And, quite possibly, being less than all sorts of realist.
We have stirred the pot and faced the difficulties we have with talking about reality. Having used our intuition to guide us in classifying what is real (Re-Assembling Reality #15) we found intuition to be less helpful that we had hoped. We then (in #16) considered other terms like natural (and un-natural), material (and immaterial), and physical (and un-physical). Still, none of these quite scratched the itch. …
Considering epistemic realism.
What are the causal connections between my brain and the universe? And in which direction does that causality flow? Ontological realism (discussed in Re-Assembling Reality #17a) decoupled the universe from my brain, in as much as it claimed that me believing something to be true is causally unrelated to that thing being true. I cannot say “I am ten feet tall because I believe I am ten feet tall.”
But what about causality in the other direction?
Is my brain coupled to the universe, in as much…
Considering semantic realism.
“The sun is rising.”
We know what we mean by this. Everyone knows what we mean by this. No one points the finger and says “That’s a lie!” It’s not a lie. Its just that what we mean is not the same as the literal meaning of what we say. And no-one, in this instance, expects the literal meaning of what we say to be what is really happening.
The sun is not rising. The earth is rotating. And Hong Kong is being pointed towards the sun…
Considering ontological realism.
The monster that lives under my bed. My imaginary friend. My past life as the emperor of France. The way the guy on the train looked at me. These things haunt me, console me, drive me on, or hold me back.
But when I raise this fact, what do people say?
“That’s not real! You’re making it up! It’s all in your head!”
If such people are correct, then the bad news I must face is that I was never emperor of France. The good news is…
We can try naturalism, materialism, and physicalism, but they leave us disappointed.
The Ultimate Reality is a term with strong religious overtones. Whether it is thought to be God, or Nirvana, or Brahman, or Death, there is something religious going on. Science also seems to concern itself with reality. It confronts the nature of reality in the lab, or wrestles with the nature of reality in its equations.
Reality, then, might provide a point of contact between religious practice and scientific practice. …
More things need to be true than we usually realise.
In the last few Essays we have picked apart truth in any number of ways. We considered universal and relative truths (#8, #10); objective and subjective truths (#7, #10, #11); and phenomenological and noumenological truths (#13). But throughout this we have assumed that truth is a property of factual statements. In this Essay we will consider a kind of truth that is not restricted to facts.
A statement is a sentence that is either true or false.
That seems simple…
Understanding science’s relation to the unseen.
Does science seek truth? Can science find truth? How certain can we be of any apparent truths science finds?
Science has a long history of being considered to be truth-seeking. The full title of René Descartes’ Discourse on Method is Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences. That seems pretty unambiguous. The idea persists to this day. John Polkinghorne, physicist and priest, is an advocate for such a position. He makes this clear in books…
Why can’t we all agree about science?
The nice thing about science is that it rests on evidence. Information which is publicly available, shared, and agreed upon. The basic facts of science, while they might fall short of objectivity in its purist form, at least get very close to that ideal. This is why science, unlike religion, commands universal acceptance.
OK, not quite universal. There are weirdos and wackos who don’t accept the truth that is staring them in the face. Creationists and anti-vaxxers and climate-change deniers. But anyone who…
Thinking about claims which are not universal or not objective.
In our earlier essays we have seen that science looks less like a systematic, objective, universal search for truth, and more like some parochial, culturally constrained, make-it-up-as-you-go-along enterprise. At each step we have been circling round truth, developing the half-articulated impression that something strange is happening to science’s relationship with truth. The time has finally come to face the issue squarely.
The Enlightenment vision of science held that scientific truth had to be universal and objective. Some versions of the…
It can’t be both.
In the Enlightenment vision of science that we discussed in Re-Assembling Reality #5, people demand (or expect, or at least hope) that science be universal. Scientific statements should hold for all people, at all times, in all places. Anything that falls short of this does not deserve the accolade of being called “science.”
It is reasonably clear that science can make universal statements. Consider the statement, “hydrogen atoms are neutral.” You can pass on this information, knowing that it holds for all people, at all times…