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Are You Trying To Say That You Are A Sophisticated Realist?

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Posted by Harvey on January 31, 2002 20:06:43 UTC

Hi Dick,

****H: Which you didn't do. Why? D: I tried; I just don't know how to reach you. You invariably misinterpret what I am saying.***

Here's my problem with your replies. You often don't reply to the examples that I gave. Had you simply responded to the photon having velocity but no 'real' acceleration, I think that would have gone a long way in resolving this issue. I still am not sure if you think photons have acceleration or not. We agree photons have velocity, so what about acceleration?

***At one time I thought it was intentional (some debating technique or such) but I don't think so anymore; I think rather that we just do not think alike at all - what I am saying is just totally outside your comprehension. Now that is not at all your fault, I am the strange one here. I suspect no one on earth sees things from the perspective which I find natural. Talking to you has been very educational. You have pointed out ways I could be misunderstood which absolutely never would have occurred to me.***

I know that you won't agree with this impression, but I think you bail out of the dialogue just when we are getting close to the crux issues. For example, last time we were talking about how mathematics requires empirical thinking prior to doing math (which your model is based on), and you suddenly stopped. Another time we were talking about how your term for reality should be replaced by an 'R1' and you suddenly stopped. Only later were you willing to accept a different term than reality (I think you choose Stafford's reality or something like that - never of course selecting R1 - which is okay it was just a label in the first place). My point is not to rub these past incidents in front of you, rather I think this is one of our major stumbling blocks. How can I understand what you want to say unless we discuss your assumptions and whether those are valid assumptions. Notice, most our discussions have always circulated around assumptions - not your conclusions so much.

****For example, I have said many times that I am a realist but you insist on portraying my position as anti-realist. This is a complete distortion of my view and makes it very difficult if not impossible for you to comprehend what I am saying. I really wish I knew how to cross that barrier; I have tried a number of attacks to no avail at all.***

Well, you make very strong anti-realist statements. Saying the physical laws are tautological - true by definition is more anti-realist. It says that had our definition been different, then the construction of the physical laws would be different. Although, I have no problem saying that you are a mathematical realist.

***Now surrounding this phenomena is the "realist - anti-realist" debate. The realist holds that the neutrino exists and the anti-realist holds that it is nothing more than a creation of the scientists mind, created in order to provide an explanation for the phenomena observed. Now certainly any intelligent person must admit that both sides must have some good logical support for their positions. Why else would there be a debate?***

Yes, the antirealists have a very good position. And, incidentally, there are antirealists (and realists) with respect to the ontological status of theories and antirealists with respect to the ontological status of scientific entities. Some are antirealist on one while realist on the other, some are antirealist on both, and some are realist on both.

***It also seems quite obvious to me that, as further scientific investigation unfolds, it is entirely possible that an entity previously thought to be "real" will turn out to be nothing more than a hypothetical creation of the scientists mind (phlogiston for example). It follows that determining what is real and what is not becomes a difficult question. A rational realist must hold this answer as an unknown to be sought out. It is a pompous and ignorant position for any realist to hold that he *knows* what is real and what is not!***

Many realists probably are willing to concede some slack to anti-realists. However, take Alex for example. Do you think you could convince Alex that the possibility that electrons don't exist but really can be reduced to something more primitive is likely to get any concession from him? You can try it, but I think we both know his response. I myself am a sophisticated realist (more so for theory than entities). I hold that electrons 'exist', but we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that there is no more to the story than what we know today. I am on the edge of scientific anti-realism, but I refuse to step over that line.

***Secondly, are there any entities created by the mind of man found useful to explain phenomena which all would agree are not "real physical entities" but merely useful constructs? That is, are there any entities which are clearly best viewed in the "anti-realist" perspective. Here, I would have to answer yes. For example, picturing electricity as flowing water! Amperage becomes volume of flow, Voltage becomes pressure, Reservoirs become batteries, etc.! Almost any science student has been presented with that construct. I think everyone would agree that it is both useful and in accordance with the "anti-realist" school.***

The anti-realist perspective says that you can never reduce entities or theories to something irreducible (see Dummett who is the expert on a classification between realism and anti-realism). If you can reduce electromagnetic effects to the interaction of electrons and photons, then if you think that this can be reduced further ad infinitum, then you are an antirealist. If you think that there is some outside truth as to what those effects reduce to being, then you are a realist. If you think that reduction can be something other than what we think it is, then you are a sophisticated realist (which is my position). Your example is more of the position of anti-realist. [By the way, I am speaking from my viewpoint, if you want to gain other viewpoints then I strongly recommend that you read literature on this subject.]

***So we come to an interesting fact (apparently not realized by many): the "unreal" entities are those which violate the rules of the universe when their definitions are pushed beyond the range for which they were designed. Which comes to a principal: "any theory which is wrong when it is pushed beyond the range of its applicability is an anti-realist theory". If one understands science, it should be clear why most scientists tend to be anti-realist. Most all their theories are limited in scope.***

Most scientists I think are realist (unabashedly so). All the books, lectures, classes that I have ever attended lead me to conclude that realism is epidemic. Alex is your typical scientific view (that's what makes him such an interesting case study!).

***My position, which seems to be beyond your ken, is that something is real but I don't know what it is. Whatever it is, if it is communicable, it can be represented by numbers. Certainly the conventional view of the universe can be so represented: for example, the space time coordinates of every part of every macroscopic entity in the universe! Notice I said "macroscopic"! I don't need anything microscopic as its existence is clearly represented in the macroscopic phenomena (every experiment conceivable to mankind must lead eventually to a macroscopic measurement or we won't know about it).***

I'm perfectly willing to think of you as a sophisticated realist such as myself. However, I have problems only because of how I (mis?)understand your 'model of reality'. Your model is based on sensory inputs and what we can say about them. You construct all of these inputs into a mathematical formulation, construct wave functions of these sensory inputs (or 'patterns' of data), etc. You end up constructing the laws of physics from those sense inputs which, to me, suggests that the laws and entities of physics reduce to the way we receive sense inputs. If so, then isn't that anti-realist?

****The important thing I discovered was that, no matter how arbitrary the rules of the universe might be, if one was willing to deal directly with the numbers which represent that universe, the rules of the universe could be put in a very specific form and what I called my fundamental equation was necessarily true. What I called "knowable data" was whatever was "real". What I called "unknowable data" was whatever was created to explain the phenomena seen in the "knowable data".***

I see this as anti-realist only because the truth of laws and entities is not 'out there' but by dealing directly with the numbers which represent our perceptions. We really aren't getting an objective perspective of what is 'out there' we are only getting a picture of our limitations of putting that together. Am I not understanding your model in this respect?

***Note a very important fact: since my opening position was the requirement that all data, both knowable and unknowable must obey all the rules of the universe, both become automatically real by the conventional view.***

I don't see how you say real. They become real to us, but the objective reality of them is not even in question. In fact, you don't even address the real nature of reality. Isn't your position that you don't know what reality is?

***However, I find the conventional view rather limited and unusable. I would rather say that my position underlies both the realist position (they consider everything they work to fall in the "knowable data" category) and the anti-realist position (they consider everything they work with to fall in the "unknowable data" category). My position is mixed, I think there is very probably something real there and that fact makes my position "realist".***

I don't think it is fair to say that anti-realists think that there is nothing real 'out there'. I don't many, if any, anti-realist holds that position. What they say is that human constructs are just that human constructs. Afterall, who says that reality has to conform to human constructs? This is why they say any human construct cannot reduce to something that is irredicibly true about the world. Any construct that could do that would still be a human constuct and just couldn't be identical to the full nature of what is out there.

***Now I know I am just raving and you will probably not understand a word I said; but I said it anyway.***

You weren't rambling, but I agree I probably didn't understand a word you said.

Warm regards, Harv

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