Sunday, September 19, 2010

Objectivism & “Metaphysics,” Part 11

Logic and reality. Chris Sciabarra sums up the Objectivist position on this issue better than any Objectivist:

Like Aristotle, Rand believes that logic is inseparable from reality and knowledge. She states: “If logic has nothing to do with reality, it means the Law of Identity is inapplicable to reality.” But, as Peikoff explains: “The Law of Contradiction … is a necessary and ontological truth which can be learned empirically.” … [For Rand,] logic is certainly a law of thought, insofar as it is “the art of non-contradictory identification.” But logic is true in thought only because contradictions cannot exist in reality. Rand writes: “An atom is itself, and so is the universe; neither can contradict its own identity; nor can a part contradict the whole.” [Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, 139-140]


What on earth does it mean to say that contradictions cannot exist in reality? What kind of processes or events is this supposed to rule out? What would a “contradiction in reality” look like? What does it mean, in empirical terms, to say that an atom cannot be a non-atom? Or is it merely that we simply cannot conceive such “contradictions in reality”? But if we cannot conceive what a “contradiction in reality” might be, what is the point of saying such a phenomena cannot exist? If we cannot even imagine its existence, it has no relevance, either as an error or a falsehood. So again, what is this mythical gremlin, the “contradiction in reality,” and why should we bother our heads with it?


Rand’s confusion here runs deep, and stems from confusing different aspects or realms of existence and trying to assume that logic, in order to be cognitively useful, must be valid in every domain or realm of existence. The philosophers George Santayana and Karl Popper, working entirely independent of one another, distinguished at least three realms or “worlds”:

  1. Realm of Matter/World 1: the physical world, the world of matter existing in time and space.
  2. Realm of Spirit/World 2: consciousness, the world of mental objects and events.
  3. Realm of Essence/World 3: the world of ideas, meanings, theories, problems, etc.

While Santayana’s realms of matter and spirit are largely identical to Popper’s worlds 1 and 2, there are important difference between the Santayana’s realm of essence and Popper’s world 3. Santayana’s realm of essence includes all possible meanings, whether anyone has experienced them or not. Popper, on the other hand, tends to confine his world 3 to those ideas or meanings produced by the human mind. These differences are not important for the points I will be trying to make about logic and reality in this post.

Now where does logic actually hold true? Does it hold true in all three realms/worlds? Or in only one or two of them? Or in none of them? Well, let’ s take a look, first, at the realm of matter. Does it hold true for that? No, it doesn’t. This is demonstrated by an experiment proposed by Karl Popper. Popper begins by noting that when a logical statement such as 2+2=4 is applied to reality (as when someone puts 2+2 apples in basket),

it becomes a physical theory, rather than a logical one; and as a consequence, we cannot be sure whether it remains universally true. As a matter of fact, it does not. It may hold for apples, but it hardly holds for rabbits. If you put 2+2 rabbits in a basket, you may soon find 7 or 8 in it. Nor is it applicable to such things as drops. If you put 2+2 drops in a dry flask, you will never get four out of it. If you answer that these examples are not fair because something has happened to the rabbits and the drops, and because the equation ‘2+2=4’ only applies to objects in which nothing happens, then my answer is that, if you interpret it in this way, then it does not hold for ‘reality’ (for in ‘reality’ something happens all the time), but only for an abstract world of distinct objects in which nothing happens. To the extent, it is clear, to which our real world resembles such an abstract world, for example, to the extent to which our apples do not rot, or rot only very slowly, or to which our rabbits or crocodiles do not happen to breed; to the extent, in other words, to which physical conditions resemble pure logical or arithmetical operation of addition, to the same extent does arithmetic remain applicable. But this statement is trivial.” [Conjectures and Refutations, 212]


So logic does not in all respects hold good for the physical world. What about the mental world? Here I draw on Santayana’s testimony:

Now as a matter of fact there is a psychological sphere to which logic and mathematics do not apply. There, the truth is dramatic. That 2+2=4 is not true of ideas. One idea added to another, in actual intuition [i.e., in conscious experience], makes still only one idea, or it makes three: for the combination, with the relations perceived, forms one complex essence, and yet the original essences remain distinct, as elements in this new whole. This holds true of all moral, aesthetic, and historical units: they are merged and reconstituted with every act of apperception. [Realm of Truth, 410]


Where, then, is logic fully applicable? According to Popper, “Logical necessity exists only in world 3. Logical connection, logical relations, logical necessities, logical incompatibility — all that exists only in world 3. So it exists in our theories about nature. In nature this does not exist, there is no such thing.” [Knowledge and the Body-Mind Problem, 41]

Santayana regards logic to be “merely a parabolic excursion in the realm of essence.” If a logical construction is true, this truth derives, not from logic, but from conformity to the order of nature.

The only serious value of … logical explorations would lie in their possible relevance to the accidents of existence. It is only in that relation and in that measure that mathematical science would cease to be mere play with ideas and would become true: that is, in a serious sense, would become knowledge. Now the seriousness of mathematics comes precisely of its remarkable and exact relevance to material facts, both familiar and remote. And this in surprising measure. For when once any essence falls within the sphere of truth, all its essential relations do so too: and the necessity of these relations will, on that hypothesis, form a necessary complement to a proposition that happens to be true. This same necessity, however, would have nothing to do with truth if the terms it connects were not exemplified in existence. In this way mathematical calculations far outrunning experiment often [but not always!] turn out to be true of the physical world, as if, per impossible, they could be true a priori. [ibid, 409]


In other words, when a logical proposition turns out to be true, the truth of that statement arises, not from its logic, but by the fact that it is exemplified by the real world. It is the real world, not logic, which makes a thing true. Facts, nature, reality constitute the standard of truth, not logic. I would also note that, while there exists an infinite number of logical expressions (after all, every mathematic equation is a logical expression, and there are an infinite number of such expressions), only a small fraction of those will find exemplification in existence. Logical validity is therefore no warrant of truth.

If existence were actually logical, as conceived by Objectivists, then reality would have to be a system of ideal relations, like we find imagined in the idealist reveries of Plato and Hegel. In other words, this view only makes sense on idealist assumptions. But on realist assumptions, reality may be anything it pleases. It is not for the mind to determine how reality must be. On the contrary, the mind must accept whatever it finds. And since we have not experienced every possible fact of nature, all theories about facts are ultimately conjectural, and must be revised or overthrown if a fact is discovered that contradicts them. Facts, therefore, for all practical intents, are contingent — which effectively means, alogical and "unnecessary." If a fact contradicts one of our theories about reality, it is the theory that has to go, not the fact.

I suspect there will be Rand apologists who will protest that Objectivism denies no facts. Well, that’s not so clear, as we shall see in my next post.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

How could consciousness not be automtaic ? You think we have to will it into existence ? And what can consciousness perceive but reality ? You bifurcation of objective reality only contributes to a total paralysis of thought and then action. The discredited ramblings here on ARCHN remind one of Hume's admission, that if he were to take his philosophy seriously then suicide would be the next step. Popper's absurd belief that everything has to be falsified really means that there is no objective truth that can be comprehended by all people.
IF this were true it would be a horrible step backward about 600 years. And who needs that ?
Barnes and Nyquist's problems appear to be psychological rather than philosophical. I'd recommend therapy but since 99.99% of it is quackery, then read Thomas Szasz
instead. Or better yet read Ayn Rand and this time try to COMPREHEND it, little fellows.

Matt Warren said...

Belittling language? Check. Arrogant declaration? Check. Lack of substantive argument. Check. More quality Objectivist argumentation.

Thanks for playing.

gregnyquist said...

"How could consciousness not be automtaic ? You think we have to will it into existence ?"

Where have I said anything about consciousness and whether it's automatic? That has nothing to do with the subject of this post.

"You bifurcation of objective reality only contributes to a total paralysis of thought and then action."

Do you have any evidence for this statement? As I happen to be entirely ambulatory and have just complete some sophisticated criticism of Rand's metaphysics, I didn't think so.

"The discredited ramblings here on ARCHN remind one of Hume's admission, that if he were to take his philosophy seriously then suicide would be the next step."

Hume never wrote such a thing. This is a complete distortion of Hume's argument against extreme skepticism.

"Popper's absurd belief that everything has to be falsified..."

Popper does not believe that everything has to be falsified.

From a rational point of view, Anon's ramblings make no sense at all. Does he really believe he's doing his cause any favors with such ill-tempered ravings? Why would anyone wish to sign up with a movement that included people as splenetic, unmannerly, disagreeable and ungenerous as we have here before us? someone so thin-skinned that he can't prevent himself from having a temper tantrum every time someone dares to criticize one of the chief idols of his craven worship? someone who lacks the wit to respond to criticism intelligently, like a rational, cultivated being?

Anonymous said...

Hume did indeed write write what I wrote and go to The History Of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell for verification.
Nyquist, on consciousness are you now disavowing exactly your comments that I was responding to ?
"Ambulatory" or undergoing a psychotic moment ? With you it's hard to tell the difference.
"Sophistication" means clear as mud in your case.
Popper does indeed believe what I credited him with. See his Objective Knowledge. Popper claimed
that all the laws of Galileo, Newton and Kepler have been falsified. See pages 189-190 of Harriman's The Logical Leap for verification of Popper's beliefs.
Nyquist, your last verbose paragraph is exactly what the shrinks call PROJECTION, you have described yourself and your epistemology to a T. And how many people have signed up with your
(NON) "movement." The Objectivists
number in the many millions.
Matt, I totally agree with your cogent criticism of Nyquist.
Less is more in your case.

Anonymous said...

Looks like Hardesty is trolling again.

Priest4hire said...

I curious. I have a copy of Bertrand Russell's "A History of Western Philosophy" right here but I was unable to locate where Hume said that about suicide. I even resorted to an electronic copy and word search to no avail. Perhaps you might be willing to post where in the book this is stated or a more exact version of the quote? Thanks in advance.

CuriousReader said...

A remarkably quick search on Poppler immediatly reveals what I had suspected.

Poppler does not say that "everything has to be falsified" or any such thing instead his argument stems from the fact, as Nyquist has related in this post, that any single factual counter example to a theory disproves theory while at the same time no number "positive" test results can ever "Verify" that something is universally true.

Its exactly as presented in the main post, a fact counter to our view of nature does mean that nature must change but that our view of nature must change.

Poppler's view on Falsifiability would seem to hardly be in contention considering that it is the standard that is used to seperate pseduo-science from its more rigours counterpart.

Also your arguement that "Popper claimed
that all the laws of Galileo, Newton and Kepler have been falsified." does you no service because in many ways they have been.

Kepler, Galileo, and Newton are all, as any first year physicst or engineering student can tell you, approximations. Considering that to the best of our knowledge we live a quantized reletvistic universe then Newton is false (and ergo so are Galileo and Kepler whose theroies were considered verfied by Newtons work).

However, unless you spend a lot of time traveling at speeds closing in on the speed of light, then your experienced universe will appear very much newtonian.

Curious Reader said...

Mr. Nyquist;

Both this Post and your post on the "new schism" in Objectivism get at one of the issues with objectivism that caused me to stop giving it serious consideration at the end of high school and the beggining of college.

Objectivism, for the numerous reasons you have laid out does not seem able or willing to accomadate new facts or data at all well.


I found your post on the new schism to be especially interesting based where you discussed Mr. Perkoiffs book the logical leap. The core assumption of Mr. Perkoiff that scientific advancement comes from forumlating ideas in some headspace first seems completly backwards.

I wondered if you were familar with the works of science-historian Mr. James Burke. If you ever chose to do a review or deconstruction of "the logical leap" you might find Mr. Burke's "The day the universe changed" as a good work for compairson and refutation.

Anonymous said...

"What does it mean, in empirical terms, to say that an atom cannot be a non-atom?"

Or that a particle is also a wave. I vaguely recall that some Objectivists have objections to quantum mechanics because of this; and also because it says that some events have no cause (see Obectivism & Metaphysics Part 10). A quick Google search seems to back this up; anyone want to comment further?

Anonymous said...

The contradiction phenomenon is a reference to a paradox, way back in my college days our philosophy instructor sent us on a wild goose chase by having us write about an observable, naturally occurring paradox. That was a cruel hoax.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_paradoxes

gregnyquist said...

"Objectivism, for the numerous reasons you have laid out does not seem able or willing to accomadate new facts or data at all well."

Orthodox Objectivism (i.e., the Peikoffian brand) definitely has trouble absorbing any ideas that conflict with Rand's core notions.

"I found your post on the new schism to be especially interesting based where you discussed Mr. Perkoiffs book the logical leap."

Actually, that post was written by Neil Parille, and "Logical Leap" is largely written by David Harriman.

"The core assumption of Mr. Perkoiff that scientific advancement comes from forumlating ideas in some headspace first seems completly backwards."

Perhaps it would be unfair to describe this as the "core" assumption of Harriman's book, but obviously the idea, prominent in Objectivism, that philosophy has veto power over science is deeply problematical. In practice, it can easily degenerate into making science the handmaiden of rationalistic speculation.

"I wondered if you were familar with the works of science-historian Mr. James Burke."

Thanks for the recommendation. Never read James Burke, but if I get a chance, I'll check him out.

Mike Wade said...

The Law of Identity is inapplicable to atoms. Uh oh.

http://tinyurl.com/32vl72s

Xtra Laj said...

Great post, Greg, though I suspect it will be nigh impossible for an Objectivist trapped in reading the Objectivese language to get at the meaning of your statements.

There is one ambiguous statement though:

Facts, therefore, for all practical intents, are contingent — which effectively means, alogical and "unnecessary."

It's easy to understand what you mean if a person familiar with the debate reads the whole paragraph, but the "contingent" part is what I think might confuse people. Facts are what they are - whether they are supposedly necessary or contingent is a claim about how they arise, but cannot be discerned without experimental analysis, and any purported necessity can only be claimed, but can be shown to be in error by any counterexample matching the causal specifications.

gregnyquist said...

Laj: "Facts are what they are - whether they are supposedly necessary or contingent is a claim about how they arise, but cannot be discerned without experimental analysis..."

Well that's one approach. The most persuasive argument against necessity in the physical world arises from the notion that necessity is a purely conceptual or logical property which simply cannot be applied to the material world. Santayana, for example, seems to have opposed necessity in nature because he identified it with a type of moralism—i.e., the belief asserting the actual dominance of reason or goodness over the universe at large. So to say there's no physical necessity and that facts are contingent is just a way of noting that the facts don't follow any principle or law or any other kind anthropomorphic logos. Facts are contingent in the sense that there is no operating principle guiding them. Natural laws may describe uniformities in nature, but these uniformities are entirely adventitious; they are not caused or directed by natural law. I find that this constitutes a compelling reason to at least be suspicious of physical necessity and open to the contingency of facts. In addition to this, there's also the concern, adumbrated in my post, that physical necessity is often used to justify rationalistic speculation (that is, in effect, what Brand Blanshard's "Reason and Analysis" is all about: rationalistic speculation is defended on the basis of necessity). It's part and parcel of the view that reality is ultimately intelligible—a view very easy to refute (i.e., simply ask anyone to provide an ultimate explanation for any fact).

Xtra Laj said...

Facts are contingent in the sense that there is no operating principle guiding them. Natural laws may describe uniformities in nature, but these uniformities are entirely adventitious; they are not caused or directed by natural law. I find that this constitutes a compelling reason to at least be suspicious of physical necessity and open to the contingency of facts.

I agree with this. Given the success of science and that the mind is so attuned to finding meaning in just about everything, it's a very tough sell to someone who wants to believe that human potential is unlimited and that scientific inquiry will not drive them into frustration when investigating some kinds of questions. I guess the key is what distinguishes the two attitudes, and as you pointed out, it is the tendency to say what the world must be come what may.

Beoran said...

Very clear post indeed! I do take issue with Santana's statement: "Now the seriousness of mathematics comes precisely of its remarkable and exact relevance to material facts, both familiar and remote. And this in surprising measure."

The fact that /some/ math can be applied to reality is actually /not/ surprising at all. The reason basic math is applicable ans useful is because it was developed to be so!

What most people who don't know math very well don't seem to understand is that math is not singular, but a collection of tools and theories, some of which are based on intuitions about reality, and some of which aren't. Even in something like geometry, you have euclidian or planar geometry, spherical geometry, hyperbolical gemeometry, ...

There are many mathematical theories that find no application in reality at all. For example, 4 dimensional spacial geometry is not very useful in a 3 dimensional universe like ours (snare theory apart).