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Harv, "how Do You Know Anything?"

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Posted by Richard D. Stafford, Ph.D. on December 4, 2001 15:39:31 UTC


Please read the following in its entirety before deciding to make any comments. I do believe you are an intelligent person and I think you could understand what I am trying to say if I could put it properly. To paraphrase Goldwater, try to read what I mean if what I say doesn't make any sense.

I have been thinking about our interactions and have decided to try one more time to communicate what I have discovered. I will do my very best to try not to disparage your intellectual abilities. If I ever do manage to communicate my thoughts, I think you will understand my frustration and forgive my prior comments as what I am trying to communicate is actually quite simple. (I think sometimes it is the simplest concepts which are the most difficult to communicate.)

First, the question "How do you know anything?" is rhetorical. I do not believe the issue has ever been carefully thought out and I wish to draw you along my thoughts.

I like Alex's comment (the heading of his post somewhere below) "Scientific Method Is Observing Fact And Explaining It Logically". I think this might be a good place to start. Within that post Alex says, "And logic in advanced form is called math". In the same vein, Richard Feynman said "mathematics is distilled logic" and I have stated that (in my opinion) the field of mathematics could be called the construction and study of internally self consistent systems. Much work has gone into that study and I will accept it as valid.

In other words, with regard to Alex's comment, "Explaining It Logically" is an issue which has been very carefully examined: the rules have been laid out and many very intelligent people have spent their lives examining those ideas and assure us of the consistency, validity and necessity of the structures they have designed.

The "Scientific Method" is what is being defined so I will lay that aside as a tag which was created to identify the service the "scientific" community is attempting to provide. We are thus left with two critical words from Alex's comment: "Observing Fact". These two words embody the entire issue with which I concern myself.

Now, when Alex uses those words, he makes it quite clear that he means performing some experiment (observing) and collecting the results (facts). The problem with his attack is that it assumes a whole lot. In particular, it assumes that all his equipment functions essentially as he thinks it does. Although he does not face the issue, it is an assumption that he already "knows" something and thus does not apply at all to my question: "How do you know anything?"

You seem to be aware of the fact that Alex's position is inadequate to the question but I could perhaps be misunderstanding you. Many people will back off a bit from his position and claim the "fact" is that they "observe" (see) something. But even here there is a whole array of presumed knowledge. The position is no more fundamental than are Alex's experiments.

Let us back off a little further and suggest perhaps that "observing a fact" could be in some way, being aware of the excitement of a single nerve cell in the optic nerve. I think this may bear some resemblance to what Yanniru had in mind when he kept wanting to interpret what I was saying as some kind of theory of the senses. Of course, such an interpretation is no more fundamental than anything mentioned above. If we were to start from such a position, we have already presumed that we know what a nerve cell is and what excitement means (together with whole volumes of additional peripheral knowledge) .

However, just to illuminate my thoughts, let us stick to this idea for a little while. For the sake of argument, let us talk about the excitement of a single nerve cell in the optic nerve but, instead of calling it "excitement of a single nerve cell in the optic nerve" (which implies knowledge of some kind), let us say simply that the "fact" is, "an event has occurred" and "observing the fact" means no more than that we are aware that an event has occurred (in this case it may be "excitement of a single nerve cell in the optic nerve" but we have no way of knowing that). Now this, to me, seems to be a fundamental statement which fits the bill for "observing a fact" and does not require us to "know" anything (other than "something has happened" a single fact totally stripped of any interpretation).

Ok, if you are still with me, I have defined "observing a fact" to be "being aware of an undefined event". In deference to Yanniru, I have made two very significant assumptions. First, I have assumed that one can be aware and second that there is something of which one can be aware. I think this also bears on your continued complaint as to how my thoughts are connected to anything real. I am of the opinion that those two assumptions underlay any argument which can be made. If you cannot be aware, or there is nothing of which you can be aware, then what exactly is an observation of the facts anyway?

So a fact has been observed (or "one is aware of an event")! That sentence contains the entirety of the information available to us. To define the event any further is to presume knowledge as to its explanation. We must learn a great many more "facts" before we can begin to consider the issue of "explaining": i.e., before we consider explaining what we know, we need to observe a lot of facts (one needs to be aware of a very large number of events).

But, all the events (at least prior to explanation) are totally undefined events. How are we to attack the problem (of "Explaining It Logically")? We have some great mass of undefined events of which we are aware. Suppose we simply number all the events of which we are aware (think of it as simply attaching a serial number to each and every event, each and every fact of which we are aware).

Now, there are some interesting consequences of what has been established above. This goes directly to Yanniru's issue of symmetries he claims I assume. Our task is to come up with some procedure which will "Explain [these events] Logically". Whatever procedure we propose for organizing our thoughts (explaining our knowledge), it certainly cannot depend on how we choose to attach those serial numbers. Neither can it depend on how we structure those serial numbers. The events are the things to be explained, not the serial numbers we have decided to attach to them.

Suppose that we do manage to establish a procedure which indeed does solve our problem, (provides a logical explanation of the observed events). It would be a very poor procedure if it depended upon the method used to generate or attach those serial numbers as the serial numbers are, by construction, a complete figment of our imagination. I would go so far as to say that it is solid evidence of error in the procedure if either the method of generating those serial numbers or the method of attaching those serial numbers has any consequence at all.

Just as an aside, consider what kind of explanations might correspond to what we would accept as a solution. If we could attach a pattern of names to the undefined events such that some of the events (by name, not by serial number) would appear many times and that we could then establish "If - Then" relationships between the patterns of named events which would codify the totality of our knowledge, would that not qualify as an "Explanation" of the events?

The symmetries, which Yanniro finds so hard to think of as required, follow from the fact that the numbers have nothing to do with the events. Whatever procedure we can come up with for organizing our knowledge of those known events, we must obtain exactly the same result if we add any fixed number to every serial number under consideration. Whatever procedure we can come up with for organizing our knowledge of those known events, we must obtain exactly the same result if we multiply every serial number by some fixed number. Whatever procedure we can come up with for organizing our knowledge of those known events, we must obtain exactly the same result if we perform any redistribution of serial numbers across the entire set of known events. If any of these "symmetries" are violated, then the proposed procedure is a function of how the serial numbers are generated and is not at all general!

The above provides me with a solid starting point to set up a holistic solution to organizing a completely arbitrary collection of numbers. If we define a "Stafford Reality" to be a set of numbers (those serial numbers on facts, ideas, observations - whatever you want to call them), I prove (in my paper) that most of modern physics is a direct consequence of that definition: i.e., that it is true by definition. At this moment, the number of physics experiments who's outcome is not fixed by definition is quite small (and could probably be reduced further by additional careful study). They are certainly directly required by my definitions and the fact that the recognized scientists claim that they are not required by the standard definitions (i.e., they claim these experiments tell us something about reality) implies either that their definitions are significantly different from mine or that the scientists do not understand the true consequences of their own definitions.

The fact that a "Stafford Reality" is nothing except a set of numbers attached to the fundamental set of "facts" to be explained, implies that there exists no concept of anything which cannot be cast into the form of a "Stafford Reality": i.e., explained by the definitions I lay down.

Is anything above unclear? -- Dick

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