## Platonic Realism & Scientific Method

• 4.1k
Does an object weigh 19 pounds or 8.6 kg?
— Harry Hindu

Those are just different units for the same value.
The value of what - another number - something mathematical, or feature of some object?

19 = 8.6

or

19 pounds = 8.6 kiolograms?

It's not the numbers that are equal, but the weight, right? When we talk about weight, are we talking about measurements, or something else? Aren't measurements OF something? Isn't a measurement simply a comparison of objects and their features?

Yes, math is done in abstraction all the time. It's not like there are prime chickens.
Right, so unless you are saying abstractions exist independent of minds, then math doesn't exist independent of minds. But don't think that doesn't mean that abstractions aren't real, or that they don't have causal power. My point is to watch where you are pointing with your words. When talking about ten chickens, are you talking about a number or chickens?
• 4.3k
When talking about ten chickens, are you talking about a number or chickens?

Both. Were there not 10 chickens before humans were around to count them? The example I always heard was 2 dinosaurs were in a pond, and then a third joined. Did 1 + 2 = 3 not exist in the Jurassic?

t's not the numbers that are equal, but the weight, right? When we talk about weight, are we talking about measurements, or something else? Aren't measurements OF something? Isn't a measurement simply a comparison of objects and their features?

Sure, but the measurement always gives us a numerical value of some kind, and we decide on the units.
• 4.1k
The issue is in mathematical physics, that discoveries are made BECAUSE of the maths, not made first by observation, and then described mathematically. A case in point was Dirac's discovery of anti-matter. According to the equations he developed or discovered that described electrons, there ought to be positive counterparts to the negatively-charged electrons. At the time no such things were known but lo and behold some years later they were discovered 1. There are many other such examples in the history of physics, which is why Eugene Wigner felt compelled to write the essay On the Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.
I guess the question is, when is a discovery made - when it is observed in the math, or when it is observed in nature? Either way, it was observed.

A number is a symbol denoting a count. And the count is nowhere but in the mind of the counter, it is a purely intellectual act. Yet all who can count will agree that 19=19 so it is not the property of a single observer.
But why does 19 = 19? Is it because 19 is the same scribble as 19?
• 4.1k
Both. Were there not 10 chickens before humans were around to count them?
There were a quantity of chickens before humans were around to count them. What we call that is arbitrary. Aliens could use a different scribble to refer to the quantity, or use a totally different number-system for all we know.

Can numbers exist on their own without being attributed to things? Can things exist without being counted, or having numbers attributed to them?

Sure, but the measurement always gives us a numerical value of some kind, and we decide on the units.
When comparing an apple to an orange, are all the words that we use to compare them numerical? Is color numerical, what about taste or smell?
• 4.3k
Aliens could use a different scribble to refer to the quantity, or use a totally different number-system for all we know.

It's hard to see how aliens would come up with a different arithmetic for discrete entities and it have the same usefulness.

Can numbers exist on their own without being attributed to things?

I don't know, but they seem to have an objectivity which goes beyond our arbitrary choice of words and symbols.

Can things exist without being counted, or having numbers attributed to them?

Sure, but can they be understood to exist without any mathematical properties?

When comparing an apple to an orange, are all the words that we use to compare them numerical? Is color numerical, what about taste or smell?

No, I don't think math is all there is to existing.
• 4.1k
Without the other numbers, what use would it be to say that there is 1 of something? Again, we're only talking about comparisons when we use math. Its merely part of the description of something and all descriptions aren't mathematical, so reality can't be fundamentally mathematical.
• 4.3k
so reality can't be fundamentally mathematical.

I don't know what reality fundamentally is, but the question is whether reality includes some sort of abstraction, which would mean nominalism is wrong. If it does, math is the best candidate. At least the maths that are applicable to the world.
• 972
Without having read it, what does the author replace numbers with? If it's something else that's abstract

... That would be a cheek, indeed.

(some kind of operators that can quantify over particulars),

Ah but they aren't necessarily abstract, they are roughly like general terms, concrete syntactic elements (words) saying things about particulars... in effect, sorting them. They are predicates pointed at things, held true of them, sorting them; not themselves among the things predicated of and sorted. No reifying, then, of the ways of sorting by quantifying over them like chickens or other space-time regions. (Let me count the ways... No, we shan't let you, if you have to reify them as abstract entities!)

The book is (I gather) about proving the principle that physics can be expressed on that relatively non-commital basis.

My question would be that if you ditched numbers, how can talk about the properties of electrons, such as their mass and charge, since the value is the same for all electrons? Another way to ask the question is what are physical properties if they're not mathematical (que Tegmark)?

Ways of sorting, which physics asserts are the right ways.
• 1.2k

Hello my old friend.

I think the larger question that informs your inquiry is that of the intelligible order and the intelligence that is its author.

I am going to offer a very different view, that of self-organization, bottom up rather than top down. The observed order is accidental in that things could have developed differently and nothing prevents further development in very different directions. Intelligence is a contingent and emergent feature. The laws of nature are not fixed, their stability temporal.
• 11.8k
Glad to see you back. I see something in that, actually I have titles on my reading list to get around to along those lines. But overall I'm still of the view that 'matter does not act'. I am attracted to the Stoic idea of the 'logos spermatikos' as an organising principle, but it still seems inexorably connected to the Forms.
• 315

Sorry for interrupting your conversation here.

I have to leave soon, it's way too late where I'm at. Nevertheless, I'd really like to continue talking about your ideas on this type of philosophy: it's the most interesting to me. I think, despite some differences we may have, they're insignificant given on what we agree.

I've got to pick your mind on many topics. So I guess I'll try to be around on one day that you'll be here for an hour or so - not that I need an hour to talk, but enough time to clear some things up.

Have a good one.
• 11.8k
Thanks! I'll be around.
• 11.8k
Intelligence is a contingent and emergent feature. The laws of nature are not fixed, their stability temporal.

The way I put it is that, in respect to formal ideas such as math and logic, that the ability to grasp such ideas evolves, but the ideas themselves do not - no, that's wrong, obviously there is huge development in some areas of maths. But there's a major element which is discovered not invented - although, having discovered, one can then invent.
• 1.2k
Rather than argue the correctness of my position I will indicate why I find it more compelling. It is an intellectual challenge. I cannot, of course, say how successful it will be, but it seeks to find explanations rather than accept the answers given, namely the work of intellect or consciousness or God, that do not really provide explanations for how things work.

When I was first introduced to philosophy I was enamored by the idea of Forms. Some years later I came to see them as images themselves, part of Plato's poetry that was intended to replace the myths of the gods.
• 11.8k
I'm woefully under-read on the topic of forms. Where I started this thread was the broader topic of Platonic realism, which is basically the idea that there are real intelligible objects. Of course, the question then looms as to 'what kind of "objects" are these?' and 'where could they be located?' and so on. That was the subject of the discussion, but I'm intending to read more about the Platonic notion of forms, I've discovered some books on it (e.g this. Actually I still recall the Jacob Klein book on Greek mathematical thought you mentioned some time ago, I've made a start on that.)

The key point for me is that the so-called intelligibles are not existents in the same way that objects of sensory perception are. They are more like, on the one hand, the rules of logic, and on the other hand, the laws of form, in that they act as constraints on the realm of the possible.

Have a read of Meaning and the Problem of Universals by Kelly Ross, which is a kind of revisionist history of the idea.
• 315
Hence the necessity of Platonic realism to the natural sciences.

This is highlighted to some extent by Colin McGinn in his Inborn Knowledge: The Mystery Within.

I was wondering, which contemporary philosophers speak of this kind of thing, that is a-priori knowledge. Math and logic surely are a-priori, but I suspect even more may be a-priori than what we initially may think to be the case. Sure, we need contact with the world to activate our or nourish our innate capacities, but our exposure to the world is too brief to account for concepts based on learning.

How do you think about these things?
• 11.8k
Very perceptive and interesting question.

The last book my dear departed mother gave me, as a Christmas present, almost 20 years ago, was Steve Pinker's The Blank Slate. I'm not at all disposed towards Pinker's philosophical attitude, but he has many interesting things to say about linguistics and evolution. And this book was an argument against the 'tabula rasa' of empiricism, that humans begin life as a blank slate, in favour of the idea of evolutionary inheritance giving rise to innate abilities.

Myself, I feel that evolutionary explanations are only part of the picture. It seems obvious to me that infants are born with all kinds of proclivities, talents, dispositions, inclinations, and so on, and I don't know how much of a grasp science has on all that, or whether it all can be explained solely in terms of evolution and genetics.

Case in point is musical prodigies. I'm a jazz fan, and about 6-7 years ago, this young pianist suddenly exploded on the scence, Joey Alexander. At the time of his first album he was a young teen, of Indonesian parentage, and looked about 10. But played and improvised with a maturity well beyond his years - jazz legend Herbie Hancock was completely blown away by him. Mozart was another example, penned his first symphonies as a child. I don't think there's a scientific account of why those kinds of talents ought to exist, not even to mention that musical genius has no obvious connection to biological adaptation. Not that I'm saying I have a better theory, other than some vague sense of there being a collective consciousness of some kind, that takes birth in such forms. But I would never try and persuade anyone of the truth of such an idea.

I suppose in the philosophical literature, the grandfather of such notions is in the Meno, with the slave boy whom, by questioning, is shown to know abstruse mathematical principles, innate in him, due to the knowledge imprinted on the soul prior to birth. Again I feel as though this is an analogical or mythical depiction to allow for the uncanny ability that humans generally have to acquire learning - namely, talent. Indeed the whole idea of anamnesis, 'unforgetting', suggests this kind of idea. Perhaps it's a mythological depiction of the notion of cultural inheritance - that would be a naturalistic account, although I do feel that it's something which current naturalism would find it hard to accomodate. There's a lot that's uncanny about it.

On a more prosaic note, I was introduced to the notion of the a priori in my class on Hume. It seemed to me that Hume, and philosophy generally, rather took for granted the notion of the a priori. The standard example of 'bachelor being an unmarried man' made the point, but it also sells it short. Why should the Universe be such that there are things we know a priori? That's the question that occured to me. I think it is Kant who really appreciates that question, whereas Hume, as I say, simply took it for granted. Kant also explored the synthetic a priori, the significance of which I feel is even more taken for granted. How is it that, given two pieces of information, we can reliably infer a third, which is not directly given by the first two, but is nevertheless apodictically true? That too is uncanny, but also mainly taken for granted.

Harking back to Pinker, the taken-for-granted approach is that the requirements of biological adaption are sufficient to explain our apparently-innate linguistic and intellectual abilities. But again, I'm rather skeptical that it is only a matter of biology. Actually Chomsky has also written on this, Why Only Us? co-authored with Robert Berwick. I'm meaning to read that, but there's about ten thousand books I'm meaning to read. At least Chomsky approaches it with a satisfactorily awed appreciation, in my view.
• 315
The last book my dear departed mother gave me, as a Christmas present, almost 20 years ago, was Steve Pinker's The Blank Slate. I'm not at all disposed towards Pinker's philosophical attitude, but he has many interesting things to say about linguistics and evolution.

I read part of that a while ago, I forgot much of it, but the little I remember was suggestive and I think proves the point of the title of the book. I have read The Language Instinct and The Stuff of Thought. I'll have to go back to that one. The chapter in The Stuff of Thought called Cleaving the Air is quite interesting: showing language in a quasi-Kantian perspective. How correct this is in terms of scientific evidence, I can't judge, but it sounds persuasive.

Myself, I feel that evolutionary explanations are only part of the picture. It seems obvious to me that infants are born with all kinds of proclivities, talents, dispositions, inclinations, and so on, and I don't know how much of a grasp science has on all that, or whether it all can be explained in terms of evolution and genetics.

Yes, I share those exact same intuitions. This is very likely imbedded in our genetic code, though how it happens so far is kind of mysterious. Of course, if you take it that "this happens because of genes and evolution", that's not saying too much, I don't think.

Not that I'm saying I have a better theory, other than some vague sense of their being a collective consciousness of some kind, that takes birth in such forms. But I would never try and persuade anyone of the truth of such an idea.

Hume thought that human creativity was beyond our scope of understanding. I've been learning the hard way that these types of "rationalistic idealisms" look like total hand-waving and maybe even irrational. Oh well.

But again, I'm rather skeptical that it is only a matter of biology. Actually Chomsky has also written on this, Why Only Us? co-authored with Robert Berwick. I'm meaning to read that, but there's about ten thousand books I'm meaning to read. At least Chomsky approaches it with a satisfactorily awed appreciation, in my view.

Yes. I'm in the same boat in terms of reading. Chomsky thought Ralph Cudworth had more interesting things to say about cognitive structure than Kant. Cudworth's an interesting case. He speaks of "native and domestic" ideas. But he is not well known at all.

So Plato's meno, Kant - anything else come to mind? This type of tradition is sadly not as active as I would like.
• 714
I don't think there's a scientific account of why those kinds of talents ought to exist, not even to mention that musical genius has no obvious connection to biological adaptation. Not that I'm saying I have a better theory, other than some vague sense of there being a collective consciousness of some kind, that takes birth in such forms. But I would never try and persuade anyone of the truth of such an idea.

Hmm. I can't say I can definitively explain great talent but it seems to me that some forms of autism (for instance) come with exceptional gifts and I don't think this necessitates access to a special realm of ideas. Some brains are odd. The critic, Harold Bloom, was able to read and process 1000 pages in little over an hour with almost total recall. He could read the entire novel Don Quixote during lunch and provide insightful analysis. I don't think this involved archetypes either but I do think it fits into the general realm of remarkable capacity. People with musical ability have a great knack for mimicking or reproducing and embroidering on patterns and formulas (which is essentially how music works - having studied the violin and learned to memorise songs after one or two hearings, I have some idea of this although I was no Mozart) I suspect some brains are just abnormally fecund.
• 240
The critic, Harold Bloom, was able to read and process 1000 pages in little over an hour with almost total recall.

I've seen this claim before and I really doubt it is even possible (I know this is irrelevant to the rest or your post, sorry).
• 1.2k
I've discovered some books on it (e.g this.

I took a look at what was available to read on Amazon. The only thing "Look Inside" reveals is the forward by Hedley on the legacy of the Parmenides. There is an introductory essay of readers and interpreters. I wonder what he has to say about the problem of interpreting Plato. Hedley sees the dialogue as the legacy of Parmenides as interpreted by Plato. That legacy includes the influence on Socrates and Plato. And this raises the question of why Plato's Socrates continued to talk about Forms after this encounter with Parmenides when he was young.

I think it has something to do with Socrates "second sailing" (Phaedo 99d). After the criticisms of the Forms Parmenides says that one who does not “allow that for each thing there is a character that is always the same" will “destroy the power of dialectic entirely” (135b8–c2). In his search for the causes of all things he undertakes a second sailing, a turning away from what the eye sees and toward speech, logos. In other words, contrary to the myth of Forms in the Republic, the Forms are not discovered through transcendent mystical experience. They are that which for each thing must remain the same if there is to be dialectical speech.
• 714
've seen this claim before and I really doubt it is even possible (I know this is irrelevant to the rest or your post, sorry).

It seems impossible, right? I've heard Bloom interviewed on this claim. Before he died he said that in old age he slowed down to 500 pages an hour.
• 125

He was probably cheating and just reading the Bloom's Notes summaries...:grin:
• 11.8k
So Plato's meno, Kant - anything else come to mind?

That's all I can come up with at the moment, sorry.

The critic, Harold Bloom, was able to read and process 1000 pages in little over an hour with almost total recall.

There was a savant, Kim Peek, the basis of the Rain Man character, who could read two books simultaneously and perform other astounding feats. Savants are a whole other area of mystifying capacity.

I suspect some brains are just abnormally fecund.

I suspect the brain is analogous to a receiver~transmitter in some basic respect, rather than an originator of information.

I've discovered some books on it (e.g this.
— Wayfarer

I took a look at what was available to read on Amazon.

(This is in reference to a book on Plato and Parmenides.) I'm of the view that the Western metaphysical tradition starts with Parmenides and that I have to get a better understanding of him. The standard text is Cornford, I am looking for something more contemporary. I found a publishing company called Parmenides Publishing, which lead me to Arnold Hermann and read some of the views. I'm warily eyeing the kindle edition of his Plato and Parmenides, but it's an expensive purchase and a difficult topic.
• 714
I suspect the brain is analogous to a receiver~transmitter in some basic respect, rather than an originator of information.

Could be. What I tend to see is the human capacity for imitation. We are magnificent copyists. Sometimes we copy better than the originals and then riff.
• 1.2k

Peter Kingsley has some interesting things to say.
• 11.8k
I have encountered Peter Kingsley - I bought his book, Reality. But it seemed to me a bit portentious. I'm looking for something which is a little nearer the academic mainstream, but respectful of metaphysics. It seems to me a lot of the modern commentary wants to interpret Platonism naturalistically. I've tried some of Gerson's books and papers as well, but the problem for a non-scholar is that they're so burdened with commentary on commentary and responses to what other scholars have said that it's hard to follow the thread. I got a lot out of Gerson's paper Platonism vs Naturalism, though - referred to that above in this thread.
• 1.2k
I forget this one: Plato's Parmenides: The Conversion of the Soul, by Mitchell Miller.

I read it some years ago. He pays careful attention to the details of the dialogue, which is to say he does not treat it like a discourse or doctrine. It is a Socratic dialogue. Socrates called himself a physician of the soul. At the heart of the discussion of Forms in the Republic there is a turning of the soul.

He also wrote on Parmenides proem. I just found this. https://philarchive.org/archive/MILPAT-4v1

Miller's interpretations do not suffer from the anachronisms often found in modern interpretations.

[Edit: I read the paper. Given the complexity of the subject matter I thought it was very clearly written. I don't know if this is the kind of thing you are looking for though. Unlike Hedley it does not address Parmenides' legacy.
• 11.8k

At the heart of the discussion of Forms in the Republic there is a turning of the soul.

That is a reference to 'metanoia' is it not?
• 1.2k
That is a reference to 'metanoia' is it not?

It is not, as or as I know, a term used by Plato. Here is the passage.

" ... the power to learn is present in everyone's soul and that the instrument with which each learns is like an eye that cannot be turned around from darkness to light without turning the whole body. This instrument cannot be turned around from that which is coming into being without turning the whole soul until it is
able to study that which is and the brightest thing that is, namely, the one we call the good." (518c)
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal