. I have a friend that is a management consultant to CEO's of tech cos. He says that when he is called in to troubleshoot a company or even to make suggestions for improvement, if the CEO is a techie, he almost invariably walks in to the CEO's office after completing his study and says, "I've identified the problem. Everyone thinks you an a$$hole." The person is shocked at learning this and exclaims, "Really? They do?"

Peter Pan said...

There wouldn't be an 'economy' if the focus were exclusively on material improvements. But since the objective is profits, large segments of the population do not have access to decent shelter, food or sanitation. Resources are wasted and left idle while people live in poverty. This is a predictable consequence of existing priorities.

Governance has always been about social control. The counter to this is democratization. We have very little democracy in our current socio-economic system. There doesn't appear to be a great demand for more.

Technocracy is not necessary to improving our material circumstances. If resources are allocated, the 'experts' can be called upon to get the job done. If a technological objective is set, those with the required skill sets can work towards meeting that objective.

The current system is compatible with improving our infrastructure and well-being. A radical change is not needed, just more democratization so that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the powerful.

Wittgenstein was an a$$hole too. I didn't know he was a techie.

Tom Hickey said...

Bob, you just shifted POV's to a humanistic one.

As George Lakoff observes, most people hold a combination of points of view based on different assumptions, some of which are inconsistent with each other. They can be persuaded to change their minds. These people make up the political center. Most political persuasion is aimed at them.

On the other hand, there are people who are uni-conceptual and consistently hold a single POV. They are called ideologues or true believer, and it is almost impossible to persuade them without a change of context that forces them to think differently. This people constitute the political far right and far left.

Tom Hickey said...

Wittgenstein was an engineer by training, and he was in a doctoral program in aeronautics before he got interested in logic and caught Bertrand Russell's attention when he defeated Russell's theory of types as an account of propositional logic. The Tractatus-Logico Philosophicus, which LW believed to have articulated a correct account of propositional logic, was influenced by Hertz's Principles of Mechanics. LW adopted a completely different method in the later works that rejected formalism in approaching ordinary language. This method is one unique to him and he hit upon it in order to address the logical issues involved in ordinary (non-formal) language.

Peter Pan said...

Humanism, as in democratization? This is a luxury, something that we could demand politically, yet fail to take action towards.

I assume that having both is preferable. If a choice must be made, material needs take priority. This can be observed in the US and elsewhere. One group of people, the poor, are primarily concerned with making ends meet, while another group, the middle class, are apathetic. In other words, too busy or too comfortable to be inclined towards demanding 'change'.

A smaller group of people, known as activists, devote their efforts to getting one or more of the larger groups to take action.

In times of crisis activism tends to be more successful. The failure of contemporary activists to effect 'change' suggests we are not yet in a crisis. Perhaps the gains made in our standard of living (material needs) insulate the majority from being perturbed by negative trends on the 'humanistic' front.

Frankly, the people you term as the 'political centre' don't give a hoot about niceties such as democracy or humanitarianism. They are concerned with their lives and the lives of those they know. They adapt to the world they live in.

If this is something that activists, or the far left and right find difficult to appreciate, then it is a problem they will have to resolve.

What am I assuming?
I'm assuming that your regular contributions to this blog are not done purely as a hobby.

I'm also assuming that most readers don't care about the books you have read or your studies in philosophy.

Wittgenstein et al. are of no relevance to 99% of the world's population. Your attempts at communicating their work to a larger audience is just awful. You write as they do, as if they were guiding your typing from beyond the grave.

Anonymous said...

Yes, and very few people are even aware of the possibility ...

This is one of the more curious aspects of human beings, is it not Tom?

As I am sure you realise, and talking 'engineering' - just as all loads lead to loam, a stone falls back to the earth, a drop of water merges back into the ocean, a tiny flame leaps towards the Sun - it is the most fundamental desire of a human being to experience union with the Self.

And this should be as natural to us, as well understood, as fulfilling the thirst or hunger of the human body; or the curiousity of the mind. It is the deepest longing in every human heart.

From this p.o.v. all roads of the persona lead to the Self. The world can be understood as such.

Was thinking, the fly in the open-mouthed bottle is not a bad analogy. On the walls of the bottle we write our history. We are so hypnotised by everything that goes on in the bottle (6.8B flies my goodness) we completely forget our nature. Somebody has to come to show us how simple it is to be free of the bottle; how to be ourselves.

Of course the flies in the bottle are so noisy, so caught up in their history making - it would take something quite extraordinary, unusual in busy busy buzz-buzz fly affairs, to make a difference.

Alice: "Why, don't you mean impossible?"
Door: "No, I do mean impassible. (chuckles) Nothing's impossible!”

Tom Hickey said...

@ Bob,

Right, the American POV is anti-intellectual and values no-nothings that people think it would fun to have a beer with. Nuance? Not so much.

The American POV is also increasingly narcissistic and absorbed in narrow self-interest to the degree of not being aware that the trap has already sprung on them.

Now the bill is coming due.

Peter Pan said...

That's better Tom!
If I lived in the US instead of Canada, would my judgement be as harsh?

Anonymous said...

.... and of course if somebody did come, who would notice.