Home » Mind, Neuroscience, News » Researchers seek compromise between materialist and non-materialist neuroscience?

Researchers seek compromise between materialist and non-materialist neuroscience?

Neuroskepticism? There’s been a lot of that lately, as ridiculous materialist claims get trimmed (see here, here, and here, for example. Much of it is coming from sources you might not expect, and for good reason. The discipline risks discredit through nonsense.

That said, big guns are still rushing to the defense of materialist neuroscience, most notably eliminative materialist Daniel Dennett
Meranwhile, Adam Zeman and Oliver Davies weigh in at Standpoint, offering a compromise:

The earlier undifferentiated view of mind and matter, and its successor, the radically differentiated Cartesian view, will gradually give way to a more fully integrated understanding, which acknowledges both our ineradicable subjectivity and our inextricable, yet often invisible, involvement with matter. We will come to recognise that the line between mind and matter, like the line of demarcation between psychiatry and medicine, has been drawn in the wrong way and in the wrong place. We will come to understand ourselves as free within rather than from our material existence.

They propose that mind and matter “form an integrated system in us.” True, an old insight reacknowledged, but what follows?

Sure enough, they immediately put their foot in it by trying to “understand” religion: As soon as people do that, in the context of neuroscience, you know that theirs is a conventional materialist project, no matter what they want to call it or how they hope to make up for lost credibility with soothing noises:

Second, we believe that the new paradigm will help us to understand how religions work, and how they can go wrong. These ancient traditions straddle the globe and deeply shape our contemporary world. Under a dualist view, it was difficult to make sense of religious practices and embedded beliefs since these are the product of earlier ages and integrated cosmologies which assumed a “porous” relationship between mind and body, self and world. Religions have so baffled and fascinated us because they were born “under different skies”. …

Religion isn’t entirely understandable in the terms that many researchers want it understood.

For example, what does “go wrong” mean in the paragraph above? Did the Tsarnaev jihadis go wrong when they bombed the Boston Marathon? You and I probably think so but they and their crowd don’t. And apparently the groupies on whose behalf the surviving brother was lionized on the cover of Rolling Stone are turned on by jihad, or self-destructiveness, or something. These matters are too deep for materialist neuroscience, just as acts of self-sacrificing heroism are. Materialism must cram them all into structures they don’t fit, structures that assume that there is nothing beyond the material, and then make up caveman stories about how they originated.

Sadly, everything can indeed be explained by materialism, if all you want from an explanation is that it conform to materialist thinking. We tend to notice that defect the more, the less sense any given explanation makes.

On a more positive note, the authors clearly grasp that subjectivity is, by nature, not objective and cannot be made so. That is what is wrong with most projects to “explain” consciousness; consciousness is experience from the perspective of the experiencer, not the researcher; what life feels like when it is happening to you and not him. His consciousness is what life feels like when it is happening to him and not you.

No doubt there is plenty to research, but not much more to “explain.” Indeed, consciousness research has continued since its dawn in India 2500 years ago, but I always suggest that anyone begin the project by reading Nagel’s ”What is it like to be a bat?“, to get some sense of perspective about what research projects would be useful.

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

25 Responses to Researchers seek compromise between materialist and non-materialist neuroscience?

  1. Tell me what “non-materialist neuroscience” is, and what it can tell us about anything useful.

    As a neuroscientist I’m stuck with my materials. Those materials do, obviously include non-material concepts like motivation and intention, but that doesn’t make the neuroscience any less “material”, nor does it distinguish it from any other “neuroscience”.

  2. If you say so, Elizabeth.

  3. Well, can you tell me what “non-materialist neuroscience” would be, Axel?

    News seems to think there’s a difference, between it and “materialist neuroscience”. I’d like to know the difference.

  4. 4

    Tell me what “non-materialist neuroscience” is, and what it can tell us about anything useful.

    Indeed. Likewise for “materialist neuroscience”.

    As a neuroscientist I’m stuck with my materials. Those materials do, obviously include non-material concepts like motivation and intention, but that doesn’t make the neuroscience any less “material”, nor does it distinguish it from any other “neuroscience”.

    I have no idea what either adjective, “materialist” or “non-materialist,” are really doing when they are added to “neuroscience” (or, indeed, to any other term). I don’t know what “materialism” is supposed to mean, or if it’s a notion worth taking seriously.

  5. Nor me. Science is about the material world. That doesn’t mean that the material world is all there is, but it does mean that anything beyond it is beyond the domain of science.

    And by material, I include abstract concepts like “intelligence” and “intention” – but we do have to be able to measure them in some way.

  6. 6

    Science is about the material world. That doesn’t mean that the material world is all there is, but it does mean that anything beyond it is beyond the domain of science.

    And by material, I include abstract concepts like “intelligence” and “intention” – but we do have to be able to measure them in some way.

    Well, if we allow that “material” is just “whatever science can measure,” we have two problems.

    Firstly, it makes the notion of “material” meaningless. As per your debate with nighlight in the “Mind and Emergence” thread, if we say (rightly) that neuroscience can investigate the neural correlates of consciousness, then would then conclude that consciousness is material? That seems terribly odd to me.

    Secondly, “what science can study” — our ability to measure, or to use a more technical term, operationalize our concepts — equivocates between “what is within the range of current science to measure” and “what could be measured by some future science”.

    (And whether we, today, are even in the epistemic position to imagine what the science of the future would be like, and whether we would regard that as being ‘science’ at all, given our present understanding of what science is, are also open to question. What we can operationalize depends on our level of technology, but bear in mind Arthur C. Clarke’s adage, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”)

    So it might be best to drop “material” and “materialism” altogether, for the purposes of serious philosophy of science, and just talk about empiricism — not in the Lockean/Humean sense of “all mental contents arise from sensory stimulation” but in the broad sense of “all explanation-providing models of causal relations should be constrained by observation”.

    That leaves plenty of room for kinds of understanding, intelligibility, ‘making sense of things,’ that fall outside the domain of empirical science.

  7. Works for me. I’m happy to call myself an empiricist.

  8. Science is about the material world.

    Lizzie,

    That is exactly your problem and why many modern scientists fall for such foolish theories.

    Science is not, and never has been about the material world. Science is a tool to try and discover truth. When you start with an a priori assumption about what is true, you are not doing science. An honest scientist must be open to all possible theories being true, and then use the scientific method to whittle down the possibilities.

    The assumption of methodological naturalism is a necessary deficiency of the scientific method based on the fact that not all procedures are repeatable, and not all experimental environments can be controlled. It is a weakness of science, that it can not by its very nature deal with non reproducible events whether because they are singular events, the unobserved past, or events manipulated by an intelligent agent who can alter the results based on an external decision.

    To mistake the weakness of the scientific method for a necessary property of the universe is a grave mistake and results in the ignorant beliefs of those who will not accept one thing that is clear from a scientific observation of this world : materialism is most probably false to a high degree of certainty.

  9. 9

    EL: Tell me what “non-materialist neuroscience” is, and what it can tell us about anything useful.

    Experimenting with hallucinogenics could be considered one form of it. (But really, any experimenting that one does on one’s self that affect ones own consciousness could be considered non-materialist neuroscience.)

    Just curious, how much of that have you done on yourself with hallucinogenics and/or consciousness altering chemicals?

  10. @JDH

    Well, KN puts it better: science is empirical. It is not based on any a priori assumption about truth and it is not, I would argue about discovering the “truth” but about fitting models to data

    We can infer from the closeness of our fit to the data how close we are to modelling some underlying reality, but to assume that what science can model is the whole of reality would be a great mistake.

    It is as foolish, in my view, to blame scientists for excluding some kinds of truth a priori as it would be to expect science to tell you how to write Schubert’s C major quintet, or carve Michelangelo’s David.

    An honest scientist must be open to all possible theories being true, and then use the scientific method to whittle down the possibilities.

    Yes, but the method is that of fitting models to data

    If you don’t have a model, you can’t fit it to your data. And any model that can be fitted to data must be a “materialistic” (to use my term) model – it must give you an approximation to your actual observations.

    The assumption of methodological naturalism is a necessary deficiency of the scientific method based on the fact that not all procedures are repeatable, and not all experimental environments can be controlled.

    The assumption of methodological naturalism is simply the assumption that phenomena are predictable. Yes,that is a necessary limitation, but the consequences of that limitation are simply the caveat that all conclusions are provisional, and non-predictable factors cannot be ruled out.

    It is a weakness of science, that it can not by its very nature deal with non reproducible events whether because they are singular events, the unobserved past, or events manipulated by an intelligent agent who can alter the results based on an external decision.

    This is, I suggest, an error. Science can deal quite easily with non-repeatable events, because models do not have to predict future events, just future data. For example, forensic science does not have to predict a new murder in order to justify the conclusion that a past murder took place. However, it makes predictions: if X did the murder with the kitchen knife we should find X’s DNA on the handle.

    And you could certainly make predictions based on the hypothesis of an intelligent agent, and we do this all the time.

    I think the idea that science somehow can’t deal with the one-off past, or rules out intelligent agency a priori because it is “non-material” is mistaken. It can deal with the one-off past, and it does not rule out intelligent agency a priori.

    But it cannot test the hypothesis of an unconstrained cause, because an unconstrained cause makes no predictions

    All of which is somewhat of a derail from my question to news: what distinguishes “non-material” neuroscience from “material” neuroscience?

    I’d like an example of each.

  11. Experimenting with hallucinogenics could be considered one form of it. (But really, any experimenting that one does on one’s self that affect ones own consciousness could be considered non-materialist neuroscience.)

    By that definition, all (at least all that I do) neuroscience is “non-materialistic” because it investigates the relationship between the “non-material” domain of thought and experience and the material domain of the nervous system.

    So the adjective remains redundant and there is no conflict.

    Just curious, how much of that have you done on yourself with hallucinogenics and/or consciousness altering chemicals?

    I have not “experimented” on myself, but pharmacological challenge is widely-used methodology.

  12. JDH: I missed your last point.

    To mistake the weakness of the scientific method for a necessary property of the universe is a grave mistake

    Of course. That is my point. But that is quite different from alleging that science is prejudiced against the non-material.

    and results in the ignorant beliefs of those who will not accept one thing that is clear from a scientific observation of this world : materialism is most probably false to a high degree of certainty.

    But now you make precisely that mistake! We cannot infer from science anything about whether “materialism” is false or not. What we can say from science is that highly predictive models are possible. What we can’t say is whether the reason that many phenomenon remain unpredictable (and therefore “unexplained”) is because we haven’t found the model yet, or because there isn’t one.

    So it is as mistaken to claim that science has excluded the non-material from the universe as to claim that science’s failure to exclude the non-material from the universe is evidence of the non-material.

    Absence of evidence is neither evidence of absence nor evidence of presence. It’s just absence of evidence.

  13. 13

    Would anyone here who is opposed to “materialism” (however he or she defines it) reject the idea that explanations of causal relations should be constrained by observations as much as feasible, or that such constraint lies in fitting models to data?

    If we’re all agreed on that point, then there is no argument over ‘materialism’ at all.

    Science can deal quite easily with non-repeatable events, because models do not have to predict future events, just future data.

    Nice distinction; clarity on this point will advance discussion significantly. Likewise, future data about past events, which are (by definition) non-repeatable.

  14. 14

    EL: By that definition, all (at least all that I do) neuroscience is “non-materialistic” because it investigates the relationship between the “non-material” domain of thought and experience and the material domain of the nervous system.

    Except for one difference: when one’s “subject” is one’s self it is categorically different than having someone else as the subject. At least for me. I do not know if your conscious experience exist at all. But I know mine does. And since I know the non-materiality of my own consciousness, the enterprise necessarily has a different meaning. You may disagree, but then, if you do, that would make you some kind of entity that is fundamentally different than I, despite outward appearances.

  15. The Materialist and the Mind – William Lane Craig, PhD – video (Eben Alexander and Thomas Nagel)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfWGV9sZ3J4

  16. EL:

    But that is quite different from alleging that science is prejudiced against the non-material.

    Science, by definition, is not prejudiced but scientists are. Do we really have to drag out the Richard Lewontin quote about having a priori assumptions of materialism again? Or the Carl Sagan quote about the cosmos (“all there ever is, was, or will be.”)?

    Empiricism covers most of science, since it’s based on observed and validated evidence. There’s also positivism, which combines scientific inquiry with empiricism (also called the quantitative approach)–in which data can be quantified and expressed statistically or numerically. Then there’s naturalism (also called the qualitative approach), which interprets non-numerical observations.

    The problem with naturalism is that scientists utilizing it share assumptions about knowledge and reality. Some of these assumptions may be wrong, and that leads to erroneous conclusions.

  17. Lizzie-

    First,thank you for pointing out my error and adding clarity to the discussion. I did not mean to infer that the scientific method can not be used to make statements or conclusions about non-reproducible events, after all, I want to use science to conclude things about the past. What I think I really mean to imply is that some aspect of an event must be repeatable for science to be effective.

    You clarify this well with the word “model”. When we “model” an event in the past, we do not somehow make the event repeatable and thus accessible to the scientific method, BUT, it is the model that is very repeatable either in reality by setting up a model apparatus or in our thoughts. So although we can not repeat early earth conditions, we can repeat the experiment of Miller and Urey. ( We also have to evaluate whether the model accurately “models” reality ) The idea of repeatable “models” of events allows us to use the scientific method to scientifically draw hard conclusions about the model and then extrapolate them onto the non-repeatable event.

    This may be obvious to others, but stating it this way helps very much to clarify my thinking about science and especially the difference between science which investigates purely repeatable phenomenon ( like the accuracy of the inverse square law of gravity ) , and after the fact science which tries to determine the cause for past events.

    So now I wish to challenge some of your assumptions. It is not true that we can not make some conclusions about some things which do not yet have a model.

    It is very important to know what are the constraints on creation of the model. In other words we can not conclude that “no such model of this process exists”. But we can conclude that “no such model which includes the following constraints can exist”.

    For example, One can not construct a proper model of continental drift if one of your constraints is that everything must occur in 100 years or less. You can show that the constraint of such a short time frame makes it impossible to form a believable model.

    This is similar to why I reject materialistic views of for example language. The constraint of materialism means that nothing can be selected on purpose, everything must happen by chance. However, language is by its nature is completely purposeful. Even in this simple post, the possibilities of it being generated “without purpose in mind” is beyond unlikely. This is because there is no physical reason why any character should follow any other outside of my desire to communicate a specific thought. I am not trying to communicate a description of some concrete object. I am trying ( sometimes poorly ) to communicate a thought about an abstract idea. Such language is pure information. It is not reasonable that it would come about by any process except one that has intention. It can not be an accident, but must come from a mind that is free enough to overcome the impossibility of the particular set of letters being generated by chance.. So I find it highly doubtful that you will ever come up with a model for the evolution of language with the constraint that it must happen by chance.

  18. Thank you for your generous post, JDH!

    Let me try to address your last paragraph:

    This is similar to why I reject materialistic views of for example language. The constraint of materialism means that nothing can be selected on purpose, everything must happen by chance. However, language is by its nature is completely purposeful. Even in this simple post, the possibilities of it being generated “without purpose in mind” is beyond unlikely. This is because there is no physical reason why any character should follow any other outside of my desire to communicate a specific thought. I am not trying to communicate a description of some concrete object. I am trying ( sometimes poorly ) to communicate a thought about an abstract idea. Such language is pure information. It is not reasonable that it would come about by any process except one that has intention. It can not be an accident, but must come from a mind that is free enough to overcome the impossibility of the particular set of letters being generated by chance.. So I find it highly doubtful that you will ever come up with a model for the evolution of language with the constraint that it must happen by chance.

    I do not agree that “The constraint of materialism means that nothing can be selected on purpose, everything must happen by chance.”

    First of all, the word “chance” needs unpacking, because you are, in effect, using it as an antonym for “purposeful”, and clearly many phenomena in nature are neither “purposeful” nor “chance” in the sense that they cannot be predicted. This is, presumably, why Dembski’s original “Explanatory Filter” had both “Chance” and “Necessity” as alternatives to “Design”. So let me first of all rephrase your statement to say:

    “The constraint of materialism means that nothing can be selected on purpose, everything must happen by either by chance and/or necessity”.

    However, I’d say that statement still only true if we grant that “purpose” is not itself the result of “chance and/or necessity”. And that is not an assumption that I share, nor is it an assumption required by the scientific method. All that the scientific method requires is the working assumption (not the belief) that phenomena are predictable. And purposeful behaviour is nonetheless broadly – at least statistically – predictable. In other words purposefulness itself is a perfectly legitimate domain of scientific investigation (indeed it is my own).

    Second, I think the distinction that Monod (who popularised the phrase “Chance and Necessity” as it was the title of his famous book) makes between “teleology” and “teleonomy” is an important one.

    If “teleological” refers to the kind of explanation for an event that invokes a purposeful agent (“I made pasta because I was hungry”), “teleonomic” refers to the kind of explanation that invokes a function (“the plant draws in water through its roots to replace the water transpired through its leaves”).

    We do not attribute purposeful behaviour to the plant – nonetheless we can attribute a “purpose” to the plant’s “behaviour” that serves the “purpose” of keeping the plant alive. So whose “purpose” is it? Monod suggest that there is an intrinsic “purpose” to any feature of a system whose properties contribute to the continuation of that system. So a plant is a system with the ability to draw in water through its roots, and that ability to to draw in water through its roots serves the “purpose” of keeping the plant alive. But that “purpose” is very different in kind to the “purpose” I have when I make myself some pasta – or indeed, make it for someone else, or write this post.

    And so Monod distinguishes between a “teleological” explanation, which refers to an explanation couched in terms of what a purposeful agent set out with the intention of achieving, and a “teleonomic” explanation, which refers to an explanation couched in terms of what a non-purposeful system does that contributes to the continuation of the system.

    Both kinds of explanation are perfectly valid in science, but a teleonomic explanation can describe many phenomena that are not “chance” in the sense of being unpredictable, nor “necessity” in the sense that they are completely predictable” and clearly serve a “purpose” even though that “purpose” is not one conceived of by an agent for which the purpose is served. In the latter case, the word “function” is a less ambiguous one: the roots of a plant have the function of keeping the plant from drying out; but we do not have to attribute purpose to the roots, or the plant, or to the process that gave rise to the plant in the first place in order to account for the system.

    That does not rule it out – an Intelligent Designer might have made plants to serve some purpose of her own. But even if so, the roots are not there to serve that purpose – the roots are there to serve the purpose of keeping the plant alive, even if the Designer’s purpose in designing the plant was to give joy to me :)

    So, that all said: I’d say again, that the only assumption that need by made in order to do science is that phenomena are predictable, and that assumption is only made in order to keep us working – because the scientific project boils down to making predictive models. If we drop the assumption that phenomena are predictable, then we just go home and watch TV instead.

    (And that, Barb, is the point of Lewontin’s Divine Foot remark – the reason we don’t let “a Divine Foot” in the door is that if we do, we are, in effect, saying: this thing is not predictable, and thus the science stops. It does not mean that there is no Divine Foot – it merely means that the Divine Foot must be firmly kept out of the lab, lest we all down tools and go for a beer instead.)

    So to return to your point, JDH: Human use of language, and indeed the human creation of language, clearly represent purposeful behaviour by purposeful agents. And the living world is full of purposeful behaviouur by purposeful animals – animals with brains, and therefore the capacity to conceive and execute a purpose.

    But I do not think it follows that the capacity for purposeful behaviour – to construct and use language, to write string quintets or carve sculptures for sheer beauty – to bury a bone to come back for later – must itself be the result of purposeful activity by some agent other than the animals pursuing their various purposes (although it could be)

    However, I think it is perfectly reasonable to invoke a teleonomic explanation for the phenomenon of purposefulness – that we have the capacity to act purposefully because, in our ancestral past, that capacity served the teleonomic “purpose” – function – of keeping us alive to breed, ultimately, us.

    So the short version of this rather over-lengthy response to your interesting point is:

    Materialism does not require that nothing is done by purposeful agents, but nor does that rule out the possibility that purposefulness itself arises from processes that are teleonomic, rather than teleological: process that serve the perpetuation of a system without being the result of an intentional act by that system. In other words, just because you and I act with purpose does not mean that we are the result of a separate agent acting with purpose. It might – but it does not logically follow.

    And neuroscience is the science of finding out how purposefulness, among other things, works. Far from denying that purposefulness exists, neuroscientists seek to discover the material substrates that serve purposeful behaviour.

  19. First off, I wanted to express my appreciation for polite, intelligent discourse, which often doesn’t remain the case.

    Thank you.

    the reason we don’t let “a Divine Foot” in the door is that if we do, we are, in effect, saying: this thing is not predictable, and thus the science stops. It does not mean that there is no Divine Foot – it merely means that the Divine Foot must be firmly kept out of the lab, lest we all down tools and go for a beer instead.

    While going out for a beer once in a while is not a bad idea, how would you know whether “a divine foot” is not already in the room? Science hasn’t stopped even though many material things studied in science are indeed not predictable, observable, or even repeatable. You could try hanging up a sign that reads, “God is not allowed beyond this point.” Who knows, maybe it will work. ;-)

    In my opinion, science creates models in a way that’s not unlike in purpose to that of ancient humans crafting stone tools. Scientific models are no more than pragmatic, generally self-consistent representations— intellectual tools—to understand nature.

    But the tool should not be confused with reality.

    For example, whether electrons actually exist can be debated, but that Ohm’s Law can be used to accurately (so far) calculate electrical resistance has been verified innumerable times.

  20. Lizzie

    Thanks for the long response. Here is the problem. Chance and necessity do not allow the building up of purpose of either the telenomic or teleological kind.

    We all know the second law of thermodynamics and how many times it has been validated. But it is limited to a discussion of heat and energy and was indeed formulated before the statistical underpinnings of it were clear.

    But since Boltzmann ( S = log W ) we can understand that the second law of thermodynamics is just a consequence of a higher law wrapped up in probability and statistics of free systems. That when objects are allowed to change under their mutual interaction the state of the object always ends up in the more probable states. That fluctuations which lead to a “meaningful” state are short lived and swamped out by the abundance of “unmeaningful” states. That the concept of entropy is not just applicable to Heat/Energy/Work but to all kinds of probabilistic phenomena. ( Grant Sewell has done some nice work towards this )

    Chance and necessity only allows for fluctuation from some mean. For example you give as an example of telenomic purpose a plant drawing water up its roots. But you neglect that materialism demands that all of the biological information ( DNA contains information specifically because its order is not demanded by necessity ) necessary to come to that “plant pulling water up its roots” state must have occurred by chance and simply be a fluctuation from some mean. If there exists a process which can go towards that “telenomic purposeful state” there must also exist a process which can tear down that information, and the latter process must eventually win by sheer statistics.

    The point is there is no such thing as an informational ratchet. You can not generate purpose. If any interaction is allowed that creates information ( e.g. the coming together of random peptide chains of all left handed amino acids in a primordial soup ) there must be an equal process that will destroy that information. You can’t generate meaningful information by chance – all you get is fluctuations.

    Please read the discussion on the second law from “The Feynman Lectures on Physics”. He makes this abundantly clear in his discussion of a proposed perpetual motion machine how any process which would seem to create an “energy ratchet” is not really possible. Abstraction of the impossibility of the “energy ratchet” to the impossibility of the “information ratchet” is a necessary but avoided step in the minds of most people.

    Materialism is not impossible because we don’t have a model for it, but it is impossible because the probability of beating unsurmountable odds against “chance and necessity plus time” manufacturing a being capable of understanding it as a metaphysical possibility and communicating this purposefully through language is nil. The existence of beings purposely advocating materialism, proves it false. They think therefore there is more than matter alone.

  21. KN:

    Would anyone here who is opposed to “materialism” (however he or she defines it) reject the idea that explanations of causal relations should be constrained by observations as much as feasible, or that such constraint lies in fitting models to data?

    If we’re all agreed on that point, then there is no argument over ‘materialism’ at all.

    Have you read What Darwin Got Wrong yet?

    If it is the case that Darwinian “explanations” rely on counterfactuals, how can they in fact be “consrained” by observations?

  22. 22

    Have you read What Darwin Got Wrong yet?

    No, I haven’t read What Darwin Got Wrong. I might at some point, but since it’s not relevant to my research, it’s not a priority.

    My surmise, based on what I’ve read about it, is that Fodor uses the same basic argument against Darwinism that he used against behaviorism. No doubt there are deep and interesting arguments here that I simply don’t have the time to consider right now.

    If it is the case that Darwinian “explanations” rely on counterfactuals, how can they in fact be “consrained” by observations?

    About the role of counterfactuals: well, all scientific reasoning relies heavily on counterfactuals — indeed, the dominant view of causation relies on counterfactuals! The counterfactual statements are elements of the model, which is constrained by data — and one of the ways the data enters into the counterfactual statements of the model is by use of control groups, double-blind experiments, and the like.

  23. Well, KN, I just don’t understand how you can post here at Uncommon Descent in good faith without having read What Darwin Got Wrong.

    :)

    The moral so far is: selection-for problems need to appeal to counterfactuals if they are to distinguish between coextensive hypotheses whether it’s the theory of association or the theory of adaptation that raises the question.

    – Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entr.....erfactual/

  24. So, what is a counterfactual and what is it’s relationship to the real world?

  25. 25

    Well, KN, I just don’t understand how you can post here at Uncommon Descent in good faith without having read What Darwin Got Wrong.

    I guess my faith isn’t that good! Not that I’m posting in bad faith, mind you. Mostly-decent faith?

    So, what is a counterfactual and what is it’s relationship to the real world?

    Well, bearing in mind that counterfactuals isn’t exactly my strongest of suits . . . I’d say that counterfactuals are ways that the world isn’t, but could have been, and they apply to the real world by allowing us to identify the causal powers that generate observable phenomena.

    For example, “if the camp-fire had been put out properly, the forest fire wouldn’t have started.” That’s a counterfactual — the forest fire did start, after all. And lots of other conditions enabled the forest fire — the presence of oxygen, lots of combustible material, the absence of very strong magnetic field . . . so when we engage in causal reasoning, we use counterfactuals to identify that cause without which all the other enabling factors would not have resulted in the observed phenomena.

    Put otherwise, if abstained from using counterfactual statements entirely, we could not classify some events as “causes” and others as “effects” — there just be the description of the flow of temporally ordered events.

    Bear in mind that this isn’t my area of focus; that’s just how it seems to me, based on what little I have read about the issue.

Leave a Reply