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Everything posted by Davy_Jones

  1. re above What he's saying is that we are "endeavoring to understand reality" . . . we are trying to describe reality. We can never be "quite sure" that we've got it right, but we are nonetheless trying.
  2. Perhaps you should read what the man himself actually said.
  3. Er, I've offered direct quotes from Nobel prize-winning scientists. They are telling us what they think.
  4. You see spacetime curvature? You have sharper eyes than me, sir. Perhaps we do not understand the true nature of gravity, as you say. Einstein, nonetheless, with his realist hat on, thought he was describing its true nature. He was trying to describe (both observable and unobservable) reality. "In particular, following his conversion [from antirealism to realism], Einstein wanted to claim genuine reality for the central theoretical entities of his general theory, the four-dimensional space-time manifold, and associated tensor fields. This is a serious business for if we grant his claim, then not only do space and time cease to be real, but so do virtually all of the usual dynamical qualities." --Arthur Fine
  5. First of all, look at what you're doing here: just take the first sentence. Are you speaking literally with all this talk of photons? It looks an awful lot to me like a (purported) statement of fact. And if that's the case, don't look now but you're describing reality. Science could be dead wrong about photons, of course, nonetheless you are at least trying to describe reality. Or are we to understand this talk of photons as mere façon de parler? How do we know the Sun really exists? Because we can see it! It may indeed turn out that current theories of the Sun (nuclear fusion, etc.) are wrong, that we are misdescribing the Sun, after all many past theories are now considered false. Note: to misdescribe is already to presuppose an attempt to describe. To misdescribe it, however, is not to deny its existence. To misdescribe Frank Sinatra, say, as having six legs, perhaps, does nothing to impugn his existence. For the Sun to be unreal it would have to be some kind of illusion, not really there. Let's suppose--worst case scenario--that the stars and distant galaxies turn out to be (mind independently) unreal and we're all brains in vats, what do you think would be the appropriate thing to say?: 1. Pfft! Who cares! We never thought they were real anyway, or 2. Whoops! We thought they were real--we were trying to describe real things (i.e. describe reality)-- but we were wrong. This is simply untrue, I'm afraid. There are scientists, the vast majority I suspect (physics being the exception where realism does appear to be a minority position), who take themselves to be describing, or at least trying to, describe reality, trying to get at the truth. Even in physics . . . All this [i.e. Kuhn's ideas] is wormwood to scientists like myself, who think the task of science is to bring us closer and closer to objective truth." -- Steven Weinberg (from "Facing Up", essay 17, "The Non-Revolution of Thomas Kuhn" "Although natural science is intellectually hegemonic, in the sense that we have a clear idea of what it means for a theory to be true or false, its operations are not socially hegemonic -- authority counts for very little" -- Steven Weinberg. See "The Science Wars", p220 "Rigidity means here that the theory [GR] is either true or false, but not modifiable" - Einstein, essay "On the Generalized Theory of Gravitation" "Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however they may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavor to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way to open the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all of the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility or the meaning of such a comparison." - Albert Einstein You may also wish to ponder this: Is it, or is it not the case, that scientists routinely speak of a theory as having been falsified? And how are we to understand the term falsified if not as "shown to be not true"? The scientific realist commonly appeals to "Inference to the Best Explanation" (IBE) as warrant for her truth claims. It goes something like this: From a set of candidate explanations we are licenced to infer to the truth, or approximate truth, of the best among them Now, we have to be very careful here with talk of "most likely"; there is a risk of circularity. The inference is supposed to be: "the best explanation is the one most likely to be true" If "best" is understood to mean "most likely to be true" then we end up with the unhelpful circularity "The explanation most likely to be true is the one most likely to be true" "Best (explanation)" therefore, to avoid the circularity, must make no reference to likeliness. The locus classicus on all this must be Peter Lipton's "Inference to the Best Explanation". He suggests a criterion of loveliness (as opposed to likeliness) to identify the best explanation. I can't remember the details. Cough up the dough and find out for yourself. He might not be lying, just senile or delusional LOL. Whatever he's doing, though, he's not a poached egg. If I show you a fella claiming to be Napoleon (the little Corsican), is he Napoleon?
  6. re above: What the Danish mob are saying is "We have a formalism, it works splendidly, and that's all there is to it!" Not everyone (e.g. Einstein, Bohm, many worlds, etc.) likes this kind of antirealistic approach. Science must do more . . . science must (try to) tell us the way things really are! Edit: And what does "works splendidly' mean? Ans: It describes observable reality very well.
  7. Yes, the many worlds interpretation is an attempt to give QM a realist account. Can we ever prove it? I don't see how. The fact remains, however, he is trying to describe unobservable reality. "Are we to infer that there are an infinite number of realities which grow in number with every interaction capable of multiple outcomes ?" That's what the man is saying. Do I believe it? No. Is he trying to describe reality? Yes. Edit: MigL, try "Quantum Theory and the Flight from Realism" by Christopher Norris, if you're interested in these things. You'll love it!
  8. If this claim is to be read normatively (i.e., "physics ought not to try to describe reality") then the question of its truth or falsity does not arise. It's your opinion and you're entitled to it. Normative claims are neither true nor false. On the other hand, if this is advanced as a factual claim ("no physicist thinks it is the business of physics to at least try to describe reality"), then I'm afraid the claim is simply untrue. Just to give one example (I could give more): Surely you've heard of the famous Einstein-Bohr debates? What do you think they were arguing about? Einstein was arguing precisely that it is the job of science to--at least try to--describe reality (both observable and unobservable). This is why he found Copenhagen antirealist orthodoxy so repugnant. Even Bohr, the arch antirealist, would tell you, I daresay, that physics is describing reality alright, observable reality -- just don't ask about the stuff that goes on behind the scenes! i.e. We can describe for you very well what will happen if we conduct a double-slit experiment, say -- we'll tell you what will be observed. But as to what, if anything, is going on backstage . . . none of our business! It is true that realism and idealism can be considered philosophical jargon. Truth and knowledge, however, are not. Philosophers use the words the same way everyone else does. What philosophers do--starting with Socrates, at least--is perform conceptual analysis on these words. They test people's intuitions. So how do they test these things? They ask native speakers. Who has the final word on all this? The language users themselves!
  9. Dang! How about Deano then? Q: How do you get a Dean Martin in your fridge? A: You take Frank Sinatra out first. Edit: But seriously, folks . . . I think I kinda forgot to state the point at the end of the OP. And it is . . . I suspect there may be some confusion between (what I'm calling) commonsense realism and scientific realism. I suspect some people are afraid to use the words real and reality, even when talking about rocks and trees and cannonballs and American crooners, for fear of being laughed at, perhaps. Idealism is dead as a dodo. It's perfectly respectable to say "That rock is real" -- mind-independently real -- nowadays. No one will laugh.
  10. This is a serious thread. Please stop yolking around.
  11. 1. As far as I'm aware "screamingly obvious" has no technical meaning in philosophy. I'm speaking everyday English. 2. Because I'm referring to Frank Sinatra, the American singer, now sadly deceased, and not your breakfast. Whether true or not ("logic doesn’t need 100 or more words per assertion"), I made more than one assertion. I'm pretty sure none of them exceeded 100 words.
  12. This is Eddington and his celebrated "two tables" again. Perhaps you're familiar with it? Do I think the table/cannonball is real? Yes. Don't you? A description can also be given in terms of what's going on at the atomic or subatomic level: Two descriptions of one thing, if you like. I believe the table is real enough (this is the commonsense realism alluded to in the OP). Given my own (scientific) antirealist proclivities, however, I'd be a bit hesitant of believing the behind-the-scenes description, fascinating though it may be. You might say I remain agnostic. How about yourself? I'd say obviously so, at least the observable part thereof. The description/statement (of the observable trajectory) corresponds with the facts thus, on the standard understanding of truth (as TheVat has expatiated on), the description is true. As for the behind-the-scenes bit . . . see above.
  13. I think the cannonball is real -- really real -- real even if no one is looking, its motion is real, and that physics describes this reality for us. (Same as everyone else I've ever met . . . until a few days ago) See the bit I added about idealism above. I just edited. And how about you, sir? Yes, I keep a collection (sad loser that I am ) for occasions such as these. My opinion tends not to carry much clout. People tend to pay more attention if Albert Einstein, say, can back me up LOL. And why am I doing this, you ask? One reason is in the hope of providing some conceptual clarity. For example, in the gravity thread, I posted this a while ago: This morning I enjoyed Lecture 22, "Measuring the Size and Age of the Universe". However, Prof Lincoln opens the lecture with this: "In the last seven lessons we've covered a huge amount of cosmology. Hopefully you now know why Einstein claimed that gravity is caused by the bending and distortion of space and time." I trust the problem is clear. A claim that "smoking causes lung cancer" is quite another matter from "smoking is lung cancer".
  14. Statement 1 (S1): Birds don't fly Statement 2 (S2): Frank Sinatra is not a poached egg Both these statements share one thing in common: they are both screamingly obvious; the difference being that S1 is obviously false (it is true that some birds don't fly, of course, but "[all] birds don't fly" is false) while S2 is obviously true. Now, if the village idiot, or the village madman for that matter, were to tell you either of the statements above, you might smile politely, make some excuse about a dental appointment, and disappear fast. On the other hand, however, were S1 or S2 advanced by the village genius, one might stop to wonder "Why is an intelligent person saying something that is so obviously false/true?" This is the position I find myself in. During my brief time here, I have been told by various scientists (mainly physicists)--obviously intelligent and knowledgeable--that: S3: Science (or physics) does not, or does not try to, describe reality S4: The model is not the reality As with S1 and S2, S3 is screamingly obviously false while S4 is screamingly obviously true, and yours truly is left wondering why these things are being said at all. Here's what I think is going on, and I offer the following in the hope of attaining a little more clarity for us all in these discussions. Now, whether you've read Immanuel Kant or not (I haven't), it's likely that we've all been influenced by his thought to some degree or other. Great ideas, whether right or wrong, tend to trickle down from the heights of the ivory tower to the grass roots far below. Kant, in his attempt to refute the skepticism (roughly, "Sorry! We can't know anything") that traditional empiricism (Locke, Berkeley, Hume, et al) implies, offers us a bifurcation of reality into two realms: the phenomenal and the noumenal. The former is the realm of appearances; accessible to us, and of which we can have knowledge. The latter, though real, is utterly inaccessible to us; we can have no knowledge of the noumenon. The noumenal realm, we are told, is where the dreaded ding an sich--the "thing in itself"--resides (cf. the fundamental nature of gravity, the essence of dark matter, dark energy, etc). Kant's philosophy might be described as realism, though it's a realism of the most watery-thin kind; an Oliver Twist gruel realism. At this point, one might pause and wonder "If we can know nothing about this supposed noumenal realm, Mr Kant, why bother with it at all? Why not just get rid of it?" Indeed, this was the path followed by subsequent thinkers, the idealists, and their close cousins, the phenomenalists. To these guys, appearances are all that exist. Idealism, though enormously influential for a century or more, is now pretty much dead (Thank God!). What we might call commonsense realism once more holds sway. Yes, folks, that tree over there is real, really real, and it continues to exist even when no one is looking. And what does all this have to do with science, you might well ask. What about S3 and S4? We see something very similar to Kant's phenomenal-noumenal distinction in the scientific realism vs scientific antirealism scuffle. You may or may not be familiar with the terms, though you've almost certainly been influenced by the ideas. The difference, however, is that the distinction drawn, in the latter case, is usually framed as being between observable reality and unobservable reality. Contra idealism, both sides agree that there exists an observable reality (not just appearances) and we can know things about it. Indeed, science (including physics, of course) is in the business of telling us about it, describing it for us, generating knowledge for us (contra S3). Where they parts ways is that a scientific realist will insist there also exists a mind-independent unobservable reality, moreover, we can, if not now at least in principle, know things about it. A sensible realist claim would be cautiously hedged, of course, after all, many scientific theories once thought true now lie on the scrapheap. Perhaps something like "Our best, most highly confirmed theories, in the mature sciences, are providing us with knowledge of unobservable reality". The antirealist, meanwhile, depending who you ask, might tell you there is no unobservable reality (cf. "There is no quantum world" - Niels Bohr), or perhaps that it might exist but we can say nothing about it, or to ask such questions is meaningless, such questions are ill-defined, etc., etc. As far as I'm able to discern--from reading, from internet resources, from discussions with working scientists in places like this-- antirealism is (far and away?) the predominant position in contemporary physics (though not other scientific disciplines), thanks to the overwhelming influence of Bohr, Heisenberg, Copenhagen et al. I get the impression, though I have no personal experience in these things, that physicists--tacitly--are being educated (dare I say indoctrinated) to believe that this, i.e., antirealism, is the only way to construe such matters. Perhaps the physicists and other scientists out there might share their experiences. I'd be fascinated to hear. Let it not be thought, though, that the quietus has been given to scientific realism, even in the crazy, wacky, seemingly incomprehensible domain of quantum mechanics. There are always dissenting voices (Einstein, Weinberg, Bohm, multiple universes, etc.), eager to provide a more satisfying (as they see it) causal-explanatory realist account of what's going on behind the scenes. And these things do have a habit of coming and going in cycles. Scientific antirealism reigns for now, in physics at least . . .
  15. - me (above) Allow me one brief interruption, if you will. I feel compelled, on principle, to protest this. What was the reason for that rap on the knuckles from the moderator again? Well, read for yourselves above. The crime I stand accused of, or at least one of them, is addressing a philosophical question . . . in the philosophy forum . . in the idiom of philosophy . . . and not in the idiom of science. "The terms "reality" and "truth" are commonly too subjective for science, so we use words that better describe the outcomes of various mathematical models. It's really that simple . . ." - mod Now, I wonder how that would work in the physics forum, say . . . "Hey! You can't speak the language of physics in the physics forum!! You might confuse the philosophers!!" - mod Somehow I think not. As you were, and pardon the intrusion.
  16. Would "Does physics (try to) describe reality?" be considered more of a scientific question or a philosophical question? Is this question amenable to employment of "the scientific method"? Apparently not. Is there any experiment we might perform to shed some light on the question? Apparently not. It would appear, then, that the question is more philosophical in nature than scientific. So, with regard to your comment above, as thanks for offering my philosophical "take", among other slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, I got accused of being obtuse, suffering from comprehension issues, various other insults sprinkled liberally throughout the thread (to which, some of you may have noticed, I invariably turned the other cheek), a downvote or two, and a rap on the knuckles from a moderator. Ponder that while I ponder the limits of hypocrisy here.
  17. First of all, a reminder for other readers. In the "Is Gravity a Force?" thread, page 2, third post from the bottom, Swansont says this: "I argue that would be physics, and the reason that we know physics isn't trying to describe reality is because physics itself admits that it's making stuff up to make good models." Note that this is an unqualified claim. The claim is not that physics sometimes isn't trying to describe reality. Neither is it the claim that some parts of physics aren't trying to describe reality. The claim is there for all to see in black and white: "Physics isn't trying to describe reality . . . PERIOD". Now to business . . . What does it matter who brought up cannonballs? I'm asking you a question which I will now repeat: 1. Does physics try to describe the trajectory of cannonballs and other such thingies or not? If it does, then contra your own (seemingly crazy) view, we have a case of physics trying to describe reality, and your blanket claim that physics is not trying to describe reality is false. And while we're at it, here are a few more . . . 2. Does physics try to describe the motion of the planets or not? If it does, then contra your own (seemingly crazy) view, we have a case of physics trying to describe reality, and your blanket claim that physics is not trying to describe reality is false. 3. Does physics try to describe the motion of a pendulum or not? If it does, then contra your own (seemingly crazy) view, we have a case of physics trying to describe reality, and your blanket claim that physics is not trying to describe reality is false. 4. Does physics try to describe the motion of falling objects? If it does, then contra your own (seemingly crazy) view, we have a case of physics trying to describe reality, and your blanket claim that physics is not trying to describe reality is false. I could fill the whole page . . . Is this really necessary?
  18. I'd personally amend that, sir, to "how a lot of physicists view their work". It (i.e. antirealism) does appear to be the dominant poistion in physics. I doubt very much it is in other branches of science. Copied from page 2 . . . And I'd reiterate, this is almost certainly a minority view in science as a whole (physics being the apparent exception). Try asking a psychologist if he thinks consciousness is real. Try asking a geologist if she thinks tectonic plates are real. Try asking a paleontologist if he thinks dinosaurs are real. Try asking a chemist if she thinks oxygen is real. Try asking a neuroscientist if she thinks neurons are real. Try asking Richard Dawkins whether he thinks natural selection is real or merely a theoretical postulate, useful for predictive purposes, but not to be taken at face value. . . . Does physics try to describe the trajectory of cannonballs and other such thingies or not? If it does, then contra your own (seemingly crazy) view, physics is trying to describe reality (at least the observable part thereof).
  19. @swansont I don't have a problem with science describing behavior, either . . . in the realm of the observable. You, meanwhile, told us (in the other thread): "physics does not try to describe reality" (I quote from memory) I say it does . . . in the observable realm (at least - some physicists clearly feel they are trying to describe unobservable reality too). This is something both realists and antirealists agree on, moreover, seems so obviously true that it's baffling to hear someone suggest otherwise. You mean you guys are not trying to describe the trajectory of that cannonball?
  20. Er, before going any further, where did I "balk at reality"? I have no problem with science describing observable reality; it's the unobservable bits that make me squeamish.
  21. I posted earlier . . . QUOTE My own position would probably lie closest to that of Bas van Fraassen's "constructive empiricism". Roughly: 1. Scientific theories/statements are truth applicable (They are the kinds of things that can be true or false) 2. The epistemic warrant is insufficient to believe anything science says about unobserveable reality 3. Science aims for "empirical adequacy", i.e., saving the appearances. and . . . Edit: I'm saying we may have (indeed almost certainly do have) good reason to believe what scientists tell us about trajectories, i.e., observable reality. What I balk at is believing any causal-explanatory, behind-the-scenes account (i.e. the story about unobservable reality) of why cannonballs behave as they do. UNQUOTE All talk of twelve, or however many, dimensions falls into the realm of the unobservable. So how do we know, how can we be certain, of the unobservable scenarios you are suggesting? My answer: We don't know. See 2 above. On my view, we don't know anything about unobservable reality. The best we can hope for is empirical adequacy (i.e., describing what can be seen).
  22. Re various claims here, there & everywhere to the effect that physics, or science in general, does not, or does not try to, describe reality ("All we do is construct models for their instrumental accuracy, we make no claims to the reality of theoretical entities, we leave that to the metaphysicians & philosophers, etc., etc.") . . . Well, I'm up to Lecture 20 now in prof. Don Lincoln's (see the "Is Gravity a Force?" thread for details and price) wonderful series "The Evidence for Modern Physics" entitled "How We Search for Dark Matter". Right off the bat, at the 00:10 min mark, prof Lincoln opens with a no-holds-barred: "In the last lesson I laid out some of the reasons why scientists believe that dark matter is real." Now, I'm honestly not trying to be a pest here, folks. What I am trying to make recognized is that, contrary to certain members' protestations, this is the way scientists/physicists, or at least a great many of them, routinely talk. Pay closer attention for yourself from now on.
  23. Speak of the devil . . . If you'll notice, in the sketch of "The Scientific Method" that beecee has posted above, one (supposedly) begins with an observation/question in the absence of any hypothesis. The hypothesis, we are told, comes later (Step 3). This is indeed representative of the "Baconian method" usually described as inductivism. On this account, one does not bring a hypothesis to the "raw, neutral, unladen-by-theory" data/facts; rather, we are led to believe, the theory is somehow already in the data just waiting to be teased out, so to speak. Charles Darwin, just to name one, was less than impressed . . . - Robert N. Brandon, "Concepts and Methods in Evolutionary Biology", p147 also . . . - Charles Darwin and just one more . . . - S. J. Gould, essay "The Validation of Continental Drift", found in "The Richness of Life", p 291
  24. No, I don't. See 2 and 3 (my last post) Edit: I'm saying we may have (indeed almost certainly do have) good reason to believe what scientists tell us about trajectories, i.e., observable reality. What I balk at is believing any causal-explanatory, behind-the-scenes account (i.e. the story about unobservable reality) of why cannonballs behave as they do.
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