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Science Forum

  1. Standard member finnegan
    GENS UNA SUMUS
    08 Dec '14 14:01
    This is a nice and interesting obituary of a philosopher interested in philosophy of science: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/04/roy-bhaskar

    "In this way, Roy argued, the two camps into which the left has been divided – positivists, who assume that since the world does exist, we must, someday, be able to have exact and predictive knowledge of it, and postmodernists, who believe that since we cannot have such knowledge, we cannot speak of “reality” at all – are just rehearsing different versions of the same fundamental error. In fact, real things are precisely those whose properties will never be exhausted by any description we can make of them. We can have comprehensive knowledge only of things that we have made up."
  2. 08 Dec '14 15:13
    Does "left" refer to a political stance here? I don't see what positivism has to do with politics - can't the "right" hold positivist views?

    Judging by the article, Bhaskar's understanding of why we cannot reliably predict the weather appears to be inadequate.
  3. Standard member DeepThought
    Losing the Thread
    08 Dec '14 16:23
    Originally posted by KazetNagorra
    Does "left" refer to a political stance here? I don't see what positivism has to do with politics - can't the "right" hold positivist views?

    Judging by the article, Bhaskar's understanding of why we cannot reliably predict the weather appears to be inadequate.
    I think that the statement about the weather says more about the journalist than it does Bhaskar. Besides he's right, in the sense that weather forecasting gives probabilities rather than firm predictions (80% chance of rain etc.). I'm not sure about his epistemological point. I've never doubted that the world exists, I've never thought that it was provable at the Cartesian demon level. Also positivism fell apart ages ago, I don't think that the left has been basing itself on positivist ideas since the twenties. The point about spirituality is interesting though, I think he's right about that.
  4. Standard member sonhouse
    Fast and Curious
    08 Dec '14 17:58
    Originally posted by DeepThought
    I think that the statement about the weather says more about the journalist than it does Bhaskar. Besides he's right, in the sense that weather forecasting gives probabilities rather than firm predictions (80% chance of rain etc.). I'm not sure about his epistemological point. I've never doubted that the world exists, I've never thought that it was pr ...[text shortened]... he twenties. The point about spirituality is interesting though, I think he's right about that.
    I'm not sure about the 'properties will never be exhausted' statement. I would assume he knew full well everything has an end point, matter, the whole universe, most likely or it dies a the dreadful death of entropy.

    Is that what he is referring to, the eternal time span of everything? We know for certain that is not true, like the sun is due to run out of fuel in a few billion years and the Earth will be buried under the surface of the expanding sun. That is pretty much certain since we see almost all the other stars follow that path and our sun is certainly not something special like a nice cosmic refueling dump
  5. Standard member Soothfast
    0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,
    08 Dec '14 20:32 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by sonhouse
    I'm not sure about the 'properties will never be exhausted' statement. I would assume he knew full well everything has an end point, matter, the whole universe, most likely or it dies a the dreadful death of entropy.
    Very strictly, I would say we do not know even this for certain. All is probability in the physical realm.

    Anyway we do need a working definition of "the left" and well as "reality." Or at least I think we do. I suppose I should read the article later on, but I'm willing to bet neither of these terms, and many more besides, are ever defined. It's a problem I've run up against repeatedly in the last couple of years in my readings of philosophical essays. Like mathematics, philosophy should be allowed to have a few undefined terms, but not a whole lexicon of them.
  6. Standard member finnegan
    GENS UNA SUMUS
    09 Dec '14 21:03 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by KazetNagorra
    Does "left" refer to a political stance here? I don't see what positivism has to do with politics - can't the "right" hold positivist views?

    Judging by the article, Bhaskar's understanding of why we cannot reliably predict the weather appears to be inadequate.
    When this article refers to the two camps into which the left is divided, it is clearly making no comment whatever about the right.

    Whether Bhaskar's understanding of why we cannot reliably predict the weather is inadequate or adequate is surely not terribly critical to the context, where the article discusses the contrast between things we can reliably predict, like the effect of heating water in specific conditions, and things in the natural world like weather which we cannot reliably predict. If you agree that we cannot reliably predict the weather, then we have sufficient information for this paragraph to make sense.

    The idea that (e.g.) chemistry emerges from physics but cannot be reduced to physics has been explored in other writing and an excellent article was cited on the Debates forum in the past year. I must search for it sometime out of interest. (Clue: it was in a row with Normbenign about economics). Whether that is an adequate explanation for the unpredictability of weather is, again, something that might need more discussion. Sufficient here that it just seems interesting enough to consider.

    Found it: posted by KazetNagorra in May 2014 for which many thanks: entitled More is Different
    http://robotics.cs.tamu.edu/dshell/cs689/papers/anderson72more_is_different.pdf
  7. Standard member finnegan
    GENS UNA SUMUS
    09 Dec '14 21:11 / 2 edits
    Originally posted by Soothfast
    Very strictly, I would say we do not know even this for certain. All is probability in the physical realm.

    Anyway we do need a working definition of "the left" and well as "reality." Or at least I think we do. I suppose I should read the article later on, but I'm willing to bet neither of these terms, and many more besides, are ever defined. It's a ...[text shortened]... cs, philosophy should be allowed to have a few undefined terms, but not a whole lexicon of them.
    Since Bhaskar is described as participating for example in the Chesterfield socialist conferences and was clearly participating actively in real political debate, rather than academic philosophy, then his use of such terms as "on the left" makes perfect sense and does not depend on an academic definition of terms. People like Ralph Milliband and Tony Benn (both dead now of course) know exactly what is meant when they talk about the left. It refers to a range of political opinions and groups which are recognisably on the left of British and European politics, in contrast to a different range of opinions and groups to the right. Neither left nor right are monoliths. There are immense differences within each camp, but there is a general acceptance that the issues of concern to the left are typically different to those of concern on the right. It is not just that they disagree - they are not even talking to each other most of the time.
  8. Standard member finnegan
    GENS UNA SUMUS
    09 Dec '14 21:15
    Originally posted by sonhouse
    I'm not sure about the 'properties will never be exhausted' statement. I would assume he knew full well everything has an end point, matter, the whole universe, most likely or it dies a the dreadful death of entropy.

    Is that what he is referring to, the eternal time span of everything? We know for certain that is not true, like the sun is due to run out ...[text shortened]... low that path and our sun is certainly not something special like a nice cosmic refueling dump
    i see no reference to time here. Properties will never be exhausted because there are always alternative types of explanation / phenomenon to be examined.
  9. Standard member sonhouse
    Fast and Curious
    09 Dec '14 23:05
    Originally posted by finnegan
    i see no reference to time here. Properties will never be exhausted because there are always alternative types of explanation / phenomenon to be examined.
    Ok, that makes sense. I thought he was talking about time.
  10. 10 Dec '14 14:18
    Originally posted by finnegan
    When this article refers to the two camps into which the left is divided, it is clearly making no comment whatever about the right.

    Whether Bhaskar's understanding of why we cannot reliably predict the weather is inadequate or adequate is surely not terribly critical to the context, where the article discusses the contrast between things we can reliably ...[text shortened]... re is Different
    http://robotics.cs.tamu.edu/dshell/cs689/papers/anderson72more_is_different.pdf
    What Anderson is talking about with respect to the "hierarchy of the sciences" (in his words) is different from what Bhaskar is talking about (again, judging only from the article). It is true that e.g. chemistry is "not just physics." It introduces new concepts, but the idea that all chemistry can in principle, if not in practice, be reduced to physics, (i.e. reductionism) is not disputed by Anderson. Weather is a very poor example because it is described by non-linear fluid dynamics and we understand very well why we cannot accurately predict it. However, understanding why we cannot accurately predict the weather is not the same as being able to accurately predict the weather.
  11. Standard member DeepThought
    Losing the Thread
    10 Dec '14 17:21
    Originally posted by finnegan
    Since Bhaskar is described as participating for example in the Chesterfield socialist conferences and was clearly participating actively in real political debate, rather than academic philosophy, then his use of such terms as "on the left" makes perfect sense and does not depend on an academic definition of terms. People like Ralph Milliband and Tony Benn ( ...[text shortened]... . It is not just that they disagree - they are not even talking to each other most of the time.
    It is not just that they disagree - they are not even talking to each other most of the time.
    That is definitely true. To the extent that they can be using the same words but saying different things. One major difference is that the right think that all things good in the world begin and end with profits; the left want people to be able to make a living - which in practise may seem to amount to the same thing, but you can increase profits by increasing productivity and then laying off workers - which undermines people's ability to make a living.
  12. Standard member DeepThought
    Losing the Thread
    10 Dec '14 17:33
    Originally posted by KazetNagorra
    What Anderson is talking about with respect to the "hierarchy of the sciences" (in his words) is different from what Bhaskar is talking about (again, judging only from the article). It is true that e.g. chemistry is "not just physics." It introduces new concepts, but the idea that all chemistry can in principle, if not in practice, be reduced to physics ...[text shortened]... accurately predict the weather is not the same as being able to accurately predict the weather.
    Can chemistry be reduced to physics? I suspect not at the biochemistry level. Laws of Nature represent a restriction on what is possible, and physics is, in that sense, the freest science. The extra restrictions in sciences that subvene on physics can't really be derived from physics because they represent what amount to boundary conditions.
  13. Standard member finnegan
    GENS UNA SUMUS
    11 Dec '14 01:00
    Originally posted by KazetNagorra
    What Anderson is talking about with respect to the "hierarchy of the sciences" (in his words) is different from what Bhaskar is talking about (again, judging only from the article). It is true that e.g. chemistry is "not just physics." It introduces new concepts, but the idea that all chemistry can in principle, if not in practice, be reduced to physics ...[text shortened]... accurately predict the weather is not the same as being able to accurately predict the weather.
    Well the Anderson article from the outset does indeed accept the reductionist hypothesis as valid. It considers that one can reduce chemistry to physics. It was making a different but still related argument, that one cannot construct chemistry from physics. I had a memory of the article, sparked by this thread, and went in search of it, returning later to add a link. Having reminded myself of the content, I think it is relevant but I am not going to torture the text and make it fit and maybe it will turn out to be in contradiction to what Bhaskar talked about.

    I am now a bit lost on your point regarding weather. Surely the thing Bhaskar wanted to point to was that we cannot predict weather (reliably) and so the statement that we know why we cannot predict weather does not add or subtract anything useful.

    It seems Bhaskar is not well known among the distinguished list of contributors to this particular thread. I have ordered two of his books to find out more just because he seems interesting. I hope it is worth the investment but he seems potentially worth a few hours of reading at least. I will know more some time in January or February I expect.