Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Discussions on the nature of being, existence, reality and knowledge. What is? How do we know?

Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby jocular on April 7th, 2017, 9:04 am 

.....or even knowledge of any kind perhaps?

There seems to me to be a wish** (a doomed wish?) to imagine that it is possible for an intellect to abstract him or herself from the world around him and see it through a cold ,unforgiving gaze which permits him to see things "as they are".

The scientific method is , I think largely down to this attempt to weed out all pitfalls that lie in the way of this "truthful" vision.

Would I be right (and is it completely uncontestable) that this would be completely unattainable and that we need to incorporate our understanding of what knowledge is by placing it (ie the "knower" ) in the centre of the things that are ,hopefully "known" ?

If this is indeed the case , can it be usefully claimed that it is one of the very few things that can be said with certainty?

Or can it only be "uselessly" said and is the search for certainty itself a fool's errand - reminding one of the expression "the tyranny of consistency"?

However if it can be usefully said , what consequences might flow from it-and might they be useful consequences?


** well it is a wish I have noticed in myself and I assume it is widely shared if not necessarily articulated.
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Re: Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby Forest_Dump on April 7th, 2017, 9:38 am 

I will try to be brief here (since this is a topic that we have debated may times).

To at least some degree I think this is a question of absolutes. I do think it is impossible for anybody to be absolutely objective even within the "sciences". In part this is because of the nature of what we call science and what that means to us but more broadly because we do live in kinds of ideological contexts that distort how we see the world due to training, economics, exterior beliefs on what should be, etc. However, saying that absolute objectivity may be impossible by no means implies that we shouldn't be constantly striving towards that goal. Perhaps by way of comparison, we also should strive (IMHO) to be moral and ethical beings and members of society whatever that means and wherever or however you derive those moral and ethical ideals. However none of us are moral and ethical all the time - sometimes we can all be petty, cruel, selfish, etc., and sometimes what we might sincerely believe to be moral and ethical by some external metric (religious, political, etc.) will be seen to be immoral or unethical to others. However, just because it may be impossibe to be moral, ethical (or "scientifically objective") all the time, does not mean we should abandon our attempts. In other words we need to be constantly thinking about our biases and how that influences what we do on a day to day basis. In my case it is literally a life-long exercise and needs to be a constant part of daily mental hygene.
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Re: Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby jocular on April 7th, 2017, 10:07 am 

So there is a natural(or just lazy?) tendency to believe that we are objective and we have to engage in an "unnatural" exercise to reorient ourselves to counter this natural disposition?
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Re: Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby Forest_Dump on April 7th, 2017, 11:02 am 

jocular wrote:So there is a natural(or just lazy?) tendency to believe that we are objective and we have to engage in an "unnatural" exercise to reorient ourselves to counter this natural disposition?


At least on things we believe to be important, we all have a "natural" tendancy to believe we are in the right or we would change. I think that is both natural and necessary in order to move ahead in whatever direction we have decided upon. Lawyers, for example, may end up defending people they believe or know to be guilty or prosecuting people they know or believe to be innocent. So I think it is necessary to develop systems that take those kinds fo biases and conflicts into account and create some kind of higher structure (regulatory body, etc. - something along the lines of a social contract) that makes individuals accountable to a higher body, ensures external measures of quality control, etc., and individuals need to learn to respect that while of course also recognizing that there can (and will be) biases here as well.
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Re: Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby mitchellmckain on April 9th, 2017, 12:50 pm 

jocular » April 7th, 2017, 8:04 am wrote:The scientific method is , I think largely down to this attempt to weed out all pitfalls that lie in the way of this "truthful" vision.

Would I be right (and is it completely uncontestable) that this would be completely unattainable and that we need to incorporate our understanding of what knowledge is by placing it (ie the "knower" ) in the centre of the things that are ,hopefully "known" ?

You would be right to think that objectivity is completely unattainable alone. As long as it is something which a single person is doing, no matter what the methodology, then it cannot be taken out of the realm of subjective knowledge. Objectivity requires verifying things with other people. That is not ALL science requires, because even religion does this to some degree. The objectivity of science requires written procedures of measurable results which others can follow to check that these conclusions do not depend on personal beliefs in any way.

jocular » April 7th, 2017, 8:04 am wrote:If this is indeed the case , can it be usefully claimed that it is one of the very few things that can be said with certainty?

Certainty is an entirely different issue from objectivity. I think there is little doubt that the primary ingredient in certainty is repeatedly experiencing something for yourself as well as complete consistency with everything else you experience. This disconnects it from objectivity to show that certainty may lack objectivity and objectivity may lack certainty.
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Re: Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby Cugoano on April 11th, 2017, 1:02 am 

Isn't certainty and objectivity brought to us by the world? We can have absolute clarity (even when we wish not to) in instances where reality impinges on our senses. When what may be abstract in thought becomes a real experience, is that when we see "things as they are"? The father holding his dead twins after the chemical attack in Syria is confronted with a realness that is certain. They are dead because of a tragic event. It is objective because no matter how he looks at it in his subjectivity, the fact of the matter is that they are dead. His background, prejudices, teachings from his upbringing, political stance cannot change the fact of what has happened in his experience. There is no skepticism about reality at this point. The experience is "pure" It is what it is and nothing else.
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Re: Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby Braininvat on April 11th, 2017, 10:32 am 

Are any experiences so pure? Even with your example of death, there is interpretation. Being dead, and how we define that, actually makes the point that our reality is very much a matter of current definition and culture. A century ago, a man who collapsed in the street and had his heartbeat cease, was defined as quite dead. His death was seen as unambiguous and the experience of the observer "pure" in this regard. Now, someone would administer CPR, then EMTs would arrive and very likely apply an electrical jolt, perhaps a shot of epinephrine, and resuscitate him. In ancient Egypt, had the man been of high social station, he would have been preserved and wrapped up, and sent on his way to another phase of life, far east of the Nile.

If changing our understanding can even revise our understanding of what used to seem so unequivocal, then what other areas may also offer ambiguity rather than pure objective fact?
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Re: Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby wolfhnd on April 11th, 2017, 11:16 am 

The question of objectivity can be addressed as a semantically problem. Spoken language is imprecise in comparison let's say to the language of math or computer languages. When we use a spoken language to try and communicate precisely we cannot use a process of reduction. Reduction in this case being the process that science uses to say come up with the formula of everything. Instead to be precise with spoken language we create ever more complex definitions as may be found in an encyclopedia of philosophy. The precise languages could be said to be top down designed for precision while spoken language or more precisely natural language are bottom up evolved. That is not to say that precise languages have not evolved only that the selection pressures are "artificially" constrained. It is in this process of constraint that objectivity arises and natural language is not fit for purpose. When trying to make natural language precise we go down the exponentially expanding rabbit hole of more and more complex definition.

Natural language is not so much inefficient as evolve for the purpose of transmitting subjective experience. To the extent that natural language is the foundation of thought then to that degree thought is subjective by design. Since natural language is an evolved system it has a design or reasons but they are not the product of a reasoner. This is the difficult inversion of reasoning that In order for natural language to be a perfect and beautiful computational machine, it is not requisite to know what natural language is or be the product of purpose. It couldu be said that natural language is perfectly subjective where the perfection arises out of the evolutionary unification of the subject with the object.

Denial of objective reality is then the failure to completely unify the subject and object. It is in the degree to which that unification is possible that objectivity is possible. We may be evolved to see the world in discreet units but it is perhaps better to view reality as a single information or computational system. Obviously that system cannot be realized in any of it's components. Information flows linearly between adjacent components and while language transcends some of the limitations of time and space it remains limited. If you are pessimistic you could adopt the Eastern view that we can only transcend our limitations by realizing nothingness but I prefer the approximational system of science.
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Re: Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby Cugoano on April 11th, 2017, 2:04 pm 

Brainvat said.....Are any experiences so pure?


If the children's recognizable body parts lay in front of the father, would that not be a pure experience of death. Unless the father was mad how else could he interpret it (death). I guess he could think he is dreaming and caught in a nightmare? Or maybe he can interpret that their bodies are torn apart but, their soul still lives? In these cases the nature of the pure experience is being modified after the fact, but the initial experience must be pure to allow for the modification. Denial always follows and never leads. Is this immediate experience the bracketed experience of Husserls phenomenological approach?

Brainvat....If changing our understanding can even revise our understanding of what used to seem so unequivocal, then what other areas may also offer ambiguity rather than pure objective fact?


I would say most experiences are initially unequivocal unless there is a sensual distortion...most often we change them and create ambiguity after the pure objective fact.....
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Re: Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby Braininvat on April 11th, 2017, 3:07 pm 

But isn't sensual distortion, as you put it, inherent in our human sensory faculties? For example, the horizon is curved but our vision isn't equipped to discern that, so for a very long time we had the experience of a flat earth. Unmodified by rational thought (e.g. "why is the sun's shadow different in Alexandria from what it is on the same date, in Rome?" or "why does the ship appear to sink below the horizon a couple miles out from shore?"), our experience is wrong. We did not have objectivity or clarity, but many believed they did. The Geocentric Theory was a similar epistemological problem. Until the prizm was invented, and enhanced our sensory input, white was believed to be a color with an objective reality to it. Until modern medical science, it was considered objectively obvious that the spirit was in the lungs and the emotions in the heart. That's what people experienced. The brain? Just a sponge for cooling overheated blood. :-)
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Re: Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby Cugoano on April 11th, 2017, 3:18 pm 

Brainvat..your science makes a good point, I yield to your case for unavoidable perceptual distortion. We can never really experience the "thing in itself", although we come quite close before the "rationale" and emotional elements of our self kicks in and creates more ambiguity.
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Re: Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby Old Rasputin on April 11th, 2017, 6:00 pm 

jocular wrote:.....or even knowledge of any kind perhaps?

Well, there are few things we can 'objectively' know with ‘certainty’. One is absolute, and the others are logically derived from it.


Certainties of Reality:

Certainty #1 --- Experiencing Exists --- absolute; self-evident; undeniable.

Certainty #2 --- Experiencer Exists --- logically derived; for without an Experiencer (substrate), said Experiencing could not exist (happen).

Certainty #3 --- Memory Exists --- logically derived; for without Memory, said Experiencer could not “know” said Experiencing exists. Note: “knowing” is the experience of recognition, made possible by memory.

Certainty #4 --- Sensory Organs Exists --- logically derived; for without a ‘means’ of experiencing, said Experiencing could not exist (happen).
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Re: Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby jocular on April 12th, 2017, 5:13 am 

mitchellmckain » April 9th, 2017, 12:50 pm wrote:Certainty is an entirely different issue from objectivity. I think there is little doubt that the primary ingredient in certainty is repeatedly experiencing something for yourself as well as complete consistency with everything else you experience. This disconnects it from objectivity to show that certainty may lack objectivity and objectivity may lack certainty.


I know definitions are a bugbear but I think I had in my mind some kind of a hybrid between certainty and objectivity. A kind of theoretical absolute objectivity leading to an accurate assessment (which need not be certainty).

You are thinking of objectivity as a method whereas I was thinking of it as a mental faculty ( which I doubt exists except in theory).

My idea is akin to a "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" method (wish fulfillment) whereby one realizes one should be objective an ,hey presto on is even if only for a short time.

I think the tenor of my OP was that this feeling is illusory but that perhaps it is a necessary and ongoing illusion (or just more comfortable to believe than its antithesis)
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Re: Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby jocular on April 12th, 2017, 5:56 am 

Old Rasputin » April 11th, 2017, 6:00 pm wrote:
jocular wrote:.....or even knowledge of any kind perhaps?

Well, there are few things we can 'objectively' know with ‘certainty’. One is absolute, and the others are logically derived from it.



Certainty #1 --- Experiencing Exists --- absolute; self-evident; undeniable.


I wonder what "experience" means in this context. To my mind it implies a subject and an object. The person or mind that experiences and the object or thought that he ,she or it "experiences".

So it is an interaction that exists( a dance).

I might not disagree that this can be said with "certainty" but wonder how useful such an assertion is - useful enough to answer my OP ,no doubt ;-)
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Re: Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby mitchellmckain on April 12th, 2017, 12:06 pm 

jocular » April 12th, 2017, 4:13 am wrote:
mitchellmckain » April 9th, 2017, 12:50 pm wrote:Certainty is an entirely different issue from objectivity. I think there is little doubt that the primary ingredient in certainty is repeatedly experiencing something for yourself as well as complete consistency with everything else you experience. This disconnects it from objectivity to show that certainty may lack objectivity and objectivity may lack certainty.


I know definitions are a bugbear but I think I had in my mind some kind of a hybrid between certainty and objectivity. A kind of theoretical absolute objectivity leading to an accurate assessment (which need not be certainty).

You are thinking of objectivity as a method whereas I was thinking of it as a mental faculty ( which I doubt exists except in theory).

My idea is akin to a "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" method (wish fulfillment) whereby one realizes one should be objective an ,hey presto on is even if only for a short time.

I think the tenor of my OP was that this feeling is illusory but that perhaps it is a necessary and ongoing illusion (or just more comfortable to believe than its antithesis)


I suppose I could make a distinction between objectivity as a fruit of the scientific method and objectivity as a more general idea which we strive for in other endeavors. For example, a judge strives for objectivity in his judgments by sticking to the law and to facts presented. I am aware that such ideals may not arrive at the truth and can in fact be mislead by devious intent. In fact, no methodology is immune to devious manipulation and it is a basic assumption of science that there are no unknown powers manipulating the evidence of nature to deceive us. Another example which I am personally familiar with is that of a teacher grading assignments and tests, which is usually achieved by setting down a mathematical system of grading. Again these are not infallible for sometimes a student thinks outside the box and the rules might have to be adjusted in such cases.

I would say that the objectivity you describe is a third category and with the exceptions like those above would agree with your assessment that if it is just a feeling then it amounts to no more than pure self-delusion. If you want to test for any real objectivity then you look for reasons and rules behind it, in which case the objectivity would be limited to the justification and validity of those reasons and rules.
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Re: Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby Old Rasputin on April 12th, 2017, 1:18 pm 

Old Rasputin wrote: Certainty #1 --- Experiencing Exists --- absolute; self-evident; undeniable.

jocular wrote:I wonder what "experience" means in this context. To my mind it implies a subject and an object. The person or mind that experiences and the object or thought that he ,she or it "experiences".

So it is an interaction that exists (a dance).

Notice the “ing” (in experiencing). I am not talking about the two nouns (i.e. the subject and object) themselves. I am talking about the reaction itself. I am talking about the happening/effect/event itself (or if you prefer, the interaction/dance itself).

The object of experiencing can NEVER be known with certainty (...maybe this should be Certainty #5 :-)). I can look out my window and see a tree. I may be seeing a real tree, or I may be dreaming/hallucinating this tree, or it could be mirage/illusion, or simply a HD picture of a tree pasted to the outside of my window. I can never know with certainty. Although the tree (object) can never be known with certainty, the actual event; the “experiencing” itself (whether it be seeing/dreaming/hallucinating/or other) is real and certain.

It is impossible to deny “experiencing” exists, because any attempt to deny it, only affirms it. …as you would then have to deny the experiencing of denying.

The subject is another matter. And this gets to my Certainty #2. For “experiencing” to occur/happen, there must be a substrate (or experiencer) upon which this happening occurs. We can’t just look out in space and see “experiencing” happening without a substrate/thing for it to be happening upon. For us humans to “experience” (v), the substrate is our physical body/brain structure. In other words, "experiencing" is a bodily reaction. For plants, and worms, and other things, it is the reactions upon their physical structure as well. Without an experiencer, experiencing cannot happen/exist!

Caution: most people like to automatically assume that this “experiencer” implies dualism; a separate “mind” or “self” or conscious/spiritual agent of some sort. Don’t be like these people! There is no implication of this what-so-ever!
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Re: Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby Braininvat on April 12th, 2017, 2:23 pm 

Old Raz:

Your emphasis on experience sounds like a restatement of David Hume's logical empiricism. Replace "experience" with "sensation," and "subject" with "bundle of sensations," throw in Hume's Problem of Induction...and I think you've reached the 18th century. Have you explored further?
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Re: Objectivity and Scientific Knowledge ......

Postby Old Rasputin on April 13th, 2017, 2:59 pm 

Braininvat wrote:Your emphasis on experience sounds like a restatement of David Hume's logical empiricism. Replace "experience" with "sensation," and "subject" with "bundle of sensations," throw in Hume's Problem of Induction...and I think you've reached the 18th century. Have you explored further?

Like Hume, I believe that everything we experience is an experience (or “bundle” of experiences). Since it is non-sensical to experience a non-experience, then experiencing real (external) objects is not possible. Certainty # 1 - Experiencing exists.

Unlike Hume, I believe real/external objects do actually exist and can logically (objectively) be proven as such. One such example is Certainty #2 - Experiencer exists whereas without an experiencer (substrate/thing/object), experiencing could not exist. Without a dancer, dancing could not happen. Something can’t happen unless some-‘thing’ is happening!

Note: "subjects" (experiencers) can NEVER experience/sense themselves because:
1. It is not possible to experience objects, and
2. It is not possible for a subject to be an object while still a subject (...can't be in two places at one time!).

Like Hume, I am skeptical of “causes” (in the cause-and-effect relationship) as we can only experience “effects”. Causes can only be presumed to exist. But without cause-and-effect, objective tools such as deductive logic (and math) would be rendered senseless. So any truths derived through logic, would need to be qualified as “logical truths”.


jocular wrote:The scientific method is, I think largely down to this attempt to weed out all pitfalls that lie in the way of this "truthful" vision.

This method will never yield “true knowledge” (aka “objective truths”). The problem with this method is that one must first know what is true, so as to then discern and discard the not-true from the true. Our current knowledge is contaminated. We can’t weed out the weeds, until we know what the weeds are.

There is only one method that can yield “true knowledge”, and that method is the “clean slate” method (as proposed by Descartes). This method discards everything and finds one undeniable/undoubtable piece of (objective) truth to serve as the starting point and foundation to build all (true) knowledge.

The problem with this “clean slate” method is that this first piece of truth; this first starting premise, is ultra-critical. Starting with a flawed piece of truth, even when using sound logic to build upon this starting point, can only yield flawed knowledge. Unfortunately Descartes failed, he did not go back far enough to erase all assumptions/doubts.

WHERE DESCARTES WENT WRONG:

Descartes's goal was to arrive at one item of truth that could serve as the starting-point and foundation for all knowledge. His starting point was his famous statement "I think, therefore I am". As Descartes explained, "We cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt …" Descartes asserted that the very act of doubting one's own existence was proof of the reality of one's own mind; there must be a thinking entity; a “self”; a “mind”, for there to be a thought. (...which resulted in his rationale/belief of dualism).

According to Descartes, I can doubt anything. But when I doubt, I am thinking, and as long as I am thinking, I exist. Thinking is inseparable from me. Thus I have a clear and distinct idea that I am a mind, or intelligence, and my nature is a thinking thing. On the other hand, I have also a clear idea of body as an extended and non-thinking thing. He concludes that res cogitans and res extensa are two independent entities. This dichotomy is the foundation of Descartes's dualism. “For all that I am a thing that is real and which truly exists. But what kind of a thing? … A thinking thing (res cogitans).” --- source unknown

Descartes error --

If one’s goal is to find the true starting point of knowledge, then the starting premise is of utmost criticalness. This starting premise needs to be ‘absolute and undeniable’. Descartes premise “I think, …” does not meet this level of certainty. The “I think” is just an assumption of “I experience thoughts”. But then, one can experience more than just thoughts, so let’s reduce further to “I experience”. But then this “I” has not yet been determined with absolute certainty, so we need to remove it. Now we are left with one term, “experiencing”. Hence, “Experiencing exists” is the only true absolute/undoubtable piece of truth, and is the true starting premise to construct all of (true) knowledge.

I have re-written (corrected) Descartes logical statement that now satisfies his original goal:

“Experiencing exists, therefore I (the experiencer) exist.”

But this of course, shoots down his dualistic position. “I” is just the ‘experiencer’, and is NOT a ‘mind’ (nor a 'thinker of thoughts' entity - but instead just an ‘experiencer of thoughts’ entity). Dualism is therefore flawed knowledge.

So it is from here (Certainty #1 - Experiencing Exists) where we start the construction of true knowledge (objective truths). If only Descartes were alive now, I am sure he would agree :-)
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