Saturday, August 05, 2006
The Dawn of Reason?
It has been about a week since my last entry. The longest stint since beginning this blog. You have my apologies for this, yet it seems whenever I turn my thoughts to the subject of time, as I had in my last post, it sets my head into a protracted wonder mode. When this happens all other thoughts seem to end up on the back burner. With this said what it is I’d like to return to today, is this subject of “how” and “why” this split between science and philosophy occurred. When I last addressed this I was speaking of Newton and what his thoughts on the expansion of human understanding and it’s methods were. What we discovered was although Newton was certain there was a underlying scheme to nature, he was also equally certain, that asking the “why” question would not serve to help discover it. Basically what he thought is as many do today, that science will only extend human understanding by focusing on the “how” questions, through what he indicated was already a predescribed method. He synopsised this method as you recall in saying:
This on the face of it looks like a very straight forward statement. However, if examined more closely you find it to be something quite complex. The first thing that could be misunderstood is perhaps the only system of logic that is utilized by the modern science is that of induction. One also has to understand that this induction is not of the common type, for it would be better described as induction through exhaustion. This is what I previously described as the “typing monkey method”. Let’s first take a definition of inductive reasoning from Wikipedia:
“In this philosophy particular propositions are inferred from the phænomena, and afterwards rendered general by induction.”
Now as many of you know, inductive reasoning, while useful, has the central flaw of not on its own being all that reliable. Also, inductive statements are further categorised generally into two types, which are “strong” and “weak”. An example of a strong inductive statement would be, “ all observed polar bears are white so therefore all polar bears are white”. The first problem here is that it is assumed that every polar bear has been observed and of course that is not the case. The second is if we find a bear that is say, black instead of white, although living in the artic, does this mean therefore it is not a polar bear. The weak inductive statements can pose even greater difficulty. An example of this might be, “ All my pants have zippers so therefore all pants have zippers". I don’t think I need to point out where the fault is with this. So now one might assume that the whole method could be flawed if solely dependant on induction. Happily it is not, for it also is dependant on what is called deductive reasoning. This however is not all that self evident in Newton’s statement, as it has been disguised or belittled somewhat as the word “inferred”. What then does “infer” mean. The Oxford defines it as “to deduce or conclude”. In the “Free Dictionary” its defined as “To conclude from evidence or premises”. So now let’s look at what deductive reasoning is. Again from Wikipedia they state:
“Induction or inductive reasoning, sometimes called inductive logic, is the process of reasoning in which the premises of an argument support the conclusion but do not ensure it.”
Deductive reasoning is reasoning in which the conclusion is necessitated by previously known facts - the premises: if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true
So now then, how does this differ from the inductive method? As a example of a deductive statement one could assert," in as the polar bear is above the ice sheet, and since the ice sheet is above the earth, therefore the polar bear is also above the earth.". Now deductive process can also be flawed if the connection between what is considered the premise and what is deduced has not been truly established as a commonality. For instance I might say: All polar bears dislike the heat, I dislike the heat, so therefore I am a polar bear. In general, the process of deduction is dependant on first sighting self evident truths, so then if they are true so is your conclusion. As can be seen here, we have two systems, which in a sense could be considered diametrically opposed. Induction, were nothing is assumed true, nor can it be and deduction, where some things are taken as true by their nature or taken as a given. This is then what would appear to be two incompatible systems that science uses to expand its knowledge of the natural world.
But how can this be accomplished? Well the way this has been carried out for the most part is to minimize the use of the deductive process and when one cannot in some sense disguise it. The deductive process for the most part lay hidden from view to many inside what are its mathematical formalisms and also the hunches I have previously mentioned. The part that is there for all to see is the inductive process, were everything is suspect and nothing assumed. This is considered by many not only to be the core but also the strength of modern science.
So once again you might ask, how did we end up here? Now as I have relayed before, it is not something that appeared out of thin air. It is rather something that has occurred over the course of time within the context of certain events. What I can say is, that there was a time, a place and a person in which all this crystallized, to take what is for the most part its final form, as it is perceived today. The time was 1620. The place was London, England and that person was Francis Bacon. The crystallisation, as I have so called it, was with a paper I have before mentioned, entitled, “Novum Organum” or “New Instrument”, for those who were not required to study Latin. In this paper Bacon outlined and promoted a method by which he said man in general and science to be specific must follow, if it hoped to significantly improve human understanding of the natural world. Now I've considered the ways I might explain and portray the nature and focus of this document, for there appeared to be many. It then should be established that Bacon thought that the inductive method or what would be better expressed as Bacon's inductive process, is the meat of what he viewed as the true methodology for all of science. Let’s first confirm what Bacon had in mind as to the utility and scope of his proposed method. In the introduction of his treaties he states:
As one can see here Bacon had both great hope and aspirations for what he considered his new method. In fact, in some sense he was correct to make such a boast, for his method for the most part, still serves today as the blue print of science.
“But if there be any man who, not content to rest in and use the knowledge which has already been discovered, aspires to penetrate further; to overcome, not an adversary in argument, but nature in action; to seek, not pretty and probable conjectures, but certain and demonstrable knowledge — I invite all such to join themselves, as true sons of knowledge, with me, that passing by the outer courts of nature, which numbers have trodden, we may find a way at length into her inner chambers.”
Now does Bacon stop at natural philosophy. Let’s quote him again from this document as he proposes the following:
Here we find that this method is proposed to govern and guide all mans conception and aspirations of truth along with its resultant considered actions. It could be argued that Bacon’s insight and ambition for the most part has held sway in terms of the form and condition of our society and its thinking. Now here you will find that Bacon held induction as the key and central tenet of this method. Now I quote him in as saying:
“It may also be asked (in the way of doubt rather than objection) whether I speak of natural philosophy only, or whether I mean that the other sciences, logic, ethics, and politics, should be carried on by this method. Now I certainly mean what I have said to be understood of them all; and as the common logic, which governs by the syllogism, extends not only to natural but to all sciences, so does mine also, which proceeds by induction, embrace everything.”
Now for those who are not familiar with what the term “syllogism” , it refers in general to the whole method and practice of deductive reasoning. What he is contending here, is that deduction should not be trusted and only with inductive reasoning can be discovered what he insists to be reliable truth. What he calls “true induction” is a induction rooted in doubt and only satisfied through exhaustion. These are of course concepts which I have discussed in earlier posts. So what do I mean by exhaustive induction? Let’s see what Bacon thinks this should entail when he goes further in saying:
“The syllogism consists of propositions, propositions consist of words, words are symbols of notions. Therefore if the notions themselves (which is the root of the matter) are confused and overhastily abstracted from the facts, there can be no firmness in the superstructure. Our only hope therefore lies in a true induction. “
"In establishing axioms, another form of induction must be devised than has hitherto been employed, and it must be used for proving and discovering not first principles (as they are called) only, but also the lesser axioms, and the middle, and indeed all. For the induction which proceeds by simple enumeration is childish; its conclusions are precarious and exposed to peril from a contradictory instance; and it generally decides on too small a number of facts, and on those only which are at hand”With this Bacon has proposed that all then givens along with all devices of deduction be discarded and replaced by only those discovered within the method of induction. You at this point could counter, how does this resemble our current method for where is the mathematics that is today so much a part of science? Here you will find your answer for he then states;
We have here found Bacon to make an exception to the deductive exclusion and that is in the acceptance of the deductive process when expressed through mathematics. For Bacon considers mathematics can be trusted to be part of the process. More specifically the equation. Now that sounds more like modern science doesn’t it.
“the mathematical postulate that if two things are equal to the same thing they are equal to one another is conformable with the rule of the syllogism in logic which unites propositions agreeing in a middle term.”
Now I could go on for some time, discussing Bacon and his method in relation to the way we now endeavor to understand the world . However, on one hand I am fearful that I might in so doing, lose a couple of what as I perceive as my so few readers. Also, I would like to leave something for yourself on your own to discover or perhaps even find reason for you to take exception as to what I contend. However, before I put this to rest, let me quote Bacon once more, after which I will sum up. As my last quote Bacon writes:
What I would like to emphasize from this, is that Bacon himself admits and insists what I have claimed science views as the limit of human understanding. For Bacon tells us that man, has not the capacity to know anything as a given or a preconceived truth. Now in regards to this I must be honest and say I cannot take issue with him at all. For I surely do not know. What I do take issue with here I express within the following two points. First, as I have shown in earlier posts, science could not function at all without preconceived notions or considering foreknowledge of what is true. Not just in the mathematical sense, for which Bacon so graciously allows, but also in the more general case , which I have also previously demonstrated as the hunches that can be viewed as “qualities” of the general characteristics of nature. So in effect Bacon’s method and thereby that of science's is not executed as we perceive or as many of the vocation proclaim. My second and what I consider the most important point to be made, is that despite Bacon's premise and science in its practice, these have not served to demonstrate that the “why” questions of nature and its process, has no place in science or lacks ability to expand human understanding. Later in the course of this blog I will speak of those who broke Bacon’s and thus science's rules to not only ask the question “why” but also admit that they have. You may be surprised to discover who they are and what this has achieved.
“To God, truly, the Giver and Architect of Forms, and it may be to the angels and higher intelligences, it belongs to have an affirmative knowledge of forms immediately, and from the first contemplation. But this assuredly is more than man can do, to whom it is granted only to proceed at first by negatives, and at last to end in affirmatives after exclusion has been exhausted.”
thanks for the insights. I was looking for a Blog on western philosophy to see if there are any real advancements of our understanding of this world and reality utilising logic, reason, conceptual, dualistic and discriminative Mind Activity. It seems even here, we are forever re-examining and quoting the old Masters on this subject.
My question would be this: Do you ever get utterly frustrated by the insight that western philosophy, religion and science combined or on their own, are obviously unable to produce any real answers to the fundamental questions we have about the existence of a perceived Ego Self in this reality?
We think, therefore we are! But once we are, we are forever confused by the methods we use to define our existence! That, in my understanding of ZEN, is the final conclusion of our efforts of analysing only our physical and mental experience of reality based primarily on our sensory perceptions.
We are forever stuck looking at the back end of this process not realising that we created this world and reality to begin with and that Mind is all there is in the end. Our analysis of Cause & Effect limited strictly to our sensory perceptions and mental evaluations of those experiences is bit like running around in a tiny little circle. A Difference Engine going absolutely nowhere!
Since in my opinion, a fundamentally different approach is required and in order to establish a better understanding of our appearance in this world and reality, my next post on my Blog will have the following title:
The Dawn of No Reason!
Thanks & Best
El Arne Clausen