• I like sushi
    2.4k
    Question 1: Regarding the limitations of science and Husserlian Phenomenology

    As science is orientated around producing experimental data that actively absconds from ‘subjectivity’ (in the sense that objectivity is the guiding principle) what is there for scientific disciplines, such as psychology, to offer in terms of shining a light on ‘subjective’ contents?

    This question is based on Husserl’s critique of modern psychology and his attempts to point toward a ‘subjective science’ as opposed to, but NOT in opposition to, the objectivity of science (see ‘Crisis’)

    And/also, I heard an interview on Philosophy Now where the question of ‘science’ and ‘logic’ was touched on briefly. As Husserlian Phenomenology was concerned with the ‘origin’ of logic how exactly do you relate logic/mathematics to science? Is this essentially the area that defines the ‘limitations’ of what is or isn’t ‘science’?

    I was also a little confused by someone stating in that interview (not yourself; yet you seemed to be in some agreement?) that some ‘phenomenological’ approach was ‘illusionary’ and ‘silly’. Granted this appears to have been in reference more or less to more ‘literary’ ideas of ‘phenomenology rather than Husserlian Phenomoenlogy - clarification and comments on this point would be nice.

    Note: I view Husserl as making attempts to undercover a rational means of finding a ‘subjective’ measurement of phenomenal items that fail to fall into regular means of ‘measuring’ - meaning as an approach to delineate subjective contexts. As a brief example of distinction (a rough outline of ‘intentionality’) I’ll offer Mental Movement from Physical Movement. By this I mean when I pick up a chair the environment ‘mentally moves’ around this focus of attention, where physically the ‘movement’ is the chair within the environment, or as another example looking ‘into’ a mirror being differentiated from looking ‘at’ the mirror - the point being the empirical data in both circumstances is identical yet the conscious experiences highlighted are delineated.



    Question 2: Regarding the use of philosophy for science and the application of dichotomies and magnitudes

    As you appear to have stated in the discussion with Dennett and Krauss, you believe the use of philosophy to be how to examine questions and sort out what questions are of use and what limits a question may or may not have. Leaving aside its function as a means of putting worded questions into hierarchies of importance/use, in terms of human experience what has philosophy to say outside of the Husserlian Phenomenological approach that the sciences don’t already claim ‘authority’ over?

    My view here is that philosophy is generally engaged in demarcating, and selecting, isolated and vague dichotomies and magnitudes - in linguistics choosing what ‘antonym’ (the ‘gradable’, ‘complimentary pair’, and/or ‘relational pair’) fits and how/if measurements can be made in an accurate/‘universal’ enough manner. What objective science cannot measure with any accuracy (morality and more abstract matters) is left to the philosophers to refine into manageable ‘questions’.

    Note: I am referring to ‘science’ here mostly as a methodology based around experimentation (natural sciences) focused upon ‘objectivity’ through assumed/grounded universal ‘dichotomies and magnitudes’ - I’m smuggling in the whole ‘logic’ issue in this rough definition.


    Thanks for your interest in this forum.

    Bonus Question

    The short version ...

    What is the most outrageous/unconventional idea/thought you’ve ever had in your field of interest?

    The longer version ...

    What is your most whacky, speculative and/or contentious opinion/view/interest? Basically what ‘out there’ thought do you carry around that you wouldn’t necessarily put reasonable weight behind, but that nevertheless holds a place at the back of your mind, be it in a positive or negative capacity?
  • MPigliucci
    1
    This is a lot of ground to cover, and I'm really not into phenomenology, Husserlian or otherwise. But let's see.

    Science is limited just like any other human enterprise is limited. It's good for certain things, not so good for other things. The scientistic mistake consists in treating every problem as a nail to be handled with the only tool available: science's hammer.

    That is why the so-called social sciences are irreducible - in my opinion - to the natural sciences: they are a combination of natural science (insofar as one can carry out third-person research through experiments and observations) and humanities (insofar as one depends on individual, subjective testimony or input). Some scientists seem to have a problem with that, I don't, it's just the way it is.

    What I find problematic, however, is some people in the humanities who claim that subjectivity is not just a limitation of science (it is), but also the way forward to some sort of alternative that goes "beyond" science. I think Husserlian phenomenology falls close to this position. The problem is that the whole approach seems to me to be predicated on not taking seriously one's own objections: if subjectivity and first-person experience cannot be treated by science then the answer isn't to create another "science" (or uber-science) that can handle it, but rather to accept that we as human beings are bounded to use a combination of third and first person approaches in order to arrive at understanding.

    Which brings me to what I think is the point of modern philosophy: here I agree with Wilfrid Sellars, who suggested that philosophy is the discipline that can make sense simultaneously of what he called the scientific and the manifest images of the world. The first is the "image" of how tings are that we get from science; the second the "image" we get from commonsense, personal experience, and so forth. The domain of science is confined to the first; the domain of much of the humanities to the second. Philosophy is uniquely positioned to straddle the two - which is necessary to arrive at as complete an understanding of the world as we can manage.

    For instance: values and prescriptive judgments (you "ought" to do this) are nowhere to be found in the vocabulary of the natural sciences. They are not part of physics, chemistry, biology, and so forth. And yet they are necessary for human living. We won't "reduce" them to science by scanning people's brains and pointing to the neural correlates of value judgments, as interesting as such research actually is. We need, instead, what Sellars called a "stereoscopic" view of things: balancing scientific and manifest images, shifting from one to the other as needed, but never giving complete priority of one over the other.
  • I like sushi
    2.4k
    I’m told my writing style is often obscure/convoluted so if you’re short on time please just jump ahead to Second Half.

    Science is limited just like any other human enterprise is limited. It's good for certain things, not so good for other things. The scientistic mistake consists in treating every problem as a nail to be handled with the only tool available: science's hammer.MPigliucci

    Agreed. Heuristics are heuristics. An artist views the world as ‘art’ and a psychologist as a world of ‘psyche’. Psychological fixedness is the tendency to use what works well in one application and it assume it can be applied elsewhere with equal success. A hammer is good for hitting nails and smashing skulls, it has extended applications beyond the intention of its maker when placed on a construction site or on a battlefield.

    To run a little further with this - although, I am suspicious of analogies - such ‘tools’ are generally about increasing ‘efficiency’ and/or ‘accuracy’.

    That is why the so-called social sciences are irreducible - in my opinion - to the natural sciences: they are a combination of natural science (insofar as one can carry out third-person research through experiments and observations) and humanities (insofar as one depends on individual, subjective testimony or input). Some scientists seem to have a problem with that, I don't, it's just the way it is.

    What I find problematic, however, is some people in the humanities who claim that subjectivity is not just a limitation of science (it is), but also the way forward to some sort of alternative that goes "beyond" science. I think Husserlian phenomenology falls close to this position. The problem is that the whole approach seems to me to be predicated on not taking seriously one's own objections: if subjectivity and first-person experience cannot be treated by science then the answer isn't to create another "science" (or uber-science) that can handle it, but rather to accept that we as human beings are bounded to use a combination of third and first person approaches in order to arrive at understanding.
    MPigliucci

    As a counter, I could say that people once viewed Newton’s ability to accurately predict the trajectory of a ball as ‘magic’. To them, given their limited scope - mostly absent of scientific thought - was what he was doing was irreducible to their eyes. I would say it was. Multiple paradigm shifts in human thought throughout the ages have a tendency to make us think the ‘obvious’ as arrived at with ease. I guess this is more or less about where we decide to draw a line of ‘healthy skepticism’. And of course, my little example can be used against the same position by pointing out that Newtonian physics isn’t ‘wrong’ merely not as accurate as what was later discovered - it wasn’t supplanted.

    From what I understand of Husserl he was concerned with exploring perspectives to reinforce the natural sciences, to bring psychology over to attend more readily to ‘subjectivity’ rather than have it taken over entirely by measurements and reductionism. His concern was ‘consciousness’ and we’ve seen that neuroscience has had many people claiming consciousness is merely a ‘material’ item. I actually stumbled across Husserl via Varela.

    Second Half

    Which brings me to what I think is the point of modern philosophy: here I agree with Wilfrid Sellars, who suggested that philosophy is the discipline that can make sense simultaneously of what he called the scientific and the manifest images of the world. The first is the "image" of how tings are that we get from science; the second the "image" we get from commonsense, personal experience, and so forth. The domain of science is confined to the first; the domain of much of the humanities to the second. Philosophy is uniquely positioned to straddle the two - which is necessary to arrive at as complete an understanding of the world as we can manage.

    For instance: values and prescriptive judgments (you "ought" to do this) are nowhere to be found in the vocabulary of the natural sciences. They are not part of physics, chemistry, biology, and so forth. And yet they are necessary for human living. We won't "reduce" them to science by scanning people's brains and pointing to the neural correlates of value judgments, as interesting as such research actually is. We need, instead, what Sellars called a "stereoscopic" view of things: balancing scientific and manifest images, shifting from one to the other as needed, but never giving complete priority of one over the other.
    MPigliucci

    What come to the front of my mind a lot are the terms ‘dichotomy’ and ‘magnitude’. The two ‘images’ given above seem to be ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ - if not, no matter. This I have found to be one of the greatest misconceptions in colloquial speech. It’s a false dichotomy in the sense that people frame them in an absolute sense - like you said, we cannot hold to one without the other. The issue here, for scientific method, is the adherence to ‘objectivity’ - the illusion of absolute - in order to bring reductionism to the fore as the primary means of magnifying understanding about a particular item under rather specific, and ‘unnatural’, circumstances (this is not to deny the obvious uses gained by this methodology nor to say scientists are unaware of this). Really the ‘objective’ is the ‘intersubjective’ if we are to understand a world of different items about which we cross-reference and orientate ourself. In this same adherence to ‘subjectivity’ - another illusion of absolute - is necessarily the means of changes in efficiency brought about by ‘intersubjectivity’. Hopefully this isn’t anything extraordinary to your mind and you are generous with any possible misinterpretation.

    So, in terms of philosophy and science what does ‘philosophy’ have to offer in terms of ‘personal experience’? It is clear enough that the cognitive neurosciences - reductionism being part and parcel of its tool kit - pays attention to this (although researchers like Koch certainly approach the issue more rigidly).

    Marked in the quote above (italics), is the main point of my interest. How do we balance? I believe the two distinctions outlined are essentially incompatible in our current paradigm of thought because we’ve not developed the concepts that are universally communicable enough. In science/math/logic the rigidity of universal terms can be interchanged quite readily - the abstractions we make are not so easy though as we have refined these problem solving techniques from ‘physically’/‘socially’ grounded situations. Its common psychological knowledge that we’re just not very good in day to day life at making logical computations unless they’re presented in a meaningful narrative.

    For anyone else reading, here is an explanation of what I’m talking about (Steven Pinker): https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zJNeFtIDsE0

    In science the ‘ought to’ is certainly part of any experiment. Scientists have expectations and set up their field of play to measure specific phenomenon. I’m not trying to be too pedantic here, only to guard against missing unseen areas. The experimental scientist operates in the sphere of applicable measurements. The philosopher, so it seems to me, operates more or less in the realms of what science cannot reach via accurate empirical measurement - be it through modeling based on current understanding or via applying pure mathematical discoveries to natural phenomenon with skeptical curiosity.

    I think over the past several decades philosophy has shifted more and more towards reductionism in terms of human interactions almost as if to try and answer questions rather than analysis them or ask them. I mean this as I see philosophy today to be more about reductionism in terms of semiotics - which then necessarily get taken up by empirical data and modeling in terms of neurological research.

    I was listening to a lecture by Robert Paul Wolf. He suggested that there are generally two ways of looking at what philosophy is for, the first being a way to communicate a complex idea simply, and the second being to communicate a simple idea in a complex way. I would learn more to the later as I’ve found oversimplification to be to shut off certain assumptions that often need greater attention. Of course I could present equally solid reasons for the opposite thought, and it is the ‘balance’ (I like to say ‘betweenness’ a lot) that remains the key, as far as I can reason, to shifting communication (through ‘language’ - in its broadest definition) so as to allow human thought the opportunity to create useful paradigm shifts.

    Anyway, as an attempt to sum up for now, I would say ‘objectivity’ is a bigger problem for the ‘sciences’ as it doesn’t exist (it’s merely the ‘intersubjective’ framed in an ideality of ‘objective’) - a subtle difference of language that creates a certain personal regard for the world, and ‘on the hand’ (another dichotic idiom that probably does more to obscure investigation than supplement it) I would say ‘subjectivity’ is a bigger problem for the ‘humanities’ as it doesn’t exist either (again, its merely the ‘intersubjective’ directed toward experience framed as an ideality of ‘subjective’). None of this is to say that there is no use in framing perspectives as ‘pure subjectivity’ or as ‘pure objectivity’ it is more about recognising that they are ideations of cognition not opponents/opposites. So when I’ve talked at what I believe Husserl was looking at with his ‘science of consciousness’ or ‘pure subjectivity’ I don’t for a second see it as some ‘other’ uber-science, but as a pulling back from viewing the world as dichotomies and magnitudes, rather than as experience. The curious thing here is how the essential nature of intersubjectivity - of delineating ‘objects’/‘items’ of experience - is orientated among boundaries that automatically set up a world of dichotomies. Within language, as I hinted at in the first post, there can be quite different views on what antonyms are ‘gradable’, ‘complimentary’ or ‘relational’. Some seem to straddle more than one and the inclination is then to mostly dismiss such due to ‘context’. Which brings us full-circle back to the objective regard of science, having set contexts of application.

    I’ll leave it there. I’m trying to dig out of you thoughts on language application, mental content and heuristics. Its a difficult subject matter to approach as ‘words’ are limited as much as any other ‘tool’.

    Thanks if you got this far! Hope it wasn’t a complete waste of your time if you did :)

    Look forward to hearing your thoughts about stoicism. It’s not a subject I’m massively interested in, but hope you open up my curiosity.
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