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Making The Analytic Vs. Synthetic Distinction

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Posted by Harvey on April 3, 2002 16:36:00 UTC

Hi Aurino,

***However, when I see dogmatic physicists saying "reality is like this and like that" I can't help getting annoyed. I feel they are abusing the powers they were given, they were not supposed to say anything about reality, they were assigned the job of making sense of our sense impressions. They are quite good at the latter, but the former has always been and always will be outside their domain. But I think you agree with that.***

It's always good for a laugh.

***Now the interesting thing, and what you may not agree but I can tell you it's true, is that while we cannot prove that the universe is how it appears to our senses, we can use logic to prove that it can't possibly be so. For instance, a while ago I I offered the argument that space doesn't exist the way we think of it, that it is little more than a creation of our minds. My argument was based on the scientific fact that all the images we ever see are located "inside" ourselves but we think they are "outside". It's a classic case of an illusion, and I quoted "inside" and "outside" because my argument makes it clear that those concepts only have from the context of the illusion itself.***

I would agree that any concept we have of something is a direct product of our minds and inner working of our minds. For example, space is conceived of inside our heads. Where I differ is that I believe that evolutionary development was such that we had to have a pretty close match (or isomorphism) between the way we perceive of concepts and the way those concepts actually are. If there were extensive differences (e.g., we estimated distances incorrectly), then the actual effect would be extinction of any species that didn't have a good perception of their surroundings. That is why I contend that we survived, our minds are very good at matching the way the world actually is.

***I only have a problem with people who are irrational, make unjustified assumptions, live with paradoxes, all the while claiming not to be doing it and lambasting everyone else who disagrees with them.***

You have to give me examples. I am not against those lambasting those who are irrational (e.g., those who reject an external world that is 'out there'). It all depends on what you mean.

***If you paid attention to our dialogue, you must have realized that we don't think much differently. I see you are as strongly opposed to scientific dogmatism as I am. The only problem I see with you sometimes is that you seem to support the very position you criticize. For instance, as I tried to show here, you criticized Dick for defining reality as a set of numbers without realizing your acceptance of physics implied that you agreed with his definition. Try to imagine how people feel when they perceive that kind of contradiction.***

I think there's a great deal of difference between Dick's position and the position of most of science. Dick's position is an attempt to formalize our observations and then use mathematics as a means to come to some conclusions about the nature of those observations. The position of most of science is to accept general commonsense intuitions such as sense impressions, inductive reasoning, etc, and then through an accumulated process of evidence gathering, induction, and mathematical reasoning, to make certain general conclusions (or theories) about the world. It validates those conclusions by testing predictions of what evidence one should expect to find if this conclusion is correct. If this evidence is not found, then this generally downgrades the explanation and some change might be needed.

The problem I have with Dick's approach is that he is using analytic reasoning, but analytic reasoning is not ampliative. Reasoning that is non-ampliative is unable to tell us more about the world than we already know from the premises we start with. Synthetic reasoning (or ampliative reasoning) is reasoning that acquires new information that is not known with the knowledge that you began with. Let me give an example of the differences:

Analytic reasoning:

(P1) All men are mortal
(P2) Socrates is a man
(C) Socrates is mortal

Synthetic reasoning:

(P1) There are men that are living
(2) We have not found one man older than 115
(3) We have strong evidence that these men die and cease to live at all various ages, but none have been recorded to live past 115
(P4) A man, Socrates, is now living in Athens
(C) Socrates will very likely die before 115 unless some new technology of life-extension comes available.

In the analytic reasoning, all the 'facts' were supplied in the premises and the conclusion was merely a matter of deduction. The reasoning method didn't add new knowledge of the world that wasn't already contained in the premises. The synthetic reasoning gave us very little knowledge in the premise. We only knew that men are living. We couldn't make a conclusion that Socrates is mortal. The knowledge from analytic reasoning is non-ampliative and the knowledge from synthetic reasoning is ampliative.

When we look at science, we see mostly synthetic reasoning. There is continual expanding knowledge being added to our overall knowledge of the world. When we look at Dick's method, we see mostly analytic reasoning, and his conclusions cannot add new knowledge of the world that is not already present in his premises. This is my main criticism of Dick's paper. You cannot acquire new knowledge of the world and I don't buy into the method by which he validates his premises, so where does that leave me? I must reject his thesis as misguided.

***H: I have no problem with 'reality is a set of numbers' if such a model predicted not only the most significant finds of physics ever discovered, but predicted a heck of a lot more stuff so that we build some confidence in the model. Imagine if Dick's model could predict the correct formulation of a quantum theory of gravity, or if he could perfectly deduce the existence of dark matter, or could explain what happened prior to the big bang in such a way that was all experimentally validated. A: Oh Harv, you keep bringing this (non-)issue up, it's completely beside the point. I know you don't see it that way, but that's only because you don't understand what the point is. I'll give you a crude analogy, it probably won't help much but I'll try.***

Aurino, as you guessed I can't buy into this analogy. The analogy you gave is a fallacy called the Affirmation of the Consequent (if A implies B, B is true, therefore A is true). There are of course other reasons B could be true than merely because of A. For example, B0 could imply B and it is B0 that is true and not A (i.e., English is not better than French).

The problem with your analogy in terms of Dick's paper is that I am not committing this logical fallacy. Let me break it down for you:

(1) Dick's paper is based on analytic reasoning and apriori definitions
(2) Dick's paper comes to conclusions about the relationship of his definitions that look like the laws of physics
(C) The laws of physics are true by definition (i.e., definitions of (1))

(C) is not true because:

Step (1) is not based on definitions that are confirmed to be the same as the terms used in physics. Also, there are missing assumptions in (1).

Step (2) says only that the relationships of the concepts only look like some of the well-known laws of physics. There are laws of physics that are missing and no new laws of physics are introduced past 1940 or any anticipation of what the laws of physics will look like in 10 years, 50 years, 100 years, etc.

As you can see, (C) is based on faulty reasoning. So, how do we make (C) closer to being a valid deduction assuming that Dick is more forthcoming with his assumptions and that we accept his unconfirmed definitions? Step (2) must be satisfied. He must provide knowledge of the laws of physics that we couldn't have known otherwise. This would at least strongly imply (C).

***Dick is not saying that his model is the only valid choice. As far as I can tell, that's the kind of argument that usually comes from the mouths of people like Alex. What Dick is doing is entirely the opposite, he's doing things in a wacky way and getting the same "truths" that physicists get. Which only means Alex is full of Language Removed.***

I didn't say that Dick was saying that his model is the only choice. What I said is that Dick is saying that there is no choice but for his model to be correct. That is A implies B and that there is no way for A not to imply B and still be logically consistent.

***H: He, in his view, has proven this to be the case. That case is not well-founded in that view. The cause is what I conceive of as a misapplication of the power of deductive reasoning. A: Let me tell you what Dick's paper is all about: 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 Trust me, that's in essence all he's saying. Now prove him wrong!***

Right, he is doing analytic reasoning which is non-ampliative. But, the problem with analytic reasoning is that it says nothing about the world. You need to interpret the meaning of the statements to say anything meaningful about the world. The problem in doing that is that the interpetations are subject to severe error. For example, we might interpret the result of obtain pre-1940's physics as a success, but this interpretation is subject to severe error (e.g., being taken in by 'curve fitting', etc). In addition, we have to interpret the meaning of the definitions which is also more source for error.

***You only have two chances to prove Dick wrong. Either you come up with a logical proof that 0 is not equal to 0 (tough, but people have been looking for holes in math for ages, maybe there's still one hiding somewhere), or you show him he made a mistake deriving one of his equations. Any other criticism is beside the point until you get those two issues cleared out.***

I think the source of error is in the interpretation. Like I said, if Dick were to construct a lattice and create a mathematical model based on that lattice that arrive at his solutions, then I would have no objection. My objection is the interpretation of his model as it applies to the real world. That is where human error enters and is far afield from the mathematical equations.

Warm regards, Harv

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