Tag Archives: philosophy

On Block and Kitcher on Fodor

Ned Block and Philip Kitcher have posted a review of Fodor/Piatelli-Palmarini’s “What Darwin Got Wrong” (via Leiter).

It is a well executed, though flawed, counter to Fodor’s arguments.  First they give a nice rundown of the underdetermination issue I posted about here.

Then they discuss the “intensional fallacy”.  They argue that the crux of F & P’s argument can be seen as trying to split up the causal efficacious trait and the selected-for trait.  This means that F & P believe that there is no way to connect the evolutionary reason – the trait that increased an organism’s fitness – with our explanation of the trait that was selected-for.  Block & Kitcher argue that it is trivial to match the two up because

selection-for is a causal notion, and, since causation is extensional, so is selection-for.

Insofar as we believe that our explanation of the selected-for trait is extensional, i.e. truth-preserving when switching between different names of the same thing, we can say that we do pick out the causally efficacious trait.

Unfortunately Block and Kitcher sacrificed our normal concept of explanation to make this counter-argument.  They note that explanations are never normally extensional, but that we are making an exception in this case.  This is ok to do because

we thinking beings can give (intensional) explanations in terms of [one trait] rather than the other properties. In giving the explanation, we (thinking beings) describe the property in our preferred way.

I do not understand what is going on here.  Basically it looks as if “preferred way” is just a fancy way to say “own words”, but describing something in our own words doesn’t make it right.  Nor is it a reason to change what should count as an explanation.

Unless Block and Kitcher are prepared to give further justification as to why we should disregard our normal understanding of explanation, it looks as if their solution to Fodor’s argument is ad hoc.  They are using explanation* — which is a special kind of explanation that can be extensional — but they have not given a reason why explanation* should be preferred over of regular explanation (outside of causing Fodor trouble).  Without this reason, the use of explanation* is ad hoc, and hence the argument fails because it turns on an ad hoc premise: the assumption that explanation* can be substituted for explanation.

However, I did say above that Block and Kitcher’s argument is well executed:  My argument against using an ad hoc term-term* distinction is obscure compared to their argument and so, for the vast majority of people, it will appear that their argument is effective.  Overall this is a good thing: less nonsense needs to surround evolution (though I’ll be a little sad to see it go: I’m #1 in a Google search for “fodor what darwin got wrong“).

[EDIT:  I’ve put up a new analysis (24 March 2010) of Fodor’s argument here: Hypotheses Natura Non Fingo.  It also includes a review of the responses of Block, Kitcher and Sober ]

For my take on what Fodor got wrong, see my post What Fodor Got Wrong, and the follow up Dismantling Fodor’s Argument (also linked above in reference to underdetermination).  I’ll post something soon specifically addressing the intensionality issue:  Fodor’s Intensional Criticism of Evolution.

Posted in argumentation, biology, evolution, fitness, news, philosophy, science. Tagged with , , , , , .

Aristotle’s Theory of TOPOS (Place)

[This is something I wrote before I had this blog, but I really like it and hope the readers here will find it interesting.]

The task of explaining Aristotle’s theory of place lies in the interpretation of this sentence: “Hence the place of a thing is the innermost motionless boundary of what contains it,” (Physics IV 212a20).  Now the idea of a motionless boundary for perceptible and obviously movable objects seems impossibly counterintuitive.  However, using Aristotle’s comments into the nature of place, we can understand how this theory extends beyond a simple boundary theory and into the modern era.

His discussion is started by making an observation:

The existence of place is held to be obvious from the fact of mutual replacement.  Where water now is, there in turn, when water has gone out as from a vessel, air is present; and at another time another body occupies this same place.  The place is thought to be different from all other bodies which come to be in it and replace one another.  What now contains air formerly contained water, so that clearly the place or space into which and out of which they passed was something different from both. (Physics IV 208b1-8)

Aristotle then makes some tentative moves into defining what could possibly fulfill the role of place.  First he discounts any idea that place could “be body; for if it were” he says, “there would be two bodies in the same place,” (209a6) and shows how this causes untold amounts of theoretical difficulty (ibid.).  Then he discusses how, as that which “primarily contains each body” (209b1), place could be viewed as the form or the matter.  Again he discounts either of these possibilities by noting that neither of them can be separated from a thing, whereas place may be.

The analysis turns at this point asking, “How many ways one thing is said to be in another,” (210a14) in the hopes of landing upon a useful interpretation of the notion of being-in.  Aristotle entertains the idea that a thing may be in itself, or more specifically, in itself “qua itself or qua something else” (210a27).  He gives the example of a jar of wine being in itself in virtue of the whole’s description in terms of its parts: the jar of wine is not reducible to a jar or some wine, but to their specific combination.  Hence that which is a subject may potentially be a container as well, as the jar is the container of the subject ‘jar of wine’.  However, he says this is impossible as no object is actually like this: the wine would have to be an equal part container, and the jar an equal part wine, else the whole of the ‘jar of wine’ will not be completely in itself.  It is in virtue of being different that the jar and the wine may come together, and hence he concludes that, “since the vessel is no part of what is in it (what contains something primarily is different from what is contained), place could not be either the matter or the form of the thing contained,” (210b27).

Aristotle then considers two sorts of boundary theories.  First, place is such that it is “some sort of extension between the extremities,” (211b7).  However, this sort of boundary exists independently of what is bounded and is permanent.  Insofar as anything moves, the place will change, and there will be two problems generated: 1. The boundary between, for example, the wine and air moving in a jar will be exactly coincident with the boundary between the air and wine, and each of these two boundary extensions will be partially coincident but must also be unique, and 2. There will be a place at the boundary of the displaced place, and so an infinite regress of places associated with previous places will be generated.

Finally Aristotle says, “place necessarily is… the boundary of the containing body at which it is in contact with the contained body,” (212a6).  Then, interestingly, he says, “Place… is rather what is motionless,” (212a17) and then, “Hence the place of a thing is the innermost motionless boundary of what contains it,” (212a20).  So how are we to make sense of containers that give us the boundaries but also do not move?

If we take our interpretation directly from the previous discussion of boundary, Aristotle seems to have made an awfully strange claim: place is a like a container that something perfectly fits in, and yet that container cannot itself move although what is contained therein necessarily can.  However, I would like to suggest taking him at his word in regards to place being necessarily a boundary.  It is necessarily a boundary of the containing body which is in contact with the contained body, but it is not sufficient that it be the boundary that most have in mind.  What has been missed by regarding the boundary as necessary and sufficient is the incorporation of Aristotle’s primary intuition into how we know place exists.

For us to notice any motion we need something stationary relative to the thing moving such that we may observe the motion as motion.  A stationary backdrop is necessary to view change.  Consider this example: it is a common experience to be sitting in traffic next to a bus.  When the bus starts to slowly pull forward sometimes it is possible to get the sensation that you have started to move backwards.  This sensation lasts until some other fact informs you that it was not you who were retreating, but the bus advancing.  In the first instance, the place that you inhabited was defined in terms of a stationary bus: any motion that occurred was relative to that fixed point.  When you realized it was the bus, and not you, that was moving, whatever it was that informed you that you were stationary became incorporated into the place.  Perhaps you saw a building and since it was not moving your senses of place and motion were reevaluated to accommodate this new information. Hence two different places were involved in this scenario: one corresponds to your (belief of) moving backwards and the other to the forward motion of the bus.  The first place has the innermost motionless boundary [illegitimately] defined in terms of the bus [since the bus was in motion], and the second has an expanded sense of place to include something motionless relative to both you and the bus. Place, therefore, not only encapsulates that which is moving, but also whatever is observing the motion and an independently stationary object.

When Aristotle says, “First then we must understand that place would not have been inquired into, if there had not been motion with respect to place,” (211a12) he was not making an idle comment on the ‘discovery’ of the phenomenon of place.  Instead, he was beginning his analysis with the most important feature to be explained.  Galilean relativity holds fundamentally that motion can only be defined relative to some “system of coordinates” (Einstein p. 14), i.e. something motionless with respect to the moving object.  Although Aristotle did not have the benefit of Descartes’ mathematical works he still recognized the need for a reference system unique to each motion.

Now that the meaning of the ‘motionless’ criterion has been explained, what does ‘innermost’ mean if the boundary may include objects at a significant distance from the one we are describing?  The Earth is, in some sense, the place of all sublunary objects, but it is surely not the innermost boundary.  Again appealing to the exact phenomenon that Aristotle was dealing with yields the correct explanation: the motion of an object with respect to its place cannot be described by saying that the place of the thing is Earth.  Instead the innermost boundary should be the first boundary for which the description of motion and place of the thing make sense.  In the example of swirling wine in a jar (with the jar held steady but the wine still moving), the place of the wine can be said to be the jar because it describes the closest motionless boundary.  One might say that the place of the wine is equally on the table, or in someone’s hand, but both of these descriptions are related to motion other than that of wine swirling in the jar, and are really just shorthand for ‘the jar of wine is on the table, or in hand’ (consider, “The wine is on the floor,”: no swirling to be had).  The correct place of the moving bus example was the street, which could reasonably include things such as houses and other stationary objects, the most important one being the road.  Aristotle gives the ancient version of this, just before his final definition of place, in terms of the motion of a boat, such that it must be defined in terms of the whole river, which is taken as stationary (212a19).

One may think that I am being too charitable to Aristotle at this point because it may look that I have implied that the ‘innermost’ criterion of the theory will do all the work of translation between coordinate systems, which it does not seem to do.  However, Aristotle allows for the fact that we may treat a vessel such as a boat as a “transportable place” (212a14).  Hence we may allow for the things within a boat to have motion independent of a preferred fixed reference system.  This connection drawn between vessel and place gives the final aspect needed for a true relativity theory.  Historically the example of a boat on a river (212a19) is striking because Galileo uses the same example of a ship in his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (Salgado).

Commentary

Historically Aristotle’s theory of place has been treated as a simple boundary theory coupled with a few very strange statements that were assumed to be preliminary investigations into different methods of solving blatant paradoxes (King 91).  My suspicion for why this happened is twofold.  First, philosophy of place sounds like the most dry and uninteresting subject possible and hence it was not given its due study time over the course of history (after Aristotle that is).  Secondly, the modern formulation of relativity is given according to Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity.  Insofar as this is a theory of relative motion, it is easy to overlook the fact that it applies to objects without motion, things in place.  Aristotle’s formulation is none the weaker because of the way he cast his theory, but it is much more obscure to the modern reader, as Aristotle’s relativity is developed in a somewhat inverse way with respect to modern relativity.

Bibliography

  • Barnes, J. ed. The Complete Works of Aristotle v.2, Princeton U. Press, Princeton 1995
  • Einstein, Albert Relativity: The Special and General Theory Lawson trans.  Pi press, NY, NY 2005
  • King, H. R., “Aristotle’s Theory of TOPOS,” Classical Quarterly #44 1950, pp. 76-96
  • Salgado, Rob “Galileo’s Parable of the Ship” http://physics.syr.edu/courses/modules/LIGHTCONE/galileo.html Accessed 2/24/06 (Link Dead) Archive.org backup, Accessed 16 December 2015.
Posted in philosophy, physics, Relativity, science. Tagged with , , , .

Monty Redux

In the Monty Hall Problem a contestant is given a choice between one of three doors, with a fabulous prize behind only one door. After the initial door is selected the host, Monty Hall, opens one of the other doors that does not reveal a prize. Then the contestant is given the option to switch his or her choice to the remaining door, or stick with the original selection. The question is whether it is better to stick or switch.

The answer is that it is better to switch because the probability of winning after switching is two out of three, whereas sticking with the original selection leaves the contestant with the original winning probability of one out of three. Why?

The trick to understanding why this occurs is to view the situation not from the contestant’s viewpoint, but from Monty Hall’s. At the outset, from Monty’s point of view, the contestant has a one out of three chance of guessing the correct door. In the likely situation (two out of three) that the contestant chose wrongly, Monty then has to know where the prize is among the two remaining doors in order to open a door that does not reveal the prize. So Monty opens a door not revealing the prize and asks the contestant whether he or she would like to switch or not.

However, the contestant knows that in the likely (two out of three) situation that the initial choice was wrong, Monty had to know where the prize was in order to open the door that did not contain the prize. Since the contestant knows that Monty has to know where the prize is to make the correct choice, the contestant can (in this likely case) place him or herself in Monty’s shoes. At this point Monty knows that the remaining door is the one that contains the prize, and hence the contestant should switch.

If we consider the unlikely situation in which the contestant initially chose the door with the prize behind it, then this line of reasoning will not work. Imagine that Monty forgets the location of the prize every time the contestant guesses correctly. In this situation he can still open either of the remaining doors without ever ruining the game. From his perspective the location of the prize is unrelated to his actions; it played no part in his decision to open one door or another (he merely chose a door the contestant hadn’t).

So, in the one out of three case where the contestant initially selected the correct door, there is no way to deduce whether switching is beneficial based upon placing oneself in Monty’s shoes:  the situation where Monty has forgotten the prize’s location is indistinguishable from a situation in which he has not forgotten. Without any way to further analyze the situation and tilt the odds to over one out of three, the contestant should always assume that he or she is in the previous, more likely, situation and take the opportunity to switch.1


.

1Imagine that the contestant has a guardian angel that will let the game run its course if the contestant switches doors, but will change the location of the prize such that if the contestant sticks with the original door the angel will make sure that the contestant wins four out of five times. Then the probability of winning while switching will stay at 2/3 but the probability of winning while sticking will be 4/5. If the contestant had some way of divining that this was happening, this would be a case in which further analysis would be of benefit.


File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.79.
On 13 Aug 2009, 13:48.

Posted in epistemology, game theory, logic, philosophy. Tagged with , , .

Sexual Reproduction, The Case for, Round 2

Let us assume that there are different kinds of adaptations.  Specifically, some are better than others in the long run:  some adaptations will only make a difference in an organism’s ability to reproduce viable offspring over a short period of time, whereas others will be beneficial for many generations.

In asexual reproduction there is no mechanism for distinguishing between a short term beneficial adaptation and a long term beneficial adaptation.  This subjects long term beneficial adaptations to being potentially overshadowed by short term beneficial adaptations and genetic drift:  if a short-term genetic change  sweeps through a population, some adaptations can be wiped out.  This sort of (selected for or not selected for) genetic drift would be tempered if it were forced to go across the different biologies of the two sexes.

With sexual selection there is a mechanism for selecting long term beneficial adaptations over short term ones.  Long term beneficial adaptations will have to be good for both sexes:  if an adaptation is beneficial to both the male and female – individuals with significantly different biologies – then it is more likely to be  good for the entire species.  Short term beneficial adaptations may only be good for particular individuals or one sex, depending on the mutation.  This makes it less likely for short term, provincial adaptations (or drift) to last because they won’t be as effective across different the different biological make-up of the two sexes.

Therefore by distributing mutations across two different sexes – two similar but different biologies – long term beneficial adaptations can be selected for.

Posted in biology, evolution, fitness, philosophy, science. Tagged with , , , , , .

Sexual Reproduction

Say you are a single celled organism.  To reproduce you have to double your size and then you need to split yourself in half.  Repeat indefinitely.

Now say you are a single celled organism that has the option to reproduce sexually.  To reproduce you need to increase yourself to 3/2 your original size and find a similar mate.  Then you both contribute 1/2 to the new organism and repeat indefinitely.

Asexual reproduction requires you to double in size; sexual reproduction requires only a 3/2 increase.  Therefore the turn-around time for sexual reproduction is inherently shorter than for asexual reproduction (assuming there are viable mates readily available).

Is there a selective benefit to a shorter turn around time for reproduction?  If the species must constantly be adapting to a changing environment (that would be everyone), then having a higher rate at which new mutations (and thence adaptations) are introduced into the population is critical.

Secondly, given that there is enough food but it takes time to collect, I count more offspring for sexual reproduction:

Sexual Replication vs. Asexual Splitting

In sexual reproduction, there is an additional child from the first generation of children (as compared to asexual splitting) created in the same amount of time: At the +50% mark #1 & #2 mate to create #5, and #3 & #4 mate to create #6.  Then, at the 100% mark (or plus an additional 50%) #1 & #2 mate to create #7, #3 & #4 mate to create #8, and, at the same time, the initial children #5 & #6 mate to create #9.  #9 is also one generation ahead of the offspring of asexual replication.

Now, to be honest, I’m confused.  I don’t think that anything above is particularly complicated.  However, Wikipedia does not note this as a benefit of sexual reproduction.  It actually says that asexual reproduction is much faster.  This makes me think that I must have made a mistake or else someone would have added it.

The going theory appears to be that since every organism in an asexually reproducing species can give off children, then there is twice the potential for offspring.  This completely ignores any struggle that an organism might have that would prevent it from reproducing, or that work can be split with a mate making it easier to reproduce.

My main assumptions are, among others, that there already is a significant population of organisms, the organisms are not too fussy about their mates (no significant waste of energy searching for a mate),  energy / work is being split with the mate, and that the limiting factor has to do with gathering food.  I can’t see how, if these (reasonable?) assumptions hold, sexual reproduction isn’t the dominant, winning strategy.

Posted in biology, evolution, fitness, game theory, philosophy, science. Tagged with , , , , , , .

A Priori Against Physicalism

I saw that Richard Brown is working to defend physicalism against a priori arguments.  He says that most (all?) arguments use the same intuitions found in the zombie-knowledge arguments.

This got me to thinking about a priori arguments against physicalism and I came up with something different:

If physicalism is, as Dr. Brown says, “… the view that only physical things exist. Physical things are those things that are postulated by a completed physics,” then I wonder who made physics king?  I’d have to assume that there is something within science that specifies physics as most fundamental.

However, science itself, or more specifically philosophy of science, is discipline agnostic.  There is nothing within the basic structure of science to specify physics as the foundation.  Maybe it is biology that is fundamental, maybe it is psychology, maybe something else; the point is that there is no a priori reason to prefer one over any of the others.  If there is nothing that distinguishes physics as a ground for the other sciences, then there is no reason that physicalism should be taken as a fundamental philosophy.

At this point the physicalist would want to find some grounds for the claim that physics is fundamental.  This is problematic though: nothing could be used from within physics because that would be question begging.  On the other hand, if we try to justify physics as fundamental by appealing to something outside physics, then isn’t that thing that provides the justification more fundamental than physics itself?  If we have to justify the claim ‘physics is fundamental’ by appealing to something even more fundamental, then physics is no longer fundamental because it needs an outside justification.  Therefore any justification for physicalism is inherently question begging or self-contradictory.

I know I haven’t disproved physicalism; at best I’ve indicated that justifications for it are bad.  And if any justification is bad, then the position is indefensible.  Since most philosophers don’t like to hold indefensible positions, perhaps this is sufficient.

Posted in biology, ontology, philosophy, physics, science. Tagged with , , , , .

On Charitability

There is no such thing as a private reality.  By private reality I mean any portion of reality that you alone can experience, that no one else could possibly understand.

There is, however, reality that is yet unexperienced and unknown to you.  Others may have experienced it before you, like explorers who have been to a far away place.  If a philosopher is clever, it is possible that she found a way to imbue her words with such an experience.  Since there are no private realities, it is also possible that you may be able to extract those experiences.

The allure of philosophy is then the allure of the unknown, the exotic and unexplored.  To be charitable is to approach philosophy in search of some yet unknown bit of reality.

Under these circumstances it is futile to give specific instructions on how to be charitable; each of us must understand how to prepare ourselves for adventuring beyond the relative comfort of what we know.

If anything, have faith in yourself and do not make assumptions (even charitable ones) about what you are doing.

There is no such thing as a private reality.  By private reality I mean any portion of reality that you alone can experience, that no one else could possibly understand.

There is, however, reality that is yet unexperienced and unknown to you.  Others may have experienced it before you, like explorers who have been to a far away place.  If the philosopher was clever, it is possible that she found a way to imbue her words with that experience.  Since there are no private realities, it is also possible that you may be able to extract those experiences.

The allure of philosophy is then the allure of the unknown, the exotic and unexplored.  To be charitable is to approach a philosophical treatise in search of some yet unknown bit of reality.

Under these circumstances it is futile to give specific instructions on how to be charitable; each of us must understand how to prepare ourselves for adventuring beyond the relative confort of what we know.

If anything, have faith in yourself and do not make assumptions (even ones considered to be charitable) about what you are studying.

Posted in language, metaphysics, ontology, philosophy. Tagged with , , , .

What Science Ignores

I was skimming the philosophy blogs today and came across “Should Scientific Methods and Data be Public?” over at It’s Only A Theory (and Brains for that matter).  Gualtiero Piccinini argues that scientific matters ought to be made public.  My first thought was, “What exactly does G.P. mean by public?” and my second was, “Anyone who doesn’t think scientific methods should be public is bat-shit crazy.” (Yes, I get angry about this stuff.  And from here on out, I’m using my own version of ‘public’, which is likely compatible with G.P.’s, but I do not want to look like I am putting words in Gualtiero’s mouth.)

Let me explain.

When practicing science we are ignoring, in part, at least three important things: time, space, and people.  Science is, in some respects, atemporal: we believe that if everything else is held the same, it doesn’t matter when we conduct our scientific experiments.  There is no scientific difference between an experiment performed this week and an experiment performed years ago; we can replicate the experiments of the masters and get the exact same results they did (within experimental error of course).

Secondly, science is, in some respects, separate from space:  we believe that if everything else is held the same, it doesn’t matter where we conduct our scientific experiments.  There is no scientific difference between an experiment performed in New York or in Shanghai; we can replicate experiments of scientists all over the world and get the exact same results they did.

Lastly, science is, in some respects, separate from particular people: we believe that is everything else is held the same, it doesn’t matter who is conducting our scientific experiments.  There is no scientific difference between an experiment that I have performed and one that someone else performs; anyone may replicate an experiment and get the exact same results as someone else.

This, among other reasons, is what makes science so great:  a scientific discovery will last beyond your life and your laboratory and can travel the world indefinitely.  Unlike a great performance (theater or sport, take your pick), it will be exactly replicable for all time.

Now, back to scientific methods being public.  If a scientific method is private, then it means that one or more of the three points listed above is being violated.  Either the experiment is limited to the people who performed it (only certain people can make it work), the experiment is limited to the time in which it was performed (it only worked that one time) or the experiment is limited to the place it was performed (it only works in my basement).  Once one of the three above points can no longer be ignored, then we have lost that which makes science so impressive.

Insofar as people are afforded the right to use language as they wish, I suppose it is acceptable for someone to call an experiment that violates one of the three above points science, or maybe, scientific.  I, however, hold that what is generally thought to be science necessarily requires that the above three points not be violated.

Posted in philosophy, science, time. Tagged with , .

Do We Understand the Principle of Charity?

When trying to understand an unknown philosophy (or philosopher) we are taught that we should give that philosophy every possible opportunity to say something relevant.  This practice is called using the Principle of Charity and there are various ways philosophers go about implementing it (via Wikipedia):

By believing

  1. The other uses words in the ordinary way;
  2. The other makes true statements;
  3. The other makes valid arguments;
  4. The other says something interesting.

I do not believe using any of these methods is sufficient if you want to be charitable.

Case 1:

We can be charitable by believing the other uses words in the ordinary way.

Even if the oracle (speaker or text) uses words in the ‘ordinary way’, it may be that those words are irrelevant to the current topic.  Conversely the oracle may not use words in the ‘ordinary way’ but those words could still be relevant to the current topic.

For instance many people do not use English words in ways I consider ‘normal’ as a native English speaker, but it’s rather common that those folks have something very relevant to say about philosophy.  On the other hand there are many people who speak English quite fluently without anything interesting to say.

Case 2:

We can be charitable by believing the other makes true statements.

Even if the oracle makes true statements, it may be that those true statements are irrelevant to the current topic.  Conversely the oracle may not make true statements, but those false/ambiguous statements could still be relevant to the current topic.

For instance someone could be wrong but for the right reasons, i.e. he or she may have identified many of the critical presuppositions that underlie a topic.  Though the person has made a mistake in deriving the conclusion, he or she may yet progress our understanding.  On the other hand is a machine that continually prints out true statements of the sort “The sky is blue iff the sky is blue” and “Grass is yellow iff grass is yellow.”  We wouldn’t find such a machine to be making relevant statements.

Case 3:

We can be charitable by believing the other makes valid arguments.

Even if the oracle makes valid arguments, it may be that those arguments are irrelevant to the current topic.  Conversely the oracle may not make valid arguments, but those arguments could still be relevant to the current topic.

For instance a person may be right but for the wrong reasons, i.e. he or she may somehow have arrived at brilliant conclusions using the shoddiest reasoning practices.  Just because this person has bad technical execution does not mean we should ignore his or her interesting results.  On the other hand is the machine from the previous example that has perfect logical execution, but says nothing worthwhile.

Case 4:

We can be charitable by believing the other says something interesting.

This is question begging.  We cannot use the concept of interesting to explain what makes something interesting or relevant.

These examples show that the scheme illustrated above is insufficient to provide a charitable understanding of a text or philosopher.

Posted in language, philosophy. Tagged with , .

The Non-Reducibility & Scientific Explanation Problem

Q: What is a multiple star system?

A: More than one star in a non-reducible mutual relationship spinning around each other.

Q: How did it begin?

A: Well, I guess, the stars were out in space and at some point they became close in proximity.  Then their gravitations caused each other to alter their course and become intertwined.

Q: How did the gravitations cause the courses of the stars to become intertwined?  Gravity does one thing: it changes the shape of space-time; it does not intertwine things.

A: That seems right.  It is not only the gravities that cause this to happen.  It is both the trajectory and mass (gravity) of the stars in relation to each other that caused them to form a multiple star system.

Q: Saying that it is both the trajectories and the masses in relation to each other is not an answer.  That is what is in need of being explained.

A: You are asking the impossible.  I have already said that the relation is non-reducible.  I am not going to go back upon my word in order to reduce the relation into some other relation to explain it to you.  The best that can be done is to describe it as best we can.

Here is the problem: If you have a non-reducible relation (e.g., a 3-body problem or a logical mutual interdependence) then you cannot explain how it came to exist.  Explaining such things would mean that the relation was reducible.  But being unable to explain some scientific phenomenon violates the principle of science: we should be able to explain physical phenomenon.  Then the relation must not be non-reducible or it must have been a preexisting condition going all the way back to the origin of the universe.  Either you have a contradiction or it is unexplainable by definition.

What can we do?  You can hold out for a solution to the 3-body-problem or, alternatively, you can change what counts as explanation.  The latter option is the way to go, though, I am not going into this now.

For now I just want to illustrate that this problem of non-reducibility and explanation is pervasive:

Q: What is a biological symbiotic relationship?

A: More than one organism living in a non-reducible relationship together.

Q: How did it begin?

A: Well, I guess, the organisms were out in nature and at some point they became close in proximity.  Then their features caused each other to alter their evolution and become intertwined.

Q: How did the features cause the courses of their evolution to become intertwined?  Physical features do one thing: they enable an organism to reproduce; they do not intertwine things.

A: That seems right.  It is not only the features that cause this to happen.  It is both the ecosystem and the features of the organisms in relation to each other that caused them to form a symbiosis.

Q: Saying that it is both the place the organisms are living in and their features in relation to each other is not an answer.  That is what is in need of being explained.

A: You are asking the impossible.  I have already said that the relation is non-reducible.  I am not going to go back upon my word in order to reduce the relation into some other relation to explain it to you.  The best that can be done is to describe it as best we can.

As you can see, I am drawing a parallel between a multiple body problem and multiple organisms that live together.  Like the star example above, there is no way to explain the origins of organisms living together.  Even in the most basic case it is impossible.

Posted in biology, epistemology, evolution, independence friendly logic, ontology, philosophy, physics, science. Tagged with , , , , , .