• apokrisis
    5k
    How many times must empiricism be killed?Srap Tasmaner

    You mention pragmatism. But maybe Peircean pragmatism leads somewhere truly radical because it says our "reality" lies all curled up inside its own "acts of measurement".

    Our realism is so indirect that it involves ignoring the "physics" and learning it to replace it with a system of sign - a semiotic umwelt.

    Empiricism is thus a way construct "ourselves" as observers making observations. We form conceptual theories, validate their predictions, and move on, in a way that completely removes us from the noumenal actuality.

    This would be the modelling relation approach - an enactive model of neuropsychology. We see the world as coloured as a way to shortcut the process of pattern recognition.

    The fact that light has no colour is not then a problem for our "empirical realism". The whole point of a neurological level empiricism is to be able to replace a brute physical response - like the excitation of some random protein by a photon - with the "reality" of a personally meaningful signal.

    Our photopigments are there in our retinas, set up as switches to be tripped. Physics can get left the other side of this barrier, this "epistemic cut". Acts of measurement start the business that counts, which is updating a neural control model doing informational pattern processing.

    So empiricism sells itself as a realist exercise. It is revealing the actual world. Yet acts of measurement are a way to block out that reality, or at least reduce it to a tidy triggering of conceptual switches.

    That is true of life and mind from the ground up. It starts with the encoding machinery of genes and neurons. Then it becomes what humans do through the codes of words and numbers.

    Empirical acts of measurement speak to the fact that there is conceptual modelling in place. And so idealism kinds of wins if empiricism is followed through to its proper conclusion.

    But of course, an idealism that is rooted in the world it models, not some free-floating idealism that could be its own separate thing.
  • flaco
    15
    "Bayesian brain" talk sounds interesting. Any handy references?

    OK. Let's look at evolution. Let's say that we get an evolutionary advantage from creating models in our brain and monitoring the effectiveness of the models for obtaining food and avoiding close calls of becoming food. We modify those models and check to see if they become more or less effective for achieving our survival goals. Maybe creating those models is an innate feature of our brains. Maybe creating the models is subconscious. Would that fit your idea of a conceptual framework generated along empiricist lines? It seems like this formulation requires an innate capability rather than a blank slate. Can you lay out a scenario that is illustrative of your concept of a conceptual framework that is generated along empiricist lines?
  • apokrisis
    5k
    I brought him up because there's a lot of "Bayesian brain" talk these days.-- in other words, don't worry about it, your brain is doing math for you that you wouldn't even understand,Srap Tasmaner

    That's a misrepresentation. The brain is not doing maths at all. It is trying to predict its "sensory inputs".

    It is saying things like that flower should smell like a rose, that fuzzy patch of grey is probably the cat. And so when you stick your nose to sniff the plastic flower, or stick out a toe to prod the snoozing ferret, you can have the surprised feeling of your "reality" being meaningfully contradicted.

    A theory about the state of the world just got disproven and so your running state of conception has to be updated to fit the new evidence.

    I was just wondering if we could imagine an arrangement that feels to us like we just have this conceptual framework, but underneath it is being generated along empiricist lines. We have these two levels; the classic empiricists didn't.Srap Tasmaner

    That sounds more like the modelling relations approach.

    There has to be some interface between our neurobiological modelling and the physical reality it is meant to regulate. The conceptual part is that we do operate with some world theory. The empirical part is we do put out some set of logical switches that are designed to be physically triggered.

    But my argument is that the empirical is a product of our conceptual needs. We arrange our measuring so that it speaks to some state of prediction that was in play - the guts of the Bayesian Brain approach.
  • GodlessGirl
    27
    Empiricism' has as many meanings as there are empiricists. But if we take empiricism as the view that all knowledge derives ultimately from sense experience, which has some claims to be the standard view, there is no inconsistency in recognising a role for reason. We can reason about what we derive from experience. For instance, without experience we would not know what a colour is or know that red, green and blue are colours. However, given our experience of colours we can deduce that if X is red then X is coloured. We can recognise logical relations between concepts, in other words.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.4k
    Maybe creating those models is an innate feature of our brains. Maybe creating the models is subconscious. Would that fit your idea of a conceptual framework generated along empiricist lines? It seems like this formulation requires an innate capability rather than a blank slate. Can you lay out a scenario that is illustrative of your concept of a conceptual framework that is generated along empiricist lines?flaco

    Oddly enough I think I can! Maybe. (And I do think empiricism is fine with there being some inborn capacities, often reason, psychological mechanisms like "association" and memory, all that. Just no knowledge, no conceptual framework. So I think a modeling capacity in the brain is fine, so long as you're not born with a model that exceeds your experience in utero.)

    This is more or less the territory I expected us to end up in, and part of what I wanted to explore was whether this sort of view is a sort of empiricism (most empiricisms also feature some sort of representational realism, for example) or if it's hostile to empiricism somehow.

    I'd really like to see us begin, a little, to approach the big stuff: space, time, causality, induction, persons and objects. One of those has a particularly memorable role in the history of empiricism.

    We have these two levels; the classic empiricists didn't.Srap Tasmaner

    Hume takes himself to have shown that there is, and can be, no rational justification for our reliance on induction. And then he offers his "sceptical solution": habit.

    Now here we are, talking in part about stuff that System 1 gets up to that's below our level of awareness -- certainly not the result of any conscious reasoning, and we know not always conforming to our standards of rationality -- and what in particular is System 1 the home of? Habit.

    So we could, without too much special pleading, look at Hume's empiricism as recognizing how System 1 grounds the conscious rational work we do in System 2.
    Reveal
    (@flaco, you'll have to keep an eye on my use of Kahneman -- the material is fascinating but I found the writing in TF&S almost unbearable, so I only ever got halfway through it! I feel bad.)
    And if that's reasonable, then maybe the modern view is exactly the sort of empiricism Hume had in mind.

    But is it? System 1 chugging along -- it's responsible for our model of reality right? We might be able to see how habit underwrites induction -- there would be mechanisms there honestly below my level of interest -- and maybe, maybe, maybe that gets us somewhere near causality, maybe even persons and objects, but space and time? There I hit a wall. It's not hard to see how these would be part of the model -- it's hard to see how they could not be! Or, rather, it's hard to imagine what a model even is if it doesn't just assume these. But does the model "come up" with them? I can barely make sense of the question. (And I don't remember offhand how Hume dealt with space and time!)
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.4k
    On my model, the disputes can be internal to one person. There are multiple options and you're not sure which to believe: how do you choose? It's the same exact problem as different people with different opinions trying to decide which if either is correct.Pfhorrest

    Hold that thought, if you would. -- I don't think we've at all given intersubjectivity its due and it's not immediately in the offing. I will say your claim that it's the "same exact problem" has not been considered very convincing over the years. Point being: doesn't matter unless we do spend some time on intersubjectivity.
  • Gregory
    1.7k
    There is no system of thought you can completely shelter from absurdity. Hume was just saying anything is possible. I prefer to think of and focus my intuition on probabilities instead of trying to find certain knowledge of where we get our knowledge. All long as your grounded in reality you can live with doubts. Good thread though
  • Olivier5
    353
    a human being must be able to construct a conceptual apparatus out of the only material she has, her individual sense experienceSrap Tasmaner

    You can’t make sense of anything without a little priming of the conceptual pump. We are born with an innate natural logic that allows us to think about our observations and draw lessons from them, as well as with a capacity to model a Euclidian space (which is why non-Euclidian geometries are counter-intuitive). We are also born with hard-wired instincts and tropisms, just like any other animal species: we like certain things (eg the taste of honey) and dislike others (the sight of blood) innately.

    Think of it as our operating system. Computers are not blank slates; a computer without any code in it wouldn’t be able to ‘start’, let alone ‘learn’ anything new. Same for us.
  • Pop
    293
    You can’t make sense of anything without a little priming of the conceptual pump. We are born with an innate natural logic that allows us to think about our observations and draw lessons from them, as well as with a capacity to model a Euclidian space (which is why non-Euclidian geometries are counter-intuitive). We are also born with hard-wired instincts and tropisms, just like any other animal species: we like certain things (eg the taste of honey) and dislike others (the sight of blood) innately.Olivier5

    I would agree, and would add that we are born with emotion - the essential ingredient of experience!
    It seems DNA information contributes substantially to our knowledge.
  • TheMadFool
    7.3k
    I'm going to juxtapose my view on empiricism with my view on rationalism and what better way to do that than with a paradox.

    Zeno's Achilles and the tortoise paradox is a clear-cut case of our senses contradicting our reason. Our senses are 100% sure that not only did Achilles catch up to the tortoise but that Achilles left the tortoise in the dust. Our reason, however, says otherwise; not only will Achilles not overtake the humble tortoise but Achilles won't even catch up with it.

    The resolution of this paradox has usually been in favor of empiricism with the attempts to find solutions all accepting Achilles to have won the race hands down. The problem, everyone assumed, is with reason but not in its rules but in the assumptions or theoretical context in which the paradox lives.

    One common method to solve the paradox is to use the mathematical concept of the limit of infinite fractional sums. In essence, if one accepts this solution, it amounts to admitting that if ever the empirical doesn't agree with the rational, the fault lies with the latter.

    This same pattern of thinking, blaming rationalism instead of empiricism, is seen again in quantum physics. The result of the famous double-slit experiment is that light is both a particle and a wave, two mutually contradictory ideas. As far as I know, scientists don't question the validity of the experimental results; instead they cast doubt on the credibility of reason, rationality and it's likely that, if given a modicum of encouragement, they will demand a complete overhaul of logic/reason itself to accommodate their findings.

    On the flip side, there are some occasions during which rationalism carries the day and empiricism has to play second fiddle or even go offstage. Suppose you see an elephant sitting on your work desk through the window of your office. You know your desk won't hold the weight of your overweight secretary let alone that of an elephant. You conclude that the elephant is a hallucination i.e. rationalism has invalidated empiricism.

    To make the long story short, it's complicated!
  • Olivier5
    353
    To make the long story short, it's complicated!TheMadFool

    What you described through your examples is a dialogue, a collaboration between reason and observations to arrive at some (temporary) conclusion. And this interaction is indeed complex. Obviously our observations can be directed by our reason, for instance. In the case of the elephant on your desk, your reason tells you it’s impossible and therefore you shouldn’t trust what your eyes tell you. You could opt to do a number of additional observations to decide whether it’s real or not: assuming that your eyesight is problematic, you might want to touch the elephant (ie use another sense than vision), or you could ask colleagues if they can see the elephant too (use another observer). Based on this additional empirical data, you might be able to conclude (reason) one way or another.

    So it’s the combination of reason and observation that is powerful. Reason alone is blind, and observation alone is meaningless.
  • TheMadFool
    7.3k
    So it’s the combination of reason and observation that is powerful. Reason alone is blind, and observation alone is meaningless.Olivier5

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? — Juvenal

    A model that only accepts concurrence between reason and observation should work well enough to save the day.
  • Pop
    293
    So it’s the combination of reason and observation that is powerful. Reason alone is blind, and observation alone is meaningless.Olivier5

    A model that only accepts concurrence between reason and observation should work well enough to save the day.TheMadFool

    This would be ok for a description of a philosophical zombie, but real people have emotions.

    Wouldn't surprise be your immediate reaction? The Bayesian Brain theory predicts that it would.
  • Mww
    1.8k
    Where are all the forum's KantiansSrap Tasmaner

    If the notion of human experience is justifiable, then empiricism must be valid, in order to serve as the ground for knowledge of real, physical things, which is exactly what experience is. But knowledge of physical things is not the only human knowledge there is, so while empiricism remains valid, it is nonetheless limited by itself.
  • TheMadFool
    7.3k
    This would be ok for a description of a philosophical zombie, but real people have emotions.

    Wouldn't surprise be your immediate reaction? The Bayesian Brain theory predicts that it would.
    Pop

    I have no idea what you're talking about. I'll look it up when I get the chance. If you have the time, I don't mind a few pointers.
  • Pop
    293
    An elephant on your work desk would initially cause you surprise. Your initial reaction would be emotional. This needs to be taken into account. Emotion is present in every experience, and thought. Neither of you have taken this into account. This is the hard problem. :smile:
  • Olivier5
    353
    A model that only accepts concurrence between reason and observation should work well enough to save the day.TheMadFool

    It can also be a fight, a competition between them. E.g. in the case of a hyper-skeptic, aka a denialist, whose own reason finds ways to stubbornly reject any evidence contrary to her theory as ‘not good enough’, ‘inconclusive’, ‘fake’, etc. Or vice-versa sometimes our senses are being treacherous, e.g. in optical illusions. So those two don’t always cooperate.
  • Olivier5
    353
    I would agree, and would add that we are born with emotion - the essential ingredient of experience!Pop

    That’s correct.

    In a way, we behave as philosophical zombies when we are not in touch with our own emotions.
  • Pop
    293
    We are talking about empiricism. Back then they did not know about the Philosophical zombie argument. They didn't understand that emotion is an essential element of experience. They didn't take emotion into account. Not at all - as if it were possible to have an experience without it.
  • TheMadFool
    7.3k
    An elephant on your work desk would initially cause you surprise. Your initial reaction would be emotional. This needs to be taken into account. Emotion is present in every experience, and thought. Neither of you have taken this into account. This is the hard problem. :smile:Pop

    I suppose emotions add another layer to experience, over and above basic comprehension. I don't see how it's related to empiricism though? By the way, what's materially undoable about emotions? I remember someone posting a thread that had to with how mental states are reproducible with the right chemicals.

    It can also be a fight, a competition between them. E.g. in the case of a hyper-skeptic, aka a denialist, whose own reason finds ways to stubbornly reject any evidence contrary to her theory as ‘not good enough’, ‘inconclusive’, ‘fake’, etc. Or vice-versa sometimes our senses are being treacherous, e.g. in optical illusions. So those two don’t always cooperate.Olivier5

    Isn't that exactly why need both, like you suggested? Each, by itself, can't be trusted. They can be trusted only when together. Sound reasonable? A compromise of sorts. Also, methinks, a good plot for a comedy/adventure/fantasy book/play/flick.
  • Pop
    293
    I suppose emotions add another layer to experience, over and above basic comprehension. I don't see how it's related to empiricism though?TheMadFool

    Empiricism dose not acknowledge emotions role in experience whatsoever.
    In light of the philosophical zombie argument, where emotion is essential to consciousness and experience, this seems incoherent.

    Edit:
    Empiricism posits that all knowledge is derived from experience, but it dose not understand experience. It fails to take into account the role of emotion in experience.
  • TheMadFool
    7.3k
    Empiricism dose not acknowledge emotions role in experience whatsoever.
    In light of the philosophical zombie argument, where emotion is essential to consciousness and experience, this seems incoherent.

    Edit:
    Empiricism posits that all knowledge is derived from experience, but it dose not understand experience. It fails to take into account the role of emotion in experience.
    Pop

    :up:
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.4k
    You can’t make sense of anything without a little priming of the conceptual pump. We are born with an innate natural logic that allows us to think about our observations and draw lessons from them, as well as with a capacity to model a Euclidian space (which is why non-Euclidian geometries are counter-intuitive).Olivier5

    We've all been saying things at least a little like this in this thread. I'm not sure there's much alternative, but it also makes me a little uncomfortable.

    Suppose I ask, how can a child learn to speak her native language? One answer is: the ability to learn a language is a gift from God. Maybe I find this unsatisfactory, so I keep asking. Another answer is: it is a gift from Darwin, i.e., it's how our species has evolved. But that says nothing at all: however we are is however our species evolved. Since we can demonstrably learn languages, we must have so evolved.

    In the period of classic British Empiricism, the options were: (a) it's a gift from God; (b) I made it myself. We didn't have a natural process that could fill the role of the Great Bestower, though of course Hume, he of the preternatural insight, would drop a remark here and there that seems eerily to anticipate the theory of evolution by natural selection. If there is a spirit of empiricism, it's related to this:

    The method of "postulating" what we want has many advantages; they are the same as the advantages of theft over honest toil. — Russell

    The honest toil of empiricism is to explain how we could have the conceptual apparatus we have -- objects and causes and all the rest -- without just stealing it from the gods like Prometheus. The updated version of rationalism (if we may speak this way) is just to get whatever you need from Darwin's Emporium.

    Unfortunately, the middle ground is somewhat unsatisfactory: to justify, in the sense of "rationalize", reliance on evolution, we tell just-so stories of the fitness value of this and that, to make it plausible that the invisible hand would have selected for the traits we need to postulate. We can be sophisticated about this too: we can argue that what we think of as an innate ability to do such-and-such, where this seems an unlikely candidate for providing a survival benefit, is actually the repurposing of an ability originally "selected for" for quite different reasons. I like those stories, but if they're not testable, they're not hypotheses they're just stories.

    Honest toil then, under this paradigm, would be restricting yourself to claims you can test. We're scientists after all. Thus if you want to claim, we can do A because there's a clearish survival value to being able to do B (which we can't test, that part remains a story), and A can borrow the mechanism that Bs, you want to test whether people who can't do A also can't do B. Neurobiologists can do some stuff like that with lesion studies, for instance: see whether people known to be unable to A turn out to be unable to B. Psychologists can also try to design experiments to test whether performing A-like tasks is related to performing B-like tasks. There's at least something like honest toil going on here.

    What are the philosophers doing while all this is going on? There are always chunks of early modern philosophy, Hume being a pretty good example, that I find a bit tedious because they look a lot like armchair psychology, and we have the real thing now. I don't need Hume to figure out how memory works, say; my tax dollars are doing that, right? If we decide our role as philosophers is to "check up on" scientists, keep them honest, make sure their theories are conceptually up to snuff, we often look a bit ridiculous, like Jerry Fodor insisting that the way far too many biologists talk about evolution is insidiously circular. Mostly, they don't need us for that.

    It's tempting to think the role of philosophy is to provide some goals, figure out what needs explaining. I've been tempted now and then to think of philosophy as in fact a sort of (armchair, but maybe it needn't be so) social science, a social science of reasoning. But that turns out to be economics. Kahneman and Tversky, for instance, show pretty definitively, it seems to me, that you needn't waste my tax dollars looking for the brain mechanisms that allow us innately to understand probabilities, because we don't. We suck big time at probabilistic reasoning.

    What then is the role of philosophy? We can restrict ourselves to understanding the workings of System 2 -- finding our way around the conceptual apparatus we are just presented with by System 1, we know not how nor for what reasons. I like that well enough; that might be a descriptive metaphysics of the sort Strawson (and, I understand, Collingwood, and kind of everybody) advocated. But it's not clear to me, if we're going to let evolutionary psychology and cognitive science have their say, what a doctrine like empiricism has to offer. What's the point?
  • flaco
    15
    Right. Time for me to go back to my armchair and think for a while. Good thread!
  • Olivier5
    353
    The honest toil of empiricism is to explain how we could have the conceptual apparatus we have -- objects and causes and all the rest -- without just stealing it from the gods like Prometheus.Srap Tasmaner

    Yes, that was the project of old style empiricism. Get rid of the need for innate ideas, so as to avoid having to explain them. A shame it didn’t work. Now we’re back to Prometheus, or Euclidian geometry encoded (how?) in our DNA... I vote for the latter.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.4k


    Here's still more stuff for your armchair time, and this brings us back to the sorts of stuff @Pfhorrest was talking about: from our point of view as conscious agents, and to the psychologist that will mean up here in System 2, how do we manage the relations between System 1 and System 2? We now have experiments revealing all sorts of cognitive biases. I don't even know what the state of play is for theories explaining why we have these biases, but the facts alone are both fascinating and knowledge of them useful.
    note
    (It's entirely possible that I first learned about cognitive biases -- that is, as theory-backed thing -- back when I used to play fantasy baseball: some of those people can teach you a lot about statistics and probabilistic reasoning, and I remember seeing mention of "recency bias".)
    So "now we know": beware of System 1! It's awesome, it keeps you alive, but it's not really designed (heh) to tell you the truth. Beware!

    But -- not everything that goes wrong is System 1's fault, now is it? Up here in our System 2 paradise we're theorizing away about this and that, but System 2 being where reason hangs its hat doesn't mean everything that goes on in System 2 is reasonable. What we do consciously, reflectively, may in every case be an attempt at reasoning -- otherwise no one would have rung up System 2 for help -- but there can clearly be errors in reasoning that are not System 1's fault, not cases where we think we're reasoning but are really listening to the slightly paranoid but canny fellow in the basement. Or maybe we don't make a mistake but just hit an impasse, can't reach a decision. What do we do on reaching an impasse, and how could we have avoided some of our mistakes?

    We send it back down to the lower court, and ask for more data. So "empiricism" could be a name for that: the System-2-level recognition that it is dependent on System 1 not just for the conceptual apparatus but also for the data we will slot into that apparatus when attempting to reason. But that description is way wrong.

    And here is exactly why we need philosophy. (1) The data always comes packaged. System 1 won't give you the raw data, you couldn't use it even it did; it packages it up using whatever concepts it has. This is the major blow struck repeatedly against classic empiricism, the assumption that reason works with the raw data, the Myth of the Given. But that means there is a role for philosophy in understanding how the data is packaged: you may never be able to say "this wrapper is the concept" and "this part left over after I remove the wrapper is the data" -- that's very nearly Quine's first dogma, the futile attempt to distinguish analytic and synthetic; but you may at least be able to recognize the wrapper and know why it's there and how it relates to other elements of the conceptual apparatus, get a sense of the effect of how it was packaged. I also think we can send back what we get and ask for it to be repackaged in a different way.
    note added
    (Actually this looks different, almost a "System 3": a specialized subsystem for reconceptualizing, repackaging. Interesting.)
    (2) Even though in some sense System 2 is the big leagues, where the stuff we find interesting happens, it's also the feeder system, the minor leagues, for System 1, right? Play enough chess and a lot of the stuff you had to agonizingly work out with step-by-step analysis when you started becomes habit, pushed down to System 1 and handled now in a flash. Stuff you know you know how to do, and could have explained back when you learned it, can become an ability you have trouble articulating. So there is a role for philosophy in making sure that what we do in System 2 is done well, since it's going to end up a habit. And that includes the conceptual apparatus itself; if you get in the habit -- I just mean "habit", still System 2 -- of sending back data packaged in a certain way, because it's not appropriate for your reasoning, System 1 will get the message, move that packaging to a less accessible part of the warehouse, and maybe eventually quit using it at all.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.4k


    I don't see a plausible alternative either.
  • Olivier5
    353
    Yes, if a 3D Euclidian geometric model can be part of our operating system, and if we didn’t steal it from the gods, it must be biological, eg encoded in DNA. But then, there is no reason to believe that such ability is limited to humankind. In fact, it pleads for our mental tools (qualia, sense of space, etc.) having evolved over eons through evolution. Ergo, many animals share a mental world similar to ours.
  • TheMadFool
    7.3k
    Empiricism dose not acknowledge emotions role in experience whatsoever.
    In light of the philosophical zombie argument, where emotion is essential to consciousness and experience, this seems incoherent.

    Edit:
    Empiricism posits that all knowledge is derived from experience, but it dose not understand experience. It fails to take into account the role of emotion in experience.
    Pop

    Sorry to bring this up. If you're not interested, kindly ignore this post. If you are then, I'd like to ask you why you think emotions are, well, non-physical in nature? Love chemical = Oxytocin, Anger/Fear = Epinephrine, Happiness = Endorphins/Dopamine, and the list probably goes one. It seems, given adequate time, neuroscientists will eventually identify for every emotion, a specific brain chemical.
  • Pop
    293
    This is a difficult question to contain to a short post. Emotions are an element of consciousness, and my best bet is that consciousness exists on a substrate of quantum entanglement - perhaps in the patterns and permutations of quantum arrangement - maybe in cellular microtubules as proposed by Roger Penrose and co. I dont believe it can exist as some mystical property separate from materials somehow floating in the ether, but can it be said that the quantum world is material? With tunneling, superposition,entanglement, etc - this is not the behavior we normally associate with materials. We are limited to the words available to describe it, so perhaps immaterial fits best, but perhaps it should have its own separate category?

    The neurotransmitters you mention are not in themselves an emotion, but rather signalers of emotion, in my opinion.
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