Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Discussions on the philosophical foundations, assumptions, and implications of science, including the natural sciences.

Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Reg_Prescott on June 3rd, 2018, 4:06 am 

In what follows, a desperately needed additional counterexample to Carl Hempel's now discredited model of scientific explanation will be suggested.

That explanations are ubiquitous in science will be taken for granted. Scientists, or at least a great many of them, hold that science not only seeks to describe and organize natural phenomena, moreover, can and does explain these phenomena.

But what exactly is an explanation; how, if at all, is one explanation better than another; and what, if anything, distinguishes a scientific explanation from the common-or-garden variety? How are we to understand oft-heard pronouncements in scientific discourse that, for example, such-and-such a theory offers the best explanation for such-and-such a domain of phenomena, or that such-and-such is a theory of great explanatory power? Is explanatory goodness an epistemic virtue? In other words, all else being equal, does a hypothesis-theory attributed with a high degree of explanatory power merit greater epistemological warrant than a scrawny rival with punier explanatory muscles? Put another way, do we have more reason to believe that the former is true?

As far as I understand, the first attempt at providing a philosophical explication of scientific explanation was unveiled around the middle of the last century by Carl Hempel and another fellah -- Paul Oppenheim -- who, much like an Alfred Russell Wallace or a chaperone on a hot date, is regarded, if at all, as an annoyance and ignored. The present monograph will uphold this noble tradition of disregarding unwanted ballast.

Accordingly, and simplifying slightly, Hempel's [sic] explication consisted of two elements. A scientific explanation can be subsumed under either:

(i) the deductive-nomological (or D-N) model, also commonly known as the covering law model, or
(ii) the inductive-statistical (or I-S) model

Under the D-N model, scientific explanation takes the form of a deductive argument: the event or phenomenon to be explained (the explanandum) is construed as the conclusion of a deductive argument derived from the initial conditions and one or more true scientific laws (these premises jointly constitute the explanans -- that which does the explaining). In other words, given the initial conditions and the relevant law or laws of nature, the event in question had to happen.

It goes without saying that scientists, by and large, do not present their own explanations in accordance with the Hempelian protocol. What Hempel is attempting, rather, is what philosophers, particularly those of a positivist persuasion, would describe as a rational reconstruction of actual scientific practice.

Clearly, though, not all events and phenomena of interest to science can be subsumed under such a strict relationship of deductive entailment. Enter the second component of Hempel's account of scientific explanation, the I-S model, applicable to cases where the relevant laws are merely statistical rather than strictly deterministic. Whereas under the D-N model the explanandum is entailed by the explanans, with the I-S model the explanandum is supposedly explained in virtue of the high degree (> 0.5) of likelihood conferred upon it by the explanans.

Think, for example, of poor Higgins, say, who kicked the bucket at the prime of life after thirty years of smoking four packs of Camels per day. Now, given that his identical twin and fellow quotidian quadropacker continues to puff away undeterred, Higgins' untimely demise does not comfortably lend itself to the D-N mode of explanation. On the other hand, so Hempel's account goes, the I-S model can be deployed in cases such as this to yield a bona fide scientific explanation insofar as Higgins' smoking predilections rendered the outcome -- though by no means inevitable -- highly probable.

The premises of the full, unpacked I-S argument in this case, therefore, would consist of both Higgins' smoking habits, i.e., the initial conditions, together with the relevant statistical laws pertaining to smoking cigarettes, nicotine, lung cancer, and so on. The conclusion of the argument -- the explanandum, a statement of the event to be explained -- would be something like "Higgins contracted lung cancer" or "Higgins died of lung cancer".

Herr Hempel himself explains the manner in which his I-S model explains:

Thus, probabilistic explanation, just like explanation in the manner of schema (D), is nomological in that it presupposes general laws; but because these laws are of statistical rather than of strictly universal form, the resulting explanatory arguments are inductive rather than deductive in character. An inductive argument of this kind explains a given phenomenon by showing that, in view of certain particular events and certain statistical laws, its occurrence was to be expected with high logical, or inductive, probability.


Now, if there's one thing philosophers with no lives and too much free time on their hands are devilishly good at, it's coming up with catastrophic counterexamples to ruin a respected colleague's life work. In the years following the publication of Hempel's pioneering forays into the realm of scientific explanation, various scenarios were concocted purportedly exposing the shortcomings of the Hempelian project. Both D-N and I-S model alike, we were told, constituted neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for scientific explanation. That is to say, scenarios were devised which fail to satisfy the Hempelian criteria, yet seem intuitively to be perfectly good cases of scientific explanation; and conversely, other scenarios were put forward that do satisfy the Hempelian criteria, yet intuitively don't appear to be the kinds of creatures to which we'd want to ascribe the epithet scientific explanation.

In the particular case of the I-S model -- the one that concerns us here -- the failure of Hempel's criteria to constitute necessary conditions for scientific explanation is demonstrated in the literature over and over, time and time again, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, with precious few exceptions, by the same hoary, timeworn example: of all things, wait for it... syphilis!

Explanation guru Wesley Salmon elaborates:

If someone contracts paresis, the straightforward explanation is that he was infected with syphilis, which had progressed through the primary, secondary, and latent stages without treatment with penicillin. Paresis is one form of tertiary syphilis, and it never occurs except in syphilitics. Yet far less than half of those victims of untreated latent syphilis ever develop paresis. Untreated latent syphilis is the explanation of paresis, but it does not provide any basis on which to say that the explanandum-event was to be expected by virtue of these explanatory facts. Given a victim of latent untreated syphilis, the odds are that he will not develop paresis.


There we have it. Hempel, on the one hand, tells us that to be a self-respecting scientific explanans, short of entailing your explanandum-event, you'd better at least make it likely. Appeal to antecedent, untreated syphilis, on the other hand, seems intuitively to afford a perfectly satisfactory explanation for the dreaded paresis which follows, yet, contra Hempelian explanatory strictures, the syphilis does not render the development of paresis probable.

High probability, we conclude with a coquettish pout, does not in fact constitute a necessary condition for scientific explanation. And that was just an assault on one front. The upshot of all this violence, then, is that despite being enormously influential, cited frequently by scientists themselves as an explanatory paradigm, Hempel's model is nonetheless fubar. QED.

Meanwhile, Bas van Fraassen, who attained vertiginous fame for his own "pragmatic" theory of scientific explanation, continues to flog the venereal dead horse:

Second, not every explanation is a case in which good grounds for belief are given. The famous example for this is paresis: no one contracts this dreadful illness unless he had latent, untreated syphilis. If someone asked the doctor to explain to him why he came down with this disease, the doctor would surely say: 'because you had latent syphilis which was left untreated'. But only a low percentage of such cases are followed by paresis. Hence if one knew of someone that he might have syphilis, it would be reasonable to warn him that, if left untreated, he might contract paresis -- but not reasonable to expect him to get it. Certainly we do not have here the high probability demanded by Hempel.

Quite so. Although another explanation that springs immediately to mind for why he came down with the dreadful paresis is: 'because you're a shameless whoremonger who hangs around in seedy brothels', though, given the circumstances, to say as much might be considered indelicate. Indeed, perhaps Bas van Fraassen has precisely this kind of contextual sensitivity in mind when he speaks of the 'pragmatics' of explanation. But let us not divagate...

So, now, let's have a show of hands: who else is sick of hearing about syphilis and paresis? There must surely be some knight in shining armor out there can come up with an alternative counterexample to refute the putative necessity of Hempel's V-D model of scientific explanation. Er, I mean I-S model.

Fear not, friends, relief is at hand. But first, trivia time: Did you know that back in days of yore an apron used to be a napron, and that a notch was once an otch? You didn't, eh? Well, turns out that thanks to the peculiarities of the English language and her duo of indefinite articles, nouns such as napron and otch are susceptible -- via a phenomenon known as "rebracketing", or more specifically "false splitting" -- to either acquiring or shedding an initial /n/ sound. Thus napron morphs into apron, and otch gets botched as notch.

Read all about it here:

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/educat ... e-an-apron

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebracketing

Grit your teeth if you have to, but for the sake of ridding the world of syphilitic counterexamples, all members will now magnanimously grant linguistics the status of a bona fide science. Furthermore, it will be supposed that the above account of linguistic rebracketing has been approved and endorsed by a leading linguistics hierophant. Someone we can trust; Noam Chomsky, say, or if he's busy, Quang Phúc Đông.

What more could one ask for? A scientific explanation par excellence is at hand, viz., the transmutation of an English word like nadder into adder is explained by the linguistic phenomenon of false splitting.

Well, yeah. Except that there is clearly no universal law governing n-switching. Neither can it be plausibly upheld, judging by the paucity of instances Wikipedia is able to adduce, that unsuspecting false-splitting candidates such as anaconda, oboe, or umbrella are even remotely likely to undergo the transition into nanaconda, noboe, and numbrella, respectively.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby RJG on June 3rd, 2018, 11:03 am 

Reg_Prescott, so are you saying -- science (or the truths of) are ultimately formed/derived from experiential sensations ("language"), and is therefore not trustworthy as "truths"?? -- if so, then, I agree.


*********
There appear to be only two methods of ascertaining true 'truths'. And 'science' (via 'experiential evidence') is not one of them!

1. Descartes's "clean slate" method - remove all potentially contaminated knowledge (...which means everything that we currently hold as true), and then find the one, "undeniable/undoubtable" starting premise from which to build (via logical deduction) all true knowledge from. Note: Descartes's "I think" premise is NOT this starting premise!

2. RJG's "logical impossibilities" method - remove all logical impossibilities (remove all the "X = not X" claims) from our contaminated pool of knowledge so as to see a clearer/truer reality.

Science can only provide 'experiential' truths. Science can only perceive perceptions, and is therefore limited to the limits of perceptions, ...and is therefore no more trustworthy/valid than 'anything' claiming itself as true (e.g. the Bible claiming itself as 'truth', or any other "If you don't believe me, just ask me!" type of claim).

The 'perceptions' of reality cannot logically vouch for the 'truthfulness' of reality.

Mathematics (and deductive logic) is our BEST and ONLY means to ascertain the true 'truths' of reality. Everything else is pure fantasy (...until it is mathematically/logically vouched for).
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Braininvat on June 3rd, 2018, 11:52 am 

Explanation guru Wesley Salmon elaborates:

If someone contracts paresis, the straightforward explanation is that he was infected with syphilis, which had progressed through the primary, secondary, and latent stages without treatment with penicillin. Paresis is one form of tertiary syphilis, and it never occurs except in syphilitics. Yet far less than half of those victims of untreated latent syphilis ever develop paresis. Untreated latent syphilis is the explanation of paresis, but it does not provide any basis on which to say that the explanandum-event was to be expected by virtue of these explanatory facts. Given a victim of latent untreated syphilis, the odds are that he will not develop paresis.


There we have it. Hempel, on the one hand, tells us that to be a self-respecting scientific explanans, short of entailing your explanandum-event, you'd better at least make it likely. Appeal to antecedent, untreated syphilis, on the other hand, seems intuitively to afford a perfectly satisfactory explanation for the dreaded paresis which follows, yet, contra Hempelian explanatory strictures, the syphilis does not render the development of paresis probable.


Hi, Reg. This disease example exposes the explanatory challenges in extremely complex systems always teetering on the rim of chaotic instability. It's akin to scientific predictions in meteorology where we might hear there is a twenty percent chance of rain. Paresis is like rain. We can look at data that points to a greater chance than zero (a zero which is the chance of rain in September in southern Chad, let's say.... or the chance of paresis in a chaste person), and that above-zero probability is meaningful in a domain of study where the probability can be zero. ( or close enough for our purposes of defining dry deserts and healthy celibates)

So, what we get with syphilis, put in plain language, is that your chance of developing paresis in the tertiary phase is vastly greater than for a non-syphilitic. It's probably a situation where a Bayesian approach is helpful in managing our expectations without having to deep-six any explanatory scheme. The human body as it interacts with the world, is a system of immense dynamic complexity, so our explanations of causality will inevitably be more about differentials in probabilities rather than strong likelihood.
The more stark the differential the more probable the explanation.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Reg_Prescott on June 3rd, 2018, 10:12 pm 

RJG » June 4th, 2018, 12:03 am wrote:Reg_Prescott, so are you saying -- science (or the truths of) are ultimately formed/derived from experiential sensations ("language"), and is therefore not trustworthy as "truths"?? -- if so, then, I agree.


No, the issue of truth in science, though one that interests me, is of little concern in my first post. I did skirt it in passing in the third paragraph when the question was posed whether (so-called) explanatory goodness/power has any connection with truth.

For example, the claim is often heard that such-and-such a theory (evolutionary theory, ET, leaps to mind in this context) provides the best explanation for such-and-such a range of data. This strongly implies to me, though almost never made explicit by the claimants, that those making the claim do hint at an explanatory goodness-truth connection. Otherwise why would they say it in the first place?

If what I'm getting at it is not clear already, consider the fact, say, that we never hear ET apologists boast that the name of their theory contains twelve letters. And why not? Presumably because no one has ever considered there to be any correlation between the number of letters in a theory's name and its truth. So why do they vaunt the putative explanatory power of ET? Presumably for the exact opposite reason: they feel that there is some correlation between explanation and epistemological warrant and/or truth.

If I may put words in their mouths: "The theory is explanatorily powerful therefore you ought to believe it".

That said, it's left unclear what makes one explanation better than another -- ET proponents tend simply to stipulate this by fiat -- and even supposing we can figure that out, the connection between explanatory goodness and truth, if indeed there is one, is not at all obvious. Moreover, seldom, if ever, except in the philosophy of science, is an argument presented to support any such connection.

As far as I can discern, those who are more sympathetic towards scientific realism tend to lay greater emphasis on the role of explanation in science; the antirealists (like the aforementioned Bas van Fraassen), on the other hand, tend to downplay, or deny it altogether.

Feel free to pursue this avenue if you like, RJG.


@ Braininvat - more later ...
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby BadgerJelly on June 3rd, 2018, 11:48 pm 

Playing an instrument, dancing a dance, painting a picture and searching for food and shelter require no worded, written or spoken explanation.

Did I miss anything? Does that make enough sense?

If not then you’re basically dealing with a limitless interpretation of “language”. See Eod on this site for the issue of “limit” and “boundaries”.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Reg_Prescott on June 4th, 2018, 12:28 am 

BadgerJelly » June 4th, 2018, 12:48 pm wrote:Playing an instrument, dancing a dance, painting a picture and searching for food and shelter require no worded, written or spoken explanation.

Did I miss anything? Does that make enough sense?



No offence, Badger, but it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to me. Perhaps you'd explain in some more detail what you mean.

Now the activities you mention above take us away from the specific question of scientific explanation -- and that's fine too -- but it seems to me obvious that an explanation for participation in those activities will often, as a matter of course, be required or requested. E.g.

Why is John playing the banjo?
Why is Sally dancing?


etc., etc. And clearly, the explanation elicited will often, or perhaps always, be context sensitive, as van Fraassen insists. E.g. Why is he playing the banjo? You mean, as opposed to doing his homework, selling the banjo, or what?

BadgerJelly » June 4th, 2018, 12:48 pm wrote:See Eod on this site for the issue of “limit” and “boundaries”

I've read Eod's posts in other threads. Again with no offence intended, I find him almost entirely incomprehensible. Since other members have responded to him in earnest, though, I can only assume the fault is mine.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby BadgerJelly on June 4th, 2018, 1:33 am 

There is no such thing as “scientific explanation” in the way you’re expressing it. You’ve set up a position against an imaginary defence.

In principle science doesn’t give a flying fuck about the “why”, although the scientist, being human, is always meeting up with different experiences by which, as a human, they take up some position. Each position is a circumstance that requires some form of loose explanation. Science has no position anymore than dancing, hunger or music.

Some things are just the way they are to us. It is we who in our movement require the need to apply “explanation” as a means to explore and to manifest understanding in a relative way.

In more common parse science can explain (via humans), well enough, what breathing is about. It cannot really offer up anything more of itself than being a manifestation of thought honed by humans in line with their existence.

Repetition and measurement are not explanation. Reason is likely what you’re trying to buttress up against here, but I think you’ll find yourself at a loss as to how to apply argumentation against the very means of speech itself other than by uttering drivel and purposefully incomprehensible grunts - that is where art and music surpass mere measurement and repetition offering up experience that is very much other than that of items generally held up to scientific scrutiny and investigation.

Science is a practice not an experience. How science can bring us to look upon the events of life and the world is an emotional experience. How it makes us feel is nothing like an explanation. Idealised it is imagined by “scientific” fanatics that they can achieve some fairy tale of 100% objectivity and abandon their very own myopic and limited perspective.

To argue against such imaginary/deluded beings is not going to prove too fruitful, as far as I can tell.

Small minds in small spaces think they’re rulers of all kingdoms because their minds fill all they acknowledge. There is comfort in such a position of course, but inevitably such minds are doomed to self-destruct the moment the walls, they assumed were the limits of reality, fall down.

Certainty is a species that inhabits limited bounds. Sadly some people wish only to be such a creature and I cannot quite understand any reason for this other than fear and/or cowardice.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby BadgerJelly on June 4th, 2018, 1:35 am 

Just in case that isn’t clear ... Science is a creature of certainty with no regard for explanation. Some people wish to become such a creature, but those who admire the creature well enough do so from a distance, they don’t envy it or assume it possesses all the answers.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Reg_Prescott on June 4th, 2018, 2:36 am 

Braininvat » June 4th, 2018, 12:52 am wrote:Hi, Reg. This disease example exposes the explanatory challenges in extremely complex systems always teetering on the rim of chaotic instability. It's akin to scientific predictions in meteorology where we might hear there is a twenty percent chance of rain. Paresis is like rain. We can look at data that points to a greater chance than zero (a zero which is the chance of rain in September in southern Chad, let's say.... or the chance of paresis in a chaste person), and that above-zero probability is meaningful in a domain of study where the probability can be zero. ( or close enough for our purposes of defining dry deserts and healthy celibates)

So, what we get with syphilis, put in plain language, is that your chance of developing paresis in the tertiary phase is vastly greater than for a non-syphilitic. It's probably a situation where a Bayesian approach is helpful in managing our expectations without having to deep-six any explanatory scheme. The human body as it interacts with the world, is a system of immense dynamic complexity, so our explanations of causality will inevitably be more about differentials in probabilities rather than strong likelihood.
The more stark the differential the more probable the explanation.


Hi BiV,

Your comments are insightful as always. It seems whenever I do something like this (i.e., create a thread on a new topic), I start off thinking that I understand the subject matter fairly well, but quickly come to realize how wrong I was. All the more reason to do it!

For example, the fact that a condition as obscure as syphilitic paresis had to be resorted to suggested to me that counterexamples -- in particular, counterexamples that demonstrate the non-necessity of Hempel's I-S model -- must be very hard to find indeed.

Yet when I began typing out my post, I began to see them everywhere! Take any disease with a relatively low mortality rate (<50%) -- and I guess that covers just about all of 'em -- but try dengue fever, say. A patient who contracts dengue fever must be regarded as having a low probability of croaking; but in the event that he does succumb, the explanation rendered will surely be "he died of dengue fever".

As far as I can see, this parallels the paresis example exactly, and so I'm still a bit puzzled why they had to resort to such an obscure example: the explanation seems perfectly acceptable, but Hempel's high probability criterion is not satisfied, so either Mr Hempel has some explaining of his own to do, or else his I-S model appears doomed.

Now, judging from what I've been reading, Hempel's supporters did try to defend themselves against paresis-type counterexamples, claiming in their defense that the low probability involved is simply a reflection of our current state of ignorance, and that as our knowledge of pathology grows, so will the adequacy of the I-S explanation. What we can offer now is only a partial explanation.

Bas van Fraassen elaborates:

It might be replied that the doctor has only a partial explanation, that there are further factors which medical science will eventually discover. This reason is based on faith that the world is, for macroscopic phenomena at least, deterministic or nearly so.


Even supposing we're convinced by this Hempelian counter-attack, though, the I-S model remains vulnerable to paresis-like counterexamples from the realm of quantum physics, where any indeterminism, at least on the orthodox (Copenhagen) interpretation, is metaphysical, and thus can't be explained away on the grounds of ignorance, i.e., in terms of epistemic indeterminacy.

van Fraassen continues...

But the same point can be made with examples in which we do not believe that there is further information to be had, even in principle. The half-life of uranium U238 is (4.5).10x9 years. Hence the probability that a given small enough sample of uranium will emit radiation in a specified small interval of time is low. Suppose, however, that it does. We still say that atomic physics explains this, the explanation being that this material was uranium, which has a certain atomic structure, and hence is subject to spontaneous decay. Indeed, atomic physics has many more examples of events of very low probability, which are explained in terms of the structure of the atoms involved.

In the wake of these apparently devastating criticisms of Hempel's explanatory model, Wesley Salmon went on to develop his own model, wherein what's essential to scientific explanation is not statistical high probability (à la Hempel), but rather statistical relevance. Sounds a lot like what you were getting at above, BiV...

What is crucial for statistical explanation, I claimed, is not how probable the explanans renders the explanandum, bur rather, whether the facts cited in the explanans make a difference to the probability of the explanandum.

[...]

It follows from these considerations that high probability is neither necessary nor sufficient for bona fide statistical explanation. Statistical relevance, not high probability, I argued, is the key desideratum in statistical explanation.

-- Wesley Salmon ("Four Decades of Scientific Explanation")


And then they got married and lived happily ever after.

Er, I mean, then Wesley Salmon took a pounding of his own.

I guess people found his explanatory model a bit fishy.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Reg_Prescott on June 4th, 2018, 3:01 am 

BadgerJelly » June 4th, 2018, 2:35 pm wrote:Just in case that isn’t clear ... Science is a creature of certainty with no regard for explanation. Some people wish to become such a creature, but those who admire the creature well enough do so from a distance, they don’t envy it or assume it possesses all the answers.


Still about as clear as mud, I'm afraid.

Is your criticism that scientific theories (or simply science) do not explain, but that scientists use their theories to explain?

This would mirror the two main threads in the philosophy of language: those who claim sentences are intrinsically meaningful and can be the object of semantic study in themselves irrespective of context; and those -- the speech act theorists -- who hold that it is people who impose meaning on otherwise semantically indeterminate sentences.

If this is your complaint, I'm not sure I see the relevance to the topic at hand. Put another way, choose either of the above theories you like: theories/science explain or people use theories/science to explain. I don't see that it matters here. Seems to me you could approach the topic from either stance.

If not, I'm lost. Sorry!
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby BadgerJelly on June 4th, 2018, 5:22 am 

Reg -

I’ve quite possibly gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick. I’ll take a back seat and just listen.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Braininvat on June 4th, 2018, 12:54 pm 

Wesley Salmon went on to develop his own model, wherein what's essential to scientific explanation is not statistical high probability (à la Hempel), but rather statistical relevance. Sounds a lot like what you were getting at above, BiV...
- Reg

Yep, that is indeed what I was getting at. I will have to see what kind of upstream swim that led to for Mr. Salmon.

The other issue of causally incomplete explanations is a thorny one. Why did THIS atom emit a beta particle and decay at THIS moment? Spontaneity is not a very satisfying description of events for a classical mind. Quantum cats like to just call it "acausal" and leave it alone. It's interesting, from a philosophic pov, that more macro scale events that we call spontaneous, we then have some hope of getting to a full causal account that reveals the spontaneity to be an illusion created by low information states. Water only SEEMS to spontaneously boil - look at the molecular level and you see a solid causal picture of jostling molecules with increasing kinetic energy and consequent formation of vapor bubbles within the liquid.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Reg_Prescott on June 5th, 2018, 6:53 am 

Braininvat » June 5th, 2018, 1:54 am wrote:The other issue of causally incomplete explanations is a thorny one. Why did THIS atom emit a beta particle and decay at THIS moment?


Exactly! And again we see a revealing parallel between the uranium and the paresis case.

"Because he had untreated latent syphilis" seems like a perfectly good explanation to satisfy someone enquiring into why Jimmy McPotbelly contracted paresis, as long as there are no other syphilitic whoremongers around.

But supposing Jimmy and his fellow lager-swilling, immigrant-bashing, football-hooligan buddies are all hapless victims of untreated latent syphilis -- as the result of an exotic, cultural-investigative holiday in Bangkok perhaps -- yet Jimmy alone among equals succumbed to the dreaded paresis, then an attempt to explain Jimmy's paresis with "because he had untreated latent syphilis" strikes us as no explanation at all.

To paraphrase yourself, BiV, such an answer affords no explanatory relief whatsoever to the demand: "Why did THIS hooligan emit a croak and decay at THIS moment?"

(Jimmy was heard to lament, "But why meeeeeee??!! What have I ever done?")

From this, I think, we begin to gain a greater appreciation for the 'pragmatics' of explanation -- both scientific and otherwise -- as empiricist-pragmatist Bas van Fraassen never lets us forget. A complex farrago of contextual and subjective factors plays what may be an ineliminable role; the search for a definitive explanation may be futile.

To begin diachronically, even if science is viewed, somewhat unrealistically, as a colonial organism like the Portugese man o' war, say, with all component zooids singing the same shanty, standards of explanatory goodness and acceptability clearly vary with time and current theoretical zeitgeist. Aristotelian-type explanations ("the stone falls to Earth in order to reach its natural place") probably evoke more giggles than peripatetic awe nowadays. Meanwhile, Newtonian action-at-a-distance type explanation, granting that the term 'explanation' even applies (wait for the QM climax below), was considered scandalous by both proponents and adversaries alike for decades until the novelty of scandalizing finally wore off ("Oh, what the hell. It works well enough, so...").

Likewise synchronically, what any given individual or clique finds explanatorily satisfying may seem merely jejune to a peer or group thereof. Wesley Salmon, of all people, would surely endorse the dictum: one man's fish is another man's poisson.

Darwinian-type explanations, for example, with their appeal to natural selection seem to keep the vast hordes pacified (although I suspect only a tiny minority has ever devoted much thought to the issue), while my own view on the matter, shared by a few others, as I think you already know BiV, is that they offer about as much relief from distress as a Polo mint does while being tortured on the rack. I see them as largely vacuous, incurably ad hoc, seemingly applicable to any conceivable observation within the theoretical domain, and I suspect future generations will greet them with the same supercilious eyerolls with which the current generation condescends Aristotelian explanatory impostures. But maybe that's just me...

Braininvat » June 5th, 2018, 1:54 am wrote:Spontaneity is not a very satisfying description of events for a classical mind. Quantum cats like to just call it "acausal" and leave it alone. It's interesting, from a philosophic pov, that more macro scale events that we call spontaneous, we then have some hope of getting to a full causal account that reveals the spontaneity to be an illusion created by low information states.


Back to quantum physics, then, where we started. Well, all parties are unanimous it's a super-duper theory at the empirical level; ah, but does it explain? Before proceeding, first, for imminent reference, let's recap and expand a little on four influential, exciting, and not necessarily mutually exclusive, philosophical models of scientific explanation:

1. Carl Hempel's D-N and I-S models -- Scientific explanation is a logical relation between propositions. Emphasis on laws. To explain scientifically is to subsume the event/phenomenon to be explained under one or more laws, whether deterministic or statistical. Symmetry between prediction and explanation: explanation is simply post hoc prediction, and vice versa. If it can be explained after the fact then, at least in principle, it could have been predicted before the fact using exactly the same deductive or inductive argument.

2. Causal model -- Developed and championed inter alia by Wesley Salmon, Anchovy Hopkins, Tuna Turner, and Barracuda Obama. To explain an event/phenomenon scientifically is to identify the cause or causes that brought the event/phenomenon about .

3. Explanation as unification -- "Scientific explanation consists in showing that apparently disparate phenomena can be shown to be fundamentally similar". Think of Newtonian gravitation as a paradigm case. On this account of explanation, Newton's theory of gravity can be considered explanatorily powerful insofar as it brought unity -- to phenomena as diverse as planetary motion, comets, tides, falling apples, etc. -- where plurality previously held sway.

4. Bah, humbug! It's all pragmatics -- Bas van Fraassen. Q: "Why do you rob banks, Willie?"; Ans: "Coz that's where the money is. Duh!". The good empiricist is rightfully wary of explanation talk and behind-the-scenes crap in science. The only virtue of a theory that really matters much is empirical adequacy, i.e., evidential fit.


So, again, the question was: "Does QM explain?". Well, um, kinda depends who you ask, dude. If explanation to you requires a causal account of what's going on backstage then, at least on the orthodox Copenhagen interpretation, you're clean outta luck, buddy. Orthodox QM, as far as my own limited understanding goes (pls correct me if wrong, BiV), has nothing to offer in this regard. On the other hand, however, if unification be the food of explanation, read on...

§6. Can Quantum Mechanics Explain?

Ever since the publication of the famous Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paper
(1935), there has been considerable controversy over the explanatory status
of the quantum theory. Einstein seems to have taken a negative attitude,
while Bohr appears to have adopted an affirmative one. As the discussion
has developed, the question of local causality versus action-at-a-distance has
become the crucial issue. The EPR paper showed that there could, in principle,
be correlations between remote events that seem to defy explanation.
Further work by David Bohm, John Bell, and A. Aspect have shown that
such correlations actually exist in experimental situations, and that local
hidden-variable causal explanations are precluded. A clear and engaging
account of these issues can be found in N. David Mermin (1985). Because
these fine-grained causal explanations are not possible, many philosophers,
myself included, have concluded that quantum mechanics does not provide
explanations of these correlations. As I suggested above, there seem to be
mechanisms at the quantum level that are noncausal, and that are not well
understood.

Other philosophers have taken a different attitude. On the basis of the
undeniable claim that quantum mechanics is a highly successful theory in
providing precise predictions and descriptions (they are statistical, but
extremely successful), we need ask for no more. The quantum theory can be
formulated on the basis of a small number of highly general principles, and it
applies universally.

In terms of the distinct conceptions of scientific explanation we have been
discussing, it seems that quantum theory provides explanations of the unification
type, but it does not provide those of the causal/mechanical sort. This
situation contrasts with that in other scientific disciplines where, as we have
seen, explanations of both kinds are possible, at least in principle. The same
circumstance may seem to occur in anthropological or sociological explanations
of some human institutions, where we can give functional explanations of certain phenomena, but fine-grained causal explanations are far beyond our grasp. In contrast to quantum mechanics, however, there is no solid theoretical basis for claiming that fine-grained causal explanations are impossible in principle in these disciplines.

In answer to the question of this section, "Can quantum mechanics
explain?" the answer must be, for the time being at least, "In a sense 'yes',
but in another sense 'no'." In (W. Salmon 1984, pp. 242-59) I had admitted
only the negative answer to this question.

-- Wesley Salmon
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby BadgerJelly on June 5th, 2018, 7:23 am 

I can counter this for what it’s worth? :

Yet when I began typing out my post, I began to see them everywhere! Take any disease with a relatively low mortality rate (<50%) -- and I guess that covers just about all of 'em -- but try dengue fever, say. A patient who contracts dengue fever must be regarded as having a low probability of croaking; but in the event that he does succumb, the explanation rendered will surely be "he died of dengue fever".


Depending on where you are, how much you rest, and/or availability/affordability of treatment.

In an attempt to wedge my foot in the door and get in on this discussion ... to define the meaning of the phrase “scientific explanation”, and what we should take to be expressed by this, shouldn’t it be clear enough already to everyone what this means?

That is, the evidence/data is brought into play and we then interpret a variety of possible explanatoins then evolve a means to varify the validity. There has to be a proposition - inevitibly we’re talking about diagnostics or a I WAY off topic? Diagnosticians are the sort of people I’ve grown to have a great admiration for.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Reg_Prescott on June 5th, 2018, 7:41 am 

BadgerJelly » June 5th, 2018, 8:23 pm wrote:In an attempt to wedge my foot in the door and get in on this discussion ... to define the meaning of the phrase “scientific explanation”, and what we should take to be expressed by this, shouldn’t it be clear enough already to everyone what this means?


Given that philosophers have been waging war over the matter for 70 years or so, apparently not.

What can be done easily enough is to point to examples: paradigmatic cases where everyone, or almost everyone, agrees scientific explanation has been perpetrated.

What's not so easy is to identify what, if anything, all, or most of, those cases have in common. In other words, the difficulty lies in formulating a philosophical explication of scientific explanation.

I get the impression, Badger, though I don't understand all you say, that you may be in the same camp as Bas van Fraassen, holding that the entire project is misguided in the first place.

Would this be a fair representation of your position?
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Sivad on June 5th, 2018, 8:16 am 

Reg, do you have a blog or a youtube channel that reaches a wider audience? If not you should think about doing something along those lines because you know your stuff and you're really good at communicating the concepts. I think it was Feyerband who warned of the dangers of the myth of science to a free society if it ever becomes too dominant and maybe these philosophically naive popularizers are taking us into dangerous waters by encouraging an uncritical acceptance of the authority of science? If we don't want science to turn into another oppressive institution of authority like religion we need to begin injecting these skeptical critiques into the popular domain because right now they're pretty obscure and the only critical voices out there are the religious fundies and the conspiracy cranks.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby RJG on June 5th, 2018, 8:55 am 

This reminds my of the "WHY game" when explaining something to our kids. No matter what explanation we give, there is always a newly created "WHY is this/that?", ...until parental frustration finally sets in and we say (in a loud and firm voice) "because I said so!" (dammit!)

A beginning point of "blind faith" exists for all explanations.

This point of "blind faith" is seemingly dependent on one's inclinations. For example, those scientifically inclined, will yield to and ("blindly") accept scientific explanations. Those religiously inclined will yield to and ("blindly") accept religious explanations. And those voodoo (or X) inclined will yield to and ("blindly") accept voodoo (X) explanations.

And since none of us can choose our inclinations, then this seemingly makes one explanation no more valid than another.

And even if we could choose, and have a good 'explanation' for our inclination, then there would exist an inclination towards that that explanation, ...which ultimately would have to begin with a point of "blind faith" or a point of 'un-explainable-ness'.

To simplify -- we all end up believing what we 'want' to believe. And since none of us can "want what we want" (a Schopenhauer quote), then one ('experiential') explanation is no more valid than another.

One man's 'fantasy' (unexplainable 'fact/truth') is no less-fantasy than another's.

****
PS - I also agree with Sivad's comments.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby BadgerJelly on June 5th, 2018, 11:40 am 

Reg -

I am not familiar with whoever BvS is, but I think you’re likely correct in your assumption. I think it’s a misguided project.

It sounds a little like asking a mathematician to explain what “number” is in order to judge their position. Of course in a philological sense such a meandering is potentially interesting - it won’t effect how the mathematician puts numbers to use in their projects though.

Just watched this: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=brAOVfAoimQ

Yep! Seems what he says is pretty much in line with what I think. The point about predicting known possible outcomes sings “true” for me. Some of what he briefly outlines I am not quite so readily to latch onto though.

The point about people having a general understanding of “scientific explanation” was directed at colloquial discourse not technical jargon. If we look at any scientific paper there is inevitiable jargon as the terms used are understood within the context of scientific discourse where outside the specialized area the very same term may be applied much differently.

In general people know there is a scientific reason why the lights come on when they press a switch. When the light fails to come on they assume something has broken rather than sorcery being afoot (well, some would blame fate too I guess!)

Another nice story to put in here is the different explanations posed by the death of a man caught in the act of sexual intercourse with another man’s wife. Did he cause his death, the wife or the husband of the wife upon entering the room and then driving the kitchen knife into his back? Or was it the cessation of blood flow that caused his death? Or the lack of sleep of the husband the previous night followed by a light breakfast leading to low blood sugar that muddled his faculties? Was it the director of the horror movie he watched that caused his lack of sleep or invention of the television?

All explanations are human. Some events need no explanation, or may have none, yet we are curious creatures and wish to place out experiences within the bounds of our personal narrative. When narratives collide (subjectively and/or intersubjectively - or any other way you prefer to parse it) an explanation is born.

Nothing I’ve written above is likely new to you. Looking for you to teach me if I’m anywhere near what you’re putting forward?

I’m neither fully immersed in one camp more than the other when it comes to delineating between “empiricism” and “rationalism”.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Reg_Prescott on June 6th, 2018, 1:37 am 

Sivad » June 5th, 2018, 9:16 pm wrote:Reg, do you have a blog or a youtube channel that reaches a wider audience? If not you should think about doing something along those lines because you know your stuff and you're really good at communicating the concepts.

Thanks for the kind words, Sivad (and also to RJG). No, I don't have anything like that -- but I watch the ones that other people make! The philosophy of science is just something I enjoy reading on my own. The material can be pretty dense at times, as I'm sure you know, and many's the time I wish I could raise my hand ..."Professor!! I have a question!!!"

So, doing this kind of thing (making long boring posts on arcane topics) is mainly for my own benefit; it helps me to get my own skull around difficult material. But if I happen to meet up with fellow wanderers such as yourselves along the way, all the merrier.

Sivad » June 5th, 2018, 9:16 pm wrote:I think it was Feyerband who warned of the dangers of the myth of science to a free society if it ever becomes too dominant and maybe these philosophically naive popularizers are taking us into dangerous waters by encouraging an uncritical acceptance of the authority of science? If we don't want science to turn into another oppressive institution of authority like religion we need to begin injecting these skeptical critiques into the popular domain because right now they're pretty obscure and the only critical voices out there are the religious fundies and the conspiracy cranks.


Politics has never captured my attention much, though it seems from my naive perspective that no more than common sense demands one ought to regard science in the same way one would regard any other large powerful human institution that is inextricably enmeshed with industry, politics, power, very big $$$, not to mention having a product to sell, i.e., with healthy caution.

We shouldn't be overly surprised, then, that science attracts its own fanatical element and self-appointed Ministry of Propaganda -- staffed by fruit like Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, and perhaps even an SPCF member or two near you -- entrusted with the onerous duty of perpetuating myths, silencing dissent, and keeping the masses pacified with the usual higher bs about "honest inquiry", "The Scientific Method", "the unique self-corrective mechanism of science", etc., etc., *yawn*, *snooze*.

If it's a simple shibboleth you want for purposes of identification, these people are easily spotted by their inability to use the word "evidence" without augmenting it with one or more muscular-sounding, but largely vacuous adjective such as "objective", "concrete", "solid", or in the case of evolutionary theory: "overwhelming" -- I just DARE you to find the evidence for ET described using any other adjective LOL. Some say it cannot be done!

Dunno about you, Sivad, but when people lose their ability to just say "evidence" au naturel without otiose, inflationary, rhetorical Viagra, and when they begin advertising their own honesty, I tend to get very nervous very quickly. I see no reason to expect, and much reason to take exception to, the suggestion that scientists, or science as a collective, are any more honest in their inquiries than the rest of we crooks. Needless to say, no evidence -- objective, concrete, solid, overwhelming, or otherwise -- is ever adduced to demonstrate that they are.

But let us not despair, brother. For every scientistic [sic] zealot out there, there's at least two other sexy, level-headed, feet-on-the-ground, paint-it-warts-and-all, scientific types likesay.... our very own Braininvat! :-)

I enjoy reading your posts too, Sivad, and would be interested to hear your own thoughts on these matters. Funny you mention Feyerabend. It must've been ten years since I first read his "Science in a Free Society", finding it then delightfully outrageous. When I dusted it off and re-read it a few weeks ago, though, it just seemed kinda dull. Not quite sure how that happened...
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Reg_Prescott on June 6th, 2018, 2:04 am 

RJG » June 5th, 2018, 9:55 pm wrote:This reminds my of the "WHY game" when explaining something to our kids. No matter what explanation we give, there is always a newly created "WHY is this/that?", ...until parental frustration finally sets in and we say (in a loud and firm voice) "because I said so!" (dammit!)


Ha! Good point!

Wittgenstein, not that I understand much of what he says, remarks: "Explanations come to an end somewhere".

I would guess a lot of scientists (but don't take my word for it) feel the same: eventually we hit bedrock; some facts or laws or theories are simply brute or primitive. There is no deeper level to go.

That's what I believe the orthodox Copenhagen school of quantum mechanics would have told you, too -- exactly what infuriated Einstein so much : "You've reached the end of the line; the theory is complete; there's nothing more to say".

Einstein might have retorted, in a loud and firm voice, of course, as avuncular frustration set in: "This cannot be the end. The theory is not complete.... DAMMIT!!!"



@ Badger -- I'd like to reply to your latest post at some length, but it'll probably have to wait till tomorrow...
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Reg_Prescott on June 6th, 2018, 4:17 am 

Badger -- First things first. Thanks for posting the Bas van Fraassen vid. I hadn't seen that before.

BadgerJelly » June 6th, 2018, 12:40 am wrote:It sounds a little like asking a mathematician to explain what “number” is in order to judge their position. Of course in a philological sense such a meandering is potentially interesting - it won’t effect how the mathematician puts numbers to use in their projects though.

To this (assuming I understand you correctly), I'd be inclined to say "yes and no".

Yes, insofar as the so-called hard sciences, and physics especially, are indeed unlikely to turn to philosophy for guidance on scientific explanation. Physics, after all, is the science par excellence; the standard by which other sciences are measured, and so, instead of physicists looking to philosophers, it is to physics more than any other branch of science that the philosophers look to gather their stockpile of examples for what constitutes bona fide scientific explanation.

No, insofar as other disciplines outside the hard sciences, those less confident of their own scientific credentials but anxious to be seen as following the canons of good scientific practice, do -- at least sometimes -- turn to the philosophy of science for guidance on what form their explanations should take.

I have no examples at hand to quote you, but you'll come across this kind of thing in the writings of, say, archeology, from time to time.


BadgerJelly » June 6th, 2018, 12:40 am wrote:The point about people having a general understanding of “scientific explanation” was directed at colloquial discourse not technical jargon. If we look at any scientific paper there is inevitiable jargon as the terms used are understood within the context of scientific discourse where outside the specialized area the very same term may be applied much differently.


When scientists speak of explaining or of explanation, they are, by and large, simply following their linguistic intuitions, same as all the rest of us. There is no Guidebook of Scientific Explanation, accepted and endorsed by all, that they consult to see whether their explanatory aspirations conform or not.

The same thing goes for "evidence", perhaps one of the most confused concepts in both scientific and non-scientific discourse, in my opinion. Psssst, hear the one about the scientist who exploded on stage? He was asked to provide necessary and sufficient conditions for evidence.

It's in cases like these that philosophers of science, convinced that there must be some underlying rationale to these pre-theoretical intuitions, step in and attempt to make explicit what they believe is an implicit order -- much as Chomsky did with syntax. Our pre-theoretical linguistic intuitions allow us to reliably distinguish those sentences that are grammatically standard from those that are deviant; very few of us, though, are able to explicitly articulate on what basis (unconscious rules?) this is done.

In the case at hand, however, the project of providing a philosophical explication for the concept of scientific explanation -- and here I'm sympathetic to your own skepticism -- does not appear to have been a resounding success, albeit enlightening in other ways. The pattern is a familiar one: first one dude proposes a model; then other dudes show that the model is inadequate; then some other dude proposes a new model; then his own model gets stomped on; then... well, you get it.

Deja vu bells may be ringing if you have seen my own rude comments on The Scientific Method here and in other places. Exactly the same pattern of failed models is manifest. Now, of course, a sequence of failures does not constitute proof that the object sought is illusory, but after a dozen expeditions to locate the Fountain of Youth have returned empty handed, one begins to wonder whether it might be high time to stop blaming those crows' feet on the incompetence of the expeditionaries.


BadgerJelly » June 6th, 2018, 12:40 am wrote:Another nice story to put in here is the different explanations posed by the death of a man caught in the act of sexual intercourse with another man’s wife. Did he cause his death, the wife or the husband of the wife upon entering the room and then driving the kitchen knife into his back? Or was it the cessation of blood flow that caused his death? Or the lack of sleep of the husband the previous night followed by a light breakfast leading to low blood sugar that muddled his faculties? Was it the director of the horror movie he watched that caused his lack of sleep or invention of the television?


Yes, this is what is meant by the pragmatics of explanation. The explanation rendered may depend on contextual factors and personal interests. A physician might explain the death by appeal to lack of oxygen to the brain, a policeman might point to marital infidelity, a poet might wax lyrically, "all men must die; dust ye are and unto ..."

Van Fraassen maintains (if I've got him right) that the only commonality linking all explanations is that they are, or can be, answers to a why-question. Moreover, an explanation does not answer a proposition per se, but an aspect of a proposition. We all recognize this: it's marked in speech by emphasis on a particular word; in writing by the use of italics. Consider the proposition "Why did Donald burn his wig?". Well, now, what's the explanation? Wouldn't that depend on the aspect of the proposition highlighted? (watch the italics now):

1. "Why did Donald burn his wig?" -- ans: "Coz his wife was too busy to do it"

2. "Why did Donald burn his wig?" -- ans: "Coz ripping it apart proved too strenuous"

3. "Why did Donald burn his wig?" -- ans: "Coz he couldn't bring himself to burn his false eyelashes"


BadgerJelly » June 6th, 2018, 12:40 am wrote:All explanations are human.


Weeeeeellllll, not what Hempel would say, I guess. Remember? "Scientific explanation is a logical relation between propositions."

And both propositions and logical relations can get along very well without us, thank you very much.

But as we saw earlier, Hempel got what was coming to him....
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby BadgerJelly on June 6th, 2018, 4:50 am 

If there are non-human explanations I challenge you to present one ;)

That was my point. No matter what I say or do I cannot take myself out of the equation. Even if I happen not to be human and you are human (?) it is you understanding and surrounding yourself with explanations in order to navigate through life in general.

If a proposition is a proposition it is because it is proposed by someone. It is not merely sitting there dormant waiting for human discovery, it is constructed by human minds this way or that in an articulate and communicable manner.

From my own point of view everything known is known because it has a limited explanation. To “know” “something” in some eidetic fashion is to be completely unaware of it. The old “I know what it isn’t so I know what it could be” take on things.

There are faulty questions. Example:

“Why is the sky blue?”

Faulty because it’s vague. A more accurate question would be “Why does the sky appear to be blue?” The scientist can answer this within a limited set of rules and propositions. They may even offer up several possible explanations and routes for this (evolutionary, biologically and/or optically)

And all questions are merely “What?” questions in disguise (another trick of language - used for more convenient conversation.) :

“What is the reason for the sky appearing to be blue to me and most other people?”

Embedded in here would be:

“What colour is the sky?”, “What do we men by ‘Colour’?”, “What are we referring to when we say ‘sky’?” and “What is it that is different about people who don’t view the sky as being blue?”

The scientific endeavor is always taking part at a distance from language. The bread and butter of science is in the language of mathematics (and it’s development.) To then translate the scientific research into written words is a deeply troublesome problem for the scientist because the mechanism and concepts used are often counter intuitive and abstracted from mathematical principles (geometry, topology and statistics - things that we all put to use everyday but at a deeply unconscious level.)

I posted I vid a while back by Pinker. He showed how the very same logical problem was made much easier simply by embedding it in a familiar context. The scientist suffers the greatest here I feel. Because they are always asked to explain in plain English, when deep down they know that whatever words or terms they use they’ll always fall short compared to the base data, method and formulae.

In this respect I would say a “true” scientific explanation is one that doesn’t use words (or at least remains within the limits of sets of specified symbols.)
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Reg_Prescott on June 6th, 2018, 5:01 am 

Hi again,

I'm just about to rush out the door, but wanted to respond to this first...

BadgerJelly » June 6th, 2018, 5:50 pm wrote:If there are non-human explanations I challenge you to present one ;)

That was my point. No matter what I say or do I cannot take myself out of the equation. Even if I happen not to be human and you are human (?) it is you understanding and surrounding yourself with explanations in order to navigate through life in general.

If a proposition is a proposition it is because it is proposed by someone. It is not merely sitting there dormant waiting for human discovery, it is constructed by human minds this way or that in an articulate and communicable manner.




No, I don't think so. Now, again it depends to some extent on who you ask, but I would hazard that the standard view of propositions -- at least for those who take a realist stance towards them -- is that, unlike sentences, they DO just sit around there dormant wholly unconcerned about whether humans discover them, use them, or do anything else with them.

They are, thus, generally construed as abstract entities -- just as many philosophers construe numbers to be. Real enough, but lacking in any causal powers.

Grab a metaphysician and ask 'im.

Catch ya later....
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby BadgerJelly on June 6th, 2018, 5:46 am 

For the fanatically minded they no doubt think so. The burden lies upon them to offer up proof - which they cannot.

That is the kind of thing Kant pointed out with “noumena”. Negatively appreciated? Yes. Positively explicated? No, impossible.

Of course, we can hold the assumption that it is so. You cannot wriggle free from human experience though. Doesn’t matter “who” I ask because they are still a “who” not some other “non-human” being with a non-human regard for propositions.

The realist stance is itself a proposal willingly taken up. It is a human “realist” stance, not some non-human “realism” we’re talking about - as much as those ensconced in such a fanatical position may wish to deny (ironically falling prey to mere fantasy in their beliefs of what constitutes some true form of “real”.)

If you wiggle and the universe wiggles with you are you actually wiggling? The fanatical realist would claim so. I would say such talk is nonsense, yet an intriguing use of language.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby dandelion on June 8th, 2018, 3:20 pm 

Sivad » June 5th, 2018, 1:16 pm wrote:Reg, do you have a blog or a youtube channel that reaches a wider audience? If not you should think about doing something along those lines because you know your stuff and you're really good at communicating the concepts...

Yes, thought-provoking and entertaining, and would like to learn more with some questions, like is it necessary to have a binary delineation of reality and not? Similarly with explanations, is their a requirement for “best”, and not “better in some ways than some alternatives”, further reaching, more coherent, more surprisingly inter-related, correlated reinforcements, simpler, more consistent, more balanced, these sorts of features, instead? Also, sorry but would you mind explaining more about why there needs to be greater than 50% chance, just some more details to help focus a bit, please? Also, of scientific explanations, I think the post hoc propter hoc fallacy was mentioned here somewhere but now I can’t find it in the thread, maybe I confused it with ad hoc, but thinking of this and these sorts of phrases, are provisos ok, like ceteris paribus? And on epistemic ignorance, I’m not sure about the Copenhagen perspective, but I think if ignorance were of physical interactions that some perspectives don’t account for, this might not be so problematic? Another question would be about if just some correlations statistically seemed to follow a temporal pattern, possibly conditional, but not others, in certain circumstances, would there be any problem about some partial explanation? Salmon mentioned fine-graining. If, say, of all interactions of the universe, some may be noted for featuring aspects that occur that seem to temporally follow from interactions associated with some dreaded lurgy and assuming some may occur that are possibly associated with other antecedent or contributing factors, and if these interact with each other the impression may be that some complications occur, and so on. Perhaps in such sort of a case, to say some parts of a person may show complications could be an attribution to a certain isolated entity, and it may also be possible to say, e.g., just the parts of the region of complication are associated or that some part of the species is associated, or some part of the planet where those interactions occurred, etc. Possibly, just in a coarse-grained statistical way, this tends to be considered as an effect that is combined with a seemingly certain autonomous, somewhat persisting mass: the individual concerned. And this seems to happen in a certain temporal order, and at a certain extended time. For if, say, this may be construed as some lumping of space and time, and gravity may be also construed as some lumping of space and time, what is a description for noticing similarities like this?
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Braininvat on June 8th, 2018, 4:35 pm 

Regarding explanations of flaming wigs and so on.... I think there was once a thread in which some gasbag nattered on about "functional levels" of explanation. Possibly it was me. At a sociological level, the great fire of Chicago might be explained by lax regulation of livestock within the city limits (Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern, reportedly). At a chemical level we would focus on the rapid oxidation of plant fibers consisting of dehydrated cellulose. On a classical physics level, we would explain the relevant forces involved in the trajectory of hoof meeting glass enclosures of kerosene wicks and the transfer of momentum. A neurologist might attempt to explain the innate wiring in the ungulate brain that causes a propensity to kick. And so on. It is the ability to choose the level of explanation that is most relevant that is human. It is not necessarily a best rendering of causality that we hunt for, but rather the proper scale or magnitude that answers what we see as the most pressing question. That's often a coarser graining than what is found in the Kantian underbelly of spinning quarks and colliding electrostatic forces and the inhuman noumenon of underlying causality.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Braininvat on June 8th, 2018, 4:47 pm 

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/lurgy

our dandy lion's posting makes more sense to me now.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby dandelion on June 8th, 2018, 5:47 pm 

Also, a “Lurgi” is possibly from “allergy” :). Ha, sorry- big week! I made a lot of mistakes and see I’m not able to edit anymore. Do delete please and I’ll try to write this again in a better way tomorrow. I think it at least shows something of why it is better if I keep my posts with questions pretty short! Thanks Biv.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Braininvat on June 8th, 2018, 6:35 pm 

Glad to help in any way. I can also paste anything PMd to me into an existing post or replace the contents with it.
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Re: Linguistic rebracketing and syphilis: a nexplanation

Postby Reg_Prescott on June 8th, 2018, 7:14 pm 

@ Dandelion and Braininvat

Here's a cute example also from that Salmon dude. Not quite sure what the point is, but presumably it relates to pragmatics or explanatory plurality somehow. Who really cares: all that matters is it'll help get you free drinks on planes and meet hot flight attendants.

(1) A friend recounted the following incident. Awaiting take-off on a jet airplane, he found himself sitting across the aisle from a young boy who was holding a helium-filled balloon by a string. In order to pique the child's curiosity, he asked the boy what he thought the balloon would do when the airplane accelerated rapidly for takeoff. After considering for a few moments, the boy said he thought it would move toward the back of the cabin. My friend said he believed that it would move forward in the cabin. Several other passengers overheard this claim and expressed skepticism. A flight attendant even wagered a miniature bottle of Scotch that he was wrong-a wager he was happy to accept. In due course, the pilot received clearance for takeoff, the airplane accelerated, and the balloon moved toward the front of the cabin. And my friend enjoyed a free drink courtesy of the flight attendant.

Two explanations of the balloon's strange behavior can be given. First, it can be pointed out that, when the plane accelerates, the rear wall of the cabin exerts a force on the air molecules near the back, which produces a pressure gradient from rear to front. Given that the inertia of the balloon is smaller than that of the air it displaces, the balloon tends to move in the direction of less dense air. This is a straightforward causal explanation in terms of the forces exerted on the various parts of the physical system. Second, one can appeal to Einstein's principle of equivalence, which says that an acceleration is physically equivalent to a gravitational field. The effect of the acceleration of the airplane is the same as that of a gravitational field. Since the helium balloon tends to rise in air in the earth's gravitational field, it will tend to move forward in the air of the cabin in the presence of the aircraft's acceleration. This second explanation is clearly an example of a unification-type explanation, for the principle of equivalence is both fundamental and comprehensive.
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