Reality, Complexity, and Wisconsin

Reality, Complexity, and Wisconsin January 3, 2019

Disclaimer: I’ve never been to Wisconsin.

In my Enemies of Freethought post, I claimed that we should be skeptical when people use the words reality and truth, because they’re typically invoked by those who want to make their beliefs seem self-evidently valid and resist having to enter into a process of justification with their peers.

Rhetorical Service

Chuck Johnson disagrees. His response describes the many ways we define reality, and the rhetorical uses of these definitions. First off, he makes a distinction between informal and scholarly use of the term:

For casual conversations, we have a perfectly serviceable word, “reality”.

The problem is that this “perfectly serviceable word” is usually doing heavy lifting for which it’s not equipped. We always refer to reality when we mean whatever we happen to believe about things. This is okay when we’re making a distinction, for instance, between Freddie Mercury in the movie Bohemian Rhapsody and Freddie Mercury in reality, but most times when I see the word on a meme I know it’s just self congratulation:

Does anyone deny that pretty space pictures are awesome? Is that the same as assessing reality in its entirety?

Reality Bites

Chuck then offers a more comprehensive set of definitions:

For serious scientific and philosophical conversations, that word won’t do unless we provide a useful and agreed-upon definition of “reality”.

Reality(1) Reality is the actual, real physical existence and workings of our universe.
Our universe is a perfect representation of itself, therefore, it perfectly represents Reality.

Reality(2) Reality is the existence and workings of our universe as understood by some perfect intellect (a God).

Reality(3) Reality is the existence and workings of our universe as understood by a human or a group of humans. Human intellects are always less than perfect.

He then critiques each of his definitions:

Reality(1) is true, but trivial. Of course, the universe is a perfect representation of itself.
Reality(2) is a superstition, and to believe in it causes a world of problems. It is an obstacle to discovering truth.
Reality(3) is a good, scientific way of referring to human knowledge and understanding.

Use the Reality(3) definition to promote human discovery of truth.

Getting Real

Personally, I have more problems with Reality(1) than Chuck does. I don’t consider reality just the sum total of matter and energy in the physical universe. What about things like meaning, mathematics, the play Hamlet, the character Hamlet from the play Hamlet, or democracy? These things aren’t spatio-temporal, they’re not physical in the same way planets and trees are. They’re part of reality too, just not in the same field of sense as physical objects.

Chuck admits that Reality(2) is problematic, because it seems like an ideal more than a genuine reality. No atheist believes there’s a perfect intellect to define the totality of reality. However, as I’ve said before, the God’s-eye-view is just as much a human creation as gods are. Philosophical realism proceeds from the assumption that there is one true and complete description of reality, and I’m probably not alone in wondering what such a description would look like.

And this brings us to Reality(3), which seems just as inadequate to me. Chuck calls it “a good, scientific way of referring to human knowledge and understanding,” but that’s not what we’re talking about here. No one here disputes that plenty of real things existed before there were humans around to perceive and understand them. Furthermore, it’s conceivable that there are certain phenomena that can’t be perceived or comprehended by humans; as futile as it would be to try to describe these things, it would be equally futile to try to deny that they’re part of reality just because they’re beyond our means to define them.

The Map and the Territory

This is where Wisconsin comes in.

We have maps of Wisconsin that show its counties, its roads, its population density, its topography, and various other features of the state and its inhabitants. We remove a lot of complexity from Wisconsin so we can fit it on the pages of an atlas and display the properties we consider relevant. Although no one confuses a map of Wisconsin with the physical and civic reality of Wisconsin, people make that mistake all the time when it comes to reality.

Whenever we’re talking about reality as understood by humans, we’re not talking about reality anymore. We’re describing reality as filtered through the conceptual schemes according to which we make reality comprehensible to human consciousness. One aspect of what’s real is physical presence; however, there are also ideas and concepts about reality that we’ve created, and how we conceptualize reality is also part of reality. I’m not trying to be obscure or Kantian about reality here. Quite the opposite, I’m admitting that there are things about reality that we can know. However, that’s exactly what makes it impossible to come to a mind-independent conception of reality, because the only way we can relate to it is through the means we’ve developed to perceive and study it.

If there’s anything we can know with certainty about reality, it’s that we do it a disservice by denying its complexity. Thanks to Chuck for his contribution!

What do you think? What do we mean when we talk about “reality”? Can we separate reality from the means we use to study it? 

 

"Thanks for contributing! Your post gave me a lot to think about comme d'habitude, and ..."

The Science of the Good
"I responded under your related DP post, "Biased Political Attitudes Towards Science." Hope those comments ..."

The Science of the Good
"Hi Shem. I just posted a comment, but it is hung up in moderation. Thanks."

The Science of the Good

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Anthrotheist

    I have to wonder to what degree terms like “reality” — and the concepts that they represent — are more a matter of consensus than we often prefer to believe. I remember a saying (I can’t find who first said it) that goes something like, “Words don’t have meanings, they have usages.” Perhaps the underlying problem with terms like “reality” is that it creates two layers of consensus: first, we must all agree on what “reality” means, and then we must agree on what reality is. To expect that much consensus in modern times may be asking a bit too much.

    I know that this doesn’t add much to the conversation of trying to nail down the concept of reality. But maybe the problem is in the word’s usage to begin with. There is the concept of “floating signifiers”: symbols that are used less to convey meaning from the transmitter of a message, and more used as a placeholder upon which the receiver of a message inserts their own meaning. Maybe “reality” is a floating signifier. Perhaps the problem is that it is used by a message sender to encompass a sense of legitimacy and universality, but ultimately relies on the message’s recipient to fill in its particulars. That might help explain why we all can agree that reality exists, but cannot agree on what it does or does not include.

  • In one sense I fully agree: we use “reality” in a socially acceptable way, and it’s that consensus that makes it mean anything at all. What reality is is a separate matter.

    My point is that it’s much more likely that we’re being presumptuous in tossing the word “reality” around than that we understand all the potential of Being itself so comprehensively that we can make authoritative pronouncements about it. We’re trying to show how enlightened we are and how reliable our approach to knowledge is. I think we should acknowledge that we only know as much about reality as our modes of inquiry allow, and that the belief that we have privileged access to reality is a sure sign of narrow-mindedness whether it’s professed by religious or nonreligious people.

  • chemical

    Re: this:

    Personally, I have more problems with Reality(1) than Chuck does. I don’t consider reality just the sum total of matter and energy in the physical universe. What about things like meaning, mathematics, the play Hamlet, the character Hamlet from the play Hamlet, or democracy?

    Ideas and abstract concepts are still grounded in reality. They are recorded on physical media like ink on paper, or in our minds. Even though I don’t have a perfect understanding on how my brain operates, I understand that it’s made of matter and energy and operates in the material world.

    Regarding definitions of reality: Despite the religious connotations, I find the Reality(2) definition interesting. I was wondering what problems that Chuck Johnson had with it, as he didn’t describe those problems in his OP, just asserting that it’s “superstition”. Also, regarding Reality(1): It’s axiomatic, the philosophical equivalence of declaring a=a. The way I see it, if you want to do philosophy, you’re going to have to lay down some axioms and then work from there. When you reach a contradiction, you can either revisit your axioms, or resolve the contradiction some other way. In that case, I say Reality(1) is perfectly fine as a working definition, and then use that until you reach a contradiction. If you don’t think it’s axiomatic, that’s fine, but then you need to propose an alternate definition of what reality actually is.

    Can we separate reality from the means we use to study it?

    I don’t see how this is possible. We operate in reality, and I don’t see how you use something that doesn’t operate in the real to learn about what reality actually is.

  • Major Major

    I still prefer Philip K. Dick’s definition of reality: Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it doesn’t go away. Obviously not philosophically rigorous, but useful.

  • Milo C

    Reality (3) is a terrible definition. It implies that every falsehood ever believed is an actuality. He should have stated this is the common usage of the term and it has little bearing on the scientific usage, because REALITY DOES NOT CONFORM TO YOUR BELIEFS.

  • PD

    Good post, Shem!

    A few thoughts…

    Whenever we’re talking about reality as understood by humans, we’re not talking about reality anymore.

    I’m not so sure about that.

    Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that we can talk intelligently about a Noumena /Phenomena split; a distinction between the “Really Real” and ”
    Mere Experience or “Appearances.” It will follow, by definition, that the former (The mind-independently real) cannot be described. It’s not clear what it means for that reason. We can’t conceptualize it; it lacks meaning. But due to a whole tradition in metaphysics (and to some extent in some of the major non-western traditions as well), we tend to resort to ancient metaphysical terms like “ultimate reality,” “being,” “the True,” and other terms/concepts that I call ‘philosophical superlatives.’ These are terms we use to say something like, “Hey, this reality which I cannot express is of utmost importance. It’s much more important than anything I can know, imagine, think, feel, or create. But it’s a complete mystery.” It’s a philosophical exclamation point after a non-referring term like ‘The Absolute.”(Even IF there is a “transcendent being,” we’re told it’s beyond human powers of conception. Thus it does not refer to anything. Even the metaphysician and cleric say it is beyond ‘all possible experience in this world,’ i.e.all phenomena. Whatever “it is,” then, nobody knows.

    Why then should this empty pseudo-idea (Ultimate Reality/ That which IS), serve as a meaningful symbol for “Reality?” It would seem that whatever ‘it’ is, it has no reality for us in our lived experience. And what else is there? I mean if the experiential is “not reality anymore” as you said in the quote above, then what is reality anyway? Just because phenomena are confined to the “human understanding,”(i.e. mind-dependent) doesn’t mean phenomena are “unreal.”

    And if it is said that our experience isn’t “real” then what on earth is?

  • PD

    Again, this begs the question, what reality is there to which one might have “privileged access?” What crosses your mind when you use philosophical superlatives like “Being Itself?” What is the content of the thought “reality independent of human experience?”

  • rtgmath

    Reality is that which exists, regardless of whether you perceive it or whether you believe it. Science is the intellectual and practical exercise of trying to align perception with actuality.

    I know these definitions are insufficient. Heck, “existence” is a minefield all by itself. Yes, ideas exist, and so have reality. But the (very real) ideas may not at all describe the reality they are attempting to mirror. Creationism as a philosophy and idea exists. However, creationism does not describe what happened on earth in any way, shape, or form.

    I wouldn’t confine reality to simply physical phenomena. There are abstractions which, though abstractions, describe real relationships or interpretations of reality. Three is an abstract concept. Yet groups can possess that property, in reality. On the other hand, perceptions such as the meaning of Hamlet might not be considered reality, since they depend upon opinion, cultural biases (which are real), and suffer from issues of consensus. Consensus is not the arbiter of reality . We know that science deals with models (Theories) that try to explain experience and observation as coherently as possible. Better models are usually assumed to mirror reality better than models that don’t have any predictive or explanatory power.

    Ahh, but then, I am not a philosopher. This is just my $0.02 worth. Regards

  • PD

    You make some good points. But what distinguishes a “(very real)” idea from any other? Is “realness” something that comes in degrees? I would rather say there are different *kinds* of realities. Abstractions are real, but AS abstractions. That would seem to cover the #3, Hamlet and Unicorns. None refer to entities in the perceptual world. Nevertheless, we experience all of them in different ways. Numbers exist within formal systems. Unicorns within imagination and its manifestations in art. Hamlet exists as a fictional character.

    Some philosophers think that reals and fictions are mutually exclusive. Hamlet isn’t real because he’s fictional. As a pragmatist, I’d ask them, what if we admit that a speck of dust on the floor is real and not fictional, and Hamlet is fictional but not real? How, then can we explain the interesing fact that Hamlet has had a much greater impact on humanity than that speck of dust ever could? If we think of reals as those things that we know because they have real consequences, certain prejudices (like the idea that only physical ‘things’ can be real) become harder to maintain.

  • Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that we can talk intelligently about a Noumena /Phenomena split; a distinction between the “Really Real” and “Mere Experience or “Appearances.” It will follow, by definition, that the former (The mind-independently real) cannot be described. It’s not clear what it means for that reason. We can’t conceptualize it; it lacks meaning.

    I agree. It might seem like I’m making a bigger deal out of this than I am. I’d call it simply the unknown, and admit that it lacks meaning. That puts the emphasis on the way we impose order on the chaos with conceptual schemes. Our modes of inquiry are based on cultural and personal aims, and the picture of reality that emerges owes as much to our expectations as to how reality is.

    I didn’t mean to imply that what we experience isn’t real. Quite the opposite: I meant that our understanding is based on ways we’ve devised to make reality comprehensible to human perception; whether reality is the way we understand it is an open question, and perhaps can only be answered through further inquiry.

    Great to see you again!

  • I think consensus plays a bigger role in our understanding of reality than you admit. The idea that science magically aligns perception with actuality ignores the complexity of scientific inquiry; science is a collective, competitive human endeavor in which arguments and persuasion are much more important than raw data.

    And the notion of models mirroring reality is a very idealized way of looking at empirical inquiry, if you ask me. If anything, most scientific inquiry simply makes reality fit its models. We’ve learned which questions are likely to be answered through particular modes of inquiry and which ones aren’t. As I always say, what we know and believe has to be part of an ongoing dialogue with reality and each other.

    As PD said below, we can’t just separate phenomena into “real things” and “made up things” so glibly. Even in science, things like species exist as useful ways to conceptualize nature and its development; they’re not as real as planets and trees, but we use them to make complexity comprehensible.

  • PD

    Great to see you as well! Btw, I’m glad to see someone drawing attention to gene editing issues in the age of Crispr-Cas9. The Times covered DIY efforts to do “bio-hacking” independently and on the cheap, and the gravity of the stakes. Then the media fell silent again til the story about the Chinese guy. Did you read Doudna’s Crack in Creation? Very interesting book. Anyway, back to the matter at hand…

    I think I understand your point, but it does seem to draw on something like the Kantian Noumena/Phenomena distinction, which I think you mention in the post. There’s nothing wrong with that either. Bas van Fraasen sometimes talks in a similar way, for example. Personally, I’ve never been quite as convinced that Noumena/Noumenon plays an edifying role in discourse. When I was in school, I asked my old neo-Kantian Professor why he thought the distinction to be useful. He said, “so we don’t go insane!” If we don’t assume there’s more to “reality’ than what we experience we would go insane. But that never convinced me. What’s the difference between experiencing AS we experience PLUS having the thought, “there are reals outside the realm of all this I experience” and experiencing As we experience MINUS that one thought? Maybe the difference for some people is merely emotional. It’s comforting to draw the distinction as it seems to *define* the parameters of experience. But as John Dewey points out in several of his books (e.g. Experience and Nature, Art and Experience, Experience and Education, et al.) everything is within the realm of the experiential including the idea of the non-experiential. What else could the idea be if not some experience of symbols, ‘the extra-experiential’ or somesuch??

    I used to call this ‘Radical Phenomenology.” Everything that exists (note “exustence” is a concept that is part of the language game of Metaphysics and not a referent that has the same meaning across language games, to put it in a Wittgensteinian way) exists within experience. It’s a bit like the General Semantics idea that the “map is not the territory,” which you draw on here with a minor but important difference– the map may not be all the territory, but if there is a map and it is not located within the figurataive “territory” then WHERE the heck is that “map?” The idea of Wisconsin may not be the same as Wisconsin. After all I can dine out somewhere in Wisconsin, but not on the map of it, and so forth. But if there is a map at all, (figuratively, literally, or in any other coneivable sense of the term ‘map’) then ‘where’ is it if not within the broadest territory that is cognizable? The broadest territory cognizable is not the noumenon (things as they are mind-independently) since we cannot *cognize* those by definition. The broadest possible ‘territory’ IS the realm of experience. What else? And so instead of distinguishing the experiential from the non-experiential (a cipher), we can get on to the more promising job of distinguishing various *kinds* of experience from others. Some of the “New Realists” you wrote about recently seem to go in a similar direction, but I haven’t paid enough attention to comment on their work intelligently. The point is that to say something like “we only have access to reality through experience” implies that we can cognize something we might call “reality outside experience.” What is that?

    REality outside experience is nothing if not a special kind of experience that occurs when we contemplate the meaning of the term “reality.” Reality turns out (on my analysis) to be a concept and nothing but a concept. This isn’t some kind of solipsism. The distinction between appearance and reality collapses. We now say, ‘there are different ways we can use the word “reality” but none of them are non-experiential. Does that make sense? One last attempt to get at this point…

    Let’s say that a person in the neolithic age is doing things we call coughing, sneezing, expectorating (the person lacks any such concepts, of course, but that’s how we’d describe it if we could go into a time machine and watch him doing these things). Somebody who we call Mr. Metaphysics is asked “What is he doing? I mean, *really* doing?” Now suppose this man has a language we can understand. HE thinks he’s doing something that in his language means “being punished by the ThunderGod.” That’s what he says when doing things that we do when we see we’re “being sick.” Let’s move forward in time to the middle ages in the West. Now somebody is “doing sneezing, coughing etc.” in our language. But we ask him (make this an Englishman circa 1400) what he thinks he is doing when he coughs and sneezes. He doesn’t say “I’m being punished.” He says he is “suffering from an imbalance of the humors.” He knows about Galen’s theory, etc. Then we go to the Victorian era in England, and that man’s great great great Grandson is doing the same things, but he says he is doing the things that people do when they are infected by “germs.” We’ve arrived in the age of the Germ Theory. Then we zoom back in on our own age and ask someone doing the same things what he or she is doing and they say, “Oh, it appears I have a cold.” He’s living in age in which viruses and not just germs exist.

    You might say, the phenomenon was always “REALLY” just the common cold. But in the future we may have a different medical paradigm, and one in which much more effective interventions for such unpleasant experiences as “having a common cold” exist. The theory of the cold isn’t the same as the theory of humors because the former organizes our experiences in terms of concepts that have greater predictive value and allow for more effective remedies. But we may not have the ‘best’ theory now, if that means the theory has the greatest predictive value and allows for the most effective remedial interventions. This is simply a form of Instrumentalism. The concept “Really Real” has fallen off as a vestige of metaphysical thinking of a speculative kind which yields little fruit. A good many philosophers in the 20th and 21st centuries are post-metaphysical. Dewey,Quine, Putnam, Wittgenstein on this side of the pond. Nietzsche, Derrida, Foucault and others on the other. No, these are not all ‘the same theory”– but all have given up on the idea of what Rorty used to call a “final vocabulary” or the last word–i.e. a synoptic take on “Being as such.” If we’re serious about giving up on such an idea, then invoking a reality/appearance distinction makes little sense. The response to giving up on metaphysics varies.

    Derrida’s account is one I find deeply unsatisfying as it exaggerates the extent to which meanings are indeterminate. An instrumentalist like Dewey gives up on the really real, but not on a theory of experience that does not, I think, exaggerate indeterminacy. Some meanings are relatively fixed, others truly ambiguous. H20 can be operationalized. It’s meaning is very precise, and not up for grabs within the realm of experimental science. Other concepts and experiences like “beauty” occur within conceptual schemes of a much more fluid kind. Meanings shade off more easily, as these qualitative experiences are not really intelligible when we try to operationalize them (say with neuroscience). Unlike physics and chemistry (experimental schemes) aesthetics is not based on “predict and control” but “experience and describe” modes of experience. None of these are outside experience. But some are organized around meanings that are more precise than others because they are highly quantitative. Others involve experiences that we can only express poetically or evocatively because the experiences are deeply personal. Art is that way. Even if neuroscience studies beauty in the arts (neuroaesthetics, say), it must set out by asking people “what are you experiencing” and those experiences invariably be described with great “poetic liscence.” A geologist, say, begins with a much less ambiguous common sense referent– a bunch of rocks that can be pointed to ostensively. Rocks are not more real than experiences of beauty. But they sure are less ambiguous. I can’t go further right now, but I hope you have some sense of what I’m getting at here.

    We’re not miles apart by any means. But the subtle difference that occurs when one lets go of the idea “extra-experiential reality” allows us to focus on theories of experience which include domains like science as welll as domains like poetry. We don’t end up with my Professor’s “insanity” or the life of the ‘deceived doubter” in Descarte’s meditations or any such thing at all. We end up looking at different ways in which experience is and can be organized including poetic discourse, ethical evaluation, quantifiable description, and much besides these. But the trope “really real independent of mind/experience” now drops off because it is superfluous. It doesn’ do any work, as it were.

  • I hope @disqus_R8tkwMcaxk:disqus stops by to explain his ideas in a little more depth.

    I agree with you that ideas and concepts are real, too, just not in the same field of sense (Markus Gabriel’s term for a context or frame of relevance) as rocks and trees. I personally have no problem focusing on our maps and making no claims about the territory, but I know that annoys a lot of science fans. The idea that we have to be careful to acknowledge the social construction of facts, rather than assume that facts are just sitting out there waiting to be discovered by us, is a major roadblock in establishing mutual understanding between me and my loyal detractors.

    As always, thanks for the thought-provoking contribution.

  • I wish I had something meaningful to add here – maybe something will come to me later

    this is excellent. unfortunately Shem, you’ve already argued my position rather compellingly and i don’t think i could follow that act.

    darn you Shem haha.

  • yes yes yes to this

  • shit, my psychoses are real?

    fck

    *reevaluates my whole existence*

  • rtgmath

    Thank you for your response. But I’m not ready to credit consensus with defining reality. It used to be a medical consensus that stress was the primary cause of ulcers. This was patently untrue, and cures eluded the practice of medicine. Ulcers remained the third leading cause of death for a long time.

    Then two researchers in Australia discovered that the primary cause of ulcers was heliobactor piloting, a small, rod-shaped bacteria that is slow growing in normal media, but thrives in an acid environment. It took time, but eventually the medical community changed its mind and practiced, and ulcers, a nuisance, are readily curable for the most part.

    It never was reality that ulcers were caused by stress. Consensus does not define what is real, but only what a community thinks is real.

    Nor does the scientific community try to make reality fit its models. It tests its models against measurements to see if the models align with what we can measure, the best standard of reality we have.

    Anyone who does differently usually has a short career and a brutal finish, unless one works for a corporate interest looking to define the answers for nstead of discovering them! I should suggest you learn more about what science does and why. Your statement sounds like a slander often repeated by religious leaders hoping to defame it.

    Science has always recognized that its models are just that, while the church wishes to dictate what reality is without referencing the real world. As one preacher I heard say, “If your experience contradicts the Scriptures, throw out your lying experience and put your faith in the infallible Word of God.”

    And yes, there is a difference between reality and interpretation. But some interpretations are inferior to others. The geocentric model is clearly inferior to the heliocentric model. The few people whose troubles actually stem from vaccines do not validate antiVax propaganda.

  • I should suggest you learn more about what science does and why.

    Right back atcha. Your nostalgic positivism went out about the same time the passenger pigeon did.

    I wasn’t saying that consensus defines reality, just that it has more influence in science than your Tonka toy version of science suggests. And if you have to resort to the it’s-better-than-religion defense, then you’re grasping at straws.

  • (((J_Enigma32)))

    I remember hearing someone compare reality and the truth to quantum theory. Now, there’s a lot of woo bullshit about quantum theory, but I think the comparison is rather elegant, as a person who knows just enough to get him in trouble about quantum theory and the surrounding physics and chemistry: the truth and reality are like the wave function of a particle. You can never be fully sure where the particle is at any give time because it’s across the whole wave function. However, you can get pretty damn close, and that’s what science does: you can never be fully sure where reality and truth is because of so many view points and ideas, but you can get pretty damn close with high statistical conclusions. Obviously the analogy breaks down when you consider that observation causes the wave function to collapse, but still. The idea of truth and reality being subject to an uncertainty principle is compelling.

    Granted, this spits in the face of the mechanistic, deterministic universe of Einstein and Newton, but Heisenberg and company put that idea to bed almost a century ago. God doesn’t just play dice, his dice are polygons with infinite sides.

  • PD

    I think you may be confusing the concept “reality” with “truth” Compare the following:

    1. It is true that bacteria cause ulcers.

    2. It is real that bacteria cause ulcers.

    Nor is the problem grammar. We can rearrange wordorders but the result is still odd:

    1. The proposition, “Germs cause Ulcers” is True

    2. The proposition, “Germs cause Ulcers” is Real

    A metaphysical claim that might be defended is:

    1- “The bacterium, H. pylori is real” (where we mean H. pylori exists) or

    2- Phlogiston is NOT real” (where we mean phlogiston doesn’t exist.

    Other classic metaphysical questions include:
    Do rainbows exist? (or are they mere appearances)
    Do unicorns exist? (or are they “fictions?”)

    If we are asking whether a bacterium causes ulcers then we have already presupposed the existence of both the bacterium and ulcers; i.e. their “reality.” Now we want to know if one (the bacterium) causes the other (ulcers). That is a knowledge question, one for epistemology rather than metaphysics which asks what kinds of things do and don’t exist. ask what kinds of things exist.

    One very deep question that is related to your own is whether “causes” exist or whether they are useful concepts. David Hume pointed out that we never observe causes, they are said to exist via inference. We can only see correlations or patterns. Anyway, the point is that though these things affect how we think about science, they really don’t have a direct influence on experimental science itself. Whether or not causes are real or only concepts , the pathologist will interpret certain observed experiments as sufficient to say “a causes b” .

  • I’ve got my head so far into the complexity sciences that part of me wants to scold you for the way you use the word here. LOL

  • Prior to my psychosurgery, I was a complete asshole.

  • > “God doesn’t just play dice, his dice are polygons with infinite sides.”

    Yes to this. Except wouldn’t that make them spheres?

  • I’ve never stuck my head into any of that, sorry. I’ll leave that to people whose polygons have more sides.

  • haha

    it’s fascinating stuff. ever since i dived into it in the late 90s i’ve been hooked

  • adding, one disadvantage to my foray is my use of the term complicatedness, which is an awkward word that means something different, in the technical sense, than complexity.

    Unfortunately it’s too clunky i think, to use in most writing scenarios.

  • relatable.

  • adriancrutch

    …different concepts of reality exist and manifolds in many ways…such as a group of communists ( or socialists )…who meet in a cafe in 1930’s Germany… they have a maybe a dozen in the group and as time goes on the group dwindles to a couple as Nazi propaganda and fascism creeps into the country…a small man with a big mouth grabs the brain of the country…does this sound familiar???…Trump is trying to spread a “reality” that he copied from the Nazi mold…beware of strangers bearing quick fixes… https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9fb68552659d4024ef5965b317a22f6beffc902813feaae3fa38d8ce8e986f4e.jpg

  • …rolleyes…

  • adriancrutch

    …from what sector do you commiserate from???…

  • Chuck Johnson

    I was wondering what problems that Chuck Johnson had with it, as he didn’t describe those problems in his OP, just asserting that it’s “superstition”. -chemical

    I didn’t elaborate.
    But to elaborate, many people have the idea that truth, knowledge, ideas, inventions, etc exist “out there” and are just waiting to be discovered.

    This would only be true if
    (A) Some God exists who already knows all of this stuff and we humans are only rediscovering what God originally discovered.
    or
    (B) Outer space aliens have discovered this stuff previously.

    My position is that gods have been pretty well shown to be fictional characters and that outer space aliens who (may have) beaten us to these discoveries should be discounted in most of these discussions because dragging them into it just adds complexity and confusion to the discussion.

    Also, we should not argue as to whether Newton “discovered” his scientific principles or “invented” those principles. – – – Either word will do.

    In the context of human scientific research, inventing and discovering ideas and truths are pretty much the same thing. Arguing the semantics here is not very productive.

    The words and phrases used in language are always approximate and relative.
    They gain more meaning when they are examined in context.
    I do not advocate authoritarianism in word definitions or in other areas of human endeavor.

  • Chuck Johnson

    Can we separate reality from the means we use to study it?
    I don’t see how this is possible. We operate in reality, and I don’t see how you use something that doesn’t operate in the real to learn about what reality actually is.

    I agree.
    Popes, Hitler and others have tried to assert perfect methods for understanding the realities of our universe. Those perfect methods then yielded perfect truths.

    This is authoritarian thinking.
    It is small-minded and narrow-minded.

    Relativistic thinking and progressive learning are better concepts to employ as we try to better understand our universe.

    Understand that we always know some things that are true and useful.
    Understand that we will never know everything that is true and useful.

    Asimov knew this.
    https://chem.tufts.edu/answersinscience/relativityofwrong.htm

  • Chuck Johnson

    I personally have no problem focusing on our maps and making no claims about the territory, but I know that annoys a lot of science fans.

    When the subjects of accuracy, correlation and correspondence come up, you should be ready to critically compare your maps with the territory.

    Scientists are dedicated to improving accuracy, correlation and correspondence between maps and territory.

    Politicians, religionists, pseudo-scientists (and some philosophers) are not as dedicated.
    Money, power, authority, etc are too high on their priority list.

    Competent scientists give a high priority to discovering and sharing the truth.
    They give a high priority to empirical investigation.
    Empiricism helps to keep science on the right track.

    Do not believe everything that people tell you.
    Our universe has something to say about the truth, too.
    But you need to know the right methods for asking our universe questions.

  • But you need to know the right methods for asking our universe questions.

    Very well said!