Saturday, August 27, 2005

Dembski and the "shark-jumping" Evolutionists

Posted in: Science

Dr. Dembski has a cool post in regards to how evolutionists may have finally "jumped the shark" in thier efforts to thwart the ID movement.

This enjoyable post can be seen here http://www.uncommondescent.com/index.php/archives/278

And I highly suggest you check it out if you desire to find out what "jumping the shark" actually is.

Enjoy

36 Comments:

Blogger jamie said...

Dembski's post doesn't go anywhere or say much of anything, other than to explain the meaning of this phrase. It does, though, betray something important. ID is gaining power as a cultural movement, but it is, so far, just a cultural movement. ID has not produced anything valuable to science.

Darwinism, conversely, is opening all kinds of doors. Carl Zimmer recently published a review of a paper on the co-evolution of Plasmodium falciparum in chimps and humans - Malaria for Brains. ID is producing nothing like this.

To me it seems that ID presents a bad theology. Propping up theology against well-proven science places one's apologetic in a precarious position. I don't want to toss "panda poop" at ya'll; as I've said before, ya'll seem like some high-learnin' folks. I vaguely recall some lectures at Cornerstone by Dr. Geisler way back in my theistic days, and from that I don't think, perhaps unlike some of my fellow Darwinians, that religious peeps are fools.

I do, however, maintain that ID is standing on a shaky foundation. Why would a "designer" manage to create a world that follows observed natural laws, but then have to suspend them to create a flagellum? If all complex systems imply design, what of weather, i.e. hurricanes? That one there raises the question of the designer being, well, destructive at the least. And hey, replicating and complex systems aren't necessarily intelligent. Just look at Outlook Express and Internet Explorer!

9:43 PM  
Blogger Sal Monella said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Sal Monella said...

meta-mullet said...
Jamie,

Thanks for the comments. You certainly provoked me to do some thinking.

Thanks also for pointing me towards a collateral prediction of Evolutionary theory that may have struck pay-dirt over at the Coranate website. I do find these types of scientific findings interesting and if something furthers scientific advancement, I certainly hold no bias against Evo., ID, or any other theory for that matter.

As for such predictions coming in from ID research. Well, there is the fact that ID theory provides a better explination for the Cambrian Explosion than Evo. does, and I think that this is certainly relevant to your challenge of no such predictions coming in from the ID camp. Also, there is ID biological research going on in the area of Steganography--this is where Evo. theory dismisses so-called *junk DNA* as just that, junk, wheras ID theory is based on the inference that biological systems are designed, therefore, no DNA is "junk" and those multi-layered portions of DNA must have a purpose/function and research in that area should be fruitful based on the design/engineering principle.

Only time will tell on such research, but, nonetheless, this is a quallity prediction based on ID and it exists where you stated that there were no such predictions being made

Regardless, even granting that Zimmer's conclusions are golden, I suppose he is basically just making up for the history of very poor predictions made in the name of Evolutionary theory (e.g. Haekels Embryo's, so-called vestigial organs that actually have purpose, the bad *junk* call on multylayerd DNA, etc.) In other words, Evo. theory has certainly turned out its share of notoriously bunk forcasts and it is certainly no undisputed champion when it somes to quallity scientific predictions.

In sum, I will say that this seems to cover the extent of the scientific content of your critique of ID. The rest that you mention is straight theology. In fact, you mention more theology in your response than was mentioned at the entire 3 day "Uncommon Dissent" forum held in Greenville, SC earlier this month. At this conference ID schollars and evolutionists gave stellar, scientific lectures critiquing Evolutionary explinations for life's origins and there was hardly a hint of theology in the house.

I will say thanks for your theological inquiries, though. You see, I am currently conducting a research project based on the presupposition that all Evolutionists have some strange fetish for theology.

I garner this hunch becaue all of my converstaions with Evos in regards to ID seem to have the same basic pattern. The Evo starts out with one scientific challenge such as "Is ID falsifiable?" or, "What are ID's predictions?"

Then, a complete phenomena takes place. Once the token science challenge is out of the way, then, out of the blue, a virtual onslought of theological questions and challenges come to the surface.

Who designed the designer?! Why is the designer so poor at designing things?! Why are there earthquakes?! Why was there a Hitler?!!, etc. etc. etc.

(So much for chemestry, microbiology, genetics, biology, and other relevant issues)

Really, I would be more than glad to discuss these doctrinal issues with you, Jamie. But first you are going to have to come out of the closet and come clean about your true desire for theological information ;)

Take care and thanks again for the challenges.

Yours,
The Mullet

1:08 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

ID does not explain the Cambrian Explosion. Saying God did it isn't an explanation. Do you really feel any better, any wiser when you dismiss scientific explanations in favor of religious ones? If so, why bother with science at all?

And evolution says nothing about junk DNA.

ID's rationale for "predicting" that junk DNA is useful is telling. First, ID proponents seem to be assuming that the designer is perfect and has thought of every possible interaction. That is, that we were designed down to our junk DNA sequences. This is clearly a religious assumption. If the designer were imperfect, there could still be junk DNA.

Second, there's no good ID explanation for why there's an ordered fossil record. Why did the designer build the simplest life forms first? If there was a designer, I wouldn't expect the fossil record to look the way it does, whether the designer was perfect or not. Yet, the fossil record is just what evolution would expect.

And what about genetic algorithms? GA's are used in software problem solving to find solutions to highly complex problems. They have been used to design circuits that are exceptionally difficult to understand, but which work very effectively. This in itself is proof that, once you have a mechanism for evolution, you can evolve highly sophisticated mechanisms without the need for a designer to put the pieces into place.

Finally, I would expect that all people who have an interest in evolution are interested in our origins and in our place in the universe. But to claim that all evolutionary biologists are closet religionists is like arguing that everyone who likes humor enjoys fart jokes.

3:38 PM  
Blogger jamie said...

Well, Dr. Logic handled the science, so allow me to address the theological fetish. The ID movement - and I'm speaking of it as a social movement here - is theological in nature, even if the idea itself is not, hence, my questions about the theology of it. I'll grant you that it is a big step up from young Earth creationism, but it's growing popularity is based on a Christian following.

Really, though, anything capable of designing life to the extent that ID claims is an entity we would all call a god, even if it was an alien or something.

The underlying argument from the ID camp, and from ya'll here, goes beyond questioning evolutionary theory and into questioning a priori assumptions of naturalism in biological research, and this clearly moves the debate into theology, or metaphysics - same thing.

Yeah, I personally have an interest in theology, mainly because I was raised in church, the word-faith movement to be specific, and how faintly do I recall hiding my copy of Hannegraff's "Christianity in Crisis" among my Black Sabbath records (the irony is, uh, wicked). I digress.

Seriously, though, if I go straight to the theology of this it is because I don't think it beneficial for either side to equate science as antithetical to religion, or vice-versa. Gould did a good job, I think, on this subject in "Rocks of Ages," nevermind his needlessly polysyllabic phrase "non-overlapping magisteria." Ken Miller has also raised good points on this, pointing out that it would have been silly for his God to give Moses or whoever a detailed description of RNA and evolution etc. to his audience.

So, I raise theological questions here because ya'll seem like intelligent theologians - something I think we both can agree is lacking 'round these parts. I respect that ya'll want to defend your faith intelligently. Attacking evolutionary theory, I think, is not the best way to do that.

Anyway, thanks for the response. Feel free to toss curve balls this way, and let me know if I cross the line. As the saying goes, iron sharpens iron, etc.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Sal Monella said...

Hey! Thanks to Dr. Logic and Jamie for keeping me on my toes!!

In all honesty, I don't see how anyone can even have a robust, knock-down, drag-out, full-throttle discussion about such matters without discussing the gambit of Philosophy, Theology, and and the Hard Sciences all in one sitting. Thats the way these discussions always wind up anyways (and thats the way scientific inquiry was conducted for thousands of years, BTW).

Also, I don't really have a beef against evolution, per se. I just think it needs to come clean. The whole theory (usually taught as fact to the students) of the-goo-to-the-zoo-to-you is loaded with extrapilations from hard science that have many Philosophical (and even Theological) overtones.

I think something that hasn't been pointed out before is that it is a huge pill that most of the ID guys (who happen to be theists) are swallowing when they have to say "well, maybe aliens did it" etc. in regards to the implied designer.

I think that instead of trying to paint this concession in a negative light (such as most evolutionists do)by stating that the ID possee is pushing creationism in disguise. Why not give them the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge what they are really doing. They are making a big concession by suppressing their religious beliefs to the point where they wont interfere with the scientific aspect of the discussion. They are doing this out of respect to the establishment clause and peoples desire on both sides to keep hard science class to the hard sciences as much as possible.

Teaching "the controversy" should be fine as well as any legitamate criticisms of Evolution should be included in textbooks.

Where everyone is freaking out (on both sides of the issue) is all of the philosophical and theological implications that *both* theories either imply or rely upon when taught.

Proposed solution:

Why not develop a robust, well-rounded *introduction to the philosophy of science* curriculum for the public schools that covers the various aspects of the philosophical implications of both sides of "the controversy"?

Also, what about a fair and ballenced "the history of science and religion" class and text book?

I think that adding these types of courses in public schools would eliminate the problem. I must add, to be fair, if ID theory were to be relegated to these classes only, then the goo-zoo-you creation story should be sent there too. Hard science class should be limited to just that--what we see go down in the test tube. Origin science can be split down the middle--we can talk chemistry, early atmosphere, and speculate a bit on microbiology, but any *big question* issues are sent to the philosophy shop, where there is a well trained teacher ready, willing, and able to arbatrate matters in the most ballenced and ecumenical way possible.

Anyways, I just wanted to get that off my chest, especially since Dr. Logic busted out the *naturalism of the gaps* respnse to my claim about the Cambrian.

BTW, Dr. Logic. I will take issue with your claim about fart jokes. I will assert the universality of fart humor and posit that every fart joke that has ever been launched has been thought of as funny. Of course, if you could provide evidence of a non-laughed-at-fart-joke, my theory would be falsified ;)

MM

7:27 PM  
Blogger jamie said...

Well, common ground, I agree that public schools - and community colleges, for that matter, should include and require a philosophy of science/ history of science program as a prerequisite to any science class of any kind. Our reasons for this may be different, but I'm with you on this. It amazes me, in all my college level sci classes, how briefly the subject of the scientific method (and the philosophical underpinnings) is dealt with. This is the only important part of the class, unless one is persuing a degree in the subject. And to that, I will add that public high schools should require a comparative religion class as well (and comm. colleges). My own college has a great religion class - with a great prof - and were it not for him, I might be slinging monkey poo at you right now.

8:05 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

MM,

You are mistaken. It is clearly the bowling ball falling on the head jokes that are the universally funny ones. :)

Creationists have challenged the Big Bang Theory and geology. Should they also be allowed to teach their "controversy" in science class? Should science class prepare you to enter college science programs or not? No university biology program with any status in the scientific community teaches or uses ID. No ID papers have been published in scientific journals except in a couple of cases where the article slipped through the referee process. The percentage of biologists subscribing to ID is probably about 0.1% or less. The ID people have a profile disproportionate large compared to their miniscule scientific credibility.

How controversial is evolution as an explanation of speciation in the scientific community? About as controversial as HIV is as an explanation of AIDS in the medical community. ID proponents have a case as strong as those African leaders who blame AIDS on Western AIDS drugs or on condoms.

I don't think that the handful of ID "scientists" are conspirators in a plot to get religion into schools. They are men of faith who cannot believe that God would not leave some concrete evidence that he exists. They think that there has to be some scientific proof of God's existence, and they think that "irreducible complexity" is the answer. I think they see the money and cheerleading they get from religionists as positive reinforcement. The universe certainly looks designed to the non-scientist, but that's what made Darwin's idea so powerful. He showed that design wasn't necessary.

There are two flaws with the ID program in general. The first is falsifiability, which prevents them from doing any real science. The second is that their plan cannot find their God, even if there were a designer. You can't have a scientific theory about a supernatural thing. Indeed, logical positivists such as myself would say that, by definition, God isn't even a sensible, meaningful concept. No proposition about God is falsifiable. Say anything you want about God and your statement is totally immune to anything you will experience. If you ask a true believer whether there is anything she could see that would convince her that God did not exist, she would answer "no". Similarly, all other propositions about God have nothing to do with experience. God is good? God is eternal? And nothing you see will convince you otherwise? Then God seems totally irrelevant to experience. As are a billion other ideas I can cook up which are equally untestable, including "God does not exist".

The study of language shows us that the meaning of a proposition is its method of verification or falsification (e.g., think about the way you learn your native language - it must be in reference to empirical facts). Propositions about God are neither true nor false. They are literally nonsensical, without definition, because they are non-empirical. BTW, I consider mathematical propositions to be empirical because they can be tested via mathematical manipulations.

Does evolution have something to say about theology? Not directly. But evolution takes a lot of the air out of religion's tires. There are very few gaps left of any consequence that could be filled by God. That gives people one more opportunity to think about a universe without God. They have to start asking "what does faith in God buy me?" If God set the universe in motion, and that motion made us, what exactly is God explaining? The infantile and self-contradictory babblings in the Bible just aren't plausible. So we're left with a God that is a synonym for the beginning of the universe. Not very compelling.

The godless universe may be large, cold and hostile, but it's a liberating thought. Life here is precious, not worthless, and saving that life is our responsibility, not someone else's.

8:23 PM  
Blogger davis said...

"I might be slinging monkey poo at you right now."

I haven't had that class yet. Maybe that's why I've been slinging all this monkey poo as of late :)

4:06 AM  
Blogger Sal Monella said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Sal Monella said...

Dr. Logic said:

"Propositions about God are neither true nor false."

Is this a true statement, Dr. Logic?

;) MM

6:49 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Ha! Very funny. God is not the subject of that proposition. So yes, it's true.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Sal Monella said...

So, let me see here . . . your proposition that propositions about God are neither true nor false is . . . true?

You may have to unpack that one for me bro ;)

MM

7:17 PM  
Blogger Sal Monella said...

Jamie,

I just wanted to thank you again for your input. It seems as if we agree to disagree on some things, and perhaps agree on others. I hope that you keep hanging around here at tuquoque, and, you can always shoot me an e-mail at simonjwoodstock@yahoo.com if you would like to keep in touch that way.

cheers,
MM

9:34 AM  
Anonymous leibniz said...

Dr. Logic writes:
The study of language shows us that the meaning of a proposition is its method of verification or falsification (e.g., think about the way you learn your native language - it must be in reference to empirical facts). Propositions about God are neither true nor false. They are literally nonsensical, without definition, because they are non-empirical.

This remark deserves comment. In the first place, the study of language does not show us that the meaning of a proposition is its method of verification or falsification. That claim about meaning is a theory about language, but isn't something that can be read off of languages or discovered through a study of languages. It is, rather, a philosophical theory about language, and I might add, a theory that was discredited by philosophers several decades ago. It amuses me that people can still be found who adhere to it. It's biggest problem is simple to see: the view is self-stultifying. The claim is that "the meaning of a proposition is its method of verification or falsification," but this is not itself a statement that can be verified or falsified. (What possible empirical evidence could be given to verify or falsify such a claim about the connection between meaning and verification?) Thus, if the view were true, any attempt to affirm the view would be "literally nonsensical." But if you think that nonsensical views can't be true, then this view of meaning must be false (or at least ineffable).

It is rare, I admit, for philosophers to achieve anything like universal agreement on a philosophical issue. But every once and a while a view is so decisively refuted that it happens. This is one of those cases.

I would be interested to hear what someone who calls himself "Dr. Logic" has to say about this.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous leibniz said...

One more thing, Dr. Logic. You seem to think you can side-step MM's objection by pointing out that God is not the subject of the statement 'Propositions about God are neither true nor false'. What you point out is true: the subject of that sentence is 'Propositions about God', not 'God'. But why is this relevant? 'Propositions about God are neither true nor false' is no more empirically verifiable or falsifiable than claims like 'God is eternal'. If you think otherwise, please explain what possible empirical evidence could verify or falsify the claim that 'Propositions about God are neither true nor false'.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

leibniz,

The claim is that "the meaning of a proposition is its method of verification or falsification," but this is not itself a statement that can be verified or falsified. (What possible empirical evidence could be given to verify or falsify such a claim about the connection between meaning and verification?) Thus, if the view were true, any attempt to affirm the view would be "literally nonsensical." But if you think that nonsensical views can't be true, then this view of meaning must be false (or at least ineffable).

Good question.

Your critique would indeed be valid if "meaning" were ineffable. And, at first, we might think that meaning is somehow undefinable, something magical, something in its own class.

Yet, I would claim that, a posteriori, meaning is actually quite a well-defined empirical phenomenon, in the same way that Turing machines make computing well-defined.

We are biological computing machines, and so meaning must be an empirical thing. We have observed the processes by which we acquire and translate language. Though our models are presently quite crude, we have every reason to believe that highly accurate neurological models will demonstrate the precise nature of meaning and comprehension within 50 years.

But, setting aside neuroscience, I think there are some things we can say about meaningful propositions that are fundamental.

First, the literal meaning of a proposition is language dependent. So, to the extent that meaning is independent of language, there must be some mechanism for translation from one language into another. Yet, two alien civilizations can only communicate in reference to a common empirical basis. The same rule applies when two humans with different native languages perform their initial translation. More importantly, the same translation process (grounded in empiricism) is used when a child formulates her own native language for the first time.

Second, the proposition must be logically relatable to existing propositions. If this were not the case, one could not be said to understand the proposition. In other words, we could not know that we know the meaning of the proposition. We only know that we know a thing by testing that knowledge against empirical or computational fact.

I think that either of these conditions would make empirical grounding inescapable.

So the logical positivist principle of verifiability is itself an empirical fact about meaning. To wit, to the degree we draw a line between meaningful and nonsensical propositions, we must formulate an increasingly precise empirical or computational mechanism for drawing that line.

A couple of footnotes in anticipation of possible objections:

1) Indeterminacy of translation doesn't make translation impossible, it just puts error bars on it. Therefore, all meaning has some degree of uncertainty. However, as long as both parties cooperate, the uncertainty in meaning can be made as small as required for any engineering purpose.

2) Science tells us that we evolved as machines capable of representing propositions about empirical facts. As we become conscious, we already have an animal substrate of empirical propositions on which to attach new, meaningful propositions. That is, our brains lift themselves up by their own bootstraps.

10:23 PM  
Anonymous leibniz said...

We are biological computing machines, and so meaning must be an empirical thing.

This hardly follows. Meanings are things we grasp. But even if we are biological computing machines, it doesn't follow that the meanings we grasp are "empirical." It could be that such machines are capable of grasping the meanings of sentences that cannot be verified or falsified by empirical means.

I think that either of these conditions would make empirical grounding inescapable.

This needs to be explained more clearly. As far as I can tell, I could consistently accept your conditions and still reject the verifiability criterion of meaning.

We still have been given no good reason to think that 'the meaning of a proposition is its method of verification or falsification' can be empirically verified or falsified. Nor have we been given any good reason to think that 'Propositions about God are neither true nor false' can be verified or falsified empirically. Perhaps I am missing your argument. If so, please spell it out more clearly and carefully.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

leibniz,

If we are biological computing machines, then meaning must be encoded in our mental state. This would be consistent with the observed phenomenon that drugs or mental injury can distort meaning and perception.

New meanings can only come from prior mental states or from a combination of prior mental states and outside stimuli. Since the computing states are themselves empirical, all meaning has an empirical basis.

Understanding base empirical propositions is easy to see from the description above. We might then ask whether we can sythesize higher order propositions that are meaningful, but which are not bound to empirical tests.

Let's say that a mind conceives of a new proposition by stringing together a series of valid terms from empirical propositions. No doubt there will be some grammatically correct propositions that are utterly meaningless, e.g., squiggle grows dimetrodon squared. How do we test whether a given proposition is meaningful? We do so by forming a scientific theory about its meaning. Based on existing empirical propositions and the usage of the terms in those propositions, we construct a one or more translated versions of the test proposition. We then test each translated proposition for consistency with our existing propositions. Squiggle is a curly line, to grow means to amplify or or breed, dimetrodon is a species of dinosaur, and squared is an adjective meaning mathematically multiplied by itself. The literal meaning is clearly nonsensical. The few theories that might be sensible (e.g., squiggle is a proper name of a person who is growing embryos of dinosaurs in a square matrix of test tubes) are grammatically dubious, but let's suppose that such a proposition is considered to have a viable theory of meannig. Can we claim that we know the meaning of this proposition without there being some empirical phenomena that would be compatible or incompatible with the proposition? Must there not be some facts that are consistent or inconsistent with the proposition for it to have meaning?

Meaning isn't a foregone conclusion. Meaning is a theory about the empirical implications of a proposition. In the end, we have to "know that we know" the meaning of a proposition, and we can only do that by testing our theory of meaning against base empirical propositions and observations.

Metaphysical propositions attempt to bypass this restriction, but result only in confusion.

Let's consider the propositions of existence like God exists.

First we have to understand the meaning of the verb "to exist." This verb means "to have actual empirical attributes." My TV does not exist without any of its actual empirical attributes. There is no "spirit of TV" that has no attributes of the TV. Similarly, your TV exists independently because, even if it were atom for atom identical to mine, it has different actual empirical properties like inertia at your house instead of inertia at mine.

As we know, there are a multitude of interpretations of God in different cultures an contexts. So we then try to narrow down the definition of God to the point that it can be reconciled with existing propositions. All physical Gods are fairly easily dealt with. They are not much different from "a large hairy gentlement with four arms has actual empirical attributes," for example. Perfectly meaningful, but no different than Bigfoot myths.

The problem arises when you explicitly try to construct a definition of God that has no actual empirical attributes. If you define God this way, the proposition "God exists" is equivalent to "The entity that has no empirical attributes has actual empirical attributes."

I also note that, under this definition of God, there are no facts that are inconsistent with the proposition. Indeed, every fact that you could possibly find in the future is deemed to be consistent with the claim of God's existence. This is a hallmark of the content-free proposition.

So, if the claim of God's existence is to have any sense, you have to say what the actual empirical attributes of God are. As I see it, God was specifically constructed to be beyond experimental reach because falsification experiments had a tendency to nullify religious belief.

6:27 AM  
Anonymous leibniz said...

In reading this most recent post, I can't help but notice that you still haven't taken up my original challenge, the one that in my opinion dooms the verificationist conception of meaning. So let me repeat the challenge:

What reason do we have to think that 'the meaning of a proposition is its method of verification or falsification' can be empirically verified or falsified? What reason do we have to think that 'Propositions about God are neither true nor false' can be verified or falsified empirically?

Let me be as clear as I can be about how this challenge needs to be met. You need to specify some "empirical" state of affairs that would verify or falsify the statements in question. What would be an example of some empirical datum that would falsify those statements? What would be an example of some empirical datum that would verify (i.e., conclusively establish) the truth of those statements? (Cf. the logical positivist, who asks the theist to give an example of some "empirical" state of affairs that would falsify or verify the existence of God.)

As I understand your previous post, it has basically two parts. The first is concerned with supporting this claim: If we are biological computing machines, meaning must be an empirical thing. In the second you argue that 'God exists' is confused. Let me address these in turn, under the headings '(1)' and '(2)'.

(1) Most of what you say here is just bald assertions, without any argument. The closest thing I can find to an argument is this:

If we are biological computing machines, then meaning must be encoded in our mental state. This would be consistent with the observed phenomenon that drugs or mental injury can distort meaning and perception.

You are right to say that 'meaning must be encoded in our mental state' is consistent with the "observed phenomena" you mention, but the important thing is that it is not entailed by those phenomena. One could also say that meanings are causally inert abstract objects and that mental injury and drugs inhibit our ability to grasp those meanings. This is also perfectly consistent with these "observed phenomena," but on this view meaning would not be inextricably linked to empirical verification or falsification.

(2) A critical part of your argument here is that the verb 'to exist' means 'to have actual empirical attributes'. But that is question-begging. In effect, you are stacking the deck against theism. Suppose I say that the true definition of existence is 'to have actual attributes'. Then there is no problem.

There's another problem. You say that, given your definition of existence, 'God exists' is equivalent to 'The entity that has no empirical attributes has actual empirical attributes'. You seem to be trying to make the point that 'God exists' is actually incoherent, insofar as it affirms that something with empirical attributes lacks empirical attributes. But I thought your view was that such propositions are meaningless. If it has no semantic content, then why would you try to show that its semantic content is incoherent?

11:14 AM  
Anonymous leibniz said...

One brief addendum:
It is true that much of our language is acquired empirically. As children, for example, we see our parents point to red things and call them 'red', so we learn to do the same. And as far as I can tell, our mastery of "observation terms" is always acquired in something like this way. But for all we know, it may be that humans have an innate capacity, which can be realized only once their conceptual repetoire becomes sufficiently rich, to grasp non-observational, non-empirical concepts like God, absolute space, infinity, and number.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

leibniz, thanks for taking this debate seriously and for challenging me to formulate my arguments more carefully.

What reason do we have to think that 'the meaning of a proposition is its method of verification or falsification' can be empirically verified or falsified?

Clearly, we cannot answer this question without some definition of meaning.

My claim is that the definition of meaning is such that, for a meaningful proposition, P, one can determine one or more distinct propositions that are consistent with P and one or more propositions that are not consistent with P (excluding ~P). This determination need not be complete. For example, I may determine that test proposition P1 is consistent with P, and that test proposition P2 is inconsistent with P, but not know whether test proposition P3 is consistent with P. In other words, P must have logical consequences to be meaningful.

Indeed, this is the principle of verifiability, i.e., the claim that any meaningful proposition is ultimately equivalent to some set of empirical test propositions or else it is part of some self-consistent mathematical system (i.e., it is equivalent to mathematical test propositions). Again, in my view, mathematics is empirical. Let's refer to propositions that meet my definition of meaning as verifiable propositions.

Now, you can challenge my claim with the counterclaim that my definition of meaning is wrong or incomplete.

Let's suppose that meaning is deeper than I have suggested and that not all meaningful propositions are verifiable propositions. In that case, we might be able to construct two propositions Q1 and Q2 that have different meanings, but which are compatible with exactly the same set of logical or empirical test propositions. This immediately creates problems because we could not then distinguish the meanings of the two propositions except by looking at the symbols used to express the two propositions. For example, we would have to admit the possibility that given that the two propositions, "the cat is in the hat" and "the tac is in the hat", can be substituted for one another within any set of logical and empirical test propositions, they don't mean the same thing. In other words, we would have to claim that raw symbol substitution changes meaning. This isn't supported by the evidence that meaning can be preserved under language translation or changes in typeface.

Suppose the challenge to my definition of meaning is dropped, but instead the claim is made that we can still form a mutually consistent set of metaphysical statements that is meaningful. Let's look at what distinguishes a mathematical system from a metaphysical one.

We can create a large number of independent mathematical systems by devising axioms and deriving theorems within each system using the rules of that system. Each mathematical system is independent of the others when its axioms differ. If I start with an algebraic system, A1, and add the axioms x = 5, x + y = 10, I am not precluded from creating a new system, A2, in which x = 7, x + y = 8. The two systems are never in contradiction because their contexts are different. The axioms of A1 may contradict those of A2, but this is unimportant because the systems exist in isolation. Every proposition of A1 coexists with A2 and vice versa.

Similarly, all of these mathematical systems are independent of the physical world. However, we may be able to construct a new system that incorporates an association between a chosen mathematical system and physical phenomena (i.e., a scientific theory).

For example, noncommutative algebras (NCAs) may form a consistent mathematical system, independent of whether or not free neutrons decay in 15 minutes. However, we could form a scientific theory about neutrons that relied on NCA, and which incorporates connected empirical and mathemetical propositions from NCA. However, if the theory were falsified by some experiment, the mathematics of NCA would not be falsified, because the mathematics is subject only to its own axioms. Only the new system incorporating the association between the mathematics and the empirical propositions would be falsified.

Now, to metaphysics.

Metaphysical systems also consist of a set of propositions {M} = M1, M2,...,MN which are inter-related by logical operations. For example, we can say that God is supreme and therefore Satan is not supreme and so on. In that sense, {M} is as meaningful as any mathematical system because, for any Mi with can find a distinct Mj that is consistent with Mi or a distinct Mk that is inconsistent with Mi.

However, metaphysical systems need more than just internal mathematical relations. Metaphysical systems have to mean something about the world. That means that we must be able to locate a set of empirical propositions about the world that contains propositions consistent with and inconsistent with {M}. If we fail to do this, and every proposition in {M} is consistent with every empirical proposition, then how can we distinguish {M} from a mathematical system? We cannot. Metaphysics just pushes symbols around on paper, and, at best, creates some mathematically consistent system. It never has anything to say about the world because it never makes a falsifiable prediction.

In summary, I have tried to show that

1) meaning is defined as a logical property in the context of a set of propositions.

2) that if meaning were not so defined, then one would have to conclude that meaning is dependent on the specific symbols used to express it. This is not supported by empirical evidence of meaning.

3) under my definition of meaning, mathematical systems are meaningful in their own context.

4) that scientific theories associate mathematical systems and physical empirical propositions in a falsifiable way.

5) that metaphysical systems are indistinguishable from isolated mathematical systems, and have no meaning relative to the world, only to themselves.

Imagine taking a test in algebra class, and solving problem #1 that begins "x = 5, ...". Then imagine being profoundly confused when problem #2 on your exam begins "x = 3,...". How can x be both 3 and 5?

Metaphysicians suffer from this very same delusion. They confuse truths within one isolated mathematical system with truths within other, independent systems.

Suppose I say that the true definition of existence is 'to have actual attributes'. Then there is no problem.

But, there is a very great problem with this because flying monkeys would have as much claim to existence as your average Earth-bound monkey. Flying monkeys exist only as works of fiction or as conceptions with potential to actually exist. Only empirical tests will tell you if they actually exist. I think the difference is vitally important.

9:45 AM  
Anonymous leibniz said...

Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful response, Dr. Logic. I'll have to think about the bulk of it and get back to you later, but on your last point, I would say that if there are no flying monkeys, then flying monkeys are merely possible and not actual. They aren't actual, so they don't have any actual attributes; therefore they don't exist.

9:57 PM  
Anonymous leibniz said...

I've studied your previous post more carefully now, so here are my comments.

Your definition of meaning is definitely clearer now. It is this:

P is meaningful =df there are propositions P1 and P2 such that (i) P1 is not P but is consistent with P and (ii) P2 is not ~P but is not consistent with P.

On this definition, 'God exists' counts as meaningful. Let P='God exists', P1='Roses are red', and P2='Only material things exist'. Here P1 and P2 are both distinct from P and ~P, but P1 is consistent with P and P2 is not consistent with P. So P would be meaningful. On the basis of your previous post, I believe you would say one (or both) of two things in response to this:
-------------
First response: The test propositions must be either logical or empirical, and the P2 just given is neither. So 'God exists' has not been shown to be meaningful. In response to this, I would say, first, that I do not know what you mean by a logical test proposition. Why isn't P2 a logical test proposition? Second, I would say that if P2 is neither a logical nor an empirical test proposition, then it is question-begging to insist that the test propositions be logical or empirical. I believe that you may have tried to give an argument for the claim that test propositions must be logical or empirical (the argument involving the cat in the hat example), but I did not find the explanation of this argument to be sufficiently clear. I am willing to accept your definition of meaning as stated in italics above, but I am unwilling to accept the additional restriction that the test propositions must be "logical" or empirical.
-------------
Second response: The above examples of P, P1, and P2 do show that P is meaningful, but only in the way that a mathematical system is meaningful. This is problematic, though, because metaphysical claims are supposed to be about the world, and if a metaphysical system were meaningful only in the way that a mathematical system is, then the claims in that metaphysical system would not be about the world. You explain the point this way:

...metaphysical systems need more than just internal mathematical relations. Metaphysical systems have to mean something about the world. That means that we must be able to locate a set of empirical propositions about the world that contains propositions consistent with and inconsistent with {M}....

I agree with your claim that metaphysical systems have to mean something about the world. But it is simply question-begging for you infer from this that "we must be able to locate a set of empirical propositions about the world that contains propositions consistent with and inconsistent with {M}." This would follow only if the world were assumed to be just the physical world. But I hold that the world is more than just the physical realm. Suppose I hold to the existence of immaterial souls. This is a view about the world, though not a view about the physical world. As such, there is no set of empirical propositions that is inconsistent with this theory. Yet, it is still a view about the world, and therefore can be distinguished from mathematical systems. You say in your summary point (5) that "metaphysical systems are indistinguishable from isolated mathematical systems, and have no meaning relative to the world, only to themselves." But again, this doesn't follow. Metaphysical systems can be distinguished from mathematical systems precisely because they are about the world. They just aren't about the physical world. In order for your point not to be question-begging, you would have to show that metaphysical systems could be distinguished from mathematical ones only if the former had meaning relative to the physical world. Good luck with that one.
-------------
So I don't find either of these responses to be persuasive. If you define meaning this way:

P is meaningful =df there are propositions P1 and P2 such that (i) P1 is not P but is consistent with P and (ii) P2 is not ~P but is not consistent with P.

then I cheerfully accept your definition and note that 'God exists' and other metaphysical claims are meaningful and distinguishable from mathematical systems. On the other hand, if you define meaning this way:

P is meaningful =df there are logical or empirical propositions P1 and P2 such that (i) P1 is not P but is consistent with P and (ii) P2 is not ~P but is not consistent with P.

then I reject your definition of meaning on the ground that it is question-begging, ruling out my view from the beginning by stipulation. Either way the verificationist criterion has not been empirically verified, or even shown to be empirically verifiable.
-------------
Addendum: I would have thought that you would have wanted to formulate your definition of meaning in terms of entailment rather than mere consistency and inconsistency. That is:

P is meaningful =df there are propositions P1 and P2 such that (i) P1 is not P but is entailed by P and (ii) P2 is not ~P but entails ~P.

Clause (i) states, in effect, that there are test propositions that would verify P, whereas (ii) states that there are test propositions that would falsify P. To say that there are propositions that are consistent with P doesn't really verify (or entail the truth of) P. Even on this definition, 'God exists' counts as meaningful because 'God exists and roses are red', which is distinct from P, entails P, and 'Only material things exist', which is distinct from ~P, entails ~P.

1:41 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

leibniz,

This is what I had in mind:

If P has meaning, then we can find P1 and P2 such that

P1 => P or P => P1, where P1 is distinct from P

and

P2 => ~P or P => ~P2, where P2 is distinct from both ~P and ~P1.


You appear to have tried to construct a P1 that is a function of P. However, you cannot claim that

P1 = ('God exists' and 'Roses are red')

is always true when 'God exists' is true, unless 'Roses are red is always true when 'God exists' is true. That means that 'God exists' implies 'Roses are red'.

Also, if we agree on the meaning of existence (do we?), then "Only material things exist" would be the definition of existence and could not be inconsistent with the proposition 'God exists'.

I posted a more detailed review of my general line reasoning on my blog (it's quite long).

Suppose I hold to the existence of immaterial souls. This is a view about the world, though not a view about the physical world. As such, there is no set of empirical propositions that is inconsistent with this theory. Yet, it is still a view about the world, and therefore can be distinguished from mathematical systems.

But, if immortal souls are undetectable in principle (they have no logical relations to the propositions of experience), what is the difference between metaphysical propositions and mathematics? Another way to think about it would be to ask what it might mean to say that a proposition is about the world.

In my view, we could say that 'proposition x is about the world' implies that 'there is some experiment I can do that will have result y', but excludes the possibility that 'I can do a different experiment and find z'.

For example, if we consider a very broad principle of science like 'the universe is consistent', I can say that 'when I measure the length of a football field I will get one answer', but there is no possibility that 'two observers will observe different outcomes for the same experiment'. So this principle (causality) is nice and meaningful.

So what does it mean to be metaphysically about the world?

3:03 PM  
Anonymous leibniz said...

Dr. Logic,
There are some other points from my previous post that I hope you will get around to addressing, but here are my comments on your last post.

1. I did offer a P1 that includes P, but that is no problem. You require a P1 distinct from P such that P1 => P or P => P1. My P1 ('God exists and roses are red') is distinct from P ('God exists'), and P1 => P. It is true that P and P1 here are not logically equivalent, but you require P1 => P or P => P1, not P1 => P and P => P1.

2. I do not think 'Only material things exist' is an acceptable definition of existence (for one thing, it doesn't even take the form of a definition of existence). Nor do I see how 'Only material things exist' can fail to be inconsistent with 'God exists', unless it is because the latter is meaningless. But I don't accept that 'God exists' is meaningless, so I see these statements as inconsistent.

3. Souls are not undetectable in principle, though they are perhaps empirically undetectable in principle. This goes back to the question-begging nature of many of your claims: you want to say that 'undetectable' is equivalent to 'has no logical relations to propositions of experience', whereas I hold that some things that cannot be detected through the five external senses can nevertheless be detected through reflection. On my view, 'undetectable' is not equivalent to 'has no logical relations to propositions of experience', but you assume without argument that it is.

4. "In my view, we could say that 'proposition x is about the world' implies that 'there is some experiment I can do that will have result y', but excludes the possibility that 'I can do a different experiment and find z'." This just emphasizes the point I made in my previous post: you take 'world' to mean something like 'physical world' or 'empirical realm' or 'the world accessible to the five external senses'. But it is question begging (or something like question begging) for you to use that understanding of world in your attempt to establish the verifiability criterion of meaning. If we reject the verifiability criterion, then we can understand 'world' to be broader than 'physical world', in which case the implication you mention would not follow.

5. I have already explained the sense in which metaphysical claims are (or purport to be) about the world. They are about the world in essentially the same way empirical claims are about the world, except that they aren't about the physical world. There is more to the world than just that which is physical, and metaphysical claims are about non-physical aspects of the world.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

1. I see what you mean, and that means that my definition of meaning is too lenient.

We cannot say that P1 => P brings meaning to P if P1 = P and Q, because we can substitute any irrelevant Q and this will always be true.

There are several possible candidates for a fix.

a) We can restrict P1 so it is not a function of P (dubious),
b) change the definition of meaning so it really is P => P1 AND P1 => P (probably too restrictive),
c) change the definition of meaning so it contains only P => P1 (I think this is right).

Let me know if you also think that (c) is agreeable.

I'll be thinking it over, too.

3. I hold that some things that cannot be detected through the five external senses can nevertheless be detected through reflection.

My response would be to ask what the difference is between "reflection" and "assumption of axioms and computation based thereon"?

I can imagine many different metaphysical worlds, each founded on its own axioms.

Not one of these metaphysical worlds has any more specialness than any other. As with mathematical systems, each world has its own postulated truths and theorems. But the propositions in each world are unconstrained by those in any other. I can construct a metaphysical model in which the great spirits are always angry, and another equally valid model in which the great spirits are never angry. Since neither world is held accountable to any physical reference, there is no way to say which world is more "real". There are an infinite number of such metaphysical worlds, and though they may exist in the mind of the metaphysician, none can be deemed special.

I don't see the difference between this metaphysical world-building and mathematical system-building.

The thing that makes a scientific model special is its coherence with empirical facts. Facts that have truth values fixed outside of our computing machinery.

There is no such analogue for metaphysical models. For any metaphysical proposition claimed true, I can construct an equally valid metaphysical model in which the proposition is false. And no one can say which model is more "real".

5. There is more to the world than just that which is physical, and metaphysical claims are about non-physical aspects of the world.

Aren't you assuming that this is the case without argument?

Are you making this claim on the basis that many people think that metaphysical claims are intutively obvious?

9:25 PM  
Anonymous leibniz said...

Thanks for more stimulating responses, Dr. Logic.

1. I agree (a) is dubious. But neither (b) nor (c) raises a problem for the metaphysician. Just as 'God exists and roses are red' => 'God exists', so 'God exists' => 'God exists or roses are red'. Without the dubious (a), 'God exists' counts as meaningful on either of the other two criteria. I really don't think you can get the result you desire without stipulating that the test propositions be empirical (or something like that). But if you did that then it would be open to me simply to reject your definition. For you would, in effect, be stipulating that 'God exists' is meaningless by building it into your definition of meaning.

3. What is the difference, you ask, between "reflection" and "assumption of axioms and computation based thereon"? When we assume axioms and then proceed to deduce consequences (i.e., theorems), that involves a kind of reflection. But reflection is good for much more than that. For example, when I think about what must be or what can't be, rather than just what is, that is reflection. More generally, when I am thinking about abstract questions in mathematical, physics, logic, metaphysics, etc., that is reflection. The vast majority of our reflection does not take place within the context of an axiomatic deductive system.

I can imagine many different metaphysical worlds, each founded on its own axioms.

Metaphysical systems rarely take an axiomatic or geometric form (notable exception: Spinoza's Ethics). But it is still true that there are mutually exclusive metaphysical systems. In such cases, I say that at most one of those systems gives a perfectly correct picture of the nature of the world; the rest give a false picture of the nature of the world. (Of course, 'world' here is broader than 'physical world'). If we are talking about axiomatic systems, then I would point out that some axioms are false, and a system based on false axioms is bound to yield some false theorems. So we should not say that all metaphysical systems or models are created equal.

Since neither world is held accountable to any physical reference, there is no way to say which world is more "real".

Sometimes in science we have more than one theory of a phenomenon, each of which is empirically adequate. In such cases, we regard as true the theory that is the most elegant or simple, if there is such a theory. Something similar can happen in metaphysics. We may have two systems that both fit perfectly well with all physical facts, but one of those theories may be more elegant or simple, and that would give us a ground for saying that the one theory is correct and the other incorrect.

5. I said: "There is more to the world than just that which is physical, and metaphysical claims are about non-physical aspects of the world." Then you said: "Aren't you assuming that this is the case without argument?" I am, but that's no problem. It's not as if I was using that claim in an argument for my view, which would be question-begging. You had asked me in what sense metaphysical claims could be about the world, and I was simply trying to explain that sense to you.

Are you making this claim on the basis that many people think that metaphysical claims are intutively obvious?
No.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Interesting!

1. Thank you for showing me that (c) is not viable. (b) might be. Under (b) you can have P1 be neither 'God exists and roses are red' nor 'God exists or roses are red'.

I don't want to start from the position that P1 and P2 must be empirical. I simply want my definition of meaning to be applicable in the broadest possible way, but still retain some utility. You see, I think that the concept of meaning is abused because it is regarded as something intuitive, instead of something rigorous.

Taking case (b) seems like it might work, but I don't rule out the possibility that there has to be some more complex condition on P1 for meaning to have any value.

Thanks for breaking (a) and (c), though.

I would like us to agree on a rigorous criteria for meaning, if possible.

If I only tell you that some proposition P implies "P or 'Roses are red'" and that P implies that "~P and 'The sky is not blue'" is false, then you really don't know anything at all about P. You don't even know whether P is compatible with the physical (or metaphysical) world or not.

At least if we use (b), then we would know that P is compatible with the physical world. The same applies for metaphysical propositions, e.g.,
P => P or 'God exists'
P => ~(~P and 'God is not supreme')
tells us nothing about the meaning of P, not even whether it was compatible with metaphysical reality (if one existed).

We have to establish a measure such that, if there were only one P1 and one P2 that satisfied our relation, then we would be justified in claiming some meaning for P.

The vast majority of our reflection does not take place within the context of an axiomatic deductive system.

I still don't see the difference. Axioms are just assumptions. Axioms are not deduced per se. We pseudo-randomly cook them up, then we deduce the consequences of those assumptions. We may deduce that the some of our axioms are redundant, but axioms are not themselves deduced.

Likewise, when I reflect upon possible realities, I may ask "what if there were another spacial dimension...?" or "what if there were an entity that is to mankind, what a man is to his child?"

But when I do this, all I am doing is proposing axioms of a system that has to be logically consistent (even though I may have my choice of logic).

A scientific theory is a mathematical model that is bound to empirical constraints. A metaphysical theory is a mathematical model that is bound to synthetic constraints. Whereas empirical constraints are axiomatic truths external to our computing machinery, synthetic constraints are axioms of our choosing. That is, they are axiomatic, exactly like the axioms of the mathematical system itself.

But it is still true that there are mutually exclusive metaphysical systems. In such cases, I say that at most one of those systems gives a perfectly correct picture of the nature of the world; the rest give a false picture of the nature of the world. (Of course, 'world' here is broader than 'physical world').

If I read you correctly, this is a statement of your claim...

If we are talking about axiomatic systems, then I would point out that some axioms are false, and a system based on false axioms is bound to yield some false theorems. So we should not say that all metaphysical systems or models are created equal.

...and this is the justification for your claim.

However, it is not true that axioms are false. Axioms are propositions assumed to be true to construct a mathematical system. They can never be false. You can show that a set of axioms leads to contradictions because the chosen set of axioms are incompatible, but this doesn't mean that the axioms are false.

For example, I can choose three mathematical systems based on standard algebra. Each system has the axioms of algebra, plus several other axioms of my choosing, e.g.,

System 1: {algebra, x = y, x + y = 8, x = 4}

System 2: {algebra, x = y, x + y = 8, x = 3}

System 3: {algebra, x = y, x + y = 6, x = 3}

Systems 1 and 3 are consistent. System 2 is not. However, we cannot claim that any of the three extra axioms of System 2 are "wrong". They are merely incompatible for the purposes of building a consistent system.

In a physical model where the variables are associated with empirical facts, e.g., the speed of light, we can determine whether a physical theory is "right" or "wrong" as a model of the world. The same is not true of mathematical or metaphysical systems.

Sometimes in science we have more than one theory of a phenomenon, each of which is empirically adequate. In such cases, we regard as true the theory that is the most elegant or simple, if there is such a theory.

This is a bit of an oversimplification. There are an infinite number of theories compatible with a finite amount of experimental data. We may never be able to obtain the true theory of a phenomena because we don't have infinite amounts of data. However, we can grade theories according to certain criteria. Better theories

a) should account for more of the existing observations

b) should be easier to test because they make proximate predictions

c) should be easier to calculate predictions with

d) should involve as few additional assumptions as possible (Occam's Razor).

In contrast, metaphysics doesn't do any of these things. It has no phenomena to explain because metaphysics deals only with symbols. Metaphysics makes no predictions.

In physics, we want our models to be as simple as possible, but they have a minimum complexity. They must be sufficiently complex to explain the phenomena in question, and that level of complexity is set by empirical fact. It's a bit like building a fuel-efficient car. We want something that gets us from A to B using as little fuel as possible, yet we know that even a perfectly efficient car will use at least some minimum amount of fuel. In contrast, searching for an economical metaphysical theory is like asking for a statue that gets good gas mileage. The statue doesn't get from A to B, only A to A, so there isn't a minimum amount of fuel it must burn. That is, metaphysics doesn't have anything it has to explain.

9:02 PM  
Blogger Sal Monella said...

Ding! Ding! Ding!!

Okay, Logic and Leibniz, break and return to your respective corners for 2 minutes.

[water and instruction is given to each by his respective trainer. Mouthpeice cleaned, spit in bucket, last minute pep talk, slap on the butt]

Ding! Ding! Ding!!

Recomence!

9:10 AM  
Anonymous leibniz said...

1. Yes, I spoke too soon on (b). Let P1 be 'God exists or (God exists and roses are red)'. (In other words, let P1 = P v (P & R).) This P1 is distinct from P; also, P1=>P and P=>P1; so 'God exists' would be meaningful.

2. I would like us to agree on a rigorous criteri[on] for meaning, if possible.

I'm prepared to accept (b) for the sake of argument, but any intuitively meaningful sentence will satisfy (b).

3. At least if we use (b), then we would know that P is compatible with the physical world.

Let P be 'Momentum is not conserved', and let P1 be 'Either momentum is not conserved or (momentum is not conserved and roses are red)' P thus satisfies (b), but is incompatible with the physical world, at least if I'm understanding what you mean by that expression correctly.

4. Axioms are just assumptions. Axioms are not deduced per se. We pseudo-randomly cook them up, then we deduce the consequences of those assumptions. We may deduce that the some of our axioms are redundant, but axioms are not themselves deduced.

You are right that axioms are typically primitive, or at least treated as primitive. But I disagree that axioms are just assumptions. Axioms are supposed to be self-evident truths, whereas assumptions need not be.

5. it is not true that axioms are false. Axioms are propositions assumed to be true to construct a mathematical system. They can never be false.

If axioms are merely propositions assumed to be true, what prevents them from being false? Suppose I want to axiomatize my metaphysical system, and one of my axioms is the principle of sufficient reason (that there is always a reason why things are one way rather than another). I take this to be a self-evident truth, but some would say that it is false. I agree that most mathematical axioms are true, and even self-evident, but when it comes to metaphysical axioms it may be that what some people regard as self-evidently true are in fact false. If you were to define an axiom not as a proposition assumed to be true but as a self-evident truth, then I would say that many putative metaphysical "axioms" aren't really axioms.

What you say about mathematical axioms not being false and about sets of mathematical axioms being either consistent or inconsistent sounds right to me, but on my view this is a point where metaphysics and mathematics are disanalogous. Sets of metaphysical axioms can be consistent or inconsistent, but in addition the axioms themselves can be true of false.

6. This is a bit of an oversimplification. Yes, you are right. I should have said: all other things being equal, we regard as true the theory that is the most elegant or simple, if there is such a theory.

7. In contrast, metaphysics doesn't do any of these things. It has no phenomena to explain because metaphysics deals only with symbols. Not so. There are phenomena (or at least aspects of reality) that we seek to explain in metaphysics. For instance, we develop theories of the nature of space, time, and causation. We develop accounts of the nature of freedom, the mind, properties, and so forth. In developing these theories, metaphysicians generally show respect for Ockham's razor (that entities not be multiplied unnecessarily). They also strive for the simplest theory that will account for all the phenomena. It is true that metaphysics doesn't make predictions, anymore than mathematics does, but we shouldn't expect that from metaphysics.

As to your claim that metaphysics deals only with symbols, I deny that strenuously. It is true that metaphysics and abstract thought in general involve the manipulation of characters (in effect, mental signs or symbols). But that doesn't mean that metaphysics isn't about something real and extramental. Metaphysics involves the manipulation of symbols, but it is more than just that. If I am to accept that "metaphysics deals only with symbols" and that "metaphysics doesn't have anything it has to explain," then I would need to see arguments for those assertions.

8. Just to help keep things in focus: my original challenge was to show that 'The meaning of a proposition is its method of verification or falsification' and 'Propositions about God are neither true nor false' can be verified or falsified empirically. If I understand the situation correctly, you have gradually been honing in on (b) as the correct criterion for meaning. On this criterion, the sentences just mentioned do count as meaningful. But then so do many statements from theology and metaphysics, such as 'God exists'. So what we have here is a criterion that isn't too restrictive for your purposes, but too liberal. I like it.

P.S. This has to be one of the best (if not the best) discussions that has yet taken place on this fledgling blog.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

1. I'm prepared to accept (b) for the sake of argument, but any intuitively meaningful sentence will satisfy (b). Let P be 'Momentum is not conserved', and let P1 be 'Either momentum is not conserved or (momentum is not conserved and roses are red)' P thus satisfies (b), but is incompatible with the physical world, at least if I'm understanding what you mean by that expression correctly.

Aha! But your P1 here is not distinct from P.

Your P1 reads like
P1 = P or (P and Q)
= (P and true) or (P and Q)
= P and (true or Q)
= P and true
= P

This is a relief because I know nothing about the meaning of conservation of momentum from your choice of P1.

2. Axioms are supposed to be self-evident truths, whereas assumptions need not be.

Though I disagree, I don't want to dismiss the idea of self-evident truths (SETs) out of hand. Let's keep both concepts alive for the moment, but try to determine whether SETs and axioms are in the same class or not.

In mathematics, axioms are most definitely assumptions. Given their name, SETs at least have the illusion of being more.

My claim would be that SETs are assumptions we have to make for strategic purposes. For example, I would say that the laws of consistency and logic are accepted as SETs because without them, reason would be impossible. And yet, alternative logics (like quantum logic) have been used successfully, abandoning SETs of classical logic.

If the axioms of logic are rejected, it becomes impossible to reason about mathematical structures. Propositions can be both true and false. Such systems are devoid of meaning (by (b)).

Though the universe has been observed to be consistent to date, past performance is no guarantee of future returns. The world could become inconsistent tomorrow. So even these axioms could be false one day! (Not that we would be aware of it for long.)

3.If axioms are merely propositions assumed to be true, what prevents them from being false?

...
Sets of metaphysical axioms can be consistent or inconsistent, but in addition the axioms themselves can be true of false.


The answer to your first question is: nothing. Mathematical systems are what-ifs. What if the following axioms were true? What would the resulting system look like? There is way to determine the absolute truth of any mathematical axiom. Likewise, it is my claim that the axioms of metaphysical systems cannot be shown false, only inconsistent.

Let's look at your SET, the principle of sufficient reason. It sounds much like causality in physics. Causality exists to solve a problem of consistency. If there are not definite cause and effect relationships, a single event could cause a future event to both happen and not happen. This would be bad for physical theories. It has also never been observed. You might be tempted to say that this was self-evident, but it is only self evident because consistency is required if we are to understand a thing.

I just want to talk about another consequence of causality that is logical, but perhaps unintuitive. We say that every event has a well-defined cause so that parallel events in the present are consistent with prior history. But when the universe begins at a singularity, the need for causality comes to an end. All events get traced back to a single event. But a single initial event does not suffer from the prior history problem, so the first event doesn't need a cause for consistency to be maintained.

Apart from giving me the excuse to talk about cosmology, I think this illustrates that SETs are not always what they appear to be.

The principle of sufficient reason is really no different than a constraint on consistency. It applies most of the time, but there are special cases where it doesn't apply because consistency can be maintained without it.

SETs might be axioms that we have to accept as true in order to have knowledge, use reason, or to stay within the limits of language.

P.S. This has to be one of the best (if not the best) discussions that has yet taken place on this fledgling blog.

Agreed. leibniz, are you in the philosophy business? Maybe, we'll get a paper out of this some day.

10:04 PM  
Anonymous leibniz said...

1. But your P1 here is not distinct from P.

What exactly to you mean when you say that the one proposition must be distinct from the other? I was assuming you meant something like syntactically distinct. You can't mean that propositions are non-distinct just in case they aren't logically equivalent, for then no P1 distinct from P could ever satisfy (b). This needs to be cleared up.

2. Your P1 reads like
P1 = P or (P and Q)
= (P and true) or (P and Q)
= P and (true or Q)
= P and true
= P


The appearance of 'true' in these formula is peculiar and non-standard; I don't quite know what you're purporting to show. Aren't you simply showing that P1=>P, which is one of the things required by (b)?

3. I know nothing about the meaning of conservation of momentum from your choice of P1.

Why is this significant? I offered a P1 that satisfies (b). Are you now adding the additional requirement that any acceptable P1 must reveal something about the meaning of P? If so, then I could offer the following modified P1: 'A necessary being exists or (a necessary being exists and roses are red)'. This at least tells me something about the meaning of P (i.e., 'God exists') that P itself didn't already tell me.

There is another problem with your requirement that P1 reveal something about the meaning of P in order for P to be meaningful. In order for P1 to reveal something about the meaning of P, it would have to be meaningful, which would mean (per (b)) that there is some P1' that is logically equivalent to P and that reveals something about the meaning of P1. This will go on indefinitely. So in order for a statement to be meaningful, there would have to be an infinity of logically equivalent statements that can be ordered in such a way that each reveals something about the meaning of its predecessor that its predecessor doesn't reveal. That strikes me as excessively extravagant.

4. ...it is my claim that the axioms of metaphysical systems cannot be shown false, only inconsistent.

Based on what you said above, I would have thought that your claim is that metaphysical axioms are meaningless, i.e., void of content. If they were void of content, then truth, falsity, consistency, and inconsistency wouldn't even be issues. What could it even mean to speak of an inconsistent set of meaningless axioms?

5. Apart from the above, I have no major objections to what you say in this post.

6. ...are you in the philosophy business? Yes. You?

11:02 PM  
Anonymous leibniz said...

In order for P1 to reveal something about the meaning of P, it would have to be meaningful, which would mean (per (b)) that there is some P1' that is logically equivalent to P and that reveals something about the meaning of P1.

should be:

In order for P1 to reveal something about the meaning of P, it would have to be meaningful, which would mean (per (b)) that there is some P1' that is logically equivalent to P1 and that reveals something about the meaning of P1.

11:07 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

1. ...are you in the philosophy business? Yes. You?

No, I'm in the software business, but my training was in theoretical physics. I only play a philosopher on TV.

2. Sorry about the length of this next comment. I just wanted to think things through.

In mathematical systems, axioms and proven implications of axioms (theorems) are tautological. On the other hand, unproven mathematical hypotheses may or may not have a known (or knowable) truth value, though they may have meaning. For example, the Goldbach Conjecture ("every even number greater than 2 can be written as the sum of two primes") is meaningful, though it may be unprovable. It is meaningful because we might find some even number that would violate the proposition.

Alone, empirical facts form a system of axioms and tautologies. If the mass, m, of a cylinder remains the same over some time period, we can restate these facts by saying that between time T1 and time T2 M(t) = m. This isn't a theory, just a tautological restatement of our observations.

A physical theory combines empirical facts (empirical axioms) with some set of mathematical axioms by creating a correspondence between the mathematics and the empirical axioms. Physical theories generate scientific hypotheses about which empirical facts can be added to the system with consistency. Experiments that confirm the theory are able to add the new empirical facts to the system as axioms of that system without breaking the consistency of the theory. Experiments that falsify the theory show that there are absolutely true empirical axioms that are inconsistent with the theory.

But where lies metaphysics? I see only two options:

1) Metaphysics might be purely mathematical, there being no special axioms of metaphysics except, perhaps, those axioms that we require for reasoning about the consistency of systems.

2) Metaphysics might somehow be grafted onto physical theories. If we add mathematics to a physical theory such that the mathematics has no implications for experiment, what have we done?

If case 1, then metaphysics would not be about the world, only a statement about possible mathematically consistent systems.

In case 2, we have more questions to ask.

Let's assume that the same metaphysical system is claimed to be true independent of the mathematical theory of the day. Yet, the mathematical theory is a function of empirical fact. As new empirical facts are discovered, the mathematical theory has to be modified. Empirical facts tell use what (infinite) set of possible mathematical theories are consistent with those facts ({E} constrains {T}).

We know that metaphysics does not imply anything about empirical facts ({M} does not constrain {E}). If it did, it would be empirically testable.

Therefore, to be about the world, metaphysical claims must have something to say about the allowed subset of physical theories we can use to explain empirical facts ({M} constrains {T2} which is a subset of {T}). The principle of causality might be such a metaphysical claim. Without causality, a mathematical theory might predict two outcomes for the same experiment.

However, if a metaphysical system does not restrict our theories of empirical fact, then that metaphysical system would be wholly detachable from physical theories, and we revert to case 1.

Propositions about God (e.g., 'God exists' and 'God is good') do not constrain empirical facts we might observe, i.e., they are not scientific. No surprise there. However, they also fail to constrain scientific theory-building. Therefore, it is totally separable from physical theories, so it must be pure mathematics.

3. As for my criteria for meaning, let me tell you where I'm coming from.

My idea is founded on translation of symbols. Creating symbols is easy. Defining their meaning is the important and more difficult part.

So I imagine that P is some new string of symbols. As an English proposition it would either 1) contain new nouns, verbs or prepositions, or 2) use existing nouns, verbs or prepositions in a new or ambiguous sense. The problem we face in English is that the same symbols get reused to mean different things in different contexts.

Because of the way our brains work by association, a proposition might generate some intuitive, though fuzzy meaning just because the proposition contains some familiar symbols. I want to reduce the uncertainty due to this fuzziness.

To that end, I want to say that any meaningful proposition must have some non-trivial implications.

This definitely needs more thought on my part, so no need to respond as yet.

8:24 PM  
Blogger AmericanPascal said...

I have yet to get a response to the following -- only hand waving.

All life as we know it requires DNA and the required RNA to work on the DNA to sustain life. Where did the complex DNA come from? I develop programs and appreciate the "timing" issues related to the concept of evolving "systems". The RNA and DNA must work in unison to sustain life. If the DNA comes on the scene at time (t), then it has a limited time (t + delta) to survive and must therefore be replicated in this time period via another newly evolved RNA that has never worked on DNA before. This RNA must evolve AND be present in the small (delta) time span within the same organism. This is kind of like DOS coming on the scene around the same time as Lotus -1-2-3 (this happened by design). Note that not one biologist ever created a system of reproduction – they have only conjectured and played with the existing systems. Evolution is more of a systems development issue than a code (i.e., DNA) issue. The focus really needs to be extended to systems analysis where all the moving parts need to work hand-in-hand as they change. This seems very improbable that a major part of the system (DNA) can evolve and have the RNA magically appear to interpret this new form. Who did the numbers on this?

9:25 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home