• Pattern-chaser
    375
    This topic came out of a casual interchange elsewhere, but was off-topic, so I started a new one. :up: Here is what started it:

    I do think that [XXX] can be brushed off for being unrealistic, just as the evil demon, brain in a vat, and dreaming butterfly thought experiments can be brushed off.Sapientia

    This is the main lesson that philosophy, via logic, passes to humans: that these theories can't be brushed off. No theory which accounts for all the evidence - especially when there's little evidence, or none at all - can be dismissed. We can only chose between them on the basis of utility; of how useful they are. You could be a brain in a vat. There is no way you can tell.Pattern-chaser

    No, that's a false narrative. I'm actually doing philosophy a service by encouraging waste removal. There seems to be a common misconception, especially amongst those who are relatively new to philosophy, that the wildest imaginings to have come out of philosophy should be given more credence than they are due, and that they should be treated as being on par with views of a much stronger grounding.Sapientia

    I used to think as @Sapentia does, then one day I wondered why I should dismiss the brain-in-a-vat theory:

    Because it's ridiculous!
    It is? In what way?
    We'd be able to tell!
    The brain-in-a-vat theory requires that the brain is fed an electro-bio-chemical 'data stream' that indistinguishably gives rise to the same impressions and sensations. Down to the finest detail.
    But it's obvious we live in the real world, the one we see and hear.
    Is it? Your 'real world' would look the same if you were a brain-in-a-vat! With no way to distinguish between theories, what is obvious?
    But being a brain-in-a-vat is wildly unlikely!
    If you think about it, there is no way you can know or calculate how unlikely it is.
    Of course I can. Statistics was invented for this!
    Go on then. Apply a number to the probability of you being a brain-in-a-vat, and justify that number.
    <silence>
    An estimate, or approximation, will do, provided you can justify it.
    A better statistician than me could do it.
    How? However good the statistician, you still need a basis to calculate a probability. We have no knowledge or evidence that could give us that basis. Of course, the same applies to the theory that (given their limitations and shortcomings) our senses and perceptions show us a direct view of Objective Reality.
    What?
    Both theories lead to the same conclusion: no justified value of probability (of correctness) can be calculated in either case.
    So both theories are equal, then. On a par?
    No. Lacking any means for comparison, we can't correctly compare the two. The only logical conclusion we can draw about these two theories is that they can't both be true, because they contradict one another. One of them could be true, or both could be false. That's it. That is a complete statement of the logically-justified conclusions we can draw.
    So the universe is a random pool of seething chaos, then?
    No, but it contains uncertainties. Some of them will forever remain uncertain, to human beings. The universe does not collapse into chaos just because there's something you can never know.
    <blush>
    ...
    So how can we choose a theory, when we can't even compare them?
    By how useful they are to us. By the value we place on them. Having no logical argument to guide us, we shouldn't really choose at all. That's what logic tells us. But, if we must proceed, we can choose the one that is most useful to us. And that's what we do in practice, in the real world. It's why we leap to the conclusion that Objective Reality is what our senses show to us.

    We need only remember that this is a guess we chose to make, against the recommendations of logic.

    And we could be brains in vats or humans in an Objectively real world, or something different again. We have no way to tell.

    If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain … In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar. — Richard Feynman
  • jorndoe
    566
    Brush off or brush on?
    Surely there are sufficient reasons to brush off?

    1. morality is social
    2. solipsism is not
    3. therefore there are morals impertinent to solipsism
    4. solipsism is side-lined by anyone with moral awareness

    Brushing on looks like a performative contradiction to me.
    Either way, I'd find it a bit rude if you thought me a mere figment of your mind.
    Brush off. (y)

    (Englitch is my 2nd language, please let me know if "impertinent" is the wrong word above.)
  • Pattern-chaser
    375
    If you think this topic is unsuitable for discussion, please say so, and say why. Otherwise.... :roll:

    This topic is not about solipsism. It's about how we treat theories when there is no evidence.
  • tim wood
    1.1k
    Known to many of us here: HItchen's razor: "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."

    Claims without evidence can be invitations to talk nonsense - even as a form of entertainment; and there's nothing wrong with that, so long as no one forgets it's nonsense.
  • jorndoe
    566
    Sorry @Pattern-chaser, the point was just that there can sometimes be other reasons (like morals) involved.
    There are all kinds of thought experiments and ideas, p, where all evidence is compatible with both p and ¬p, some of which were mentioned above.
    What Bateson called differences that makes no difference (non-information).
    I'd say other reasons can occasionally make a difference, though.
  • Pattern-chaser
    375
    Claims without evidence can be invitations to talk nonsensetim wood

    So, in the context of this discussion, how do we tell what is nonsense and what is not? That's rather the core of this discussion. How do we tell, logically and rationally, whether a topic is nonsense? :chin:
  • tim wood
    1.1k
    First question: does it matter? Why do you want to know if it's nonsense or not nonsense? For example, many discussions of religion are nonsense taken seriously, a mistake. Why nonsense? Because they presuppose the supernatural.

    If you're serious in your question, then you cannot avoid the work required to answer it. If some discussion is really a game, then it's not about whether a topic is nonsense, but rather whether it conforms to the rules of the game. If it's "serious" - what ever that means - then Hitchen's razor stands. You may not like that, but "liking" is an aspect of playing a game, which a "serious" discussion is not.

    If it's really serious, no quotes at all, you just may have to kill your adversary. The archetype of this situation is Europe, 1920s through 1939. Or more currently, some fanatics.

    In a more ordinary sense, first, ask yourself, "Does what I'm hearing/reading make sense?" If you do not have at least a gut feeling for that, then sit down and be quiet. Is it a matter of fact or presumably informed opinion, e.g., is 2+2=4, or 5? Or, is it better to attack at dawn? That is, what kind of a claim is it?

    In your evaluation of the claim, do you have to hand the tools needed to evaluate it? Do you need special expertise?

    Finally, Aristotle, et al, argues that the character, good will, and good sense (arete, eunoia, phronesis) of the speaker are determinants of the value of claims that require judgment and action.

    In short, if proof or support for another's claims fall on you, ask why?
  • Damir Ibrisimovic
    119
    It's about how we treat theories when there is no evidence.Pattern-chaser

    Basically "theories" without evidence are not theories. The lack of the evidence would take the speculation as a thesis at best... :)

    Enjoy the day, :cool:
  • Wayfarer
    6.5k
    I think there's a certain lack of sensitivity to the actual subject of philosophy in this OP. I mean, if you consider the Socratic dialogues, the main concerns are humanistic - the nature of justice, virtue, beauty, and goodness, for example. Socrates contemplating his imminent death but being unperturbed by it. Examples could be given from other traditions as well. I suppose what they have in common is that they're existential, in that they're concerned with 'the meaning of existence' in a general and broad sense. From those concerns, they reason their way to various kinds of proposed solutions, often in terms of what constitutes a life well lived, what is really worth knowing or doing, what the model life might be, and so on.

    As Nagel remarked of Plato, in his essay Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament, that:

    I am using the term “religious temperament” in a way that I have not invented (though I do not know its source), but that may seem illegitimate to those who are really religious. But I think it is the appropriate name for a disposition to seek a view of the world that can play a certain role in the inner life – a role that for some people is occupied by religion.

    Whether anything like this was part of the religion of fourth century Athens I do not know. But Plato was clearly concerned not only with the state of his soul, but also with his relation to the universe at the deepest level. Plato’s metaphysics was not intended to produce merely a detached understanding of reality. His motivation in philosophy was in part to achieve a kind of understanding that would connect him (and therefore every human being) to the whole of reality – intelligibly and if possible satisfyingly.

    So out of this kind of concern, you can find some kinds of criteria that aren't really objectively or scientifically definable, but, given the appropriate sensibility, still meaningful, even deeply meaningful. And furthermore, I think you will find in many of the traditional philosophies (Greek, Semitic, Indian) the notion of the 'illusoriness of the world' is less like the sci-fi visions represented in The Matrix or Conception, and more like a sense of disenchantment with what culture and society, or 'the world', has to offer.

    Whereas in purely scientific endeavours, the terms of reference are much narrower - you have a left-hand side, which is your equation or prediction, and a right-hand side, which is your outcome, experiment or observation. But the point about science generally is that it is *not* really questioning the nature of lived existence as such. Science is after all 'natural philosophy', and natural philosophy starts with certain assumptions. I think many of the puzzles and conundrums in this respect revolve around confusing the methodological naturalism which underpins the scientific attitude, with a metaphysical position, which it actually isn't. But because of the way that science has tended to move into the vacuum created by the rejection of traditional metaphysics, then we tend to look to science for the kinds of philosophical answers that it is not actually able to provide.
  • Πετροκότσυφας
    853


    Socratic dialogues are not all one and the same. And the fact that lots of stuff in the dialogues are theoria, philosophical exercises valued as such, can be inferred from the fact that often no conclusion is reached on the level of discourse. They terminate in aporia. Yet, life goes on. And the disenchantment with culture and society type of the "illusoriness of the world", at least in Ancient Greece, is mostly expressed through tragic theater (and comedy), not philosophy. These were the popular attractions, not Plato's cosmology, which was elitist and for the chosen few.

    Science is after all 'natural philosophy', and natural philosophy starts with certain assumptions.Wayfarer

    As does every philosophy which wants to get off the ground. To start doubting you have to assume certain things, you can't doubt all at once. Which is precisely why we can get rid of scenarios and theories that try to do that.
  • Jake
    287
    So, in the context of this discussion, how do we tell what is nonsense and what is not? That's rather the core of this discussion. How do we tell, logically and rationally, whether a topic is nonsense?Pattern-chaser

    I would start with this. Do we need to know if a theory is nonsense? If there is no pressing need to answer the question, I'd vote for wide ranging open mindedness. Most of today's science was a crackpot theory at some point.
  • Pattern-chaser
    375
    Do we need to know if a theory is nonsense? If there is no pressing need to answer the question, I'd vote for wide ranging open mindedness.Jake

    That would get my vote too. :up: I only used the term "nonsense" because @timwood used it first, and I repeated his term. I am questioning several posters who seem to think that an assertion (unjustified!) of 'nonsense' is sufficient reason to discard a theory which accounts for all available evidence.... :chin:

    It's about how we treat theories when there is no evidence. — Pattern-chaser


    Basically "theories" without evidence are not theories. The lack of the evidence would take the speculation as a thesis at best... :)
    Damir Ibrisimovic

    OK, theses, not theories. But you have not answered, just quibbled about terminology. :roll: Can we justify - logically - dismissing theses which account for all available evidence, just because we don't like them? :chin:
  • Pattern-chaser
    375
    I think there's a certain lack of sensitivity to the actual subject of philosophy in this OP.Wayfarer

    I'm sorry, but I don't see it. And your words don't seem to be helping me do so. What we do with no-evidence-theories is an element of the logical and structured thought which is the only factor (I think) common to all schools and disciplines of philosophy. The brain-in-a-vat theory is a good example because it can account for all available evidence, but our knee-jerk nonconscious-mind response is to dismiss it without further consideration. In this example, there is no logical justification for this. In the everyday world, this human ability is more useful, and more often correct, if only pragmatically so.
  • Ciceronianus the White
    728

    I'm inclined to follow C.S. Peirce when it comes to this kind of thing. Simply put, the question whether we're brains in a vat, and similar questions or claims, are frivolous. If there's no reason to think something, it's pointless to think it. Peirce put it well, I think.

    "But the mere putting of a proposition into the interrogative form does not stimulate the mind to any struggle after belief. There must be a real and living doubt, and without this all discussion is idle."

    "Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we don't doubt in our hearts."

    We deal with theories without evidence by testing them. If they can't be tested, we move on.
  • Pattern-chaser
    375
    We deal with theories without evidence by testing them. If they can't be tested, we move on.Ciceronianus the White

    But how do we justify, logically, this "moving on"? Please quantify your emotional assertions with some logic. Place a numerical value - and justify it! - on the probability of (say) being a brain-in-a-vat. And if you can't, then please admit that you choose to dismiss this particular theory for emotional, and not rational/logical reasons. :smile:

    It was a big shock when I admitted this to myself, some time ago, and I fought against it. But if we apply - and rely on - logic, we must follow it to its conclusion, even if we'd rather not. And logic says that a plausible theory that can't be falsified or disproven is (at least until the arrival of new evidence) acceptable for use, and may not be casually dismissed.

    Simply put, the question whether we're brains in a vat, and similar questions or claims, are frivolous.Ciceronianus the White

    Oh, I agree. :smile: But probably not for the same reasons you do. :wink:
  • Ciceronianus the White
    728
    But how do we justify, logically, this "moving on"?Pattern-chaser

    I'm not sure I know what you mean, here. Are you saying that if something is logically possible, there is no reasonable basis on which it may be disregarded?

    And logic says that a plausible theory that can't be falsified or disproven is (at least until the arrival of new evidence) acceptable for use, and may not be casually dismissed.Pattern-chaser

    I think the significant word in this otherwise absolute statement is "plausible." A plausible theory is one that is reasonable, probable, feasible. So, it would first be necessary for the theory in question--e.g., that we're brains in a vat--to be plausible. If you maintain that we're brains in a vat, you must establish that is a plausible theory before you can say it may not be casually dismissed. You have the burden of proof--Onus probandi incumbit ei qui dicit, non ei qui negat.

    I may have a greater regard for considerations of utility in making judgments than you do. But It seems to me your position is based on a logical fallacy, i.e. the argument from, or appeal to, ignorance.
  • Blue Lux
    480
    However, there are symbolic ideas which lack explanation or knowledge, and for this precise reason they are symbolic.

    There are too 'collective representations' in symbols which according to skeptics have merely been fabricated and according to believers have been divinely revealed or inspired. There are some collective representations, symbols, such as the cross, the sun, the eye, and other artistic motifs that represent things in the mind that are absolutely not logical, and grounds for many for rejection. This is the terrible result of a consciousness opposed to the unconscious, which is structured more like dreams, which do not adhere to the 'clarity' of the waking state.

    Both the believer and the skeptic are wrong. The mind is not the philosophy of logic, or epistemology. The mind with its desires, purposes, fantasies, ITS EXISTENCE, is fundamentally metaphorical, artistic, and ambiguous in its expression.

    A theory that does not have evidence in the formal sense of a philosophical dialectic or debate may not be, in its solidity, subject to the same classification as would another theory, say, of gravity. A theory of reincarnation is comprised of archetypal ideas and unconscious symbols which absolutely transcend the logical discourse on such a subject, and encompass the inner workings of the mind, which absolutely can never be recreated, but felt and perhaps expressed... Only in art, poetry, perhaps theology.

    Philosophical and scientific debate about truth seems to be so out of touch with the reality of oneself. It seems more like Hegel's master/slave dialectic.
  • Blue Lux
    480
    Can you read Latin fluently?
  • tim wood
    1.1k
    Then it's all a matter of definition at one or more levels, isn't it.
  • Wayfarer
    6.5k
    The brain-in-a-vat theory is a good example because it can account for all available evidence, but our knee-jerk nonconscious-mind response is to dismiss it without further consideration.Pattern-chaser

    A further thought - do you think there’s a resemblance between what you’re saying here, and the celebrated anecdote about Samuel Johnson? This is that, after attending one of Bishop Berkeley’s lectures on the non-reality of matter, Johnson was said to have kicked against a large boulder outside the premisses, saying to those he was with ‘I refute it [i.e. Berkeley’s philosophy] thus’.

    I have seen many discussions of that exclamation over the years. My view is that Johnson’s action does not actually refute Berkeley’s principle of esse est percipe [‘to be, is to be perceived’]. But it seems very similar to the kind of reaction you have in mind.
  • Caldwell
    163
    Can we justify - logically - dismissing theses which account for all available evidence, just because we don't like them?Pattern-chaser
    You know it's okay to quote the participants of this thread verbatim. I don't see anyone here saying he is dismissing the theory cause he dislikes it.

    I like the brain-in-a-vat theory, but I don't defend it.
    Maybe I should ask you. What what would be the proper treatment of such theories after they'd been argued a thousand times and no one had managed to escape the vat universe to show its reward?

    Besides dismissing them, or calling them frivolous, how should such theories guide us? -- that we shouldn't be choosing at all? I am inclined to believe that such a theory's adherent could also be returning the favor by calling our claims of real trees, roads, and water ridiculous and frivolous because such claims lack proof besides the mere existence of trees, roads, and water -- which, by the way, are perceptible by our senses. What would that sound like to you? -- foolishness, because our senses are playing tricks on us!

    Let us also conveniently deny that we could actually see the vat, brain, and tubes.
  • Akanthinos
    1k


    The brain-in-a-vat scenario is not a theory, it is a thought experiment. And it doesnt concern itself with weither or not we can tell or if it is happening to us, but rather about the epistemological implications of such a scenario. Is the brain right or wrong in believing what he believes to be true, considering he truly is receiving the impulses leading to those beliefs, although in the end it's just an elaborate mascarade?

    It has none of the components of a theory. It doesnt pretend to be one. It is not about ontology, but epistemology.
  • Ciceronianus the White
    728
    I wish I could, but no. I have enough knowledge of Latin words, vocabulary, to arrive at the meaning of Latin sentences in some, perhaps many, cases--the meaning of the phrase I quoted in a prior post, for example, is clear enough. But I wouldn't call myself fluent. It's something I like to try to do, though, and perhaps sometime I will be.
  • Pattern-chaser
    375
    But how do we justify, logically, this "moving on"?Pattern-chaser

    I'm not sure I know what you mean, here.Ciceronianus the White

    I mean: how will you justify this "moving on"? I'm asking for a formal, logically constructed and argued, justification.

    Are you saying that if something is logically possible, there is no reasonable basis on which it may be disregarded?Ciceronianus the White

    Yes, absolutely. But I'm not saying that any/all such theories must be investigated, or even considered. Only that they may not justifiably be disregarded or discarded, according to simple logic.
  • Pattern-chaser
    375
    And logic says that a plausible theory that can't be falsified or disproven is (at least until the arrival of new evidence) acceptable for use, and may not be casually dismissed. — Pattern-chaser


    I think the significant word in this otherwise absolute statement is "plausible." A plausible theory is one that is reasonable, probable, feasible. So, it would first be necessary for the theory in question--e.g., that we're brains in a vat--to be plausible. If you maintain that we're brains in a vat, you must establish that is a plausible theory before you can say it may not be casually dismissed.
    Ciceronianus the White

    OK, I chose the word unwisely. Instead of "plausible" I should've said "possible".

    You have the burden of proof--Onus probandi incumbit ei qui dicit, non ei qui negat.Ciceronianus the White

    Don't start me off! I acknowledge no such burden. Like everyone else here, I submit my opinions for the consideration of others. But I am not required to prove anything. Just as you are not required to consider posts that you consider inadequately proven. "Burden of proof" disputes belong in the playground, where they should stay.

    I may have a greater regard for considerations of utility in making judgments than you do.Ciceronianus the White

    Perhaps; perhaps not. My purpose in exploring this avenue of absolute and unbending logic is to justify my own pragmatism. The world is uncertain, so we need to find alternatives to relying on certainty. Hence my recommendation (elsewhere) that we choose theories (the ones that come without evidence) according to their utility or value (to us).

    It seems to me your position is based on a logical fallacy, i.e. the argument from, or appeal to, ignorance.Ciceronianus the White
    Really? I can't see it. Perhaps I'm just being daft. It happens from time to time. :wink:
  • Ciceronianus the White
    728
    You'll apparently be surprised to learn that when I make a claim, I do so with every expectation that I should be able to defend it. It seems we may differ in that respect as well.

    I venture to make a suggestion. If you make an assertion, here or elsewhere, that you're unwilling or unable to support, you should make that clear when you do so. Then, those foolish enough to question your claim (which you invited people to respond to) rather than ignore it would at least have been given warning that you don't think you need to support it.

    You're not required to accept this suggestion, of course, but as it would save others time and trouble, it would be a kindness. Vale.
  • Akanthinos
    1k
    Jesus bloody Christ.

    The brain in a vat scenario doesn't describe a theory

    There are a world of difference between a thought experiment and a theory. If you ever wanted to answer "but that's dumb, that won't ever happen" to a thought experiment, then you missed its point. If you did the same to a theory, you would raise valid concern about the reach of said research.
  • LuckilyDefinitive
    3
    Correct me if I am wrong, but wouldn't you call that a hypothesis?
  • Akanthinos
    1k


    Not even, although it is kinda closer, on the metacognitive level. Still, Putnam's argument was about putting to light certain things about our epistemology in relations to our views on how directly connected our beliefs are to the world. That is all that a thought experiment does, it sets a scenario in a way to bring our attention to certain things we normally dont notice. Dennett calls them intuition-pumps, and I think the term fits well. But you need to be careful about how much pumping you do. Just like a thought experiment can bring to light certain aspects of a philosophical problem we didnt notice before (like in the trolley dilemma), it can also obscure the more relevant aspects of the problem, or simply throw you down an infinite discursive loop, which is why in the end Putnam himself said the brain in a vat argument didnt work.

    Its not a theory. Its more like a linguistic or cognitive puzzle box. It doesnt posit new knoewledge, it wraps and unwraps previously held beliefs on themselves to view them in a new light.
  • Pattern-chaser
    375
    You'll apparently be surprised to learn that when I make a claim, I do so with every expectation that I should be able to defend it. It seems we may differ in that respect as well.Ciceronianus the White

    Ah, it seems I have mis-spoken. Again. Oh well, let's try to put things right. :wink: You could be responding to one of two things, and I'm not sure which, so I'll reply to both, if I may?

    The burden of proof thing has always annoyed me. It smacks to me of point-scoring, and 'winning' arguments even when my argument is wrong (and maybe even when I know it's wrong!). I consider our discussions here to be co-operative investigations, not fights. If there is any 'burden', it lies with all of us. But this doesn't mean that I cannot or will not respond to things I have said (or mis-said!), only that I don't acknowledge any 'burden'.

    Alternatively, you might be referring to my pushing you to offer a logical justification for your preferred strategy of "moving on". In doing so, I am trying to get you to do one of two things. Either to admit that there is no logical justification, nor can there be, or (better! :smile:) to tell me where I've misunderstood, and explain how there is a logical justification that I have missed....

    :smile: :up:
  • Pattern-chaser
    375
    Does it really matter whether we call it a thought experiment, a theory, a hypothesis or a fairy story? Quibbling over the label we use to describe it just distracts attention from the topic. Maybe I'm wrong; it's happened many times before now. :wink: But disputing the label is maybe avoiding the issue, and the topic here? Instead, can we wonder together about how we could/should treat theories/etc/etc that don't come with evidence? :chin: :smile:
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