IGS Discussion Forums: Learning GS Topics: Limits of Scientific Knowledge
Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, May 24, 2007 - 04:24 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Authoratative stuff: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qm-copenhagen/

Science News Degrees of Quantumness: Shades of gray in particle-wave duality (5/12/2007) reported on recent experiements that can show a gradual change from the typical slit interaction pattern to particle nature.

At the top is the wave-like view, and at the bottom is where the waves coalesce into the partical-like view.

The Science news article references:

To say that no such bottom level exists is a metaphysical statement - about what "is", but quantum physics is about epistemology - what we can know, and science is only about what we can say about what is, and of course, that is not what "is". Descriptions of "what is" become abstract projections. I think that to say that quantum mechanics "implies" that "no such 'bottom level' ... is possible" confuses metaphysics with epistemology. It is similar to the expert's fallacy: "I don't know about it, so it can't exist."

A paraphase of Neils Bohr:
There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.[1]
"There's no quantum world world doesn't mean there's no world.

If you try to explain a zen koan, you miss the point.

There were many waves,
There were lots of particles.
Breakfast tasted great.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Monday, October 29, 2007 - 09:31 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Accepting [admitting another's claim] that "reality" has some structures falls into the classification of belief systems with respect to metaphysics - "what is" - in a manner similar to "believing" that particular structures "exist"; however, it does so at a higher (more general) level of abstraction.

I personally share such a belief, consciously chosen, that we can build successively more complex models that exhibit successively lower prediction failure rates based logically on the analysis of difference between predictions and observations.

I call it a belief, because if something does go wrong with a prediction, I revert back to this modus operandi, well summarized by Thomas, and that implies that I do not re-examine my assumption that some regularity can be depended upon.

So I sit on chairs without fear of collapse, without taking the time to check each one out. Occasionally one does collapse, and I simply adapt to the change.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, October 30, 2007 - 02:04 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Hi Milton,
By more complex, I give the example of relativity versus Newtonian mechanics. I see that when "anomalies" show up in the form of prediction failures, the old theory must be revised, by adding or altering something that adds the capability of predicting what the old theory did not. I see the process as going through a sequence of additions (more complexity) until the revisions add up to a collapse of the theory to be replaced by one quite different - a major paradigm shift in the words of Thomas Kuhn. Gödel showed, consistent with Russell's theory of types and Korzybski's levels of abstraction, that each level of a sufficiently strong model has undecidable statements, and an axiom can be added to produces the next level. This sequence of an increasing number of axioms at the theory level is what I take to be increasing complexity - "in principle". With respect to "social systems" such as the ecconomics, history, etc., I see these as more a collection of heuristics rather than any solid "theory". In science, if a prediction made by an "IF ... THEN ..." theory statement fails even once, then the entire system of which the "IF ... THEN ..." theory statement is a part is categorically disconfirmed. We salvage what we can and build a revised system by tweaking something somewhere so that a new "IF ... THEN ..." statement does predict the previously observed failure. We have nothing like that possibility in the social systems where statistical models allow individual failures, but only provided the percentage of failures is below our chosen confidence level.

Your assertion that "Logic is dead" flies in the face of Korzybski's adulation of mathematics and logic for determining the consistency of the theory to be tested. "Logic" is used by the Popperian "falsification principle". But "pure logic" can not be directly used where statistical relations apply, but it does underly the consistency of the statistical theory and methods. Statistics cannot be proven "valid" without the logic behind it. We however, must expend the effort to learn when and how to apply which technique. We cannot use binary logic to make predictions in areas where statistics applies. We cannot use statistics in areas where binary logic applies, or even in areas where finite multi-valued logic applies. And, in social systems, where intentional deception is allowed..., well, that's yet another story - one which philosophy has occasionally dealt with.

Neil Postman, as I recall, in the 1974 Korzybski lecture said that we must develop our "crap detectors". A healthy dose of experience just might give us some "immunity" in this area. I like Scotty's admonition in one of the original Star Trek programs... "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.".

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, October 30, 2007 - 03:12 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Thomas wrote "When we use such terms, we are dealing with characteristics which are absent in the external world, and build up an anthropomorphic and delusional world non-similar in structure to the world around us."

I would not use the word "delusional", because it implicitly presumes, via its negative connotation, that we "ought" to be able to have a "non-delusional" representation. I would also suggest that "characteristics" qualified by "which are absent in the external world" implicitly connotes, together with the word "delusional" that these characteristics are unrelated to "the external world". I would offer that "we are dealing with characteristics which are themselves absent from the external world, though abstracted from (or caused by) other characteristis of that putative external world. We build up an anthromorphic world distinct from "the external world" - one represented neurological, and hence different in structure from any putative structure in "the external world". [Our experience of "the external world" is a constructed "fiction" that is not "the external world". Such models often quite often effectively predict new experiences in terms of that constructed internal model, but the model is, at best, a guess that is incomplete and contains error. It may fail without warning at any time - precisely when we are using it.]

Thomas continues, Not so if we use a language of order, relations, or structure, which can be applied to sub-microscopic events, to objective levels, to semantic levels, and which can also be expressed in words. In using such language, we deal with characteristics found or discovered on all levels which give us structural data uniquely important for knowledge."

Although the structural differential shows small circles as characteristics, and it uses the same icon at all levels, we must recall that the characteristic at one level is not of the same kind as the characteristic at another level. This can easily be noted that a putative electron is not the putative (I'll stop actually writing this so long as you allow the semantic bargain that is it always present with any reference I make to any structure in what is going on.) photon it emits is not the chemical excitation in the rod or cone cell, is not the electro-chemical cascade reaction in the firing neuron, is not subsequent activations, is not our experience of those reactions, etc. At every level Characteristicleveln is not Characteristicleveln-1.

In every case applying mathematics to what we observe involves a human abstracting into a verbal map. How do you know if or if not the supposedly observed "relations" are or are not an artifact of the abstraction and translation into mathematical terms? Do not solutions of problems look like they can be solved with the available tools? A nail for a hammer; a screw for a screwdriver, glue, for a glue-gun?

Thomas asked, Ralph, I know your position is that there is no structure to "reality" per se, is that correct?

No, my position is that there is no knowable structure to "reality" per se. The difference is between one of metaphysics ("is") and epistemology ("know"). We cannot "know" what or if any "structures" "exists" in "reality", because we cannot "know" (epistemology - the province of science) what "is" (metaphysics - the province of "belief"). For Popper, we can "know" what is not, but we cannot know what "is". I advocate carefully formulating our language (in this forum) to stick strictly with purely epistemological constructs - to qualify any presumptive metaphysical ones.

Thomas: It seems to me you are not in agreement with Korzybski about this, is that correct?

Also no. Korzybski is very clear that we cannot know what is at the event level; that we can only know or experience our abstractions from it. In mathematical terms, we know f(x) but we do not know x, where f represents our abstraction. In the same laguage, let y represent our object or higher level abstraction. Then f-1(y) represents a "putative" structure in "what is going on" dependent upon both our perception (y) and our abstraction process (f).

Thomas: In particular, he says "we deal with characteristics found or discovered on all levels which give us structural data uniquely important for knowledge".

Remember that Characteristicsleveln are not Characteristicsleveln-1; Characteristicleveln-1 may be, f-1(Characteristicleveln), but Characteristicleveln "is" our projection onto Characteristicleveln-1.

In mathematics for a one-to-one function f-1(f(x)) = x, but this is not true for a many-to-one fuction, and particularly so when the relation is not a function, so r-1(r(x)), represents what we might project onto reality based on our abstraction relation - not a function, because we might come up with different abstractions from the same input.

Using "function" as a metaphor for abstraction can lead us astray if we apply the metaphor too strictly. Functions have unique values; abstraction does not. Abstraction is more like a many to many relation. Many sources can be abstracted to one output, and one source can be abstrcated to multiple outputs, so there is no possible guarantee that the process has any unique inverse or reversal.

We abstract into verbal levels that we also abstract into and represent mathematically. The structure of mathematics (for the suitably trained) is known (because it uses concepts by postulation), and binary logic applies. Therefore we can process the data using completely known structural constraints. The "fit" however, of the data to this mathematical world, depends upon the prior human abstraction process, and therein lies the possibility of error and failure of any constructed mathematical model to predict accurately. If we call the model "knowledge" then its construction and application are limited by the abstraction process.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, October 30, 2007 - 06:26 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

David, In my use of f(x) "x" represented that which the abstraction is from; I specifically stated that we do not know "x". I'm sorry if I did not make that explicitly clear. The abstraction process is being represented by "f" and an element from the domain of that abstraction process, specificially the event level, is being represented by x. This "x" is inherently unknowable. But I know f(x) which represents my abstraction. The functional notation, "f(x)", presumes some differentiable structure in what is going on as "the set of all x"; however, I specifically point out that that is extending the metaphorical use of mathematical notation beyond what I allow. We project backwards f-1(y) and thus create a putative "x" just like we assume that we might be holding and looking at "a baseball".

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, October 30, 2007 - 06:30 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail


I've always found Korzybsk's use of the term "delusional" objectionable - and I made that explicit above. Korzybski certainly did not work out all the implications of his theory or of the language in which it was described, but he did say that general semantics would be revised and updated, so critique away. It isn't my first critique of his formulations. :-) There's nothing sacrosanct about his formulations.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Wednesday, October 31, 2007 - 12:35 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

David, I think it fairly well known that words, in common parlance, "have connotations" as distinct from pure explicit dictionary definitions, and such common connotations include both positive and negative "value" associations.

Consider "beautiful" (positive), "ugly" (negative), "animalistic" (negative), "humanistic" (positive, "atheistic"), etc. Any time a word (or phrase) is in common usage as a euphemism, it acquires connotations associated with that for which it is a substitute.

"Illusion" does not have the same "negative" connotation that "delusion" does.

For "implicitly presume" see this post.

The word 'bachelor' "implicitly presumes "unmarried man" by virtue of its definition.

"Delusional" "has" a negative connotation. That contrasts with the opposite - to be non-delusional. So the "presumption" in the face of a "delusional representation system" is the desirability of a "non-delusional represtation system". But in general semantics, the map not being the territory, that will never be possible. We have "illusional" representation systems that present constructed "illusions" to represent what is going on, illusions that we can never get past, although we can be aware of them and "cognize" (but not "look") past them. We cannot, however, achive a representation system free from "illusion". The term "delusional", however, associated with "illness", suggests that a cure is desirable. A "cure" for "delusional" would be to have no delusions, that is, to get past the territory-map abstraction direct to the territory - not possible.

So, I do not particularly like the word "delusional" with its connotation of "sickness". "Illusion" with its connotation of "magic" or "sleight of hand" does not "blame" or "fault" the person as being "mentally" sick. We exist in a world of illusions, not a world of delusions, illusions which we cannot escape, not delusions we cannot cure.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Wednesday, October 31, 2007 - 09:11 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Yes, Thomas, "knowledge" "is" "structure, but it "is" structure we construct in our abstractions - both non-verbal and verbal. (We then "project" that structure "out there" through our brains - which "locate" their experiences "elsewhere".)

IF there "is" any "structure" in what is going on, THEN we cannot "know" it. We can only create hypothetical models subject always to future disconfirmation; those models are what we can "know", because they are constructed inside our "organ of knowing" - the brain.

Because we cannot "know" what is going on in any direct way, that the models we do construct "represent" or "are" "about" "corresponding" putative "structure" in what is going on becomes a matter of belief or faith. If we recall that, for Korzybski, "structure" is an undefined term, then we (projectively) "know" only that what is going on is "undefined".

A bit more... Structure, though undefined "simpliciter" is constrained by a defining relation with two other undefined terms, "order" and "relation".

According to Korzybski...
A structure "is" a complex of ordered relations.
Order "is" a complex of related structures.
A relation "is" ordered structures.
(This follows the model of geometry which defines a line in terms of two points or intersecting planes, a point in terms of two intersecting lines or three intersecting planes, or a plane in terms of a point and a line or two intersecting lines. This does not define what a point, line, or plane "is" simpliciter; but it constrains each in terms of the others. One might call them "interdefined", but it only "defines" the various relations among them. The Korzybskian definitions of "structure", "order", and "relation" follows this geometric model.)

I personally define structure recursively as a simple structure - indivisibly distinguishable as figure from background, but not distinguishable into sub-structure, or a complex structure made up of subordinate (smaller) "structures" (defined recursively), related and or ordered - connected in some way.

A structure is either a "simple" structure or
A structure is complex.
A "complex" structure is made up of less complex structures.

A base or simple "structure" is "atomic" (indivisible) by definition.

You may argue against this defining only by claiming that infinite descending divisibility applies. Clearly this is not the case in physics. Nor is it the case with verbal "structures" which end in a single letter or punctuation mark. See my dissertation for an authoratative (as of 1994) discussion of the issue of divisibility. My definition of "structure" does not distract from Korzybski's definition of structure as "undefined", but it provides a multi-level characterization that explicitly relates a lower level to a higher level. Structureleveln+1 "is" a complex of "ordered" "relations" of structuresleveln. We have "knowledge" about a generic "structure" when we have mapped the relations and order among each of its substructures - all the way down to its base or bottom level simple structures. (Metaphorically think of the "structure" of a tree. It has branches as intermediate level - less complex - structures, and leaves of the tree as the simple structures. Moving from the trunk outward corresponds to dropping down a level of complexity. You could carry it further to individual cells. You could carry it further to organells. You cold carry it further to molecules. You could carry it further to atoms. you could carry it further to sub-atomic particle. You could carry it further to basic particles. But you will run out of physical models to carry it further.) Since the simple "structures" are indivisible and without subordinate parts or relations - undefined - the entire mapping has some of that character of "undefinedness".

Example. In the MIT bocks world artificial intelligence reseach program an "arch" is defined as two tall blocks not touching with one wide block on top of the two tall blocks.

Blocks are undefined, but distinguishable by labels as tall, short, wide narrow.

The blocks are atomic - indivisible.

The "structure" identified as an "arch" is a complex structure consisting of three subordinate structures related to each other - two not touching each other, one toching both that do not touch each other ordered by the one toching both on top of the other two.

Knowledge "is" "structure" constructed internally to our abstracting process. This "structure" is not "out there" in what is going on.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Wednesday, October 31, 2007 - 12:42 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Thomas, I've said many times that everyone is free to "beleive" in "structure" at the event level. It's called "scientific realism" or "naive realism", and is the common belief system shared by most people. I take it for granted for everyday activities.

But we can only "know" what we create as maps in our brains. I say putative "structures" in what is going on indicating my projection; you may drop the putative, as well as the quotes, indicating that you believe that those (for me) putative "structures" "really exist" "out there" in what is going on (for you). Our "beliefs" are one thing, and you know my position on that - everyone is free to believe as they want. The fact that I may believe different than you does not denigrate your belief in any way. You may "say" what "exists", but I refrain from doing so without an epistemological qalifier (in this and other formal circles).

You said This event has a structure which we have mapped. This qualifies as a metaphysical perspective talking about "what is".

I say We have a map structure which we project as an event. This qualifies as an epistemological perspecting talking about what we conditionally "know".

General semantics, as "modern open applied epistemology", in my book, implies that we "should" choose the epistemological perspective as our dominate view.