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Structural realism

Structural realism
April 08, 2009, 02:37:38 AM
Sounds a lot like what we're on about here:

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Scientific realism is the view that we ought to believe in the unobservable entities posited by our most successful scientific theories. It is widely held that the most powerful argument in favour of scientific realism is the no-miracles argument, according to which the success of science would be miraculous if scientific theories were not at least approximately true descriptions of the world. While the underdetermination argument is often cited as giving grounds for scepticism about theories of unobservable entities, arguably the most powerful arguments against scientific realism are based on the history of radical theory change in science. The best-known of these arguments, although not necessarily the most compelling of them, is the notorious pessimistic meta-induction, according to which reflection on the abandonment of theories in the history of science motivates the expectation that our best current scientific theories will themselves be abandoned, and hence that we ought not to assent to them.

Structural realism was introduced into contemporary philosophy of science by John Worrall in 1989 as a way to break the impasse that results from taking both arguments seriously, and have “the best of both worlds” in the debate about scientific realism. With respect to the case of the transition in nineteenth-century optics from Fresnel's elastic solid ether theory to Maxwell's theory of the electromagnetic field, Worrall argues that:

    There was an important element of continuity in the shift from Fresnel to Maxwell—and this was much more than a simple question of carrying over the successful empirical content into the new theory. At the same time it was rather less than a carrying over of the full theoretical content or full theoretical mechanisms (even in “approximate” form) … There was continuity or accumulation in the shift, but the continuity is one of form or structure, not of content. (1989, 117)

According to Worrall, we should not accept standard scientific realism, which asserts that the nature of the unobservable objects that cause the phenomena we observe is correctly described by our best theories. However, neither should we be antirealists about science. Rather, we should adopt structural realism and epistemically commit ourselves only to the mathematical or structural content of our theories.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/structural-realism/

Re: Structural realism
April 08, 2009, 03:48:49 AM
We are supposed to be living for the eternal hunt, not for the kill. Not surprisingly, the ancients were on to this secret too. The Celts call it the wild hunt and the Indians refer to a happy hunting grounds. All this end of history and final theory business seems naive at this stage given our own ongoing evolution and the expansion of the universe itself. Changes in future structure put us in error today.

We're stuck or blessed to be living for an endless discovery process with no end point. The best way to manage this is to keep our goals pushed out just beyond our grasp, beyond present possibility, but grow toward them over time, experiencing the pain+gain process. It is the same with executing sets and reps, or what evolving has done for (some of) us.

Re: Structural realism
April 08, 2009, 06:55:35 AM
In short, it works, but we may be able to find better without necessarily discarding the whole. Pragmatism bolstered by the coherence theory.
It's worked wonders for ages.
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3e/Smycka3eng.png

Viridovix, I would like to challenge your view. I believe that you have accurately described human history up to this point, but by what reasoning do you posit "the search" as eudaimonia? We are supposed to be living for the hunt, yes, and I agree the lack of this desire dulls the spirit, but are we always to be chasing like the character in Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece?

Re: Structural realism
April 08, 2009, 02:50:28 PM
It seems to me this is why we keep metaphor alive.

Per Goedel, we're never going to describe in fullness this system. Even more, we'll fail to do it linearly in tokens.

So there's always going to be stuff we don't know, yet we'll be able to predict many outcomes without knowing exactly how they happen, so we have metaphor.

Re: Structural realism
April 08, 2009, 04:10:14 PM
Ratatosk, the search is like a thirst that we cannot entirely quench. We can call it torment and have our leadership declare End of History for the brief illusion of satiation, or we can revel in unending struggle with setbacks and gains, realizing a purposeful living.

Re: Structural realism
April 08, 2009, 11:39:41 PM
That sounds nice, but you admit yourself any artificial declaration is not the same as "the real thing", which you suppose cannot exist.

I guess all this comes down to:: is it better to be poetic or logical?
Perhaps the answer is wisdom, knowing time and place.

How does holistic logic [aka wisdom] differ from situational ethics?

Re: Structural realism
April 09, 2009, 03:16:34 AM
This sounds suspiciously like fence sitting to me.  Wouldn't it be better to just accept scientific realism with the understanding that theories can change?  You know, not take a position of absolute certainty about the unobservable.

Re: Structural realism
April 09, 2009, 03:41:19 AM
To say "science circa 2009 = the way things really are and can change" makes no sense unless you want to say that fundamental reality changes just as drastically as our thoughts.

Some would say you aren't far off, and some like me will take their wallets and sleep with their wives.

Re: Structural realism
April 09, 2009, 03:25:47 PM
To say "science circa 2009 = the way things really are and can change" makes no sense unless you want to say that fundamental reality changes just as drastically as our thoughts.

Some would say you aren't far off, and some like me will take their wallets and sleep with their wives.

That's not quite what I'm saying.  I think that reality is a certain way, and that science provides us with the best explanation for how it is.  Science circa 2009 provides us with our current best model of understanding reality, but science circa 3009 will, in all likelihood, provide a more accurate model.  So, my point is we should simply believe the most accurate model we have, with the understanding that it is imperfect.  What use is science if we don't believe the results to be accurate?


Re: Structural realism
April 10, 2009, 09:36:00 PM
To say "science circa 2009 = the way things really are and can change" makes no sense unless you want to say that fundamental reality changes just as drastically as our thoughts.

Some would say you aren't far off, and some like me will take their wallets and sleep with their wives.

That's not quite what I'm saying.  I think that reality is a certain way, and that science provides us with the best explanation for how it is.  Science circa 2009 provides us with our current best model of understanding reality, but science circa 3009 will, in all likelihood, provide a more accurate model.  So, my point is we should simply believe the most accurate model we have, with the understanding that it is imperfect.  What use is science if we don't believe the results to be accurate?

The problem with that is if the pessimistic meta-induction is sound, then there simply is no reason to believe that there is any explanatory connection between the empirical success of a theory and its truth/approximate truth or the reference of its theoretical terms. To urge us to believe 'the most accurate model we have' is to beg the question against the skeptic if by 'most accurate' you mean 'closest to the truth' or something of that nature. Actually, it's question-begging even if all you mean by 'most accurate' is 'makes the most correct predictions' or something along those lines. You have to either show that the reasoning of the argument is somehow fallacious or that the empirical data adduced to support its conclusion has been interpreted incorrectly (the locus classicus of this topic is Larry Laudan's "A Confutation of Convergent Realism", just in case you're interested).

Concerning your question 'What use is science if we don't believe the results to be accurate?', there is no problem with being an antirealist about the truth and/or reference of theories while still acknowledging the accuracy of a theory's empirical consequences and hence its utility.

Well, actually, some quarrelsome philosophers might find that last statement controversial, but it's at least prima facie non-problematic.

Re: Structural realism
April 10, 2009, 11:28:03 PM
Quote from: Ginnungafap
blah blah blah philoso-mumbo-jumbo

Laudan's argument
A Refutation of Laudan

I'm not a student of philosophy (I'm a math guy), so reading posts like yours and the paper you suggested (which I did, in it's entirety) tends to give me a headache.  Laudan uses straw-men to a notable degree, and even then I didn't find his claims convincing.  If you have problems with the refutation that you want addressed and/or would prefer a more detailed response, I will begrudgingly oblige.

On a related note, can somebody explain to me why philosophers require so many words to say so very little?

Re: Structural realism
April 10, 2009, 11:34:42 PM
I was just about to comment on that. I think that Ginnungafap is trying to disprove your argument, JewBob.

Anyway, statistics are used to determine the accuracy of our models and predictions, or the probability that something will occur (or not occur). However, since you can never prove causation with statistics, you're stuck with correlations. It is impossible to create a model based upon causation, so you seek better correlations, as JewBob has said. I hope this adds some insight.

Re: Structural realism
April 11, 2009, 01:41:57 AM
Quote from: Ginnungafap
blah blah blah philoso-mumbo-jumbo

Laudan's argument
A Refutation of Laudan

I'm not a student of philosophy (I'm a math guy), so reading posts like yours and the paper you suggested (which I did, in it's entirety) tends to give me a headache.  Laudan uses straw-men to a notable degree, and even then I didn't find his claims convincing.  If you have problems with the refutation that you want addressed and/or would prefer a more detailed response, I will begrudgingly oblige.

On a related note, can somebody explain to me why philosophers require so many words to say so very little?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to realism. I think that some form of realism must be correct. I was taking issue with the particular points you made. If you find some of the responses to Laudan's argument compelling, then great. I have not the time to give that "refutation" an adequate response, but thanks for linking to it. I study (and write about) this sort of stuff, so that article will be of use for me at some point.

To answer your question about philosophers, you need to understand that even though one may be arguing for an idea that is at bottom quite simple, a lot needs to go into formulating the view, defining terms, and constructing the arguments so as to avoid confusion and achieve a certain degree of rigour. And oftentimes there is a lot more complexity surrounding a relatively simple idea than one might suspect. It is better to be longwinded and clear than brief and unclear.

Also, I don't appreciate you characterizing my previous post as "philoso-mumbo-jumbo." I have not been condescending to you and what I said was quite intelligible and in no way "mumbo-jumbo", so I'd appreciate it if you'd refrain from being condescending.

Re: Structural realism
April 11, 2009, 03:17:09 AM
Quote from: Ginnungafap
Also, I don't appreciate you characterizing my previous post as "philoso-mumbo-jumbo." I have not been condescending to you and what I said was quite intelligible and in no way "mumbo-jumbo", so I'd appreciate it if you'd refrain from being condescending.

I'm sorry if I offended you with that remark.  I know I can often come off as a dick in my remarks, but I wasn't trying to insult you or your intelligence nor was I trying to be malicious, just humorous.  Like I said, reading this stuff can give me a headache.

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To answer your question about philosophers, you need to understand that even though one may be arguing for an idea that is at bottom quite simple, a lot needs to go into formulating the view, defining terms, and constructing the arguments so as to avoid confusion and achieve a certain degree of rigour. And oftentimes there is a lot more complexity surrounding a relatively simple idea than one might suspect. It is better to be longwinded and clear than brief and unclear.

I understand what you mean but I still think conciseness should be more prioritized than it is.  This actually doesn't just apply to philosophers, but they are perhaps the worst.

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If you find some of the responses to Laudan's argument compelling, then great.

I do.

Quote from: Chessnut
I hope this adds some insight.

Yes, that was a nice summary.  Thank you.