Monday, April 06, 2009

Is scientific thought truncated?

From Chapter 6, Answers to Misgivings, in C. S. Lewis's Miracles: A Preliminary Study, pp. 41-42.

C. S. Lewis: All these instances show that the fact which is in one respect the most obvious and primary fact, and through which alone you have access to all the other facts, maybe precisely the one that is most easily forgotten—forgotten not because it is some remote or abstruse but because it is so near and so obvious. And that is exactly how the Supernatural has been forgotten. The Naturalists have been engaged in thinking about Nature. They have not attended to the fact that they were thinking. The moment one attends to this it is obvious that one’s thinking cannot be a merely natural event, and that therefore something other than nature exists. The Supernatural is not remote and abstruse: it is a matter of daily and hourly experience, as intimate as breathing. Denial of it depends on a certain absent-mindedness. But this absent-mindedness is in no way surprising. You do not need—indeed you do not wish—to be always thinking about windows when you are looking at gardens or always thinking about eyes when you are reading. In the same way the proper procedure for all limited and particular inquiries is to ignore the fact of your own thinking, and concentrate on the object. It is only when you stand back from particular inquiries and try to form a complete philosophy that you must take it into account. For a complete philosophy must get in all the facts. In it you turn away from specialised or truncated thought to total thought: and one of the fact total thought must think about is Thinking itself. There is a tendency in the study of Nature to make us forget the most obvious fact of all. And since the Sixteenth Century, when Science was born, the minds of men have been increasingly turned outward to know Nature and to master her. They have been increasingly engaged on those specialized inquiries in which truncated thought is the correct method. It is therefore not in the least astonishing that they should have forgotten the evidence for the Supernatural. The deeply ingrained habit of truncated thought—what we call the “scientific” habit of mind—was indeed certain to lead to Naturalism, unless this tendency were continually corrected from some other source. But no other source was at hand, for during the same period men of science were becoming metaphysically and theologically uneducated.

VR: This is an old post on the claim that scientific thought is truncated. I want to focus on that claim, rather than on the claim that if we think about our thinking, it is obvious that the AFR is correct. I am linking back to the original DI discussion.

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22 Comments:

At 8/06/2007 06:33:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Supernatural is not remote and abstruse: it is a matter of daily and hourly experience, as intimate as breathing. Denial of it depends on a certain absent-mindedness."

"I know from my armchair that physics is incomplete."

I must say I admire your (by your own description) superhuman ability to consult your raw feels and come to grand conclusions about the structure of the cosmos, where such access is denied to me. Were you bitten by a radioactive introspector?

I just don't know what to say to the assertion that "science isn't looking at all the facts". If you're not saying that cognitive science doesn't exist, then I don't know what you're saying.

 
At 8/06/2007 09:00:00 AM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

I had to correct this post to attribute the main portion of it to C. S. Lewis, not to me.

 
At 8/06/2007 09:42:00 AM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

I don't buy the truncation argument, and I agree with anonymous that it's an argument from the gut.

The rules of science are basically theorems of the axioms of rationality.

Here's a question for you, Victor.

How do you define the supernatural?

As I see it, the notion of a supernatural explanation is incoherent.

The idea of naturalism is that the natural world consists of predictive regularities. And a natural explanation is one in which we can find a predictive natural relationship that fits our observations. So, when I see a car crash, brake failure is a possible natural explanation because there is a predictive relationship between brake failure and car crashes. However, the presence of an apple pie in the trunk of the car would not be a possible natural explanation because there's no known predictive relationship under which pies in the trunk cause motor accidents.

Further, our ability to infer an explanation relies on the existence of a predictive relationship.

Now, where does that leave the supernatural? A supernatural event is one that cannot be explained naturally. And that means that it is fundamentally impossible to obtain a predictive relationship that accounts for the event.

The naturalist simply does not accept supernatural explanations. There's no need for the naturalist to argue that fundamentally inexplicable things never happen. That's far too strong a claim.

Apart from providing justification for inferring explanations, the demand that explanations be naturalistic has another basis: non-predictive explanations trivialize explanation.

If I give you some data points on a graph, and ask you to draw in an explanation, you cannot get away with simply drawing dots over the data points. An explanation must be a curve through the points, and a curve always makes predictions in terms of interpolations and extrapolations.

Meanwhile, so-called supernatural explanations always take the form of dots drawn over the data points. If another data point shows up, another dot is drawn. Yet, if prediction-less explanations are allowed, then everything is trivially explained.

Thoughts?

 
At 8/06/2007 10:35:00 AM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

I personally prefer to avoid using the term supernatural unless the idea is clarified. But Lewis did clarify it:

To call the act of knowing--the act, not of remembering that something was so in the past, but of 'seeing' that it must be so always and in any possible world--to call this act 'supernatural', is some violence to our ordinary linguistic usage. But of course we do not mean by this that it is spooky, or sensational, or even (in any religious sense) 'spiritual'. We mean only that it 'won't fit in'; that such an act, to be what it claims to be--and if it is not, all our thinking is discredited--cannot be merely the exhibition at a particular place and time of that total, and largely mindless, system of events called 'Nature'. It must break sufficiently free from that universal chain in order to be determined by what it knows.

It seems that if you define the natural in terms of predictable regularities, that you actually water down the concept of the natural unduly. If I believe in God and have some convictions about what God can be expected to do, then I have some "predictable regularities" with which to work. Similarly, knowing what sorts of plans and purposes someone has is going to be quite helpful in predicting his behavior. You can be sure, for example, that as a Suns fan I am going to express happy behavior when Steve Nash hits a game-winning shot against San Antonio. Naturalism, it seems to me, requires that I think that there is some non-purposive analysis available which explains my purposive behavior. But what happens if no such analysis is forthcoming. Suppose the purpose explanations are basic because something like dualism is true. Does that mean we can't explain my behavior as a Suns fan? Of course not. We have my beliefs and my desires, and we can explain a lot of what I do based on those. In fact, those are more helpful, in ordinary contexts, in explaining my behavior, than a detailed neurophysiological analysis of my brain with a reduction to the underlying physics.

 
At 8/06/2007 10:36:00 AM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

The second paragraph of that post is Lewis's, not mine.

 
At 8/06/2007 02:28:00 PM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Victor,

I don't think that my definition of the natural waters down the the concept unduly.

In principle, I don't have a problem with purposive explanations being basic. Nor do I have any problem (in principle) with knowledge being in some sense basic. The issue here is prediction.

Prediction enables us to infer that a state of knowledge or purpose exists, and enables us to test our inferences.

Personality is just such an inference. I anticipate (predict) certain forms of behavior as more or less likely as a function of personality. For example, based on past behavior, I can infer that aspect of your personality, and expect you to cheer Suns victories in the future.

In principle, this could work with God too. If we could identify which acts were God's, and could identify a pattern in those acts, then we could infer a personality for God, and test that inference experimentally.

Yet, there's no consistent pattern that allows to say which patterns are God's and which aren't. Furthermore, most theists adamantly deny that any experiment can be used to confirm an inference about God's personality. So, for example, though theists argue that "God is good," they can't rule out (or estimate the odds of) any future event. This is what is so unsatisfactory about theism in this regard. It is not the denial that there are non-physical forces that is problematic (what does physical really mean anyway?), but the denial of predictive relationships subject to experimental test and inference.

Treating purpose as basic also fails to address what I see as the raison d'etre for free will. The point of free will for theists is to make us accountable for our actions, so that their preferred flavor of universal justice can be dispatched. This is something that they argue cannot be provided by determinism and randomness. Yet, if our purpose is basic, then our purpose is fundamentally inexplicable, even to God.

(God might be able to know how we will behave using his magic powers of omniscience, but he cannot know why. If there were a why, then our purpose would have been fundamentally deterministic.)

Consequently, our purpose must be truly random. Or rather, that part of our purpose not attributable to genetics and deterministic environmental factors must be truly random. That means that universal justice would again be dispatched purely on the basis of determinism and randomness.

There's no escape from determinism and randomness, not even for the dualist.

 
At 8/06/2007 06:01:00 PM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

But surely Christians have probabilistic expectations concerning what they expect God to do. Otherwise, for example, why would they pray?

 
At 8/06/2007 08:27:00 PM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

The belief that prayer is answered is supported only by superstition. Specifically, it is only supported when one attempts to defeat all attempts at controlled experimentation.

Prayer experiments show that prayer is ineffective. When confronted with this, most Christians will argue that God isn't our monkey, so to speak, so controlled experimentation won't work. Instead, they argue, prayer only becomes visibly effective when we eschew a scientific approach by deliberately amplifying our own biases (by anti-controlling our experiments).

Here's an example. Suppose a believer prays for a business trip to go well. She will then selectively count positive events (getting a good seat) as prayer answers, and ignore negative events (getting a flat tire on the way to the airport). It's biased, subjective, selective sampling, not random sampling. Any methodology like this that doesn't allow falsification, doesn't allow confirmation either. This anti-control defeats any probability analysis one might try apply.

So, no. Christians do not have a probabilistic expectation for what God will do. They can't even establish what events are acts of God and which events are natural.

You personally may fall into the non-superstitious camp, but my experience is that the majority of Christians are highly superstitious.

 
At 8/09/2007 04:01:00 PM , Blogger J. Clark said...

doctor,
Well, there is not doubt that there are superstitious Christians as there are Atheist ones. But your synopsis on prayer is rather lacking. If, Lewis is right about naturalism being truncated and you accept that there is more to this life than a beaker, you will find that a man may verify a prayer by other means than the scientific method. A man can know he loves his wife by other means than verification through random testing. Your wife/husband would be pleased that your love is not verified by the scientific method. "Honey, could you give some quantitative evidence of your affections for me. I'm experimenting. This modern theory of love might be false so I'll want to change my paradigm. Thanks, just leave it in the blue beaker." You keep forcing naturalism into the soul keyhole but it just won't fit. Your own confusion about nature doesn't even detour you from using the same wrong key. A logician should be familiar with a square peg and round hole.

 
At 8/11/2007 07:29:00 AM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

j. clark,

A man can know he loves his wife by other means than verification through random testing. Your wife/husband would be pleased that your love is not verified by the scientific method.

Are you comparing knowledge of God to knowledge that, say, you feel cold?

That won't work, I'm afraid. By the laws of rational thought, subjective intuitions about sensation are always accepted as true. However, the implications of those feelings are often wrong.

That's where rational thought comes in. It's not enough for me to think that I'm flying my airplane right side up in a pitch black sky. My intuitions are inadequate. I need rational analysis and testing, and that's what instrumentation is for.

Subjective feelings are brute facts. They cannot be wrong. Objective beliefs are different. The truth of an objective belief is in the testing, not in subjective opinion.

Love is a subjective feeling. It's not as if there's some objective "love for my wife" floating around, and I objectively know I have caught it in my hand.

So why confuse things defined as subjective feelings with things that are not (like interactions with God)?

I mean, if I truly love my wife, what difference is that going to make to anyone but me and how I decide to act? It's not as if my love alone is going to cause the carrots in my garden to grow bigger, or affect the atmospheric pressure in Paris. If I thought that I was looking at something non-subjective, then I ought to be able to look for these things and find them.

In contrast, the idea that a being is acting on your behalf in response to your requests IS a claim about objective reality. If you cannot detect it through statistically controlled experiments, then you have no justification for believing it.

But it gets worse. The way prayer is viewed by Christians does not admit falsification. If you pray for X, and you get Y that might be interpreted as facilitating X, then the prayer is answered. If you pray for X, and you get Z that might be interpreted as hindering X, you don't count it against the efficacy of the prayer because that was nature or Satan or whatever.

If there's no falsification, there's no confirmation either.

 
At 8/12/2007 09:00:00 AM , Blogger J. Clark said...

Well, by way of naturalism, I don't think you can "know" anything with certainty. The moment you take your wife's love out of the beaker, you must assume that your theory is wrong. So, I must say, what I am getting to is that you do not know that your wife loves you by your own admission with (reason)certainty but you "trust" that she loves you. And it is your trust that begets your knowledge and not reason. Reason can verify it but it cannot give you the knowledge. The modern man has committed one of the greatest errors of philosophical history by making the outlandish claim that we only know by our reason.

And the answer to your question about God and my cold body is yes. With the same confidence that you know your wife loves you, I can know God is real and loves me. If I am certain that my body is cold and my reason supports it then it could be just as "reasonable" for me to believe that God has made the tree to push up dirt and water through its veins and make bark, leaves, and cones as would be if I were watching the actual event.
God can answer prayer just like your wife can answer your plea to buy more coffee.

 
At 8/12/2007 06:50:00 PM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

j. clark,

I don't think you can "know" anything with certainty.

I have no problem with that. Do you?

The moment you take your wife's love out of the beaker, you must assume that your theory is wrong.

I'm not "taking it out of the beaker." You only think you are.

what I am getting to is that you do not know that your wife loves you by your own admission with (reason)certainty but you "trust" that she loves you.

Yes. But that trust has meaning because it can be broken and I could recognize it as broken.

Besides, by reason and evidence I know she loves me with 99%+ probability.

Do you really think that your trust in your wife's love makes it certain knowledge? Knowledge is justified true belief. By your logic, no man should ever be surprised that his wife doesn't love him because his trust guarantees that she does.

And it is your trust that begets your knowledge and not reason.

Incorrect. My trust that my wife loves me is not knowledge. Knowledge is justified belief. Trust must be justified before it has epistemic value.

In your case, I think you are confused about what is being trusted-in. Are you trusting in God or trusting in yourself to feel God? Either way, it won't work.

God cannot even be found, let alone trusted. And the human ability to trust in things as true without reasonable knowledge has indeed been tested. Humans are untrustworthy in that respect, as all of the phony priests, psychics and magicians throughout recorded history have proven.

Reason can verify it but it cannot give you the knowledge.

Wrong.

Again, are all of your beliefs certain in light of your trust in them?

The modern man has committed one of the greatest errors of philosophical history by making the outlandish claim that we only know by our reason.

Why? Because it killed your god?

With the same confidence that you know your wife loves you, I can know God is real and loves me.

Yeah, sure.

In contrast to God, I have seen my wife. I can tell the difference between her and a potted plant or a leaky faucet. I know when she is speaking and when I'm hearing a voice in my head or a voice from the telly. I have a fairly accurate model of her thought processes, and I can usually predict her actions as a function of context. I would know what actions are in character, and which are not in character.

You have none of this regarding God. You haven't seen God. You can't identify which acts are his and which are not. You don't even have evidence that he exists. You aren't just trusting that an event is the work of God. You're trusting that God exists. Then trusting that he acted in a particular instance. Then using the trusted instance as evidence for his existence and vice versa. It's one big circular mess.

If I am certain that my body is cold and my reason supports it then it could be just as "reasonable" for me to believe that God has made the tree to push up dirt and water through its veins and make bark, leaves, and cones as would be if I were watching the actual event.

Very poetic, but nothing more than poetry.

If you take that attitude, you can assert anything. For example, I could assert that God does not exist in the same way that I directly know it is cold.

The difference between my knowing that I feel cold and my knowing an external condition is just that - externality. No one knows external reality just by feeling it. People have been claiming to magically know stuff for all of recorded history, and they were only guessing (and often worse than guessing).

God can answer prayer just like your wife can answer your plea to buy more coffee.

I'm sure God could if he existed, but what does that have to do with our conversation?

You are trusting that a there is an invisible guy pulling tricks (upon your behalf), tricks that just happen to be indistinguishable from naturalistic chance. And the way you conclude this is by suspending controlled experimentation - the one way we have to prevent self-delusion.

You're claiming that the way you know God exists is just like the way you know your wife loves you, but that's easily proven false. When watching a TV show, how do you tell if the wife character loves the husband character? Are you sensing the fake love between the actors?

Sorry to be so harsh, but I just can't stand a "holier than thou" arrogance that advocates retreating from the Enlightenment back into the dark ages of superstition. A lot of people died from the ignorance of the Dark Ages, and I'll have words with anyone who thinks reason is dispensable.

(Methinks I spent too much time in the Sun at the Renaissance fair today.)

 
At 8/13/2007 09:25:00 AM , Blogger J. Clark said...

man o'logic,

"And the way you conclude this is by suspending controlled experimentation - the one way we have to prevent self-delusion."

If this is the only way to prevent self-delusion then we are worse off than thought. Your wife must be deeply suspicious of your every behavior.



"Sorry to be so harsh, but I just can't stand a "holier than thou" arrogance that advocates retreating from the Enlightenment back into the dark ages of superstition. A lot of people died from the ignorance of the Dark Ages, and I'll have words with anyone who thinks reason is dispensable."

Oh, you are not too harsh. I don't mind that. I do mind a simplistic view of history though. I understand it is a simple world but you don't have to have a simple mind. Either you have read too much of Spinoza and Hume and forgot to read J.M. Roberts and your morning paper or you just don't know. More people have died since the Enlightenment from war than all of history. I don't mean just number of people but number of wars and people groups involved. And there is much more to come in this so called enlightened time. What is it with philosophers (particularly agnostic and atheist ones) who think we are so much better off now? Now that is chronological arrogance.

Interesting enough, you have labeled me "holier than thou" which I am deeply sorry for projecting. But then you pronounce from your own lofty throne, "I'll have words with..." as if you have made yourself King and reason your Queen. Reason does not belong to the Enlightenment and its philosophers but it belongs to every man and woman who wields it with humility, otherwise, we have just another god in the pantheon. Nor do I, as you have wrongly objected, dispense of reason. I want reason in its proper place like a Chinaman wants his pickled cabbage on his non salted rice because he knows the cabbage will do the job.

You know, too much time in the sun can harm the brain? Actually, sounds like a fair worthy of all the reason you can muster.

 
At 4/06/2009 08:21:00 AM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

I suppose psychology departments were dominated by behaviorists at the time he wrote this.

 
At 4/18/2009 04:03:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes

 
At 5/03/2009 06:20:00 PM , OpenID Finney said...

This might seem random, but I was reading your Argument from Reason as presented in the Blackwell Companion, and wasn't sure if your account of Ross's argument was wrong. You wrote in part that his second premise says

"Any physical state
is logically compatible with the existence of a mulitplicity of propostionally defi ned
intentional states, or even with the absence of propositionally defi ned intentional states
entirely."

Did you mean logically incompatible - not logically compatible?

 
At 5/06/2009 01:47:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Finney: I'm pretty sure he means logically compatible. The point is that physical states don't fix a unique propositional content. Hence, unique propositional contents cannot supervene on the physical.

 
At 5/06/2009 07:07:00 PM , OpenID Finney said...

Ohh. Right. That just puts the argument into proper perspective. Thank you!

 
At 5/13/2009 12:53:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Dr Reppert,

For a long time, I've been unclear on what exactly people mean by "(anti)materialism/physicalism/naturalism," and what are their logical relations.

-- According to SEP ("Naturalism"), naturalistic philosophers generally reject "supernatural" entities (i.e., classical God, angels, persons without bodies, and the like), and many times at least allow that science is a possible route (if not necessarily the only one) to important truths about the ‘human spirit.’ It seems to me the core here is just to say that only non-supernatural entities exist, or rather that supernatural entities do not exist (while some "naturalists" embrace abstract objects like numbers, sets, non-mental propositions, etc.).

-- "Moral theory naturalism" in contemporary metaethics wants to embrace only "natural properties": that is, properties treated in natural (and sometimes even economic, and social) sciences (cf. the work of Brink and Q. Smith). No "non-natural properties" allowed.

-- "Physicalism" seems to be the thesis that there are only: (i) physical entities like elementary particles (or physical strings, or physical fields) or (ii) their wholes (and maybe also (iii) some inner, immanent ontological principles or parts of (i) and (ii), like essences, in case the physicalism is ontologically sophisticated, or even (iv) "supervening" mental entities, properties or states in case the physicalism is a non-reductive one, e.g. like that of John Post).

-- Even the word "physical entity" is unclear.

Recently, I was said that every physical entity is spatiotemporal. "Spatiotemporal" seems to mean 4D, that is, localized in some quadruple of three classical spatial axes-cum-temporal axis. But then what about 5+D string theories and their posits? Are they non-physical?

I suggest our concept of a physical entity is paradigmatically of an entity that is (i) 4D and (ii) a relatum of efficient causal relations, esp. of pushing or of being pushed/or concrete (as opposed to abstract)/or having primary qualities (of modern mechanics, like solidity, extension, figure, motion, number).

But I'm not sure whether all contemporary physical entities satisfy (i) and (ii). Cf. the excellent treatment by J. Levine, Purple Haze, pp. 17-21 (http://books.google.cz/books?id=g4svYoFDAkwC ).

-- Once, a commenter at W4 wrote to me:
"I think you'll find that the question of what constitutes physicalism/naturalism/materialism is a controversial one. There's a fair bit written about this topic, from Naturalists (Pettit and Papineau) and non-naturalists (Tim Crane) alike. Here are two approaches:

(1) Physicalism/naturalism/materialism is the theory that reality is constituted just by whatever it is ideal physics has to postulate to make sense of its observations.
(2) Physicalism/naturalism/materialism is the theory that reality is constituted just by whatever kinds of things it is (and smaller) that make up this table in front of me.

The problem with (1), of course, is that we have no idea what an ideal physics looks like.
The problem with (2) is that it can't account for panpsychism, which isn't supposed to be a physicalist view. (This is true of (1) as well--it could end up including God as one of the things physics has to postulate.)"

-- Levine's ultimate conclusion, along the lines of (2), is that physical entity = non-mental entity. That would be a reply to the worry about panpsychism.

-- Many times I just have a suspicion that the motivational and substantial core of the debates about "(anti)naturalism" etc. is just the embracement vs. the rejection of personal God or after-life. (I add "personal" because of some redefinitions of divinity, like those by J. Post /the universe is divine/ or E. Steinhart /an all-inclusive unity is divine/.)

-- In any case, it would good to hear something about your view of of the nub of (the most apt definition of) naturalism, materialism, and physicalism.

Thank you very much.

Best wishes,

Vlastimil Vohánka

 
At 5/19/2009 06:44:00 AM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Vlastimil Vohánka: he has written about this. See this post. Strangely, you have already commented at that post, with a duplicate of your comment here...

Hmm that is odd.

 
At 5/22/2009 12:18:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

And to duplicate again:

Yet, I still don't know what is the nub of "naturalism," etc.

The oddness suggests the explanation: I duplicate for the issue has not been sufficiently settled for me.

Vlastimil

 
At 5/25/2009 07:02:00 AM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon: instead of duplicated perhaps you should have actually read the discussion at the other post, and responded to it. Otherwise your comment is a solipsistic bullett shot into the blogosphere.

 

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