Friday, May 08, 2009

Is "Concept Formation" Empirically Testable?

Rand's theory of Concept Formation is fundamental to her entire philosophy - and indeed with characteristic hubris she implies that it is also fundamental to man's continued survival on earth, no less. Yet despite its supposedly epochal importance, Rand's theory is presented in her "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" as a series of mere assertions, covering a scant few vague, confusingly worded pages with almost no detectable supporting argument and, despite her constant posturing about "reality", literally zero scientific or empirical support. Equally tellingly, despite her followers' enthusiasm for proclaiming her theory's vital importance they seem to have little enthusiasm for providing any actual evidence that it works as advertised, despite having had 40 years or so now to produce some. One excuse for this is that Rand writes "philosophically", ie vaguely and confusingly. And it is true that it is hard to design empirical tests for vague and confusing theories. But with a little digging, we at the ARCHNblog might have uncovered an actually-testable proposition amongst Rand's rambling epistemological palaver, and on that basis can suggest how her theory might be tested.

Let's start with her theory in its simplest form:
"A concept is a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated by a process of abstraction and united by a specific definition",
with a "unit" being
"an existent regarded as a separate member of a group of two or more similar members" (ITOE, p11)
eg: Two stones are two units

So in effect two stones are observed, from which the concept "stone" is formed, and then man's distinctive "conceptual" mode of cognition is up and running regarding stones. Well, that's all very well, but thus far described the process is all mental. Unless one can mind-read there seem few observable consequences we can take from this assertion. Fortunately, after some ambiguous hinting, a dozen or so pages later Rand provides us with something a little closer to what we've been looking for:
"The process of forming a concept is not complete until its constituent units have been integrated into a single mental unit by means of a specific word." (ITOE, p24)


Apparently properly formed concepts are vital to the "cognitive efficacy of man's mind" (ITOE p3), so we can assume that if a word is used without a properly formed concept behind it, it won't be able to be used "efficaciously"; for example, in a sentence. As a consequence,someone who has properly formed concept should be able to use that word notably better than someone who hasn't. This provides us with a straightforward basis to test Rand's theory, so here's a couple of quick thought experiments as to how this could be done.

1) Take two young children of similar intelligence who are at an articulate age but have not observed some particular object - let's say, for example, a microscope. Then take two microscopes of identical make and model. Show the first child the first microscope, then remove it and show her the second microscope. Tell her that these are represented by the word, "microscope." Having seen two "units", the child should, according to Rand's theory, have now formed a concept and be able to use the word in a sentence to some degree. Now, do the same with the second child, except this time instead of showing her the second microscope, show her the first one again. Thus, she will have only observed one unit, not the two or more required by Rand's theory, and thus should have not correctly formed a concept. Thus her verbal performance when tested should be markedly worse than the first child.

2) Another possibility is to imagine say, a child in remote village. Let's say the village has one piano, which the child is taught to play over the years, eventually becoming very proficient, coming to understand how the parts work, how to fix it etc. Let's compare this to another child who pauses at the window of a piano shop in a busy city, where they see two different pianos briefly, before their parents hurry them on. Now, according to Rand's theory, the second child will have a properly formed concept of "piano", whereas the first won't, and should be more "cognitively efficacious" regarding pianos than the first child is.

Of course the thought of either such result actually occurring seems absurd, which seems to indicate that Rand's theory is equally absurd. Naturally this could be down to the design of my thought experiments, in which case dissenting Objectivists are welcome to make better suggestions.

181 comments:

Michael Prescott said...

Funny stuff ...

But your front page isn't loading properly on Internet Explorer 7. Only the ARCHN banner and the first paragraph of this post appear.

On Mozilla Firefox, the page loads fine.

Anonymous said...

I think the issue here is whether or not a person has to *observe* a second unit--"in effect two stones are observed, from which the concept "stone" is formed, and then man's distinctive "conceptual" mode of cognition is up and running regarding stones"--for a second unit to have been "isolated by a process of abstraction and united by a specific definition" or is it enough to simply *imagine* a second unit: if you see a blue microscope and imagine another microscope like it, only it's red, does that mean you've "isolated by a process of abstraction and united by a specific definition" the blue/real microscope and the red/imagined one?

I think that's a question we have to answer first, to see if Rand is saying you have to observe the two stones/microscopes/etc., or if it's enough to just observe one and imagine the other, or even to imagine both.

Samuel said...

Anon: I don't think Rand would have considered it part of her concept formation-method to use fantasy and imagination. Wouldn't this fall under floating abstractions?

Anonymous said...

Samuel: the question is whether she would say the first microscope--or the first factory--was a floating abstraction in someone's mind before that person built the first 'unit' in physical reality.

Neil Parille said...

Rand stressed her claim that you have to observe two of a unit to form a concept.

She says in the workshops for ITOE that the concept God isn't meaningful because you would need Gods to form a concept and by definition there is only one.

The entire approach is faulty. For most of human history we were aware of one planetary system (the solar system). From what I've read, others have been discovered. Did we not have the concept of planetary system until recently? It was our knowledge of a planetary system that allowed us to recognize others.

There has been some work by O'ists on concepts since ITOE:

1. David Kelley has written a couple of journal articles. I haven't seen them, though.

2. Allen Gotthelf has this article:

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/metaphysicsofscience/naicpapers/gotthelf.pdf

3. Harry Binswanger has done a couple of taped series. I haven't heard them.

4. There is a new book "under consideration" by Gotthelf:

Concepts and Their Role in Knowledge: Ayn Rand's "New Approach to Epistemology" (with G. Salmieri, O. Ghate, and J.G. Lennox)

Anonymous said...

"Rand stressed her claim that you have to observe two of a unit to form a concept."

Then I think the bigger issue is with the Objectivist claim that the mind is not 'conditioned' by its tools. If you have to *observe* as opposed to *imagine* something to form a concept, then the first person to build a microscope must have observed two microscopes out in nature (fatal for the Objectivist claim that things like microscopes are the product of human invention and not emergent from human interaction with nature), or one can create something without having a concept of it (which sound like anything but a 'rational action' which makes it equally fatal).

Dragonfly said...

I have the same problem as Michael with the front page, while I use Opera.

gregnyquist said...

"I have the same problem as Michael with the front page, while I use Opera."

My guess is that it probably is a cache problem. Free up the cache and it'll probably work. If not, the only other thing I can think of is that a bug in blogger is generating some javascript that IE and Opera is choking on.

Daniel Barnes said...

Hmm sounds Bloggered...

gregnyquist said...

"Apparently properly formed concepts are vital to the 'cognitive efficacy of man's mind'"

Rand's insistence on "properly" formed concepts is one of the primary sources of Rand's two-unit fallacy concerning concept formation. The Objectivist mania for "validating" conception and demonstrating how concepts "ought" to be formed stems from Aristotle, particularly Aristotle's logic and his essentialistic theory of definitions. Like many another idolizer of "reason" and "logic," Rand has a foundationalist obssession with validating various aspects of knowledge. The ideal for her is the validation formal logic: she would like to find an analogous form of validation for concepts. But formal logic is an appropriate model for only a very limited domain of knowledge and represents a false ideal knowledge when applied to other domains (such as the domain of concept formation). And the essentialistic theory of definitions, as we have pointed out time and time again on this blog, represents yet another false and pernicious ideal knowledge.

Unfortunately for Rand, this is not the worst of it. The fact is (as cognitive science has shown), concepts are not formed by conscious design or under the guidance of "reason." Human beings are concept-prone: we make concepts naturally, without giving it much, if any, conscious thought (nor would our concepts be "better" if we thought more concerning how we should form them). Most of what happens in concept formation is happening below the threshold of consciousness. This is why Rand's attempt to form a theory of concept formation through introspection is an utterly hopeless, quixotic undertaking. It's impossible to know such a thing through introspection. Hence Rand's theory is merely a series of blind guesses, designed to concord with Aristotle's essentialist view of definitions and the implausible "classical" view of conception. This explains her lapse into absurdity with her two-units rule for concept formation. With her bias toward conscious control and following the "proper" method in concept-formation (which is only possible if concepts are formed consciously), it is only natural that she should think that at least two units are needed to form a concept. How else can a conscious mind with no innate tendency to form concepts possibly achieve this end except by observing more than one instance of the object conceptualized?

Since most concepts are formed below the threshold of consciousness, how they are formed is irrelevant. What's important is how they are used—the practical fruition of the theories that are symbolized and expressed through them. In the final analysis, Rand's theory of concept formation, far from providing a foundationalist basis for concepts (which is not needed in any case), serves only to rationalize and provide moral support for futile definition mongering.

dragonfly said...

Greg; "My guess is that it probably is a cache problem. Free up the cache and it'll probably work."

Alas... Something must have changed, it has worked perfectly for years. I've exactly the same problem with IE6, which I normally never use.

Anonymous said...

Concept formation is empirically testable. Cognitive psychologists, especially those who work with children, do it often, which Barnes' post seems oblivious to. Moreover, the sorts of experiments they do can be quite sophisticated.

The experiments Barnes proposes are mere silliness. The key to whether a child or anybody grasps a general term is whether or not he/she uses the same word or idea for multiple similar referents when there are notable differences between the referents. The first child is shown two different microscopes but with no way to determine they are different. The second child is shown the same microscope twice with no way to tell if there is one or two. In the second "experiment" the first child does not use "piano" as a general term, since the child's knowledge is only about one, despite knowing a lot about that one piano. The second child has a rudimentary general term piano , but knows very little about any piano. This "experiment" confuses having a concept with how elaborate that concept is and/or with extent of knowledge of a particular thing.

Neil Parille: She says in the workshops for ITOE that the concept God isn't meaningful because you would need Gods to form a concept and by definition there is only one.This is flat out wrong. She said no such thing.

Greg Nyquist: Rand's insistence on "properly" formed concepts is one of the primary sources of Rand's two-unit fallacy concerning concept formation.So what's the fallacy? (It's typical of this site to allege all sorts of fallacies with no explanation and/or the poster's poor understanding.) This one seems to confound the difference between a term with a unique referent (e.g. a proper name) and a general term with multiple referents. Obviously a general term has two or more referents.

The rest of Nyquist's hogwash is aptly described by Barnes: a series of mere assertions, vague, confused, and no detectable supporting argument.

Neil Parille said...

ITOE, p. 148

"A concept has to involve two or more similar concretes, and there is nothing like God. He is supposed to be unique. Therefore, by their own terms of setting up the problem, they have taken God out of the conceptual realm."

Xtra Laj said...

Neil,

Expect the usual parsing of your statement and a discussion of whether "taken out of the conceptual realm" is equivalent to "meaningful". Word parsing is the last refuge for for a philosophical scoundrel.

It's ridiculous how some people use their anonymity to engage in blatant, willful, petulant displays of ignorance. We can only be thankful that this anon (most likely really Herb Sewell) actually made a factually motivated claim as opposed to the usual abstruse non-logical argument - makes it much easier to show up his motivations.

Michael Prescott said...

Greg: "Free up the cache and it'll probably work."

Nope. I emptied the cache, but the problem persists in IE 7. Weird.

Maybe just another reason for me to use Firefox instead of IE.

Michael Prescott said...

"this anon (most likely really Herb Sewell)"

I don't think it's Herb. The writing style is different. Besides, Herb has no reservations about signing his name.

"The key to whether a child or anybody grasps a general term is whether or not he/she uses the same word or idea for multiple similar referents when there are notable differences between the referents."

That's probably what Rand meant, but I'm not sure it's what she actually said.

Even so, it wouldn't be true in all cases. It's possible to form a concept after seeing just one example of the thing in question. If a child sees just one hippo at the zoo, he may have a good working grasp of the concept "hippo." It's not essential for him to see another hippo in order for the light bulb to go on.

Or to take an adult example, a physicist can form the concept of a new subatomic particle after a single experimental observation. In some cases, a particle is so hard to generate or measure that a single observation is all that is possible.

Neil Parille said...

I can't view the entire post with IE. I can with Safari.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>Concept formation is empirically testable. Cognitive psychologists, especially those who work with children, do it often, which Barnes' post seems oblivious to.

Well, in that case it should be no problem for you to produce 1) one or more testable propositions from the ITOE and 2)some examples of the experiments they've been tested by.

We will await these with interest.

As for the rest of your post, it is true that "general" terms refer to a number of similar items, whereas particular terms refer to one unique item. However this is true by definition; we do not need Ayn Rand to inform us of this. And how restating this rather obvious claim demonstrates the importance of her theory of concept formation you don't explain. In fact in your replies to my little thought experiments all you've done is reduced Rand's allegedly epochal theory to a question of the usage or non-usage of general terms! Where did all Rand's much promised "cognitive efficacy" suddenly disappear to then?

Or did it never exist in the first place?

At any rate, if you don't like my little thought-experiments I invite you to produce some better ones.

Anonymous said...

Xtra Laj:Expect the usual parsing of your statement and a discussion of whether "taken
out of the conceptual realm" is equivalent to "meaningful". Word parsing is the last refuge for for a philosophical scoundrel.


Parille can parse "taken out of the conceptual realm" into "not meaningful", but you don't call him a scoundrel. Are double standards a habit of yours?

Xtra Laj: It's ridiculous how some people use their anonymity to engage in blatant, willful, petulant displays of ignorance.

It's amazing how some people like you are willing to engage in blatant, willful, petulant displays of ignorance or ad hominem, and sign their names.

Michael Prescott: Even so, it wouldn't be true in all cases. It's possible to form a concept after seeing just one example of the thing in question. This is irrelevant, as are your examples. The problem of universals is to explain using the same word or concept to refer to multiple existents known to be different.

Barnes: At any rate, if you don't like my little thought-experiments I invite you to produce some better ones.No thanks, but The Essential Piaget by Gruber and Voneche is a good source.

Michael Prescott said...

The problem of universals is to explain using the same word or concept to refer to multiple existents known to be different.

Although the problem is often stated this way, I don't think this description is quite correct. Concept formation is (of course) an epistemological issue, but the problem of universals is ontological. The question is: When we speak of a white fence and of a white sheet, what is the property of whiteness in each case? Is there such a thing as whiteness in and of itself, or is it merely an attribute? If it is strictly a attribute, then how can whiteness be the same in both cases? On the other hand, if it is a thing in itself, then what kind of thing is it and where do we find it?

So the problem concerns the ontological status of properties. Naturally, the solution to this problem has implications for epistemology, but it's not an epistemological question per se.

Some people even say that the problem should be termed "the problem of properties" to avoid confusion. (See p. 15 of this online book for one such argument.)

Daniel Barnes said...

I put it to Anon:
>Well, in that case it should be no problem for you to produce 1) one or more testable propositions from the ITOE and 2)some examples of the experiments they've been tested by.

The best Anon could come back with was:
>No thanks, but The Essential Piaget by Gruber and Voneche is a good source.

Thanks Anon, but in case you haven't noticed this was a thread about Ayn Rand's supposedly original, empirically testable theory of concept formation. You know, the one that solved all the major philosophical problems of the last few thousand years, and on which every human life depends? In fact you showed up claiming "concept formation" was indeed empirically testable, and that "cognitive scientists" did it often - as if you were talking about Rand's theory - and that somehow we here at the ARCHNblog were "oblivious" to all this scientific research going on, day and night, based Rand's unique insights.

And yet when directly challenged to produce some specifics, either a) a testable theory from the ITOE or b) some empirical experiments of the aforesaid you suddenly start talking about Piaget, and don't want to discuss the ITOE at all. How odd.

It rather brings to mind David Ramsay Steele's remark that Objectivist doctrine is merely "bluff, buttressed by abuse of all critics."

Anon, when you tried to imply that Rand's theory of concept formation had some kind of scientific support, were you bluffing? Or are you simply confessing that there is nothing real-world-testable in Rand that can't be also found in standard developmental psychology? Which makes her allegedly millennial, humanity-saving, original contribution exactly what??

Anon seems to be pulling a James Valliant.Amusingly, Valliant tried to palm off a claim that he knew many "professional scientists" who were Objectivists. When repeatedly challenged to produce the names of any respected Objectivist scientists, Valliant refused to answer. One is forced to suspect that he was simply bluffing too. Or perhaps "lying" is a better word.

Xtra Laj said...

Anon:
Parille can parse "taken out of the conceptual realm" into "not meaningful", but you don't call him a scoundrel. Are double standards a habit of yours?
_____________________________________

You really can't make this kind of stuff up - you just have to smile when you see it, despite having predicted it.

Anonymous said...

Barnes: I put it to Anon:
>Well, in that case it should be no problem for you to produce 1) one or more testable propositions from the ITOE and 2)some examples of the experiments they've been tested by.

The best Anon could come back with was:
>No thanks, but The Essential Piaget by Gruber and Voneche is a good source.
Wrong again, as usual. My post indicated exactly what I responded to.

As for academic experimental testing of a part of Rand's theory, see here:
http://www.theobjectivistcenter.org/cth--690-Livingston_Publishes_Measurement_Omission.aspx

gregnyquist said...

Anon: "Concept formation is empirically testable. Cognitive psychologists, especially those who work with children, do it often, which Barnes' post seems oblivious to. Moreover, the sorts of experiments they do can be quite sophisticated."

While this is true, it's irrelevant to Daniel's actual argument, which concerns Rand's claim that two units are required in order to form a concept. Moreover, it raises questions as to what's the point of IOTE, since it is preferable that these cognitive issues be settled empirically, by scientists, and not by philosophers with agendas.

Anon "In the second 'experiment' the first child does not use 'piano' as a general term, since the child's knowledge is only about one, despite knowing a lot about that one piano."

This illustrates the precise error Daniel is trying to illuminate. Why can't a child form "piano" as a general term if he's only observed one piano? Does anyone seriously believe that the said child regards the term "piano" as a proper name? And even if he did, aren't proper names also concepts, since they may symbolize objects that may change over time, as a human being changes over time? In any case, whether one regards Daniel's experiments as silly or not, that doesn't get Rand off the hook for implying that two units are required to form a concept. Such evidence that I am familiar with, both from cognitive science and from everyday life, makes the Randian implication implausible.

"The key to whether a child or anybody grasps a general term is whether or not he/she uses the same word or idea for multiple similar referents when there are notable differences between the referents."

Why is this key? Where is the evidence supporting this assertion? The more plausible view is that a "child or anybody" assumes right from the start that there may be other objects just like the one under view. When we come across an object for the first time and are given its name, we don't automatically assume that we've just been given a proper name and only regard it as a general term when we come across a second object in the same class. On the contrary, we assume the object's name is a general term right from the start.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>Wrong again, as usual. My post indicated exactly what I responded to.

Yes, and your response was merely an attempt to evade my direct questions.

>As for academic experimental testing of a part of Rand's theory, see here:

You seem to be really reaching now, Anon. I've had a quick look over the paper concerned, and unless I've missed it, it doesn't seem to have any mention of Ayn Rand or her theories at all. Nor does she occur in any of the reference notes. There is a mention of one D Kelley among dozens of other cites, but nothing about the ITOE or any facet of Objectivism.

So you've got one paper that's 11 years old, doesn't mention Rand, the ITOE or Objectivism, and is highly inconclusive anyway one way or the other regarding its hypothesis (Whether that hypothesis can even be related to Rand seems moot at best) Yep, that's a really great example of what you claim to be "academic experimental testing of a part of Rand's theory"!

And of course now you've moved completely away from your initial attempt to imply that Rand's conceptual theories are regularly subjected to sophisticated tests by cognitive psychologists.

Once againg: Anon, when you tried to imply that Rand's theory of concept formation had some kind of scientific support, were you bluffing?

Daniel Barnes said...

Greg:
>This illustrates the precise error Daniel is trying to illuminate.

While my thought experiment is kinda whimsical, the real issue is, suppose Rand is right? Suppose we could look into right into their minds, and POP!, we see that kid who walked past the piano shop form a "proper" concept right there in his head, whereas the first kid doesn't, he's just stuck with his "improper" concept.

The point is, even it's true, what difference does it make? Where's the magical "cognitive efficacy" we were promised? The first kid to all intents and purposes knows way more about what a piano is and does than the second one. Rand's theory seems to have no observable predictive real world consequences whatsoever. This in turn indicates it's just a redundant, purely verbal construction.

gregnyquist said...

"No thanks, but The Essential Piaget by Gruber and Voneche is a good source."

Piaget a good source for issues about cognition? Piaget may have been a great pioneer in empirical studies in cognition, but he was saddled with several dubious assumptions which colored his work, particularly his belief that mature thinking was essentially one that followed formal logic and his penchant for either denying or downplaying the role played by hard-wired tendencies. Second generation cognitive science has gone well beyond Piaget so that so that anyone going to Piaget for source material probably has a weak case.

gregnyquist said...

Anon: "The rest of Nyquist's hogwash is aptly described by Barnes: a series of mere assertions, vague, confused, and no detectable supporting argument."

What, precisely, is hogwash? Is Rand's epistemology foundationalist or not? Are most concepts formed under the guidance of conscious deliberation or not? Does Rand imply that logic is the proper pattern of thinking or not? Is Rand's theory definitions essentialistic or not? If most concepts are formed below the threshold of consciousness (i.e., we're not aware of the process that's behind their formation), then what's the use of telling people how they ought to be forming their concepts? Most of their concepts have already been formed. So what are we supposed to do now? Go through everyone's concepts and pick out the improperly formed ones? And how does one distinguish between a concept that has been properly formed and one that hasn't? And if an argument arose concerning whether a concept was properly formed or not, how, in concrete terms, would that argument proceed? Wouldn't it, for all practical purposes, end up being an argument about words, perhaps even (horror of horrors!) about definitions?

I don't think Anon understands the points being made on this post. I wonder if he is even capable of understanding them.

Brendan said...

Daniel: “The point is, even it's true, what difference does it make? Where's the magical "cognitive efficacy" we were promised?”

Exactly. If Objectivist concept formation were as powerful as claimed, we should have been seeing marvellous new ideas pouring from the lips of Objectivists and taking the intellectual world by storm. In reality, we get stuff that’s about average, interesting mainly for its naïve certainty and sometimes arresting style than any great originality or utility.

From what I have seen, for most Objectivists Rand’s epistemology runs a poor second or third to her ethics and politics, which provide a much more satisfying platform for laying about the corrupt world as a repository of irrationality and depravity etc.

The emotional high of a good moral thrashing beats the dry and rather pedantic parsing of definitions any day.

Abolaji said...

Brendan,

Is that you, old buddy? Long time no see.

Brendan said...

Abolaji: “Is that you, old buddy? Long time no see.”

That’s me. I’ve been around; still drop into the Rand sites regularly, but more as a spectator nowadays.

The way I see it, the fire seems to have gone out of the Objectivist movement over the past few years, despite the recent surge in interest. Maybe it’s begun to settle into an “institutional” phase, less exciting although perhaps more influential in a strictly political sense.

Hope you’re doing well. Still in the USA?

Daniel Barnes said...

OMG its the Sonomic Church of Esoteric Knowledge reunion...;-)

Anon69 said...

If Rand's explanation of concept formation bore any resemblance to reality, we would have new words coming out the wazoo. Everyone, everyday, would be noting commensurate characteristics of existents, omitting measurements, identifying conceptual common denominators, and assigning new words to new, properly-formed concepts. The fact that this doesn't happen shows what utter crap the Objectivist epistemology is. (Objectivists shouldn't bother pointing to the 1% that makes sense. One of Objectivism's main turnoffs is how tangential its supposedly main points are, while leaving 99% of the relevant subjects untouched).

Anonymous said...

Wow, Barnes sure has the capacity to misread, distort and try to mislead. I wonder if he is even capable of not confusing "is", "has been" and "is possible".

Barnes, what grounds do you have that Rand's theory of concepts has been specifically tested empirically and falsified? As a fan of Popper, isn´t that all that should matter to you? Any introspective stuff from you, Nyquist et al is unacceptable "philosophical twaddle". An acceptable candidate is an article in a reputable refereed cognitive science journal.

Nyquist wrote: The more plausible view is that a "child or anybody" assumes right from the start that there may be other objects just like the one under view. When we come across an object for the first time and are given its name, we don't automatically assume that we've just been given a proper name and only regard it as a general term when we come across a second object in the same class On the contrary, we assume the object's name is a general term right from the start.A few week old infant, held by Mommy, sees a dog for the first time. Mommy points to it and says "Spot". Now according to Nyquist, the infant instantly regards Spot as a general term and assumes there are other creatures like Spot. Using Popper's falsifiability principle, that pretty much destroys Nyquist's "plausible" view! LOL.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>Barnes, what grounds do you have that Rand's theory of concepts has been specifically tested empirically and falsified? As a fan of Popper, isn´t that all that should matter to you?

Well, just to school you up a bit on Popper, you actually have to have a testable proposition before you can, er, test it. These turn out to be few and far between in the ITOE, which consists mostly of vague and confused waffle. You don't seem to like the one we've winkled out of it, so why don't you suggest one of your own?

Secondly, sorry to rub it in, but the "article in a reputable refereed cognitive science journal" that you keep referring to contains no mention of Rand or anything from the ITOE, nor any reference to them . Ayn Rand, the ITOE....that's what we were discussing, remember? That's what you were trying to imply was getting all this scientific attention. Only turns out...it isn't! Even in your own example, AFAICS, which only contains a single reference to a book by David Kelley amongst literally dozens of other non-Objectivist references. It seems rather desperate bluff on your part to even bring it up, let alone try to offer it as some kind of empirical test of Rand and the ITOE.

gregnyquist said...

Anon: "A few week old infant, held by Mommy, sees a dog for the first time. Mommy points to it and says 'Spot.' Now according to Nyquist, the infant instantly regards Spot as a general term and assumes there are other creatures like Spot. Using Popper's falsifiability principle, that pretty much destroys Nyquist's 'plausible' view!"

This example has nothing to do with the point at issue. We're not talking about "few week" old infants, but about children who've reached the state where they can distinguish between proper names and general terms. What they learn first to do (e.g., to distinguish proper names or general terms) is an issue to be settled by cognitive science (if it can be settled at all). But once they reach the point where they can grasp general term concepts it is likely that they can form concepts from the experience of one instance.

Incidentally, the assumption that human beings in general are innately concept prone does not mean they can form concepts when they are a few weeks old. There are some Objectivists out there that seem to believe that if some quality or something is held to be innate, it must exist and manifest itself from the date of birth. This is not in the least true and demonstrates a belligerent ignorance concerning how genetics influence human conduct.

Anonymous said...

Barnes: Well, just to school you up a bit on Popper, you actually have to have a testable proposition before you can, er, test it. These turn out to be few and far between in the ITOE, which consists mostly of vague and confused waffle.Prove it. Of course, you can't. All you can do is spout twaddle.

Nyquist: This example has nothing to do with the point at issue. We're not talking about "few week" old infants, but about children who've reached the state where they can distinguish between proper names and general terms.What I wrote has everything to do with what you wrote previously. You are now simply trying to rewrite what you said earlier.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>Prove it. Of course, you can't. All you can do is spout twaddle.

Well I've invited you time and time again to produce an empirically testable proposition from the ITOE, or suggest an experiment that might test Rand's theories.

So far you've come up with precisely zero. But you do come up with it time and time again, so at least you're consistent...;-)

I especially liked your supposed "scientific peer reviewed" example of her theories being put to the test that in fact never even mentions Rand or the ITOE, but contains a single reference (among dozens) to David Kelley. That was priceless. Next you'll be telling me that Rand owned the Brooklyn Bridge because the 1960 Manhattan telephone directory had her name in it...;-)

Well, now that all you've got left is the Pee Wee Herman Argument* I suppose we're at that point where you'll be moving on pretty shortly, Anon, like so many other anonymous geniuses before you. But thanks for all the lolz and whoever you are, you're welcome back anytime.

*"I know you are, but what am I?"

Anonymous said...

Barnes: So far you've come up with precisely zero.Yet it beats the nonsense you came up with!

Cavewight said...

If Barnes came up with precisely zero, it would still be more than Rand came up with in ITOE.

Notice how dependent her theory of concept-formation is upon measurement-omission - meaning that one first has to have a concept of measurements in order to omit them - meaning that "measurement" has to come before "measurement" in order to acquire a concept of "measurement" --- meaning that Rand's epistemological theory can never get off the ground.

Onar Åm said...

Ayn Rand's theory was very sketchy and since then several objectivists, in particular Leonard Peikoff and David Harriman. I strongly recommend Peikoff's "Induction in physics and philosophy."

http://www.aynrandbookstore2.com/prodinfo.asp?number=LP82M

David Harriman is working on a book on induction in physics, based on this material, but in the mean time a lot of the material from that book is available in the journal The Objective Standard.

Now, induction is virtually synonymous with concept formation so it is interesting to hear what Peikoff says about induction in his course: in some cases it suffices to make A SINGLE OBSERVATION in order to induce a general concept (he sites Benjamin Franklin's kite experiment as an example of the general truth "lightning is an electric phenomenon" induced from a single experiment.)

Clearly this is in conflict with Ayn Rand's requirement of two observations in order to make a concept. Peikoff has improved upon her theory by changing a non-essential detail which is of little or no consequence to the theory as a whole.

Gottfried has also summarized her theory for a philosophical audience, and the way he summarizes it it is clear that he has successfully managed to highlight the essential aspect of her theory. He explains her theory as follows:

realists consider concepts to be *metaphysical*, i.e. they are forms out there to be *discovered*. Nominalists on the other hand consider consider concepts to be entirely epistemological, a figment of the imagination, something to be *created*. Rand considers *part* of the concept to be metaphysical and *part* of it to be the epistemological work of the mind. She says that a concept is *created* by the mind (as the nominalists hold) but that the concept is *informed* by reality. Reality directly affects the *efficiency* of the concept as a tool for the individual in manipulating and orienting in reality. In other words, what she calls an objective concept is a concept that is *optimal* as a cataloging and orientation device given the available observations.

A consequence of this is that it is perfectly possible to change and update the definition of a concept in light of new evidence, without rendering the old definition false or useless. For instance, Einstein did not falsify Newton, but *refined* his theory.

Now, THIS is the essence of her concept formation theory and anyone who is attacking any other part of it is quibbling with details. Whether one or two or three observations of a unit is needed is absolutely irrelevant to this broader point. In fact, if it is possible to change a part of a concept or theory without it significantly affecting the rest of the theory this is a sign that the detail at hand is *insignificant* (i.e. non-essential).

This does not mean that it is a valuable exercise to criticize Rand's unit theory and the specific mechanics and details of concept formation. But to conclude from this that the theory as a whole is wrong is absurd and demonstrates quite clearly that the author of this blog does not understand concept formation.


Furthermore, it is important to emphasize that Rand's theory is NOT a physical one, i.e. about the inner workings of the brain. The exact details of the brain processes are completely and utterly irrelevant to epistemology. The same goes with the fact that 99% of what goes on in the brain is unconscious. It is totally irrelevant that most of the concept is formed unconsciously. It is also completely irrelevant that most concepts are unnamed and remain in a state of unconscious background helper concepts. All this is IRRELEVANT to epistemology. Epistemology is not concerned with the brain or a theory of thought. It is not even a theory about what goes on in the mind during concept formation. Epistemology is a theory of KNOWLEDGE, i.e. a methodology for properly forming information that is logically correct, i.e. both internally and externally logically consistent, and optimal for the human mind.

Cavewight said...

Certainly, epistemology is a theory of knowledge. But concept-formation is no part of an introduction to epistemology. At the very best, it should come last, and maybe not even then. The concept we are primarily concerned with here is the concept of KNOWLEDGE, not of concepts formed by this or that method and regarded as a body of knowledge.

Rand's work should have been entitled Introduction to Objectivist Theory of Concept-formation.

Lastly, concept-formation is a topic of psychology, not philosophy. Notice that most of Rand's ITOE consists of psychological observations, as in her explanation of Crow Epistemology.

Onar Åm said...

Cavewight,

is this really what your best and most important criticism of Ayn Rand amounts to? She was not pedagogic enough for your taste? One of the things that characterizes a rational person is one who attacks the *strongest* and most essential points of his opponent first. Your criticism on the other hand amounts to the philosophical equivalent of complaining about spelling errors.

Concept formation is indeed essential to epistemology. Rand is unlike most other philosophers and actually has an integrated philosophy. In ethics she grounds morality in meta-ethics by asking why the moral sense exists. That's an evolutionary question, and answering it gives the foundation of ethics. (To promote our selfinterest, i.e. our existence and survival as human beings.)

She has a similar meta-epistemological approach by asking the questions "why do we have concepts? What is knowledge for?" Again the answer is evolutionary. It is to promote our existence and survival.

These are profound insights and totally unlike the approach of other philosophers. Since evolution is her starting point, so must concept formation be too. She must answer what biological *function* concepts perform. We know WHY they exist (to promote our survival) but not HOW. She answers this brilliantly by showing that their role is to compress information. The function is to subsume vast amount of information by compressing the data. This is achieved by measurement omission. (A special case in mathematics is rounding) The best compression that is achieved is to start by identifying the most essential information first and then subsequently adding ever less important information. One special case of this objectively optimal ordering of information is the number system. It starts with the most significant/essential digit, then the second most significant etc. In this way we can capture 99.95% of the information in Pi with only three digits: 3.14. Even if we omit an infinite number of digits we still only lose 0.05% of the information in Pi. THAT is the optimal and hence objective way of compressing numbers. Ayn Rand's epistemology is simply a generalization of this numbering scheme.

To me it is sad that it is possible for someone to apparently having read Ayn Rand thoroughly without understanding these genuine insights.

Cavewight said...

None of those "genuine insights" are to be found within the corpus of Rand's works. The word "evolution" is usually used by Rand in a negative context, or with analogy to the "missing link" in one of her articles. Rand never asked why the moral sense exists. She never asked the questions "why do we have concepts? What is knowledge for?" I never claimed that Rand's so-called epistemology as a whole is wrong, I said it was not epistemology but the psychology of concept-formation (e.g., the Crow epistemology). I do question her theory of percepts, but I have not done so on this page. She never said "Reality directly affects the *efficiency* of the concept as a tool for the individual in manipulating and orienting in reality." She never stated anything about those mathematical examples you mentioned. She never stated that certain elements of a concept were more "significant" than others. And as for concepts "compressing" information, she actually used the term "condensing," and that was old news in Rand's day and it is traditional to the Conceptualist school of thought which is a branch of Nominalism.
http://http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/ess.htm
CONCEPTUALISM -- ABELARD

Abelard begins by accepting the ontological claim made in nominalism -- that no universal entities exist (and thus he avoids a central problem in realism -- i. e., how would such universal entities exist "in" particular things?)

Instead, he argues that there are universal words -- words which are legitimately predicable (= they can be said) of many things.

But if such universal words are to have meaning by way of reference -- what do they refer to?

By definition, they cannot refer to particulars given in sense-experience. They refer instead, according to Abelard, to what he calls an "abstract concept" (which, as it turns out, is also very much like Aristotle's notion of the form which "in-forms" matter).

The abstract concept is formed as the mind is capable first of "abstracting" (= abstrahere, Latin for "to draw from, separate) the particulars given through sense-experience, in order to separate out from an image or impression especially those characteristics which a given entity shares in common with another entity.
etc.

It was Greg I believe who stated that one cannot turn a page in ITOE without finding some kind of mistake. But of course, that is all just on the same level as correcting spelling errors. So I turned to a random page and immediately found this marvellous "spelling error":

"Words transform concepts into (mental) entities; definitions provide them with identity. (p. 10)

So a concept isn't a (mental) entity until a word transforms it into one? She means, of course, the creation of a word transforms a concept into a (mental) entity, correct? So a concept cannot exist until a word is formed. And definitions provide "them" with identity. But what is the antecedent of "them"? Words, or concepts? Words apparently have no identity without definitions. And so until you can define "table" - with the help of ITOE p. 11, of course - you have a word, "table," with no identity.

Onar Åm said...

Cavewight,

all your remarks are irrelevant. Ayn Rand distinguishes between various mental objects, and one of those distinctions is whether they have been given a name, in which case she calls them "mental entities." Is it possible to quibble about the name she chose? Absolutely. Does that change the underlying reality or challenge her epistemology in any way? Absolutely not. It is quite clear that what she means by "mental entity" is a mental object which the individual has a *conscious* relationship to. She does not in any way deny the reality of unnamed mental objects, and frankly it verges on absurd that anyone could claim this given what she for instance writes about unconscious thought processes in "The art of fiction."

Also, it is true that Ayn Rand did not explicitly speak about evolution. She was not an evolutionary biologist and as far as I can tell had very little knowledge about evolution. This should not be held against her. On the contrary, this makes her insights even more profound because she was not guided by the wealth of data and knowledge from evolutionary biology. To me, who is trained in evolutionary thought, it is bleedingly obvious that she is ultimately making an evolutionary argument. Translating her ideas into evolutionary terms is straightforward. It's a no-brainer.

As to the claim that her book is about psychology not epistemology, this is simply mind boggling. In my opinion it reflects a deep misconception of Ayn Rand's philosophy. (I am writing a book which partly addresses misconceptions like this one. The book is called "The religious atheists: modern medievalism and the gates to hell.") ITOE is *not* about the psychology of concept formation, although any epistemology will naturally be domain specific to a particular kind of psychology. Ayn Rand's epistemology is equally valid for *any* conceptual being anywhere in the universe. In other words, although the specific psychological context must change, the epistemology as such is equally relevant and true for any conceptual being. So her epistemology is valid even to some strange alien who sees ultraviolet and even has senses that are totally alien to humans, and have a completely different mind capacity and thought processes. Why? Because there are a few key facts that bind all conceptual beings together:

1) we are living organisms, evolved through the process of natural selection. Hence the function of a conceptual faculty is self-interest.
2) every organism is FINITE with finite resources, including finite mental abilities and resources.

From this it automatically follows that the conceptual faculty will be about economizing and condensing information. And from the nature of reality it also follows that regardless of the extent of our abilities there will exist some ways of organizing information that are better than others. (netter in the sense that they promote the self-interest of organism better) Indeed there will exist an *optimal* way of organizing that information, and this is true whether the being at hand is a human or some alien on a different planet in a different part of the galaxy.

Only someone who profoundly misunderstands Ayn Rand can fail to understand "Crow epistemology" in the context of what she calls "contextual (finite) absolutes." She railed against the notion of supernatural absolutes (i.e. infinite, detached absolutes outside reality) and claimed that the universe and everything it is contextual. All her talk about nature and idenity is concerned with finite absolutes. Indeed we may define the natural as "a finite absolute." Nature=identity= finite absolute. Finite absolutes permeates all her thinking and in epistemology it pops up as crow epistemology.

Cavewight said...

The following text quoted from ITOE is psychological in nature, sometimes neurological, and it does not include the section on forming concepts from introspection:

Awareness is not a passive state, but an active process. On the lower levels of awareness, a complex neurological process is required to enable man to experience a sensation and to integrate sensations into percepts; that process is automatic and non-volitional: man is aware of its results, but not of the process itself. On the higher, conceptual level, the process is psychological, conscious and volitional. In either case, awareness is achieved and maintained by continuous action. (29)

Directly or indirectly, every phenomenon of consciousness is derived from one's awareness of the external world. Some object, i.e., some content, is involved in every state of awareness. Extrospection is a process of cognition directed outward—a process of apprehending some existent(s) of the external world. Introspection is a process of cognition directed inward—a process of apprehending one's own psychological actions in regard to some existent(s) of the external world, such actions as thinking, feeling, reminiscing, etc. (29)

On the perceptual level of awareness, a child merely experiences and performs various psychological processes; his full conceptual development requires that he learn to conceptualize them (after he has reached a certain stage in his extrospective conceptual development). (30)


Evidently, the solution to the Problem of Universals is psychological. Or I will need an example from ITOE of a statement that is not based in psychology or neurology.

Cavewight said...

Onar Åm wrote:
all your remarks are irrelevant.

Then why did you bother responding to them?

Ayn Rand distinguishes between various mental objects, and one of those distinctions is whether they have been given a name, in which case she calls them "mental entities."

"Mental objects" are studied by psychologists.

Is it possible to quibble about the name she chose? Absolutely. Does that change the underlying reality or challenge her epistemology in any way? Absolutely not. It is quite clear that what she means by "mental entity" is a mental object which the individual has a *conscious* relationship to.

Since concepts are designated by words, I should hope that Rand had a conscious relationship with the words she choose to use.

She does not in any way deny the reality of unnamed mental objects, and frankly it verges on absurd that anyone could claim this given what she for instance writes about unconscious thought processes in "The art of fiction."

I appreciate your attempt to cover up for Rand's mistake of claiming that "Words transform concepts into (mental) entities" which implies that concepts don't exist before they become words.

Onar Åm said...

For some reason you manage to completely ignore the main argument of my response, and again focus on irrelevant details. As I said in my response, ITOE is written using a domain specific context, i.e. it uses the human mind and human psychology as the concrete example of the implementation of epistemology. Nevertheless, all the results of her epistemology is true even for alien conceptual beings with a radically different biology than ours.

The point is that epistemology is very close to being a branch of biology. One needs to get one's hands dirty and actually study the phenomenology of an organ in order to assess and identify its function. There is no such thing as "pure" epistemology. It is induced from reality, from concretes and consequently it is logical to use real and concrete examples.

From this I conclude that you are more interested in bashing Ayn Rand than you are in learning philosophy. Experience has taught me that people like you are not worth discussing with because you are not interested in a rational debate. Therefore, unless you choose to end your malevolence, I will not waste any more time on you.

Cavewight said...

Onar Åm:

You can if you choose to be evasive. But before you scamper off, let's examine your latest smidgen of hilarity:

ITOE is written using a domain specific context, i.e. it uses the human mind and human psychology as the concrete example of the implementation of epistemology.

How do you implement a theory of epistemology using a psychological theory of concept-formation? Epistemology asks, What is knowledge? and, How does knowledge arise in the mind?; Rand evades the source of knowledge, takes it for granted as a given and then proceeds to form concepts from "sense-data" while deeming concepts knowledge instead of delving into the question of knowing itself. But concepts are not knowledge.

And I can tell you, from long experience, why Rand chose this tactic: because she was afraid of stepping into Kantian territory.

You're response gives a clue to her M.O. of evading any appearance of Kantianism. Rand chose to cling to the easy answers spoon-fed from biology and psychology, thus avoiding the difficult work of offering any actual philosophical theories. She will state instead that a percept is a product of the brain's activity; and that musical appreciation can only be understood by dissecting brains, i.e., physiologically.

Rand relied heavily on science in many other places in order to avoid the potential pitfalls involved in having to do the far more difficult work involved in philosophy. Her focusing on "concretes" was just a device to avoid the philosophical 'abyss' which haunted her daily life, and so she lived out her days according to the adage "when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you." Philosophy's greatest salesman was in fact its greatest fraud.

Onar Åm said...

Ok Cavewight, I'll take your bait.

Ayn Rand actually answers all the questions you ask in her metaphysics. She states that consciousness is identification and logic is the art of non-contradictory identification. That's pretty much it. Moving on.

You are not the only one with a lot of experience. Over the years I have developed into quite an expert on epistemology, and in particular on various modes of thought and how they relate to reasoning and knowledge. Roughly speaking reasoning can be divided up into deduction and induction, which roughly corresponds to left and right brain hemisphere thinking respectively. Left-brain activity is detail oriented, manipulative, discriminating, serial, bottom up, whereas right-brain activity is holistic, integrating, parallel and top down. While this is certainly an aspect of human psychology rather than of epistemology these features are so important and has such an impact on thought that one MUST know about them in order to think correctly. The division of reasoning into deduction and induction stems from this psychoepistemological feature of the human mind.

I could talk for hours about this topic (in fact, I am planning a book about it) then in this context this is relevant as follows: Ayn Rand was very much an inductive, holistic thinker. She certainly was an able deducer too, but that was not her strength. She was sufficiently strong in her inductive reasoning that she was able to draw very broad correct generalizations. She created the skeleton of a philosophy but left it to others to flesh out the details which requires more deductive work than she was willing or able to put in.

When I read the articles on this blog and the criticisms that are raised against Rand it is striking how much deductive argumentation is taking place and often complete lack of inductive reasoning. All your criticism deals with minute points and details which are then amplified into giant flaws that supposedly tear down Rand's philosophy and "reveal" her as a "sloppy" thinker.

End part 1

Onar Åm said...

continued from part 1:


But most of the criticism arises from lack of inductive thought. I'll give one example of this. Ayn Rand distinguishes between conscious, named, distinct concepts which she calls "mental entities" and unconscious, unnamed, blurry concepts. She acknowledges that the latter exists and has tremendous impact on human thought, and this is evident from her article "Philosophy: who needs it." There she states that everyone has a philosophy, and for most people that philosophy is implicit, unconscious, blurry and unnamed. One cannot choose not to have a philosophy, but one CAN choose to make it explicit so that one is CONSCIOUS about what one believes. Based on her years of experience she concluded that consciousness is the epicenter of reason and that if a philosophy is largely unconscious it allows irrationalities and contradictions to creep in the back door. Thus she sharply distinguished between the epistemological status of conscious, named concepts and unconscious, unnamed concepts. Both have tremendous impact on human behavior, she admitted, but only when concepts become conscious and named can they be submitted to epistemological scrutiny, i.e. properly validated as true or false.

Now, given this the whole idea of launching the thrust of one's attack on Rand's concept of "mental entities" becomes ridiculous.

Is it possible to criticize Rand for not being explicit about why she was so adament about epistemologically distinguishing between conscious/named and unconscious/unnamed mental objects? Absolutely. She violates her own epistemology by not spelling out explicitly why she makes this sharp distinction between explicit and implicit concepts. Does this make her a sloppy thinker? Not really. Her explanation IS provided explicitly elsewhere (in "Philosophy: who needs it"). It makes her writing less than optimally pedagogic and it requires people to know most if not all her body of thought before drawing conclusions.

PS: if you choose to disregard the bulk of what I have written and choose to narrowly get caught up in some flimsy detail, I will not care to respond further. Stay on topic or I will disappear or "evade" as you slanderously call it.

Daniel Barnes said...

Onar Am:
>When I read the articles on this blog and the criticisms that are raised against Rand it is striking how much deductive argumentation is taking place and often complete lack of inductive reasoning.

Hi Onar,

This is an odd criticism, as the book ARCHN, and the ARCHNblog,offer many empirical falsifications of Rand's positions, as well as logical or deductive falsifications. What's even odder is that there is almost nil empirical or scientific demonstrations of Rand's theories in her work, or that of her followers; she and they rely on little more than a series of rhetorical rationalizations.

This is demonstrated by the almost total lack of empirically testable theories in the ITOE. In fact this post itself contains a challenge to Objectivists to produce even one. (After some searching I have found what appears to be one; unfortunately I think it would almost certainly be proved false when tested). Do you have any suggestions? And if so, how would you suggest testing them?

The other issue I note with your remarks is again a not uncommon one with Objectivists - you talk about "inductive" reasoning. Are you aware of what's known as Hume's "problem of induction" and that Rand herself admitted she had no solution to it, and indeed knew almost nothing about problem herself?(see ITOE p304/5). So I'm not sure how your 'inductive" reasoning does not succumb to the standard problem of induction.

Cavewight said...

Onar Åm said...
Ayn Rand actually answers all the questions you ask in her metaphysics. She states that consciousness is identification and logic is the art of non-contradictory identification. That's pretty much it. Moving on.

Not so fast, Onar. How can you reasonably call that metaphysics? First of all, it is in a work supposedly on epistemology, and second of all, logic is not metaphysics. The statement "consciousness is identification" is not metaphysical.

You may find some metaphysics in ITOE, but that wasn't it.

The division of reasoning into deduction and induction stems from this psychoepistemological feature of the human mind.

I would just like to point out that psycho-epistemology is a term coined by Barbara Branden (not Ayn Rand) to describe a science intended for the purpose of explaining the connection between subconscious premises and conscious feelings and value-judgments. It is indeed claimed to be, let's say, a "synthesis" of psychology and epistemology. Your claim to doing actual psycho-epistemology may well be questionable and using a big word invented by Barbara Branden in the 1950s to describe your theory doesn't lend it more credence.

Ayn Rand was very much an inductive, holistic thinker. She certainly was an able deducer too, but that was not her strength. She was sufficiently strong in her inductive reasoning that she was able to draw very broad correct generalizations. She created the skeleton of a philosophy but left it to others to flesh out the details which requires more deductive work than she was willing or able to put in.

Ayn Rand was a great plagiarist, I'll grant you that much.

Onar Åm said...

Daniel,

let's start with the problem of induction. It is solved by using the axiomatic method, or Rand's razor. This consists of shaving away all unnecessary assumptions about reality, until you reach assumptions that cannot be shaved away without undercutting the razor. Whatever remains after this process is exhausted is the fundamental axioms of reality. One of these axioms is that consciousness is able to identify reality by means of reason. Or put differently: induction must produce certain knowledge. Why? Suppose that induction is fundamentally uncertain as Hume proposes. NOTHING 100% certain about reality can be reached through the process of induction. That's too bad because even the laws of logic are induced from reality, and if induction is not trustworthy then neither is logic of any kind, including the argument that induction is untrustworthy. Hence, undercutting induction undercuts the argument against induction. Problem solved.

As to the supposed lack of empirical evidence for Ayn Rand's epistemology it is a kind of argument I would expect from Kantians or Humeans who are not very familiar with Ayn Rand. But you supposedly ARE familiar with Rand and supposedly understand her philosophy thoroughly. That's disconcerting. Ayn Rand correctly pointed out that philosophy is not some kind of afterthought on science. Philosophy is MORE fundamental than science. Science BUILDS on philosophy. Hence you cannot start with science to validate philosophy. With science you can confirm and refine philosophy, but science is always a secondary process. (I write a lot more about this in my forthcoming book "The religious atheists.")

In other words, the basic truths about philosophy must be available to us without the aid of science. It must be available through everyday observation. Each and every one of us must be able through introspection or extrospection to validate philosophy and it is only through this process of testing that a person can be certain that a philosophy is true.

I could talk a lot more about this but I am for some reason limited by 4096 symbols in my comments.

Cavewight said...

For the record, here is Rand's Razor as quoted from ITOE 2nd ed. --
The requirements of cognition determine the objective criteria of conceptualization. They can be summed up best in the form of an epistemological "razor": concepts are not to be multiplied beyond necessity—the corollary of which is: nor are they to be integrated in disregard of necessity.

Onar Åm said...

Cavewight,

I never said that she wrote the fundamental axioms of existence in ITOE. She wrote it elsewhere. (don't have the exact reference) So what? Again you can make a case that Rand was not as pedagogic in her structuring of material as would be ideal to the uninformed reader. After all, she wrote ITOE for an audience of Objectivists who were already intimately familiar with her philosophy. But again, so what? How does this in any way undermine her *philosophy*?

And whether "consciousness IS identification" is a metaphysical statement or an epistemological one is really a detail which does not change any essentials, but in my view it is perfectly appropriate of Ayn Rand to define the above as a metaphysical statement because it was reached by means of the axiomatic method, which is common for all the axioms of existence. The axiomatic method is a part of metaphysics, not epistemology. The art of logic itself is not part of metaphysics, but the identification of what logic IS most certainly is a part of metaphysics.

Whether Ayn Rand was a plagiarist or not is in my view irrelevant. Although she rediscovered many ideas on her own, she certainly built on existing ideas too. But so what? She wrote her works in English too. Does that mean she plagiarized the creators of English? Apart from a few major standalone contributions Ayn Rand's major contribution to philosophy was her *integration* of philosophy into a properly unified, coherent whole.

This will be my last response to you Cavewight. You have shown zero ability to raise the level of your criticism beyond pedagogic issues and whether Ayn Rand was a plagiarist or not, and your grudge and banter is not worth my precious time.

gregnyquist said...

Onar Åm: "let's start with the problem of induction. It is solved by using the axiomatic method, or Rand's razor. [Axioms are allegedly "self-evident" propositions: what do they have to do with induction?] This consists of shaving away all unnecessary assumptions about reality, until you reach assumptions that cannot be shaved away without undercutting the razor. [What on earth is a necessary assumption about reality? and how does one distinguish it from unnecessary assumptions?] Whatever remains after this process is exhausted is the fundamental axioms of reality. One of these axioms is that consciousness is able to identify reality by means of reason. [How is this self-evident? And is this axiom discovered by "reason"? If so, isn't this assuming a point at issue?] Or put differently: induction must produce certain knowledge. Why? Suppose that induction is fundamentally uncertain as Hume proposes. NOTHING 100% certain about reality can be reached through the process of induction. That's too bad because even the laws of logic are induced from reality, and if induction is not trustworthy then neither is logic of any kind, including the argument that induction is untrustworthy [So what? Even if an argument against induction is self-contradictory does not prove that induction is valid, only that the argument against it is bad.]. Hence, undercutting induction undercuts the argument against induction. Problem solved."

I'm sorry, but not only does this fail to solve the problem of induction, it doesn't even broach the problem. Induction must produce certain knowledge? There's no ironclad guarantee that anything can produce "certain" knowledge, since nothing is given accept the solipism of the present moment]. To solve the problem of induction, one must show how a specific form of argument must always lead to a true conclusion, if the premises are true as well. Trying to prove induction by disproving a disproof is simply irrelevant.

Daniel Barnes said...

Onar:
> let's start with the problem of induction. It is solved by using the axiomatic method, or Rand's razor.

Onar, Rand is on record as admitting she did not solve the problem of induction, nor even had done any work on it! Read p304/5 of the ITOE for her own words on the matter. So you are quite wrong I am afraid.

If you personally have solved it using "Rand's razor" where she did not, I think you should submit your solution immediately to peer review and get it internationally published instead of letting it languish in comments at the bottom of some obscure blog. For if you have solved it, you will certainly be the most famous philosopher and logician of the last 100 years. Guarantee it.

Now, let's take a look at your arguments:
>...induction must produce certain knowledge. Why? Suppose that induction is fundamentally uncertain as Hume proposes. NOTHING 100% certain about reality can be reached through the process of induction.

Yes.

>That's too bad because even the laws of logic are induced from reality,

Oh really?

P1: All men are mortal
P2: Socrates is a man
P3: Socrates is mortal

How many times do I have to "induce" this "from reality" to be certain it is valid?

>...and if induction is not trustworthy then neither is logic of any kind, including the argument that induction is untrustworthy.

No, you don't understand Hume's problem Onar. The problem is that induction is not logically valid. Deduction doesn't rest on induction.I don't have to observe 2+2=4 X number of times to assert that it is true...;-) Additionally, I can assert that 1,000,000 +1,000,000=2,000,000 even though I've never seen that sum done using real objects! There is nothing "inductive" about it. Likewise, there is no "inductive reasoning" - or, if it is, it is no more logically valid than the Voice of God in your head.

>Hence, undercutting induction undercuts the argument against induction. Problem solved.

No, it's actually "problem not understood"...;-). I think that your claim that "Rand's razor" solves Hume's problem flies in the face of all the evidence, including the testimony of Rand herself. Further Leonard Peikoff claims to have solved the problem of induction, but he has not yet published his solution so unless you've got the inside word from him...? (Incidentally, this is such an important problem that Peikoff is on record as saying this is one of the three questions he would ask Rand if she was still alive).

Cavewight said...

Onar:

I know you never cited your source, but that is not to say it wasn't written in ITOE.

ITOE, 55 -
An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest.
The first and primary axiomatic concepts are "existence," "identity" (which is a corollary of "existence") and "consciousness." One can study what exists and how consciousness functions; but one cannot analyze (or "prove") existence as such, or consciousness as such. These are irreducible primaries. (An attempt to "prove" them is self-contradictory: it is an attempt to "prove" existence by means of nonexistence, and consciousness by means of unconsciousness.)


One good question which I don't recall seeing asked or answered is why she equated "analyze" with "prove," or how attempting to prove something by analysis is self-contradictory. Sloppy...

Peikoff declared that existence is "proved" by waving his hand in a circle around him. I guess he tried "proving" consciousness the same way and almost knocked himself out.

Cavewight said...

Daniel:
There is Peikoff's solution to the problem of induction which costs a mere $205.

For some reason, Peikoff's solution hasn't made him the most famous philosopher of the last 200 years.

Cavewight said...

Daniel said...

P1: All men are mortal
P2: Socrates is a man
P3: Socrates is mortal

How many times do I have to "induce" this "from reality" to be certain it is valid?


I can't buy this at all. The only induction implied in your famous syllogism is the universal found at P1: All men are mortal. The question therefore is: how many men do we have to examine to determine whether or not all men are mortal? How was the universal premise established or induced if not by assumption?

The empirical or scientific approach cannot solve the problem of how the universal premise is induced. Science only gives probabilities. To necessarily establish a universal it would be necessary to have complete knowledge of a subject for all time.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

You and Daniel are saying the same thing. Daniel is talking about the structure of the argument, and not whether the premise is valid or not. The other examples of logic he gives make this clear.

Daniel Barnes said...

What Laj said...;-)

Onar Åm said...

Daniel,

the laws of logic are not innate to the human mind. If you put a baby in a dark room from birth with no stimuli it will not develop concepts of logic. Just like any other concept logic is induced from the structures of reality. Which structures are we talking about? The most fundamental, general and abstract common structure of all existence: identity. Logic are the induced laws of identity. A is A. Aristotles law of non-contradiction is not something that he was miraculously born with, it was derived empirically from observation, INDUCED.

It is quite easy to show that Aristotle induced this law of identity. He didn't observe all of the universe. He didn't even observe a very large fraction of it. Yet, everywhere he looked he saw the law of identity, and never saw a violation. He concluded from SOME instances of non-contradiction to ALL instances, in the entire universe, including in parts he had never and would never observe. That's induction for ya.

The same is true of any syllogism. We observe their truth (for instance, from "the mouse is smaller than the cat and the cat is smaller than the house, hence the mouse is smaller than the house.") and induce general rules which are always true.

It has been a flaw in all major philosophers since the enlightenment to assume that the mind is somehow a safehaven where the laws of reality do not apply. For some reason philosophers believe that the concepts of logic simply appear by magic in our minds and that they are eternally true for magical reasons. Hume's major flaw was NOT that he questioned the validity of induction in reality out there, but that he excluded his own brain and mind from the analysis. If the laws of physics can change tomorrow for no reason at all, then so can your brain and your mind. The syllogism A->B, B->C => A->C could thus by Hume's analysis be falsified tomorrow. The only problem Hume faces is that this undercuts his very analysis. If he can't trust induction then he can't trust the argument he made against it.

Onar Åm said...

On the problem of induction: there are really TWO problems of induction, and these are:

1) is it possible to generalize 100% certain conclusions from SOME to ALL? (yes or no)

2) HOW do you generalize 100% certain conclusions from SOME to ALL?

I answered the first of those, which is trivial. Yes, it's possible to generalize 100% certain conclusions from SOME to ALL. The second question, however, is anything but trivial. It regards the laws of induction, and this is what both Rand and Peikoff refer to as the hard problem of induction, and which to a large extent Peikoff has solved in his "Induction in pilosophy and physics." I say "to a large extent" because it is not a structured solution. He answers important questions, but still it lacks a full and proper conceptualization. One of the things that I truly learned from and was an eye opener for me was the following:

induction does NOT require a large number of observations. Induction is NOT a statistical sampling such as that of a lot of white swans and from there conlude that all swans are white. Indeed it is possible to induce a generalization from a SINGLE observation. In these cases induction can be written formally as follows:

(P1/\P2.../\Pn)=>(T->C)

where P1-Pn are known premises and T is a test in reality and C is a conclusion. The major difference between induction and deduction is that induction requires some kind of confirmation of data external to the mind (or more precisely external to the logical argument at hand) whereas deduction does not. Deduction is a special case of induction, "frozen" induction if you like. It fully relies on already induced concepts (such as the syllogisms), but since these concepts have already been verified and internalized in the mind as premises in the argument no external testing in reality is required.

From what I gather from all your responses you do not understand induction at all. I *strongly* recommend that you listen to Peikoff's lecture and read up on Harriman's articles. Or you can of course wait until Harriman and/or Peikoff publish their books.

Cavewight said...

Laj said...
You and Daniel are saying the same thing. Daniel is talking about the structure of the argument, and not whether the premise is valid or not. The other examples of logic he gives make this clear.

A syllogism is deductive, and Daniel gave an example of a valid deductive syllogism. What do we need to prove its validity, except logic?

But my question is, what do we need to prove the validity of the universal at P1? This requires induction, not deduction.

Daniel Barnes said...

Cavewight:
>But my question is, what do we need to prove the validity of the universal at P1? This requires induction, not deduction.

This is the "problem of induction". As far as we know it can't be done.

Cavewight said...

Onar said...
the laws of logic are not innate to the human mind. If you put a baby in a dark room from birth with no stimuli it will not develop concepts of logic. Just like any other concept logic is induced from the structures of reality.

Induced - by what? You will say, by the mind, correct? So that means something was in the mind to develop laws of logic a priori to any contact with reality (or stimuli).

Onar Åm said...

Our mind certainly has evolved the ability to *learn* logic, but logic itself is not innate. But notice that evolution required a LOT of organisms to be in contact with reality before a neural structure adapted to learning logic evolved. The ability to acquire logic was paid for by the brutal life and death process of natural selection.

Cavewight said...

Laj wrote:
In these cases induction can be written formally as follows:

(P1/\P2.../\Pn)=>(T->C)

where P1-Pn are known premises and T is a test in reality and C is a conclusion.


The problem is not inducing to a universal, the problem is the validity of the universal itself. The true test is why and how the universal applies in any particular case. If it was as simple as "A is A," that is, universal corresponds to particular, then it is only valid in the case of A's and other algebraic expressions which don't exist in reality.

Since, however, a universal allegedly corresponding to reality must correspond to a particular case, it is necessary to show how this is possible. For example, there is no example of a white swan in reality that is identical to my universal "white swan." Every white swan in reality is different, and even though we have taken the common components existing among white swans and formed their concept, we still have not formed an identity between mental product and physical actuality. There is a relationship to be sure, but what the nature of that relationship is nobody can discern.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

Please be more circumspect when adducing statements to Laj :).

Onar Åm said...

Cavewight,

that was me you were quoting, not Xtra Laj. The process of induction is highly analogous (almost equivalent) to digitalization (or sampling) of an analog signal. Thus, any induction will normally result in a rounding error. (what Rand referred to as measurement omission) Nevertheless, despite these rounding errors there are still a few things you can say about the digits. First of all 3.14 is an extremely accurate approximation to Pi, given that it only has 3 digits, and Pi has an infinite number of digits. Second, and more importantly, even though the number as a whole contains rounding errors, the two most significant digits contains no errors. They are 100% accurate. This is analogous to the essentials of an induced concept. While the less significant details may be altered as new information is discovered, the most significant/essential aspects will never change. They are 100% certain.

There are generally speaking TWO kinds of errors that are possible to do when performing induction: overgeneralization (i.e. too much generalization given the available evidence) and undergeneralization (lack og generalization when the evidence in fact supports it). This is analogous to rounding up and down respectively. So 3.11 is analogous to an undergeneralization and 3.17 is analogous to an overgeneralization. Note that in the last digit there will always be an unavoidable rounding error, but this can be minimized by rounding to the nearest digit. So 0.19 is rounded to 0.2. Such minor rounding errors are unavoidable in the last digit and must be considered a legitimate over/undergeneralization. Example of one such rounding error is Newtons laws of physics. It turns out that they are an overgeneralization. They do not apply at high speeds and in high gravitation fields, but this is a legitimate overgeneralization because they fit all available facts at the time. Einstein's extension of Newton did not falsify the most significant parts of Newton, but did correct a minor overgeneralization in the least significant part of the theory. Why is it least significant? Because no human existents typically moves at relativistic speeds or live in high gravity fields. It is only very recently that we have expanded into these areas (e.g. satellites).

Why does digitalization of the universe work? Due to the law of identity. Everything in the universe has an identity. There are no miracles, and therefore any order that is observed in the universe must be causal, and hence can be sampled and ordered into essentials.

Cavewight said...

Onar said...
Why does digitalization of the universe work? Due to the law of identity. Everything in the universe has an identity. There are no miracles, and therefore any order that is observed in the universe must be causal, and hence can be sampled and ordered into essentials.

You do realize that "everything in the universe has an identity" is an induction upon which you are basing other inductions.

You have not however established your identity axiom induction. It is only an assumption.

Cavewight said...

Onar said...
Our mind certainly has evolved the ability to *learn* logic, but logic itself is not innate.

That's what I'm saying. But what is necessary for learning logic? You said that a baby born into total darkness could not learn logic. I certainly agree. All I'm saying is that sensing is not the only thing.

There has to be something a priori to the learning of logic, call it innate if you will, but it is an ability or capacity and it does exist prior to all experience or else no learning could occur at all.

Onar Åm said...

"You do realize that "everything in the universe has an identity" is an induction upon which you are basing other inductions."

Absolutely. Indeed it is the most general generalization that is possible about existence. As explained earlier "existence is identity" is one of the axioms of existence, i.e. one of the inevitable facts about existence that remains after applying the axiomatic method recursively and exhaustively. Indeed exhaustion of possibilities is precisely the underlying mechanics of induction. When all other possibilities have been exhausted all that remains must be the truth. Trying to eliminate the law of identity immediately results in a contradiction which undercuts the attack. Thus, there exists no valid conceptual attack on the law of identity and hence it must be true. (Or rather, it is inescapable.) Hume had to resort to the supernatural in order to attack induction, but supernatural speculations are per definitions not a valid foundation since it is based on something that is not observed. I know that modern philosophers get a real kick out of fantasizing that their own minds are supernatural safehavens untouchable by reality because that gives them a major power rush, the illusion of being God. But the fact still remains: there is no safe haven, not even the mind of the philosopher.

Cavewight said...

Onar:

This is an old issue which I have brought up before: the Objectivist notion that "attacking" the identity axiom has anything to do with anything.

Attacking the identity axiom is not necessary, since the burden of proof is upon the Objectivists to inductively prove that everything that exists has identity, and to prove that axiomatic concepts are really concepts (as I believe Greg pointed out in his book).

I'm not saying anything about relying on the Identity axiom in an attempt to disprove it. I am simply saying that it hasn't been proven so there is no need to disprove it. I am also therefore saying there is a need to prove it, and that Objectivism is unable to provide such a proof.

Onar Åm said...

Burden? Proof? Identity? Existence? What on earth are you talking about? I don't understand any of them. All of these concepts have been *induced*. They presume the law of identity. They presume that induction works. Without the law of identity and without induction you are merely babbling and incomprehensible stream of incoherent non-identity, which is impossible to understand or have knowledge of. So again. So please, can you rephrase your claim without reference to *any* induced concept or without the assumption of identity? Once you have done that I will try to answer it.

Daniel Barnes said...

Onar:
>...to a large extent Peikoff has solved [the problem of induction] in his "Induction in pilosophy and physics." I say "to a large extent" because it is not a structured solution. He answers important questions, but still it lacks a full and proper conceptualization.

Well Onar, based on your comments to date, this, I believe, is the theoretical structure you have outlined:

From the single observation that it rained last Tuesday, we can "induce" that it will rain next Tuesday with a probability between and including 0 and 1.

Further:

From 1--->infinity observations of rain on prior Tuesdays we can, according to the marvelous Objectivist process of induction, confidently predict that there is a probability between 0 and 1 that it will rain next Tuesday.

If you think you can improve on those numbers Onar, go right ahead and show us your workings.

If not, then this is all your proposal actually amounts to. Wow: a theory with a consistent predictive power of between 0 and 1. Where would we all be without Objectivist induction?...;-)

Anonymous said...

Barnes: Wow: a theory with a consistent predictive power of between 0 and 1. Where would we all be without Objectivist induction?...;-)

This is no more Objectivist than it is Popperian or Humean. Please tell us what more you can predict from it rained last Tuesday.

Onar Åm said...

Daniel,

I did not say that ALL proper inductions should be done from a single observation, I said that in special cases a proper induction could be done this way. This should have peaked your curiosity because it is a rather astounding claim, given the view of induction today. Obviously your grudge against Ayn Rand prevents you from being intellectually curious and performing any sorts of benevolent reasoning, so I'll just spell it out for you:

Benjamin Franklin's kite-experiment proved that lightning was an electrical phenomenon. That experiment was designed in such a way that it excluded all other possibilities than a yes/no-test. No other tests than this was needed to comfirm the theory that lightning was an electric discharge. That is induction from a single observation.

Now we'll see whether you are intellectually honest or if you are simply on a crucade against Rand.

Cavewight said...

Onar,

I fully admit to the astounding power of induction. And that if it weren't for induction we humans couldn't get very far.

However, induction is more than just to say the thing of experience has identity. What would be so incredible about that? It is to say that the thing of experience will always have identity, whether in the future or outside of your immediate experience. And this you cannot prove because for Rand identity is bound up with identification, that is, consciousness.

The question of identity for Rand is one of attributes and, to put it in so many words, whether things also have the property of identity. She would reply that attributes are a thing's identity. But she cannot answer as to whether these identities, these attributes, come to us through the senses or were already in the mind as universals. In other words, there is no distinction between identity and identification, all it requires is some content to identify.

Xtra Laj said...

Onar,

I think that you've misconstrued the problem of induction as a *problem*. The question is not whether one *can* get a valid idea or principle from observation, or whether one *might* get a valid principle from a single observation, but how to specify a procedure for this induction (possible things to specify might be the number of times to observe, the probability of the conclusion being valid etc.) such that immunity from error is guaranteed.

We agree that deductive logic guarantees true conclusions if the premises are true. Errors in deductive logic are not a function of the logical process but of sloppy reasoning. In other words, the structure of deduction guarantees the truth of the conclusions if the premises are valid.

So can we specify induction in a similar way? Is it possible to specify an inductive process such that we can guarantee that its results are valid?

In other words, does observing that the sun rose today guarantee that the sun will rise tomorrow? If so, how do we formalize this process? How many times do we need to observe it to be sure that our conclusion is immune from error? I put it to you that no, it is not possible to formalize the inductive process. The problem is that the world is too complex to do so, even if all human beings were very intelligent.

Even if one wants to defend sufficient similarity etc., the question is how to know that this is the case in a particular circumstance. Can I tell beyond reasonable doubt that the same medical treatments that work for me will work for you? What is the formal inductive process to arrive at such a conclusion and what probability of certainty should we assign to the conclusion?

Even the Benjamin Franklin kite experiment that you claim "proved" a conclusion from a supposedly single induction (of course, if this is true, it means that Franklin magically came up with the idea with no exposure to any other evidence, which is not a problem for a Popperian, but should trouble an Objectivist): all a Humean/Popperian skeptic would assert is that our best evidence drives us to that conclusion, but there is no need to hold on to the conclusion as infallible or beyond dispute. A super rigorous justification process cannot grant us *immunity* from error, especially in instances where we cannot control for the number, complexity and variation of causal factors.

The difference essentially between the Popperian and the Randian position is, IMO, the kind of approach to knowledge fostered by both. Randians tend to be highly dogmatic and like to believe that new knowledge cannot upset old knowledge if the old knowledge was gained in a contextually justified fashion (why anyone should believe this kind of nonsense is beyond me). Therefore, whatever Randians consider axiomatic rarely ever gets questioned by them when reviewing the evidence presented by others (Randians have some of the poorest insights into human nature that I've ever seen because of their poor conception of free will, which they think is mostly determined by philosophical ideas).

Popperians and Humeans, while in most respects, will look indistinguishable from Randians, will not hold that they have some immune insight into certainty. They will engage in an exchange of insights, defend their positions, provide empirical evidence for their assertions, but are free to question any part of their philosophy that they find wanting when trying to make their ideas consistent. This by itself may not make their conclusions better than those of Objectivists, but when combined with the empirical approach to thought that this fosters, you'll find that most scientists appreciate the nuance which Hume and Popper brought to science and generally embrace it, even if not in the precise form held by Hume or Popper. That appreciation is far more important than agreeing completely with Popper and Hume.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>This is no more Objectivist than it is Popperian or Humean.

Correct. Yet this is precisely what Onar's theory of induction as presented so far entails.

If his theory of induction entails different results, well I have have invited him to produce his own workings. Thus far he has not done so. You too, Anon, are welcome to do so. Let's see what you've got.

Daniel Barnes said...

Onar:
>Benjamin Franklin's kite-experiment proved that lightning was an electrical phenomenon. That experiment was designed in such a way that it excluded all other possibilities than a yes/no-test. No other tests than this was needed to comfirm the theory that lightning was an electric discharge. That is induction from a single observation.

Onar, there is nothing "inductive" about this. This example doesn't relate to the problem of induction in any way. I don't know why you think it does, other than you don't understand the problem. This is an example of empirically testing a theory by observation. This is as perfectly acceptable to Karl Popper, the strongest critic of induction in the past century, as it is to you, precisely because it is not inductive in the first place. (Incidentally, your description of Franklin's experiment is false too, because it couldn't possibly have excluded all other possibilities as the underdetermination problem tells us these are infinite).

All you have done is take something that is not example of induction, re-label it as an "induction", and then claim to have solved the problem. Hardly going to set the world on fire, that one.

Look, these things you are saying are unfortunately little more than fairy stories. If, as you rather oddly claim, Aristotle "induced" the law of identity from observing a "fraction" of the universe to all the universe, then he committed a logical fallacy by his own lights! And Hume didn't "resort to the supernatural to attack induction." He used the same logic as Aristotle! I don't know where you are getting these tall tales from, but they are certainly rather entertaining...;-)

>Now we'll see whether you are intellectually honest or if you are simply on a crusade against Rand.

Well, Onar, as it happens correctly criticising the often confused doctrines of Ayn Rand and being intellectually honest are very far from being mutually exclusive...;-)

gregnyquist said...

Onar Åm: "The most fundamental, general and abstract common structure of all existence: identity. Logic are the induced laws of identity. A is A"

Rand's notion of "identity" is so confused that at some point in the future I will have to do a more detailed posts on it. For now, I will merely point out that, to the extent that it is a "valid" law, it applies only to the symbols of consciousness: i.e., it states that any symbol of consciousness is identical to itself. Any assertion of an identity that goes beyond these symbols (such as an identity between a symbol and some material object) is problematic right from the start (and not in the least "self-evident" or axiomatic). Where is the identity between the symbol "tree" and a tree in reality? The word "is" used in "A is A" has at least seven different meanings; and Rand confuses at least four of them.

"Just like any other concept logic is induced from the structures of reality."

And what "structures" are those? The laws of logic are developed from the symbols of consciousness, not from the external material world. Logic applies to certain types of symbols (the symbols of discourse). To say that "reality" is logical is to speak in terms of metaphor, like one might call a feeling "blue." Feelings cannot literally be blue, nor can material processes be logical. The usefulness of logic in certain practical pursuits is entirely fortuitous and accidental. Such usefulness does not prove that reality is logical, (nor are the laws of logic "induced" from their usefulness in reality). Facts are arbitrary and contingent; logic is ideal.

Induction is, strictly speaking, not part of logic. Only a deductive argument (where the conclusion is implied by the premises) is truly logical. All other logic is merely of the metaphorical variety. A deductive argument is valid precisely because its premises imply its conclusion. It is "true" (or rather "correct") a priori. In an inductive argument, there is no such implication of a priori correctness. Inductive arguments lack the "necessity" of the logical deduction for the simple reason that they seek to describe the empirical world, in which there are no man-made necessities, just contingent facts, utterly groundless and alogical, waiting to be discovered, interpreted, and conjectured about. Truth is groped after, not imposed, by the presumptions of the intellect; and it is a huge error to confuse a method of thought (and one, moreover, with only limited practical usefulness) for a principle of reality.

Cavewight said...

Greg said...
Induction is, strictly speaking, not part of logic.

Just weighing in with a little Kant here (who is referring to universal propositions induced and used as the major premise of a syllogism):

For they would not even be possible a priori, if we were not supported by pure intuition (in mathematics), or by conditions of
a possible experience in general. That everything that happens has a cause cannot be inferred merely from the concept of happening in general; on the contrary, it is this fundamental proposition which shows how in regard to that which happens we are in a position to obtain in experience any concept whatsoever that is really determinate.
[A301/B357]

Interpretation:
The law of causality is not inferred from reality (i.e., the concept of happening in general which is garnered from many experiences), but connotes the very possibility of the experience of "happening" itself insofar as it is considered necessary. Without the concept of causality no concept or even experience of "happening" would be possible for us.

Onar Åm said...

Cavewight,



saying that things always will have an identity is equivalent to saying that there can never exist miracles. In other words, questioning the law of identity is equivalent to believing in the supernatural. So what you are really saying is this: "sure believing in the natural world is very powerful, but can you say for certain that miracles do not exist?" I'll leave it up to you to figure out how that argument fares.

Your description of Rand's alleged identity=identification is blatantly false, and anyone who knows just introductory Ayn Rand knows this. Let me refresh your memory "wishing won't make it so." "Facts are facts independently of people's beliefs and wishes." She called this view "the supremacy of existence" and scorned its opposite "the supremacy of consciousness." She railed against anyone who thought that the mind *creates* reality. Now, how on earth does that stack up against identity=identification? It doesn't. No-one who has elementary understanding of Ayn Rand's philosophy would make a mistake like this.

Onar Åm said...

Daniel,

I am actually shocked that you claim that Franklin's generalization "lightning is an electrical phenomenon" is not induction. Franklin isn't just saying that the lightning that he saw that day he performed his experiment was an electrical phenomenon. He is generalizing and saying that ALL lightnings that have been observed (and not observed) and will ever be observed or happen are electrical phenomena. To claim that this is not an induction (a generalization from ONE to ALL) is a display of such philosophical and scientific illiteracy that I don't really know what to say. No wonder you have such a colossally mistaken view of Objectivism.

That a concept is part of a theory in no way removes the fact that it is an induction.

About exclusion of possibilities: it is impossible to exclude 100% of the possibilities (because as you say there are an infinite amount of them) but it is possible to come pretty close. What is the value for pi? Well, with only three digits (3.14) I am able to narrow down the possibilities a lot. Even though pi is infinite and we only have three lousy finite digits I can say with absolute 100% certainty that pi is neither less than 3.135 nor greater than 3.145. See? No magic involved. With a finite number of elements I have narrowed down the number of possibilities dramatically. This works because concepts are so powerful that they are able to cover the whole of existence.

The same is true for electricity. Benjamin Franklin didn't exclude all possibilities, but he narrowed down the possibilities in such a way that some 100% certain conclusions about lightning could be drawn from the experiment, just like in the pi-example. (Note that my pi-example is much more than a metaphor. The numbers are themselves induced concepts and the number system displays the most elegant and pure form of essentials. Digits are ordered according to significance, i.e. how important they are for the overall number. This is a special case of the ordering of attributes according to significance in concepts in general.)

As to supernatural reasoning, a common example is the "brain in a vat" used by skeptics to undermine observed reality, or the Humean argument that the laws of the physics could just miraculously change sometime in the future. In both cases an unsupported, unobserved fantasy (and hence supernatural) is used to undermine actual observations. Substitute "brain in a vat" with "God" or "the tooth fairy did it" and you'll see what I mean.

Onar Åm said...

Greg,

it is very clear that you are a Kantian! Let me just inform you that I do not understand anything you say because you are using induced concepts, which you claim are unreliable. So please restate whatever the hell you're saying in such a way that you are not using any concepts induced from reality or that do not in any way rely on the assumption that things have a nature (i.e. an identity).


"The laws of logic are developed from the symbols of consciousness, not from the external material world."

Putting my reality glasses back on for a moment this is false. Logic is induced from reality like all other concepts. There is not a single concept in your mind that is not in some way mixed with sense data. There is no such thing as "pure thought" or "pure logic." No child who is deprived of all sensory data ever develops logic. Why? Because logic is the induced from reality. Logic is the abstraction of the most general structure in the world out there: identity. That is, there is one thing that all existents have in common: they have a finite nature - identity. Logic is the laws of identity induced from reality, just like physics is the laws of matter, space and time. In the broadest sense physics is a subset of logic. That is, there exist identity structures that are not physical, but not vice versa.

Cavewight said...

Onar said...
saying that things always will have an identity is equivalent to saying that there can never exist miracles. In other words, questioning the law of identity is equivalent to believing in the supernatural.

No it isn't.

Onar Åm said...

Xtra Laj,

if you've followed this thread you would know that I have stated exactly what you say earlier:

On the problem of induction: there are really TWO problems of induction, and these are:

1) is it possible to generalize 100% certain conclusions from SOME to ALL? (yes or no)

2) HOW do you generalize 100% certain conclusions from SOME to ALL?


These are related, but separate questions. Question 1 is easy to answer. The answer is yes. Question 2 is very difficult to answer and has eluded thinkers for 2500 years. Peikoff has made a major step in the right direction of solving it and it can be heard in "Induction in physics and philosophy." Peikoff hasn't always been a good thinker, but here he really shines.

You write:

"We agree that deductive logic guarantees true conclusions if the premises are true."

We agree, but for different reasons. I say that if induction is untrustworthy then so is deduction. In other words, you are believing in deduction for supernatural reasons. You believe, like Hume and Descartes, that the human mind somehow magically can escape sensory data from reality and think "pure" thoughts in some isolated safehaven in the head. You can't. If induction is uncertain, then deduction (which is induced from reality) is uncertain too. Or to put it in somewhat Humeanesque terms: the laws of physics may change at any minute, and since your brain is physical then anything produced by the brain may be rendered invalid too. So what is deduced to true in one moment (A->B /\ A => B) may turn out to be false in the next.

"Is it possible to specify an inductive process such that we can guarantee that its results are valid?"

The answer is: yes, it is, but it is very hard, and we are not quite there yet, although Peikoff has made important headway. A full fleshing out of a unified theory of induction is missing and it most certainly is not written out in a coherent, systematic and pedagogic manner yet. I expect this to happen within a few years.


I agree with your assessment that many Randians are dogmatic. There are several reasons for this: 1) Rand was a novelist, not an academic. She had an inflammatory style of writing which attracted a lot of youths and a lot of politically interested people, but very few academics. 2) Rand's philosophy is tangled up with politics. Most Randians have focused on the political works, whereas precious little academic and philosophical work has been pursued. 3) Rand is still quite contemporary, with many of her closest friends still alive. Thus Rand has earned somewhat of an unfortunate position. Randians often look UP to Rand. That is the road to stagnation. If you want progress you have to look DOWN on her, while standing on her shoulders. In other words, she must be treated as a giant worthy of admiration, but it shouldn't detract intellectuals from expanding on Rand's work. I am one of those intellectuals who stand on her shoulders and intend to bring philosophy to new heights. Indeed, many of my new insights will be available in my forthcoming book "The religious atheists: modern medievalism and the gates to hell."

Cavewight said...

Onar wrote:
Your description of Rand's alleged identity=identification is blatantly false, and anyone who knows just introductory Ayn Rand knows this. Let me refresh your memory "wishing won't make it so." "Facts are facts independently of people's beliefs and wishes."

Allow me to correct your memory a bit here. "Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification."
(Galt's Speech.) I'm arguing that if existence is the content of awareness ("A content-less state of consciousness is a contradiction in terms" [ITOE 29], then identity is identification. If you reply that Ayn Rand never said that, that alone hardly defeats my argument.

As for "wishing won't make it so" (which is a quote from, among other places, The Objectivist Newsletter: Vol. 1 No. 8 August, 1962: Introducing Objectivism), that is just an example of Ayn Rand loading down a simple formula with more meaning than it contains. And if "A is A" really means "wishing won't make it so," then she should have mentioned this in ITOE. However, it is impossible to extract "wishing won't make it so" from any of her axioms.

gregnyquist said...

Onar Åm: "it is very clear that you are a Kantian!"

No, not even close. I'm a critical realist in the tradition of Lovejoy and Santayana, with a bit of Hume and Pierce and a lot of Popper thrown in for good measure. To be a realist means that you distinguish between ideas and what they represent "out there," in reality. It means a belief in a substantive reality that has a place, movement, origin, and destiny of its own, no matter what I or anyone else may think or fail to think of it. What are called ideas (or concept, percepts, datum, etc.) are the symbols by which the minds represents to itself the outlying reality. All knowledge is fundamentally symbolic, which is just another way of noting the rather obvious fact that knowledge does not copy or mirror reality (even Rand would have agreed with that). But there are important implications to all of this which many philosophers, including Rand, don't fully appreciate. One of these implications is that logic only applies directly and of necessity to certain types of symbols (the symbols of "discourse," as Santayana put it), because logic is merely a drawing out of the meanings of propositions so that there is an identity—that is, a real identity, rather than a problematic or metaphorical one—only between symbols. Rand, following Aristotle, failed to appreciate this. She agreed with Aristotle's naive and simplistic view that logic was a characteristic of reality. Because of Aristotle's tacit naive realism, he assumed that, in order for logic to be "true" or useful, it had to mirror the structure of the world. But knowledge is symbolic; it is not a mirror. My idea of cat is not identical with the real cat that exists in time and space; nor does the idea of the cat mirror the real cat. As Santayana puts it: "Discourse is a language, not a mirror. The images in sense are parts of discourse, not parts of nature: they are the babble of our innocent organs under the stimulus of things; but these spontaneous images, like the sounds of the voice, may acquire the function of names; they may become signs, if discourse is intelligent and can recapitulate its phases, for the things sought or encountered in the world. The truth which discourse can achieve is truth in its own terms, appropriate description: it is no incorporation or reproduction of the object in the mind. The mind notices and intends; it cannot incorporate or reproduce anything not an intention or an intuition."

[continued in next comment]

gregnyquist said...

Logic is part of discourse, it is not a part of nature. If you cannot understand this, then I can only conclude that your talents don't lie in philosophy. When logic is predicated of nature, it's used as a metaphor, just as when the color blue is used to describe a feeling, it is also just a metaphor. Nature cannot literally be logical, any more than feelings can be literally blue. Only arguments can be logical, and arguments exist only in discourse. An argument may describe, symbolically, some aspect of nature, or it may be irrelevant to nature, as an argument about chess would be irrelevant. But an argument is not part of nature. Arguments are not substantive objects existing in time and space. They are parts of discourse existing in the human mind. Nor is there any so-called law of identity that connects the symbols of the mind with the natural world, precisely because knowledge is not a mirror: it does not copy existence, but represents it. As Santyana points out, it is "appropriate description." The failure by philosophers to appreciate this leads to all kinds of false ideals about knowledge, such as those one finds in Kant and Rand.

Once the symbolic character of knowledge is recognized, Rand's problem of universals goes away. Knowledge no longer needs any kind of crude validation or a "foundation" grounded in "identity" or measurement omission. The justification of knowledge lies solely in its practical usefulness—in its ability to cater to pressing needs of the human animal. That's why Santayana stresses needs and intentions: they are fundamental to knowledge. Human beings don't require a philosophical foundation or validation of knowledge proving some kind of identity between there concepts and the entitities of nature in order to make use of knowledge to feed themselves, to compete for preeminence in society, to mate, and to flee danger. They simply need to be motivated to apply intelligence to the symbols of sense. When I see a bus coming upon me, I don't need to prove there is any identity between the symbol of the bus and the bus itself. I merely need to understand that the symbol of the bus is a signal of an approaching danger which I must confront. It matters not at all whether the symbol of the bus mirrors or copies the real bus existing in time and space. That is pure trivia based on false ideals of knowledge. Problems resulting from false ideals are best solved by not being raised in the first place.

Xtra Laj said...

Onar,

One thing I can state for the record is that you are well trained in the Objectivist methodology of caricaturing your opponents' views.

Deduction is not uncertain. Deduction is about the structure of logic/thought so you cannot deduce properly and arrive at a false conclusion. However, you can "induce/induct" very reasonably and very properly and arrive at terrible conclusions - see the health problems that result from the Standard American diet, which most people think is reasonable because it doesn't kill them for a long time, for an example. This was Hume's main point and Objectivists deny it for their own reasons without fully appreciating Hume's argument.

It is not necessary for the laws of physics to change for "inducted" beliefs to be false. What Hume showed convincingly, if you take a psychological view of his writing, was that all the mind really perceives is correlations and we claim causality for a variety of reasons which are intellectual and strictly speaking, illogical in nature. Now part of Hume's arguments were tied to an empiricism that is some reject, but the point that all we perceive are correlations is a very important one for understanding how easy it is to fall into error when claiming to have arrived at a conclusion via induction. Some things are so complicated yet those who are confident in their powers of induction claim to understand them completely.

You wrote:

The answer is: yes, it is, but it is very hard, and we are not quite there yet, although Peikoff has made important headway. A full fleshing out of a unified theory of induction is missing and it most certainly is not written out in a coherent, systematic and pedagogic manner yet. I expect this to happen within a few years.

Keep on working on this solution and publish it if you so desire, but personally, the theory is a waste of time. Why do I say so? Because unless you can specify a process by which properly induced beliefs can be separated from improper ones with certainty, you have not made any contribution to established scientific procedure. When I read about "contextually justified belief" and Peikoff's defense of it as being equivalent to truth, I knew what the shell game was. But the desire for a false certainty will get you nowhere and the quicker you appreciate the limits of human reasoning, the easier it is to actually empathize with other viewpoints which may even be superior to yours, rather than consider them irrational because of an allegiance to a misguided epistemology.

So, to cut a long story short, use the theory to make great advances in science, and then, take your place as the most famous philosopher of the 21st century. More likely than not, you'll simply be doing things that most human beings do, but labeling them differently, as Daniel has shown, with the result that only those who are ignorant of plenty of modern philosophy (as many Objectivists are) will take you seriously.

What I see in your writing that is similar to Rand is that manic desire for certainty. I don't think defending induction the way you are going about it guarantees your epistemology will be any improvement on what most scientists currently do, but be my guest. I know at least one other Objectivist who thinks he has a solution to the problem of induction. Rand must have been really onto something to have inspired you all...

Xtra Laj said...

By "false", I really meant "invalid". I hope that was clear.

Onar Åm said...

Xtra Laj,

I agree that deduction is certain, but ONLY because induction is certain. Where do the rules of logic come from? Did they mysteriously pop up in your head? Revelation? No, the answer is that they were induced. They were abstracted from reality, based on empirical observation. If you can't trust induction, then you can't trust deduction either. To me that's not a problem since I say that BOTH are trustworthy. You, however, say that only ONE of them miraculously and supernaturally are trustworthy. That makes you religious and irrational and since you are not willing to listen to criticism we have little left to discuss. You have your blind faith in deduction and so be it.

You believe your arguments are valid and that assumes that your mind is somehow trustworthy, since it is your mind that is making those arguments. Why do you believe that? What justifies your belief in the mind, magically and supernaturally separate from the external world? You MUST answer this. Handwaving it away is not an option.

Generally speaking most of what you say about Hume's insights are correct, but irrelevant to the question of induction.

Daniel Barnes said...

Onar:
>No, the answer is that they were induced. They were abstracted from reality, based on empirical observation. If you can't trust induction, then you can't trust deduction either. To me that's not a problem since I say that BOTH are trustworthy.

Your problem, my dear Onar, is that deduction tells you induction is untrustworthy.

Onar Åm said...

This debate has come to an end. My arguments are blatantly ignored, despite making repeated attempts at clarifying them and spoonfeeding. That should not be necessary to intellectually honest thinkers. I see little or no will to understand MY position, while I have no problem understanding YOUR position. (Your position is mainstream and hence well-known)

Cavewight said...

Onar:

I would like to point out, before you go, one last thing: logic and reason are subjective.

Daniel Barnes said...

Onar:
>To claim that this is not an induction (a generalization from ONE to ALL) is a display of such philosophical and scientific illiteracy that I don't really know what to say.

Well it isn't! Go and read the literature, Onar. The problem of induction is a logical one - the logic of scientific discovery, as it were. It's not about simply empirically testing theories.


>About exclusion of possibilities: it is impossible to exclude 100% of the possibilities (because as you say there are an infinite amount of them) but it is possible to come pretty close. What is the value for pi...?

Er, Onar...firstly you just made a deductive argument, not an inductive one. So it doesn't apply to Benjamin and his kite, not even as a "metaphor" - it is in fact misleading. Secondly, even if we bend over backwards and granted it did apply, the possibilities are still infinite, as far as anyone knows. You've succeeded in narrowing it down to infinity...;-)


>My arguments are blatantly ignored, despite making repeated attempts at clarifying them and spoonfeeding. That should not be necessary to intellectually honest thinkers.

Well I'm sorry you feel that way, but really I think you have to be honest with yourself. AFAICS you haven't even come close to solving the problem of induction. All you've done is supplied example of things that aren't inductive - and aren't a problem - and re-labeled them as "induction." This is not solving the problem, this is playing with words. You talk about how Peikoff's theory isn't fully "coherent" or "fleshed out" - well, I agree only too much. I think it's a naked-emperor of a theory. But if he ever publishes, I think we'll find out...

Onar Åm said...

To Cavewight:

is that meant as a final insult to my rational faculty? Why the hell should I believe you when you say that logic is subjective? If that is only your subjective opinion it holds just as much as the exact opposite opinion.


To Daniel:

I have throughout this exchanged questioned very basic philosophical premises and concepts, and I have argued for my view. Your response has been a totalitarian one, basically amounting to this: "shut up and accept MY concepts and MY views." In other words, you do not even acknowledge that I question your premises and concepts, and arrogantly claim that I "misunderstand." You insult me by claiming that I am not aware of well-known issues such as the problem of induction and then go on to lecture me on very elementary philosophy.

There is a distinct asymmetry in our discussion. You are telling me things that are very well-known and part of mainstream philosophy. So mainstream in fact that you have no problems siting Wikipedia articles on the various topics. I on the other hand am telling you about things that have rarely been touched upon by philosophy. I am telling you completely new stuff.

How has your response been to being presented ideas that you have never considered before? To assume that I am some amateur that has never heard about mainstream philosophy. In other words, you go on to lecture ME about stuff that every student of philosophy now, really basic stuff, instead of considering what *I* am saying and really thinking it through as if you were talking to someone equal to yourself. Instead you have treated me as you would a kindergartener, with obnoxious arrogance, *completely* dismissing even the *possibility* that I am saying something more intelligent than kindergarten babble.

What I have been saying isn't really that hard to understand. I am really quite pedagogic and I have presented much of the material here in a way that should be easily understandable to any reasonably intelligent person. But since the ideas are new they DO require you to *think*. In other words, you need to exert a few calories digesting the material I have presented. I have seen nothing of the kind, only mindless knee jerk responses with references to ready digested Wikipedia articles.

To me it is quite that you have no intention of doing the kind of mental work that is required to understand new ideas, and therefore I have no interest in discussing with you. But let me just say that based on your, cavewight's and Greg Nyquist's responses to me I have seen nothing to indicate that I should take anything you have written seriously. If your critique of Ayn Rand is as sloppy, arrogant and careless as you have treated me, then you have nothing of value to say.

Daniel Barnes said...

Onar:
>But since the ideas are new they DO require you to *think*. In other words, you need to exert a few calories digesting the material I have presented.

Au contraire, my friend. It's not even clear what these "new" ideas re: induction you claim to have are. All you've done so far is:
1) Tell us no one has to date been able to "flesh them out" or even formulate them coherently!
2) Offer us examples that have got nothing to do with the problem of induction (ie examples of deduction or of empirical observation).

In other words, these aren't new ideas: they're basic fallacies. If you feel patronised by us, well I'm sorry, but that's all these ideas deserve so far. Perhaps the most fundamental fallacy of all is that you seem to think that just by re-labelling something verbally you're addressing a problem. Regrettably, this is pretty much all Rand and her followers do, so perhaps that's where you picked it up from. But if you think what you've got is somehow "new", I've got news for you; you've been greatly misled. In the words of Johnny Rotten: "Ever get the feeling you've been had?"

Xtra Laj said...

Onar,

"This debate has come to an end. My arguments are blatantly ignored, despite making repeated attempts at clarifying them and spoonfeeding. That should not be necessary to intellectually honest thinkers."

I think that when people resort to making statements such as the above, it shows a certain kind of mindset that has little experience with the gamut of human nature. Many smart people disagree and the causes often have little to do with honesty. Differences in perspective, especially the disparate weighting of the importance of certain claims, are also important. Your inability to empathize is a part of the problem. Read Laurence Bonjour's "In Defense of Pure Reason" or Brand Blanshard's "Reason And Analysis" or "Reason and Belief" and see how they approach the problem of induction. Your position is nothing new.

For someone who claims to have been ignored, you also seem to have ignored the points that many have made to you.

The problem of induction is about whether induction is *logically* justified or not. It is either a trivial problem (and I think it is except when I'm being scientific) or an important problem, but get the problem right!

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/induction-problem/

You can read the whole article if you have time, but you will see that

1) your formulation of the problem is outdated and
2) none of those things will help you improve your epistemic practices, the fallibility of which show pretty clearly that induction is not *logical*.

The first thing to realize is that this disagreement between us often amounts to nothing in practice - many of our approaches to issues will be similar. However, in my experience, individuals like you are more close-minded and wedded to confirmation bias because you are unable to accept the existence of counterexamples that might cause your positions problems and can't understand why others might see things differently from you (unless they are dishonest).

Inductions are by and large very smart guesses about how things are connected which may be right or wrong, but strictly speaking, are not logical (i.e. infallible in nature).

You wrote:

"... Where do the rules of logic come from? Did they mysteriously pop up in your head? Revelation? No, the answer is that they were induced. They were abstracted from reality, based on empirical observation. If you can't trust induction, then you can't trust deduction either. To me that's not a problem since I say that BOTH are trustworthy. You, however, say that only ONE of them miraculously and supernaturally are trustworthy. That makes you religious and irrational and since you are not willing to listen to criticism we have little left to discuss."

Now, in true Randian fashion, you have started to attach moral judgments to philosophical positions in an attempt to intimidate your debating opponents. I have relatives who are Objectivists so I'm not sure who you're trying to impress using this tactic.

The manic desire for certainty rears its head again. What is wrong with "ok, sounds pretty good to me - I might not be 100% certain about it, but it's what I know to be true. If you have some evidence that I need to use a wider theory with more predictive power to incorporate, let me hear it."

It's also hilarious reading you ask "where did the rules of logic come from?" as if you have some answer that sheds more insight than "by revelation" or "from God". Any answer to such a question will not reveal any insight into the source of logic and will only some satisfying tale that only the philosophically unsophisticated require to act like mature people (see, I can intimidate too).

The point here is simple. You cannot provide a criteria for induction that leads a person to perform it without error, and you cannot do better than appeal to intuition when arguing that this case of induction is more valid than that case of the same.

Anonymous said...

First: Thanks for a very informative blog! I have just been introduced to this blog, and already I have ordered "Reason and Analysis".

What I like about this blog, is that even if I'm not qualified to join the discussions, I get a lot of ammo to answer objectivists that always claim to have logic on their side in a discussion. I get tired of it, because it is often quite the contrary. Since my background is physics and mathematics, I'm quite used to logical reasoning, but I'm not trained in using it in a philosofical manner. So thanks, this is great!

As for this Onar charater, I think he would fit well into the description of Dunning-Kruger.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>What I like about this blog, is that even if I'm not qualified to join the discussions, I get a lot of ammo to answer objectivists that always claim to have logic on their side in a discussion.

Why thank you and welcome, Anon.

One of the reasons this site exists is to put some of the main arguments against Objectivism in one place, instead of scattered all over the net. There are, after all, plenty of pro-Rand sites.

Our focus is primarily on empirical and logical criticisms of Rand. Objectivists claim to respect science and logic, but on examination there is little or no hard science in Objectivism, and they also purport to have a different type of logic when it suits them. Hence, along with the Objectivist jargon, it can get rather complicated, and even intimidating, arguing with them. However, once you've grasped some of these basics it gets easier...;-) Anyway, enjoy the site.

Onar Åm said...

Daniel,


you continue to respond with "shut up and accept MY concepts and MY premises." I refuse to do that. I say that your concepts are wrong and I have argued for that view, and your only response is that I am making a "basic fallacy" because I disagree with you on how terms should be used and defined.


Maybe it's just me that haven't been clear enough so let me try the spoon feeding approach. I define induction as the following: "the process of concluding from SOME to ALL." In other words, induction is virtually synonymous with generalization. To induce means to generalize.

You may or may not agree with that definition, but that is my definition of induction as a process. It follows then that induction defined such is identical to concept formation, because forming a concept is about going from particulars to general categories. The definition of violence, for instance, is induced from specific examples of violence: rape, murder, robbery etc. (The validly induced definition of violence is: "to deliberately prohibit an individual's sovereign determination over his own life." This in turn builds on the validly induced definition of human life which is "the body and all the products of its labor, i.e. its property.") Now, what has happened here is that SOME examples of violence have been observed, and from this a definition of ALL violent actions have been abstracted. This concept of violence does not merely subsume the particular observed instances of violence but subsumes ALL instances in the past, present and future, including specific types of violence that have yet to be invented. That is, we have generalized from SOME to ALL.

You may or may not agree with this usage of the term induction. But that is how *I* use it, and it is not a basic fallacy just because you happen to disagree.

Notice that induction, according to this definition, doesn't necessarily entail predicting the future. There are some special cases of induction where you make predictions, but in most cases you don't, you simply catalog reality.

Franklin's kite experiment allowed him to correctly catalog lightning. In other words, he proved a special kind of property that is a defining feature of lightning: it is an electrical discharge phenomenon. Due to the nature of his experiment, the nature of his previous knowledge and the nature of his reasoning he was able to induce a valid concept of lightning from a single instance. In other words, he was able to generalize from ONE observed lightning a property of ALL lightnings, both in the past and in the future, including lightnings he had never observed.

Now, you may of course respond in your usual totalitarian manner that this is a "fallacy" because you have a completely different concept of induction, but that does not in any way change the truth of what I have written. Whether you choose to call the process of concluding from SOME to ALL induction, generalization, concept formation or all of the above, then these are just names that do not change the underlying reality and logic of my argument.

Xtra Laj said...

Anon,

Thanks for the kind words. By the way, "Reason and Analysis" is actually a book in support of a position closer to Onar's position than to mine. However, the book itself is a good work of critical philosophy and I would recommend how Blanshard's empathetic approach to philosophy to anyone, even if I don't hold many of his positions anymore. After reading Blanshard, you at least get a better idea of how the history of a certain philosophical controversy transpired. With Rand, you get little idea what the nuances and the difficulties that drove people to their positions were.

Cavewight said...

Onar said...
is that meant as a final insult to my rational faculty? Why the hell should I believe you when you say that logic is subjective?

Because logic is not "out there," in reality. It is not an object of perception. You may reply that this is based on only one definition of "objective," perhaps for you it means something like "undistorted by emotion or personal bias." But that all depends on how you apply logic, and logic can be applied emotionally.

Or you may claim that objectivity is based on Peikoff's definition, as "volitional adherence to reality by the method of logic." But logic will not help you here, logic will only help strengthen your rationalizations. And in fact, a high IQ has been correlated with a greater ability to dogmatize one's opinions using logic and reasoning. (Rand obviously had a very high IQ.)

Logic and reason are employed simply as man needs them, they serve whatever purposes man sees fit to use them for. Logic and reason have served religion as well as Objectivism and science. Reason is the handmaiden of religion - or whatever seems to bring "objectivity" to one's pursuits, even if they cannot be reduced to "existence exists" (which is, among other things, a formula for eliminating "mysticism" from reasonings).

I have made progress on my blog with the theory that, on the contrary, "existence exists" does not eliminate God at least from the realm of reason.

Onar Åm said...

Logic certainly isnt' "out there," as you say, but logic is *abstracted* (or induced) from "out there." In other words, no out there-->no logic. The external world is the raw material from which we use our superior intelligence to regnize a distinct pattern throughout all of existence: identity. Logic is the laws of identity, abstracted from reality out there.

Objectivity does not mean "undistorted by emotion or personal bias," which is clearly impossible. What you are describing here is superjectivity, the supernatural viewpoint on the world. To the religious atheists there are only two possibilities: superjectivity (which they reject because they don't believe in God) and its antithetic mirror image subjectivity. Well, there is a third possibilities, namely objectivity which simply means "reality orientation." To be completely objective means to be as consistently reality oriented as is humanly possible, not elfishly possible, not godly possible, but *humanly* possible.

Whether logic is applied emotionally or not is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that one applies it coherently to reality, leaving no room for contradictions. Logic is by definition personally biased since it is a tool for personal survival.

"But logic will not help you here, logic will only help strengthen your rationalizations."

This is just so classic religious atheism. You want me to believe your insight which you have arrived at *somehow* by the self-proclaimed irrational process of revelation. Why should I listen to you any more than I listen to an astrologer?

Cavewight said...

Onar said...
You want me to believe your insight which you have arrived at *somehow* by the self-proclaimed irrational process of revelation.

You see, there are no facts of reality in that last statement, yet you used it logically and coherently. Whereas earlier in your post, you said that logic is induced from "out there" and then proclaimed that it doesn't exist "out there." So that was incoherent on your part.

Logic comes and goes, we use it as we will then toss it aside like a chewed-up old bone.

As for my progress essay, you completely fail to understand it but only approached it with assumptions as to its content, applying the typical Randroid "argument by caricaturization."

Onar Åm said...

Cavewight,

what you are doing here is some disingenious piece of intellectual malevolence. 10 year olds understand what I meant, and this means that you can too, if you set your mind to it. It's very easy: look at your television. There you will see things that exist out in the real world, for instance a car or an actor. It's not *really* the car or the actor that you see in there, but an image of them abstracted from reality using a camera.

Similarly logic isn't really out there in reality. Logic is in the mind, but is *abstracted* from the world out there. Like a mirror or TV image. See? That wasn't so hard to understand now was it? I estimate that a normal 2 year old is able to understand the difference between a TV image and reality. You should be able to do it too.

Xtra Laj said...

Onar,

Tell me what you think of this paper:

http://www.princeton.edu/~harman/Papers/BonJour.html

I find it a generally good reply to those who worship at the altar of reason and don't understand why empiricists have a problem with people like you who cannot understand why there is no need to insult others because they do not agree with you on the answers to untestable propositions.

What you should ask yourself before you insult someone who disagrees with you is something like the following:

1) Has anyone ever convinced me he (or she) was right by insulting me?
2) Do arguments of the sort you are engaging in tend to convince people to change their minds?
3) If I cannot provide a peer-reviewed paper or physical evidence that proves my position beyond reasonable doubt, why can't I accept that others, whether they are right or wrong, can have reasonable doubt?

You're descending deeper and deeper into the kinds of arguments that people engage in when they do not care about what they are saying and are just trying to insult others while pretending to debate. Talking about how 2 year olds think (as if you've done any serious research into the topic) should be beneath you, though it obviously isn't.

Onar Åm said...

I looked at the paper, and I must say on a general basis that I am *very* skeptical of philosophy that cannot be stated and explained in plain English because it so easily allows for sophism. I am very tempted to slash this gordian knot, throw out all the jargon and reply from scratch. In fact, I think I will do this and let you place my answer into this conceptual framework as you please.

One extremely common error in philosophy is the mind/body split, i.e. the separation of consciousness from existence, introspection from extrospection etc. This article does not escape that error. It speaks of "pure thought" as if this is possible. It speaks of "coherence" as if this applies only to consciousness etc. I reject all such notions. There is only one stream of experience, and in that experience external and internal reality are intertwined. We can delineate, but never separate this unary experience. For instance, one can delineate the stream of experience into its most essential feature: part of that experience you have control over, whereas the other part exerts itself on you, beyond your control. This gives rise to two notions: free will and external existence. That part of you which you control is free will and the rest is existence.

In this stream of experience you can make choices and if you choose, for instance, to be objective (reality oriented) then you are choosing to live a unary -- individual -- life. In this case you orient your consciousness towards external reality and try to integrate them into a whole. That road leads down the path of Objectivism.

Along that path lies a commitment to coherence. Not just internally in that part of your experience you call the mind, but also coherence with the external world. In this view you cannot separate logic from perception, mind from body, reason from observation, conclusions from consequences or thought from action. You can delineate them, but if you separate them you split your universe into two.

Now, if you choose to be objective and individual, then you can also draw conclusions about other possible choices. Any other choice leads to a fragmentation of Being. A sufficient amount of fragmentation ultimately leads to non-Being, i.e. death.

So it all comes down to choices. If you choose to live fully and wholly, then that locks you into a special set of future choices. You must choose to be objective, choose to be rational. You may choose to fragment your being. That is your choice, but in so doing you partially choose death.

Onar Åm said...

"Talking about how 2 year olds think (as if you've done any serious research into the topic) should be beneath you, though it obviously isn't."

I am not the one who started out the path of insults. Having reasonable doubts is ok. I accept that. No problem. Being obviously malevolent? That I cannot accept.

Cavewight said...

Onar said...
Similarly logic isn't really out there in reality. Logic is in the mind, but is *abstracted* from the world out there. Like a mirror or TV image. See? That wasn't so hard to understand now was it? I estimate that a normal 2 year old is able to understand the difference between a TV image and reality. You should be able to do it too.

Circular. If logic is abstracted from "out there," then what did you use to do the abstracting?

Xtra Laj said...

Onar,

I can understand your skepticism, but academic philosophy is often written in terms that require some level of acquaintance with the subject. It is no different from studying biology and not understanding the technical terms. Anyone who has read a serious work on epistemology will be acquainted with the terms "foundationalism" and "coherence". All one needs to do is to read a serious introduction to any such work (Laurence Bonjour has fine introduction to traditional epistemology titled "Epistemology") and then one can start assessing the issues with intelligence as one grows through reading the material.

The best work of critical philosophy I've ever read (and it is up there with the most difficult books that I've ever read, period) is "The Revolt Against Dualism" by Lovejoy. The language is difficult and archaic, but the arguments are pretty well stated.

Now, I find your argument about the two parts of experience ("that which you have control over, and that which you do not") a statement without much empirical value. What you need to do is to state what these consist of. Now you talk about what you control being your free will and what you do not control being external existence.

OK, so a couple of questions I would ask on the basis of such a schema:

1. Do you control your memory, and should we classify it as external or internal based on your answer?

2. What do you consider "external existence" and why classify it as such? Is there a corresponding "internal existence" - is that just free will, as one plausible reading of your post would recommend? Do we experience "external existence" in a radically different way from "internal existence"?

3. The goal of leading an integrated life sounds commendable, but is it a realistic, empirical ideal based on a serious analysis of human psychology? Doesn't it presume that everything that the mind experiences must be in principle easy for it to understand and that there are no other drives facing the mind that are more important and/or practical than this desire to live an integrated life? So if we want to be unary beings and need to grab lunch or have medical problems, do these influence our choices of what to think about?

(contd.)

Xtra Laj said...

(continuing from last)

4. Now, you state that all kinds of things cannot be separated, but I find it hard to understand what you mean. If you are saying that we should not arrive at a conclusion while ignoring a well-motivated objection to that conclusion, then that is clearly correct. When people write about free will and simply dismiss the evidence provided by behavioral genetics and neuroscience that should inform that their views on the issue, it often peeves me.

But if you are saying that we cannot consider logic apart from perception because the two are not distinct concepts, or that doing so *always* leads to bad ideas, then you need to provide experimental evidence to justify your view and not just take it that because you think it is true, others must accept it. For example, while it is possible that one concept might be the causal basis for another, it is not clear whether the fact that building a car required an understanding of the principles of engineering to design means that one must understand engineering to drive/use a car. The cause of of a concept can be very distinct from its understanding and its utilization. Many good programmers have limited understanding of computer architecture, though of course, there are some advantages to understanding the physical basis computer architecture for programmers who have that knowledge.

5. You said that a sufficient amount of fragmentation leads to death. Do you have any hard evidence of human beings acting in the way that you claim and then dying as a result? Being the inductivist you are, did you study a sample, or just draw this conclusion on the basis of some single observation and apply it to many human beings?

6. Ayn Rand died at 77. Bertrand Russell, if I remember rightly, lived to the age of 98. On one theory (an Objectivist one), Russell chose more fragmented and partial death than Ayn Rand did. Why did he not die much earlier from his pacifism, analytic philosophy and socialism?

I would like to hear some of your thoughts on these issues, especially the last two since they have a clear factual bent before passing hard judgment on what you have written.

Onar Åm said...

Cavewight,

yes, logic is to some degree circular. It does need some a priori neurological abstraction ability, but the process of acquiring logic and sedimenting it partially involves logic. This circularity is, however, not a bad thing. Logic is *self-sustaining* and forms an important facet of the larger self-sustaining unity we call the individual. In other words, logic is a survival tool. Logic sustains logic. More generally, the individual sustains the individual.

However, this self-sustaining property of logic does not alter the fact that the *structure* of logic is entirely acquired from the external world. I.e. it is an abstraction of a preexisting identity structure in the universe.

Onar Åm said...

Xtra Laj,

I said that I was skeptical of highly technical philosophy because it lends itself to sophism. I didn't say I didn't understand it. Philosophy IS a technical speciality and therefore does require a specialized language, for sure. But at the same time it is also a field that is relevant to all humans. Everyone has a philosophy, whether it is conscious or not, and so philosophers should strive to formulate their ideas in such a way that it can be understood by as many people as possible. Or put differently, as I wrote earlier in this debate: we have left-brain (manipulative/specialized) vs. right-brain (holistic/general) activity. An overly specialized language lends itself to left brain, deductive thinking, whereas a general and plain language lends itself to right-brain inductive reasoning. We do need both, but left-brain activity alone leads to sophism.

On that note: that unary whole experience (what you call the universe) can be delineated into two distinctions: free will and existence. That which you control and that which you don't.

1. your physical body is definitely partially part of the external world which is beyond your free will.

2. the domain of free will is internal existence, the rest is external. Note that these are not separate concepts, but rather facets of a gestalt. free will + existence = the universe = the totality of your experience. Thus, existence is defined in terms of your free will and vice versa. That which is not controllable by free will is external to you. Yes, they are radically different experiences, namely the difference between controlling and not controlling. Indeed that very distinction in experience is the basis of the concepts.

3. this one is a little tricky to reply to, because you are asking about psychological integration, whereas I am not making such a distinction. I am talking about an integration of your universe, which includes both your psychology and your external world. If you try to not live an integrated life then that will have very real consequences for you and ultimately death.

4. When I say that things cannot be separated I mean that we live in only ONE universe, not two, not 100. We can delineate and distinguish, but not separate. This is what Ayn Rand referred to as contextuality. The sufi thinker Kent Palmer once described this very neatly and precisely as the concept of the CONJUNCTION, or togetherness. A conjunction means "not unified, but not separate either." In other words, the conjunction both holds two objects together and at the same time keeps them apart. We as individuals stand in conjunction with the rest of the universe. All Ayn Rand's concepts are contextual/conjunctional. So for instance when she speaks of independence as a virtue, she does not mean independence in a supernatural way which separates us from the rest of the world, but independent in the conjunctional sense.

5. It does not take a lot of separation between your mind and reality in which you are submerged to cause your death. Try surviving just *one* day by acting on your imagination only and ignoring your senses. The empirical evidence for the negative impact of a fragmented life is vast. Just have a look at the correlation between the economic freedom and GDP in the world. The more disconnected a nation as a whole is from reality (i.e. less free/peaceful) the less prosperous it becomes and the end station of that disconnect is death and destruction.

6. That is a perfect example that some things are external to us, beyond our control. If a large amount of people had been socialists like Russell then society would be more like, say, Bangladesh or most African nations.

Cavewight said...

Onar said...
yes, logic is to some degree circular.

You're not understanding me, "circular" means your argument begs the question. This means that you are using the method of error to support the method of truth.

Logic starts with premises and arrives at a conclusion; your "argument" starts with a conclusion and ends with the same conclusion.

Xtra Laj said...

Onar,

I'm sure you probably felt you were responding to my questions, but I'm not clear on how your post addresses the issues I raised, so it is quite likely I didn't raise them clearly.

To meaningfully disagree with a position, you must show that you understand it, and it wasn't clear that you understood the distinctions between the special foundations approach to epistemology and the general foundations approach and the coherentist approach. And I decided it was because you weren't familiar with the arguments so I decided to address your post on its own merits. But I might be wrong. But let's focus on your responses to my questions.

1. I asked you a question about the status of memory. Now, it is not clear from your response whether you think memory is a part of the physical world or not, or whether its contents are subject to the will. Making this clearer would help.

2. You've said that the domain of free will is internal existence or what we control. Now, free will and control are very fuzzy concepts (look at the amount of debate in the free will vs determinism vs compatibilism). But I think that if you answered my first question, then we could see how clear or fuzzy these concepts are from one perspective.

3. I am trying to introduce a well-motivated objection to your ideal of integration. Some philosophers like to act as if other facts should not interfere with their ideals. Your ideal seems to assume that integration is what people should be concerned with and there are no problems with human beings concerning them selves with integration and seeking the truth. I'm trying to see if this ideal is practical or unconstrained. You don't seem to have taken my objection seriously, despite your claims to want to integrate knowledge. My question is whether integration is or can be the primary drive of human beings given our drives for reproduction, survival etc. It has deep implications for the Objectivist ideal. For example, Brand Blanshard admitted that love of truth is not the only human good and that the pursuit of other ends, many of which are satisfied by goods, can interfere with acquisition of truth. I've pointed out indirectly in my last point 5 that people do not need to achieve high levels of integration to fulfil many of their survival goals, so I want to see you address this.

(contd)

Xtra Laj said...

(contd)

4. Now, I do not see where anyone tried to create more than one "universe" in anything I have written to you or asked you to read. It is better to explain your particular objection in terms as empathetic as possible. So could you please explain the relevance of this?

5. Could you please cite a specific paper that has studied the subject? People have done many interesting studies to explain the differences in GDP etc. and I can't remember a single one on ignoring reality. Maybe you could also present an attempt to exclude other causal factors? I'm not surprised that you find your views obvious as you have continually derided scientific skepticism when others like Daniel Barnes, Greg Nyquist and Cavewight have presented it to you. You have repeatedly appealed to my imagination by asking me to imagine this or that rather than presenting a study or citing a paper. So again, could you please present some paper or some work on your part that has investigated the correlation between ignoring reality and some psychological or economic problem that you find interesting? Or do you lack such data and think that your argument from plausibility is all we need to make a strong case?

6. Now, this is an interesting claim to make, but it is another argument from imagination. Russell lived longer than Rand did, but on the basis of your theory, he should have died much earlier. I don't see any real distinctions in wealth or intelligence between them - ok, I'm being slightly facetious there. What I want you to explain to me is how someone who "kinda knew what number meant" or something like that, according to Rand, could live much longer than she did despite evading reality in a way that should have brought him closer to death.

I'm trying to force you to think empirically here and deal with hard and inconvenient facts. But it seems that you like to appeal to imagination and expect me to imagine things like you do.

gregnyquist said...

Onar Åm "I define induction as the following:'the process of concluding from SOME to ALL.' In other words, induction is virtually synonymous with generalization."

"Virtually synonymous"? What on earth does that mean? Induction is not synonymous with generalization, with or without the modifier "virtually." Generalization does not go from SOME to ALL, but from SOME to MOST or SOME to MANY. Generalizations don't fit in with traditional logic, because there's no clear cut way to falsify them (unless you can apply calculus of probability to them, which is often the case). If I say "Swans are generally white," the appearence of a black swan does not refute my statement, as it would if I said "All swans are white."

If human beings were exclusively logical, non-probability generalizations would have to be rigorously eschewed. Fortunately, people are grounded in reality, not in logic, and so they use non-probability generalizations all the time. In a world which confronts us with so much uncertainty, we don't really have a choice. In business, in politics, in relationships, in war we constantly have to make judgments as to what might be generally true. These judgments can only be based on our intuitive sense of things, based on a (hopefully) intensive experience in the relevant facts. Logic is useless in such domains.

One of the fundamental weaknesses of Objectivism (and the reason why some of us critics charge it with "rationalism") is its failure to appreciate the role of experience-based intuition in human cognition.

Cavewight said...

Xtra said...
I'm not surprised that you find your views obvious as you have continually derided scientific skepticism when others like Daniel Barnes, Greg Nyquist and Cavewight have presented it to you.

Just for the record, I haven't presented any scientific skepticism. The standard picture given of Kant (or the caricature given by Rand and Peikoff, et al.) is that of a super-skeptic, but I see him as laying the foundations of all empirical reasoning. It just so happens those foundations themselves are not empirical. (Nor are they "mystical," blah blah.) Suffice it to say that the foundation of objectivity is not objective.

Onar Åm said...

Xtra Laj,

I see that I wasn't clear in answering your first question.

1. Delineating the world into free will+everything else is not identical to the tradidional mind/body or spiritual/physical distinction. Mind and body interprenetrate, and I think that the yin/yang symbol really captures that very well. There you have the little yin in the big yang, and the little yang in the big yin, symbolizing interpenetration. The same is true with respect with memory. Memory is partially external. In other words, we have *limited* control over the memory, we have only partial control. And that part of memory that is outside our control is an externality. But we CAN to some extent reprogram our memory and that part is within our domain of control and hence part of free will.

The same goes with our arms. We obviously have some control over our arms. We can choose to lift them etc. But there are limits to what we can make our arms do, and there are processes that are always outside our control. The moment we use our hand to grab onto something, say, a spoon, then this object partially comes within our domain of free will. But there will always be aspects of the spoon that we cannot control.

2. free will is not a fuzzy concept phenomenally. Either a phenomenon forces itself on you or you are able to control it. It's usually quite easy to observe. I often get some terrible coughs, and even if I do my best to prevent them they still come. They are beyond my control. They are external to me.

3. We are finite beings. That obviously means that we are economic beings. We must ration our limited resources, including consciousness. Obviously this means that there are limits to how much time each and everyone can philosophize and consciously integrate.

Unlike you I do not see reproduction, survival etc. as in (rational) opposition to integration. From an infinite, supernatural standard there will obviously be a conflict of interest, but this is a false standard. By giving in to supernatural demands you create conflicts that really shouldn't be there. Reproduction is in one sense the toil of repaying previous generations for the courtesy of bringing YOU into existence, but nature has equipped us with urges and a psychology that makes us NEED reproduction to be whole. Having children is an important method of self-realization for an individual. One MUST not have children, but it is definitely the mainstream road to fulfillment.

The reason Ayn Rand stressed the importance of work (and I might add pain, sorrow and fear) is that without it you cannot be real. You cannot exist. Natural selection has thus shaped our biology to need work, need to experience temporary pain, failure, sorrow and fear as part of growing as individuals and being fully human. I love the English word "spoiled" for children who have been handed everything without effort because they are also spoiled in the other sense of the word (spoiled milk) --broken, incomplete humans.

Supernaturalism is a terrible, terrible disease that has infected most of western philosophy.

Onar Åm said...

(continued)


4. Philosophy is an individuals most general premises about existence and therefore permeates all his thoughts and actions. Making a philosophical error (e.g. in categorization and division of the universe) therefore creates an error that ripples and ravages throughout an individual's life and pops in a vast array of fields. If one of these errors is to sever the link between two very fundamental categories then the effect is to rip the universe in two. The mind/body split born from Plato is one such example.

It is quite a lot of work to show empirically how fundamental errors are of importance to a wide variety of fields, but Peikoff is doing exciting work on that. His "DIM hypothesis" is excellent work, both theoretically and empirically. As of now only available as an audio lecture, but he is working on a book as well which he claims should be out within a few years.

5. I have no problems siting a paper showing the strong relationship between freedom and almost any socially relevant measure, but that's not really what you asked. I take it for granted that a properly integrated philosophy leads to laissez-faire capitalism and that any deviation from this is the physical manifestation of intellectual disease and fragmentation. If you are not on board on this idea then I am not going to spend a lot of time on that now since it is a HUGE topic. But it really shouldn't be that hard to understand when expressed in essentials: man's mind is his primary survival tool. Thus, society's prosperity, strength and success is an indicator of how well people in this society use their mind and how good the dominant ideas are. I know that it is an absolutely absurd notion for philosophers to evaluate ideas this way -- to see their consequences in reality -- but would be an integrated way of evaluating ideas.

6. As I said there are many factors that are beyond the control of the individual. I am pretty sure there have been an abundance of moral men living in poverty and ending their lives at a too early age. One is not immune to outside influence. It is hard to live a long and prosperous life if the dominating ideas in society have destroyed the world around you. Similarly it is easy for a parasite to prosper by leeching off of the wonders created by other, more capable men.

Onar Åm said...

Greg,

I am not sensing anything but badwill, here. Just to be sure I looked up in a thesaurus and here is what it says:

Noun 1. generalization - reasoning from detailed facts to general principles
inductive reasoning, generalisation, induction
colligation - the connection of isolated facts by a general hypothesis

2. generalization - an idea or conclusion having general application; "he spoke in broad generalities"
generalisation, generality
idea, thought - the content of cognition; the main thing you are thinking about; "it was not a good idea"; "the thought never entered my mind"
principle, rule - a basic generalization that is accepted as true and that can be used as a basis for reasoning or conduct; "their principles of composition characterized all their works"

3. generalization - the process of formulating general concepts by abstracting common properties of instances
generalisation, abstraction
theorisation, theorization - the production or use of theories

4. generalization - (psychology) transfer of a response learned to one stimulus to a similar stimulus
stimulus generalisation, stimulus generalization, generalisation
carry-over, transfer of training, transfer - application of a skill learned in one situation to a different but similar situation
irradiation - (Pavolvian conditioning) the elicitation of a conditioned response by stimulation similar but not identical to the original stimulus
psychological science, psychology - the science of mental life

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/generalization

Here two of the common definitions of "generalization" pertain directly to this debate. Here we find general principles, inductive reasoning, induction, concept formation and abstraction. Sounds familiar?

Either your command of the English language is not very good or you chose to be deliberately dense and malevolent, interpreting "generalize" in the most relaxed slang usage of the term in English, even thought it was very clear from context which meaning of the term I used. In either case it does not place you in a particularly favorable light.

Furthermore I see that you insist on using your supernatural meaning of logic. So far I have not seen any argument of yours that deviates from the standard formula "accept my concepts or shut up." I think it is perfectly ok to point out when a commonly agreed upon term is being in a way that is inconsisten with that common definition, but not when the very definition and meaning of the term IS what is being questioned.

Xtra Laj said...

Onar,

1. So what aspects of memory do we have control over and what aspects don't we have control over? Be as specific as you can. And is our ability to reprogram our memories constrained in some fashion? If so how?

And since, as you know, memory informs just about everything we do (remember what we say happened "just now" really happened in the past), do you think that the ability to control memory in your view is a barrier to an individual's achievement of objectivity?

Moreover, what do you think of experiments that show that human beings often perceive and remember in subjective ways and often fail to reproduce what they perceived accurately, often emphasizing aspects of such data with personal relevance/meaning? Can this produce a barrier to objectivity?

2. Let's look at two of many great philosophers in the Western tradition and let's hear their comments on free will.

"Men are deceived if they think themselves free, an opinion which consists only in this, that they are conscious of their actions and ignorant of the causes by which they are determined."

"Man can indeed do what he wants, but he cannot want what he wants."

In other words, both of these great philosophers think that the reason why you think you have free will is that you do not understand the causes of your actions, but that the better you do, the more you understand their basis in your nature and the less you ascribe your choices to your possessing free will. They are not focused on just the fact that you can choose, but the determinants of your choices, both those internal and external to you, so to speak. For them, the will has determinants.

Now, this does not necessarily make them right, but the increased empirical understanding of human nature has made their statements more and more plausible with time, not only from a mentalistic perspective, but from a sociobiological perspective. For some philosophers, the issue of free will depends on how you define the self.

I personally prefer not to debate the philosophical issue ad infinitum. But anyone who denies biological influences on social and individual behavior has an uphill battle to fight if he/she is an empirical thinker.

Xtra Laj said...

3. Now, I anticipated your line of response, and it is quite evasive. We all have limits to our ability to learn about the world – a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Is that not the basis of our increasingly specialized society? Is our ignorance not the reason why we seek out experts? What is supernatural about such a simple admission?

We also know that there are times when we fall into error because we have insufficient time to fully study an issue but are forced to make choices, or that we assume that everything is OK because nothing has gone wrong yet, but learn at a late stage that things were getting imperceptibly worse but a critical point has been reached and trouble is precipitating: we must change our behavior to avert the worst (if it is not too late). Or that we are studying a topic, but we need to eat food. Or that we have a goal of mastering a subject, but we lack the money to pay for the class if we also want to have children or take a vacation. We live in a real world in which we are constrained in our ability to acquire knowledge and even more constrained in our ability to do so by our desire to achieve other goals. To deny this by claiming that such an admission relies on a supernatural standard is simply to claim that the world is an easy place to understand and one does not need significant empirical knowledge to solve problems.

In fact, you are the person pushing a supernatural standard, probably because you have not thought through the problems with your position. You are pushing an ethical position divorced from the world of real people and the problems they face.

Not content with trying to foster a supernatural standard on others, you then proceed to start another "it is true because I said so story" to explain why people reproduce (so people reproduce to give back to repay previous generations? I hope the animals that do the same are similarly noble).

It is good to see that you agree that the desire to reproduce is an innate human drive, even if it does not need to be satisfied. However, as a drive, it places upon us certain demands whether we meet those demands or not. And the need to meet such demands (and there are others) often makes truth an end only to the degree it furthers those goals - therefore, people will usually integrate only to the degree it meets practical needs and satisfies their drives, but not to any extent that grants them a rationally consistent personality. When conflicting drives are in place, the more innate drives usually win out except in rare individuals. Do you disagree? This is why we have a society where more people are reproducing than one in which more people are seeking the apogee of integrated knowledge.

4. Now, if Peikoff's methods showed the errors in many fields, one would expect that he would be actually be inspiring great advances in science and giving scientists new ideas or perspectives for looking at their work. Maybe you can point me to some top-level scientist that was inspired by Peikoff's work or who called Peikoff an inspiration for what he did. For example, John Maynard Smith called Popper his favorite philosopher. Or look at how top level cognitive scientists and biologists regard Daniel Dennett and debate actively with him. Einstein liked both Hume and Kant, especially Hume, because Hume helped him realize that empirical and/or logico-mathematical nature of scientific inquiry and Hume also wrote clearly. Or talk about some idea that his viewpoint will overthrow. I've been waiting for years for a great scientific achievement inspired by Objectivism. Maybe, in the immortal words and tone of Laurence Fishburne, "you are the One".

Xtra Laj said...

5. Then cite the paper, please. Don't keep me waiting. The problem here is that you believe many things on the basis of vague generalities which can be interpreted to mean just about anything. "Laissez faire capitalism" is applied to many economic systems which have significant amounts of government regulation and intervention, and some self-professed socialist societies have elements of market based economic systems depending on how these societies provide incentives to individuals. It is more fruitful to study the conditions that obtain in each country and see what correlates best with economic prosperity. Economic systems play a role, but are far from being the largest determinant of economic prosperity. And even embracing an economic system says little about the details of implementation, which are often more important.

6. Wow. After stating that a bad philosophy brings one closer to death, you now state that there are other factors to consider. Oh well, so much for having an integrated philosophy!

On a more serious note, maybe you are right. Consider the claim that a vegetarian diet reduces the risk of heart disease, something that many studies have shown. Of course, the correlation is not perfect, but I hear it is significant. You might have some social experiment or some data that you used to show your conclusion that the effect of an irrational philosophy or a badly integrated philosophy, on your terms, reduces the chances of survival? Or do you just imagine this to be the case and expect that it must be true and reality must (as opposed to *may*) agree with the ideas you imagine?

Onar Åm said...

Xtra Laj,

1. what you are asking is a *scientific* question, not a philosophical one. Determining THAT there are aspects of reality that we control and aspects that we don't control requires only 1 bit resolution. (It's a yes/no-question) With science we can refine the delineation into ever finer detail requiring more and more information. But in no way do these later discoveries change the original most significant bit.

And no, beyond a certain basic intelligence and memory limitations in this faculty do not impede our ability to be objective since objectivity is based on a natural (i.e. achievable) standard rather than a supernatural one. Our limitied nature certainly limits our ability to be SUPERJECTIVE, but superjectivity is a fantasy. No real entity can be superjective. It is thus not a valid standard.

Perceptual and conceptual illusions and other errors and limitations built into our biology do NOT limit our ability to be objective, given our own biology as the standard of comparison. In other words, every human has an *optimal* level of reality adherence, and this is as good as one can ever be. This is objectivity.

2. Free will is first and foremost a philosophical question, not a scientific one. One starts with the observation that there are actions that you control, that you choose. You can hold two or more alternatives in mind, evaluate them and make a choice. If you make a serious of choices in such a way that you conclude that you do not have free will then you undermine the very choices you have made. If they were not rationally made choices, then whatever conclusion you have arrived at cannot be trustworthy. Hence, you must have free will.

But when that is said, it is also perfectly possible to test free will as a scientific theory. There are in particular two theories that only make sense in a world with free will. 1) quantum mechanics, and 2) the evolution of consciousness.

It follows from the existence of free will that there MUST exist non-mechanistic (i.e. apparently random) behavior in the world. Since about 1870 we have known that all matter is built from atoms and particles and it therefore makes sense to conclude that if free will exist then we should expect to find noisy, apparently random behavior in atoms. Lo and behold: quantum mechanics fits the bill perfectly. For a determinist QM is simply incomprehensible, but for a freewiller it is expected.

Furthermore, evolution only acts on causal agents. It follows that if an organ evolves it must contribute to the survival of the organism. It must be causal. Well, consciousness certainly exists, and it has an extremely intricate structure. Why? Why are there things that appear in consciousness and other things that don't? Why does consciousness appear to us to have a biological function? Well, the obvious answer is that consciousness is causal. It is a real phenomenon, not just an illusion produced by the brain. There is no reason why a highly structured illusion machine should evolve. Hence, evolution implies that consciousness is REAL.

Daniel Barnes said...

Onar:
>In other words, every human has an *optimal* level of reality adherence, and this is as good as one can ever be.

Shorter Onar: Objectivism=relativism.

Daniel Barnes said...

This is not Onar's fault, I should note. He's picked this sort of blunder up from Rand herself, who regularly lapsed into doctrines she denounced; for example her doctrine of "moral perfection" is relativistic, and her theory of knowledge is skeptical. She just was too unselfcritical to think through what she was proposing.

Onar Åm said...

(continued)

3. I hear your questions, but I do not understand their relevance. I also quite frankly don't understand the point you are trying to make and what exactly you are objecting to. It seems to me that you believe that by integration I mean that every person must become a philosopher. I neither think it is possible, necessary nor even desirable. Each person should integrate to the best of his abilities and available resources. No person is able to integrate like God. This is a supernatural standard of integration which Ayn Rand certainly did not hold. She did, however, hold *philosophers* and intellectuals to a much higher standard than the average man, precisely because intellectuals are far more intelligent than the common man and because thinking and philosophy is his profession, his dedicated speciality. Intellectuals thus have the opportunity to think literally hundreds of times more with a superior intelligence on a topic. Obviously the standard for integration for such a person should be much much higher. And this is also precisely why she railed so much against the philosophers. Their intellectual constructions are so vast that they impact not only themselves but all of society around them. When their ideas reach the common man it has been dumbed down to a few catchy slogans such as "everything is relative" or "in principle X, but in practice Y."

4. Ayn Rand has certainly inspired many *businessmen* and many individuals (her books still sell very well), but from the very start academics and intellectuals were very hostile towards her (to the degree that they acknowledged her existence. Usually she was ignored.) Therefore the penetration of Ayn Rand into academia has been slow to put it milddly. Popper had the advantage of having huge penetration among academics. John Maynard Smith had not been inspired by Popper if his theories hadn't been curriculum or well-spoken of among academics. Rand does not enjoy the same advantage. The same is true for Peikoff. I believe that this will change in the coming years, however. Finally there is now growing up a new generation of intellectuals who bring Ayn Rand into the universities, and I expect that in not too long we will here similar stories of how Rand or Peikoff inspired scientists in their work. Here is one academic who builds on Rand's theories and is having quite a bit of success:

http://www.vandammeacademy.com/

Also, I have several books in the work that I believe will change politics and law. Particularly one book (on redesigning civil government) makes heavy use of Ayn Rand's theory of concept formation and inductive reasoning. (Plus a heavy dose of my own improvements) This book alone will contain several revolutionary concepts, which I won't explain now. With some luck it will be the design of governments of the late 21st century, just like John Locke's Second treatise on civil government was for the late 18th century.

5.

http://www.cato.org/pubs/efw/

6. Sure there are externalities, but the example I gave was not outside the realm of philosophy. Bertrand Russel survived so well because he was living in a nation built on classical liberal ideas. He was a leech and living off the products of ideas that he hated. It is only because those other ideas were strongly influential among a lot of people that he was able to survive.

Xtra Laj said...

"Shorter Onar: Objectivism=relativism."

Dan,

When you don't think critically about your positions, but attack the positions of others viciously and with little empathy, such mistakes are par for the course.

Here's another chestnut:

"This is a philosophical question, not a scientific one."

So let's get this straight: scientific evidence has no bearing on philosophical positions? And if not, *why not*? And if they do, why bring this up at all? In other words, claim is pointless - what you need to provide is the specific objection to the relevance of science to the issue. Plenty of philosophy, in fact some of the best philosophy, was influenced by the consideration of lots of scientific evidence.

Onar Åm said...

Daniel,

you fall into the classical subnatural trap. Antithetic rejection of a supernatural assumption leads to subnaturalism. For instance, the antithesis of EVERYTHING (infinity) is NOTHING (zero), but there exists a third alternative which is neither EVERYTHING nor NOTHING, namely SOMETHING (finity). This third alternative is neither supernatural nor subnatural. It is natural.

Similarly, there exists a third alternative between supernatural absolutism and subnatural relativism, namely contextualism (finite absolutism).

The difference is as follows: relativism claims it is impossible to evaluate one individual/culture from the viewpoint of another. Objectivism rejects this and claims that it is possible to evaluate what is right for a person given that person's life as a standard. In other words, it is perfectly possible to evaluate whether a person is behaving *optimally* or not, according to the premises set by his own existence.

Onar Åm said...

Xtra Laj,

"So let's get this straight: scientific evidence has no bearing on philosophical positions? And if not, *why not*?"

By sciences I mean the specialized sciences (i.e. physics, biology etc.). Philosophy is scientific in the broad sense that it is objective and rational, but pre-scientific in the sense that it does not need advanced science to draw essential conclusions. Advanced/specialized science necessarily *builds* on philosophy and therefore science can only inform, refine and reaffirm correct basic philosophy, not fundamentally alter it.

In other words, philosophy corresponds to the most significant bit. Once the correct bit is identified it cannot be altered. New bits can be added that refine information, but these do not alter the original bit.

Xtra Laj said...

Onar,

I am becoming short of time, so I would like to wind this down. You'll have the final word.

1. "Perceptual and conceptual illusions and other errors and limitations built into our biology do NOT limit our ability to be objective, given our own biology as the standard of comparison. In other words, every human has an *optimal* level of reality adherence, and this is as good as one can ever be. This is objectivity."

So people with sensory impairments (blindness, deafness etc.) can arrive at precisely the same knowledge of the world as people who can see (and as rapidly too), or people with brain damage can arrive at the same knowledge of the world as people who are without such damage? And even people who have lower IQs than others can process information as rapidly as those with higher IQs?

Let's try to live in the real world here. I disagree *completely* with your claim about the importance of details here. Details are *extremely important* when dealing with issues with lots of variation/variance.


2. None of this addresses the points of the philosophers (Spinoza and Schopenhauer) who were pointing out the problem of free will, from their perspective, is not about whether you can do what you choose, but whether your choices have determinants that can be analyzed insightfully. I'm not going to debate the problem of free will. I'm simply pointing out that the form of determinism espoused by Spinoza is the basis of just about any scientific psychology, and the practical results of such psychology, from drugs to alleviate depression to the understanding of biological basis of mental diseases, speak for themselves.

3. So how do you know that people are not currently integrating to the best of their ability? Because their conclusions do not agree with yours?

4. What specific thing does Rand inspire in the school that is not practiced anywhere else and is the basis of the school's results when compared to other schools? Do we just assume the school's success is due to Rand because you or the owner says so? Popper's concept of falsifiability and Humean skepticism and very strong contributions to how to think and it is hard to get such thought patterns without being introduced to their work and Einstein spoke extensively about how Hume and Mach influenced him. Point out what in Rand's thought is similar and since you have the last word, I'll take your word for it.

5. Point to the specific page that talks about "evading reality" being correlated (positively or negatively) with "economic performance". I could just as well point out that most of the wealthy nations are Eurocentric or East Asian, and most of the poor nations are African or South American and come up with a racist theory to back it up. So please be more specific. Dumping a whole report (which I have read a long time ago) without pointing out the pages that support your position is bad form.

6. You're still appealing to imagination. If you don't have strong evidence or even some tested sample to defend your proposition, just state that you do not have it and you are appealing to imagination. Don't imagine your arguments to be stronger than they are when you've not done the hard work of seriously testing them.

Au revoir.

Xtra Laj said...

Onar,

"By sciences I mean the specialized sciences (i.e. physics, biology etc.). Philosophy is scientific in the broad sense that it is objective and rational, but pre-scientific in the sense that it does not need advanced science to draw essential conclusions. Advanced/specialized science necessarily *builds* on philosophy and therefore science can only inform, refine and reaffirm correct basic philosophy, not fundamentally alter it.

In other words, philosophy corresponds to the most significant bit. Once the correct bit is identified it cannot be altered. New bits can be added that refine information, but these do not alter the original bit."

I'm tempted to explain how silly this is, but you have the last word. Someone else can do this if they so desire.

Onar Åm said...

1. "So people with sensory impairments (blindness, deafness etc.) can arrive at precisely the same knowledge of the world as people who can see (and as rapidly too), or people with brain damage can arrive at the same knowledge of the world as people who are without such damage?"

No, why should objectivity require this? Again it seems like you are talking about superjectivity, God's form of objectivity, not the naturalistic objectivity of finite beings.

2. I gave you two examples of how the philosophical theory of free will can be used to make scientific predictions. Somehow you managed not to comment on that at all.

That the brain is partially mechanistic and therefore lends itself to modern science does not mean that there is no non-mechanistic component. The brain is a consciousness engine. It produces consciousness and uses a helluva lot of energy in the process. Obviously consciousness must be very important. Otherwise it wouldn't have been selected for. Psychological determinism has ZERO answers to this. Free will however explains this perfectly.

3. Many people ARE integrating to the best of their ability, but the commanding heights of the culture -- the intellectuals -- most certainly aren't. In fact, among the intellectuals anti-integration, relativism, nihilism and subjectivism is extremely prevalent. These people are smart enough to be able to fully understand philosophy, but have opted for a highly suboptimal route.

4. Rand inspires integration. The curriculum is specifically designed to respect the hierarchy of knowledge and to instill a sense of understanding and motivation in the students at all levels. Here is a nice article by Lisa VanDamme where she explains how her school injects rational self-interest as the foundation for motivation in students.

http://capmag.com/article.asp?ID=5168

This approach is quite unique.

Also, the person who has written the physics curriculum for VanDamme Academy is David Harriman, and he uses Rand's theory of induction and concept to create the curriculum. In his own words: the path of discovery is also the inductive proof. So by retracing the path by which the creators and discoverers of scientific theories and truth the student gains a full understanding by actually internalizing the proof.

5. You will find no page in there which points out the correlation between evasion and prosperity, but you WILL find a strong correlation between economic freedom (which is the intellectual product of integration) and prosperity. Yes, race and IQ explains some of the variance, but the most important relation is between freedom and prosperity.

6. I am not appealing to imagination. I am basing my argument on *massive* empirical data. (see the reports I referenced in 5)

Daniel Barnes said...

Onar:
>Similarly, there exists a third alternative between supernatural absolutism and subnatural relativism, namely contextualism (finite absolutism).

Shorter Barnes: Rand's "contextual" theory of knowledge=skepticism.

"We may know P, but P may turn out to be false"

This statement holds under both Objectivism and skepticism. So then....well, you work it out for yourself.

More Shorter Barnes: "Contextual certainty", "contextual absolute"= oxymorons.

Think it through, Onar. If something is "absolute", like a law of physics, it's invariant anywhere in time or space i.e. any context.

Onar:
> David Harriman, and he uses Rand's theory of induction and concept to create the curriculum...

Shorter Onar (or Rand), with apologies to Humpty Dumpty: "When I use a word, like induction, it means exactly what I want it to mean."

Xtra Laj said...

Onar,

I did not comment on the arguments you made about free will because anyone familiar with the literature will know the standard responses to them (see Daniel Dennett's books, Elbow Room and Freedom Evolves on your free will claims based on quantum indeterminacy and The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller for at least one example of evolved features of animals/human beings with dubious survival value because they evolve to promote sexual behavior. So to claim anything about consciousness being conducive to fitness without providing a particular theory about it is not as convincing as you might think).

Like I've said, I'm not here to debate free will. But if you think your arguments are conclusive, then read more on the topic.

Onar Åm said...

Daniel,

I completely agree that from a supernatural, infinite perspective Objectivism looks like skepticism. When infinity is your standard of comparison SOMETHING looks identical to NOTHING.

So your statement "We may know P, but P may turn out to be false" holds for ALL P in skepticism, but only holds for SOME P in Objectivism. More specifically, Rand's razor shaves off everything *except* those statements that cannot be shaved off without undermining the razor.

"Think it through, Onar. If something is "absolute", like a law of physics, it's invariant anywhere in time or space i.e. any context."

Yes, that is the supernatural definition of an absolute. Something that is invariant regardless of context is by definition OUTSIDE that context. So such invariant absolutes must be outside the natural world, they must be supernatural. The question is: why is it useful or desirable to introduce a supernatural concept into philosophy? By definition such absolutes cannot exist in a natural, finite world. So why insist on using them as a standard of evaluation? Insisting on using supernatural standards MUST result in subnaturalism (skepticism) or supernaturalism (intrinicism).

Onar Åm said...

Xtra Laj,

Dennett's response to the "elbow room" argument (as far as I understand him) is to promote the antithesis of determinism, namely indeterminism. Well, if you negate a position that is partially wrong you get another position that is equally partially wrong. You're throwing out the baby (causality) with the bathwater (determinism). Again there exists a third alternative to the supernatural determinism and the subnatural indeterminism, namely the natural alternative: causality. Just because something is unpredictable and apparently random from a *measurement* point of view does not mean that it actually IS random, i.e. causeless. But it also doesn't mean that there have to be hidden deterministic variables. The third alternative is that consciousness is a kind of causation.

And as to evolution you can always find examples of features of organs that are not beneficial to the organism, but which survive because they are side effects of a causally related feature which IS beneficial. Such partially negative side effects do not in any way negate the evolutionary argument.

The fact of the matter is that consciousness is highly structured, and if it is "just an illusion" created by the mind then there is no reason why it should exist. An illusion is something that by definition has no impact on the organism, so why has this illusion evolved? A functional illusion is an oxymoron.

There are myriads of examples that the nervous system is able to perform actions unconsciously. In fact 99% (or thereabout) of all the actions of an individual are unconscious. In fact, we often perform actions much better unconsciously (such as bicycling) than consciously. The heart beat, breathing and other reflexes are controlled by the central nervous system *unconsciously.* And they do the job wonderfully well. So why is consciousness needed at all? Why can't ALL neural processes be vegetative? And why is it that those things that ARE conscious aren't random, but on average things that are very, very, very important to our survival? (such as hunger, thirst, pain, pleasure, fear, anger.)

It simply does not make sense that consciousness is not a causal agent. There is no good explanation to why consciousness has become so structured as it has. If consciousness does not matter why aren't we experiencing reality as an LSD trip? Evolution tells us a conclusive story: consciousness matters. It is a causal agent that has been subjected to natural selection.

Xtra Laj said...

The third alternative is that consciousness is a kind of causation.

Now, if someone else had posited that there is a kind of causation which is unlike that seen anywhere else in nature, you would be quick to throw around terms like "supernatural" or "superjectivism". You don't posit such free will in other animals, yet we need to have evolved from them. This is why I generally don't waste time debating issues when they are not in the context of evidence. Everyone is free to believe in whatever suits them when discussing speculative philosophy, no matter how magical it might be. Are you willing to grant consciousness to animals?


And as to evolution you can always find examples of features of organs that are not beneficial to the organism, but which survive because they are side effects of a causally related feature which IS beneficial. Such partially negative side effects do not in any way negate the evolutionary argument.


Any self-critical thinker would see that this destroys your original claim about necessarily having survival value simply because it exists. Let's try something - on the terms of your original argument, how do you escape the claim that consciousness is the negative side effect of something that had far greater survival value?

The fact of the matter is that consciousness is highly structured, and if it is "just an illusion" created by the mind then there is no reason why it should exist. An illusion is something that by definition has no impact on the organism, so why has this illusion evolved? A functional illusion is an oxymoron.

Of course, it is not. Illusions of control or beliefs that are not literally true can have survival value. For example, we often believe that other human beings think and feel the same way we do until we learn that they are different. Human beings make all kinds of assumptions about their environment and their senses that are not literally true, but have survival value - read Pinker's "How the Mind Works" for a discussion of the illusions/assumptions that our visionary system rely upon. When those assumptions are exercised in unreliable environments, they fail woefully.

For a more serious example, it has been shown that based on EEG readings of the brain, one can predict what a person will do and there is a significant time lag between the EEG reading that predicts the behavior and the conscious apprehension of the behavior. Yet many people would regard consciousness as the *cause* of the behavior, even if it had temporal precedents.

http://www.economist.com/sciencetechnology/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13489722

Xtra Laj said...

There are myriads of examples that the nervous system is able to perform actions unconsciously. In fact 99% (or thereabout) of all the actions of an individual are unconscious. In fact, we often perform actions much better unconsciously (such as bicycling) than consciously. The heart beat, breathing and other reflexes are controlled by the central nervous system *unconsciously.* And they do the job wonderfully well. So why is consciousness needed at all? Why can't ALL neural processes be vegetative? And why is it that those things that ARE conscious aren't random, but on average things that are very, very, very important to our survival? (such as hunger, thirst, pain, pleasure, fear, anger.)

My view is that most of the strength of this argument relies on the fact that we cannot experience other people's states by introspection. What we will have to show eventually is that there is information that we cannot access in consciousness that only the introspecting person possesses. It is the nature of this information that would enable us to have an informed view on the nature of consciousness. But again, this would require a consistent thinker to grant consciousness to various structures that might not be as intelligent as human beings are and which at the very least have similar chemical structures.

It simply does not make sense that consciousness is not a causal agent. There is no good explanation to why consciousness has become so structured as it has. If consciousness does not matter why aren't we experiencing reality as an LSD trip? Evolution tells us a conclusive story: consciousness matters. It is a causal agent that has been subjected to natural selection.

Repeat that first sentence ten times because if it isn't true, I know your life will become meaningless.

Maybe a study of people in whom consciousness is not as structured as it is in normal human beings might be enlightening. They have been shown to have visible differences in brain structure from normal people. Therefore, a material basis for mental diseases is known that doesn't require a purely introspective understanding. Learn some scientific skepticism.

Daniel Barnes said...

Onar:
>So such invariant absolutes must be outside the natural world, they must be supernatural.

Nice one. So, if a law of physics is found to hold in every part of the universe, and at every time, you say it is supernatural. Funny, I would have thought it was a major scientific breakthrough!

I guess "A=A" and "Existence exists" are "supernatural" too then, because they're true in every context, right? Or are there times and places where they aren't true?

Xtra Laj said...

I guess "A=A" and "Existence exists" are "supernatural" too then, because they're true in every context, right? Or are there times and places where they aren't true?

Dan,

Those are philosophical concepts, no scientific ones....

On a serious note, isn't it funny how a self-proclaimed inductivist and generalizer starts to argue against universal truths when it suits him by calling them "supernatural"?

Daniel Barnes said...

Laj:
>Those are philosophical concepts, no scientific ones....

Even better! Then according to Onar's argument, philosophy itself is "supernatural"...;-)

>On a serious note, isn't it funny how a self-proclaimed inductivist and generalizer starts to argue against universal truths when it suits him by calling them "supernatural"?

Yes, well I think Onar has, like so many we see here, accepted Rand's formulations rather too uncritically. Rand was a very unselfcritical thinker, and she was surrounded by a great many sycophants, so the basic confusions in her thought largely went unchallenged. But as we can see here, it doesn't take long in a critical discussion before her doctrines begin to break down.

Onar Åm said...

Xtra Laj,

"Now, if someone else had posited that there is a kind of causation which is unlike that seen anywhere else in nature, you would be quick to throw around terms like "supernatural" or "superjectivism"."

What characterizes the supernatural is that there is no evidence for it. It is essentially a fantasy and not based on observation. Consciousness is not a fantasy. I can observe it directly in my mind. I can observe myself causings things in reality with my consciousness, and so can you. Consciousness is self-evident, i.e. directly available to you.

"Are you willing to grant consciousness to animals?"

Oh, absolutely! Even quite primitive worms have consciousness, obviously. How else could human consciousness have evolved? Now, consciousness does not imply abstract, conceptual free will, like we humans have evolved, but we can clearly trace the evolution of consciousness through many stages, finally ending in self-sustaining, self-reprogramming, conceptual consciousness which is very powerful.

"Any self-critical thinker would see that this destroys your original claim about necessarily having survival value simply because it exists."

I might have been unclear on this. The presence of an organ does not NECESSARILY imply that it is useful, cf. the appendix which is a vestigal limb, but vestigal limbs and useless or even harmful organs are rare. Furthermore, vestigal limbs are traces of organs that HAVE been useful some time in the past. So excluding these leaves you with a pretty small list of organs that are useless, and common for them is that they do not have intricate and resource demanding structures. The mind has an *extremely* intricate structure which is a clear sign that it has been subjected to natural selection. Besides, this is not magic. I was now not making a philosophical argument but a scientific one. If you evaluate the mind like you would any other organ (like, say, the heart) you would have no problems identifying a whole host of elements that appear very useful to the organism. An unbiased biologist would conclude that consciousness is an extremely functional survival tool.

About illusions: the blind spot is an example of an illusion that is useful to us. But why? Presumably because it would be very disturbing to our consciousness to have to process a giant hole in its visual field. Better then to have some mechanism to erase it and fill in the blanks. In other words, this illusion is useful because consciousness is useful and functional, which brings me back to the original conclusion: consciousness is a causal agent.

Onar Åm said...

(continued)


The EEG experiment you site does not in any way disprove free will. In fact, quite the contrary. What else would you have expected? Consciousness in itself is an extremely feeble and weak force of the mind. Recall when you tried to consciously learn to bicycle for the first time. Not a pretty sight. It was only later when you had internalized the processes of riding a bike that you became really good at it. Consciousness in itself is not very powerful. It is only with the aid of unconscious processes (which make up 99% of mental processes) that consciousness becomes powerful. So in the EEG experiment, the subject chose to participate and to focus his mind on making decisions according to the experimenters wishes. He COULD have said that he wished to read a book instead or go home, or to daydream. But instead he chose to direct his consciousness in such a way as to behave in accordance with the experiment. Did he make the particular choices at hand? Nah. 99% of processes in the brain are unconscious. Did he make the overall decision of focusing on the experiment? Yup.

The same is true with bicycling. It didn't "just happen." You chose to actively use your consciousness to program your body and subconsciousness to learn how to ride a bike, and that's the extent of your conscious involvement.

"My view is that most of the strength of this argument relies on the fact that we cannot experience other people's states by introspection. "

I did not appeal to other people's states. I described my *own* state of consciousness as observed by introspection. You can use my description of consciousness to verify that you have the very same observations.

To me it looks like you are just trying to circumvent a very strong argument. Had you been able to observe consciousness through extrospection rather than introspection you would not doubted for a second that consciousness is an organ that evolved through natural selection because it is very useful to organisms. It is only your bias against introspection that prevents you from drawing this conclusion.

"Maybe a study of people in whom consciousness is not as structured as it is in normal human beings might be enlightening."

There are myriads of such studies. They are called mentally ill and/or druggies. Common for them is that they are not very functional. Their chaotic inner state is reflected in a corresponding non-functional behavior.

Xtra Laj said...

Onar,

What characterizes the supernatural is that there is no evidence for it. It is essentially a fantasy and not based on observation. Consciousness is not a fantasy. I can observe it directly in my mind. I can observe myself causings things in reality with my consciousness, and so can you. Consciousness is self-evident, i.e. directly available to you.

The point of the experiments I cited from "The Economist" was that this is not the way it works. Consciousness as most people understand it *is* a fantasy. It is mostly a story you use to explain *you* to *yourself* - it is not in control of anything - that is a function of your complete self (brain etc.). You observe yourself causing things, but you can also be deceived into believing that you are causing things that you have no control over. Read Daniel Wegner's "The Illusion of Conscious Will" where he repeatedly manages to make people believe that they are controlling things that they are not. The reason why most people believe in the illusion of of a central "I" in control is because they have no idea of what the underlying mechanics are. This "I" is the illusion I speak of.

Oh, absolutely! Even quite primitive worms have consciousness, obviously. How else could human consciousness have evolved? Now, consciousness does not imply abstract, conceptual free will, like we humans have evolved, but we can clearly trace the evolution of consciousness through many stages, finally ending in self-sustaining, self-reprogramming, conceptual consciousness which is very powerful.

I agree.

I might have been unclear on this. The presence of an organ does not NECESSARILY imply that it is useful, cf. the appendix which is a vestigal limb, but vestigal limbs and useless or even harmful organs are rare. Furthermore, vestigal limbs are traces of organs that HAVE been useful some time in the past. So excluding these leaves you with a pretty small list of organs that are useless, and common for them is that they do not have intricate and resource demanding structures. The mind has an *extremely* intricate structure which is a clear sign that it has been subjected to natural selection. Besides, this is not magic. I was now not making a philosophical argument but a scientific one. If you evaluate the mind like you would any other organ (like, say, the heart) you would have no problems identifying a whole host of elements that appear very useful to the organism. An unbiased biologist would conclude that consciousness is an extremely functional survival tool.

You've not made your position any clearer and you've contradicted yourself - I will point this out in a second. My arguments are not against the brain (or the mind) making choices. My arguments are against a view of consciousness that acts as if it is some mysterious causal force that controls the brain etc. In other words, I am an opponent of a Cartesian Dualism that acts like consciousness is something apart from the brain. I'm an identity theorist of sorts - I think that consciousness ultimately is the brain in action and the aspect of experience we consider conscious experience is simply how the brain recursively understands itself.

Onar in a previous post:The fact of the matter is that consciousness is highly structured, and if it is "just an illusion" created by the mind then there is no reason why it should exist. An illusion is something that by definition has no impact on the organism, so why has this illusion evolved? A functional illusion is an oxymoron.

Xtra Laj said...

Onar Now:About illusions: the blind spot is an example of an illusion that is useful to us. But why? Presumably because it would be very disturbing to our consciousness to have to process a giant hole in its visual field. Better then to have some mechanism to erase it and fill in the blanks. In other words, this illusion is useful because consciousness is useful and functional, which brings me back to the original conclusion: consciousness is a causal agent.

So a functional illusion is no longer an oxymoron? The interesting thing is that I never introduced the word "illusion". The question is not whether consciousness is a causal agent etc. but what its nature is. The point here is that the mind/brain (which are two sides of an identical coin in my view) interprets other things as well as itself. The Conscious mind that provides the illusion of a causal agent is the mind interpreting itself. Nothing you have said disputes the view that consciousness can simply be the result of brain functions.

Consciousness in itself is an extremely feeble and weak force of the mind.

Come again?

Nah. 99% of processes in the brain are unconscious. Did he make the overall decision of focusing on the experiment? Yup.

Yes, but this is not the traditional view of consciousness so we might have more agreement than is clear. The point is that the decision wasn't made by some central controller (spirit, mind, whatever) who lives in the middle of the brain.

Most people consider consciousness to be what they experience and they think that constitutes a decision center that is in control of the brain/body.

Following Dennett, I consider the brain and whole body to be consciousness and what we consider the core of our experience to be simply a story we tell ourselves about our own actions. Therefore, the idea that the conscious mind we experience is controlling the body is an illusion. The real mind is really the whole body (brain, nervous system etc.) and the part of it that composes experience is a narrative or self-representation. It is easy to show that the brain/body is capable of actions of which we are not conscious. But most people would say that they did not choose those actions (at least, not consciously!)


The same is true with bicycling. It didn't "just happen." You chose to actively use your consciousness to program your body and subconsciousness to learn how to ride a bike, and that's the extent of your conscious involvement.


The point, from the perspective of a determinist, is not whether the person chose. Per Daniel Wegner, we can define a volitional act as something a person can perform if he is asked to do so. The point is whether we can analyze the mind and say what a person's choices would be based on the nature of their mind and other causal factors. In other words, you completely miss the point of the determinist position.

I did not appeal to other people's states. I described my *own* state of consciousness as observed by introspection. You can use my description of consciousness to verify that you have the very same observations.

So how does that help you verify my states or let me verify yours? Why are you trying to change the point that I was making?

Xtra Laj said...

To me it looks like you are just trying to circumvent a very strong argument. Had you been able to observe consciousness through extrospection rather than introspection you would not doubted for a second that consciousness is an organ that evolved through natural selection because it is very useful to organisms. It is only your bias against introspection that prevents you from drawing this conclusion.


It's really funny how easy it is to caricature an argument you don't understand. The conscious mind is not an organ - no more than the unconscious/subconscious mind is an organ. They are both the result of the human nervous system.

I'll give you a quick summary of my perspective.

I'm a materialist about the mind/body problem (see David Armstrong's excellent introduction to the problem). I don't consider consciousness or mind as something apart from body. I consider the common sense understanding of the conscious mind (which is what I have meant by consciousness all this time) as *the* causal factor in human decision making to be wrong. My view is that the whole body, at the very least the nervous system, is the decision making agent at the center of it all. I also believe that the nature of the behavior making agent can be studied with reductionist techniques, which is why I am a compatibilist - I believe that free will and determinism are compatible. However, my view on free will is not the indeterminist view which believes in principle that human behavior cannot be predicted - I think that in principle, with the right kind of analysis, human behavior can be predicted. I have no problem with people holding other positions as long as they are familiar with the empirical science on the subject and hold views consonant with it.

I have no bias against introspection. I just consider it one source of information amongst others and I think that you should reread what I originally wrote because you clearly didn't understand its point. If you still don't get it, read this paper:

http://www.arts.cornell.edu/phil/homepages/pereboom/BATS.pdf

There are myriads of such studies. They are called mentally ill and/or druggies. Common for them is that they are not very functional. Their chaotic inner state is reflected in a corresponding non-functional behavior.

Sometimes, I wonder why I am having this discussion. Do you lack the capacity for nuanced thinking or do you just think that your rhetorical style is impressive? Here is a neuroscientist talking about how analysis of the brain's physical structure has helped explain some puzzles about mental disorders:

http://www.ted. com/talks/ vilayanur_ ramachandran_ on_your_mind. html

And here is Steven Pinker talking about evidence about innate human behaviors. The data on identical twins is especially interesting and should make anyone who thinks the free will is unconstrained rethink the issue if they respect experimental science

http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_chalks_it_up_to_the_blank_slate.html

Again, all I have tried to do in these discussions is not to convince you (I know from personal experience that Objectivists are a pretty incorrigible bunch), but to show you that these issues are complicated and anyone who thinks that there is one answer and that no other answers are reasonable is simply incapable of self-criticism and scientific skepticism.

Enjoy and it has been a fun discussion.

Onar Åm said...

Daniel,

actually Xtra Laj is right when he says that those are philosophical and not scientific concepts. "A is A" is an axiom that *precedes* truth. The statement itself is not *true*, but *necessary*. It is impossible for you to make any statement whatsoever without assuming the validity of "A is A." Whether you like it or not you must accept the concept of identity or revert into babble.

Now, you may choose to find it amusing and a proof of my insanity/fanaticism/selfuncriticism that I in one moment speak warmly about generalizations and absolute truths, while at the same time rejecting the possibility of infinite, everlasting truths, OR you can assume that I actually have thought these things through and that you should be asking yourself what you're missing. The choice is fully yours, and the outcome of your evaluation will fully be a result of that choice.

Given your lack of respect and lacking willingness of entertaining the possibility that I am actually right, I am not very tempted to put major effort into explaining you what lies behind that apparent paradox, but I am going to make a brief attempt.

I think the best way to do this is to describe what the difference between superjective and objective generalization are. (And then check it up agains subjective skepticism)

A superjectivist will insist that once a proper generalization has been made it can never ever be shown to contain any form of error. A subjectivist will agree with this completely, but claim that generalizations cannot be trusted because we can imagine hidden premises that at any moment can falsify the generalization. (Cf the black swan) An Objectivist on the other hand will say that generalizations contain truth about the universe, but since we are finite beings that generalization may contain sampling errors and lack information about hidden information. So if a generalization has been inductively proven, then new information can never disprove ALL the induced knowledge, only *part* of it. For instance, Newton's mechanics was not falsified by Einstein. Most of Newton's theory survives to this day, but Einstein showed that the generalization was too broad. It does not hold at near light speed and in strong gravitational fields.

This truth preserving quality comes from the identity structure of existence. Existence is not random and once you have proven that something is not random you have proven that something real and causal exists. This is even true in the far out examples of the skeptics. What if we live in a matrix world? What if we are just brains hooked up to a computer simulator. Then the laws of physics and the world we live in can change at any moment at the whim of the creators, say the skeptics. True, this can happen, but then it turns out that what we have mapped out with our conceptual faculty not the physical world at large, but only a small slice of it, namely a computer program running in some lab. This fact would not in any way detract from our successful induction about that program. All the knowledge we have is real, we are able to maneuver inside the RAM of that simulation with great skill. Our knowledge has great predictive power within that realm, and given the premise that no-one in the lab turns off the computer or changes the code, that knowledge is highly accurate. Just like with Newton's laws it turns out to be an overgeneralization. There are certain premises where that knowledge does not apply, but by adding in certain conditions our knowledge becomes entirely accurate.

In other words, even though some hidden things may be revealed to us the choice is not between ALL correct or NOTHING right.

Xtra Laj said...

Onar,

In your description of "superjectivist" vs. "subjectivist" vs "objectivist", I have a very simple question:

Could you name actual scientists or philosophers who hold those positions?

Given that they held those positions, do you think that their science was helped or hindered by holding those positions? Why or why not?
Thx.

Onar Åm said...

Xtra Laj,

the common thing for a scientist is to hold a superjective or subjective position in *some* areas. Often positions come in pairs, one superjective position and a corresponding subjective one. But before I give examples of real scientists with real positions let me first properly define the terms:

A supernatural belief is something for which there are no supporting evidence in reality.

A natural belief are all things that are based on sense evidence.

A subnatural belief is the *denial* of something for which there is evidence for in reality.

The subnatural can be thought of as a special case of supernaturalism.

It follows from this then that superjectivity is to fantasize oneself into the position of God and see the world from that infinite, almighty angle. Subjectivity is the denial of the natural faculties, usually motivated by an underlying superjective assumption. In philosophy superjectivity typically manifests itself as rationalism, whereas subjectivity manifests itself as skepticism.

Let's take a look at one case of subnaturalism, namely materialism, which is the denial of consciousness. (Daniel Dennett is a textbook materialist and subnaturalist) Here the mind is denied as an existent and a causal agent, despite the fact a) that we can directly observe our own mental actions, and b) that all our discoveries, including the laws of matter, depend and build on these mental actions. The corresponding supernatural element is the unfounded belief in matter as the "god" to which must all abide.

Modern evolutionary theory is an example of a special kind of materialism. Here the individual as the primary unit of selection is denied, and instead the gene is elevated to prime existent. The belief in the selfish gene is supernatural, whereas the denial of the individual is subnatural. Richard Dawkins is a proponent of this view. Dawkins is also an epistemological subnaturalist. He claims that nothing is certain and that there are no absolutes, here building on the supernatural standards for absolutism and certainty.

Onar Åm said...

Xtra Laj,

I am fully aware of all the experiments with the illusions of choice. All this proves is that the mind can be fooled. Most likely this ability of the mind to make up a plausible explanation on the fly is akin to the blind spot. It would be too disturbing for the mind to function appropriately if it were aware of how much of its actions were actually not motivated by choice of the self. But again, just like with the blind spot, such an evolutionary adaption only makes sense if consciousness as a whole is a causal agent which can be affected by natural selection. To the degree that a functional illusion evolves it must always be in the context of a functional non-illusion. In other words, it is only because consciousness actually *does* something that it matters how it is structured. Let me give you an example:

Suppose that a girl was born with a defect which made her feel hungry even though her stomach was full. That's an illusion, right? In this case that illusion makes her eat herself extremely fat, so it *did* have an effect on the girl's behavior. In this case the phantom hunger was an illusion in the sense that it fooled the body to believe something was there which wasn't really there. But *consciousness* as such was not an illusion in this case. It was a causal agent. Without that phantom hunger, the girl would have had a different behavior. Now, in order for consciousness *as such* to be an illusion, we must be fooled into believing that consciousness matters when in reality exactly the same behavior could have been achieved without consciousness. In other words, if we believe we eat because we feel hungry, but in reality it is just a lot of unconscious material processes that determines us to eat, THEN we are talking about consciousness as an illusion.

So when I was speaking about "functional illusions" as an oxymoron I was referring to the mind as a whole, not to specific functions which happens to fool us into behaving in a manner that does not correspond to what is real.

I have watched most of the TED talks on the mind before, but the Steven Pinker talk was new to me and very enjoyable. The socialist version of the blank slate which was so prevalent among the elite in the 20th century is a perfect example of subnaturalism. (i.e. the *denial* of human nature). Note how Pinker correctly points out how the denial of human nature lends itself to utopianism which in turn is a supernatural project.

I would also like to recommend a video by Dan Ariely which exemplifies supernaturalism vs subnaturalism.

http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_ariely_asks_are_we_in_control_of_our_own_decisions.html

In this video Ariely holds us up to a supernatural standard of rationality and concludes that we are more like Homer Simpson. While funny, it exemplifies what a supernatural standard does to one's thinking. Also, it is quite interesting how he in the end literally puts up two alternatives: superman vs Homer Simpson. Somehow he understands that the traditional rationality is a supernatural one, but fails to remove that standard in his thinking.

I understand that you meant to refer me to these videos and your other references because you believe that I was unaware of all these things. I can assure you that not only am I aware of these things but fully accept the experimental findings (although I do not always agree with the conclusions). It is quite possible that you have run into a bunch of Objectivists who for all I know do not understand these issues, but *I* do.

Ayn Rand was quite confrontational. She was a warrior and as such she can very easily be interpreted as a reactionary. Many of the people who read her fail to read ALL of her stuff and read it thoroughly, integrate it and think these positions through. These end up as "Randroids" and are not very interesting to talk to because they are essentially nothing but parrots who are able to recite some of Rand's arguments which they lack the full understanding of to fully defend and appreciate. Well, I ain't one of them.

Onar Åm said...

(continued)

I would like to end with some thoughts on dualism and monism. Monism traditionally means either materialism or idealism. Dualism means that matter and spirit coexist separately and independently. There is a third alternative which we may call non-dualism, which is a kind of monism but one which denies neither the mind nor matter.

Monism is fundamentally flawed, and strong dualism where mind and matter are completely separate (indicating two universes) is equally flawed. The only rational alternatives are weak dualism (in which the mind and body are separate but mutually interacting entities) or non-dualism (where mind is a special kind of attribute of matter). Whether weak dualism or non-dualism is the correct answer is a scientific question, not a philosophical one. Maybe one day we will discover mind "stuff" in the universe that is separate from but interacts with matter, or maybe we find that the quantum noise component of matter really is consciousness.

In any case, whichever will turn out to be the correct (I am leaning towards non-dualism) the brain is to the mind much as what the heart is to the blood. The mind and the brain are not the same, although they are related. The heart creates blood pressure by pumping blood through the body. Without the heart that blood pressure would not exist. In a similar manner the mind could be thought of as a standing wave created by the brain. Without the processes of the brain the mind could never exist, but the mind is also not the same as the material part of the brain. The brain simply creates the mind.

If the mind is a quantum mechanical phenomenon then I find it likely that the brain is some kind of resonance chamber which amplifies and unifies the conscious component of matter particles into a macroscopic phenomenon. I am of course just speculating here. (Again, this is a scientific question) But notice that I am not proposing some mystic, otherwordly explanation here.

That which is NOT speculation, however, is the observation that we MUST accept consciousness as a causal agent since our own conclusions rest on conscious actions. If consciousness does not act (i.e. causes stuff) then *everything* in your mind is an illusion, including the very arguments that your mind is an illusion.

Xtra Laj said...

Onar,

I think that your whole post is very confused and in general, you show a repeated inability to understand what you are really disagreeing with. This is a common problem with Objectivists in general: rather than consider the best motives of someone with whom they disagree, they find demeaning names and accuse their opponents of irrationality etc. Good debating practice is to explain a person's viewpoint in terms that they would agree with. Sometimes, when you do that, you realize that disagreements are limited in scope or are really superficial.

Rather than critique your whole post, I would like to focus on one aspect of your response given what I have written above.

You wrote:

Dawkins is also an epistemological subnaturalist. He claims that nothing is certain and that there are no absolutes, here building on the supernatural standards for absolutism and certainty.

So could you explain to me how Dawkins' position, as described by you, affects the quality of his scientific research? How would you improve upon it or dismiss it? Do you think that he writes arrant nonsense of no value given his " epistemic subnaturalism"? The same for Dennett.

If performing an experiment or analyzing the results, how would Dawkins perform the experiment or analyze the conclusions differently from how you, an Objectivist, would do it?

I want to understand the empirical differences between supernatural, subnatural and natural scientists and better appreciate the significance of these differences in your view.

Xtra Laj said...

Here is another example of an Objectivist insisting on what he means when he uses a word, rather than understanding what others are saying when/if they use the same word:

I am fully aware of all the experiments with the illusions of choice. All this proves is that the mind can be fooled. Most likely this ability of the mind to make up a plausible explanation on the fly is akin to the blind spot. It would be too disturbing for the mind to function appropriately if it were aware of how much of its actions were actually not motivated by choice of the self. But again, just like with the blind spot, such an evolutionary adaption only makes sense if consciousness as a whole is a causal agent which can be affected by natural selection. To the degree that a functional illusion evolves it must always be in the context of a functional non-illusion. In other words, it is only because consciousness actually *does* something that it matters how it is structured.

The mind is not just being fooled generally - it is being fooled in a very important and specific way. It is being fooled to believe it is in control of the beliefs it forms when it is not in control of the beliefs it forms. In other words, some of the most certain beliefs we have about the causal efficacy of our thoughts/choices can be false and cannot be resolved by introspection. This has implications for whether we really understand when we are or are not in control. You can rationalize that however you want to, but the importance of the conclusion cannot be ignored.

Your example of the girl again is missing the point in two ways. 1) If we were to grant consciousness the kind of causal efficacy that non-materialists would like us to grant it, then the girl's report of what she says should be accepted and not challenged - some people actually advocate this. This is what Dennett denies. What we need to explain, in Dennett's view, is both the girl's claim that she is full, and why she doesn't recognize that she is not. He thinks that materialist view of the mind will ultimately provide the best resolution of such questions.

2) You do not understand what is meant when people say "consciousness is an illusion" or "free will is an illusion". No one is saying that they do not exist - in fact, illusions exist! The point of an illusion is that what you think you are seeing is not the same as what is happening see given a wider epistemic perspective into what is going on. So if a materialist calls consciousness an illusion, he is not saying "consciousness doesn't exist" in that people do not experience it. What he is saying is that the popular explanation for it is not the same as the explanation that an informed person/scientist would have. For example, a scientist would tell you that solid objects are mostly fully of empty space, but appear solid to the naked eye. The human body is composed of lots of water, but is solid in appearance. Illusion is term for expressing that the truth is not intuitive - it is counterintuitive.

So if you are not using illusion in the same sense that others are using the term, isn't it far more responsible for you to be clear on how others are using the term before you heap all kinds of insults on them?

Xtra Laj said...

Note how Pinker correctly points out how the denial of human nature lends itself to utopianism which in turn is a supernatural project.

Actually, Greg Nyquist (and I even before I read Greg) considers Ayn Rand a blank slate philosopher whose view of human beings was often similar to that of socialists. So I find your comments amusing in that regard.

Your interpretation of Ariely's presentation is really odd. The research of psychological bias in decision making won a Nobel Prize (Kahneman-Tversky) and it is very important for marketers (some people think that advertising isn't manipulative, but they should hang out with marketers and see if they draw the same conclusion afterwards). You may have read "Influence" by Robert Cialdini, which multiplies this kind of evidence. Such awareness is important for people who do research so they can avoid common errors in reasoning, but it has many many applications. However, you bring in this "supernatural" perspective which I don't quite get. Must you label and mock everything with which you disagree?

"Randroid" is simply a pejorative term for an Objectivist so I'm not sure about the distinction you make. I'm happy you accept all the experimental conclusions. What disturbs me is that you continually ascribe agendas to people that put them in the worst possible light in the first instance - in other words, I never understand from your writing the positive motives that drove a person who you disagree with. That is still Randroid behavior - assuming that people who disagree with Rand must be evil.

Your comments on monism, dualism, materialism and non-dualism aren't completely in line with contemporary philosophy. What you call "non-dualism" is simply a form of materialism if the mind can be a subject of physics. If not, then it is a form of dualism and might be epiphenomenalism, depending on the degree to which you grant the mind causal efficacy. Identity-state materialism simply sees the brain and mind as identical sides of the same coin - every thing in the mind can be mapped to some information process in the brain and the mind is simply part of the perspective of an introspective brain.

*None* of these theories claims that consciousness is an illusion in the silly way you say that they do. If they say it is an illusion, they are saying that when the research is completed, the scientific understanding of consciousness will be counterintuitive when compared to the commonsense understanding of same. Those who claim this might very well be wrong. But that has not been proven (yet).

Onar Åm said...

Xtra Laj,

Dawkins is a highly respectable scientist that does most things right in the area of biology. It is primarily in the area of ethics and politics that his flaws come into play. He readily and fully accepts the usage of the term altruism in biology even though it by definition has no place in evolution where only egoism matters. He confuses altruism with benevolence, and even promotes the ridiculous term "reciprocal altruism" to describe trade. (Obviously "reciprocal egoism" or "synergetic/social egoism" is the correct term).

But Dawkins is certainly among the best of them. Evolutionary biology is one of the pinnacles of science. Its state is overall very good. Some other sciences however are in a horrible state. Let me now just list a few of the problematic areas of science:

cosmology (big bang theory, redshift as evidence of an expanding universe, comets as "dirty ice" etc.)

physics (General Relativity, quantum mechanics)

climate science (computer model worship)

economics (Keynesianism)

humanities ("blank slate"-human, no genetic statistical race differences)


I'm not going to go into details about each and every of these, but let me say that Einstein's relativity won out over Lorentzian relativity due to a breakdown in epistemology. Physics has grown more and more mathematical with less and less real physics beneath.

Climate science has deteriorated a lot and is an example of supernaturalism, where computer models are believed over empirical data.

So the flaws in metaphysics and epistemology do have real impacts on the world.

Xtra Laj said...

Here we go again - reinterpreting terms to suit what you want them to mean, rather than what the person who wrote them intends them to mean. In any case, the post on the main thread by Stefan Pernar seems to have relevance here. Read it and let me know what you think (or you can debate it with Pernar, which will probably be more fruitful):

http://aynrandcontrahumannature.blogspot.com/2009/06/ayn-rand-contra-evolutionary-dynamics.html

In other words, altruism has a very clear place in biology and you cannot reject it semantically. The idea that we can redefine egoism to include the desire to die for others is the kind of thing that an Objectivist would find repulsive if it was done with one of their own words.

Now, the other thing that I find really odd is that you make it clear that Dawkins, despite being an "epistemological subnaturalist", is a highly respected scientist with real achievements. Given his horribly misguided epistemology, how can that be???? After realizing this problem with your argument, you go on to make some claims about the importance of epistemology which I will address later.

That you disagree with Dawkins's ideological ethics and politics (as opposed to the practical varieties, which are for the most part mainstream) and think that is very important is most likely because you are an Objectivist. I disagree with Dawkins's ideological ethics and politics too, but I disagree with the ideological ethics and politics of many people and don't lose sleep over it. Maybe there is some danger to letting respected individuals push their pet views, but I'll worry more about that when I have children.

Xtra Laj said...

Amongst the sciences that you claim are in a disarray, in which one of them are you an experimental researcher? Or at least, a theoretical research expert? Or are you just convinced that these fields are corrupt by some layman exposition of the mathematics and experiments?

Have you done first hand research on the sources and know what results lead one theory to be chosen over another and see that even if you think that the wrong decision was taken, the reason for doing so might have had some merit?

Consider BF Skinner, whose view of psychology was very easy to skewer given its denial of mental causation. Skinner is highly respected amongst many experimental psychologists despite the bad aspects of his philosophy. Why?? Because Skinner was trying to introduce empirical methods into psychology. He took some of his ideas in the wrong direction, and to the degree that he did so and it had negative consequences, he should well and truly be condemned, but anyone who tries to get the full picture of Skinner and doesn't understand that part of Skinner is being a moralist, not a thinker interested in understand what is happening. Skinner did get some success with reinforcement, and even if his blank slate view of human nature is false, he is not without contributions to our understanding of better science. In other words, what some people (like you) call bad epistemology is also important for a rounder view of scientific practice.

In other words, too often, you confuse your ethics with your science. I think you definitely have a right to criticize, but when you are not a frontline researcher, the kind of certitude and attitude you are showing is more often a result of ignorance than anything else, in part because you often choose to criticize the philosophy apart from the experiments. You would be far more credible if you criticized the philosophy in the context of the experiments. Maybe you do this in some articles and I'm holding you to too high a standard for a comment here.

I have no doubt that some of the fields you listed have issues. Which ones and for what reasons is a very different issue, and I doubt that most of the problem has anything to do with epistemology per se.


What you will find is in science is that disagreement tends to become more common to the degree that a topic is more and more removed from simple experimental confirmation. With this increased abstraction and complexity, other human issues (differences in intelligence, ethical and political biases) will often come into play.

The issues in the humanities (if we should call them "humanities" - I don't consider evolutionary psychology, behavioral genetics and anthropology "humanities" per se) have more to do with political consequences. Most people accept the conclusions in common sense, but not in a scientific manner.

If climate science has any problems (as far as I know meteorology does a fairly good job with its models), it is more a dispute over the politics allied with different results.

Keynesianism's most serious problems lie mostly in macroeconomics, and that is such a complicated problem that Keynesianism doesn't get everything right, but it doesn't get everything wrong either. The problem is the political implications.

The two fields where I am fairly sure that you are wrong are physics. In fact, I consider those fields to be mathematical fields and attempts to explain those fields in words too often pervert the information contained in the mathematics unless the phenomenon accords with our innate intuitions. If Lorentzian relativity improves upon Einstein, it will be resolved by experiment. However, I can envision reasons for which I will be wrong, but again, these have little to do with epistemology.

But to discuss this seriously would require me to revisit the differences in how we view human nature and I'm not in the mood to do that. For me, human beings are lucky when we are objective. For you, human beings are perverse when we are subjective.

Onar Åm said...

Xtra Laj,

I am an experimental scientist in none of the areas, but I *can* read and think, and I can site a whole lot of scientists in all these fields who point to the very same flaws I point out.

I can of course debate all the fields I have mentioned, in particular climate science (the global warming scare) which I have written a book about, but this is beyond the scope of this discussion. Your view that physics is entirely mathematical tells me that you are a rationalist in this area. Mathematics is a wonderful integration tool, but the underlying concepts are not mathematical but physical.

Many people are surprised to learn that in all the usual cases Lorentzian and General relativity both fit the data perfectly, except that Lorentz is Newtonian and much easier to work with. But without physics it is impossible to understand the logical errors of General Relativity. Here is an article that explains it quite well.

http://www.metaresearch.org/cosmology/speed_of_gravity.asp

Metaresearch.org has a lot of exciting stuff, including the problems with Big Bang.

There are many competing Lorentzian theories, but one very exciting one is this:

http://www.glafreniere.com/matter.htm

It is not necessarily correct but it shows great insight into doppler effects of standing waves, and gives a physical interpretation of relativity rather than a purely mathematical one.

Xtra Laj said...

Laj wrote: The two fields where I am fairly sure that you are wrong are physics[and cosmology]. In fact, I consider those fields to be mathematical fields and attempts to explain those fields in words too often pervert the information contained in the mathematics unless the phenomenon accords with our innate intuitions. If Lorentzian relativity improves upon Einstein, it will be resolved by experiment. However, I can envision reasons for which I will be wrong, but again, these have little to do with epistemology.

Onar wrote: Your view that physics is entirely mathematical tells me that you are a rationalist in this area. Mathematics is a wonderful integration tool, but the underlying concepts are not mathematical but physical.

So where did I say that physics was "entirely mathematical"? This imputation of ideas onto others is increasingly ridiculous. Does mathematics work with experiments? And since I explicitly said that if there was a difference between Lorentz and Einstein when it came to relativity, it should show up in experiment, how does that make me a "rationalist"?

Sigh. Part of my intellectual maturity came with the realization was that it was a significant waste of time debating people who were wed to ideas that could not be meaningfully tested. And that is why I always say that if you can't provide a testability criterion to resolve an argument, you should not act as if it is purely a matter of rationality when people disagree with you (and even a testability criterion might be insufficient). I don't fault Rand as much for her rationalizations as for her significant deviation from a scientifically motivated view of human nature.

One wonders whether you are able to read anything as others intend it as opposed to seeing the visions you want to see.

Cavewight said...

Xtra wrote: Sigh. Part of my intellectual maturity came with the realization was that it was a significant waste of time debating people who were wed to ideas that could not be meaningfully tested.

I tested that idea but it didn't work out.

John McNeel said...

You are confused about the 2 stones. The concept is "two" not "stone". Your point about showing 1 microscope at a time would not help one understand the concept of "two" would it?

gregnyquist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gregnyquist said...

You are confused about the 2 stones. The concept is "two" not "stone"

No, that misses the point entirely. This is not about forming the concept two, but about whether an individual requires more than one instance of a unit to form a concept. According to Rand's definition of a concept, it requires two or more instances to form a concept. This, however, is almost certainly wrong.

Would you require two units to form the concept two? Perhaps. But other than the concept two, which concept might require two instances to form? Do you really require two instances to form the concept of stone or microscope? Not likely. And what about the number three? If two requires two instances, wouldn't three require three? However, does this mean you would need 140 instances to form the concept 140?

Anonymous said...

Greg,

Rand was quite clear about the need to have two instances of something to form a concept. She said in the lectures added to the revised ITOE that the concept "god" wasn't possible because there is supposed to be only one god.

This entire approach (two instances plus perhaps a "foil") is highly unlikely to be correct. Every once in a while I read an article about how someone finds a new mammal in Borneo or wherever. Apparently there is no problem "conceptualizing" it even though only one animal has been found.

-Neil Parille

gregnyquist said...

Neil,

I had forgotten about the God example. But her argument seems to suggest the possibility that she came up with her two or more requirement to make certain that proper names wouldn't become concepts.

There are certainly things around the house that are rare enough that a child might not see another for years: an old grandfather clock, a photo of a rare bird, a telescope, etc. They obviously can form concepts of such objects, despite being exposed to only one of them. What Rand seems to be assuming is that, unless the child sees more than one unit of an object, that child will assume the object is sui generis and therefore a "proper name" rather than a concept. (In a future post I will contend that proper names are concepts, too, and that Rand is wrong on this.)

As to the notion of God, we have to assume that Rand believes that only polytheists, not monotheists, can have a concept of God, which is a rather odd position.

David said...

Here is an example of the many false characterizations of Rand's theory in this thread: "Notice how dependent her theory of concept-formation is upon measurement-omission - meaning that one first has to have a concept of measurements in order to omit them..." Why would one have to have a concept of measurement in order to observe that one item has more of a particular attribute than another item?

David said...

Readers interested in better understanding Rand's theory of concepts will find elaborations and defenses of various points in the following: 1) the appendix in the second edition of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, which is an edited transcription of a workshop in which Rand responds to many technical questions about her theory and specific formulations, organized in parallel with the exposition in the original book; 2) lecture six of Leonard Peikoff's course "Advanced Seminars on Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand"; 3) Harry Binswanger's lecture sets "Abstraction from Abstraction" and "Consciousness as Identification" and 4) Greg Salmieri's course "Objectivist Epistemology in Outline." All the courses or lecture sets are available from estore.aynrand.org as mp3 downloads at very cheap prices--massively reduced from what used to be charged for the same items.

David said...

Part I. Neil writes: "This entire approach (two instances plus perhaps a 'foil') is highly unlikely to be correct. Every once in a while I read an article about how someone finds a new mammal in Borneo or wherever. Apparently there is no problem 'conceptualizing' it even though only one animal has been found."

Describing an entity and forming a new concept of it are not the same thing. If I create a table with a doohicky-flange that is unique to it, and I intend never to make another, I don't need to form a concept of a special subcategory of table. But I could, assuming for example that I plan to mass-produce it and sell it, call it a DH Table or whatever. Of course I can imagine the possibility of other DH Tables before I produce them. I don't need to have other physical instances of a concept before me perceptually in order to have them in mind. Otherwise all higher-order concepts that in order to be formed require more than what is immediately in front of my eyes (justice, government, planetary systems, historical eras) would have to be declared invalid from the get-go.

Neil does not elaborate his example. Is the animal discovered in Borneo unique in the world, and regarded by the biologist who studies it as unique in the world? Is it merely a deformed instance of an already-known species? Or does the biologist think it makes sense that there is or has at some point been more than one of this previously unknown kind of animal, that he is looking at a member of a species?

There is no point to forming a concept of a species of this newly discovered animal unless there is reason to believe that it is in fact a member of a species--i.e., that there is another organism enough like it to also be a member of that species. The biologist is then forming a concept based on his assumption that there are two or more instances of the animal.

The fact that other members of the species are merely assumed until the biologist can find more members or evidence of more members doesn't mean that conceptualizers need only one unit of a kind to form a concept of the species. And to what extent the provisionally formed concept is satisfactory can only be determined when more members of the species are actually found.

Moreover, the biologist's provisional concept can only be at all plausibly formed to begin with because the rest of the living world is not a blank to him. The biologist can suppose that whatever may be the traits of other members of the species, if the sole member thus far discovered is a normal member of the species, the traits of those other members will differ only within certain definite limits. But why is the biologist able to make this assumption? He doesn't simply deduce the constraints in a cognitive vacuum, without ever having differentiated and integrated anything in the plant and animal kingdoms ever before. He relies on an extensive background knowledge. Yet the fact and utility of such background knowledge is simply neglected in Neil's example. [cont. in Part II]

Daniel Barnes said...

David:
>Readers interested in better understanding Rand's theory of concepts will find elaborations and defenses of various points in the following:

Or, you could consider what it means that Rand's theory would likely fail the tests suggested above.

Or, if you're not happy with these suggestions, perhaps propose some suitably falsifiable empirical tests yourself?

David said...

Part II [continued from Part I] Let there be an alien species that knows nothing of plants and animals; the aliens are fed magically by manna, let's say. In any case, for whatever strange reasons the aliens have lived in splendid biological isolation.

Let the aliens invent space flight and land on a planet where they discover a single blade of grass--that's it. Can they now form a concept of what this kind of entity is, without any further investigation and without bringing any knowledge of flora and fauna that could have been gained only by prior acquaintance with plants and animals? Can they form the concept without even a single other blade to which they can compare the single blade they've found, let alone without any single other example of a plant to which they can compare it? What is similar and different among this blade and any other possible members of this species? Same shape but different colors? Are all such blades of equal length?

The alien discoverers of the single blade don't even yet have a concept of species as a type of organism. They've been differentiating themselves only from rocks and sun and rain, not from other organisms. They've never seen other organisms. Perhaps they can imaginatively project different versions of themselves, perhaps. But none of their science fiction will exploit information about elephants, tigers, mosquitoes or cucumbers. The aliens can say that the blade is alive, because they another example of a living thing--themselves--to which they can see it is alike in that respect. In that respect, it resembles the aliens, not the rock and the sand.

If you want to know whether differentiation and integration are fundamental and inescapable requirements of forming concepts and acquiring knowledge of the world, observe what your mind does as you form concepts and gain knowledge. Look first at the normal cases, not the borderline or difficult cases that can be explicated only by reference to the normal case of valid concept formation.

Tim said...

"...a series of mere assertions, covering a scant few vague, confusingly worded pages with almost no detectable supporting argument..."

Of course that's to be expected: You're reading an introduction--a summary. If you had read the foreword, you'd know that Rand explicitly reminds the reader that on page 3.

P.S. This is kind of straw man is typical of academic critics of Rand. They purport to understand Rand from reading summaries, which is ironic given how these same critics often criticize Rand's understanding of philosophy as based largely from summaries. In actuality, Rand's understanding was broad and deep, and was able to distill her understanding succinctly into their essences. Because many academics struggle with essentializing, thus struggle with grasping essence, they accuse Rand of oversimplifying and/or misunderstanding.

Daniel Barnes said...

OK Tim, so your claim is that the Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology is just that...an introduction. Therefore we are being unfair to expect anything more than some vague outlines without supporting arguments.

But you now have a problem. If the ITOE is just an introduction to some unwritten future work, then you have admitted that Objectivism does not in fact have a clearly articulated, well argued, empirically supported epistemology. It has a few introductory outlines, and that is about it. This is exactly what we critics say (and we would add that even these sketchy outlines contain obvious errors. See our extensive list of posts here).
Now, you can talk these sketchy outlines up as "essentializing" and other fancy jargon, but you can't have it both ways. An introduction is not, and cannot, be the actual work, any more than a prospectus is the same as a business.

Now, what sort of people might try to make you believe that a mere prospectus is somehow equivalent to an actually-existing business? Why, that's the sort of thing that con artists try to pull - usually using fancy jargon to talk it up too.

To us, Objectivist epistemology - or at very least, the hyperbolic claims made about it - is really kind of a con, using verbal sleight of hand and slick jargon to keep the shell game rolling. If you think a prospectus for an epistemological system is the same as the system itself, you're being sucked in.