seductive instrumentalism

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seductive instrumentalism

Postby hyksos on July 12th, 2017, 12:05 pm 

Science is a method which produces theories that model a body of evidence, and allow the scientist to make predictions. In our universe, science has given us the power to cure disease, build tanks that can hit a target from a mile away, and allow our toasters to pop up after 4 minutes when dialed to setting 4.

Science sometimes employs convenient fictions that allow us to get through the day. Some convenient fiction would be the concept of a "magnetic field", or the idea that there are little blue balls called "electrons" that zip around like solid objects in space. Your TV may have shown you pretty graphics of beta particles "smashing" into the nucleus of a Uranium-235 atom, and 'breaking off' another chunk. This is not what happens at all, but it's a useful metaphor for PBS Nova to explain to a lay audience how the first atom bomb works. (PBS Nova could try to explain to us that atom bombs work through a field theory description of the Weak Nuclear Force. But that would be boring and nobody would watch it.)

The "convenient" of convenient fiction, does not mean weak. These theories can be extremely accurate and deadly precise. While convenient, they are also powerfully convenient. The theories are approximate enough to get us through the day. "Get through the day" could mean an entire military campaign into europe to defeat the NAZIs. If you hook a combustion engine into the tires of a tank, it will rotate the tires and move the treads in a circular path, and that convenient fiction can get your armoured division all the way to Berlin.

Why should an engineer have thought that a combustion engine inside a tank would work just as a works in a car? Because the tank engineer knows that energy can be converted into different forms. The energy takes the form of molecular binding in gasoline vapor, which then changes to heat when combined with oxygen, which then changes to pressure in a cylinder, which then changes to motion, and later to angular momentum that moves the wheels of the tank.

But how did he know this? How did the engineer know that energy can be freely converted between different forms? The answer is that he manipulated the equations of mechanical engineering (and some first-semester thermo). Those equations then predicated that energy (E) equals (=) some other expression. This is the only way he "knew" that energy is convertible between "forms".

Is that how it went?

Perhaps the engineer dawned his saffron robes and meditated on the True Nature of Energy and its relation to Reality and the Cosmos. He lit incense and rang the tones of a metal bowl. As he breathed the smoke into his nose, counting his breaths, he became enlightened with the Energy-Nature. Feeling the Energy essence all around him, in his body, pervading his skin, moving through his bones. After many days of fasting and meditating in a cave, he became One with Energy. Losing his Self and becoming becoming Energy, he began to know the True Nature of Energy. It was through this intimate cosmic interaction with the Universal Energy, that the engineer of tanks became enlightened. He realized that energy can be converted into many forms.

Most mechanical engineers refer to this oneness with Energy, annata-chakhra. (roughly translated as "energy-nothingness"). But many admit that this deep state is only available to 15-year meditators.

This is all very silly. You know that mechanical engineers do not meditate on "Energy Nature" in order to find out that energy can be converted to different forms. They manipulate the equations of mechanical engineering. Mechanical engineers and physicists have no idea what Energy actually is, in terms of some ultimate ontological status. They merely have formulas that describe the phenomenal changes of energy through time. They don't know the "true nature of energy" at all, and never really ask the question in their daily lives.

You know this.
You know better.
So why aren't you an instrumentalist?
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