Re: [asa] Evolution and history compulsory

From: dfsiemensjr <>
Date: Sun Nov 22 2009 - 22:28:21 EST

You're right about the thick stuff, but that is characteristic of
philosophy. Give a philosopher and inch and he'll take confusion to the
extreme. I know that epistemology comes from one of the Greek words for
knowledge and ontology from the present participle of to be. Ontology is
a part of metaphysics, the latter named for the fact that Aristotle's
treatise followed the one on physics in the ancient edition.

I think you are saying in the second paragraph what I was trying to
communicate. What one thinks he knows is what he thinks exists, and the
ordinary individual will go along with the tacit premise that he is
right. The professional philosopher may complicate matters, as Kant
placed noumena beyond knowledge. It's been several decades since I read
Quine and I don't think I messed with Putnam at all. But I was not that
impressed with Quine and only half-jokingly said that Kant was my test
for error: if he said it it was probably wrong.

As to capturing reality, it is not so farfetched if we are created in the
image and likeness of the Creator. As to using mathematics, its formulas
are tautological, necessarily true. So, if the observations fit one side
of an equation, the consequences will also fit observations, "real" or
potential. Science becomes more difficult when the observations are not
readily quantified, as also when the only measurements that fit get into
the higher reaches of mathematics. I recall meeting a physics grad
student twice, separated by several years. He had gotten his doctorate in
math, noting that he had to have as much math to do the physics. So he
took the easier road.
Dave (ASA)

On Sun, 22 Nov 2009 07:53:07 -0700 (MST) Bill Powers <>
> Dave:
> You're walking into thick stuff here.
> It's like the endless debate between realism and anti-realism in
> their
> many varieties.
> We could say that 'objectivity' is a matter of convention or mutual
> agreement, but that isn't really what is meant by ontology.
> We could say that ontology is what we say 'being' is. We say that
> there
> are things called 'particles,' like the entire atomic thesis. In
> doing so
> we enumerate some list of essential properties, a kind of template.
> Is
> such a list a matter of semantics? Is it more related to what
> 'really'
> is, or could we be wrong? Witness the wave/particle confusion. Is
> it
> that the 'world' doesn't fit our categories? If so, then are our
> categories inadequate, our ontology wrong, or is the 'world' really
> paradoxical?
> It seems to me that we can draw distinctions between epistemology
> and
> ontology and be wrong about all of it. Ontology does not mean what
> 'really' and certainly is. It means, or could mean, what we posit
> to be
> and what being is like. In this sense, there is surely a
> relationship
> between epistemology and ontology. How do we come to know, or
> decree
> what being is like? Perhaps, a la Kant, we don't. We begin with
> it,
> and can begin no other way, or cannot begin without it. It seems we
> could also suggest an abductive process, wherein our knowing and
> what we
> take to be are mutually involved in a process of correction and
> modification.
> In an absolutist sense, there is what is and there is our coming to
> know
> what is. The former is ontology, the latter epistemology. In a
> metaphysical realism, such as this, there is little or no
> participation
> of our knowing and what is. As Putnam points out, in this case
> there
> is, then, no reason not to believe that our very best understandings
> of
> the world could be completely and utterly wrong. He argues this to
> support his more moderate realism in which we participate in the
> creation (in some sense) of the world. The world is familiar to us
> because we, in part, create it. (I may not be remembering this
> exactly
> right.) But if we follow this suggestion, there are no such things
> as
> natural types, but rather ontologies that we create and understand
> because they are ideas in our mind and not in God's mind. So our
> notions of truth are closer to us, in some sense possessing an
> internal
> criteria, for they are our ideas, and our world. You can see the
> problem, if we are really trying to think the ideas of another,
> viz.,
> God.
> What Putnam and others attempts to describe then is what human
> knowledge
> (not bat knowledge) is like, and it perhaps can be true, but not in
> the
> classical correspondence way, at least not without some clever
> nuance.
> I suppose, if not Putnam, then Quine, would say that there really is
> no
> way that the world 'really' is, and I think that they might argue
> this
> even if there is a God. What this means, however, is that there
> could
> be many physics, many ontologies, perhaps even many epistemologies.
> Epistemology is not merely a matter of human psychology, something
> we
> presume to be somewhat universal. But what counts for 'evidence'
> and
> what for an 'explanation' or theory evaluation can and has changed
> even
> in the West. So there can surely be many paradigms of science.
> But I guess that I'm still something of a metaphysical realist for I
> beleive that it really is true that the very best we could do could
> be
> utterly wrong. Indeed, it amazes me that we could believe that we
> can
> 'capture' reality in ideas and mathematics. Unlike high energy
> physicists, I am not a Platonist, and believe that the particular,
> as
> God, cannot be universalized or made into an idea. Ultimately, God
> and
> reality is then beyond Law and indescribable or comprehendible.
> bill
> On Sat, 21
> Nov 2009, dfsiemensjr wrote:
> > I'm having a problem with a strict separation of epistemological
> and
> > ontological. Part of the problem springs from the fact that
> objectivity
> > is a matter of intersubjective agreement. No matter what we
> measure, it
> > all comes down to passing through a human being's senses and mind.
> In
> > some experiments, the mass of data is so immense that people
> cannot keep
> > up with it, so computers sort through the mass and pick out
> "interesting"
> > items for the scientists to look at. In others, the computations
> are so
> > difficult that simplifications have to be used, sometimes with
> weird
> > consequences. But it finally depends on people.
> >
> > Regarding the speed of light, how do I differentiate what I
> understand of
> > the measurement and the way the universe is? With such matters,
> how well
> > do our terminologies match "reality"? We consider statements to be
> either
> > true or false (that's XOR) even when we don't know which, but
> qubits take
> > all values simultaneously. With regard to the formulas that make
> up the
> > strict sciences, Poincare a century ago noted that any set of
> data
> > fitting the least action principle will match an infinite number
> of
> > formulas. From what I can gather without the specialized training
> in the
> > multiple disciplines, there are different consequences to the
> several
> > possibilities. So what have we nailed down absolutely? It is well
> that we
> > talk of confirmation rather than proof. Even in mathematics, one
> chooses
> > the axioms with their undefined primitives before starting on
> proofs
> > depending on them.
> >
> > Epistemology and ontology are philosophical terms, which puts
> them
> > outside of the testability inherent in the sciences. With no
> better test
> > than logical consistency, there are more systems than I like to
> face. It'
> > not just the just who live by faith.
> > Dave (ASA)
> >
> > On Sat, 21 Nov 2009 13:31:40 -0600 "Jon Tandy"
> <>
> > writes:
> >> I don't remember about quantum mechanics, but I believe it is
> true of
> >> both QM and relativity that there are mathematical formulas
> >> involved. Even if only an introductory, qualitative, version is
> >> taught in lower grades where students aren't prepared for the
> math,
> >> that does NOT make it "not science". That's what it sounds like
> you
> >> are saying. It only means that they are being taught a less
> >> rigorous version of the subject. To say that something must be
> >> empirical, math and formula based, etc., in order to be science
> is a
> >> philosophical supposition that the ontology of nature must
> follow
> >> the precision of mathematical formulas.
> >>
> >> Whether Einstein "got it right" is the wrong question. The
> answer
> >> is, certainly he did get it right, as do every scientist who
> doesn't
> >> have the perfect knowledge of God. It is true that the speed of
> >> light may be about epistemology rather than ontology, but what
> else
> >> do you have? I would dare say we don't know much about ontology
> >> (the way things really are) except through experience and
> >> measurement. QM and the appearance of "common descent" could
> both
> >> be tricks of God, but as scientists we have to look at the data,
> >> analyze, extrapolate, and ultimately make educated guesses about
> the
> >> ontology.
> >>
> >> As to why QM was brought up in this thread, I don't recall, but I
> >> think it was a rhetorical comment that has since branched off
> from
> >> the original point. But I will respond to one comment that was
> made
> >> earlier. If the teaching of biological evolution were pushed
> back
> >> into the 11th or 12th grade instead of 9th grade biology, it
> >> wouldn't make any difference whatsoever to the public dispute,
> >> legality, etc. Those opposed to evolution will oppose it
> wherever
> >> it is taught, and those who say that evolution must be taught in
> >> school because of the scientific strength of the evidence will
> say it
> >> regardless of the grade. And those who rule that creationism
> can't
> >> be taught as an alternative will say the same whether it's 9th
> or
> >> 12th grade, at least in the context of publicly funded schools.
> >>
> >> Jon Tandy
> >>
> >>
> >> -----Original Message-----
> >> From:
> []
> >> On Behalf Of wjp
> >> Sent: Saturday, November 21, 2009 8:41 AM
> >> To: Schwarzwald
> >> Cc:
> >> Subject: Re: [asa] Evolution and history compulsory
> >> Importance: Low
> >>
> >> I'm not certain why teaching QM in high school has come up.
> >> QM can be taught in a number of ways.
> >>
> >> I remember by undergraduate and graduate classes in QM as
> primarily
> >> a study of mathematics & mathematical approximation, often guided
> by
> >> a presumed happy union with semi-classical methods and ways of
> >> thinking.
> >>
> >> It was taught simply as a physicist's tool, little, if nothing,
> was
> >> said of various metaphysical or philosophical interpretations.
> >>
> >> It is only in the last 20 years that I have begun to think of
> the
> >> supposed philosophical implications, both for the nature of the
> >> world and the nature of science.
> >>
> >> What would be said in a high school QM class where none of the
> >> mathematics would be presented? Wouldn't it be all
> interpretation,
> >> all philosophy?
> >> It sounds like it would be some popular exposition, more like a
> >> religion class.
> >>
> >> The same can be said of all of physics, including SR and GR.
> >> Without the mathematics, what are we left with? We are not left
> >> with tools, but studies of the nature of the world and the nature
> of
> >> epistemology. This is interesting stuff, but it is NOT science.
> >> Witness, for example, that 100 years after Einstein's landmark
> 1905
> >> paper on SR, and the relativity of simultaneity it is still be
> >> debated whether Einstein "got it right." Not that people doubt
> the
> >> mathematics and the physics. They doubt whether Einstein's
> >> arguments are correct. They doubt, as for QM, whether it speaks
> of
> >> epistemology or ontology.
> >> Yet, it seems to me, that from the beginning it was about
> >> epistemology.
> >> Even the light postulate says that all observers will *measure*
> the
> >> same speed of light regardless of their "inertial" frame relative
> to
> >> the source.
> >> It appears to strictly speaking be saying something about
> >> measurement and nothing about ontology. It is silent on what is
> >> behind the empiricism.
> >> In as much as science relies upon observable results, we are
> bound
> >> only to what can be observed. For all we know, it could be a
> trick
> >> of God.
> >>
> >> So, tell me, what have I missed. Why teach QM, and what would
> be
> >> taught?
> >>
> >> bill
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
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> >>
> >
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Received on Sun Nov 22 22:32:00 2009

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