domingo, 13 de noviembre de 2011

Ontic Structural Realism and Scientific Realism: On Ladyman and Ross, Sellars and Brassier


On Ladyman and Ross, Sellars and Brassier

   Ladyman and Ross go a long way in debasing Kuhn-inspired relativisms about science by showing how discontinuity in scientific theories at the level of content is underwritten by continuity at the level of structure. In doing so, they also build on the epistemological (rather than ontological) valence of the distinction between observables and unobservables as posited in theoretical physics. Their brand of ontic structural realism predates on the semantic approach to theory-modeling which situates the relationship between mathematical structures as primary as opposed to the partial-interpretation of theoretical terms on the basis of observables (the 'syntactic' approach advocated by Carnap). Similarly to Badiou's deflation of the empiricist notion of content (the 'third dogma of empiricism' he criticizes apropos Quine in The Concept of Model), L&R seek to undermine the ontological valence of the entities postulated within the manifest image ("Scholastic" and "neo-Scholastic" metaphysics included) and its reference to middle-sized objects and properties, the better to assert (again, like Badiou or Meillassoux) the reality of primary mathematical properties. These, however, do not demand commitment to the positive ontological status of imperceptible particles; the  underdetermination of objects obtained in avowing the reality of processes remains ontologically agnostic about any entity in current science. In this regard, L&R seek to anchor their realism in scientific predictive success (the so-called 'no-miracles argument'), while at the same time having leverage to resist the underdetermination of realism by instrumentalism in consideration of theory-change (the so-called 'underdetermination problem'). The latter challenge applies even to positions such as Van Fraassen's constructive empiricism. Below I will explain what I find most problematic about this restriction of the realist commitment to structure, but provisionally we can gauge that if Meillassoux's metaphysical argument against the frequentialist implication is correct, then the predictive success of science is no less miraculous than its potential disruption by the sudden change of these laws ex nihilo. Intra-systemic predictability at the level of local laws provides no less a secure foundation for realism than unpredictable anomalies (in Kuhn's sense) force us into accepting pragmatic instrumentalism about science.

Of course, L&R's principled reluctance to make metaphysics refractory to empirical science would no doubt resist the very epistemological coordination between thought and reality in terms of a correlation between subject and object: ontic structural realism is precisely meant to revise the epistemological framework to dislodge traditional representational analogy in favor of structural isomorphy (or homomorphy). Yet what I find most unpersuasive so far about the book is the early defense in Chapter I of scientism, since in a certain sense it seems to me to rest, on similar grounds to the Churchlands, on an opaque sense of super-empirical virtue tethered to a rather thin pragmatism. Brassier above all has shown the deficiencies in appeals to the super-empirical in Churchland's  neurocomputational idealism through pragmatism, much like Badiou criticizes Quine's naturalism for reifying science on alleged pragmatic grounds (again, this point is belabored in The Concept of Model). In L&R's account, the metaphysical subordination to science, and physics in particular, is entirely sketched on pragmatic grounds under what they programmatically label the "Primacy of Physics Constraint", or PPC in short. The following quote provides the basic position:

"Special science hypotheses that conflict with fundamental physics, or such consensus as there is in fundamental physics, should be rejected for that reason alone. Fundamental physical hypotheses are not symmetrically hostage to the conclusions of the special sciences.

This, we claim, is a regulative principle in current science, and it should be respected by naturalistic metaphysicians. The first, descriptive, claim is reason for the second, normative, one." (Pg. 45)

This reinforces the earlier, more general "Principle of Naturalistic Closure", which states that:

"Any new metaphysical claim that is to be taken seriously at time t should be motivated by, and only by, the service it would perform, if true, in showing how two or more specific scientific hypotheses, at least one of which is draw from fundamental physics, jointly explain more than the sum of what is explained by the two hypothesis taken separately, where this is interpreted by reference to the following terminological stipulations:

Stipulation: 'scientific hypotheses' are understood as hypotheses that are taken seriously by institutionally bona fide science at t

Stipulation: A specific scientific hypothesis is one that has been directly investigated and confirmed by institutionally bona fide scientific activity prior to t or is one that might be investigated at or after t, in the absense of constraints resulting from engineering, physiological, or economic restrictions, or a combination, as the primary object of attempted verification, falsification, or quantitative refinement, where this activity is a part of an objective research project fundable by a bona fide scientific research funding body

Stipulation: An objective research project has the primary purpose of establishing objective facts about nature that would, if accepted, on the basis of such a project, be expected to continue to be accepted by inquirers aiming to maximize their stock of true beliefs, notwithstanding shifts in the inquirers practical, commercial, or ideological preferences" (Pg. 38)

Notice the appeal to the communitarian 'consensus' evoked here, which is doubtlessly strange considering that L&R later go on to attack scientific realism (which they distinguish from their own OSR) on the grounds that it is dependent on subjective matters of consensus and pragmatic factors, e.g the disposition of specific scientists or the scientific communities. Their arguments against these accounts in grappling with the problem of the reference of theoretical terms are of great value.

Yet the avowal of scientism is there transparently tethered to an explicitly pragmatic, normative subordination of metaphysics to science, without any further epistemological labor or explanation. Although I endorse the idea of making metaphysics continuous with science, as well as their arguments for structural realism in order to account for theory change, it seems to me that the early stages of the book do not advance a sufficiently robust account about the rational necessity for making science metaphysically authoritative, failing thus to clarify the position from which the ontological prerogative of science derives. Perhaps this is where a Sellarsian approach has something to contribute still, specifically insofar as it insists on the necessity of a methodological dualism keeping the normative-register of the manifest image as a necessary condition of possibility for the epistemic entitlement endowed to science, and for the logic of revision itself. In this regard, perhaps the question concerning the ontological status of unobservables in L&R's account vis a vis their discussion of Van Fraasen's constructive empiricism makes my concern particularly salient. I would quote the following passage from the book:

"Opponents of scientific realism, such as Van Fraassen, deny that the local defenses of realism about specific unobservables are compelling, arguing that they can in each case be reinterpret in pragmatic terms as inferences to the empirical adequacy of the explanation in question, plus a commitment to continue theorizing with the resources of the theory... If unobservable entities merely happened to be around when certain phenomena were occurring then their presence would not be explanatory. Hence, Van Fraassen argues, scientific realism relies upon some kind of metaphysical theory of laws of nature, singular causation, or essential natures. For Van Fraassen, this means it ultimately rests on explanation by posit. Here we reach an impasse with the scientific realism insisting on the need for explanations where the antirealist is content without them." (Pg. 74)

And yet, if I understand Van Fraassen correctly, his point is not that explanation is no good, but that explanation by posit appealing to the abovementioned metaphysical items (laws of nature, singular causation...) is what is left unexplained qua posited by the scientific realist, and as such they would require a justification not circularly defined terms which would simply presuppose the pragmatic requirement that we ought to continue using the theory in dispute. At that point Van Fraassen seems to think the 'realist' wager becomes fatally undermined by its tacit pragmatic instrumental appeals. Similar to Meillassoux's hijacking of the correlationist argument to unearth a tacit realism in the form of the factial, Van Fraassen hijacks the scientific realist to unearth a tacit instrumentalism in their argument. Yet as we have seen L&R do not, despite their claims to the contrary, escape from instrumentalism by witholding epistemic commitment about individuals, and circumscribing realism to structural properties. For whether the prescription to philosophize in continuity with contemporary physics is wed to a notion of individuated objects or to merely relational structural properties is strictly speaking irrelevant to Van Fraassen's point, which is that one obviates explanation by normative prescription/proscription, and as such cannot but be instrumental on those grounds. Even if OSR can explain theory change while remaining metaphysically agnostic about individuals, the same questions raised apropos the latter in classical scientific realism reappear in OSR with regard to the prescription to endorse the ontological valence of structural properties. And since this endorsement seems to be postulated in pragmatic terms, in principle rather than established by argument, it is not clear Van Fraasen's hijacking of the scientific realist argument to unearth its tacit circular appeals to authority is not reproduced in OSR. Pragmatism is idealist in tenor since it subordinates the reality or ontological valence of a given set of postulates, in this case scientific individuals and structure, to the normative injunction to 'do science'.

In this regard, it is important to notice that structure fares no better than individuals in L&R's account: both are finally undermined by the pragmatic claim that physics ought to be metaphysically endorsed since it cannot be rendered explanatorily virtuous and non-miraculous without assuming their reality in principle. If regularity provides grounds to motivate realism this cannot be surreptitiously postulated in order to avoid its instrumentalization, since in doing so one ends up doing just that, whether we tether our metaphysics to structure or individuals. Unyoking scientific modeling from observation and inference fares no better than mathematical structure if it must be assumed relative to the unexplained necessity to endorse realism on the basis of the scientific capacity to explain and predict phenomena, i.e. the latter remains just as susceptible to instrumentalization as the syntactic scientific realism about individuals was susceptible to deflation into empiricist constructivism. Now, ironically, L&R themselves attempt to return Van Fraassen the favor by claiming that constructive empiricism must commit to a minimum metaphysical endorsement of objective modal relations; i.e. it must ground its assertion of the probable-predictable adequacy of phenomena to theoretical posits in the reality of their possibility or actuality, even if it remains agnostic about their other properties. Thus L&R claim:

"If science tells us about objective-modal relations among the phenomena (both possible and actual), the occasional novel predictive success is not miraculous but to be expected." (Pg 153)

However, this misses the deflationary point raised by Van Fraassen, because to be a realist about modal objectivity is not sufficient to be a realist about the mind-independent reality, or about scientific phenomena in any orthodox sense. We know, at least since Kant, that it is perfectly possible to avow the causal efficacy of phenomena as constrained to our experiential field, just like in Hegel's objective idealism the ontological determinations that yield objectivity do not for that reason escape idealism. Thus irrespect6ive of whether pragmatism must be underwritten by some metaphysical commitment or other, the point, which Brassier stresses brilliantly apropos the Churchlands, is that they cannot but be complicit with an idealist miraculous congruence between thought and being. This follows transparently once we realize that just like Kant reactivates the valence of causal efficacy at the price of inflecting objectivity as a function of subjective synthesis, L&R operate under the frequentialist implication whose motivation is the 'no-miracles' argument. The latter is meant to justify the endorsement of naturalist metaphysics. This move, contrary to its pretension, relativizes the explanatory demand of scientific practice to the pragmatic concern to explain predictive success, rather than to legitimate the relation between our concepts and the objects presumably existing independently of the former. Both Van Fraassen and L&R may endorse modal objectivity, but since both finally accept a prescriptive rather than explanatory legitimation for the valence of science, it is the constructive empiricist idealization Van Fraassen openly accepts which seems to be tacitly presupposed by L&R's OSR, and not the latter's realism that is to be found in the former. At a loss for an epistemological account which distinguishes mathematical relations from properly physical structure, L&R simply assume a miraculous congruence between thought and the real through physics, supported by their two founding principles. 
Now, consider L&R's appeals to recent developments in GR and QM which attempt to ground objectual relations in terms of diffeomorphic transformations, nested in an explanation of symmetry understood in group theory as inclusion to equivalence classes with the appropriate rules for preservation. This allows one to explain structural continuity in purely formal terms. It endows the OSR to ground objective modality in structural symmetry. But how does the latter mathematical structure relate to physical structure at all? What relation holds between the two, i.e. what epistemic grounds solicit the postulate of the mind independence of the phenomena described by structure, once we have disowned appeals to the noumenal or qualia? This, again, L&R fail to do, folding back on their convenient prescriptive principle PNC, at a loss for any justification. Thus if OSR is indeed a realism in any way about science it is because the objective modal structure it ontologically asserts is in fact separate from the relational mathematical expression and yet indistinguishable from it all the same. This point is made by Van Fraassen (2006) and it dramatically entails that OSR cannot properly explain what separates mathematics from physics, they can only postulate it. In fact, they have no shame in admitting this much:

"When theories are empirically adequate they tell us about the structure of the phenomena and this structure is (at least in part) modal structure. However there is still a distinction between structure and non-structure. Merely listing relations among locators does not state anything with modal force. Therefore it doesn't specify structure in our sense and it isn't yet scientific theory as we've defended it. Physical structure exists, but what it it? If it is just a description of the properties and relations of some underlying entities this leads us back to epistemic structural realism. What makes the structure physical and not mathematical? This is a question that we refuse to answe. In our view, there is nothing more to be said about this that doesn't amount to empty words and venture beyond what the PNC allows. The 'world-structure' just is and exists independently of us and we represent it mathematico-physically via our theories." (Pg. 158)

 The emergent result seems to be, quite predictably, either a kind of mathematical realism or neo-Pythagoreanism (Maddy, Rednik) purported by mathematicians themselves, or philosophers of science now insisting, like their repudiated Continental 'mystics', on an unobjectifiable excess to structure grounding the realist locus for naturalist metaphysics; which now starts sounding a whole lot more like Heidegger than Hegel, if not Scheller. Take the following passage which sums up the ordeal:

"Of course, all the considerations from physics to which we have appealed do not logically compel us to abandon the idea of a world of distinct ontologically subsistent individuals with intrinsic properties. As we noted, the identity and individuality of quantum particles could be grounded in each having a primitive thisness, and the same could be true of spacetime points. What we can establish is that physics tells us that certain aspects of such a world would be unknowable... On our view, things in themselves and qualia are ideal wheels in metaphysics and the PPC imposes a moratorium on such purely speculative philosophical toys... we take it that such a gap between epistemology and metaphysics is unacceptable. Given that there is no a priori way of demonstrating that the world must be composed of individuals with intrinsic natures, and given that our best physics puts severe pressure on such a view, the PNC dictates that we reject the idea altogether." (Pg. 154)

If our considerations hold here the PNC and PPC both merely aggravate the gulf between epistemology and ontology rather than palliate it. At a loss for justification beyond the super-empirical call for theoretical 'unification' restricted to scientific practice and their instituional approval, both principles are laid to rest on the pragmatic grounds criticized above, and end up soliciting the much repudiated invocations of the 'noumenal' and 'qualia' that L&R associate with philosophical spooks; the specter that Hegel had long since warned against: the uncanny coincidence of all merely 'contingent' (pseudo) philosophical accounts which obviate dialectical necessity by subordinating themselves to the empirical, as well the reification of abstraction in the form of a pure non-conceptual externality, a pure 'thisness' or immediacy intractable by conceptual means. This is yet another dimension in which the kind of pragmatic idealism bolstered by so-called 'hardcore' philosophers who claim to be continuous with science, following Kant, end up enacting, like Meillassoux diagnoses, a Ptolemaic counter revolution of sorts. Although L&R seek to escape this mystical evacuation of realism into a kind of neo-Kantian endorsement of noumenal ineffability, they end up bolstering it through their pragmatism.

Perhaps this is where the dialectical interplay between the scientific and manifest images advanced in the classical Sellarsian account can be put to work in some sense, by securing the relation between the two relatively autonomous registers (the conceptual-normative, and the natural-causal), and so avoiding the gratuitous demand for scientism which renders it epistemologically, if not metaphysically, rest on dubious grounds. Here the question would be to track the dialectic of concept revision by describing the porous frontier between the observable and the unobservable, and thus between the reviseable manifest register, still tethered to the reality of objects, as well as the scientific register's description of both elementary imperceptibles and non-perceptual structural properties all the same. Below I will indicate why Brassier particularly underlines the Sellarsian endorsement of secondary-properties as ontological valences.

The other point which seems of paramount interest is of course going back to the semantic-approach for theory modeling which reactivates the questions raised by Frege and Hilbert, and whether such an approach can be satisfactorily representational in a rigorous sense by means of structural isomorphy without having to invoke the privilege of intuition (in this regard Badiou seems to have taken the side of Hilbert in denouncing any notion of empirical 'content' as grounding structural isomorphy between domains and axiomatics, whereas the scientific realist- empiricist Sellarsian might want to salvage a role for sensibilia in some form or other). I take it that the revisionist naturalism endorsed by Brassier is an attempt to reconcile the rationalism from the Badiouean/Hilbertean deflation of self-grounding intuitions by underlining the relational autonomy of our conceptual economy, while insisting along Sellars' naturalism that an ontological role can be preserved for sensa as long as the latter are understood as pertaining to the autonomous domain of causal efficacy, and so as mediated processes themselves. This would simultaneously revoke the privilege of the manifest image to render scientific postulates of non-phenomenologizable content subordinate to perception (thus against instrumentalizations of science in terms of analogical modeling or pragmatic postulation), while at the same time explaining how sensibilia ontologically conditions conceptual mediation in resolutely non-conceptual terms; that is, in natural-causal terms, as neurophysiological processes. Furthermore, Brassier deems this as a crucial move in order to salvage the epistemic priority of science which, beyond purely mathematical structure, is capable of remaining anchored in the world. At this juncture the idea of 'real patterns' might be metaphysically useful, even if epistemologically still on dubious grounds. The problem with a blunt realism about ontic structure with a physicalist bent is that it adjudicates the privilege of science while remaining open to the kind of instrumentalist-pragmatic seizure of the kind Van Fraassen proposes, in which case we fare no better than Quine or Churchland in grounding the metaphysical labor. I take it this is why Brassier considers the unavoidable juncture of epistemology and metaphysics to remain the problematic moment for thought, and the one in which Sellars can help.

Correspondence From Ray Brassier on this Issue
I share your reservations about their attenuated conception of explanatory virtue and their pragmatic justification for scientism. Ultimately, L&R are too willing to throw out the rationalist baby with the metaphysical bathwater. What is frustrating about the book is they nowhere address the obvious Sellarsian-rationalist rejoinders to van Fraasen's empiricism; which is frustrating given that there was a substantial debate between Sellars and Van Fraassen on this very issue back in the 1970s (and van Fraassen was Sellars' student). In fact, there is only one reference to Sellars in the whole book, at the very beginning of Chapter 1 when they cite approvingly from "Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man". But one can imagine a Sellarsian critique of OSR given Sellars' remarks in his 1966 critique of Feyerabend "Scientific Realism or Irenic Instrumentalism": The idea that the framework of common sense has a rock bottom does not require that this rock bottom consists of sense-impressions. The framework of common sense is a framework of (among other things) colored physical objects extended in space and enduring through time. And while objects which are red on the facing surface have the power to cause normal observers in the standard conditions to have sense impressions of red, this is incorrectly taken to mean that the physical property of being red on the facing side is to be analyzed in terms of this causal power.

As Berkeley, Kant, and Whitehead, among others, have pointed out, physical objects cannot have primary qualities only for structural and mathematical properties presuppose what might be called content qualities. And unless one falls into the trap of thinking of the framework of physical objects as a common sense theory evolved with unconscious wisdom to explain the manner in which sense data occur, it will scarcely do to say that the content qualities of physical objects are conceived, by a common sense use of analogy, to be the physical counterparts of the qualities of sense data (i.e. to play in the realm of physical things the content-role played in sense data by sense qualities). For, if the conceptual space of common sense physical
objects is underived, their content qualities must be directly rather than analogically conceived, for it is only in terms of perceived, and therefore conceptualized, qualitative difference that form and content can be distinguished.

1. The abandonment by scientists of the conceptual framework of common sense physical objects would involve either the abandonment of the conceptual space of color tout court, or the retention of this conceptual space as it reappears in its analogical offshoot, the conceptual space of sense impressions. The latter would be cut off from its foundation and left to wither on the vine. In either case, the conceptual space of the qualities of sense (secondary qualities) in one use of this phrase) would disappear from the public observation base of science. It would enter science only in linguistics, in the
study of the structure of the language of non-scientists and of scientists only to the extent that their sense impression talk
continued to reflect the pre-revolutionary framework of common-sense physical objects.

2. Only when the conceptual space of sense impressions has acquired a status which is not parasitical on the framework of common sense physical objects. In other words, only with the development of an adequate scientific theory of the sensory capacities of the central nervous system could the framework of common sense be abandoned without losing conceptual contact with a key dimension of the world. (Scientific Realism or Irenic Instrumentalism, pp. 175-178)

The exceptional strength of Sellarsian rationalism lies in its reconciliation of realism and empiricism: neither manifest objects nor unobservable posits are merely "useful fictions": one severs the link between the sensible and the intelligible at one's peril. By the same token, the notion of "real patterns" seems to me too weak to bear the burden of adjudicating between appearance and reality, or to bridge the gap between epistemology and metaphysics.


So, to sum up:

The view that philosophers would benefit from learning actual science does not transparently entail philosophical sobriety, nor does it overcome by itself the critical injunction. Let us disambiguate:

1) The relation between metaphysics and science is not only ontological, or of ontological choice, but fundamentally epistemological. And in this particular regard, it is the question about the relationship between the two levels: what there is cannot be disassociated from the question about how we know what there is, i.e. the question of normative standards for epistemology cannot be dislodged from the ontological question about the structure of reality lest we revert to a form of dogmatic metaphysics. The question about the relationship between philosophy or metaphysics and science is necessarily at the juncture of questions about what we can know about the world, the relation between concepts and objects.

2) Ladyman and Ross explicitly subscribe to the idea of making metaphysics continuous, and even subordinate, to science, and physics in particular. Theirs is a brand of scientism which undermines the ontological valence of objects qua individuated particulars by arguing that physics teaches us to remain ontologically agnostic about them, the better to avow the reality of structure and primary relations, tracked by mathematical structural patterns. In this regard, L&R are very much informed by work done not just in the philosophy of science, but in science itself; they perform a restricted 'bracketing' about ontological commitments about individuals the better to anchor realism on structure.

3) However, without a proper epistemological footing, naturalist metaphysics cannot be appropriately legitimated on realist grounds, and that in obviating this demand, L&R are forced to appeals on the principled authority of science which devolves in a tacit instrumentalization of science and scientific phenomena, as in Van Fraassen's constructive empiricism, despite their claims to the contrary. The ontological agnosticism about objects is not remedied by an ontological commitment to structure if the authority of the latter merely follows circularly from the 'avowal of science' in principled grounds. In this regard Brassier's remark apropos the Churchlands and Badiou's apropos Quine can be reiterated about L&R, and any variety of scientific realism which is taken to draw its legitimation from a super-empirical standpoint which authoritatively prescribes rather than explains. Pragmatism is complicit with idealism insofar as it adjudicates science from the unexplained principled prescription of the normative practice of science in its current canonical forms.
4) In that regard, L&R's attempts to reshuffle epistemological terms apart from the relation between subjects and objects vis a vis analytic "neo-scholastic" metaphysics is analogous to the criticism against Meillassoux advanced by Gabriel Catren's observation that contemporary physics does not make appeals to inference on the basis of induction from observational terms. This again reiterates the deflation of the terms of the manifest image, and secondary properties in particular, in favor of the mathematicity of structure. More importantly, this reflects L&R's adoption of the semantic approach to theory modeling which dislodges the role reserved for observables vis a vis partial-interpretation in the syntactic approach.  We can also say thus that the scientific revision of epistemological norms by ontic structural realism would itself undermine the construal of the relation between science and the world in terms of subjective inference from observational instances. But, in doing the opposite move, that is, by simply modeling epistemology on a physicalist metaphysics, their philosophy already runs on an unjustified epistemological commitment which endows ontological valence to the postulates of science in pragmatic, principled terms. And this is, like we surmised above, subject to instrumentalist relativization, since the argument cannot be formulated in intra-theoretical terms which would simply insist on the importance of thinking in continuity with the theory in question lest we fall on circularity.

In this regard, the authoritarian validation of science on pragmatic grounds fares no better philosophically than classical metaphysics in its dogmatic pretense to uncritically yield descriptively the nature of reality. Saying we must be continuous with science because science helps us predict the world with accuracy does not get us beyond constructive empiricism, and so it is insufficient for a robust metaphysical naturalism with a realist bent. Realism can not rest on the satisfaction of the no-miracles argument plus a commitment to structure. The autonomy of the real does not follow from predictive success, any more than predictive failure reinforces the dependence of the real on thought. Saying the structure can be metaphysically avowed because there is concensus in bona fide science is both a) motivated by subordinating subordinating metaphysical to the institutional legitimation arbitrarily posited in the PPC and PNC. But through the latter the priority of physics turns out to be prescribed rather than explained. This is made particularly salient in the refusal by L&R to explain the relation between theoretical mathematical posits and 'real' physics structure.

5) Following Sellars, we must claim that the dialectic of concept revision must itself be the condition of possibility for the epistemic endowment of scientific claims. This is what Sellars describes as the methodological, non-ontological, independence of the normative-conceptual register of the manifest image with respect to the natural-causal register of the scientific image. Their relation is not one of plain subordination or undermining, but of a perpetual negotiation. Thus eliminativism does not follow from naturalism; the manifest image retains a methodological independence. The autonomy of the conceptual cannot be eliminated since it is the condition of possibility for the endowment of epistemic entitlement and concept revision itself: it alone tells us on what epistemic basis we should revise our theories and metaphysical commitments. 

19 comentarios:

Synthetic Zero dijo...

As I read these various ontological discussions in the philosophical community, it never fails to strike me that it would be tremendously useful for philosophers to learn a bit more about the actual physical theories they are philosophizing about.

For instance, if you consider the Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics, it's quite reasonable to suggest that extended physical objects have no "reality" whatsoever, except relative to mental processes. By "reality" I mean they can be seen in some interpretations as being entirely dependent on a kind of topological relationship between an observational structure and the observed object, and without taking into account this observational structure, the object simply cannot be said to "exist" in any sense whatsoever, except perhaps as a kind of potentiality-for-being-observed in the multiverse. Physicist Max Tegmark extends this line of thought to propose that one might think of the mutliverse as being essentially empty:

There's nothing particularly unorthodox about this line of thought --- it's perfectly reasonable speculation in the context of quantum mechanics. I believe in essence this also invalidates to a large extent the arguments of Meillassoux, to the extent I understand them, because they depend as far as I can tell on inferences about "the past" which in fact can be seen in a quantum context to also fall into the same category as observations (that is to say, one quite reasonable interpretation of quantum mechanics is that "the past" comes into being, so to speak, via observation --- rather than thinking of it as something which exists prior to observation, again following the implications of the Everett interpretation further).

For this reason, speculations about attempting to base some sort of ontic realism on extended objects in space persistent in time with color are truly silly. But what this also points out I think is the lack of imagination on the part of many philosophers --- they seem unable to imagine the possibility of theories which undermine their assumptions about realism without in any way contradicting prior theories in their domain of original application. Quantum mechanics doesn't contradict Newtonian mechanics for the most part; Newtonian mechanics is a classical approximation to it. It does, however, present fundamental difficulties to any attempt to ground interpretation in naive presumptions about the physical world taken from relatively uninformed intuitions about the nature of modern physical theory.

Of course, the implication here isn't to go entirely to an anti-realist interpretation; rather, you shift what you think of as potentially "real" from, say, objects to some sort of underlying mathematical substrate out of which objects and observers both in some sense co-arise. The idea isn't that the universe has no structure whatsoever, but that whatever structure it may have may bear so little resemblance to our naive picture of the world (objects, space and time, etc.) as to be comprehensible only via mathematics, not via our naive intuitions. While I wouldn't go nearly so far as to adopt an anti-realist stance, however, there's no reason to believe that even this newer, seemingly more fundamental substrate itself might not turn out to be better understood as an emergent phenomenon from an even more fundamental reality which we cannot even imagine today.

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

@Synthetic Zero:
Although I wholeheartedly share your view that philosophers would benefit from learning actual science, it is important to realize that this does not transparently entail philosophical clarity. Let us disambiguate:

1) The discussions at hand are not only ontological, but often epistemological. And in this particular regard, about the relationship between the two. The question about the relationship between philosophy or metaphysics and science is necessarily at the juncture of questions about what we can know about the world.

2) Ladyman and Ross explicitly subscribe to the idea of making metaphysics continuous, and even subordinate, to science, and physics in particular. Theirs is a brand of scientism which as you also say undermines the ontological valence of objects, the better to avow the reality of structure and primary relations. In this regard, L&R are very much informed by work done not just in the philosophy of science, but in science itself. In particular, there are long discussions pertaining to quantum mechanics, general relativity, and the work of much recent physics/science, as well as the history of science. You should take a look at their book, which is filled by the kind of informed references you deem essential.

3) However, the main wager of my post is that without a proper epistemological footing, naturalist metaphysics cannot be appropriately legitimated on realist grounds, and that in doing so they are forced to appeals on the principled authority of science which devolves in an instrumentalization of science and scientific phenomena, as in Van Fraassen's constructive empiricism. The ontological agnosticism about objects is not remedied by an ontological commitment to structure if the authority of the latter merely follows circularly by the 'avowal of science'. In this regard Brassier's remark apropos the Churchlands and Badiou's apropos Quine can be reiterated about L&R, and any variety of scientific realism which is taken to draw its legitimation from super-empirical virtues (coherence, explanatory purchase, predictive capability...)

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

4) In that regard, your criticism of Meillassoux seems continuous with Gabriel Catren's observation that contemporary physics does not make appeals to inference like the former surmises. We can also say that the scientific revision of epistemological norms would itself undermine the construal of the relation between science and the world in terms of subjective inference from observational instances. But, as you will read before, doing the opposite move, that is, simply modelling your epistemology on a physicalist metaphysics is already running on an epistemological commitment which entitles ontological valence to the postulates of science, structural or otherwise, in principled terms. And this is, like we surmised above, subject to instrumentalist relativization, since the argument here cannot be formulated in intra-theoretical terms which insist on the importance of continuity of the theory lest we fall on circularity. Saying we must be continuous with science because science helps us predict the world with accuracy does not get us beyond constructive empiricism, and so it is insufficient for a robust metaphysical naturalism with a realist bent. Realism can not rest on satisfaction of the no-miracles argument plus a commitment to structure.

5) What this means is that the dialectic of concept revision must itself be the condition of possibility for the epistemic endowment of scientific claims. This is what Sellars describes as the methodological, non-ontological, independence between the normative-conceptual register of the manifest image, and the natural causal register of the scientific image. Their relation is not one of plain subordination or undermining, but of a perpetual negotiation. The autonomy of the conceptual cannot be eliminated since it is the condition of possibility for the endowment of epistemic entitlement and concept revision itself: it alone tells us on what epistemic basis we should revise our theories and metaphysical commitments.

All the best,

Synthetic Zero dijo...

Thanks for the clarifying remarks. My comments weren't aimed, I should note, at your remarks regarding the applicability of Van Frassen to the notion of moving to ontological commitments to structure, which seem right to me, but rather simply to the question of how existing scientific and mathematical discoveries constrain attempts at philosophical interpretation. I certainly don't mean to endorse the sort of scientism which you are saying L&R are espousing, but rather the opposite: that any account, realist or otherwise, ought to strive to be consistent with possible reasonable interpretations of science, and that tends to exclude a wide variety of potential interpretations.

For instance, as Stephen Wolfram pointed out, undecidability (a result from theory of computation) leads to strong computational irreducibility, the implications of which are rarely appreciated, it seems to me. For instance, even if we happened to stumble upon the "true" microphysical theory, it's already known that such a theory would not lead to the ability to make certain predictions about the evolution of systems in the general case. The apparent spectacular success, for example, of physics, in other words, only applies to those domains for which symmetries and other regularities are strong enough that the complex implications of computation can be averaged out, so to speak, statistically or otherwise. For instance, we can predict the orbits of asteroids quite well because we can approximate them as point masses; but we can't in general predict the weather more than a week or two in advance --- even in principle, due to quantum interdeterminacy and chaotic instability.

For this reason it may never be possible to determine whether our microphysical theories are consistent with, say, the behavior of living systems at a macroscopic scale, nor will it necessarily be possible to substitute concepts in the manifest image with those in the scientific image, even in principle.

Similarly, while I'm certainly open to the idea that it's reasonable to suggest that science uncovers real patterns (at least if one is to accept, on pragmatic grounds, that the world isn't an entirely random jumble of phenomena or an illusion concocted inside a massive supercomputer simulation a la The Matrix, etc.), I'm not sure how much it really buys us to say that these real patterns are "real" beyond being patterns. I spent several hours just now reading Sellars but this question still seems opaque to me. Since different paradigms may be not only incommensurable but computationally irreducible to each other (i.e., not only between different scales, but even when covering the "same" domain), does it really make sense to speak of a convergence to the real? Is that useful?

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

Thank you for your response. I think the big problem is that in a certain sense L&R, scientific realists, and constructive empiricists all want the same thing: to have a metaphysical/epistemological account adequate to science. But the problem is, I think, not predominantly one of being critically uninformed by science, but being philosophically disingeneous to device a speculative account that would prove adequate to it. Thus statements as the following:

"any account, realist or otherwise, ought to strive to be consistent with possible reasonable interpretations of science, and that tends to exclude a wide variety of potential interpretations."

Is pretty much exactly what L&R prescribe under the PNC principle. The problem is that, left to prescription, it becomes insufficient to ground realism. One needs epistemological adjudication and not simply principles prescription, or else we don't have a satisfactory answer to the question about why we should theorize accordingly. Why should we endow science this putative privilege? L&R make appeals to the no-miracles argument, as well as other guiding threads common in scientific realism within philosophy of science: we want to be realists because a failure to be so also fails to explain predictive success. But this is exactly what Van Fraassen contends: it is actually the opposite, by requiring without further argument a metaphysical legitimization of one's practice one subordinates the ontological status of science to pragmatic factors. Thus he claims there are no suitable grounds in that kind of response for scientific realism, and I'm afraid L&R fare no better with their shift toward structure.

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

One performatively contradicts ontological realism at a loss for epistemological realism: one claims to be advancing the reality of scientific phenomena, but one ends up subordinating this imperative under the requirement to continue theorizing within those terms in order to explain predictive success. But Van Fraassen shows predictive success can be merrily accounted for without realism, but with instrumentalism. And in fact, he shows that the purported scientific realist does not go beyond this.

Now, consider L&R's appeals to recent developments in GR and QM which attempt to ground objectual relations in terms of diffeomorphic transformations, nested in an explanation of symmetry understood in group theory as inclusion to equivalence classes with the appropriate rules for preservation. This allows one to explain structural continuity in purely formal terms. It endows the OSR to ground objective modality in structural symmetry. But how does the latter mathematical structure relate to physical structure at all? What relation holds between the two, i.e. what epistemic grounds solicit the postulate of the mind independence of the phenomena described by structure, once we have disowned appeals to the noumenal or qualia? This, again, L&R fail to do, folding back on their convenient prescriptive principle PNC, at a loss for any justification. This is where the pragmatic route is complicit with idealism.

This is why I agree with yourself and Van Fraasen when you claim " I'm not sure how much it really buys us to say that these real patterns are "real" beyond being patterns." The point is that there really isn't much to go there, and in that regard I take Ladyman and Ross to be performing a kind of variation of Badiou's mathematical platonism, only instead of truth-conditions synthesized under mathematics, we have scientific domains synthesized under mathematical physics.

I think the gaps signaled by Wolfram stress this point too, since we now have not just indeterminacy at the level of individuals and so a problem for substantivalists, but at the level of structure and relationists.

However, I am open to the idea that an structuralist account of theory change might be sensitive to aspects which fail to meet predictive norms; I am not sure L&R would find those examples particularly problematic. I wouldn't be overly hasty is saying that indeterminacy undermines realism given the gap between the macroscopic and microscopic in certain situations. But I agree in that it does show that predictability might not be the strongest ground to base realism; I for one have never been convinced by the suggestion that predictability requires realism.

Excellent comments by the way.


Synthetic Zero dijo...

Thanks. I think part of the problem here is there are a lot of different meanings or implications to the term "realism" which it seems to me are often conflated. For instance, what I might call minimalist realism might be the assertion that the universe is in some sense "real" in a way which is independent of any individual mind, and that it is possible to learn things about this universe (i.e., it is patterned enough to be able to observe "true" regularities about it, such as physical laws). Another way people seem to use the word, however, is to suggest that it makes sense to think about our theories as converging towards the "true" theory. Yet another, related assertion seems to be that we ought to be able to consider the individual terms of a theory (i.e., "electron") to be "real" in and of themselves, in some sense, even if it turns out these individual terms are supplanted by more fundamental entities in some future theory.

The first form of realism it seems to me is amply warranted even if one can never be absolutely certain it is correct. The second and third forms, however, seem to me to needlessly constrain future developments of theory in ways which are rather irrational. For instance, consider the second notion --- are we "converging" on a "true" theory? I believe that while computational irreducibility doesn't undermine the first version of realism it certainly might undermine notions of convergence, simply because for computational reasons, it seems to me every theory or paradigm, scientific or otherwise, will always be limited to some patch of computability (i.e., it's probably impossible to reduce the notion of "love" to physics; it may be impossible to entirely translate, say, Chinese medicine into Western medicine, and so forth, because the terms involved may simply refer to domains which are separated by a computational barrier, even if both disciplines or paradigms have pragmatic applicability). Thus, I would argue that the first version of realism doesn't at all necessarily imply a "convergence" is possible even in principle. Regarding the third idea, the "reality" of individual terms in a theory --- the possibility of future revolutions in theory obviously includes changes so radical that the only thing, as you say L&R point out, that might remain are the patterns or the structure --- but the terms themselves may lose any semblance of "reality" at least in the naive sense we usually mean it to have. It seems to me that in this third case it's almost a quality we want to ascribe to the terms of our theories, i.e, we want them to be somehow stable and solid, in some sense, i.e., "real" --- but by making this commitment it seems to me we may be constraining our imaginations more than is warranted even when thinking about the state of science as it exists today, much less unknown future potential revolutions.

So I suppose I would not, as you say L&R do, simply posit science as the ultimate standard; even though I agree that it makes sense to suggest that philosophical interpretations ought to at least be consistent with what we already think at least reasonably plausible within science, rather than privilege science by fiat, so to speak, I would simply adopt the first, weak form of realism, discard both the idea of convergence and the reality of individual terms, and stick with "real patterns" as that applies not only to scientific theories but any paradigms. I.e., it's a kind of reality-grounded instrumentalism, if the contradictions inherent in that phrase don't seem overly explosive...

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

@Synthetic_Zero: I agree with much of what you say. The way in which you formulate your position however is very reminiscent of L&R themselves: we can know perhaps the structural patterns that adorn reality ('physical laws'), but in order to account for theory change across time we better remain agnostic about individuals.

You claim that the first, 'moderate' realism which you endorse is amply warranted while accepting fallibilism about its postulates. Perhaps you could share your views on what this warrant consists on?

Your second question I believe perhaps conflates a question about eliminativism with one about non-realism. Suppose you are correct and that there is a computational barrier preventing us to translate all kinds of phenomena into basic physical principles/relations. This is a point about reductionism or eliminativism: about the plausibility of accounting for the terms of one theory in terms of another. Although there are many scientific realists who have taken this route (the Churchlands), I don't think it is necessary for realism. But questions about reduction-elimination are plagued with crucial ambiguities: what are we taking about? Ontological dependence? Supervenience? How do we explain the latter?

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

I tend to agree with Brassier, Sellars and Brandom on this point, that a methodological dualism anchors ontological univocity. Peter Wolfendale does an exemplary job of clarifying why the autonomy of the conceptual real of the manifest image is required as a sine qua non, since it is within the logical space of reasons that we spell out conditions for revisability and the normative purchase of theory. But this is not to say that we must withdraw into conceptual idealism, since it is perfectly possible to describe the residual non-conceptual component of experience, which is rather natural causal. This is why people like Brassier and Sellars insist on reserving a role for intuition and sensibility. This entails a reconciliation of rationalism with realism: it is within conception than the distinction between form and content, conceptual and non-conceptual is enacted. The sensible is causally the condition of possibility for conceptual deliberation, but the latter is the condition of possibility for thinking of the unilateral ontological dependence of the conceptual on the non-conceptual. This is a matter of distinguishing epistemological supervenience from ontological supervenience.

In this regard, Sellars can be read as rehabilitating Kant after Hegel's point that we have no privileged access to the content of our phenomena: immediate experience is a red herring (Hegel shows how Kant's purported deduction of the categories modelled the science of its time rather than actually deduced the latter from the transcendental). The point Sellars underlines is that just because sensa are not conceptual this does not mean they are not-mediated: causal processes condition sensibilia, and the scientific study of the central nervous system provides insight into how this occurs. Thus, the dialectic between the manifest and scientific registers is what explains the epistemic relation between mind and world, concepts and objects. Methodological dualism grounds ontological univocity.

On this account I agree that a) reductionism fails, and that by implication b) a strict physicalism must fail. Particularly, the restriction to structure strikes me as probably defective: much of science is not formalized, but we seem compelled to say there were fossils and dinosaurs (this is another point belabored by Meillassoux and Brassier). The question about whether real patterns by themselves will do, without realist endorsement of secondary qualities strikes me as implausible, for it annihilates the mediating role of sensibilia between ourselves and the world, which Sellars stresses. The position you advocate in the end is what I take to be L&R's position, once its tacit pragmatism is unveiled. I wouldn't call it 'weak realism', since it obliterates the possible distinction between the thought of the real and the real itself, mathematical formalism and material content. The 'reality-grounded' seems to me thin there.


Synthetic Zero dijo...

I don't quite see how the position I'm advocating obliterates any distinction between the thought of the real and the real itself. If that were the case then we would no longer be talking about the sort of weak realism I'm positing but rather straightforwardly idealism, which I don't agree with.

For instance, consider a possible universe in which, somehow (we won't say how), there is a "fundamental" underlying microstructure to this universe but for reasons not explained this microstructure is impossible to discover uniquely by macroscopic living entities (for instance, one potential reason for this might be that, due to the strange mathematical structure of this imagined universe, the evidence presented at the level of the manifest image, to use this Sellarsian term, will always involve an indeterminacy of possible microstructures which can never, even in principle, ever be resolved). Although there is a "real" microstructure, it isn't possible for creatures in this universe to discover it uniquely, but rather they can only establish certain regularities, patterns, laws, within certain limited computational domains. Their knowledge of this universe is, in other words "patchy".

It seems to me such a universe is well within the realm of possibility, it could well be our own universe, for instance.

In such a universe, both the second and third versions of realism (convergence and the "reality" of individual terms within theories) could not, even in principle, work, it seems to me, whereas my first realism (that theories are grounded in reality) would be perfectly sensible. Real patterns could be discovered, they would be grounded in the real, but there could never be convergence to a final theory. Real patterns are certainly not merely "thoughts of the real" (as in imaginary fantasies) --- there must be some sort of feedback loop which allows certain ideas of the real, certain thoughts, to survive, and others to die off in the process of investigation.

Thus, grounded, but not grounded in any specific "final" converged theory. Since this is possible, it seems to me any philosophical interpretation of science which excludes this possibility involves too strong a set of commitments.

A side note on fossils and Meillassoux: it's precisely this sort of thing which I find problematic with his argument, it's a paradigmatic example of the problem. As I noted before, one possible interpretation of quantum mechanics is that fossils didn't "exist prior to the observer" but in fact in some strange sense came intio being, so to speak, at the moment of observation (or in a Everettian sense that possible past became correlated with a mind state). Of course, colloquially we can speak of the past as "existing prior" but strictly speaking this is not necessarily the case, at least it's plausible to think that this is not necessarily a good way to describe this.

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

@Synthetic_Zero: The problem as I see it is that by restricting realism to structure one renders opaque the relationship between the formal ideography in which the theory is expressed, and the world/phenomena which purportedly are not inherently meaningful by themselves. This is a question L&R do not answer; they simply speak as if there was a congruence between bona fide science in terms of mathematical structure and the physical. I understand you do not wish to endorse an idealism, and that you understand that theoretical inscriptions are not things.

The question is however the epistemological one raised above: how do we account for this gap? L&R do so in principle, through the PNC and the PPC. You propose a hypothetical universe with microstructural features intractable for sapient creatures like us. But this is a hypothesis like any other; it is fine as a thought-experiment, but it does not have any bearing on whether realism is true or not. Also, even if the microstructure of the world were intractable in terms of the manifest image as you suggest, this does not entail explanatory impossibility. It could be that we understand this microstructure in causal-natural terms. The negotiation between the manifest and scientific images is one of perpetual negotiation; it might be that we need to eliminate some terms of our current manifest image, redefine others, while others remain incommensurable to scientific explanation for the moment (this was the case with sensa in the time of Sellars). If what you are proposing is the hypothesis a wholesale ineffability or impenetrability of the real in the universe, which yields indeterminacy and predictive constraints, then we still owe an explanation about these limitations of our cognitive faculties, since the epistemologically constraints cannot be simply prescribed or speculated on pains of mysticism. Here science surely should and can help; but what we need is an appropriate "speculative armature" (to use Brassier's phrase) to map the relation between knower and known, even if this be in principle one which will be limited.

It's fine to acknowledge that we don't know (incomplete knowledge), that we are always potentially wrong (fallibilism; uncertainty), and maybe cannot know ( restricted solipsism). But these are all claims which ought to be examined on case by case basis, and yielding an account of what thought is, what knowledge is, what objective knowledge requires, and why it is non-obtainable or impossible in certain cases. And of course we ought to pay careful attention to what the empirical sciences are doing; but there is no transparent transition from empirical constraints to epistemological ones. The former tell show predictive insufficiencies, theoretical incongruence and so on; the latter may include all of these, but are not in principle restricted to the experimental/theoretical practice within a given domain, but it is supposed to hold as a general account of what defines knowledge in general, and not just intra-theoretical insufficiency. If one such theory is our privileged medium for gauging the structure of reality, this must be first established in order for the latter to tell us what we cannot know about the real. If our ontology is incomplete or 'patchy', then this must be accounted for in epistemological terms.

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

"Grounding" real patterns in the real seems to be still a somewhat opaque notion as expressed, without a propadeutic explanation of what such grounding consists in, and how it operates. Of course it would only be circular to say that it is what physics or science tells us is the case; even if one might be disposed to agree. This is why the whole issue hinges on the following: "There must be some sort of feedback loop which allows certain ideas of the real, certain thoughts, to survive, and others to die off in the process of investigation."

If "survival" here is understood as continuity in theoretical terms-relations-structure over change (symmetry?) then the question is to explain what this 'feedback loop' is, and how it solicits realism. I'm not saying this can't be done, just that it needs to be done.

About Meillassoux and the question of the possible disruption to the order of temporal succession he takes as grounding the argument for the arche-fossil, it seems to me again that this will turn on whether we can properly endorse a physicalism about space-time in metaphysics, but for which we will need nevertheless a epistemological justification. Now, perhaps there is something uncanny here, insofar as one might claim that the epistemological register which insists on the autonomy of the conceptual must be underwritten by a metaphysically scholastic notion of succession which science wouldn't endorse (this point has been recently made by Martin Hagglund in seizure of Derrida's structure of 'the trace'). Dislodging this dimension from the epistemological grounding would however require to preserve its explanatory role for normative standards in the logical space of reasons. I know Reza Negarestani has been working on some alternative epistemological models inspired by post-Peircean mathematics, but I have no idea on this regard.


Synthetic Zero dijo...

I take your point about the hypothetical nature of my thought experiment, but the point I was attempting to make was somewhat different from what I think you took it to mean. It seems to me epistemological arguments ought to work in any conceivable universe which has enough regularity to allow for rational thought and speculation about the structure of said universe (I realize I'm being vague here about what that means, precisely --- I'm simply acknowledging that one can imagine universes in which knowledge, and life, for that matter, is strictly impossible). If one can imagine a universe in which convergence to the real and the "reality" of terms of a theory will never be stabilized, then it seems to me this is in some sense an argument that these should not be part of any general epistemological account.

In your first reply you seem to be conflating what I'm suggesting with "explanatory impossibility", or with a notion which renders opaque the difference between the ideography of a theory and the world/phenomena, but that's not what I'm trying to say at all --- that is to say, I don't believe rejection of realism #2 or realism #3 is equivalent to "explanatory impossibility". I think in your second reply, however, you hone in on exactly the crucial point, my suggestion of a "feedback loop" of some kind, which admittedly is just another sort of thought experiment.

The basic idea here is, again, simply to suggest that there exists a possible account for bridging the gap between theory and reality in a possible imagined universe. In other words, in my proposed thought experiment universe, one can imagine that the physics of that universe were at least similar enough to ours that there could be information feedback loops (in other words, in some sense there could be what appear, at least, to be structural feedback loops between "perceivers" and "the real".) Again, I'm not demonstrating here that this IS the case in our universe --- merely suggesting that one could imagine a universe in which this is the case.

In such a universe it seems to me that realism #1 holds, but not realism #2 or #3, and yet the feedback loops/survival principle would allow for a strong coupling between theory ("real patterns") and the real, without a sort of metaphysical/ontological commitment to the terms of any given theory. In such a universe paradigms or world views at many scales and in many contexts (i.e., poetic reality, the phenomenological world of a fly, and so on) could cover various "patches" of this imagined universe and could not in general be cross-translated from one to the other. The best you can hope for is a patchy understanding of this universe at different scales from different angles, so to speak, but one could still speak of a "real" universe and a grounding of theory in the real.

It seems to me as far as we know this imagined universe, as I suggested before, might well be our universe. The sort of "instrumentalist realism" I'm proposing would work in such a universe, without positing physics as primary.

I do happen to think there's something important about the idea of feedback loops as a possible hypothetical mechanism, so to speak, for cognition/theory formation. These feedback loops need not presuppose the past, a la Meillassoux; they can simply be topological arrangements in an essentially empty quantum block universe (imagine tracing patterns in a uniform connected graph of nodes; the graph of nodes taken as a whole could literally be empty of information content a la Max Tegmark, yet you could trace out all sorts of amazing patterns of paths between nodes in such a network, and every possible pattern might, in an Everettian multiverse sense, be a perceived world). In this picture one could imagine that the feedback loop could induces apparent time and space if one doesn't presume it as part of the inherent structure of the universe.

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

@Synthetic_Zero: Excellent, that clarifies your position quite a bit. Notice however that your requirement, that our epistemological arguments ought to be fine tuned to explain regularities as well as flexibility, is solicited by non-naturalist positions. One can argue that Meillassoux's position does just this: it remains perfectly compatible with the idea of regularity, while at the same time by rejecting the frequentialist implication (which can be seen as a kind of no-miracles argument) he salvages contingency required for revision. Of course, his position ultimately converges with Badiou's own salvaging of the ontological status of primary properties, so his is not in any a scientific realism.

So while your point on the requirements for modal comprehensiveness and flexibility are well taken, I think more is needed to advance a properly naturalist position, and to make realism adequate not just to mathematical structure, but also by non-formalized science. I think it's important to emphasize not just that we don't know many things, which is true, but also in the face of contemporary relativisms, that we know a whole lot more than we think we do!

IN that regard the prospect of salvaging the reality of certain individuals, of secondary properties, and other things, remains part of what I find promising about the Sellarsian dialectic endorsed by Brassier. BY the same token, I think that as long as the notion of a feedback loop is not coherently cashed out in epistemological terms it does not advance scientific realism. But it's a suggestion which might be well worth exploring and developing.

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

I agree that such an endorsement of realism #1 would not entail #2 or #3, but for the moment, given it's hypothetical nature, is in no different speculative footing than L&R's PPC or PNC; we owe an explanation of the difference between concepts and non-conceptual reality, and how science enters into this picture, lest we become idealist, and science remains pragmatically prescribed. At this point incomplete knowledge is the least of our concerns, even if it seems something we'd be amenable to. The 'might well be' is again the kind of tentative suggestion we could remain open toward, but still in need of development.

Your latest suggestion about how feedback loops might help us advance from a linear notion of temporal chronology is a first step in distinguishing between the two registers. Their relation is the next step.


Synthetic Zero dijo...

This has been a very interesting discussion, and I don't want to hijack your blog much further with my lengthy comments, but I'll try to leave you with one last thought for now. For me, the key issue is, in essence, attempting to find the right balance between, as you put it, contemporary relativisms and realism. The position I'm proposing is an attempt to situate relativism, in some sense, inside a realist superstructure, in a way which acknowledges the valid points raised by relativists while maintaining a place for a notion of realism which doesn't overly constrain the possibility for radical revision (not merely revision in an asymptotic convergence sense, but revision in the sense of mutually incommensurable, yet all valid and applicable, paradigms).

It seems to me that the fear on the realist side of relativism is that relativism leads to theory which is entirely unmoored from reality --- that is to say, that one can have a completely unconstrained space of heterogeneous theories, paradigms, patterns, etc., leading to what is essentially a kind of nihilism: any theory will do if it happens to be accepted by a community (of scientists, or any other community, for that matter), and there are no objective standards for what ought to be accepted by a community.

And I think this is a reasonable concern, but at the same time, I nevertheless think the relativist objection that mutually incommensurable, yet valid paradigms may not only coexist today, they may ALWAYS, in principle, have to coexist, because one cannot ever create a single universal paradigm which "covers" reality (again, for reasons of computational irreducibility), means that effectively the relativist view may be something with which everyone has to contend indefinitely, no matter how far knowledge progresses. However, if one adopts the realism #1 which I'm advocating, one can think, intuitively, about these paradigms as in some sense akin to computational projection operators, or local coordinate systems. Just as in general relativity where it's not, in general, possible to construct a global coordinate system for the entire universe, but it is possible for local coordinate systems to cover patches of the universe, one can think of paradigms as constrained by reality (and thus even if incommensurable, they are both intersecting operators on a single reality, not entirely independent arbitrary constructs) --- perhaps generated via some sort of feedback loop / symmetry process as I am suggesting in my thought experiment, then you have both realism and relativism in the same package. That's essentially what I'm after, here.

Thus, I suppose I don't find myself particularly interested in trying to focus on how much it is we do know already, because as a student of science, I have to say that I agree with Einstein that we really don't know that much after all; the domains of applicability of what we do know are much more radically limited than I think many people realize, especially those not trained in science and even many who are, if they're not particularly philosophically oriented. Yes, nihilist relativism I think is a fruitless and incoherent philosophical position, but I still find relativism useful if one constrains it in the sense I'm proposing.

In any event, very fruitful discussion and thanks so much for taking the time to respond to my comments.

Synthetic Zero dijo...

(I might add that my position does constrain relativism considerably, in my view, because in most cases paradigms overlap, as they have to in some sense because they must go through, as you put it, the manifest image, so to speak. That is to say, two incommensurable paradigms nevertheless have points of intersection in the space of observation, prediction, etc., as many philosophers of science have observed ... my view is that the "reason" for the requirement for a kind of consistency there is realism #1 --- paradigms are not arbitrary, and are thus strongly constrained if they are to survive the feedback loop process, so to speak. Thus, it's not a wild west anything goes relativism, but a heavily constrained relativism which nevertheless allows both an irreducible multiplicity of paradigms or theories while maintaining the notion of a single ultimate reality.)

krelianx dijo...

It's my pleasure to discuss with you; it's been a fruitful discussion. I think your last points resonate with the basic task for any position that would be called naturalist and realist: the post-Kuhnian requirement to account for paradigm changes, and on the other the realist commitment to allow that science can describe the structure of reality.

Relativism is probably wholesale incompatible with realism; perhaps the more pertinent notion is fallibilism. We acknowledge the incompleteness and defeasability of our faculties and our beliefs, while at the same time describing how non-defeasible tokens can obtain. This point is belabored by McDowell in his excellent little book 'Perception as a Capacity for Knowledge' apropos perceptual knowledge; and it makes a good case for an internalist realism in defense of externalists such as Tyler Burge.

I think your claims about the unfeasability of reductionism given computational incompatibility are sound; but I think we can follow something like a Brandomian approach which provides, if not non-revisable metaphysics, something like the deontological general conditions for objective knowledge, i.e. for the logic of revision itself. This is why I find the juncture of epistemoogy and metaphysics so peculiarly important, because it is the former that adjudicates the ontological valence of science, and so any purported realism. It is within the logical space of reasons that we succeed in debunking dogmatism and relativism in the same stroke, since the logic of revision itself is what cannot be revised. I suggest to check out Peter Wolfendale's brilliant "Essay on Transcendental Realism" for a promising account for what this looks like, which follows Brandom.

I find your position reasonable and hope to hear more of it as it develops!

Synthetic Zero dijo...

I'm curious to read more about ideas of an unrevisable logic of revision --- I'm somewhat skeptical that one can actually come up with an airtight argument in this regard (I'm familiar with Lakatos' attempts, of course, via his notion of progressive and degenerating research programmes, which seemed somewhat promising and similar in spirit, I would think, to this idea, but nevertheless I have to say I'm not entirely convinced this will work out in the end --- many previous attempts at this sort of thing have ended up foundering on the shoals of exceptional cases).

I think I disagree, however, regarding relativism and realism --- though I of course understand that sounds crazy on the surface. To me, the key assertion of relativism is simply that there isn't a uniquely privileged paradigm --- and that's key to my rejection of realism #2. I think there is a single reality, but it isn't possible to "cover" this reality with a single privileged paradigm, for computational reasons. If that's the case then even if you have an ironclad logic of revision, you will still have a multiplicity of potential paradigms, even though these paradigms would have to be constrained to be weakly consistent with each other in some sense due to the constraints of realism #1. For that reason you can certainly have at least one of the core assertions of relativism (the lack of a uniquely preferred paradigm or framework) even if you don't have an unconstrained space of possible paradigms.