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Posted by Harvey on August 26, 2002 20:24:28 UTC

Hi Luis,

***I see what you’ve done to your stance since . By now calling personal stances “ontological biases,”***

I'm not sure if you have correctly understood me all along. I've never claimed that a deeply held ontological view is unbiased. I defined ontology so that we could understand what I mean when I reference to one's ontology. Ontology as a philosophical branch is separate from the psychological and intellectual biases that result from holding a particular ontology. I apologize if I have not made this point clear.

The term 'bias' entered the discussion because it is evident that you hold your particular ontology (i.e., a version of psychologism) to be the correct one. It appears to have so much biased your perspective that you cannot even conceive of being wrong. The question I've asked two times has not been answered ("I want to ask you again, Luis, how do you know that your (bias) is an absolutely correct bias?"). Your response indicates that you won't even question that you have a biased view, nor will you even entertain being wrong in how you analyze the foundations and fallibility of your knowledge.

***you maintain your premise that ontology exists apart from any personal consideration of it. But this exercise is tautological, as it is, in and of itself, a personal consideration. It is a way of claiming, “I make a deeper consideration of Ontology when I compare Ontology to my own, personal ontology – which, by the way, I arrived at through careful consideration.”***

Let me crudely define ontology again. It is a description of 'what is'. It tries to tell us the actual state of things. How do things really exist. If there is no such exact state of things (i.e., antirealism), then this itself is an antirealist ontology. The fact that there is or is not an exact conclusive fact-of-matter ontology existing is of no consequence. The question is how does one form their ontological view, and what evidence does one use to support that view. In the case of scientific realism, this ontology is based on scientific success describing the world as it was obtained from scientific/epistemological methodologies. In the case of scientific anti-realism, this ontology is based on failures and exceptions of scientific success, with the aim of showing that scientific success using laws, theories, equations, etc is at best an approximation and at worst only a human tool. Either ontology is still an ontology. Once an ontology is engrained, it becomes a bias. One only has to remember Alex and his constant interpretation of mathematical results of physics as showing how deep an ontological bias can sway one's view of the world. We are no exception. Like Alex, we too have our ontologies, and we are also deeply swayed to interpret the world according to our ontological views. We can analyze the probable cause of one's ontological view (for example, we might say that Alex's view came from being taught in Soviet classrooms the value of mathematical realism), but at the end of the day, when we analyze another individuals conceptual scheme, we are also depending on our conceptual scheme to do so to their schemes. It is outright ridiculous to think that we are objective minds possessing the objective conceptual scheme by which to judge others.

This doesn't mean that our ontology exists as separate from ourselves. I wholeheartedly agree that we and our ontologies are inseparable. However, it is a mistake to revert to extreme relativism with regard to our ontologies. If we were unable to adopt other ontological views having an apparent superiority, then we should all still believe that Zeus lived on Mt.Olympus. Obviously ontological views can evolve as with other beliefs.

***H: ”Reality is beyond our ultimate ability to know it!” L: I’d like to agree, but even as an agnostic I wouldn’t assert this as something we know. Agnostics avoid certitude like George W Bush avoids books without pictures. I wonder how, in light of your judgment that reality is unknowable, an admission of human fallibility, you assert that there exists a “true” ontology.***

The key word here is that reality is beyond our ultimate ability to know it. If reality were possible for us to ultimately know, then should be able to tell the end from the beginning in every explicit detail.

***>>>”My view isn't circular.”

Although I may be oversimplifying things a bit (I apologize for doing this), I do “totally reject” your argument for its peculiar elasticity:

P1 - ‘Reality exists.’
P2 - ‘We are not capable of fully knowing reality.’
. ~ .
C1 - ‘Hence, reality is metaphysical.’***

P1 - I do not know what the phrase 'reality exists' means. In my view, that is an Alan phrase that keeps him up late at night and by which he constructs elaborate posts the following day. I would substitute P1 with

P1' - My sense impressions lead me to believe that there is a world 'out there' that is separate from my inner thoughts which I call 'reality'. Ultimate reality is what I perceive must really be 'out there' and I define that to mean that ultimate reality cannot be reduced to misperception, chemical imbalances in our cognitive abilities, inaccurate human theories of nature, etc.

P2 - I think it is a reasonable premise.

C1 - Howabout: ' ‘Ultimate reality is metaphysical.’

I can accept if by 'metaphysical' you mean that the phenomena in question is beyond our ability to reduce to a satisfactory scientific explanation, then by the implications of P1' I would have to agree with this conclusion (your logic is not complete to make this conclusion, however I think the conclusion can be substantiated).

***Any premise should be a given. A premise is a conclusion of its own right. With this in mind, let us consider P2, your assertion that “reality is beyond our ultimate ability to know it.” As best I can tell, your proof for P2 is the following:***

Incidentally, when you say that any premise should be a given, I want to point out that you base logic, the nature of a good premise, etc on a pre-established ontological bias. You need your premises to be accepted by others in order to get any kind of logical agreement. You need others to be biased in a like minded way, otherwise you could never have any basis by which to establish a convention in logic, math, etc.

P1 - ‘Reality exists.’
P2 - ‘[Ultimate] Reality is metaphysical.’
. ~ .
C2 - ‘Hence, we are not capable of fully knowing [ultimate] reality.’***

P1' - My sense impressions lead me to believe that there is a world 'out there' that is separate from my inner thoughts which I call 'reality'. Ultimate reality is what I perceive must really be 'out there' and I define that to mean that ultimate reality cannot be reduced to misperception, chemical imbalances in our cognitive abilities, inaccurate human theories of nature, etc.

P2 - In this case, P2 is not helpful to reach C2 since P2 is stronger than C2 (i.e., P2 has a number of implications including C2 being true). If I was able to show P2 as being true, then I have already proven C2.

C2 - The conclusion is not formed properly.

Real quickly, I would support C2 with the following crude structure:

P1' My sense impressions lead me to believe that there is a world 'out there' that is separate from my inner thoughts which I call 'reality'. Ultimate reality is what I perceive must really be 'out there' and I define that to mean that ultimate reality cannot be reduced to misperception, chemical imbalances in our cognitive abilities, inaccurate human theories of nature, etc.

P2' Human knowledge of some aspect of ultimate reality is gained if we possess a theoretical structure that allows us to perfectly explain and predict any implication of our theory as it pertains to any conceivable observation of the phenomena in question (or is in anyway linked to that phenomena).

P3' (Many possibilities but I'll go with this logical path), humans do not have access to all theoretical implications of any phenomena of which we possess theories. That is, even simple objects are thought be goverened by the principles of quantum mechanics and there are many implications in QM in which we don't have observational access (and, indeed, are prevented from having by the principles of QM).

C2' Hence, we are not capable of fully knowing [ultimate] reality

* The conclusion is supported by the failure to meet the conditions of P2'. We can conceive of observations which by QM theory we are forbidden to observe. Either we must reject ultimate knowledge because we lack the necessary observations of every possible implication of QM theory, or because we must reject QM theory to explain and predict the observations. Of course, we might always come into another theory besides QM that does not forbid every conceivable observation (at least in principle), but in that case we still have the problem of dealing with implications of implications, the practicality of us having access to all observable implications, etc.

P1 - ‘Reality exists.’
P2 - ‘We do not fully know reality.’
. ~ .
C3 - ‘Hence, there is a lot more to reality than what we currently know.’***

The problem is that you are missing P1' and the phrase 'ultimate reality'. The use of the term 'ultimate' is necessary since it precludes a theoretical understanding that is not fully reduced within the context of structured theory. This is important since a schizophrenic might misperceive objects along the lines consistent with P1', and attribute those delusional images as 'knowing reality'.

In my opinion, this appears to be a leading cause in the misguided view of your argument. Without taking into consideration the inability in knowing ultimate reality, you can easily misconstrue the nature of human knowledge. This is why scientific knowledge should not be considered as 'ultimate knowledge' since it is not fully based on the premise of P2'. There are some issues which even science must take on faith that P2' is somehow grasped - even approximately. That is, it is silly to argue for an 'approximate truth' unless it is based on P2' in some fashion. For example, if we fully rejected P2' even as an approximation of human knowledge (i.e., we reject that for all practical purposes we accept as true once a certain number of experiments and successful predictions are made), then science would depend on only strict instrumentalism for its support. The problem here is that there is no acceptable benchmark for instrumental notions to be accepted (i.e., is it experimental success at prediction? is it theoretical success of explanation? is it the outgrowth of technology? etc - who decides?).

***Ontology is the product of bias. It’s a bias, in my opinion, that stems from the natural course of human cognitive development (ontology is a metaphysical proposal; it presumes metaphysics). You have avoided this synonymous reference, for obvious reasons I think, but ontology is only real in our minds. "Ontology is a discussion," sure, but the only way one can continue, "of 'what is' " and not "of 'what we think' " presumes metaphysics. Surely you see this!?***

How do you know this Luis? What reasoning process are you engaging in order to reach this conclusion? What are your premises? How do you know that you are developing the right conclusion to those premises (assuming that we can accept your premises)? How confident are you that you are correct and that I am incorrect? Are you 100% confident? 99.9% confident? The problem, as I see it, is that you are arguing from an ontological bias even as you make the claim that ontology is a nasty bias that we ought not engage. Perhaps it would be easier if you laid out your logical structure from premise to conclusion. Just as a hint, where I'm going to show you your bias is mainly in your premises. From my perspective, all I have to do is show you that you have premises (any premise whatsoever), and then all I have to do is reject them and ask you to show me why I should accept them. I don't have to accept a premise merely because it entails the phrase "Surely you see this!?". This is an appeal to an ontological bias that you think that we should possess. Regardless if I possess the bias or not, it is not known if that premise is correct. Frankly, I cannot think of any premise that I ultimately know is correct (even this one).

*** As for the sake of our own discussion, psychologism holds its own “bias,” asserting that there is a strict division between our thoughts and what we approximate with our thoughts. Indeed, as far as a description of the launching point from which I contemplate these things, “psychologism” is less accurate even than “antirealism,” in my not-so-humble opinion.***

There's different stances on psychologism. You expressed a form of psychologism when you said:

"I think you're running into a mental obstacle. Your predisposition to the whole psychological effect of 'self' -- i.e., your succumbing to the emotional appeal of 'metaphysics' -- is much stronger than your capacity to step back and distinguish the constituents of the particular psychological effect itself. We wish to sense something beyond a material reality because we don't want to face the fact that maybe we're just material stuff. Hence, we impose a 'foundation' for reality – 'metaphysics' – which I think is just a tautological spiral of self-preserving psychology."

If taken to its extreme, we could substitute any thought as due to the psychological effect. For example, let me reword this in terms of where psychologism was at its worst:

"I think you're running into a mental obstacle. Your predisposition to the whole psychological effect of 'logic' -- i.e., your succumbing to the emotional appeal of 'logic' -- is much stronger than your capacity to step back and distinguish the constituents of the particular psychological effect itself. We wish to sense something beyond a disordered reality because we don't want to face the fact that maybe we're just in an illogical world. Hence, we impose a logical laws for reality – 'logic' – which I think is just a tautological spiral of self-preserving psychology."

My slight re-wording of this statement can easily convert your psychologism of ontology to the infamous psychologism of logic. I could just as well turned it into the psychologism of math, or psychologism of science, or psychologism of philosophy, psychologism of explanationism, etc. Once one goes down the path of psychologism, there is virtually no argument that cannot be modelled from that perspective. It sounds great at first, but there's a whole quagmire of problems that rear their face when you analyze it deeper.

***My objection to your use of the term ‘antirealist,’ is based in that which you presuppose before arriving at the term itself. You would have that I impute meaning onto the universe, and therefore am an antirealist. I would say that to speculate as to the meaning of the universe independent of our speculation of it is impossible. Indeed -- the thrust of my stance in this latest chain of debates is that, in order to (attempt to) justify your “realist” position, you would stress that there is a “true” ontology.***

If I understand you right, you are saying that imputing meaning is inherent as part of our speculation of the universe. That is, we perceive the world through our own conceptual scheme which imputes meaning to us, and by which we use to speculate about the universe. If that is a correct interpretation, then I agree.

Where I would part company with this notion is that our conceptual scheme is not some holistic entity. Our conceptual scheme is more like an onion having many layers. Many people, for example, might have no trouble believing in the wonders of science while at the same time rejecting the same methods of science with regard to the creation of the universe. How is that possible? It is possible, I think, because conceptual schemes are like an onion. On one layer we accept the obviousness of scientific invention when it has no threat to our particular ontological view, however in layers where the teachings of science hold a threat to our ontology (e.g., as the case with Creationists and biological evolution), then in those cases the layer of science is rejected in those applicable instances. Another layer is ingrafted into one's conceptual scheme which purports that scientists in this arena are confused, prejudiced, atheistic, etc.

In the case of conceptual schemes as they apply to meaning and speculation, it is possible to undermine a particular layer if a more important layer is being threatened. For example, if there were a stark contradiction to one's particular Creationist layer, then someone facing that circumstance might have to change their current conception of creation, or they might have to accept a different kind of logic, or buy into rhetoric of Creationists, etc. For those who have enough exposure to rational thinking, they might find it difficult to buy into rhetoric, and they might find it even more difficult to buy into invalidating the kind of reasoning/logic they utilize to interpret the world, therefore they might go shopping for a different conceptual interpretation on the subject of creation. Maybe they will reject religion altogether, or maybe they will simply become theistic evolutionists or intelligent design proponents, etc. The point is that a superceding layer of conceptual schematic importance has undermined their former conceptual scheme. In this way, it is possible to be one over to another ontological side which formerly provided meaning and formerly was the means by which one made speculations of the world.

The other important issue here is that the original conceptual scheme is nevertheless an ontological bias. Progress in philosophical thought is possible because we decide between competing layers and this decision is based on many pragmatic factors. For example, if you were somehow chosen by the Bush administration to work as a representative of their policies, you might not be as vocal in your opposition at some point. You might compromise slightly with your silence. The layer of seeking career opportunity might compete with the layer of speaking out against ignorance. Similarly, the layer of ontological commitments can be swayed by many pragmatic factors. It might be the pragmatic value that psychologism or antirealism provide (e.g., more freedom of thought caused by rejecting logical/scientific laws of nature), for example. In my view, all ontological views eventually reduce to some pragmatic value that was at one time obtained by that ontological view. Hence, all ontologies are based on pragmatism, and therefore they can be shifted in society, in history, and in our own personal lives depending on the benefits one obtains in doing so. In the case of metaphysical beliefs, these can be accepted by a materialist if forced to do so by the conventions of rational reasoning. Those conventions are also accepted for their pragmatic benefit, and they are so overwhelming that they are not so easy to dismiss.

***I would go further and say that Einstein removed the need for an ontological definition of time*. I fear that, instead of taking this as evidence that 19th century time ontology was merely a mental phenomenon, you simply jump back to your (conclusion in A1, second premise in A2).***

The early Einstein was Machian and definitely held a more epistemologically centered view of time. The later Einstein eventually rejected Mach and accepted, if I'm not mistaken, an ontological field theory perspective of time. I believe that Einstein later held that fields are real (in an ontological sense).

The early Einstein even though Machian, I believe, still held firmly to the speed of light and the relativity principle as being ontological facts of the universe. Einstein, I think, was a sophisticated realist with respect to time. He thought that that something 'real' was behind it, and that being his special theory of relativity. Later when asked what he would have thought if he'd been wrong, I think his answer was something along the lines that he would have felt deeply sorry for the Lord.

***The modern definition of time is difficult for some to grasp . . . because people are “ontologically” biased towards regarding time as a metaphysical phenomenon (even Stafford’s “proof” is based within the old “ether”-esque definition of time). So, I am as much an “antirealist” as an “anti-timist.”***

I've never heard of the term 'anti-timist'. It is being anti-realist with respect to time. I am a sophisticated realist with respect to time. I think there are structures that somehow give birth to the passage of time (or our experience of the passage of time).

As I mentioned, anti-realism of time is still an ontological view, it is just anti-realist.

***I really think you’re stretching things a bit here. The idea it seems you’re looking for is affinity. If your affinity for pleasant conversations causes you to only believe those who speak pleasantly, then I’d say you have a problem with bias.***

By the term 'bias' I mean a predisposition or prejudice. If you use the word only as a prejudice, then it doesn't cover the other aspect of what ontological commitments do when we are pre-disposed to seek a particular answer because of our particular ontological commitment. It doesn't necessarily have to have such negative overtones.

Warm regards, Harv

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