Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Use this forum to discuss the philosophy of science. Philosophy of science deals with the assumptions, foundations, and implications of science.
Post Reply
User avatar
Steve3007
Posts: 7615
Joined: June 15th, 2011, 5:53 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Dolly Parton
Location: UK

Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Steve3007 » June 30th, 2020, 3:54 am

Terrapin Station wrote:This is a statement about your very quirky mental block where you can only understand anything in epistemological (really self-centered) terms.
Obviously i disagree.

User avatar
Terrapin Station
Posts: 3356
Joined: August 23rd, 2016, 3:00 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Bertrand Russell and WVO Quine
Location: NYC Man

Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Terrapin Station » June 30th, 2020, 3:58 am

This is why it's nonsense to pretend that everyone--or even anyone--is an "ideal epistemic agent," which is what we usually do in these discussions and in academia in general, to a point where we cry "foul" when we don't so pretend. Really, people have all sorts of psychological quirks that amount to mental blocks, biases, particular "hooey dispositions," etc., where they're not "ideal epistemic agents" at all.

User avatar
Terrapin Station
Posts: 3356
Joined: August 23rd, 2016, 3:00 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Bertrand Russell and WVO Quine
Location: NYC Man

Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Terrapin Station » June 30th, 2020, 3:59 am

Steve3007 wrote:
June 30th, 2020, 3:54 am
Terrapin Station wrote:This is a statement about your very quirky mental block where you can only understand anything in epistemological (really self-centered) terms.
Obviously i disagree.
Yeah, you're not going to agree that it's a mental block, but there's probably nothing anyone can do about that.

User avatar
Papus79
Posts: 771
Joined: February 19th, 2017, 6:59 pm

Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Papus79 » June 30th, 2020, 4:26 am

I agree with the idea that we're making assumptions based on a floating constellation of five-sense observed facts (no proof that these are even veridical - we deeply hope they are because it's all we have) and that physicalism / materialism as terms themselves can be confusing when we don't know what 'matter' actually is in any larger context. The trouble there too - it's turtles all the way down in a sense, we can likely expand our knowledge of what goes down the chain even beyond whatever primitives or geometries that underwrite spacetime and still have 'this' be a complete mystery in terms of any ultimate context. It could also be a quest for coherence that even if reached would leave us completely empty-handed.
People aren't fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, we're fundamentally trying to survive. It's the environment and culture which tells us what that's going to be.

User avatar
Papus79
Posts: 771
Joined: February 19th, 2017, 6:59 pm

Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Papus79 » June 30th, 2020, 4:33 am

That and I do think it could be fair to say that as physicalism has crept in definition to include all forces and fields to where the term physicalism seems a bit counter-intuitive and there could be a more accurately descriptive term, just that I don't think the vernacular is likely to change unless something really overpowering comes up (like some hypothetical future outcome where Nima Arkani Hamed figures out that there's exactly four, no more no less, primitives below spacetime making all of this through means that tie into but look very different than classical or even quantum mechanics).
People aren't fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, we're fundamentally trying to survive. It's the environment and culture which tells us what that's going to be.

User avatar
Steve3007
Posts: 7615
Joined: June 15th, 2011, 5:53 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Dolly Parton
Location: UK

Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Steve3007 » June 30th, 2020, 5:19 am

Papus79 wrote:I agree with the idea that we're making assumptions based on a floating constellation of five-sense observed facts (no proof that these are even veridical - we deeply hope they are because it's all we have)
Why do you think that we have to "deeply hope" anything? What exactly is that that we are deeply hoping for here?
and that physicalism / materialism as terms themselves can be confusing when we don't know what 'matter' actually is in any larger context.
What do you think it would mean to "know what 'matter' actually is"?
That and I do think it could be fair to say that as physicalism has crept in definition to include all forces and fields to where the term physicalism seems a bit counter-intuitive and there could be a more accurately descriptive term...
Personally, I don't care about the actual word, for the same reason that I don't care that we still call atoms atoms, even though, as it turns out, they are divisible. I care more about the idea that the word currently represents, not its etymological history.

You mention the examples of forces and fields and say that they have "crept in" to the definition of physicalism. You don't need to think of it like that. And you don't need to worry if they creep back out again. As I said in a previous post, it seems sensible to me to regard the entities that exist as those that are observed to be conserved - i.e. to have quantities that persist across time. That is, in fact, why we consider matter to exist.

As I also said, if someone has a definition of the terms "matter" or "the physical" that doesn't need to reference observations, I'd be happy to hear it:
Steve3007 wrote:Of course, if anybody wants to propose a definition of those terms that doesn't need those references, and which doesn't reduce Physicalism and Materialism to empty tautologies, I'd be happy to hear it.
Consul defined "the physical" in terms of an empirical subject (i.e.a subject that involves observation.)

Gertie
Posts: 860
Joined: January 7th, 2015, 7:09 am

Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Gertie » June 30th, 2020, 6:18 am

Steve
My point is a simple (and perhaps obvious) one: that we can't define "matter" or "the physical" in any way other than by referencing patterns in our observations.
Sure.
Of course, if anybody wants to propose a definition of those terms that doesn't need those references, and which doesn't reduce Physicalism and Materialism to empty tautologies, I'd be happy to hear it.
As I said, to talk about the inherent properties of stuff (in terms of physics or materialism), you simply have to infer the content of our observations refer to something real which exists independently of them and which we can know something about (if perhaps in a rough, representational, limited way). I call that inference a leap of faith because imo there is no 'independent' way of assessing its reliability.

But such knowledge is necessarily inferred from observation. Knowledge itself is a manifestation of experiential states. Asking for knowledge about the world which isn't rooted in experiential states seems incoherent.

That doesn't mean the ontological existence of real stuff with real properties can't be true. Just uncertain, and available through a human-shaped lens to us.

User avatar
Papus79
Posts: 771
Joined: February 19th, 2017, 6:59 pm

Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Papus79 » June 30th, 2020, 6:33 am

Steve3007 wrote:
June 30th, 2020, 5:19 am
Why do you think that we have to "deeply hope" anything? What exactly is that that we are deeply hoping for here?
I live in the US. Looking around right now, public sanity and social cohesion aren't holding up well and it's been on a degenerating course for at least the past five or six years. All of that's without any serious contest to the notion that we aren't brains in vats.
Steve3007 wrote:
June 30th, 2020, 5:19 am
What do you think it would mean to "know what 'matter' actually is"?
I can say that to not know means that we have a great many possible interpretations for contextualizing matter based on our own philosophic outlooks, a bit like the ways in which many versions of string theory fit the same data. That ambiguity a bit of an empty vessel for projection, and to say that 'everything is matter' doesn't get us very far if it's an empty vessel.

To actually know? I don't necessarily think it's an incoherent question at base but, the odds of the universe actually giving us that information based on what we've observed so far? It doesn't look like we'd be so lucky.
Steve3007 wrote:
June 30th, 2020, 5:19 am
Personally, I don't care about the actual word, for the same reason that I don't care that we still call atoms atoms, even though, as it turns out, they are divisible. I care more about the idea that the word currently represents, not its etymological history.

You mention the examples of forces and fields and say that they have "crept in" to the definition of physicalism. You don't need to think of it like that. And you don't need to worry if they creep back out again. As I said in a previous post, it seems sensible to me to regard the entities that exist as those that are observed to be conserved - i.e. to have quantities that persist across time. That is, in fact, why we consider matter to exist.
In context to this:
Steve3007 wrote:
June 30th, 2020, 5:19 am
Saying "everything is matter" is as arbitrary as following Thales in saying that everything originates from water, or Anaximenes in saying that everything originates from air. It is observations, and identifying the patterns in diverse observations, that tells us what entities it is most useful to regard as being the objectively existing causes of those patterns.
So from what you just said I have to correct my reading of this - ie. that you were not saying 'everything is matter' is vacuous if we don't have a grounded identity for it. What did you mean then?
Steve3007 wrote:
June 30th, 2020, 5:19 am
As I also said, if someone has a definition of the terms "matter" or "the physical" that doesn't need to reference observations, I'd be happy to hear it:

Consul defined "the physical" in terms of an empirical subject (i.e.a subject that involves observation.)
Did you mean observation in reference to the concept of collapse or just observation in general? If it were the later I don't think we have definitions of anything that aren't downstream from tagging or explaining sensory data.
People aren't fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, we're fundamentally trying to survive. It's the environment and culture which tells us what that's going to be.

User avatar
Steve3007
Posts: 7615
Joined: June 15th, 2011, 5:53 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Dolly Parton
Location: UK

Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Steve3007 » June 30th, 2020, 6:45 am

Gertie wrote:As I said, to talk about the inherent properties of stuff (in terms of physics or materialism), you simply have to infer the content of our observations refer to something real which exists independently of them and which we can know something about (if perhaps in a rough, representational, limited way)
Yes. Obviously we do that all the time. It's a great answer to the question of why diverse observations have common patterns. Works for me, anyway.
I call that inference a leap of faith because imo there is no 'independent' way of assessing its reliability.
Fair enough. As I said, I wouldn't call it a leap of faith. Apart from anything else, if I called it that then I'd have no term for things that are more normally referred to as leaps of faith. The same issue I have when some people call everything we experience a "mirage" or "illusion", simply because we can't be certain of it.
That doesn't mean the ontological existence of real stuff with real properties can't be true.
You're right. Of course it doesn't mean that.

But it's strange how some people seem to interpret the statement: "to figure out how the world works and what's in it, I have to observe it" as the completely different statement: "the world only exists insofar as I, or someone else, is looking at it."

Gertie
Posts: 860
Joined: January 7th, 2015, 7:09 am

Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Gertie » June 30th, 2020, 6:58 am

Terrapin Station wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 10:12 am
Gertie wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 6:37 am
. . . the act of creating models based on the content of our experience, because the mental experience itself is all you can be certain exists.
A problem with this that's never acknowledged is that we can be no more certain of mental experience being mental experience when it comes to most things. It's common to act like it's a default that all phenomena are at least mental experience (to a person, at least), but that's not clearly the case at all. A large portion of "the phenomenal stream" is simply objects (a) with no attendant ''this is a mental experience'' phenomena attached, and (b) even if the phenomenal stream always had "this is a mental experience" phenomena attached, those "this is a mental experience" phenomena are different than the object phenomena in the phenomenal stream.

I find it useful to talk about 'experiential states' as the phenomenal aspect of consciousness, it makes it clear what you're talking about then, hopefully.

And if you have an experiential state, a 'what it is like' experience, you know you have it, because that's the nature of experiencing. And you can't mistake the experience of seeing a red apple with a green one, whether or not you're right about the colour of the apple.
What am I saying here?

I'm an avid hiker, so I like to use trees as an example. When you're hiking, there are a lot of trees in the phenomenal stream (well, at least if you're hiking someplace like the Eastern U.S.). Trees appear all over the place, obviously. For most of those, there's no attendant "this is a mental experience of a tree" present. There's just a phenomenal tree. (I'm using "phenomenal" in the sense of simply "appearing.") To get from that to "this is a mental experience of a tree" we have to do something theoretical, and that theoretical move is something we can't at all be certain of.
Right, there's a difference between thinking to yourself the propostion ''this is a mental experience of seeing a tree', and just seeing the tree. There's also a difference between focusing on a particular tree, and the 'field of vision' around it which is there, but indistinct.

But I am still having all those different types of 'what it like' experiencing, which involves directly knowing the 'what it's like' content of that experience. Not necessarily in a propositional linguistic way narrated by the thinky voice in my head. But that voice is just another type of experiential state, the one which creates a coherent, edited narrative which helps me navigate the world. Focus, awareness, self-reflection do too. Similarly vision, touch, memory, sensation, mood, imagining, believing, reasoning, etc. I think of them as different flavours of experience, but they all experienced in a 'what it is like' way, and so directly known in that sense.

So in terms of experiential knowledge, I would say intentional experiential states such as ''this is the mental experience of seeing a tree'' is made of the same stuff-of-experiencing as just the qualia experiential state of seeing a tree, or a less distinct field of vision. Just different flavours of experiencing, of 'what it's like', fulfilling different roles.

User avatar
Steve3007
Posts: 7615
Joined: June 15th, 2011, 5:53 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Dolly Parton
Location: UK

Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Steve3007 » June 30th, 2020, 7:40 am

Papus79 wrote:I live in the US. Looking around right now, public sanity and social cohesion aren't holding up well and it's been on a degenerating course for at least the past five or six years.
Sorry to hear that.

User avatar
Steve3007
Posts: 7615
Joined: June 15th, 2011, 5:53 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Dolly Parton
Location: UK

Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Steve3007 » June 30th, 2020, 8:14 am

Papus79 wrote:So from what you just said I have to correct my reading of this - ie. that you were not saying 'everything is matter' is vacuous if we don't have a grounded identity for it. What did you mean then?
I meant that "everything is matter" is arbitrary. You illustrated that by mentioning some other things, such as forces and fields. You could perhaps also have mentioned energy, entropy, enthalpy, electric charge, strangeness and charm. As I've said, if we want a principle which guides us as to what things to regard as existing, I suggested things whose quantities are constant.

I didn't say that we don't have a "grounded identity" for matter. I said that, like the other things we've mentioned, it's defined in terms of the way that it is observed. If I'm wrong about that, and it can be defined some other way, then, as I said, I'd like to hear it.

User avatar
Steve3007
Posts: 7615
Joined: June 15th, 2011, 5:53 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Dolly Parton
Location: UK

Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Steve3007 » June 30th, 2020, 8:22 am

Papus79 wrote:Did you mean observation in reference to the concept of collapse or just observation in general?
I don't know for sure what you're referring to by "the concept of collapse" but I suspect it's something to do with QM. I'm not discussing that. I'm talking about observation in general.
If it were the later I don't think we have definitions of anything that aren't downstream from tagging or explaining sensory data.
I agree with regard to things such as matter, energy, etc.

User avatar
Terrapin Station
Posts: 3356
Joined: August 23rd, 2016, 3:00 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Bertrand Russell and WVO Quine
Location: NYC Man

Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Terrapin Station » June 30th, 2020, 9:26 am

Gertie wrote:
June 30th, 2020, 6:58 am
Terrapin Station wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 10:12 am


A problem with this that's never acknowledged is that we can be no more certain of mental experience being mental experience when it comes to most things. It's common to act like it's a default that all phenomena are at least mental experience (to a person, at least), but that's not clearly the case at all. A large portion of "the phenomenal stream" is simply objects (a) with no attendant ''this is a mental experience'' phenomena attached, and (b) even if the phenomenal stream always had "this is a mental experience" phenomena attached, those "this is a mental experience" phenomena are different than the object phenomena in the phenomenal stream.

I find it useful to talk about 'experiential states' as the phenomenal aspect of consciousness, it makes it clear what you're talking about then, hopefully.

And if you have an experiential state, a 'what it is like' experience, you know you have it, because that's the nature of experiencing. And you can't mistake the experience of seeing a red apple with a green one, whether or not you're right about the colour of the apple.
What am I saying here?

I'm an avid hiker, so I like to use trees as an example. When you're hiking, there are a lot of trees in the phenomenal stream (well, at least if you're hiking someplace like the Eastern U.S.). Trees appear all over the place, obviously. For most of those, there's no attendant "this is a mental experience of a tree" present. There's just a phenomenal tree. (I'm using "phenomenal" in the sense of simply "appearing.") To get from that to "this is a mental experience of a tree" we have to do something theoretical, and that theoretical move is something we can't at all be certain of.
Right, there's a difference between thinking to yourself the propostion ''this is a mental experience of seeing a tree', and just seeing the tree. There's also a difference between focusing on a particular tree, and the 'field of vision' around it which is there, but indistinct.

But I am still having all those different types of 'what it like' experiencing, which involves directly knowing the 'what it's like' content of that experience. Not necessarily in a propositional linguistic way narrated by the thinky voice in my head. But that voice is just another type of experiential state, the one which creates a coherent, edited narrative which helps me navigate the world. Focus, awareness, self-reflection do too. Similarly vision, touch, memory, sensation, mood, imagining, believing, reasoning, etc. I think of them as different flavours of experience, but they all experienced in a 'what it is like' way, and so directly known in that sense.

So in terms of experiential knowledge, I would say intentional experiential states such as ''this is the mental experience of seeing a tree'' is made of the same stuff-of-experiencing as just the qualia experiential state of seeing a tree, or a less distinct field of vision. Just different flavours of experiencing, of 'what it's like', fulfilling different roles.
Are you saying that for you, there's never just a tree, say, without any sense/concept of self (experiencing the tree) attached to it?

User avatar
The Beast
Posts: 852
Joined: July 7th, 2013, 10:32 pm

Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by The Beast » June 30th, 2020, 10:29 am

Basically.
Supervenes:
I imagine antecedent. It makes sense to say antecedent. As such, the object of experience has a history such as particles, atoms, molecules, elements, objects.
Passive:
I imagine History or ancestry. Passive resides in memory. A proven object.
Words:
Abstract concept. It does not have ancestry.
Thoughts:
Mostly composed of words.
The brain has ancestry. Thoughts happens in the brain. The brain thinks thoughts which are non-physical entities since the ancestry of thoughts are words among other things.
A non- physical entity imagines the normative.

Post Reply