# Re: The 'no miracles' argument against scientific realism

```On 5/15/2010 1:32 PM, Rex Allen wrote:
```
```On Fri, May 14, 2010 at 1:10 AM, Brent Meeker<meeke...@dslextreme.com>  wrote:
```
```On 5/13/2010 9:27 PM, Rex Allen wrote:
```
```Either the initial conditions were fine-tuned or the physical laws
were fine-tuned to produce reliable knowledge.```
```
```
```What happened to "...a wide variety of initial conditions will ultimately
"converge" with the result that
conscious entities have this knowledge."  That's contrary to "fine-tuning".
```
```Okay, in the discussion that follows:  the algorithm is analogous to
the laws of physics; the unsorted input list is analogous to "initial
conditions"; and producing a correctly sorted list from this input is
analogous to arriving at "reliable knowledge".

any unsorted list and it will "converge" to a sorted version of that
list.

So regardless of the initial condition of the data, the result will
always be the same:  a perfectly sorted list.

This happens because the Quicksort algorithm is very finely-tuned.
Unlike most other algorithms, this one is perfectly suited to produce
sorted lists from a "wide variety of initial conditions."

2)  Fine-tuned initial conditions:  Alternatively, you could have an
algorithm that will only produce a sorted list when provided with a
very specific "unsorted" initial input data.  Freshman Computer
Science students sometimes produce this type of "sort algorithm."  It
only correctly sorts when provided with one particular starting
list...which happens to be the list they tested with before turning in
their homework assignment.  If you run their (supposed) sort algorithm
on any other unsorted input data, then the output will not be a
correctly sorted list.

So in this case, arriving at the correct solution ("reliable
knowledge") is entirely a function of the initial conditions.  The
initial conditions must be very fine-tuned for that algorithm to give
correct results.

Right?
```
```
```
I don't know what "fine tuned" means in this context. You're back to the measurement problem. If it is observed that unsorted lists of words (for example) sort themselves alphabetically, then one might hypothesize a "law of physics" to explain this. And physicists seeking to test this law might hypothesize different ways it works. One might speculate it works like Quicksort while another hypothesizes it works like Bubblesort. This quickly leads to an experimental test. By preparing different initial lists and seeing how long it takes for them to be sorted the test may favor Quicksort over Bubblesort. But of course there are infinitely many different sort algorithms which would produce the same results. So one just takes the more favored, simplest one.
```

```
```Note that the Randomized Quicksort can even be said to be
indeterministic.  And yet it still reliably and efficiently produces
correctly sorted lists from any initial conditions.

```
```Regardless, why is this kind of "reliable knowledge" more desirable
than the reliable knowledge of ephemeral thoughts?  You seem to imply
that it is "better".  Why?

```
```There is no "knowledge of ephemeral thoughts".  Knowledge, by definition is
a kind of thought that refers, but emphemeral thoughts don't refer.  So they
cannot be knowledge.
```
```Even assuming physicalism, I can have thoughts that refer only to
"ephemeral" things...including other thoughts (not explicitly to the
material substrate that instantiates the thoughts).

It would seem to me that one ephemeral thought could refer to another
ephemeral thought.  And ephemeral thoughts could refer to perceptions,
impressions, emotions, "ideas", whatever...the same kinds of things
that "non-ephemeral" thoughts can refer to.

Again, I don't know that I am looking at a *real* book, but I
definitely know that I am having the experience of looking at book.

Another definition of knowledge is "a true, justified belief."

So how would I justify my belief that I am looking at a real book that
exists independently of my perceptions of it?

My belief that I am having the experience of looking at a book is
undeniably true and justified, as I have direct knowledge of my
experiences.

It is inconceivable to me that I could be wrong about what I experience.
```
```
```
It's inconceivable that "I am looking at a real book." can have any meaning unless there are real books and real looking at them and a real "I". So you can only have certainty at the price of losing all reference.
```
```
```
```
```So...you'd rather be a material cog in a (deterministic or
probabilistic) rule-driven physical machine than an insubstantial
entity composed entirely of ephemeral thoughts.

```
```I'd rather be system that interacts with a universe of physical systems and
thereby form thoughts correlated with the rest of the universe.  I dont'
think "physical" adds anything - it's just a word that indicates some
external reality.  Why do you find it preferable to be dreamer?
```
```The coherence, scope, and simplicity of the idea is attractive.

And being correlated with something beyond my experiences isn't that
big an attraction.

Though, ultimately I think the two options are interchangeable in
terms of their "usefulness".  I don't necessarily see that believing
one over the other would result in different decisions.

A rule-driven cog in a vast implacable machine.

OR, not even a dreamer, but rather just a dream.

In either case:  Why are things this way?  There is no reason.  They just are.
```
```
```
Reasons are relative. You can keep asking, "Why?" about each successive explanation until you finally get,"Because I'm the Mommy and I say so." But just because the sequence bottomed out, doesn't mean all the previous answers weren't reasons.
```
```
```

```
```I wonder why you have
that preference?  What causes you to be that way?

```
```The laws of physics and reality.
```
```What are "the laws of physics", do you think?  Are they real things,
which we approximate with our scientific theories?  Or is there really
no necessity behind how events transpire?
```
I think "the laws of physics" are our inventions to explain the regularities we observe. Is there *really* some necessity in how events transpire. I don't know how to answer questions with *really* in them. It's my best theory that there is some necessity in how events transpire and I'm willing to use it as a guide to thought and action. Note that in science, even while there has been an enormous advance in the scope and precision of fundamental theories, there has also been an excision of things which are given an explanation. Quantum mechanics has inherent randomness, the weak and electromagnetic force are unified but their relative values are due to random symmetry breaking. We don't look for a scientific explanation for the shape of continents. Darwinian evolution is based on a postulate of random variation.
```
```
```What explains reality's consistency, predictability, and order?  Does
anything explain it?  Or is it just that way?
```
```

```
Those are the hypothesized characteristics of reality such that it can explain regularities of experience.
```
```
```

```
```I don't see any significant difference in the two options.

```
```You don't see a theory can be useful?
```
```I agree that a theory can *seem* useful.
```
```
```
In your example of looking at a book you find no difference between "seeming to look at a book" and "looking at a book", so it to be consistent you should have the same attitude toward "useful": "seems useful" = "useful". Bertrand Russell remarked on the negative version of this, "Unfortunately it is the prerogative of evil that to seem so is to
```be so."

```
```But again, beyond the
appearance, what is usefulness to a rule-driven cog?  Or to a dream?

```
```I incline towards the later because I know that my conscious
experiences exist, and I don't see how positing an
inferred-but-unexplained physical world which somehow causes my

```
```So are your thoughts all miracles?
```
```Only to the same extent that a physicalist considers to existence and
nature of the universe to be a miracle.

```
```Tangentially:  isn't your claim that you are only interested in theory
to the extent that it is "useful", essentially a skeptical position?

```
```That's not my only interest in theories, but it's one.

What are your other interests with respect to theories?

```
```Coherence, scope, simplicity.
```
```I don't see my position as lacking in any of these categories when
compared to physicalism.

```
```
```
No, it only lacks usefulness because it implies that nothing can refer, can be given an operational meaning. Which is why I only cited usefulness.
```
Brent

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