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Hamburgers And Fries

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Posted by Harvey on November 18, 2003 20:55:16 UTC

Except you missed something very important: in order to do that, you have to introduce fictitious entities. And as soon as you do that you start getting in philosophical trouble: how do you justify the existence of those fictitious entities? There is no clear answer to that question, and the usual procedure is to claim that their effects imply their existence. It works for electrons the same way it works for ghosts - you can't see them but they must be there, otherwise how to explain the observables?

Okay, let's take 'fictitious' entities. For example, at one time it was a speculative theory that there might be such a thing as molecules. Now, with the advent of transmission electron microscopes (TEMs) and other kinds of microscopes, we can actually 'see' molecules. Or, when planet Pluto was a speculative entity, but now we have telescopes such as the Hubble that can take very good photos of the planetoid. Granted, no one has actually seen molecules or Pluto up close, so they are still very 'theoretical', but who in their right mind would deny their existence as being as justified as anything that we can see with our eyes? What in your mind justifies in something being real versus fictitious? Does a TEM image/photograph meet your expectations?

The problem you can't deal with, at least according to my criteria, is why you accept the existence of electrons but reject the existence of ghosts, when the reasoning behind both is exactly the same. You believe in electrons, which are things nobody ever saw, but don't believe in ghosts, which are seen by the millions. So how come you charge me with anti-realism, when in my perspective you are the one denying the impressions of our senses? I'm actually a hyper-realist, I believe everything I see and believe nothing I don't.

So, if I put you in a desert and you saw water in the distance, does that mean that you believe what you see is water? On the other hand, you don't believe the images of an electron microscope are real objects?

The ghost sightings is a non sequitur. The reason for denying ghosts as scientific objects is because the results are not scientifically based. Science results must be reproduced or shown to be demonstrated without forgery or error and consistent with the observed facts. None of that applies when talking about ghosts and such.

Scientific antirealism is the belief that science does not uncover facts about the world as it actually is. This is your argument, so you seem to be an antirealist.

Convention! The reason my neighbour gets home the same time I do has nothing to do with the universe, and everything to do with ourselves. Think about this for a minute: what is the real reason two people get in a certain place at the same time? Is it because there's a universal law which commands them to do it, a law so absolute they can't possibly have any other option? Or is it because they agreed to a common standard of time, which is ultimately arbitrary?

Well, if you are looking for a single cause for human behavior, then I think you would be vastly oversimplifying the issue. However, the problem with this analogy is that it engages us in the subject of free will. If there is no free will, then ultimately humans act and behave deterministically or maybe somewhat randomly. If that were true, then a theory would - in principle - be able to be a law of the universe which dictates when you arrive, etc - at least probabilistically so. If free will exists, and it is impossible to determine by any other means than for a decision to be made, then no such universal theory would be possible in this situation, at least one which we could call a law of nature.

"I ate a hamburger"? To cut a long story short, the reason is again, convention! You know you had a hamburger because someone told you so and you decided to abide by their convention. The truth of your description of the experience has nothing to do with the experience itself. If the "hamburger" tasted and looked like the thing you call a "doughnut" you would never agree that it was a hamburger, no matter how hard anyone tried to persuade you.

I think, however, you are contradicting yourself by saying that you believe only in what you can see at one moment, and then account for a hamburger as a convention. By that reasoning, everything is convention. Which gets back to my main point. You cannot create a dichotomy that separates science from the rest of our experience. Whether you want to call 'this' convention or the basis of human meaning, the point is that to stay consistent with our human experience that we must include the constructs of science as part of that in the same way as a hamburger is part of our human experience. The visual site of a hamburger makes it no more real than the visual site of a TEM image simply because the TEM image is based on theoretical science. This, I think, extends to the more theoretical issues, however as we move further away from direct human experience, our motivations to accept those theoretical issues as 'real' is less and less. The reason is that with each move away from direct human experience, the greater the chance for unobserved phenomena to be misunderstood and to be described in a manner that does not fully explain/predict the existence of that unobserved phenomena. However, as the unobserved phenomena becomes more and more under direct observation (e.g., seen through a microscope as a TEM image), then we can begin to include it as part of the real world (or conventionalisms of the real world if you prefer).

It's actually the other way around. Many things that are true do not even have existence, such as mathematical theorems.

Mathematical theorems have existence. The question is whether their existence is as a particular (i.e., as a written statement on a chalkboard in some math class on a certain date and time), or as a universal (e.g., this mathematical theorem is true in a platonic sense). You reject universal truths, I do not. But, the existence of a particular instance of a theorem being wrote and taught somewhere cannot be denied.

Are you suggesting one cannot reject quantum mechanics and still claim he had a Big Mac for lunch? I'm sorry Harv but that's nonsense. Hamburgers are part of your ordinary experience of the world; subatomic particles are not. Hamburgers are real - you can feel, touch, eat them. Subatomic particles only exist as fictitious entities in the minds of physicists.

Existence is never univocal. There are many levels as to what one means by 'existence', and this has to be understood upfront. If you mean that the phenomena observed in accelerators that are pointed to as subatomic particle interactions do not exist, then I think that you are not being consistent to your ordinary experience. On the other hand, if you reject the conception of subatomic particles as fully understood 'things', then you would not be inconsistent to your hamburger. The reason is that physics does not claim to fully understand an electron, and has not bothered in trying to say that. What physics tries to do is understand the properties of an electron as they apply to physical theory. Those properties relate to phenomena, and those phenomena are observable and real - just like your hamburger. If an object becomes even more observable, e.g., seen through as a TEM image, then it becomes almost indisputable to deny the existence of that object a real 'object' even if it is a TEM image (and not visible to the unaided eye). That's true because we can easily make a transition from unaided visibility to aided visibility, thereby staying consistent with our human experiences. That is, there is no rational room for doubt. If no such images are possible, then perhaps there is room for rational doubt of the unobservable object as being a real object, but this too should depend on what body of evidence supports the existence of this thing. For example, there are no photographs of any person prior to the invention of photography, however this doesn't give room for rational doubt. However, it would seem that it is more possible for a historic person not to exist that didn't have their photograph taken than for a historic person not to exist that did have their photograph taken. This is not altogether true since anyone can label a John Doe as the historic person and anyone can deny the picture was of the historic person. What you look for is a body of evidence of the existence of a phenomena or figure, and when the evidence is rationally undeniable, you have to accept the argument otherwise no argument of anything could have any merit. It doesn't mean the argument is true necessarily, but it puts us in the position of not being able to rationally reject it as true.

I can dismiss quarks and still eat my hamburger alright. Show me a quark and I'll buy your "realist" view. Tell me a quark can only be known through its effects on particle accelerators, and I'll ask you why you don't believe in ghosts then.

See, this is what knocks at your credibility. When you compare quarks with ghosts. Quarks have all the markings of existence in a scientific sense (e.g., good theory and predictive evidence from accelerators), and ghosts have neither. Again, one can be rational and deny the existence of quarks as objects, but one cannot be rational and deny the phenomena that is identified as the signature of quarks. The phenomena is a statistic fact. If you want to deny statistic facts, then you should stop eating hamburgers.

Do you really believe those windows, icons, push buttons, scroll bars in your computer really exist as they appear to you? You should know better than that; those things are illusions created by computer programmers. Illusions can be very useful. I seriously doubt you would be able to operate your computer if you had to think in terms of the billions of bits going around every second.

For a guy who didn't like the Matrix, you sure seem to believe in all of that stuff. The windows, icons, push buttons, scroll bars are real Aurino. They are as real as your hamburger. The difference is that they are real only in the sense that they are an image on a computer screen created by the firing of electrons of an electron gun in the computer monitor that interact with the phosphorous coated on the shadow mask thereby igniting the photon emission of the phosphorous that you see with your retina and your optic nerve sends as impulses to your brain (the story is different if you have a plasma or LCD monitor). Everything you see is real. The deal is what is real about it. Illusion are also real, but what is real about them. That's the issue. Electrons are real in the sense that there is physical data which supports their existence. The phenomena that the physical data is recording is real. Just as real as the image and feeling that you have of a hamburger.

"I don't believe in scroll bars but I click them anyway".

You don't believe in scroll bars as objects other than their visual and interactive features created by clever programming, and certain electrical effects inside a computer monitor. There is a long chain of accummulated knowledge that led to the invention of the computer, monitors, programming, etc, and all of these developments are just as real as your hamburger (which also has its history). We have just as much reason for doubting a hamburger is a real hamburger as we do that phosphorous is not being excited by the physical phenomena known as 'electrons'. That being none.

You are essentially saying it is impossible to create an illusion with a high degree of consistency. That is bunk, and you don't have to be an anti-realist to understand that.

No. It is always possible to create an illusion that can fool just about anyone. The issue is, though, that we have to sufficient reason to doubt that this is what is happening. If we do not have sufficient reason, then we have to take the prudent approach which is to treat our sense impressions as real, and grow our knowledge while keeping in mind the possibilities for error as we move further and further away from the human experience that we accept as real. If we move too far away from our human experience, then we are more vunerable to mistaking our theories for knowledge about the world. On the other hand, if we are justified in attributing our theories as knowledge (e.g., we know when sunrise is tomorrow), then it makes no sense to doubt that we have in fact knowledge about the world that is just about as fallible or infallible as our knowledge of hamburgers.

If I notice I have nightmares everytime I have lobster for dinner, I can come up with any story as to why lobsters cause nightmares, but the truth of the story is irrelevant so long as it keeps me from having nightmares. It could well be it's the little two-pronged fork that causes it, but who cares? It would be just another story anyway.

You are comparing the fact of when meterologists predict rain you should carry an umbrella with lobsters causing nightmares? C'mon Aurino. How silly. See the kind of foolishness that antirealism leads one to accept? The fact of the matter is that science has done a marvelous job at being able to predict things like weather patterns, and when those weather patterns indicate a high probability of rain, we believe them and act on them. Not because of some 'who cares it works belief', but because it works and we know why it works. You are being gullible if you trust scientists simply because they say so or because of any kind of past satistical success. If you do not attribute the high probability of rain to that of meterological models being a correct depiction of weather systems, then you leave yourself vunerable to a weatherman who forgoes meterology but uses astrology. Such a weatherman might believe that it rains in Torono when the moon is next to Mars (or whatever astrologists say), and then he forecasts rain. As long as he is right, everyone wouldn't care if the astrologer weatherman gave the forecasts or if the meterologists gave the predictions. Of course, with a simple manner as being rained on, the stakes are not so bad. But, would you allow this astrologer to inform legislatures on global warming, on healthcare, etc?

I think you are a little over the top on that one.

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