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Clearing The Fog

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Posted by Harvey on May 20, 2003 21:27:34 UTC

Hi Kyle,

***(Come on Harv, give me a little more credit than that!)***

I try not to be redundant with you with "I know that you know this...", but perhaps I need to do this more often? Sometimes when stating a position it helps trying to give a fuller picture and just make no assumptions on what the other person knows and doesn't know. I remember a third party to a Feynman and Gell-Mann argument. The phrase "of course I already know that..." was used often between them.

***OF COURSE Ockham's Razor is not in itself grounds to justify scientific belief. Anybody with half a brain would know that...***

My point in mentioning this was not to lecture you on this simplistic point. My point was to respond to this earlier quote from you:

"Therefore I reject the supernatural, not because I assume it is non-existent a priori, but rather because I have no evidence of it. If I can obtain a scientifically satisfying, consistent theory of consciousness without invoking supernatural causation, then I can avoid the massive rearrangement of my entire scientific ontology that acceptance of the supernatural would entail. (see Occam's Razor)"

I contest the notion that there is some philosophically correct preference for the rejection of dualism due to a lack of current scientific evidence, Occam's razor, because it doesn't fit in with a naturalistic explanation, etc. In other words, I reject that there is a 'scientific ontology' which is a phrase that is an oxymoron from my viewpoint. I understood that you were using Occam's razor to justify this view, but I didn't mean to imply it was your sole justification. I was speaking in general since Occam's razor is an anti-religious viewpoint argument that I hear a lot. In my view, there is no philosophically correct stance when it comes to ontology, and everyone is in the same boat (theists, agnostics, atheists, pantheists, realists, anti-realists, etc). When asked about why you reject a philosophical stance, and why you accept certain others, the answer I'm looking for isn't scientific solely in nature, but rather a philosophical/scientific answer. The reason why your comment rubbed me the wrong way is that I get the impression that it implied that there is a philosophically correct perspective here, and that we all need to learn what it is. I reject that.

***Occam's Razor followed this statement... It was a point, but not the point. I simply added that as an extra bit to further strengthen my argument -- which is the way in which Ockham's Razor is usually used – as an 'added extra bit'.***

I responded to it as I did because so many use Occam's razor as their sole justification. I realize that you cited other reasons (e.g., lack of scientific evidence, looking for a view consistent with your 'scientific ontology', etc). I would have responded to each of these, but Occam's razor is considered one of the bigger fish. Being consistent with your 'scientific ontology' is another one, but I wanted to keep the post short for time's sake.

***Are you saying that (a) anti-realists would have a field day with my statement if I had used Ockham’s Razor to justify it (which I most certainly did not); or are you saying (b) anti-realists would have a field day with my entire statement in general?***

Anti-realists have a field day in knocking down the use of Occam's razor to argue in support of scientific realism. Therefore, justifying an ontology even with it as one of the reasons is not very convincing. We can justify using Occam's razor as a tool because it has been successful to some extent (i.e., pragmatism), but as in support of an ontology it doesn't make the grade. One major reason, of course (I know that you know this...), is that Occam's razor has no effective criteria by which to determine when and how it is successful. It is almost meaningless to argue what must be the most parsimonious since those situations are case by case, and sometimes not the case at all. If an ontological reality really obeys Occam's razor, then it would seem we should have the rule defined to a science.

***First, I'm not a realist.***

I find it hard to believe that you are not a realist about something...

***Second, even though I am not a realist, I will take the position of advocati diaboli and posit that the presumptions about the underlying nature of objective reality that anti-realists make are no more or less valid than those that realists make.***

I would say that no one is the declared winner. Would you agree with that?

***But NEITHER position question the validity of the scientific method at all, and that is what my post basically said: that the only assumption about consciousness that I make is that all enquiry regarding it should proceed by using the scientific method. And I will still stand by that.***

Oh, I agree with that (well, I also encourage philosophical inquiry and using multiple scientific methods, but I'm sure you have absolutely no objection to that, right?). But, I understood something entirely different by your post. When you mentioned staying consistent with a scientific ontology you really threw me.

However, ontologies work in the opposite direction where they influence the scientific theories that we pursue. Dualism hasn't been successful in this endeavor, and I could understand someone taking a materialist ontology in the guise that this will yield better results for a theory of consciousness. However, it is not that this is the philosophically correct position with regard to science. You can choose other ontologies (e.g., even theist ontologies), you just can't let it interfere with scientific progress. This is why I don't think there is some correct criteria that automatically rejects certain ontologies of consciousness as being unscientific. Science from my view is more of a collection of methods than a set of beliefs. Those with certain beliefs might have more success at a method, but those beliefs aren't known with 100% certainty and no one can say who and who will not be successful at the methods of science if they have certain odd beliefs. It would seem that heavy beliefs in certain kinds of supernaturalism might interfere with some scientists' pursuit of the methods of science, but we cannot say for sure. They might not. Therefore, we should be aware of the dangers of certain anti-naturalistic beliefs in certain situations (e.g., creationism with regard to evolutionary biology), but there are no absolutes of what will work and what will not work.

***To say that my statement is invalid simply because an anti-realist would disagree with it is really just saying, "that's your opinion as the realist that I think you are, and I, being an anti-realist, don't happen to agree with it." But it might give a reader the impression that what I've said is somehow an inherently flawed statement, just because my statement takes a position that you mistakenly thought was anti-anti-realist (uh... I mean, realist).***

The position I take is that if realists have a strong argument, then it must be acknowledged as such, and if anti-realists have a strong argument, same thing is true. In the case of Occam's razor in terms of selecting the best scientific ontology, weak, weak argument for realism. The anti-realists aren't just citing equivalent views of the world, they are flying down out of the sky as eagles and picking mice out of a field. Occam's razor should never be used to philosophically justify a scientific ontology unless you have more legitimate reasons in support. I take it that you agree?

Does this clear up matters, or has the fog descended?


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