Pruett on Scientism

I am happy to report that my back is now completely healed up from its recent travails, and I can now sit in perfect comfort for arbitrarily long periods of time. So let’s see if we can wake up this sleepy little blog…

My friend Dave Pruett, recently retired from a long and successful career right here in the JMU Math Department, seems determined to keep me in blog fodder for a while. He’s recently been writing for HuffPo. We considered his first post here. Now he’s back with a new entry. Jerry Coyne has already weighed in. Let’s have a look of our own.

Dave is arguing for some sort of concordat between science and religion. I would be more specific, but I honestly don’t understand what he’s actually claiming. My main criticism of his essay is that I wish he would be more careful about defining his terms. Here’s the opening:

In a 1983 address to an international symposium on Galileo, Pope John Paul II issued a stunning pronouncement:

The Church is convinced that there can be no real contradiction between science and faith. … It is certain that science and faith represent two different orders of knowledge, autonomous in their processes, but finally converging upon the discovery of reality in all its aspects…

Given centuries of animosity between science and religion, the pontiff’s admission astounds for several reasons. First, it stresses the complementarity rather than the antagonism of rational and intuitive modes of knowing. Second, it grants autonomy to both revelatory processes, implying that neither should seek to manipulate or triumph over the other. And third, it suggests that ultimate truth — so far as we can know it — emerges from the concerted efforts of external and internal explorations.

I’d like to know more about these “intuitive modes of knowing.” What methods do they employ, and what knowledge have we obtained by applying them? Dave sets them up in opposition to “rational” modes of knowing, which leaves me wondering what a non-rational mode of knowing looks like.

The bigger problem, though, is that the Pope said nothing about “intuitive modes of knowing.” Nor did he talk about “internal explorations.” He talked about faith, and when the Pope uses that term he is not talking about anything as benign as a few moments of meditation and introspection. He is referring instead to faith in the tenets of his church. These are tenets you are not permitted to challenge, on pain of putting your eternal soul in jeopardy. Let us recall that the Pope leads a church that claims a unique authority to interpret the Bible, and claims to know in great detail what God wants from us. He even claims to be able to speak infallibly at least some of the time. The most arrogant materialist has nothing to learn about humility from such a man.

I know Dave well enough to know that he does not subscribe to any standard religious creed. He would not be impressed with someone who argued, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Hence my confusion. His essay is all about exhorting scientists to be more humble and to be cognizant of other modes of knowing. Then he opens with a quote from the Pope, whose primary mode of knowing is his own self-proclaimed authority to hold forth infallibly on the ways of God. He takes the “faith” referred to by the Pope, and transforms it into vague musings about “intuitive modes of knowing” and “internal explorations.”

Hence my frustration with the lack of precision.

Dave continues:

But the devil is in the details. Autonomy among those in relationship is best preserved when each party maintains a clear and robust boundary and a high degree of integrity. I’ll defer to the philosophers to painstakingly demarcate the domains of science and religion, but one thing is certain: Most of the historic animosity between them is due to boundary infractions. And both parties are guilty.

I’m afraid it won’t do to defer to the philosophers on this one. Not, at least, if Dave wants to convince anyone that science has infringed on the proper domain of religion. “Religion” is such a broad term that you have to tell me what you mean by it before I even know what you are claiming. If we are talking about the kind of religion that is based on the teachings of sacred texts, or which claims that its clerics have special insight into the ways of God, then I do not agree that science has ever infringed on religion’s proper domain, since such forms of religion have no proper domain.

As it happens, I don’t think Dave is talking about that kind of religion. My impression is that he goes in more for Native American type spirituality, and not for creed-based religions. But this makes it all the more important that he explain precisely what he means by “religion,” that he tells us exactly the methods his version of religion uses to acquire knowledge, and then tells us what knowledge has been acquired by these means.

Moving on:

The violations of science’s domain by religion are numerous, well known and egregious. Particularly odious was the church’s burning of Giordano Bruno at the stake in 1600 for multiple “heresies” that included the promotion of Copernicanism (the idea that the Earth orbits the Sun rather than vice versa), a suspicion that the stars are suns like our own and a belief in the plurality of worlds. Close on the heels of Bruno’s demise came the trial of Galileo of 1632-3 in which the Inquisition convicted the world’s most eminent scientist of heresies “more scandalous, more detestable, and more pernicious to Christianity than any contained in the books of Calvin, of Luther, and of all other heretics put together.” Galileo’s life was spared when he signed a confession recanting the “heresy” of Copernicanism; however, he remained under house arrest for the duration of his life.

Skirmishes between science and religion persist. Today’s religious fundamentalists periodically attempt to force the teaching of creationism (or one of its many guises) in public schools, in violation both of science’s domain and the constitutional separation of church and state. For a short summary of the most recent major skirmish, the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, see pages 89-90 of Jason Rosenhouse’s Among the Creationists (Oxford, 2012).

Well said! I think Dave is especially insightful in his choice of references here. I am slowly reading his book-length treatment of these topics, and I am happy to report that he has passed one of my big litmus tests for books on this topic: he does not soft-pedal what happened to Galileo. He does not try to claim that the whole thing was just a political affair and not really about science and religion at all, nor does he claim that Galileo was really not treated all that badly.

Science’s infractions are subtler but equally damaging to the human spirit. During an enlightening lecture in 2000 by religion scholar Huston Smith, I began to appreciate how science infringes on religion’s domain. Smith thoughtfully distinguished science from scientism. The former is an investigative protocol; the latter is a religion, complete with dogma. Science is a formalized procedure for making sense of the world by studying its material properties, perceived through the awareness of the senses, albeit senses heightened by modern marvels such as the electron microscope, the Hubble Space Telescope or the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Scientism (or scientific materialism), on the other hand, adds to science a statement of faith: The universe is only material. Moreover, given the spectacular successes of science over the past three centuries, it is more than fair to acknowledge that science represents a powerful way to learn about the world. But scientism ups the ante: Science is the best (or only) way to make sense of the world. In short, scientism is to science what fundamentalism is to religion: cocksure and inflexible.

This I don’t understand at all. “Scientism” and “scientific materialism” just flat are not the same thing. Scientism is a claim about how we obtain knowledge, while materialism is a claim about what exists. Most people with a fondness for scientism are materialists (myself included), but there is certainly no necessary connection between them. So which is it — materialism or scientism — that is damaging to the human spirit? Perhaps he means that both are. Well, fine. But if he is challenging materialism then I would want to know more about the non-material stuff he is claiming to have discovered, and I would want some insight into how he claims to know anything about it. If scientism is the issue, then tell me more about these non-scientific ways of knowing that help bolster the human spirit. But please, for heaven’s sake, take a clear position on something.

Moreover, I don’t agree that either scientism or materialism are damaging to the human spirit. Quite the contrary, in fact. It is traditional religion that is deadening and soul-destroying. It is when I hear religious clerics thumping the Bible, telling me that my time on Earth is just a prelude to my real life in heaven, that I wonder what the point of it is. The thought that I am just the plaything of an omnipotent being who will condemn me to hell for thinking the wrong thoughts is not terribly encouraging. It is when I hear scientists speak about their work that I find myself uplifted and excited to be alive. Religion has nothing to offer to the human spirit beyond dubious factual assertions and fool’s gold.

There are a few more paragraphs in Dave’s essay, but I think we have seen enough for today. Dave is promising multiple sequels to this post, so I hope he will clarify some of the issues I have raised here.

Comments

  1. #1 fanC
    January 8, 2013

    As I read around I often find “scientism” used interchangeably with materialism. And I can find no precise definition in the philosophical literature. But I digress.

    I have three questions.
    What is matter?
    Of What does the quantum mechanical wave function consist?
    Does information exist?

  2. #2 eric
    January 8, 2013

    If we are talking about the kind of religion that is based on the teachings of sacred texts, or which claims that its clerics have special insight into the ways of God, then I do not agree that science has ever infringed on religion’s proper domain since such forms of religion have no proper domain.

    This is a very important point I think defenders of the ‘different domain’ idea miss. Posit for argument that there is a God, and that He does impart revealed knowledge to some people. Are folks like Pruett saying that God couldn’t impart some revealed truth about the material world? Are they saying there is some metaphysical law preventing Him from doing so? Or, are they saying that they know God, and God wouldn’t do such a thing? Neither of those assertions makes much sense, yet the ‘different domain’ concept needs something like that to work. Without one of the assumptions above, the ‘religious domain’ must overlap with the scientific one since a hypothetical God can always choose to send us revelations about how the physical world works.

    IMO, and to put it bluntly, I see arguments like Pruett’s (and earlier, Gould’s NOMA) as a type of liberal accommodationist wish fulfillment. These guys wish that religions would stick to making theological and metaphysical claims, and not make physical ones. They think science and religion could peacefully coexist if religion didn’t make claims about the material world. Maybe that is true, but many if not most religions include the idea of communication with some greater aspect of the universe. It is really hard to see why anyone should accept as a premise that this greater aspect must stick to saying things like “stealing is bad” and is somehow forbidden from telling us “hey folks, the world is a sphere, it orbits the sun, and by the way E = mc^2,”

  3. #3 Blaine
    January 8, 2013

    The demarcation problem is old hat and most philosophers do not engage in that exercise anyway…from what I can tell from my reading.

    More germane is Popper’s concept of the context of discovery and the context of justification ( this word even though he was a falsificationist). Einstein could have very well had the Virgin Mary show up on his doorstep and teach him that e=mc^2. The problem is then how to establish this ‘as’ knowledge. Similarly with Kekulé and his dream of a snake biting its tail. From that dream he inferred the shape of the benzene molecule. Context of discovery: dream, vision, years of hard mental labor experimentation, etc. This is the creativity phase. The next phase is the context of justification and establishing the creative insight ‘as’ knoweldge. I think of ‘faith-based’ ways of ‘knowing’ ( I’m gagging here ) as stuck in phase one. Religions never go on to phase two and establish their faith based ideas as knowledge. I’m not trying to leave open a space for revelation, etc, but just to point out that the initial phase of ‘knowing’ is often non-rational, chaotic and creative.

    Overall, I gag when I hear ‘other ways of knowing’ etc, because its usually an attempt to make room for a fideist episemology and make room for all kinds of ghosties and what not.

  4. #4 eric
    January 8, 2013

    I think of ‘faith-based’ ways of ‘knowing’ ( I’m gagging here ) as stuck in phase one. Religions never go on to phase two and establish their faith based ideas as knowledge.

    I think that’s because they aren’t trying to follow our phases; they have their own. That’s the real meaning of different ways of knowing – the procedures they use to form beliefs is different.

    In science, a revelation (or dream, or bathtub eureka) helps us decide what evidence to look at. For some theists, a revelation IS evidence. Its to be given weight in terms of what to believe, its part of phase two, not phase one. For others, phase two is not empirical but authoritative (you compare to the bible or some other source of authority to “test” an idea). And there are probably many other different “ways of knowing” around out there too. My point is, they follow different method, they aren’t just following a scientific method but getting stuck in an early phase.

    If you look at the materials in, for example A Beka Books “science” textbooks, you’ll see that they actively reject the notion of your phase two. Their position is not: “we would like to this biblical claim, alas, we don’t know how/haven’t/can’t/results are unclear.” Its: “when biblical claims conflict with empirical testing, ignore the testing. It is wrong.” That, my friend, is not a group which is hung up in phase 1.

  5. #5 Blaine
    January 8, 2013

    @eric

    “For some theists, a revelation IS evidence.”

    Evidence of what? How does one distinquish between a ‘revelation’ and an unstable temporal lobe event or a psychotic episode?

    The problem with revelation, or private knowledge in general, actually being established intersubjectively as knowledge,
    is that it has to be open to public scrutiny. This is were it falls flat.

    If there is no way to investigate or no evidence other than a claim by a the person having the experience, then it really can’t count as ‘knowledge’. The best one can do is respect the experience. Many people have profound life altering experiences. The mental objects experienced during those episodes don’t necessarily have an external referrent.

    Without wading too deeply into this morass, let me just point out that Muslims claim that Mohammed is god’s prophet, yet he apparently received some bad info from Satan at some point ( the Satanic verses). How does one know where all this is coming from and whether it is knowledge?

    In a logical sense, doing miracles, walking on water, raising people from the dead, or rising from the dead yourself is no proof of the correctness of a belief. Someone from another religion could say that a deceiver god did this.
    Claiming that belief itself establishes a belief as knowledge is untenable. That is no evidence for anything other than that a person is capable of holding a belief and in fact does so.

    No one argues endlessly over whether e=mc^2. Yet, there is endless argument over faith based beliefs.

    Establishing faith-based beliefs as knowledge has repeatedly failed and failed miserably. These appeals are done by those frustrated by the results of science and shows a contempt for humanity’s collective ability to obtain knowledge of the world.

  6. #6 Blaine
    January 8, 2013

    @eric

    “If you look at the materials in, for example A Beka Books “science” textbooks, you’ll see that they actively reject the notion of your phase two. Their position is not: “we would like to this biblical claim, alas, we don’t know how/haven’t/can’t/results are unclear.” Its: “when biblical claims conflict with empirical testing, ignore the testing. It is wrong.” That, my friend, is not a group which is hung up in phase 1.”

    I am not really sure what you are saying here. Are you saying the Beka books are taking a legitmate approach to teaching children about science? Are you suggesting that when scholars, geologists and archaelogists say the world was not created in 6 days, there is no evidence for a Noahic world-wide flood and that there is no evidence for a Jewish exodus from Egypt, that we should disregard the evidence and hold to the biblical teachings because that is a different way of knowing?

    If you are teaching that to a child, I would call that mental rape which is every bit as immoral as actual physical child molestation.

  7. #7 eric
    January 8, 2013

    Blaine:

    [eric]“For some theists, a revelation IS evidence.”

    [blaine] Evidence of what? How does one distinquish between a ‘revelation’ and an unstable temporal lobe event or a psychotic episode?

    Evidence that the content of the revelation is correct. That is how they take this. I’m not defending this approach, I’m trying to explain to you how some of the folk you and I disagree with think.

    If there is no way to investigate or no evidence other than a claim by a the person having the experience, then it really can’t count as ‘knowledge’

    They can’t count it as scientific knowledge. I think they’d argue that the definition ought to be broader than just what science considers knowledge. But that whole definitional arguement is just a crapton of wild goose chase. Pruett does not need our definition of knowledge, or for everyone to agree on a definition of knowledge, in order to tell us what things he claims religion knows. Or to describe to us how he thinks religion knows. He could just answer those questions. But I suspect he doesn’t want to get specific because getting specific will inevitably lead to strong philosophical criticism (if he’s advocating revelation) or betray some of his religious allies (if he isn’t).

    Are you saying the Beka books are taking a legitmate approach to teaching children about science?

    Absolutely not. Its completely illegitmate and miseducates children about the nature of science. What I am telling you is that the people who disagree with you have a fundamentally different view of what counts as “knowledge” than you you. They are not merely doing your method wrong, they are – intentionally – not doing it at all.

  8. #8 MNb
    January 8, 2013

    Regarding scientism I think we should take over the attitude of the Dutch “geuzen” – see Wikipedia. It’s meant derogatory, but every time somebody accuses me of it I take it as a compliment. So I proudly declare myself a scientismist (or whatever), because science by far is the best human way to collect knowledge and understanding.

    “both revelatory processes”
    Don’t think so. Revelation is the opposite of empiry.
    Moreover it would be nice if believers stopped telling scientists what to do/think and what not to do/think.

    “The most arrogant materialist has nothing to learn about humility from such a man.”
    Spot on. Jesus preached humility. It’s remarkable how arrogant some of the intelligent believers are.

    “when each party maintains …”
    In scientific magazines Dave P will find precious few articles on god.

  9. #9 MNb
    January 8, 2013

    @FanC: imprecise and possibly incomplete answers are
    1) everything that has density (energy density is a quantity of physics as well);
    2) a mathematical description;
    3) what do you mean with exist? Compare with gravity and evolution, or even numbers. You can’t observe gravity. What you observe is objects falling down – ie movement.

    @Eric: good point on NOMA. I’m one of those wishers; if you’re right (and I cannot think now why you shouldn’t) thinking believers have no choice but interfering with science.

    @Eric and Blaine: when it comes to science I’d prefer “Aha-erlebnis” or “Eureka-effect” to revelation. The latter I’d reserve for divine inspiration – also called self-delusion.

  10. #10 Blaine
    January 8, 2013

    @eric

    Sorry, totally misunderstood your drift. I apologize.

  11. #11 RBH
    pandasthumb.org
    January 9, 2013

    fanC asked

    Does information exist?

    Yes, in the same sense of “exist” as in the claim that waves on the ocean exist.

    Blaine wrote

    More germane is Popper’s concept of the context of discovery and the context of justification ( this word even though he was a falsificationist).

    A pedantic correction: Hans Reichenbach originated the two contexts notion. Nevertheless, as Blaine argues, it’s a very valuable distinction.

  12. #12 Lenoxus
    January 9, 2013

    If scientism is the issue, then tell me more about these non-scientific ways of knowing that help bolster the human spirit. But please, for heaven’s sake, take a clear position on something.

    Ah, but the problem is that taking clear positions on things is too rigid, and hence scientism, don’t you see.

    My impression is that he goes in more for Native American type spirituality, and not for creed-based religions.

    I know that the point here isn’t actually about Native American religious beliefs, but I’m compelled to say I don’t think this is an accurate classification. I doubt that actual pre-Columbus Americans had creedless, open-ended, New-Agey beliefs. The notion that they did might come from several things, including: Christian-minded comparisons to text-based religions; the effects of missions and colonialism on the beliefs (leading to fusions); modern appropriation by New Agers; plus the fact that there’s no unified Native American Religion, so of course when you try to “summarize” the beliefs you get something that sounds New-Agey – just like what happens when people try to argue that all world religions are basically the same, then just summarize the commonalities into a feel-good spirituality (and one which is often slanted in the direction of a particular faith!). But I hasten to add that I’m no expert on this stuff, despite having just snobbishly droned on it for a long paragraph.

  13. #13 Dave Pruett
    January 10, 2013

    My esteemed colleague Jason raises several good points. For now, let me at least try to address his primary criticism, that the terms “intuitive modes of knowing” and “internal explorations” go undefined. Guilty as charged. Word limits can be so vexing. So, to fill in some gaps, I was speaking of knowledge that by-passes the senses and analytical thought processes. In this category, I’d include sudden insights, gut-level intuition, knowledge from dream states, and perhaps most important, mystical states of consciousness. There are others but I’d prefer not to get to woo-woo here. I suspect that most persons have experienced at least one of these channels of knowledge in a lifetime. For some, such experiences are common. Intuition is quite common, of course, even among scientists, and is often referred to as the “6th sense.” Some suspect however that evolutionarily it was the first sense, later drowned out by the signals of the dominant 5 senses. Regarding the latter–mystical states–these often form the core of “religious” experience, but the original experience is frequently corrupted when appropriated by formalized religion and encrusted with dogma. Perhaps Jason’s implicit criticism is that there is a huge difference between religion/faith and spirituality, and I’ve lumped these together. Again, guilty as charged. Hopefully we can untangle these in subsequent posts (or over lunch).

  14. #14 Ça alors!
    January 10, 2013

    I had moments in my life where I had “revelations” that can be labeled as mystic, but there was nothing supernatural there, neither they were defying natural laws. But I could at least see for myself what the oriental traditions meant when they speak about non-duality and how we grasp the world through a certain mode and that this mode isn’t absolute.

    It changes everything… and nothing at the same time. Like M. Pruett is saying above, language is limited when it comes to those experiences because language itself is a dual mode of communication that cannot describe what is non-dual.

    So yes, there are other ways of knowing where science can’t really be used because it deals with consciousness on a superjective level (beyond the subjective/objective opposition) where nothing can be measured…

  15. #15 Chris Laraia
    United States
    January 10, 2013

    Well, if different, subjective mental states is what one is focusing on, Sam Harris has already written at length on such things. The short of it is that one can explore different kinds of consciousness without accepting anything on insufficient evidence. As soon as someone takes their subjective experiences and expresses it through a religious frame of reference you are going off in the direction of irrationality. Scientism and Materialism will provide more reliable information about those subjective states than religion ever will.

  16. #16 Ça alors!
    January 10, 2013

    “Scientism and Materialism will provide more reliable information about those subjective states than religion ever will.”

    This is like saying that maths and physics are the proper tool to analyze music. Yes, you can analyze mathematically and physically music but you would miss the most important parts of it if you stick to maths and physics only.

  17. #17 Chris Laraia
    January 10, 2013

    I wouldn’t classify mental states as being analogous to art. Psychology and neurology have already demonstrated that they can tell us a great deal about different mental states. Art is primarily about self expression. As soon as one enters the arena of making claims about how the universe works you leave self expression behind and enter the domain of evaluating evidence for those claims.

  18. #18 Ça alors!
    January 10, 2013

    Yes but in both cases, a subject is required. That means you can’t have subjectivity without objectivity and vice versa. They are co-dependent. Science deals more with objective matters and arts with subjective matters.

    But to claim that everything can be reduced to matter, or that only what is measurable truly exists is an assumption. That is what scientism is all about…

  19. #19 Chris Laraia
    January 10, 2013

    Either something exists or it doesn’t. Subjective experiences cannot tell us anything about the nature of reality. They can only describe what one person is experiencing at a given moment. The instant one wants to know if those subjective experiences are true one must turn to reason and science to find out.

    Subjectivity and Objectivity are not dualistic forces. Objectivity is the only means we have to validate subjective experiences. Without it, we are left with one person claiming pizza is the best food ever and another claiming that ice cream is. Subjective experiences without objective validation can never produce knowledge. -Only opinions and feelings. Which is fine for things like art and entertainment, but if you want to know things that are likely to be true about the world you need reason and science for that. Subjectivity alone will get you nowhere.

  20. #20 Another Matt
    January 10, 2013

    This is like saying that maths and physics are the proper tool to analyze music. Yes, you can analyze mathematically and physically music but you would miss the most important parts of it if you stick to maths and physics only.

    Hmm. What would you say are the proper tools for analyzing music? All the traditional music theory we use for music analysis can be shown to be mathematical models with a different vocabulary.

    I can think of two other tools — one would be music cognition, which is a thriving field (though, that’s more analyzing human response to music rather than music itself), and the other would be an approach based on (broadly speaking) hermeneutics and textual criticism. The latter approach generally belongs more to “musicology” than to “music analysis” or “music theory,” but I suppose the distinction is blurry.

  21. #21 Jerry Coyne
    www.whyevolutionistrue.com
    January 10, 2013

    In response to Dr. Pruett’s bizarre comment about “intuitive channels of knowledge,” I’ll respond only by quoting the eminent philosopher Walter Kaufmann:

    “”Belief without evidence is not a virtue, but opens the floodgates to every form of superstition, prejudice, and madness.”

  22. #22 eric
    January 10, 2013

    David Pruett:

    I’d include sudden insights, gut-level intuition, knowledge from dream states, and perhaps most important, mystical states of consciousness. There are others but I’d prefer not to get to woo-woo here. I suspect that most persons have experienced at least one of these channels of knowledge in a lifetime.

    First, thank you for visiting and replying. I’m not the site owner but as a viewer, I really appreciate it when “critiquees” take the time to do that.

    Having said that, you seem to be using the term “knowledge” the way that most people use the term “idea.” My gut reaction, my dreams, etc., they give me ideas. But I typically don’t count that as knowledge until it meets some other criteria. Like some independent check to see if its right.

    Now, I’m not asking you to sign on to my definition of knowledge. But I would ask you: how do YOU distinguish knowledge from mere ideas? Or do you? If a 5-year old has a gut-level intuition that the answer to 2+2 on a math test is 5, is that knowledge because it was a gut-level intuition?

  23. #23 Ça alors!
    January 11, 2013

    @ Chris. “Subjectivity and Objectivity are not dualistic forces”.
    Yes they are. They are both opposites of a spectrum.
    That is why on that spectrum, you could have a scale that starts with more subjective matters which would gradually turn more objective:
    Arts, Psychology, History, Economics, Physics, Chemistry.

    But to claim that only truly exists what belongs to the objective world would be denying what humans commonly experiences. It is certainly not a contest…
    Science is also a byproduct of our society influenced by the way we think about what we are looking for. That is why since Darwin, the Theory of Evolution evolved and won’t stop to evolve…

  24. #24 Ça alors!
    January 11, 2013

    @Matt
    That is exactly my point. Knowing music can’t be reduced to its analyze. There is in music a part of it that can’t be analyzed and it is the effect it produces on you.
    You can know that swing as a rhythm is obtained when 2 successive eighth note are note played equally (1/3 and 2/3 ) but this won’t tell anything about the effect it creates on the auditor. Swing wouldn’t have become the revolutionary rhythm it became in the 20th century if it wasn’t of the excitement that new groove brought.
    Again, qualia…

  25. #25 Jason Rosenhouse
    January 11, 2013

    Hi Dave. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the clarifications. You wrote:

    I was speaking of knowledge that by-passes the senses and analytical thought processes. In this category, I’d include sudden insights, gut-level intuition, knowledge from dream states, and perhaps most important, mystical states of consciousness.

    I simply disagree that any of these items should be seen as legitimate routes to knowledge. Sudden insights and gut-level intuitions do not become knowledge until they are justified by some more rational process. There’s a reason “counterintutive” is a word, after all. As for mystical experiences, I don’t see how we can have confidence that they are telling us something veridical about the world. At the very least, since people routinely come to contradictory conclusions based on their mystical experiences, I would need some guidance about how to distinguish the true ones from the false ones.

    The next time we have lunch you can tell me more about the knowledge people attain from dream states. Perhaps your experience differs from mine, but my dreams are crazy!

  26. #26 Verbose Stoic
    January 12, 2013

    I simply disagree that any of these items should be seen as legitimate routes to knowledge. Sudden insights and gut-level intuitions do not become knowledge until they are justified by some more rational process. There’s a reason “counterintutive” is a word, after all.

    You seem to be presuming that those belief-forming processes aren’t themselves already vaidated to be reliable truth-forming faculties, as per the reliabilist definition of “knowledge”. If you rely on your intuitions and act on them and they turn out to be right a significantly high amount of the time, then they’re reliable and so would produce knowledge without having to validate each one independently; you can generally rely on their process. That they get things wrong on occasion — hence “counterintuitive” — doesn’t count against them because right now beyond deductive reasoning we don’t have any process that never gets things wrong … including, of course, science.

    So the debate here seems to be over whether or not intuitions and gut-feelings are reliable enough to count as knowledge, which seems to be what you are assuming but aren’t demonstrating.

    As for dreams, as a bit of an aside it seems that for most people dreams are rather random and chaotic, making no real sense, while for me my dreams almost always have a very coherent plot. I find this difference fascinating.

  27. #27 Michael Fugate
    January 12, 2013

    But they are not revelations from a god – so big deal. Religion still has no means of gathering knowledge.

  28. #28 eric
    January 14, 2013

    VS – post hoc ergo propter hoc, eh? Do you really want to define knowledge based on past experience being right? That runs into all sorts of problems – of which, as a philosopher, I’m sure you’re aware.

    I do agree with you that, where these processes are emperically determined to be reliable, one might consider them a form of knowledge. Of course this is not surprising since what we call “intuition” is probably just our brain trying to apply previously learned experience to some new event.

    And of course a “methodolical reliability” criterion leaves religious visions etc. pretty much out in the cold. Which is a conclusion I or Jason would support, so maybe this is another point of agreement.

  29. #29 Verbose Stoic
    January 14, 2013

    eric,

    VS – post hoc ergo propter hoc, eh? Do you really want to define knowledge based on past experience being right?

    From the wiki on that phrase:

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc, Latin for “after this, therefore because of this”, is a logical fallacy (of the questionable cause variety) that states “Since that event followed this one, that event must have been caused by this one.”

    That’s not at all what I’m doing. What I’m doing is that if you take the propositions given to you by a faculty and verify them — however you have to do that — against truth, and they produce true propositions a large amount of the time, then under the reliablist definition of knowledge that should be considered a reliable truth-forming faculty which then means that you can consider truths produced by that faculty justified until proven otherwise. Since for at least some people intuition does seem to produce truths a significant majority of the time when validated, those people, at least, are justified in claiming to know that the things their intuitions tell them are true, even if they don’t actually validate it in that instance.

    This would hold for every single possible faculty we have, including sensory, empirical, and even scientific. How can you determine if a faculty reliably produces truths without looking back at what it has produced and checking to see if the truths it produced really are true? And it would be massively problematic to deny that the faculty being reliable is at least a if not the critical factor in determining if it produces truths.

  30. #30 eric
    January 14, 2013

    VS:

    That’s not at all what I’m doing. What I’m doing is that if you take the propositions given to you by a faculty and verify them…

    Reread my 10 Jan post and I think you’ll see that I agree that some sort of independent validation must occur before you can call an intuition (or dream, or gut reaction) knowledge. What I’m arguing against might be called the sola intuitio proposition – that intuitions, gut reactions, and dreams count as knowledge before/without/regardless of any independent validation.

    But even here, I’m not asking Pruett to agree with me. I only really ask him to explain how his concept of knowledge differs from what I would call an idea. Maybe we are just using terms differently. If his claim that intuitions are a form of knowledge uses a definition of the word ‘knowledge’ that is synonymous with what I’d personally call an idea, then I don’t disagree with him; intuitions are a form of idea.

    One quibble with your argument: there’s more than just the number of correct intuitions involved. Subject matters too. Jason may be able to intuitively answer a whole bunch of math questions correctly; I would not then consider his intuitions on 1st century chinese philosophy to be knowledge. Being excellent at calling winners at football games does not mean ones’ intuition about the large scale structure of the universe is worth squat.

    Statistical considerations also matter, like how many people you tested and whether chance is an adequate explanation for one person out of many being right N number of times in a row. This is the most common problem with anecdotal stories of correct intuition; seeing one person get a lot of things right tells you nothing about the number of people you didn’t see get a lot of things wrong.

  31. #31 Verbose Stoic
    January 15, 2013

    eric,

    The whole problem is that you are talking about specific intuitions and I’m talking about the faculty. My argument is that once I’ve determined that my intuitive faculty produces truths I don’t need to validate individual intuitions anymore in order to claim that I’m justified in claiming that I know that based on intuition.

    Let me use this example. Let’s say that I get a calculator, and want to test to see if it’s reliable. So I punch in a bunch of multiplications and check them against something that I know gets them right (a times table or my own ability), and it gets them all right. At some point, I have tested it enough to claim it reliable and so then when I punch in a multiplication I can simply say that I know the answer without ever checking it against what I checked it against originally and be justified. I don’t need to do what you seem to be saying I’d need to do which is test each and every answer before claiming justification.

    From this example, your quibble should be answered as well, as I would have tested only that calculator — and so can’t say anything about any others — and also only tested multiplication. Mapping it back to Pruett’s argument, he can easily say that people can indeed have reliable faculties of intuition, dreams, etc even if some of them don’t, just as I can say in this case that there is at least one calculator that multiplies accurately even if some of them don’t.

  32. #32 eric
    January 15, 2013

    My argument is that once I’ve determined that my intuitive faculty produces truths I don’t need to validate individual intuitions anymore in order to claim that I’m justified in claiming that I know that based on intuition

    Okay, how many correct intuitions about answers to math questions would you need before you claim you no longer need to bother validating your intuitions about 1st century chinese philosophers? Or the large scale structure of the universe?

    Let me use this example. Let’s say that I get a calculator, and want to test to see if it’s reliable. So I punch in a bunch of multiplications and check them against something that I know gets them right (a times table or my own ability), and it gets them all right. At some point, I have tested it enough to claim it reliable

    You can claim its reliable for doing simple calculations. You can’t claim its reliable for anything else – history, ethics, what have you. The same is true for human faculties.

    Lastly, I doubt many people would argue that intuition can’t, in principle be reliable. Of course hypothetically it could be. There are approximatly 40 games in the upcoming hockey season. Pick a team and intuit the final score of the first 35 games for that team, and I will go on record as saying your intuitions about hockey count as knowledge.
    The question is not can it be reliable, its is it reliable. Are the intuitions people actually make about the world, God, etc. actually reliable. I can think of two very simple and obvious tests that show they aren’t. One – the progress of science through history. If intuition about subjects of science were reliable, progress sohuld not be what we see. People wolud’ve intuited QM and the germ theory of disease to begin with, it would’n’t have taking 5000+ years to discover them. Two – the presence of contradictory intuitions. This is particularly the case in religion but applies to other subjects too. If intuition was accurate and reliable, you might expect to see the occasional discrepancy, but by and large individual intuitions should agree with each other. Yet we see an incredible amount of contradiction on claims about the nature of god, number of gods, etc., etc., etc.

    You can think of intuition as a type of reality detector. There are two characteristics that make for a good detector: accuracy and precision. If intuition was accurate, it should yield the right model of reality – but historically, it hasn’t. Our best modern models disagree with the intuitions of the prior 1900 years. If intuition was precise, then most or all intuitions would agree with each other. They don’t. Intuition is a lousy instrument.

  33. #33 Verbose Stoic
    January 15, 2013

    eric,

    Yet again, you seem to be replying before reading the entire comment, because this:

    Okay, how many correct intuitions about answers to math questions would you need before you claim you no longer need to bother validating your intuitions about 1st century chinese philosophers? Or the large scale structure of the universe?

    And this:

    You can claim its reliable for doing simple calculations. You can’t claim its reliable for anything else – history, ethics, what have you. The same is true for human faculties.

    Were answered through my calculator exampl, especially with this:

    From this example, your quibble should be answered as well, as I would have tested only that calculator — and so can’t say anything about any others — and also only tested multiplication.

    Since I’m not making that leap directly from intuition in one field to all others, and Pruett likely isn’t either, there’s no real issue here …

    … EXCEPT that all of the questions you ask here can be asked of science as well. Why should we think that because science has gotten parts of physics right that science in any interesting sense can be applied to anything else, particularly ethics? At least we’ve been using intuition in ethics for hundreds of years; science, not so much.

    And there’s more:

    One – the progress of science through history. If intuition about subjects of science were reliable, progress sohuld not be what we see. People wolud’ve intuited QM and the germ theory of disease to begin with, it would’n’t have taking 5000+ years to discover them

    Well, if science is so good, why did it take hundreds of years for SCIENCE to get it. Why the false starts and mistakes? Why is there SCIENTIFIC progress? Science progresses because it needs more information to build its models on. Why can’t intuition do the same thing?

    Two – the presence of contradictory intuitions. This is particularly the case in religion but applies to other subjects too. If intuition was accurate and reliable, you might expect to see the occasional discrepancy, but by and large individual intuitions should agree with each other. Yet we see an incredible amount of contradiction on claims about the nature of god, number of gods, etc., etc., etc.

    Why are there so many differing and contradictory scientific theories and hypotheses? Shouldn’t they all just come to the same conclusions immediately? Sure, things get settled eventually, but that’s more through the structure of science than any real epistemic worth. Note that this happens in a field that ISN’T dealing with individuals and individual skill levels, which I did highlight in the previous comment. Some people, perhaps, just aren’t as good at intuitive reasoning than others, but some people just not being as good at science as others is no excuse for its disagreements in a field that tries to smooth out the individuals — ie be objective — as much as possible.

    You can think of intuition as a type of reality detector. There are two characteristics that make for a good detector: accuracy and precision. If intuition was accurate, it should yield the right model of reality – but historically, it hasn’t. Our best modern models disagree with the intuitions of the prior 1900 years.

    Our best modern models also disagree with pretty much all of the previous scientific models, and iti s quite likely that the next set of models will disagree with the ones we have now. How, then, would this not condemn science as roundly as you condemn intuition?

    Now, I think that science is a reliable process, despite all of the objections you have basically raised that apply to it as well as intuition. And I am open to the idea that intuition is reliable as well, although not as reliable as science. It is important, as you said, to see whether or not intuition is actually reliable, and Pruett does need to explain in a bit more detail why intuition is indeed reliable, but you go far further than that and claim that it isn’t reliable, and your arguments do not address that in any way that doesn’t take out prettty much ANY human faculty we currently and likely will ever have. That makes it a pretty poor criticism of Pruett who is making the stronger claim, let alone of me who is making the weaker one.

  34. #34 couchloc
    January 15, 2013

    Verbose Stoic’s response to Eric here seems right. I was having many of the same reactions as I read Eric’s last response, given that several of the complaints raised can be made of science. There are no doubt concerns about how reliable intuitions are, but they can be useful when used carefully. What’s important is that we focus on the reliability of “tutored” intuitions and not just any ones offered.

  35. #35 eric
    January 15, 2013

    EXCEPT that all of the questions you ask here can be asked of science as well. Why should we think that because science has gotten parts of physics right that science in any interesting sense can be applied to anything else, particularly ethics?

    Sure, absolutely you can do that. You should NOT be as certain that the current scientific explanation in field X as you are in field Y when science has an excellent track record in Y but no record in X.

    Well, if science is so good, why did it take hundreds of years for SCIENCE to get it.

    Bescause science relies on empirical observation, which has improved over time with the development of new instruments (and also improves with the number of observations). Intuition doesn’t. So one should expect scientific theories to change and improve in accuracy as instrumentation gets better (and the number of experiments increases). I’d have thought that difference was obvious.

    Why are there so many differing and contradictory scientific theories and hypotheses? Shouldn’t they all just come to the same conclusions immediately? Sure, things get settled eventually, but that’s more through the structure of science than any real epistemic worth.

    Are you really claiming that the determination of the force of gravity is “more through the structure of science than any real epistemic worth?”
    Well, at least you seem to agree that reaching consensus is something science does do more regularly than intuition or religion, even if you’ve decided to try and explain how this is not an indication of success.
    Let me put this to you: you can dismiss the development of consensus as having no bearing on the question of accuracy if you want, but intuition’s precision is still a lot worse that science’s.

    Our best modern models also disagree with pretty much all of the previous scientific models, and iti s quite likely that the next set of models will disagree with the ones we have now. How, then, would this not condemn science as roundly as you condemn intuition?

    See my instrumentation comment above. .

    And I am open to the idea that intuition is reliable as well, although not as reliable as science. It is important, as you said, to see whether or not intuition is actually reliable, and Pruett does need to explain in a bit more detail why intuition is indeed reliable

    Thank you; we have a point of agreement.Just to reiterate, I don’t really demand Pruett or you or anyone agree with my definitions of knowledge or justification or whatever. The first order of business is for him to descirbe in detail his reasons for concluding intuition is knowledge.We can discuss the pros and cons of those reasons afterwards.

    , but you go far further than that and claim that it isn’t reliable, and your arguments do not address that in any way that doesn’t take out prettty much ANY human faculty we currently and likely will ever have.

    See my instrumentation answer, above. Revelation, dreams, and intuition do not depend* upon instruments that have improved over time, so those avenues to knowledge should have been just as good/bad 5,000 years ago as they are today. Science does, so improvement in accuracy and precision is exactly what we should expect to see. And we do.
    *Or, at least, I don’t hear anyone seriously claiming they do. I suppose someone could come along and claim that some modern-drug-induced intuition is reliable even if ‘unassisted’ intuition is not. If someone makes that claim, I’m open to hearing evidence on it. Use it to solve Fermat’s last theorem, or build a better rocket, or predict hockey game outcomes, and after you show evidence that it’s reliable, I may change my mind. Until then, it would just be a speculation. An idea. An hypothesis submitted for testing.

  36. #36 Verbose Stoic
    January 16, 2013

    eric,

    Bescause science relies on empirical observation, which has improved over time with the development of new instruments (and also improves with the number of observations). Intuition doesn’t. So one should expect scientific theories to change and improve in accuracy as instrumentation gets better (and the number of experiments increases). I’d have thought that difference was obvious.

    Let me translate this to the likely more accurate and certainly more general statement of “Science uses background data to make its hypotheses, and as it gained more data it was able to make better and more accurate hypotheses, and therefore to progress.” This covers being able to get more or better data through instruments, and also through simply having run more experiments. Fine. But then why do you think that intuition isn’t based on background knowledge, such as the Web of Belief of the person who is having the gut-level intuition? Surely if we dropped someone in an environment that operated completely differently from theirs we would not expect their intuitions to work out, so for the most part intuition does seem to have some relation to the knowledge that someone already has, and I don’t really see Pruett as denying that. That, then, can be said for everything on the list you give except, perhaps, for revelation, and even that isn’t certain depending on what he means by that. So you seem, again, to be thundering over intuition by using a notion of it that is not what most people use, at least, and as Pruett admits he hasn’t defined it all out yet you can’t even say that you’re using the one he uses. You probably should simply stick to “What does Pruett mean by intuition/revelation/etc and how can we know that they are reliable?”.

    If someone makes that claim, I’m open to hearing evidence on it. Use it to solve Fermat’s last theorem, or build a better rocket, or predict hockey game outcomes, and after you show evidence that it’s reliable, I may change my mind. Until then, it would just be a speculation. An idea. An hypothesis submitted for testing.

    Again, why do you think that intuition is even aimed at providing those sorts of answers? I generally wouldn’t use intuition for any of those, except to note that in inventing intuition is, in fact, highly useful (but also generally tested by the finished invention), and also in mathematical proofs. This doesn’t refute you, of course, because they get inserted into other systems, but you seem to both demand far more from intuition than anyone expects it to deliver and downgrade its usefulness and necessity in the methods you favour.

    Are you really claiming that the determination of the force of gravity is “more through the structure of science than any real epistemic worth?”

    I’m talking about the theory of gravitation, not something like the acceleration due to gravity at the Earth’s surface. The acceleration due to gravity is in fact, determined by the measurements … but isn’t particularly impressive in terms of knowledge. The theory of gravitation — or evolution — is impressive … but runs into the standard issues listed by many in philosophy of science over when you abandon an old theory and switch to a new one. I favour Kuhn in arguing that, in practice, old theories fade away as their adherents fade away rather than because the evidence for one theory eliminates the other, and if that is the case then it is the structure of science that eliminates old theories and not necessarily that they cannot explain certain evidence.

    Let me put this to you: you can dismiss the development of consensus as having no bearing on the question of accuracy if you want, but intuition’s precision is still a lot worse that science’s.

    Having already claimed repeatedly that intuition is not as reliable as science, this is hardly something that matters to my argument. The question is: is it reliable enough? I think that most people will say that given certain conditions and in some people, it is, as it is commonly understood.

  37. #37 eric
    January 16, 2013

    why do you think that intuition isn’t based on background knowledge, such as the Web of Belief of the person who is having the gut-level intuition?

    Maybe your conception of it is, but Pruett is defending religious ways of knowing. He calls science an “external” way of knowing and contrasts it with “Internal” ways of knowing. He’s fairly explicitly lumping intuition in with revelation and dreams. And he directly contrasts these other ways as different from science, which he describes as: “a formalized procedure for making sense of the world by studying its material properties, perceived through the awareness of the senses.”

    All of this leads me to believe that he probably doesn’t conceive of intuition as relying on external observations of the world, which your verision of intuition seems to do. After all, you imply intuition grows with experience and is dependent upon one’s familiarity with the environment. That is fairly explicitly a process of knowing that has an external foundation.

    It seems to me that you are using the term ‘intuition’ to describe almost exactly what Pruett would call science, just substituting “subconscious” for “formalized.” I suspect that he sees them as more different than that.

    However, I do agree with you that the proper approach here is to ask Pruett what he means by it. Maybe he means what you mean…but given the statements about it not being external, etc., I really doubt it.

    Again, why do you think that intuition is even aimed at providing those sorts of answers?

    Because you made a big deal about reliability, and those are subjects on which reliability can be judged. I cannot judge the reliability of an inuition about how many angels dance on the head of a pin. So if you’re going to say intuition is reliable, you have to be claiming it provides information about subjects for which reliability can be judged. Now, if you don’t like those three examples, I’m open to other suggestions. Why don’t you tell me – what is intuition reliable about, and how do we assess its reliability?

    Having already claimed repeatedly that intuition is not as reliable as science, this is hardly something that matters to my argument. The question is: is it reliable enough? I think that most people will say that given certain conditions and in some people, it is, as it is commonly understood.

    If you have an extremely low bar to what you count as knowledge, lots of things will count. I agree. Which is why one of my first questions to Prof. Pruett was: it sounds like what you call knowledge is what I’d call ideas. How do you (Pruett) distinguish between the two?

  38. #38 Verbose Stoic
    January 17, 2013

    eric,

    I think that Pruett almost certainly has the common view of intuitions in mind, which my analysis then supports, but talking more about this would get into massive discussions about what it means to be internal or external and I really don’t want to get into that here.

    As for the rest, I would simply point you to the reliablist theory of knowledge:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliabilism

    And let you go on from there. I am one of the ones who sees reliabilism as going in at the justification level — and replacing justification in the traditional definition — and not as a completely alternative theory. I’m not sure where Pruett stands on that.

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